Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Very Good Explanation

I'm working myself up to posting something substantial. For now, this gem from the start of Alberto Rios' "Don Gustavo, Who Had a Hand for an Ear":

One sees the world differently from the rooftops of a town. The people are a little smaller, with bigger heads and smaller feet. One looks down onto the tops of trees and bushes. A small horse is like a large dog, a dog is like an awkward cat, and a white cat is like a comet or a falling star, only sideways, along the darkness of the street.

On a rooftop the air is colder, and the sound of people's talking is indistinct, no different from the turning handle on a meat grinder or the loading and unloading of boxes from a delivery truck. A woman's sharp laugh is a bicycle bell, but from up on the rooftop you yourself had better not laugh.

It might be all right if one has business on the roof--if one is, say, installing a new cooler or fixing tiles. Then a laugh heard by a woman on the street seems like no more noise than a mosquito flying by. But if your business is something else, the mosquito bites, and the lady points and yells. And there's never a very good explanation.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Check out the new Anti-

Once again in excellent company, I have work in issue #5 of Anti-, which you can find here.

The work in Anti- is always top-notch, but I do have to say I often return just to read the "Anti-thesis" for each poet.

Happy solstice, dear reader. Here's to longer days!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Post In Which It Never Occurs To Writer To Mention Tiger Woods

Jesus on Toast: the Pareidolia

A few years ago a friend got me one of those plastic cookie-cutter things that make Jesus imprints on toast. This was after a long conversation of pareidolia, something I’ve been captivated by since I was a small child.

As a child my brother and I did not much go to church. Sometime in middle childhood (I think I was seven or eight and my brother was ten) my mother gave us the option of going to church or not going to church anymore. I don’t remember whether my mother ever went with us to church the few times we did go, but I don't think so. We were either Episcopalian or Methodist. Methodist, I think.

No, definitely Methodist.

I have a memory of my mother dropping my brother and I off in front of the church, then an older woman scuttling us into some basement for lessons on God. But maybe it just felt like abandonment and she really was up there somewhere above, listening with the other believers to the organ buzz vibrating the walls.

My brother and I were thoughtful children. When given the option we didn’t answer right away. I remember a few moments huddled in his room, the dog and us in a trinity of thought, before emerging and letting mother know that, no, we didn’t think we wanted to go anymore.

As a result of this The Bible has always been my weak category on Jeopardy.

As a result of this I started seeing Jesus everywhere. I was convinced the face of Jesus watched me while I slept from the back of my bedroom door. With dark knots for eyes and a beard shaped by dendrochronology, he watched while I slept.

I saw Jesus in the popcorn ceiling over the stairs. In oil stains in our garage. In patterns of leaves at the side of the road. And in clouds, especially in clouds.

In my bedroom in high school, I was persuaded to make a move on my best (girl) friend by the fact that the bare branches of the tree outside my window spelled love. This I noticed for the first time while we sat on my floor talking about U2 and REM and Losing My Religion,

Consider this
The slip that brought me
To my knees failed
What if all these fantasies
Come flailing around
Now I've said too much

and never stopped seeing until the leaves returned to the trees.

I never once thought being gay was like being straight. Not once did I underestimate the anxiety of letting on I liked a girl. I knew what it was to like a boy. The tremors that came with this were nothing like the earth-shattering and possible brain-bashing of liking a girl.

Sarah was religious. She was born-again, evangelical. If at 17 I’d had any idea what these things meant, I probably would have kept my distance.

She played golf, she played drums, her family read from the Bible every night, sometimes her mother spoke in tongues. When I had dinner there, I too read from the Bible, but the words meant nothing to me.

This isn’t where I meant to go with this. In short, it all worked out. I mean, for a little while. There was violence (though not between us), there was excitement of subterfuge, the shock of revealing our relationship to a handful of people. Of course she wasn’t gay then; it was just about me.

I don't know which will go first - rock 'n' roll or Christianity. –John Lennon

Under directions from her mother, Sarah’s brother buried her CDs next to the creek behind their house. Her mother went in and out of thinking all music that didn't exalt Christ was created by the hands of the devil.

It took a few weeks before she found the CDs again, covers wilted and stuck together with the ground’s perspiration.

The year before I met Sarah, I was hanging out a lot with Ali. It wasn’t the same kind of adoration (deeply into hairspray and lipstick, oh, and boys, I never would have tried anything on her), but we were close. Her parents were my parents briefly, I too hated her brother, that kind of thing. I don’t remember why she had friends in Youngstown, but there was a party and I went along. I remember somebody’s kitchen, the linoleum especially. I spent some time drunk on that yellow tile.

There was plenty of alcohol. There was the standard pairings of one girl and one boy making out here and there. And the girls who weren’t latched to a boy seemed to be aching for it. At this point I’d done nothing about my affection for girls. I had had a boyfriend the year before whose best friend (a girl) had kissed me, but that was all.

Let’s call the girl at this party Maggie. When we got there, Maggie was strumming a guitar in the kitchen. She did not look up, she did not say hello. Her dark hair fell over her face. I had no idea what she looked like except for her hands, which gnarled out to pluck at the notes, but were lovely when ever they paused.

The end of the night would find Maggie and I curled up in some strange bedroom, the door locked and all of the furniture against it.

In the kitchen she played a Beatles song. I said I shared my birthday with George Harrison, a bit of trivia I liked to share. George Harrison and Pele (I used to play soccer, a lot). I knew George was the ‘lesser’ Beatle. John was the best for his glasses and early death. Paul came in second for song-writing. Ringo, by pure virtue of a cool name kept him firmly not-in-last. But George was better than nothing. “Oh, really,” she looked up. Blue eyes, beautiful. In that instant I knew I would always favor girls with blue eyes. “I share my birthday with John.”

Sometimes with Butter

I like toast. A lot. Breakfast, if I have it, is usually a piece of toast and a few swallows of orange juice. Always the same kind of bread. Always the same brand of orange juice. It’s been this way for years.

Friday the man was coming to look at our furnace, to make sure we weren’t poisoning ourselves. I’ve been smelling a smell whenever the heat’s on. C doesn’t notice it at all.

We have the ritual now of coming home to me saying, “There. How about now? Can you smell that?” It makes my throat burn. “No, but we can call someone.”

We have finally called someone and I’m waiting for him to show up. Between 8 and noon; it’s a busy time of year. I want toast, but I don’t make it. Toast smells good and I’ve cranked up the heat in the hopes that the burly, dirty man who shows will smell the same terribleness that I do.

I’m starving. I could have some Grape Nuts, but it’s not what I want. I’m making tiramisu for a holiday party on Saturday. I forget and brew a new pot of double-strong coffee to dip the ladyfingers in.

Gary shows up and I ask him, “what do you smell?” “Coffee,” he says. “And rum.”

Telling Them Stories

At the local coffee shop a new artist has put their work up. The photographs aren’t bad, but there’s some tacky plaque up that I misread at first.

I don’t have children, yet. But in my dreams I’m telling them stories.

I read this as in my dreams I’m selling them.

Perhaps it’s best I don’t have kids.

Mexico’s Futurism

I want to talk about Stridentism, but maybe not today.

Absinthe, the Poet’s Third Eye

I want to talk more about Rimbaud. And the concept of potential, realized and unrealized, and what that means. If somewhere in the universe floats all the books he never wrote. The books Bolano didn’t write. All the artists who died young.

I want to talk about playing board games and about Christmas trees. How my grandmother never let me win Scrabble, and what that means to my competitiveness.

C and I don't go out a lot. Like most cozy couples with nothing to prove, we often prefer Lost on DVD and hanging out with cats to real socializing. Between Garth and Pierre's holiday extravaganza and game night at Debra and Cata's, it was a busy Saturday. I learned Rummikub, which I'm probably spelling wrong, and of which I've discovered one can play at many different levels of comprehension. I'm sure I played at one of the lower levels. But it's also got more to do with luck than I'm generally looking for in a good rousing game. All in all, a good time was had.

At Garth and Pierre's party, we really couldn't help staring at the tree. Get two talented artists and combine two and a half decades of gathered ornaments and a love of detail and you've got something that really shines. Blindingly so. For a few minutes I actually considered convincing C that we too needed to put up a tree.

