Yo, Collaborate and Listen

Last night at Kris Sanford's MFA show reception, I was especially pleased to finally set eyes on both the completed version of our artist's book Stolen (with poems by Matthew Heil and me) as well as the final version of our broadside, The Aerialists:

This is one example of how wonderful collaboration can be. When I originally gave this poem to Kris, it looked very different, having staggered stanzas in two columns running down the page, signifying the two voices in the poem: the narrator, who discusses elements of flying and plane crashes, and a second voice who complicates that original narrative by describing the shape and speed of the human body.

A few weeks later, Kris called me to show me the first draft of the print. Voilá! There it was: the poem I was hoping I'd written. It was beautiful what she'd done to it, taking out some problematic lines, shifting the flight communication lines and distributing them across the page, but most of all, she clarified the relationship between those two voices visually.

It's a beautiful, haunting print—both sad and sexual, which I guess is like all of my other work.

Oh, and you can buy it if you contact Kris.

More photos from the show will come later when I get some pics from Kris. Congratulations on your defense and thanks for continuing our collaborative work—it pushes the edges of what I believe myself capable.


Light Bulb

I think I know what direction to head in for my next project, and in thinking about it, I realize I already have several finished/published poems that I can fold into it.

But, we'll see.

I went shopping for books yesterday as a sort of end-of-holiday treat, and I couldn't help feeling that 90% of the books I pulled off the shelf were just too much like each other, too much like what I've already read. It was disheartening because I know that I'm not being as innovative as I'd like to be (and, true, I'm not even sure what it would mean for me to be truly innovative).

I'm trying to figure out how to do it differently. I know I resist the narrated-experience poem I perceive as being a hallmark of white male writing ("I went out into the world / and found there an experience / that made me reflect on the world / as something I recently discovered") and I resist the non-signifying language of LangPo, but I am interested in an intersection of those traditions. Language that pops with surprises, but that (to me) still somehow emotes. I'm moving more toward spareness in my poems, too, although I'm nowhere near the spare beauty of, say, Joseph Massey.

And, okay, I actually have a couple of ideas that I'd like to explore, now that I think about it. Something about rooms. A cinematic manuscript. Maybe I'd like to do something less serial than my new ms, or something thematically linked in a series of short sections.

I wish I could do a little of everything.


Recent Good News

Recent poems set free in the world:

Eucalyptus: A journal of the broken narrative: "The Double" (from my forthcoming chapbook)

The Journal: "La Agrado," "La Agrado 2" (from my series of All About My Mother poems)

Lodestar Quarterly: "Dietrichesque," "Quail," "Remainder" (from the prose poem project)

New England Review: "Clean Slate" (appearing in current issue)

New Hampshire Review: "Summer Ends"

Puerto del Sol: "Lapsarian" (from my forthcoming chapbook)

Washington Square: "First Fruit"(from my forthcoming chapbook)


Eviction (Contains SPOILERS for the film Rent)

I'm totally not a fan of Rent.

More on this later.

EDIT (or, More):

After sleeping on it, I feel better about Rent than I did when I first arrived home. I think elements of its execution bothered me more than its actual content did, although I do have some bones to pick there, too.

First of all, I think Chris Columbus was a poor choice for the film's director. Some nuggets from the Columbus oeuvre include: Adventures in Babysitting, Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire, Nine Months, Stepmom, and two Harry Potter films (the "light" ones).

I want you to think about poverty, homelessness, and AIDS. Could you imagine Mrs. Doubtfire spearheading an anti-eviction rally? How about Chris from Babysitting moving from blues-bar crooning to bare-midriff pole dancing?

No, me either.

The biggest problem with Rent is that, in terms of production value and innovation, it's about as fascinating as something you could see on VH1. The extent of Columbus's ingenuity in translating from stage to screen extends as far as....flashbacks to other times or places while people sing. Oh, and some people vanish during a song—you can't easily do that on a stage. But by and large, Rent feels like a two-bit taping of a stage show from 8th row center——there isn't much about this that you can't duplicate on a stage (or wasn't already staged in Rent's original incarnation). What a waste of time and resources to take what is probably a wonderful and innovative stage show and record it onto digital video.

That said, I was also disappointed by a few things inherent in the story. I've never seen Rent on stage, so this was my first encounter with it. I'm assuming it was faithfully transposed from stage to screen, but naturally I'm not sure. First of all, it was disappointing to me that this story concerns poor people on the verge of homelessness who are devastated by AIDS, corporate dishonesty, and heartbreak, yet for all intents and purposes this film could be described as a two and a half hour Noxema commercial: everyone is very beautiful and NOBODY IS SUFFERING FROM ACNE. It's true—by the end of the film Angel begins to look a little thin(ner) and shows (gasp!) KS lesions, but that's all.

