Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Traditions and Violence

Ah, the holidays. I saw David Sedaris read this in person a while back and thought I'd share the heartwarming Christmas story. Here's part 1 of three--Happy Holidays, everyone!

Here's part two:

And Part Three:

And to all a good night!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

How to Shoot at Someone Who Outdrew You--The Post-Love song

I'm home after posting grades and surviving a drive through freezing drizzle that coated the leading half of my car with half an inch of ice. In surfing the internet, I re-found the most wonderful, the best, rendition of "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen recorded, by Jeff Buckley (with no-doubt intentionally ironic use of the tritone in the instrumental interludes), on the only major label album released in the man's lifetime, before he drowned in the Mississippi River on my birthday over ten years ago.

The only person who's come even close to this is k d lang, in a live performance, sung for the Alberta centennial four years ago. The song in question comes in at about a third of the way through at 4:30 (with some slight synch delay):

It's one of the most transcendent sad songs written. And, having seen k d lang in Seattle in 1987, she's one of my major singing influences, for what little that's worth...

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Anti-Annie? Answers Anon...

My sister expressed concern that I'd taken a contra-Annie platform. I want to assure her that that is not the case. In light of this, and apropos of revising a poem set in Venice's San Marco square, I include the following...

Monday, December 08, 2008

Asshat Auto Exec Syndrome

I don't want auto workers to lose their jobs, but I certainly want the execs that have been in charge of America's auto industry to lose theirs. If they were parents, one could almost get them for wilfull negligence.

Seeing their companies' commercials on TV this week, you'd think we were still in another time, like, say, 8 to 10 years ago. Cadillac Escalades. Hummers (with the ludicrous mention of improved mileage). Dodge has just come out with a new campaign that announces that their Pickup trucks have established a new, previously unattained level of luxury. Ahem--for pickups. There has been rather milquetoast-intensity pressure on them to increase their MPG rating and efficiency, but they have come back time and again saying that that would be too expensive, that that would hurt the industry, that that would only be attainable if the slope were less steep.

Well, it's certainly steeper now. But asshat syndrome is spreading. Get a load of this--Reuters has reported that there is now a megachurch pastor who has decided to get God involved. By bringing SUVs onto the stage (I refuse to call it anything else) and conduct a pray-in. you can read about it here. There is a picture here.

At least you can't say that the American auto industry doesn't have a prayer.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

My New Favorite Song

Over Annie Lennox by far, this is the song I'm gonna be singin:

Caetano Veloso is the stuff.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Back to Business

Wow, a week can go by quickly. Did I get the stuff done I wanted to before school started up again? Nope. I at least got three new pieces drafted and about ten revisions done, finished up reading two books, and did some laundry, which will have to do.

I also finished reading the first part of Dostoevsky's Idiot, which is a 150-page presentation of a hell of a chaotic and bad day for Prince Myshkin, someone already in frail health which will get frailer. It's given me various ideas for the last two weeks of writing activities for my students. [insert evil laughter here]

Thursday, November 27, 2008

In the Light of Current Events--and in Response to Certain Unnamed Parties...

...and considering the unnamed parties in question, sadly, they'd have no worries about how to vote regarding the following video. It's for them I post it:

See more funny videos at Funny or Die

Saying that voting should only be for those who own property, saying that civil rights are decided by majority vote, saying that second-class citizenship should be decided by a ballot is mighty dangerous stuff to be arguing for right now. Within a generation, you'll be the one arguing for what the current legislation reads. If you can't get along, go along. And that goes for you, Mr. Pillar of Nebraska Lutheran Society, not that you check out the Interweb, aside from making sure that no uncleanness enters the household. Time Marches on, and if its a more tolerant time, then God bless it. He blesses the meek, you might remember.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

And the Days Grind...

...toward January, when Bush, who is seemingly absent from current workings in Washington (or am I just not paying close enough attention?), finally gets to go back to his ranch in Texas again, this time permanently. It's been a long 8 years of missed opportunities and deadly lapses. Time Magazine's Joe Klein has put it rather well:

This is a presidency that has wobbled between those two poles — overweening arrogance and paralytic incompetence.

The latter has held sway these past few months as the economy has crumbled. It is too early to rate the performance of Bush's economic team, but we have more than enough evidence to say, definitively, that at a moment when there was a vast national need for reassurance, the President himself was a cipher. Yes, he's a lame duck with an Antarctic approval rating — but can you imagine Bill Clinton going so gently into the night? There are substantive gestures available to a President that do not involve the use of force or photo ops. For example, Bush could have boosted the public spirit — and the auto industry — by announcing that he was scrapping the entire federal automotive fleet, including the presidential limousine, and replacing it with hybrids made in Detroit. He could have jump-started — and he still could — the Obama plan by releasing funds for a green-jobs program to insulate public buildings. He could start funding the transit projects already approved by Congress.

In the end, though, it will not be the creative paralysis that defines Bush. It will be his intellectual laziness, at home and abroad. Bush never understood, or cared about, the delicate balance between freedom and regulation that was necessary to make markets work. He never understood, or cared about, the delicate balance between freedom and equity that was necessary to maintain the strong middle class required for both prosperity and democracy. He never considered the complexities of the cultures he was invading. He never understood that faith, unaccompanied by rigorous skepticism, is a recipe for myopia and foolishness. He is less than President now, and that is appropriate. He was never very much of one.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Vista STILL Sucks...

...regardless as to what the folks say on that dumb Project Navaho ad campaign. Here's French and Saunders:

Microsoft, you are still on notice. Don't think for a second that I'll forget.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Racist Stupidity and Gun Collecting

Just met some people (who will remain nameless) unexpectedly, and it started off as a quite pleasant surprise. How it ended was less so. Racist jokes aren't funny. They really aren't funny when they involve death and when they involve the president-elect. Nope, not even a little bit funny. Not even a little bit appropriate. And this one was really wanting to tell it, as he brought it up several times in conversation. Others at the table evidently had heard it told to them before and kept changing the topic, but he was able to foist it on us anyway. I once thought I'd move to Nebraska, but let's just say that I'm not likely to want to move any closer to this particular person any time soon. But then again, I'm sure the feeling is mutual. I'd perhaps blog more about it, but not now. I'm too pissed, and typing blog posts while one is pissed never goes well.

Christian? My ass...

Saturday, November 08, 2008


...because this song is great, and the video makes me feel sophisticated just from watching it. It's Koop's Island Blues.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Much going on...

Whew--the next few weeks are going to be packed--readings, revisions, reviews, emails to Poland (perhaps I might be able to finagle an interview of a composer?), working on finalizing the next issue of Sycamore, etc. Spoke with Lan Samantha Chang Wednesday evening, who is the director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. I mentioned that I spent my formative years in West Branch, only ten miles away. She asked whether I spent much time at the Herbert Hoover Presidential library there. I suppose I did, but mostly in roller-skating around it. In fourth grade, I wasn't particularly interested in the contents of the library.

My latest batch of new recordings should be especially interesting--two recent releases from col legno, one based on a work of Paul Klee's Angelus Novus called The Angel of History. Also high on the interest-o-meter is the 1977 music to the reconstruction of Oskar Schlemmer's groundbreaking Bauhaus work The Triadische Ballett.

