5.29.2007

What a Knockout!



Poets Jeremy Halinen and Brett Ortler are editors of a new print literary magazine called Knockout. The first issue is scheduled to appear in September 2007. Knockout is not an LGBT magazine, per se (meaning that it’s open to everyone), but it will have a strong LGBT emphasis or presence (at least 50% of each issue by LGBT poets).

The first issue includes work by Carl Phillips, Carol Guess, Larissa Szporluk, Laurie Blauner, Lynn Levin, Timothy Liu, Jonathan Williams, Thomas Meyer, Jim Elledge, Christopher Hennessy, Antler, Ronald H. Bayes, CAConrad, Gerard Wozek, Jeff Mann, Aaron Smith, Michael Montlack, Jeffery Beam, Billy Collins, Robert Bly, Ger Killeen, Thomas Lux, Denver Butson, Dan Pinkerton, Todd Boss, Charles Jensen, Brent Goodman, Theodore Enslin, Alberto Rios, David Mason, and Joseph Massey, among others.

The editors are now reading submissions for the second issue, and request submissions of 3-6 poems, sent all in one file, preferably an MS Word document, to the following two email addresses:

knockoutpoetryATgmailDOTcom
jeremyhalinenATyahooDOTcom

Please note that the editors are NOT considering unsolicited fiction or nonfiction submissions at this time.

To be considered for our second issue, please submit no later than August 15, 2007 (although the editors recommend sending them much sooner, as the issue may fill up much sooner than that). A submission received after that deadline will be considered for the following issue. Response time is generally two weeks, but never more than a month. Payment for accepted work will be two copies, one for the contributor and one for a friend of the contributor.

5.28.2007

Vacation



Blog posts have been spotty due to my current "vacationing" status. I'm vacationing at home, working on writing, catching up on errands, etc. It's been lovely.

Thursday I'm going to Vegas for the Americans on the Arts conference. Anyone else gonna be there?

5.24.2007

Say What You Will...



But I thought the finale (season or series...) of Veronica Mars was intense, heart-pounding, exciting, emotional, and, essentially, two good hours of television.

Veronica's episodes seem best when she is working to take down an institution AND working on getting revenge—both of which were heavily in play here.

And how freaky was it to see a painting of Lilly Kane suddenly appear?

Goodbye, friend. I'll buy you on DVD...

5.22.2007

Volverá a Volver



I've been meaning to write about Volver, the latest film from one of my most favorite filmmakers, for a little over a week. I bought the DVD recently, knowing I would not be disappointed, and I wasn't.

Volver takes for its occasion the brief snippet of the "novela negro" written by the lead character in Almodóvar's earlier film The Flower of My Secret. Working-class Raimunda (a pneumatic Penelope Cruz) must deal with her family's old dark secrets as she tries to cover up an entirely new one while putting food on the table for her daughter. The film is more than that: while family is the focus here, Daniel Mendelsohn rightly pointed out in his review in the New York Review of Books that this film is more about the solidarity of women than anything else.

This is familiar territory for Almodóvar, who explored this theme in earlier films like the magnificent All About My Mother and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. But here, the tone is a bit different—wistful, probing, tender. The rich emotional lives of these characters is brought to the forefront much as it was in Mother, but the noir undertones of the film paint it in textured strokes.

I have never loved Penelope Cruz as much as I did in this film. In fact, I used to hate her (in the Tom Cruise era) and had an unflattering nickname for her. But her work with Almodóvar is unparalleled. In fact, I would be hard pressed to think of one of his stars who didn't turn in a career-making performance under his direction.

As always, Almodóvar's other strength is in set design and framing. The way he works with eye-popping color and pattern in his mise-en-scene is really something to behold and I feel like I learn so much about filmmaking just from watching his films. In much the same way All About My Mother was a love letter to the architectural innovation of the city of Barcelona, Volver captures a drab and dull world in Technicolor, making it seem as though these hard-knock lives are maybe not as hopeless as they may first appear.



