Friday, March 30, 2012

Classic films I fell asleep during

I assume all blame and everything, but I fell asleep while trying to watch:
  • Blade Runner
  • The Godfather
  • The Sound of Music
  • Blue Velvet
  • My Dinner with Andre
  • The African Queen/Casablanca (this was a double feature; I nodded off during TAQ and missed most of Casablanca)
Crappy films I don't feel bad about falling asleep during:
  • G.I. Jane
  • Les Miserables (1998)
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (also 1998, incidentally)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"The Dolors of Columbine" by John Ashbery

Feeling dolorous today on Columbine Street, I found this Ashbery poem:

THE DOLORS OF COLUMBINE

I. 
In intervals of night's destruction, sometimes
When the silence arrests its hammers over
Daytime's stupefied corpse, I lie apart
From being Columbine. When love jackknifes
The roaring bed, I can feel her
Pleasure and pain, yet am not harmed.
Nor fired with her enjoyment. And this is good,
Like knowing the real Columbine, myself,
At a great distance, living, a brilliant puppet.
But the night's machinery, forever pressing
Its senseless questions of identity, wakens
Me, stranger in a stranger's arms, and I cry
Seeing the real Columbine, at a too great distance
Outwit the guiding wires, escape her name. 
In these lost interludes, many-colored dolors
Appear like toys lighting a child's night.
Though space seem empty, they are real
As a child's imagined playmates, to fear and disobey.
And doubt is never a fixed state
But a dancing mimic, teasing the actual
Premises of arms and legs and terrible
Hungering eyes into tearful denials.
On branches, in the dark, they droop their paper wings,
No longer lovely, shreds of a forgotten dress.
There, uncertain delights put on the solid
Reluctance of the living. Night's cruellest magic
Renders its metaphors possible; myself, an improbable phantom.

II. 
Here, in the daytime, everything's in a mess.
I sit in the flat, I scrub, I vacuum.
Nobody minds if I lean at the window
watching for a new face at the opposite houses
Whose panes may catch my face or the falling sun
But never what's unexpected. But often
The wind, or a huge unseen audience
Catches its breath, and I step forth
All glitter, and trailing colored patches
And I dance forth, modest and assured
That I love, am loved, that I am
Columbine for myself and the applauding world. 
Or, in winter, in the snows' hushed languors---
Or summer, in the close-leafed twilight---
In the car cheek to cheek, rain at the windshield---
Death hums its destructive lullaby, and love
Is almost real, in the traffic, though half-seen,
Is the shape of a giant moth or swaying flower.
These are my moments of sharpest knowing,
When, faintly dolorous though still advancing,
I join him in a marvel of well-wishing. When sleep,
Like a firm hand at base of skull, at last
Comes. And I lie most surely, my thoughts folded,
Myself the implement of his delight, of the delight
Of audiences, and read in their gaze my fame. 

Such beautiful tension between the sentence and the line. (Doesn't the first phrase remind you of Poe?) (Jessica Smith and I were just chatting about the senselessness of the "Kill your darlings" mentality in writing: Why plunder your poems toward mediocrity? Why not fill your poems with darlings only?)

Links

Sampson Starkweather Strips it Down to Just Chapbooks - Adam Robinson of Publishing Genius interviews Sam about chapbooks and why they are wonderful. Even if you don't care about chapbooks or are boycotting HTML Giant, please click through for the picture of Sam. I don't want to spoil the conceit, so I'll just say it kind of made my month. But also, read it for the readable part, e.g.: "the chapbook allows for a succinct singular and intimate reading experience in which the life of the poetry is tied to material form."

