Tuesday, June 30, 2009

T-1 day

Did I do that right? I woke up at 4; anxiety is nature's alarm clock. I was having a dream that I'd been cast in a play ('night, Mother, to be exact) that was opening soon and I didn't have any of the lines memorized. That's the second time this month I've had a not-knowing-the-script anxiety dream. I am not an actress, but I did play one in 9th grade. BTW, have you read Tony Tost's poem, "I Am Not the Pilot"? You'll enjoy that.

You may also enjoy "Look at This Fucking Hipster Basher," confirming that hipsters as a concept are still very interesting. To me anyway. This article takes a different tack than the usual hipster bashing piece, analyzing "knee-jerk hipster rage" more than hipsters themselves. He postulates that great artists of the past, e.g. Jimi Hendrix and Andy Warhol, would be dismissed as hipsters in this day and age. That may sound ridiculous, but Kathy recently conducted an experiment in which she and a coworker took pictures of well-known non-hipsters such as Rachael Ray and the Jonas Brothers, blacked out their faces and asked people if they were hipsters, and most people said yes.

I'm also enjoying (Ew. Who says "enjoy"?) an article in Harper's about the legal causes of the "current economic crisis"; I usually skip the pieces that appear too econ-politico-current-event-heavy, as I prefer my journalism on the barely relevant side, which is a testament to the article's "readability"; Billy Collins would approve. The author argues that one of the biggest causes of our financial system's collapse was our rejection of the law against usury, a law that's been a staple in like, every society since 3000 BC or some shit. Once bankers started charging exorbitant interest rates on loans, they stopped caring if lendees could ever pay the loans back; in fact it was in their interest if they couldn't. The other shitty thing companies/our legal system did is decide that promises made to employees could be wiped out by declaring bankruptcy. You could get out of paying a pension or whatever just by filing for Chapter 11; this happened so much that people no longer saw any value in saving for the future, since your future could so easily be fucked by the man anyway.

It's supposed to rain tomorrow, of course. Thank God we hired movers. They must have some magical system of keeping everything safe and dry. Like antiperspirant. Little known fact: It works better if you put it on at night.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A little recipe

This could easily be doubled or tripled and the quantities aren't exact.

Quick Pickly Japanese Salad

1-2 Persian cucumbers or half an English cucumber, halved and sliced
1-2 carrots, peeled and coarsely shredded
1-2 green onions, sliced
~4 oz. firm tofu, cut into small cubes (optional)
rice vinegar
salt
pepper
sugar
Sriracha

Throw the vegetables in a bowl and add enough vinegar to moisten them with a little extra liquid in the bottom of the bowl. Add about 1/2 tsp each of salt and sugar, lots of fresh ground pepper and a good squirt of Sriracha sauce. Toss together and let hang out for 5 to 10 minutes. With tofu it's more of a salad, without it's more of a condiment.

*

I've been packing all day. John is at a wedding, someone I don't know; watching strangers get married is not my idea of a good time. I have way too much shit! I keep finding, like, rocks I saved for some reason or another. Self, stop bringing home rocks; they belong in the world. I'm throwing out lots of old shoes and bags and crap I haven't even looked at in years. (Or donating and recycling as applicable.) The new place will have much less storage space. It feels kind of Zen to just trash stuff, though the landfill monks might disagree.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Interview: K. Lorraine Graham

Special feature! I interviewed the lovely K. Lorraine Graham about her new book, Terminal Humming, and her "poetics" in general. She's so lovely, in fact, that earlier this year we were sitting outdoors having happy hour cocktails when a woman at a nearby table, who was nearsighted, I hope, and had an ill-behaved dog, told K. Lorraine Graham she was lovely and asked me if she was my daughter.

Enough about me. You can order Terminal Humming directly from Edge here. Lorraine does yoga, is the owner of a parrotlet named Lester and lives by the sea.

I once read a bit of advice quoted in one of Kate Greenstreet’s first book interviews, something along the lines of: You already know the person who is going to publish your first book. That’s always stuck with me. How did you go about assembling your first book manuscript and sending it out? Did you enter contests?

Almost all of my publications have been the direct result of my involvement with various writing and art communities, and that’s especially true of Terminal Humming. So, the short answer is that I didn’t enter any contests or query presses. However, I did publish individual poems from the manuscript and give a lot of readings.

After a reading I gave in Washington, DC, sometime in 2002, Rod Smith, the editor of Edge Books, told me that I should do a book with Edge. Although I’d already written the bulk of the poems in Terminal Humming, the manuscript didn’t exist as a manuscript. Maybe it was the isolation of living in San Diego county, but after I moved here, I realized that I really did want to publish a book. Terminal Humming is two serial poems. I put the poems together in one document, and that was the first draft of the manuscript. I sent the manuscript to some friends, and also put out a call for readers on my blog. After all the feedback I received, I did extensive revisions on the manuscript—a lot of tightening and reorganizing. Then, I got in touch with Rod and told him that I was ready. I’m ambivalent about contests. When I lived in DC and had regular social contact with east coast writing communities, I didn’t feel the need to send out unsolicited work. In San Diego, I’m much more isolated, so I now grudgingly see the value of sending out unsolicited work and entering contests. Even here, though, most of my publishing opportunities continue to be the result of social contact with other writers, publishers, and artists.

Many of your poems have a found text feel to them, or can be reminiscent of machine-generated language. Can you talk a little about your writing process? Do you incorporate text from borrowed sources?

Terminal Humming attempts to investigate social and linguistic assumptions about money and love. I used a variety of procedural techniques and worked with found texts—so, not necessarily machine-generated, but a lot of language games using found texts. However, at least half of the book doesn’t use any procedures or found language at all.

I collect language, sounds, and images, so most of what goes into any poem I write is something I’ve heard, seen, or read. I wrote most of the poems in Terminal Humming after I graduated from college while I was working for a public policy organization focused on international security. The first sequence, “If this isn’t an interview I don’t know what to say,” was written during work hours. I wrote during staff meetings, used notes from meetings with Department of Defense bureaucrats and lifted words from professional documents.

