Mary's Pop Quiz

Thanks to the lovely Mary Biddinger for giving me something to write about. I need a taskmaster.

1. When was the last time you wrote a poem?
It was last week, shortly after I wrote my blog post in which I claimed to retire from writing poems.

2. What was its title?
"Joseph Smith and the Golden Plates"

3. What was one image from the poem (if applicable)?
A man wrestling an angel, his hand in his hair as if tugging it or tousling it.

4. Do you currently have a poem percolating in your brain?
Possibly, but I thought it was just anxiety.

5. If you answered "yes" to number four, what is one image from that poem?
I've been debating whether or not I can include poems in the voice of Jesus in my series of poems in the voices of people who experienced multiple forms of compelling reality.


I'm Retiring from Poetry (Again)

Tuesday night I was bored. I was so bored I could no longer justify ignoring my unrevised poems any longer. I sat down and read through my Dorothy Gale poems, my Dorothy Eady poems, and my one Joseph Smith poem (yes, that Joseph Smith).

As soon as I wrote my post about not writing, I wrote another Joseph Smith poem, a longer one. I'm writing poems about people who experienced two compelling forms of reality. He seems to fit. Or we seem to fit as many of us now live in his version of reality.

I do not like many of these poems, which is discouraging.

In happy news, it makes me like my forthcoming book manuscript so much more. I have oscillated between liking it and hating it fo several months.

And the tentative publication date: September 2009.


Unauthorized parody of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight

I looked at Edward. He was physically perfect, the human equivalent of a giant cream-filled eclair with his perfect pale skin, his golden, pastry-colored eyes, and his alternative-rock hair that was always mussed in just the perfectly disheveled way. Whenever I was next to him, I found myself wondering how it was possible for him to love me—-even though every boy in our high school was falling over himself to love me, I just saw myself as a frumpy, clumsy fool. I was, after all, just a typical girl.

"Have you ever noticed how stupid you are sometimes?" Edward asked me with a smirk, a smirk that mocked me with its perfection. And then he laughed softly, a sound so heavenly it entered my ear with the charm of churchbells ringing on a far-off hill.

I rolled my eyes. "Oh, sure. I'm the stupid one," I replied sarcastically. But I knew it was true. Just being around Edward seemed to drain me of all my intelligence. I could barely focus in Biology when we sat next to each other. Even his smell--floral, musky--was intoxicating. I felt dizzy.

Edward touched me with his cold, vampiric hand, reminding me of how dead he really was. He must have been eighty years older than me, but he was so perfect and youthful, his face like a marquee idol's, that I couldn't believe it. And he wanted to suck my blood from my body until there wasn't a hitch of breath left in my lungs. Deep down, I was afraid I wanted it too.

I could sense Edward trying to read my thoughts. "Stop that," I said with irritation. I hated his surreptitious attempts to read me.

He slammed a hand down on the table. "God! You can be so foolish sometimes!" he seethed. His eyes glared at me with an intensity only someone that beautiful could possess. I tried to understand his frustration--after all, an ageless vampire must have a whole host of troubling memories I could deconstruct--but after a few moments, when his eyes softened at me and the corners of his mouth curled up like little elven feet, I forgot entirely what I was thinking about. What?

He leaned in to kiss me--or to bite me, I wasn't sure--and I stopped breathing. We could both hear my big, stupid heart pounding under my ample teenage boobs, the ones Edward could hear all the boys thinking about when he read their thoughts, and the silence between us spanned eons. We sat there, almost kissing, for the entire rest of the book, during which time nothing else happened except for me avoiding conversation with my father, trying to let every boy in the school down easy, and wait--what was I thinking about again? Edward's looking at me. He's so pretty.


A (Mental) Real Estate Crisis

Lately everyone I know is busy.

Lately everyone I know is rushing among various jobs and obligations; family members, lovers, would-be lovers, former lovers, friends; arts events and political events; Metro trains and Metrobus rides; cabs and ferries.

I'm struggling to make time to clear off my TiVo. Sorry, Fringe; Top Model and The Hills come first. But mostly that's all I can take right now.

I am working a lot, I am trying to clean my house a lot (and failing), I am calling my boyfriend as often as I can, and in between I'm playing with Arden and laying in bed, going to the gym, making half-hearted attempts to cook a meal, etc.

All across America, lenders are folding. Homeowners are defaulting on astronomical payments and people I love are looking into the black eyes of foreclosure, homelessness, ruin.

