Thursday, May 29, 2014

Perfume in translation

John has been raving about this book Black Square by Tadeusz Dabrowski, translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. I am stuck in the middle of a poem I'm trying to write so I opened it up for some ideas. It is very cute; here is a sample poem (most do have titles, but this one is titled by asterisks):

* * *

I carried you unintentionally in my arms from a go-
go club straight into my bed and thoroughly
rubbed you into the bedclothes so now hardly do I awake
fall asleep or dream than without fail 
before my eyes stands a pastel image of quivering
breasts and every single time I feel a delicious
pain as if I don't give a sniff about conscience. I decided
to be done with it and sprayed the bedclothes with a perfume 
that's my mother's; despair came over me when
it turned out to be the very same scent (something
like apple). Ever since, when lying in bed
I feel at the same time both good and bad. 

In the Polish, the last phrase is "i dobry i zly."

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The TV World and the Word TV

Teju Cole has been tweeting a series of photographs and film stills involving TV, plus some lines of poems about television. I just yesterday reread this poem that Kathleen Rooney and I wrote several years ago. There's a pleasant, uncanny effect I get when reading old poems we wrote together; I don't know them as well as I know my own work; it's so easy to imagine they were written by someone else. Anyway, here it is, plus another one using a similar repetitive technique but with the word "recognition" rather than "TV."


Words may not refer to anything, but if they do
they TV the objective world, white noising
over what might've been a nice view. On TV
membership has its privileges. In the library
I try to "get lost" in a "slender volume" but
the volume's too low. Sarcastic & bleak,
TV gets me. Even though TV doesn't know
how to love me. How I want it to watch me.
No one can keep track of my saccades,
but "Vide" can be used to direct a reader's
attention to what's on TV: basically
a forced obliteration of the landscape
w/ TV music. Allowing yourself to be used
is the best way to be used. Shibboleths
issue forth from the muted TV.


I have a fear of getting stuck inside the recognition,
by myself, in the dark, after all the recognitions
are erased from cultural memory. No enclosed space
could contain more coldness or more strange noises.
Someone recognition in the back of the stacks---
and the sound is melancholy. Heartmelting.
I was seeking recognition on information but I found
isolation distills my recognition to its purest form,
a shapeless white. I was scanning the pages
when all the letters dropped off & hit the dusty
recognition, recognitioning down. It's not normal
for the slightest miscue to set me off, but there
in the air, a mote, a recognition. A light shines through,
illuminating my unreadiness. Astounding recognition,
that I could see my own breath.

*Both these poems are from our chapbook Don't ever stay the same; keep changing

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

I have a theory about low-fat diets and portion control

I have this theory about* low-fat diets and portion control. It goes like this: Eating food that's not dense in calories (i.e. low-fat, high-carbohydrate meals) means you need to eat a larger volume to feel full.

Proponents of low-fat diets would present this as a positive: You get to eat more for the same number of calories! The problem is that it resets your concept of what a normal portion is. Your brain is trained to think to you need more food to feel full, so when you do eat calorie-dense meals, you still want larger portions.

This would explain why the French can eat a much more calorie-dense diet than Americans and have much lower incidence of obesity and heart disease. (This is known as the French paradox, but it's only a paradox if you take for granted that fat, in particular saturated fat, is bad for you.) The portions in France are much smaller, so they eat fewer calories overall. Too, in the absence of a warped sense of portion size, more calorie-dense food is more satisfying.

Anecdotally, I think you can reset your sense of portion size by moving to a higher-fat diet (not low-carb per se, but not low-fat either).

*Yes, all my blog posts are going to start with the phrase "I have this theory about..." from now on.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

I have this theory about revision

First, let's talk briefly about conversion rate optimization, or CRO. If you have some kind of transactional website, like an e-commerce site where you sell your small-press poetry books, or a SaaS platform where you try to get people to sign up for a free trial of your software, the page where those transactions happen is called a landing page. And since your success as a business more or less depends on how many people you can get to "convert" on that landing page (i.e., buy the book or sign up for the free trial), businesses usually attempt to optimize their conversion rates through various tests. (Can you see where this is going?)

A lot of the "best practices" and received wisdom around conversion rate optimization have to do with little A/B tests that are basically trying to hack your potential customer's psychology. Some of these tests involve design elements, such as the shape, color, or size of the "Add to Cart" button, or where it is on the page. Others involve copy, like the main heading on the page and "call to action" (the words on the button, like "Start My Free Trial"). Is longer or shorter better? Do exclamation points help? Et cetera, et cetera. The idea is that you can eke a few more conversions out of the same number of visitors with these tricks that make your page more persuasive or frictionless.

Recently, my boss did this webinar with the sensationalist title "Everything You Know About Conversion Rate Optimization Is Wrong." There was a bunch of data and charts and some pictures of unicorns, for some reason, but the basic gist was, stop futzing around with the button color -- you can only make small incremental gains that way, and many of those apparent gains are illusory anyway. If you really want to improve your conversion rate, you need to make radical changes. For example, change the offer: Maybe it's not that people aren't buying that book because of poor landing page design, but because nobody wants that book. You might also need to change the whole flow of your signup process. You can mess around with button color and shape once you know for sure that people actually want what you're peddling.

Everything You Know About Revision Is Wrong

So here's my theory: Revision works the same way. For the same reason that most businesses fail slowly (by focusing on small details instead of big-picture stuff), most writers can't get their work better than a certain level of passable mediocrity because they're "optimizing" the small stuff before they hit on a project that's worth optimizing. They approach revision by thinking about word choice and commas and cuts and line breaks, but those things can only make a poem or a novel or whatever 1-5% better. A radical revision that completely rethinks the scope or the flow or what have you could make it twice as good.

If it sounds like I'm saying "Kill your darlings," I'm not. In fact, I most often approach revision by saving my darlings and killing the rest.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

May links

RIP Russell Edson. One of the great comic poets along with Bill Knott and James Tate (oh god are we about to lose him too)? Here's one of my favorite Edson poems:

Killing the Ape 

They were killing the ape with infinite care; not too much or it runs past dying and is born again. 
Too little delivers a sick old man covered with fur … 
Gently gently out of hell, the ape climbing out of the ape.

Anyway I started this post to share a few links:

I have a bit part in this cool British podcast (episode 15 of CAR) about perfume, along with Alyssa Harad and this beautiful Britney Spears song.

I did a "visual interview" for the Triangle PA (they sent me a disposable camera -- remember those? -- and I went on a scavenger hunt).

Tracy Dimond wrote about The Self Unstable at HTML Giant.

Also, a couple of recent collaborative poems: at The Rumpus and Atticus Review.