This weekend, Theresa and I will be driving up to Chicago to conduct an interview with Adam Zagajewski, who has a great new book of poems out. Zagajewski was not only gracious in aloowing us to conduct this "make-up" interview (the first interview, conducted by Keverlee and Mindy, wasn't preserved due to recorder malfunction), but is especially gracious in that we are interviewing him in his very own living room. I almost feel I should bring a small casserole for the buffet.

At any rate, this means I might not have many posts here until the semester comes to a close , but I'll do my best to continue posting regularly.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Attacking McCain: The Age vs Ageism

Ok--I've been pissed about this for a while now, and I've finally hit the breaking point on this bit. Believe it or not, I'm standing up for MCCain on this one. A very wide range of people, from those on the street to David Letterman quip routinely about Metamucil with regard to the Republican candidate for President. I recall a joke told having todo with McCain being present for the initial chiseling of the Ten Commandments. Each of those people making such jokes, no doubt, are surrounded by people as old or older than McCain who are sharp as tacks, who get out and do things, who have photographic memories, etc. Working on a college campus, I know I'm surrounded by such people.

The issue is that the jokesters and naysayers are confusing Age with outmoded ideas. Again, being on a college campus, I am surrounded by forward-thinking individuals approximately McCain's age. There are other ways to discuss the (de)merits of one's qualifications to the highest office than discussions about "senior moments" and intestinal regularity, and those ways are discussions of the issues and whether the candidate's position on them reflects a way of thinking that is no longer the best way. To continue disparaging McCain using age-based jokes rather than the Age we are living in is just as ostracizing of a group of people that ignorant statements on race or religion are with regard to Obama.

Speaking of race-based discussions, McCain missed a big opportunity on Meet the Press to speak emphatically on the racist overtones of what's going on in the elections and outside of Republican rallies. When asked about Colin Powell's endorsement of Obama being seen as based on race, he says a very quiet "no" and then goes on to state his disappointment with Colin Powell before getting hung up on who endorsed him. The question comes up at 6:15 in the following video:

This would've been a great opportunity to go on record and speak toward the racial issues regarding the campaign. The sad reality here, though, is that if people have issues regarding race, they are more likely to vote McCain's way, giving him little motivation--outside of a civic-minded one--to make any further comment.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Importance of the Z axis

I'm no math major. I took various algebra classes in my undergraduate year and found myself thinking--sometimes aloud--that, if x=3.5, how does x feel about equalling that after all that work, especially when y=4.9?

At any rate, in addition to basic polynomials, there were the f(x) functions, as well as graphing, with the parabolas, the hyperbolas, the straight lines going off everlastingly in various directions. In pursuing poetic arts in later life, I'm finding that various aspects of successful art all trail back to mathematics, the one truly universal language other than laughter, perhaps.

Art, it seems to me, is the pursuit for some sort of beauty, over some sort of pretty thing. As Marianne Boruch mentioned in one of my classes, the difference between something being pretty and something being beautiful is tension. And it is this tension that one seeks in art. It is this tension that one seeks in any of the arts.

Holly showed me a picture this evening of park benches in fog. The pic was static at first glance, it had balance, sure, and if we were graphing, we had a bench on either side of the y axis, right on the x axis. Nothing new about that. Perfect symmetry. A sort of plus sign in landscape. An example of real life as artifice. The problem was that the pic was interesting. Why? Well, for one, was the oddly-shaped tree on the right side of the frame--something to throw off the balance of the identical benches. In addition, and most importantly, there was the fact that, just past the benches was a drop, some sort of unknown depth, beyond which the oddly-shaped trees were rooted, from which the trees thrust their branches toward the camera: the often-overlooked z axis, that of depth. Its so often, even with the talk of rising action and denouement, we get preoccupied with the x and y axes, but the big deal is with the most foreshortened one from our perspective, the z.

I had various flashy ideas for ending this bit, but, it's late, and most of those who read this blog know this already. My biggest question is how this sort of thing can be taught to artists of any stripe. Or whether it's even teachable.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Nazi Swing??

The things I find that I've got in my CD collection. While working on a review of vintage musical settings of the work of Klabund, I rummaged around in my discs to find other German Cabaret recordings, and found a fascinating collection from Proper Records. During WWII, the Germans had their own propaganda campaigns. From 1937 to pretty much the end of the European part of the war, various German jazz bands, once they were purged of their Jewish contingents, were employed to record messages for broadcast to damage the morale of Britain. The resulting songs, long buried, are an amazing listen. Almost all of them are popular songs of the day, recorded with English lyrics, and in the middle, a speak-sing section of Pro-Nazi lyrics. In the middle of "You're Driving Me Crazy," a song made popular again about 10 years ago by Squirrel Nut Zippers, the very wooden Charlie and His Orchestra break into an impression of Winston Churchill:
"Yes, the Germans are driving me crazy. I thought I had brains,/ but they've shattered my planes...The Jews are the friends who are near me, to cheer me believe me they do./But Jews are they kind who now hurt me, desert me, and laugh at me too."

Some of this stuff has to be heard to be believed. One can picture music halls in Germany bopping to this sort of thing, as the hate-lyrics go right on swinging. Other grotesque renditions include "Stormy Weather," (again with a sad Winston Churchill impression), "Bye, Bye Blackbird," and, bizarrely, "Makin' Whoopee." Sound bites are no doubt available somewhere on the internet. The 4-disc set is a freaky visit to a place where catchy music is used to promote the darkest of motives.

Monday, October 13, 2008

More people with answers

I've got grading and editing and review-writing and revising to do, so I'll type less this time around. I saw this in my morning web-surfing and thought I'd share with you this lovely conversation between the new Nobel Laureate for Economics and another man who has all the answers. Take it away, Bill O'Reilly:

Now go out in the lovely October weather and get some fresh air.

Sean Hannity certainly has the answers--

This from September. It certainly takes a lot to convince some people that the market ain't a bed of roses. A month later, in spite of Hannity's figures, I do believe that the situation can be described as "dire," certainly.

Wasn't there a day, way back when, when in order to be seen as an authority, a credible authority, one needed to be consistently accurate? O'Reilly, Hannity, and Nancy Grace for some reason keep getting byes in this regard. Aren't there other newscasters and (gasp) actual reporters waiting in the wings?

