Save the Date

ASU Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference
Feb 21-Feb 24, 2007

Featuring the Unique Talents of
Walter Mosley (Devil in a Blue Dress)
Tony Hoagland (What Narcissism Means to Me)
Diana Gabaldon (The Fiery Cross)
Claudia Rankine (Don't Let Me Be Lonely)
Gail Tsukiyama (Dreaming Water)
Peter Pereira (Saying the World)
Richard Siken (Crush)
Laurie Notaro (Autobiography of a Fat Bride)
Kevin McIlvoy (The Complete History of New Mexico)
Carolyn Forché (Blue Hour)
Aaron Shurin (Involuntary Lyrics)
Bernard Cooper (Bill from My Father)
Tania Katan (My One Night Stand with Cancer)

and yes, even more!


I feel open to taboo.

In Santa Barbara I got to sit on my resort room's balcony, shirtless, in the sun, with Ms. Denise Duhamel. Er, her latest book, that is. Two By Two is a sort of uneven collection for me, but I think there are several really arresting gems in the work.

The collection opens with Duhamel doing her vintage Denise Duhamel stuff—kvetching about the absurdity of the world vis-a-vis America: she laments in a snarkily incisive poem that the majority of Americans believe Joan of Arc was Noah's (of that Ark) wife and considers "The Problem with Woody Allen." Duhamel's work is often narrowly contemporary but at times provides a really sharp critique of the culture, as I noted when I read her other collection Kinky, itself a full-on rumination on Barbie.

Of the early poems, I most enjoyed "egg roll," an odd and sort of risky little piece in which Duhamel recounts her experience as a starving student in New York. To me, Duhamel's real strength as a poet is the way she so deftly maneuvers her cultural critiques into the poems without putting them in neon:

"she only worked until one so it seemed like a good job and her boss told her all
about the new diets.      that if you waited until dinner to eat
and stay away from cherries and grapes and all small fruits because the smaller
the fruit the more sugar and she was supposed to eat apples because that's how
you get the most fiber with the least amount of calories and calories
that's what everyone talkede about and she was so tired and hungry
that by the time she arrived at Sarah Lawrence she fell asleep in her literature class"

The critique here is naturally the obliviousness of the boss in telling a starving minimum-wage worker how to stay thin when she can't even afford the dented cans of beans at the supermarket.

Although I like many of Duhamel's "lighter" poems (and true, I hate using this word because I think it erroneously reduces the impact of the work—I'm going to start calling this "levity" instead. Duhamel is master of levitation—er, levity—in her work), in this collection the strongest pieces are the longest: Duhamel's brave, arresting, and utterly unsentimental 9/11 poem "Love Which Took Its Symmetry For Granted" and the snippets from Duhamel's chapbook Mille et un sentiments

"Love Which Took Its Symmetry For Granted" is a brilliant collage piece in which Duhamel has spliced together (in kinemapoetics) snippets of actual survivor emails describing the experience of that day, those hours, as well as some news reports, and biographical information on Osama bin Laden. The result is a poem that does not blame, but seeks somehow to transcend blame toward taking responsibility for what we can honestly say was our fault here. At this time, in our country now—and I say this having just experienced once again the airport security fearmongering process—this is ballsy. But more than that, it's necessary. Amid all the first-person accounts, it's clear that Duhamel's critique is of the New Culture of Fear we live in—Duhamel reminds us that this is a tragedy of individuals, not a crime against the state or rationale for war. Each person in the World Trade Center that day was and is a victim of that event in a way that America as a nation cannot be victimized.

And—my own personal diabribe here—how fascinating that in the wake of Pearl Harbor we had "nothing to fear but fear itself" and these days we have to fear everything. Even each other.

Mille et un sentiments, a book I've read in chapbook form, is a wonderfully idiosyncratic piece that ranges all over the map in terms of subject and tone. The subject line of this post is a line from that poem. Among other things, Duhamel feels open to putting poets' names into spellcheck (only Elizabeth Biship, Molly Peacock, and Jean Valentine surviving without recommended changes), like having lobster for dinner, that pop music says it all, like any number of notable TV stars, and so forth.

