Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Valentine for Perfect Strangers

Last time I posted a funny cat video, I used its mention of a monkey as my excuse. And now I use this video's mention of poetry in order to bring you "Valentine for Perfect Strangers," a piece of sheer genius.

Laura Kasischke in Poetry

The lovely and talented Laura Kasischke has a poem in the October 2008 issue of Poetry titled "Hospital parking lot, April." When my issue came in the mail and I saw it I actually made a happy little yelping sound. I get very excited about such things.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Cave man verse

Osama Bin Laden is getting some poems published in the academic journal Language and Communication next month.

According to Flagg Miller, the guy who is translating Bin Laden's poems into English for the journal, "Bin Laden is a skilled poet with clever rhymes and meters, which was one reason why many people taped him and passed recordings around, like pop songs."

I'm trying really hard not to be jealous.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Nietzsche Family Circus

"I think I am too sarcastic to believe in myself."

I am pleased to present to you my latest Internet discovery, The Nietzsche Family Circus, which pairs a randomized Family Circus cartoon with a randomized Friedrich Nietzsche quote. In order to do so, I pair it with a poem about Nietzsche by Robert Hass from his latest book Time and Materials. It is not one of my favorite Hass poems. In fact, it contains the word "supple" which I don't tend to like. But it also contains the word "syphilis" which, I think, balances things out.

A Supple Wreath of Myrtle

Poor Nietzsche in Turin, eating sausage his mother
Mails to him from Basel. A rented room,
A small square window framing August clouds
Above the mountain. Brooding on the form
Of things: the dangling spur
Of an Alpine columbine, winter-tortured trunks
Of cedar in the summer sun, the warp in the aspen’s trunk
Where it torqued up through the snowpack.

“Every where the wasteland grows; woe
To him whose wasteland is within.”

Dying of syphilis. Trimming a luxuriant mustache.
In love with the opera of Bizet.

(Robert Hass, from Time and Materials Ecco Press 2007)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Clean sweep

The very first book of poems I ever bought was Homecoming: New and Collected Poems by Julia Alvarez. It was, I thought at the time, brilliant. I was probably a senior in high school, maybe even a freshman in college, and a budding feminist. A bulk of the poems in Alvarez's book were included in a section titled "Housekeeping." In it were poems titled "How I Learned to Sweep" and "Storm Windows". I was enthralled. This was powerful stuff to my teenage mind. Flipping through Homecoming today, my 30-year-old mind is not as enthralled, though I am thankful for the book as it was an early inspiration for my own work. The poems in Homecoming are, for the most part, mediocre, though as this video from Current TV demonstrates, the sentiment behind them is still alive and well, though feminism has a better sense of humor.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

"Money, it's a gas..."

In honor (no, honor is not the right word. Horror, perhaps?) of the fall of Washington Mutual and the fiscal free for all that is our economy, here's a poem by Cornelius Eady about money. Kind of. There are some other money related poems I have in mind but have to dig up. But at the rate things are going, this money poem thing could easily become a regular thing here.

Money Won’t Change It (but time will take you on)

You’re rich, lady, hissed the young woman at
My mother as she bent in her garden.
Look at what you’ve got, and it was
Too much, the collards and tomatoes,
A man, however lousy, taking care
of the bills.

This was the reason for the early deaths
My mother was to find from that point on,
Turned dirt and the mock of roots,
Until finally, she gave her garden up.
You can’t have nothing, she tells us,
Is the motto of our neighborhood,
These modest houses
That won’t give an inch.

(Cornelius Eady, from Autobiography of a Jukebox, 1997 Carnegie Mellon University Press.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Earn a BA in Helping at Monkey College

As I've made clear in the past, I do not think that keeping monkeys as pets is a good idea. However, after watching this video from Helping Hands, an organization that trains monkeys to help disabled people, I'm pretty darn impressed. Seeing these little monkeys put DVDs in and work microwaves makes it look like folks who have helper dogs have gotten the shaft. Still, if you want to keep a monkey in your house and you aren't physically disabled then I'm going to guess you're at least somewhat mentally disabled and not in a way a monkey can help.

