Under Radar

I haven't vanished and I'm not yet transparent (except when intoxicated), but I am very touched by those who left comments wondering about my whereabouts.

To compensate, please enjoy this Nicosian "Week(end) in 15":

1. A triumverate of joy & happiness: free Chipotle, Sideways, and Gap shopping, where I bought a corduroy blazer for a big event this week. *swoons*

2. Bowling with 25 gay men; subsequent bowling injury to ankle ligament & glute due to bowling alley's lack of size 12 bowling shoes. Do not bowl in Chuck Taylors.

3. Southwestern Arts Conference, which featured a really inspiring & encouraging discussion of Phoenix's First Fridays art events.

4. My supervisor solicited and approved a new, more appropriate title for me at work.

5. Dinner with my family, including niece and nephew play time.

6. Night driving with Portishead.

7. Several games of MarbleBlast.

8. Drag queens; Stoli Vanil & Coke.

9. Stoli Vanil & Coke-induced rendition of Bananarama's "Cruel Summer," at top volume, in car on the way home.

10. Two strangers within five minutes commenting that I look like Clark Kent.

11. The sweet music of a pulled muscle & a heating pad.

12. A found poem, a new poem.

13. Bernadette Meyer's Midwinter Day; received in the mail Gay & Lesbian Poetry in Our Time, Fanny Howe's Selected Poems.

14. Laundry for days.

15. Redecorating the living room, which included a power drill, some very long screws, and a hammer. Butchfest 2005.


Owning Ignorance

A lot of people have been blogging lately about reading poetry exstensively, and I have some thoughts to add to the overall conversation.

An admission: I'm definitely not the most well-read poet. I know this about myself. I was not an English major and I mostly avoided taking English classes in college, but I did take creative writing classes. Those creative writing instructors were really the only people who pointed me toward reading certain things. It was in those classes that I first read Frank O'Hara, for example. Fumbling, I would buy and read anthologies, mostly because I was so poor then and wanted the widest exposure possible for the least amount of money.

I'm not the most widely-read poet, but as I read, I tend to read exhaustively instead of expansively. To wit, I've read every poem collected by Frank O'Hara, his juvenilia, his essays on writing and art, the "background" book written by Joe LeSeur about Frank's poems, and the first several chapters of the Gooch biography. When I find a poet I like, I read that poet until there's nothing left to read, and then I try to read about that poet.

Because of this tendency and my own aesthetic biases, I haven't read nearly any of the Romantics, only tangentially from the Moderns, and more liberally from the contemporaries. And pre-Romantic poetry? Well, once I bought a book by Cavafy, but I still haven't read it. I have about 100 books purchased that I mean to read someday.

Is it more beneficial to be widely read or deeply read? Deeply reading one poet, I think, gives me a better picture of how they're doing what they're doing. There's more internalization of work that way, and a broader understanding of career shifts and voice changes. Wide reading has its benefits, and, knowing my reading tendency, I am constantly looking for new people to read. I carry a list in my wallet of books to buy or check out from libraries. I have a new list growing on a post-it based on what I read about in blogs and online interviews or journals. I ask my friends who they are reading, who they recommend. I ask my favorite poets who their favorite poets are.

I don't consider there to be poets I haven't read; only poets that I haven't read yet.

I sometimes get annoyed that there have to be expectations about the poets that "count" toward some greater poet-ness. If I read all of Ron Silliman's work, is that of less value than reading Pound's Cantos? Or, if I decide, for example, that I've read enough white men for a while, that I can choose to explore poetry by women, gay men, etc?

I definitely feel like at this point in my life I'm reading poetry to answer my own questions, not the questions posed by a cultural exam. But I see value in reading as much as possible, which is why, ultimately, I will work on reading the Cantos, why I'll grudgingly reread The Collected Poems of Elizabeth Bishop. Just because I haven't done it yet doesn't mean I won't. It just means that time isn't right for me. When it's time for me to work with those poets, I'll know. The first time I read Louise Glück, I hated her work. I came back to it later and found Meadowlands to be one of my favorite books ever. We arrive at certain poetries at certain times for certain reasons: we find what we need there. And every poet who's on a path is on their own path.


