Tuesday, December 30, 2008

For those who love to buy used books...

"Bargain Hunting for Books, and Feeling Sheepish About It" by David Streitfeld appeared in the New York Times Dec. 27. Food for thought.

I, for one, purchase a lot of books used. I couldn't possibly afford to buy all of the books I want brand new. I am also a frequent library user. Given how much I read, it's hard to believe that I could be playing a role in the demise of the publishing industry. I mean, hey, I would rather read a book than watch TV. Doesn't that count for anything?

Well, actually, no. Probably not. I guess I'll pop that 30 Rock DVD in now...

Monday, December 29, 2008

Penny Arcade

By way of NPR this weekend I learned about Penny Arcade, an online comic that David Kushner, Weekend Edition's digital culture commentator, described "as Doonesbury for geeks" that "basically satirizes digital culture and industry."

I like it. And it even features monkeys a few times.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Phyllis McGinley: Rockin' the Suburbs

Back in the 60s when poets could actually be famous, there was Phyllis McGinley, a happy housewife, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who even made the cover of Time. You've probably never heard of her. I hadn't, until I read a Dec. 24, 2008 article about her in the New York Times. She died the year I was born. Coincidence? Well, yeah. But still.

Some of her poems are posted online, but I haven't been able to verify them thus far.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Elizabeth Alexander is ready for her close-up, Mr. Obama...

January 20, 2009 will be an exciting and historic day, not just for politics, but for poetry, too.
"[T]here is little doubt, given the intense global interest in President-elect Barack Obama, that Ms. Alexander’s verse will be broadcast to more people at one time than any poem ever composed. This may not be American poetry’s Academy Award moment. But it is, for Ms. Alexander, an outsize platform" (New York Times, Dec. 24, 2008).

Poetry in A Practical Guide to Racism

I finished reading A Practical Guide to Racism by C.H. Dalton the other day. According to the Web site, the book "tackles America’s tragic flaw from a new, illuminating perspective" and "is divided into nine chapters, one for each of the nine races: Whites, Blacks, Jews, Asians, Indians (and Injuns), Arabs, Gypsies, Hispanics, and Merpeople. In each chapter, Dalton provides a comprehensive and unapologetic handbook to the race in question, as well as a history of their oppression, and a guide to the stereotypes about them and their basis in fact."

Lo and behold, even in this satirical treatise, poetry rears its head:
"Burma is famous for the smooth comfort of its affordable native shaving creams, and Burmese poets have long celebrated them in verse. Here is a typical example by an anonymous author:
A shave
that's real
no cuts to heal
a soothing
velvet after-feel
Burma Shave

(p. 102)

"How do I know so much about Merpeople, you ask? Field research. The same way that great ethnographer, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, found the ancient Asian city of Xanadu, I was able to 'chase the dragon' all the way to the bottom of the ocean. Of course, opium is not yet widely accepted as a historiographic method, but it provides an unbeatable firsthand experience."
(p. 109)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Poetry is Everywhere: Blagojevich edition

Proving that poetry crops up in the darndest places, the New York Times reported the following in a December 19, 2008 story about a recent public appearance scandal plagued Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich:
"In his defense, Mr. Blagojevich said only that he had the truth on his side. Legal experts said his lack of specificity was not surprising, given the criminal case ahead of him. But his appearance was perhaps more revealing with regard to his emotional state. He described himself as lonely, thanked supporters for their comfort and prayers, and quoted from memory the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling, about the nobility of persevering through tough times."
There's no telling how being tied in any way to Blagojevich will impact Kipling's literary reputation.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Lions and monkeys and hippos, on film!

You may remember my Nov. 7th post with the video of the adorable little French girl Capuchine telling her story involving monkeys and lions and chicken pox, among other things (if you haven't, you'll want to watch that now). Via Videogum, I've come across Jason Ginsburg's movie exec response, which is quite funny.

Studio notes on Capucine's "Once Upon a Time" from Jason Ginsburg on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"Touring the Doll Hospital" by Amy Gerstler

I spent a good part of last night at the hospital with my twin sister who is a kidney stone world champion. She's defending her title, as she does just about every year around this time. In any case, I thought a poem about hospitals would be appropriate.
Touring the Doll Hospital

Why so many senseless injuries? This one’s glass teeth
knocked out. Eyes missing, or stuck open or closed.
Limbs torn away. Sawdust dribbles onto the floor
like an hourglass running out. Fingerless hands, noses
chipped or bitten off. Many are bald or burnt. Some,
we learn, are victims of torture or amateur surgery.
Do dolls invite abuse, with their dent-able heads,
those tight little painted-on or stitched-in grins?
Hurt me, big botched being, they whine in a dialect
only puritans and the frequently punished can hear.
It’s what I was born for. I know my tiny white pantaloons
and sheer underskirts incite violation. Criers and crib-
wetters pursue us in dreams, till we wake sweat-
drenched but unrepentant, glad to have the order
by which we lord over them restored. Small soldiers
with no Geneva Conventions to protect them,
they endure gnawing, being drooled on, banishment
to attics. Stained by cough syrup, hot cocoa, and pee,
these “clean gallant souls” wear their wounds as martyrs’
garments. We owe them everything. How they suffer
for our sins, “splintered, bursted, crumbled . . .”
Every bed in the head replacement ward is occupied tonight.
Let’s sit by the legless Queen doll’s tiny wheelchair
and read to her awhile if she wishes it. In a faint
voice she requests a thimbleful of strong dark tea.

