Monday, September 27, 2010

The cast of Kids Incorporated sings the theme to Neverending Story

I feel like my childhood memories have been consolidated:

I just watched at least 20 Kids Incorporated videos after reading that Fergie (of the Black Eyed Peas) was Stacy Ferguson. I had no idea. Stacy Ferguson was in the uppermost tier of coolness as far as a late '80s girlhood was concerned; her hair was always, always asymmetrical, teased all to hell and with scrunchies involved. I associate her with the cooler sister on Charles in Charge as well as the cooler Sweet Valley twin. (Then Stacey from The Babysitter's Club gets mixed in.) If you were an American girl of the middle class persuasion in 1988, you probably wanted to be either Stacy Ferguson or Jennifer Connelly from The Labyrinth.

I feel like there is such a thing as an "'80s face," like certain stars actually had the right bone structure and fat distribution for that era, and couldn't succeed as well now, no matter their styling. Ryan Lambert had ultimate '80s face. I put David Duchovny in that category too.

Also, I think this is how I learned to dance.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Alternative mottos for Washington State's tourism board

  • Washington: It Exists.
  • Washington: I Guess.
  • Washington: The Other Washington.
  • Washington: It's Drippy Here.
  • Washington: The Starbucks State.
FYI the actual motto is "Washington: The State."

Other horrible state mottos:
  • You Belong in ConneCTicut. (Reminding us of the all-important postal code.)
  • Great Potatoes. Tasty Destinations. (I'm not making these up.)
  • Oklahoma is OK (LOL!)
  • We Aren't Really an Island (Defensive much?)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Against effortlessness

I've noticed a theme in the negative reactions to my book. They've mostly had to do with effort and intelligence or "cleverness" -- I see phrases like "trying too hard" and "pleased with itself." And "the reader leaves the collection feeling like they’ve just read a book written by the smartest person in class" (this last levied as a criticism or a caveat, I guess since everybody hates that guy). I don't find this kind of criticism hurtful because I wasn't trying to write an effortless book (ha, like how would that work). A seeming effortlessness can be pleasing (Matthew Rohrer's work comes to mind), but I generally prefer work that evidently required effort and intellect. (Broken record alert: I always go back to Wallace Stevens when people argue against intelligence or control in poems.)

I recently identified a "heat" scale for "moves" in poetry: There are hot moves and cool moves, cool moves being those that seemingly involve less effort, hotter moves having more apparent intent. When a critic invokes a phrase like "trying too hard" they evince a preference for a cool poetics. But coolness is sort of a facade; you can't write a poem without trying, and writing a good poem that appears effortless usually involves effort. Most of the time, actually trying less hard yields shittier, more forgettable poems.

The thing is, I feel like my poetry uses more cool moves than hot moves. I mean the whole second section (the "blogpoems") was built around the idea of throwaway poems, daily poems, poems as blog posts. Accordingly I wrote them fast and revised minimally. So, like, has the cool poetics thing gone too far? In a world (movie trailer voice) where a blogpoem is trying too hard, can there be room for a sonnet?

Coming to terms with people not liking you:

Sign of maturity, or lazy complacency and resistance to change?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Odds & ends

* More info on the Poetry & Comedy reading: It's this Saturday, 9/25, at 7 p.m. It will be hosted by The Multifarious Array at Pete's Candy Store (709 Lorimer in Williamsburg, Brooklyn) and the full line-up is me, Evan Fleischer, Sommer Browning, Gabby Dunn, Mark Leidner, and Dan Magers. Some of these people are comics. Some of these people are poets. Some are both. You figure it out.

* I'm also reading in Boston next Monday, 9/27, an at event called the Drunken Poets' Dinner. Despite the name, it will be mixed-genre, and in keeping with the name, there will be lots of beer, because it's sponsored by Narragansett. There will also be tasty, fusion-y food. It's at Toro (in the South End) at 9:30 p.m. The event is invite-only (exxxclusive), but I have a limited number of invites to share. Email me if you're interested in going.