What's even worse--I just got news that Archway cookies has folded. The dark days just keep getting darker.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Importance of Choosing One's Analogy Carefully

Biden mentioned that it was patriotic to pay taxes. To an extent, that's right, in that one is paying one's dues for enjoying the benefits of living in this country. Palin, in a rather idiotic move, said that it wasn't. Though this certainly seemed a nod toward those who could afford to sock money away in tax shelters, this isn't the main point of my post. In a recent Bill Maher episode (the tenth of October), Stephen Moore of the Wall Street Journal, in his defense of Palin's comment, brings up, of all things, the Boston Tea Party as support. The discussion in question starts at 4:00 in the clip below:

The big problem with using analogies is that, if one doesn't look at the details, one can shoot a bigger-than-yer-ass-sized hole in one's argument. As even Wikipedia will tell you, the main drive toward the Boston Tea Party was, yes, taxes, and lowering them. What Moore seems to forget is that the reason is found in that phrase we all likely learned in grade school: Taxation without representation. In this day and age, the ones waging their wars on taxation are the ones that get preferential representation. Corporations that relocate their headquarters off in Bermuda, for example (Quick question--where do you suppose Halliburton is located for tax purposes? It ain't Kansas, it's Dubai.) Moore says that Americans dumped the tea because Americans hate paying taxes. Moore, dude, for the general American, back then as it is today, it ain't the tax thing that got their dander up, it was that lack of representation bit.

Moore then has the gall to add, later in the clip, "Well, if paying taxes is so patriotic, then why don't they pay more taxes?" Sure, they can send it in by the bucketload, but what, sincerely would be the benefit for that? Who, might I ask, would benefit? Not fellow liberals, I don't believe, and certainly not the country.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Past Republican Presidents would not be Happy...

...with what their party has become, methinks. Since the Republican convention, I've been growing increasingly concerned regarding the party's catering to a certain segment of the population. The rhetoric has been escalating as the campaigns have progressed, and now we have Palin talking about Obama palling around with domestic terrorists. Cindy McCain has started using Obama's middle name again. Here, we have a result of such moves:

The group waiting to get into the town-hall meeting certainly didn't all feel this way, but I haven't heard any of their number contest the allegations presented. I also find it laughable that octogenarians long-since retired are telling people to "get a job." The epithet "socialist" is confusing, considering that the Bush administration, in light of the recent nosedive of the markets worldwide, is working toward Government administration of the banking sector. Last I heard, Bush wasn't a Democrat. What I don't find so laughable are allegations that Obama supporters are "commie faggots." There are bad apples in every barrel, certainly, but looking at the homogeneity of the folks waiting to get inside, the shit they're spouting, and the concerns they have regarding Barack Hussein Obama, it seems more a fear of otherness than a disagreement on foreign policy.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Well, THAT Worked Just Great

$700 Billion? Sure! Oversight? Nah--you did so well with the money earlier, we trust ya. AIG? You poor dears, let's throw some money at you so you can have a lovely half-mil retreat for your Highly-Compensated employees two weeks later. Oh, and today, it comes out you need another $37 billion? Why not? Oh, and that's not even included in the $700 billion bailout mentioned earlier.

Folks, if you aren't furious about this, you ought to be.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Chilean Antipoetic Political Commentary

This from Nicanor Parra's new book, due in December 2008:


We do not respond
To ill-disposed comments:
Even a nursing child knows
That the tapeworm of extreme poverty
Was caused by previous administrations

We recognize that the unemployment figure
Is somewhat higher than one would like
But we have the responsibility to remind you
That the Government is not an employment agency

There are no lack of beds in the hospitals
It just happens that there are too many sick people...
There's an excessive number of sick in this country
The truth of the matter is
That owing to the high level of excellence
Of our hospital services
The sick are not dying quickly enough

They go on living even if in precarious conditions
Causing numerous difficulties

Parra, in his nineties, is one of the more influential poets of Chile, and Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti cited him as influential in the writing of their own poems. His latest book, from which this is drawn, is After-Dinner Declarations, in parallel translations by Dave Oliphant. Keep an eye out for it--it's so new even Amazon doesn't have it available for pre-order.
ISBN: 978-0-924047-63-3

Friday, October 03, 2008

Burnt Brandy and Birthdays Deferred

I'm stuffed. Practically needed a gurney to get me to the car. My great friend Joe has been trying to get me to commit to going someplace for my birthday (for over five months), and by then it was Royce's birthday, so Joe took the lead and, last week before the symphony, made arrangements for us all to have dinner at the Oceannaire in downtown Indy, designed after the decor of 1930s ocean liners such as the Champlain and the Normandie.
Oysters on the half shell. Bouillabaisse. Crab legs. Plymouth gin martinis. Toasted rolls and white wine on ice. Creme Brulee and, yes, Baked Alaska, complete with at-table blue-flame toasting of the meringue. It all no doubt cost a fortune. The conversation was lovely and the company even better. Joe's a great guy and a wonderful influence, though I admit it is his fault to some extent that I now have 75 CDs to review. Were it not for his unwittingly almost locking me on the fire escape of our apartment building on July 4 1996, I'd not have spent all that money on Classical CDs, concert performances, and not have made rather embarrassing attempts to interview visiting pianists for some imaginary periodical. Fiscal jeopardy aside, it's my firm belief that there needs to be more Joes in this world. Cherish them when you find them.

Photo:First Class Smoking Room of S.S. Normandie. Pic from

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Queries and Mass Transit

In the bookstore, a parent calls repeatedly for her child, moving slowly through the maze of shelves. "Grace," she says: "Grace. Grace." The same deadpan way a backwards-walking flight attendant holding a bag says "Trash-- Trash-- Trash" in the dry, cold, foot- and peanut-scented air of the jet. A query, a deadpan demand, a weary need.

--Photo: Davo. Gasometer, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Where was Sarah?

I got home late, the Symphony running until after 10, but I was able to catch the last of the exchange between the candidates and the after-debate analyzo-patter on two of the main networks. For each (CBS and NBC), the commentators looked to other members of the parties to say their piece about how the debate went. Williams started by talking to Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Joe Biden. For the Republican viewpoint, we cut to--Giuliani?? Where was Palin? Thinking perhaps she was chatting with another network for her bit, I changed channels. Couric interviews Joe Biden, and then cuts to some Republican surrogate. Where was Palin? The impression that Palin is being used as wild-card material and someone otherwise to be screened from the public continues to linger.

Oh, and, in case you didn't know it before. McCain was a POW. I'm glad he came out and made that bit clear in his closing comments. It helps many American citizens see his possible qualifications for the Presidency much more clearly.

Something Else Might be About to Crater, too...

At least he hasn't postponed the debate. We shall see how things go.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Palin and Kung Pao Chicken--Chinese Buffet Espionage

Today: An upper-60s couple in adjoining booth on a lovely afternoon a week after Hurricane Ike:
He, unlike his wife and I, has a view of the parking lot, says something about the sky clouding up.

She: Has Hurricane Ike come through yet? I heard we were supposed to get rain.

He: Yes, it was sometime earlier. There was another one, but it's not supposed to hit. [I assume he meant Hanna, which was gone before Ike hit Texas]

...I come back with more shrimp dumplings and Shao Mai; their talk draws me away from the muted televisions hanging from the ceiling.

She: You know, I have a lot of respect for how Sarah Palin dresses. You know that 80s look is my style, and seeing her on TV makes me think..well...that it's not gone. It's not like the fashions girls wear today... What those girls wear today is...

The tone implies a facial expression of certain disdain I can't see from my position hunched over my plate. Her husband says something related to Palin, but moves away from fashion, a subject that doesn't sound like his forte.

He: I just don't get why they hate her so much.

She: It's because of her faith.

