I'm exceedingly grateful to Ed Park ["The Current Cinema," December 4-10] for his suggestion that Viggo Mortensen play me in the upcoming adaptation of my reading-the-classics volume, Great Books. I don't have a cleft chin or flowing locks, but I'm good with my elbows in front of the red-pepper bin at Fairway Market, and I thought Viggo might be able to pick up on that.
Unfortunately, his agent has informed the producer of the film (Alberto Grimaldi) that Viggo is committed to playing Simon Schama in an adaptation of his book about the French Revolution, Citizens, which is being reimagined as a struggle over tenure in the history department at Columbia (with Schama as a Dantonesque speaker electrifying the faculty senate). Fights with lightsabers on the steps of Low Library, a duel in the tunnels under Butler Librarythat sort of thing. I guess it's Richard Dreyfuss for me, after all.
While I found Robert Sietsema's review of Gottlieb's Restaurant ["Irish Stew," Counter Culture, December 4-10] kind of cute, I have to say that his reference to Williamsburg's population is totally off. While there is still a small minority of Jews who wear knee britches, white socks, and buckle shoes, they do so only on Shabbos, so it has no relevance to a story about a restaurant, especially considering that all kosher establishments are closed on that day. Furthermore, most people wear regular attire (albeit mostly in black and white). It seemed like the author was either unfamiliar with the neighborhood or trying to portray the Hasidim as a seemingly backward population.
I don't understand why a restaurant review needs to include the fact that the Satmar Hasidim are anti-Zionist. Williamsburg is a real melting pot. Yes, there are a lot of Satmar Hasidim, but also many other sects whose members, I presume, could frequent this restaurant.
The idea of paying mediocre poets not to write is a good onecan we also pay Arielle Greenberg to keep her ideas for commodifying poetry to herself?
Poetry's historic resistance to soul-killing economic and political ideologies is what makes it "actually relevant to regular Americans"and as for it being taken seriously, gee, people all over the world have died in the name of poetry while our versifying entrepreneurs put their thinking caps on only when they want to sell it down the river!
Re "Poetry Nation":
Of the about 100 million possibilities for using Ruth Lilly's $100 million bequest to Poetry Magazine, here's a simple one: support for the University of Iowa Center for the Book. The center produces letterpress work, hand-binding, and papermaking, often combining all three with remarkably interesting poetry to make the kind of book that is rarely made these daysbooks that foreground the material nature of literature. Often the work presented is by previously unpublished poets or poets whose work explores form, mixes genre and media, and/or fuses with the book structure to create something that could not be produced by a commercial press.
Though the Center for the Book is on the same campus as and interacts with the Iowa Writers' Workshop, it does not enjoy its relatively fluffy funding. It is, on the contrary, under threat of dissolution or dispersion due to recent budget cuts. Both faculty and programming will begin to shrink if more funding is not found.
While Poetry Magazine's millions are the obvious answer, any other suggestions for funding options will be gratefully entertained.
Thanks a million, as they say . . .
Iowa City, Iowa
HOPE AGAINST POPE
I was fascinated by Ginger Adams Otis's "More Sins of the Fathers" [December 4-10], detailing the disputes over the future of the Catholic Church. While I can quite appreciate that a church that was forward-looking and progressive and didn't tacitly sanction the abuse of women and children by its employees would be in all ways preferable to the one we seem to have, I can't quite understand the people who seem to need the church while objecting violently to everything about it. Therese Ragen says, "The Roman Catholic Church is going to have to be torn all the way down and built back up again." I agree with the first part of that.
The church is founded on fundamentally screwy ideas like papal infallibility, so I'd have thought wishing for a sane and humane Catholic Church would be like wishing for a racially inclusive KKK or a caring, sharing Nazi Party. I'm not necessarily saying the RCC is as bad as those organisations, just that it's as far from being rational or necessary.
Ginger Adams Otis replies: Thanks for your comments. For clarification, Ragen said that in order for the RCC to become an all-inclusive institution, it would need to be completely rebuilt from the ground upnot that she needs to have that happen. As a species, we do seem to have an innate spiritual drive; Ragen is just one of many who would like to follow a particular faith without having to endorse an oppressive worldview.
UP IN SMOKE
I distrust anything and everything that comes out of the New York Nightlife Association (NYNA). Why is NYNA swarming community boards with its expertly packaged horror scenario of neighborhood streets teeming with smokers taking a break outside clubs, when it's clear from every reputable study (and by a decades-long history of smoking bans in many venues) that the only business hurt by such bans is the tobacco industry?
It takes a lot of money and willpower to purposefully ignore (or refuse to commission) real studies, and instead to commission one of these "opinion" surveys so favored by the tobacco industry. Such surveys have been thoroughly debunked by, among others, Consumer Reports.
This kind of full-court press by an ostensibly non-tobacco organization armed with a bogus survey is a tactic that fits right in with the tobacco industry's history of using front groups to promote its agenda. As a result, I wouldn't trust NYNA on any issue now.
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