I am temporarily parking archived blog posts here while I redesign my site and change servers. For current content, please visit blog.shannacompton.com.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Minus the Hovercraft: Father of Noise by Anthony McCann

Have I said yet that you must purchase Father of Noise by Anthony McCann? Well, you must. It is chockfull of "church diction" and rayguns and aliens (in both senses). It's an urbane cousin to Maurice Manning's Lawrence Booth's Book of Visions dipped in James Dickey, tinted with just a drop or two of Stevens's kookier colorings, feathered by the white chicken escaped from WCW's coop, possessed of the breath of a Denis-Johnson bender and plenty of jazzy blow. Accurate? I don't know, but it feels close.

Here, I'll type in a poem for you (or a sequence, really) and you can see better what I mean. (That's a not-lazy activity. I am trying to shake this slouch.) Then some notes.



Before money and California;

before the state of Massachusetts

there was a river and it had a name.

Another moseey indian-sounding name.

Woodlands Indian.

There was a river and it loved the land.

The land was rich with whatever land

is rich with, vitamins and minerals I guess.

But then it was scraped away, into the river,

with imported tools, by incompetent invaders

who were cruel and stupid

and filled the land with package stores

and the towns grew and grew around them.

And into this land I was born.

Or so it is said. All I want to tell here Lord

is that I do no know where I really came from

when I was born into this life.

But I was content to suck.

And so I grew to the next stage.


I could call this a revolt.

This next stage.

I don't remember when it started.

I could call it Woburn.

Or I could call it Braintree.

What I remember is that boredom,

its shape. I have driven

that car. But this was one time

I was in love--this was before California.

This was after Panama

but before the Gulf.

I had a brand new pair

of excellent boots and

I drove my car fast

along the river's curves.

Forgive me Lord, I didn't know

what I was really like.


There was a young woman from another state who in my youth I mistreated. We said angry and sappy things as youths will do because we thought we understood our tongue. There are no photographs of us. But take it that she was an unattractive girl and I was an unattractive boy. Together we did unattractive things. Until then I had imagined that I was kind; a somehow wounded young man. I don't remember what actors I admired. But then I discovered arrogance and cruelty and silence in particular and she went back to her boyfriend a small and truly kind boy who played the acoustic guitar. I went and stood on the edge of a frozen parking lot on the edge of that city where the city gives way and the liquor gives way to an empty Taco Time and the death of all enthusiasm. I had some other friends with me, they were asleep in the car and, Lord, I thought they all looked retarded.

received wisdom

Once there was a boy

who wouldn't look up

or he wouldn't look down

I can't remember

and in his mouth he held

a precious stone

He was a stupid boy

The End

Or once there was a boy

who lived all alone in the world

except for his friend

Mr. Egg

And he got what he deserved

and the next stage

And the next stage

is California.


The coast was covered in fog

as I came up over

the ridge in our car

listening to a sad

and triumphant

California song.

I was some kind

of superstar, pissing

in the parking lot

over the Pacific

near the RV's.

What else

can I say?

I came here

searching for you,

through the

interior, dry like a mouth.

Subsisting on bagles

and dope.

And I drove on

into the city, where I went amongst them.

I examined their flesh

and found it to be weak.

Pushed to a certain wall,

my arms and legs

bent to their pleasure,

I expired at dawn.

Giving up the ghost, this body and breath, up

into the cruel blue air.

Beginning again, naked and curled,

in a stranger's bed.

"Confessions" is not the only poem addressed to the Lord. The attitudes of prayer throughout Father of Noise permit McCann's occasional archaisms (like "amongst" here) while alliterations and assonances ring hearty internal chimes (pissing/Pacific, parking lot/RVs, cruel/curled, giving/ghost, body/breath). The heightened diction is interrupted with little gasps of slangy air (as in that hilarious and adolescent final word in "Lord, I thought / they all looked retarded"). Ending the final section "in a stranger's bed" echoes nicely the friends sleeping in the car where everything gives way to "the death of enthusiasm." If you didn't grow up in a dry "blue-law" county, this image may be lost on you, but trust me, it's dead on: Just past the city limits lie the liquor stores amid an ever-changing spangle of boom-then-bust businesses. Then nothing.

In "Walk and Missive," McCann translates a Korean version (the poem is set in Seoul) of Williams's red wheelbarrow scene on which still so much depends: "...back in the neighborhood / the local children are dragging the chicken. / This involves a tricycle, a length of pink ribbon, / and one four-year-old with all the enthusiasm of the world / required to counter the pure reluctance of chicken." It's no accident that "enthusiasm" is pops up again in this poem--just as "cruelty" and "pleasure" and "noise" play throughout the book. McCann's noise is verbal, visual, and spiritual. It can be enthusiastic (America's an idea about milk / Conceived in a bright sweet machine), pleasurable (O my heart, manic mudskipper), cruel (I will people Nebraska with tight lips and cold. / With the silence of kitchens at night following domestic violence), or just plain noise ("Pfft" is the sound / of my karate kick / in empty space).

It's surely the dramatic monologues and the prayers and "Oh Lords," but I sniff Berryman here too and Jeffers, and it's powerful stuff, though thank god McCann displays more humor than the crank in the tower. I mentioned the spaceman before and haven't yet explained that he functions as a mask for the "foreigner" or immigrant, particularly through the section called "Empire State." In "Jack" a new arrival seems to be taking notes: "Jack is a Large American Man of a Typical Brand. He is like a Helicopter or he is like an Amphibious Assault Vehicle. His entire body is covered in hair." In "Experience" the new arrival has graduated to explorer and journalist: "I attempt to describe it here for the journal I will publish upon returning to the angry and colorless city of my birth. It is shapeless, and yet its meat seems firm, with eyes unlike any creature...." And by the time we reach "Report from the Surface," the foreigner is not just not-American, he's downright otherworldly:

You do not understand but

I have been to the other side and

part of me is not here, here

in this parking lot, on this planet

with the parking meters like stray hairs.


...On this planet

with the wird thing bubbling

just beneath the surface. All that we can do

is to stand here in our too-tight suits with the insignia.


Call me Visitor.

Or maybe the visitor, by this time, is the reader--I suspect some kind of switcheroo. When we peep at the future in "My People" we find ourselves "in our apartment complexes / smoking cigarettes in our Teflon suits / while admiring ourselves." Come to think of it, that sounds pretty close to what we're doing right now, minus the hovercraft.

Now, unwrap them gift certificates and get thee to yer local indie.

I have the lingering lazies...

and I can tell because I am designing Elsie the Cow stationery for my mom instead of working. Or, like, doing the laundry. Or typing up more reading notes. Or working on Spooky. Or, um, making chili.

But I did finish The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and hopped gleefully into Adventures of Huckleberry Finn last night. I'm even too lazy to wonder why one title has "the" and not the other. But it does.

Small Spiral Notebook fundraiser...

"January 13, 2004 7PM at The Magnetic Field. Please join authors Sara Gran (Come Closer), Krista Madsen (Degas Must Have Loved a Dancer), Rebecca Donner (Sunset Terrace) along with emerging talents: Felicia C. Sullivan, Tara Wray & Adam Greenbaum to raise funds for the auspicious online journal’s print edition. Raffle prizes, performances & more! $10 Suggested Donation. Magnetic Field, 97 ATLANTIC AVE BROOKLYN NY (718) 834-0069."

Plenty of notice...

for my upcoming reading at WordsWorth in Cambridge, MA next month with Gina Myers. Saturday, January 31 at 5:00 p.m.


is being stupid.

Breaker, breaker...

More on line breaks over at Katey's place as K chats with Antonio.

Sunday, December 28, 2003




'nother niece



I'm reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer too. I plucked it from my Mom's antique book collection after I finished Savage Beauty. The only other viable option (in the particular mood of the day) was Robinson Crusoe, which I put back after I found that it had been "modernized" for the 1925 reader. Ew.

Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay

Read Nancy Milford's biography of "Vincent" over the holiday. Absorbing, though somehow not as much fun as Gooch's City Poet: The Life & Times of Frank O'Hara or Atlas's Delmore Schwartz: The Life of an American Poet despite all the gossip surrounding Millay. I hate the title, though I realize A Lovely Light or similar wouldn't have been much better. Millay's lines suffer out of context.

Millay's college-career mischief was delightful. (She was almost prohibited from graduating with her class at Vassar because she'd snuck away to see the opera. My ass, in similar confinement, woulda been grass.) Her legendary love affairs were indeed often steamy. Her relationships with her sisters also fascinated: Norma, the middle sis, became her executor and controlled the release of material for the biography with a rather tight hand, while Katherine, the youngest, competed with Vincent's literary fame and lost by a landslide, much to K's eternal bitterness. Most remarkable were the charts Vincent and her husband Eugen kept to track their morphine addictions. I've never seen anything like them--though George Perec's obsessive foodstuffs inventory comes close, it lacks the sinister, stomach-turning nature of these odd documents.

