Saturday, February 26, 2011

So, I hate to be a Negative Nancy ...

But this is one of the worst poems I've ever seen in print:

How many poets does it take to change
a lightbulb? Two. One to change
the lightbulb and one to

envy the one that got
to change the lightbulb.

How many poets does it take to change a lightbulb?
Two. One to change the lightbulb
and one to write, "I'm screwed."

How many poets does it take to change
a country? How many presidents? How much pain?

This is Michael Ryan's contribution to Crossing State Lines: An American Renga (the book is one long collaborative poem by 54 poets). A review copy has been sitting on the back of our toilet for a while and today I opened it randomly to this page. All I can figure out is, Michael Ryan was actively contemptuous of the project, because there's no way he spent more than five minutes on this. I mean, really? Two lame, cynical jokes about bitter poets and a completely inept appeal toward sentiment?

This will henceforth serve as my go-to example of a bad poem.

Lest you think I hate everything (not so!), I'll share a poem I like too. I think it's rare that poems I like have an obvious single subject, but I would say this poem (by Matt Henriksen) is about moving. (And, you know, relationships, and change.)


Better present than in any future conceived,
I brought boxes to pack books in.

What can two people make but one bigger loneliness
before falling asleep shoulder to shoulder

in a room of crowded things
the same nameless light hits morning

after merciless morning?
A pile driver in the movie

slams mud until a slum apartment collapses,
Naples in black and white.

Pretend above all to love this thing,
this monstrous idea of a room.

Forget where to put
what and what to give away,

or suggest another corner
worse than the one you know.

And here's one by Dan Boehl, from Kings of the F**king Sea (just out from Birds LLC). KOTFS is a concept book, by which I mean it resembles a concept album, more than what we usually think of as "conceptual poetry."


Everybody was talking
bullshit bullshit
about the new sincerity and messianic tradition
so I looked out over the ocean.
Debris floated far out.
I couldn't see what it was
I wondered how it got there.
The world is mostly water.
I'm mostly water
and the thought gave me vertigo
that I could be so far from land
standing on the ocean.
I thought about that album cover
with the highway
and high-tension wires
captured in electric blue so you
could actually
feel them
When I saw that
and heard the music
it was inside of me
that desire to remake the world.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Hypothetical bullets

  • I often see people reduce the question of gender equality in the arts to a matter of anatomy, with comments like, "All I care about is whether the writing is good. I don't care if the writer has a penis or a vagina." I always wonder if they would say the same thing about other women's rights issues, like voting and equal pay for equal work. Would they have rolled their eyes at the women's suffrage movement, because who cares if a voter has a penis or a vagina? To me this argument trivializes the arts. If women deserve the right to vote, why not equal access to funding in the arts? It's like saying, "Politics have no place here, let's all get back to our silly hobby."
  • It looks like the Wikipedia page will be deleted on the grounds that a) I want it to be and b) I'm an "utterly NN individual." I assume this means "non-notable." (Other possibilities? Nitwit Nincompoop?) Even though I'm in favor of deletion, it's hard not to be irked by the comments on the deletion page. Maybe you're a nonstarter, dillweed! Plus, every poet is a minor poet. :)
  • P.S. If there was any doubt: I love you all.
  • UPDATE: It got caught in some Blogger nixie trap but Jon Awbrey sent me a link to a very interesting paper I'm reading right now: “The Dynamics of Vertical and Horizontal Diversity in Organization and Society” • Human Resource Development Review, March 2007, vol. 6 no. 1, pp. 7–32. (Abstract. HTML.)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Oh ho

Some wag went and created a Wikipedia page for me. A little bird told me it was Fred Bauder. It could use a little finessing. (It's WordStream, for example, not WorldStream.) Do they frown on people editing their own pages?

UPDATE: A helpful commenter pointed me to this discussion. Someone wrote: "I wonder if Elisa, upon finding that 87% of the writers of some publication were WOMEN would also have concluded that it ipso facto it too would have to be 'sexist.' Probably not. But if she did, she'd probably be right. Depending on your definiton of 'sexist.'"

