Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Upcoming readings

I have some readings coming up, at AWP (next week!) and elsewise.

Historic Falcon Reading
April 8, 6:30-9
Mercury Cafe
Denver CO
with Julia Cohen, Brian Foley, Kate Greenstreet, Dan Magers, Justin Marks, Linnea Ogden, Christopher Salerno, Kim Gek Lin Short, Sam Starkweather, Janaka Stucky, and Chris Tonelli.

Cousins Reading Series
May 2, 6 pm
Abe's Bar
Providence RI
with Sandy Florian, Lara Glenum, and Leslie Patron

Pierre Menard Gallery
May 13, 7 pm
Cambridge MA
with Joe Hall and Chris Tonelli

Yardmeter Editions
May 14, ~7 pm
Brooklyn NY
with Chris Salerno and Chris Tonelli

Wooden Shoe Books
May 15, 7 pm
Philadelphia PA
with Chris Salerno and Chris Tonelli

Cheryl's Gone
May 16, 7 pm
Washington, DC
with Chris Salerno and Chris Tonelli

Brookline Booksmith
May 22, 7 pm
Brookline MA
with Kathleen Rooney and Zoe Zolbrod

Also, Kathy and I have a poem in the new Barrelhouse.

Also, my book seems to be out in the world. That's the word on the street (in the world). I hope you like it.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Is Harper's Index getting worse?

It's always been my least favorite part of the magazine, a kind of Letterman's top 10 list for pseudo-intellectuals. (I do like the Findings, which I always read first, though they too can be smug and inscrutable.) But the "facts" in the April 2010 Harper's seem especially badly edited. Do they have an intern doing this now?

I mean stuff like this:
Price, from a Michigan company, for a downloadable punctuation mark to indicate sarcasm: $1.99
They have to end it with a number by convention, but come on, that's not the most interesting part of the snippet. If it's going to be so anticlimactic when phrased thusly does it need to be in the index? (They could sneak it into the Findings since there's no citations for those anyway: "Scientists discovered they were charged $1.99 after downloading an emoticon signifying sarcasm.") And this:
Chance that an American adult claims to wash his or her hands at least ten times a day: 1 in 2

Chance that he or she has a specific phobia of some kind: 1 in 10
What does that mean? Why is it interesting? Aren't you supposed to pair facts when the numbers, back to back, are somehow illuminating or amusing?

Lots more of them are similarly dull or meaningless. What's up Harper's Index?

Brief interlude into superficiality

(Like it wasn't superficial before.) Ren, the hipster handpicked by Tyra on this season of America's Next Top Model, keeps whining about all the "drama" in the ANTM house and crying in the confessional about how she was happier when she was poor and it's just not worth sacrificing her sanity or her happiness for this! It's the second episode people*. All of which pretty much makes her the most dramatic bitch in the house. Also, as has been pointed out elsewhere, she looks a little like Elyse from the first cycle. Tatiana reminds me of the girl who won that season, Adrianne. Are these contestants computer-generated? Are they recycling face material? Another one, a redhead named Brenda, looks alarmingly like an '80s video girl. I don't like anyone yet. Where's my Nicole/Heather?

*I'm behind an ep.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The songs I've put on the most mix tapes

