Sunday, May 25, 2008

Laurie Capps is a winner!

Congratulations to Laurie Capps for her first place win in the 2008 New South Poetry Contest for her poem "The Making of History." This win nets her $1000 and publication in the Spring/Summer 2008 issue of New South, which will only strengthen the undying love and adoration of her ever-growing fan club, of which I am a member (I even have photographic evidence).

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Sean Norton addendum (I stand corrected)

You may recall that on May 14, 2008 I posted an item about Sean Norton in which I wrote the following:
"When you do a Google search for 'Sean Norton' you ... get a lot of links for Sean Norton the football player. But I'm looking for Sean Norton the poet. I don't know if he's ever played football. Somehow I doubt it."
I stand corrected. Thanks, Sean, for the photo. :)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Obama the poet

Two poems by Barack Obama circa 1981 (when I was three years old) reprinted in the May 18, 2008 issue of The New York Times:

Sitting in his seat, a seat broad and broken
In, sprinkled with ashes
Pop switches channels, takes another
Shot of Seagrams, neat, and asks
What to do with me, a green young man
Who fails to consider the
Flim and flam of the world, since
Things have been easy for me;
I stare hard at his face, a stare
That deflects off his brow;
I’m sure he’s unaware of his
Dark, watery eyes, that
Glance in different directions,
And his slow, unwelcome twitches,
Fail to pass.
I listen, nod,
Listen, open, till I cling to his pale,
Beige T-shirt, yelling,
Yelling in his ears, that hang
With heavy lobes, but he’s still telling
His joke, so I ask why
He’s so unhappy, to which he replies...
But I don’t care anymore, cause
He took too damn long, and from
Under my seat, I pull out the
Mirror I’ve been saving; I’m laughing,
Laughing loud, the blood rushing from his face
To mine, as he grows small,
A spot in my brain, something
That may be squeezed out, like a
Watermelon seed between
Two fingers.
Pop takes another shot, neat,
Points out the same amber
Stain on his shorts that I’ve got on mine, and
Makes me smell his smell, coming
From me; he switches channels, recites an old poem
He wrote before his mother died,
Stands, shouts, and asks
For a hug, as I shrink, my
Arms barely reaching around
His thick, oily neck, and his broad back; ’cause
I see my face, framed within
Pop’s black-framed glasses
And know he’s laughing too.


Under water grottos, caverns
Filled with apes
That eat figs.
Stepping on the figs
That the apes
Eat, they crunch.
The apes howl, bare
Their fangs, dance,
Tumble in the
Rushing water,
Musty, wet pelts
Glistening in the blue.

You know what would be awesome? A poetry slam between Obama and Hillary and McCain. I'd much rather watch that than another debate where the candidates try as hard as they can not to stray from their scripted talking points.

Friday, May 16, 2008

'World's worst poet' works up for auction

So let's see, nobody even buys good poetry, and yet some works by a man known as the "world's worst poet" are expected to fetch thousands of dollars. God bless the wisdom of the marketplace.
"William McGonagall was mocked by literary critics and had food thrown at him during public readings, before dying penniless in an unmarked grave in Edinburgh in 1902."

Is that what it takes to be a well-known poet? Sign me up!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Sean! Norton!

When you do a Google search for "Sean Norton" you get a YouTube link that says "good times...sean norton risky business underwear." It's not the Sean Norton I'm looking for, thank God.

You also get a lot of links for Sean Norton the football player. But I'm looking for Sean Norton the poet. I don't know if he's ever played football. Somehow I doubt it.

Not that poets can't be manly. Then again, who said football was manly?

Deconstruction of gender norms aside, I just finished reading Sean's book of poems Bad With Faces and am quite pleased. Truth be told, Sean is a friend of mine and someone I am quite fond of. Thankfully I liked his book very much, which means he and I can still be friends. Otherwise, you know, awkward...

Here's one of my favorite poems from the book:
You Don't Take the bitter Herb for Your Rheumatism?