You can learn more about Helping Hands at monkeyhelpers.org and watch a better resolution version of this video here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

MacArthur "Genius" Grants announced

Each year the MacArthur Foundation selects between 20-30 "geniuses" from the arts and sciences and gives them each a $500,000 MacArthur Fellowship. Nice.

No poets this year. But poets have been pretty well represented in the past. Peter Cole, who is both a poet and a translator, got one last year.

Other poetic geniuses include A. R. Ammons, John Ashbery, Linda Bierds, Joseph Brodsky, Anne Carson, Amy Clampitt, Douglas Crase, Irving Feldman, Alice Fulton, Jorie Graham, Allen Grossman, Thom Gunn, Robert Hass, Daryl Hine, Edward Hirsch, John Hollander, Richard Howard, Richard Kenney, Galway Kinnell, Ann Lauterbach, Brad Leithauser, Campbell McGrath, Thylias Moss, Lucia M. Perillo, Jim Powell, A. K. Ramanujan, Adrienne Rich, Charles Simic, Mark Strand, May Swenson, Derek Walcott, Robert Penn Warren, Eleanor Wilner, C.D. Wright, and Jay Wright.

Monday, September 22, 2008

"The monkey mocks me with each flip."

How glad am I that this film mentions a monkey? Very glad.

You can see a higher resolution version of this film at Will Braden's Web site.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

David Orr on political poetry

There's a really good essay by David Orr on political poetry in the July/August issue of Poetry. I just read it last night as I am a little behind in my reading, so when this column was written Obama had not yet won the nomination. But that's not the important part.

I've thought about this issue myself, poetry and politics and where they intersect and how well or poorly they manage to work and play together. It doesn't seem like a lot of contemporary poets are writing "political" poetry. For one thing, it's hard to pull off. It is easy to write a "bad" political poem. Just rant about George W. Bush and make sure you use words like "rape" and "cowboy" but in a totally metaphorical way. It's not enough to just be pissed off about something. You have to know what you're talking about, too. I've written a few political poems in my time. In fact, the very first poem I ever got published was about the Iraq war in 2003. Publication aside, I don't know that I would call it a "good" political poem.

Orr assures us that, "The path to richer political poetry is still open." And he gives some compelling reasons as to why we should care.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Pop! Art! Monkey!

I've been a fan of Carl Oxley's art for a long time. Though I was a fan before I ever knew who he was or that he was even local. I would see his stuff here and there and wished I could fill my home with his adorable monkey heads (for example, the painting here titled "Fresh Prince of Detroit"). Over the summer I ran into a guy at the Cass Cafe who had an adorable monkey head necklace and I said, "Where did you get that?" And he said, "I made it." That man was Carl Oxley. And thus I saw with my own eyes that an actual human being made his super adorable art, not some kind of smiling cloud machine that runs on vegan marshmallows.

Laura, Henri and I went to the D.I.Y Street Fair in Ferndale tonight and Oxley had a booth there at which Laura bought a new purse and I got an awesome monkey t-shirt and some pins. Oxley and his wife were both really sweet and so into their work and were very patient with me considering I probably told them way too much about my personal life. So if you know someone who could use some art from "the happiness company," get thee to popartmonkey.com

Oxley told me tonight that he has a demonstration coming up at the DIA soon. When I get the specifics, I will post it here. Hopefully it is on a night I can go as I would love, love, love to see it.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Poetry Tuesday, Sept. 23 at The Print Gallery

The Print Gallery is a cool little place in Southfield that hosts poetry readings every now and again. The Fall 2008 Series kicks off on Tuesday, September, 23 2008 at 7:00 p.m. and features my friend the lovely Elizabeth Volpe, Rebecca B. Rank, Matthew Olzmann, and Dawn McDuffie.