For all her reputation as a fiesty, independent, redheaded "New Woman," I was a bit disappointed in her relationships Vincent displayed a push-pull attitude that belied her deep insecurities. She was a needy lover and high-maintenance friend, and counted too much importance on her seductive abilities. On the other hand, she could be generous in her praise and strong in her support of fellow artists, patient with the (emotional and especially financial) demands of her family, and loyal (if not faithful) in marriage. She was driven and ambitious and fairly clear-eyed about the use and extents of her talent. While she was sometimes arrogant, she also strived to please her audiences (which were HUGE) because she genuinely wanted to delight them.

Plenty of poetry throughout too, though the repetition of a few well-known verses got on my nerves, and I wished I'd had the collected poems alongside as well. Annoyed by Milford's own presence in the book--she quotes from conversations she had during the course of her research with Norma and Norma's husband and slips into first-person narrative more than I liked. But those are niggling points.

Nearing the end of the book on Christmas Eve, I holed up in my borrowed bedroom. When I emerged at last to the delight of the extended family, sis asked "How was it?" "Well, it was a biography, so she died in the end. Kind of a bummer."

Loaded Gun...

A week and a half ago or thereabouts I saw Loaded Gun: Life & Death & Dickinson. The filmmaker subjects ED to interpretations by psychologists (who diagnose her as agoraphobic, nymphomaniac, and depressive, among other things), professors (one a granola-crunching multi-culti feminist and the other a bearded stuffed shirt who piously pooh poohs while flashing elbow patches), a genuine biographer (fond and solidly grounded in the facts though a bit possessive), a historical impersonator or "living character" (who works in costume during a themed-for-tourists brunch service), and a slew of auditioning actresses (a stunning variety of teen, tween, and has-been gals here). The resulting views of Emily range from absurd to almost-hey-maybe-that-could-be-right. Recommended.

Back from Texas. Might post a few photos. Never donned a coat the whole week.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Friday night reading...

Wow! The first issue of Call:Review is great. Get yours now.

Dear Poet:

Sorry--it's a very strong MS--RW




Hi Shanna--

Turn to p. 13

and there you are!






48-hour poem...

[time's up.]

Blog Rollicious links just got tastier...

I've added several new blogs to the ranks at right, including two blogs whose owners I'm unable to identify by name. As always, if you'd like to be here and are not, just holler. It's likely I just haven't chanced upon you yet or forgot to create a bookmark.

A thread afloat lately a subthread of which is exclusion in Blogsphere. Funnily enough, some of the people lamenting don't include links to anybody else in their own space. I guess it's not a stated blogpolicy, but it seems like most bloggers follow a reciprocal rule.

Blogger ate my top ten list of yesterday--and that's okay with me. Top tens are difficult. I have committment issues.

But since the post disappeared and Josh is also having Blogger trouble, I resaved my template this morning. Just in case. (Select all, then copy & paste into an MSWord doc. You'll be glad you did!)

Paul Klee, Keith Richards, Felicia Sullivan & Shanna Compton walk into a bar...

I knew about Keith Richards and Felicia, but somehow missed the Klee coincidence until yesterday. It's funny, because I did a "self-portrait" poem of myself as a Klee drawing once. It's the second one here. (Click POETRY tab to find me.)

Ok, enough with the birthday related self-absorbtion already.

Thursday, December 18, 2003


HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Felicia today too!

Also in my inbox...

The Miseries of Poetry. I think it may have been there awhile, but I just found it! Life is good.


I just found Long Nose Pinocchio Bitch in my mailbox! Yippee!

And yesterday, David gave me a copy of his poem "Letters to Young Poets" from Teachers & Writers Magazine. Look! I'm there in the last stanza. How exciting.

The phone is ringing: I've won some fabulous prize.

Nope, just the exterminator.

But still!

It's my birthday today.

Monday, December 15, 2003

I felt the same way...

as Josh when I finally heard the headlines yesterday afternoon. I was rushing around trying to get the chapbook poems printed out for the reading before I headed over to Shortwave, so I never clicked on the news. Usually we grumble at a few of the pundit shows before refreshing ourselves with litchacha.

After the reading, Robert Lasner was expressing his regret that we'd now probably have the Unelected Idjit in office for another almost-half-a decade and I looked quizzical. He broke the news. A befuddling rush of conflicting emotions.

Anyway, many thanks for coming out yesterday, y'all. The final Frequency was a lot of fun. Tom has that dang flu we've all had, so we missed him. But we asked Chris to read in his place and he did some of the Percapella collaborations, and Dan read new poems from GSMQII (you heard me!) and some other stuff.

The few copies of Down Spooky I made up were just li'l EPs--but I did make my goal after all to read ALL NEW POEMS, so I'm pleased with myself. The LP verison will be available in January...I want to take the holidays to stew on those great titles some more. Digging it.

And can I just remind y'all here, while I'm thinking of it, to breathe deeply and often despite the so-called holiday madness? I love going home to Texas to see my family, but I'm leaving on Saturday and already I'm making mile-long to-do lists that I know are impossible. (And blogging at 6:30 AM.) In. Out. In. Out.

Dear everybody...

Thank you for all the amazing donations of books, magazines, time, money, energy, and talent you gave to make the benefit for Todd, Elizabeth & Melissa a big rocking success! Whether you were able to attend in person or not, you should know that your caring HAS made a difference and that all were heartened by such a show of goodness.

We raised about $1400 last night and a few spirits besides! THANKS so much!

Friday, December 12, 2003

Wallace Stevens in a letter to his genealogist...

"It might do you a world of good to spend a little time in New York after Labor Day, getting a complete change of ideas. They are so much cheaper than hats and clothes and shoes, and yet they make just as much difference."


not squawking. Squawk Box seems to be down. And why is squawk so difficult to spell?!

And the winner is...

Down Spooky.

And on that note


I still call them "church shoes"...

"Religion makes one shutter. Religion makes me shudder. Even in America where statistics show consistently a huge percentage of th’inhabitants believe in Something Big up there helping us Timid Little Ordinary Ones down here grow our Perfect Cabbages, even in America I never believe anybody except Wallace Stevens actually goes to church. Went." --John Latta (see Thursday, December 11, toward the end of the post. His archive links don't work.)

Stephens went to church, notably St. Patick's Cathedral in New York--but mostly when it was empty, if I recall correctly. He referred to himself as an "old dried-up Presbyterian" and asserted that "loss of faith is growth." "Sunday Morning" is "an expression of paganism" or "naturalistic religion as an alternative to supernaturalism." He referred to the idea that "the enternal God is thy refuge" as "a potent illusion" on which he might depend if he lived "in one of the smaller communties." But he had fond memories of watching the organist at Sunday School, and remembered his Sunday shoes and the oysters afterward. The priest who attended him on his deathbed says he converted to Catholocism just before finally succumbing to his cancer, but his daughter denies it.

My whole hometown is literally church/gas station/strip mall/motel/church/gas station/strip mall/motel etc. with the occasional lumber yard studding the mix. The newspaper runs a daily bible verse at the bottom of the front page (See it? It's still there!) As a young kid, especially if you live in the boonies, church is one of the rare social opportunities to see your friends outside of school, and there's usually a good meal after it. We had a gym, a basketball court, a racketball court, an air hockey table, and were too young to go to bars (not that there were any in our dry county) or do anything unsupervised. The youth rec center was free--even cheaper than the Taco Bell parking lot. But by high school, we'd mostly all dumped church and were hanging out in corn fields or climbing the water towers.

I like a church, when there's nobody there. The architecture of churches. Appreciation for what I'd call "church diction," especially of the Southern Baptists (um, not that I AGREE with them). My pawpaw was a preacher. But as for religion, I agree about the shuddering.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

You might be thinking it...

but at Lost in Queens, she's saying it. Hee ha hoo.

Poets Helping Poets: Benefit for Todd Colby, Elizabeth Zechel & Melissa Piechucki

Sunday, December 14 at 8:00

On November 19, a fire on Monitor Street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn destroyed the home and possessions of Soft Skull poet Todd Colby, his wife Elizabeth Zechel, and their neighbor and friend Melissa Piechucki. Please join us for a great night of music and poetry to help them create a new home!

Bowery Poetry Club

308 Bowery (across from CBGBs)

New York, NY

Suggested donations at the door: $5, $10, $25, $50, $100. Plus $2 raffle tickets to win pairs of tickets from the Joyce Theater, the Bowery Poetry Club, CDs, books and more!

