Welcome to the Jungle

A few wonderful people have joined my blogroll in the past few weeks, and I wanted to point them out to you:

Aimée Baker, one of my colleagues at the Piper Center for Creative Writing, stays up far too late and sleeps in until the day's half over. But she's also blogging now, and she has a book recommendation for you already.

Jennifer Ouellette is a science writer and author of Black Bodies and Quantum Cats and my treasured The Physics of the Buffyverse, titles that blend literary criticism with scientific explication. She recently visited ASU's Physics Department and signed my Buffy book for me!

Mary Sojourner is an upcoming visitor to the Piper Center for Creative Writing. A novelist, essayist, memoirist, and former NPR commentator, she lives and writes in Flagstaff, where she is passionate about conserving the natural environment.

Scott Heim is the author of several novels and collections of poetry, including the forthcoming We Disappear and Mysterious Skin, which became a Greg Araki film a few years ago.


Can you separate the poet from the Anti-Semitism, the racist from the reaction?

When Mr. Hollander was considered for the award three years ago, some members raised comments he had made in interviews, reviews and elsewhere that they felt should be examined when judging his candidacy. In one example, Mr. Hollander, writing a rave review in The New York Times Book Review of the collected poems of Jay Wright, an African-American poet, referred to “cultures without literatures — West African, Mexican and Central American.” And in an interview on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered,” a reporter paraphrased Mr. Hollander as contending “there isn’t much quality work coming from nonwhite poets today.”

Other board members said they felt that such comments were not characteristic of Mr. Hollander’s views or had been misinterpreted. Mr. Louis-Dreyfus said that even if the comments were representative, they were irrelevant criteria for judging the Frost Medal, just as he would argue that Ezra Pound’s anti-Semitism should not detract from the literary appreciation of his work.

I'm curious about what other people think of this response. Personally, I can't think of Ezra Pound without thinking about fascism, his support of Mussolini's political regime and his reluctance to admit error in his old age. Pound is an interesting case study to consider in terms of separating oppression from art.

Should we? And if so, why?

When it comes to the politics of oppression and art, is there a separation between what we can appreciate and what we must condemn?


(Wo)mano a (wo)mano

As I watched last night's premiere of NBC's new Bionic Woman, I was reminded of a lecture I sat through in undergrad, in which one of my film professors distilled the plot of Wizard of Oz into a simple and true statement:

"The film is, at heart, the story of two women fighting over a pair of shoes."

Fabulous though they are, those ruby slippers probably wouldn't create quite the same fuss today, but that doesn't mean our entertainment values have gone up at all. Bionic Woman, to wit, is the story of two women fighting over which one of them is—simply put—superior.

That they both look like supermodels (one more an Eastern European type—shocking that Tyra Banks didn't call her first on any given cycle of ANTM) is no miracle, but the fact that Jaime Sommers works as a bartender but lives in a spacious San Francisco loft, drives a fancy luxury car, and supports her teenaged sister is.

But I'm being a little coy. I loved the first episode; I thought it represented the start of what is hopefully a new achievement in serial television. I've never been a fant of episodic television. Even as a child, I never understood how the events of one episode didn't impact future episodes. But I love The Simpsons, where this convention is frequently turned on its ear to comic effect (as perhaps the only ongoing plot change was the death of Maud Flanders). But shows like Bionic Woman, shows that build to a seasonal climax through ongoing and smaller plot arcs, have more payoff for loyal viewers.

But back to the Bionic Women. Like another unassuming young woman, Buffy Summers, Jaime is plucked from relative obscurity by an act of fate (wrong place/wrong time) and thrust into unusual and exceptional circumstances. Whereas Buffy was imbued with supernatural strength passed down through a lineage of girls like her, Jaime is "built" in a laboratory to be, in the words of the leading paper towel commercial, stronger and longer-lasting.