Actually, I almost wrote something to this effect in my original post. I think you could fairly call such a publication "sexist," but only if the publication aimed to be an objective, encyclopedic resource of general interest to readers of all genders. I wouldn't call a women's magazine sexist for being staffed mostly by women. But Wikipedia is not a men's magazine.

Anyway, if Wikipedia's content were produced by 87% women, it probably would not be as gender-biased as Wikipedia currently is. This is because both women and men unconsciously favor men in many circumstances. Most women are not feminists.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Wikipedia is sexist.

Amusing: An artist named David Horvitz has been photobombing Wikipedia:
From December 2010 to January 2011, Brooklyn-based artist David Horvitz drove up the West Coast from Mexico to Oregon, stopping to take pictures of himself staring off into various vistas as a part of his latest project, Public Access. Horvitz took each of his images — a collection of pensively photobombed beaches, bridges, lighthouses, and creeks — and uploaded them to their proper Wikipedia pages, adding to and sometimes replacing the images already there.
I love the comments from Wikipedia's stalwart and finicky editors: "Crap photo of dubious sourcing" ... "another sockpuppet inserting poor images" ... "I’ve been replacing these with cropped versions where it’s possible to crop them and still have a useful image, and removing the others, because we don’t need to be supporting this .. .whatever it is" ... "Actually, it can be very good to have a person in these kinds of images, in order to show the scale of the features. In these cases, I don’t think we should care who that person is" ...

Wikipedia has been on my mind lately, after hearing the statistic passed around a week or so ago that something like 87% of Wikipedia contributors/editors are male. This didn't surprise me in the least, and initially made no impression on me whatsoever. A few days later the obvious consequences of this dawned on me: Wikipedia is sexist. Of course this affects the content. Of course this bias trickles down and bleeds into the articles in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. I wouldn't want to read a magazine if only 1 out of 10 of its editors/contributors were women. Especially if the whole point of the magazine was to present objective, unbiased information in an encyclopedic fashion.

Maybe I'll boycott Wikipedia.

UPDATE: While I'm editing my misuse of "effect" (sigh), I'll pull up a clarification I made in the comments. The title is intentionally provocative, and echoes a line I recently read in a satirical novel about the NYC literary scene in the '70s: "Technique is racist." To be clear, I'm not accusing any particular person or particular group of people of sexism, I'm saying that the entity/system itself fosters sexism (gender bias, if you prefer).

Friday, February 18, 2011

Things that blew my mind

When I first met my friend Chris Starkey, the architect, we spent obscene amounts of time together. Well, that's not true; when we first met, he didn't really like me, but I was pushy, and then we became very tight. (You know when you get a girl crush? It was like that, but Starkey is a man, so it was like a regular crush, except we mostly wanted to be friends.) Once, we were sitting on the back porch at my old apartment in Central Square, which was in the progress of being built, and Starkey was having a cigarette and I was just sitting; it was our second or third consecutive day of hanging out, and he asked me if I wanted to go with him to some show or another, and I said, "Aren't you worried you're going to get sick of me?" And he said, quite seriously, but also kindly, "I'm already sick of you."

In other news: Janaka Stucky has started a write-in campaign to get me voted Best Poet in Boston by the Phoenix. This wasn't my idea, but hey: why not? (Janaka himself currently holds the title.) He explains the whole thing here, or you can just vote here. Or you can tell me, Janaka, the Phoenix and poetry in general to suck it. But in your head, please, not in the comments, because that would be mean.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Micro-pseudo-review of On Happier Lawns by Justin Marks

