16 December 2014

From _ to _

Brian Oliu dared us to do something.

Gawker published a chart of the most used words in pop music by decade. It's oddly psychological. Oddly vague and uneasy to read.

Brian thought we should write poems.

Here is his.

Below is mine.

            From _ to _

There was a moment when the sky opened and you cried uncle
up until not the clouds had kept it all at bay         collapsing into yourself you cried uncle
and the giving was somehow –                   It has begun to rain gems
they tink on the pavement              collect in arroyos       are water blue

Remember when we spoke in phases of the moon

When the children all looked like they were doing a polka

Look    I know that we left you crying in the desert but we were on mushrooms
             – It’s Christmas…

On the radio – baby
                        it’s cold outside woman –
            That song is always creepy              I hate the sound of the word love

What did you see out there when we left you
In the breaking clouds was there a face – did it come for you

stretching into a scream I never believed in – I know it was terrible when we –

17 September 2014

We Are

College is a time when you are putting yourself together. In a very real way, it's THE time you are doing this.

I know. 0-5. When the body is literally putting itself together.

What I'm talking about is self-control on the where each thing goes.

A college freshman must (usually) deal with: being alone for the first time, living with non-family, sorting through a schedule on their own, time management, laundry, food, etc.

All while doing the work the classes demand.

Let's not pretend that the college freshman is somehow a blighted individual worthy of our sympathy. While the debt they are taking on is definitely worth a few tears, I won't lose sleep over these new kids joining the already massive crowd - Today more than 40 million of Americans have student debt. That pile of non-existent cash tops out at $1.2 trillion.

This fall I am teaching two sections on identity in America. The classes are basic English 101 deals, with the bonus of me being able to design the reading list.

I could not think of a better topic for incoming freshmen to deal with.

Who we are as a country, as groups, as individuals needles its way into every day life. Into the make-up of the country. Politics, communities, online scandals.

This week we are reading The Gettysburg Address and looking at it for rhetorical devices. It's in prep for the students working on their own analysis paper. Read over the lines I was reminded that the Address was read at the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 2001 terrorist attack in New York. That we, as a country, turned back 138 years for comfort.

And there is something in that about who we are as a people.

That we looked backwards to explain the present.

I'd make some analogy about how the nation at this point in time is like a college freshmen, figuring out how to do laundry and eat properly on our own for the first time. But I think that's obvious.

08 September 2014

... Rose ... Rose ... Rose

Gertrude Stein is sexy.

Murmur pet murmur pet murmur.
Push sea push sea push sea push sea push sea push sea push sea push sea.

Those two lines are from 'Sacred Emily'. Later in that poem Stein pens what is her most famous line: 
A rose is a rose is a rose.

Say these lines out loud for a second.
What does 'push sea' sound like? What about the later line:
Cunning is and does cunning is and does the most beautiful notes.

And of course there's this great line from 'This Is The Dress, Aider':
Aider, why aider why whow, whow stop touch, aider whow, aider stop the muncher, muncher munchers.

I mean...

Gertrude Stein is sexy.

She was a Nazi sympathizer and all around narcissist, but sexy as hell.

12 May 2014

The OTHER Novel About Bellefonte

I have been working on a long-form poetry/essay collection about Tesla for a few years now.

It finally feels like there is momentum behind it.

Not to say it's done, just that it's moving.

I spent the day editing poems and thinking about order. It's weird how there is a natural forming linear narrative happening in the work. It clearly starts with Tesla's birth and moves to a meta-physical place on his work and death.

Along the way Mark Twain talks about patents. And JP Morgan spends money. And Edison kills an elephant in the park.

And there's bottled fire and bugs and light bulbs planted like irises.

Again. It feels like something.

The same cannot be said for the novel. It's stalled in stall town.


But the first third is done.
Very much done-ish.

It's weird writing about my parent's hometown. Where I went to high school.

I recently read Jeff VanderMeer's Annihilation. I was fascinated by the perspective on the 'Sci Fi' novel. So I went and read City of Saints and Madmen. The second book didn't grab me as much, but buried within was a moment that caught me off guard.