Early Exposure to Germs Shows Lasting Benefits - More evidence that the first world is too clean for its own good:
In a study published online March 23 in Science, the researchers show that in mice, exposure to microbes in early life can reduce the body's inventory of invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells, which help to fight infection but can also turn on the body, causing a range of disorders such as asthma or inflammatory bowel disease. The study supports the "hygiene hypothesis," which contends that such auto-immune diseases are more common in the developed world where the prevalence of antibiotics and antibacterials reduce children's exposure to microbes.... The study also found that a lack of exposure in early life could not be compensated for by introducing the [germ-free] mice to a broader range of microbes in adulthood. 
Seduced by Food: Obesity and the Human Brain - A good overview by Stephan J. Guyenet of why cheese and beer are delicious and everyone is suddenly fat:
First described in 1976 by Anthony Sclafani, the cafeteria diet is basically a rat-sized buffet of human junk food, in addition to regular rat chow. The menu for a recent cafeteria diet study included such delectable items as Froot Loops, mini hot dogs, peanut butter cookies, Cheez-its, Cocoa Puffs, nacho cheese Doritos, cake, and BBQ pork rinds. These are what's known in the business as ‘palatable’, or pleasurable to the taste. On this regimen, rats ignored their regular chow, ate junk food to excess and gained fat at an extraordinary rate, far outpacing two comparison groups fed high-fat or high-sugar pelleted diets. Yes, human junk food happens to be the most effective way to overwhelm the body fat homeostasis system in rats, and neither fat nor sugar alone is able to fully explain why it’s so fattening. Importantly, over time, rats become highly motivated to obtain this diet—so motivated they’ll voluntarily endure extreme cold temperatures and electric shocks to obtain it, even when regular bland rodent pellets are freely available. 
The cafeteria diet is an exaggerated version of an unhealthy human diet, and not many people eat quite that poorly. However, have a look at the top six calorie sources in the current US diet, in order of calorie contribution: grain-based desserts (cake, cookies, etc.), yeast breads, chicken-based dishes, sweetened beverages, pizza and alcoholic beverages. Our eating habits aren’t as different from the cafeteria diet as we might like to believe.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Enya + Sufjan Stevens = Perfume Genius







P.S. I wrote about "A Favor" by Okkervil River for Coldfront's Song of the Week feature:
“A Favor” by Okkervil River may be the saddest song I’ve ever heard. From the first line (“Wrapped in Star Wars sheets” – or, alternatively, “Rapt in Star Wars sheets”) to the chorus, where desire transforms into subjugation, it is almost impossibly poignant, like your worst, most precious memories of failure and heartbreak, softened by repeat rememberings to the silky texture of completely immersive nostaglia.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Ephemera


The Ephemeral History of Perfume: Scent and Sense in Early Modern England by Holly Dugan (Johns Hopkins, 2011) has the most beautiful index I've ever seen. Witness these excerpts:

body: and deodorization, 5; and disability theory, 10, 183; environmental influence on, 15-16, 17, 18, 48, 69, 86-87, 94, 97, 102, 103, 110, 171, 178-79, 180, 184, 185, 188; and excrement, 24, 25, 100-101, 105, 107, 186; feminist approaches to, 5, 8, 15, 119, 177-79, 183; history of, 2, 7-8, 15-16, 183, 185, 239n20; and hygiene, 5, 19, 105, 119, 157, 182-83, 186; materiality of, 1, 8, 19, 182-83, 184, 185, 186; metaphors of, 114-15, 194n35; and physiognomy, 11, 105; and postcolonial theory, 5, 182-183; and post-modern theory, 9, 15, 182-183, 184, 187, 188; and queer theory, 178-80, 204n73; royal, 49, 58, 158, 209n67. See also health 
drama: of conversion, 36-41; Jacobean, 245n93; liturgical, 26, 32; masques, 42-44, 59-60, 122; medieval, 32-41; Restoration, 177, 238n14, 245n93; and the Towneley (Wakefield) cycle, 33-36; and the York cycle, 202n47. See also theater 
gloves: "chicken," 232n59; embroidered, 230n30; as gifts, 132; luxury, 130, 133, 136, 137; renaissance, 127-35; scented, 3, 18, 54, 125, 126, 128, 131, 132, 135, 149-52, 187; and the "Spanish" style, 18, 127-35, 136, 149 
grains of paradise, 27, 38, 204n71 
haberdashers, 146, 148 
pomanders: and disease, 16, 18, 74, 103, 105-110, 111, 112, 113, 119, 138, 150, 224n90, 226n108; and eroticism, 112, 114, 115, 116, 119; and fashion, 226n112; and luxury goods, 138, 146, 151; origins of, 224n88 
Roanoke. See under new world 
roses: as allegories, 41, 51, 114, 173, 207n35; cabbage, 50, 150; damask, 17, 44, 46-47, 63, 68, 150, 156, 158, 172, 173, 237n125; and gardens, 45-46, 62-63, 155, 167, 174; golden, 53-54, 55; and rose absolute, 44; and rose attar, 16, 17, 44, 48-51, 53, 60, 63; and the Rose Theater, 60-63, 65; and rosewater, 43, 74, 187, 205n14; and the Tudor rose, 45-48, 59, 61, 99, 158, 185

