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."


  1. retch.


    not being able to see shades of gray, ironically, can make you a very colorful person.

  2. The artist was initially profoundly depressed about his loss of color sense, then after a few years came to believe that his new vision was a sort of gift. He became a night person and reconceptualized his life. Three years out, a doctor had an idea for how he could maybe get his color vision back, but he turned it down.

  3. squirrel poem and "illustrations" up on my blog now.... and, sorry, no mocking....


  4. According to my (perhaps revisionist) history, the idea for reviewing NYer poems came from me, to my friend Rauan over the transom. He might disagree, being a contrary type. I don't think I executed on it in as timely a fashion, or as well as he, though. My postings are here: http://ishmaelsdog.blogspot.com/2009/08/new-yorker-poems-aug-31-2009-wilbur.html


  5. @Rauan: Thanks! The word "squirrel" is starting to look squirrely, no?

    @Phil: I guess nothing is original. I'll check out your reviews.

  6. yes, reviewing New Yorker poems regularly was Phil's idea (maybe others have thought it too... like Darwin not being only guy to think up evolution....)....

    and i'm hoping he goes for it....

    i just flipped out some thoughts while sitting in a hospital waiting room....

    many of the new yorker poems do, in a way, "suck"
    but they're probably making most of their readers happy. (????)

  7. I have a theory that most people who subscribe to the New Yorker don't actually read it. They just want to think of themselves (and be seen by the mailman and houseguests) as people who read the New Yorker. Those who do read the poems probably figure they must be good--if they're good enough for the New Yorker!

    In other words, TNY falls squarely in my "pseudo-intellectual posturing" category.

  8. After your reading, one of my students quoted that line about being blind as his favorite of the night.

  9. That's nice. I wish I'd come up with it.

  10. Nihil sub sole novum. http://oldpoetry.com/opoem/47791-Richard--Eberhart-The-Groundhog

    The last comment on the Eberhart page is awesome.

  11. Ha ha ha ha! "The last line made me realize this poem is kind of about death." That's ScarJo good.

    John and I have actually talked about how sexual that poem is. See:

    "Half with loathing, half with a strange love,
    I poked him with an angry stick.

    The fever arose, became a flame
    And Vigour circumscribed the skies,
    Immense energy in the sun,
    And through my frame a sunless trembling.

    My stick had done nor good nor harm.
    Then stood I silent in the day
    Watching the object, as before;
    And kept my reverence for knowledge

    Trying for control, to be still,
    To quell the passion of the blood;
    Until I had bent down on my knees
    Praying for joy in the sight of decay."

    Who here thinks he raped the groundhog?

  12. I don't know. It is the speaker kneeling, and not the groundhog.

  13. I think I probably have quite a few squirrel poems, and now, I properly hate them.

  14. How are groundhogs short? In every way? I'm certain they'd claim much of that shortness is relative shortness.

  15. Elisa,
    i'm embarking (ha, what a word!) on a series of poet photo distortions... if you're interested please send me a photo, preferably head shot to

    ronklassnik2001 (at) yahoo (dot) com

    anyone else reading this feel free to do so also... i may well work with what you send....


    Rauan (Ron)