My favorite section of this poem, the 300s, is not included in Two and Two. It features a fascinating and really affecting rumination on eating disorders, female identity, and women who uncontrollably eat dirt (an actual medical condition). When she works in this kind of milleu, I think Duhamel's mastery is unmatched. She juxtaposes these small mysteries and somehow, we as readers become all the smarter for having considered them together. As a whole, the poem works because Duhamel doesn't forget to ease the tension with a little levity now and then ("I feel open to stanzas," which this poem does not use).


What I Learned at the Beach

1. My blood is thin and I do now always crave heat. At the beach it means I'll carry a sweater.

2. Humidity is death.

3. On vacation you need less and get more. Less sleep, less water, less rescuing. The hours fill up on everything, or just nothing.

4. Santa Barbara is really one of the most beautiful places I've visited. It has a remarkable consistency in design that soothes my OCD. And everywhere you go, there's the ocean or its smell.

5. That every city, no matter how beautiful, has its jerks and its kind hosts.

6. The names of flowers: Nile lily, impatiens, snapdragon.

7. That I miss reading books and, when cleared of all other distractions, I can read a whole one in one sitting (Two By Two, Denise Duhamel; more on that later).

8. That the best time to end a vacation is when you're not quite ready to go home. So that part of you stays behind: the part that wants to own the beach, to be a waiter in a cafe and string together two or three other jobs just to let the beach be in your life, to write poems to the beach, to watch its boys, to smell always the faint reminder of salt on the skin.


Legitimate Dangers Deathmatch IV: The Next Generation

In this cage this week were Dana Levin and Juliana Spahr.


Although I enjoyed a few of Levin's pieces (namely "Ars Poetica" and "Glass Heart"), Levin's work as represented in the book seems to skim along the surface of the world rather than tie itself to it. Stephanie and I both agreed that Levin was working in the ether rather than in objects and images and we felt sort of adrift in her work. I liked the surprising imagery of "Glass Heart," but we both felt some objection to the teacher/student dynamic represented there. We both feel that teachers writing about students are accomplishing one of two things:

objectification of knowledge/overall fetishization of ignorance ("Isn't it adorable how little young people know of the world?")


egomania ("Thank Goodness I was here to correct this.")

When it came to Spahr's work I think we both consider ourselves disarmed. While Spahr also works as much with ideas (and maybe more so) than with images, her work (in the anthology) was more interesting and compelling. Levin's work is very internal while Spahr's work undresses the world for what it is and shows us that at the end of the day we are just a news ticker on CNN with a dubious hierarchy of headlines: dead in Iraq followed by supermodels working to end hunger. (The latter is a likely story; didn't supermodels invent hunger?) We were disappointed by the ending of Spahr's "localism or t/here" and I personally felt it was an awkward representation from the wealth of beauty in Fuck You — Aloha — I Love You.

So, to summarize, we recognized these winners:

Me: Spahr
Stephanie: Spahr

Our first ever total knock out! Stephanie and I have never agreed on the winner in this way, so Spahr's sparring is possibly more notable in that regard.

Thank you for participating in the Legitimate Dangers Deathmatch! We'll see you again in two weeks.


From the Bottom of My Broken Heart

Have you ever confronted a project that was at once so limiting and yet looms large over your entire life? That's where I've been living these past few months, occupying a small patch of rug in a large room I haven't even explored. I have a series of poems that are not good enough yet. They aren't trashable, but I know I'm missing something.

This weekend I showed some to a friend. She kindly and gently assured me they were still crap.

I described how I felt trapped and compelled to continue to write the same poem over and over again. This is about anger. Anger leads to blindness and when that happens there's no way out of it. Something has been taken away and I am angry about it.

She said, Try love.

A revolution in two words. Before all else there was love, there was connection. I need to move back to that and be there. I need to forget about what happened to him, the violence, the abuse. The end. I need to go back to the beginning and write my way back into this.

I will try love.



Poems coming in fragments now.