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

"Portrait of My Father as a Young Man": A Tale of Two Translations

I thought of this poem today (by Rainer Maria Rilke), I think because I was going to tweet something dumb based on it like, "O quickly disappearing tweet on my more slowly disappearing phone." Luckily the world was saved from that when I got distracted by noticing that the favored translation these days is noticeably uglier than the translation I first encountered. Let's take a gander at the two versions.

Here's the version I first read, translated by Stephen Mitchell:

PORTRAIT OF MY FATHER AS A YOUNG MAN 
In the eyes: dream. The brow as if it could feel
something far off. Around the lips, a great
freshness--seductive, though there is no smile.
Under the rows of ornamental braid
on the slim Imperial officer's uniform:
the saber's basket-hilt. Both hands stay
folded upon it, going nowhere, calm
and now almost invisible, as if they
were the first to grasp the distance and dissolve.
And all the rest so curtained within itself,
so cloudy, that I cannot understand
this figure as it fades into the background--. 
Oh quickly disappearing photograph
in my more slowly disappearing hand.

And here's the Edward Snow version (all the new and in-print Rilke translations seem to be by Snow):

PORTRAIT OF MY FATHER AS A YOUNG MAN 
In the eyes dream. The brow as if in touch
with something far away. About the lips
immense youth, unsmiling seductiveness,
and across the full ornamental braids
of the slim aristocratic uniform
the saber's basket-hilt and both the hands--
waiting, calmly, urged toward nothing.
And now scarcely visible: as if they would be
first, grasping the distant, to disappear.
And all the rest self-shrouded
and erased as if we didn't understand
and by something deep in its own depths dimmed--. 
O you swiftly fading daguerreotype
in my more slowly fading hands.

Now, I don't speak German, so I can't really speak to which version is more faithful to the original. But I do think Mitchell's choices, where it really matters, are better. That first colon, before "dream," is inspired. There's more tension, more humanity in "seductive, though there is no smile" compared to "unsmiling seductiveness" (which evokes a snake). I like the specificity of "Imperial officer's uniform" over "aristocratic uniform" (whereas later, Snow is specific to a fault). And, crucially, Mitchell's translation of the description of the hands makes sense:

the saber's basket-hilt. Both hands stay
folded upon it, going nowhere, calm
and now almost invisible, as if they
were the first to grasp the distance and dissolve. 

Whereas Snow's does not:

the saber's basket-hilt and both the hands--
waiting, calmly, urged toward nothing.
And now scarcely visible: as if they would be
first, grasping the distant, to disappear. 

"Grasping the distant"? That's more awkward than poetic. I do like "urged toward nothing" as a phrase. But "almost invisible" is more powerful to me than "scarcely visible." The word "scarcely" always sounds a little tetchy.

