Monday, February 24, 2014

Where I'll be at AWP

I am sort of dreading AWP this year, maybe because John is not coming, robbing me of a default, neutral person to be with that requires little to no social exertion. (Part of the reason I go to AWP is to hang out with writer friends I don't see very often, but the high concentration of such people turns it into the social Olympics.) Also, everyone I know seems to have their own reading at the same time as my reading (below). How long before AWP is just 8,000 private readings, only readers, no audience?

N-E-wayz, I don't have too many obligations, so most of the time I'll either be wandering around the book fair or off-site procuring sushi and alcohol. Otherwise, look for me here:

The Hyacinth Girl table (T4)
Friday, Feb. 28, 2 pm

Kathy and I will be signing copies of our chapbook, The Kind of Beauty That Has Nowhere to Go.

Black Ocean table (R23)
Friday, Feb. 28, 3 pm

I'll be signing books! Buy my book!

The Highline (210 Broadway Ave E.)
Friday, Feb. 28, 7-9 pm

Free off-site reading. Very cool lineup. Details below and on Facebook.


And, of course, my books will be for sale at the Black Ocean and Birds LLC tables all day every day (R23 and R21 respectively). Say hi!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Thoughts and quotes on lyric essay, genre bending, etc.

The below quotes are all taken from Reality Hunger by David Shields, attributed where possible. Interstitial thoughts are mine.

"'Lyric essay' is a rather ingenious label, since the essayist supposedly starts out with something real, whereas the fiction writer labors under a burden to prove, or create, that reality, and can expect mistrust and doubt from a reader at the outset. In fiction, lyricism can look like evasion, special pleading, pretension. In the essay, it's apparently artistic, a lovely sideshow to The Real that, if you let it, will enhance what you think you know." (Ben Marcus)

"The lyric essay asks what happens when an essay begins to behave less like an essay and more like a poem." (John D'Agata)

Isn't it funny that both "essay" and "novel" etymologically denote newness and uncertainty? The definitions were, initially, undefined. Novel meaning something new, essay meaning attempt, stab. Now that the genres are fairly codified we need modifiers to denote that looseness of form: "experimental novel," "lyric essay."

"When I worked at a newspaper, we were routinely dispatched to 'match' a story from the Times: to do a new version of someone else's idea. But had we 'matched' any of the Times's words -- even the most banal of phrases -- it could have been a firing offense. The ethics of plagiarism have turned into the narcissism of minor differences: because journalism cannot own up to its heavily derivative nature, it must enforce originality on the level of the sentence." (Malcolm Gladwell)

"Reality takes shape in memory alone." (Patrick Duff)

"Photography: the prestige of art and the magic of the real." (Robin Hemley)

"In essays, ideas are the protagonists." (Rebecca Solnit)

"We make a mistake in thinking of memoir as nonfiction. It's really nonpoetry." (Patricia Hampl)

I have always found it odd that poetry is classified as nonfiction, since it seems to me closer to fiction. (But then it's also odd that we should divide all books along this line, fiction and nonfiction, when far more nonfiction books are published. Why is fiction taken as the default that everything else is defined against? It's like dividing everything into cookbooks and noncookbooks.) I like Hampl's quote out of context because it's basically incoherent. What could she mean? She's saying that memoir should be read more like poetry, with an understanding that it's art, not 100% verified "fact." (So really it's not the opposite of fiction or poetry; it's a third thing, which is why the term "creative nonfiction" isn't really satisfying.)

"In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

There's a theme in Reality Hunger of looking to literature to feel less alone. ("One is not important, except insofar as one's example can serve to elucidate a more widespread human trait and make readers feel a little less lonely and freakish.") Is this, reader, why you go to literature? I only half-recognize this instinct. I think alien viewpoints can be just as interesting as familiar viewpoints. Plus I like to think of myself as special and unique and that's only so compatible with not being alone.

"This is the wager, isn't it? It's by remaining faithful to the contingencies and peculiarities of your own experience and the vagaries of your own nature that you stand the greatest chance of conveying something universal." (Geoff Dyer)

"Life is, in large part, rubbish. The beauty of reality-based art -- art underwritten by reality hunger -- is that it's perfectly situated between life itself and (unattainable) 'life as art.'" (DS)

Friday, February 14, 2014

Hearts & flowers

In honor of St. Valentine, here's a poem I wrote many years ago that contains "love" and the color red. (It appeared in a little sort of half-chap that H_NGM_N published years ago, and tweeted a link to this morning.)


