Friday, December 27, 2013

Rule of threes

Probably good advice! Especially since I think Goodreads is largely stupid/pointless: This is on record. But I am kind of grimly fascinated by what's transpiring there w/r/t my second book. The French Exit has almost exclusively 4- and 5-star ratings. The Self Unstable is racking up 1's and 2's and 3's.

You'll just have to take my word for it when I say I'm not particularly offended or hurt by these; I don't take random strangers' opinions seriously enough to be. I wouldn't be checking Goodreads at all but my free Mention account (which usually only sends me flattering mentions!) keeps alerting me to these middling to bad reviews. That is sort of annoying, but on balance I find this gives me an odd sense of pride. I have always felt that there's some threshold of "fame" (relative fame, people; it's pretty damn low for poets) that, when you cross, means people are going to start disliking you. So 1-star reviews feel almost like a badge of honor. Some guy has only rated one book, and it was my book, with 1 star? Great! Someone cares enough to send the very worst.

~

I thought that I had heard all my parents stories, dozens of times each. But stories must be like memories, getting reinforced with every telling, so the old familiar stories are easier to each for and more deeply etched. This year, it's just me and my parents doing the Christmas thing; my one living grandparent is no longer well enough to transport home, John is in Connecticut, my brother is in Austin with his wife and dogs, and my cousins, etc. all had other plans. Over the past couple of days, I was surprised to learn a few things about my parents that had never come up before:

  • My dad is one of the last hold-outs, among internists, that still visits his own patients in the hospital. This is called, in the parlance, "making rounds." Over the years, all the doctors he knows have stopped seeing patients in the hospital and left that to "hospitalists" (a word I never heard before this year). I asked my dad why he still does it; I assumed it was just an "old habits die hard" thing. But nope: It's because he really likes it. He told me that hospital patients are the difficult and therefore more interesting cases, whereas most of his job is just managing long-term stable conditions like hypertension and diabetes, which is boring. And even though hospital life is hard and getting harder (hard because you might get called to go down there in the middle of the night; getting harder because hospitals have moved to electronic records and everything takes longer), it's worth it to him for the challenge. I love knowing this about my dad.
  • At Christmas dinner, fraternities somehow came up. My dad was in a fraternity. I mentioned being glad that there were none at Rice but that I wouldn't have wanted to join a sorority anyway. My dad looked surprised; I don't think he's absorbed the new cultural idea of frats as Douchebag Nation. Anyway, then my mom told me something she'd never mentioned before: For months before my parents met, at the wedding of a mutual friend (a night they refer to as "Some Enchanted Evening"; it was love at first sight), friends had been trying to set them up, but my mom kept saying that she didn't want to date a "frat boy." I love knowing this about my mom.

This blurry selfie is us:


And here's an old picture of my parents I found in an album, from some vacation or other. My parents are so adorable to me!


And as long as I'm at it, here's one of my brother, our two cousins who are about our ages, and me when we were all at our maximally cutest:



I can't stand it!

~

So, I'm sick. I never get sick in Denver, but last year the same thing happened: Holiday traveling did me in. It sucks to be sick on your vacation, but since I work from home, if I weren't on vacation I'd be sick and working which I guess is worse. And sick/vacating though I am, I feel guilty about not working. America sucks! 

Monday, December 23, 2013

About that New York Daily News piece…

You might have seen me tweeting about the article published last week on New York Daily News, featuring six young women poets from NYC. It’s not the kind of publication I’d expect quality criticism or journalism from, and the text of the article is of course completely vapid. But it’s the photographs of the featured poets that really made me uncomfortable. Three of the photos are quite tasteful, rather nice portraits of the poets. (I especially like the one of Ana Bozicevic, one of my favorite poets.) The other three are tonally way off – sexed up in an almost calendar-girl-ish way. Two of the women are actually reclining on couches in the classic “male gaze” pose familiar from nude paintings. The third is wearing a lace bustier and posing (cheesily) behind a fence. It would be one thing if these were candid photos – capturing the poets “in the wild,” in their street clothes, in the midst of a performance. But they’re clearly planned, posed shots. So it comes off pretty gross.

In conversations I’ve had about the article, I’ve noticed a tendency for people to leap to the defense of both the poets and the photographer, suggesting that a) maybe it wasn’t the photographer’s idea to vamp them up in this way, but someone else at the magazine, blah blah blah and b) aren’t we taking away the women’s agency when we suggest they have been tricked or manipulated? Perhaps the outfits, poses, etc. where their ideas, and why should we “slut-shame” them for just being themselves on camera?

I’m pretty resistant to this line of thinking. Here are some reasons why I don’t think we can apologize this kind of article away:

It’s very late-wave-y to permit any kind of behavior on the grounds that it’s the woman’s own choice, that she has “agency,” and if she wants to be a stripper, more power to her, etc. The problem with this idea is that it’s giving both women and men too much credit. Nobody really has as much agency as we’d like to believe; everyone is deeply influenced by cultural standards and pressures. Just because a woman believes she is acting under her own agency and for her own best interests doesn’t mean she is. People act against their own best interest all the time, especially oppressed people. (See poor people voting Republican.) And even if the poets in the couch poses believed the photographs came out of their own ideas and choices, I call bullshit. Men in powerful positions were influencing and profiting from those decisions. Nearly naked women in sexy poses sell magazines, and the poets didn’t get a cut of that money. You could argue that maybe those photos will sell those women’s books. Well guess what, it sucks to high heaven that women have to show their cleavage to sell books. You’d never see a similar article about hot young male poets from Brooklyn lying shirtless in bed. So even if this does help their careers on some level, it’s still deserving of a cultural critique. We shouldn’t have to do that to get attention.

We had the same conversation at a national scale when Miley “twerked” with bears and stuck out her tongue and humped a Styrofoam finger at the VMA’s. The same argument applies: I’d love to live in a world where that performance was something she drove and owned, but I don’t believe it. She’s being manipulated by an industry controlled by old white men who get all the money. Of course they love it when a young woman with a hot bod wants to twerk on stage, that’s how they make their millions! Sex sells but it’s mostly images of women that sell, and men who profit.

Why this isn’t “slut-shaming”: We’re talking about women’s representation in the media, not their personal choices. Let’s say, for example, that Lisa Marie Bastile showed up to the shoot in a bustier. That doesn’t mean a sexy photo of her in a bustier belongs in this particular article, and putting all the responsibility on her feels like a version of “She was asking for it.” Speaking of, why are women’s clothes so often equated to their sex lives? Notice how men’s sex lives have nothing to do with their wardrobes. And men aren’t considered more or less sexy based purely of square inches of flesh that are showing at any given time. As I said above, I think candid photos would tell a totally different story, a woman living her own life for her own reasons. The photos in this article clearly had art direction (except, perhaps, for the one at the top of Monica McClure, which looks like it could be candid – it still feels pretty random/inappropriate in this context).

We’re all obsessed with beauty and youth, we’re all complicit, of course. It’s not really possible to divorce writing from appearance completely today, if it ever was – not with author photos and author websites and social media and the avatar. Your face and your body are going to get into the mix, they’re going to complicate your reception. How you look makes more of a difference if you’re a woman. And if you’re an attractive woman, it’s probably very difficult to resist the cultural forces that are trying at every turn to sexualize you. Smart, feminist women with their fair share of “agency” occasionally allow themselves to be objectified (which is not the same as women objectifying themselves, which I don’t think is possible; that’s like “reverse racism”). But we have to draw the line somewhere. We should be able to say, yes, she’s beautiful, yes she’s got great tits/legs/whatever, but right now we’re supposed to be talking about her poetry, her intelligence. This is supposed to be an article about writing. Isn’t this the time/place for a portrait that foregrounds the face, the expression, not the body? Susan Sontag and Joan Didion were very beautiful when they were young, but the photos you see of them are never pinup-sexy. In fact they look intimidating, almost mean. Unfortunately, as a woman, you usually have to challenge people to take you seriously. (See Laura van den Berg’s comments on her unsmiling author photo.)