MUSIC by: Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes, Rebecca Moore, Matthew Wascovich & Brian Straw with Todd Colby, Alice B. Talkless, Tobi Joi!

READINGS by: Hal Sirowitz, Maggie Estep, John S. Hall, Brendan Lorber, Sharon Mesmer, Regie Cabico, Cat Tyc, David Cameron, Lisa Miller, Karen Randolf, T. Cole Rachel, Brenda Coultas, Marcella Durand, Anne Elliot, Daniel Nester, Justin Theroux, Michael Portnoy & Marrianne Vitale of the Yogurt Boys, Edwin Torres, Dana Bryant, Celena Glen, Tracey McTague, Thad Rutowkski, Dawn Saylor, and Jo Ann Wasserman!

SPONSORS/DONATORS: Soft Skull Press, Bowery Poetry Club, Gammon Records & Jordan Trachtenberg, Slow Toe Publications, 3AM Magazine, Skanky Possum Press, Boog City, Lungfull!, Ugly Duckling Presse, Arthur Magazine, LIT, Unpleasant Event Schedule, Call:Review (John Most), Pagan Place Zine (Merry Fortune), Eric Baus, Eileen Tabios, Joshua Beckman, Noah Eli Gordon, Susan Mills, Poetz.com/NYC Poetry Calendar, St. Mark's Poetry Project, Kitty Magik Magazine, Tish Benson, and Butcher Shop Press!

Great books and zines will be on sale! All proceeds go directly to Todd, Elizabeth & Melissa!

If you are a small press or magazine and would like to donate copies to sell, contact shanna at softskull dot com.

To donate before the event, contact shanna at softskull dot com. Monetary donations, checks and gift certificates in Todd, Elizabeth, or Melissa's names will be accepted and are most welcome! Donations via credit card will also be accepted via the Bowery Poetry Club.

To make a donation on behalf of the other families affected by the fire, contact the NY Red Cross.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Congrats, Dan!

That is just cute.

Slicing the pie?

I just saw a long segment on CNN with the headline "IRAQ: Slicing the Pie." I wish it were a joke. And we've actually banned contractor bids from countries who "didn't support the war."


And I'm NOT like Tigger...

Yet another Shanna Compton has surfaced. I love it. See comment box to the "Problem solved" post below.

Tuesday, December 9, 2003

Problem solved...

"they should issue everyone / flame throwers. everyone / could melt the hell out of the snow," says Carl.

Reading on Sunday...

So I'm reading (from the new as yet still untitled chapbook) with Daniel Nester and Tom Hopkins for the FINAL FREQUENCY at 2:00 on Sunday, December 14. Afterwards, we'll head over the the Brooklyn Inn, naturally.

It's been great to meet so many of you recently, and of course we'd love to see you again. BUT, if you can only go to one reading on Sunday, please do consider the benefit for Todd Colby, Elizabeth Zechel & Melissa Piechucki. These lovely poets and painters could really use your help! Details for that one above!

Friday, December 5, 2003

Snow or no snow...

please come out on Sunday to hear Dara Wier & Jordan Davis read stellar poems with special guest Christian Bok! Details here and a map here.

Thursday, December 4, 2003

What do you call Santa's helpers?

Subordinate clauses.

From my mom. Usually her jokes are dirty.

Noisemakers & funny hats...

Of the holidays, my personal favorite is New Year's, after all this other crap is over with. A big happy party with toasts to days gone by. Promises to do better be better write more next year. It's a heady cocktail of self-improvement and debauchery. And you can wear a tiara if you want to.

Why don'tcha pick up the latest BOOG City to read my occasional poem "Ecstasy for Guy Lombardo"? It's out now.

BOOG City 12 features: Columnist-at-large Greg Fuchs interviewing Major Douglas Martin, Chief Officer of Santa Tracking at NORAD; East Village Editor Merry Fortune on the neighborhood she's known and the Whole Earth Bakery; B. Friday reviewing Jim Flynn's Stranger to the System, a collection of minibiographies of some homeless people living in and around Tompkins Square Park; Nancy Seewald's Eating Well on a Lousy But Steady Income on Lil Frankie's; Music editor Jon Berger on the Domestics debut CD and what CDs to give your loved ones for the holidays (by artists whose CDs there's no chance they already own; Steve Carll on Continuous Peasant's debut CD; Small press editor Jane Sprague on Dana Ward's Cy Press; and the Printed Matter section, edited by Joanna Sondheim, debuts with Eugene Lim on Toby Olson's The Blond Box, Jill Magi on Yedda Morrison's Crop, Kathleen Peterson on Robert Duncan's Letters: Poems 1953-1956, and Corey Frost on Gail Scott's My Paris; poems from Shanna Compton, John Erhardt, Dan Fisher, Gigi Oliver, and Robert Paredez; art from Brenda Iijima; and the December installment of the NYC Poetry Calendar! Wow...

Wednesday, December 3, 2003


Ann actually made the Columbia World of Quotations with that one.

Here she is on her motorcycle. She was on the cover of Texas Monthly on it too.

More on Texas Talk at Language Hat...

The article Ben Basan directed me to about Texas English (in a comment box below) has generated several comments over at Language Hat.

By saying that Texas English is associated with idiocy, Nick J (whom I don't know, but who commented there) unfortunately highights the assumption that led me, as a native Texan (and natural blond, which carries its own stigma of airheadedness!) to suppress my natural accent for years. Yeah, you kin still hear it...but you oughta hear it after I've had a few or when I'm home with muh momma and muh sisters. Hoo-wee, as they say.

I guess he's right. I agree that the unelected prez does not help matters, but I do like to point out that he was born, not in Texas, but Connecticut, and received most of his education outside the state. Much of his west-Texas cowboyism, is in fact, greatly exaggerated behavior. His swagger is an affectation, and I find it unnattractive and often downright infuriating. Of course, it's hard to separate these feelings from my politics. Ann Richards, on the other hand, who spoke of George Bush Sr. being born "with a silver foot in his mouth," among other bon mot treasures--now hers is a Texan English to aspire to.

I've learned to love the sound of Texas English, while remaining wary of the prejudices held by some--yes, perhaps even most--people who speak it. One hopes though, that as with other stereotypes, this Texas English fallacy (and similar conclusions about other Southern accents) doesn't prevent Texans and their hearers from concentrating on what they say, not how they say it.

I'm totally taken...

with all these taken titles. So many in fact, I'm afraid my chapbook may runneth over. Thanks, everyone! Recent gifts:

The Nicole Kidman Story

How She Almost Lost Her Australian Accent

Buying a Bra in Manhattan on a Brooklyn Budget

Buying a Brain in Brooklyn with a Larchmont Accent

Being a Bard with a Beard in Brooklyn

A Strange Little Girl in Sydney

One Strap Showing

The Phone of Contention

The Irony of the Holy Ghost

Irony is the Holy Ghost of the modern age said Scott Fitzgerald.

I don't want your pity she said I want a job.

That's touching, he said.

They were listening to John Coltrane on the 6:04 to Mt. Kisco.

Hooey Subvert’d Again

The Use and Abuse of Cat Doors

Under This Umbrella Is Another Umbrella

Unresolved Lighting Questions

I am woman, hear me pee

accidental nerve endings

a quiet case of sharpness

crib is where yo ass is

tender flankmeats

the further adventures of dusty horthswangle

will that be all, Mrs. Kickboxer?

Sunday, November 30, 2003

Recently received and loved but not yet acknowledged here...

February 03 by Todd Colby, Alex Gildzen, Thurston Moore & Matthew Wascovich (Slow Toe Publications).

Swoon by Nada Gordon & Gary Sullivan (linked at right).

Also, should have time to polish & post my review of Anthony McCann's Father of Noise soon, but not before I finish laying out LIT and editing the SSP catalog.

"A giant collage of tiny birds..."

found in this poem here.

Don't forget to tip your good wife.

Hee hee.


Just Flew Back

A Good-Cooking Kitchen

L’il Undergraduate Disaster

Post-Texas Expressive Heat

Undefeated Bricks

Contrast Girls

Avenue of Small Bags

Rapid Timeouts


Slashy Speaker

Plastic Ear Thing



In My Head I Look Like a Gorgeous Rockstar

I Am Not Related to Any of You Yet

Mick Jagger Winds Up Quiet Holiday in Myanmar

Down Spooky

An Oil Bog I Didn’t Know Existed

Chant Snap Moon

A Canon’s Nth Mop

We The Blind Need Pushing

The Ear of the Needle

Kench and Other Beds for Poets

We Sell Ice

Stand Up Mr. I

Scholars of Twang

More Texas Talk

350 Seating Capacity

A Vast Number of Aunts

The Problem of Still Being a Virgin

Triumphant afternoon, sent back

To the hecklers it's another normal day

Unless we knob cherry

Clubhouse Notes

Contraposto/grecian slender

The Possibility of His Attention

I will teach you the ridiculous way to use it and the right way to use it

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Do not go gently into that good night...