* I finally finished Howards End. It's one of the most feminist novels I've ever read, if not the most. And it was written in 1910. Who knew? I'd seen the movie a long time ago, but didn't really remember the plot, or even who played which sister, just a few striking scenes. So I got to experience the spoiler-free magic of both. I saw an article today asking why people read when we often can't remember much about a book as soon as a month after reading it. Whosy what? What does that have to do with anything? I don't read in the hopes of total recall (nor do I read the novelization of Total Recall, though my brother used to have it), I read for enjoyment, intellectual stimulation, and to learn. (By the way, people with severe memory problems can still learn.) I've forgotten most meals I've had, most conversations, most dreams, etc. Still glad I had 'em.

* My (aforementioned) brother works at the company that designed this Wii game. This is a "behind-the-scenes" version:

You can watch the straight trailer here. Pretty wild, huh?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Things I'm supposed to like that I don't

  • NPR
  • Charlie Rose
  • Sleater Kinney
  • Werner Herzog
  • Emily Dickinson (she's okay, but I never want to read her)
  • The Great Gatsby (and Fitzgerald in general)
  • Haiku
  • Corn on the cob
  • Star Wars
  • Chanel No. 5
  • Scotch
  • Freaks and Geeks
  • Spending all day at the beach
  • Macs and iPhones
  • Movies
What are yours?

And save the "But blah is so good!!!" comments. Do you think I haven't heard it before?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Don't get emo about language change

As language evolves, some words widen in scope while other words narrow. "Girl," for example, used to mean a child of either sex. To put it another way, a word can come to apply to a subset or a superset of the set it originally applied to. I can't remember the "sexy" linguistic term(s) for this kind of change. (It's kind of a pet peeve of mine when people use "sexy" to basically mean technical. Isn't it just an excuse to say "sexy," suggesting that you either are sexy or are particularly tuned in to sexiness?) This is a different process from words becoming pejorative (less positive), the way "fine" used to mean lovely or excellent and now just means okay, or "handicapped" became an insult.

I think the term "emo" is widening in scope. When I first heard this term it referred to a very specific genre of music (an example of which is Sunny Day Real Estate). Now it seems to refer to anything or anybody that is emotional or associated with emotions. I heard someone refer to an upbeat pop song by Regina Spektor as "emo" on Twitter yesterday. Long bangs? Emo. Using the hood on your hoodie? Emo. I feel alienated from people who use the word "emo" in this way, probably similar to how my parents feel about my generation's use of the word "awesome."

What's a term that is currently narrowing in scope? Like it seems to be applicable in fewer situations than it was earlier in your lifetime? I'm having trouble thinking of one. You could probably do this exercise just with music genres, but I don't know enough about them.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Variations on a whale joke

There's this joke that John likes to tell and this is how he tells it:

A guy walks into a bar and sits down next to a whale. The whale turns to him and says: "[insert realistic whale sounds for 10 to 30 seconds]." Guy looks at the whale and says, "Man, you are wasted."

It's a pretty good joke, but I always thought it would be better if the parts were switched, so the guy makes the whale sounds, like he's trying to communicate, and then the whale says "Man, you are wasted."

Last week this joke came up again (it comes up every six months or so, it seems) and I suddenly realized that they're probably both supposed to be whales. That's probably how he heard it first, but then mixed it up with the standard "guy walks into a bar" opening.

What's you favorite? I think it makes the most sense if they're both whales, but I still kind of like my version best.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Paige Taggart

I am loving Paige Taggart lately, though I see and speak to her almost never. Here's a poem of hers from the new So & So (which reminds me a lot of Karl Parker actually):

The Yellow Crocus of Down Under

I sifted through the late crowd
wasn’t going anywhere in particular.
I felt the find. Blah
wire and deep commotion. I felt that I was an
extraneous person to my actions,
being less involved meant
I didn’t have to be impressionistic, I pulled
down the curtain of a very minor musical. I started to compose
false drama; a stone throw away from
ingenuity. I have begun to think about
what it would be like to spend my entire
life on the edge of sanity. The frequency of those
illusory visits are such that
they ignite sub-par feline crawl. I constantly don’t care or if
I do, I don’t have a scrotum to lose. And the big balloon
keeps trafficking through my window, I’m fat
between its red and green zones. There’s no need to recognize
yellow. Eat. Sleep. Caucasian.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

You're not the cure, you're the disease

I recently shared a post in Google Reader called "Something's Wrong":
Most people, confronted with a problem they can’t solve, say “We just have to live with it,” and very rapidly gloss into “It’s not really a problem.” Aging is often painful and debilitating and ends in death. Almost everyone has decided it’s not really a problem – simply because it has no known solution. But we also used to think that senile dementia and toothlessness were “just part of getting old.”
Allen commented: "I don't really agree that it is difficult to call attention to problems." But the point isn't that problems aren't identified enough, it's that just because there is no obvious solution to a problem doesn't mean it isn't a problem. In other words, problems are too often dismissed as the norm.