Having another commitment, we didn't stay nearly as long as I would have liked. Hopefully we'll see them again soon.

On the Bookshelf

I’m currently reading Kathleen Rooney’s For You, For You I am Trilling These Songs, Lorrie Moore's Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? (from a writer I adore, not one of her best, but still worth a read), Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. I’m taking a break from reading poetry. I won't go into why, but it has to do with this:

There’s Something to be Said for Chronology

So I wrote this novel. I haven’t sent it very many places, and have gotten excellent “not quite”s every time time, several close calls from very nice presses. And have had in the back of my mind that I need to get back to it. To mold it around some central emotion. I mean, it has that. But more. Make it more while making less. You know. What you Do.

I took a year to write it, two more to revise it and revise and revise and revise. Looked at it more the way a poet would a poetry manuscript. The rearranging of parts. Like a mix-tape. It’s composed of short sections.

Revised for two years. Every day. Then couldn’t think about it for more than two years. I wanted my character crazy. Unable to trust and untrustable. Unlodged in time, omniscient. Reaching into minds the way you once feared your mother could.

So I’ve gone back to it now, though a few places are still looking at it.

The characters have begun obsessing me again. In that unhealthy way that I can’t take a shower without them. That I find them tying my shoes, steering the car, throwing the ball for my dog. Like bodysnatchers, they take over sometimes.

But I’m finding it hard to re-read when I’ve already read the 500 pages so many times. So instead I’m recreating the book from the sum of its parts. Developing Re-versions, if you will. One will hold to strict chronology. This isn’t something I’m used to. I don’t believe we live this way, all at once moving forward.

I know what Time really looks like, and it’s got more than two hands.

Anyway, I’m in love with it again. This I have needed.

Sometimes I Think Maybe Everything That Needs to be Said Might Be Communicated with Cumulous Cloud Formations

I don’t really think I see Jesus anywhere. I’ve never believed in the sightings, except that first one on my bedroom door.

It’s all about patterns. I know this. And focus. About staring at a wall long enough for Jesus to come looking for you. For words to emerge. Military formations. Constellations. A little bit of butter on a thin slice of bread.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Sharon Stone and a Bag Full of Books

I’ve been neglecting this blog. I’m a bad blogger. Honestly I blame it on a) living, b) the damn cold (how can I blog if my fingers are freezing?), and c) books.

I recently thought about re-reading The Savage Detectives. I liked that book so much and I’m putting off reading some of Bolano’s others (the few I have left). I really wish he wasn’t dead. Anyway, instead of rereading, I ended up flipping through and looking at the notes I had made while I read it the first time. And reading a few reviews of it online. It's funny to me that several reviews didn't actually get past the first 150 pages. I wouldn't have any idea anything about the book if I'd only read that much. Anyway, I don’t know why I write notes. I have no papers to write, don’t belong to a book club, and I haven’t written a review in a long time. God, what a book. Anyway, you should read it.

Also distracting me from blogging this week: Lily Hoang’s Parabola, Ayn Rand’s Anthem, and Arthur Rimbaud, who I’m currently in love with. I’m reading/rereading/gorging myself on A Season in Hell like it’s a Thanksgiving turkey. Parabola is also a force to be reckoned with. Stretching the definition of “novel” to a nearly unrecognizable form, this book is entertaining like nothing I’ve come across. The book wants me to figure out who I am. Or at least that’s what I think the tests are for. I’m closer, anyway. I might be a De-Constructor or a Doer. Also, a Sadist. Generally also anytime a writer wants to throw science in, I’m pretty delighted. If you need a book to shake you up a bit, to look at your own work a little differently, this is a good place to start.

And Anthem? Well, I don’t think Rand writes anything that isn’t one. The scope is always larger than the pages in your hands. For some reason this slim allegorical tale makes me want to try my hand at filmmaking. Maybe it’s just the image of the light in the tunnel, maybe the glass house on the hill. Ah, collectivism. Perhaps I’ll get a group together to make the film. (No I won’t.)


This week also saw me on the road. I can be fussy on the road, but this was mostly a good time. Carol and I read in Portland with Emily Kendal Frey. Like I’d special-ordered it, Emily read Airport, which you can find here: http://issuu.com/bluehourpress/docs/airport.

I read some of the new conspiracies, and also from Money for Sunsets. Carol, in my opinion, did not read nearly long enough. Also, she did not read the poem about the girl in the photograph with a plastic gun. I will make her bend to my will on this soon.


The Democracy of Bad Food

When I travel I eat a lot. Every coffee is a soy latte (which I never get at home, too candy-like), four dollars for a drink seems like nothing when you're moving at rapid rates of speed, when you're away from and feel you'll never get home. I eat on the road. My favorites: Subway sandwiches, waxen chocolate Donettes, fruit leather, scratch-off lottery tickets.

On Wednesday we did not take the train. Instead of the 8am departure, I walked the dog in the morning, walked the little lady to the yoga, cleaned house, packed the car, rolled around on the (newly cleaned) floor with the dogs, picked the little lady up from yoga, all her duds in the trunk and ready to go. On the way we stopped at the Mount Vernon co-op, a half hour south of Bellingham, oh land of richly organic produce and fantastic prepared foods. The sandwich I got tasted like soap. Or rather, the first bite with cucumber and pepperjack cheese tasted like soap. The turkey was smoked and not what I asked for. And every bite I was waiting for soap. I ate half the sandwich, not good for me (I'm an eater) and all of a great big Snickerdoodle to rid myself of the memory of (what I thought was) goddamn soap. Cookie for lunch=excellent start to any trip.

In Portland, I did not ask where the Indian restaurant was. I was a little turned around, but I knew there was a really good place close by that I'd been to before. We walked a few blocks, it was cold. Or, I should say, C was cold. So we picked a nice-looking Thai place. The boys working there were nice, it was clean, they gave us water, smiles, got tipped well. Back in the room, hotel towels for napkins, bad TV going, we ate Thai food that tasted like paper towels. I ate just to feel the texture, then scraped all the peanuts off the top and nibbled on those. Then had a great big chocolate chip cookie. Peanuts and cookie for dinner=excellent continuation of trend. I also had a soda, which I never have. Thank you traveling belly.

In the morning (starved), I had bad coffee at the corner coffee shop and a tasteless and stale croissant. Back in the room, cozy and showered, I spied something with baguettes in the window on the next block and had the best salad I've had all week. Okay, the only salad, but it was good. Walnuts and apples and bleu cheese. Lettuce, too.

Dinner was a pizza delivered by an uncool boy with a bad faux hawk. The pizza was cold-ish, but excellent. I also had a soda, drank directly from a two-liter bottle C wanted nothing to do with. In the morning I had another piece and got all the way to Everett before I was hungry again (more than two-hundred miles). Had a Subway sandwich, the bread of which tasted ridiculously sweet. They put sugar in that? Seriously? I picked the nine grain. What does that mean to them? Is sugar the ninth grain? Then C cooked vegetables when we got home, though I went to happy hour and Art Walk and didn't get home until 8 (much earlier than I should have, tired, tired, for Art Walk). Ah, vegetables.

I made soup last night.

And How the City Could Have Failed Us

The drive down was peaceful, easy. The last few times I've taken the train because the last few times before that it's taken me, respectively, 10 hours to get to Portland, 10 hours to get to Monmouth, 6 hours to get to Oly. It was that last trip to Oly (only 140 miles) that made me give up on driving. Portland should take 5-6 hours; Olympia, 3 with bad traffic. This time it took 5 hours to get to the Fremont Bridge in Portland. It's the bridge you take just after you get onto 405 and is the second-longest tied arch bridge in the world (I like reading about bridges; I do not like driving on them).


My mother used to joke that she'd close her eyes while she drove over bridges. I don't do this. I open windows. You know, just in case I end up in the water. I don't want to die all boxed in and watching water.

We hit traffic, bad traffic. Enough to sit on the bridge for nearly an hour, feeling the breeze and the tremble from the weight of traffic. I understand about failure factors and how most bridges are constructed with a factor of at least 7, weight-wise. I should be calmed, but I'm not. I've seen far too many videos about bridge failures to want to be one of the cars that feels the weight give away, hear the whine of metal and the thundersnap of everything going wrong. I don't panic while driving over them. I panic while sitting still on them. C rolled down the window. It was bone cold and I rolled them up again. "But," she said. I said, "I know, but at this height it would be like hitting concrete; there's no way we'd survive the impact. I'm not at all worried about the water."