So show up and say hi - and hey, maybe even get some holiday shopping done early so that you're not in tears the night before you're supposed to see your mother-in-law because you're out of time and out of ideas. The Print Gallery has a lot of cool gifty stuff, especially if you want something with the Mona Lisa on it but don't have the time or money to jet to Paris.

Diane Shipley DeCillis, the store's owner, is kind of a Mona Lisa fanatic. She and poet Mary Jo Firth Gillett even put together an anthology of poetry called Mona Poetica, which was published by Mayapple Press in 2006. I'm sure you can pick up a copy at The Print Gallery as well. Liz Volpe is even in it and would surely sign it for you. Same goes for DeCillis. Other notable poets in the anthology include Dean Young, Thomas Lynch, Edward Hirsch, and Stephen Dunn.

The Print Gallery is located at 29173 Northwestern Hwy. Southfield, MI 48034. For more info call 1-800-848-4278 or 248-356-5454 or visit www.EverythingArt.com.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Limerick record reviews

My twin sister Laura, record reviewer and blogger (believe it!) has a knack for the limerick. She has combined her talents by writing limerick record reviews. And you thought all limericks started with, "There once was a man from Nantucket..."

Photographer makes a monkey of McCain

The Atlantic Monthly, a magazine I wish would publish more poetry than it does, and photographer Jill Greenberg are under fire for photos of John McCain in the current issue. I saw a video clip earlier in which Fox New's Megyn Kelly rips into Atlantic Monthly editor James Bennet over the issue in a way I have yet to see anyone rip into John McCain. Bennet was very apologetic and said he was drafting a letter of apology to the McCain campaign.

Greenberg is well known for her exhibition End Times, which consists of photos of crying toddlers (very disturbing but not creepy exactly). When I went to check out this exhibition I saw a link for “Monkey Portraits," her 2004 exhibition of photos of - you guessed it - monkeys.
"...Greenberg has created a series of monkey portraits and asks us to consider, in another way, where we are coming from. We look into her monkey’s expressions, their faces - their peculiar physiognomy - and somehow see ourselves. It is frightening and disorienting and exhilarating and awesome. She mischievously shows us another type of mirror-stage, where we confront an ancient and distorted reflection, another startling spectacle, and try to make sense of who, or what we are seeing. By intentionally anthropomorphizing her monkeys, we can’t help but identify with their gaze, and be reminded of people we know, expressions that we have seen before."
Greenberg's photos of these animals have a cartoonish quality that is both disconcerting and stunning (the same goes for the toddler photos). I've included one of the monkey photos, titled "Yikes," here, which should not be confused with Greenberg's manipulated McCain photos which you can see on her site, www.manipulator.com.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The most romantic thing you can think of...

I feel like garbage today (head cold, not to be confused with "Head Games" by Foreigner or, for that matter, "Cold As Ice" by same) but I had to post this as my sister mentioned this South Park clip this morning. It made me laugh despite the fact that I had already seen it and that I need to have an awl drilled into my skull to drain the tree sap.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Dear Darwin, "Our bad." Love, The Church of England

The Church of England apologized to Charles Darwin for attacking the whole "man evolved from apes" thing 200 years after the fact.
"Charles Darwin, 200 years from your birth in 1809, the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still."
Though Darwin's great-great grandson dismissed the apology as too little too late, I think it's kind of sweet in a way, especially when you consider that the COE refers to head bishops as "primates."

Friday, September 12, 2008

Dana Gioia is leaving the NEA

Poet and critic Dana Gioia will step down in January as the head honcho of the National Endowment for the Arts. During his six year tenure he helped make the organization more visible in local communities and schools, thus helping to squelch conservative criticism that has plagued the organization in the past. Gioia is leaving, he said, to write more poems.
"Six years is a long time in a job. I have done most of the things I set out to do. I really want to go back to writing. I haven't had time for my own writing. I write all the time for the NEA, official writing. Since I have become chairman, I have not published a poem."
Since his poems are quite good, it's probably a good thing that he have more time to write them. Let's hope that the person who takes his place at the NEA continues moving the organization forward.