Said my grandmother from the corner of the room.
Melvin Arndt from Arndt Funeral Home
walks in and shakes out his black umbrella
with a wooden duck head handle
that appears to have pink lipstick
across the bill. And no surprise it falls
neatly into the antique, and the residual
moisture sound like the noise
from the back of Carla's throat
as she chokes on a pretzel, laughing
alone at a movie that she directs herself.
The second hand on the clock
works as a prop to hold the body up
as long as it can. It circles,
and is mistaken for a heron,
also wearing pink nail polish.
My grandmother who is not quiet
any longer, is at last memory
carrying its own luggage.
A suburban bay window looks as if
it could be eaten at once and put down whole,
a cold sandwich, a light November
afternoon rain, special effects.
The hand circles again and is mistaken for
food on a spoon, a bank clock, industrial clock,
outdoor promenade, by my grandmother.
Pink nail polish I believe
may look like candy.
She is not quiet in any way as she spirits
an imaginary friend, who is the last one alive,
the last one to make it out of her in one piece.
He dances his way to the appointed place,
Holly, NY, 1952, 1952,
waiting to be picked up by the next car
out of her mouth.

(Sean Norton, from Bad With Faces, 2005 Red Morning Press)
Want to read two more poems from Bad With Faces? Better yet, want to listen to Sean read them? Then check out this Michigan Today link.

For more of Sean's soothing voice, listen to him on the Living Writers radio program from 2005.

And for goodness sake, buy his book.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

May 17: Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair Grand Opening!

For those of you who'll be in Ann Arbor on May 17th at 7 p.m. check this out:
THE LIBERTY STREET ROBOT SUPPLY & REPAIR (sweet name, huh?) WILL OPEN ON SATURDAY, MAY 17, AT 7PM. Not only will we have Robopanda (which is, yes, EXACTLY as cool as it sounds), Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots, and Mega Mech (a four-foot inflatable robot), we’ll also have emotion upgrades, robot first aid kits, positronic brains, the Is Your Little Sister a Robot Test Kit, and a product we like to call Robot Party Hat/Toupee.

So mark your calendars, and please join us at 7pm on Saturday, May 17 for a robot dance off, a puppet show (involving robots), and a bunch of other cool stuff. Including, as far as we know, being at the first-ever opening of the planet’s first-ever robot supply and repair store.

And how about a robot poem to mark the upcoming occasion?

Robot Crusades

Let’s accept the fact that among us
there are likely robots jellying their toast,
dislodging the ice from their windshields,
straining over the toilet in a thoroughly
“authentic” and “humanoid” manner.
My advice is to carry a penknife
and when you suspect someone
of robothood (a tic, a nuance, gives
him away), jab spryly with the knife.
Should you be wrong, a feather of blood
will appear; the wound will heal.
But should you be right (admittedly
it happens less often), you’ll have won
an important victory for our side.
(Dan Pinkerton, from the Fall 2007 issue of Willow Springs)

Some good stuff

So I'm going through some of the journals I picked up at AWP (yes, back in February. I haven't had time, but now that I'm finished with my MFA and gainfully unemployed, I do) and have found some really good stuff that I felt like sharing.

The first is a poem by Brenda Hillman called "A Violet in the Crucible" from the Autumn/Winter issue of The Journal. I'm providing a link to it since it has a bit of funky formatting that's better left to the experts.

And here's a poem by Michael Meyerhofer, from the Fall 2007 issue of Arts & Letters:
Limbic Self-Loathing, Post Emperor's Chicken

I almost forgot about the stone penguin
left under my bed after the tornado,
which you gave me after my father and I
sought shelter in your storm cellar,
rapelling down a cable into the darkness.
And since this was the dream-world,
it made sense that I'd see you again, Lisa,
whom I haven't thought about in years
and was never, I think, in love with
although in my dream, I was disarmed
by your charitable grin, waving
in your Future Farmers of America tee,
during what it took for my neural firestorm
to shock me back up to consciousness.
We were driving along Iowa back-roads
when the tornado touched down
on the barren gravel, spared us by looking,
then I saw you in the distance
and led shelter into your storm cellar.
So you gave me a stone penguin
to remember you by, which I then kept
under my bed for reasons that made sense
at the time. I'll also say, since readers
of poetry are either lovers or haters
of Freud, that the penguin's bill
was erect as a cavalryman's saber,
that I had trouble rapelling down your cellar
which was, in turns out, a swamped pit,
that your ex-marine father did not approve
but your mother found me charming,
and that you--that girl I'd forgotten
until I dreamt about her--chose another.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Ordering poems using the mix-tape method

There is a great article in the May/June 2008 issue of Poets & Writers by Katrina Vandenberg about ordering a collection of poems using what she calls the mix-tape strategy. I was super excited to see this piece since that's exactly how I ordered my thesis. It worked really well for me (though having my twin sister Laura, who was not "in" my poems like I am, look at the work helped add some objectivity and distance that I just don't have when it comes to my own work was an indispensable part of the process for me). I can't recommend the article highly enough. Check it out.

