Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Parting Shot

Maybe I should do a year-end wrapup of poems I got published or accepted. But instead I feel like ranting for a moment. Start the new year with a clean slate or something like that.


Investor's Business Daily decided to run a wonderfully ignorant editorial on Elizabeth Alexander's upcoming inaugural poem. Check that. It's not even on her inaugural poem, but on another poem of hers, "The Venus Hottentot."

IBD decides to skewer such lines as

"Her genitalia will float inside a labeled pickling jar . . . "

"Monsieur Cuvier investigates between my legs, poking, prodding . . . "

"Since my own genitals are public I have made other parts private."

and contrasts these with (a substantially briefer excerpt from) Maya Angelou's inaugural poem: "The dinosaur, who left dry tokens . . . ."

I'll leave it to other bloggers and pundits and poets to defend or attack the quality of the verse - a task that requires a larger sample than the one provided in the article. What pisses me off is the insistence that Alexander's verse is too dirty for public consumption. It's not even the implication that because she has written poetry that involves the word "genitalia" she will read such a poem. It's that such poetry is somehow out of place or uncouth.

The article snidely adds scare quotes around the phrase "swearing-in," belying a misunderstanding of swearing. You won't encounter a damn or a God damn or a fuck or a shit in Alexander's poem. No, you'll find repetitions of that clinical term "genitalia."

IBD all but fawns over Frost. But what would the writers do with this bit?:


You come to fetch me from my work to-night
When supper's on the table, and we'll see
If I can leave off burying the white
Soft petals fallen from the apple tree
(Soft petals, yes, but not so barren quite,
Mingled with these, smooth bean and wrinkled pea;)
And go along with you ere you lose sight
Of what you came for and become like me,
Slave to a springtime passion for the earth.
How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed
On through the watching for that early birth
When, just as the soil tarnishes with weed,

The sturdy seedling with arched body comes
Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs.

Incidentally, follow the link for great sexual verse from Dickinson, Herrick, and others as well.

Have the writers never read Shakespeare? The Sonnets not sexual? In Hamlet alone I can think of three or four particularly dirty places (my favorite is "Of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples, / That liberal shepherds give a grosser name, / But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them."). How about my favorite Greek playwright, Aristophanes? How about Whitman? Millay? Chaucer? Ovid? And this is me explicitly trying to avoid the latter half of the twentieth century.

You know what, let's just put on a performance of Lysistrata following the ceremony. 2400 years later, and it's still a good plan.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Deadwood, diluvium, Conclusions, Circles

So the Deadwood: The Complete Series boxed set arrived yesterday. The physical set is put together really nicely and only cost $75 when I ordered it.

I pop in the final DVD and listen to David Milch talking about how the series ended. He is visibly and audibly disappointed at how things went down.


He talks at length about endings, how when we wrap up narratives we're all agreeing upon a lie - that a story does in fact end. Ironically, that's actually something I loved about the way the series currently ends. It's abrupt. It's not pretty. Everything is left hanging and therefore just about anything is possible. It avoids the huge problem, the inevitable letdown, that is the wrapup for most massive and otherwise impressive projects.

Dante's Divine Comedy suffers from this problem. When Dante the pilgrim emerges from Hell and sees the stars, they're far away, possibilities. But the closer he gets to Heaven, the more boring things become. Heaven becomes stasis. Alice Notley's brilliant and moving The Descent of Alette nicely improves upon Dante by offering up a world free from the Tyrant but not trying to replace it as the author. Monty Python realized that the hilarity of a sketch would not be undermined if they just stopped it instead of trying to find a final punchline.

A quick note before I tie this to diluvium - try to find Notley's sequence in its original publication, The Scarlet Cabinet.

Milch's comments got me thinking about diluvium and how it ends. I've long thought of the end as a lie of sorts, but my conception of time works cyclically. My dissertation is not just another book project, but an integral part of a worldview I'm expressing over the course of many books and other works. Things begin, so to speak, with El Oceano y La Serpiente / The Ocean and The Serpent. All the incidental poems I write, particularly the sequences, occur in the world as it exists after the conquest in OcSerp. The Icarus Sketches stretches itself through that world. The Angel of Music, a musical I have yet to write, occurs to either side of that world (heaven and hell are to the sides, not above and below, in this concept). After, a graphic novel, fleshes out hell a bit more. And there's a series of stories I haven't written yet that lead up to the world being flooded. Which brings us to diluvium. Noah and his wife, floating out there, figuring out themselves and each other. And I'd planned to have things come full circle, which is somewhat depressing. Despite all they learn, they are one of the ships (you didn't think it would just be two people saved, did you?) that appears on the horizon and lands at the beginning of OcSerp, and everything starts again. Although that's not totally depressing, as even OcSerp presents the existence of dissenting voices (insisting the whole time that these are marginalized by the history-makers).