He: They're all so full of hate. All these liberals--where does the hate come from?

She: It's because they don't have the Lord. Without the Lord, all those Liberals have is hate. Have you had the ice cream yet?

He: No.

She: It's firm, it's good. The Coke is good today too. They've got the mix just right. I'll take my Celebrex when we get home. I'll be sure to take it with water instead of Coke.

At least even Palin fans know not to combine their 'scrip drugs with Coke. It's bad news.

Photo: Davo--Weather Booth at State Fair, August 08

From Spiders to Bigger Beasties

Not wanting to dwell too terribly long on the possibility of other spiders roaming around the house (so far none has made its presence known), I got online and looked for other interesting things. I found another, far more dreadful beast, the Chronophage, the elaborated mechanism topping the new Corsum clock in Cambridge. Stephen Hawking will preside over its unveiling.

The creature at the top of the clock is meant to be an animal that eats time, creeping stealthily over a circular representation of time itself, with lights indicating hours, minutes, seconds, and smaller. Stephen Taylor, the clock's creator, said he meant the clock to be terrifying, which it is, but it's also cool as hell.

Take care, websurfers--I'm sure there are important things to do, and time is short...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

It's that Time of Year

They're moving indoors. This makes encounter number two with arachnoid life-forms. The first one was at E&E's apartment--a rather alarming first-thing-in-the-morning event where one bigger than this crawled up my neck. This one has literary aspirations, checking out the stack of Best American Essays volumes recently bought at Half Price. Here's hoping that this was only a one-spider reconnaissance party and therefore are no others crawling around the bedroom.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Palin's Relations, or, Traveling without Moving

I'd write more on Sarah Palin, but frankly, she pisses me off, and I don't write well--either an essay or on my project--when I'm pissed. The folks at Slate, however, have an article that could be similar to what I might have written if it weren't for the fact I keep getting pissed off. "Thanks but no thanks" on that bridge to nowhere, indeed. Oh, and regarding the recent talking point on Palin having foreign relations experience because Alaska is close to Russia (recited by Cindy McCain, among others, who really must think us all idiots) I read somewhere (I'll see if I can give credit to the original author later, but let it suffice for now that I didn't come up with it myself)a perfectly succinct rejoinder:

I can see the moon out of my window--that doesn't make me a fucking astronaut.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Books I'm Teaching this Fall

Following Laura's lead (her blog is in my list o' links), I'll include my list, too.

The overarching theme of the books is that of becoming, of characters gaining further insight and developing, which is a rather general thread, but I didn't want to be too specific on something that, given what I'm doing with my class, would end up being of tertiary importance anyway. The list:

Two Sherlock Holmes Adventures, leading into:
The Final Solution by Michael Chabon
The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West
Demian by Hermann Hesse
Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The obvious odd one out is the Dostoevsky, in that the Underground Man doesn't develop, doesn't gain that additional knowledge of oneself, really, but the reader does this regarding his bad example. It'll be interesting to see what the students have to say about these. I aimed to include at least a few books not often seen on undergraduate class syllabi.

Having spent about 3 hours writing just now, I'm a bit fuzzed-out regarding brain activity and am hoping my late nap this afternoon won't keep me up much longer.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Musical notation, or, Difficult Listening Hour Part III

Oh, the many things I'm completely stupid in. I have a general knowledge of how standard musical notation works, but then I ran in to various performances of percussion works on YouTube and started wondering how on earth people notated that for replicable performances.

This brought me to percussion notation as well as archaic notations and notations of other cultures, who use various symbols over text to indicate musical intentions.

In looking at various examples of musical notations old and new, I was struck by the connection that can be drawn to poetic form. The limitations of Blogger make excerpts impossible for the most part, but innovations such as William Carlos Williams' stepped line and other poets' "words all over the page" which initially struck me as the result of someone's itchy Tab pinky are a way to indicate to the reader (as performer) of the poem (as score) how the piece should be executed. Musical notation has a variety of ways to control pitch, duration, and tempo. It also has brief written indications (con brio, or sehr schwer) of which Hart Crane's glosses could be seen as analogue. The piece can rely on these more than others. Bach occasionally doesn't even indicate the tempo in some movements. Morton Feldman's monumental pieces even allow the performer to determine the pitches, indicating only that some notes should be held longer. Xenakis has a "spectral" score showing the progression of the piece (watch in full screen to see what's going on).

Of those that relied more heavily, Scriabin began some of his pieces with poetry, giving ominous written instructions as the work progressed ( the darknesss enters, or the sweetness gradually becoming more and more caressing and poisonous...). Erik Satie did this far more lightheartedly, indicating that one piano work be played "like a nightingale with a toothache" or having a story printed above the staves for the performer to read (he expressly forbade the performers to read these aloud to the audience) so that the performer had something else to do in case boredom set in.

One thing I will attempt this semester is to introduce my students to the idea of musical notation in poetry, how it can be adapted and incorporated. Alice Notley gives a good indication of how this can be done in the following excerpt, one of the many striking moments in her wonderful long poem The Descent of Alette, in which she uses the quotation mark in almost the same manner a breath mark is used in vocal scores, changing the rather matter-of-fact words and syntax into something seen in a vision:

“A mother” “& child” “were both on fire, continuously”
“The fire” “was contained in them” “sealed them off
from others” “But you could see the flame” "halo
of short flame all about the” “conjoined bodies, who

sat” “they sat apart” “on a seat for two” “at end of car” “The
ghost” “of the father” “sat in flames” “beside them”
“paler flames” “sat straight ahead” “looking
straight ahead, not” “moving.” “A woman”

“another woman” “in a uniform” “from above the ground”
“entered” “the train” “She was fireproof” “She was gloves & she”
“took” “the baby” “took the baby” “away from the”
“mother” “Extracted” “the burning baby” “from the fire” “they

made together” “But the baby” “still burned”
(“But not yours” “It didn’t happen” “to you”)
“’We don’t know yet” “if it will” “stop burning,’”
“said the uniformed” “woman” “The burning woman” “was crying”

“she made a form” “in her mind” “an imaginary” “form” “to
settle” “in her arms where” “the baby” “had been” “We saw
her fiery arms” “cradle air” “She cradled air” (“They take your
children” “away” “if you’re on fire”)

“In the air that” “she cradled” “it seemed to us there” “floated”
“a flower-like” “a red flower” “its petals” “curling flames”
“She cradled” “seemed to cradle” “the burning flower of” “herself gone”
“her life” (“She saw” “whatever she saw, but what we saw” “was that flower”)

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Judy Tenuta for Vice President: It could Happen...or, I Like to Hunt Because I Like Safety Orange

While looking at the news, as well as at the various appearances on YouTube of the new Republican VP pick, I found myself racking my brains on who this woman reminded me of. She's brassy, she's got verve, she talks as she sees things, she knows how to handle a crowd...