At the same time, I was also interested in exploring lyric forms and incorporating not just the languages of work and bureaucracy, but also the languages of sex, love and gender. I did a lot of poetic research on the ways people describe lovers, girlfriends, boyfriends, wives, husbands, etc. I’d eavesdrop on people in the park or on public transportation, for example, or I’d lurk in online discussion forums. I also read the classifieds and looked at a lot of online dating sites. Not really an exact form of research, but research nonetheless.

As a sometimes practitioner of visual poetry, how would you describe visual poetry (AKA vispo or vizpo) to someone unfamiliar with it? How did you get interested in the form? Is it misunderstood?

Visual poetry is probably as misunderstood as any other kind of poetry. Poetry is material. In other words, it is made from something—from shapes, letters, words, paper, rhythm, space, sound, line breaks, information, connotation, etc. All poems have this kind of materiality, they just don’t necessarily emphasize it. Visual poetry is a type of concrete poetry. Concrete poetry is poetry that emphasizes the materials from which it is made while using some combination of language and non-linguistic elements. Visual poetry is especially interested in the visual elements of its materiality and how those elements are related to language.

DC is known for politics, not art, but in fact when I lived there I had a lot of opportunities to see some amazing shows. Not surprisingly, perhaps, I’m especially drawn to art that uses words or language in some way: Ed Ruscha and Xu Bing, for example. I didn’t start actually making visual poems until I was teaching at the Corcoran College of Art + Design. Teaching at an art school helped me see poetry as part of larger, more complicated, cultural, historical and multi-disciplinary frameworks.

Since moving to San Diego, I’ve been spending as much time in LA as possible. Most of the writers I know up there are also involved in the art world, and both the writers and many of the artists do a lot of interdisciplinary work. I did a dialog with Joseph Mosconi about this very issue—working with multiple artistic traditions, forms, and cultural context.

I’m interested in visual poetry, and more recently, in movement and gesture, because I think it’s important to take risks and push my own comfort level. Sometimes exploring boundaries requires doing something formally different or working in a different medium, and sometimes it require a different subject matter or vocabulary. I feel like I’m getting somewhere when my work starts to freak me out.

You somewhat recently moved from Washington, D.C., to the San Diego area. How do the cities’ poetry communities compare? Has your writing changed, either formally or in content, since you switched coasts?

I’ve already drafted two answers to this question. One that was very negative and one that was very bland. I’m going to try a third time. There are poets and artists in San Diego, good ones, but I don’t quite think there is a community.

Maybe there is, or maybe there could be—sometimes I’m optimistic. We organize as many parties as we can manage. James Meetze, and Sandra and Ben Doller started a reading series downtown that isn’t directly affiliated with any of the universities, and people do come and socialize and hang out afterwards. UCSD has started an MFA program. I probably have as many poetry and art related engagements now as I did in DC—but I go up to LA a lot. Socializing and creating any community anywhere requires effort, but in San Diego it requires a lot of effort. No more stopping by someone’s place or a bar at 9 pm for a drink on a Wednesday here. I don’t find driving home for 40 minutes on a seven-lane highway after having a few drinks to be relaxing. And of course it’s not safe.

The beach is beautiful, but it’s flanked by a combination of military bases and isolating, decentralized suburban sprawl. Without the beach, living here would be pretty intolerable. I’ve never really lived in the suburbs before, and I don’t think I’ll ever get comfortable with it. The infrastructure of San Diego literally makes it difficult to interact with others. San Diego county, like many suburbs, is not pedestrian friendly, has horrible public transportation and is a pain in the ass to move through even in a car. I find it difficult to socialize in a casual way here, in part because getting from point A to point B is so difficult, and the distances are so far. As I’ve already suggested, you can’t really invite someone over at the last minute or drop by someone’s house because they live at least 10 miles from you, and probably even 20 or 30. I mean, we do anyway, it just doesn’t work as often.

But, living here has changed my work. Increased contact with visual art in LA has been important, as I’ve already mentioned, and living here has given me a lot of new fodder for my poetry. Most of the US is suburban. I’m experiencing a culture that is more pervasive throughout the US than the international and urban cultures I am more familiar with. I’ve spent most of my life in cities or small towns, and a substantial part of my life outside the US, so living here is helping me understand certain aspects of US culture and history. San Diego is a great place to investigate cultural fantasies.

Is there still a place for active feminism in poetry, or is everything pretty much “even” now?

I think there will always be a place for active Feminism in poetry. At its most basic, Feminism is a critique of power structures and a reminder to question and challenge cultural, social, and economic assumptions—and to consider the role that gender plays in supporting and undermining those assumptions. Poetry allows for a diverse and flexible investigation of life. I’ve always been interested in where cultural values come from and how they directly affect individual people. Gender plays a huge role in cultural values, so I find it impossible to ignore in my writing.

Since moving to San Diego, my relationship to Feminism has changed. I take less for granted. It is almost pre-Feminist here, and I suspect it’s not particularly unique in that way. Many young women here marry quite young and have children without really considering or being aware of doing things in a different way. When I first moved here, people kept on referring to me as Mark’s wife, even though he repeatedly told them that we weren’t married. People I don’t even know will often ask me point blank why Mark and I aren’t married, or why I’m not interested in having children. There are always people protesting in front of Planned Parenthood—the best sign I’ve seen so far said “sex partners lie,” implying that the only man you can really trust is your husband. When I was interviewing for an editorial and administrative position, again, not long after I moved here, the man interviewing me asked me directly if I were married and on my husband’s insurance. That never happened to me in DC. Cultural expectations about women remain traditional in many ways, especially when it comes to marriage, and the institution of marriage is directly connected to social and economic values I’m not interested in supporting. Feminism provides a language for approaching all of this, both in poetry and in everyday discourse.

