Thursday, December 31, 2009

NYE Quickie

Happy New Year's Eve, little ones! You're probably drunk, so I'll keep things light today. Go over to HTML Giant and check out this interview between Lily Hoang and Kathleen Rooney (my sweet Kathy being the askee). I like how LH introduces KR as dark & intimidating from afar, but "chipper as anything" in person. So true. When we read for Mark Wallace's class last spring, one of the students wrote in a response that he was surprised the dark one was so bubbly whereas I, the blond one, was more "depressing." I live to subvert your expectations, youth of America. (Also, suck it.)

And now back to me: I have two poems in the new Laurel Review, which arrived in duplicate yesterday. It looks great.

It's turning into quite the winter wonderland outside, but I don't care, because I'm staying in to have gluten-free mac 'n' cheese and champagne cocktails with my honey. "See you next year!"

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A wonderful buttery note up top, and a bread-like iris touch in the drydown

I'm back in Boston, approximately 16 hours later than planned, after wasting most of yesterday at the airport; I actually stood at the *front* of a line for over two hours. It was epically, comically infuriating. I finally rebooked on a different airline, then went back home and drank a fishbowl-sized glass of wine. I had to get up at 5 a.m. for the new flight but instead of sleeping on the plane I read this:

I asked for this book for Christmas after hearing about it from Chip, who knows one of the authors. "J'adore" it. It's like good food writing, but way better, because I don't actually like "good food writing" -- it's never really all that good, just pretentious in a dilettantishly "poetic" way, and all I really want is to look at the pictures. Perfumes: The A-Z Guide has and needs no pictures. It's just a shit-ton of microreviews of perfumes, and the only bad thing I can say about it is that it feeds my already rampant consumerism. I had bought a trashy magazine and never even got to it.

On the way down, I finished the A.M. Homes book. It had some really good parts, like a page-turner of a section in which Paul ends up getting a crotch tattoo to impress a neighborhood floozy, then vomiting in the street, and a rather devastating ending, but the whole thing was edited (or not edited) in a weirdly crappy way. There were like, continuity errors? And at one point she defines s'mores? Very strange. Maybe she wrote it under a real tight deadline. After the perfume guide (I'm seriously reading it front to back) I think I'm going to read We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

Speaking of books: I think I can share John's good news now: His first novel is going to be published next year. It's called Under the Small Lights and it's an extremely poignant and lovely little coming-of-age novel. I've suggested he stop announcing this to people we've just met, but truly, congrats are in order, are they not? Yay John. Yay 2010.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Prepare to Get Inspired

Via Daniela Olszewska, I found this hilariously inclusive list of "50 of the Most Inspiring Authors in the World" (as she put it, this gets the award for Widest Net Cast) assembled by the staff of Poets & Writers. Some gems therein (and yes these are exact quotes):

Elizabeth Alexander
There was too much chatter about the quality of the poem. What matters is that she was up there reading it—a poem!—on the biggest and most inspiring stage in recent history. [So, what exactly are we supposed to be inspired by? Her proximity in space to other inspiring (and large) objects, or how she reminded us poems exist?]

Billy Collins
He's made accessible a dirty word by celebrating the poetic pleasures and small comforts of ordinary life in a way that encourages us to celebrate them too. [How does that make "accessible" a dirty word? Basic confusion of what a "dirty word" is? Better example: Shitty.]

Donald Hall
The image of the eighty-one-year-old on the cover of Unpacking the Boxes: A Memoir of a Life in Poetry pretty much says it all. [This is the image ... huh? Generic old man at desk w/ generic lamp says what all? I guess the point is he's old.]

Barack Obama
Let's never forget that our first African American president is also a best-selling author. [Jesus Christ, lest we forget. Never forget!!]

Thomas Pynchon
He's like Proust. We could live our whole lives and never read Gravity's Rainbow...and still be inspired by it. [Facepalm]

Frederick Seidel
Sure he's filthy rich, but the man knows how to spend his money. He owns four Ducati motorcycles and he writes poems about them (probably while wearing a suit). [Holy shit. Why isn't Donald Trump on this list? He's written books, right?]

Gay Talese
The New Journalism. [WTF???]


Talk about your simplistic models of inspiration. Half the reasons listed are basically paraphrases of "Other people seem to think they're important." E.g. "Best-selling Nigerian novelist." Millions of Nigerians can't be wrong!

Seriously, I love this idea that these authors' mere existence is inspiring. Just put one of these books on your coffee table, pour yourself a scotch and feeling the fucking glow.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Best and Worst of 2009, Self-Involved Edition

So, I really feel like I should post some kind of year-end list, since everyone else is doing it and I can't think of anything else to blog about. The problem is I didn't really read any books or see any movies. Well, I did read some books but probably fewer than 25 and most of them didn't come out this year. So ... I'm just going to list some shit I remember from the past year, good or bad, most of it not applicable in any broad way. Sorry, kids, this isn't Entertainment Weekly.

* The first quarter of 2009 (am I finally outgrowing my habit of conceiving of years in semesters?) completely fucking sucked. My job turned horrible and I was so stressed out from dealing with that and applying/interviewing for other jobs at the same time that my health took a complete nosedive. I had three or four colds in as many months, developed stomach issues that still haven't completely gone away, periodic insomnia, anxiety, etc. I had no time or energy for poetry. This was all capped off with a miserable wedding. Then I found a much better job and gradually felt better and started writing a little more, but it kind of tainted the whole year for me. I'm glad 2009 is over.

* The best poetry I read this year was Maggie Nelson's Bluets and Sam Starkweather's City of Moths (which technically came out in 2008). The thing I'm working on now (a chapbook? a book?) is me trying to do what these books do formally (a series of untitled blocks of prose) and lyrically. What I've got so far is really idea-y, not as beautiful as theirs.

* It's recent so I remember: Heather Green's new chapbook, No Omen. This is really good.

* Some other good things I remember: Celebrating with Farrah Field and Jared White on election night, after reading at the NYPL; hanging out at their beautiful cabin in the woods in all seasons. Phone calls with Sam about Birds and The French Exit (best editor ever). Visiting Mark Wallace and Lorraine Graham in SoCal with Kathy. Dan Brown Book Club w/ Chip Cheek (the best time I've had reading the worst possible book). Some weird charades night. Anniversary dinner at Bin 26. Getting tsunami'd on the beach in NC.

* Some things I'm looking forward to in 2010: Doing a mini book tour with Chris Tonelli and Chris Salerno; AWP, during which I hope I will not be in crisis mode, as I was last year; something John-related I'm not allowed to talk about yet; all my credit cards expiring (JK; don't "2010" and "2012" look like expiration dates?).

I'd like to look back at the whole decade but my psyche isn't up for it. Time's goddamned winged chariot and all that.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

All my exes

You know how all the movies composed of nothing but Oscar clips are crammed in at the end of the year, and how "Best of the X" lists are heavily biased toward recent stuff? We are goldfish, culturally speaking, and we don't remember what we liked back in February, or how much we liked it at the time, or we've had the chance to get sick of it, or we misremember it as coming out the year before.

I'm worried that a similar thing is happening with my last relationship. We were together for more than five years (from 19 to 25, for me) and I know that I was happy for the vast majority of that time. But my memory now is weighted toward the last year, especially the last six months, when we were slowly breaking up, and it was probably the worst I've ever felt. ("Death is the opposite of dying slowly." A line from a poem I heard Julia Cohen read recently.) So when I dip into a memory of those years I keep hitting upon fights, or times he hung back while I went to a party or home for Christmas, or just the general feeling that he was irritated with me about something. It's like trying to pick your Scrabble tiles and all the shitty ones the last guy rejected are on top.

I heard big news this week about both my exes, if you don't count people I only casually dated, and if you count high school. One was direct from the source: He's getting married. He wants to have kids (or "spawn" as he put it), now's the time, etc. Now that I'm 30 I don't want to get married, but when we were together I did, at least in an unexamined and misled way -- I looked at marriage as the ultimate form of relationship security; I think a lot of people do. So it's not that I'm jealous (I try to be honest about when I am jealous, which is not unfrequently), but I'm a little hurt on behalf of my younger self. If he'd gotten engaged in the year after we broke up, I would have been devastated. My reaction now is tainted by my being able to imagine it. Fun fact!: Sadness is easier to remember than physical pain.

The other news I got from Twitter and Wired: imeem, the company my high school ex founded and ran, got shut down and folded into MySpace Music. It's pretty well-known but if you've never heard of it, imeem was a streaming music and social networking service. I can't remember how or when I first heard about it -- I may have been doing some routine Googling of people from my past. (I do remember snorting about the name; back in the late '90s he was really into the word "meme." Meme this, meme that.) I think it was when I was looking for my first job after grad school, maybe; I think it was extra-annoying to me that he was, like, being named to lists of hot entrepreneurs under 30, and I was begging to get hired for a 30K-a-year copy editing job.