And then it hit me. This woman, the running mate for McCain (McCain a man who criticizes the Democrat candidate as being light on experience), this woman who has less leadership experience than Obama, sounds uncannily like a moderately famous TV personality. As is, Palin sounds certainly like someone one would want to have coffee with after breakfast, or perhaps a beer with, after a productive day of hunting (but I'm thinking, I'm hoping, that we've moved past the age of people voting for candidates that one would want to have drinks with). I'll cut this short, however, and start with Ms. Palin:

And, with the addition of an accordion, I've finally found the person she reminds me of. Note the strange overlap in subject matter, what with hunting, dating, er, running, with older men, etc.:

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Henry James and the Art of Constraint

Of course I decide I'm going to post on this topic after leaving the book in question on the shelf in my office up in Lafayette, but, after a year or so of discussion on experimentalism in developing poetic texts in a non-inspirational way (many kudos to Mary Leader for that), I have finally heard of a method that would work for prose.

One of the biggest hurdles for my students to vault in my Intro to Creative Writing classes has been that the written work (poem or essay or story or novel, etc) is NOT primarily therapy. There are, of course, subsequent issues regarding this main tenet, among them the fact that one's innermost being really does not try to communicate in Longfellow-inspired rhyming couplets, one's soul really doesn't tend to use words like doth and t'was and gloaming. Mentioning anything that verges on the above statements shakes beginning writers to their very core. It shows in their class evals at the end of the semester, which makes it a bitter pill for both instructor and student to swallow.

The difficulty is in getting the budding writers to look at the manuscript produced as "it" rather than "my innermost soul in paper format." Thanks to the various things I learned in conversation (and class) with Mary Leader, I have ways to do that with poetry, but had difficulty in finding analogues in the world of fiction.

While trolling the various used bookstores of Indianapolis, I found a recent volume of The Uncollected Henry James, which, editor Floyd Horowitz claims, is a compiled selection of the earliest works by the great American novelist. Henry James burned his early papers, making research tough, and the journals submitted to had a tendency to publish anonymously, thus making the research work even more difficult. Horowitz followed his various leads, then ran the stories in question through a computer program to determine probable authorship. Based on his research (and the computer program) these are a selection of the stories determined to be among Henry James's earliest published prose works, dating all the way back to his tenth year.

In addition, Horowitz has found that, based on the James household library, Henry James used an unusual method to add an element of constraint to writing his early stories. His Latin lessons involved memorization of vocabulary, and Horowitz posits that this became the basis for writing many of these stories. For a number of the works in the volume he has issued, the central vocabulary for the works is found within a few pages of key words in the Latin/English dictionary James used for his lessons.

Whether this is actually the case will be determined by literary authorities far greater than I, but the method Horowitz mentions is intriguing regarding its possible use in creative writing classes. In looking at any foreign language dictionary, one can unlearn a rule of reading (that of not reading such a dictionary like a novel) and look at a random page for words that suggest a narrative. A random page of any foreign language dictionary gives a range of words that can be the basis for a draft. Opening my Cassel's German/English dictionary to page 320 gives me Misanthrop, Minze, mir, Minus, minuzios, mischen, miserabel. In English we have a miasanthrope, mint plants, a Me, a negative, something very small, an alloy, and miserable. Travel dictionaries give more translations per page and therefore a larger range of words, but with such a collection of base vocabulary, a narrative can be thought out and expanded upon based on entirely chance-based methods. Do beginning students have to write about Me-me-me dealing with uncaring parents and getting drunk at frat parties, and wrangling with daft roommates? No, they have a new framework to flesh out.

Whether or not Henry James actually did this in these stories that he may or may not have written, it's still an interesting--and quite forward-thinking--method to use for prose writing. I'm planning on introducing it to my students this semester. Sometimes trolling the Clearance section of used bookstores comes in handy.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Grass has Grown under Your Feet--Alison Moyet

I've been rather behind the times in spite of all the free time--I just found out that Alison Moyet, famed vocalist of 80s group Yaz (partnership with founding Depeche Mode member Vince Clarke, who later became half of Erasure), has had a new solo album out (called The Turn) since October of '07, fer godsakes. In spite of financial straits, I went right out and bought it and am finding more vocal tricks to learn yet. It sounds elemental, and I'm sure it is, but, in light of the first single from her album, I'm prepared to ask Lydia--specifically with the chorus--how to adequately deal with vibrato on open "Ah's" in high registers without going wonky on pitch or fuzzing out one's voice. Other vowels allow for certain tricks, but the low throaty vowels in high registers are really tough. So if Lydia is reading.....

In searching for various interviews in support of the new album, I found a snippet of a performance of one of the songs she made famous right after she left Yaz and right before Vince formed Erasure. The song was a single off her first solo album, and here is its incarnation in 1984, which some may remember:

The song's got a pretty decent range. Hearing the new arrangement is something that the American Idol clones need to pay attention to, and something that experienced singers already know--one can rein it in and yet do more.

The new arrangement is far more desolate and something I want to track down in its entirety:

I love the chord progression and will do all in my power to replicate it on my piano. This arrangement shall be mine.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Dream: Rabbits

July 2007:

In town (looks like Indianapolis, but the feeling is more East, rather like Dayton Ohio) and I need to make my way to a school to observe or teach or something for a class. I'm on a bus. I realize I'm not quite on the right route. I'll have to get off someplace and do a bit of walking. I'm talking with the busdriver. She tells me not to worry and then drives up to a rural church, driving across a sloping median (almost flipping the lumbering bus in the process) to end up in the parking lot. I get out and find myself in the middle of the church's fundraiser, where wax figurines are $2.00. Old 1950s candles in the shapes of brides and choir members, etc.

Behind the church I see a large white house, where, evidently, some relatives of mine live. I'd been there at some point months before. I go upstairs as the relatives talk downstairs in the living room.

In the stuff I found upstairs--I realize I'd left quite a bit more behind than I thought--was a slender white Forecast suitcase and vacuum-sealed aged steak. At some point, the kids of these relatives (so I'm assuming) had slit the plastic and extracted a steak, leaving the remaining aged steak to spoil.

I still had to get to the school. I put various things in the white suitcase. Outside, I hear my father talking with the owner of the house, walking across the bif front yard, when I wake up.

The striking thing I remember from this dream is, as I was walking to the house, with the early evening sun setting behind it, was that I could see the rabbits hidden in the unmown lawn by the sun shining through their upright ears. They showed pink in the expanses of sunlit green.

Photo: Davo. Rabbit: Suzanne Blomenberg

Friday, August 15, 2008

More pix from the Fair

So, while I sit here at my desk, trying not to eat the food set aside for the party, I thought I'd post a few more pix of the Fair. As with the last post, my eye kept getting caught by the signage. For example, we have the following enticements:

On the other side of the same booth is the same sentiment, spelled better, and, as an added bonus, everyone's favorite: quotation marks as "emphasis"--

These pigs, however, need no "buckels."