When the first Bionic Woman, Sarah, aka the crazy Eastern European one with the charming German consort who asks her to kill people, discovers Jaime exists, the two face off in a rooftop battle to the...well, battle to the escape! Jaime wants to fight, but all Sarah wants to do is exchange specifications. "What did they replace on you?" she wants to know, bragging, "They replaced both legs and both arms on me. They only did one eye, so I did the other myself." Sarah's that annoying overachiever who can't just complete the assignment, she needs to revise the textbook too. Jaime puts her in her place after Jaime's strength and combat prowess are questioned. "How am I doing now?" she asks Sarah, but I wish she would have asked, "How d'ya like me NOW??" with a little more sass. After all, the girl works in a bar. I know she's got it.

I make fun, but here's no joke: I'll tune in again next week, and probably ever week after that, even after the show jumps the shark, because I'm not afraid of a little commitment. Especially when I get to edit out the commercials with my fast forward button.


Quote of the Day

This was the Quote of the Day on my Google startpage:

A poet more than thirty years old is simply an overgrown child.
- HL Mencken


2 Days in Paris

No, it's not the limply-anticipated sequel to the Hilton heiress's sex video...

It's the new Julie Delpy film!

I know, I can't believe it either.

2 Days in Paris covers just that amount of time in the lives of Marion and Jack, a binational couple who live primarily in New York but who have just enjoyed a vacation to Venice. They stop in Paris to visit with Marion's family and rest before heading back stateside.

Adam Goldberg and Delpy portray what felt to be a realistic relationship, at least in the way that a relationship can get after two years. The dialogue in the film was natural, and again, I hate to say "realistic," but I think I've said some of the things they say to each other. Mostly, they argue, play-fight, and come up with new reasons not to have sex ("This French condom is too small!" "The condom wasn't small; your ego was too big!" etc). Jack founders through Paris with minute French language skills while Marion runs into former lover after former lover, friends, etc.

The film follows a traditional relationship-based romantic comedy arc (boy has girl/boy might lose girl/situation is resolved), but Delpy's direction enlivens what would otherwise be a film of talking heads laid over a Paris travelogue. Delpy infuses the story with commentary on international relations and French culture, but her filming style was the most apparent element she brought. Infusing much of the film with fast motion photography or jump cuts, Delpy keeps the viewer from drifting off into boredom when the couple isn't fighting or loving.

Overall, I enjoyed the film. It definitely had some missteps along the way, but it was an interesting film, kind of a quiet and reflective film—a nice change of pace, although my week has turned out to be distinctly French, hasn't it?


Fassbinder's final film, Querelle tells the story of the titular sailor in the French navy who, while ashore in the town of Brest, embarks on a voyage of sexual awakening...in what we might call "the company of men."

It's a strange film, oddly-hued with burnt yellows and oranges, conspicuously filmed on a sound stage. Among the accoutrements of the set are, atop a stone retaining wall, large turrets that—I'm not kidding—are sculpted to look like enormous cock-and-balls.

Fassbinder's vision of the Jean Genet book upon which the film is based is nearly laughable (now) in its use of fetish and stereotype of gay experience:

We first encounter Querelle under the loving gaze of his lieutenant, who routinely narrates into a tape recorder the ups and downs of loving Querelle, who seems unaware of his lieutenant's affections. As the lieutenant speaks, Querelle dutifully shines one of his commanding officer's boots, his skin sheened with sweat, light reflecting off the contours of his muscles.

Querelle hears that, in town, at the local brothel, the owner challenges every man to play dice. Winners get their pick of the women; losers must allow themselves to be screwed by the owner himself. Querelle immediately dashes off to the bar, where he runs into his brother (Robert), a "police officer" wearing leather fetish gear, and the owner, a large African American man behind the bar.

Querelle cheats and loses at dice, then bends forward over a table to take his lumps.

A side story features the same actor who plays Robert as Gilles, a mason who is torn between his affections for a young man and his obligation to become romantically involves with the man's sister. The other masons verbally abuse Gilles, effectively calling him a sissy and driving Gilles to murder a coworker, which lands him in jail. Querelle sends the poor guy up the river after seeming to "fall" for him.