And while we're on the subject of Angel's death: let's define anticlimax. Although I normally get pretty irritated with the benevolent-drag-queen shtick (see also: Too Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar et al), I could buy into the character of Angel, and so, for that reason, I wanted Angel's death to have weight and resonance.

What I got was a fade out, then a funeral.

I get Rent, though. It's a story about the absolute pits of existence in the 90s, but it's about transcendence. I get that. But I don't like it. I don't like that Rent seems to imply that if we just pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and sing a peppy song, AIDS doesn't matter as much, or being a junkie can be kinda cute if she pretends her candle keeps blowing out, or if your song can ressurect the (nearly?) dead. I can't think of anything more bourgeois than being so blind as to think AIDS as a worldwide phenomenon can be transcended by love and friendship. It seems irresponsible to me.

My last problem with Rent is actually a problem with heterosexual America: after Collins and Angel sing about how much they love each other, they kiss. Someone sitting near me whined, "Ew!!"


Buy Me

The Male Poets Calendar is now available for purchase:


Proceeds go to charity. Flattery goes to my head.


Revisionist Approaches to Understanding Virtually Anything

When I approach the poem to be revised, I invariably experience the process as a taking-away.

Scraping off the outer layers of the poem with the hopes of exhuming something underneath. And looking through the past versions of my poems, you can see the effect each individual scraping has had.

As though different elements of the poem exist on different strata, and each scrape reveals something new.

Even if I add something new to a poem, I experience this as a taking-away. I take away white space. I take away blankness. I take away silence and in its place something new and better is revealed.

I think all of this comes down to the fact that, as I've mentioned earlier, when I go into a poem I rarely know where I'll end up. Writing is as much an exploration for me as it is an arrival and revision is the furthering of that journey.


A Little Light Reading

My first real work of creative nonfiction was published here.

(Can you read this? Or do you need to be signed in to Google?)

The Corrections

I always know when a poem isn't working.

Sometimes I hear it right away and go back and change some words or line breaks or take some fluff out.

Sometimes I don't do anything for a long time and I just hope it will go away, like when my car starts making a funny noise—I want to take to the mechanic, but I'm afraid the repairs will be too extensive and too costly for me to take care of right now.

There are parts of the poem that grate against each other improperly. This isn't the way this was supposed to work: I had a plan, I had diagrams. I know how this is supposed to sound, how it should feel going by the eye and the tongue.

And then, when finally I "get it," when the poem and its purpose become more clear to me over time, I put the poem back together and it's like two intricate cogs whose teeth fit together as perfect as an orthodontic smile.



The first book of poems I ever bought and read was John Updike's Collected Poems. I was probably seventeen, and I had been really taken by his poem in our English textbook, "Dog's Death."

The first book of poems I bought that changed my life was The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara.

It continues to change my life.

Breaking Ground

Please join in the discussion of "the most recent groundbreaking book of poetry" over at Woody's Place.


11th Time's the Charm

It's been over a year now since I started writing the flurry of poems that collected into my first manuscript, the one from which my chapbook budded.

In that time, the manuscript itself has gone through (now) 11 revisions.

11 rounds of major changes: reordering, restructuring, and revising individual pieces. And every time it gets a little bit better.

This last time I took out an entire sequence of short pieces that were spread throughout the first two sections. They just weren't doing enough work. I took out a poem in the first section and put two others on probation. One of those two was then heavily revised (and yay! I discovered what that poem was really supposed to be about) and the other might get a pink slip.

It's hard to continually revise. I find the more I involve myself in my past work, the less I like it. And that's odd for me because I can eat at Chipotle every day and not get tired of it...


The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It's Thesis Defense Season again....

It is so wonderful to be able to attend these on an ongoing basis. I didn't really get a chance to go to as many as I wanted when I was a student (due to working full-time or working multiple jobs), but now I make time to go to as many as I can. The work is always brilliant, but my favorite part is the question-answer at the end.

What a gift it is to hear someone discuss—disarmedly—their poetics. To be privy to those conversations is far too rare, I think, although blogging does provide a lot of opportunity to overhear just those things. I love interviewing people; I love reading interviews; and I love getting people to talk about their own writing: what they're trying to do, what they want to do, how they move into a poem or move out of it, etc.