Almodóvar's narratives resist quick and clear categorization or synopsizing. Volver begins first as a family melodrama, turns to Postman Always Rings Twice-level noir, and then lands softly somewhere in between. Every time you think you know what the spine of the story is going to be, Almodóvar turns in a new, unexpected direction that prevents him from working too deeply in trope.

His three previous films (All About My Mother, Talk to Her, Bad Education) seem to all work together—not as a trilogy or sequence, but clearly as related work. Those three films are all deeply internal, personal, wrought with emotion, exploring ideas of personal connection. Volver samples from each of them, acting as a true "return" not only his earlier film upon which this is partially based, but on his body of work as a whole. Carmen Maura and Penelope Cruz return from previous films in these new roles and it's gratifying to watch them embody wholly new characters and remain wholly believable.

If you don't know Almodóvar's work, you must immediately stand up, run to your nearest video store, and rent some. My recommendations, in order:

All About My Mother
Volver
Bad Education
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
Talk to Her
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!

5.21.2007

Young Love with PlayRadioPlay, Liam and Me, and Alcoholiday



Last night I caught the Young Love show at a teeny tiny venue in Tempe. The fun part about seeing bands when they're on their way up is that you have a chance to hear them play at really intimate venues with small crowds.

The downside is being one of five people in the whole venue over the age of 29, surrounded by a sea of fifteen-year-old hipsters in their striped shirts, thick headbands, skinny rock jeans, and couture hair.

The show started with what I think was a local band called Alcoholiday. The kindest thing I can say is that their music was fun, except when there was singing. The lead singer kept saying, "We're a dance band, so feel free to move around," but nobody was. Not even swaying. Nope.

Liam and Me were a pretty good band and gave a good performance, so I might check out some more of their stuff. PlayRadioPlay started out strong but ended up being pretty disappointing and weird.

Throughout the night, the strangest thing was that these hipster kids would be hanging out listening to the show, and then suddenly they were on stage, part of the next band to play.

But Young Love. Ah! Let me tell you. Their music is fun and rocking and danceable, and they were the only band of the four that really seemed like they had a definitive "sound." They seemed like a real band, and they had a good time up on stage. The lead singer, Dan Keyes, looks like Josh Hartnett (if he stopped eating for about four weeks) and sounds like what one reviewer called a cross between Justin Timberlake and Brandon Urie of Panic! At the Disco (no shock, then, that I love this band).

The drummer for Young Love was particularly talented, mastering what on the album sound like intricate programmed beats, and one of the guitarists was also really good, doing a lot of intricate fingering and picking. Even Dan rocked out on his guitar with some hair band-worthy licks in the last song ("Find a New Way").

Their set was pretty short—only about 6 or 7 songs—but every song was fantastic.

And I bought a t-shirt that, in the words of Cake, proves I was there, that I heard of them first.

5.17.2007

Crimes Against Humanity: the CW



Today it became official: The CW canceled Veronica Mars.

Let me explain to you why this is stupid.

First, Veronica Mars is one of the few shows on television to realistically grapple with questions of race, gender, socieconomic class, sexuality, and other forms of privilege and oppression in American culture. It does so both intelligently and with compassion, oftentimes noting that life is full of uncomfortable gray areas and that, ultimately, everyone is sometimes good and sometimes evil.

A show featuring a young woman in the lead role who cares less about her hair and more about her SAT scores is rare on television. Veronica is a complex character whose moral compass (directed toward the betterment of life for most people around her) often calls on her to lie, cheat, and steal in order to "save the day." Think Nancy Drew, except she'l lie to you to get to the truth.

And Veronica makes mistakes: frequently, and with huge repercussions. I can't think of another show on television where a charcter's flaws are rendered without apology. And Veronica is also brought face-to-face with her own hubris and lack of foresight, growing from each experience. When she tries to reconnect a lovelorn woman with her missing fiancé, she unwittingly leads a hitwoman directly to her target in the witness protection program. And she's not above taking the law into her own hands, letting criminals dig their own grave and then watching them crawl into it, turning her back on them.

