C. D. Wright and The New World of Lyric Cinema

A few years ago, when Sarah Vap and I interviewed C. D. Wright for Hayden's Ferry Review (issue 34), we got to talking briefly about cinema. Wright mentioned the Terrence Malick film The Thin Red Line as being the origin for the title of her collaborative book with Deborah Luster, One Big Self.

Of Malick, Wright said, "I don't usually say this of films, but that film is a kind of poem...it's elliptical. It's not a straightforward feature; it does not a documentary make. There is not a lot of language in it—the language feels very chosen, and somewhat artificial, but chosen and crucial to the construction of the film."

I recently had occasion to see Malick's stunning new film, The New World, starring Colin Farrell, Christian Bale, and Christopher Plummer, and Wright's words echoed through my head during the feature.

With that in mind, I'd like to open up a discussion of what makes a film "lyrical," or, as Wright put it, "a kind of poem." I'm particularly interested in using poetic terms to deconstruct cinema and vice versa, as you can imagine, but I'm also interested in the ways in which these two arts can seed each other.

1. Language

Language is, as Wright notes, very "chosen" in The New World; in fact, the majority of the language in the film is done in voice-over, as diary entries—and in that sense they are fragmented, devolved, decadent. Snippets, really.

There is no coherent narrative thread supported by the dialogue, which is both a beautiful and strange thing to behold. Like a poem, the film does not use conventional means to further a narrative. Rather, the juxtapositions allude to narrative; they cause in the viewer the metonymy of events that amounts to what we perceive as cause and effect. The language here does not illustrate as much as it comments on the narrative or accompanies it.

Additionally, the language used in the film is deeply poetic and—perhaps—elliptical in this sense. If you were to compare some of Wright's poetry alongside the screenplay for this film, you might notice a bit of similarity in this regard. Although I doubt we can ever come to an agreement of "elliptical" in a true sense of the word, the language of both artists resists cause-and-effect.

2. Image

Malick's film—like other recent films including Brokebck Mountain—rely deeply on image to convey narrative causality in the way that other films cannot. Like the language, the imagery is a nearly frustrating series of seemingly-unrelated juxtapositions, jump cuts, and jarring editing. But this is the magic of cinema and, I think, one of its primary responsibilities: to surprise us through its potential for difference. Most film cannot use the image this way because conventional audiences are not patient enough to let the image take priority this way.

But in a film like this, where the cinematography is so gorgeous, opulent, sumptuous, and—most importantly—premeditated, everything carries a heavier burden than what you would expect. Two shots that stand out in my mind are a shot of a huge tree in a forest, looking straight up from the tree's base, held for upward of 10 seconds without movement of change in the image. Finally, a bird shoots out of the tree and flies away. I believe this is even the ending image of the film.

Filmmaking like this requires an enormous amount of trust between filmmaking and viewer: the contract must exist that the audience be willing to explore their own perceptive boundaries and the filmmaker must promise to deliver something spectacular (using "spectacle" there as the purposeful root of the word).

The other image is of a rooster in a doorway. No narrative relevance, and yet, I can't stop thinking about the rooster in the doorway, due to the framing and lighting of the shot.

When you can write and film a beautiful film about an amazingly erotic and emotional love story and cause me to remember this rooster detail among all the images, well, I'd say you're working against conventional notions of cinema

3. Sound

Few films really use sound to full effect in contemporary cinema. Film, when it begins, is a tension between what is heard and what is silent—this is why even "silent" film was meant to be accompanied. Silence is tension when we expect there to be something heard. Malick's film uses both an extensive orchestration throughout the film coupled with bursts or beats of silence and dialogue. It's truly fascinating—hypnotic, almost—and points toward an intrinsic understanding of how image and sound need to work together in film at its most powerful.

These are just notes...perhaps more will follow in time.

I highly recommend this film. Wonderful performances, but man, you can't believe the imagery.


Kitchen Confidential

Confidential to those who've asked about my stolen kitchen:

It's back and it's better than ever.