These are the songs I've put on mix after mix, playlist after playlist, year after year, when trying to show a new friend or boyfriend THE ESSENCE OF ME or just making a CD to listen to in my car. (Not sure why I'm feeling so listy lately.) (Keep in mind my mix-making has slowed to a halt since I sold my car and, uh, stopped dating. Which would explain why these are so 1997-2008.)
  • "Lost Cause" by Beck
  • "Postcards from Italy" by Beirut
  • "Someone's Daughter" by Beth Orton
  • "Attagirl" by Bettie Serveert
  • "Lover's Spit" by Broken Social Scene
  • "Nude as the News" by Cat Power
  • "Details of the War" by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
  • "Beautiful Boys" by CocoRosie
  • "This One's for You" by The Concretes
  • "Fall at Your Feet" by Crowded House
  • "Float Away" by David Garza
  • "Brothers on a Hotel Bed" by Death Cab for Cutie
  • "White Mole" by Death Vessel
  • "Wrong Time Capsule" by Deerhoof
  • "European Oils" by Destroyer
  • "How it Ends" by Devotchka
  • "You Can Be Replaced" (and others) by Dot Allison
  • "All This Useless Beauty" by Elvis Costello
  • "To Be Free" by Emiliana Torrini
  • "Limit to Your Love" by Feist
  • "Emerge" by Fischerspooner
  • "Under Smithville" by For Squirrels
  • "Walk Away" by Franz Ferdinand
  • "Skip to the End" by The Futureheads
  • "There Is an End" by The Greenhornes & Holly Golightly
  • "Superball" by Helium
  • "A.M. Slow Golden Hit" by Hotel Lights
  • "Hide and Seek" by Imogen Heap
  • "Obstacle 1" by Interpol
  • "Everybody Here Wants You" and "Last Goodbye" by Jeff Buckley
  • "Black Cab" by Jens Lekman
  • "Montana" by John Linnell
  • "That Was My Veil" by John Parish & Polly Jane Harvey
  • "Crosses" by Jose Gonzalez
  • "Me and My Charms" by Kristin Hersh
  • "Seventeen" by Ladytron
  • Many by Liz Phair
  • "Lovedust" by Luna
  • "Love Me Like You" by The Magic Numbers
  • "I Don't Want to Get Over You" (and others) by The Magnetic Fields
  • "Proofs" by Mates of State
  • "100 Knives" (and others) by Mirah
  • Many by Mobius Band
  • Many by Morrissey, maybe especially "Jack the Ripper"
  • "Baby We'll Be Fine," "Cardinal Song," others by The National
  • "Things That Scare Me" and "Hold On, Hold On" by Neko Case
  • "Two-Headed Boy" by Neutral Milk Hotel
  • "These Are the Fables" by The New Pornographers
  • "Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow" by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
  • "The Bluest Eyes in Texas" by Nina Persson & Nathan Larson
  • "Verse Chorus Verse" by Nirvana
  • Many by Okkervil River
  • A song by Pinback I don't know the name of
  • "You Said Something" by PJ Harvey
  • "Have You Forgotten" and "Songs for a Blue Guitar" by Red House Painters
  • Several from Soviet Kitsch by Regina Spektor
  • "Find the River" by REM
  • "Leaves Do Fall" by The Rosebuds
  • "Pink Bullets" by The Shins
  • Many by The Smiths
  • "How Soon Is Now" (cover) by Snake River Conspiracy
  • "Windfall" by Son Volt
  • Several by Soul Coughing
  • "I Turn My Camera On" by Spoon
  • Several by Sufjan Stevens, especially "Chicago" and "The Dress Looks Nice on You"
  • "Heartbeat" by Tahiti 80
  • "It's All in My Mind" by Teenage Fanclub
  • Many by They Might Be Giants
  • "Hook in Her Head" and "Not Too Soon" by Throwing Muses
  • "Chinese Fairytale" by Tiger Baby
  • "Steal the Crumbs" by Uncle Tupelo
  • "You Can Have it All" (and others) by Yo La Tengo

Friday, March 26, 2010

Books that have made me cry

Working backwards:
  • Away by Amy Bloom. I still have 10 or 15 pages to go in this, so don't spoil it for me. I was going to finish it last night but I had to put it down and cry myself to sleep, basically. Goddamn this book is sad. It's about a young Russian woman whose family is killed in a pogrom. She starts to make a new life for herself in New York but then hears from a cousin that her daughter is still alive. It seems possible/probable that the cousin is lying but she sets off to Siberia, alone, anyway, and much horrific bullshit befalls her on the way. Key sad quote: Her friend Yaakov asks why she insists on taking this death journey; is it because the girl is her belonging? Horrified, Lillian replies, "No. Not that she is mine. That I am hers." Moms! (B.T.Dubbs, this book has a lot of sex in it.)
  • The House of Mirth. I was within 20 pages of the end of this when my plane landed; I actually wished the flight was longer so I could finish it and cry in peace.
  • Gone With the Wind. The part where Scarlett is crying out for Rhett but no one tells him and he doesn't come; the part where Melanie dies, of course (uh, spoiler alert); and probably the end too.
These books made me really sad but I'm not sure if I actually cried:
  • Arrowsmith (Sinclair Lewis)
  • East of Eden (Steinbeck). I never finished this but there was a really tragic part in the first 100 pages.
This got me thinking, have only books written by women actually made me cry?