What happens if you opt not to give me a title to be used for my chapbook? Here's what: watch out, 'cause I'll steal one from you and you'll never know it until it's too late.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Dearest Countrypeops, lend me your idears...

I have decided to make another chap in time for my reading in December. I haven't written it yet, though I am about to begin, so I can't tell you anything about it, but I would love to take your spontaneous and generous suggestions for titles. I will endeavor to incorporate all of your suggestions into the chap somehow, whether in the text, as the title, or as a graphic whooziwhatsit of some kind.

By way of a little history, I have had two previous chapbooks, both now unavailalbe (though I could e-chap the more recent one I guess): A Fling of Seeds (a li'l undergraduate disaster circa 1991), and Opal Memos Nonchalant in 2002 (a three-way chap with Jeffery Salane & Shannon Holman).

Bring it.

In Memorium...Pawpaw Compton's Bourbon Pecan Pie

My grandfather made these for neighbors, friends and several word-of-mouth strangers all during the fall, but especially for Thanksgiving and Christmas. He used pecans from the trees in his front and back yards in Waco. He always used Karo and Wild Turkey and he also made his own shortening crust, with Crisco, of course.

This is a single crust pie. It won't set up right if you cover it with a top crust!

If a pie can be a poem, this is one.

Pawpaw Compton's Bourbon Pecan Pie

3 small eggs or 2 large eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
3/4 tsp vanilla
1 inch butter, melted (slighty more than a tbsp)
2 tbsp bourbon
1 tbsp flour (a bit more if mix seems thin)
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup chopped pecans
Whole halved pecans to decorate top

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl.

Combine eggs, melted butter, syrup, vanilla, and bourbon in another bowl.

Add wet ingredients to dry.

Stir in chopped pecans and mix well (make sure there are no lumps of dry ingredients).

Pour into an unbaked pie shell.

Level and arrange pecan halves on top to suit your fancy.

Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Cover edges with foil or pie shield if crust browns too soon.

Test after 35 minutes--pie should be starting to set. If not, add 5 more minutes, etc.

Don't overcook, or pie will be chewy! It should set up as it cools.

Top with real vanilla ice cream (Bluebell if you're in Texas) and sip some of that extra Wild Turkey with it.

Yum. Happy Thanksgiving.

*[This post has not been modified, but I have since gone vegan. Stay tuned: In November 2008 I will be attempting an eggless version with an Earth Balance no-butter crust!]

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Mary Oliver...

has a mailbox in the hallway at my freelance job, I just noticed. I thought briefly about writing her a poem about deer, or birds, but decided against it.

Meet Ben, the @$$...

and read the delightful interview he conducted with himself here.

Oh, don't we all?

Monday, November 24, 2003

I like to do exactly the opposite of what I am told.

Language poet as advice columnist...

over at Jonathan's place.

One of Elizabeth's paintings...

is on the cover of Eric Baus's new book, which Noah has up here.

Attention absorbed...

by Jordan's tour diary.

Benefit for Todd Colby & families of the Monitor Street fire!

Many of you have heard about the Monitor Street fire that destroyed half a block in Greenpoint, Brooklyn last week, displacing 29 families. Among those displaced were Soft Skull author Todd Colby & his wife Elizabeth. They lost not only their home, but most of their possessions, including Todd's manuscripts, journals and computer, and Elizabeth's artwork.

Soft Skull, in conjunction with Todd's friends and several cosponsors, is organizing a benefit for December 14 at the Bowery Poetry Club.

Sunday, December 14


Benefit for Todd Colby & the 29 families of the Monitor Street fire!

Sponsored by Soft Skull Press,

Gammon Records, Bowery Poetry Club,

BOOG City, Lungfull!, LIT, Slow Toe,

Unpleasant Event Schedule & friends.

Bowery Poetry Club

308 Bowery (across from CBGBs)

New York, NY

$5-10$ suggested donation at the door,

plus lots of great indie-press books and zines on sale!

Musical & literary performances by Thurston Moore,

John S. Hall with King Missile III, Gordon Gana,

Rebecca Moore, & Unpleasant Event Schedule the Band.

If you are a small press or magazine and would like to donate copies to sell, contact shanna at softskull dot com.

Monetary or gift certificate donations before the event may be made either directly to Todd & Elizabeth (email me for details), or donations are being accepted by the New York Red Cross (19 people have signed up for assistance at last count, 12 adults and 7 children).

Also, feel free to send Brooklyn apartment leads to me and I'll forward them on.


Friday, November 21, 2003

To conclude my report...

on my workshop with Harry Mathews, I will summarize the rest of "The Name Game" exercise and post some of my results.

Our first task after receiving and putting on our new identities, securing all the buckles and straps, was to write a little autobiography. I think we had 10 minutes or so.

In mine, I, Victoria Rosemarie Caranello, explained my three marriages (the first husband lives in Northern California, the second was my high-school sweetheart John and he died of a heart attack, and the third and current husband is Gene and he's the bartender at my Cajun Restaurant). The restaurant is named "Victoria Rosemarie's" and I'd like to open another location but can't decide what to name it. "Caranello's" sounds like an Italian joint, I think. I've already created the signature drink, a muffaletta martini: gin, straight up with a sniff of vermouth and a little spoon of muffaletta olive salad for a dirty garnish.

You get the gist.

Then we had 5 minutes or so to write about an important incident in our lives. I wrote about running into John, my high-school sweetheart, after returning to New Orleans after my first divorce. John became my second husband. We ran into each other at the grocery store. It was the day before Thanksgiving. I invited him over for pie the next night after dinner. And so were the days of our lives.


The next part of the exercise was to write another incident in our lives, but one that involves one of the other personae the class has created. I chose Renee LeVey--she had the name for it. Remember, she's 31 and playing the field, and works as a coatcheck girl on the weekends. So I put her to work at Victoria Rosemarie's. Here's that incident:

One night Renee came in late--not like that's a rare occurance--and after apologizing and me saying it was fine, god bless her--she sashayed off to the coat room. The first few customers were already checking their jackets with Gene, who was going back and forth between the coat room and the bar. As Renee came in and Gene came out, I swear to god she grabbed his left asscheek.

Just as I was about to head over there and giver her the keep-your-hands-off-my-husband what-for, Gene said to her "Well, I didn't know that you didn't know that I'm married to the boss. But now you know...and so does she," turning to look in my direction.

Took care of that. Renee was so embarassed she quit after her shift was over. I thought about asking her to stay but decided not to press my luck. And we didn't really need Renee anyway. I mean it's rarely cold enough for a coat down here--just two months out of the year. Next time I'll get a high-school kid to do it. Maybe my neighbor's kid. She's shy and quiet, but pretty. The customers will like her. And she won't be all catty like Renee. Bon voyage, Renee.

We could have gone on from there, said Harry. The next step is to introduce more personae and relate incidents that happen between them, etc. The game part of the exercise had provided us with enough fuel to write all night, really. We spent two hours writing and talking about these characters. Harry's point was that getting yourself and the idea of "self-expression" out of the way was a big step toward freedom from anxiety. I ended up with several pages of prose that could be a short story or the seed of a novel--with work!--and they seemed to have materialized from nowhere.

So if you ever have the chance to take a workshop with Harry, do it. I begged my way into this one saying I was willing to sit bound, gagged and blinfolded in the corner for the entire two days (I graduated from the program almost 2 years ago) and even in that state I'm sure I could have written something.

Hunt down a copy of The Oulipo Compendium--it's out of print, but used copies must be out there somewhere. It contains some of the exercises we did in class, and many more, plus the history of the group and the biographies of the members, examples of their Oulipian work, etc. There are other books too--Dan mentions OuLiPo: A Primer of Potential Literature. And Atlas Press publishes lots of the Oulipian work, as well as many other fine things. Check them out, as well as Exact Change, which publishes "Classics of Experimental Literature."

Thursday, November 20, 2003

"I don't vote. Never."

Doesn't that seem awfully odd for a critic to say? If you are someone who routinely makes careful study of her subject and offers her intelligent and well-reasoned opinion on it down to minute particulars, why not consider and offer your opinion in the political arena as well? Isn't that just as important, perhaps more important on many practical levels? Aren't folks blessed with intelligence, articulateness, and advanced degrees obligated to vote and sit on juries and speak out when the opportunity arises? Or shouldn't they be?

[NOTE: John Latta's archive links don't seem to be working. I'm referring to his post of 11/20 on Helen Vendler.]