And here's a poem by Vandenberg that is directly connected to the article, in fact:

Late night July
in Minnesota, with John
asleep on the glassed-in porch,

I listen (quietly)
to Bob Dylan on a cassette
you made from an album

I got rid of soon after
you died. Years later,
I regret giving up

your two moving boxes
of vinyl (which I loved)
in a stand against the futility

of saving outdated things.
Surely they were too awkward,
too easily broken,

too poorly mastered
for people who loved music
the way we did. But tonight

I’m in the mood for ghosts
like you, for being
younger, since you’re a

big girl, now I’m thirty-one
to your unchanging twenty-five.
In the mood for sounds

we hated: pop, scratch,
hiss, the occasional
skip. The curtains balloon;

I’ve got a beer; I’m struck
by guilt, watching you
from a place ten years away,

kneeling and cleaning each
with a velvet brush before
and after, tucking them in

their sleeves. Understand,
I was still moving then.
The boxes were heavy.

If I’d known I’d stop here
with a husband to help me
carry, and room—too late,

the college kids pick over
your black bones on Mass. Ave.,
we’ll meet again some day

on the avenue but still,
I want to hear it, the needle
hitting the end of a side

and playing silence
until the arm gives up,
pulls away.
(Katrina Vandenberg, from the Spring 2003 issue of The Greensboro Review)

"Mistaken Identity" by Tony Hoagland

In honor of Mother's Day:
Mistaken Identity

I thought I saw my mother
in the lesbian bar
with a salt gray crew cut, a nose stud
and a tattoo of a parrot on her arm.
She was sitting at a corner table,
leaning forward to ignite, on someone's match,
one of those low-tar things she used to smoke,

and she looked happy to be alive again
after her long marriage
to other people's needs,
her twenty-year stint as Sisyphus,
struggling to push
a blue Ford station wagon full of screaming kids
up a mountainside of groceries.

My friend Debra had brought me there
to educate me on the issue
of my own unnecessariness,
and I stood against the wall, trying to look
simultaneously nonviolent

and nonchalant, watching couples
slowdance in the female dark,
but feeling speechless, really,
as the first horse to meet the first
horseless carriage on a cobbled street.

That's when I noticed Mom,
whispering into the delicate
seashell ear of a brunette,
running a fingertip along
the shoreline of a tank top,

as if death had taught her finally
not to question what she wanted
and not to hesitate
in reaching out and taking it.

I want to figure out everything
right now, before I die,
but I admit that in the dark
(where a whole life can be mistaken) cavern of that bar
it took me one, maybe two big minutes

to find my footing
and to aim my antiquated glance
over the shoulder of that woman
pretending not to be my mother,
as if I were looking for someone else.
(Tony Hoagland, from Donkey Gospel, 1998 Greywolf Press)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

KidsPost Plagiarism Contest winners announced

It is always disheartening when students plagiarize. As an instructor I impress upon my underclassmen students that plagiarism is BAD. When a college kid plagiarizes it's easy to chalk it up to the student being a lazy or ignorant or deceitful. But what about when a 10-year-old does it?

The Washington Post's annual KidsPost Poetry Contest has been besmirched by plagiarism.

Here's the correction that ran May 2, 2008:
One of the poems that KidsPost published April 29 as part of its poetry contest was not written by the child who submitted it. The poem that appeared as "Horrible, Just Horrible" was actually written by Shel Silverstein and is titled "One Out of Sixteen." The child who sent in the poem originally told KidsPost that it was her work. Another poem on the page, titled "Eraser," was inspired by, but not credited to, Louis Phillips, who wrote "The Eraser Poem."

This is, sadly, not the first time this has happened. Here's the correction from April 26, 2007:
One of the poems that KidsPost published as part of its poetry contest on Tuesday was not written by the child who submitted it. The poem that appeared as "Who Am I?" was actually written by J. Patrick Lewis and published in his book "Monumental Verses." The child who sent the poem to KidsPost said she didn't realize that entries to the contest had to be original. But copying something that someone else wrote without giving them credit is plagiarism, and it's wrong.