Quick note on age: John pointed out that it’s the poets over 30 who get the “respectful” treatment, even though they’re all young. (True except for Alina Gregorian who is 29.)

Look, women can’t win. I’m not criticizing the women featured in this article. I don’t blame them. I don’t even blame the photographer entirely, though I think the photographer is much more to blame than the poets. (Look at these photos he, Lawrence Schwartzwald, took of a bunch of old dude poets – Ron Silliman, Charles Bernstein et al. The only skin showing is on their faces and hands!) I blame everyone involved in the creation of article (the writer, the editor, the publisher) but even more so the culture that allows this shit to happen and then apologizes for it and diffuses blame to the point that anything is permissible. We deserve better! All publicity is not good publicity.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Trying not to be boring...



and failing. I am weary from travel and work and gift-wrapping. Beauty blogs would have you believe that the holiday season is one non-stop party, with brief pauses during which you can change from one sequined outfit to another and touch up your lip gloss before having another champagne to ward off the hangover. That sounds rather grand, if you have a driver, but I got to my in-laws' in Connecticut on Monday night and then didn't leave the house at all (literally, not even to stand in the driveway or stick my hand out a window) for three days. (I just broke my streak for a quick trip to Target.)

Here's the crappy thing about time: Everything doesn't start over fresh just because the last digit of the calendar year changes. So, yeah, 2013 was not our best year, and some of its badness will probably bleed into 2014. We can't just put the bad year behind us. Alas. One plus side of suffering (aside from all the art): Resolutions seem truly meaningless! So this new year we'll be making wishes instead.

Anyway, I just wanted to share a few quick links with you. The Self Unstable popped up on a few "best of the year" lists this week and this made me feel nice:

  • The New Yorker asked contributors to name their favorite reads of the year. Teju Cole writes: "I found Elisa Gabbert’s The Self Unstable a wonderful surprise. It was the most intelligent and most intriguing thing I’ve read in a while, moving between lyric poetry, aphorism, and memoir, and with thoughts worth stealing on just about every page."
  • In the Poetry Foundation's Staff Picks for 2013, Art Director for Poetry Fred Sasaki writes: "Let the lyric essay here be poetry, and thank you Black Ocean for sending Elisa Gabbert’s The Self Unstable in time for Xmas."
  • And Christopher Higgs includes TSU in his 2013 Holiday Shopping Guide.

Thank you Teju, Fred, and Chris!

One more thing: I reviewed Une Rose Chypree, an amazing perfume, over at Bois de Jasmin. My first draft started with an elaborate metaphor involving accommodation, a concept in linguistics. The idea is that speakers accommodate to their interlocutors' speech patterns, meaning, if you have a conversation with someone who talks faster than you, you will start talking faster. This is especially true when you want that person to like you. I notice myself doing this all the time.

I have terrible posture when I'm sitting down. Bah, I just made a resolution.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Northeast Readings

Hello! If you pre-ordered The Self Unstable it should be arriving any day now. Further, if you live in Boston or New York, you can see me read from it this weekend. First, on Friday the 13th, in Boston at the Brookline Booksmith as part of Black Ocean's BASH series.


These are honestly some of my favorite readers of all time so I'm pretty excited.

The following night, Saturday Dec. 14, I'll be doing a launch party at Berl's Poetry Shop in Brooklyn. More details here. Featuring special guest apperances by Jennifer Olsen, Becca Klaver, Niina Pollari, and Cassandra Gillig.

Come say hi!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

I just figured out what I don't like about short stories

I don't read short stories very often. Of course I've read some great stories in my life but in general, I don't seek them out; I don't buy collections of short stories and I don't flip to them in magazines. And Reader, I only just now figured out what it is about collections of short stories that turn me off. I realized it while reading The Isle of Youth by Laura van den Berg (which is very good); I had just finished one story and was starting another and it hit me: I don't like beginnings and endings in fiction. This is true for novels as well. It generally takes 3 to 4 times as long as it should to get through the first 8 to 10 pages of a novel, given my usual middle-of-the-book reading speed; it's like there's this big activation energy I have to overcome, all these additional resources I have to put into figuring out the characters, setting, tone, what's going on, what's the style, how do I read this, etc. Then you ease into it and it's smooth sailing for at least 150 pages. Unfortunately, I tend to get antsy toward the ends of things. I think it's because I like finishing books; it gives me a sense of accomplishment and means I can start something new. So I rush a little toward the end and miss things; too, I overanalyze them, because writers fret over endings and I'm more likely to question the decisions there and feel like something falls flat or feels false. So there's a certain amount of dread as I approach the last 10-15 pages of the book.

So it seems obvious now, doesn't it? Collections of short stories multiply the beginnings and endings. For me, it's exactly like the choice between a direct flight and one where you have to change planes three times. The take-offs and landings are the most disruptive (and dangerous!) part. This is why I couldn't finish the The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst, whom I normally love; aside from the bloated, show-offy prose, it's constructed in such a way that you basically start over with a brand-new novella (new characters, setting, story line, etc.) every 80 pages or so – right when I was beginning to feel invested – with no closure on the previous story. This was utterly infuriating. (Still waiting for someone who has finished this book to explain the point of all that to me and why I shouldn't throw it into a fire.)

Nevertheless, for whatever reason, I've been picking up some short fiction lately and liking it. I keep thinking about a story I read a couple of weeks ago, "Teen Culture" by Elizabeth Ellen from the Summer 2012 issue of American Short Fiction. Not a good title IMO, but a great story. Mark Cugini recently asked, repeatedly, for Twitter to explain "alt lit" to him:
Here was my answer:
By these standards, "Teen Culture" is alt lit. But don't let that scare you off. It's in her book Fast Machine.

Another standout: "The Moody Pencil" by Rachel B. Glaser from the second issue of Uncanny Valley (Mike Meginnis and Tracy Bowling's neat magazine). I read half of it before bed one night, put it aside, then finished it like three months later. It begins unassumingly and then does weird, wild stuff with time and reality that made me think of some of the more "out there" fiction by Joy Williams (one of my favorites foreverrr).


And I've been spending my mornings this weekend on the couch under John's old comforter (it's so freezing our heat's not getting the apartment warmer than 62) drinking creamy coffee and reading The Isle of Youth. My favorite so far is "Opa-Locka," which is about two sisters who start a PI firm. I love how LVDB portrays relationships as accidental and in any case temporary configurations of essentially isolated and confused individuals. Also, you should read this great interview she did with The Believer:
LVDB: Do you know what’s been driving me crazy lately? People asking why I’m not smiling in my author’s photo, or knocking the photo because I look imposing and unapproachable, as opposed to “warm.” Do people ask you why you’re not smiling in your author’s photo? Or get requests for a different photo because you don’t look friendly enough? I get different versions of this a lot. As a result, I am pretty well determined to never smile in another photo ever again. 
BLVR: No, I’ve never been asked why I’m not smiling or asked to send a different author photo. I’m a thin, white, heterosexual man.

Monday, December 2, 2013

I hope she smells my perfume

I just discovered this Britney song and I LOVE IT:


So good.

I've been reading Paris novels with lots of smells. I just recently finished Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys. According to Wikipedia, font of all accuracy, "the book initially sold poorly" because "critics thought it well-written, but too depressing." It is very sad indeed, but also very funny. Here's a striking passage that I dog-eared:

The curtains are thin, and when they are drawn the light comes through softly. There are flowers on the windowsill and I can see their shadows on the curtains. The child downstairs is screaming. 
There is a wind, and the flowers on the windowsill, and their shadows on the curtains, are waving. Like swans dipping their beaks in water. Like the incalculable raising its head, uselessly and wildly, for one moment before it sinks down, beaten, into the darkness. Like skulls on long, thin necks. Plunging wildly when the wind blows, to the end of the curtain, which is their nothingness. Distorting themselves as they plunge.  
The musty smell, the bugs, the loneliness, this room, which is part of the street outside — this is all I want from life.