Or at least that's my view if I look at it as an ouevre. But after listening to Milch and thinking about some of the works I've really enjoyed, I wonder if I should leave off an ending to diluvium. And if I do, how much should I leave up to chance? I picture myself printing off and hanging all the poems (I'm writing them as 11" by 17" pages in an image-editing program), then setting fire to the latter half and telling someone outside the room to put it out. It takes some of the power away from me. That's appealing.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Bad Videogame Cover Art & My First Spammer

Well, boys and girls, apparently posting about the RNC CD debacle got me my first spammer. Congratulations to Jackpot - your comment has been deleted.


I sent this link to my friend Jeremy once upon a time. The whole series of bad videogame cover art posts from is pretty funny, but this bit in particular made us laugh aloud. First, the cover for Cowboy Kid:

And then part of the commentary from Scott Sharkey:

I hate pointing out when things look gay -- but, yeah, this looks pretty gay. Not the unacceptable "gay as a synonym for bad" kind of gay. I mean that the men pictured here are having sex with each other. They're the gayest gays that ever gayed a gay. And that's all right. Totally acceptable. It's a lifestyle choice that should in no way impede them in their pursuit of careers in the fields of moustache-having and being-a-racial-stereotype.

In a field that is too often filled with "that's so gay," I love seeing an piece of writing that hits so smartly. First, it sets you up to think it'll be the typical "oh noes teh ghey" kind of post. Then it steps back to differentiate between acceptable and unacceptable uses of the term. Which leaves you, momentarily, in a bit of a conundrum - is he still going to attack homosexuality? Then you get the verbal hilarity of "gayest gays that ever gayed a gay." Note that we're still up in the air over whether or not this is going to be homophobic or not. And then he manages to wrap up with the crack about being-a-racial-stereotype, which reveals the whole item to be not only progressive, but aware on several sociopolitical levels. All in a one-paragraph mockery of a videogame box cover.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

From the Requests #1: Run, RNC

In my Breadcrumbs post, I'd asked for readers to request topics. The first one was on a political note - Dan wonders if I could weigh in on the CD sent out by the RNC chair, and in particular on the song "Barack the Magic Negro," first featured on Rush Limbaugh's show back in 2007.

I think the initial response is best expressed by my friend Elizabeth on her blog.

In his request, Dan wonders how I think people view "this":

Humor? A puppet who when his string is pulled says "yes massa"? A pipe toking tongue and cheek poke at puff the magic dragon? Or commentary on how Barack will run the country...

The problem is figuring out A) who is "people" and B) what is "this".

Let's start with the latter. The most immediate "this" is the outcry over the release of the CD and particular songs. A step back from that is the song in the context of this post-election time period. A step back from that is the release of the CD itself. A step back from that is the song in its original context.

People could mean way too much, so let's break this down into three potential groups. On the one end, there's the folks who released the CD. In the middle are people to whom the CD was given. On the other end is everybody else.

Here's problem number one. I disagree with Rush Limbaugh on just about everything, but the tack he took in his original broadcast was at least an attempt at logic. Him singing "Barack the Magic Negro" was a small part of a larger...I can't call it a conversation...diatribe on the term "Magic Negro" as it had been used in an L.A. Times article. There's a lot of good stuff here - good as in worthy of debate - but it's not what people are getting in a huff about.

Here's problem number two. People are reacting to the term "Negro" which in popular, nonironic usage, is offensive. There are some great examples of reclaiming the term (related to reclamations of "nigger") like Saul Williams's invented etymology: "Negro: after necro, meaning death. I overcame it, so they named me after it." I might be off on a word or two there, but you get the general idea. It's also slightly beside the point. This was not put out there as a positive "negro." Were the song sung to the tune of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," we might actually have something. A president-elect who hadn't been allowed to play with the other reindeer before but now guides the sleigh? Everything changes. But again, not really the point.