The drive back, even with all our stops only took us 5 hours. I have faith in traffic again.

Boys Who Look Like

Jay Farrar hasn't aged. I went to see Son Volt night before last, kind of with Oliver and Meredith, kind of by myself because C didn't want to go. I never saw Uncle Tupelo because I only knew about them after they broke up. Some people followed one second marriage (Wilco), some followed the other (Son Volt); I've always liked both for different reasons. I think they were stronger together still. Anodyne is a genius album. No Depression too. Neither Wilco nor Son Volt have (in my mind) achieved this kind of greatness.

Jay Farrar had a bandaid over the bridge of his nose, a little tummy, and a spot of grey in the scruff of his facial hair. Other than that, he looks exactly as he did when I first saw him in 1996.

The lead guitarist was strangely attractive to me. I haven't looked him up, he's nobody I recognized. Younger than, probably 30. I had a sudden thought that he was probably good in bed. And maybe why the woman next to me never took her eyes off his tremolo-ing hands.

Sera Cahoone opened. Not my type, and her stage presence didn't add anything to the music, so I hung back and talked while she played. I liked the music though.

The boy at the Mac store yesterday also had a huge gash on the bridge of his nose. A theme. He was blonde in that way that made me think of all the boys in Salt Lake City I saw the first time I ever went there. Blonde boys at the gas station pumping gas. Blonde boys pouring Slushees. Blonde boys holding the hands of their blonde children, crossing streets.


At a coffee shop before the reading Thursday night, the barista reminded me so much of B I almost missed her. The good B. The quick wit and innocently seductive way of moving. The one that didn't ultimately hate me. But really, I suppose all incarnations would have disliked me eventually.

I bought a pastry from her, just to go up to the counter again.

A Son Volt standard:

The Biggest Fan

If I'd been on stage I would have been terrified of him. I don't think there was anything wrong with him, he was just really into the show. He looked like somebody's dad who had just been let out for the night after a rough few weeks locked in a house where no one talked about anything but female issues. Balding, short hair rimming the shiny pate, a straight-man's jacket, ill-fitted jeans (everybody has jeans that will fit them right, but hardly anybody wears them), a polo shirt. Maybe he was drunk. Right up against the low stage. The stage is elevated only about a foot and a half higher than the rest of the crowd. One good step and anyone could be up there with little effort. The man rocked out, hands alternately in his pockets, alternately cupped to the back of his head (as in, oh-my-god-i-can't-believe-it's-really-them?), lots of movement from the upper torso, lots of singing along. People around him had to stand back. Seriously. By half way through the show he probably had an equal audience to the band. I could see the guys in the band look at him from time to time, never laughing the way the fools in the crowd did, probably waiting for the inevitably gun or knife or broken bottle to come at them. We live in crazy times. This man looked the part.

The Dirt of Powell's and Other Bookstores

Looking Glass Books actually had a surprisingly good collection. Lots of stuff from Dalkey Archive, a press I really admire.

If you look at their website it's a caboose and they say it's much bigger than it looks. It is much bigger than it looks. It's a caboose connected to a house porch closed over, connected to the front of a house, all of which contain walls of books. I didn't buy anything, I was too distracted by talking to people and talking to my wonderful aunts who made the long drive north to see us. C bought a couple of things, right now all I can remember is David Rees’ Get Your War On.


At Powells, everything seemed strangely gritty. Like the front room, mud room of a house will seem in winter. The gravel wants in. I felt it everywhere. But maybe I was just irritated they didn't have everything I wanted. What I did buy: Noy Holland's What Begins With Bird, Lawrence Sutin's When to Go into the Water, Lance Olsen's 10:01, Denise Duhamel's Ka-Ching, Rimbaud's Illuminations (though not the Donald Revell translation I wanted), and Herve Guibert's To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life.

Basic Instinct

I watched this on TV.


The last time I saw it was on a little TV in Mark's room in high school. Neither of us knew the other was gay. I knew that a) Sharon Stone had gone to high school near where we were and that she slept with the whole football team and also my neighbor who went to school with her, and b) that I would sleep with her if I had the chance. Mark and I ate popcorn. And talked loudly enough that his mother told us to shut up; his father had to work early the next day.

It's still a good movie. Sharon Stone is still hot. It occurs to me that I'm probably now about the age she was then. She seemed so old and untouchable. I have little interest in her now.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

How have I not mentioned this yet?!

Our Portland reading has been rescheduled for Thursday, December 3rd!

Emily Kendal Frey, Carol Guess and I will read at Looking Glass Books at 7pm.

Hope to see you there!

Of unsolvable cause.

Last night I started reading Kary Wayson's American Husband. Last night I made plans to go to the movies this afternoon. Last night I had a dream about going to the movies with Kary Wayson. I'm not going with her. This book, however, is fantastic.

Though I read and love reading a lot of poetry, a lot of contemporary poetry, I get the sense that much of it is well-worn territory, that most of it I don't "need" to read (like I need to read Roberto Bolano, to use a recent obsession).

Yesterday I had a headache and all I did was read Nicholson Baker's new book The Anthologist, in it the narrator talks about John Ashbery, how cool it is that missing r, and says, "I'd never really cottoned to Ashbery's Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror, the book that won three awards and made him known throughout the free-verse universe. I'd tried to read it a few times and failed. It's arbitrary. It reads as if it's written by a cleverly programmed random-phrase generator. It doesn't sing" (233).

I enjoy reading a lot of poetry, but I don't often get those moments where I feel like something has shifted in me that needs to be shifted. Kind of like a chiropractor working on alignment. A bad analogy because I think most chiropractors are crooks or madmen (there is history here). Some molecule or muscle has been moved back into place, or into a new place that makes the body work better. Now I have a word for that, singing. So many contemporary poets seem to work in the cleverly programmed random-phrase generator style. Sometimes it works well, I can't tell why, but perhaps it's that singing that has little to do with sense, and more to do with the primal force of naked language. That said, I myself won't try random-phrasing. I have little confidence that I could make a page sing without saying something.

Anyway, Kary Wayson's work sings. And makes sense. There's none of the in-vogue randomness. Her words mean something. The play is Dr. Seussian at times, the word play is so convoluted it becomes sharpened knifelike, or better wound nooselike, if we're not mixing metaphors, but one never loses what she's saying. It's astonishing to say the least. And I've been waiting a long time, since 2004's chapbook Dog and Me came out with LitRag Press, to read more of her.


O, Empty-of-Hours, the doctor’s a clock. His hand
is a serrated knife. Heavy his books, his
medical meanings,

his pharmacological eyes.

Father Infallible, Doctor Indelible, Goat
you’ve got, my goad–You, and your mal-
practice suits, your wingtips and tuxedoes.

Doctor Parenthesis, Father
for emphasis, Stepmothers Must
and Because: Doctor dismiss
my dire diagnosis—my god’s

a blot—of implausible pause.

Dear Doctor, Dear Proctor, ad-
Minister my test (your office assigns
your affections.) Dear Doctor, Dear

Forceps, my Father, forget this—
I’ll ration your attention.

I’ll wait
and I’ll wait. I’ll compile
and I’ll plate
an unending compendium of
juvenile complaints:

American make me, American take me
with you when you go. You do not do, you do not do—
Faster, Bastard! American
Fetch! you do not do—you don’t.

American Father, my General Boss
I am your lather—and you
are my loss. Professor my lecture, mother
my tongue—I live
with a desk where nothing gets done.
Inhibit my habits and dress me in gauze—my god’s
a clot. Of unsolvable cause.

American Husband, American Head, nobody
stopped me, nobody said Surgeons
must be very careful/ When they take the knife!

-Kary Wayson

It's not my favorite poem in the collection. But it's a great place to start. And you should.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Portland friends!

The November 5th reading has been canceled. We're working on rescheduling. More information soon!