This bit of prose is all I want from poetry!

Thinking it would make good travel reading, I just started "international bestseller" Perfume by Patrick Suskind ("originally published in German as Das Parfum"). It opens with a delightful passage about the overwhelming stink of civilization in the mid-1700's:

In the period of which we speak, there reigned in the cities a stench barely conceivable to us modern men and women. The streets stank of manure, the courtyards of urine, the stairwells stank of moldering wood and rat droppings, the kitchens of spoiled cabbage and mutton fat; the unaired parlors stank of stale dust, the bedrooms of greasy sheets, damp featherbeds, and the pungently sweet aroma of chamber pots. The stench of sulfur rose from the chimneys, the stench of caustic lyes from the tanneries, and from the slaughterhouses came the stench of congealed blood. People stank of sweat and unwashed clothes; from their mouths came the stench of rotting teeth, from their bellies that of onions, and from their bodies, if they were no longer very young, came the stench of rancid cheese and sour milk and tumorous disease. The rivers stank, the marketplaces stank, the churches stank, it stank beneath the bridges and in the palaces. The peasant stank as did the priest, the apprentice as did his master's wife, the whole of the aristocracy stank, even the king himself stank, stank like a rank lion, and the queen like an old goat, summer and winter. For in the eighteenth century there was nothing to hinder bacteria busy at decomposition, and so there was no human activity, either constructive or destructive, no manifestation of germinating or decaying life that was not accompanied by stench.

Have you read or smelled anything interesting lately?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Some Notes on Beauty Part Whatever (Selfie Edition)

I think we've achieved Peak Selfie: There is a tweet containing the word "selfie" in my Twitter timeline at all times.

Selfies are interesting because they show you how other people see themselves. We only have so much control over the photographs of us that other people take and make public in the world, but with selfies, we have complete control; we "curate the experience." We choose the angle, the expression, the filter, etc., and we only share it if we feel it's a positive reflection (ha ha, since the front-facing camera takes a reverse mirror image) of the self. A selfie says, "This is how I think I look." Because contrary to the feel-good idea that people think they are uglier than they are, most people identify with the flattering image of themselves, not the one with the bad angle or the sour expression. We think, That's how I look, not like that. The fact that we mostly experience our own appearance in a mirror means that we only identify with that version of the image, the angle we choose to look at ourselves with. This creates the illusion that cameras somehow capture sides of you that don't exist, when, in fact, other people can see your bad angles and sour expressions all the time. When it comes to other people's appearances, we have a fuller sense of object permanence, or perhaps color constancy is a better metaphor: Change the lighting and we still see the apple or the car as red. And other people always look like themselves. But we don't have this same sense of constancy when it comes to our own appearance. Maybe newscasters and actors who see themselves on film a lot really know what they look like, or come close to knowing. But I don't feel that I know what I look like. When someone tells me that a photo looks nothing like me, I can't make sense of it, because I don't know what they think I look like, and I don't know which photos do look like me. I mostly experience photos of me as looking like other photos of me.

At the gym earlier this week, I caught the last 15 minutes or so of Ghost, which I hadn't seen since high school. There's a scene where a man realizes he's dead when he sees his own body lying bloodied in the street, having been smashed between two cars. I wonder, would I even recognize myself at a distance? A while back on Twitter, Michael Robbins said about a guy in a commercial, "He looks exactly like me and it's so annoying." I found that fascinating, because I've never seen anyone that I thought looked like me. I don't know if it's because my face has an unusual arrangement (that I genuinely don't look like very many people) or because my mental image of my own face is too vague (the way you remember a face from a dream, or someone you've only met once or twice) to trigger pattern recognition.

P.S. My brief essay on Karen Green's Bough Down, a beautiful hybrid book containing collages and something like prose poetry, is up at Lemon Hound:
“It’s hard to remember tender things tenderly,” Green writes. It’s both apology and apologia for the memoir – it’s hard to remember things accurately; it’s hard to remember, full stop. Bough Down is as much about memory as it is about grief. Memory of the lost thing is a kind of tyranny – those hours she refuses to have, taking pills to sleep or forget – but also a gift, a form of access to the past she reluctantly accepts as an only option.
It's one of my favorite reads from the past year. Put it on your Xmas list!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Bizarro Wikipedia

I've noticed a strange phenomenon on Wikipedia recently. It was always plagued by a subtle, pervasive, systemic bias (sexism, racism, etc.) but there was a superficial veneer of objectivity: neutral language, and flags where the tone deviated from the norm or where opinions or dubious facts were offered without citation, which seemed relatively rare. In a way, this layer of "truthiness" made the problem worse, since the average user would be persuaded that the information on Wikipedia was accurate and unbiased.

Lately, Wikipedia seems to have lost many of these markers of objectivity. Is it because the site is now so expansive that it cannot possibly be managed, a kind of failure by success, Roman Empire–style? Stripped of the gestures toward neutrality, Wikipedia is becoming a kind of massive, living artwork: crowdsourced conceptualism. I find it rather beautiful: a bizarre, fictive, everchanging collage. A wabi-sabi Frankenstein text. For example, see the below sentences I've run across in recent weeks:
It has been written, inaccurately perhaps, that German is the only language that allows (us?) to penetrate the horror of Auschwitz, to describe death from within.
That's from the page on Paul Celan. The source cited is a French text; is this the Wikipedia editor's translation, a translation he was unsure of, hence the parenthetical? (Let's be honest, odds are the editor was a man.) Or is this a direct quote presented without quotation marks? And if so, who said it? Shouldn't this kind of obfuscating passive voice by flagged or banned? If it wasn't Celan, and there's no indication that it was, how it is relevant to the page? 

The page on the Storming of the Bastille seems to be wholly plagiarized from a British history book (note the formal tone and alternate spellings):
The commoners had formed the National Guard, sporting tricolour cockades (cocardes) of blue, white and red, formed by combining the red and blue cockade of the Paris commune and the white cockade of the king. These cockades, and soon simply their colour scheme, became the symbol of the revolution and, later, of France itself.
At the top of this page, an inconspicuous note: "This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. Please help to improve this article by introducing more precise citations. (July 2011)" Next to this note, a question mark, not an exclamation point or a red flag. It doesn't seem to have caused much worry in the past few years. (Nothing like the debate over the "the" before "Beatles.")

Then there's Barbara Daly Baekeland, whom I looked up after watching Savage Grace. There's not much information on the Internet about her, but here's Wikipedia's sexist editorializing (italics mine):
Returning to Spain, Barbara accepted the extent of her son's relationship with Cooper, but preferred his developing relationship with a young Spanish girl, Sylvie. However, Sylvie started an affair with Brooks. After discovering the affair in February 1968, Barbara again tried to commit suicide. Brooks decided that he had had enough of Barbara's behaviour, and decided to pursue a divorce. This led Barbara to severe depression and a further suicide attempt, from which her friend Gloria Jones, wife of author James Jones, saved her. 
In 1969 she met Samuel Adams Green, with whom she started an affair. Later introduced to her son, noted pop art curator Green was very unimpressed by his artistic capabilities. After six weeks, Green broke off the relationship, although Barbara was still obsessed by Green. She pursued him relentlessly; when she returned to the United States that fall, she walked barefoot across Central Park in the snow wearing nothing but a Lynx fur coat to demand entry to his apartment.
British spellings? Check! Slut-shaming? Check!

I hope Wikipedia just gets weirder and weirder as it expands, a kind of paranoid-schizophrenic, Fox News version of the world that, thanks to embellishments and extra u's, is eventually larger than the world.