118 REMIX
After John Berryman


He asked himself, Am I having fun? How would I
know? The dancing was tiring,
young alien bodies slamming & prodding
from every side. He felt if he were still himself
he’d find some dim alcove for two

and perform out of self-love & -loathing
a glam murder-suicide, redundant
in action but not intention. This paisley loveseat’s
the colors of blood & semen, and anyway
who would see him?—Aha,

one hot girl hovered apart from the crowd
on the floor of the club, a superpowered girl,
caped in stealth, who turned everything she looked at
transparent, impossible to touch.
His hand went right thru himself. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

I am what I am and am not

This bit of auto-flarf (a collage of sentences I wrote on this blog) is inspired by Jordan Ellenberg (author of the forthcoming How Not to Be Wrong), who was in turn inspired by Jody Rosen's collage of David Brooks statements including the words "we live."


I am drawn to frustrating people.

I am currently involved in a happy monogamous relationship.

It seems I am almost never home when I get the hiccups.

Some people rabidly oppose the idea of a guilty pleasure, arguing that no one should feel guilty about what they like. I am not one of those people. I am not a chemist or a perfumer. I am not an actress, but I did play one in 9th grade.

I'm not particularly offended or hurt. But I am kind of grimly fascinated by what's transpiring there w/r/t my second book. Could you please point out that I am not in fact the author? I am, quite literally, asking for a friend.

I don't pretend to understand how right-wing cokehead douchebags use expressions. But I am from Texas.

I’m weirdly obsessed with it.

I am weary from travel.

I am a SUCKER for any pop song with a string section.

An unadulterated wave of pure schadenfreude passed over me. How much of a dick am I?

I try to be honest about when I am jealous, which is not unfrequently. I'm currently in a "taco period."

I'm not really convinced that I've done something wrong.

I don't usually turn to poetry when I'm sad; I'm more of the "watch bad movies and eat candy" type. No, I'm not pregnant, really. I'm not trying to speak for everyone.

I'm not even sure that there aren't Shakespeare conventions. But they made two sequels to The Hangover, I'm not the barometer of comedy in America.

I am really wondering: Is this satire?

I'm not the only one.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

How to Make a Sonnet

The below is an exercise that John created for a beginner's poetry class he is teaching at Lighthouse Writers Workshop here in Denver. The wording is his own, but it stems from an exercise he did as an undergrad in Bill Knott's forms class at Emerson years ago. I'd never heard of this approach before and thought it was cool. Enjoy!

Making a Sonnet

In this exercise, you’ll convert a poem you’ve already written (one of about 100-150 words would be best) into either a Petrarchan or Elizabethan sonnet. The purpose of the experiment is twofold: 1) to learn the rules of sonnet-making and get a sense of the virtues and challenges of writing poetry in form and 2) to develop a sense of the malleability of drafts. This exercise doesn’t aim to replace your original draft for once and for all (though if you prefer the sonnet version, it’s yours to keep) but to encourage radical revision of one sort or another – whatever ends up working for you – as a method of delving deeper into a poem, figuring out not only what’s there but what could be there.

Refresher: What’s a sonnet? A sonnet is a 14-line poem first perfected by the Italian Renaissance poet Petrarch. His sonnets were composed of two stanzas, an octet (8 lines) and a sestet (6 lines) and rhymed abba, abba, cdecde (or, for the sestet, cdcdcd). Generally, the octet would pose a problem and the sestet would resolve it, so in this way the sonnet was a conversation with the writer’s self. Thomas Wyatt introduced the sonnet to England in the 16th century where it metamorphosed into what we call the Elizabethan Sonnet, exemplified by Shakespeare. Here we find three stanzas of four lines each and one stanza of two lines, rhyming abab, cdcd, efef, gg, the whole in iambic pentameter of five-foot lines (lines of ten syllables each, with the stress on the second syllable of each foot). The final two lines often present a novel twist on what has come before, or even contradict it (called the “volta,” or turn). Elizabethan sonnets were a playful and intellectual form but as the centuries have accumulated the form has adapted itself to every conceivable use. Contemporary sonnets are more likely not to rhyme and not to maintain a formal, consistent meter. They may be 14 lines long or they may be shorter (but they’re not often longer).

The Exercise. Take one of your own poems (or someone else’s!) of about 100 or so words and attempt to transform it into a sonnet, Elizabethan or Petrarchan. You can of course transform it into a modern sonnet too, and may find that’s the form most suited to you, but it’s a good idea to start with the more challenging version of the exercise.