I experienced this when I started feeling sick all the time. I went to several doctors, including hot young GI specialists, who all listened to my story and my symptoms and told me, "It sounds like IBS. There's not much you can do about it. Try eating more fiber." They acted like because my problem was common (feeling sick to my stomach every time I ate), it wasn't really a problem, as in something that might have a solution, rather just something to get used to. There turned out to be a very definite solution. I stopped eating gluten and felt roughly ten times better.

I think there are a lot of "problems of affluence" we tend to assume are just the way it goes. More primitive cultures often lack problems we assume are common to all humans, like acne and tooth decay (which we address with cures of affluence like fancy face washes and medications). There are cultures that get up to half of their calories from saturated fat and have no incidence of heart disease. We're quick to blame "genetics," but why not our fucking lifestyles?

Sandwiches within sandwiches

There's been a trend going on for a while of extreme fast food in which one type of greasy sandwich is embedded in another (e.g., a hamburger using grilled cheese sandwiches for buns). For the most part these recursive sandwiches wouldn't seem that appealing to me even if I ate bread or meat.

But finally there's a sandwich-within-a-sandwich concept I can get fully on board with: repochetas, or tacos made with quesadillas. Is that brilliant or what?

If Taco Bell did this (it's only a matter of time) they'd use burrito-size flour tortillas and fill them with beef paste or "grilled" "chicken" and probably shove the whole thing into another taco shell (crispy this time). And that would be sort of disgusting and the media would say it's not okay and if you're going to eat it you have to add more bread. But the key is using small corn tortillas and a very hot but mostly dry skillet, and a light filling. I made quesadilla tacos last night with just a schmear of refried beans on the inside topped with a kind of "salad" of shredded iceberg lettuce, chopped tomato, cilantro, and avocado in a light creamy lime dressing. (They didn't have any coleslaw mix at Whole Foods and I wasn't in the mood to shred my own cabbage.) And a dash of Tabasco. Two per person. Perfect.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Things that are funny*:

Achewood. Space Balls. Napoleon Dynamite. Rich Juzwiak. Go Fug Yourself. The FAIL Blog (can't help it). Savage Love. Evelyn Waugh. Mark Leidner. Sommer Browning. Lamont Price. Get a Life. Vintage Steve Martin. Vintage Woody Allen. Vintage Tao Lin. Mark Twain. "Fifi, No, No." Mairead Byrne. Offensive jokes. Dan Brown. Mystery Science Theater 3000, the show, especially the Alien from L.A. episode. The Pottery Barn Kids catalog. Soap Dish. Hugh Laurie. Chris Eigeman. The Golden Girls. Vacation. Paige Taggart.

Things that are sad*:

The end of Away. The end of Rabbit, Run. The end of Days of Heaven. The House of Mirth. Gone with the Wind. That scene in Ray where he's looking for the cricket. The story of Mr. Tux. Most of my memories of living in Beacon Hill. Most of my memories period. Old emails. Hangovers. Sundays. The recurring dream where everyone hates me and it's probably my fault.

*In my opinion, duh.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

September Gurls

* I've got three poems in the new issue of Sink Review. These are from the manuscript I've been working on since putting The French Exit to bed. The manuscript now has a working title: The Self Unstable. (Is the working title working? Not sure, but it feels legitimizing to have one. Also, it means I can stop giving the individual prose blocks titles.) There's lots more awesome poetry (Ariana "It was then that I entered a period of despair" Reines, Dan "They want to play doctor but I just want a real doctor" Hoy, Matt "I’m fortunate enough" Henriksen, etc.) to read while you're there.

* Along with Sommer Browning and Evan Fleischer, I'm putting together "A Night of Poetry and Comedy," as I like to conceive of it, i.e., a mix(er) of poets and stand-up, what's the difference anyway. This will be in Brooklyn (@ Pete's Candy Store) on Sept. 25. Save the date! More details TK.