If you see a good example of Bizarro Wikipedia, please leave it in the comments. I want to collect these.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Upcoming readings, updated

Just a reminder that I have two readings this weekend in Colorado:
And here are details for my Boston launch next Friday, Nov. 15 at Sweetwater Tavern:


I'll be reading from The Self Unstable as well as some new work that I'm a little nervous about. I hope to see you soon, East Coast and No-Coast friends!

What else can I tell you? I saw an amazing performance piece with piano, electronica, and poetry last night, performed by Jon Woodward and Oni Buchanan. The piece, Uncanny Valley, was composed by John Gibson using text from Jon's poem of the same name. It was funny but supremely creepy, especially when Oni reached into the guts of the piano and scraped a credit card against the strings, which sounds like someone being murdered.

I've been reading Young Tambling by Kate Greenstreet. I want to channel Kate at my upcoming readings; when she reads, she already sounds like she's channeling something else; it's hypnotic. I also read City of Tomorrow by Chad Reynolds, a lovely, strange chapbook about a transsexual in Oklahoma City. Example line: "My emotions are clear but my body is not."

Have you seen this movie, 8 Femmes? It's so fricking cute:



What's been going on with you?

Friday, November 1, 2013

November links


The November issue of the Volta has a forum on poetry criticism and reviews, with thoughts on the state of the art from Jordan Davis, Sina Queyras, Vanessa Place, Michael Robbins, Raymond McDaniel, Charles Bernstein and a number of other smartypantses, including me! Here's my answer to the last question:
What advice do you have for critics and poets new to review writing who’d like to get started writing book reviews? 
Mostly just read more – both more poetry and more criticism. Look for great, smart, articulate writers who love poetry and read what they write about it. Beware of any critic who seems more invested in asserting his opinion than describing the poetry. Read with a pencil, underline, make notes, dog-ear pages. One wrong way to write a review is to spend too little time with the book, to come to it with a closed mind or a preconceived idea of what it should be, and then write your review as a kind of rationalization of your kneejerk opinions. Another wrong way is to like it but have nothing interesting to say about it, thus filling your page with empty adjectives like “beautiful” or making weirdly aggressive statements like “I loved this book so much I wanted to tear off my own head and stuff the pages down the hole.” Don’t laugh, I see that a lot. Another way to put this is, only write about books that really make you think. If you’re not having thoughts, move on, or read it again and think more.
You can read the rest of my responses here.

The new issue of Split Lip Magazine includes three collaborative poems by Kathleen Rooney and me.

At Bois de Jasmin, I reviewed L'Eau Mixte (my favorite grapefruit scent) and talked about perfumes that feel like costumes (happy belated Halloween!).

I turn 34 tomorrow. But my dad says I'm not in my "mid thirties" until at least 36.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The double surface

Love this quote on poetic process and effect by Catherine Meng, from The Conversant (emphases mine):

While writing Eclipse, I spent a lot of time thinking about genre, and about how to write a poem that could feel like prose but have moments where it would bloom out/balloon in/shift from past to present. I was fixated on the idea of wormholes, and I was trying to actually write them into the poems—the bookcase that lo and behold is actually a door that leads to a secret passage. Is there a way to actually move through space in a poem?
[...] I was interested in the moment when the poem becomes a double surface of sorts, when there is a slippage in the words so you end up, without noticing the transition/transmutation, on the other side of the glass. I was interested in this happening to the reader of the poem and the writer of the poem at the same time. Is there a way to live-tweet the slippage? To write about the making of the poem while you are making the poem? [...] Many of the links that happen are a surprise to me; the secret passage way reveals itself, and you write into it and hopefully end up somewhere more interesting, but sometimes you end up exactly where you started. I think I say something about “round and round we do this without ever starting or ending the poem.” I sometimes get very dramatic about the futility of it all (an “I can’t go on, I’ll go on” type of thing), especially when I get involved in concept projects like this. There were days when I was just bloody sick of writing and sick of my own writing, but slog slog slog, you just keep writing in hopes that one of the bookcases will be false.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Some Number of Things I Learned in College that I Don’t Remember

One of the dumb listicle formats we see all the time on the Internet is “X Things I Learned from Y” – for example, just from the past week:

  • Five Things I Learned from Wearing Man Pants
  • Four Things I Learned from My Catholic Mother
  • 3 Things I Learned from the Government Shutdown
  • 15 Things I Learned from my Nervous Breakdown
  • 15 Things I Learned from Marathoning Pretty Little Liars

You get the idea. Aside from the fact that “X Things I Learned from Y” is a cliché and contemptible for that reason alone, it’s a silly way to frame your knowledge. Why should I care what you learned about anything? I don’t click on these headlines as a rule because:

a) There’s a good chance I already know what you “learned,” since posts like this tend to be full of common sense, or as my friend Seth used to say, “standard shit,” and

b) I have no reason to believe you learned the right things.

If I’m going to read an article about a Pretty Little Liars marathon or some random person’s opinion on the government shutdown, I want some indication from the start that it’s going to be worth my while, that it’s informative or insightful in some way. Like “I Learned How to Seduce Men from a Pretty Little Liars Marathon” – that sounds semi-interesting! Or "The Government Shutdown Proves that Democracy Sucks." My point being, your job as the writer is to look at the four or eight or fifteen things you learned from whatever and then do something with that knowledge – find a theme, make an argument, something.

And now, I will contradict/prove my own advice by showing you some stuff I “learned” in college. These are sentences pulled from a stack of college papers I found in my filing cabinet. I guess I learned this stuff, but I barely remember the context, and it has little to no application in my life.

From a paper on Gottlob Frege’s “On Sense and Reference”:

[Senses] also explain why a statement of the form a=a has a different “cognitive significance” than one of the form a=b, when both are ostensibly claims of identity. Because every name has an associated sense, simply substituting an “equivalent” term into a sentence does not guarantee that we will interpret it in the same way, or even that the true-value will remain the same.

Interestingly I can follow my objections to the Frege paper even though I have no recollection of ever reading the Frege paper; in fact, if you asked me ten minutes ago who Frege was I would have told you that I’d never heard of him. (This was my final paper in my final philosophy class so I must have spent some time on it … GOT AN A, BY THE WAY.)

The following is from a linguistics paper (LING 402, Syntax and Semantics):

It is important to note that whether or not they have an adjective class, languages associate property concepts with either nouns or verbs (or sometimes both). [Sandra] Thompson’s explanation of this involves discourse, or pragmatic usage. In her study of English and Chinese, she found that adjectives and adjectival verbs function mainly as predicates. Their second function is that of introducing new participants. The predicating function is shared with verbs, and the introducing function is shared with nouns.

I don’t know what this means.

Ooh, here’s something that I just learned afresh, from one of my own papers! I’ve often wondered why the hell we should assume that microwave radiation coming from all directions is evidence of the Big Bang. Because, like, couldn’t it just ... be something else? This helps a little:

At the same time, two other physicists were working with the idea that the early universe was extremely bright and hot. They reasoned that, if the universe is expanding, we should be able to see some of this light, since it would only now be reaching us from the very distant parts of the universe. But it would be so greatly red-shifted as to become microwaves, which are of very high frequency. This microwave radiation is the noise that was registering on the detector.

Turns out I already knew that! Incidentally, this was a popular bumper sticker at Rice:


Now for something I really, really don’t remember: a question and answer from my COMP 210 midterm:

Consider the function insert-sort: List-of-Number -> List-of-Number, which takes its unordered input, and returns the same elements in a sorted (non-decreasing) list. For example, (insert-sort (list 8 6 2 4 10)) = (list 2 4 6 8 10). (A) Give two other examples and (B) write the function. (Be sure to follow the template!) 
(A) 
(insert-sort (list 2 1)) = (list 1 2)
(insert-sort empty) = empty
(B)
(define insert-sort
(lambda (lon)
(cond [empty? lon) empty]
[else (insert (first lon) (insert-sort (rest lon)))])))

I HAVE NO IDEA. Pretty sure it's recursive though.