And I think this is the past self that I heard this news on behalf of, because an unadulterated wave of pure schadenfreude passed over me. How much of a dick am I? Now I feel kind of bad. I mean, for all I know he's getting millions out of the deal, but it's gotta suck to have your company fail. It had a lot of devoted users but they were getting reamed on licensing costs and then got hit with a lawsuit; they didn't have the cash to fight it and renew their deals. So that's that. I wonder how he's doing. It's hard not to think of him as older than me now that he's created and pulled the plug on a company.

Meanwhile, I'm still poor. We're going to see the Nutcracker tomorrow. There was a half-price sale on tickets on Cyber Monday. Ha! "Cyber"...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Save this kitten

This is Mr. Tux.

Mr. Tux the Kitten

We're trying to save Mr. Tux. A couple weeks back I blogged about finding him dumpster-diving, basically, in Jackson Square. We took him to the nearby shelter, which has an excellent reputation, and they assured us he'd be taken care of, so we felt very saintly about the whole thing.

Well turns out the jerks at the shelter meant he'd be taken care of. They put him in the wrong cage and exposed him to feline leukemia (which is communicable), and now they're basically threatening to put him down if we don't find a home for him fast. It's like a goddamn hostage situation.

Mr. Tux is not a mean street cat; he's quiet and shy but very sweet. The only problem is that he might have fucking cancer! Apparently they can't really test for it definitively for another six months. So in the meantime he shouldn't be around other cats, just in case. And he may need a little extra care and attention.

If you live in or near Boston and know anyone who would be willing to adopt or foster this cat (they apparently provide food and other supplies if you agree to foster in the short term; if, after six months, he tests negative for leukemia, he should be much easier to adopt out), please let me know! We feel very invested in this little tyke. We are both quite allergic to cats or we'd take him in ourselves.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Pseudo-review of the first 65 pages of Music for Torching

Why is the weather held up as the ultimate exemplar of boring conversation? When the weather is especially good or bad or fucked up, like it was this morning, I kind of like talking about it, or at least feel a compulsive need to. Anyway I can think of a lot of things more boring than meteorology. Like TV. My favorite is when someone asks, "Do you watch 24?" (or whatever) and I say no and they go right on ahead and converse about it. The persistence theory of identity. These people probably aren't signing up for cryonics.

I'm reading Music for Torching by A.M. Homes, which I picked up on our last excursion to the Book Barn. In a way, it is full of clichés—it's about an unhappy suburban couple who try to escape their problems by burning down their house. This act in itself is not a cliché (which probably saves the novel), but almost all of their thoughts and feelings about their circumstances are. They feel "trapped," jealous of each other's glimpses of happiness; they commit minor adulteries out of boredom (or Paul does, at least). It's all very Updikean.

Nonetheless, I care what happens to Paul and Elaine, and there are lots of things in the book I like (so far). Their two boys remind me of the children in Joy Williams' fiction: precocious and uncanny. Which is fine by me, since kids in novels are only interesting when they're improbably adult-like (or "adultish" to borrow a word from the book, applied to the parents, not the children). I like the dialogue, though not always Homes's needless additions, as in: "'They're safe enough,' the cop says, answering a question that hasn't been asked." Uh, thanks, I know the question hasn't been asked, because my short-term memory is intact.

I'm also interested in Paul and Elaine's relationship, not so much the petty affairs and whether Elaine is aware of them, but how much they actually like each other. They're clearly resentful and sick of each other, and sometimes downright hateful, but there's also still attraction there, and tenderness (Elaine occasionally finds him "cute"), and dependency—Elaine may find Paul kind of intolerable but she also panics at the thought of him leaving her. It's not romantic, but I find it endearing. And, like, "real." The longer I know someone, the more easily they annoy me, and the less their ability to annoy me matters to our friendship's sustainability.

I'm thinking there's some kind of tradeoff with a book, where I can keep reading even if I'm not enamored with the writing itself as long as I identify with the characters or material in some way. I mean if I'd encountered this many clichés in a book about, I don't know, a guy who really likes the History Channel, I would have dropped it after page 1 (which includes the phrases "to try and put things right again" AND "effort to make everything good again" … ugh).

Here are a couple of bits I related to. Elaine's mom shows up at the house a day or two after the fire to see what's up, since they haven't been answering their phone:
"Well, I tried to call," the mother says. "I needed to talk. When I talk to you, I feel better."

"It's supposed to be the other way around," Elaine says.
Right? Isn't this one of the three main crises of adulthood? The reversal that occurs when you realize your parents need you as much if not more than you need them? I forget the other two.

"Is Paul not well?" the mother asks.

"In what way?" Elaine asks.

"What happened to his hair? He looks like he's getting chemo."

"Oh, that," Elaine says. "That's what they do. When it starts to go, they go with it. They get rid of it. Better bald than balding."

"He's a shaved fish."

"It's a control thing."
Better bald than balding. What a great way to put it, the shave-it-off mindset.

If you've come this far, here's your reward: Kathy and I have three joke poems up on Verse. There's a couple more coming soon in Artifice. Laugh it up, fuzzballs.

Why do my widgets keep breaking?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

What I learned on my Thanksgiving vacation

Dan Brown is a real living author.

Dan Brown is all over the best-seller lists.

Dan Brown is an author you NEED to get to know and F-A-S-T.

Dan Brown is trying to create literature.

Dan Brown is the first to admit that his stories do not depict reality.

Dan Brown is a ridiculously nice guy.

Dan Brown is so easy to make fun of, there is no excuse for doing it poorly.

Dan Brown is a boyscout insofar as the Conspiracy goes.

Dan Brown is simply cashing in on what were formerly only labeled as "Conspiracy Theories."

Dan Brown is composed of at least 5 distinct authors.

Dan Brown is a lier.

Dan Brown is actually a cover for the global machinations of Goldman Sachs.

Dan Brown is going to be the ruin of us all.

Many people buy Dan Brown's books, and Dan Brown is very rich.

I mean, you have to keep in mind that Dan Brown is not an historian. Dan Brown is simply an agent for the craft trying to open the eye of the mind of the masses.

Everybody knows that despite getting most of his facts wrong, Dan Brown is American culture's preeminent religious thinker.

Dan Brown is just a writer, who makes stuff up. It’s not real.

Dan Brown is one of my favorite writers and I am also tempted to download the ebook.

Dan Brown is renowned for his stories that mix history with intrigue and, of course, codes.

'Dan Brown' is like my 5th favorite 'artist.'

Dan Brown is America.

Dan Brown is a brand now. And Dan Brown is no paranoid kook.

Dan Brown is not, as some of his more trenchant Catholic critics would have it, a dangerous fraud, a cynical corrupter of biblical truths.


Dan Brown is responsible for writing The Da Vinci Code.

Dan Brown is a great writer, I won't let the media tell me what to think, or read any negative comments.

Please remember that Dan Brown is a fiction writer!

The 'key' to reading Dan Brown is to allow your mind to go into overdrive and try to predict everything and then surprise yourself when you are no where near!

Anyway, Dan Brown is a massive fuckwit

Ahh, Dan Brown. Is there anyone better at the contemporary, hyper-educated thriller?

The other possibility is that Dan Brown is a cyborg, which can't be ruled out at this stage.

Apparently Dan Brown is just as ignorant as those tattoo yahoos.

It could very well be that Dan Brown is a willing participant in one of the biggest disinformation campaigns waged by the Illuminati in history.

Dan Brown is no Robert Ludlum.

We said above that the "author" property value of "The DaVinci Code" is "Dan Brown." It's OK to consider that property value to be of value type "text," but since Dan Brown is actually a person, there's more we can do.

My confession: I think Dan Brown is terrific -- just like millions of others.

Although Dan Brown is naive in his depiction of the sexual component of goddess worship, his books are well researched and thorough. Go with it … suspend disbelief and enjoy the ride.

Dan Brown is a savvy entrepreneur.

Dan Brown is doing his best.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

True stories

Hypothesis: A bad play is better than a mediocre movie, because a live performance, when it fails, fails in interesting and complicated ways (Is it usually better? Usually worse? Who is at fault, one or many? What effect does the audience have?), whereas a movie, as a finished product, is understood to be the best version of itself. A movie's failure is not dynamic or interactive.

I had a nice day yesterday. I woke up around 6:30 (why do I wake up early on the weekends when it's so hard to get up on the weekdays?), cleaned the bathroom and ate a big breakfast, then got coffee with my friend Kate at Ula, where we saw a tall, almost "modelesque" guy walk in wearing a red onesie with penguins on it. He seemed cold, but impervious.

Then I got my hair trimmed at Biyoshi. On my way there I was semi-accosted by some (drunk?) Allston guys. Went something like this:

D-Bag #1: Where'd you get that iced coffee?
Me: JP.
D-Bag #1: Where?
Me: Jamaica Plain!
D-Bag #1: (something unintelligible)
Me: What?
D-Bag #1: (louder) What, you don't like techno?
Me: o_O

Then Douchebag #2 runs over and gets right up in my personal space, so close I think he's going to kiss me. But instead he just sort of fillibusts, like he's trying to keep me interested while he works out a plan. I tell him I'm going to be late for a hair appointment, and he asks me, "Color or trim?" He says I can be late for a trim. Then a minivan pulls up and his crew all starts piling in and a girl calls out to him, "Brett, honey, we gotta go!" He looks disappointed that the tension he's managed to fabricate won't come to a resolution. Was his motivation solely to impress himself upon me, random passerby, to force a stranger to remember him if only for a few hours? The pathological egotism of the douchebag. The fear of disappearance of the douchebag.