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

No way...

is Julia's blog bandwaste. Now take that back! I love Eagle's Wing and am planning to use it as an example with my neice over Christmas, who has been keeping her own poetry notebook, etc. Julia's poems rock!

Monday, November 17, 2003

That's a great idea...

Eileen. Isn' it, y'all?

The final exercise...

in the workshop with Harry Mathews comprised several steps. Harry called it "The Name Game."

First, we went around the room and gave a first name to the person on our left. We had to look at the person in the face and concentrate, letting the name "come from" the person. I was given Victoria. Since Harry was sitting at my left at this point (we changed seats for each section, under instructions), I gave him the name Benjamin. It just seemed to fit. He seemed pleased. Not everyone was so lucky, as you'll see when I list all our names below.

Then we reversed directions and bestowed a last name to the person on our right. Harry ordained that my last name would be Caranello, "a good American name."

Then we reversed directions again and gave a middle name to the person two down on the left. I was given the middle name Rosemarie.

Note: Some of the names provoked hilarity. This process was full of discussion about the meaning of names. We had been talking between exercises all day about identity and masks and "self-expression"--a notion which in its common application Harry found troublesome. "We express ourselves constantly, so why do we have to do it in writing." That's actually a paraphrase, but close.

After everyone had three-part names, we reversed the direction again and bestowed ages and domestic status to the person two to our right. I was proclaimed to be 42 and married for the third time to a 24-year-old man. Well, ok. I could work with that.

Then we reversed again and bestowed upon the person three to our left an occupation and hobby or additional pursuit. I discovered that I owned a Cajun restaurant, compulsively played the lottery, and helped out with the family shrimping business.

Suddenly that was me: Victoria Rosemarie Caranello, 42, married for the third time to a 24-year-old man, owner of a Cajun restaurant, and a cog in the wheel of the family shrimping business.

Harry made the solemn declaration that we were to refer to each other only by these names (and with our other assigned characteristics in mind) for the rest of workshop. We were our new selves.

Here are the identities I and my classmates assigned to one another:

Victoria Rosemarie Caranello: Yours truly. See above.

Benjamin Judah Crowns: 19, living on his own for the first time, known as "BJ" among his friends, works in a pet store in the local mall and builds skateboards for himself and friends. [When Harry was given his new age (he's 74), he remarked happily to the bestower, "You are so kind."]

Mark Francisco Strogonovsky: 10, future arranged marriage, looks old for his age and works as a jockey at the racetrack.

Ginny Marie Archimbauldt: 16, living with her 38-year-old boyfriend, full-time student, moonlights (illegally) as an ex*tic dancer.

Astor Sunshine Harrison: 32, living at him with his parents, a synthesizer musician who runs a neighborhood lawnmowing enterprise.

Jeannie Althea Tatler: 47, twice divorced and living with elderly mother, a junior-high school Social Studies teacher and athletic swimmer.

Ada Louisa Melancthon: 68, widow living on her substantial inheritance, and she's into New Age pursuits and occasional witchcraft.

Hans Sebastian O'Malley: 37, recently divorced, works as a tree surgeon and is addicted to the Shopping Network and internet p*rn.

Renee Antoinette LeVey: [Blogger nixed the accent.] 31 and playing the field, works as a receptionist at the gas company and also on the weekends as a coatcheck girl at local clubs. She also designs her own clothes.

Hepzibah Anne Ogelthorpe: 14, living with her two moms, works (and gets paid cash under the table) at the local video store.

Paul Rockefeller Holt: 21, his girlfriend recently dumped him and left him to care for their 2-year-old child. He works the overnight shift as a DJ at the local radio station.

Then what? Then we had to write as this new person we've become, of course.

I'll post (some of?) my results, but we wrote three different times via these personas, so it's lots of prose. Check back tomorrow, por favor.


I really needed that.

Friday, November 14, 2003

The ninth exercise...

took most of the first two hours on the second day of the workshop. We read a Elizabeth Bishop's "Sestina," and then talked about the form. Harry talked about the troubador history and of various approaches to the form, how it had fallen in and out of fashion. He mentioned Ashbery's "The Painter," and a few others.

Then he asked a classmate to go to the board, and asked us all to call out words. After we assembled a good list, we narrowed it down to nine, and then argued about those until we had these six:







I really wanted to nix orange, but nobody would let me. Harry then explained the pattern of repetition, and wrote a schematic on the board. We copied the words in the right order into our notebooks down the right margin, so we'd have space for lines in front of them. Harry also read one of his own sestinas--and unfortunately I don't recall the title--but it was a prose sestina. We could approach the exercise that way if we liked.

Many people seemed relieved. Remember, I was the only poet in this class. The other students wrote fiction. Harry didn't want anyone feeling anxious--the workshop's purpose was to relieve us of our anxieties about writing. Expectant faces.

He said to take 15 minutes and write our sestinas. Even I laughed at that at that one--the last time I wrote a sestina it took a couple of days, and I'd been able to choose my own end words! Well okay, we all said we'd gave it a shot.

Believe it or not, I came up with this poem below in about 15 minutes. (Not that it scans--usually I go for a regular meter as well.) Everybody else managed their's too. Many in prose, some in lines. I think we were all really surprised.

Spelunker Sestina

I like her because she thinks, forms

her own opinions, has intellectual teeth

that aren't afraid to bite. Her orange

hair is nice too, the way it flows

down her back. Such an open

face. It's awful we lost her in the tunnel!

When we entered the tunnel

she was right behind me. "Form

a single line," the guide said, as he swung open

the gate. In the black light everyone's teeth

glowed like mouthfuls of ghost. "Water flowed

through and cut this chasm," he said. "See the orange

stalagtites? It's minerals that colored the deposits orange."

She was still behind me as we moved into the tunnel's

main cavern. The line of tourists continued to flow

along, camera-snapping. We held hands. "This was formed

in about 40 BC," said the guide. She smiled, all teeth

in the dark. "Imagine the first person to find the opening

to this place," I whispered. She nodded, eyes wide open,

stretched for scant light. After a few steps, a guy in an orange

parka got between us. I bared my teeth

at him, but he didn't notice. We headed through the tunnel,

toward the exit. I know we signed release forms,

but still! I can't believe we lost her. It's not like Flo

to wander off. She can't read a map. When driving, her tears flow

everytime she misses a turn. Then I have to open

the glove box and set us straight again. Our form

of relationship is like that. We cooperate. The orange-

parka guy--it's his fault. If he hadn't been so tunnel-

greedy we'd never have been apart. God, I'd like to bust his teeth.

The guide keeps clicking his tongue against his teeth,

saying "Surely, we'll find her." A river still flows

down there somewhere. Maybe she's beside it, off the main tunnel.

There's no other way out--just here and where we came in by the "open"

sign. She's probably hungry. She packed an orange

in her purse, so that's good. I'm going to file a formal

complaint when this is all over. Orange-parka guy's teeth

aren't safe from me yet. Damn this tunnel! It's bad form

to lose a tourist. Flo! Flo! Come out into the open!

It could use some revising, I know, but since I'd never had any spelunker tourists in mind as a subject before, I was pretty impressed with the way the sestina form and the imposed words guided me to write a narrative that worked for them. In fact, I got sort of carried away and the lines got longer and longer.

A few people read their results after the break--one was particularly excellent, and all were interesting. Not bad for 15 minutes, minus prep work, huh?

(Note: I'm off for my media-free weekend. I'll have to post the exercises from the last section of the workshop on Monday afternoon.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Molly Ivins in the Nation...

"Well, sheesh. I don't know whether to warn you that because George Dubya Bush is President the whole damn country is about to be turned into Texas (a singularly horrible fate: as the country song has it: "Lubbock on Everythang") or if I should try to stand up for us and convince the rest of the country we're not all that insane.

Truth is, I've spent much of my life trying, unsuccessfully, to explode the myths about Texas. One attempts to explain--with all good will, historical evidence, nasty statistics and just a bow of recognition to our racism--that Texas is not The Alamo starring John Wayne. We're not Giant, we ain't a John Ford western. The first real Texan I ever saw on TV was King of the Hill's Boomhauer, the guy who's always drinking beer and you can't understand a word he says.

So, how come trying to explode myths about Texas always winds up reinforcing them? After all these years, I do not think it is my fault. The fact is, it's a damned peculiar place. Given all the horseshit, there's bound to be a pony in here somewhere."

Read the rest.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

No matter...

what Dan says Jack spicer says, I love Wallace Stevens. And this one, and this, and this. And so on.