(You could drive up for the Seattle reading on the 12th. I'm just sayin'...)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Upcoming readings in Portland (Nov. 5) and Seattle (Nov. 12)

Thursday, November 5, 2009: Portland
Looking Glass Books, 7pm
with Emily Kendal Frey and Carol Guess

Check out more from them here:



Thursday, November 12, 2009: Seattle
Seattle Public Library, Ballard Branch, 6-8pm
with Carol Guess and Jeremy Halinen

To learn more about Jeremy:

Or the journal he co-founded and co-edits, Knockout:

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Hey 'dolf,

There's still a few minutes left, so I'll say it here: happy birthday to my brother who dropped off the face of the earth several years ago. Some of us miss you, some of us should. I hope wherever you are that you're well and happy and surrounding yourself with good things and good people.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Official News Update from Steel Toe Books:

We are pleased to announce the winners of our 2009 poetry book prizes.

Guest Judge Denise Duhamel, the 2009 Distinguished Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at Western Kentucky University, selected MONEY FOR SUNSETS by Elizabeth J. Colen as winner of the Judge’s Prize. In her judge’s citation, which will serve as a foreword for the book, Duhamel had the following to say about Colen’s haunting sequence of prose poems: “If I were Colen’s agent, I’d pitch these poems to a movie producer as “David Lynch meets Gertrude Stein.” MONEY FOR SUNSETS, like TENDER BUTTONS, is syntactically rich and varied, using fragments, repetition, and word association. If I were Colen’s agent, I might not mention her complicated and smart observations on women, violence, and money – since I’m assuming that most movie producers are capitalists. . . . Innovative and evocative, these poems have arrived at just the right cultural moment. And I, for one, am grateful they’re here.”

Tom C. Hunley, Director of Steel Toe Books, has selected ZEPHYR by Susan Browne as winner of the Editor’s Prize. Browne’s poems have both heart and smarts, both gravitas and a sense of humor. Here is a short poem from Zephyr which we read as an ars poetica as well as an example of Browne’s keen, compassionate eye:

A Robin with Ragged Wings

perches on the edge of the roof, chirping feebly
to the sky, his head turned at an odd angle
as if his neck is broken, and some of his feathers
look like the cat tried to saw them off
with her claws. He’s about to die any second,
but he doesn’t stop his song,
reminding me of the many on earth who ask
and never receive. I stand by the window,
wondering how can I help, searching the apple
tree for his buddies to come save him.
I go outside for a closer look. He’s gone.
The yard is weirdly quiet without
that wretched singing.

MONEY FOR SUNSETS and ZEPHYR edged out these finalists:

DEATH OBSCURA by Rick Bursky
AMERICAN BUSBOY by Matthew Guenette
DEAD MAN’S WORD by Greg McBride
DISAPPEARING ADDRESS by Simone Muench and Philip Jenks
CANNOLI GANGSTER by Joey Nicoletti
NOTHING FATAL by Sarah Perrier

Thursday, August 6, 2009

On queue

I learned yesterday that my first book of poems, entitled Money for Sunsets was chosen by Denise Duhamel for Steel Toe Books' 2009 Judge's Prize and will be unleashed in 2010.

The year 2010 looks space-aged for some reason. It's only next year.

More later!

For now, should you need a brief morning read, I have a new little story up at Juked. Click........ here.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Great prize, great journal, honoring a great poet.


The 2009 Reginald Shepherd Memorial Poetry Prize.
Final judge: Carl Phillips.
Deadline: 8/1/09.
Prizes include $300, $50, and $25 gift certificates to Powell's Books and publication of winning poems in Knockout.
Guidelines: http://www.knockoutlit.org/rsprize.htm

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A few cases of which means I wouldn't have been here.

I know I’ve mentioned it before. My life could have stopped at age 14.

But it started with this: when my mother was 8 months pregnant with me she was in a head-on collision. At relatively slow speed, but there were injuries. My brother's forehead shattered a corner of windshield. He had a concussion, had been standing in the passenger seat. My mother was scraped up as well and had internal bleeding.

Today I watched a documentary about languages and the way the voice explodes out of the head in all directions, how two sound waves coming together create something different. Propagation, sinusoidal, interference, diffraction. When I’m writing or speaking I get snagged on some words. I can’t say Ibuprofen without slowing considerably. With some words in their similarity (perhaps only similar to me), I get frozen for a moment waiting for the word correct to the usage needed to step forward. Vocabulary and documentary are like this for me. Just now I wanted to say I watched a vocabulary.

When I was 14 I lived in Holland, Pennsylvania. Bucks County, not far from Joan Rivers’ place, though we lived in a townhouse, nothing like her stately affair. Every Friday my mother drove me to George’s Music in Feasterville, a few towns over for guitar lessons. The man who gave me lessons had hair like Slash from Guns n’ Roses. He smelled like sneezes or new blossoms before they take on fragrance. I don’t remember his name. I can still see him sitting close, in grave concentration, his Les Paul on one knee, lines just beginning to form around his eyes. I thought he was old, but he was probably 30 years old. Too old to be teaching stupid kids the guitar.

When the lesson was over Tim would drive me home. He taught drums, was in his early 20s, and lived fairly close to me. I’d been taking lessons for two years and had gotten a ride from him every Friday for the better part of a year.

The way it would go: I would finish my lesson and wander the store for awhile looking at strings and at sheet music (which I couldn’t read). I would listen to the end of the drum lesson, muffled thuds from the soundproof room that sounded like small fists punching a feather bed. When the punching stopped I would stand outside. In a few minutes, Tim would come out and we’d get into his car, a Buick, once his mother’s, bought cheap. We’d chat about nothing, music, he’d tell me about girls he would date. We’d stop at the gas station a few blocks up on E Street for him to buy beer, then turn left and head back the way we came, down E Street, to Buck, to Old Jordan and then home. He’d drop me off in front of my house and say “next week?” as though I would ever say no.

I wasn’t in love with him. He never left room for that. There wasn’t any question of clean divisions. I’d never hugged him, had only shaken his hand once or twice after meeting. The one Friday in two years I missed my lesson, I had strep throat. I’d had it all week. That night the six-pack was in the passenger seat where I would have been. Tim turned out of the gas station and someone speeding struck the back of his car. Because of the speed and how he was hit, the car spun a half turn into the on-coming lanes. A truck coming from the opposite direction hit the passenger side hard enough to cut almost the whole way through the car. Tim died instantly.

Tim’s organs, harvested, went to 17 different people. This included eye and heart transplants and skin grafts. There was an article in the paper about it. I took it out regularly when I wanted to cry about him.

We moved six months later, six hours away. My mother told me no more lessons. Money was tight. I’ve never gone back.

I’m writing this for a particular purpose, but I’m not getting there fast. Those who know me know I’m fascinated by almost deaths. This accident made it easier for me after we moved. I didn’t care to fit in. I didn’t try. I read a lot. I wrote. I drew pictures of cities I’d never been to. I taught myself about trees, taught myself Roman history, then Italian, ucello, ragazza, prendere due piccioni con una fava, about painting, sculpture, a lot of things.

Memorial Day weekend 2005 I got into a fight with Lynnea. From the time I started walking out the door, had I not hit traffic, I would have been precisely where a truck pulling a travel trailer went left of center, crossed the grassy median and hit a few cars heading northbound. Two hours later they were still cleaning up. It took a long time to get through Marysville, the accident was just north of there, within sight of the casino. There was paper all over the road. I wondered if someone was a writer.

My father tells a story of falling asleep at the wheel on a road like the one up to Mount Baker. Switchbacks, steep drops in elevation, nothing but rocks and trees and bears, lots of looking off in the distance. He was with a girlfriend who would leave him after the accident. He woke with the car more than half way to vertical, trees whipping past the windows, fast, growing speed, a branch snapping into the windshield, shattering, then the forward thrust being stopped by a large Douglas fir, the back end of the car rising from the force, falling sideways, coming to rest against another tree. From their perch they could see there was still a long way down. Though a tow truck was called, the car is still there today. The man took one look at it and said, no.

There’s a difference between my story about Tim and looking death in the face. Surely I would have died had I been there. But I can take nothing visual away with me, except the idea of what the car used to look like and what the paper said it looked like after (they wouldn’t show pictures on the news).