But here, in my head, there is no room for sale. Every square inch has been occupied by squatters that include income statements and balance sheets; brand identities and core values; fundraising appeals and fundraising returns; the burden of proof and the spectre of assumption; task, task, task.

I wonder, was Wallace Stevens so overburdened? (He is my touchstone for the "working poet," as in, not the poet who writes, but the poet who works in an office for 40+ hours a week.)

Conversely, was Emily Dickinson?

And do our burdens become us or define us, and if they take us away from poetry, are they to be reviled? I am not writing poems right now, or even recent past. I do not want to try. Partly this is because I want to sit in my dark apartment while there is rain or clouds (and what are rain and clouds, by the way?) and clutter things up even further. It's not a reluctance to create, it's a reluctance to participate.

I feel overcommitted. Mentally, that is.


From Blackbird

The Strange Case of Maribel Dixon by Charles Jensen (New Michigan Press, 2007)

New Michigan Press, 2007

Unlike the Octopus authors, Charles Jensen doesn’t play mind games with the artificial distinctions among categories. Rather, he creates a collage from bits and pieces of various genres in the service of a real, honest-to-god narrative. Of course, how to characterize that narrative poses problems of its own. Jensen gives us a (possibly) mad scientist who has invented a machine (the “physiotranslator”) for journeying to another dimension, a love story that continues beyond death (wasn’t there a movie about that?), as many clues as a Golden Age whodunit.

A young physicist, Edward Dixon, discovers the new dimension he calls “The Ghost-World” in 1921. As he writes in his thesis, “There are no palpable entities within this further dimension and so, much like the ghost stories of our youth, all that exists . . . are disembodied voices. Or, to put it plainly—language and its verbalization: the sound wave.” Thirteen years later, when he has constructed his physiotranslator, Dixon’s cancer-stricken wife Maribel, for whom “the Ghost-World was her only hope to survive the year,” volunteers to become “the first test subject.” What happens to Maribel after that can be reconstructed only indirectly, for she has disappeared from this world. Although Edward, in 1972, “confesses to the unintentional murder of his wife,” we are encouraged to surmise that she survives as a voice, able to reach her grieving husband by telephone.

So, is this a poetry chapbook or a piece of genre fiction (and if the latter, which genre)? Yes, it is. All of the above. Jensen tells the story as an assemblage. An excerpt from Edward’s thesis, an interview with his brother, and bits of a faux-biography do the heavy lifting—although none of these prose fragments achieves real understanding of the Dixons’ strange saga.

The “truth” emerges through the prose poems of Dixon’s diary entries (“Our voices connect in the Ghost-World. The overlap is all we have to give”) and the poetry of shredded documents “recovered from the Dixon papers” and reassembled. The literal-minded biographer notes that “these documents seem to be transcripts of a voice unlike Dixon’s” and quotes another scholar’s theory that they constitute “‘automatic writings’ resulting from the extensive drug and alcohol use of Dixon’s later years.”

We, smarter readers can guess that the speaker in these shreds is Maribel. Who else would declare herself like this?

To be shapeless
is what you’ve given me
I can’t describe the form of your voice, its energy
or the timbre of our love, which has its own noise.

Some sort of contact exists then, between the lovers, and Edward continues, over the decades, to seek a reunion with Maribel, which he may or may not have achieved when he vanishes on the night that a mysterious fire destroys his physiotranslator. One journal entry dated around the time of his disappearance reads in its entirety, “How do you love a lightning bolt? The answer: you do it quickly, and once.” A “singed fragment” found on the site of his “burned laboratory,” however, notes sadly, “They say lightning does not strike twice. It is true, it is true.”

Or is it? The final entry, another shredded and reassembled document, concludes:

There is no riddle
more complex than us. Simply say,

You have no need for body,
I am filled with you already.

Existence as disembodied language goes back at least as far as the myth of Echo and Narcissus and has beguiled poets from Ovid to the present. Don’t we imagine the survival of our words as a form of immortality? In Maribel Dixon, Charles Jensen finds another form—and quite an appealing one—to embody this eternal fascination with the power of the tongue (or sound wave).


Great Moments in the Traditional American Family.

Between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Wednesday, three fathers walked into two hospitals in Omaha and abandoned their children. One left nine siblings, ages 1 to 17.

The men, unless proven to have abused the kids, won't face prosecution under a new Nebraska law that is unique in the nation. The law allows parents to leave a child at a licensed hospital without explaining why.