Here are some other books that were sad but didn't provoke actual tears, for whatever reason (maybe I just wasn't in the crying mood):
  • Mrs. Bridge (Evan S. Connell)
  • Rabbit, Run (Updike)
  • Jacob Have I Loved (YA book by Kathrine Paterson)
  • Probably any books about violence against Jews (The White Hotel, The Fixer, etc.)
Sorta drawing a blank now, though it seems likely that about half the books I've read were sad.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My wardrobe's greatest hits

Inspired by a post on Garance Dore and a regular feature in Lucky. Fair warning: This is a fashion post. Poetry-free zone.

My basics/favorites/go-to items and outfits:
  • Tights. Black tights with anything (including shorts), colors and patterns as permissable. I can only go bare-legged during the literal summer up here; if the temp falls below 60 my legs get all blotchy and goosebumped.
  • Flats, preferably colorful/distinctive. I had a great pair of pink tweed flats with a big button on the toe a few years ago but I wore them until the soles cracked. My current favorites are red faux-reptilian, with rubber soles for more durability. I walk too much in Boston to wear heels except for special occasions.
  • Black turtlenecks. Good for accentuating the jawline, good for layering, good for pairing with skirts/pants that don't match anything else. I buy these over and over since black clothes never stay black.
  • Mixed patterns. My favorite outfits almost always involve more than one pattern.
  • Shirtdresses.
  • My gray sweater vest from H&M. It's very lightweight and goes with almost anything.
  • Scoopnecks and v-necks for tops, if they're not turtleneck. Crewnecks just accentuate my flat-chestedness.
  • A bias-cut, drawstring black linen skirt I got in Rome, which goes with everything and will fit forever. Also, it can't be all linen because it never wrinkles.
  • Slouchy hobo bags. I always buy this style of bag, even though the lack of structure means the innards are perpetually a disorganized mess. The straps have to be long enough to carry over my shoulder. I can't do that crook of the forearm thing.

My current obsessions:
  • Perfume, obvs. All-consuming. I'm not matchy-matchy in general but I like my perfume to match my outfit, insofar as that makes sense.
  • My new aviator sunglasses. I've probably tried on 50 pairs of aviator shades over the past five years or so and only recently found some that actually work on my face. Also, they are rose-colo(u)red. Slight drawback: I can't store them on my head without pulling my hair out.
  • Very dark navy cords in the skinny style.
  • A little blue corduroy jacket with military details and knit cuffs. I can't buy enough little jackets.
  • A floral print shell with an asymmetrical neckline.
  • A bright red dress from Target.
  • A short, full skirt with pockets, in a very girly shape but un-girly color (slate gray), which I haven't had a chance to wear yet.
  • Ponytails. Up high like I rocked it in high school. My hair is finally long enough to do this again. I give myself a year before I chop it all off.

Things I need to work on or work out:
  • Belts. I buy belts, I like belts, but I either forget to put them on or don't think they look right or feel like I can't breathe.
  • I need a trenchcoat. I've known this for years but haven't purchased one. It's hard to find one that doesn't look too big on me, isn't $200+ and is in a nice color. I don't really like that ubiquitous khaki shade. Ideally, I'd like a navy trench with a hint of sheen.
  • The "dress your age" question. Do I dress my age? Do I care?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Day of the Locust (1975)