When I was six I tried to touch the bottom of the neighborhood pond while near the lip of it. I knew I should be close, but every time I swam in a little I’d feel around with my feet and still feel nothing. I swam a little closer in and tread the water, then threw my arms down in one big motion to lift my body up, then arms up to push my body down. The bottom was right there. And I was stuck in it, my eyes just above the water line, my mouth and nose below. If I stretched with everything I had I could get my nose out, breathe. I couldn’t get my mouth out in order to yell. Yelling underwater did nothing to get the attention of the boys walking away from the shore. My brother and his friends, a few older boys. There was a wind I hadn’t noticed until then making small ripples on the surface of the water. Small ripples became massive waves that entered my nose. The littlest bit of water. So close to the surface. I flapped my arms to splash and it made it worse and no one saw. Everything seemed quiet, except for my heart. Without even closing my eyes I can imagine this scene perfectly. I know what each of the boys was wearing. I know the placement of trees. I know the white look one of the older boys gave when he finally turned around. All of this watched while swallowing water, with water pouring into my nose. He pulled me out.

To repay, I had to take a shower with him. I remember this was quick. I think once we were naked he lost interest in me. I didn’t look like the women he’d seen in his father’s magazines.

It was like this Sunday. I can tell you the color and make of the car, a white BMW SUV. I can tell you what the woman was wearing, could describe her face and hair exactly. If I ever see her again I will know it is her. I will thank her for being no worse of a driver than she is.

We were driving to Oliver and Meredith’s for dinner, and to play with Lucas, playing with rocks. It’s 30 miles to get there on a two-lane road. I used to go to the mountain every weekend when I first got here, but don’t get out there much anymore. Traffic was light, as it usually is. There were horses and cattle, stables, farms, a place to pick berries, a place that will work with you on properly inseminating your horse.

She was probably distracted. Maybe texting, maybe answering a call, maybe grabbing her purse from the backseat. Her car dipped off the lip of the pavement onto the narrow shoulder at 60 mph. She overcorrected into my lane, right in front of me, then righted herself just in time. I felt my heart the whole rest of the drive. It wouldn’t slow down. Carol didn’t say anything, which is how I know she was scared. Five minutes later I said, “we almost died, you know.” “I know,” she said. I would guess that our cars, with possible mutual impact of 120 or so miles per hour came about three feet from colliding, which means it was probably at least double that, maybe more. It was close enough that I didn’t even react, which is probably good, considering I had nowhere to go.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Fourths of July

I don't care about the fourth of july. I think it's a cruel holiday. I don't like to blow shit up. My pets get upset. My 9pm bedtime gets screwed up. I don't complain. I just think of all those horrible little people out there with nothing better to do than throw their dollars at cheaply made explosives that may blind them. I've still got a scar on my foot from when I was so stupid. Dropped a firecracker on my foot. I was 13, I think. And drunk. I was in love with a boy named Terry. I mean in love with his jean jacket and the way he let me touch his hair.

Sometimes I still think I don't know exactly what love is. Just the thing that makes my organs thrill. That lights me up inside.

Memorable fourths: last night I dreamt I was on the monorail at Disney World, I woke up and read that someone had died on it last night. The first fourth I can remember was at Disney World. I was a small child and terrified by the noises outside. We were in a hotel that had a balcony and my brother and mother and father were outside on that, watching the sky. I was inside with the glass door shut, marveling at the colors. But I didn't want to hear it. I imagine I had tears in my eyes.

In Pittsburgh it was a pain to watch the fireworks, which are of the best in the country, I think, due to the fireworks giant being headquartered there. I never went to the Point to watch them. Once I stopped on the 12th street bridge on the way home from work and watched, elbowed in between drunks. Usually I went to whoever had a rooftop. The last few years there that was Kate, who I was also nuts about (partially thanks to her hair, mostly to the way I couldn't have her. It was only later I learned that maybe I could have). The year I left '98, I was mad at everyone. Everyone knew I'd been duped and no one told me. I went to the party anyway. By then Kate had had her fridge fixed. No more hot beers drunk on the thin slice of roof between two taller buildings in the row on Penn Ave. She lived in the Strip District. I drew in sharpie on the wall above her stairs. Stalks of corn, knee-high by the fourth of July. Good midwestern girl that I grew up to be. Mark's "band" played. His was the tambourine. The drummer couldn't keep time. Everyone was happy, except for K and I. We both knew I was leaving. I hadn't told very many people. Most of the night I was just pissed there were so many people there. I threw bottle caps off the roof (which was accessed through her kitchen window). I wanted to throw bottles, but there were too many people in the street. I was drunk enough to sit on the edge with my feet dangling, knowing there were enough crazy people who might just push me off. I wondered if I'd die that way. I don't even think I saw the fireworks. Someone had pasted Kate's prom picture over the toilet in the bathroom. She had long hair and looked like anyone else. I didn't love her quite as much in that picture, but I still did a little. Later in the night, after so many people had gone home and the roof had gone pitch black, we smoked cigarettes and she cried because I was leaving. I cried because she did, but I was mostly numb by then. We kissed, then Sarah came home and they went to bed. I couldn't decide whether to spend 15 bucks on a cab to get home or if I should sleep on the couch. I had a red wine stain on my jeans and had no idea where it came from. I wasn't drinking wine. I lay on the couch for an hour until I heard someone laugh in the loft. I don't know which of them it was. I went downstairs and almost slammed the door before I realized I don't believe in slamming doors. I walked all the way home, partially through the Hill District, which scared me, but I didn't care if I died.

That fall I would fall in love again. First with a picture on a refrigerator, later in a cramped spare room with mahjongg. Of course it wouldn't work then, it wasn't supposed to. I wasn't even in a place where things could, even if she wasn't my best friend's girl. Then the next year Rita and I took a road trip. Plan: to be gone all summer. We left Atlanta in June and made it to L.A. by the 2nd or 3rd of July. That first night we'd driven from Santa Fe, leaving after lunch. I knew it was a drive. What really exhausted me was all the highways once we felt like we were close. We got there at 3am. We got high and watched The Blair Witch Project, which hadn't come out in theaters yet and I'd never heard of, so D could try to convince us it was real. I was scared for a minute. On the fourth we went to a neighbor's rooftop. I almost thought he had forgiven me for liking his girlfriend so much, but he never really got over it. I knew I'd disobeyed that seminal rule, not to mess with your friend's girlfriend, but it never really felt like she was his. Maybe it's arrogance to think she was always more mine. I'm not a fan of arrogance, but I'll be the first to say I've got it. Sometimes bad. Especially when it comes to pretty girls. I remember what the rooftop looked like, the building lobby. But I remember nothing of the rest of the night, except feeling sad, smoking pot, and cigarette after cigarette. I think this was as far as I could see of the sky lighting up, just that small ember right in front of my face. That's where everything was.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Hey pretty, look at you. Maybe one day you'll be the bride

Through paying so much attention to news from Iran this week, I somehow missed this. Again the mixed emotions. Yeay for being shortlisted; ugh for losing again. This makes 8 times as a finalist for this ms.

Congratulations to Mr. Finn as well as all the other near-misses. I look forward to reading From the Darkness Right Under Our Feet. It looks like a winner!

Hudson Prize 2009 Winner:
From the Darkness Right Under Our Feet- Patrick Michael Finn

Hudson Prize 2009 Finalists:
New to the Lost Coast- Joshua Butts
Dreams of People Waiting in Line- Elizabeth J. Colen <-----lookee!
Birthplace of Television- Joshua Foster
The Portable Son- Barrett Hathcock
Westward Expansion- B.J. Hollars
Bad Numbers- Evan Lavender-Smith
Ms. Yamada's Toaster- Kelly Luce
The Trees of Mars- Mary McCray
Owner's Manual- Morgan McDermott
Fuse- Marc McKee
Sidewalk Dancing- Letitia Lehua Moffitt
Longing to Love You- David Philip Mullins
Possum Nocturne- Doug Ramspeck
Most Likely to be Remembered- Midge Raymond
Kissing Jesus- Tree Reisner

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Place I'm Determined to Live

This morning, walking, I was half asleep. I always walk the dog when C walks to yoga. Then we start the day together. Sometimes I'm sleepy and grumpy (I often wake a mite irritable, usually just from naps though if someone else is around, not usually from night), sometimes I'm grumpy and/or quiet because I've been working for several hours already, sometimes I've woken up three minutes before and something about being in this space between awake and asleep sparks the hilarity in me. This morning I was hilarious, even though I was annoyed that I didn't have time to have C change my bandage (I can't reach it well and it doesn't go well when I do it myself. Hopefully just another week of this). One of the things I like about my relationship is that I'm way funnier than she is. And she laughs at all my jokes. Sometimes it takes a while to go to sleep, just for this simple fact. But when she says something that's actually funny (and not just what she thinks is funny), it blows every clever comment I've ever made out of the water. This morning after blocks of my supposed hilarity she asked why I get all the good lines in this script.