After my haircut John and I walked over to the Sam Adams Brewery and took the free tour. Then I made risotto. Then we went to a show at Johnny D's, part of Music Hack Day. It was a good show. First up was Faces on Film, and their set was very pretty and atmospheric. Next was Bodega Girls, who would make a good wedding band. Their enthusiasm was hilariously out of proportion to that of the audience. This one dude on a laptop kept taking off more and more layers. Last was El-P, a pretty awesome experimental hip-hop/rapper dude + friends. An excellent live music experience all in all, especially since we got to sit down the whole time, with table service from an incompetent but adorable waitress.

Tonight we saved a stray kitty. It was so little and scared, and we had to kind of corner it (sorry, I don't know how to sex kittens) by this dumpster where it was foraging for food, then we carried the poor little guy (/girl) to the shelter. About halfway there it tried to leap out of John's arms and then puked on his sleeve, but he was brave and stalwart and didn't drop it. Kitty! You should all go to the MSPCA and adopt it. A little black & white kitty. Why are kittens cuter than babies? Evolution-wise, it seems unsound.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

More problems with MFA rankings: Debt builds character

Since my last post on MFA rankings got a bit of attention (it's currently my #2 most viewed post after "Things I Can Tell About Your Taste in Music from Your Tattoo"), I feel almost obligated to respond to this article by Sandra Beasley in Poems Out Loud: "Mistakes We Knew We Were Making: Life Outside the Poets and Writers 'Top 50 MFA Programs.'"

Let me preface this by saying that again, my response isn't personal. I have met Sandra Beasley on more than one occasion and she's exceedingly lovely. But I do disagree with the article's argument. And here's why: It's written from the (biased) perspective of someone who already has an MFA. And it tips me off to a sixth reason why people don't like MFA rankings: they feel defensive and protective of their own experience. They applied to and chose their program (or, if they were like many people I have met, only "chose" a program by virtue of its being the only one that accepted them*) without the benefit of rankings, so why can't others do the same? I'm sorry to say it, but this smacks to me of old-fogeyism: When I wanted a fire I had to chop the wood myself! You kids today don't appreciate the value of a hard day's work, etc. If we did it that way in the past, by God we can keep doing it that way.

Sandra makes the argument (at least, I think she does; it's constructed as an ironic list, whereby she pretends, e.g., to advise readers to accept nothing less than full funding and then reveals that she in fact does not agree with this advice; in all honesty it took me a minute to realize this because the advice is far from obviously facile) that having to pay for your MFA might be positive. She chose a program "that required cobbling together a full-time job, fellowship pay for editing [the] literary journal, and over $20,000 of loans"; she seems to suggest that this experience built character.

I realize that the majority of people who would even consider attending an MFA program are at an economic advantage; they may be people who have no college debt, people who have never even had a job. For such candidates I suppose that having to cobble together funds and accrue tens of thousands of dollars of debt might build character. But can we try to look at this issue from the perspective of an "aspiring" writer who falls in the minority? Who may not have the money to pay out of pocket, who may already be in some degree of debt (from college or otherwise), who is quite familiar with the experience of working for a living, and may have found that despite all the character and experience this offers, they don't have the time they want or need to devote to writing? And their reason for pursuing an MFA is the desire to take a two-year sabbatical from all that and just write? And maybe they have the foresight to avoid more debt if possible? Wouldn't it be nice if someone in that position could find accurate information on how much funding each program offers? Or would you still tell that person, Don't worry about funding--just "follow your heart, or your whim"?

The article ends like this (again, this is intended ironically):
Don’t, whatever you do, run the risk of failure. This is why we have rankings and how-tos, right? To buffer. To plan.

Otherwise, just imagine what could happen.

You could end up ... here.
I may be misreading this (am I?), but to me this kind of says, "Follow your heart, risk failure, and you'll end up like me, a successful writer with two prize-winning books of poetry and a forthcoming memoir." I think Sandra absolutely deserves this success ... but most MFA graduates won't attain it. And those who go into debt to not attain it may be more bitter.

I'm happy for the writers who have followed their whims and gone on to have a positive MFA experience. But with or without rankings, some people end up at the right program and some people end up at the wrong program. There's no way to fix it so everyone ends up with the right kitten. Rankings won't do it, but neither will obfuscating and withholding information.

*Data on acceptance rates might reduce this phenomenon, whereby writers are forced to "choose" the one program that admits them, or are accepted nowhere at all. If you plan to apply to five programs and realize they all have acceptance rates of less than 1%, you might rethink your strategy and apply to a lot more programs and/or apply to a "safety school."


  • Actually, Lauren Bans, they only kiss in "the basement" (the boiler room) in one episode, though they kiss in his car and her kitchen in others, and it's Angela, not Jordan, who says "Your cuticles look like little moons."
  • The always fair, insightful and eloquent Martin Seay has started a blog.
  • I'm reading Corinna A-Maying the Apocalypse by Darcie Dennigan. I learned from the intro I'd been mispronouncing the title in my head.
  • I want to contribute to Reb's Best Poetry Books of 2009 thing, but there are so many books from 2009 that I haven't read yet, many of which I suspect are among "the best," and I'd feel like a shit for leaving them off. Some of my favorites of the ones I've read are those I'm reviewed or mentioned on this blog: Maggie Nelson's Bluets, Chris Nealon's Plummet, Poemland by Chelsey Minnis.
  • I've been obsessing about blurbs, which feels unspeakably lame. There, I spoke it.
  • I dreamt that I realized soymilk was the cause of all my health problems, and that I ate a hamburger. Why is my mind/brain duality suddenly crying out for cow-derived products?
  • A Serious Man was seriously boring and pointless. Haven't there already been like 15 movies about how bad things happen to mediocre people? The largely glowing reviews baffle me. I guess the Coen Brothers have reached the point of unassailability, if they hadn't already. I have the feeling that critics fear admitting boredom lest readers suspect they just "didn't get it" or prefer shoot-'em-ups. But look, people, there are objectively "boring" movies that are still good. Like Barry Lyndon. I don't care if they "subvert the audience's expectations" (which they obviously don't anymore), tedium and lack of closure for their own sake do not good cinema make.
  • Just one of the great things about turning 30: More inexplicable bad moods!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Some nice things

Erwin Ponce wrote a very nice review of Don't ever stay the same; keep changing, up now on the Black Ocean blog. He calls one line "playful and profound," which is nice because playful profundity is pretty much our MO.

Also, Kathy and I have some joke poems (from a series of prose poems structured like jokes) in the new issue of Opium. I don't have my copy yet but I bet it's real nice and I'm looking forward to its arrival.

Finally, John and I are reading in the Inescapable Rhythms series tomorrow night. On the slim chance that you happen to live in Hartford, swing by Real Art Ways around 7. Thanks to Andrea Henchey for being nice enough to invite us.

Thanks be to the world for its niceness. I'm in a bad mood tonight, but not for lack of niceties in the vicinity.

Monday, November 9, 2009

"I also think most that read Harper’s are too educated for their own good and can look down on everyone on both sides of an issue at the same time"

Usually with the stuff in Harper's Readings section, I know what I'm supposed to think. Usually, as I've noted before, it's something like, "The banality of human suffering: How droll" (e.g., the confessions of some warlord or a Frederick Seidel poem). But in the Nov. issue there's a bit that I don't really know what I'm supposed to think about. (Don't tell me it's an open text and I'm not supposed to think anything! Kool-Aid drinker.)

It's an excerpt from a transcript in which a member of the Followers of Christ church (Worthington) is tried for manslaughter after he neglects to take his baby daughter to the doctor for pneumonia and an infection "that could have been cured with antibiotics." (That's the first hint that I'm supposed to think something.) I assume we're supposed to point and laugh at the religious nut, but the thing is, he kind of makes more sense than the prosecutor (Horner):
WORTHINGTON: I would probably never use modern medicine myself. I've never felt that I've needed it. It wasn't because somebody forced this on me. It's because I've seen for myself, as I was growing up. When I was anointed, I felt better, so that trained me to have faith in it.
HORNER: Has your position changed as a result of what happened to your daughter?
WORTHINGTON: No, it's still the same.
HORNER: So the fact that you did not get your daughter to a hospital Saturday night, and she died a day later, has not changed your position on modern medicine?
WORTHINGTON: Well, it hasn't changed the way I feel. I've seen nothing here that's proved to me that it would have been any different had we taken her in. When a doctor can't do nothing for you, you usually put it in God's hands anyways, so that's where I'd had it the whole time. [Emphases mine]
HORNER: Even in retrospect, even knowing the outcome, you wouldn't change how you handled her medical condition?
He continues to basically berate the guy (which, I realize, is what prosecutors do), incredulously asking for clarification, when the guy's position is clear. I hate when people act confused to make a point. I mean, I'm an atheist, and I think religions that reject any and all medical intervention are stupid, of course, but the guy's position is remarkably consistent and lucid, compared to most nutjob Christians.