It’s a weird moment for Feminism in US poetry, though. Although it isn’t easy for anyone to get a tenure-track academic poetry job, the majority of part-time, low-paid teachers across all disciplines are still women, according to this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Departments interested in an experimental or avant-garde approach are probably more interested in hiring women. At the same time, poetry and literature magazines, even ones interested in experimental writing, still tend to publish more men than women (though that’s a complicated statistic, so I’ll refer you to all the conversations surrounding the “Numbers Trouble” [PDF] article by Stephanie Young and Juliana Spahr for more details). Writing that tackles the complexities of sex, gender, and power still freaks people out—regardless of the author’s gender. And this is especially true of writing that investigates what role language plays in the complexities of sex, gender and power. Kathy Acker, Nada Gordon, and Abigail Child, for example, are not going to be mainstream any time soon.

What are your poetry pet peeves – some form or move or even word that you hate seeing published?

As may be obvious by this point, I’m not really interested in poetry that doesn’t attempt to address the numerous cultural contexts and ways of speaking it’s caught up in. Thankfully, there are a lot of ways to do that in poetry. So, there’s no form or move or word that I hate seeing published. I am, I admit, irked by poetry that attempts to take on avant-garde forms without really being interested in the cultural implications of those forms. Enjambment or space on the page does not necessarily make a poem edgy. I’m interested in poems that create dynamic tension between their form and their content.

What question do you wish someone would ask you in an interview? You can then answer it or not.

I wish someone would ask me something more interesting about my sex life than: “Why aren’t you married?” It would also be nice to talk about my interest in hula hooping, jumpsuits, and Vincent Price.

I promise to cover sex and jumpsuits next time. Who are some of your old favorite poets? New favorites? What are your favorite journals? Blogs?

Djuna Barnes, Mina Loy, Jean Rhys, Colette, Jane Bowles, Paul Bowles, Bernadette Mayer, Kathy Acker, Dodie Bellamy and Nada Gordon are all important writers for me. She’s not a poet, but I have a long-running obsession with Sophie Calle’s work. Mark [Wallace] is one of my favorite poets, that’s part of why I continue to get along with him so well. Rod Smith, my publisher, is also one of my favorite poets. I am irritated and fascinated by the way Alice Notley uses archetypal feminine/masculine binaries in some of her recent work (I’m thinking of Alma). More recently, I’ve been enjoying reading Hannah Weiner and Lisa Robertson, and also the work of Stephanie Taylor, an LA-based artist. You’re one of my new favorite poets—am I allowed to say that?—and so are Lindsey Boldt and Ali Warren. I’m currently mulling over some of Danielle Pafunda and Lara Glenum’s work as well—it’s not hitting me in the gut, but I can’t stop thinking about it, so that means that I’ll probably need to try and write a review or an essay to try and articulate why I’m thinking about it so much. Colin Smith, a writer based in Winnipeg, has a fabulous book on Krupskaya called 8x8x7. Anne Boyer has a novel called Joan forthcoming from Bloof Books that I’m excited about.

My favorite favorite blogs are mostly food blogs. I’m especially fond of Almost Turkish Recipes and The Travelers Lunchbox. In terms of poetry blogs, I read Nada Gordon’s, Dodie Bellamy’s, Bhanu Kapil’s, Mark Wallace’s, and a bunch of others. The links on my own blog are a pretty accurate reflection of the poetry blogs that I read—I go on frequent blog fasts, though, especially when I’m teaching a lot because I get overloaded with information.

It’s harder for me to think about my favorite journals. Area Sneaks, edited by Joseph Mosconi and Rita Gonzalez, is an LA-based journal that is interested in interdisciplinary work and moments of intersection between visual and linguistic work. The most recent edition of Action, Yes was quite interesting, and it had work by Tina Darragh, an old and new favorite poet of mine! I like the ambition in terms of scope in magazines like Absent, Big Bridge, Drunken Boat and h-ngm-n. I never like everything in Tarpaulin Sky or Octopus, but there’s almost always at least one piece in every issue that I really, really like. I don’t think HOW2 has done a recent issue, but there’s enough in their archives to keep me interested for a long time. I also read Womb regularly and subscribe to Foursquare. I also subscribe to, ahem, Lucky and Food & Wine.

I subscribe to Lucky too! And Food & Wine is better than most journals. What have you been cooking lately? [Ed. note: This interview was conducted in spring.]

My mom cooked a lot of amazing Persian and middle eastern food for me when I was growing up, and I also like cooking it. My go-to preparations for fish, rice, chicken, etc. all come from this tradition. Lately I’ve been eating a lot of asparagus, beet greens, artichokes, and fresh strawberries, since they are all in season here. And fava beans have also started showing up in the markets—all of these spring vegetables lend themselves to various kinds of middle eastern food quite well. I recently made a lentil, eggplant and pomegranate molasses stew that was very tasty, and also a gratin with root vegetables. I also like to make pesto with arugula and put it in/on everything—omelets, fish, vegetables, bread…

Aside from all the spring vegetables and the middle eastern food, I’ve been making a lot of pizza and various types of flatbreads recently. I grilled a pizza that was pretty good, but the crust was too thick. My favorite so far was a foccacia with leeks and Emmental cheese. I love any and all cheese.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Twitter raises more questions than it answers

Dying your avatar green: meaningful protest or empty signaling?

Asserting anything on Twitter: communicative microblogging or empty signaling?

How does Ken Baumann know Shane Jones?

Is The Secret Life of the American Teenager a reality show?

Why isn't Shane Jones following me on Twitter?

Why are celebrities so boring? Is Twitter an inherently boring forum?

No, because Tao Lin's tweets are better than most of his long-form blogging these days.

Sorry, that last one wasn't a question.

I only have one "favorite" tweet, and it's by Tao Lin: "i 'chugged' iced coffee then felt what seemed like 'nothing' then felt sort of worried then thought 'what did you expect' in a kind tone"

But I also really liked a tweet by someone named @Babylonian who I take to be a gamer, which went something like this: "finally 'unfollowed' @tao_lin feel like a 'huge' weight of 'reading' schizophrenic 'tweets' of a 'pretentious' 'douche' has been 'lifted'"

Why the fuck doesn't Twitter search work, like, at all?

Why doesn't googling "boston rain june 2009" (or variations with "rainfall," "precipitation," "average" etc.) validate my belief that this month has sucked beyond reason with statistics?