It sounds goofy, I know, but S read Stevens's poems to me (and also Barry Hannah stories) during long drives across Texas and the hayricks and crows we saw through the windows of the the Bel Air resonated with the poems and we were at our best just beginning, and I'd never give them up. (I get car sick when I read in a moving vehicle, sometimes even in a plane--curses--so this set-up was a necessity, since we had a vacuum-tube operated radio with no reception.)

Aside: I've been hanging on to The Car (see above) for the last 8 years we've been in New York--hoping to move somewhere or bring it up here. (I fantasize about a garage. I dream I'm driving. Sometimes I'm also missing my motorcycle--a 1972 Honda 350cc, red with lots of chrome. I love to drive.) Just hasn't happened. It sits there, pining in Arlington, TX. It's the only material possession (besides my Pez and typewriter collections) that I've ever given a damn about.

I'm not nearly as old as my taste in motor vehicles would lead you to believe.

Wait, we're supposed to be talking poetry. Back to proofreading LIT.

Wow, thank you...

for the lovely words, Kasey! Somehow I missed it yesterday.

I'll get the rest of the Mathews exercises up this week.

After that I'm going media-madness-free for the weekend. (No email, no phone, no TV, no movies, no blogs, no anything that plugs in except music and maybe the lights!) I highly recommend this kind of detox if you haven't tried it. You know you need it when you dream you're answering emails. Usually these wake me up because it's so hard to type when you're sleeping.

Sunday, November 9, 2003


still reading Plowing the Dark by Richard Powers,and I just started Father of Noise by Anthony McCann. Recently read (and reviewed for Court Green) Anselm Berrigan's Zero Star Hotel. Reading the Oulipo Compendium again because of the Mathews class.

Tho I usually try not to talk Soft Skull biz here, I've got too much going on not to bend that rule. Editing Hal Sirowitz's Father Said,and Hilton Obenzinger's novel A*HOLE, and the video game anthology. Also preparing to send Kenneth Koch's The Art of the Possible: Comics Mainly without Pictures and Wanda Phipps's Wake-Up Calls: 66 Morning Poems to print.

...and LIT 8 of course, which we've finally closed, should go to press soon.

Recently purchased or received and someday I'll actually get to them: Edda by Snorri Sturluson (trans. by Anthony Faulkes), The Poetic Edda trans. by Lee M. Hollander, A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner, Internal West by Priscilla Becker, The Red Bird by Joelle McSweeney, Popular Music by Stephen Burt...plus all those goodies I got in New Orleans and haven't had time for.

Would two or three of me help?

Saturday, November 8, 2003

The eighth exercise...

had three parts. First, Harry asked us to take 5 minutes and write out an erotic fantasy or memory. Again, he said not to be literary, not to use "the brush of a dove's wing" metaphors and such. Be direct.

No, you funky monkeys, I'm not going to post my fantasy here, but I will say that we all seemed surprisingly comfortable writing at a shared table by this time, and nobody really balked about thinking sexy thoughts in a small classroom, though a few people I peeked at blushed a little as they wrote. (Meanwhile, the holiday madness was beginning to ratchet up outside...we were a few doors down from 6th Ave at 11th Street--right in the Halloween parade path.)

The second part of the exercise was another automatic list, with the constraint that all the words should relate to cooking or eating food. I think we had 3 minutes for this.

Food-related list













cookie sheet




broccoli rabe


olive oil









sea salt













pan sear

cast iron

brick oven

pizza stone



















wine glass


pinot noir



oysters again!

Besides making me realize that I was getting hungry and the at the cocktail hour was quickly approaching, this list had an sensual feeling to it that Harry manufactured by having us do the fantasy first. After having written what we had written, some of the words packed an extra charge. Context.

Now, what happens, asked Harry, when one lexicon is replaced with the other? The combination of these first two parts resulted in a true translexical translation. He asked us to take the erotic fantasy or memory and replace every word that had even the slightest erotic charge for us with a word from our food-related list. We borrowed the list of one classmember and added its words to our own, so we'd have more options.

Check it.

It is daylight and we are not alone. People aren't deglazing, but they could, if they knew what we were about to eat. You're here, but it isn't you. The kitchen pizza stone. The silicon spatulas have left burn marks on our vegetables, steamed in the pan. A hot bacon dressing to warm a cool salad as yeast is warm after a rise. A white apron over your chest and my ladles there, but I mostly notice our chewing. We are sautéeing in the flames, which lets us keep our eyes open and still smell the garlic. Who wants to eat, but sniff--let's sniff the oysterbed, our mouthfeel toasty. I think of high school when sausages were thin and brown and smacking was so curious. No longer curious in the bright kitchen but delicious. Out here over this stove and this blender and this cast iron sear. I rip the white apron and am stirring now. I tap the whisk on the bowl and all the waitresses are wearing chef's hats and they want two desserts a piece, but I have all the desserts. I have a chocolate cake and the new fork is like a silver keychain. The crumbs on our napkins in our laps or our mouths in your mustache and everything is reducing.

So yeah. People laughed aloud the whole way through this exercise. When we were all finished, Harry asked us to read over both versions and decide which was more erotic. Almost everyone chose the food-related version. He said we were perfect, and that was the end of the first day.

The seventh exercise...

was more automatic writing. This time the constraint was that we should make a simple list--just single words. For three minutes.

3-minute list





















































































Pretty clear, I guess, what was going on here. Bucking the drive to write in phrases, lines, sentences. The fictioneers had trouble with this too. I kept thinking of this as a very skinny poem, and they kept thinking of theirs as vertical sentences. Harry's got us realizing what we do habitually, automatically, and is teaching us the difference between automatic writing and habitual writing. Something like that.

The sixth exercise...

in Harry Mathews' class (if I might go back to that) was a sort of translexical translation. The definition of translexical translation from Mathews & Brotchie's Oulipo Compendium reads: A form of homosemantic translation that preserves the sense and structure of a source text but substitutes a vocabulary drawn from a radically different semantic field.

We did a modified version of this exercise, taking a passage from Ford Maddox Ford's "A Call" and translating it into words we might actually say to another person in casual conversation. "Don't be literary," Harry ordered.

I can't find the original online, but it's the first paragraph of section 1, about Mr. Robert Grimshaw's resemblence to a seal. Here's an example:

Ford wrote: "He carried about with him usually, in the crook of his arm, a polished, light brown dachsund that had very large feet, and eyes as large, as brown, and as luminous, as those of his master. Upon the occasion of Pauline Lucas's Marriage to Dudley Leicester the dog was not upon his arm, but he carried it into the drawing-rooms of the many ladies who welcomed him to afternoon tea. Apparently it had no attractions save its clear and beautiful colour, its excellent if very grotesque shape, and its complete docility."

I wrote: "And he has this little wiener dog he carries around--brown with bold paws and big old eyes and the dog looks around just like this guy, like sniffing at everything with his eyes, his nose, his whole head. He didn't have his dog with him at Pauline & Dudley's wedding, but otherwise he always brings the damn dog. He brings it to the bar. He brought it to my house--and he knows I have cats! It's not like this dog is that fucking great. I mean, it's cute, but it's just a dog. It just sort of sits there."

Despite Harry's injunction, much of my attempt was in fact "literary." I found it very hard not to invent a persona--to speak through. We learn to pose as writers, and it's a difficult habit to break. It's incredibly challenging to be truly spontaneous and unself-conscious.

We talked about the differences between written and spoken language--the letters (present and emphasized in writing, but missing or occluded in speech), high/formal and low/familiar lexicons, our ums and ahs and likes. Harry also spoke about our names functioning as a kind of mask--but he'd get more into this on the second day.

Well, they are the slime-sucking bottom feeders of the internet...

and Joseph Duemer proves it here.

Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Singing in the rain...

and reading a little bit too, tonight at Karaoke + Poetry = Fun at the Bowery Poetry Club. Black Book did a lil bit on the series, which Dan has up at his place. Trying to choose my song now. Suggestions?

How 'bout we vote on it? In the comment box or via email. Here's what I'm looking at:

Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue by Crystal Gayle

The Tide Is High by Blondie

Wind Beneath My Wings by Bette Midler

Tuesday, November 4, 2003

We agree to disagree...

with Dale Peck. Steve Almond says: "Nobody's objecting to critics spanking books they don't like. That's part of the job. But when the tone of these assaults overshadows—or blots out—aesthetic objections, something is terribly wrong. The best critics write reviews because love literature, not because they hate authors." Exactly.

Monday, November 3, 2003

Fifth exercise...

was mistranslation--wherein one translates from a source language to a target language without knowing the source language. This one threw people at first. Harry talked about sources and targets, languages and other kinds. He went around the room and asked what languages we knew: French, Italian, Spanish, German, Vietnamese, even Farsi. We looked pretty sheepish when he asked "Didn't anybody study Classics--Latin, Greek?" No. "Good!" Then he handed round a passage from The Iliad in the original. "Take 10 minutes and translate this." You should have seen the faces. I had the advantage of having done this before (in David Lehman's class from a Michaux poem, and also when I read Ashbery has all his students do it), but the time limit seemed impossible.