And finally, here’s a study sheet I made for a neuroscience exam:


ONE THOUSAND THINGS I LEARNED ABOUT NEUROSCIENCE IN A NEUROSCIENCE CLASS. Isn't it pretty (to think so)?

Friday, October 18, 2013

What I've been reading

Not much fiction lately; I've started a few novels but they didn't hold my interest, not, I'm sure, through any fault of their own. I've been in a poetry/nonfiction mood, and here's what I've been visiting/revisiting:

Increment by Chris Tonelli

Chris is one of my best friends from graduate school; last weekend, I stayed with his family in North Carolina for the weekend, and one cloudy morning, feeling a little slow and stupid and stiff from travel and bad sleep, etc., lounging in the guest room while everyone did their thing,  I read this chapbook in its entirety. What a beautiful little book. I perceive a similar trajectory in Chris's poetry to my own: We both used to be more verbose, more prolific, not just in language but in feeling. Now I think there's evidence of writing as practice, versus writing as necessity. We're older, more settled, more content ... and the poetry now is more distilled, and more a form of philosophy than a series of bursts of emotion, masquerading as objective correlative. (Remember I like philosophy mixed up in my poetry.) These poems are spare, with plenty of white space (they look like this); each contains at least one thought that I find myself dwelling on, or in. Like this one, from "Souvenir": "Like stars, / like futures, new pasts are born. / The spread out / in both directions." Or, from "Murderer": "In the dark, / I am a father. / In the dark, / I am a murderer / not murdering." Jeremiah Gould, of Rye House Press, does the little author portraits on the back; isn't it great?


Culture of One by Alice Notley

This is billed as a "novel in poems," and sure, why not. (I like thinking of a novel as "a novel in paragraphs.") In terms of the characters and setting, this reminds me a little bit of one of my favorite novels, The Quick and the Dead by Joy Williams: basically, WOMEN AND BAD SHIT IN THE DESERT. But I'm just reading it for the poetry, which is not exactly the same as reading it for the poems. Alice Notley is a genius, and Culture of One is a good reminder of how much you can do with a poem that just looks, superficially, like a poem. (See also Ashbery.) There's a kind of schizophrenia in them, a multiplicity of voices and fragmented reality. This is from "Overmodeled Skull":

I'm too bizarre to go to school again. I
want to be scary, that's all. So I can make it down the street. 
Your crotch still has power, with its tremendous frightening
slit—another mask. I don't have to
breathe or dream: not in this black void where I really am. 
I've grown very tall and large, and may not fit into the metro.
Are you battling some demons? Only you my sweet 
god I hate that vapid on exhibit form stuff. 
Scratch your cheeks and face the humorless circumstance
no one's delighted to see you; it's a soft world, full of murders
committed by one for others. I'm not in it—I'm not here.

See how it argues with itself?

The Hidden Reality by Brian Greene


You may know Brian Greene from a NOVA series he did based on his book The Elegant Universe. He's a big string theory guy but this book is basically about how every scientific framework we currently work with, not just string theory, leads to the same inevitable conclusion: There are probably parallel universes. I read pop science strictly to blow my mind and there's a lot of mindblow in here. For example, this passage on page 51:

The speed limit set by light refers solely to the motion of objects through space. But galaxies recede from one another not because they are traveling through space—galaxies don't have jet engines—but rather because space itself is swelling and the galaxies are being dragged along by the overall flow. And the thing is, relativity places no limits on how fast space can swell, so there is no limit on how fast galaxies that are being pushed apart by the swell recede from one another. The rate of recession between any two galaxies can exceed any speed, including the speed of light. 

Whoa! On a related note, there's a good explanation of the speed of light on this page, which I found in a link on a Reddit thread about facts that you accept intellectually but still seem wrong. The page is an "abridgement" of a book called From Science to God by Peter Russell; I find the conclusions semi-abhorrent but it's a fascinating read nonetheless. For example:
Kant argued that space and time are characteristics not of the noumenon, the underlying reality, but of the mind. Quantum theory reveals that the same is true of matter. Matter is not to be found in the underlying reality; atoms turn out to be 99.99999999% empty space, and sub-atomic "particles" dissolve into fuzzy waves. Matter and substance seem, like space and time, to be characteristics of the phenomenon of experience. They are the way in which the mind makes sense of the no-thing-ness of the noumenon.
Next up on my reading pile: Young Tambling by Kate Greenstreet.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Pre-order The Self Unstable

You can now pre-order The Self Unstable directly from Black Ocean, if you so desire. Why would you want to do that, you ask? What does "pre-order" mean? It means this:

  • You'll be among the first to receive the book when it's officially available in early November (just after my birthday!)
  • You'll save about $5 off the cover price and get free shipping

Here's what it will look like, from the front, when it arrives:


As someone commented on Twitter, "it makes your eyes hurt in a good way."

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

On Meaning & Obscurity in Poetry (AKA, Leave John Ashbery Alone!)

It drives me nuts when people trot out John Ashbery as the default example of meaningless obscurantist poetry. Mark Edmundson did it in his idiotic Harper's piece, and I'm not going to bother to list a hundred other examples because I'm sure you've seen it too. The thing is, there is poetry that is essentially meaningless by design, so why use Ashbery as the go-to for poetic gobbledygook when most of his poems are built out of coherent sentences with beautiful Patrician syntax?

Calista (@stuffedowl) just tweeted this poem from a 1977 issue of Poetry, and I had my usual Ashbery experience: reading it several times in awe, wondering why I don't write poems like that, wondering why I bother writing poems at all, etc. First, here's the poem.


THE ICE-CREAM WARS 

Although I mean it, and project the meaning
As hard as I can into its brushed-metal surface,
It cannot, in this deteriorating climate, pick up
Where I leave off. It sees the Japanese text
(About two men making love on a foam-rubber bed)
As among the most massive secretions of the human spirit.
Its part is in the shade, beyond the iron spikes of the fence,
Mixing red with blue. As the day wears on
Those who come to seem reasonable are shouted down
(Why you old goat! Look who's talkin'. Let's see you
Climb off that tower—the waterworks architecture, both stupid and
Grandly humorous at the same time, is a kind of mask for him,
Like a seal's face. Time and the weather
Don't always go hand in hand, as here: sometimes
One is slanted sideways, disappears for a while.
Then later it's forget-me-not time, and rapturous
Clouds appear above the lawn, and the rose tells
The old old story, the pearl of the orient, occluded
And still apt to rise at times).
                                                        A few black smudges
on the outer boulevards, like squashed midges
And the truth becomes a hole, something one has always known,
A heaviness in the trees, and no one can say
Where it comes from, or how long it will stay— 
A randomness, a darkness of one's own. 

Now, some thoughts on meaning and obscurity in poetry.

~ Despite its syntactic rightness, one could fairly say that this isn't an "easy" poem; it begins with an in-medias-res-ness and the "it" of the first sentence has no clear antecedent. If you're Mark Edmundson you're going to pound your fist and stop reading. But you have to read poetry with trust; you have to trust that this interesting opening is going somewhere even though there's a big fat undefined variable in the equation.

~ Obscurity is built into the form of poetry. Turn the obscurity down to zero and a text won't look much like a poem anymore. How much obscurity is too much? That's up to the reader to decide, but here's the reason you can't pit meaning against obscurity: obscurity is where much of poetic meaning happens. Clarity of language is like the resolution of a photograph; more definition leaves less room for interpretation. We experience poetry as art—as something that makes us think, and therefore makes us smarter—in part because the language of poetry does not have perfect clarity. Meaning blooms in the fuzzy parts. This is why people often find poetic meaning and beauty in randomly generated "nonsense," like spam emails.