Why don't alarm clocks have an adjustable snooze time? If they do, how come no one knows about it? If they do, why didn't anybody tell me?

Why are there no great female composers?

On Silliman's blog today

I don't mean to be disrespectful, but is this not the creepiest picture ever?


If that doesn't convey maniacal laughter from the grave, I don't know what does.

Weird choice, that's all I'm saying.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

I'm not the only one

Lots of Google results for scotch+tastes+like+bandaids although Band-Aids don't smell the same way they used to, strongly of iodine and plastic, so this comparison, which gets me scoffed at regularly, is headed for obsolescence ...

I don't wanna pack!

Sad sack attack

I went to bed sad, I woke up sad and in the perverse way one pokes and jabs at a wound I was compelled to make myself sadder (Why? Why do I listen to music that reminds me of even sadder times, read emails from sad times, look at sad photos when by any reasonable standard I'm already sufficiently sad?). I was packing the last of the books, and one of the strays was the journal John writes in every year on his birthday.

I don't know if this was pure denial and self-justification on my part or a sincere case of day-after stupids and bad judgment, but because John has read parts of his journals out loud to me before, I didn't think he would care if I flipped through it. In my mind, at the time, it was on par with looking through his photo album, which I wouldn't assume I'd require permission for. But duh: If he's reading to me he's editing out anything he wouldn't want me to read because it's private and/or would bother me.

My only defense/evidence that I didn't think I was doing anything particularly sneaky is that I told him about about it right afterward ... and duh: he didn't like it. So now I've got guilt (my very least favorite feeling, much worse than sad) on top of the sadness. I think I said here a couple of weeks ago in the context of EQ that I don't often feel guilt or remorse. It's not because I'm not capable of it, which I may have unintentionally implied; it's because I try really hard not to do stuff I know is wrong, since doing those things makes me feel awful whether or not there are hard repercussions.

I have a frequent recurring dream in which "everyone hates me." That sounds so childish I know, but it's really upsetting. Usually, for whatever reason, the cast of characters is my high school friends, centering around my best friend from ages 12 to 18 or so, Marisa Lewels, who now lives in LA. I'm pretty sure she doesn't actually hate me, but in my dreams, she almost always does. And everyone else tends to agree. In the dreams I feel mixed guilt and defensiveness; I'm never sure if I've actually done something wrong or if it's all just a big misunderstanding and/or conspiracy.

Today I kind of feel like everyone hates me. Recording my self-pity in this public forum makes me feel sort of ironic toward it, and therefore less shitty, so please, dear readers, indulge me.

This is Chris Starkey.


I haven't seen him in a long time and I miss him lots. He texted on Friday to say he is coming to Boston soon, which makes me happy, somewhere under the sadness. Because I get to see him, and because he doesn't hate me.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Please to repeat

Today I took a long, hard look at myself, and if I'm honest, I think 90% of why the ongoing weather pattern bothers me so much is its effect on my footwear choices. I really hate wearing socks. One of the best things about Jun/July/Aug is getting to wear sandals all the time. Maybe other people wear sandals in the rain, but for me having wet, gritty feet is down there with socks.

Don't get me wrong, I'm also pissed that I can't run outside and go on picnics at the beach etc. but I can't do those things M-F anyway, and I still hate it when it rains during the week.

Things I will not do right now: link to that "Shoes" video that was going around a couple of years ago. It really wasn't that funny.

*

I made miso soup for dinner. The miso paste was $10. Is it a nonrenewable resource? Geez. This is part of my mission to eat more fermented food. Aside from yogurt, there don't seem to be many fermented foods I can incorporate into my near-daily diet. I mean I'm not going to pile kimchi on everything I eat. I'm not that kind of girl.

*

Yesterday and this morning on the train I read a Reginald Shepherd chapbook that John Gallaher sent me shortly after the former's death; I'm only just now getting around to it. I read the first few poems over again several times, not something I usually do (I echo Chris Higgs' sentiments on abandonment). Could I be getting more patient? I liked these lines:
searching out what. The highway says No history
here
, a doe dozes beside the asphalt, or else
it's dead. It's dead. They line up single file
to cross the road, the first one waits
until the next one crosses. Look left,
look right, look left. The poems about nature
and so forth. The bit I really like is that "it's dead. It's dead." Something about the short repetition, a kind of stutter, both sonically and visually, it's one of those "moves" I fall for again and again. Chris Tonelli wrote a poem a long time ago that began with the line "Primitive image, image" something something, and it comes to me a lot.

Roadkill, too. It's a poem cliche, but one I enjoy.

The first poem in the book includes a line from a Mariah Carey song ("Then a hero comes along"). Remember how young Mariah Carey was? In the past? My nostalgia knows no bounds.

*

As promised, a David Shapiro poem. It's from a 1983 book called To an Idea, a title I loooove. I wish I'd come up with it first. Probably the #1 reason I find a poem forgettable or abandon it is a lack of ideas. I hate when poetry has no ideas.

These poems too I find very re-readable. His sense of the line reminds me a little of Mary Jo Bang. Here's one I like despite all the similes (not my fave).

TO PAINTING

A host of golden pencils
and MIND a quarterly review
I see you like roses on television
crouching with thoughts about this obscure life

Lagging behind like frost on the window
while others are at the core of a vista
as if police could be summoned for this sad soul
with the worn-out look of a grafted rose

On the window sill the window birds
fan their wings to the air-conditioner
after a specious summer interval
and Heifetz plays Le Plus que Lent

We were the higher ones
and the travesty you can never forget
To be followed by shining blackberries
It was certainly a peaceful walk with only the occasional shepherd

Now the worst of not being a botanist
Was this, for instance, the end of my poor plant?
Like a pot in which the rose is received
By enemies of the rose.

Revenge made
no sweeter by the site of its celestial resume
The Scherzo Tarantelle is finished
The reference to Enrico Fermi on a little boat is hard to forget.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

So many good jokes here.