Veronica Mars is that rare show whose world is so carefully and lovingly rendered that the location itself becomes a character in the drama. Think Twin Peaks, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Northern Exposure, etc. Neptune, California—fictional—is more richly drawn than the shorthand New York-Los Angeles of most shows (and does anyone need to see another show about _______ people trying to suvive by ______ing in New York or LA anymore?).

So, CW, you're dumb. To all other networks: pick up this show. It still has legs.

LOCUSPOINT



I'm thrilled to mention that LOCUSPOINT will make a triumphant return very soon with the following cities:

Jen Currin's edition of the vertigo west poets in VANCOUVER (May release)
Shin Yu Pai's edition of DALLAS (June release)

Stay tuned!!

5.16.2007

28 Weeks Later

Look at me, seeing more movies in the past few weeks than for most of last year...



28 Weeks Later is the zombie-filled sequel to Danny Boyle's terrific 28 Days Later, which sort of single-handedly brought the zombie film back into vogue. This new film picks up—you guessed it—six months after the first as a U.S.-led NATO force slowly begins to repopulate a restricted area of London with surviving residents. Most notable among the cast is a defeated-looking Robert Carlyle (Trainspotting, The Full Monty, Tomorrow Never Dies), who flees to London in time to join his children as they are returned to the quarantined area.



The film takes handheld camera work to a nauseating and uncomfortable level within the first few minutes in order to capture the violence and confusion of a large-scale zombie attack, but thankfully the filming flattens out from there and returns to a greater sense of order in London. The zombie special effects are horrifying not because they people look so gross, but because they still look so human, just coughing and spitting up blood and snarling instead of, you know, reciting poems and drinking wine.

Overall, I enjoyed the film, although the "family" aspect of it was a tad overdone. The two actors who played the kids did a fine job of capturing fear and vulnerability with the recklessness and hubris of youth, and the actress who played the chief medical officer, while often espousing dull dialogue (can you say e-x-p-o-s-i-t-i-o-n?), did good work too. What I loved about this film was the way it built most of its characters—the director focused more on silent close-ups to reveal what the characters wanted and needed rather than resorting to dialogue.



It was timely seeing this film the same wee as Distubria. Both films evidence a preoccupation with being watched or monitored—and, to some degree, threatened by the unseeable. In a post-9/11 world and particularly in America, where the Patriot Act promises to tattle on our phone conversations, library check-out histories, and other private or privileged information, this preoccupation is becoming more pronouned. In 28 Weeks Later, like in America, the citizens are closely monitored by video cameras, snipers, and ground troops "for their own safety," while in Disturbia is it precisely our irresistible urge to look back that causes most of the problems. In each film, these situations are far from ideal. After all, wouldn't we be safer if we were unaware of the eyes on us or what goes on next door?

Further food for thought: saw a preview for Captivity before this film, in which Elisha Cuthbert is inexplicably kidnapped by someone who has been watching her for months—and then proceeds to monitor her activities remotely while she is trapped...somewhere. Add to the list films like the Saw franchise, and you could say that Americans are positively paranoid about being watched.

5.15.2007

Domestic Disturbia



Not one to pass on by a "Hitchcokian" thriller (or, a thriller of nearly any variety, really), I corralled some friends last weekend to go see Disturbia at my local neighborhood multiplex.

It is a slow film. That doesn't bother me; I'm a patient viewer and I can find many things to enjoy (visually/aurally/compositionally) about a film if the narrative is slacking a bit. Disturbia is better, more artistically rendered than your average thriller film, particularly one in which the primary characters are teenagers.

The set-up is vaguely familiar: a good teenage boy, after experiencing a life-altering trauma, blames himself for what went wrong and turns somewhat delinquent, ending up spending his summer under house arrest. Separated from his friends, cut off from TV, iTunes, and other forms of communication, he turns to staring out his window to get to know his neighbors a little better...without their knowledge.

As someone who peeks into every uncurtained window he passes by (and really, isn't that just an invitation to look?), I thought the film captured the complexity of curiosity, desire, and confinement well. To be fair, I often keep my own blinds open in my house, in case someone like me is wandering around wondering what I do with my time (which, admittedly, usually involves TiVo and a kitchen). I am also polite enough to know when it's time to close the blinds. All's fair...