There's a kind of poetry I think of as "man poetry," which is not to say that all men write it or only men write it. "Man poetry" is a string of "I did this," "I thought this," "I felt this" statements, very matter-of-fact and declarative. Often done, rarely done well. On Happier Lawns by Justin Marks is in some ways a variation on this genre, but deeply interior and impressionistic, quiet but not abstract: the running inner monologue of an American man full of self-love and self-loathing. The poems are atypical of the genre in that they're built of phrases rather than sentences, little chunks of language like clouds passing by, some images, some ideas. Like Nick Demske, the book is made of broken sonnets, in the sense that each poem contains 14 lines. In every other respect, they create and adhere to their own form. Marks writes lines that resonate and stick with me for years, occasionally returning to me, surfacing like a thought bubble: "I saw a femur once" ... "The heart, a stencil" ... "The body, a footnote" ... "You're going to miss me when you're bored." These poems make me laugh and at the same time induce pangs of vague nostalgia ("Something making me sad / but I don't know what"), one of my favorite things that poetry (or any art) can do.

Full disclosure statement: Justin Marks is my friend and editor, but don't let that discourage you; I have a habit of hobnobbing with America's best and brightest. If you buy the very attractive handmade chapbook from Poor Claudia, you'll also get, as a bonus, the other half of it: Digital Macramé by the amazing Paige Taggart. Someday I'll write about the awesome meta-move she pulls off in a poem called ">> >> >>"

Monday, February 14, 2011

Evidence for Turin's vibration theory of smell

There's a story on the Nature site today about an experiment that provides evidence for Luca Turin's theory of primary olfaction (which is based on the vibration of molecules as opposed to their shape; watch his TED talk about it here). Researchers found that fruit flies (good old drosophilidae ... what good study doesn't start with fruit flies?) can smell the difference between hydrogen and deuterium, a heavier isotope that has the same shape. The shape-based theory of smell would predict that different isotopes would smell the same.

For further discussion:
  • A former roommate of mine, a biologist, told me fruit flies can have sex for like 20 minutes. Yea? Nay?
  • There's another theory that small amounts of heavy water (water that contains deuterium instead of hydrogen) can lengthen life span (at least in, you guessed it, fruit flies). In large amounts, however, it is deadly.
  • If you have a fruit fly problem in your kitchen, try pouring bleach down the drain.
  • My friend Chip once, as a kid, drank a cup of bleach. His father was cleaning out a water cooler, and Chip mistook the bleach for water and downed a cup, then realized what he'd done. He read on the back of the bleach bottle "CAN CAUSE DEATH." A little while later his mom found him sitting in his room by himself, crying, looking at old pictures, absolutely sure he was going to die. He was fine. Same guy, many years later, accidentally set his face on fire while taking a flaming shot. He was fine. Same guy also introduced me to Perfumes: The Guide; he is old friends with Tania Sanchez, and thought I would like it.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Some thoughts on grief

I have never lost anyone close to me. I've been to a handful of funerals, but mostly when I was too young to be sad, though old enough to understand I was supposed to be. The anniversary of the death of John's grandfather recently passed. John's description of the moment--his being there, being alive, and then suddenly, not--was excruciating. Witnessing grief fills me with terror and a kind of impossible empathy. I sob in pre-mourning, in anticipation of knowing. My greatest fear is my mother dying. I fear it far more than my own death, though I couldn't choose to die before her; she wouldn't allow it. Though my father's death would also destroy me, I never think about it; it doesn't seem like a real possibility. It's distant and abstract. But my mother's life feels precarious and fragile, and impossibly precious. I'm almost angry that she's not more protective of it, that she goes about living her life as though it's her own. I'm sure I'd feel the same way about a child, if I had one. What right have you to go and die?

I had a scary dream last night that I was walking across a kind of ice field while talking to my mom on the phone. Then I could feel and hear the ice begin to crack and shift, and I got sucked down into the swirling, freezing water underneath. I was still holding the phone, but I was stunned, or the wind knocked out of me, and I couldn't speak to tell her what was happening. I lost my grip on the phone, and the current pulled me farther and farther away from it. I was less upset about the possibility of drowning than about losing my phone--that is, having no way to reach her.