So much of what we live goes on inside–
The diaries of grief, the tongue-tied aches
Of unacknowledged love are no less real
For having passed unsaid. What we conceal
Is always more than what we dare confide.
Think of the letters that we write our dead.

(Dana Gioia, from Interrogations at Noon, 2001 Graywolf Press)

Read more of his poems on his Web site.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Poetry and comics

I was very pleased to stumble upon this today: a comic strip by David Heatley using a Diane Wakoski poem about belly dancing, part of The Poetry Foundation's The Poem as Comic Strip series. Not only is belly dancing my wife's artistic passion (much like poetry is mine), but I have been mistaken for Diane Wakoski several times in my life. We don't look alike, but we have similar names (D'Anne Witkowski/Diane Wakoski). I'm not even that familar with her work, but from what I've read we don't write that much alike.

The Poem as Comic Strip series also features an Emily Dickinson poem illustrated by Gabrielle Bell. But it looks like that's it. Just these two.

I love this melding of artforms and want to see a whole book of these comic/poem collaborations. From what I can find there does exist a book called Poetry Comics: An Animated Anthology by Dave Morice, but Morice, I believe, is the only comic artist represented. Then there's Kenneth Koch's The Art of the Possible!: Comics Mainly Without Pictures, in which Koch illustrates some of his own poems, and The Nancy Book by Joe Brainard in which he, well co-opts Nancy comics for his own poetic purposes.

What I can't find is an anthology in which different comic book artists take on the work of different poets. I would love to see a Charlie Smith poem illustrated by Chris Ware or a Barbara Ras poem illustrated by Lynda Barry (hell, I'd love one of MY poems to be illustrated by her). The possibilities are endless. I don't know how long the The Poem as Comic Strip series has been going. Perhaps they have this kind of goodness already planned.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I've got a poem in Sotto Voce

There's a new journal in town (just what the world needs!) and, well, I am going to be in it. The first issue of Sotto Voce debuts in October and will include my poem "Matinee." As I said, it's a new publication, which means I have never seen an issue of it. Still, it's nice to be accepted and I'm looking forward to seeing the first issue, which also will include a poem by my friend Alana DeRiggi, who is one of my favorite poets.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Yogurt: the official food of women

My sister came home from work today excited to show me a video she'd seen online about yogurt. "It's hilarious," she said. I was skeptical. But, sure enough, I laughed so hard I ached.

Naturally, I wanted to post this piece of genius to my blog. But how? This video has nothing to do with poetry or monkeys. If only I could find some kind of monkey-yogurt connection or even a poem about yogurt.

Via the wonder that is Google, I plugged "monkey" and "yogurt" into the search field. Lo and behold, Frozen Monkey Yogurt is an actual establishment located in California. They serve frozen yogurt. No monkeys, thankfully. Currently there is only one location, in Torrance, but the site says one is opening in Pasadena soon and I'll be sure to send my best friend Lisa, who lives near there, to check it out and report back.

As for poetry, well, thanks to Anne Carson, there's a poem that features yogurt, in the first four and a half stanzas anyway. "Kitchen" is a section of a longer poem titled “The Glass Essay."


Kitchen is quiet as a bone when I come in.
No sound from the rest of the house.
I wait a moment
then open the fridge.

Brilliant as a spaceship it exhales cold confusion.
My mother lives alone and eats little but her fridge is always crammed.
After extracting the yogurt container

from beneath a wily arrangement of leftover blocks of Christmas cake
wrapped in foil and prescription medicine bottles
I close the fridge door. Bluish dusk

fills the room like a sea slid back.
I lean against the sink.
White foods taste best to me

and I prefer to eat alone. I don’t know why.
Once I heard girls singing a May Day song that went:
Violante in the pantry
Gnawing at a mutton bone
How she gnawed it
How she clawed it
When she felt herself alone.
Girls are cruelest to themselves.
Someone like Emily Brontë,
who remained a girl all her life despite her body as a woman,

had cruelty drifted up in all the cracks of her like spring snow.
We can see her ridding herself of it at various times
with a gesture like she used to brush the carpet.