Has anyone seen this movie (or read the book)? We watched it last night. There are a number of interesting things about it:
  • It has several parallels with Mulholland Drive. I'd be very surprised if David Lynch wasn't consciously referencing it.
  • Donald Sutherland plays a character named Homer Simpson (no relation), a rather high-strung fellow, to say the least.
  • William Atherton plays the male lead. I couldn't figure out what I recognized him from until I checked iMDB afterwards. Turns out he's been in almost everything, but I was thinking of Real Genius. At that age (whatever he was in '75), he looked like a cross between Sean Astin and Andrew McCarthy.
  • The female lead is played by Karen Black, who played a similarly dumb, annoying blond in Five Easy Pieces, the difference being that only the audience finds her annoying in TDotL, in which men are falling all over themselves trying to dance with/rape her. John remarked that she must be smart to play dumb so well, since being dumb doesn't mean you can play dumb. (See ScarJo playing a bad actress in Match Point.)
  • There's a child star character named Adore, who is even more annoying than Faye (Karen Black), played by child star Jackie Eearle Haley, who went on to star in Bad News Bears and had guest roles in classic TV shows such as MacGyver and Get a Life (yay) and will apparently play Freddy Krueger in the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street. John and I both thought this character was a girl.
  • Billy Barty, who played High Aldwin in Willow (he's the one who says, "Forget all you know ... or think you know"), plays, well, a short-tempered midget. His dynamic with one of the chickens in a gruesome cock-fighting scene is rather touching.
  • It has the most OTT, OMG, WTF ending I have ever experienced. So much so that it's included on this horror site called Kindertrauma. It gave me violent dreams. At first it's disturbing, then jaw-dropping, then, for me, sort of comical and hence less effective. This may have to do with the effects being dated.
It's a good, provocative movie, but I came away thinking that it was perhaps not 100% successful, probably because it's hard to make a Hollywood satire without falling prey to the same stuff you're satirizing. In the end I like Mulholland Drive more.

Weren't the '70s an awesome time for film? Even the kind of bad movies are often really striking and hard to shake. I didn't exactly like Three Women (Robert Altman) or Taxi Driver but I'll never forget the imagery. I appreciate almost all of the acclaimed movies I've seen from the '70s (wildly untrue of acclaimed "films" from the '90s and '00s) and some of my all-time favorites were made then (Manhattan, Days of Heaven).

Friday, March 19, 2010

Accessibility and Plainspokenness in Poetry, Redux

As just noted in a comment, I feel irritated that everyone is focusing on an aside I made about a personal preference, as though it were the whole point of my post and I was trying to make prescriptive rules for what's allowed and what's not in poetry.

Because everyone is leaping to the defense of the word "stone," no one is responding to the part that I thought was interesting: the conflation of plainspokenness with accessibility, and whether they're actually separate qualities.

I have two questions, gentle readers:
  1. Anyone have any thoughts on this matter?
  2. Do y'all seriously think I would ban the word "stone"?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Bullet the blog sky

* I wrote a guest post for HTML Giant: "No one would ever say that." Here's an excerpt:
Some poets think the way they talk, others don’t. What’s important to me is not whether a poet can translate his/her thoughts into plain speech, but whether his/her thoughts are interesting in the first place. [...] Another question is whether plainspokenness necessarily entails accessibility, and vice versa. Are there irrational or nonsensical poems, or poems with broken/complex syntax, that are nonetheless considered easily accessible? (Nursery rhymes come to mind.) Are there superficially plainspoken poems that are actually difficult or intimidating?

* Do you interpret your placement in a print journal as an indication of how good they thought your poem or story was, relative to the others? Simplistic as this is, I always do. Last is also a solid placement, since some people read shit backwards (I often do). I finally got the new PANK, and I think it's the first time I've ever been first (sharing the spot with Kathy in this case). Booyah!

* Dang, I wish Martin would blog more often. Or at least post shit this long in installments. This is pop journalism at its best. Rolling Stone should be half this interesting. (I haven't even heard the song he's talking about.)

* I have no feelings whatsoever about St. Patrick's Day. I actually worked from home yesterday so no one would try to pressure me to get beer-drunk on a Wednesday. The Faux Irish could care less about gluten intolerance. (I know the expression should be "couldn't care less," but it doesn't sound as good, logic aside.)

* This pre-Vernal equinox spring weather is the bomb. It's giving me March Madness! Is that a good thing? Or is it like a rash? I don't watch sports.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Poem and the Idea: The Grub Street Seminar!