This writing business can get so solitary at times that the reminder that other people work through the same issues and come up with new answers is something that can't be measured. I'm thankful to have worked and known such brilliant people, and especially to have chances to witness their poetic brains picked of all their little gray cells.


The Long Dis' Goodnight

In thinking lately about the rejection of aesthetic (see below), I started taking my conversation inward. Toward myself. A confrontation: what is this poetry for?

It's a natural state of mind for me to return to when I'm not writing. The question, prompted in part by the rest of the poetic mind, evidences my concern with doing something new or different as I move forward. Or, as I told another poet last week: I don't feel like I have to reinvent the wheel everytime I write a new poem, but I reinvent it when I start a new project. That's just how I work best, I've learned. Sometimes I want to buy a new outfit, new shoes. It's like that.

Let's say I write some poems and they get out into the world where they belong (do they?). Let's say, then, that 90% of poets reading my work dismiss it as one of the following:

too gay
not gay enough
too overtly political
too secretively political
too quiet
too brash
too much sex
not enough good sex
too depressing
too uplifting
too similar

And once my work has been rejected, what then? Have I failed as a poet? Should I turn in my quill, my bookshelves, my scribbled notebooks? What is the actual aim of rejection—when it's aimed at you?

In the recent Mary Oliver discussion, I'm sure no one dissecting the Dead Kitten Poetics has really considered what they want from Mary Oliver. This may be because Oliver has achieved a level of fame in which she is dehumanized, less a poet than a machine or other faceless celebrity. Mary Oliver might be the Paris Hilton of poetry (that's hot).

But if there is anything for Mary Oliver to take from the DKP discusion, isn't it evolve or become obsolete? And there is the echo of Ezra: Make it new. When we critique another poet's poetics, what exactly do we expect to happen?

It seems that ultimately, a conversation like this is for the speakers and not the subject. The result for those who engage in the rejection is the closing of their circle: a community by definition ultimately exists only through rejection and exclusion. Freud said that's also how we negotiate our own identities: we encounter the world and respond with either That is like me or That is not me. In poetry, we negotiate similarly: I identify with this aesthetic. I do not identify with this aesthetic.

When you reject, are you confident you know where your baby is? Or is it out there, tumbling away with the tepid bathwater?

And how do you know?


Selective Memory

Kris Sanford's MFA Thesis show, Selective Memory, will open at the Northlight Gallery on Monday, November 21st.

Kris and I have collaborated on several projects: a broadside of my poem "The Aerialists," the artist's book Stolen (with poet Matthew Heil), and a new collaborative wall installation called "Out of Context."

"Out of Context" is an audience-participation piece. A wall will be covered with small pegs and the audience is invited to choose sentence fragments and cropped photos from a bin to place in any order they choose on the wall, thereby creating their own visual-poetic collage.

The show runs from Nov 21 - Dec 6. A reception will be held on Monday, Nov 28, from 7 - 9 pm.

Much of Kris's work surrounds notions of queerness and queer identity, especially from the perspective of found or recovered histories. She is a member of the Phoenix-based Kitchenette collective. Kris was also the art editor for the most recent issue of Hayden's Ferry Review.

For more information on the Northlight Gallery, visit their webpage.


Working here means that, at least once a day, we look at StuffOnMyCat.com.

Greta Garbo as a cat.


The Dream of the Unified Media

Last night I dreamed my chapbook was adapted and made into a film. It was wonderful.

How's that for kinemapoetics?


City's Edge

A coyote’s voice lifted, plateaued
siren-like in a long, urgent wail, setting off the neighborhood dogs
like a long chain of car alarms.


West Branch

Got my contributor's copies of the beautifully redesigned West Branch number 57 today. I was so pleased to see a poem by fellow blogger and ASU alumni Ruth Ellen Kocher there as well—a sort of haunting meditation on the beauty (and ugliness ) of orchids and people. It's good to be in good company.

My two pieces, "Saboteur" and "Vapor Boys" are from the first ms and are actually, I think, among my favorite pieces in that collection. I was happy to see them in print, and honestly, I don't often feel that way when I finally get copies of journals. Thanks to the editors at West Branch for including my work!

Out Foxed

Well, Fox Television has done it again.

In their long tradition of cultivating exciting, innovative programming and then cancelling it, they have reportedly just pulled the ax on the new comedy Kitchen Confidential, which careful kinemapoetics readers will remember I lauded as one of the best new shows this year.

Confidential, a laughtrackless sitcom in the vein of Sports Night, pushed the envelope of its genre with playful editing, smart writing, and great acting by its lead performers, particularly Bradley Cooper as the prone-to-temptation wunderkind chef Jack Bourdain and Bonnie Sommerville as his arch nemesis, wait staff supervisor Mimi.