The last few lines before the stanza break diverge greatly. Mitchell: "And all the rest so curtained within itself, / so cloudy, that I cannot understand / this figure as it fades into the background--." Snow: "And all the rest self-shrouded / and erased as if we didn't understand / and by something deep in its own depths dimmed--." "Self-shrouded" is pretty, but the rest seems to obfuscate the sentiment in favor of alliteration. 

The penultimate line in German is "Du schnell vergehendes Daguerreotyp" -- if you plug this into Google Translate you get "Oh quickly disappearing daguerreotype." A daguerreotype is an early photograph; probably what Rilke held was a daguerreotype. But Mitchell's translation of this line, the whole last couplet, is so much more beautiful, timeless, memorable. It's not just the choice of "photograph," it's "Oh" instead of "O," "quickly" instead of "swiftly" -- which sound so much more natural, so much less pretentious -- and "disappearing" over "fading" which is ten times more desperate and ominous. "Fade," in reference to one's body, to one's earthly lifeform, is so weak compared to "disappear."

I can't help feeling that if I'd read the Snow translation first I would have passed right over it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

2 items for your attention

1. There's a very moving essay in The Rumpus by my friend Matt Salesses about "how the rules of racism are different for Asian Americans." This is something I've thought about quite a bit. In El Paso, where I grew up, there is next to no Asian population, but Asians were a big part of the student body at Rice, and in college several of my closest friends were Asian American. I dated a Chinese American for about six years. (I thought we would get married and have beautiful, brilliant, musical children.) It wasn't until after we broke up that I started to notice a certain lack of Asian representation in my daily life and in pop culture. We think of the real race wars in America being between whites and blacks; we think "Asians aren't that different" and they're generally successful anyway. I mean, don't we? But this isn't reflected in pop culture; it seems like Asian people on TV, in movies, etc., are more "othered" than black people, more exoticized. Matt's essay gets at the casual racism Asian Americans experience:
I had grown up constantly wavering between denying and suspecting that my skin color was behind the fights picked with me, the insults, the casual distance kept up even between myself and some of my closest friends. Sometimes—in retrospect: oftentimes—these incidents were obviously rooted in race. I have been called “chink” and “flat face” and “monkey” many many times. And it is the context of these words that make a child grow uncomfortable with who he is, that instill a deep fear in him. (As a side note: I am married now to a Korean woman who grew up in Korea, and when I mentioned the “flat face” slur to her, she said, “but your face is flat.” Yet how different was this from the leering way it was said to me as a child, something she hadn’t felt as a Korean in Korea.) I was afraid, back then, of myself, as if there were a little Asian person living within me that was corrupting my being, taking me away from the white person I thought I was. 
There are still incidents from those days that I cannot get out of my mind. I remember watching, in one middle school class, a video meant to teach us that blackface and sculptures of big-lipped black people and stereotypes of watermelon and fried chicken were wrong. Later that same year, one of my best friends drew a picture of a square with a nose poking off of one side. I knew this was me even before he said it. Sometimes my friends would ask me to do the trick where I put my face against the table, touching both my forehead and my chin to the wood. I thought of this as a special ability, but underneath, I knew I should be ashamed.
Every time I read that I get choked up. Later he writes, "It is hard to call someone who thinks he is complimenting you a racist. But the positive stereotypes people think they can use because of their 'positivity' continue (and worsen) the problem." Ha/Ouch: Last week I tweeted to Matt "I love Asian babies." It's true: I think Asian babies and children are more beautiful than their white counterparts. Is that racist? I don't really know.

