Monday, November 30, 2009


I think I have too many labels, and that I haven't applied them evenly. Anybody want to go back through all my posts and tell me what keywords should be associated with each?

I didn't think so. Neither do I.


I've been getting a lot of emails this semester that begin with "Hi" or "Hey." I think it's because I tell my students they can call me JeFF, but they're too uncomfortable to do so. At the same time, they feel awkward going back to "Mr. Stumpo" having been granted the opportunity to be on a first-name basis with me. It's really quite amusing.

Oh, and don't worry, I've made sure that they know how to write a more professional greeting.


Anybody out there think a poetic sequence and a long poem are basically the same thing?


When people ask me what my dogs are, I'm very proud of being able to answer "mutts." I like saying mutts as opposed to mixed-breeds. Mutt has some balls to it, some scrap, some independence that just says, "I'm the only me in the world. Don't have a chip on my shoulder about it, but recognize, I'm the only me."

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Advice #545

If ever you are approached by a seven-headed crocodile, don't panic. While one of its mouths will drag you down to drown in the Nile's loamy bed, the other six will assuredly miss.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Home Depot is (still) not Venice

See Karin Gottshall's hilarious post here first.

Guidelines for Witches and Wizards: Tools

Performing magic requires the channeling of energy. For the most basic spells - slight glamours, spinning a coin, etc. - the magician's body serves as a reasonable conduit for this energy. The more powerful the spell, however, the more likely that the magic user needs a tool to act as a conductor.

The most basic item is a wand. These suffice for dueling purposes, moving a stubborn cow, or doing housework. Being fairly small and fragile, they cannot take too much magical pressure without snapping. Above a wand is a staff. Minor changes in weather, large explosions, and refacing a cliff are all reasonable tasks for a staff, as would be creating a double of a cow. The next jump in phallic wizarding tools (and let us not fool ourselves - wizards are always compensating for something) is an actual tower. With a properly designed tower, the enterprising witch or wizard can cause massive changes in local weather, ascend temporarily to the stars, or make all the milk in an entire village or small city go bad.

Of greatest power are circular objects, which, besides being yonic, produce a sort of feedback loop. Rings are popular items for being even smaller than wands, yet able to simulate a staff or even more. Flaggin the Bovinous was known to make entire herds of cows invisible and steal off with them in the night.

Magical energy can be conducted through another living subject in the form of a sacrifice. This is the basis for divination by entrails of a pig or cow, though it is considered far more ethical to simply use a (circular) mirror, crystal ball, or scrying pool.

The exception to the fragility of flesh comes in the form of the communal magic of various American Indian tribes. By collectively taking part in a dance or ceremony, the magical energy is dispersed throughout the group, and weather can be changed (which explains the lack of towers in North America). Experiments are underway to see if magical energy can be channeled through herd animals for greater effect, though the sudden and instantaneous death of hundreds of cattle has thus far proven to be a serious hurdle.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Guidelines for Witches and Wizards: Appearance

Contrary to what you may have seen in the movies, witches and wizards prefer to look old. Age equals knowledge, and knowledge equals power, and power above all else is what magic users find attractive. Larger ears and noses, gray hair, a gravelly voice: these are relatively simple things that wizards and witches use to make themselves look older than their years. Liver spots, being a two-dimensional glamour, are particularly popular with young magicians who haven't yet mastered the third dimension. This is not to say that they do not see the appeal in a shapely knight or lithe princess, merely that among themselves, aged is better.

This is also not to say that witches and wizards are prudes. Quite the opposite. What grand appeal does a young body hold when one can add extra arms or legs to a body? Or summon a fey who has spent the last three hundred years honing its ability to tickle? Or consider Alexandra of Thebes, who would sometimes turn herself into an electric eel and her lover into a pool of water. Your would-be bedroom athletes cannot hold a candle to the experiences a good magician can provide.