It's a sad day for television, and for me.


It's Online

The HFR issue with the best art, the best cover, and the most stirring special section ("Gender Boundaries") is now online. I mentioned it a few weeks ago when it was published.

Folks, do not miss this issue. The special section is amazing, featuring art, poetry and an interview Sarah Vap and I did with poet Frank Paino.

Brent Armendinger
Elizabeth Bretharet-Lyon
Tammy Rae Carland
Kelli Connell
Hannah Craig
Margarito Cuéllar
Meredith Doench
Juan Carlos Galeano
Matthea Harvey
Bob Hicok
Charles Jensen
James Kimbrell
Liza Kleinman
Alex Lemon
Stephahnie Lenox
Ann Lewinson
Regina Mamou
Khrynn Yvonne McManus
Frank Paino
Juliet Patterson
Benjamin Percy
Thaddeus Ruthkowski
Jeannine Savard
Hugh Sheehy
J. Ely Shipley
Clarissa Sligh
John E. Smelcer
Philip Sorenson
Larissa Szporluk
Sarah Vap
T. Clayton Wood


Writing and Redemption

"With writing, we have second chances."
— Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated

There might be more on this later.


Art and Commerce (The Politics of Art, part 2)

I wrote last time about how rejection is a natural response to art by both artists and by the community.

Since rejection is predicated on a value relationship, I'm interested in writing more about the nature of value in terms of art.

Because Americans are raised in a capitalist culture, we are taught from an early age to perceive value in all things: we are Natural Born Assessors. It is in our best interest to recognize value; inherent in our culture is the believe that high value is desireable and low value undesirable.

The three terms of value are born out of the binary of "greater than" and "less than." A term cannot be both greater than AND less than, but a term can be NEITHER, which creates the third term of equivalency.

We are taught that the most important value to recognize is equivalency. That is, to be able to exchange one thing for another. This is most important in terms of money, which is the ultimate metaphor and the be-all/end-all symbol of equivalency.

My chapbook = $6 = 1.09 hrs of minimum wage work = 1 student movie admission + 1 frequent moviegoer soda.

Last night, a friend was telling me about another friend's recent art exhibition. For the exhibit, he installed three wall shelves. On one set of shelves, he placed several copies of a handmade book. The other shelves were empty. In between the shelves were a set of verbose directions instructing the viewer to take a book and place "an item of equal value" on the empty shelves. Some of the things left behind: a condom. A pile of salt (or parmesan cheese?). A free postcard received at the door to the gallery. Another handmade book.

In order for there to be a value relationship, there must be at least two terms in assessment.

When we reject an aesthetic, this is a value judgement. Although it is not necessarily monetary in nature, it's important to recognize that the nature of "rejection" is to denote an aesthetic as being undesirable.

A semiotician would theorize that we desire things that bring us toward a state of completion. On a basic level, this means food, water, shelter, community. On an aesthetic level, we search for things that bring us toward a state of artistic completion: work that creates pleasure.

Undesirable aesthetics are rejected because they do not create pleasure. Poetry can create pleasure on one level or on concurrent levels, such as mood, language, rhyme, rhythm, metaphor, music, etc. As artists we are drawn to specific and limited aspects of poetry's pleasure-making devices, although these do evolve over time.

I'm curious about what we perceive as being "greater than" when we reject an aesthetic. It's not necessarily our own aesthetic as poets that we're over-valuing in the relationship.

What do we weight poems against? Other poems? A poem's perceived potential never realized? The self? The ego? The sense of what a poem should or should not be?


The Politics of Art

I've been thinking lately about rejection.

Recently I've been reading a lot of blog posts about rejection of aesthetic. For a while, there was a lot of New Sincerity controversy surrounding its perceived (implied?) rejection of a post-avant aesthetic or the "aesthetic of irony." Emily's recent link to a discussion of Mary Oliver poem and its ensuing commentary (itself primarily a rejection of Oliver's aesthetic and the aesthetic of those perceived to be of her ilk) really crystallized a lot of my thoughts about the necessity—and villainy—of aesthetic rejection.

I think this idea has a lot of levels. As artists, we spend our entire careers pursuing and cultivating aesthetics—sometimes one, sometimes many. We have the aesthetic inherent in the art we create and perhaps a set of aesthetics inherent in the art we support and appreciate. There are certainly aesthetics we ignore or are unaware of or that for some reason don't flash on our radar at all. And lastly, we have aesthetics that we—for whatever reason—reject.