Now, regarding the "fried x" trend, we've come, in the past six years or so, from the fried Twinkie, to the Fried Ho-Ho, to the Ding-Dong, the fried Oreo, the fried Snickers Bar, and then, last year, we hit what I sincerely hoped would be the end of the "deep-fried x." That nadir was Deep Fried Pepsi. You heard it. And, in case you're asking (and I know you are), deep-fried Pepsi is essentially funnel-cake batter with Pepsi instead of water. After it comes out of the fryer, the powdered sugar is substituted by a drizzlin' of pure Pepsi syrup. I could only picture the chunderfest after eating one of those and hitting the teacup ride. So, after that, you'd think it'd be over. But no. Frankly, after seeing these signs, I'm thinking that they're trying too darned hard. (and the cookie dough sign has ruined the Pillsbury dough-boy for me for all time. I'll now only be able to see him as a sort of acid-freakout hellspawn , pushing death-dealing fritters.)

Davo goes to the Fair, Part Deux

Deb came down with passes to the fair --including parking, so she didn't have to ride in on my handlebars for free parking --and I followed her along on her traditional route, which started with an elephant ear that both put us under gastrically for some time.I, in true allegiance to my family name, chose to show my stomach who was boss and got a corndog. Then another. The second corndog was an error. I knew this as soon as I gave my order. The folks in the booth were a mess. A real mess, and the words of my corndog order were coming out like some sort of unstoppable liquid and once I let her know I wanted a corndog I watched her extend her thumb to her mouth, lick it, use the moistened thumb to loosen the sheet of paper from the stack, and use the spitty paper to wrap my corndog. Word to the wise--as soon as you see some 60-year-old with a snakebite and an eyebrow ring taking your order, run mid-sentence.

From there we witnessed the pre-demise of the poultry barn, with the non-prize-winners stuffed into crates (chickens with ducks, ducks with geese, chickens and ducks with geese) and taken away by the truckload, then the Reubenesque curves of the draft horses pulling laquered carts with running lights.This late in the week the Fair seemed a sort of society that knows its end is near--the loopiness of the attendees, the wave of agitation that overtook the Poultry pavilion once the men came to empty the cages, the shuttering of various booths. The Gideons were handing out pamphlets--other religious groups had stands with knobbed doors with various questions on them saying things like Are you going to go to heaven? What will God do to me if I don't believe? Do pets have an afterlife? Regarding the last question, there are about 100 crates of poultry right now that are hoping the answer is Yes.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Fair

Hey folk--
Here's a preliminary look at the fair. I rode my bike too much, got too much sun, and ate far, far too much fair food. Ergo, I'm feeling waaay gross at the moment and need to lie still for a good long while. More on this in the next post.

Saturday, August 09, 2008


Dream, Pez's Birthday, 2008:

I am called on at last minute to introduce Hillary Clinton, who is campaigning. I had initial plans for the intro, but scrap these for reading a paragraph from a biography of Hillary--something that ended with "Politician, inventor, innovator" or something like that. I go up to address the audience and talk off the cuff while I thumb through the volume--I'd lost the page. I say that I'd had an intro prepared, but in place of that I'd read from this book that came out during her last campaign. I can't find the page. Hillary keeps walking in and saying in undertones that the intro can end. She wants me to finish so she can start her stump speech. Since I can't find the page--there are so many pictures!--I introduce her, using what I remembered of the paragraph, but wake up before I finish and before she can go to the podium.

As I woke, I found myself thinking two things:
First, I felt bad that my waking left Hillary in limbo, between intro and speech, in an eternally unresolved situation. My second thought was on all of those photographs--they were all pics of war--GIs in floppy hats sitting in the hatches of helicopters. Shattered jungle. So much strife. As I woke I felt perhaps it best that the speech was cut off by my waking up--her book was full of war and conflict. another candidate would be better. But then I remembered that in the dream the biography was written during her first campaign, that this dream may actually have been set in the future, that all the images of war were the result of a future administration that was ending in the dream, four years in the future. Her position as candidate seemed much stronger in that light.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A Change of Venue


A man who allows that the only things to touch his food are pickles and yellow mustard. Everything should taste of vinegar.

People who work in Sales sit in the next booth. Nothing is more boring than hearing such conversation, which runs the gamut of passing mentions of their convincing people to buy something, the sales deals they're putting together, and what their target customers said or did that might indicate that a sale is forthcoming. All of this is, in essence, a further selling, of self, to the other salesman. I'm busy, you see. I'm a good salesman. I can move product.

The line of sight over their commerce shows the passing billboard of a bus and a sign. The sign says Post Office. Its greenness surrounds an arrow-shaped white void that people refer to. They then turn left. turn South. turn into the greasespotted parking lot past the bank, past the Hardee's where the employees accusingly yell "Guest IN" upon entry, past the thrift store to the blondbricked post office. Over the entry is a shadowed graffito. The graffito says ASS in bloated letters. Flies run their halting course up the window.

In parking-lot islands across the nation, there are men like those out there, levering up skull-sized clods of dirt, topped with grass. They pivot, extend their arms, knock the blade free. The clod rolls heavily to the curb, which bears the mark of a brush on its surface. The man digging duplicating precisely the motions of a mime miming a shoveler.

photo by Davo. Sea Lions, Indianapolis Zoo

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

There He Is


Jimmy has cut off all his hair. He now has a C-shaped area of white shiny skin surrounding his very darkly- tanned skull.

The ice-cream ladies are late. The Cougher shoulders open the door with some difficulty. "There he is," she says to the other. They are looking at me. Behind them, cutting across the parking lot, is a man who, if he weren't wearing a bright peach polo shirt and pink shorts with white support socks, would look just like Victor Hugo. A gouty walk that implies a cane.

Behind the counter, one of the employees is asking the others, "Hey, do you smell ginger?" "In this place?" one says.

In one of the booths, on her mother's shoulder, a child replicates her spankings as she eats her Happy Meal, her fingers splayed out stiffly. She counts out the blows, stops at ten, starts over.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn 1918-2008

Solzhenitsyn, who died today, was an author I had only vaguely heard of before I got the news I was going to Russia in 1993. I didn't know him by name, actually, but by the title of his largest work--The Gulag Archipelago. When I found out that I was going to be going to Moscow, I thought it would be a good idea to have at least an idea of the culture I was going to be living in for the then-foreseeable future. I picked up a paperback edition of volume 1...

...and it scared the pants off me. Invasive governments, extensive interrogations, trumped-up charges, the necessity of towing the Party line, and the cynical use of hope as a carrot to keep even the prisoners going, as with the horse in Orwell's Animal Farm.

Upon my arrival in Moscow, the place seemed a city filled with ghosts. The Stalin Gothic wedding-cake high-rises, built with Gulag prisoner labor, the stagnant, lilypad-clogged pool--the world's largest heated pool at the time, though it was evidently defunct--in place of the once-largest Russian Orthodox cathedral at the center of town, the monasteries throughout the city and elsewhere, vacated after the Revolution and thereafter used as either stables or as prison camps for those not in the Lubyanka prison (an old hotel situated, with typical irony, across the street from Children's World). But more haunting to me than all of these was the pervasiveness of Party symbology even almost two years after the fall of Communism. Red stars abounded, in the artwork of the subway, or spinning in the wind at the top of the Kremlin towers. Sheaves of wheat, freshly harvested by the Serp or Sickle. Such things were everywhere, in chandeliers, plaster moldings, and even the building footprint of various edifices, such as the Red Army Theater. My students at the time almost universally repudiated Solzhenitsyn. "He leaves during the worst of our troubles, and comes back once everything is A-OK. He's a coward." His time spent in prison, his ceaseless interrogation by Soviet officials, his efforts--at risk of his own skin and those who confided in him--at documenting in the legitimate press what had only to that point been in Samizdat all fell by the wayside for these students. I had various disagreements regarding other things he was saying, but to dismiss him for cowardice? It seemed the college students knew little of what had come before.