Neither wizards nor witches, however, are given to cuddling.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hiroshima Mindstream

I just got facebook friended by Keith Linton. I encountered his multimedia (often acrylic, plastic, and canvas) work a few years ago and really liked it. There was one piece in particular, Mindstream, that stuck out in my mind. I had a postcard of it in front of me while later attending a lecture by Carol Mayor on Hiroshima Mon Amour, and the two media (four media?) started to mix and mingle in my head, the flashes of Hiroshima imagery on Powerpoint, the steady but dim image of Mindstream on the table in front of me. What resulted was a poem called "Hiroshima Mindstream," which never made it into the ekphrastic journals but was included in my second chapbook, Riff Raff, which consists solely of poems based on other works - paintings, poems, graffiti, movies, etc. The poem is below, and to see Keith's piece, visit his website and go to the works section (Mindstream is in the first column, third row).

Hiroshima Mindstream

One side of the canvas is lying

No line recovers so smoothly

So quickly

After this multicolored devastation

Babble of Hiroshimatic Japanese

An instant overflown

From 31,000 feet the impact site is small as a marble, or the bomb is small as a marble, or the marble flattens and expands to cover the ground in glass, a Borgesian map of its own destruction

Cobblestones become Venice

Pompeii streets fused with soles

This is not the roundness of a marble

No karma, no chakra

This is the door burst as the eyes of a woman looking at Little Boy

The floor fallen away as the jaw of a boy radiated, all teeth and roof of mouth and too soon this roof too will rot

Encapsulation shifts impossible as

skin bubbles and organs no longer hold

their place

Not sciomancy but anthropomancy

This is the memory betrayed

Memory recognizing itself in broken mirrors, recognizing the mirrors are not really broken

Perhaps this is not a lie

Perhaps I need it to be a lie

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Community and Individual

If you're a college professor who has never mandated that your students meet with you individually at least once during the semester for a significant amount of time (say, at least 20 minutes), you should try it. Once a semester, I'll cancel class for the week and meet with each of my students in half-hour blocks. I usually try to schedule this such that we can discuss the most difficult project of the semester. In a composition course, that's the third one, wherein they identify/contextualize a problem in their local communities and offer a solution to said problem. In literature, it's an earlier paper, generally because I introduce literary theory (e.g. Feminism, Marxism, Structuralism) at a pretty early point. In creative writing, it depends on my feel for the class - things tend to be more fluid in my creative writing courses than the others, and I try in any course to react to the needs of my students.

As far as the writing projects are concerned, the sessions are always helpful. I have the opportunity to ask pointed questions and really get individuals thinking in new ways that aren't impossible but are more difficult in the classroom. I can tailor my critiques to their personalized grammars/styles, their topics. Those who are afraid to raise their hands in class to request clarification are always willing to do so in a one-on-one situation. It's good for the paper, which is good for the grading as well (for those of you wondering if it's worth the extra effort up front).

Just as importantly, I actually get a feel for what my students want to do with their lives. I'm not taking this route as strongly here at UNE as I did at Texas A&M, but it's still a question I ask. What does this person want to get out of my class? Out of college? Out of life? At A&M, much to my chagrin, the advisors were overworked and let too many students fall through the cracks. I remember talking to a senior in a CW class of mine who was actually interested in journalism. Nobody had suggested to this student to try getting an internship with the local paper. Nobody had suggested working with the school paper. Nobody had taken any interest other than to note that the journalism program had been disbanded earlier. Even at that stage, nobody suggested that perhaps transferring prior to senior year might have been the best course of action. They just shunted this student into English classes because, hey, it's all language-based, right? That's wrong. UNE is small enough that I don't see the same problem happening. I'm also reticent to jump in before I understand the culture here more thoroughly. But really, somebody should be asking these young men and women to examine their dreams, not just dream them. That's part of what we do.

As my wife puts it - we encourage critical thinking, creativity, and communication. I add to that community, of which we are a part. Sometimes we best find out place in the community by interacting as individuals.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The applicability game

There's water on the Moon.


In related news, I just finished submitting manuscripts to the Bakeless and Yale Younger Series competitions.