This morning I cut the lawn. I am reminded of a sticker I saw once that said "I wish my lawn was emo so it would cut itself." The job I actually do of mowing looks kind of like an emo boy's haircut. I think. I don't bother with the edging.

Yesterday I think I walked about 14 miles. Give or take. I was so excited to try that new mexican place in Fairhaven. But it made me sick. I don't think it was the food's fault. I think my stomach is changing. It wasn't terrible. I just felt a little ill for an hour or so, slept on a bench on the green. Then everything was fine.

I have a list of things I need to do today, but all I want to do is walk around town again, me and my ipod looking at girls and men in the park who shouldn't take their shirts off no matter what. Or sit under the trees out front with a book.

Last night nobody showed up for drinks. I felt like a loser. But I was a loser with a book, as always. I had a drink by myself. Then to show I didn't care that no one showed up, I had another, which is all it takes for me these days to get to the edge of sloppy. I was tipsy and walking downtown and there was a parade. Mostly children. I cut through it, nearly sideswiped some girl with a baton.

I do love a marching band. I don't know what it is. Sometimes in the afternoon I can hear the high school marching band practicing, even though the high school is more than a mile away. I can also hear the highway on cloudy days. Just a little. It sounds like water.

I want to live in a world that looks like this:

It's Narelle Autio, which I'm probably spelling wrong. I think she's Australian. Takes lots of underwater photos, which are cool, too. But I like the beach ones better.

My new favorite timesuck, is "i can read." Often the entries are uninteresting or downright dumb, but there are some gems. And anyway it makes me think of different ways I can integrate text into my visual work. I don't know. So much of it makes me melancholy, a place I'm determined to live. Here are a few examples from this week:

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

on running away



I had dreams of walking out the door for months before I left. The first one I remember: a hailstorm. Great pock marks and blocks of ice in the yard, holes in the road, the roof caving in under so much thunder. The car groaned from the pressure, but perhaps that was me with hands over ears bending the back of my throat to drown you out. Your hands on the wheel, your head cocked sideways under the concave arc of the roof. It was my fault you said. And our front door seemed so far away and the night still so treacherous what with the sky spitting white bricks, ice breaking weakened limbs off of trees. It was my fault, you said. But it was you who dented the car. Night after night drunk on the ways the world had gone wrong. Drunk on her memory. Your mother was dead. And I left the car, moments before your tongue left your face forever, circled the sky and ate up the clouds in an attempt to get at the cold. But what would I care? I took one last look at your hair, which was the only part of you I was certain I still liked. The car door barely opened. I thought of broken bird wings and downed planes. I thought of you in the sky above me. Dodged bricks. I walked in the front door only so I could turn around and leave. In the car you carried on, beating your hands on the seat as though it were me.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Composition Book Clouds

I always marvel when the air is so clear that from certain places I can see mountains all around--the Cascades to the east, the Olympics to the west and the smaller blue bumps of foothills and the San Juan Islands. Often it is near sunset when I notice this, the low angle of light baking the Cascades in a pink alpenglow--a term I learned just after moving here (and just as Voltaire said if god did not exist we would have to invent him, I would have to invent a word for this effect if one didn't already exist).

Today the cloud cover is thick, pretty with striations, stripes of darker and lighter clouds. So like lined paper I put down my book and the words exist there in negative.

The rain stopped. It was brief and hard. Sharp, big drops--all of it unusual for here. Like a regular spring storm elsewhere. We don't get those. I can't see anything of the peaks, the ragged mountains, but the smooth ridge of Lummi Island radiates with purplish hue, the light just right that everything there has such clarity. I feel I can see individual trees and the spaces between them, and the small stretches where the slope's so great nothing but rock and dirt will hold.

And across the bay to the peninsula, the monopalette of gray shades is broken by a flash of bright green as just a bit of light rips through.

I like this place. It's like no other.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Grass, Blood, Books

Today is day three of recovery. Much of the bleeding has stopped and Carol's mom is on her way home. The patient is at present sleeping soundly on the couch with the (big) dog. Both snore quietly, but don't let on that I said so.

Outside the sound of lawnmowers is comforting, even considering I know what damage they do (putting more crap into the atmosphere per gallon than any other engine). It seems as soon as one mower stops, another starts up. The boy next door just mowed their small patch and now the house on the other side of us has started up. Soon, if the skies stay dry for now, I'll probably go out and make the big squeaking sound that I make when I mow. The sound that does not sound like the rest. The push mower. It takes some sweat, and I'm my own self-propeller. A week and a half ago (the first mowing of the year), I learned that the extension cord for the trimmer only reaches half the front yard. If the neighbors didn't think we were batty before, me on my hands and knees trimming the grass around the picket fence with a pair of scissors probably pushed the general consensus over.

I haven't felt much like writing lately, not writing anything, emails, poems (napowrimo be damned), revising the novel, none of it. Somehow getting dirty on long dog walks and from gardening (you should see my backyard!) seems more vital to me than it does. It ebbs and flows. I try not to get too anxious when I don't want to write. It's like getting infant me to eat peas or carrots. It was a mess and most of it ended up on the floor or in my hair. I'm not sure the metaphor is right, but there it is. I just don't want to. In the past three years I've accomplished more than in the rest of my life combined. I'm pretty happy with where things are. Reading also takes precedence.

This year, thus far:

1. The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity – Slavoj Zizek
2. The Capital of Solitude – Gregory Orfalea
3. The Automatic Message, the Magnetic Fields, the Immaculate Conception (Atlas Anti-Classics) – Andre Breton, Philippe Soupault, Paul Eluard
4. Bad Alchemy – Dionisio Martinez
5. Singing from the Well – Reinaldo Arenas
6. Dreamtigers (El Hacedor) – Jorge Luis Borges
7. Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Object – Kathleen Rooney
8. Only This Blue – Betsy Warland
9. In the Devil’s Territory – Kyle Minor
10. The End of Rude Handles – Jen Tynes
11. Earth in the Attic – Fady Joudah
12. Too Close to the Falls – Christine Gildenour
13. The Art of the Poetic Line – James Longenbach
14. Names on the Land – George Stewart
15. A Humument – Tom Phillips
16. In the Land of the Free – Geoffrey Forsyth
17. Bloodroot – Betsy Warland
18. Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami
19. The Bride Minaret – Heather Derr-Smith
20. Blessing of the Animals – Brenda Miller
21. Meteoric Flowers – Elizabeth Willis
22. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz
23. The Massacre at El Mozote – Mark Danner
24. Becoming Abigail – Chris Abani
25. Airport – Emily Kendal Frey
26. The Doorbells of Florence – Andrew Losowsky
27. This In Which – George Oppen
28. Pain Fantasy – Jason Bredle
29. Eva Hesse Drawing – Catherin de Zegher, ed.
30. Falsework – Gary Geddes
31. Seeing is the Name of the Thing One Sees: a life of Contemporary Artist Robert Irwin
32. Areas of Fog – Joseph Massey
33. Travel – Yuichi Yokoyama
34. Nada – Carman Laforet
35. In the Mode of Disappearance – Jonathan Weinert
36. Dark Thirty – Santee Frazier
37. Blood Dazzler – Patricia Smith
38. Quadrifariam – Frank Samperi
39. The Man Without Qualities (Part One) – Robert Musil
40. Undersleep – Julie Doxsee
41. The Glass Castle – Jeannette Walls
42. Wetlands - Charlotte Roche

Thursday, April 9, 2009


1. Got a note from a dead woman today. My grandmother's been gone seven years, so I was kind of startled to see her handwriting in the mail. My aunt has been planning on moving west for years and got canned last month. I'm sorry, "laid off." In going through her stuff for the move she found a book my grandmother wanted me to have. Un Chapitre de l'Histoire de Charles V par Le Baron de Los Dalles, first printing 1835. It's actually in radically good shape for being 175 years old. With it came, of course, the history of the book (of course if you knew my grandmother). The explanation was written by my great grandmother in some time of thin paper. She loved her typewriter and printed everything perfectly with it. The book belonged to Angelica Singleton Van Buren and bears her signature on the title page, along with her address at the time. She was my great-great-great-great-grandfather's sister and she married the president's son. Because the president was a widower she served as first lady during his tenure in office.