A character, who may or may not be VanderMeer is being questioned in a mental institution. He is asked where he is from. He answers Belfont, Pennsylvania.

It jumped off the page. I went to the internet.

Bellefonte is a town of 6000 in central Pennsylvania. It's main claim to fame is that the town has a natural spring with no known source and Jonathan Frakes is from there. Coming across this town in a book, a successful book, is weird.

VanderMeer was born in Bellefonte. But his family spent a lot of time in Fiji. That he claims the town at all is amazing.

I immediately paid more attention to his work, to his persona. For selfish reasons.

Because I hope my book will someday be the 'other novel' that features Bellefonte, PA.

Bellefonte, PA

11 April 2014

Review : The Boss

Author: Victoria Chang
Publisher: McSweeney's
Date: 7/2013
When the world breaks apart beneath you there are only a few choices available – to pick it up and carry it with you – or to throw it away, abandoning the mess. That mess exists either way. The question is about who and when it gets dealt with.
Victoria Chang’s new book dredges the rubble of both kinds. That of family. And that of society. The family plays out in an examination of her father, suffering from dementia. In the study of her own life in terms of who is boss and who is not. Her actual boss at work, herself vs. her daughter, her father.
Society enters in the form of 9/11. In strange, subtle ways, the event creeps in. The experience of an emigrant in America. Of a family integrating into the culture.
The poems begin in a place of thought. A cascading train that opens quickly into nature, aging, and death. The progression is one of language to senses. The words drill down the page. A sort of cultural tunnel-making. They start from a sense of now and dig quickly into pasts personal and public as they work down the page.
The form is ballad-like. The strong sense of meter and internal slant-rhyme drives the words quickly. There is little time to think, to absorb. The drive to go from start to finish is almost oppressive. Chang is the boss here. The control is astounding.
The healing power of voicing a broken history is important. One of reconciling the past and present. Talking seems central to the process.
my four-year-old daughter still listens to me I am the boss and I like it I see why the boss likes it
Conversations with an ailing father. Where he confuses her for her sister. The forgetting of time. Thinking he is still working. The conversation as her boss comes back to work after having a baby. Each moment seems to be a way into a wound. A filling.
When 9/11 first shows up it is sudden, it is a question to be answered. But the answer is never given. We watch as it happens. We see pilots merging with bosses on the 54th floor. We ponder children being too young to save parents.
Chang uses acrostic poems built around Edward Hopper’s paintings of offices and urban streets to discuss the ambiguities of human interaction. To point out the many interpretations of a frozen scene. The ambiguities in every day life. Here the question of boss melts, each time a different person is given the title. Americana is reinterpreted as the immigrant experience.
The Boss concludes with a recount of the Tōhoku earthquake on March 11, 2011. We are left at the mercy of a higher boss. Nature. And the concerns of man seem to dwindle. The problem of an ailing father is left in that space. Nature does as it will. The concerns of the office and who is in charge when are abandoned finally. The earth cracks open and water rises. People fade, people rise. They lead, then everyone, everywhere falls.
A final unavoidable breaking.

24 March 2014


I've been teaching.

Which sounds like a confession of some kind.

Today we watched the 2001 film version of Waiting for Godot. I am always suspect of film versions of plays. They are rarely good. Theater translates poorly to film. Almost worse than fiction does.

When it works it's because one of two things have happened in the process. Either the film has managed to cover up the stage origins of the work or it embraces them and allows the film to be 'stagey'.

Can we talk about how Julia Roberts stopped
smiling like this sometime in 1997?
Let's talk about Steel Magnolias.

Which I bet most people don't even know is a play.

I'll start by saying that the movie is real good. In a specific late 80s way. A big hair Olympia Dukakis Pretty Woman era Julia Roberts Dolly Parton in 9 to 5 way. Think about Beaches. That's what I'm talking about.

The play was written by Robert Haling, who adapted the work into the screenplay. It is based on his own sister's death from diabetes. He wrote a short story version first, then changed it into a play within 10 days.

It is a rare example of a work moving quickly form one stage to another. The play premiered in 1987. The move in 1989. Though it never went to Broadway until 2005.

It is most certainly an example of a plays origins being masked.

But it is also a very rare example of a playwright being responsible for the film.