I think the part above in boldface is rather brilliant. Worthington essentially calls bullshit on Horner's hindsight fallacy (i.e., since you know the outcome now, obviously you should have acted differently) and simultaneously points out the hypocrisy of most pseudo-Christians who rely on doctors first and then only pray to God as a last resort. (I think he even implies that "anoint[ing] someone with olive oil" and a fair amount of "modern medicine" work on the same principle: faith, AKA the placebo effect.)

My question is, do the Harper's editors see this? Do most of their readers? Or are they mostly just snickering and shaking their heads at the backwoods dude who killed his baby?

P.S. I in no way advocate withholding antibiotics from infected babies. Also, I knock Harper's, but it is pretty much my favorite magazine. After Lucky. The other night I said to John, "I love reading Lucky. It's a pure experience." Meaning that I do it purely for pleasure, not because I feel like I should (which is true for at least half of what I read). And he nodded and said, "Yes, unsullied by crass commercialism." Ha ha! Lucky comes with little sticker tabs so you can mark all the shit you want to buy. AWESOME.

P.P.S. Someday I'm going to count up all the incidences of the word "wildly" in an issue of Lucky (as in, "wildly sensuous" or "wildly affordable"). It will be staggering.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Lauren Bans is my rival

My first exposure to the writer known as Lauren Bans was on This Recording, a culture blog I discovered when they sorta-reviewed my chapbook several years ago. They called the cover "cute as a button" and me "alluring" or some shit and now, natch, I love them. I think I would love them anyway, since they read and support indie lit and have good taste in music and hate on popular movies and post a lot of gratuitous pics of half-naked celebrities. They also have an undeniable bias toward writers with attractive headshots.

Lauren Bans wrote a review of 500 Days of Summer that I found to be dead on (despite not having bothered to see the movie). I shared it in my GOOG Reader and it partially inspired my post on pseudo-intellectual cliches. I can't remember what happened next; I think probably I followed her on Twitter and subsequently discovered that she also writes for the Double X blog.

Further readings have revealed that Lauren Bans' sense of humor and general writing style/tone (snarky yet essentially good-natured) are altogether too similar to mine for me to merely admire her. So, I have decided, she must be my rival. Take this response to the BoingBoing video on the reclamation of the word "douchebag." So many of my hallmarks are here: an admittance that a Venn diagram is in order coupled with a refusal to supply one; an overly finicky focus on semantics; an interest specifically in the semantics of the word "douchebag."

I mean, seriously, I could have written this. In fact someone sent me that video a day or two before I read the article and I remember having a similar reaction. Then, a couple of days after that, my ex sent me a link to the post and was like, Whoa: Venn diagrams and douchebags? And I was like, I KNOW. Then he said her Facebook pic looks like ScarJo.

ScarJo is my nemesis. Lauren Bans is my rival.

I think Heather Christle might also kind of be my rival. Usually when I read her poems, I think at least one line sounds like something I might have written, plus the same people seem to tend to like us. But she is more "famous" than me. She gets a whole week at HTML Giant. I don't think James Joyce and David Foster Wallace even got weeks. Hence! A mighty rivalry! It's problematic, though, because, aside from the fact that I think she's a good poet, she seems like a total sweetheart. The system is breaking down.

Maybe one day we can all have lunch or something.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Why people don't like MFA program rankings

Just as frequently as people complain about the methodology behind rankings of creative writing MFA programs, they complain about the very idea of such rankings. They claim that MFA rankings are inherently ridiculous, flawed in concept. I'm trying to figure out where this stance comes from, because it seems silly to me. I mean, if you don't get anything out of MFA rankings, you don't have to consult them. But why argue that they shouldn't exist at all?

Some possible reasons for believing that MFA rankings are bad and wrong:
  1. You have an MFA or are otherwise associated with an MFA program (e.g., are employed by one) and you're worried your program won't rank well. I suppose this is a legitimate concern. If your MFA program wasn't previously ranked and now it's showing up dead last or at #72 on some supposedly definitive list, your degree is worth less in the eyes of the world. This is certainly true of me. I went to Emerson and Emerson isn't going to be on anyone's top 10 list. But I don't really give a fuck because I don't structure my life such that anything significant depends on the value of my graduate degree. I'm not trading on it for publications, academic jobs, etc. I'm not saying I'm better than you if your life does depend on the value of your degree, but perhaps it means I can be more rational about a ranking system than you.

    Of course, no one who's claiming to be anti-rankings on principle is admitting this as the reason.

  2. MFA programs aren't like other graduate degree programs. Choosing one is like adopting a kitten. You just have to follow your heart and pick the one that feels most special to you! Ranking MFA programs is like ranking kittens. You can't rank kittens!!! (Or eat them.)

    I think some people actually believe this -- that creative writing programs can't be measured or compared quantitatively because writing is art and art's not quantitative. Basically, these people are confused. MFA programs can be compared along the same data points as other degree programs: cost, availability of funding, acceptance rate, average class size, etc. This information isn't any less factual because the classes are "about" art.

  3. Closely related to #2: Accepting rankings means admitting that MFA programs are like other degree programs, which feels cheapening. It brings your MFA experience down to the cold, calculating level of douchebags going for an MBA. This is art. It's not a business. It's not about money, etc.

  4. You just hate Seth Abramson. Which is your right, by God, but don't try to rationalize your hatred by arguing that everything he does is morally bankrupt and/or maddeningly broken in concept. Instead of going around leaving comments about how you can't rank kittens, just say "Seth Abramson is such a tool LOL" or your variation of choice.

  5. Because your friends don't like them. There definitely seems to be some social bandwagoning going on here and it's very Mac vs. PC. Being anti-rankings or at least anti-Seth's rankings is what all the cool kids are doing. I like the cool kids (by which I mostly mean HTMLGiant; not being sarcastic, I really do love HTMLGiant) so I hope they don't stop liking me just because I don't see what the big flipping deal about rankings is.
I can't think of any more. Input?

BTW I've never met Seth Abramson and I don't follow his poetry so I'm not "defending" him (get it) on personal or poetry-buddy grounds.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Stupid misconceptions about vegetarianism

Someone whose opinions I otherwise respect wrote the following on Twitter last week, in response to Natalie Portman's appearance on Top Chef: "I don't think you can be a 'foodie'/'adventurous eater' if you're a vegetarian."

This is what I call a stupid misconception about vegetarianism. A "foodie" is just someone who is into food. They like eating it, cooking it, reading about it, etc. There is no logical reason that a vegetarian can't be into food.

There is also no reason a vegetarian can't be an adventurous eater. Being a finicky eater and being vegetarian are two totally different things. Vegetarians don't forgo meat because they're picky; they're taking an ethical stance. Most "adventurous" meat eaters probably don't eat kitten meat and human flesh; they're capable of drawing the line somewhere.

Anyway I realized it's been a while since I did a "things you should eat" post, so here are a couple of recipes for you. They are easy, so be adventurous -- put down your hot dog and give them a try!

Coconut-Peanut Sauce
peanut butter
a lime
soy sauce
brown sugar
coconut milk (low-fat is fine)
Throw a knob of peeled fresh ginger and one or two cloves of garlic into a food processor and chop them up pretty fine. Add a big glob of peanut butter (like 1/3 of a cup or so), the juice of a lime, a splash of soy sauce, a squirt of sriracha, a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar (or to taste), and a dash of salt. Pulse that a bit to get it mixed together. Then thin it out with some coconut milk. You won't need the whole can, probably just 1/4 to 1/2 a cup. Get it all whirred together, taste and adjust as necessary so it's the consistency you want and has a good flavor balance: a little sweet, a little tangy, a little spicy.

I do one of two things with this: Eat it cold tossed with noodles (preferably fresh), tofu cubes, shredded carrot, thinly sliced red pepper and cucumber, and cilantro, or pour it over stir-friend tofu and veggies until it's warmed through and serve over rice. It's like dessert for dinner!

Migas, Adam Gabbert Style

Migas is an egg dish that's very popular in Austin. I don't know if it originated there or what. El Paso is the Mexican food capital of the world but I never had migas until I moved to east Texas. This is good for brunch or a quick dinner. Serve with beans and flour tortillas if you're not trying to eat less gluten.
Peanut oil (for frying)
4 (or so) corn tortillas
1 smallish white or yellow onion, chopped
1 medium-sized tomato, seeded if it's very juicy, chopped
1 fresh jalapeño, chopped
Butter (for sauteeing)
4 eggs, beaten with some salt and a splash of milk or half & half
1/3 cup or so shredded cheddar or jack cheese
If you're not fry-phobic, heat a couple of inches of peanut oil in a pan. Slice the corn tortillas into 1/2-inch strips. Fry them in batches until golden and crispy (a few minutes), then drain on paper towels and salt while they're hot. If this sounds terrible, you can use crushed up packaged tortilla chips. Just remember, fear is the mindkiller.