Querelle is a tough character to like. He seems empty, shapeless—soulless. To get revenge against his brother, Querelle seduces the prostitute Robert loves (played inexplicably by Jeanne Moreau). He murders another sailor and blames it on Gilles. He smuggles drugs. He lies, cheats, steals, mostly to get laid and mostly to avoid being perceived as a homosexual. But Fassbinder's direction of the film is loving, gentle—hazy, like a fond memory of the past. The dialogue is strange, jarring, non-narrative, even postmodern at times, and Fassbinder cuts in title cards with strange quotes, some which seem to come from Genet's novel. Top this off with a voice-over narration from an unknown omniscient observer and well, you've got quite a cinematic puzzle on your hands.

The film isn't homophobic, however, by any stretch of the imagination. If anything, I think it seeks to capture the oppression and exclusion of the closet. Brest is a city full of phallic masonry, fetish gear, and overt graffiti ("Younger man seeks boys with huge cocks," for instance), and yet, all the man-on-man encounters, even the loving and non-sexual ones, occur away from everyone else, in alleys and bedrooms and around dark corners. That one man murders another in response to the victim's harassment of him is almost vindicating in a we're-not-going-to-take-this-anymore...especially as Gilles, the killer, is the film's one and only sympathetic characters, victim of circumstance himself, wanting so desperately to love the man he knows he shouldn't...

What is wonderful about this film, though, is Franco Nero.



Quote from the Weekend

After driving past a house in Phoenix that featured a France-sized State of Liberty in the front yard, complete with light-up torch and floodlights:

"Good taste seems hard to come by, but poor taste is unfortunately pretty universal."


Fantasy ANTM!

America's Next Top Model started last night, and that means recaps at Four Four will appear on Mondays.

It also means....

...you can now play Fantasy America's Next Top Model!

Each week, you choose three models to be on your "team." They are scored per the following episode criteria:

Check below to see what things the girls will get scored for!

6 points
Winning the Challenge

-4 points

-2 points
Bottom 2

4 points
Verbal Fight (both models get points)

3 points

2 points
Tripping/Falling while 'modeling'

2 points
Saying modelling is their "dream"

1 point
Reading TyraMail (any part will count)

1 point
Being told they have 'dead eyes'

1 point
Being told they have no neck / missing neck

1 point
Being called "fierce" / calling self "fierce"

Clearly, this is entirely overdue in my life.


Case in Point

Per yesterday:

New Found Glory's cover of Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me a River."


From the Screen to your iPod

I love a good cover. I love a good cover often more than the original song. I think revisionist perspectives on existing art, when done smartly and with reverence, are brilliant. And today, I received a kind of gift from the universe.

Today marks the drop date for New Found Glory's new album of covers, From the Screen to your Stereo, the follow up release to a similarly-titled EP. The covers here are all notable hits from movies and TV shows, like Sixpence None the Richer's "Kiss Me," the Cardigans' "Lovefool," Madonna's "Crazy for You" (name that film!), even an instrumental version of the theme song from Amélie (that's balls for you). Since I like my music and my boys a little punky (punk lite, really—naughty-looking but nice enough for mom to approve), New Found Glory's takes on these songs is perfect for driving to work, dancing around the house while I clean, etc.

Highlights include Lisa Loeb's surprise duet appearance on "Stay I Missed You" (Reality Bites), the mostly-straightforward cover of Tears For Fears' "Head Over Heels" (Donnie Darko), the fun retake on When In Rome's "The Promise" (Napoleon Dynamite), and the now-snarling "Hungry Eyes" (Dirty Dancing).


Win a Date with Aimee Nezhukumatathil!

That's the name of the contest I won. Aimee and novelist MacKenzie Bezos (The Testing of Luther Albright) are in residence at the Piper Center for Creative Writing this week, doing workshops, Q&As, readings, and youth outreach.