~ Note all the rhyme and near-rhyme (concentrated toward the end), the attention to line as unit. People who don't read Ashbery must assume he doesn't use these devices, since he's always held up as the exemplar of poetry's descent into formlessness.

~ Another big thing that makes a poem a poem and not something else is the tension between the line and the sentence. "Then later it's forget-me-not time, and rapturous clouds appear above the lawn" is a fine sentence, but before you get to the clouds, you are forced to pause a moment and concentrate your thinking on the partial sentence: "Then later it's forget-me-not time, and rapturous." We don't yet know that the clouds are rapturous, and so we assign the adjective back to "time." In poem-space, "rapturous" does refer back to time, just as much as it refers forward. Ashbery's choice to break the line there makes the referent ambiguous, so it's a blooming moment.

~ Remember the anecdote about the guy who said he liked Ashbery, then was challenged to quote a line? (The implication being, Ashbery lines float out of your head as soon as you're done reading them, as opposed to, say, "They fuck you up, your mum and dad.") The very exercise is whatever, because I can't think of a line from Seamus Heaney, not because he doesn't write memorable lines, but because I don't care about Seamus Heaney. But what's more quotable than "The truth becomes a hole, something one has always known"? And you can't forget the ending, because it rhymes.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Upcoming readings and links

Hello darlings. A lot has been going on. We went to LA and saw more doctors and sunsets, got coffee at the Coffee Bean, ate the tuna tataki salad at M Cafe two days in a row, got fancy drinks at Bouchon with a Twitter friend, etc. I'm making it sound awesome, when it was actually kind of depressing and outrageously expensive. Still, here's the social media version. John pointed out that this walkway at LAX is in a scene from When Harry Met Sally:


John liked his tacos at this place so much he didn't offer me a bite:


We went to the Last Bookstore in the "Historic Core" area of LA:


There was time for happy hour and people watching on Venice Beach before our (delayed) Friday night flight:


Two true things about Beverly Hills: Everyone is EXTREMELY good-looking (you especially notice how well-dressed and -coiffed are the men, since in most places I've been to, men put a lot less effort into their appearance than women), and everyone openly stares at everyone else. As soon as I pointed it out to John, he couldn't stop laughing about it. A couple will sit down next to you in a restaurant and just look at you the whole time, like you're the entertainment. I have a few theories:

  1. People are checking you out to see if you're famous.
  2. People want to be discovered, so they stare at you just in case you are an agent, to be sure you see them.
  3. Most people are wearing sunglasses, which breaks eye contact, so it's easier to stare. (This works even if only one party is wearing them.) 

I think the third one contributes, but it's definitely not just that, because people wear shades in Colorado too, and it's not a staring culture.

Anyway, I have some upcoming readings and other things to share with you:

* This Saturday I am reading in the So & So Series in Raleigh, North Carolina, with Aaron Belz and Kyle McCord. All readings take place at 8 pm at The Morning Times Cafe, 10 E. Hargett St.

* I'll be reading at Counterpath here in Denver on Friday, Nov. 8 at 7 pm and at Innisfree Bookstore in Boulder on Saturday, Nov. 9 at 4 pm, both times with Michele Battiste and Joy Katz. (With any luck, I'll have new books to sell!)

* Boston folks: Catch me reading with Chris Tonelli and Dan Magers at the Brookline Booksmith on Friday, December 13.

* We're early in the planning stages, but I'm also working on setting up a reading and launch party at Berl's in Brooklyn on Saturday, December 14.

And now, LINKS!:

* Kathy and I have a collaborative ekphrastic in the new issue of Better. It's based on this painting:


* I have two poem-koans in The Volta.

* I am going to be doing some guest-writing at my favorite perfume blog, Bois de Jasmin. My first post, on smoky perfumes, went up this morning.

* And just so this post isn't all about me, here are a few poems I loved recently: "One Way of Doing Battle" by Lisa Ciccarello ("Do you think I spent all this time in the bear-dark forest / in the wing-maze in the trap-howl // in the blade-hunt with the animals stringing up their dead // just to name the moon in the name / of my father?"); "I Throw Rocks" by Matt Henriksen ("An ear infection turns into the realization that I do not need a style, only to move and watch the formations of time, of sound, and of color and shape. The light now, in our dark living room, where I type with one exhausted eye on my phone, does not reach through the open door to you and our daughter asleep in the next room. I am no longer sick with fire or bad ideas."); and "When He Is a Woman" by Rebecca Hazelton ("When he is a woman / I feel optimistic, / when he is in a dress that suits / his small frame, when the heels / he walks in puts his round hips to sway, / all these things make the smoke hover / above my scotch / on the rocks.")

Monday, September 30, 2013

Sad poems for dirty lovers

I'm having a rough day. I don't usually turn to poetry when I'm sad; I'm more of the "watch bad movies and eat candy" type. But today I feel like looking for solace in poetry, even if it's only in the "misery loves company" sense. So: here are some words from poets who seem sad and dark like me today. (I usually hate nature imagery but apparently I like nature when I'm sad? Poems with fish in them are usually melancholy.)



The people are always pilgrims. This is the worst gutter medicine
I've ever taken. I hope it's working
All primitive types gamble away their very circuitry.
But I'm not going to give myself up to anyone but the death fish.

Oh your eyes are flashing again, you terrifying bugger. Maybe I'm going to give it up to you.
You don't want me to do right; or climb the ladder to the money couple
You don't even have decipherable wishes.

- from "Living on Brackish Water" by Alice Notley



In winter my loved one retires,
a fish among fishes, and dumb.
Slave to the waters she ripples
with her fins' gentle motion within,
I stand on the bank and look down
till ice floes drive me away,
her dipping and turning hidden...

It is fog land I have seen,
It is fog heart I have eaten.

- from "Fog Land" by Ingeborg Bachmann



Although the lilac is long dead, the bees still seek its entrance.
In vain, the chilled and resurgent bees.
It's not so much the lilac they want
As subtraction of lilac,
                                            some sumptuous, idyllic door
Unlatching to them its inner and sumptuous rooms.

- from "Saturday Afternoon" by Charles Wright



Night is such a furled feminine thing
around the muscles
of horses, the nettles in their fetlocks,
it is nothing
but the night before and the night after,
only starrier,
uglier. I try to shake them from it, take
their pain away,
they're dirty, I think, I'll make them clean.
It goes cold
again as horsetails lash the air; shadows
hemorrhage
in the heart of the field, flooding it, and I flee.
All night long
I see the violent iron frowns of horseshoes.
Someday this pasture
will be pavement. See the barbed wire?
See the weeds?
Once I had a breath I did not breathe.

- from "Slowly, Slowly, Horses" by Julianne Buchsbaum



I saw how the night came,
Came striding like the color of the heavy hemlocks.
I felt afraid.
And I remembered the cry of the peacocks.

- from "Domination of Black" by Wallace Stevens

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Should we let people like David Gilmour hang by their own nooses?

It's been a great week for satire that's not satire. First there was the "essay" on Thought Catalog AKA Dumb Catalog AKA Troll Genius: "Being Privileged Is Not A Choice, So Stop Hating Me For It" (nothing else to say about that, it's perfect and complete unto itself like the best Onion headlines). Now we've got a Canadian lit prof telling us he doesn't teach books by women or the Chinese. Ironically (?) he's the author of a novel called A Perfect Night to Go to China.


The only woman on these shelves is in the picture frame

It's been suggested that publishing these ridiculous remarks is an act of subversive exposure, as in, let 'em hang by their own nooses. I suppose that's a valid argument; I once quoted Feynman on women without comment. (I do think quoting published material is different from being the original publisher.) But after consideration, I don't think this argument really works. The internet is already a wide-open platform for people to express their ignorant, hateful opinions. Do these jerks need more space and encouragement?