The point is that somewhere between problem one and two, the nuances got stripped out. The RNC released the CD as a cheap joke, NOT as part of an effort to spark discussion on the concept of "magic negroes." The CD intentionally cashes in on the words "magic negro" out of context. So yes, I think the CD was put out there for all three reasons Dan suggests. When Rush originally sang it? Not so much. But this release of the same song, stripped of its original context? That's the mistake (in all senses of the word).

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Living Community

I'm noticing that in the conversations over at C. Dale Young's and Seth Abramson's and Barbara Reyes's blogs (among others) just about everybody is bypassing the issue I raised of open mics. I don't mean this comment to be snarky or suggest that the defenders of MFAs or museums aren't also defending valuable institutions. But really, you want to find a place where people get together and find poetry relevant, you want to find a place where it's not just about this or that type of poetry, you go to an open mic.

I realize that all open mics are going to differ. That's a good thing as far as I'm concerned, because a good open mic should reflect its locality. I'm going to take this post to reveal a few things about Mic Check, however, that might shed light on why I'm such a supporter of the open mic format.

There are two rules of Mic Check, voiced at the beginning of each show. One: Audience, respect the poets. That means being reasonably quiet during a reading or recital or performance, but reaction is encouraged. Clap, stamp, snap, give an amen, whatever. If you don't like a poem, write something and come back next week. Two: Poets, respect the audience. Over the course of the years, that message has come with a single addendum: No poems about sex with your zombie grandmother. This is partly tongue-in-cheek, a way of saying that even though you should know better than to berate the audience or say something so taboo as to warrant arrest for it, you will not be censored. It's also real - the grossest poem ever read at Mic Check was about a guy having sex with his grandmother's corpse. More importantly, it wasn't even good.

The type and quality of poems at Mic Check varies wildly from week to week, and even over the course of an evening. You'll hear poems that draw their rhythms from hip-hop, from Victorian poetry, from storytelling. Some of the poets study. Some come off the street. There's at least one guy who, when off his meds, talks like Christine Hume writes. That's not meant to denigrate either - it's damn impressive. I've heard performances that were less poetry than evangelism, less verse than essay on the value of Marx. I've heard poetry to which I responded viscerally and immediately. I've even heard poetry such that I went up to the poet and suggested journals to which it should be submitted.

We play games. Paper will get passed out to the crowd, and during a break between poets random members of the audience will have to write a haiku or limerick or quatrain. Sometimes the games will involve multiple people writing a single poem. This is a huge part of Mic Check, there from the beginning. It's not just about listening to the poetry, but participating in it. Bringing the community into the verse, which in turn helps to ensure the poets work with, not at, the community.

The final game each night is adlib. Anyone who wants to can come to the stage. The host or hosts get four to five words from the audience, and everybody improvs. Some will freestyle, some will create surreal stories, some will try to incorporate the words into dirty jokes. But everything wraps up with the line between audience and poets blurred, symbiotic.

That's a living community of poetry.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


A pair of nearing-end-of-year requests:

1) If you read this blog regularly, either checking in from time to time or using the RSS feed, would you be so kind as to follow it? Follow is a specific Blogger activity. There's a widget over on the right side of the page that lets you "follow" this thing. You can do so anonymously, but it'll help give me an idea how many people are actually tuning in. That's the minor request, as it merely relates to my ego.

2) Several people have called or emailed me with requests for posting topics. Looking at my labels, it would appear that I post on poetry, visual art, and video games most often. Anything specific under those categories you want to see? Any new areas? This is a more major request. It's not like I've run out of things to blog about, and in fact may blog more regularly in the coming year, but part of the point of a blog is interactivity. It's not just a series of essays or me blathering onto the internet. The larger discussions of late are encouraging. Try me :-)

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Manuscript of Publishable Quality?

There's a smart discussion (although at times the participants find themselves talking past each other, this a result of living in different paradigms) regarding the relevance of poetry taking place on several blogs at the moment. The portion I've caught is primarily on C. Dale Young's Avoiding the Muse.

Seth Abramson weighs in a number of times, but it's this post that got me thinking in a tangential direction. To keep everything on this page for the moment, here are the particular items that spark my own post:

Graduate creative writing programs graduate well over 2,000 individuals per year, with that number rising sufficiently for us to expect well over 25,000 new CW graduates over the next ten years--approximately 12,000 of them poets, each with 2-4 years of graduate training in creative writing and a manuscript of publishable quality.