Terminologie

People I thought I saw yesterday: Bill Maher, Sam Waterston (neither of whose last name I was sure how to spell, but have no fear, I checked Wikipedia). I ended up talking to "Bill Maher" and he was wearing a name tag, so I confirmed that he was not in fact Bill Maher. "Sam Waterston" made eye contact and gave me a very Sam Waterstonesque look that said "My god you recognize me!" But why would Sam Waterston be carrying a suit in downtown Boston?

All this gives me an idea for a website. Investors, please backchannel.

*

So I'm trying to come up with a better term for a personality type that I called on my Twitter profile "rationalist/aesthete." It seemed important to emphasize both traits in equal measure; identifying as either alone would evoke the wrong image. In other words, most rationalists are not aesthetes, and vice versa, but I feel a strong inclination toward both worldviews and recognize a few like-minded individuals, though I can happily be friends with people who are only one or the other. "Rationalist/aesthete" is pretty self-explanatory I guess but not all that catchy, if my ultimate goal is to create a brand, rally a movement and get bought by Google. (According to a book I was reading yesterday, that's the logical outcome of a viral marketing effort?)

Tyler Cowen (of Marginal Revolution) is a high-profile R/A. Whereas Eliezer Yudkowsky is a pure rationalist. In the poetry blogosphere, I'd identify Seth Abramson as R/A. There are plenty of representative aesthetes here: take Mathias Svalina and Johannes Goransson. Their main subject is, well, the subjective. They frequently examine a piece of art (a book of poems, a film, an album, etc.) to establish whether or not it is "good." I'm very interested in all that, in asserting my tastes and eating "good" food and so on. But I'm equally interested in the purview of the objective (AKA science facts!).

I should point out that it's not enough to be merely "rational" as in intelligent, cogent, not insane. To qualify as a rationalist, by my standards at least, you need to be particularly interested in attaining a level of rationality beyond what's necessary to function in society. Because most people aren't rationalists, it probably puts you at a social disadvantage most of the time. There's much questioning of assumptions, demanding evidence, ruthless argumentation and other elements that generally piss people off. So don't everybody go waving your arms crying "Me, me, I'm a rationalist/aesthete too!"

Can anybody throw out some other examples or counterexamples? I realize everyone I named above is a man. Maybe women tend to be more well-rounded (i.e., better) and therefore more difficult to type. (Can "type" be used as a verb in that way?)

*

Remind me to post an excellent David Shapiro poem I read on the train last week. John, don't pack David Shapiro.

Monday, June 15, 2009

I had a very good weekend

Some of my favorite poet people came to Boston this Saturday. Some of them read good poems in a gallery, e.g. Julia, like a doll on behalf of itself:

Julia Cohen
Also Justin, getting immense pleasure out of reading his sent emails:

Justin Marks
Some of them just drank a lot and exposed themselves. That was equally satisfying.

These are my knees:

knees
Aren't they hot?

Not pictured: Sam, Paige, Mathias, Heather, Janaka, Brian, Chris, Kim, Mary, Jeremiah (who hates me), Cindy, Julia's shoes, the guy Chris stabbed with a live cat, the girl with the mustache shirt, the martini glasses we sorely misused, skulls in assorted sizes, vomit, Corey Feldman, etc.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Can a fondness for cranes be taught?

Finally got around to reading the Louis Menand article in the New Yorker everyone is talking about (and by everyone I mean "creative writers," so, no one important). It seems to me that "Can creative writing be taught?" is fundamentally the wrong/dumb question. (Full disclosure: From here on out I barely address the article. Good news for those who didn't bother to read it. It's mostly about fiction. Also mostly pro-MFA.)

The pertinent question is, "Can creative writing be learned?" or to put it another way, "Can writers get better?" Creative writing isn't an instinct so the answer to the first question is obviously yes. The second seems obviously true as well. I'm a better writer than I was five years ago and I was better then than five years before that and back into my infancy. (Note I didn't say "Do writers get better" since writers can also of course get worse.)

Creative writing programs are just a structured way of getting better, no? Sometimes the instructors facilitate that, sometimes they harm or are beside the point. But the reason you get an MFA is to buy some time (figuratively or literally, depending on funding) to get better, by writing a lot and reading a lot and thinking about writing and talking about writing. Finding out what people like and don't like and whether or not you care. And drinking a lot, probably. (If there were no creative writing programs, people would learn to write by reading.) The results aren't guaranteed, but neither are medical schools guaranteed to turn out good doctors or law schools good lawyers, etc. And yes lots of workshops suck and there are too many programs producing boring poemy "workshop" poetry etc., but that doesn't mean the concept of the workshop is fundamentally flawed or moot.

Do people ask these dumb questions about other arts? "Can film making be taught?" "Can music be taught?" Duh. No one thinks you go to school to learn to be talented. (I hope.) You go to nurture any talent you hope you have and learn the mechanics of the field. And, lest we forget, you go for the NETWORKING!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Do it twice and it becomes tradition

I don't enjoy ritual as much as the average person (or the average person who registers in my everyday awareness ... I can't speak for distant cultures, etc.). This is not to say that I don't engage in ritualistic (repetitive, structured) behaviors, but that I don't file them under the warm & fuzzy rubric of "ritual" so much as "habit." "Habit" feels more neutral to me, whereas "ritual" seems quasi religious or spiritual even in its negative contexts (e.g. ritualistic killings). ("Spiritual" is another word that gets my goat.)

There are things I enjoy on a habitual level, but as soon as people get excited about them as rituals (or should I say qua rituals) I tend to lose interest. As a dumb example, I used to like to watch Mickey's Christmas Carol, the only version I really care for, every year around Christmas. For a few years in a row, I didn't get around to it until Christmas Eve and the rest of my family, also fans, watched it with me. Then it somehow became a ritual, without anyone, you know, asking me. Suddenly it was like, "Oh boy, it's Christmas Eve! We have to watch Mickey's Christmas Carol! It's a tradition!" And poof, appeal gone. It started to feel obligatory and extrinsically imposed, i.e., "not organic."