Is this because the world is fundamentally broken or because I'm cracked and my reflection of the world is fractured?


Playing with Matches in the Wheat Field of Our Love

I recently watched Me and You and Everyone We Know, a film I first heard about via Roger Ebert's new show with that other guy. They gave it a favorable review, and I'm about to do the same.

This is one of those films that shouldn't be as good as it is. It has no point. It has no real plot to speak of, and very little happens.

I'm speaking now to the people behind The Da Vinci Code: good films are about characters, not events.

Me and You and Everyone We Know concerns the orbital relationships of a series of unrelated individuals living in the same city. Christine Jesperson is a quirky little video artist and cab driver to the elderly. She becomes obsessed with shoe salesman Richard Swersey and begins to mildly stalk him. The tangential people in their lives—customers, neighbors, children, ex-spouses—spin the story outward from the central relationship in oddly unnerving ways. Probably creepiest are the two teenage girls whose performances are so nastily dead-on they seem to be not acting at all.

The film stars Miranda July (who also wrote and directed) and features some really interesting cinematography and work with sound. In no other film this year will you see:

> a man set his own hand on fire in order to change his life
> a romantic flirtation roleplayed by a pair of shoes labeled "ME" and "YOU"
> a painting of a bird hung on a tree branch
> a description of "back and forth," which you have to see in the film to TRULY appreciate (and, too, this may be the film's most important moment)
> a 40-year-old woman kiss her 5-year-old internet lover on the lips

July's work resists narrative but in doing so assembles a fractured form of storytelling that is both lyric and compelling. Is she kinemapoetics? I'd say so. I dare say she is.


Don't Let Me Be the Last to Know

How is it I'm always the last to know?

Douglas Coupland—aka Dreamy McDreamerstein—is gay. I'm swooning over here.

Douglas was the first author I read and loved and then met in person on a rainy night when I had to take two buses and dash two blocks under oak trees and awnings to get to his reading at the then-Hungry Mind bookstore in Saint Paul.

He signed Generation X, Shampoo Planet, and Girlfriend in a Coma for me that night, the last of which I had finished reading that day. I said, I just finished reading it and I loved it so much. He looked genuinely flattered. He said, Thank you. with genuine surprise. It was then I realized my literary heroes were just people—normal, beautiful, wonderful people with sexy beards and social anxiety.

This is a much more successful celebrity-encounter story than the time I met Chris Isaak.

It was after his concert and he was wearing these suit pants that had little mirrors attached all over them. He was also wearing enormous, delicious biceps. I handed him something to sign and told him my name. He started drawing a firecracker on my t-shirt—I thought, Yes! A phallic symbol! He associates me with the concept of explosives!

I said, I really dig your pants.
He said, You wouldn't want them. They're too heavy.

But I did. I wanted them. And what was in them.


The New kinemapoetics: Now With 96% More Gay!

Thanks to this:

I caught Madonna's first Phoenix show last night. There was a bit of a hullaballoo in the paper the other day when Madonna reportedly told the building management she wanted the air conditioning turned off on a day scheduled to reach 108 degrees by sundown.

I have never seen Madonna in concert and I figured this was pretty much my only chance. I had pretty good seats and enjoyed the show for the following reasons:

1. Madonna really sings. There was no lip synching. You could hear her breathing, and her voice sounded great. She smartly toned down her dancing to focus on her vocals, which caused her to hire

2. A talented troupe of dancers, many of whom appeared in the videos for "Hung Up" and "Sorry." They were fantastic.

3. It was fun. This is one of the only shows I've been to where the performer actually seemed to enjoy what she was doing, sincerely and completely.

4. She played guitar—a few times! Both acoustic and electric. Like me, she has to cheat by using a capo.

5. In the middle of the show, she said, "Can building management please turn off the fucking air conditioning? By this point in the show I should be dripping sweat and I'm dry as a fucking bone!" And I think they did, because the end of the show (which was fantasic!) was hot, and between all the dancing and all the bodies, we left there more than a little sweaty ourselves.