They are both such kind guests! It's wonderful to have them here. Aimee brought me a bottle of REAL Buffalo Chicken sauce. And if you know anything about me, you know that I would eat Buffalo anything. Buffalo french fries. Buffalo waffles. Buffalo chocolate. Well....

If you're in town and looking for something to do, check these out:

Craft Q&A with Aimee and MacKenzie
Tuesday, September 18
12:15 pm - 1:30 pm
Piper Writers House

Reading & Book signing by Aimee and MacKenzie
Thursday, September 20
7:30 pm
Old Main's Carson Ballroom on the ASU Tempe Campus


Más Almodóvar, Por Favor

I saw in the most recent issue of The Threepenny Review a symposium on the films of Pedro Almodóvar. It's been a few months since I've had my favorite filmmaker in my life, so I quickly devoured the essays inside—brief though they were, they were delicous.

What I loved about this symposium was that people from a small variety of backgrounds were asked to respond to Almodóvar's films in a personal manner. I'm not sure there's any other way to respond to his work, really. One wrote about seeing Talk to Her in Spanish with French subtitles while traveling abroad; another, about returning to Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown after twenty years of separation.

It's hard for me to pinpoint what I love so much about his films, why they speak to me, but I can say that I see myself in his work. I mean, I see a representation of myself there. This is how I see the world: full of hyperbole and histrionics, full of marginalized people who are perhaps more authentic than the legitimate people. And there—the question/burden of authenticity, both in art and in life (for Almodóvar's films are as much about being films as they are about approximating life).

As Agrado describes in All About My Mother (my favorite, easily): "I am very authentic" (muy auténtico), just as she explains all the ways in which her body has been surgically altered to appear female. Because authenticity is an internal definition, not external. Her physical modifications, which would seem the opposite of inauthentic from an outside perspective, serve to make her body and complete self-image more in line, more authentic, in the end.

Almodóvar, for better or worse, gave us Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz.

What he is, really, is an artist of appropriation. He pulls, steals, borrows, clips and cuts from all manner of traditions and art forms: other films, visual art, performance art, cabaret, architecture, melodrama...

I want to be the place where things converge, the way he is.


Tania Katan's One Month Stand

My One Night Stand With Cancer
a one woman show
written and performed by Tania Katan
October 11 - November 11, 2007
ACT Theatre's Bullitt Theatre
Click here for more information


Good News from MiPO and OCHO

It's the best thing to be in good company:

Authors Nominated for The Coat Hanger Award 2007

Christian Campbell
Camille Dungy
Christopher Goodrich
Steve Halle
Richard Harteis
Charles Jensen
Doug Kearney
Joan Larkin
Mike Maniquiz
K. Silem Mohammad
Peter Moore
Aimee Nezhukumatathil
David Prater
Lee Anne Roripaugh
Eva Salzman
Leigh Stein
Emma Trelles
Laura Van Prooyen
David Wagoner
Thom Ward

The nominations are from guest editors including Nick Carbo (Asian-American Issue), Adam Fieled (OCHO 11), Grace Cavalieri (OCHO 12), Evie Shockley (QUEST) and Meghan Punschke (OCHO 13) . Two nominations came in from readers of MiPOesias and OCHO, Cheryl Townsend and Suzanne Frischkorn and the rest of the nominations came in from me. I am sending in all the poems nominated to Jack and Jenni to make a final call. The poem selected for the Coat Hanger award will automatically go on our PUSHCART Prize nominations for this year. When Jenni and Jack send me the results, I will post on this blog. The winner of the Coat Hanger will receive a gift from me.


Grody to the Max

Call for Submissions - The Grotesque: Hayden's Ferry Review is looking for
prose, poetry, and visual art that explore the humanity, beauty, and reality
of the literary grotesque - the monstrous, the unusual, the abnormal. Please
send to: Hayden's Ferry Review (SS42), Virginia G. Piper Center For Creative
Writing, Box 875002, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-5002.
Postmark deadline: January 15, 2008


The Handmaid's Tale

From time to time, my mind returns to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. Have you ever read it? I can't even remember why I first did; it might have been on Maria's recommendation when we were both in college. I had never read more than a single poem of Atwood's at that time, so this was really my first encounter with her work.