Stormy Weather

As I write this, snow is attaching itself to every flat surface in the Midwest and Northeast.

Today I drove to the store with my air conditioning on. I wore a t-shirt and jeans. I berated myself for not bringing sunglasses with me on my drive. Tonight, I visited my bf at work and wore a light nylon jacket.

Snow is the reason I have rescinded my Midwestern citizenship. Twenty-four years of snow. And I'm talking about the snow you might not know: snow in your boots, snow up your nose, snowball-snow packed so hard your eyes turn black and blue, car snow, slush-snow, gray snow, sandy snow, salty snow, frozen snow, roof-snow that must be shoveled from the roof before it collapses the house, snow-up-to-your-knees snow, sleet-snow, flying ice-crystals snow. There's more. That's just the first month or so.

Once I went to Fargo for Thanksgiving and they had two feet of snow. The sidewalks looked like they were carved into these enormous white drifts.

I didn't really come to hate snow until I bought a car in Minneapolis. Walking outside to it in sub-zero temperatures just to start it up (hopefully), then to come back fifteen minutes later with a special tool designed to brush and chip snow and ice from the surfaces...it was too much.

When I moved to Arizona, I had two houseguests within six months, and both of them wanted to see the Grand Canyon. The first time, there was a little snow up there. I said a fond farewell to snow that day.

Last December I was back in the Twin Cities for the holidays. It was like running into snow at the grocery store. We were both so uncomfortable—snow because deep down, it didn't know what it had done; my discomfort stemmed from that awkward disassociation from the person I was when I was with snow. I don't know that man anymore.

And now snow is wrapping itself over the landscape in a cold, cold blanket. It gets quiet there. A sad kind of quiet.


Father Poems

Last night Bruce Weigl read a poem about teaching his daughter math and, he said, it was "only because his wife was out that night." A fatherhood-event poem, not a dailyness poem.


Poets as Parents: Girls Against Boys (Again)

I was reading Kelli's post earlier this week about parenthood and career considerations, and since then I've been thinking a lot about these issues.

I noted in Kelli's comment section about how it really irritates me that we hear so much about "working mothers" and nothing about "working fathers." This exposes two main assumptions about (mainly white, middle class) heterosexual gender roles: first, that all men work; and secondly, that not all women should. I say this because media spin bias is decidedly against the experience of the working mother:

Consider advertising, which, to me, is a goldmine of our cultural values. Instead of the typical 80s mom--"Dr. Mom," homemaker, etc--we have Working Super Mom. She comes home, diagnoses her kids ailments, outsmarts her husbands attempts to avoid housework or child-rearing, gets dinner on the table, and pays her online bills while running her after-jogging bath.

This cultural expectation for women is unfortunate. Instead of merely breaking through a glass ceiling, they end up being the porter of all the family baggage in addition to her own career concerns. Women didn't trade the kitchen for the boardroom; they took it with them.

Conversely, depictions of men--especially fathers--often show them in the home as bumbling, well-intentioned but ultimately impotent clods.

One question you might be asking is how come a woman's identity becomes inextricably linked with motherhood when she gives birth, but fathers are still just men?

It's because our culture wants to make sure that women are dragging their Kitchen Aid into their cubes.

Now, on to poetry. Ron Silliman's post the other day about his twins really surprised me. I don't recall reading a poem by a man about his kids--at least, not kids that were still living--so, to hear Ron frankly discuss not only raising children but also how parenthood was impacting his poetry was a real jolt.

It shouldn't have been. We should hear these things all the time, but we don't. Why isn't Ron writing more about this in his blog? A variety of reasons, perhaps, but among them perhaps is that he doesn't feel pressured or encouraged to do so.

Right now I'm reading Bernadette Meyer's Midwinter's Day, which contains a long sequence of prose paragraphs that describe the dailyness of motherhood and daughterhood--the constant surprises a child's imagination offers about clocks, breakfast, coloring walls in crayon, etc.