First, find the rhyming words in the poem and write them down in a column on a fresh sheet of paper in the order in which they appear, leaving plenty of space between them. Then look for slant-rhymes (ball/mole, cast/rest, fish/crash) and insert those into the column. Try to revise that column into one of the Sonnet’s typical rhyming patterns.

Next, try to rewrite the order of the original lines so that they still relate the idea, or the images, or the story you’d like to convey, but so they fit the end-rhymes. If they don’t (and they won’t entirely) use synonyms to create rhymes.

Once you’re happy with rhyme-order and line-order, nudge the lines to 10 syllables each, or thereabouts, preferably in a (loose) iambic pentameter. Voila! You have a sonnet.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Very specific memories from early high school


There was a jukebox in the cafeteria, and in 9th grade, before we had an open campus and before, in any case, any of my friends could drive, we sat at a table near the jukebox, though the jukebox itself was considered a zone for dorks only, whom we dubbed "the Jukies." Songs in frequent rotation: "Chattahoochee" by Alan Jackson, "The Sweater Song" by Weezer, "Hello, I Love You" by the Doors.

I remember one Monday at this lunch table, my best friend Marisa had watched The Rocky Horror Picture Show over the weekend with our friend Bryan, who was a year older, and she kept bringing it up every five minutes: in Rocky Horror this, in Rocky Horror that. I got extremely annoyed and made a kind of screaming-through-my-teeth noise and picked up a piece of paper and scrunched it up very loudly. Then Marisa was quiet for the rest of the lunch period.

I remember wearing my new jelly sandals for the first time and walking down the empty hallway, either to or from the bathroom during class, staring at my feet the whole time, and then walking straight into an older guy named Steve that I had a crush on.

I remember Steve telling me I must have "an excellent sense of smell" because once in Algebra II, I said "It smells like mango," and he was chewing mango-flavored gum several rows away.

I remember all the guys in NES, or Never Ever Sober (Steve, Paul, etc.) would cut slits at the bottom of their jeans, up the side on the seam where the flap would be on a pair of track pants, to make them wider, more "bootcut." I still think this was rather fashion-forward.

I remember, very distinctly, as a kind of muscle memory, the thumb action required to button button-fly jeans.

I remember an older, "slutty" girl in Yearbook waltzing in 10 minutes late one day and sing-songily stage-whispering as she passed me, "Life's a journey, not a destination."

This same girl, whose name I can't remember, sat in front of me in Theater Arts, and one day I watched her put on three colors of eyeshadow in class, the way one of her mom's friends had taught her. After she finished, she shrugged and said "I still look like a truck."

This girl had a friend name Blythe, who had very long hair and a cute rack. Our teacher, whose hair was curly and dyed bright red, which made her look very batty, very theater-teacher, told her on the first day that there's a wonderful actress named Blythe Danner, and Blythe said, I know, I'm named after her.

There was a very tall black guy in this class, who sat behind me and wore aviator glasses. He told me that my aura was green and he would sometimes draw my portrait. We were friends in class, but I never talked to him outside of class, because he was a Jukie.

I had another friend in this class who looked like Dave Foley. I always called him Dave Foley. I don't remember his actual name. Once we did an improv skit together, where he played my assistant, and the big joke was that he would tell me something disastrous had happened and I would turn to him slowly and drawl, "And whose fault is that?"

I remember a very annoying girl named Stacey, who sat behind me in French class, asking me what my favorite opera was. I'm sure I could not conceal how appalled I was at this question. Nonetheless she told me proudly that hers was Madame Butterfly.

I remember my English teacher, Mrs. Peterson, teaching the lesson on The Scarlet Letter with the Cliffs notes clearly poking out from inside her copy of the book.

I remember Becky, who sat behind me in math class, telling me she was doing "butt clenches" in her desk.

I remember leaving campus for lunch during the first semester in 10th grade, before I got my license, with Becky and Monique. Becky drove a white Chrysler Le Baron convertible and always put the top down no matter how cold it was. We would go to places like Taco Bell and Sonic. Monique I was scared of. I'd known her in seventh grade when she was obsessed with ballet and her favorite color was pink. Now her boobs were huge, she wore eyeliner, and she had a boyfriend I didn't know, from another school; she talked about sex all the time.

I remember Becky telling me that girls get horny on the third day of their period.