Reason with him and then whip him!
was her instruction (age six) to her father
regarding brother Branwell.

And when she was 14 and bitten by a rabid dog she strode (they say)
into the kitchen and taking red hot tongs from the back of the stove applied
them directly to her arm.

Cauterization of Heathcliff took longer.
More than thirty years in the time of the novel,
from the April evening when he runs out the back door of the kitchen
and vanishes over the moor

because he overheard half a sentence of Catherine’s
(“It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff”)
until the wild morning

when the servant finds him stark dead and grinning
on his rainsoaked bed upstairs in Wuthering Heights.
Heathcliff is a pain devil.

If he had stayed in the kitchen
long enough to hear the other half of Catherine’s sentence
(“so he will never know how I love him”)

Heathcliff would have been set free.
But Emily knew how to catch a devil.
She put into him in place of a soul

the constant cold departure of Catherine from his nervous system
every time he drew a breath or moved thought.
She broke all his moments in half,

with the kitchen door standing open.
I am not unfamiliar with this half-life.
But there is more to it than that.

Heathcliff’s sexual despair
arose out of no such experience in the life of Emily Brontë,
so far as we know. Her question,

which concerns the years of inner cruelty that can twist a person into a pain devil,
came to her in a kindly firelit kitchen
(“kichin” in Emily’s spelling) where she

and Charlotte and Anne peeled potatoes together
and made up stories with the old house dog Keeper at their feet.
There is a fragment

of a poem she wrote in 1839
(about six years before Wuthering Heights) that says:
That iron man was born like me
And he was once an ardent boy:
He must have felt in infancy
The glory of a summer sky.
Who is the iron man?
My mother’s voice cuts across me,
from the next room where she is lying on the sofa.

Is that you dear?
Yes Ma.
Why don’t you turn on a light in there?

Out the kitchen window I watch the steely April sun
jab its last cold yellow streaks
across a dirty silver sky.
Okay Ma. What’s for supper?

(Anne Carson, from Glass, Irony, and God,1995 New Directions Publishing.)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Alice Fulton in the New York Times

Alice Fulton, best known for her poetry, has a book of stories out. Reviewed by the New York Times.

Baby turtles

Cyanide and Happiness, a daily webcomic
Cyanide & Happiness @ Explosm.net

I saw this comic today and it made me laugh out loud (thanks, Jeremy!). So I thought, I must post this to my blog, if only so that I have it saved somewhere. In order to do this, I had to find a poetry connection. And so, following a comic about babies eating turtles, is a poem by Gregory Orr about turtles eating babies (baby geese, that is).
The Pond

Snapping turtles in the pond eat bass, sunfish,
and frogs. They do us no harm when we swim.
But early this spring two Canada geese
lingered, then built a nest. What I’d
heard of, our neighbor feared: goslings,
as they paddle about, grabbed from below
by a snapper, pulled down to drown.
  So he stuck
hunks of fat on huge, wire-leadered hooks
attached to plastic milk-bottle buoys.
The first week he caught three turtles
and still there are more: sometimes he finds
the bottles dragged ashore, the wire
wrapped several times around a pine trunk
and the steel hook wrenched straight as a pin.

(Gregory Orr, The Caged Owl: New and Selected Poems, 2002: Copper Canyon Press)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

David Berman is a golden Silver Jew

I went with my sister to see the Silver Jews play at the Crofoot in Pontiac. It was an excellent show (you can read our Wonder Twins review on the Metro Times Blog). David Berman, the man behind the Silver Jews, is not just an indie rock star, he's also an excellent poet. I actually became a fan of the Silver Jews through his poetry, which means I'm a pretty new Silver convert. Berman's book, Actual Air, was published in 1999 by Open City Press. It is quite good. Better than quite good, if I do say so myself. I first read Berman's poetry in The McSweeney's Book of Poets Picking Poets, a most excellent anthology.