* I'm reading Chandler Burr's other perfume book, The Perfect Scent. Really sucks in comparison to The Emperor of Scent, I'm sad to say. Chandler pretty much phoned this one in. I keep finding myself shocked at how bad and lazy the writing is:
Creating perfume is exceedingly complicated. It is an art form that is, for example, infinitely more complex than, say, making clothing. Cutting silk crepe into a dress means a piece of silk crepe cut and stitched--expertly, we can stipulate--into the form of a dress.
WTF? Is it me, or is that an entirely meaningless tautology. I mean, it's true and all: All you have to do to make a dress is make a dress. Point taken. I mean, what? Depressing.

* There's a cool exhibit of Richard Avedon's fashion photography at the MFA right now. One of his muses was a model/actress named Suzy Parker, whom I'd never heard of before. She's from Texas!

Isn't she pretty? She's so '50s, but also kind of '80s. She'd fit right into a White Snake video.

* SOTD: Hanae Mori Haute Couture.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The hypocrisy of Neneh Cherry

Neneh Cherry - Buffalo Stance (1989)

While she's singing "No money man can win my love," she's wearing a necklace with a big-ass money sign. Way to live by your principles, Neneh.

Nonetheless, one of the hottest dance tracks of the '80s, no?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Another review of TFE

September 1 is Review The French Exit Day, it would seem. Simeon Berry's review is now up on Gently Read Literature:
This masterful confusion of material and immaterial animates the book, and the dispassion about the self allows the writer to enact a number of equally lovely sleights of hand. Many of the poems skate across the surface tension of this conflict: namely, that to talk about trauma, to delineate its causes and stylize its effects, is to obscure the lovely dilemma of empiricism, of seeing and knowing. Even while the author is drawn to image and reason, she is also in love with the vanishing point, where all perspective is ecstatically compressed into a single node. Thus, the standard lyric exhaust of “your ash breath in the air” is “translated elsewhere…” (“Commissioned”). I found myself admiring the many ways Gabbert’s rhetoric points off-stage, indicating that absence is the most intellectually erotic product.
We (me, the Birds boys) couldn't be happier. Well, theoretically, we probably could be, but it would require advanced pharmaceuticals and liquid money.

The psychological end of summer

My newest scent column is up. It's on difficult pleasures. In trying to come up with a catchy title, I kept thinking of that Sylvia Plath poem, "On the Difficulty of Conjuring up a Dryad" (which has a partner poem, "On the Plethora of Dryads"). But there's really no cute way to pun on that title. Also, what's a dryad? A little sprite of some kind? I love how "sprite" is a video game term. Anyway, here's an excerpt from the column:
The assumption from the Contract side, of course, is that it isn’t difficult to write a difficult novel. It’s a common assumption (the idea that it’s harder to write a hit pop song than a strangely beautiful melody), but a problematic one—the problem arising from the fact that we can’t evaluate what we don’t understand. And this problem isn’t unique to art; it’s very difficult to verify mathematical proofs or review scientific papers that are both novel and advanced, simply because so few people are in a position to do so. Given the probability that some art seems complex when we approach it because its form or method or structure or materials are unfamiliar—not because its creator is a willful obfuscator—it seems wise to give complexity the benefit of the doubt, until inspection proves it meaningless.
The new issue also includes a great poem by Ben Mazer and an essay by Joshua Harmon, which I haven't read yet, but I can almost guarantee is brilliant. (When will I learn to spell "guarantee"?)

Also in my inbox this morning, very happy news of an awesome review of The French Exit in The Rumpus, by the very smart and thoughtful Virginia Konchan:
The prison of time, according to polyglot Vladimir Nabokov, is “spherical and without exits, short of suicide.” Freedom, and even happiness, to follow this logic, would be to carve a space for oneself within this time-bound context, yet in Elisa Gabbert’s The French Exit, the options for assertion of presence, and, conversely, the Stevensian art of “waving adieu,” abound. To leave without saying goodbye is to render a “French Exit,” yet Gabbert’s debut collection skims this idiom of connotations of peremptory haste, imparting to the concept (here rendered literally by the word SORTIE emblazoned on French doors which demarcate an interior) a molten wealth of contradiction: nostalgia sans sentimentality, anxiety sans self-preoccupation.
I love her reading of the book; I think she caught lots of little Easter eggs.

SOTD: Rossy de Palma. LOVE. Like top 10 love.