2. I think the babies next door are controlling my cycle.

3. Things are in bloom.

4. I just started reading a fantastic book, The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil. I mean, wow. He could be contemporary. Not that I'm only into reading contemporary fiction, it's just that I've been reading a lot of it lately. I don't really understand how he wrote this book in the 1920s. Or reversely, how I haven't come across anything else comparable to its style. It feels new, but without the pointlessness of most contemporary fiction. If you're the one who suggested it to me, thank you. I keep a list that sometimes gets pretty long and I forget who suggested what or what I read that made reference to something else.

5. I also wrote today, so I'm happy. I started off doing Napowrimo this month, but that started seeming forced because the poetry project I'm working on needs longer legs than that. There's the research, then the fact that I can't really force myself to think of the subject matter in the right way. There's some coercion as with anything, sure. But to some degree it just has to happen. I worked on another piece of TBM. I know it's done, but I'm considering making a few cuts towards the end and filling in a tiny bit more back story, parts that delight me. It's interesting to me now how with this book I sat down and actually did what "they" say you should do and got to know all the characters before even attempting the actual story. I'm so fascinated by these people that some of the minors may get their own stories told in subsequent novel attempts if nothing fresh emerges. I like my people. There's too much to tell of them to get it all in.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Dear Non-participants of Your Own Future, or How the Ship Will Sink

If you want to understand the trouble we're in (and I go back and forth between hiding my head and reading everything I can understand), you have to read this: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/26793903/the_big_takeover/

Famed Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi (of recent "Bush apology" feature) puts into sometimes snarky, but wholly understandable terms the trouble we're in and how we're only seeing the beginning of it. And you heard the Great Depression was bad?

To me it gets particularly interesting at the end of page 6 (of 8) when what we're seeing (bail-out/iceberg tip) gets compared to what we're not seeing. The metaphor of iceberg (pedestrian, and mine) is a valid one. As we quibble about $700B in taxpayer money for the bailout, secret dealings to the tune of $2-3T are happening every week.

Besides this (on the bailout):

"... the lion's share of the bailout money has gone to the larger, so-called "systemically important" banks... This itself is a hugely important political development. In essence, the bailout accelerated the decline of regional community lenders by boosting the political power of their giant national competitors.

Which, when you think about it, is insane: What had brought us to the brink of collapse in the first place was this relentless instinct for building ever-larger megacompanies, passing deregulatory measures to gradually feed all the little fish in the sea to an ever-shrinking pool of Bigger Fish. To fix this problem, the government closed ranks and used an almost completely secret bailout process to double down on the same faulty, merger-happy thinking that got us here in the first place, creating a constellation of megafirms under government control that are even bigger, more unwieldy and more crammed to the gills with systemic risk."

And finally, a slightly amusing/terrifying note on semantics:

"And on the linear spectrum of capitalism to socialism, where exactly are we now? Is there a dictionary word that even describes what we are now?"

For those of you conspiracy/New World Order theorists out there, it's not hard to figure who are leaders are now. It's only a matter of a few choice collapses of those $3T backdoor gambling bets until they fully take the reigns.

Want to start a betting pool of how many years before our false democracy stops claiming to be a democracy? I'll put in 8 years for half a billion myself. Who's with me?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Jayne Anne Phillips interview

In a recent interview in Narrative Jayne Anne Phillips describes her father: "the way he leaned forward in a chair, elbows on his knees, touching his fingers slightly together as though he held some invisible miniature planet between them." While this is my favorite moment of the interview, most of it is about writing, MFA programs (including the one she just started), and her new book Lark and Termite. Of writers, she says, "Artists have never been respected in America; it’s just not an American tradition. Communal art, crafts, yes, but individual artists, working essentially alone, are outsiders, they’re crazy fools, they’re not doing real work, they’re suspect, they’re feared."

To read the whole interview, go here: https://narrativemagazine.com/issues/winter-2009/jayne-anne-phillips. It's pretty fantastic.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Live Nude Girl in the Devil's Territory, coming to a city near you!


If you're in Bellingham, or have the means and the will to get here the evening of Saturday, February 7, please join me in celebrating the recent release of Kathleen Rooney's memoir Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Object and Kyle Minor's short story collection In the Devil's Territory, both excellent reads. Kyle and Kathleen have graciously asked me to appear on the ticket for their Bellingham reading at Village Books. Prior to being asked to read with them, I knew nothing about Kyle's work and tout de suite took advantage of the holiday sale over at Dzanc Books to grab myself a copy of his collection (as well as the latest Yannick Murphy book, In a Bear's Eye). Dzanc Books is a new press and if Kyle's book is any indication of the quality of the rest of their output, I think we're in for a long and excellent ride with them. As I do with any book of great merit, I have been taking my time getting through In the Devil's Territory (though I plan to have it finished before they roll into town). The (long) short story "A Day Meant to Do Less" is a complicated masterpiece that beautifully navigates multiple time shifts and perspective, including what has proven for me the best written illustration of dementia I have ever read in which the character exists on several planes of time and experience at once. I really can't emphasize enough how worth your time this book is.

Kathleen Rooney, thus far better known to me as a poet (mostly for her moving and at times appropriately jarring and disconcerting look at the art and oddness of wedding in 2007's winner of Switchback Books's Gatewood Prize, Oneiromance), has outdone herself with Live Nude Girl. Kathleen's memoir primarily addresses her experience as a nude art model and the strange perspectives that go along with that. At times she's balancing on several different levels, deftly melding art history, theory, and popular culture with sometimes wonderfully almost clinical narrative of the mechanics of modeling, as well as excerpts from childhood memory when supposing what may have allowed her this direction. As someone comfortable with my body, yet not willing to disrobe for strangers and having never examined this for myself, I read this book with almost voyeuristic pleasure. Check out this and other books by K. Rooney here: www.kathleenrooney.com. Oh! And she's also one of the founding editors of one of the best small presses in recent years to rocket onto the scene, Rose Metal Press (www.rosemetalpress.com).

Anyway, my lunch menu is tuna salad and Lost, and it's really calling me. Check Kathleen Rooney, Kyle Minor and I out Saturday, February 7 at Village Books, 7PM. To round out a triple-genre threat, I'll likely read a few poems to start things off. For other dates and locations, check the poster above or see the tour blog here.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Book Notes on the Lawn, a Space Oddity


The lovely and talented Carol Guess was featured on the music and arts blog largeheartedboy yesterday, with a playlist designed to accompany her new book. Here's the link:


Thursday, January 1, 2009

2008 reading list

Listed last read to first, as in The Humument was the last book I finished... yesterday. A lot of these books were amazing, this was probably the best book-reading year I've had in my 32 years. Some were downright awful. When keeping records for myself I have a 5-star system, but have removed that here. My stars are not on the empirical goodness of a book, but a combination of my enjoyment of it and its goodness for what it is, if that makes any sense. As in, I would probably never value a graphic novel over a regular novel unless the regular novel was awful, because I like the form more of a regular novel, but the graphic novels on this list (there are three or four, I believe) often got higher marks. If you're curious about any of these, let me know. Probably the best of all of these was Tom Phillips's The Humument. I should note that what I read was the 1995 edition of the book, as I believe there are 5 editions and some are entirely different than others, and the ones that aren't entirely different are mostly different. Google it, you'll see what I mean. I think you can read the most recent one (released 2005...?) online. This book has done more for my writing in the past month than I think anything has. And I've started one of my own - The Oil Rat, a treatment of Rousseau's The Social Contract.