In fact, pretty much everything I wrote above applies to "tradition" as well. Tradition is even warmer and fuzzier for the average American than ritual I'd guess. Christmas, Thanksgiving, and weddings are especially ripe for ritualized traditionalism. And most of it (sorry) bores me. I think it has something to do with the fact that since I hit 25 or so, the years stream by at a fairly blurry clip, such that even events that only occur once per year do not feel special anymore. When I was a little kid, it always felt like Christmas would never, ever come. Now, my last five Christmases feel basically the same. All the rituals and traditions don't help me distinguish shit temporally. I'd prefer to be able to say, "Oh yeah, that was the year we flocked the tree and roasted a goose instead of a turkey." Or whatever. In general, things that happened last year seem about as far back in my past as things that happened three or four years ago. Do you eventually reach a point where you can't remember which decade something occurred in? God. Anyway, boredom is a ruling emotion, if you can call it that, in my life; boredom avoidance is one my chief decision-making heuristics, etc.

Or take weddings. If I were ever going to get married, which at this juncture holds little to no draw for me, I wouldn't give any kind of shit about the age-old wedding traditions like "something borrowed, something blue blah blah." Just ... who cares? But weddings are so prepackaged I wouldn't even know how to escape all the "rituals" (read: cliches). I'd rather elope. (Or just not get married.)

I think for a ritual/tradition to feel exciting or special at this point, it would have to only happen every seven or twenty years or something, Halley's comet-type stuff.

"Is it just me?"

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I really like this little "notice" on Jessica Smith's blog:
I’ve decided to write single poems for single readers such that writing is publication and the reader I appeal to is the one precise reader who receives the poem. This is partly practical: I don’t have the time or money to write many poems or make multiple copies. It’s partly on curmudgeonly principle: there are too many poems in the world, floundering around looking for the right reader, trying to appeal to large audiences in hopes of catching that single sensitive soul (a tuna net for a dolphin). And it’s partly that I am satisfied writing one poem for one person. A poem is always a valentine, it is always about love [...] A poem has to be an open letter because the writer and reader will die, are mortal, must appeal to others to remember their love.
I remember once Jessica referred to herself as "beautiful" on her blog, rather off-handedly, maybe as part of a list of reasons why people react poorly to her? It kind of blew my mind. Not in a "How dare she!" kind of way. It was so matter-of-fact it didn't even come off as vain. I was just impressed that she would have the balls to use that word in self-reference, instead of a more qualified qualifier like "attractive." She is, anyway, self-evidently beautiful.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Personalized P.S.'s

On John's recommendation, I started reading Nathan Austin's Survey Says! on the train this morning. This book is seriously, literally hard to put down. It's just a list of answers given on Family Feud over a couple of seasons, but arranged in alphabetical order by the second letter, which is so much better than regular alphabetical order, and, methinks, also better than some more deliberate manner of arrangement. A sample:
I declare war! I'd have to say decorating. Adjust the seats. I'd like to go with "drawers." A doctor. A dog. A dog. A dog. I don't believe this, but tarot cards. I don't, but some people might buy alcohol. I don't drink, but don't you wake up with a dry mouth?
Another:
I'm going to go back to the Bible on this one, with King James. I'm going to go out on a limb here, and I'm going to say their life-span. I'm going to go with a slit. I'm going to go with a snake. I'm going to go with a donkey. I'm going to go with encore. I'm going to go with family stories. I'm going to go with fish. I'm going to go with Go Fish. I'm going to go with his girlfriend. I'm going to go with Jessica Simpson. I'm going to go with laundry.
That is some Dr. Seuss flarfy trance magic.

This totally reminds me of the Google game I was introduced to via Mathias's blog, whereby you type the beginning of a phrase into Google and let the autofill suggestions tell you what silly and fucked up things your compatriots are searching for. Poetry meets SEO!

Also, this book makes me feel like a very "active reader," because I can try to guess the questions. "There is nothing good on T.V." Reasons to kill yourself!

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I think I promised some Mac-fan-bashing at some point. Allen pointed me to the following quote which is illustrative of the annoyingness of Mac people: "I still take it as a personal affront that Mac users have had to wait so long for a usable build of Google Chrome."

He actually had to explain to me why this is a good example, and he explained it thusly: An analogous statement would be: "I still take it as a personal affront that soy-milk-mixed-coffee drinkers have had to wait so long for Starbuck's [sic] to serve their new frappuchino in a soy version." I.e., if you're going to opt out of the mainstream, don't whine when the mainstream doesn't roll out the red carpets for you!!!

Nuff said?

P.S. Have you noticed my fondness for the term "opt out"? It just gets the job done.

P.S. If you are a Mac person, I hope we can still be friends.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Tastee Delites

I once sent Leigh Stein a chapbook inside a flattened Nilla Wafers box. Little did she know, the wafers therein had become crumbs, and the crumbs had become rum balls.

Did you like my little story?

Three key ingredients for vegan cooking:
  • Coconut milk
  • Peanut butter
  • Avocado
What's the connection? Fat. These foods provide much-needed richness to a cuisine that can't rely on butter, cream, cheese, bacon and other animal-derived delicacies for flavor. But fat carries flavor. Give a man a good, fatty, salty Thai curry or a big bowl of peanut noodles and he will not complain "What is this vegan crap." Unless he sucks, in which case I can't help you.

I left olive oil off the list because, duh. You also need to use a lot of olive oil. Fat isn't bad for you people. In fact, even saturated fat isn't bad for you. Americans eat less saturated fat than almost any other culture, but keep keeling over from heart attacks. "Think about it." However, most saturated fat is made from God's favorite baby animals. So I mostly stick to "EVOO" (gag).

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The editor of the Readings section of Harper's finds nothing so droll as human torture. Every month he unearths new anecdotes of gouged out eyeballs and men eating cement made from their own ground up bones and urine. He's like, "Heh! The humanity."

That last bit was not about food. I pulled the old bait & switch on you.

