Saturday, November 29, 2008

NYT picks 6

The New York Times published their "100 Notable Books of 2008" list, which includes a whopping six books of poems. Here they are:
ELEGY: Poems. By Mary Jo Bang. (Graywolf, $20.) Grief is converted into art in this bleak, forthright collection, centered on the death of the poet’s son.

HALF OF THE WORLD IN LIGHT: New and Selected Poems. By Juan Felipe Herrera. (University of Arizona, paper, $24.95.) Herrera, known for portrayals of Chicano life, is unpredictable and wildly inventive.

MODERN LIFE: Poems. By Matthea Harvey. (Graywolf, paper, $14.) Harvey is willing to take risks, and her reward is that richest, rarest thing, genuine poetry.

OPAL SUNSET: Selected Poems, 1958-2008. By Clive James. (Norton, $25.95.) James, a staunch formalist, is firmly situated in the sociable, plain-spoken tradition that runs from Auden through Larkin.

SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT: A New Verse Translation. By Simon Armitage. (Norton, $25.95.) One of the eerie, exuberant joys of Middle English poetry, in an alliterative rendering that captures the original’s drive, dialect and landscape.

SLEEPING IT OFF IN RAPID CITY: Poems, New and Selected. By August Kleinzahler. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.) Kleinzahler seeks the true heart of places, whether repellent, beautiful or both at once.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Poetry (sort of) by Al Green

I admit I wasn't expecting much since I didn't like his last record, but I must say that Al Green's Lay It Down sucks. The main reason? The lyrics. Cliché dreck from start to finish. Even the song titles are cliché and while I was pointing this fact out to my wife, I realized that taken together, the titles of the songs formed a very terrible poem that nicely sums up the quality of the entire album. And so, here it is (note that I have taken liberty with capitalization and punctuation but other than that each line is a single song title and the track list is in the original order).
Lay It Down

Lay it down
just for me.
You've got the love I need.
No one like you --
What more do you want from me?
Take your time
(too much).
Stay with me by the sea,
all I need.
I'm wild about you
standing in the rain.
My apologies to any beginning creative writing students who have written this exact same poem and think it's good. You'll learn. I hope.

"A Thanksgiving Prayer" by William S. Burroughs

I know it's technically the day after Thanksgiving, but I just discovered this today, thanks to Wonkette. Besides, I am going to see my mom and mom-related members of my family today so it's an extended remix Thanksgiving. Enjoy.

This is a short film by Gus Van Sant of William S. Burroughs reading his poem "A Thanksgiving Prayer." Very uplifting. Watch it with your family.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

"Thanks" by W. S. Merwin

A good poem for Thanksgiving, I think. A day that really should be more about being thankful and less about eating so much turkey and pumpkin pie you split your pants - not that it matters since you're going to be wearing sweats to Kohl's at 4 in the morning to be the first one in the door for a sale on even bigger sweatpants. Planning ahead for next year. Smart.

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

(W. S. Merwin, from Migration: New & Selected Poems, Copper Canyon Press, 2005.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Pygmy Tarsier lives!

As many American news outlets have pointed out, the Pygmy Tarsier looks a lot like a Furby and/or a Mogwai from Gremlins. More important is that the Pygmy Tarsier is alive. And he is our brother.

"Tarsiers are unusual primates -- the mammalian group that includes lemurs, monkeys, apes and people," reports Reuters UK. "[Pygmy Tarsiers] are nocturnal insectivores and are unusual among primates in that they have claws rather than finger nails. They had not been seen alive by scientists since 1921."

It's nice to know that humans haven't killed off all of our ancestors yet.

Though I must admit, if a Pygmy Tarsier was anything like real Furby, well, I think the world might be better off if they'd never been found. My little sister had one when we were growing up and I spent a great deal of energy hiding her Furby under piles of clothes and blankets to make it shut the fuck up. It took a baseball bat to do the job right. Certainly not something I would ever do to a living creature.