I once abandoned a pet project of keeping a running count of the number of male versus female authors named on a blog called Recommended Reading. These questionnaires are basically like course syllabi -- authors name the writers they most admire, emulate, and recommend. Many of the people interviewed do not mention a single woman author, or mention one woman for every ten men. See, for example, Jimmy Chen. (He does, to his credit, recommend a list of Japanese authors, but note that he's Asian; the only authors on the site I ever saw recommend more women than men were women.) Or Timothy Gager. Or Ryan Ridge (one woman, 22 men). Is this blog letting people hang by their own nooses? No, it's doing what 99% of the Internet does every day: reinforcing our pervasive subconscious gender bias. In the case of Recommended Reading, the reinforcement is subtle; it goes without mention. The only thing different in David Gilmour's case is that Gilmour is conscious of his bias (but, of course, he thinks it's justified).

Most of the people in my Twitter timeline have supremely sensitive sexism-dar, but are most of the people who visit the Random House Canada site going to feel the same way? Are they going to read Gilmour's words and think "Wow, they really exposed this guy for the racist, sexist asshole he is?" I doubt it. My guess is most readers will be nodding in agreement, pleased to have their own views reflected back at them, per usual. The irony will be lost on them. So why give him the platform?*

*Unless he gets fired. Then the joke's on me.

UPDATE: Gilmour's followup interview brought great joy into my life. It is hilarious. It's almost all worth it.

Monday, September 23, 2013

I, too, like it: On "good TV"

Time to do a little tweet-expanding again. These are from last night, when I caught some people live-tweeting the Emmys (Emmies?).


Only one person "wrote in" to disagree with me, and he said he didn't want to argue, so, OK, don't argue. But here's the thing: It's fine to "like TV" (see above) but can we at least agree that TV is about as profit-driven as you can get while still kinda sorta qualifying as art? THB, I don't think of TV as "an artform" any more than I think of cars as an artform. TBH part 2, I kind of prefer trash TV to "good TV" because good TV works too well. I become attached to and obsessed with fake people to an upsetting degree. (I'm still mad about Matthew & Mary ... and don't get me started on Cuddy & House.) It's different from movies or books because shows last weeks/months/years as opposed to 2-3 hours or 200-700 pages; I'm less likely to feel betrayed by a book because it's written by one person, not an evolving team of people subservient to network and advertiser demands; plus if a book starts to betray me I just stop reading it, but once I'm addicted to a show I feel compelled to finish it even though I hate it. And all the while I'm being forced to watch fake people use Windows tablets and buy Jimmy Choos.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Kind of an Ozma vibe, right?

You guys remember that movie Return to Oz?


It's weird -- I thought Ozma was so beautiful, and now she just looks like a little girl. But those empathetic eyes! Such beauteous pity she had. Anyway, I look a little like Ozma in this picture, right? Am I in crazytown?


You were a GREEN ORNAMENT!

My best friend from high school, her first email address was ozma@aol.com. Promise you. I need to email her like, right now.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A few things


Kathy and I have new poems on the Internet, two at Banango Street (both ekprastics: "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" and "After a Photo by Vivian Maier") and a suite of five at Nailed ("Some Notes on" the Weird/Snobbery/Loss plus two whiskey poems). The Notes poems are from our new chapbook.

Kathy, my longtime friend and collaboratrix, recently joined Twitter, and this weekend penned this tweet which was RT'ed over 1600 times:
I've been tweeting the wrong things!

This a.m., she tweeted a link to an NYT Q&A with Earl Sweatshirt, who has interesting thoughts about Twitter and poetry:

While you were in Samoa, your whereabouts were pieced together by fans and bloggers. Did it make you worry about how much information is available online?
One day I hope to not have a Twitter, to be sick enough that I don’t have to use the Internet. But since we came up online, I have to be online. Twitter is a real addiction, like the color of it, the process of it. 
Your parents gave you the middle name Neruda after Pablo Neruda. You can see why people are curious. 
Yeah, it just happens to be that people like to associate poetry and rap music. I think that idea is kind of corny. I think rap music is rap music. I mean, are there heavy writing aspects of it? Absolutely. In a sense is it poetry? Yeah. I’ve heard that so much, growing up in a house with poetry. But I think people like to use that as a shortcut for who’s good and who’s not. It’s like the word “lyrical” — “lyrical” is the worst word in the entire world. 
So it’s not a shocking concept that rap could be poetry.
It’s actually so familiar that it’s annoying

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Susan Sontag hates Christopher Lydon, Camille Paglia hates Susan Sontag

John sent me these incredibly amusing videos last night. (He's been reading the Library of America Sontag and doing research for a piece.) First watch this:


Then watch this (being "being smug about her smugness," as John put it):


"I am the Sontag of the '90s," says Camille Paglia. Says Sontag: "Who is Camille Paglia?"

I met Christopher Lydon once. He emceed the Mass Poetry Festival the year I sort of "opened" for Patricia Smith and Mark Doty. Christopher Lydon was incredibly nice to me, said "That was great!" after my reading and told me "I'd like to interview you." I had no idea who he was. On the drive home John said, shocked and amazed, "Christopher Lydon wants to interview you?!" I said "Who's Christopher Lydon?" (Patricia Smith and Mark Doty were both very rude to me, by the way. Lydon never called.)

Whether or not Susan Sontag actually knew who Camille Paglia was, I love the idea of strategic ignorance. (Who is Mark Doty?)

Who is the person in your field that you'd get the most political mileage out of ignorance of their existence?

Friday, September 13, 2013

New Chapbook: The Kind of Beauty that Has Nowhere to Go

The Kind of Beauty that Has Nowhere to Go, a collaborative chapbook that I cowrote with Kathleen Rooney, is now available for purchase from Hyacinth Girl Press. Look how pretty it is!


My friend Katie Caron is responsible for the awesome cover art. It's just $6! You can buy it here.

You can read some sample poems from the chapbook at The Collagist and Hobart. And here's one more:

SOME NOTES ON REMORSE


Beware of people whose motto is “No regrets.” They are violent innocents. Ravaged by love.

I want a point of view that isn’t mine to tell me that what I did wasn’t wrong. And permission to be sorry for the outcome, but not the event.

If you can’t feel remorse, you may be a sociopath. This isn’t all bad. If you feel called to live your life like a dirty free-for-all, you can.

They say it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, but you make me wish I’d never been born.

Guilt is associated with the sound of bells tolling; remorse, the sound of wind through trees.

I would never say I’m sorry in a dream. However, I might set my most regrettable moments in the sky like a starry galaxy, and try to detect a pattern.

To show more remorse, lower your eyes. To show less, fix them up and ahead like an equestrian statue. In general, be blue-eyed and statuesque.

Don’t even try to tell me that swans mate for life. Do swans seem normal to you?

You may be sorry now, but you’ll be even sorrier if you get tear stains all over those satin sheets.

I was working my way up to an apology when a songbird lit upon my shoulder. Something in his tune made cruel jilting sound sweet. If my present self is the sum of my past actions, how can I be sorry?

Remorse smells like tallow soap and agony, but you can never wash it off. It does get fainter over time, like an exceptionally tenacious perfume.

To express remorse you must compose a detailed account of whatever offense you committed. Choose your font wisely; serifs are more emotive.

Thanks for the sympathy, but “buyer’s remorse” doesn’t really compare. Unless what you bought was from Satan.

We name our daughters by the traits we hope they’ll possess; she chose to name hers Rue.

The mental compartment where I store my remorse is the haunted garret in a mansion full of otherwise pleasant rooms.

Some people say there are five languages of apology.

I’m sorry you feel that way.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Girl Post. NSFB. You Were Warned.