Poetry can undoubtedly survive without MFAs; I was actually looking at it in the other direction, which is to ask the question, "What can we do with MFAs?"

Here's my question, which is related to the issue of relevancy: What exactly do we mean by manuscript of publishable quality? And is that really what we want of an MFA program?

To lay this all out, less as an argument than as a line of thought I haven't really seen pursued: A manuscript of publishable quality means one of the many, many presses out there is willing to either A) do a lot of work to make this volume sell, which means painting it as somehow relevant to a particular reading demographic, B) go into debt in order to produce the volume, knowing that poetry doesn't sell particularly well but thinking these poems worthy for some reason, or C) collect entry fees in a contest to offset the fact that the book itself will not sell well. Notice how B and especially C assume ahead of time that the poetry is not relevant, at least not to the point that economics back it up. That may be because I've weighted the options with my own verbiage, but part of the point here is in fact to weight things the "wrong" way.

Most MFA programs of which I'm aware want a poet to produce a collection of poetry by the end of his or her tenure. Said collection should fit one or more of the criteria above, which also tends to include publishing in journals, which are considered more ephemeral. But let's be honest - most of the books, despite their seeming permanence, will not last to the end of a calendar year. Now, you, dear reader, might rightly say that that's what reviews and best-of lists are for. Determining the best published books of the year. And yet the best book of the year almost certainly will not come from an MFA student, at least judging by the major awards.

I can nearly hear you clamoring for an alternative, so here goes: instead of a book-length collection of poems, produce one poem that will be worthy of reading 50 years from now.

Like I said, this isn't so much an argument as something to mull over (and probably reject in the end). But really, if we are asking an MFA student to show mastery of a subject, which in this case is the writing of poetry, why would we accept a lot of work that is good versus a small body of work that is masterful? Certainly encourage the students to publish in journals, which are passing, and acknowledge that most of what they do will fall by the wayside. Simultaneously encourage them to produce something that won't just get blurbed, won't just break even, but will be relevant (by which I mean, problematically, either splendidly indicative of that student's time/place/situation or splendidly counter to it, which would both be of value to the reader 50 years from now, or somehow transcending time and space to speak to that unknown yet anticipated reader). If the student can manage to produce a poetic sequence or, miracle of miracles, an entire book that fits this criterion, you'll know you have something really special on your hands.

Thoughts? C. Dale? Seth? Nancy? Barbara Jane? Regular readers of this blog? Really, I'm not wedded to the concept, and I'm not trying to call Seth out or anything silly like that, but I feel like a discussion around its problems could be useful in defining why an MFA and its productions are in fact relevant.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Implications of Sky and other posts

We have power again, just no hot water. Don't ask. There are people in far worse condition, so I'm not complaining. Had ideas for several blog posts / interesting moments over the few days without internet access, which I recap (but do not reprint in full) now:


"In Absentia" was released on Indiefeed's Performance Poetry podcast this morning. Nice timing. And a nice outro by Mongo. :-)

I need to start putting together a set list for the shows I'm giving next year. New pieces to add to the lineup present on Arts & Crafts: "A priest, a minister, and a rabbi," "Mabel's Cards" (improv structure), "Why [name of other poet] is going home with somebody tonight and I'm not," "The Magician and the Mice," "M.B.F.T.M.I.W.O.K.T.T.T.P (My Black Friend Told Me It Was OK To Tell This Poem)" (for Crystal), and "Shirts and Skins." Perhaps a few others.


An old man in a wheelchair trying to remain relevant.


Kate saying "garbanzicide" in reference to eating a tasty bean dish.


I'm fascinated by the differences between evergreen trees covered in snow and in ice.

Snow carries with it implications of sky, as though the trees might shake themselves off like dogs and the flakes fly upwards. Despite collecting in piles, snow is individualized, faceted, like diamond(s). You know it's cold, but it is also soft. Snow gives.

When a tree glazes over with ice, all things point downwards. The weight is not like snow, which can be divested. It is a permanence even though we know it will also melt. It is singular, unceasing. Because it is so much like liquid water, there is the fearful sense that if we touch one of the branches, we too would be pulled inside. Ice takes - see the sunlight it amplifies and runs along a branch?