More:
When I was an MFA student at Emerson College (where Don Lee got his MFA and then later edited Ploughshares), there was a rumor going around that in the original workshop stories from Yellow, the characters were white. That Lee made them Asian later. I’m not sure the truth of this statement. In fact, I’m not interested in the truth of it. I’m more interested in the fact that this was a rumor at all. This was something people wanted to talk about, and talked about as if the truer versions of the characters were white. If Lee did use white characters, originally, he is not alone. I know many Asian American writers who refuse to write about Asian Americans, out of a fear of being typecast, or a fear of being seen as “using” their ethnicity, or a fear of being an “Asian American writer,” or something. And really, I understand that. I have been one of those writers. This may not come as a surprise, at this point in this essay, but for a long time, I wrote only about white characters. I wrote about them because I grew up with people like them, but also because they were the people in books and because I, too, feared the label, or at least told myself I did. What that fear really is, it seems to me now, is a fear of not being taken as seriously as the White Male Writer, who has so long ruled English literature.
It's the double-edged sword of identity politics, where you're either "using" your identity or denying it. Make reference to your heritage, your race, your gender, etc. (or don't, even) and someone will accuse you of getting ahead via quota. (However: "Both Harvard and Princeton are currently under investigation on charges of racism toward Asians, whose grades and SAT scores, on average, must be higher than those of other races in order to gain admissions. Many Asian Americans are responding by marking the box on applications that declines to indicate race, something I cannot help but read symbolically.")

2. Brian Pera is running a Kickstarter campaign to fund his next film (Only Child) and there are all kinds of awesome incentives for donating, including music samplers and perfume from the one and only Andy Tauer. I donated $25, which qualifies me for fancy-schmancy tuberose soap, based on the perfume created for Loretta, the character in the clip below. You can learn more about Brian's project at Evelyn Avenue.


Loretta "Never Been Sadder" from Eileen Meyer on Vimeo.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Ira Glass vs. Mike Daisey: Who's worse?

The This American Life thing. Wow. I was going to stay out of it, but this morning it seems that "the liberal media" has decided to suck Ira Glass's dick (excusez mon Francais). For example, James Fallows in The Atlantic:

Go read that This American Life transcript again. It is superb in its unraveling of Daisey's inventions; in its exploration and explanation of "real" journalistic values and the difference between fact and metaphor ... "I feel like I have the normal worldview" is a line that will live, or deserves to.

That line may well live, but I hope it lives for the right reasons. (Newsflash to Ira Glass: Almost everyone feels like they have the normal worldview.) Here's Mark Oppenheimer in Salon:

I can’t be the only listener who thought this past weekend’s edition of “This American Life,” the public-radio show, was among the most compelling work Ira Glass and his team of producers had ever done.

There's a scapegoat now, so everyone can feel good about This American Life again (and their Apple products too!). Ira Glass held Mike Daisey up for the sacrifice. Look, clearly Daisey made a huge mistake; he reminds me of someone I used to know who told the most amazing stories and was kind of a pathological liar. That's not the point. The point is that multiple sources are now saying Daisey's monologue raises obvious red flags (no pun intended) for anyone who has actually spent time in China. The most damning detail seems to be the one about the factory guards carrying guns. Glass says they fact-checked the story, but that is a glaring unfact to go unchecked.

Glass's indignation toward Daisey seemed largely manufactured to make good radio. I want to listen to the show where someone puts Glass in the hot seat. He said he should have killed the show when they couldn't get in touch with the interpreter. Well why didn't he? Wherefore the lack of judgment, or the going against it?

Here are some things I know:

  • Even if it is the "normal worldview" to go see a theatrical monologue and take every word as literal fact, it's the wrong worldview. "Nonfiction" isn't journalism. I mean, really, Ira Glass? It's like In Cold Blood never happened. If you want to do a political expose, don't go to Broadway for material.
  • This American Life is theater.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

The whole point of a stab wound is the poignant memory

Poignant things:
CARNAVAL  
I’m invited to a costume party. I decide to go as myself, so I take off the mask I typically wear when I’m out in the world, working, visiting the girlfriend, conversing with friends or home with my family.  
The party’s boring and the masks aren’t original: they all stole my idea.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What it means to have "a right to your opinion"

This is a thing that happens on the Internet (and, probably, real life too -- I don't spend as much time there):