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Now that you're good and hungry, a recipe (NB: not vegan):

Creamy Lemon Pasta

1/2 pound egg pasta, preferably pappardelle or fettuccine
3 T butter (about)
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 or 2 garlic cloves, minced or sliced
1/3 cup light cream (about)
1/4 cup plain yogurt (about)
splash of white wine (optional)
1/4 cup grated parmesan, pecorino or romano (about)

Bring a pot of water to a boil, add a big pinch of salt and cook the pasta. While that's going on, melt the butter, then add the lemon zest and garlic and sautee over medium-low heat for a bit; don't let the garlic or butter brown. Then add the cream, yogurt and wine along with some salt (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of coarse or kosher salt probably) and freshly ground pepper. (You could use all light cream or full cream and ditch the yogurt if you wanted this to be really disgustingly rich, as it was the first time I made it. Mmmm.) Bring the mixture to a simmer and let it hang out on lowish heat while the pasta finishes and you make a salad or some roasted asparagus or what have you to go on the side. When the pasta's ready, drain it and toss it with the sauce, the lemon juice and the cheese. Most of the sauce will absorb into the pasta, and this is yummy. Serves 2 with probable leftovers.

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John is packing our books in alphabetical order so we can easily shelve them that way. File under fine line between simplification and compli(fi)cation.

Tomorrow we may go see the new Pixar movie. My brother no longer works at Pixar, but I think he still gets some kind of profit-sharing bonus from ticket sales. So this one's for you, bro. Get me back at Xmas.

Emotionally dumb

Yesterday I tweeted about a Harvard Business School study that found Twitter has a gender bias; men have more followers and both women and men are more likely to follow men, even though there are actually more women registered on Twitter. The people who did the study framed this as surprising, since other social networks (e.g. Facebook) are slanted the other way, with women having larger networks. It doesn't surprise me, however, since Twitter seems closer to blogging than a social network, and the blogosphere strikes me as being dominated by men. But that's a tangent for another day; I bring this up because my friend commented that "maybe twitter's 'chaste compactness which precludes psychological analysis' (benjamin) makes it boring to (high-EQ) shorties?"

I'm sure I've heard the term "EQ" before but I didn't feel immediately familiar with it. It means, of course, intuitively, something like emotional IQ or emotional intelligence (thus failing as an acronym on the basic level). The first Google result for "high EQ" is a list of signs of high and low EQ. A sampling:

A person with high EQ:
  • Does not diguise [sic] thoughts as feelings by the use of "I feel like...." and "I feel that...." sentences.
  • Is able to read non-verbal communication.
  • Balances feelings with reason, logic, and reality.
  • Acts out of desire, not because of duty, guilt, force or obligation.
  • Is independent, self-reliant and morally autonomous.
  • Is intrinsically motivated.
  • Is not motivated by power, wealth, status, fame, or approval.
  • Is emotionally resilient.
  • Tends to feel optimistic, but is also realistic, and can feel pessimistic at times.
  • Does not internalize failure.
OK, so, I basically feel like all these things apply to me, with the exception of the first one. Pretty sure I do that. I mean, "I feel like I do that." Now for the signs of low EQ:
  • Doesn't take responsibilities for his feelings; but blames you or others for them.
  • Can't put together three word sentences starting with "I feel..."
  • Can't tell you why she feels the way she does, or can't do it without blaming someone else.
  • Attacks, blames, commands, criticizes, interrupts, invalidates, lectures, advises and judges you and others.
  • Tries to analyze you, for example when you express your feelings.
  • Often begins sentences with "I think you..."
  • Sends "you messages" disgused [sic] as "I feel messages" For example, "I feel like you ...."
  • Lays guilt trips on you.
  • Withholds information about or lies about his feelings. (Emotional dishonesty)
  • Carries grudges; is unforgiving.
  • Is uncomfortable to be around.
  • Is insensitive to your feelings.
  • Has no empathy, no compassion.
  • Frequently feels inadequate, disappointed, resentful, bitter or victimized.
  • Is rigid, inflexible; needs rules and structure to feel secure.
  • Is not emotionally available; offers little chance of emotional intimacy.
  • Is insecure and defensive and finds it hard to admit mistakes, express remorse, or apologize sincerely.
  • Uses his intellect to judge and criticize others without realizing he is feeling superior, judgmental, critical, and without awareness of how his actions impact others' feelings.
  • Is a poor listener. Interrupts. Invalidates. Misses the emotions being communicated. Focusses [sic] on "facts" rather than feelings.
First of all, I just want to point out how hilariously biased this is. I mean, a list of signs of high IQ and low IQ would at least attempt to use neutral language. It wouldn't be like, "A person with low IQ can't even do basic math. A person with low IQ spills milk all over the floor and just laughs while you have to clean it up." Etc. Clearly, "Steve Hein" of "The EQ Institute" doesn't think some people have low EQ and some people have high EQ and that's how it is (presumably the case with IQ); people with high EQ are just better. And probably, people with low EQ could raise it if they'd just grow up. (Notice how "interrupts" and "invalidates" appear twice ... and the use of "you": "judges you and others" rather than just "others." Ha! Because of course, whoever is reading this is one of the superior high-EQ individuals, right? I'm guessing this guy has a book that's marketed at disgruntled wives.)

Aside from that, and aside from the fact that I'd like to believe I have a high "emotional intelligence," I think a fair number of the bad signs apply to me too. Not all of them, but I do hate apologizing and rarely feel remorse; I'm extremely critical and analytical (see this blog); I carry grudges; I like structure; I've been told I'm not all that emotionally available. But I'm not insecure, I don't lie about my feelings, I don't tend to feel inadequate or victimized, etc. And I have enough friends that I assume I'm not "uncomfortable to be around."

So my question is, is EQ really a thing? If it were a thing, could it change or is it something you're born with? Is it just a way for sensitive, emotional types to feel superior to less emotional/more rational people and/or people who lack social skills? Is it possible to acknowledge the existence of "emotional intelligence" without exhibiting a huge bias toward high EQ? Can low EQ be treated more like a disability, less like a fault? And perhaps most importantly, DO I HAVE A LOW EQ?????

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

"I hope Susan Boyle is okay because she is a really, really nice person."