Self-defense courses for women got big in the '80s. Are there similar classes to help people prepare for the death of their loved ones? Or is that just psychoanalysis? (Here's another one for my future analyst, and/or Reb: Why do I have so many dreams about my phone?)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Errors, tragic and otherwise

  • It kills me when I see someone wearing a skirt or dress or coat with a flap in the back and they haven't snipped the strings. I remember when my mother told me you have to snip those, because I'd been walking around in the dress all day, while visiting my college of choice for an interview. I was mortified. Luckily, they overlooked it and accepted me. (But not, I might add, for early admission as I'd hoped.) Anyway, the point is, this is a thing you have to learn, and they don't teach you in school. #failuresofeducation
  • People who aren't perfume people always describe perfumes as "musky." Now, many perfumes contain some element of musk, but the vast majority of perfumes I wear are not especially musky; musk is far from the most prominent note. So I can't figure out what they are responding to, what is reading as musky. Woods? Amber? Base notes in general? Anything that isn't obviously flowers or vanilla? What do you think, folks?
  • This is a very interesting review of The French Exit, which finds many parallels with Alice in Wonderland, a connection I don't think anyone else has made (in print, at least): "Alice’s cake says, 'Eat me,' and doing so makes her grow very tall – part of her serial distortion disorder. The narrator’s cake, however, seems to be stuck in the conversation between Alice and the Hatter, about Time, what he is like, and how little Alice knows of him, and the distortions she, the narrator, suffers from are as much of meaning and reality as of her physical self."
  • I went to AWP, but didn't make it in time for the panel. I hope feminist ass was kicked without me. (By which I mean, I hope ass was kicked in a feminist way, not that feminists were kicked in the ass.) I came home with a stack of lovely new books, including the new Birds LLC titles, Ordinary Sun by Matthew Henriksen, and a double-sided Poor Claudia chap by Paige Taggart and Justin Marks.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The use of subheads

True Facts from the Past

I used to spend a lot of time on a usenet group called something like rec.weightlifting. No joke. This was like 2003. There was this badass guy named Lyle on there who knew a lot about leptin and cut & bulk cycles and so forth. Everyone went to him for advice on getting lean/huge. He was such a badass that I made my posting nickname "Crush on Lyle." My Google profile inherited this nickname, and now, if I email you something from Google Reader, it will show up in your inbox with "Crush on Lyle" as the sender.

I miss how lean/huge I used to be. Actually, I'm pretty lean again these days (thanks, celiac disease!), but not as huge.

Where I'll Be at AWP

Hoping to avoid weather-related travel drama, I changed our flights from Wednesday afternoon to Thursday morning. Assuming that arrives on time, I'll be filling in for Patricia Foster, who's unable to make it, at this panel:
To Wave or Not to Wave: Writing the Female Body Across Generations (Kathleen Rooney, Janice Eidus, Patricia Foster, Karen Salyer McElmurray, Kate Zambreno)
Thursday, February 3rd from 12:00 to 1:15 in the Thurgood Marshall West Room of the Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine level

First, second, or third wave? Post or no wave? The six feminist writers in this roundtable don’t get hung up on labels, but they do suggest there’s insight to be gained by looking at how the work of women writing about sex and the body has evolved over the past 40 years. Join them for a multi-genre, multi-generational conversation on how feminism has influenced literary explorations of gender, useful for anyone interested in how writing the body can situate individuals of any age in the world.
Come to the panel and witness the opening of cans of feminist whoop-ass.

I'll also be reading at the Table X event on Friday night. It starts at 6:30 at Steve's Bar Room (1337 Connecticut Ave. NW #2). There are a dillion readers so I won't list them all, but not to worry: I read third. (Meaning: Show up late if you hate me.)

The rest of the time, I'll likely be wandering the book fair in a light-headed daze, if I've learned anything from past AWP's, which I'm sure I haven't.


My column this month is an interview with Chandler Burr. If you don't know perfume, trust me: HE'S A BIG SHOT. I talked to him about perfume stuff including the Center of Olfactory Art, a museum he is opening in New York City, where I want to live. I mean, specifically, I want to live inside the museum.