Although the plot of the book is fascinating (and: right now: timely, prescient), what is actually hypnotic about it is the lyric way in which in the events of the narrative unfold. From the perspective of a woman whose name becomes "Offred," the hyper-religious military state of America is contrasted with fleeting memories of the time before, of an escape attempt gone wrong.

The chorus in the book: Nolite te bastardes carborundum. As I wrote to Peter on his Latin phrase post: it means, "Don't let the bastards grind you down." This, some now forgotten woman scrawled in a dark corner of Offred's room/cell.

The book became a movie, with the quality of a made-for-tv movie, although it does boast Adrian Quinn (hot), Faye Dunaway (cool), and Natasha Richardson (hot by lineage). The movie is not even close to capturing the book. It's hard for me to see cinema fail, or to think perhaps I could have done this better.

If you haven't read it, now is the time to read it.



I went to a little event at Phoenix's Shemer Art Center last night. Five artists, working in a variety of media, discussed ideas of "revision" in their work—revised practices, revised forms, revised meanings, etc. I went because my friend and collaborator Kris Sanford was among the speakers. I've written about her work here before, so I want to focus on some of the envy I experienced while listening to the other artists talk.

First, Tawni Shuler and Brent Adrian, both painters, talked extensively about where their work comes from and how they complete it as a practice. Both of them mentioned that they work on a large piece (usually requiring a ladder or large studio space to complete) concurrently while completing several smaller pieces.

Here's a photo of Brent's work exhibited to give you an idea of scale.

I experienced an envy of scale! I thought, How amazing to be able to choose the size of your work that way, to work on physical planes instead of narrative/lyric/linguistic planes! (Because, yes, I'm a little nerdy.)

I wondered how I could incorporate ideas of scale into my work. Surely, poem length is one way, but I've worked in very large (30 page) and very short (six lines) formats already. I've also been really interested in working with things in miniature (Little Burning Edens and the work I did with Tracy Longley-Cook). I also thought about books like D. A. Powell's Tea, where the lines are so expansive the book had to printed lengthwise—and, too, a book like Rebecca Loudon's Radish King, which also involves notions of scale/white space in terms of layout.

So, now I'm thinking about scale.

Then, Becky Chader did a slide show on reliquaries, which are forms that contain sacred objects. Becky's reliquaries exalt and preserve banal, everyday objects that are sacred to her, like dirt from her family's vacation cabin. Three of her pieces were really striking to me for their ingenuity, their beauty, and their reverence for memory:

Lakefront Defense: a Reliquary for Mosquito Repellent

Moistutane: a Reliquary for Chap-Stik

Deadlines: a Reliquary for Vivarin

The mosquito repellent reliquary in particular is beautifully rendered. Around the base are carefully structred mosquito figures in the "bite position." Above the red stained glass, Citronella candle bits are melted into the circular openings, and above them, a "blood chandelier" circles the base of the repellent (these are tiny hanging drops of red glass). And there, inside the reliquary, is a vintage bottle of Army surplus insect repellent—the kind Chader's dad kept on hand for their summer vacations.

It made me want to write reliquaries over and over again. How can I keep sacred objects in a poem? I'm thinking about this.



Here are the poems I nominated from LOCUSPOINT for this year's "Best of the Net" anthology:

Renee Rossi, "Movements"

Wendy Mnookin, "Blue"

Erin Bertram, "Novena"

Kristy Odelius, "Aubade, Big Eyes"

Paul Martinez-Pompa, "The Body As Weapon, As Inspiration"

Simone Muench, "|To give a child an idea of scarlet or orange, of sweet or bitter, I present the objects|"

Thanks to all editors and contributors for their outstanding work! It was a difficult decision, and each city had at least one contributor who made it to the final, gutwrenching round of selections.