And it has a lasagne in it.

(And a get-well-soon card from my niece on the fridge.)

Suspension of Disbelief

In my life I have had two wildly..."appropriate" moviegoing experiences.

The first was when, in college, I trekked to the Uptown Theater in Minneapolis to see the Coen brothers' classic Minnesota film Fargo. If you've seen the film, you know that only about 1% of it takes place in Fargo, North Dakota—and about 96% of the rest of it happens in the Twin Cities or "up Brainerd way," a small Minnesota city notable mainly for its fairly large Paul Bunyan statue (which was faked in the film). Interesting sidenote: the King of Clubs, set for the opening "Fargo" scene, is actually a bar in Minneapolis.

The theater was packed for that showing, and when Jerry Lundegaard's wife first appeared chopping dinner in the kitchen with her trademark Minnesota sing-song accent, everyone in the theater LOST IT. And let me be the first to attest: they lost it with their own Minnesotan accents in full effect. "Ooooh miiieeeee Gaaaaahhd," they moaned through their laugher. "Sheeee taaaahks sooo funneeee!" Beyond that, there were so many little things to enjoy, such as the Embers restaurant off 394, where Jerry meets with his father-in-law. Real things. Our things.

It was nearly as approrpriate, then, when I saw Transamerica in Scottsdale recently. When Bree arrives in "Phoenix" in the film as part of her cross-country sojourn with troubled boy Toby, she drops in on some old friends: well-to-do overly-tanned senior citizens in track suits! The theater laughed—but let me tell you, that showing of Transamerica was like God's waiting room itself.

These self-reflexive movie experiences are so much more enjoyable than other films, I think...and it's nice to hear people laugh, even if it is at themselves.


New Words for 2006

Thought some of you wordsmiths (or office drones) out there might appreciate this as much as I did:

BLAMESTORMING: Sitting around in a group, discussing why a deadline was missed or a project failed, and who was responsible.

SEAGULL MANAGER: A manager who flies in, makes a lot of noise, craps allover everything, and then leaves.

ASSMOSIS: The process by which some people seem to absorb success and advancement by kissing the boss' butt rather than working hard.

SALMON DAY: The experience of spending an entire day swimming upstream only to get screwed and die in the end.

CUBE FARM: An office filled with cubicles.

PRAIRIE DOGGING: When someone yells or drops something loudly in a cube farm, and people's heads pop up over the walls to see what's going on.

MOUSE POTATO: The on-line, wired generation's answer to the couch potato.

SITCOMs: Single Income, Two Children, Oppressive Mortgage. What yuppies turn into when they have children and one of them stops working to stay home with the kids.

STRESS PUPPY: A person who seems to thrive on being stressed out and whiny.

SWIPEOUT: An ATM or credit card that has been rendered useless because the magnetic strip is worn away from extensive use.

IRRITAINMENT: Entertainment and media spectacles that are annoying but you find yourself unable to stop watching them. The Anna Nichole show or the Bachelor is a prime example.

PERCUSSIVE MAINTENANCE: The fine art of whacking the heck out of an electronic device to get it to work again.

ADMINISPHERE: The rarefied organizational layers beginning just above the rank and file. Decisions that fall from the adminisphere are often profoundly inappropriate or irrelevant to the problems they were designed to solve.

404: Someone who's clueless. From the World Wide Web error message "404 Not Found" (meaning that the requested document, like the person's brain, could not be located).

GENERICA: Features of the North American landscape that is exactly the same no matter where one is, such as fast food joints, strip malls, subdivisions.

OHNOSECOND: That minuscule fraction of time in which you realize that you've just made a BIG mistake.

WOOFYS: Well Off Older Folks.

CROP DUSTING: Surreptitious flatulence while passing thru a cube farm, or any other public place, then enjoying the sounds of dismay and disgust (this often leads to PRAIRIE DOGGING).