Melt a pat of butter in a large nonstick frying pan (or skillet, if you prefer) and sautee the onion over medium heat until it's softened but not brown. Add the tomato and jalapeño and a little salt and sautee a little longer, until it's starting to look kind of saucy and yummy. Lower the heat a little and add a bit more butter if the pan looks dry (or hit it with some cooking spray) and then pour in the eggs.

At this point you're basically just scrambling the eggs: drag a spatula back and forth across the pan, fold them around, etc. You don't want them to cook too quickly. Only unadventurous scumbags like overcooked eggs. When they're 75-80% done, throw in the fried tortilla strips and cheese and keep stirring until it's all incorporated and the cheese is melted and the eggs are done but still a bit soft. Alternatively, you can sprinkle the cheese on at the end for a melty top layer. Serve with salsa if you want, but the salsa's kind of already in there.

While you eat this, think fond thoughts of Texas, but if you've never been there, don't assume Austin's the only place in the state worth seeing. I'm so sick of Northerners hearing I'm from Texas and saying, "Oh yeah? I hear Austin's cool." There's more to Texas than 6th street, you uninformed dillholes.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Secret Life of the Very-Late-Twentysomething

This morning I was flipping through a Pacifica catalog while I ate my breakfast--Pacifica is a company that makes like natural perfumes and soy candles and shit--and on the last page there was a photo of some little tins of "solid perfume" and a candle scattered on and around a hardcover copy of To An Idea. The fucking David Shapiro book! Isn't that weird? I wonder if he knows his book is being used as a prop in froofy organic soap catalogs? Do you need permission to use someone's book as a prop? Everyone go buy Pacifica products; they are lovers of pre-post-avant poetry.

More stuff from my writerly life:Other than that ... did you know there's a thing called Snickers Salad? It's a simple salad, in most incarnations but three ingredients: apples, Cool Whip and Snickers. Some variations add other white goo, like vanilla pudding, marshmallow creme or mayonnaise.

Pretty fucked up, huh? Now why would anyone think to put those foodstuffs together in a single dish and serve it to unsuspecting gentlefolk? Because they wouldn't be unsuspecting. Apparently it's a staple at Midwestern potlucks; it belongs there right alongside the tater tot hotdish.

Last night we were googling for references to/images of this unnerving phenomenon and found a small-town community blogger from Wisconsin whose bio begins, "I'm an Ultra-Conservative Alpha Male." Who self-identifies with adjectives like that?! The Internet is hilarious.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

We watched After Hours last night

And if After Hours is your favorite movie, you need to examine your life. This means you, Nathan Rabin.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Bronson Pinchot's conversational agenda

From an interview with Bronson Pinchot in A.V. Club; this section is re his role in Risky Business (emphases mine):
We thought Tom [Cruise] was the biggest bore on the face of the Earth. He had spent some formative time with Sean Penn—we were all very young at the time, Tom was 20, I was 23. Tom had picked up this knack of calling everyone by their character names, because that would probably make your performance better, and I don’t agree with that. I think that acting is acting, and the rest of the time, you should be you, but he called us all by our character names. He was tense and made constant, constant unrelated homophobic comments, like, “You want some ice cream, in case there are no gay people there?” I mean, his lingo was larded with the most… There was no basis for it. It was like, “It’s a nice day, I’m glad there are no gay people standing here.” Very, very strange.

Years and years later when people started to torment him with that, I used to think “God, that’s really fitting, because he tormented a lot of people as a 20-year-old.” He made such a big deal about it. Same thing with Eddie Murphy—I remember somebody calling and saying, “You’ll never guess who was just caught with a transvestite!” [Laughs.] And I remember thinking that seemed fitting, because there are certain people in showbiz who make it an agenda, every third sentence has to have something knocking that life choice, and you think, “What are you doing?” Like, these women came up to me in a restaurant—I was wearing a bright red shirt, and I was with some friends, and they said, “Would you like to join our club? We wear red.” What kind of choice is that? If you spent many years in the theater, and then you show up in movies, and people have on their to-do list for the day that they’re going to make a comment every third sentence, it strikes you as very strange. I just thought it was very funny that years later, that became his bugaboo. Which is a nice 1930s term I thought you’d enjoy.

AVC: Do you think he was just insecure? Or that he was young?

BP: I really don’t know. It is what it is; there’s nothing I can add to it. If someone’s 20 years old and every third line out of their mouth is anti-something specific, then draw your own conclusion. I thought it was very weird. Similarly, there’s a certain type of middle-aged woman that will tell you within 20 seconds of meeting you that she can’t find anyone to take her to bed. And that really strikes me as strange, too, like, “Why are you telling me that?” I don’t like any kind of conversational agenda; it makes me uncomfortable. I just think it’s weird. Unless you’re with your very best friends and you’re being silly. Then you can do whatever you want.
Is it me, or does Bronson Pinchot have a conversational agenda? He seems very suspiciously anti-agenda. He can't stop talking about it. It makes me uncomfortable. Draw your own conclusions.

Update: Also he uses the word "weird" 19 times.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Don't ever stay the same; keep changing

My second chapbook with Kathy Rooney, Don't ever stay the same; keep changing, is now available from Spooky Girlfriend Press!

It's only $5, and it's very lovely. Carrie Scanga is responsible for the lovely cover art, and Nate Logan is responsible for the rest of the loveliness. (Well, not the poems. We wrote those.)

As the cover suggests, it's a bit more wistful than Something Really Wonderful. We hope you like it. We hope Chuck Klosterman likes it too. We're going to send him a copy.


I think it's good to have a couple of blog templates (a la "I like So & So a lot") lying around for those times when you feel like blogging but the muse took a powder. Today at the gym I was trying to figure out which would make a better template: X Is Hilarious (as in "Twitter is hilarious" or "My friends are hilarious") or My Friends Are X (as in "My friends are hilarious" or "My friends are idiots").

The gym is an idiot. I watch cooking shows and then I want to recoup whatever calories I just burned in the form of animal flesh. I haven't eaten beef, pork or chicken (or whatever lesser game meats, geez) in almost five years, not counting trace amounts. I wonder what would happen if I just ate a whole burger? Could it kill me? Pictures of food are evil. They are far more appetizing than actual food. Strange, considering that actual food has olfaction on its side.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Absent 4

Issue 4 of Absent is live. It's an all-poetry issue featuring work by:
Dan Boehl * Karen Carcia * Darcie Dennigan * Jessica Fjeld * Andrea Henchey * Lauren Ireland * Matthew Klane * Reb Livingston * Marc McKee * Daniela Olszewska * Matt Shears * Kim Gek Lin Short
Irwin Chen is responsible for the awesome design; we recommend that you read the issue in Safari or the latest version of Firefox to experience its full beauty.

Enjoy the issue, and consider submitting for Absent 5.

I am drawn to frustrating people

Conversation I had with a guy at a party this weekend:

Me: You look like Don Henley!

Guy: Who's Don Henley?

Me: You don't know who Don Henley is? How old are you?

Guy: I'm 28.

Me: He was in the Eagles.

Guy: There were a lot of people in the Eagles.

Me: There were five!

Guy: I'm into black metal.

Me: o_O

Among other recent frustrating encounters: One of my contributors for the next issue of Absent wanted me to make what I considered extensive revisions to the poems I had accepted. I sent him the proofs, he sent back different poems. Poets have on occasion asked me to make revisions before publication; if I like the poems as much or better, no harm no foul. (And usually the poets have said that I can publish whichever version I prefer.) In this case, I much preferred the original poems (most of my favorite lines had been revised out of the new versions), but the author was unwilling to have those published under his name. So I had to pull them from the issue. :( I miss my little poems. His little poems. Whose poems are they, now that I want them more than he does? Editors, have you been in this situation?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Twitter as news source

I don't read (or watch or listen to) the news, but sometimes the news is unavoidable. On 9/11, I got in my car to drive to campus and every station was a news station.

Having TweetDeck open at work is like having a radio on in the background. If something remotely newsworthy happens I tend to hear about it. If it's "big" it shows up as a trending topic. It's how I found out about Michael Jackson, for example (future "Where were you when...").

Here are some of the "news" stories that shocked and amused me this week, and which I might have missed if not for the magical world of Twitter:

#balloonboy: "Remember Balloon Boy?" ("Remember X-that-happened-10-minutes-ago" is such a layup of humor! What's with everyone using the figurative "layup" all the sudden? I heard it at work like five times this week.) I actually watched some of the live video of the aircraft floating around in the sky. With no frame of reference, it was impossible to tell if it was the size of an actual UFO or a remote control toy. Pretty lame video. Turns out, the kid everyone thought was inside was hiding in a box in the attic. Also, his name is Falcon. In short order, "Imma" and "Anne Frank" are also trending topics on Twitter. Please google to understand if you don't see it immediately.