  1. A high-profile figure or sometimes just a person (we'll call them Person X) makes a comment, publicly, that someone takes offense to (it could be something they say in the real world that then makes it into print or something they write on a blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  2. The offended party (Person Y) publicly takes issue with the statement (on their blog, Twitter, etc.)
  3. A third party (Person Z) is offended in turn by Person Y's response (whether or not they agree with Person X's original sentiment), and tells them that Person X "is entitled to" or "has a right to" his or her opinion.
When this happens, it always sounds to me like Z is suggesting that X has more right to their opinion than Y (because X is more famous, perhaps?). If that's not what they mean, what do the Z's of the world mean by these statements? Everyone has a right to their opinion, sure, but no one has the right to not be criticized. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Gore Vidal on the basic absurdity

More Gore Vidal (he wrote this half a century ago):

Millions of men, women, and children are financially exploited in order to support one per cent of the population in opulence and the rest in sufficient discomfort to keep them working at jobs that they dislike in order to buy things that they do not need in order to create jobs to make money to be able to buy, etc. This is not a just society. It may not last much longer. But for the present, the children of the rich are as carefully conditioned to the world as it is as are those of the poor.

What response is there but "pretty much." Not to mention even the wealthy people aren't happy. What is progress, anyway? Human culture gets richer or at least more complicated over time ... our knowledge base or at least the amount of information increases ... but suffering is a constant. Who's to say which is worse, getting eaten by tigers or suicidal depression? I used to think we were moving toward some Kurzweilian tipping point wherein centuries of gradual progress would suddenly culminate in an unforeseen scientific enlightenment. Lately I'm less optimistic. Scientific progress continues but is less and less applicable to actual life, to improving our daily lives (especially the lives of the poor). The mind-blowing shit we expected to see on the street is restricted to the military. Most art, culture as a whole, is advanced product placement. I guess it's an exciting time to be alive. We're either going to live forever or witness the collapse of civilization. Where's your money?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Men's Fiction: Are they for real?

There's a magazine called BULL: Men's Fiction. I saw their table at AWP, did a double take, then promptly forgot about it. But then someone mentioned it today on Twitter. So I clicked through to the site. According to the About page:

BULL is the first and only journal devoted exclusively to Men's Fiction. What Men's Fiction is, however, is open to interpretation. The aim of BULL is to showcase exemplary stories of men's interest, with hopes of promoting a greater definition of the genre. In any case, BULL is a home for fiction that is smart, bold, brazen, and unabashed, not trite or trashy. This is the sole intention behind our tag "Fiction for Thinking Men."

I am really wondering: Is this satire? It's not strictly limited to male authors (the current issue has at least two women in the lineup, if names are to be trusted, out of 14 authors), just "men's interest." Still, if it's for real, I'm perplexed as to why this is necessary. First of all, I can't imagine it's really the first and only venue devoted to men's fiction. Across the vast oceans of time? Secondly, men's voices and interests are hardly underrepresented in all the regular journals. What does it mean? Are they kidding? I'd believe it if you said they were. It is called bull.

More thoughts on Drive

I've been thinking more about Drive, thanks to a stimulating email exchange with A D (Adam) Jameson, whom I met at AWP. What's really interesting is that we agree on so much about the movie (its reprehensible treatment of women; its essential campiness, but executed self-seriously rather than humorously; the overt soundtrack, etc.), but come away with different assessments: He loved it, I hated it. One (possibly key) difference is that we came to it with different expectations: he was expecting The Fast & the Furious, whereas I saw it post-hype. I'm not sure that's enough, though; even given its critical reception, my expectations were fairly low (it's still a Hollywood movie after all, and I think everything is overrated). Is it just that I'm not the target audience? Almost everything I cite as a flaw is considered a strength by another reviewer.

Adam pointed me to a couple of interesting links, including this interview with Nicolas Winding Refn (the director), which literally made my jaw fall open. Here are the (to me) shocking excerpts:

All my films are very feminine. Art is a feminine medium and it’s a way to counter masculinity. You know, I structured the film very much like a fairy tale. Half the movie had to be pure champagne in order for the second half to succeed, its psychotic behavior.