I've read several essay by women wherein they discuss how having children imposes upon them a restriction in writing poetry, so many poet-mothers begin writing shorter pieces, "when they find snippets of time to write." I see no evidence of this in Meyer's work, which was purportedly written over the course of a single day.

What interests me about Meyer's work is how closely connected her narrator is to the dailyness of parenting. The list in her poem is very exhaustive. It occurs to me that the parent poetry I've read by men is more concerned with moments, not routine. Men (grossly generalizing here) seem more interested in monuments, benchmarks, and events as opposed to process.

In any case, it's unfortunate to me that there is such a broad split between men and women who write poetry and raise children together. It seems like American poetry is missing out on some important male perspectives and ghettoizing women into specific categories.

Thoughts? Responses? Reading suggestions?



I prefer the term "nerd-fabulous."

All Along the Watchtower

Today Ron Silliman is blogging about Bob Dylan, the most famous export from Hibbing, Minnesota (or is it Hastings? It's an H-place). Like me, Dylan spent his college years bumming around the Dinkytown area of Minneapolis. Well, okay--Dylan spent that time plucking his guitar; I was shopping for vintage clothes (like my favorite old cheerleading sweater) at Ragstock and following cute boys around. But I digress.

"All Along the Watchtower" is one of my favorite Dylan songs. The watchtower of the title is actually a park fixture near the University commonly referred to as the Witch's Hat.

Though it be 1974 miles from here, Minneapolis lives on in my homesick heart. Oh, precious city. You are missed.


Cheap books

Goldmine at the used bookstore today:

Margaret Atwood, Power Politics
Alison Hawthorne Deming, Science and Other Poems
Russell Edson, The Tormented Mirror
Maureen Seaton, Furious Cooking
Kimiko Hahn, The Unbearable Heart
Michael Burkard, Pennsylvania Collection Agency

I'm especially excited about having the Atwood book. Her poem

"you fit into me
like a hook into an eye

a fish hook
an open eye"

that begins the collection is one of the first poems that really affected me deeply. I was in high school, and I remember being obsessed with it—I'd scribble it in the covers of my notebooks and I think I even tacked it up in my locker, over my enormous door-length collages of Sharon Stone and Shannen Doherty, near the mirror.


Chapbook comes from the Old English for "cheap book"

I finished putting together a new chapbook yesterday. It's entirely new work—stuff I've been working on for the past couple of months. I'll send it out for at the end of the month. The experience of writing these was very different for me. Usually titling poems is the hardest part of writing them, and with this series (because they are definitely linked) I wrote from the titles first in most cases.

I had troubling titling the chapbook, though. I don't want to reveal what I decided yet—I'll save that for after I hear back from some contests.

I'm going to a "brown bag art exchange" party tonight, and I think I'm going to make a cute little version of it as my giveaway. Hopefully people will enjoy it.


More Whips

I just cleaned my desk and found two more rejections.

In other clerical news, I seem to have 15 batches still out.


I'm a Dirty Whipping Boy

So, essentially, I've been rejected by nearly everyone lately. If you know anyone who needs to let off a little steam, just have them whip up a little rejection note—something vague, somewhat kind; maybe something like, "It's not you, it's me" or, "Let's still be friends."

I have six rejections sitting on my desk.

Six, you're thinking. That's not very many. But, I offer you this:
  • Six is 66% of the known planets (counting Pluto) in our solar system.

  • Six is the mean age of all first-grade children in the United States.

  • Six is the depth to which corpses may be safely buried.

  • Six is the number of the world given to judgement, Biblically speaking (666), and the number of man in opposition to God.

  • Six is the number of NBA championships Michael Jordan won in his career.

  • Six is 86% percent of the days in a week and the total number of days it (allegedly) required the Bibical God to create the earth (minus his vacation day).

  • Six is the number of cynlinders in many high-performing car engines.

  • Six is the number of players on an indoor volleyball court.