I should also list my favorites of these... not in order of greatest love:
2. The Book of Evidence – John Banville
20. The Book of Chameleons – Jose Eduardo Agualusa
43. Zubaida’s Window (A Novel of Iraqi Exile) – Iqbal Al-Qazwini
47. Half a Life – V.S. Naipaul
59. The Wasteland, Four Quartets, and Other Poems – T.S. Eliot
66. Days With Diam - Svend Age Madsen
72. In the Skin of a Lion – Michael Ondaatje
85. Memory for Forgetfulness – Mahmoud Darwish
104. Correction of Drift: A Novel in Stories – Pamela Ryder
114. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami
119. In the Heart of the Country – J.M. Coetzee
124. Beauty and Sadness – Yasunari Kawabata
129. Some Prefer Nettles – Junichiro Tanizaki

Also, I did not list in the above favorites those books written by people I know. Not even my girlfriend's. Because those are always the most enjoyable read. I would always choose to read something by someone I know before anything else. There's something so intrusive and satisfying, yes, sorry, that delights more than anything. They are also phenomenal writers all.

1. The Humument – Tom Phillips
2. The Book of Evidence – John Banville
3. The Tether – Carl Phillips
4. The Man Who Made Lists: Love, Death, Madness, and the Creation of Roget’s Thesaurus – Joshua Kendall
5. Oneiromance (an epithalamion) – Kathleen Rooney
6. The Curtain – Milan Kundera
7. Saturday – Ian McEwan
8. Picasso: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – Norman Mailer
9. Ideas of Heaven: a ring of stories – Joan Silber
10. God Hates Fags – Michael Cobb
11. Factory – Antler
12. The Beauty of the Husband – Anne Carson
13. Our Lady of the Artichokes – Katherine Vaz
14. Pastoral – Carl Phillips
15. Parenthetical Ontology – Deborah Poe
16. On Photography – Susan Sontag
17. Elimination Dance – Michael Ondaatje
18. Cortege – Carl Phillips
19. The Mystery Guest – Gregoire Bouillier
20. The Book of Chameleons – Jose Eduardo Agualusa
21. The O. Henry Stories 2007 – Ed. Joanne Furman (liked two stories, Joan Silber and Yannick Murphy)
22. Red Bird – Mary Oliver
23. What I Think About When I Think About Running – Haruki Murakami
24. Theory of Light and Matter – Andrew Porter
25. After the Quake: Stories – Haruki Murakami
26. The Silk Dragon: Translations from the Chinese – Arthur Sze
27. Hubert’s Freaks: The Rare Book Dealer, The Times Square Talker, and the Lost Photos of Diane Arbus – Gregory Gibson
28. The Name of the World – Denis Johnson
29. Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West – Benazir Bhutto
30. Anxious Pleasures: a novel after Kafka – Lance Olsen
31. Botchan – Natsume Soseki
32. Unfortunately, It was Paradise – Mahmoud Darwish
33. Inside and other short fiction: Japanese women by Japanese women – Diado, Shimamoto, Muroi, Uchida, Fujino, Yamada, Hasegawa, Takagi
34. Chicken with Plums – Marjane Satrapi
35. Dangerous Woman: The Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman – Sharon Rudahl
36. 3x10 – Ernest Hemingway
37. Three Chinese Poets (Translations of Wang Wei, Li Bai (Li Po), and Du Fu) – Vikram Seth
38. Louis Riel – Chester Brown
39. Son for Night – Chris Abani
40. Suspended in Language: Niels Bohr’s life, discoveries, and the century he shaped – Jim Ottaviani and Leland Purvis
41. Body Language – Kelly Magee
42. Windows – Robert Creeley
43. Zubaida’s Window (A Novel of Iraqi Exile) – Iqbal Al-Qazwini
44. The Ghost Soldiers – James Tate (liked it as fiction, not poetry, long prose poems, three pages)
45. Brief Encounters with Che Guevera – Ben Fountain (last story, 11 fingers )
46. Our Former Lives in Art – Jennifer S. Davis
47. Half a Life – V.S. Naipaul
48. After Dark – Haruki Murakami
49. Cultivating Bonsai – V. Ditri
50. Summer in Baden-Baden – Leonard Tsypkin
51. Love is a Map I Must Not Set on Fire – Carol Guess
52. The Milk of Inquiry – Wayne Koestenbaum
53. WITSEC: Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program – Pete Earley and Gerald Shur
54. The Wavering Knife – Brian Evenson
55. NIghtwood – Djuna Barnes
56. Narrow Road to the Interior – Matsuo Basho
57. Safe Sex – Harvey Fierstein
58. Addicted to War – Joel Andreas
59. The Wasteland, Four Quartets, and Other Poems – T.S. Eliot
60. Texas School Book Depository – Cathryn Hankla
61. The Politics of Truth – Ambassador Joseph Wilson
62. Master Harold and the Boys – Athol Fugard
63. Blood and Guts in High School – Kathy Acker
64. Lawnboy – Paul Lisicky
65. American Linden – Matthew Zapruder
66. Days With Diam - Svend Age Madsen
67. Fake Math – Ryan Fitzpatrick
68. Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch – Hollis Gillespie
69. I Never Liked You – Chester Brown
70. A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness: Four Chapbooks of Short Short Fiction by Four Women – Clark, Ellen, Fish, Smith
71. Travels in the Scriptorium – Paul Auster
72. In the Skin of a Lion – Michael Ondaatje
73. Father of Lies – Brian Evenson
74. King Baby – Lia Purpura
75. The Stone Gods – Jeannette Winterson
76. Lunch Poems – Frank O’Hara
77. Family Bible – Melissa J. Delbridge
78. The Sleep of Four Cities – Jen Currin
79. Motherless Brooklyn – Jonathan Lethem
80. Hiding Out – Jonathan Messinger
81. Road-side Dog - Czeslaw Milosz
82. Girl Factory – Jim Krusoe
83. Sons and Lovers – D.H. Lawrence
84. You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train – Howard Zinn
85. The Little Earth Book – James Bruges
86. Memory for Forgetfulness – Mahmoud Darwish
87. On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan
88. Hello, I'm Special: How Individuality Became the New Conformity – Hal Niedzviecki
89. Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife – Mary Roach
90. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer
91. Talk Shows – Monica de la Torre
92. Tinderbox Lawn – Carol Guess
93. I, Pierre Seel, Deported Homosexual – Pierre Seel
94. Out of Light – Joseph Massey
95. Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides
96. Final Girl – Daphne Gottlieb
97. The Romance of Happy Workers – Anne Boyer
98. Real to Reel – Lidia Yuknavitch
99. Brevity & Echo – Eds. Abigail Becker & Kathleen Rooney
100. Hagiography – Jen Currin
101. City Life – Donald Barthelme
102. Road of Five Churches – Stephanie Dickinson
103. American Husband – Kary Wayson
104. Correction of Drift: A Novel in Stories – Pamela Ryder
105. Modern Times – Matthea Harvey
106. Now the Day is Over – Joan Fiset
107. Lucy – Jamaica Kincaid
108. The Vicinity – David O’Meara
109. Nine Humorous Stories – Anton Chekov
110. Summer Rain – Marguerite Duras
111. Planet News – Allen Ginsberg
112. The Smell of Apples – Mark Behr
113. The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier’s Account of the War in Iraq – John Crawford
114. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami
115. Beloved Infidel – Dean Young
116. War Trash – Ha Jin
117. Attempts at a Life – Danielle Dutton
118. Underwater City – Kelle Groom
119. In the Heart of the Country – J.M. Coetzee
120. Gazelle – Rikki Ducornet
121. Be the Pack Leader - Cesar Millan
122. My Untimely Death – Adam Peterson
123. What Narcissism Means to Me – Tony Hoagland
124. Beauty and Sadness – Yasunari Kawabata
125. The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation – Barbara Rossing
126. Tom Cruise: An Unauthorized Biography – Andrew Morton
127. The Triumph of Achilles – Louise Gluck
128. Two Lives Gertrude and Alice – Janet Malcolm
129. Some Prefer Nettles – Junichiro Tanizaki
130. The Middle Mind: Why Americans Don’t Think for Themselves – Curtis White
131. Figures for a Darkroom Voice – Noah Eli Gordon & Joshua Marie Wilkinson