Friday, May 28, 2010

The Pixel Aesthetic

Y'all should know by now I love pixel art and video game music. I never really liked playing video games that much, but I loved watching my older brother play. Sometimes in summer we'd just play all day to beat a game. I'd play until I got tired of dying and then just watch. When I see videos of those old side-scrolling video games, especially the Mario Bros., I swear I can feel my motor neurons firing. The memory of those patterns (the running jump, where the coins and 1UPs are, etc.) is so intense!

Here's a quick little documentary thing about pixel art. If anyone knows of longer films or full books on this subject please recommend.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Does this happen to anyone else?

Sometimes when I'm startled or scared, my body has this weird response, like it's suddenly flooded with some fight-or-flight chemical (adrenaline? cortisol?? catecholamines??) that I perceive as a distinct but passing pain, mostly in my torso but to some extent in my legs, a kind of intense twinge that feels somehow sour (the bodily equivalent of tasting stomach acid in your mouth). I hate this feeling. Some instances in which it might occur: when I have to slam on the brakes or swerve to avoid an accident; when I wake up from a bad nightmare; when my fear of heights is triggered (this can happen just from looking at photographs of someone on a precarious ledge; it happened repeatedly while I was watching Man on Wire). Anyone know what this is or have the same experience?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What Scare Quotes Mean (FYI)

Recently on the Internet I've seen a few people express bafflement at what scare quotes (that is, quotation marks that don't designate a direct quote) mean. Here's one example, from a comment in the HTML Giant Language Over Body Shitstorm of Oh Ten: "I have trouble understanding quotes around words I wouldn’t normally put quotes around."

I assume this is a response to obsessive use of scare quotes in the style of Tao Lin. And hey, I'm not going to try to convince you to like this practice. But it seems a bit obtuse to claim you can't comprehend what it means. Perhaps these kids have never seen Chris Farley as Bennett Brauer?

For those who are genuinely confused, missed the '90s, etc.: You might as well be armed with the knowledge of what scare quotes mean, whether or not you choose to embrace them. So here's a list, probably not exhaustive, of things scare quotes can signify:
  • These are someone else's words, not mine
  • I'm using these words sarcastically
  • I'm using these words metaphorically
  • I'm making fun of people who use scare quotes with no irony
  • I'm making fun of people who overuse scare quotes
  • I'm making fun of Tao Lin
You're welcome.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

It's a pleasure

It gives me huge thrills to see Absent listed among the credits in books and chapbooks by writers I love. (Alphabetically, it's usually first. W00t.) This is one of the best parts of editing a magazine. I just want to give a quick shout-out to some of the poetry collections that have come out in the past year or two with poems that originally appeared in Absent. I heartily recommend all of them, natch.
  • Stars of the Night Commute by Ana Bozicevic
  • The Last Four Things by Kate Greenstreet
  • Sunny Wednesday by Noelle Kocot
  • God Damsel by Reb Livingston
  • Plummet by Chris Nealon
  • Run by Kim Gek Lin Short
  • The Cosmopolitan by Donna Stonecipher
  • Post Moxie by Julia Story
  • For People Who Like Gravity and Other People by Chris Tonelli
I think For Girls by Shanna Compton has an Absent poem in it too, but I can't find our copy to confirm. Adam Golaski's Color Plates would qualify but it's not out yet; look for it from Rose Metal Press in the fall. There are a few others I'm not sure about because I can't find our copies at the moment (Scary, No Scary by Zach Schomburg, Creation Myth by Mathias Svalina, Starsdown by Jasper Bernes). Who am I forgetting?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Don't judge a book by its hot-ass cover design

I read an interesting post yesterday on the Artifice blog about design. (It's based on an ongoing discussion from Big Other I didn't bother to read, sorry. No offense to the good people of Big Other.) This part in particular interested me:
But sometimes I get a little insecure about this. I like cool design as much as the next person. I get all fluttery when I look at Proximity or Ninth Letter or anything that featherproof books touches. And now Mule.

Because highly designed is “in.” It’s part of what makes the “celebrity culture” of indie presses run. How many times have you bought a book based on the cover design on a website? [...]

They flip the consumer switch in me, which doesn’t want fancy jewelry to show off, but rather understated little jewel-books. Is that bad? It is true that I first said about them, “I love Green Lantern Press; their books are so gorgeous” rather than “I love Green Lantern Press; the authors they publish are so good.”

Is this a problem? Are presses and magazines that focus on highly designed layouts giving people the carrot in order to try and convince them to like the stick, too?
This caught my eye, or my brain, because I have kind of a bug up my ass (is this an expression?? I keep wanting to say this) about design.

First of all, it's become a total cliche in reviews of small press books to comment on the books "as artifacts," to say "These are just beautiful objects to hold." If you're going to comment on the design, say something more interesting than that, OK?