I kind of forgot I'd mentioned blogging about Susan Boyle until Kathy prodded me. It feels extremely after-the-fact at this point but a few days ago she was still, or again, a trending topic on Twitter so I guess it's still relevant. Whether I can add anything new to the discussion is questionable; I haven't been following the media in this regard. Anyway, here's my feeling (partially inherited from John, who first told me about the phenomenon and was equally disgusted):

The English-speaking world has apparently been warped into complete delusion as to what constitutes musical talent by the British and American forces of manufactured pop. The very idea that physical beauty has anything to do with musical ability is preposterous. And yet, that's the entire basis of Susan Boyle's sure-to-be short-lived fame. People seemed to find it incredibly refreshing and amazing that an old (really, middle-aged), fat, unattractive or at best average-looking woman could sing. The implication is that you expect unattractive people to be worthless in every respect. Are you also surprised when 3's, 4's and 5's can write/act/do taxes?

In reality, there are far more unattractive people who can sing than attractive people who can sing, because in the second case you're selecting for two uncommon attributes rather than one. The whole point of shows like American Idol is to find attractive people first, and then figure out which of them is a decent performer, because the public demands eye-candy-ness in their pop stars in at least equal degrees to talent.

Go see musical theater in any major city, or check out a selective church choir, and you'll find medium-looking people with good voices. The reason they're not famous is because they don't look like pop stars, not because it's some amazingly rare gift to be able to carry a tune.

In fact, doesn't being overweight actually improve vocal quality? I'm pretty sure obesity is common, even encouraged, in opera because having extra fat on your body deepens resonance.

In conclusion: The Susan Boyle story isn't heart-warming, it's an appalling glimpse into how shallow we've become as a society.

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In not really related news, I saw a bumper sticker this morning that said "ATTITUDES ARE THE REAL DISABILITY." Is it me, or does that sound like a criticism of disabled people? I.e., "NOTE TO DISABLED PEOPLE: GET AN ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT"

Besides, isn't "attitude" a value-neutral term? I assume only bad attitudes are "disabling," not having any affect at all.

If this post is any indication, my attitude is totally disabled.

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Kathy and I have four poems in the new West Wind Review. Lots of good and funny contributors. I'll be reading this on the train for the next couple days.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Guest Post: Allen Lee on David Foster Wallace

Allen Lee is a mathy-sciencey guy, not your typical lit geek. Below are his reactions to a commencement speech delivered by lit-geek hero DFW.


I recently surfed onto a transcript of David Foster Wallace's commencement address at Kenyon University in May of 2005. I have some reactions to share and would be interested in any thoughts or potential blogo-discussions. Spoilers from now on.

The two-sentence summary of DFW's message to the graduating body is, "A large portion of the value of education, and in particular your liberal arts education, relates to controlling what you think about and how you construct meaning from experience -- the nature and quality of your consciousness. If you can't control your mind, you are screwed, and as a concrete example of why, I go into some depth about a typical after-work stop at the grocery store for yours truly, acting as a representative for your typical educated working American adult."

I pretty much agree with everything he says, except for the details of the after-work stop. What really surprised me was the apparent energy and passion he had for these ideas -- they make it seem like these ideas are much fresher in his mind than I would expect. Because basically, I don't expect a 43-year-old man to be energized by these thoughts. I would expect these thoughts to be so familiar, so basic, so second nature by the age of 43, that he wouldn't deliver this speech this way. Now I get that the college kids don't have as much life experience, so these ideas are theoretically "useful" for them (of course even the ones who really pay attention probably won't understand without learning the hard way like everybody else), and obviously DFW was a really troubled guy, and maybe this speech foreshadowed his suicide, etc etc. I am not ragging on the guy, just surprised, and wondering exactly how common his mindset is in the general population, because the praise in the blogosphere seemed so overwhelmingly positive.

I found the after-work episode really extreme. My continual reaction while reading it was, "not really dude." I don't think I've ever been that pissed about traffic, Muzak, long lines, SUVs, blah blah; I don't think my "default setting" is to consider myself the center of the universe; I don't get pissed at religious-bumper-sticker-coated V12 pickups driven by ugly people, whatever. Just the framing of the discussion is weird. These are weird things to get pissed about; and the compensating intellectual reactions (e.g., maybe the lady is being rude b/c she was up all night with her dying husband) are also out of proportion and weird. It's a lot of thinking and construction for what I would expect to be complete trivialities for a married, 43-year-old, highly educated, and on top of it all brilliant dude.

Thoughts?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Eschatology

To live is to be obsessed with death.

I'm working on a new poem, the first in at least a couple of months, and it's about death. Every poem I write is about death. Sometimes it's the death of a relationship, or a feeling, but a lot of the time it's just plain death.

It's not that I'm afraid of death. I mean, I don't want to die, but severe brain damage, paralysis, dismemberment, senility and various other undesirable states are way more horrifying. Death, self-death, seems relatively easy. It just interests me conceptually, this death thing happening at every possible scale in time and space, not just among humans and squirrels.

When I was a kid, and my parents relayed the news of a death in the family to me, not anyone very immediate but possibly a grandparent, I remember feeling kind of excited. I didn't make this known, of course, but I didn't cry either. I think my parents interpreted this as my not understanding. And I guess that's true in some sense. But I can still see the logic in it, appropriate or not--I didn't feel close to said person, or that it would affect me greatly. What was mildly thrilling was suddenly feeling like I was participating in life on a higher level than before. I'd seen funerals and deaths in movies but had had no direct access to that experience. So it was like this combination of novelty, and feeling special (since not everyone gets to go to a funeral every day (ugh)), but also communing with those who had also passed through this rite. Similar to flying on a plane for the first time, or my first kiss.

Does anyone know if there is a word for this, in German or something? It's not schadenfreude, since that is taking pleasure in someone else's misfortune, when I was more taking pleasure in my own.

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The new issue of Open Letters is humungoid, and fictional. Ha ha. It's the fiction issue. Also, it did go down for a while today due to bandwidth issues. Several of my friends are contributors, including Chris Marstall (photo), Christen Enos (review) and Sage Marsters (short story). Also, John, but duh.

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I hate to say it, but To The Wedding is not blowing my top. Probably it's too life-affirming.