The performances in this film are good enough; I'd hesitate to say above average. David Morse is wasted in his role, stuck playing your typcial menace, but Shia LeBoeuf is pretty mezmerizing as the "Martha'd" teen stuck in his (of course, beautiful) home. If you're twelve years old, you'll remember LeBoeuf as one half of the tween pair in Even Stevens; here, he, like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window serves as an unlikely hero—incapacited, emotionally broken, uncertain—convincingly. In fact, the three "teenage" actors in this film all turn in worthy performances, capturing the tentative personalities of that time of life with aplomb.

The ending—creepy, yes—wasn't unpredictible. Despite this, one of my moviegoing friends was crouched down in his seat hiding under his track jacket during the last half hour.

5.14.2007

Love, Janis



Last night I saw Arizona Theatre Company's production of Love, Janis at the Herberger Theatre. The show dramatizes the last three-four years of Janis Joplin's life, her meteoric rise to fame, and her untimely death at 27.

It was an interesting show. The narrative switches back and forth between monologues of Janis's letters to her parents in Texas/interviews with an unseen interviewer and stage performances of her songs, complete with live rock band. Two actresses take on the role of Janis, sometimes even occupying the stage at the same time—one plays "speaking Janis," who dramatizes the letters and interviews, and one who primarily sings the songs in a voice uncannily like Joplin's.

The play opens with a youthful, exuberant Janis writing from her new home in San Francisco, where she has just hooked up with a band as the lead singer. This Janis, "speaking Janis," is overwhelmed by the potential of living in the city. The actress who played her was perfectly cast—she was small, seemingly dwarfed by the stage, with wild hair she constantly tossed around her in excitement. Singing Janis was taller, seemed older and harsher than her counterpart. From time to time, they would be interviewed onstage together, each one offering a slightly different perspective on Being Janis Joplin. This is one of the things I enjoyed about the show, seeing how "experienced Janis" differed from "idealistic Janis," although eventually the two personalities did merge and "youthful" Janis became overwhelmed by a sad kind of hubris and disillusionment.

Another enjoyable aspect was that the show didn't focus just on performance—it gave you glimpses into why Joplin was drawn to blues music, what she thought it could accomplish, and what her goals were as an artist. These sections were almost a kind of metatext that expanded on the performances provided by Singing Janis.

It's hard to believe that Joplin's legacy was built on only about three years of work. The show provides a worthy retrospective of the singer's catalog and a heartwrenching glimpse into her rise and ultimate self-destruction from drugs and alcohol.

5.10.2007

The Reluctant but Joyful Quantum Physicist

I have realized over the past week that I am a quantum physicist at heart, not a poet. My heart is not a poet. I was reading more in the Buffy book about quantum physics, and I saw myself there when it said [paraphrased]:

A particle's behavior changes simply by virtue of being observed or measured.

The illustration for this involved photons (a single particle of light) shot through a wall with two slits in it.



When measured for particle behavior, the photon is forced to choose which slit to pass through, since it cannot divide itself and go through both.

When measured for wave behavior, the photon does pass through both slits and projects a wave pattern on the measurement instrument. This defies common laws of physics.

This makes me think of: the panopticon, reality television, Rear Window, Arden:



It means witness determines outcome.

5.09.2007

Lee Gutkind on The Daily Show

Jon Stewart interviewed Lee Gutkind, founder of the journal Creative Nonfiction, on The Daily Show this week. Lee was in residence with us at the Piper Center for Creative Writing this semester and spent some time promoting his new book, Almost Human: Making Robots Think. The interview here is pretty funny.

5.07.2007

What the hell is a poem, anyway?

Uh oh, I'm lost again. I haven't been able to write a poem for a bit because—literally—I can't remember how.

This happens to me regularly, usually after finishing something and feeling like it's time to move on to something new. I feel more and more like the first thing I have to do is provide myself with a structure (not a form) for conceptualizing what a poem is, and then I can begin to write them again.