#pepsifail: Pepsico's AMP energy drink released a promotional iPhone app targeting major douchebags. Called Amp Up Before You Score, the idea was to nail your female prey down as one of 24 stereotypes and use the suggested pickup lines on her, then "brag" via social media about your conquest to your friends. Women and non-douchebags expressed outrage. (Douchebags said "Lighten up.") In response, the Amp guys posted this twapology:
Our app tried 2 show the humorous lengths guys go 2 pick up women. We apologize if it’s in bad taste & appreciate your feedback. #pepsifail
(Shouldn't that be "the humorous lengths guys go 2 2 pick up women"?)

The result: Gleeful hand-clapping for the #fail hashtag; ultimately, forgiveness. I love this comment on the Gizmodo post about it:
they tried 2 sound with it, but failed. this is how it should have read:

R app trd 2 sho d lol of guys tryn 2 pick up chx. sry if its fail txt us if ur mad.
Twitter is hilarious.

Filippa Hamilton: In fashion "news"! Ralph Lauren model Filippa Hamilton was photoshopped into cocked hat; people complained; Ralph Lauren was forced to apologize. (Are you picking up a theme here?) Then Filippa was fired, supposedly for being too fat.

Basically, newswise, this whole week was a #women'sissuesfail. (I think #ballonboy qualifies too, for making light of Anne Frank.)

The End.

I like Chris Nealon a lot*

Reading Chris Nealon is like walking the city with an almost-friend whose passing comments are endlessly fascinating--a bit droll, a bit brilliant, a bit tragically hip. Each line is somewhere between a throwaway and a mini-essay that attempts to describe the state of affairs: the scene, the soundtrack, the feeling. It's very zeitgeisty. I don't know why he isn't more famous.

I was going to write a real review of Plummet, his recent book out from Edge, but then I decided I didn't want to analyze it too much. I just wanted to read it.

Some sample lines:
I seriously have a mind of winter

Classicism: build your buildings so that even conquering hordes will be like, No way

Writing may be lame for depicting faces, but photographs are really bad at conveying smell

I know prose is a mighty instrument but still I feel that plein-air lyric need to capture horses moving

The now grins creepily at you

Hi, this is the riot act? Hi.
*Title template stolen from HTMLGIANT.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

America's Next Top Model: You're Either In or You're Out

Ha ha. See what I did there?

Of all the crap on television, ANTM is the one show with no objective redeeming values that I enjoy watching. It's totally shallow and objectifying, cheaply produced and often downright stupid. And yet. There's always at least one contestant that I sort of fall in love with: someone who's interesting and intelligent and quirky as well as beautiful (usually in a genuinely "modelesque" way, as the judges are fond of saying, as opposed to looking like a random cosmetics spokesperson) and, insofar as it makes sense to say so, talented when it comes to modeling.

I get a perverse pleasure out of rooting for this underdog, because she never wins. The quirky girl won in the very first "cycle" (for some reason ANTM runs in cycles, not seasons; perhaps to call attention to the fact that it's always basically the same) and Tyra lived to regret it. She and Adrianne Curry had a falling out post-show, due to Adrianne's complaining publicly about the limited support she was receiving in the modeling industry, and her posing in Playboy, I guess.

Last season, there was Allison Harvard, AKA Creepy Chan (a former Internet meme); before that Heather Kuzmich, who had Asperger's and now designs video games; before that Jael Strauss, who got up in 50 Cent's grill at a party (to the extent that he pushed her into the pool).

This season (cycle 13) I'm in love with Nicole, an introverted, redheaded artist. Isn't she gorge?

Don't ask me why she's posing with a freaking horse. I told you this show is stupid.

Nicole seems to consistently have one of the best pictures if not the best, but she never gets picked first. Even if she were a favorite of the judges', she'd still be doomed to lose. She's too weird (she claims her childhood nickname was "Bloody Eyeball" ... I find that hard to believe) and not bubbly enough. She hasn't formed any strong alliances and the other girls didn't like when she defended (i.e., gave a chance to) the hardass woman they all decided to hate. Tyra loves on bubbly. Nicole is doomed. Why do I torture myself with this show? Why? My consolation is that "winning" ANTM is a fairly meaningless honor anyway, if not dubious, if not a downright stigma.

One of the front-runners, experts and analysts agree, is this girl Erin, who I despise. Not only is she not particularly attractive (sorry, kids, but you don't go on ANTM to not be judged on your appearance), but she's the worst kind of bitch: the kind that doesn't self-identify as one. She fights dirty then cries in the van when people call her on it. Nice girl schmice girl. I hope you choke on your lipgloss.

If you're a viewer, I highly recommend the post-show recaps on Fourfour, Rich Juzwiak's blog. They're at least as entertaining as the show, but without the guilt and self-loathing. Yayz.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Amber Tamblyn Writes Poetry

Yes, that Amber Tamblyn, the actress whose career includes roles in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and The Grudge 2, plus the lead in the TV show Joan of Arcadia. I discovered this (little-known?) fact because she's currently blogging at the Poetry Foundation.

My first thoughts, of course, were like, "Huh?" and then "Ew." But her first post is actually kind of good (also, we share a fondness for Noelle Kocot). But it's not really my style; I don't like the preemptive tactic of avoiding critique by exposing all your weaknesses upfront ("You're a Hollywood actress who can't spell," she writes in the faux second person, "None of the writers at the Poetry Foundation will take your writing seriously. Seriously. Stay in your safe zone where your publicist can help control your image."). The need to lower people's expectations is a sign of insecurity; I do it when I'm playing pool because my game is highly variable, but not when I'm playing ping pong, because my ping pong skills are tight. All this jive, well-written though it may be, tells me that she's not just worried about how she'll be received by the PoFo crowd; she's worried that she's actually not that great a poet.

Are her concerns founded? Well let's take a look shall we??? First I consulted Wikipedia. Simon & Schuster (the Children's Publishing division, ahem) published her first book of poetry, Free Stallion, in 2005. The title certainly sounds like a children's book (Elevator pitch: A cross between Black Beauty and Free Willy for the tender young animal activist). But is it poetry for children?

Semi-inconclusive. Amazon classifies the book as "Young Adult." But maybe she's just been pigeonholed because her acting roles are very YA? The School Library Review says "Free Stallion is a compilation [sic] of poetry that amounts to a portrait of the artist as a teenager.... Many of the selections are appropriately self-absorbed but move beyond journalistic catharsis to real insight and stunning language for one so young." Well, um, she's 26 ... not exactly a teenager. I really hate when young women are marketed as precocious little ingenues. When a 26-year-old man writes a book people don't treat him like the boy detective. (OK, so she was younger when the book came out, but I know a 29-year-old whose publisher just tried to give her the same treatment.)

Back to the poetry, and whether it's any good. (Of course the simple fact that she got a book published doesn't mean anything since everyone knows that's easy when you're already famous (see Billy Corgan*).) You can read a selection of poems from her book on a website called Rebel Asylum (red flag). I think I'll just annotate one of her poems. (Amber, consider this a review. I don't like the poem very much, but part of being taken seriously is getting negative reviews. And if some dipshit reviewer on Amazon made you cry, you need to toughen up a bit. Poets are mean.)

Moths © Amber Tamblyn from the book Free Stallion

I consider myself flexible in awkward positions. [a promising first line]
Not a home wrecker,
but I do knock.
And you and I are pals.
The kind that
open up to each other but keep mouths
at a safe distance. [meh, but withholding judgment]

But I cannot amend all tongues. [taking a turn for the worse]

I walk the dubious centerfold of your eye-line, friend. [kind of interesting, though reiterating that you're "just friends" (with benefits?) is unnecessary]
I carry my purse on the same side you walk next to me
to avoid hand. [speaking of awkward]
To avoid saying anything small.
We are the shredded fuse,
the rebound wires commencing,
badly rerouted and iniquitous. [not convinced Tamblyn is adept with vocab]
We are the failed test of the emergency buddy system. [UGH]
Chums. [WE GET IT]
I am a derelict without furniture or life signs,
painting your posture from distance that
can fit inside the palm of your land. [really, no]

Though we share ice cream instead of pipedreams,
I know
you'd never be lover to another poet
because you are one. [totally unnecessary line]
And the fear of being served a reflection
in the way that you have served some,
is a glass house you are not ready to escape from.
I'll keep liking mint, while you go for chocolate.
I can't seem to get away from. [from/drums/from. um...]

You are just another sheep
jumping the fence in my nightmares. [truly, Tamblyn, you're no "linguisticon"/"metaphor aficionado"]
Counting out numerical complacency,
a platonic answer with a nod-off.
Like a million hairs you've grown near your mouth
plowed down, rough and sore
my beard too wants to be a little fucked and worn, but [whoa, what? that's not very YA]

the time is not now, if not never. [I like this line; could see myself writing it]
Not before, during or after
her, your lover, another, or the next chapter. [just took it too far though]
So lets just say
lets just stay
friends, forever. [way, way too far]

There is no title for our book cover-up,
so I will keep reading like a brood kept laboring. [huh?]