I remember going with Becky and Monique one day during lunch to someone's house that was near campus. Maybe a guy named Bob who always wore striped t-shirts and quoted Beavis and Butthead a lot. In any case he was there, plus a guy named Daniel, and the four of them took hits from a three-foot bong. I did not.

Becky told me a story about Daniel smoking some pot once that must have been laced with LSD, because he came back to class and had to take a chemistry test and just filled the paper up with the letter t.

I remember the day Kyle, who sat next to me in keyboarding, came in with a fresh tattoo. He told me that you can't drink when you get a tattoo because it bleeds too much.

Kyle always wore heavy metal t-shirts. One day he asked me what kind of music I listened to. I told him my favorite band was Teenage Fanclub. He told me that he used to listen to them, back when he listened to that kind of music.

I remember Brian, a blonde skater kid that I liked for a while, calling me every day after school. We'd watch MTV together, over the phone. We both loved Nirvana, but I mostly pretended to like the other music he liked, like The Offspring.

I remember one day Brian said with disgust, about The Cranberries: "They don't even get hard."

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Everything hits at once

Lots of "me me me" stuff to share with you this week:

* Some new poems are up at the PEN Poetry Series. It's an excerpt of seven pages from a sequence I'm working on (tentatively titled L'Heure Bleue, or The Judy Poems) based on the character I recently played in The Designated Mourner. Thank you to Danniel Schoonebeek for featuring the work!

* "Robots on an Escalator": A very interesting essay connecting The Self Unstable with the Black Sabbath album Technical Ecstasy (or, at least, its cover), by Rob Horning (AKA @marginalutility) at The New Inquiry:
I am conditioned by Twitter to read this book in what is certainly the wrong way, assuming the I is the same in all the pieces, despite the title’s warning, and eschewing the contemplation of enjambment to see juxtaposition as an arbitrary contingency and not an artful orchestration. Twitter makes me think everything can be an aphorism that can travel without contextual baggage. But the leaps between the sentences are where most of The Self Unstable is. I had to read it again to think about how the sentences worked off of one another, how the paragraphs grouped together gestured toward a whole, and what I wanted to connect everything. 
The book seems preoccupied with this, among other questions: Does self-consciousness establish or unmake the self? Is such reflexivity always reducible to regret? “Whatever you do, don’t start thinking about thinking.” I think about this a lot in terms of social media, which demand reflexivity and invite a serial self-consciousness as a form of escapism, which guide me back to myself in ways I’m not expecting and which make me feel like a novelty to myself. “Where are the clouds of the mind?” I think they are governing the emotional climate of social media.
* The bit about the leaps segues nicely into this 11-question interview I did with Travis Nichols at the Huffington Post, on like vs. love, poems vs. essays and more:
What makes an essay "lyric"?
The farther it veers away from prototypical ("five-paragraph," "inverted pyramid") essays, the more "lyric" it is. In terms of poetry "lyric" just means that you're expressing emotions, but I don't think that's enough to qualify an essay as "lyric." In my mind it's more that formally, in its gestures, it resembles poetry -- more associative leaps, less linear structure. 
I find that for a lot of people one of the hardest things about lyrics, essays or otherwise, is that they leave so much up to their readers -- either readers "get" them or they don't. And if you don't get it, if the associative leaps don't conjure anything in your mind, then whose fault is it?
Both parties are at fault most of the time -- readers can be very lazy but then writers can be too. In general, though, it takes longer to write a poem or an essay than it does to read it, so I think readers should be generous and give the writer the benefit of the doubt. With some writers, the leaps themselves are pleasurable, even if they feel somewhat arbitrary. I'm thinking of extreme parataxis as in My Life by Lyn Hejinian or Ron Silliman's poetry. But you can't force people who don't "get" that stuff to like it. I don't particularly enjoy jazz.
* Darcie Dennigan (one of my favorite contemporary poets, btw) did this nice little write-up on the book at the H_NGM_N Tumblr. She writes:
I’d like to claim the book for poetry, because I like to call anything good, anything hybrid feeling, “poetry,” even when it’s published as an essay.
I'd like to expound on this a bit. I've noticed that many readers are reluctant to accept the pieces in The Self Unstable as "essays," whereas I've seen pieces that look very much like essays called poems -- for example, this excerpt from "A is for Addis" by Anna Moschovakis, or Claudia Rankine's Don't Let Me Be Lonely. I suspect this is because people think you can call anything a poem the way you can call anything art; poetry is in the eye of the beholder. "Essay," however, they associate with rigid academic standards. What do y'all think?

Also, have you heard this Spoon song?