  • Six is 50% of the units in measurements of: months, feet, clocks.

  • Six is one-half the measurement of an American soda can.

  • Six is the atomic number of carbon, from which all living things are created.

So, six can be pretty significant. It's also the total number of consecutive rejections I need to receive before I really start reflecting on what exactly I'm trying to do versus what I'm actually accomplishing, the sum total of parts needed for me to stop and think, Maybe my poems are just bad. And that's okay. A lot of people do think they're bad. But it's also the required number for me to think maybe those other perspectives on my work are a little more important than I'd like to admit.

It might be time for me to take a little disco nap in terms of sending work out. These wounds are still a little raw. I understand the process of editing and don't hold anyone but my own work responsible for this, but it can still sting from time to time. Rejection chips away at you bit by bit. Acceptance—even just one—rebuilds you enough to press on. But when those little loaves of happiness are few and far between, the stomach has no one to blame but the hand.

I just found two more rejections on my dining room table for a grand total of 8. If 6 is a cosmic number, 8 is just downright cruel.


Intelligence Failures and David Lehman

In the most recent issue of Writer's Chronicle, which I dutifully read during my lunch breaks, David Lehman laments that young writers are arriving to MFA programs and other writerly vocations without having read, frankly, as much as he did. Lehman muses about how these admittedly-talented writers escaped school without completing the required reading of anyone from Heroclitus to Swift.

What disturbs me about this common assertion is that I feel like it rebulds an ivory tower of literature and corrals writers as artists who are other. A reinforcement of literature as precious, of having some kind of value above and beyond other experiences.

I think reading is important, and for writers, it is pretty much compulsory. But what about writers who are exploring other arts? I am very interested--academically and artistically--in film, so I do spend a lot of time watching movies, reading about them, and teaching courses about them.

I approach cinema not only as cinema, but as an opportunity to use cinema to learn more about writing. What can film teach me about poetry? Montage theory, for one: the concussive act of colliding disparate images. Montage deletes narrative from a poem and places the burden of narrativization on the reader. We do it so seamlessly in film, I wonder how we can do it in poetry.

But Lehman doesn't account for this shift. He also gently slams the increase in students who read theory over literature. Lynn Emanuel said to me, "Hearing someone say they don't read theory today is like someone in the 20s saying they haven't read Freud." Lehman posits that reading theory distracts students from the source text, instead of illuminating it. This may be true. However, consider the source texts theory provides writers access to: Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto. Frued's Creative Writers and Daydreams and Civilization and its Discontents. Ferdinand de Saussure's Course in General Linguistics. Without access to theory, revolutionary movements like Language poetry would never have come to be.

Even if you don't like or appreciate Language poetry, you can't deny its influence or effect: things are changing. New frontiers have been opened. It's time to move out of the yard and into the forest. If Lehman wants to leash us to the porch, that's his business, I suppose. But I won't stay. I'll read poetry, and theory, and watch films, and study photographs and paintings, teach myself to play music. Because art doesn't have to be one thing: it can be all things.


Google Me This

The latest list of search phrases that have led unsuspecting visitors to my blog:

"Rufus Wainwright featuring Dido I eat dinner + text"


"A dream poem"

"About elegy poetry on AIDS"

"Shadow form visual basic"

"Example Debutant personal poem"

"Viral rhetoric"

I have now ensure these search terms will continue to lead people here.


Poetry Makes Me Ill

For the past week and a half or so I've returned full force to Robert Peters's Snapshots for a Serial Killer.

First, I made the mistake of reading it during lunch. Unfortunately, this coincided with the poems in the book that discuss—in meticulous detail—a child's first slaughter of a chicken followed by his witnessing of a woman braining and skinning the rabbit he wants for a pet.

So, I stopped reading it at lunch time and picked up Norman Dubie's Ordinary Mornings of a Coliseum instead. (Except today I read the interview with Annie Finch in the Writer's Chronicle.—but that's grist for a different mill.)