On my return, after recovering enough from the Russian Appendectomy to carry my luggage, I read the three volumes of Gulag Archipelago, all 1840 pages, and, through its repetition, its documentary setting-forth of the horrendous doings of the Stalinist regime, I kept returning to a comment one of the other University professors I talked to weekly said to me in her apartment not far from the Dinamo station one bitterly-cold night shortly before I left back for the States. Cheap sausages, she said. It was all because people wanted to be sure they could buy cheap sausages.

It was certainly more complicated than that, but the spirit of it holds true. Groceries stayed cheap until Gorbachev called it a night. There were many that wished for the "good old days." So what if the rabble were getting roughed up? Order must be kept. The populace must be secure. Those sausages came at a pretty high cost, looking back. The Russians had a rather dismissive pejorative nickname for Hitler, considering that the German Fuehrer killed only a fraction of what Stalin was able to. Great thinkers, poets, novelists, the greatest playwright in the country. We Americans consider ourselves smarter, not so easily taken in as uneducated peasants looking for a decent price for their carts of beets. But what have we been willing to give up for a "sense of security;" what more will we be willing to give up for a "decent price for gas?"

Yuri Dombrovsky was another author, among so many artists, that were imprisoned and sent off to [preferably] die in the network of secret prisons scattered about the great expanse of the Soviet empire. His novel The Faculty of Useless Knowledge is a pretty tough-to-handle read regarding the interrogations. Orwell says in 1984 that Room 101, the interrogation room, contains "the worst thing in the world." He wasn't far off. Who is in charge of the room now?

Pic: Chasnik: Fabric Design (1920s), swiped from unknown source, 2004

Your Weekend Musil

"I am even prepared to admit something else, something quite different. The experts never get to the end of anything. Its not only that they haven't got to the end of anything today. But they can't even picture the idea of their activities ever being complete. Perhaps they can't even wish it. Can one imagine, for instance, that man will still have a soul once he has learnt to understand it completely and manage it biologically and psychologically? And yet that is the state of things we are trying to achieve. There it is. Knowledge is an attitude, a passion. Actually an illicit attitude. For the compulsion to know is just like dipsomania, erotomania, and homicidal mania, in producing a character that is out of balance. It is not at all true that the scientist goes out after truth. It is out after him. It is something he suffers from. The truth is true and the fact is real without taking any noice of him. All he has is the passion for it. He is a dipsomaniac whose tipple is facts, and that leaves its mark on his character. And he doesn't care a damn whether what comes of his discoveries is something whole, human, perfect--or indeed what becomes of them! It's all full of contradictions and passive suffering and at the same time enormously active and energetic."

--from Man without Qualities

Davo lifts a thermo-mug full of cold water: Here's to being imbalanced...

--Photo: Davo, Seattle, December 2007

Friday, August 01, 2008

#8 Meal with Diet Coke


A stocky black man sits down at the booth across from the Ice Cream Ladies, the larger of the ladies hasn't had her coughing fit yet. The ladies sit, licking their cones in silence with their customary look of exhaustion. This is retirement. This is what things sink into. The houses empty first of children, then of spouse, and now the hours have settled into an early-morning wake-up, the spoiling of a dog of manageable size, and, once lunchtime comes around, regular meetings here at the grease-stained corner on 10th street. "Gosh, it's hot out," one of the ladies manages to say.

"I'm from 125 miles out of Dallas," the man says, "x miles from Texarkana." I'm busy with my crossword and miss out on the expression of the Ice Cream Ladies, who continue licking. I think, somehow, that this statement, which has been left out there on its own, is in relation to the temperature outside, the humidity, and how it compares with the no-doubt more intense Texarkana sultriness, but perhaps not.

"Raised on a farm," he continues, after quite a long period of silence, filled only with the shooing of flies, which still plague the place, and the licking of vanilla soft-serve. "Near East Dangerfield."

To my eyes, this commentary has gotten no response from the Ladies whatsoever. ""Christmas. Thanksgiving. The Fourth of July. Those were the biggest days of the year. I still appreciate em. And movies. 9 cents to get in and 5 for a Coke."

"What happened to those days?" One of the ladies says, without any change in her resigned expression. Several more people walk in, refer to the menu board. The ice machine rattles.

"Had a good mother and a good daddy. No disrespect. No cussing. None of that." The talking man has not stopped with his fries. "And I tell you. You may not believe it. There was no such thing as 'I don't want that' or 'can I have...' You got what it was without questioning."

"If they said jump," the lady who didn't cough halfway through her cone spoke up, "you said 'how high.'"

"Those days have disappeared." the man says. Silence. "Nice talking to you." With no further words, he picks up his tray, tips it over the trash cans, and walks out. The ladies lick their cones.

"My dad," one of the ladies says finally, "had an apartment building, and when they passed a law saying you had to rent to em, if one of em would come to see the place, Dad'd say it was already rented and wouldn't even show it to em." The comment sank slowly beneath the accumulating layers of fast-food orders at the counter and the 80s pop music on the PA. The sun slants through the glass.

"Everyday he's here," one says, glancing at me. The other doesn't bother turning.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sad Times Ahead


After their meal, a woman has given her grandchild some money to get her a soda while she goes to the restroom. As she turns he hits the counter, gets a hamburger, then goes to the other side of the trashcans in view of the restroom door. He eats hurriedly.

The door opens and he ducks, waits until she pushes open the back door of the restaurant. He greedily stuffs the rest of the burger in his mouth as she walks to the car. He is still chewing as he goes to the counter to order a large soda and apple pie. At the drink bar he eats the pie as fast as possible. Grandma is waiting in the car, the window open.

He fills the soda cup, drinks it halfway down, refills, drinks it halfway down again. He is breathing heavily--he hasn't given himself much time to breathe for the past three minutes. He fills the cup to the top and, affecting sudden casualness, walks out the door to Grandma's open window, hands her the soda and her change, gets in the back seat.

He is perhaps nine years old.

Dream 08 June

I am interviewing for a job at a place that takes elderly intensive care patients during peak season. I place a saucer and an address book on a gurney in an empty conference room. As I walk over to where I would have my meeting I pass a receptionist. I make the mental note that I sure would like to have a job like hers if it didn't mean a cut in pay.

The place was laid out like a typical modern office building. In walking to where my interview is, I find a room in which there is a group of elderly patients in intensive-care wheeled bassinets, their heads turned to the side, mouths agape, busy with the gasping noises of sleep. An old man is among them, sitting in a wheelchair, his arms out and moving with the disturbing swing of a mobile. I walk into the middle of the group and listen to all of their snores as if it were music and the old crazy man were directing.. I can't help smiling, feeling oddly touched by this. I thread my way past the patients and find my saucer and address book on the gurney, which had been pushed to the back of the room.