Take a long walk off my short feet,
my stomach pleads hunger no matter
how much I eat
and its open mouth aches.
Where there should be butterflies there are moths. [This could be a good idea/image if it weren't coming after all the muddied ones before it. Like most famous people, Tamblyn needs an editor]
Eating through my loins like loincloth. [huh?]
If there's a map to things spoken, friend
we'll see we are way off.

Buddies. [FINE, have it your way, Tamblyn. You know where I stand.]
You're the worst kind because
you wont even reject me physically,
we can't even celebrate celibacy. [So you ARE friends with benefits!!]
I am your dirty washboard
and yet have never had you inside me.

There's no declaration in our country.

Pals. [ ... ]
You tug the one red string
that seems to run through everything.

I seek your flying patterns from behind,
the blue leading the blind.

Friends. No beneficiary.
So we stay.


Like I said, I'm not impressed. On the other hand, it's her first book, so she might have written the poem a long time ago. She might be a much better writer now, especially if she's reading poets like Kocot. (Though Kocot is kind of a visionary and not easy to imitate successfully.) "It'll be interesting to see" if Tamblyn turns out to be worthy of the PoFo (not that I think the PoFo is so great). But not that interesting.

*Kathy Rooney wrote a great essay on rockstar poets a few years back but the link is broken. Did Contemporary Poetry Review fold?

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Final Countdown

Just a quickie: Matt Bell interviewed Kathy and I for the Collagist blog; we talked about what are aubades and shit. (Search me.)

I'm writing this from our new office space, the views from which are kind of "the jam." We're on the 16th floor of an isolated tower in central Boston, which means I can pretty much see everything. I'm pretty much God.

Also: Irwin, our designer, is putting the finishing touches on the next issue of Absent, and it's looking gorgeous. Stay tuned.

Also: If you're local, I urge you go to the Topsfield Fair, which is running through the 12th, and ride the Gravitron to experience a super-cool installation piece by Chris Tonelli and Andi Sutton.

Also: I realized yesterday my birthday is less than a month away. Anything I must do before I'm 30? Like maybe 30 is the cutoff point for wearing baby barrettes? Let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Reading report!

Someone this weekend (was it Keith Newton?) said he wanted to see a blog that dissected how and why the poems in the New Yorker suck so much from week to week. I volunteered to take that on, but yesterday I saw that Rauan Klassnik had beat me to it.

Aside from having my (Keith's) idea for "content generation" jacked, Rauan's classification of most of the six sample poems as "squirrel poems" caught my eye:
A squirrel poem's where you see a squirrel and meditate on it: its condition, plight, consciousness, conscience, prescience, messy-ness, etc, etc. Then you think of yourself. An epiphany occurs. Light or dark. Black or white. Sometimes striped. Like a skunk. Usually a circle's made. It's quite inspiring. Damnit! It makes me wretch! (I should go check my own poems. Probably a bunch of squirrels in there too. Wretch! Wretch! Wretch!)
My impression is that a squirrel poem needn't actually contain a squirrel, but the fact of the matter is, I have a squirrel poem, in which I quite literally meditate on a squirrel. Although, my squirrel is dead ... which I guess means it falls in the union of squirrel poems and roadkill poems, probably another New Yorker favorite. If I were a Dickman, I woulda had it made.

I sent Rauan the link and he said he would re-post it with squirrellustrations soon. I've prepared myself for likely mockery.


This morning while eating breakfast I flipped through a Rolling Stone, the nearest reading material that would lie open flat; I think John got a free subscription or something. I don't really keep up with music these days, and tend to associate Rolling Stone with butt rock anyway (Megan Fox is on the cover), so I went straight for the "fashion" spread (mostly plaid), which was unexpectedly hilarious. It features Scarlett Johansson and Pete Yorn who recently released a concept album of duets about a fictional breakup.

Actually, that's not what made me laugh; it was Pete Yorn's quote about why it's only just now coming out when they recorded it in 2007: "I sat on it because I was protective of it, and of Scarlett, too. But every so often, she would text me and say, 'I'm listening to our record. I love it!' So I put it on and realized how proud I am of it."

[Insert maniacal internal laughter]

If that's not an admission that he thought the album royally sucked, I don't know what is. Later in the piece, we're informed that Pete Yorn had never even heard ScarJo sing when he asked her to do it! He just, presumably, liked her boobs. God, SCARJO. You're so pointless.

Then I spilled soymilk all over the magazine which seems to have fused most of the pages together. Interesting.


On the train to New London on Friday I finished Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?, while sipping a bourbon and ginger on the cafe car. I had envisioned this ahead of time as being somewhat romantical, but Marstall assured me drinking on an Amtrak is about "as romantic as an Arbee's" [sic]. WWRTFH was pretty good, though it seemed kind of padded, like it could have been a 100-page novella instead of a 200-page novel.

Now, uncharacteristically, I'm reading a nonfiction book: An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks, the first "paradoxical tale" of which makes reference to many of the same philosophers as Maggie Nelson's Bluets. It's about an abstract expressionist painter who goes colorblind, as in, he only sees in grayscale (achromotopsia) following an accident and concussion.

This quote was embedded in a footnote, from a woman who was born with a similar condition:
People say I must see in shades of gray or in "black and white," but I don't think so. The word gray has no more meaning for me than the word pink or blue--in fact, even less meaning, because I have developed inner concepts of color words like pink and blue; but, for the life of me, I can't conceive of gray.
Girl's got no eigengrau! To quote myself, quoting my ex-landlord Korie, quoting some man who blew her mind in like, the seventh grade, "When you're blind, you don't see black, you just don't see."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Napoleon Dynamite of poetry

If poetry had a recommendation system like Netflix, I think people who bought stuff by me would get recommendations for Heather Christle. (I guess Amazon does this too? Is it accurate? Would a poetry-specific algorithm be better or are the people who buy small-press poetry the only people who buy small-press poetry, if you know what I mean? So it works anyway? My Amazon recs include so much random shit because I have ordered, like, textbooks and baby shower presents through the same account, over the span of ~10 years. Order one Philip Glass CD and they think you're some kind of contemporary classical aficionado for the rest of your life, etc.) Probably if you bought any contemporary poetry it would recommend The Man Suit.

I'm trying to figure out what the poetic equivalent of Napoleon Dynamite would be. Supposedly, Napoleon Dynamite is one of a handful of very polarizing movies that totally stumped Netflix's recommendation engine. It couldn't reliably recommend it to anyone based on the other movies they had liked. (I happen to love it.) Hence the Netflix Prize, a competition that offered $1 million to any team that could improve the recommendation algorithm by 10%. I quit Netflix before they declared a winner, so I can't say if the recommendations have gotten substantially better. Actually I don't even know if it's been put into effect yet.

Anyway what poet or book of poetry is unpredictably polarizing? Tao Lin is polarizing, but generally in a predictable way. Same with Billy Collins. It needs to be someone that is occasionally embraced by those whose tastes otherwise run counter. I think it needs to be kind of a cult figure. Maybe Bill Knott? With a lot of cult figures in poetry (Jack Spicer, Russell Edson) I don't know anyone who dislikes them. (P.S. I've been meaning to post this great Edson poem about flies.)

Once someone asked me what the difference between an algorithm and a logarithm is. That was my Napoleon Dynamite. It totally stumped me. I mean, aside from rhyming (and being anagrams I guess), they are two totally different words. It's like asking what's the difference between a molecule and a meerkat. Except that's less confusing, because in the first case your brain does search in vain for something in common beside letters. I guess molecules and meerkats have something in common: cuteness.

It's the first day of fall! I'm so anal that it actually kind of irritates me when people say "Fall has arrived!" when it's technically still summer. So thank god I can say goodbye to that annoyance for another year. What also sucks is those girls who start wearing like fur vests and over-the-knee boots in September even if it's still 76 degrees out. And then try to claim they're "always cold" to justify parading their new fashions prematurely. Whatever dude, I can see your sweat trickle.

Friday, September 18, 2009

I'm going to do something a little embarrassing and wrong ****SPOILER**** so if you loathe self-promotion in all its forms stop reading now. I want to link to something a little gushy about me. It's the intro to a reading I did in New York last year (on Election Day ... I remember because afterward I ate tacos with Jared and Farrah and Julia and then Jared and Farrah and I went to a very crowded gallery/bar to watch the results come in and then we got very drunk with both happiness and actual alcohol ...). Levi Rubeck, who invited me to read in the Periodically Speaking series representing Washington Square, wrote the intro and recently reposted it on his blog.

It's partially embarrassing because he goes on a bit about my translation skillz and I really only dabble in translation, I'm not exactly a world-traveling polyglot here. But he also talks about my chapbook, and the thing is, it's kinda one of the best reviews I've ever gotten. So there's the link for my mom and I guess Justin, most excellent proprietor of Kitchen Press, and anyone who likes reading nice statements about people other than themselves (weirdos).

Thanks to Levi Rubeck for writing it, it made me blush to the extreme (more so when I heard it the first time and was nervous and had a big sidecar in me than when I read it again in the privacy of my own home, but still).

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How to Read: Tips & Tricks!