Poets.org has a good bio up about Berman and his work in poetry and music, though it needs to be updated to include the latest Silver Jews release, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea, which came out in June and is destined to be included on my Best of the Rat Year (2008) mix. You can listen to a few songs from the new record on the Silver Jews MySpace page, including "Suffering Jukebox," one of my favorites.

And here's one of my favorite poems from Actual Air:
The Moon
A web of sewer, pipe, and wire connects each house to the others.

In 206 a dog sleeps by the stove where a small gas leak causes him
to have visions; visions that are rooted in nothing but gas.

Next door, a man who has decided to buy a car part by part
excitedly unpacks a wheel and an ashtray.

He arranges them every which way. It’s really beginning to take

Out the garage window he sees a group of ugly children
enter the forest. Their mouths look like coin slots.

A neighbor plays keyboards in a local cover band.
Preparing for an engagement at the high school prom,

they pack their equipment in silence.

Last night they played the Police Academy Ball and
all the officers slow-danced with target range silhouettes.

This year the theme for the prom is the Tetragrammaton.

A yellow Corsair sails through the disco parking lot
and swaying palms presage the lot of young libertines.

Inside the car a young lady wears a corsage of bullet-sized rodents.
Her date, the handsome cornerback, stretches his talons over the
molded steering wheel.

They park and walk into the lush starlit gardens behind the disco
just as the band is striking up.

Their keen eyes and ears twitch. The other couples
look beautiful tonight. They stroll around listening
to the brilliant conversation. The passionate speeches.

Clouds drift across the silverware. There is red larkspur,
blue gum, and ivy. A boy kneels before his date.

And the moon, I forgot to mention the moon.

(David Berman, from Actual Air, 1999 Open City Press)
His Poets.org bio says he's working on a new book. I hope that is true. And I hope it comes soon.

For more on Berman and the Silver Jews, check out this 2005 New York Times story and this Pitchfork interview from last month.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Reduce, reuse, recycle (cluck, cluck)

While I was sorting my recycling today I came across a tiny yellowed piece of newspaper that, at first glance, looked like a clipping of an ad for some kind of "space age" modular home, as far as "space age" goes in the 50's, that boasts, "Guaranteed Better Built--Yet Costs LESS!" Upon closer inspection, the ad is for a new and improved KOZY chicken coop.

When I turned the ad over, however, I discovered a short poem by Alfred Tennyson. It is, I think, the poem that was intentionally cut out of the paper so many years ago. By whom, I do not know, though my mother in law has been here going through some boxes of old photos and family mementos, so it could have belonged to one of my wife's grandparents. In any case, it's a reminder that newspapers used to actually print poetry.

Here is the poem:
At Eve
As thru the land at eve we went,
And pluck'd the ripened ears,
We fell out, my wife and I.
Oh, we fell out, I know not why,
And kiss'd again with tears.

And blessings on the falling out
That all the more endears,
When we fall out with those we love
And kiss again with tears!

For when we came where lies our child
We lost in other years,
There above the little grave,
Oh there above the little grave,
We kiss'd again with tears.

(Alfred Tennyson)

And here's the text of the chicken coop ad, which is a strange kind of poetry in itself. I've taken the liberty to break it into lines (I think I've been reading too much William Carlos Williams):
Splendid Design--Heavy Lumber

6 ft. door and 7 ft. peak gives
ample head room for caretaker.
Yet, low roofs keep heat
down where chicks are. Hugs
the ground--resists strong winds.
Sunshine floods through
many windows. Fills entire house
with warmth and sunlight.
Drives out vermin.
To admit fresh air without
chilling, merely open upper window
and raise front roof section.
Raise front roof entirely
up on warm days
for full sun bath.