Now I read it on the bus to and from work, which usually amounts to 10-15 minute snippets. If I'm not nearly vomitous by the end of that time, I'm embarassingly aroused, and this is especially uncomfortable for two reasons: 1) You do not want to arrive at work aroused, or the rest of the day is sure to be a letdown; and 2) There's nothing creepier than a man leaving the bus aroused after reading a book called Snapshots for a Serial Killer.

It has been a useful book, though—the number of conversations strangers strike up with me have noticeably decreased.


Tune In

I've posted a new link to the best radio station I've heard in a long time. You can stream it on your desktop, and it's a beautiful thing: The Edge 103.9.


Lately: A Diatribe Against Sameness

I was just reading a review of Lyn Hejinian's Best American Poetry anthology linked from The Page (see link under "essential links" at right). In it, the author, while completey questioning Hejinian's "editorial standards," cites as his academic model Ezra Pound, who said, Poetry should be at least as good as well-written prose.

First of all, I think Ezra Pound was more concerned with the state of Ezra Pound than he was about the state of American poetry. But more than that, I feel like the inclusion of Pound's viral rhetoric in that journalist's discussion is emblematic of something more troubling in our culture:

that somehow, poetry and prose are related.

Portraits and houses both involve paint. But I don't think we'd ever mistake one for the other. Yet, so commonly people disregard poetry that is not proselike, or poetry that is overly poetic. You can't really win with poetry.

I move that we, as a community of poets, officially secede from prose.

Let prose fend for itself. Like most bullies, it moves more simply and takes up more space. It seeks to be understood before it understands. Fine, go on ahead.

Poetry, however, is not the acme of language. There is good prose writing in the world, yes. But please, let's stop this madness of poetry-is-true-language/prose-is-true-language. No one wins. Prose may make more money, but poetry is obviously the sexier of the two. And listen to me: mired down, again, in comparisons. It's not about that.

A culture's poetry should be distinct and radical from its other art forms. I know several poets who link poetry to painting—but we'd never say A poem should be at least as good as a well-painted landscape. Why not? And should it? Or is painting better? Honestly, I prefer film to a lot of poetry, folks like Luhrman and Almodóvar who take risks, who understand what a medium means: how it means.

We don't confuse film and photography even though they both rely on image. One is, essentially, the moving form of the other. Yet they remain more distinct than prose and poetry, which too many people believe differ only in form.

A form is a radical origin of meaning.

A form means. Content means. Aspects of a poem mean differently than aspects of prose. Frankly, I'm tired of this confusion. Let's be sister-cities. Let's be adjoining hotel rooms. But let's not be brothers whose parents demand, Why can't you be more like Matthew—or, at least as good as him?!

A poem should be at least as good as the form it takes, the language it involves, the images it creates, the sounds it rings, the shape it takes, the melody it murmurs...but it should not be the same or better than prose. It's like what I was talking about in terms of preciousness: once we overvalue something, we ultimately lose all value. Don't overvalue poetry or devalue prose. And let's not make them equivalent. Let's find them mutually exclusive nests, little honeymoon hideways, and we'll stock whatever their favorite wine may be: and maybe, it's the same wine after all.

Rhymes with Orange

This morning they're harvesting the oranges from the campus orange trees, yanking them down with these long hoes.

There's no smell more panic-inducing to me than the smell of a peeling orange. I don't know why this is. But today, walking by, even in the cold air, I could smell them: sharp, sour, and morbid.


Eduardo's Notebook Challenge

The contents of a page of my notebook, per Eduardo's request:

          [heart drawn here]
(forces of gay nature)
Note: get this guy's overtly sexual book now!!

AIDS as a calling
"Who dumped him over Easter"
The privacy of reading is when gay men first explored their sexuality
Sexist realities
Unstoppable urge to broaden ideas of citizenship, family

Queer painter Donald Evans 45-77

Notions of miniature--conflict with preciousness

Imaginary countries with real stamps in them.