I thought I would have to scan the original to make this make sense, but I found the original online here. He gave us just the first 15 lines.

Mistranslation from Greek, 10 minutes

Naropa Institute, O our elevated ideas are Nirvana.

[Later, I cut this first line.]

Yep, young ones, all advances are eeked

out this way. Either intentionally, accidentally,

pathetically, or maximally with each turn

of the line. Welcome as you happen. Envoy.

Bon voyage. Oceans away await you.

Anytime we misplace our files, knowing one iota

over everything, we then have leapt out among

eurekas. We then know how any sportive

adolescent manages to tax her maw and paw with lies.

So either take this tantilizing view or

choose not to know. Whatever. Innuendo

excites many but not all. Exit's that way, go

beat a tattoo upon the door.

Either/or or anyhow, expectations are attenuated to the honks

outside, the cabs. The taxis speed with passengers

ever askew. Take me, for example,

I'm pretty charismatic outwardly. But

unexpectedly something of a tough cookie afterall.

Obviously, this was the most interesting result I'd had so far, though strictly speaking, I had no idea what I was talking about, though I did like some of the lines a lot. And certain of the rhythms sounded "like me." Where the heck did this come from? Who was speaking? Did I write this or was it there, somehow, in the source I couldn't read? These are the questions Harry asked us afterwards. He stressed that we wrote these things. Who else could've? But we wrote them from a place apart from our broken-in chair at our familiar desk. (He didn't say it like that, but I like the metaphor.)

Visual similarities between certain Greek letters and our alphabet triggered some of the words. For instance, where I wrote "iota" another student came up with "aorta." Others had "taxes" near where I'd put "taxis," and so on. The first Greek word (which is actually "Nestor"), looked to me like Naropa, and etc.

If you're interested in seeing the English, though it's sort of beside the point, it's here.

After this one, we broke for lunch.

Fourth exercise...

now we were sufficiently warmed up and automatically writing as comfortably as possible at a table shared with 12 other people, so he asked us to think about what certain restrictions do to this absolute freedom. We talked a lot about freedom. Restrictions like grammar, even, the most basic. We did 3 more minutes, with the condition that this time, it should all be in sentences.

3 minutes in sentences

I spilled my drink

It made a mess

There were no paper towels

This room is full of writing hands

I'm thinking about work

The injunction to write sentences has made my sentences different

Once, I wrote a sentence that pretended not to be a sentence

It acted like a phrase, missing parts

But secretly it was all there

Clark Kent in disguise is my sentence

My sentence wears a superhero cape when it emerges from the Telephone Bar

The Telephone Bar disappoints most superheroes

There's the drink prices for one

Plus, the guy at the door wants to see your ID

Sentences can leap tall buildings

And then some

Third exercise...

was more automatic writing. Before this session, we talked about the conversations that we have with ourselves all the time, the sort of running monologue or not-quite-verbal mess up there at any given moment.

3 minutes

blue shirt knit with white hair adults in costumes today sponge bob pre-adult conversations what was i saying about oysters bus squeals and rumbles all the hands scratch i dislike this writing in a roomful is that true enjoy the dictation fish and wind swell a musical horse cab a casino beating pulse along the river a shuffled deck of menus and coasters on the bar i can't tell him that whose name i must not mention temptation i also felt betrayed when my collaborator computer doesn't comply olivettis are the best

Find the goats and replace the chickens.

A-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. Hee.

The second exercise...

was in our smaller notebooks. Two minutes of automatic writing with no set topic, no restrictions or conditions. Still warming up. Between these exercises, Harry talked about where we write from and what we write with, asking us to think about these questions without trying to answer them. He talked about the difference between gratification and satisfaction. "The worst day of my life is publication day," he said. Because it's a temporary feeling of gratification, but soon enough it's apparent that he's not satisfied with the book (or the article or what-have-you). His solution to this dilemma is that we should find a way to make the process of writing satisfactory, not so much the end result.

2 minutes

television off volume video game cat hair couch and pillow fluff the father figure sweep the floor he's coming and we can't be a mess a baseball game isn't true it's borrowed to please you always pleasing just like you saw the silver pen the good pen for show for totem backup you prefer the plastic i could go for an oyster po-boy this isn't churchworthy interesting let's gamble it away at harrah's a hotel bed and sheets

The first exercise...

was really just to warm us up. Harry asked us to write 10 lines or more about who we were, where we were from, etc. We read these aloud and chatted with each other a bit about our backgrounds and jobs. Since I graduated a few semesters ago, I didn't know many people in the class, just a few from the office or from working on LIT. Most people did seem to already know each other--they were all fiction students except myself and Luis (who teaches in and works for the program). So I was the only poet.

Of course, the Harry Mathews course...

was immensely enjoyable. Harry was very generous and the whole group was brilliant, really. It felt in the end that we'd spent much more than 8 hours writing together. The course description we were given beforehand read: "The purpose of the workshop is not the usual one of developing the ability to write well or better: its aim is to dissolve the reticences and anxieties that beset most writers whatever the extent of their talent and experience. The actual writing called for by the workshop will all be done collectively during its four two-hour sessions. Uninterrupted attendance at each of these sessions is an absolute requirement."

I misunderstood "collectively" to mean collaboratively. Our exercises were done independently, but some did have a collaborative element. I'm going to post them here (since some of y'all have indicated you're interested) and perhaps also some of my results, just so you have an idea of what the class experience was like.

Friday morning we got off to a late start because of the subway fire, and when we did finally settle in, the New School blared the fire drill alarm. Once thoroughly drilled on how to walk downstairs and across the street, we got down to business.

Harry provided us each with two notebooks--a large one for straight exercises, and a smaller one for automatic writing only. We were cautioned not to take notes--the only writing we were to do was to be for the exercises. And we learned that nobody would read or hear anything we wrote unless we chose to share it. No pressure. We should feel free and be confident that we could do anything. We had been asked to write a few lines about our expectations of the class, and Harry went over each of those, correcting any misconceptions we had about what the class was about (like my misunderstanding about collaborative work, for instance).

Saturday, November 1, 2003

How lucky am I?

Currently taking a lunch break from my workshop with Harry Mathews. It's the best class of my life. Full report to come. Lots to tell, because this is a 3-week workshop squished into 2 days. Whew.

Thinking of posting some of the exercises. Would you like to see them?

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

More bitching with bravado...

If you read this blog with any regularity, you can guess how I feel about these hatchet jobs.

I am so turned off by the vitriol with which Peck trashes his peers that I can't bring myself to read one of his novels. But it sure does get him noticed, don't it?

NOLA Bookfair update 2...

Lots of great publishers at the fair, as well as individual authors and zinesters. Autonomedia drove their bookmobile full of great stuff into the exhibition space, Pinball Publishing brought Eye Rhyme, we sat next to Brenda from FC2, met the zinester girl from San Francisco who does Inky, and fondled the handmade books and book art of the artists from Babylon Lexicon. The Contemporary Arts Center was also open during the fair, which was cool. A few logistical complaints: there was no lounge area for visitors to sit and look at their purchases so everybody ended up sitting on the floor or the sidewalk outside. Also, the booths were pretty crowded together. We were in the middle of a row against a wall, so we had to crawl under our table to get in and out. Minor. Hope to go back next year.

Stopped by Faulkner House and John Bigeunet happened to be there, and was recognized and asked to sign a copy of The Torturer's Apprentice for one delighted woman and her husband. Also visited Octavia Books where we met the owners Tom & Judith (we've sent authors there for Soft Skull, so I wanted to say hello) and Beaucoup Books off Magazine Street (no site). Both really nice independent stores. Didn't make it to Maple Street Books--next time. The big bookstore that used to be in the "French Market Mall" bit the dust, it seems. It was a subchain of some kind--maybe a Book Star? The used bookstores like Kaboom (mentioned previously), Librairie Bookshop, the other two used/antiquarian shops whose names I forget were all dutifully browsed. I scored a the two-volume Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams in paperback--like new--for half price.

And of course the food! Went back to Mother's for po-boys, Napoleon House (mentioned previously--where we got married upstairs in the "Emperor's Appartments") for lunch and Pimm's Cups, Marisol (our consistent favorite), Bayona on the last night (our first visit and I found it good, but overrated--just as I did Herbsaint last time), and we picked up muffalettas and Zapp's Jalepeno Chips from Central Grocery. Walked everywhere--enough not to rack up the calories with too much worry.

True crime addiction...