It blows my mind that he thinks this film is "feminine," and that the first half of the movie somehow justifies the second. Or, as I tweeted this morning, "So if Ryan Gosling likes a pretty girl in the first half, it's OK if he later stomps a guy's face into liquid oblivion."

The elevator sequence I came up with a week before we started shooting. Because there was a scene there that I couldn’t make work, and by placing it in the elevator I was able to incorporate the kiss, which essentially was the payoff to the head smash. Before, the problem was I didn’t have anything to account it for. So it wasn’t till I changed my surroundings that I was able to come up with that. There’s nothing too extreme for me if it balances the reverse. 
MO: So balance very important to you. 
Refn: Yeah, because the payoff won’t have an effect unless the build up is emotionally engaging like that. Making violence is very much like sex. If you believe the build up to the climax it becomes so much more engaging.

So, basically, in Refn's minds, the sweet scenes in the first half of the movie (Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan staring at each other, driving around, playing with her kid, basted with golden sunlight, etc. etc.) are foreplay and the subsequent blood bath is the climax. What I'm hearing is, I kissed the audience on the neck and rubbed its back and lightly fondled it, so that way it was ready when I eye-raped it with violence. I'm sorry to say, Refn, your fondling was forced and inept and I was in no way prepared for the violent intercourse that followed.

He goes on to say that "violence is very intimate" and "I’m a fetish filmmaker, and I make films based on what I would like to see." My response to this is "Ugh."

Locke Peterseim, who blogs about film at Hammer & Thump (now part of the Open Letters masthead), had this to say about Drive (emphasis mine):

On its release, I immediately pegged Drive to my mental 2011 Faves List. But re-watching the crime noir a couple times over the winter as I prepared for end-of-year awards voting and Best Of lists, each repeat viewing further reinforced a paradox: The more I watched the film, the more convinced I became that it’s all style as substance, and the less I felt it had to say beyond its neon-slick, ultra-violent attitude. And yet my appreciation of the film grew for exactly that same reason. Maybe Drive—now available on home video—is nothing more than a fresh, stylish genre riff, but it’s a terrific one, and I admire it even more for being just that.

Here's what I don't understand about the typical moviegoer: Why is he so forgiving? Why is everything justifiable? How can anyone see a movie as all style, no substance, and decide they like it for that very reason? I don't see Drive as a comment on Hollywood; it is Hollywood. Refn said himself, he was making the film he wanted to see, not a film to mock his viewers by giving them what they think they want.

What is the difference, in this discourse, between a movie that fails because it's stylishly vapid and one that succeeds because it is?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

How to pronounce my name

I just got back from AWP, and meeting people that I know from the Internet is always a reminder that people usually mispronounce my name in their heads. So here it is, the definitive guide to pronouncing my name:

  1. It rhymes with Lisa. Not Liza, and not Lissa. The middle vowel is a long e (represented as "i" in the international phonetic alphabet). This is the most important thing.
  2. The s is unvoiced. (A voiced s, or alveolar sibilant, becomes a z.)
  3. The first vowel is less important. I pronounce it as a schwa. Some people pronounce it as another long e like the middle vowel. A little over-enunciated perhaps, but not wrong.
  4. The last vowel is another schwa. (No one ever gets this wrong.)
Now it's like we're in the same room!

More links!
Martin made this valentine (click it to enlarge):



It's my favorite thing. The line is from a poem Kathy and I wrote. The back says, "I don't know about you but I find the dead of winter romantic."

xoxo

Monday, March 5, 2012

More old-ass poems I never finished and/or forgot about

This one was supposed to be in a chapbook that never saw the light of day; IIRC Kitchen Press folded when Justin Marks had a computer meltdown and decided to focus his pressly efforts on Birds exclusively. Basically exists so I could use the "word" "unphased" (a typo I fell in love with, much like "seamingly"):

POEM WITH A MIND GAME  
My heart doesn’t hurt, it just feels
like it hurts. You say I seem “unphased”—  
that’s exactly how I feel. Try this trick
to see shapes in higher-  
dimensional space. Was it a lucid dream,
or was believing that  
part of the dream? The plot of
Groundhog Day as cultural currency?  
This room has no focal point,
no TV. I feel like I love you.  
Or I love you, verbatim.
My heart hurts exactly.