And lest we forget: ANAL GLAUCOMA: Used as an excuse for not showing up for work. Translation "I just couldn't see my ass coming in to work today."

Modern Problems

I'm finding it difficult to write lately, although from time to time I do feel "struck" by an idea or other reason to write.

Last night I turned my back on a poem. I was riding the bus home and lines started rolling. I thought, I'll just toss these into the computer when I get there. But when I got home, I realized I needed to run to my mailbox (well, drive, actually) and I put that ahead of the poem. By the time I got back home, the poem wasn't there anymore.

I'm also unsatisfied with much of my writing these past few months. Even the last ms. I feel ambivalent about this. I feel like I'm very vanilla.

But I also feel tired all the time these days and it's probably contributing to this stretch of ennui. I'm physically tired, emotionally tired, intellectually tired. My brain can handle little more than shooting heads off zombies and 56 minutes of American Idol.

When I go through periods like this, the $64,000 question seems to be: what am I doing with my life.

But that isn't the real question.


Here At Your Bedside

I was just reading Jasper Bernes's thoughtful post about The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel today, and while I've only read through the first section of the anthology, I wanted to respond anyway.

My first response is wonderful whether the book is really "about sex" the way Jasper seems to interpret it. I think of my own two poems ("Rough Trade" and "Housewives"), both occupying the first section, which are sexual in certain ways but not, I hope, about sex. To me, they are "about" power, politics, economics, and gender. "Rough Trade" could actually be said to be more about the color blue than about sex. The word "blue" appears more times than any sexual content. "Trapdoor Fucking Exit" by Andrew Mister didn't seem to have much sex in it either, and it also didn't even seem "sexual."

I wonder, then, if the cover or the "aesthetic" of No Tell Motel colors the reception of the work in strange ways. Or, if sex is perhaps the last great metaphor for all things. It is, after all, so many things so many people...

Buffy the Podcast Slayer

If you're interested in Buffy, you might enjoy this, a weekly 30-minute "topical" podcast that explores, in depth, various issues relating to the show.

I listened to six episodes over the weekend and I'm hooked.



Received word today that I was a finalist for the Ohio State Press/The Journal First Book Award, one of "roughly 30," and I received a kind letter from Andrew Hudgins to that effect.


Robots Do Not Know What They Are

Am I a robot?

Half of the time, I am unable to correctly identify the string of letters in the Blogger "word" verification entry boxes.

I type in what I think I see.

Blogger refuses my comment.

Blogger thinks I am a robot.

Am I a robot?

(related: lately I have also noticed an increasing circumstance of dyslexia in my life: I reverse telephone digits, letters when typing and reading. Last night, while playing MarioParty with the man, I incorrectly read one of the notes on the screen as "Let's see how everyone farted!" instead of "Let's see how everyone fared!")

Am I a borot?


Love Is...

the iTunes Music Store:

1. New this week: a Liz Phair interview/acoustic/rare set of 23 tracks currently snaking its way onto my computer
2. Finding Free Buffy Podcasts to sit side-by-side with MiPORadio on my iPod!


The Bedside Guide: An Exercise in Counterproductivity

All work in my office came to a sudden halt today as we engaged in a hysterical interpretive reading of Jill Alexander Essbaum's poem "On Reading Poorly Transcribed Erotica."

Page 120 of your Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel.

For My ANTM Lovers Out There




I saw Munich over the weekend, but had to wait to post my responses to the film.

First, I loved it. I loved it as much as you can love a film about terrorism and its aftermath, as much as you can love a film that reminds us that revenge is, in the end, fleeting. Spielberg again wrenches his audience with discomfort as he has in several of his other docu-dramas (Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan) to the point where you not only identify with the characters and experience their moral dilemmas, the film fills you with outrage on multiple levels.

Spielberg smartly begins the film with stupid Americans who unwittingly aid the Munich terrorists at the 1972 Olympics as they attempt to gain entry to the Olympic village. He then stays with the terrorists as they begin the raid—an uncomfortable yet hypnotic event. Spielberg does not let you look away.