I'm teaching a one-night seminar at Grub Street in June about ideas in poetry. Details below. Please spread the word if you think someone you know might be interested! (Registration information is here.)

The Poem and the Idea

Thursday June 17
7:00 PM - 10:00 PM

Instructor: Elisa Gabbert

$65/$50 members
Registration Deadline: June 11th

Poems that describe a heron or the moon can be nice, but what sets the one you remember apart from all the rest? Chances are it’s an interesting idea. This seminar will explore poetry as a manifestation of thought, examining the ways in which poems communicate complex ideas (be they overt ideas, diffuse ideas, or meta ideas through conceptualism), the overlapping territory of poetry and philosophy, and the difference between the poetic idea and other modes or tropes, such as imagery, description, narrative, and abstraction. Class time will be divided between lecture, discussion, and in-class reading, with an emphasis on discussion. A reading packet will be distributed, including poems by Rae Armantrout, Anne Carson, Maggie Nelson, Wallace Stevens, and Jon Woodward. Students are encouraged to bring a poem of their own for discussion (and, if desired, revision) from the perspective of the poetic idea.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Lazy blogging

* Trader Joe's has these really awesome popsicles right now, with raspberry, lemon and strawberry stripes. Don't tell me it's not popsicle season! I finished the box and then had a dream about them last night. I am haunted by the memory of the popsicles. The only problem is that the strawberry stripe, the least interesting of the three, comes last. It's marginally irksome that I can't eat that part first.

* Speaking of margins, did you hear about the big to-do on Steven Fama's blog w/r/t the new Larry Eigner collected? (John just received review copies of all four volumes.) I've never read his work, but coming at this from a completely superficial level, I find it hard to believe that simply shifting the left margin an inch or two could have a drastic effect on the quality of a poem (as long as the relative indentations of lines are preserved). Margins vary in size as a result of print and design considerations. Some layouts look better than others, sure, but I'm baffled by the claim that the new books "profoundly violate his poems." Fama presents a scanned example of a poem the way Larry intended it and I fail to see what the big deal is. Enlighten me?

* It was popsicle weather last weekend. I bought a fun spring dress + fun spring hat at Target and then wore them post-haste. I received many compliments and some irritated looks.

* I have a new perfume on my arm: Moschino Funny!, sniffed first at Colonial Drug and purchased more frugally online. It reminds me of the popsicles.

* Posting YouTube videos doesn't count as blogging per se, but I really love this.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

I remember when Claire Danes was kinda-sorta counter-culture

Every time I see a (recent) picture of Claire Danes I feel annoyed. Her get-up always screams "insecure and trying too hard!" It's like one day she got tired of being the flat-chested girl and decided to dye her hair blonde and look as conventional as possible.

Her career choices have been really disappointing as well. She leaves me no choice but to conclude that My So-Called Life, one of the best shows ever, was a total fluke.

Why am I blogging about this?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Birds Is Alive, aka Buy The French Exit

Eeeeee! My book is now available for pre-order!

Through March you can order The French Exit bundled with Chris Tonelli's The Trees Around for $20. This saves you a little $, and you will definitely want both. I urge you to order directly from the press. (If you order it from Amazon, they barely break even.)

From the editors:


Birds, LLC is a new independent poetry press specializing in close author relationships in order to make the most awesome books in the world.

The first two books published by Birds, LLC are The French Exit by Elisa Gabbert and The Trees Around by Chris Tonelli.

SPECIAL PRE-SALE OFFER: Buy the first two Birds, LLC releases for just $20. Pre-Sale offer lasts until March 31st. Books ship the first week in April.

About The French Exit:

It’s a pleasure to listen to the opinions of the narrator of The French Exit. Clear-eyed imagery and wit control the anxiety: “[A] boy at the counter disappears / or I can see through him.” Likewise, in a fine prose poem: “Do not be afraid of angering the birds. What angers the birds is fear.” The energy throughout Gabbert’s collection has the clip of the French exit itself – allons-y! – self-aware, self-sufficient, in control, in touch. - Caroline Knox

About The Trees Around:

Full of the will and the weather, that great skeptic Wallace Stevens walked to work and wrote his poems, poems you may well already love and believe. (Good, as they say, for you.) And as for Chris Tonelli, he walks in that integrity: read him, and be merciful unto yourself. His foot standeth in an even place. This book’ll make you bloom. - Graham Foust


the Editors

Monday, March 1, 2010

Quick hits

* Bill Walsh interviewed me and Kathy for the Kenyon Review blog. We answered his questions collaboratively. So you do not know who said what, ha ha! End mischievous accent.