Other parents have also used the law to leave their children. Last week, a 13-year-old girl was left. The week before that, two boys ages 11 and 15. In all, fathers, mothers and caregivers in six families — some single parents — have bailed on 14 kids, including seven teens, since the law took effect in July.

"They were tired of their parenting role," says Todd Landry of Nebraska's Department of Health and Human Services. He says child behavioral problems, not family financial woes, were a factor in the earlier cases. He says little is known about the three new cases, which are under investigation.

None of the kids was in immediate danger, Landry says. He says the four oldest of the nine siblings were placed together in an emergency shelter and the others in a foster home. "They're struggling to varying degrees with what's happened to them."

Landry says the courts will decide whether to require the parents to pay child support or to try to reunite them with their children.

"This was never the intent of the bill," says Republican state Sen. Arnie Stuthman. He says he co-wrote it to protect newborns from abandonment, but to get enough support for passage, it was changed to cover all children.

"We really opened a can of worms," he says. "We have a mess." He says the law needs to be fixed.

All 50 states have "safe haven" laws, but the others apply only to infants less than 1 year old.

The Nebraska law is the "worst-case scenario of unintended consequences," says Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a research group. He says it allows parents to walk out on troublesome teens.

"We don't endorse the way it was done," says Tracey Johnson of the National Safe Haven Alliance.


America's Next Top Medium

Apparently, I'm still in the running toward becoming America's Next Top Medium.

You may not know this, but since the start of America's Next Top Model, I have been very prescient in my selection of the winners.

Since the show began, I've always backed one of the top two girls, although sometimes my senses have clashed with the judges:

Cycle 1
Winner: Adrienne Curry
I backed: Adrienne Curry
Shannon was a whiny cry baby, but, you know, pretty.

Cycle 2
Winner: Yoanna House
I backed: Yoanna House
Not even Mercedes' lupus b-plot could sway me.

Cycle 3
Winner: Eva Pigford
I backed: Yaya Da Costa
Eva was a pig, plain and simple

Cycle 4
Winner: Naima Mora
I backed: Kahlen Rondot
Naima was weird. Kahlen had the most growth throughout the show and clearly wanted it.

Cycle 5
Winner: Nicole Linkletter
I backed: Nicole Linkletter
How could I not support the North Dakotan?

Cycle 6
Winner: Danielle Evans
I backed: Danielle Evans
When Danielle turned it out while dehydrated with food poisoning and ebola, I knew she had Top Model potential. I did really like Joanie, though.

Cycle 7
Winner: CariDee English
I backed: CariDee English
She was so clearly the winner in their second photo shoot. No one could touch her.

Cycle 8
Winner: Jaslene Gonzalez
I backed: Natasha Galkina
The biggest upset in Top Model history. As Tyra called it, the Battle of the Accents left gorgeous, curvy Natasha--who dropped her skirt in the last fashion show and kept on walkin'--in the dust while admittedly fierce but awkward Jaslene walked away with the title.

Cycle 9
Winner: Saleisha Stowers
I backed: Saleisha Stowers
When Bianca threw down with Saleisha early on, I saw her true Top Model potential. But later I saw Bianca walk twice in the Project Runway finale show. I've seen Saleisha on a milk carton.

Cycle 10
Winner: Whitney Thompson
I backed: Whitney Thompson
This was a close one as Anya was so fierce. But Whitney had dangerous curves, and I like a little danger.

Cycle 11
Still running: Analeigh, McKey, and Samantha
I've backed: Analeigh from the start

I chose the Cycle 9 and Cycle 10 winners out of the original line-up of girls in my first drafting of three girls for my fantasy team. Analeigh is my last remaining original fantasy team member from this year. She's had the greatest "change" arc of the remaining women, but McKey does take a great high fashion photo, even if she is vaguely masculine and Frankensteiny in person. Analeigh is like opening a Hello Kitty box full of woolen mittens, butterflies, and tangerine-scented soaps shaped like insects.

It's why I think she'll win.


Gays Propose 3-Strike Marriage Amendment

LOS ANGELES—The passage of Prop 8 in California has given rise to an anti-marriage backlash among gays and lesbians in the state and across the country. On Saturday, prominent gay activist group ACTOUT! held a press conference outside that city's courthouse to declare war on the institution of "traditional" marriage.