On the other end of the spectrum is another Julia Roberts movie, 2004's Closer.

That film is also written by the original playwright. In this case, Patrick Marber. He also wrote the screenplay for Notes on a Scandal FYI. A film you need to see now.

The play actively refuses to be solid. It is one of roughly drawn character and scene. Things are implied. Plot is left out until afterwards, then only mentioned. Scenery is sparse. It is very post-modern.

The movie takes a note from this. It leaves the characters broadly drawn. It keeps the settings simplistic. And it feels stagy. In this case it makes the whole film feel wooden. Awkward. Distant.

Like it's all being kept from you. This is where the translation from stage to film can go wrong.

The Godot film we watched was basically a stage production with good close-ups. In this case it works. But this is because the play is already strange enough to hold up to the glare of cameras. And the film makers wisely decided to make it a stage production filmed with nice close ups.

And it draws you in like a stage production. Steel Magnolias pulls you with melodrama and sweeping southern town charms. Closer pushes you away. It's hard to say which is better. I prefer to be reminded of the format. I like the disconnect of knowing it's a production. But there still needs to be connection. And sometimes a screen keeps that from happening.

14 March 2014


I often think about the ways languages change.

Over time standards move.

The Guardian spent some time running down the ways English evolves.

The one that stands out to me is Epenthesis. This is when a consonant appears where there isn't one. The examples given are 'thunder' and 'empty'. These words used to be 'thuner' and 'emty'. The example of a word that this is in the process of happening to is 'hamster'. Most people insert a 'p' in there.

This brings to mind the word 'wash'. In central Pennsylvania you will hear it pronounced as 'warsh'.

A lot of people get really caught up being bothered by this.

Say the word 'balm' out loud. If you pronounce the 'l' you are a part of this shifting language. That 'l' was left out. Until very recently.

I can't. Language is beautiful because it isn't a pure thing. We change, borrow, and steal to make it what it is. And I'm happy to see it living and breathing and becoming something new.

Think about people 100 years from now not understanding our spelling and syntax. It's a trippy thought, but take a look at syntax and language from the late 1800s sometime. It will explode your view of how quickly language shifts.

I've recently begun teaching a class on contemporary North American plays. We were reading Jose Rivera's Marisol. We began by talking about the early 90s. The kids in the class are all int heir early 20s so they were babies in the 90s.


We talked about the weirdness of that time. The L.A. riots, the Tailhook scandal, the first World Trade Center bombing, abortion clinic bombings, the mere fact that Nirvana became #1 and a week earlier Michael Jackson was...

There was a sense that culture was in upheaval.

It made me realize that culture shifts quickly the same way language does. That what matters in 1992 will be strange and hard to explain in 2014.

That time and place are impermanent.

))))mind expands((((

07 February 2014


Life Edited
I've been thinking of space.

Rooms within rooms.

The idea of a room. What it is.

Beyond four walls.

I've been writing on it. Thinking through how I deal with space.

From the base idea of a room not existing before it is seen. A sort of classic koan-like thought experiment. From that idea up to the idea of entering a painting and leaving behind the 'real' world.

The mutability of space.

Floor plans.

Think about entering a room. A car. A forest. For the first time. And the wonder of that moment.

It's like looking at a word for the first time.


That is a poem by Aram Saroyan. The question is inevitable. Why?

Because when you look at it you begin to question the nature of light. The nature of language. The nature of everything.

How many gh's could you stuff in there? Infinite? Because the 'gh' is silent you can slide over them. They approach the infinity of light. The speed of it. The beauty.

Ian Daly talks it out at the Poetry Foundation:

"(The poem) is something you see rather than read. Look at “lighght” as a poem and you might not get it. Look at it as a kind of photograph, and you’ll be closer."

Saroyan himself says: “The difference between “lighght” and another type of poem with more words is that it doesn’t have a reading process...Even a five-word poem has a beginning, middle, and end. A one-word poem doesn’t. You can see it all at once. It’s instant.”

I think of a poem as a room. A space you must enter. Thinking about spaces we see and deal with on a daily basis allows us to reconnect to the magic of life. Beyond the space we have created for ourselves.