* In other collaborative news, we have poems in the latest issues of Artifice (and the super-special illustrated edition!) and Pank (online and print).

* Birds LLC will have a web presence very soon.

* I've got a poem in the new Puerto del Sol and some v. new stuff forthcoming in a future Denver Quarterly. I think that's it. I need to send out some damn subs.

* Sorry for all that unseemly self-promotion. What else is happening? I made gluten-free lasagna. I can't believe it's not gluten!

* I went perfume shopping with Gillian and miraculously didn't buy anything. I mostly offered consulting services. She ended up with Gris Clair by Serge Lutens, a total perfume snob line, but she is also going to purchase Lolita Lempicka, so she can vacillate between sophisticated-ineffable and loud-trashy. I feel very satisfied with her choices.

* I don't support the prescribed gender lines in fragrance, but nonetheless, I find I gravitate toward superficially "feminine" scents, as in, those marketed as such. Sue me.

The Poem and the Idea, Part 5: The Pushed Idea

Another approach to the idea-driven poem: Take a small or inane idea, seemingly worth a throwaway line at best, and push past the wall to explode it into a full poem. This is an exercise in imagination and it risks, of course, amounting to nothing more than an exercise in inanity. But the seed idea, if taken seriously, can sprout all kinds of interesting baby and off-shoot ideas.

The below poem by Ariana Reines (reprinted in the new Gurlesque anthology edited by Lara Glenum and Arielle Greenberg) starts with a rather inane idea. It's a poem in the voice of a mini-mart located inside a dog. WTF, right? It's easy to imagine the first line ("I am a mart in the dog") being a random line in a non-sequitur-driven poem, less easy to imagine it remaining central, at least without the poem devolving into mere absurdity (not that there's anything wrong with absurdity). Here it is:

I am a mart in the dog and look, here’s some merchandise. I am a mart in the dog. Aye.

Being a mart in a dog is like being a world: overstated.

Do you know what love is if you are a mart in a dog. You sell Hoodsies and cigarettes and lotto tickets. You are real.

Do you know what a dog is if you are trapped inside of him.

Everything is part of something.

I am part of something because my life is so stupid.

Being a mousse made of stars in the night that I want to feel is being too because I am gluey like a girl.

I even am a girl. Wow, fuck me.

Being a night inside of the mouth of a loved boy. Red black and shiny teeth with a tongue. The word of a loved boy has sense.

In a mart where there are newspapers and burnt coffee all the night long, bic pens in a jar, scratch tickets and pornography, everything’s ok. I am not the nice man in the mart I am the mart itself, which is inside of a dog who would love me by instinct except he doesn’t know I am inside of him and a mart isn’t an I.

Infinity has got to become mine so that I can know which way to turn, so that I can know in what direction something like morning is breaking.
The poem is absurd, to be sure, but it achieves its spikes of surprise and flashes of profundity (and a couple rather dumb moments, I admit) by pushing the idea in unanticipatable directions.

I think this poem is risky, and not (just) because it includes the F-word. It risks being detestable. A certain kind of poem is not detestable, it's too harmless and inert to offend anyone but the most determined to be offended. It risks only being boring. This one, I can see some people really getting pissed about.

More and more, I realize, I'm interested in the realm of the polarizing. I like plenty of things that everyone else likes, but I'm fascinated by the love-it-or-hate-it zone. I'm not even sure how much I like the above poem. I was very struck by it the first time I read it. Being striking is a feat in itself. The second time around I found it less rewarding; I had the urge to edit it. The third and fourth times, it mostly won be back again. I respect it. But I think I grok it a bit too much to be in awe of it. That Jon Woodward poem still sort of awes me. How did he do that?