I learned from Tyler Cowen to abandon books. If you're not enjoying it, abandon. Abandon with abandon. You'll actually end up reading more, by moving on to something you'd rather be reading. I abandoned The Echo Maker, for now if not forever. It seemed fine, but the prose was florid and writerly in a way that made it difficult for me to concentrate on on the train, and that's when I read, so. I switched to Lorrie Moore's Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? which I read good things about in a review of her new novel. It's kind of like a cross between YA and a memoir, which makes for easy train reading, if not the most satisfying reader experience. (My problem is I'm so distractable. I like to look at couples having private conversations and check out women's clothes.)

John does this a lot, this abandoning, though he wouldn't call it that, and it's less because he isn't enjoying the book and more because he loves books so much he can't stop buying more of them all the time and then can't wait to start them. So our coffee table is always thoroughly littered with unfinished books.

Tyler Cowen also advocates throwing books away if they're bad. Don't sell them or donate to a library; remove the offending material, the potential brain poison from the set of readable things. How do we feel about this? Is this a more active form of a bad review, a refusal to create publicity of any kind for garbage? Or does it smack of fascism?

I advocate reviewing books for personal gain. (Or writing "essays" if you prefer.) It forces one to finish the book and be contemplative about it. This makes you smarter and helps you appreciate other books more. Compounding personal benefits! Benefits to the author, press and public are secondary.

I advocate keeping a book or non-trashy magazine in one's (my) bag at all times so one is (I am) never forced to read the Metro. The Metro printed the following headline last week:

US Poverty at Disturbing Low

They meant the opposite of course, but a "newspaper" can't call you-know-what-I-meansies. That is appalling. Plus, the accompanying graphic looked like this:

Seeing as "in America" we read left to right, this makes it look like the poverty rate is indeed going down. Metrotards.

While I'm at it, how dumb is it that the Weekly Dig has a five-star rating system in which two stars equal "average" and one star equals "meh"? Doesn't "meh" pretty much mean average? According to Urban Dictionary it signifies indifference; it's a "verbal shrug." For the love of God, can't things get worse than meh? I mean shouldn't three stars, which is plumb in the middle of the scale, symbolize averageness or that-which evokes-meh, with one star reserved for the horrible? What happens when the next Howard the Duck comes out? OK, I kind of like Howard the Duck. It's like, "What did you think of the terrorist attack?" "Meh."

Monday, September 14, 2009

Things I've been thinking about lately

* How much I indulge in high-definition nostalgia -- remembering periods of my life in excruciating detail, which makes me quite sad, mostly because I start to miss the people I used to spend time with and can't anymore because we have different lives. As sad as it makes me, I won't and don't want to stop doing it.

* How much older I feel, both mentally and physically, than I did a couple of years ago. I can't decide if it's real -- 2009 has been an unusually stressful year for me and stress really manifests in my body and well-being -- or if it's just the fact that I'm turning 30 in November. I keep going back and forth. Does the number itself bother me more than I'm willing to admit to myself? Am I imagining myself older or worse, willing myself older? Does everybody actually get noticeably older at 30? I have started to invest more in skin products.

* How dreadful the medical industry is, this instinct to throw medicine at the problem. When medicine doesn't really correlate strongly with health. I like my doctor very much, but whenever I complain about some new ailment, she urges me to take vitamins. This irritates me. I don't really believe in isolating nutrients from food, and nearly all the food I eat is vitamin-rich/non-processed. I spend a fair amount of money on groceries in order to eat well, why should I have to spend yet more money on supplements? Especially when there's little to no evidence that they do anything. I'm not interested in treatments, I'm interested in causes. We seem in the end to know very little about causes. I am also very irritated at the amount I pay for insurance, when I still have to pay for basic treatments.

* Is my anxiety about getting old just displaced fear of my mother dying? I don't want my dad to die either, but my mother's health is far more precarious.

* Have I become a major downer lately?

* Fall clothes: I want to buy them.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

NES: A Romance

When I was in high school a group of guys formed a kind of club, a kind of preparatory frat called NES. This didn't stand for Nintendo Entertainment System (or I might remember them more fondly) but rather Never Ever Sober. They made t-shirts that said "NES" over the left breast and had cartoon beer mugs on the back and they'd wear them on Fridays (probably; I should fake certainty in the style of a memoir) with their self-made boot-cut jeans (snipped and frayed along the outside seams at the hem)--this last bit I actually found kind of fashiony.

Despite knowing these guys to be basically major d-bags, I had a crush on one of them when I was 15. He was a year older (at the point when that seemed like a lot), his name was Howard and I called him, to be quite honest, Howie. I'm pretty sure the crush was mutual; he was always "grabbing my ass," as the saying went, in the hallways and one time a few years later he kind of kidnapped me from a party and took me to the bar where the NES crew was often served underage.

I don't think it was so much shyness on my part or the girlfriend on his that kept us apart, but the fact that we came from different worlds. He was in NES, I was in NHS. (Actually I wasn't, but that would be a good James Freyian detail to fake.) We both knew it wouldn't have worked because I was evidently so much smarter than him. I mean, he cheated off me in "Keyboarding." The guy on my other side, a hardcore, tattooed, shaved-headed guy whose name just now returns to me, it was Kyle, he cheated off me too, and probably also had a crush on me. In those days it was something of a badge of honor not to freak out when one was being openly harassed. (I learned that skill too well, I think, and tend to remain emotionally placid while intellectually appalled.)

15/16 was a hard age. I was old enough to know what was cool, what I liked, but not old enough to access it. No one at my high school was really "my type." Probably because it's nearly impossible to be my type (extremely secure/self-confident despite not fitting into the mainstream ideal of the American boy/man; my type is a combination of ego and the weird) until you're 20 or so. I mean if you're sort of androgynous and prefer reading poetry or playing chess to team sports, it's hard to be very egotistical in high school, at least without it seeming like a grand front. And in fact it probably is. For lack of smart, confident, unconventionally attractive men at Franklin High, my sexual energy got directed at people like Howard instead.

Even in college, I really wasn't interested in anyone in my class. I spent most of my freshman year crushing on a senior who, again, wasn't available. But that's really a story/post in itself, I think, so I'm going to take a tip from Dan Boehl and serialize this mini-memoir/romance. Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Project Runway hates on weird

Last night I caught up on the first three episodes of the new season of Project Runway. I'd heard it was pretty much the same since moving from Bravo to Lifetime, but I think they've made some unsavory changes in a misguided attempt to please a perceived new audience (or not misguided, I don't know America). One is that all the challenges seemed very girly; PR has typically mixed girly challenges (red carpet gowns, clothes for moms, etc.) with sort of gender-neutral, if not macho, challenges, like designing outfits for sporting events or out of car parts or something. But maybe that'll change over the course of the season.

The more disappointing change was a fairly overt, I thought, disapproval of the weird. The cast is very usual-suspects for the most part: attractive gay men of various degrees of flamboyance, cute, funky young women, a couple of older women, the token "dude's dude," etc. There are usually, also, a couple of more "out there" designers with more of a kooky vision. These people don't tend to win but they are given a chance. This season, however, the footage was edited in such a way as to make these two people seem intolerably annoying if not outright insane, and to boot, despite decent showings, they were the first two kicked off.

This really bothered me for a couple of reasons. (I mean, as much as I'll allow TV, which kind of fundamentally sucks, to bother me.) One, I'm sure these two designers (a woman named Ari who was into highly conceptual, functional, futuristic garb and an Asian with a mohawk named Malvin who was less off the charts but still weird by TV standards) represented themselves exactly as they are on their audition tapes. Why were they cast on the show at all if the judges, producers, etc. have no tolerance for the weird? It was almost like they wanted to make an example out of these people, like, Heads up America, weird doesn't sell. It basically seemed mean, like agreeing to a date with someone just to stand them up.

Secondly, the same guy was in the bottom two both times, and both times squeaked by, even though he was evidently incompetent and had nothing to offer, besides being normal, at least by fashion standards and in comparison to the Exemplars of the Weird. This guy, Mitchell, made the wrong size dress in the first challenge, so he had to basically throw the extra material (which was sheer and nude like stockings) over his model; there was little to no actual sewing or design involved and it didn't even look sexy. In the second challenge, he made an incredibly sloppy looking pair of shorts (both oversized and way too short) and a too-tight t-shirt, created for a pregnant woman; Heidi herself said it looked like she had sewn them ("And I can't sew."). Both times, Mitchell was saved by Ari and then Malvin saying too much about their krazy koncepts. The gang called their designs "bizarre" and "unwearable," when truly they were rather more wearable, by virtual of actually being clothes, than Mitchell's less-than-half-assed piles of scraps.

Mitchell finally got booted in the third episode when he was named "team captain" of a two-person team and did essentially nothing, but at least admitted it. His partner actually won the challenge but he still got voted off.

What the hell, Project Runway? Did he know somebody or what? If "there are no excuses on Project Runway," what's your excuse for keeping this chump on as long as you did when he displayed zero evidence of talent, skill or dedication? I've half a mind to boycott this shit. Someone has to stand up for the weird.