I can't help myself. Yesterday on the plane, I got hooked on this Linda Henning case.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

60,000 used books browsed...

and the following purchases made, from the lovely and thorough Kaboom Books on Barracks Street:

Chamber Music by James Joyce: Own this already, but not in this slim pocket-sized green paperback from Grossman Publishers/Cape Editions.

Contemporary German Poetry translated by Eswald Osers: A bright orange saddle-stapled chap from Oleander Modern Poets series, 1976. Contains lots of new-to-me names.

Théo, or the New Era by Robert Pinget, translated by Barbara Wright. I just really dig this guy, but haven't read this one.

Relics: Poems by Elton Glaser. Wesleyan University Press, New Poets Series, 1984. His first book?

Blues Words by Roger Manning. A handwritten blue chap from 1993.

And best of all, Now See Here, Homes by Horace Mungin. The author subtitles the black typewritten stock-covered 1969 chap with the following: "The second book of black contemporary poetry." Here's a lil poem:

Down Home Blues Comes Up Home

Funky, Funky, Funky

Feel like a dirty

low-life Donkey.

Funky, Funky, Funky

treated like a dirty

unfed Donkey.

Lord, each time I

try to take a part

they put broomsticks

through my heart.

Now ain't that Funky.

Funky, Funky, Funky

Feel like a dirty

low-life Donkey.

One 'these days

I'm gonna rise

take their fingers

out my eye

and see whose been


NOLA Bookfair report...

Last night at the Dragon's Den, Daphne stole the show, performing a piece from Why Things Burn, a new piece about dating a suicide artist from a chapbook, and finally "Slut" from Final Girl. All the readers were great--see the NOLA bookfair site for details and links--the other highlights being Lucy Corin (a story re: Lucas & Otis with cameos by other serial killers), Susannah Breslin (a story re: a pornographer), Stephen Graham Jones (Native-American sci-fi), and Nathan Ballingrud (an entry from a dictionary of imaginary diseases).

We're off to the bookfair this morning, as soon as we shake the late-night outta our heads and roll outta bed.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Entirely too much too do...

but I am really looking forward to getting on the plane for New Orleans on Friday morning. The NOLA book fair looks like it will be a lot of fun, and of couse I'll be stopping by the Napoleon House for a Pimm's Cup. Our first time back since the wedding.

More responses to the Favorite Reading Series or Venue poll...

New York: the Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church series is getting very high marks. One performer remarked, "My favorite is The Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church. I got treated well and even got paid." Also recommended are The KGB poetry series, and Karaoke + Poetry = Fun at the Bowery Poetry Club curated by Daniel Nester. And the Bowery Poetry Club is winning in the best venue in NYC category.

Most missed: Flying Saucer Series curated by Nada & Alan, Poetry City Series at Teachers & Writers curated by Jordan & Anne.

Chicago: Discrete Series by Kerri Sonnenberg & Jesse Seldess, Danny's Series, Chicago Poetry Project at Harold Washington Library

Buffalo: Wed@4 Series at Univeristy of Buffalo

Ithaca: Jane Sprague's West End Poetry Series at Gimme Coffee. (Also check out her Palm Press.)

Providence: Missing: Mairéad Byrne's series at RISD.

Oakland: 21 Grand, described as "largely youngish-people based, and seems to have a wider range than a lot of the other venues here. From a lot of Mills grad students (or ex-grad students) who call themselves the New Brutalists...to more funky group readings with fiction writers and performance poets. Daphne Gottleib for instance, who you're publishing, read there. I've also seen rock bands there."

Portland, OR: Spare Room "because it is the only series in Portland devoted to presenting consistently challenging work. Do come."

Camden, NJ: "A favorite of mine was the Walt Whitman Center's Notable Poets and Writers series in Camden, NJ."

Philadelphia, PA: "I am also fond of La Tazza, Kelly Writers House and the Temple Univ. series....all in Philadelphia."

And one respondent has even nominated the readings he does for himself in his office, comfy chair, or bed just before sleep.

See the comment box below for more recommendations. Keep 'em coming, via comment box or backchannel email. Thanks!

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Just released:

Poem A Day: Volume 2, which I worked on for Laurie Sheck a while back. Publishers Weekly praises my "brief, often amusing, always fascinating anecdotes and information about the poets and their poems." Well, I'll be danged.

New pizza post and a reading report...

by David cameron here.

24-hour dissolving poem

[time expired]

A poem by Bill Kushner


I work in that great web of intrigue

It's called the sky & I the pilot

But I'll give free rides, I ain't no mean sky

I want my head bald with long flowing hair

For you lonely earthlings to climb up & hide

I want to be a boy & a girl, a dog & a cat

When I grow up & I want also to be a pie

Just for you to dig into when yr heart grows hungry

Dark American nights & the lost moon she's weeping

A kitten in my hand, a puppy in my pants

We'll paint our furniture gaudy with colorful memories

I want to be smart enough to know there's no answer

But to study kindness humility no war no more Sir please

I want to be that big book you read, puts you to sleep

(Bill's reading tomorrow at Frequency from his just-released book In the Hairy Arms of Whitman and also great new work!)

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Your favorite reading series or venue?

I'm taking a poll. To read in, to listen to, to make a trip for, etc. Here, there, anywhere.

City sightings...

On the train this morning: a man reading Ulysses while simultaneous flirting with a baby.

Tuesday, walking to the train from the New School: an elderly gentlewoman in furs, wheelchair cradled, being pushed along by a well-dressed friend or relative, much younger. Both were singing at the top of their lungs, Wild Irish Rose.

Best of both worlds: about two weeks ago, walking around Gramercy Park park, I noted the last of the summer greens as they mingled with steam from a basement laundry vent. What's better than laundry-warmed air and leaf-rustled gusts?

A marquee on a neighborhood church: The word relieves stress. Actually, I think Word was capitalized, but in the lower-cased sense, amen.

Highly recommended...

This post is long overdue. Every morning I look forward to receiving E-VERSE RADIO, a daily (or almost) e-mail newsletter by Ernest Hilbert. A poem a day, a quotation or two, an "unbelievable but real film title" of the day, invaluable fact of the day, reader comments, top five lists, and the occasional cocktail recipe. To sign up, send an email to E-VERSE RADIO at everseradio at earthlink.net.

From a recent E-VERSE RADIO...

A reader writes in: "As a junior high school teacher, I had to field numerous calls from parents who were appalled about the books in our school library. While I think that each and every caller was a half-wit, I can verify that Bridge To Terabithia is one of your more offensive books as judged by fundamentalist Christians. The creation of the land of Terabithia is the part judged to be occult, and some people interpret the young girl's character as a lesbian. Oh the horror. Do you remember the kiss? Rampant sexuality! I believe the objectionable language is the frequent use of the word 'damn'. The book that caused the most controversy was the first Harry Potter novel. Parents came to our school to sit in on classes and monitor the teachers. If we picked up a Harry Potter book to read aloud, the kids and parent would stage a walkout. At the high school, the biggest controversy was when a teacher had her students read from Romeo and Juliet. The majority of the class walked out and there was a prayer vigil by the front of the school for the rest of the day. Romeo and Juliet are sexually active outside of marriage, and the students had been instructed by their church leaders that listening to such a tale is a sin. Man, I miss the 80s. When did the USA get lobotomized?"

No, really...

I really "like this."


Plowing the Dark by Richard Powers and Poetical Dictionary by Lohren Green.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

And more...

of the same. Unbelievable.

The Fraud-O-Matic Voting Machine...

is here.


that's really all I can muster to say about this. Between this, Governor-Elect Horny Hitlerite, and the highly unusual redistricting going on right now in my home state, it is hard to keep up hope.

Enthusiasm counts...

you know. Jonathan's right too about those bitter pills.

I remember best (and most gratefully) the classes of teachers who were demonstrably excited to be introducing us to books and poems they loved, and were also genuinely interested in our reactions to it. (Joseph Duemer's said a bit on this topic, too.) Woe to those students who have the misfortune to run into teachers who seem not to like anything--the subject and the students themselves not withstanding!

I recall (more often than I'd like) the professor who "taught" my 17th-century lit class in college. He openly derided the students and seemed bored with his own tenure-track expertise. Depite complaints on all sides, the University seemed content to let him poison sophomores year after year. It took me a long time to read John Donne with relish afterward, simply because the poems reminded me of that awful class.

Rejoice and bookmark...

the new EPC blog list edited by Nick Piombino, which is introducing me to many new lunchbreak favorites.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Recently purchased...

Like Neon: Poems & Belief Systems by the charasmatic Kentuckian Paul McDonald.

24-hour ghosty poem...

and after that it's gone. [Back by popular demand since at least a handful of folks missed it over the weekend. But only for 24 hours!]

[time expired]