For more info on the Kids Post contest read Deborah Howell's column about the issue.

I like to tell people that I don't write poems, I just get them off the Internet. The only reason it's funny is because it's not true. Sigh... Today's kids have no sense of decency or humor.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Happy Birthday Jenny!

A gorilla at the Dallas Zoo turned 55 this week. She's the oldest gorilla in captivity. Gorillas in the wild usually live to be in their 30s. She celebrated "by munching down a four-layer frozen fruit cake and banana leaf wrapped treats."

"So to what does Jenny attribute her longevity? She's not saying. But her vegetarian diet couldn't hurt: seeds, cereal and one of her favorites, banana peels."

Hey, I'm vegetarian and I eat a lot of cereal. Maybe I'll live to be 55, too.

Here's a poem in honor of Jenny by Leigh Hunt (1784-1859):
Jenny Kiss’d Me

Jenny kiss’d me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your list, put that in!
Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,
Say that health and wealth have miss’d me,
Say I’m growing old, but add,
Jenny kiss’d me.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

I got a kitteh!

My wife and I got a cat today. His name is Jasper. He's about 2 years old and he's from a rescue group called All About Animals. He's a great little guy (that's his picture).

Whilst looking for poems about cats I came across "'kitty'. sixteen,5'1",white,prostitute" by E. E. Cummings. It has nothing to do with Jasper, but it is about prostitution which is how I earn my living. Okay, that's not true, but my wife is, right this minute, belly dancing at a bachelorette party for cash. Granted, this isn't prostitution, but it is closer to it than what I'm doing right now which is sitting on my couch in sweatpants eating corn chips.

Following the Cummings poem is a more appropriately cat-related poem by Marge Piercy, "The Cat's Song."

"kitty". sixteen,5'1",white,prostitute.

ducking always the touch of must and shall,
whose slippery body is Death's littlest pal,

skilled in quick softness. Unspontaneous. cute.

the signal perfume of whose unrepute
focusses in the sweet slow animal
bottomless eyes importantly banal,

Kitty. a whore. Sixteen
' you corking brute
amused from time to time by clever drolls
fearsomely who do keep their sunday flower.
The babybreasted broad "kitty" twice eight

—beer nothing,the lady'll have a whiskey-sour—

whose least amazing smile is the most great
common divisor of unequal souls.

(E. E. Cummings, from Complete Poems 1904-1962, Liveright Publishing Corporation, 1991).

The cat’s song

Mine, says the cat, putting out his paw of darkness.
My lover, my friend, my slave, my toy, says
the cat making on your chest his gesture of drawing
milk from his mother’s forgotten breasts.

Let us walk in the woods, says the cat.
I’ll teach you to read the tabloid of scents,
to fade into shadow, wait like a trap, to hunt.
Now I lay this plump warm mouse on your mat.

You feed me, I try to feed you, we are friends,
says the cat, although I am more equal than you.
Can you leap twenty times the height of your body?
Can you run up and down trees? Jump between roofs?

Let us rub our bodies together and talk of touch.
My emotions are pure as salt crystals and as hard.
My lusts glow like my eyes. I sing to you in the mornings
walking round and round your bed and into your face.

Come I will teach you to dance as naturally
as falling asleep and waking and stretching long, long.
I speak greed with my paws and fear with my whiskers.
Envy lashes my tail. Love speaks me entire, a word

of fur. I will teach you to be still as an egg
and to slip like the ghost of wind through the grass.

(Marge Piercy, from Mars & Her Children Alfred A. Knopf, 1992).

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Retarded monkey celebrates birthday

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday Dear Ricky...

Why is this newsworthy? It isn't exactly. Though it made me think of a retarded greyhound also named Ricky who lived at an animal hospital my sister used to work. The dog was named Ricky because he was born with a terrible case of rickets. He was also occasionally referred to as Ricky Retardo, though he was well loved and well cared for.

The monkey in the story was beaten by a jealous sibling soon after birth. Had he been out in the wild he would have died. Same with greyhound Ricky. Mother Nature would have looked the other way while the herd was culled. For some reason Ricky and Ricky were spared. Being a dog and a monkey helped some. Ricky the pig or Ricky the cow would have been a double bacon cheeseburger by now. Funny how that works.