Secondly, too much focus on design is just annoying -- not from the perspective of the press, the journal, the designers. They should absolutely devote resources to design. From the perspective of the reader. The point of design is not just to look good; it's at least as much about usability. A really beautiful spoon is not necessarily a well-designed spoon unless it's merely an art object; if you're actually supposed to eat soup with it, good design implies that it's pleasurable to use, that it gets the job done in an elegant way. And I feel like some journals, both print and online, put so much effort into looking hot, into trying to impress readers with the design itself rather than the content, that it's actually difficult to focus on or even physically read the stories. (Or, if it's an online magazine, it's difficult to navigate the pages.) A sign of good design is that the object is so functional you don't think about the object too much; it just does what it does and does it well. You can focus on the process at hand, in this case reading.

It's also weird how in Small Press Land, there's an insane amount of focus on who put a book out. If you say you have a book or just read a book, someone always asks immediately who put it out. What press is it on? This reminds me of junior high, when every compliment on an article of clothing or piece of jewelry was followed up with "Where did you get it?" or "What brand is that?" I remember being really embarrassed in seventh grade when someone noticed that my knock-off Birks were fake. Too much spooging over design feels like a kind of snobbery (duh, fancy design usually costs significantly more) and superficiality. When you're talking about a new album you love, only the ultimate music snob asks what label it's on.

It's not that I don't care how books and journals look. It's just that I think the look and feel should be in service of the writing, not a totally separate concern.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The way rain smells in El Paso

In West Texas, especially in summer, it smells incredible when it rains. It's not ozone -- it's something that happens with the flora specific to the desert there, mesquite or creosote or sagebrush. I've been a lot of places in the rain, and it doesn't smell like that anywhere else. When I was a kid, of course, I thought that was just how rain smelled. I miss it. I haven't smelled it in over 10 years, probably. It's weird -- I know I love it, but I can barely remember it. Smells are deeply tied to memory, so why are they so hard to imagine? I can see my childhood bedroom, can perfectly imagine sitting on my bed next to the open window watching rain fall on the swing set. But my memory of the smell is attenuated, and tenuous, like something at the far edge of peripheral vision.

Is there such a thing as bespoke room spray? I wish I could smell that El Paso rain smell at will.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


* I am back from the miniatour. It was fairly awesome. I'm tired but it's not at the level of a post-AWP exhaustion. It's nice to just focus on a few people at a time instead of all the writers in the smarmy world. If you hosted a reading or offered sleeping space or came to see us, I blow you kisses. I'm sorry I don't have any pictures to show you. Suffice it to say, life is beautiful.

* On my travels I learned a dice game called Cee-lo. I am a Cee-lo bada$$ and won, like, thirty bucks. Luck is a skill.

* Are you reading Rebecca Loudon's blog? The only reason it's not in my blogroll is because the widget is RSS-based, and Radish King doesn't have a feed. Why, you ask? Because sometimes she likes to call take-backs. So you better read fast.

* If you happen to know Gillian Devereux, wish her a happy birthday.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The anti-feminist feminist

There was a short interview with Martha Stewart in this weekend's New York Times Magazine. (This happened to be lying around because John bought it to use as a prop in his book trailer.) Call me wackles, I've always kind of liked Martha Stewart. But this interview really annoyed me, chiefly this part:
A Freudian might say you bring classically male ambition to traditionally female pursuits.
I don’t think in a male or female way. I don’t differentiate between male and female. I never have. I’m not considered a feminist.

Clearly, at age 68, you haven’t been analyzed.
No, I haven't. I never will be. I have no patience, [sic]

Why do you say you’re not a feminist?
Do we really need to waste time saying, “I’m a feminist”? I never thought about glass ceilings. I never thought about glass floors. I was thinking about how many pies can I come up with for my pies-and-tarts book. Those are all original ideas.
Look, Martha. Both "I'm not considered a feminist" and "Do we really need to waste time saying 'I'm not a feminist'?" take longer to say than "I'm a feminist." Length of utterance aside, your statements are a waste of time since you believe that women and men are effectively equal and should have equal opportunities ("I don't differentiate between male and female")*. That's what "feminist" means, so why "waste time" denying it?

I'm not sure Martha Stewart actually wrote these answers; maybe some underling armed with the Martha Stewart branding handbook sent them in. It's also possible that Martha is only distancing herself from feminism so as not to alienate her audience. In any case, I don't understand why people who clearly ascribe to the ideals of feminism, as laid out in the damn dictionary, refuse to be described as such. Why do people go all Rush Limbaugh when the designated word for this concept is uttered?