When I'm not writing, I try to tell myself that I am in a "receiving" mode. Things in my daily life will stand out to me, stick with me, yank on my ear a little bit. Or, if I am trying to write in the "old structure" still, new themes will start to emerge, things I'm currently concerned with, working through, thinking about. Before writing RISK, I was writing weird little poems about landscapes, about being lost in landscape and sensing danger there, about moving on from a death, and about what it is that separates humans from machines. All of these themes ended up—somehow—playing into the book, but in a more succinct and more refined way.

I wrote a sad poem last week. It had a lot of physics in it, which means it's a carryover from RISK. Someone was splitting atoms. This is a garbage poem (meaning I was just tilling up some subconscious muck), so I'll post it here:

Tell me what is the purpose
for causation————

The physics
of being disappointed
has too many vectors


and collision————well, I’ve known so much of it

I’m just awfully broken now.


Energy is conserved. The sum total of all things in the universe
is nothing


And I hear the word “nothing” in your voice,
your gravelly, cracking voice


I want to touch something of you.
I want to be touched by something of you————a molecule, perhaps.

This lonely world is full of sham laws
and broken bodies, broken promise. Broken atoms.


When the first human split the atom
tell me————
why did we stop there?

There is bomb enough now
that no one need be lonely alone.
I can take this world with me————
It is a poor substitute

for the world
where living with you, happily,
broke every fucking law you could think of.


I'm interested in those long caesuras. I think I will keep those around. I'm thinking a lot about physics because of that Buffy book I'm reading.

I am also thinking a lot about movies (shocking). I'm thinking about unspooling narratives and cause-and-effect. That for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. I'm thinking about Newtonian physics and relativity. About how time passes. Here is a fun tidbit I learned about time:

Let's say you are in London. Your and a friend set your watches to the exact same time, down to the second. You get on a plane and fly to San Francisco, then get on another plane and fly back right away. When you get back to London, your watch and your friend's watch will read different times because time has passed more slowly for you due to your rate of travel (and since the fact that the earth's rotation is a constant speed—the speed at which your friend traveled).

I also learned that planetary orbits are not elliptical, they are straight. Work that one out.

Tori Amos: A Return to Form



I downloaded Tori's new album last week and got a few opportunities to listen to the first half. So far, I really like it. It does seem a bit like both a return to form and an evoluation. I wasn't a huge fan of The Beekeeper—I thought it sounded like outtakes from Scarlet's Walk (which I loved).

The songs have a little bit more of an edge, and I'm pleased to report there is even a snarling electric guitar in the mix. Tori's creating characters again—five women of various backgrounds and interests—and letting them sing about their lives. It's an interesting conceit and does work toward creating a more cohesive album.

In celebration, a rundown (in descending order) of my favorite Tori albums:



1. Under the Pink
2. Little Earthquakes
3. Scarlet's Walk*
4. From the Choirgirl Hotel
5. Boys for Pele*
6. To Venus and Back
7. The Beekeeper

*indicates that I saw her on this tour. I event bought the pig-suckling t-shirt at the Boys for Pele show.

And as a bonus, three of my favorite b-sides:

"Honey"
"Angie"
"Sugar"

5.04.2007

"Project!"



And I don't even have to go to the mall (although I will anyway).

I'm telling myself to write a collection of short stories, each with a title corresponding to the titles of the tracks on Madonna's Like a Virgin album.

I'm currently writing "Like a Virgin." I'm about halfway through.



Other tracks, in case you need reminding:

Material Girl
Angel
[Like a Virgin]
Over and Over
Love Don't Live Here Anymore
Into the Groove
Dress You Up
Shoo-Bee-Doo
Pretender
Stay


I'm a fan of structure. Anyone who tries to make plans with me knows that my weekend is booked by Wednesday. I'm interested in structure beyond the form of the text, but more in the form of the project. I just started reading Salvador Plascencia's The People of Paper, which is a structural book akin to another favorite of mine, Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves.

And just as I warned everyone, once I started reading fiction again, I started writing it.

5.01.2007

Another Brick in the Wall

I'm thrilled to hear that Erin Bertram won the 2007 Frank O'Hara Chapbook Award for her collection Body of Water!!