I don't think about the dark in the dark. I'm thinking about what things would look like if they could be seen, or what they feel like regardless, or what they sound like. The dark is not quite a blank slate for my impressions - but when it is present, I'm trying to move beyond it. On the other hand, when the heat shuts off, as it did, cold is present. Cold cannot be negotiated with, only held back by blankets other warm bodies. When I try to find something that is not-cold, it isn't like my search for not-dark. It is a struggle against an active rather than passive adversary.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A good night for poetry

Maybe not Poetry, but poetry :-)

Mic Check was a lot of fun. Six or seven first-time readers, which is always a wonderful thing to see. Crystal, Lisa, and Adrienne all read stuff (poems or otherwise) because it was my last night. Kathleen, who I haven't seen in ages, showed up with a friend to watch and ended up reading an Auden poem. Meghan, who signed Kathleen up, read another Auden poem. Brittany brought a friend. So it was a general (but contained) grouping of friends and former students and colleagues (some of these people fall into multiple categories) to see me off. I like not making a huge goodbye. Of course, when I return in April, a standing-room only crowd would be great...

Also received word that I came in 2nd in the Bookhabit competition, to the tune of $250. Also also received word that I won the People's Performance Choice award, to the tune of $500. Thank you to everybody who voted. Seriously. I bought drinks for anyone who read a poem tonight. If you're around in April and you voted, we'll talk about a similar deal.

Next time I blog, it will be from New Hampshire. Until then...

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Badass Typographic Illustrations

typographic illustration. Animated typography. Pairs a musician and a font to create portraits using song lyrics.

Bembo's Zoo. Animated typography. Forms animals out of the letters of their names. Thanks to Amy Earhart for this one.

Caroline Epp's Think Art Make Art. Static typography. Examples of student work.

Various examples in this blog post by Fran Payne.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Arts & Crafts now available

Arts & Crafts is now available for download at my website:

There are two missing files - the video essay "Collaboration" will be uploaded this weekend. Tim Weaver's version of "ADD TV" will follow whenever he's done with it.

Please feel free to share this with anyone - email, torrent, put on CD, whatever. It's a free album.

Why free? Because I can, because I think I ought to, and because it will help me get exposure.

As a graduate student, I have access to free recording equipment, though I myself am not a great videographer (you'll easily be able to tell who did professional recording and when I just set up a camera myself). That means that it cost me nothing but time to put this album together. Jeff Morris, Danny Yeager, and Janet McCann helped out with recording equipment/space. Tim Weaver videoed the Bryan slam team at NPS2007, and Poetry Slam, Inc. allowed me to use that footage gratis. My friend Carl is hosting the files on his website, which is a huge bonus. Buck, Byron, Stephen, Travis, and Logen all let me use their likenesses/voices for free. With all that in mind, I'm able to put these recordings on the web for "nothing."

I'm not releasing this album to make myself out to be an expert in performance poetry, but I do want to help explain a few things about the genre. Based on the fact that "ADD TV" and "There will be no reinvention of the wheel" are being taught in university classrooms, I can (without a great deal of vanity) say that I've done a few things right. I want to unbox those for curious poets and people interested in poetry. It's a happy obligation.

The last reason is not entirely cynical. I haven't been a touring poet. I don't have great exposure on the national scene, except as part of the Bryan team in 2007 and for a foray into the top 10 in's poetry contest a while back. I would love to get more gigs, especially at universities. I'm far more interesting in person than on video, and I can work a classroom as well as a stage. If you're a student and you like what you see and hear, press your professors to bring me in. I'm not that expensive anyway :-)


If you like "ADD TV" and are willing, drop by, register, and vote for that poem before December 7. If I'm at the top of the stack by the end of that day, it'll be $500 in my pocket.


For those of you near Bryan-College Station, this Sunday will be my last Mic Check. I'll be back in April (I'm teaching a two-day workshop in performance at the Poetry at Round Top Festival - think about registering), but this will be the last time I perform in a while. Nothing fancy, but it's as close as I'll get to a send-off.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Useful links for beginning submitters

For friends just beginning to submit to literary journals:

1. Duotrope collects response times, submission requirements, and all that good information in one place for you.

2. Jeffrey Bahr's table ranks literary journals by how hard they are to get into. Note that this is not the same as saying how good they are, but others will generally accord more prestige to the 9s through 6/7s on this list than the 5s through 1s (in case you don't get it, due to stress over just starting to submit, the top-ranked journal, the Futility Review, is a gag).

3. Newpages gives slightly more in-depth (1-2 paragraphs) reviews of the journals. Qualitative as opposed to the quantitative approach of the previously mentioned sites.