In unrelated news, the feature at Stone Church was great.


In related-to-that news, no video or audio was recorded, which is probably for the best, given my inter-poem banter. I'm not sure that one family will ever be the same...


In unrelated news, my dad is on business in China for a few days. We're trying out Skype. I'm liking it so far, much better than telephones.


In related-to-China news, got a new Monsterpocalypse piece, Gakura:

Yes, that's a giant ape wielding a passenger train as a flail. I love this game.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Last feature for a while

I'm featuring tonight at the Zion Hill Reading Series at Stone Church in Newmarket, NH. This will be the longest set I've had outside of classroom performances at high schools and universities - a full forty-five minutes. I plan to do the 30-minute set I did at the Cantab, Poets' Asylum, and Got Poetry, plus a Russian fairy tale that I've heard as "The Soldier and Death" but which I change up a bit and call "The Wanderer." There may be some time for an improv or two as well. I'm excited.

With any luck, the whole thing will be recorded (both audio and video). If there's video, expect me to try to turn this into a (relatively inexpensive) DVD in the near future. If there's just audio, expect tracks to appear over the next few weeks for free.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Stubby on Deck

Stubby has figured out how to jump up onto the table on our deck. He feels bigger up there, which is appropriate, since he thinks he's about twice his actual size. Or so I imagine based on his desire to wrestle with dogs that tower over him (note: wrestle, not actually fight). Apple figured out how to get on the table after watching Stubby, but I don't think she feels bigger. She actually thinks she's about half her size, based on how she always goes through the smaller of two spaces when weaving around legs and such. She's also afraid of the digital camera, so no photos of her up there.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Time and Space: Enjambment

I've commented before on this blog regarding time and space, how the primary dimension of performance poetry is time and the primary dimension of written poetry is space. In looking at long poems and poetic sequences with a strong visual element, I'm coming to revise that statement.

The long poem traditionally exists primarily in time. It consists of a narrative, which is a temporal device, moving along through events in a (generally) chronological order. If events are taken out of the time sequence, these sections are marked off as being a speech or song or flashback or otherwise made easily comprehensible within that boundary that is time. It also traditionally falls back on meter, which is a more blatant temporal device. Meter creates effects over time, whether actually out loud or in the reader's head.

The visual poem exists primarily in space. It exists on various parts of the page at once and must be negotiated not with regard to proper meter or narrative, but a piecing together that can happen at any pace whatsoever. The obvious incarnations of the visual poem, then, are creations of folks like Apollinaire, The Futurists, Cummings, and the concretists of the latter half of the 20th Century.

There are less obvious poems that ought to be called visual, though, and which blend these two states. diluvium strives for both spacial and temporal recognition. But consider any long poem that features enjambment. To enjamb is to assume a reader, not a listener. It is to force that reader back in space, not just in time. And yet the overall narrative, this being a long poem, pushes forward. This is truly hybrid work, asking us to use two very different areas of the brain. What is the first narrative poem ever to use enjambment? I don't know. I'd like to know. Google is pretty useless on this end, so someone smart out there should feel free to chime in.

Working under this concept, can I open the door to calling any of the consciously-different long poems visual ones as well? Is Whitman in the door, at least in the 1855 Leaves of Grass, because he intentionally printed the poems with their full, long lines? He published the subsequent editions with the lines shortened on the page, so that despite the preserved meter of his voice, the effect on the reader (not listener) is distinct. Do I call The Waste Land a visual poem, with its free verse ranging not through meter but through line breaks? Is it a visual poem only in contrast with the typical long poems that precedes it (do we notice its form only because that form is so different than its contemporaries and forebears)? And if the break with prior assumptions is necessary to the visual, are free verse long poems today no longer truly visual, since we've accustomed ourselves to viewing them? Do I call Alice Notley's The Descent of Alette a visual poem despite her explicit effort to create a new meter because said meter is cordoned off by the visual device "of constant" "quotation marks around" "phrases?"

More questions later, perhaps.