"If tradition is what they want," spokesperson Marla Thomas said to the crowd of about 1500 protesters, "than tradition is what they'll get." Thomas said ACTOUT! had just filed a petition with the state to push a new constitutional amendment for California's constitution in partnership with the recently passed Prop 8. "It's time for us to stop letting heterosexuals besmirch the instituion of marriage," Thomas explained. "It's time we took decisive action to preserve the institution before it devolves to the point that heterosexuals will marry their sheep, underage children—wait, haven't they been doing that in Utah and Arizona?—inanimate objects, and jewelry."

ACTOUT!'s amendment uses Prop 8's own source of justification as support. Thomas cited several Biblical passages that instruct heterosexuals in the ways of traditional Judeo-Christian marriage:

Matthew 5:31, "You have heard that the law of Moses says, 'A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a letter of divorce.' 32 But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery."

Matthew 19:4 No human being must separate, then, what God has joined together.

"These are just a few of God's perspectives on traditional marriage," Thomas told the reporters. In fact, the Old Testament clearly states God's position on divorce:

Malachi 2:16 "I hate divorce!" says the LORD, the God of Israel. "It is as cruel as putting on a victim's bloodstained coat," says the LORD Almighty. "So guard yourself; always remain loyal to your wife."

It's for that reason we've proposed limiting the amount of anger heterosexuals can impose on God by imposing a 3-strike rule on marriage. We'll allow that 50% of marriages end in divorce and that nearly 70% percent of second marriages end in divorce too. This proposes the most immediate threat to the American family. If a heterosexual engages in divorce a third time, their special rights to marriage will be eliminated by the state and, by extension, God.

Additionally, Thomas says her amendment includes compulsory marriages for all able-bodied, healthy, adult heterosexuals per this Biblical edict:

1 Corinthians 7:2 But because there is so much sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband.

Thomas says the state will have to create a special agency that will assign each heterosexual man and woman an opposite sex parter upon their 18th birthday. And, per the earlier statement, each marriage really should last--or they've burned through their first of three marriages.

Thomas also pointed to a curious passage that might imply the importance of gay marriage in 1 Corinthians:

7:8 Now I say to those who aren't married and to widows - it's better to stay unmarried, just as I am.
7:9 But if they can't control themselves, they should go ahead and marry. It's better to marry than to burn with lust.

Thomas plans to file a second amendment proposition based on this teaching from 1 Corinthians in support of gay marriage after she can ensure passage of the first proposition.

"It's important that we, as a culture and community, act now to preserve traditional marriage. Heterosexuals have made a mockery of God's teachings, have demonstrated again and again they are unable to commit to each other under God's law, and frequently put America in danger of incurring God's wrath. It's everyone's responsibility to ensure our national security from God's wrath, since we probably can't fire missiles at him. At least, not yet."


My forthcoming book

I got a signed contract back in the mail today, so...

Here goes.

My first full-length poetry collection will be published by Lethe Press early in 2009.

Tentative title (aka what I'm calling it this week):

The First Risk


The Katy Perry Problem

Having loved myself a little Jill Sobule back in the 90s, after homosexuality was titillating but before it was decriminalized in several states, I was a little miffed when Katy Perry (née Katy Hudson, former-next-superstar-of-Contemporary-Christian-Rock) appeared on the scene with her thumping, Benataresque tribute to lesbian tourism "I Kissed a Girl." I found the video to be overly lubed with hyperfeminine stereotypes of straight-man-fantasty lipstick lesbians (or, in this case, Chapstik lesbians) and, well, kind of offensive, considering precisely how much trauma is actually wrapped up in many gays' "applications for permanent visas" in gayland. (Where our mail goes.)

I poked around on iTunes and saw one of the songs on her album One of the Boys is called "Ur So Gay," so I read the lyrics, which go a little something like this:

"You’re so sad maybe you should buy a happy meal
You’re so skinny you should really Super Size the deal
Secretly you’re so amused
That nobody understands you
I’m so mean cause I cannot get you outta your head
I’m so angry cause you’d rather MySpace instead
I can’t believe I fell in love with someone that wears more makeup than…

You’re so gay and you don’t even like boys
No you don’t even like
No you don’t even like
No you don’t even like boys"

I got more offended. The song relies entirely on some silly stereotypes that belong, in my opinion, more in the hipster realm than in gayland. After working at the Gap for a while, I can tell you I helped more straight guys into skinny girl jeans than gay guys. Not that the gays were asking for my help anyway.

So: moral of the story at this point is, Katy Perry, you are lame and a hatemonger.

