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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?