It was sort of amazing to see what must have been nearly every queer person in Arizona converge on one location. One particularly affectionate male-male couple caused both a mother/daughter and a family of four to get up and move. This was either due to their canoodling or the one's very energetic, very go-go boy-like dance moves.

Worth the money? Yes. Will I ever forget? No.


Projections of the Inner Self As Patterns of Weather

My prediction came true: yesterday afternoon the sky darkened with navy blue clouds and the wind tore limbs off trees.

I sat in my car parked at a traffic light and watched dust rise up from the ground. The wind compressed it and it took the shape of a snake being plucked from the ground by two strong fingers. A plastic bags rose straight up into the air until it reached a height of 100 feet from the ground, then sailed due west.

Rain splattered my filthy, filthy car.

Flags flapped so hard from their poles they buzzed like insects. Trash tumbled down the street between cars and people walking by were tossed aside.

The sky turned green: never a good sign. The wind was so strong that in my garage the force of it blowing by sucked all the air from the room, from the lungs.

When it dried, my car was dirtier than before the storm.


Notes from Black Holes

1. It seems I have nothing of interest to say these days, so I'm keeping (mostly) mum. I hope that doesn't mean I'll alienate all you loyal readers out there. It's not you; it's me.

2. My whole life in boxes, bins.

3. Season 4 of Buffy: "Wild At Heart," "The Initiative."

Willow: Ok, say that I help, and you start a conversation. It goes great. You like Buffy, she likes you. You spend time together, feelings grow deeper, and one day, without even realizing it, you find you're in love. Time stops, And it feels like the whole world's made for you two, and you two alone, until the day one of you leaves and rips the still-beating heart from the other, who's now a broken, hollow, mockery of the human condition.

Riley: Yep, that's the plan.

4. Honesty in all its forms, even the painful and unwelcome ones.

5. The Who's Tommy + The Polyphonic Spree's Together We're Heavy = Angels & Airwaves

6. Praying for one overcast day. Today might be that day. Cloud cover this early bodes well. There is a lot of wind lately and it tends to stir things up.

7. Not reading books! Feels like a cruel torture.

8. A good portion of my brain dedicated to furniture arrangement, picture hanging.


Mom, This Counts As My Post for Monday

Welcome back to Legitimate Dangers Deatmatch!!

This week:

Dan Chiasson
takes on
Andrew Zawacki

Stephanie and I naturally backed different players again this week—while I found Zawacki's work more innovating, she preferred the greater "control" of Chiasson's work.

Interestingly enough, neither of us really "loved" either poet. I liked parts of Chaisson's work as well; I thought it was interesting and he was able to do some things (like speak in the voices of places and animals) that have previously irked me in other work. And one of Zawacki's pieces was so boring I couldn't even finish it. But I felt the others were strong, interesting pieces.

For further interest, Dan and Andrew were our picks for who Stephanie and I thought were the cutest boys in the anthology, respectively. In an odd turn of possible oppression, Zawacki seems to be the only blond boy in the book! Are blond boy poets a rarity (something in the genes? the jeans?) or is there something more sinister at work here?

Figure 1.1: Andrew Zawacki


I've Been Making Some Changes

Today I decided to stop simultaneously submitting work to magazines.

Two reasons:

1. I don't feel desperate to get my work into the world anymore. It's out there and it lingers. That's enough for me.


2. I don't have enough work, time, or energy to send out batches and batches of work.

So, I'm targeting journals, focusing my submissions, and hoping for the best.

* * *

The new project unfolds so slowly. So few poems are written: weeks go by without anything new, but I revise the old stuff. I think about how they should line up together like thin posts. They need connective tissue, little sutures in between the weighter pieces. Lyric moments. I know how to do this. I'm letting it take time.

This is a change that may indicate I no longer fear death.

* * *

Something I love:

I'll keep giving all I'm given to
love, there's no other revenge.

          —Christopher Davis

The kind of couplet that makes you want to plant a kiss on Christopher Davis. I'll keep loving all. I'm given to love—there's no other. (Revenge)

* * *

Been really busy lately. Blog is suffering my reduced attentions.

Outside it feels like an oven.