But the film isn't really about that event as much as it is about Avner, the man tasked with locating the Palestinian terrorists and killing them. Eric Bana turns in a career-making performance as the reluctant avenger and is supported along the way by a cast as wonderful (and various) as Daniel Craig, Geoffrey Rush, and the man who plays Caesar on that HBO show. Bana's physical transformation during this period is searing: from fresh-faced father-to-be to creased paranoiac. For Avner, the mission becomes just that: a mission. To avenge Israel, to make the world safe for Jewish people everywhere. The weight is nearly unbearable.

Spielberg's film is so genius because it raises more questions than it answers. In an exchange with a Palestinian freedom fighter, Avner asks (paraphrased), "You are willing to die so that your people can go back to a grove of dying olive trees and rock and live in tents?" And the Palestinian responds briefly that home is not negotiable. In this way, Munich is a classic Spielbergian film, thematically: where is home? Who is home? How do we regain what is lost? Although this film would be easy to make lean toward a blind pro-Israel bent, it's more complicated than that. It is neither pro-Israel nor pro-Palestinian. Without sounding trite or corny, I think this is a film that is only anti-violence and pro-peace, seeming to recognize in the darkest of times how both the Jewish and Palestinian communities are only fighting for the same intangible thing: a place of their own.

As much as this film is about history, it's naturally about the present. It forces us, as Americans who tacitly participate (or vocally oppose) an anti-terrorist war on foreign soil, led by idealists who truly believe war brings peace. As a political critique, Munich has bite: whether the war we fight is obvious or clandestine, no one wins: not us, not our people, not even the terrorists we seek. The sacrifice—our sense of global isolation and the safety entailed therein—has already been made. We can never be as innocent as we were in 1972, before Israel's Olympic team were kidnapped and killed, or as we were again in 2001. Our only real luxury in life—our pre-2001 peace of mind—has been taken. It is time for us to recognize that we are of the world, not above it. Munich is both a caution and a hope.


Smile Like You Mean It

Things I'm currently writing:


For the past several weeks I've been existing in the strange limbo of the "encouraging rejection letter." For example: "Loved these, thanks for sending." "Think of us again." "These were close, send again later." "Especially liked '_______'."


Which is good. I like that response better than a blank slip. But people, it also boils down to this: I can't give my poems away. They're free. Just take one.

These things just aren't ready yet. I know that. I'm testing waters. I want to put them out there.

I will continue to work.



Thanks, Peter. :)

Four jobs you’ve had in your life: residence hall director, busboy, short-order cook, marketing coordinator

Four movies you could watch over and over: Clue, Mean Girls, All About My Mother, Clueless

Four places you’ve lived: Eagle, Wisconsin; Minneapolis; Washington Island, Wisconsin; Phoenix

Four TV shows you love to watch: Project Runway, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars, What Not to Wear

Four places you’ve been on vacation: San Francisco, Acapulco, New York City, Belgium.

Four websites you visit daily: Google News, Blogger, Yahoo!, McSweeney's

Four of your favorite foods: fancy meatloaf, chicken saltimbocca, zup met ballikes, Chang's spicy chicken

Four places you’d rather be: at the mall, in Minneapolis, in San Francisco, at Six Flags

Four albums you can’t live without: Franz Ferdinand's You Could Have It So Much Better, Tori Amos's Little Earthquakes, Rufus Wainwright's Rufus Wainwright, and Erasure's Pop! The First 20 Hits

I tag Teresa, Emily, Steve Mueske, Woody.


Thanks to Jeremy for the link:

Hilary Duff v. Lindsay Lohan
Straight porn v. Gay porn
Big Bird v. Samuel Alito
Metaphor v. Simile
Jem and the Holograms v. The Misfits
Jennifer Love Hewitt v. Leather handbags
Fred Phelps v. Christopher Lowell


Has anyone who ordered my chapbook gotten a copy yet? I still haven't received my additional copies yet, but when I do, I will be vending them myself...