* I assume she doesn't mean she literally cannot tell the difference.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Ben Lerner and lines

I read the first section in Ben Lerner's Mean Free Path this week. I've pretty much been on board with Ben Lerner since his first book (this is his third). These poems remind me a bit of Jon Woodward's Rain and Matthea Harvey's first book in terms of their engagement with/interrogation of the line. The back cover copy actually offers a helpful tip on how to read the text: "Lines are often out of order or belong to several possible orders simultaneously, inviting the reader to collaborate with the poem." (This instruction reminds me of Jessica Smith's visual work, which I didn't really "get" until I saw her read it. She told me that she doesn't read every word out loud, and she doesn't always read each poem the same way. This kind of blew my mind; I honestly hadn't been sure how to read them before.)

I don't know how much I'm "collaborating" with the poems but I like how they achieve an openness while still being very deliberate. As in Angle of Yaw the "I" is complicated by a multivocality; the poems seem to interrupt themselves:
A cry goes up for plain language
In identical cities. Zukofsky appears in my dreams
Selling knives. Each exhibit is a failed futurity
A star survived by its own light. Glass anthers
Confuse bees. Is that pornography? Yes, but
But nothing. Come to reference. A mode of undress
Equal to fascism becomes obligatory
In identical cities. Did I say that already? Did I say
The stranglehold of perspective must be shaken off
All the poems (if you think of them as individual poems; you could think of them as stanzas or chunks of a long poem) have this shape; there are two per page. Certain clauses/phrases are repeated throughout (such as "Night-vision green"), which has an effect like a skipping record.

John read this same section and read the fractured language as a tired imitative fallacy type thing (experience is fractured so language must be fractured, blah blah). I find that idea a little boring too, but I don't really read this as doing that, or at least not just that. It seems more an investigation into what else can be done with the line, almost a game, rather than an attempt to describe. Descriptions bore the pants off me. Games I like.

I've been thinking a little lately about what "line" means to people. (I posted a comment along these lines recently on Brian Foley's blog.) Like when the average person says "So and so writes great lines" -- do they mean the literal line from the left margin to the right margin, the unit of the lineated poem, or do they mean sentences? Most poems have sentences too. I think a feel for the line is very different from a talent for good stand-alone phrases or sentences.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Basic Concepts

How you've been thinking, apparently, about the phrase "woman poet":

How you should think about the phrase "woman poet":

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Interview etc.

* Darcie Dennigan interviewed me for the Cousins Reading Series blog. Go read it to find out what I think of the phrase "woman writer," what meaning means, why tennis is the sport of poets, and what perfume Anne Carson would be.

* I was a little annoyed by the continuing "conversation" about gender on HTML Giant, so much of which seems to be an ongoing defense of We Are Champion against my accusations/rage/witchcraft, but then I decided it makes me feel rather godlike. As in, WHICH PATRIARCHY WILL I DESTROY NEXT??? (FYI to anyone who thinks I'm harboring Gene Kwak voodoo dolls, we've backchanneled a bit and we're hardly mortal enemies.)

* I always thought A Handful of Dust sounded really dry (duh) and dull from the title. It's actually quite hilarious, but touching. The paperback edition we have is also the perfect size/weight for carrying around in my bag. My poetry to-read pile is threateningly high. I just got stuff, via the gift economy, by Jason Labbe and Matthew Lippman, and I have the new Ben Lerner and Dan Chiasson from the library. Also: Lara Glenum and Sandy Florian, who sadly had to cancel on Sunday so I didn't get to see them read.

* The less wheat I eat (No cheating. No breadcrumb coatings. No beer.) the better I feel.

Monday, May 3, 2010


Let's take it as a given that creative writing doesn't have to be rational.

You can be a creative writer and embrace the irrational in art without rejecting rational thinking wholesale.

Without math and science, there would be no iPhones.

Without math and science, there would be no books.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

I'm starting a perfume column, to be hosted by Open Letters Monthly. I'm pretty excited about this. The first one is up today. Both the concept and the clever name (On the Scent) were John's ideas. I'll be both reviewing and essaying perfumes. First up I reviewed five scents from a small independent line called Sonoma Scent Studio. Two of them (Winter Woods and Tabac Aurea) were pretty much the bomb, so if you're in the market for a new fragrance, be you man, woman, or child (well, maybe not child), go read the reviews. While you're there, read Nate's poem and the interview with Cat Bourassa-Hebert, who supplied the cover image. (She also designed the cover for That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness.) Cat's answer to "How close have you been to an owl?" is shockingly awesome.

Also, I really liked this article in the New Yorker called "Scents and Sensibility." (I've often wondered why English-language journalism is so pun-dependent. Is this true everywhere?) It's a couple of years old but I just found it. The first page is worth reading if you skip the rest; the author explains how with exposure you can begin to recognize the facets of wine or perfume that seem so inaccessible at first, to the degree that you wonder if the experts are faking it with their yuzu and hay notes, etc. The point being that those notes are present, but one has to learn how to smell/taste them.