"I wanted more vaginas, more vaginas, more vaginas!"
—Maureen Seaton on a Judy Chicago exhibit

[and, written vertically in the margin by Sarah Vap]
Elledge looks like Richard Gere
[and my written response following it]



Lately I've been selling some old furniture on craigslist, which I only recently discovered. And it's been better than eBay. And good thing—with the new IKEA in town, my house can't hold much more goodness.

Anyway, today I found this on craiglist—the "best" of. I have nearly pissed myself. My favorites:

This one
this one.

But they're all pretty good (not necessarily work safe for dirty words in the text).

Popular versus Buffy: Beyond Thunderdome

What I love about my two favorite high-school-is-hell TV shows are two very different things. We all know about the joy of Buffy—the very literal metaphor of the high school built on a mouth of hell, where all the wonky doings of the demony undead correspond to something real and tangible in lives:

  • the unpopular girl everyone ignores becomes, after a time, the invisible girl, who seizes the opportunity to give her tormentors a taste of their own medicine;

  • the fear of the boyfriend turning into an asshole after you sleep with him takes on the new face of evil as he, instead of not calling, stalks, harasses, and kills your friends before attempting to end the world;

  • the torture of sharing a dorm room with another person becomes the literal roommate from hell, who not only listens to Cher albums on repeat—her toenails continue to grow after they've been cut!

Popular inverts the metaphor by positioning real-life experiences in the fantasy of high school. In the Popular universe, real people exist to represent archetypes, not vice versa, and dramatic events from the world of adults are transposed into the hyper-emotional realm of the adolescent.

In the Homecoming Queen episode, Popular lampoons American politics by factionizing the four candidates (three popular, one unpopular) into (campy) camps.

Texan firecracker Mary Cherry uses the wealth of her mother, Cherry Cherry (played uproariously by Delta Burke) to bribe her way to the crown while literally spangling herself in red, white, and blue sequined dresses to extoll her Americanicity.

Token minority Popita Fresh, initially too lacking in confidence to campaign, is recruited by a Farrahkan-esque Svengali into "representing the minority voice," as it were, and confronting her popular caste-mates as an opponent.

Dowdy, chunky Carmen Ferrera, nominated as a cruel joke by a popular girl, tries going the natural route, minimal campaigning, until it comes out that her campaign manager may have instituted a smear campaign against an opponent—featuring a picture of the poor girl in full-on frumpy sick mode.

Glamor-girl and American-sweetheart Brooke McQueen tries to take the high road, supporting a "positive-campaigning" platform, but ultimately, during an interview by the Chess Club, the "New Hampshire of Campus Organizations," she buckles when asked to name the people sitting in front of her, with whom she's taken classes for 10 years.

The spirit of Popular offers the conventions of the American high school as a lens for critiquing our adult culture. Buffy uses metaphors from the adult realm to comment on youth. Both shows provide something a little more substantial than commonly found on television.


Mailbag, Bookbag

In the mailbag:

Beautiful, frameable print of "Adoption" by the wonderful Katey Nicosia, which I am loving.

"The most masculine-smelling soap [she] could find" from my dear friend Jolene.

The copy of Gihon River Review in which my poems "Therapist with a Dream Inside: Friday Morning Aubade" and "Smoking Bride" appear.

Enough rejections to keep my ego as small as my—well, small.

Conspicuously absent from the mailbag: a diploma.

I've been to the used bookstores several times in the past week and a half, and I've picked up books by:

Lee Ann Roripaugh, Rilke, Charles Wright, Norman Dubie, Louise Glück, Nicholas Christopher, Adrienne Rich, June Jordan, Leslie Scalapino, Maureen Seaton, Bernadette Meyer, and Rita Dove.

Of the above list, I'm ashamed to admit I've only previously read four of those poets.

These will be my new busride companions for the next several weeks.

Ordered from Amazon: The Waves, Virginia Woolf, recommended by several trusted friends as being an amazing experience. I've also never read Woolf, but I've read "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" AND The Hours, so I've read the Madame Tussaud's wax museum version of Virginia Woolf. Approximately.