But then "Hot N Cold" came out, and it's a fun song, and it's a little funny, and I started to listen to her, and then I downloaded her album. The rest of the songs aren't as offensive, and I even came to love the joy-in-transgression of "I Kissed a Girl." Although the video does draw questions about who "wins" when Perry kisses a girl (and who gets to watch the slumber party), I think the song itself is steeped more in experimentation--lesbian tourism--than in offense. Although Perry quickly follows up her admission with a reminder that she is, after all, in a straight relationship, there's something to be said for allowing ourselves to encourage everyone to ride someone else's bike for a while to see if maybe it's right for them.

If, as a gay culture, we enforce a "you break it, you bought it" approach to sexual experimentation, we're going to alienate people who are simply too afraid to try before they bi. And honestly, isn't a return policy the core value of all American interactions?

I still struggle to accept "Ur So Gay," even though I like the rest of the album (especially "I'm Still Breathing," "Self-Inflicted," and "Mannequin"). I will say I'm glad that in this context, "gay" means "homosexual" as opposed to "stupid, lame, or undesirable," because that's my second linguistic pet peeve (the first being confusing "anxious" and "eager," as in "I'm anxious to go home").

The tipping point for me was this article in Blender magazine, in which Perry essentially claims she is 60% drag queen and in love with every homosexual she meets. It might be clever damage control, but it's not like Blender really has a huge queer following. If she'd had this interview with The Advocate, I'd be smelling publicist on her breath in a second.

What do my gays think?


From a perspective beyond party politics

"This is an historic election, and I recognize the special significance it has for African Americans and the special pride that must be theirs tonight," McCain said.

Doesn't this election have special significance for all Americans? Shouldn't we all experience "special pride" today for "doing something" that took an embarrassingly long time to accomplish...? Beyond parties, beyond platforms, beyond everything: just talking about people here.

I have yet to come across mention in the national media of California's vote to strip married gay couples of their marriage rights and to reserve marriage for heteroexual couples.

And I've been looking.


Live Blogging from my Election Linet

Good morning! I am currently in line to do my civic duty. I'm about 25 mins in, having spent the first stretch of my wait playing Nintendo DS a la America Ferrera.

People are light-hearted, chatting. A twentsomething woman was teaching a fortysomething man how to text using T9 instead of multi tap. A middle-aged woman has theorized these lines dissuade undecided voters from hitting the polls. The bald guy behind me has his left ear pierced with a stud--without irony. The young grad student ahead of me is dutifully grading papers.

This is democracy in action!



Last week I downloaded OMFGG: Original Music from Gossip Girl. This is because during every episode I end up feeling like the music on the show feels exactly right for it, even when the choice is something unexpected. I think of a scene from an episode earlier this year when Blair, during an impromptu garden party she's thrown, walks down the long, wood-paneled hall of a townhouse toward the library, where she's about to find her ex-boyfriend and her current boyfriend's stepmother in flagrante delicto. The song playing? Santogold's "Creator," a raucous, frenetic, and flat-out strange track that doesn't exactly scream "potential heartache" at all. But what it does do is suit the character moreso than sensitive acoustic rock would under any circumstance. Blair is, after all, a hunter. The song does her justice.

Though "Creator" isn't included on Volume 1 of OMFGG, there are plenty of other great songs here. Of the bands, only two (Phantom Planet and The Ting Tings) were known to me; the rest are delightful finds. The first half of the album pounds with steady rock beats and infectious pop hooks with songs like The Kills' "Sour Cherry" (which asks, repeatedly, if you're the "only sour cherry on the fruit stand"), The Kooks' "Do You Wanna," The Teenagers' "Feeling Better," and The Virgins' "One Week of Danger." Some fun electronic pieces take over, like Nadia Oh's "Got Your Number" and "Crimewave" by Crystal Castles.

Because I'm a Gossip Girl nerd, I watched the DVD extra on the show's music. I know the producers consider two factors when planning the soundtrack—that these kids would have access to (and would seek out the social cache of) obscure music, but would be obligated by their age and peer group to adhere to accepted musical standards of their generation. I think the album satisfactorily straddles both ends of the spectrum. It's also fun to listen to on your iPod while walking to and from the subway (this I've tested).

Two fun inclusions on the bonus version: "Everytime," by character Rufus Humphrey's fictitous almost-famous 90s band Lincoln Hawk (which is purportedly written about fellow character Lily Van Der Wootsen, now Lily Bass—sorry, Rufus) and the girls prep school choir version of Fergie's "Glamorous," notable for encouraging children remember to not include the phantom "u" in their spelling of the word.