And thank you to Emily Mahan for bringing this creature to my attention.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"That monkey is the specialest victim of all"

I have always found the TV show Law & Order: SVU to be, well, rather sucktastic. The dialog has always been so unrealistic and lame and there's always a rooftop scene where one cop recalls some trauma from his or her childhood and shares it with another cop and the two bond over it. Or something. Anyway, I was thrilled to find on Videogum, the best blog ever for people who have eyes and like pictures that move, proof that I am not the only one who thinks this show is lame. Even better, this perfect example of lameness includes monkeys.

Added bonus: Videogum's fantastically hilarious The Hunt For The Worst Movie of All Time. Monkeys are mentioned in several of the posts.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mark Doty wins the National Book Award

Last year I was literally on the edge of my seat waiting for the National Book Award results since Linda Gregerson was in the running (thus far the only person I have ever personally known who was up for such an award. I worked with her in the MFA program at UofM). This year, however, it kind of went by unnoticed. If it wasn't for an article in the New York Times I might have missed the results completely.

Still, I was glad to see Mark Doty win the 2008 National Book Award for Poetry for Fire to Fire: New and Collected Poems (2008 HarperCollins). Doty is a fantastic poet and a really nice guy. I had the good fortune of being able to interview him several years ago for Between The Lines (it's a gay paper. He's a gay poet. See? Makes perfect sense).

The other books in the running were:
Frank Bidart, Watching the Spring Festival (2008 Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Reginald Gibbons, Creatures of a Day (2008 Louisiana State University Press)
Richard Howard, Without Saying (2008 Turtle Point Press)
Patricia Smith, Blood Dazzler (2008 Coffee House Press)

The only one of these poets I can say with any certainty I have ever read anything from is Frank Bidart, so I am curious to check out the others.

The poetry judges were Robert Pinsky (who has some good poems but wrote a book about prosody that I despise), Mary Jo Bang (whose poetry makes zero sense to me), Kimiko Hahn (who I have never heard of), Tony Hoagland (one of my favorites), and Marilyn Nelson (whose name rings a bell).

It's cool to see some small presses in the running, even if the cover of Blood Dazzler by Coffee House Press looks like it was originally designed for a self-published children's book about Creationism. Coffee House Press, by the way, also published my friend and colleague Raymond McDaniel's two books of poetry, Murder, A Violet and Saltwater Empire, the later of which I purchased and gave to said author to sign very shortly after it was published. That was over seven months ago. I still don't have the book. I've asked him about it, many times, and he claims that it's difficult to sign a book for someone he knows and likes, or something like that. If it's any easier for him, a signed check for $16 would work at this point, too. He wouldn't even have to write anything on the memo line if it's too much pressure.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Chatty Cathy Macaque

From the Discover Magazine blog (creationists, plug your ears):
"Female macaques are much chattier than male macaques, according to a new study. The researchers say vocal communication is an important part of macaque social bonding and the findings may reflect similar patterns in the evolution of human language."
Not only that, but:
"The researchers also found that the females preferred to chat with other females [and suggest that] this is because female macaques form solid, long-lasting bonds as they stay in the same group for life and rely on their female friends to help them look after their offspring. In contrast, males, who rove between groups throughout their life, chatted to both sexes equally."
What? Baby monkeys being raised by two (or more!) mama monkeys? Uh, I don't know how comfortable I am with that. It sounds kind of, you know, gay. Whatever happened to one man monkey + one woman monkey monkey marriage? Somebody needs to get all Prop 8 on their same-sex preferential asses if you ask me.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Shakespeare's Sonnet 146

(Married to the Sea)

I had a student come into the writing center today with a paper on Shakespeare's Sonnet 146. I had a very interesting discussion with her about the poem and quite enjoyed the session. So I thought I would post the poem here, as a souvineer of sorts.
Sonnet 146

Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth,
[...] these rebel powers that thee array;
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? is this thy body's end?
Then soul, live thou upon thy servant's loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more:
So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men,
And Death once dead, there's no more dying then.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Broadside Press Poets’ Theater: I was there

Last night I attended the debut of Broadside Press Poets’ Theater at the University of Detroit Mercy and I must say I was impressed. For one thing, the weather was crappy and yet 40 people still found their way to Grounds Coffeehaus (a good space for a reading, though the lighting sucks) for poetry.