Excuse me for five minutes while I pretend to be a beauty blogger.

I really love xoVain, the beauty offshoot of Jane Pratt's xoJane. They have this saucy, insouciant, "WGAF" approach to beauty that is so fun and Friday, and frequently on late Friday afternoons you will find me catching up on xoVain. (I especially love the copycat beauty tutorials, like this stunning Audrey Hepburn copycat look or, more ridiculously but equally fabulously, this one inspired by Ursula the damn Sea Witch!) This is how I ran across this post yesterday: "I'm That Hot Virgin You All Hate (Well, My Hair Is)." This woman's premise is basically "I've never dyed my hair and it's crazy-perfect and everyone loves it and if you stop fighting your hair's 'natural texture' you too will be as gorgeous as me. (Also, use henna and only eat avocados.)"

To my utter amusement, everyone in the comments was like, "Uhhhh NO." I actually read all the comments twice because they were so funny to me. Some highlights:
Yeah... I've never done anything to mine, it's roughly the same color as the author's... I'm gonna posit that either her hair is extremely sensitive to sunlight or that's not natural amounts of sun-induced lightening... 
I live in Phx, have waist-length hair, get a ton of sun and my ends are not eleventy-shades different from my roots.... 
Me thinks the lady doth protest too much?
And:
I don't really know what this article says apart from 'my hair won the genetic lottery'. Good for you? No one can deny that you have really, really nice hair...
And:
i try not to say too many mean things around here 'cause what's the point but this? this gets a solid ugh minus. 
the tone was smug and awful (if it was tongue in cheek it did NOT come off that way), there wasn't actually any useful information in it and it was super shamey/judgy of other people's hair practices. i even agree that people should leave their hair the fuck alone and i still hated it!
And:
I've never dyed my hair and like ... uh. I feel like I've been shamed. This is such an annoying article.
And:
Congratulations? I guess?
And:
.........wut. It's kinda hard to see what you're hair actually looks like in the pictures you inserted which is...kind of strange since you're pretty obsessed. Also, is hating hot virgins a thing??
And my personal favorite, though not all that original:
Wait... I'm confused? Do you or don't you think you have great hair?
All the cattiness seems completely justified because the article WAS smug and judgy (smudgy?) and usually the comments on xoVain are nothing but "Could you BE any hotter?!"

Anyway, I bring this up because I've recently been pretty into what's happening with my hair. I actually do have "virgin hair" in the sense that I have never dyed it, not even temporarily with that stuff from the '90s that washed out after eight shampoos, or with lemon juice or Sun In or whatever. But I've never wanted to dye it because my hair is a good color: dirty blond with red tones and natural highlights. My mom, dad, and brother were all blond as kids but their hair turned brown in their early teen years. I too went through a hair transformation around age 12, but it went from being stick straight to naturally wavy, and stayed blond (though it's not as blond as it was when I was tiny, it's been pretty stable in color for the past 20 years). 

When my hair was straight, I always wanted it to be curly. It was so straight it was hard to get it to hold a curl, but for special occasions my mom would put it up in hot rollers or, on two very special occasions, pin curls that I slept in. That made for the most awesome huge disco hair ever. Other times she would braid it while damp, which turned into crimpy waves that were straight at the very tops and bottoms, a look I think sucks. 

So basically, I got lucky when my hair turned wavy -- except that it took me literally decades to figure out how to get it to look the way I wanted it to look. Here are the issues:
  1. My hair takes a long time to dry. It's very fine, but there's a lot of it, and it holds a lot of water. It's dry and sunny here in Denver so it dries faster, but I lived in damp climates from the ages of 18 to 31, and I didn't always want it let it air-dry after it got wet. But...
  2. My hair straightens very easily with a hairdryer; I don't have to use products or a brush or work at it, the heat just turns it straight. So if I don't let my hair air dry, it's not going to be wavy unless it gets wet again (i.e. from rain or extreme humidity). 
  3. I usually like to shower at night (because I exercise after work, not before), but going to bed with wet hair generally does not work out well. And even if it has time to dry before sleepy time...
  4. When my hair air-dries with no product, it looks decent the first day, but shitty after I sleep on it because most of the wave comes out and it gets all flat and blah.
So given the givens, how am I supposed to embrace my "natural hair texture" blah blah? Here's how! I figured it out! This could work for you if you happen to have almost exactly the same type of hair that I have!

  1. Get some shaggy layers cut into your hair because they help bring out the wave.
  2. Experiment with different shampoos. Lately I'm liking the newish Bumble & Bumble Surf Shampoo (I never spend this much on shampoo but John actually bought this; too bad I used most of it but whatever, he uses all my shower shit) or the L'Oreal sulfate-free ones. One of them smells like rosemary, mmm
  3. Focus shampoo at the roots, conditioner at the ends. Don't put them both everywhere. If you don't care about your hair being soft you can skip conditioner entirely and this makes it extra wavy. If you do use conditioner (without it, my hair gets staticky in Denver), go for a lightish one, maybe a volumizing formula. 
  4. THIS IS THE REAL KEY: MOUSSE! A while back I saw a spread in In Style or something about how mousse is the shit and we need to bring back mousse. The article said that if you put mousse in your hair while it's damp and then don't touch it until it's dry, you get awesome princess hair. This is the truth. Scrunch the mousse into your hair while it's damp (not sopping wet) and then hands off. The lame part is that it takes 3-4 hours for my hair to dry entirely and in the meantime it looks really stupid, but once it's dry, the waves are great. You just need to break them up with your fingers a little because they can get slightly crunchy in spots, but it shakes out. For maximum waviness I like the kind of mousse that starts as liquid and turns into foam when you pump the nozzle, versus the shaving cream type. I don't know why, it just works better with my hair.
  5. Don't wash your hair every day. The mousse helps the waves hold so it looks good on the second and sometimes even the third day. If I shower on the second day, I'll usually just get it wet and condition again and start the whole process over, without the additional shampoo. If I don't shower, dry shampoo amps up the volume. Hairspray or salt spray can also help revive it, or just getting it a little bit damp with your hands and floofing it up a bit, as necessary. 
Yeah, so, at some point I'll probably get bored and cut it into a bob again and then be annoyed because it looks great the day I leave the salon and is a pain in the ass ever after, since my bobs require blowdrying and never look right in the back. But for now, I am pretty pleased with my "natural" hair texture. (Goes without saying that there's no such thing as natural beauty, etc.) 

Because pics-or-it-didn't-happen, here's what it looks like after 2.5 days (I last washed it on Thursday evening):


I made a stupid face so as to seem less #vain. Is it working? Here's the non-stupid-face version, which shows the hair more but also my scar more (whatever):


Anything resembling a true ringlet has been wiped out, but the mousse gives it nice, messy, matte bedhead texture. I put some hairspray in it yesterday, but there's no new product in it today. Here's the TEXTURE CLOSE-UP:


Uh, it looks sort of damaged here but it isn't really, just messy. No split ends, I promise! 


Here's the more flattering left-side shot, but with weird green lighting. Am I standing in a refrigerator? 

As long a we're faux-beauty-blogging, here's all the crap on my face, in order of application from top to bottom (should be left to right but I couldn't get this to rotate):


Worth noting:
  • The fat beige pencil-looking thing is concealer in a stick. It's great! I normally hate concealers, I feel like they never blend well on my dry skin. This blends and disappears. 
  • The blush is a Tarte stain. They make the best cheek stains. It's on sale for $10 at Sephora right now.
  • The Color Tattoo shade is Tough as Taupe. 
  • Two mascaras! Clump Crusher for the first layer; then Voluminous on the top outer halves only, because it's really gunky and inky. 
  • I just bought the lip thing (creamy pencil that dries matte) and wanted to try it. Bit much for a Saturday afternoon, yeah.
That was fun. Enough poetry, let's talk about hair.