While You Are At Work

Nobody Wants to Be Lonely

On the plane on the way back from the Great White North, I had the good fortune to pick up and read Claudia Rankine's Don't Let Me Be Lonely. If you haven't yet read this strange, genre-busting "lyric essay/poem," you simply must. It's the first great book I've read this year.

A tall, narrow volume, Don't Let Me Be Lonely is an asociative series of musings on subjects and issues as varied as racial profiling, prescription drugs, Mahalia Jackson, death and grief, notable film performances by Tom Cruise, forgiveness, terrorism, depression, and the liver. It's simply an arresting book—Rankine's prose strips away all our culturally performative bullshit surrounding our deepest and most sacred issues and gets right at what's wrong with us, as a nation and as individuals.

"I'm writing a book about the liver," she insists several times thoughout the book. The liver, she explains, is responsible for breaking down anything ingested that is not soluable in water. Oftentimes our liver is put into jeopardy by the simple fact that it is frequently handed the most toxic things entering the digestive system. In a lot of ways, Rankine's book breaks down the most toxic aspects of our culture to the same degree. It's this initiative that makes the work both fearless and unflinching—and yet, for all her digestion, Rankine avoids passing judgment, even as she recounts the most horrifying judgments that have been made in our name or as a culture. In the most powerful way, she leaves final judgment up to the reader, which in turn draws our attention to the fact that our natural inclination is to assess and judge each other (and ourselves).

Collaged into the book are several graphical elements—diagrams, photos, maps, etc. The most common of these begins each otherwise-unidentifiable section: a television showing "snow"—that indicator that no signal is being clearly received by the machine. The image becomes a visual mantra as Rankine leads the reader through her strange musings and naturally begs us to ask: what is it that we receive? What do we broadcast? What makes sense? Other important images are the body's digestive system—esophagus to stomach, with a map of the U.S. placed where the intestines would go and a representation of the liver in its natural place in the body cavity. Is Rankine implying that the U.S. is the ultimate mulching ground for things at work in the world?

Read it.


Fell In Love With a Boy

On my annual album wrap-up, I coyly hinted that Franz Ferdinand may be my favorite band. The truth is, they really are, and I've started to understand why.

First, their music is fun. A little kitschy, a little campy, and...are they queer?

"Michael you're the boy with all the leather hips,
sticky hair, sticky hips, stubble on my sticky lips
Michael, you're the only one I'd ever want
only one I'd ever want, only one I'd ever want
Beautiful boys on a beautiful dancefloor
Michael, you're dancing like a beautiful dance whore
Michael, waiting on a silver platter now ... and nothing matters now,"

("Michael," Franz Ferdinand)

"Well he's a friend and we're so proud of ya
Your famous friend well I blew him before ya"

("Do You Want To," You Could Have It So Much Better)

Yes, it's a little unclear at times, but that's part of the fun.

What I truly love about Franz Ferdinand is that when I first listen to their albums, every song sounds the same to me. This is not usually a good thing, but on continued listenings, each song cracks open and becomes something amazing—all the little nuances that go into each track come alive, become clear, and instead of becoming boring and familiar, the songs deepen. It's hot.

Franz Ferdinand also experiment a lot with drum beats. I have a thing for drummers, it's true; but still—I love a band that will radically change the song beat mid-song. This is a playful band, an experimental band, and a brave band.

Alex Kapranos is a great frontman. His vocals sound like a dirty, sexual blend of David Bowie, Mel Torme, and Dr. Frank N. Further of Rocky Horror fame.




The sun will set. Fireflies will dot the yard with their coded come-ons:
flash yes, flash yes. The farmhouse will glow from its windows

and the boys will each pile into separate beds. The cows will sleep
on their feet. The day will prepare to begin again. Out in the yard, the moon comes up

with only half a face. I’m covered in its bloodless light.
I accept each animal in nature is more perfect than me.