A guy from Broadside Press (I failed to write down his name) kicked things off by reading "A Different Image" by Dudley Randall, who founded Broadside Press in 1965 and used to work at UDM as a librarian. The Dudley Randall Center for Print Culture at UDM is, obviously, named after him.

Aurora Harris, whom I have never seen read before, read next and was quite good. A lot of the work she read had to do with her racial identity (she said she was half black and half Filipino).

Jessica Care Moore was next and I have definitely seen her read before. I don't think you forget a Jessica Care Moore reading. Her work is good, but her stage presence is even better. She's just a very funny, very acerbic person who isn't afraid to say whatever is on her mind (she told us, for example, that her favorite word is "motherfucker"). She read a really incredible poem about naming her two-year-old son King.

After she was done reading she encouraged audience members to pick up some books by Broadside and Moore Black Press, her own. "Y'all buy some books," she said. "I need some diapers."

The two did a Q&A session with the audience and when asked what poets inspired them, Harris, who has been writing since age seven, said, "I wasn't inspired by any poets. I was inspired by racism."

Both Harris and Moore talked about the stigmatism of being pegged as "performance poets." They feel that label causes them to not be taken as seriously as poets who do "readings" as opposed to "performances." Neither woman considered herself a performance poet and both emphasized that they are writers.

An open mic that was only somewhat painful (a rare feat at any poetry reading) followed. Kudos to the kid who got up to read his poems for the first time. I don't remember his name, but he was nervous and when he finished he bounded back to his seat saying, "I'm going to tell my mama." It was pretty adorable.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Broadside Press Poets’ Theater at UDM Nov. 16

Here's some news from The Dudley Randall Center for Print Culture at the University of Detroit Mercy (where I got my undergrad degree. Holla!). The Broadside Press Poets’ Theater is now going to be housed at UDM in the Grounds Coffeehaus.

According to Rosemary Weatherston, director of the Dudley Randall Center (and one of my best friends), "For over 20 years the Poets’ Theater has provided writing workshops; presentations by writers, thinkers, and artistic performers who have impacted literacy in Detroit and/or globally; and open mike sessions for metro Detroit’s community and student writers. These events take place the third Sunday of each month."

On Sunday, November 16, the Poets’ Theater will be held from 3:00-6:00pm at Grounds featuring poets Jessica Care Moore and Aurora Harris, followed by open mike. A $5 donation is suggested but not required.

For more info go here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Monkey cupcake cake wreck

Cake Wrecks, my favorite confectionary blog, has a monkey cupcake cake wreck on display this week. I'm not providing any pictures because I would hate to spoil it for you.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A priest, a rabbi, and an imam walk into a bar...

...and who do they meet but Bill Maher who, using his hair as evidence, tells them there is no God.

Okay, it's not much of a joke. But it is, in a nutshell (pun intended), the plot of Bill Maher's movie Religulous, which I saw yesterday with poet, Floridian, and former Jesus-freak Amanda Carver. It's a pretty good movie, though I think it would be better if it had less of Bill Maher in it. Don't get me wrong. I'm a Bill Maher fan. I love Real Time and I've read all of his books. I think he's brilliant and love his sharp wit. Unfortunately, he does, too, and after a while it gets a little tiring. Maher often comes across as smug and condescending, which detracts from the film's overall message: religion is ridiculous. It is far more effective when believers are allowed to speak for themselves.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"Letter Written on a Ferry While Crossing Long Island Sound" by Anne Sexton

On a semi-whim (meaning there was logic behind my reasoning, but not very convincing logic), I was looking for a poem that contained the word "Tuesday" and lo and behold this poem came up, one of my favorites ever and certainly my favorite by Anne Sexton.
Letter Written on a Ferry While Crossing Long Island Sound

I am surprised to see
that the ocean is still going on.
Now I am going back
and I have ripped my hand
from your hand as I said I would
and I have made it this far
as I said I would
and I am on the top deck now
holding my wallet, my cigarettes
and my car keys
at 2 o’clock on a Tuesday
in August of 1960.

although everything has happened,
nothing has happened.
The sea is very old.
The sea is the face of Mary,
without miracles or rage
or unusual hope,
grown rough and wrinkled
with incurable age.