Aesthetic rejection has multiple levels of practice. We can reject an aesthetic by choosing not to participate in it or we can choose not to engage the work of a particular aesthetic. But I'm particularly interested in a third kind of rejection—the actual vocal, informed rejection of aesthetic.

The informed rejection of aesthetic requires than an artist have some kind of real, made connection with a kind of tradition. For example, in the Mary Oliver post, those who engaged in this kind of rejection were familiar with Oliver's work, with the work of people in a similar aesthetic, and they were familiar with the general traits and conventions of that works' aesthetic (perceived here, I think, as a single set of aesthetic values; whether it is or isn't a single set is debatable).

For the informed rejection, you have to know what you're rejecting. You have to have been inside it somehow.

All forms of rejection are important for artists because without rejection, there would be no innovation. Read: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. And yet the evolution of art requires artists to be constant mechanics of aesthetic. We were born to tinker and to alter. Isn't what we do a way of altering the world to match our perception of it?

But rejection at some levels also concerns me. There are definitely aesthetic practices in poetry that I passionately reject. The traditions I reject have no value for me as an artist or they disenfranchise me somehow, barring me access from participating in them.

As a person, I may choose to reject a different set of aesthetics, or I may embrace things I reject as an artist. For example, I don't employ an aesthetic practiced by Ogden Nash, but I recognize his work has value to me as a person. There are several other writers in this category for me. America's Next Top Model may also fit into this category for me: not art I would make, but it is art (to a degree?) that I consume.

And it's important for us to recognize that what we may reject as artists may have value to us as a culture. Mattie J. Stepanek's poetry has cultural value. Maya Angelou has cultural value. Billy Collins's poetry doesn't appeal to everyone, but I think everyone would have to admit that our culture supports it, and that makes it valuable.

Robert Frost, I think, is an example of a poet whose work is often supported by aritsts, people, and the culture at large. A rare feat these days, what with all the fracturing of contemporary aesthetic.

I also recognize that while I do reject some aesthetics, I recognize that they have a right to be practiced. I get concerned that too often we let our own artistic rejection of aesthetic devalue a kind of art for other people and for the culture at large. That sometimes, rejection can be so virulent that it attempts to bar artists from continuing to practice a kind of writing, or a certain convention, etc.

I hope that as artists we recognize the uneasy relationship we should have to rejection, that it's important to not only evaluate art but to interrogate our relationship to it. Why do I reject this? What effect will that have? And, in the process, who or what else am I rejecting?


Pretty Good Year

I'm brewing up a list of the best books I read in 2005 (not necessarily published this yet, just read this year).

Are you going to do the same?

Best of Hitchcock

1. Rear Window
The eyes have it.

2. Rebecca
"We're happy, aren't we, darling?"

3. Shadow of a Doubt
Charlie vs. Uncle Charlie

4. The Birds

5. Notorious
Watch the key.

6. North By Northwest
Cut to: shot of a train speeding into a dark tunnel.

7. Vertigo
Salina, Kansas.

8. Rope
"I can't go on being the gay girl."

9. The 39 Steps
The original "We're handcuffed together" thing.

10. The Lady Vanishes
In case you've ever lost your own old lady.

11. Torn Curtain
Best murder scene ever.

12. Strangers On a Train

13. Frenzy
You'll choose your neckties carefully now.


Our Dumb Century: More Marketing Dont's

The company that owns 90% of Phoenix's malls uses this tagline for its brand:

Nirvana for the passionate shopper.

First, although it sounds nice and new agey and calming, the biggest mistake here is using the terms passionate and nirvana together in the same sentence. Nirvana is the complete absence of desire (in many Buddhist traditions); passion epitomizes the most intense expression of desire—now, desire to the point of suffering, the complete lack of an object leading to the near destruction of the self.

Nirvana itself encompasses many ideas, but among the most important are senses of "extinction" and "extinguishing." Nirvana is the end of the cycle of birth and rebirth.

Shopping, on the other hand, is typcially evidence of the perception of lack: there is something we need and we go out in search of it at the mall. Both "needs" and "wants" are expressions of desire and therefore of lack: in order to experience desire, we must first perceive the absence of something within ourselves. For example, I frequently perceive the lack of shoes in my closet.

A person who has achieved nirvana would be the opposite of passionate and would have no desires, thereby extinguishing any need to go shopping. This slogan, then, implies that entering one of Westcor's spaces will cause the shopper to experience the extinguishing of their desire to spend their money, making its own existence paradoxically obsolete.