This one is much older, like 2003, and exists so I could use the word "raster":

IN A CAFÉ 
I met a man whose memory ran backwards.
He sat at my table and filled out the crossword
in raster. I memorized it tomorrow, he said.

I smoked several of his cigarettes; he promised
they wouldn’t kill me. He knew nothing of the past,
could not conjure an image of his parents.
I spoke of the betrayals of mine.

We looked out at the view: it was raining,
with gravestones. But I was not unhappy.
He walked me home, and in the shared warmth

below his umbrella I let him kiss me.
It felt like a last kiss instead of a first.
It seemed impossible not to love him.

When the sky cleared he pointed to Orion,
the X of the body, lines crossed in space.
I knew it had always been this way.
He knew it would never be otherwise.

I don't know. A bunch of things.

~~ I am teaching an afternoon class at Lighthouse Writers Workshop on March 24. You should come! Tell a friend! Here's the info:

5 Ways to Revise a Poem 
For many writers, revision is as difficult as producing the first draft -- if not more so! -- and a big part of the problem is knowing where to start. In this class, you'll learn five+ approaches to revising a poem as well as tips for making revision easier and more generative. Although the class will focus on poetry, the revision methods and tips we review will be helpful for writers working in any genre. Students should bring in 1-2 recent poem drafts to use as starting material for several in-class writing exercises.  
Instructor: Elisa Gabbert
Starts: 03/24/2012 Time(s): 1:00PM-4:00PM
Cost: $55.00 members / $70.00 non-members
Location: Lighthouse Attic (3rd Floor), 1515 Race Street, Denver, CO 80218

~~ James of Pur Autre Vie has been blogging about marriage and LTCRs (long-term committed relationships), in response to recent writings by Matthew Yglesias and Ross Douthat (puttin' on his doubt hat). It all raises some interesting questions: Are women better off now that marriage is in decline? Are children? Is anybody? Is the LTCR a myth perpetuated by the upper classes? Is commitment really commitment if people are only expected to stay committed for as long as they're getting something out of it (are "happy")? What is "happy"? Can happiness have meaning if it is only self-reported? Things that haunt me: Women are less happy than they used to be; most people choose power over happiness. "Why are there no great female composers?"

~~ I've also been thinking about the pretty widespread idea that conventionally "girly" things are anti-feminist, i.e., you can't be a feminist and care about fashion, or you can't be a feminist and wear makeup. It's on my mind right now because I'm reading a book by a longstanding feminist who was surprised to find herself  interested in, nay, obsessed with perfume. (Inner and sometimes outer voices: "But perfume is so girly!") But this also comes up whenever conservatives make the argument that women earn less than men because they choose to do low-paying work. The problem is not that women are choosing low-value work; it's that we don't value, as a society, the work that women do. And the same goes for hobbies and interests: I truly believe that fashion is no more frivolous than sports. We just value sports over fashion because the former is associated with men and the latter with women (and gay men, who are uncomfortably close to women and as such icky, inferior examples of men). Don't let people, even feminists, tell you that your hobbies are "girly" and therefore frivolous. Dolls are just as interesting as plastic guns. (Also, "greatness" tends to be measured against standards set by men.)

~~ More links:


~~ I had an encounter at Beauty Bar in Chicago that made me understand what Britney Spears means when she says she's in it for the fans. Then Kathy and I photoboothed. I like this picture because we appear to have cheekbones. In reality, we're chipmunks. (Ah, so that's why people do the duckface.)


Then I danced my ass off. Oh yes, I went to Funkytown.