I have eyes.
These are my eyes:
the orange letters that spell
ORIENT on the life preserver
that hangs by my knees;
the cement lifeboat that wears
its dirty canvas coat;
the faded sign that sits on its shelf
saying KEEP OFF.
Oh, all right, I say,
I’ll save myself.

Over my right shoulder
I see four nuns
who sit like a bridge club,
their faces poked out
from under their habits,
as good as good babies who
have sunk into their carriages.
Without discrimination
the wind pulls the skirts
of their arms.
Almost undressed,
I see what remains:
that holy wrist,
that ankle,
that chain.

Oh God,
although I am very sad,
could you please
let these four nuns
loosen from their leather boots
and their wooden chairs
to rise out
over this greasy deck,
out over this iron rail,
nodding their pink heads to one side,
flying four abreast
in the old-fashioned side stroke;
each mouth open and round,
breathing together
as fish do,
singing without sound.

see how my dark girls sally forth,
over the passing lighthouse of Plum Gut,
its shell as rusty
as a camp dish,
as fragile as a pagoda
on a stone;
out over the little lighthouse
that warns me of drowning winds
that rub over its blind bottom
and its blue cover;
winds that will take the toes
and the ears of the rider
or the lover.

There go my dark girls,
their dresses puff
in the leeward air.
Oh, they are lighter than flying dogs
or the breath of dolphins;
each mouth opens gratefully,
wider than a milk cup.
My dark girls sing for this.
They are going up.
See them rise
on black wings, drinking
the sky, without smiles
or hands
or shoes.
They call back to us
from the gauzy edge of paradise,
good news, good news.

(Anne Sexton, from The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton, Houghton Mifflin, 1981)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Do monkeys like turkey?

Via Slog, Lindy West asks and answers the age old question: "Do monkeys like turkey?"

Friday, November 7, 2008

Lions and monkeys and hippos, oh my!

Once upon a time... from Capucha on Vimeo.
My sister sent this video to me along with the following request: "When you have a baby, can you have a French one?"

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Monkey joke!

Actual joke on the wrapper of a piece of Laffy Taffy (strawberry) I ate yesterday:
Q: What do you get when you cross a monkey with a pie?

A: A meringue-utang!
Not only that, but it said that this piece of hilarity was sent in by Amanda C. And who should be visiting me right now but the fabulous poet Amanda Carver? Coincidence? I think not.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

"Head Over Heels" the Literal Video Version

Awhile back my sister showed me the Literal Video of Ah-Ha's "Take On Me." I loved it and wished that the guy who did it would do more of them. Thankfully he has. Now available for your viewing pleasure on YouTube is "Under the Bridge" by Red Hot Chili Peppers and, below, "Head Over Heels" by Tears for Fears.

I can't describe his project any better than he can: "Ever wish songs just sang what was happening in the music video? Well now they do, in this installment of literal videos!" Enjoy.

"The Great Society" by Robert Bly

I can't help but want to retitle this: "If John McCain Wins." For the love of ________ (fill in your favorite deity), please go vote today.
The Great Society
Dentists continue to water their lawns even in the rain:
Hands developed with terrible labor by apes
Hang from the sleeves of evangelists;
There are murdered kings in the light-bulbs outside movie theaters:
The coffins of the poor are hibernating in piles of new tires.

The janitor sits troubled by the boiler,
And the hotel keeper shuffles the cards of insanity.
The President dreams of invading Cuba.
Bushes are growing over the outdoor grills,
Vines over the yachts and the leather seats.

The city broods over ash cans and darkening mortar.
On the far shore, at Coney Island, dark children
Playing on the chilling beach: a sprig of black seaweed,
Shells, a skyful of birds,
While the mayor sits with his head in his hands.

(Robert Bly, from The Light Around the Body, HarperCollins Publishers, 1967)