Photo by Davo: Scottsdale, Arizona, 2004

Monday, July 28, 2008

Monday Quotes

Andre Gide:

"Many authors write rather good books today who could write different ones that would be just as good. I do not feel any secret relationship between them and their work, and they themselves do not interest me; they remain litterateurs and instead of listening to their demon (they have none), they listen to the public taste. They adapt themselves to what is, and, far from that bothering them, they do not recognize themselves as bothersome."
--31 Dec. 1929

"The only drama that really intereste me and that I should always be willing to depict anew is the debate of the individual with whatever keeps him from being authentic, with whatever is opposed to his integrity, to his integration. Most often, the obstacle is within him. And all the rest is merely accidental."
--03 July 1930

Saturday, July 26, 2008

24 August 2007

I am back, visiting my 8th grade classroom. The teacher and students are practicing for some school program. Afterwards I sit at the piano, which is very shinily, glossily black and has the extended keyboard of some Bosendorfers. The instrument is freshly, resonantly in tune, except for the bottom one-and-a-half octaves or so, the keys of which are brittle and loose. They are gilded like the top edge of old books and chaotically out of tune. These keys play their own music is what I say to myself.

Photo by Davo: inside the Holocaust Museum, Berlin, 2004

Friday, July 25, 2008

A Food-Based Discussion


I step up to the counter and order a Quarter Pounder meal "with mustard... hold it--is there already mustard on a Quarter Pounder?" The cashier turns immediately to the employee next to her and asks her the same question. The other employee, who seems to be some sort of shift leader gives her a look: "Yeah, he-LLO, and you should know that."

"Dont talk to me," my cashier says, "He's the one that asked. I didn't ask."
"Yes you did, cos you didn't know."
"I only asked because he did."
"In that case," I interject, "I won't have any extra mustard, since it's on there already." The cashier turns to me, not in the slightest bit flustered by this exchange so far. "You wouldn't have gotten any extra mustard anyway," she says.

The shift leader's mouth snaps open. "He certainly would, if that's what he asks for." The cashier turns to me, as if really letting me know, confidentially, how it is. "No you wouldn't. You know how stingy they are on fries and stuff. Like as if it comes outta their own pocket." She gives me the largest cup in the rack and goes to get my fries.

Once I sit down, I stay within earshot of the counter. The shift leader hangs around her with sidelong looks. A man orders his stuff to go. The cashier looks up from the keyboard of her register, smiles a bit, leans over confidentially, says cheerfully, "You aren't going anywhere."

--photo: Davo, detail of one of the many paintings entitled
Untitled, Indianapolis Museum of Art

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Location Sketch

"The Greeter" is back, hopped up on something, his speech coming in quick short bursts of as many words as possible crammed into one to two seconds of talking. He is complimenting the young man, nicknamed "Goldilocks" by the crew, on his new cornrow braids which, counter to his likely intent, make him look even more like a fourth-grade girl. "Your hair's god, man. It's tight," The Greeter says.

The cashier taking my order is getting cornrows, too; is about a third of the way, the little red rubberbands form a dotted line that arcs over her head, beginning just before her ear. I think of asking whether the entire crew is getting cornrows as a sort of solidarity thing.

An old woman with crapey skin, loose and puckered like a half-deflated balloon, comes in with her friend almost every day to get ice cream. About 20 licks in she has a coughing fit, the building hacking up of a gurgle from deep in her chest to the back of her throat. She licks again, swallows thickly. Her friend always pauses during these moments until she's done.

The employee with the whitish lipstick bordered by dark brown lipliner is glossing the quarry-tile floor with bleachwater. My flipflops hydroplane in spite of the sign admonishing me to watch my step. The place is busy: there are burgers all the way back to the restrooms, each burger the keystone to an arch formed by forearms propped on tables.

"Look!" the bilingual blue sign says: "Mira! The meal numbers have changed!" Dimes chime on the floor. The crapey lady's friend picks them up laboriously. They shuffle to the counter, get another cone each.

I can tell by the smell that they are cleaning off the grill. A smell of hot steel wool and pink soap, which combine with the fry grease and bleachwater in a way that smells, surprisingly, like grilling tuna steak, an actually appetizing smell.

The caffeine is making me jitter a bit. I twitch as if I've just been called up for karaoke, the blue screen's white squares counting down the time to when I should start singing. I drink Diet Coke till a dull ache starts in my chest, till my mouth is tired of the chemical bitterness of what's in the paper cup. Then what next? A walk through the traffic and trees and robins along the weed-choked 11th street curb to my buglighted porch, its clotted cobwebs, its alligator-varnished wood door.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Agrarian Updates

Well, to keep the afternoon from becoming a complete waste of time, a blog post.

The first wave of the garden is officially over, and I was a bit late on the second wave, so nothing new is up yet. The chard is everywhere,

The beets are going to be way way more beetness than I'll be able to handle,

And the tomatoes are within reach of engulfing my house.

The second crop of robins is coming along nicely, too--four of them, right outside my kitchen window. The parents are rather laissez-faire regarding me, and aren't particularly interested in divebombing me while I weed the veggies under the nest.

Give Me Your Shadow

I've worked all day on a semester plan for my Composition class, but fear it's all for naught. My class seems to be taken over by The Golem, Batman, The Student from Prague, Hermann Grosz, and the new video from Portishead for their song We Carry on, which I posted a few days ago. Oh, but I have so much more to read up on before I try it. Why am I not smarter?

Monday, July 21, 2008

What Most Hope For

"And maybe for poets of anger, writers of anger, it is that place which has been obliterated or denied us. A place of humaneness. A place of deep intelligence, of reverence for intelligence. The delectable mountain. The place of fellowship. Of music. Of art. Of loving. Not of banality, not of greed. Even though many in their lives may compromise, seeking for this or that prize, this or that honor, in their dream they long for the great and beautiful place.

"Henry James longed for the great and beautiful place. Henry Miller longed for it. I long for it. It's a noble place. And our argument against people like Reagan, like Bush, is that they not so much take it away from us, but that they never even imagined it...they're clueless, and it's this that we are furious about. That and their indifference."

Gerald Stern, interview for The Writer's Chronicle, March/April 2007.

Shop Talk

"The useful drafting that you do--as part of the discipline of all those choices in form, structure, diction, image, rhythm, and th rest--gets you to a new understandinf of the subject. Frost said 'no surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.' Writing needs to be an act of discovery, a way of looking at the world and learning something. And sometimes, if you're willful and didactic as I am, you need to let yourself be surprised--let your peripheral vision do the work. You focus somewhere else. Or, say, lineation, or structure, or the clarity of a figure. [...]

"We think of drafting poems as having material at hand and looking for ways to structure that material, but there's no reason why the reverse can't happen--that is, devising an interesting structure which will invite or prompt material. And sometimes this other way can be less preemptive or overly determined, and can lead to fresher insights."

--Ellen Bryant Voight,
Interview for Sycamore Review, Spring 2004