(Amy Gerstler, from Ghost Girl, Penguin 2004)

Monday, December 22, 2008

When poets and monkey artists converge

While I sadly missed Monkey Day at the Biddle Art Gallery because I was seeing Wicked, I did get an email from poet Dawn McDuffie asking if I'd seen her friend Dolores Slowinski's work. "[She] creates amazing sculptures from fabric and other materials," Dawn writes. Pictured is one of Slowinski's creations. You can check out more of her work at her Web site, Art In The Mail.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

e.e. Riot

Ra Ra Riot's song "Dying Is Fine" is based on the poem by e.e. cummings of the same name. Check out the video and here's the original poem below.

dying is fine)but Death

dying is fine)but Death


wouldn't like

Death if Death

when(instead of stopping to think)you

begin to feel of it,dying
's miraculous

cause dying is

perfectly natural;perfectly
it mildly lively(but


is strictly
& artificial &

evil & legal)

we thank thee
almighty for dying
(forgive us,o life!the sin of Death

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Elizabeth Alexander to read at Barack Obama's presidential inauguration

Elizabeth Alexander has been chosen to read at Barack Obama's presidential inauguration, which seems like a pretty sweet gig. Though probably also a stressful one. She was interviewed today on NPR's All Things Considered by Melissa Block. You can listen to the segment online as well as listen to two of Alexander's poems, including "Autumn Passage," which is below.

What would a presidential inauguration be without poetry? Actually, I have no idea because I've never really paid attention to inaugurations before. But according to The Guardian UK: "[Alexander] will be only the fourth poet to have read at a presidential inauguration. A tradition eschewed by current incumbent George W Bush, Bill Clinton invited poets to both of his inaugurations, with Miller Williams reading in 1997, and Maya Angelou in 1993. The only other poet to have read at an inauguration was Robert Frost, who recited 'The Gift Outright' for John F Kennedy in 1961."

I remember when Maya Angelou read at Bill Clinton's inauguration and how the poem she read was printed in little books that people actually bought. Unfortunately, it also turned out that Maya Angelou is kind of a crappy poet. Still, it seemed for a nano second there that folks actually cared about poetry. And that was pretty awesome. I have zero recollection of Miller Williams. And I am not surprised that Bush didn't have any poets as his inauguration as it doesn't seem like poets like him much anyway.

Autumn Passage

On suffering, which is real.
On the mouth that never closes,
the air that dries the mouth.

On the miraculous dying body,
its greens and purples.
On the beauty of hair itself.

On the dazzling toddler:
“Like eggplant,” he says,
when you say “Vegetable,”

“Chrysanthemum” to “Flower.”
On his grandmother’s suffering, larger
than vanished skyscrapers,

September zucchini,
other things too big. For her glory
that goes along with it,

glory of grown children’s vigil.
communal fealty, glory
of the body that operates

even as it falls apart, the body
that can no longer even make fever
but nonetheless burns

florid and bright and magnificent
as it dims, as it shrinks,
as it turns to something else.

(Elizabeth Alexander, from American Sublime, Graywolf Press 2005.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Poets: go jump in a freezing lake

How do you get more folks to pay attention to poetry? Why, you jump in a freezing lake, of course!

It's what A.K. "Mimi" Allin did, anyway, along with 11 other poets on Dec. 13. They read some poems and then they dove into Green Lake in Washington.

Allin is identified by The Seattle Times as a 41-year old "guerrilla" art activist "who lives on a sailboat." She said "she wants to make poetry fun, get it in the news, wake people up" and heal the rift between "page poets and stage poets."

I don't know how successful Allin's adventure was, but it definitely helps solidify the idea that folks who write poetry are, well, a little crazy.

Thank you to Emily Mahan for bringing this important news item to my attention. Oh, and to answer your question, Emily, "poetry laden underwear" is a pair of "tighty-whities with poetry scrawled on front and back."

UPDATE: Check out the comments section and go to http://thepoetessatgreenlake.blogspot.com to read more about this event and see photos of nearly nude poets.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Live on stage: scary flying monkeys

So I went to see Wicked at the Detroit Opera House with my family today. It's not something I would have ever done on my own, but it was a Christmas present from my dad. Even though I knew nothing of the story, aside from the fact that it was related to The Wizard of Oz, I really have to say I enjoyed it. Though I never did figure out who the woman with the green skin was supposed to be.

As anyone who has ever seen The Wizard of Oz knows, flying monkeys are an integral part of the production. In fact, they play an even larger role in Wicked (though apparently not large enough to warrant a decent photo online). I liked how the flying monkeys were an allegory of sorts for animal rights, or at least a reminder that we shouldn't ever inflict mammals with wings just so we can make them our flying slaves.

Wicked was very political as a whole which is why I liked it so much despite its cheesy musical numbers. I saw allusions to Nazi era Germany and George W. Bush's politics of fear. There's just a lot in this musical (and, probably, the book, which I have not read) about how we treat people (and animals) who are perceived as different from us and how fear and ignorance work hand in hand to stoke the fires of intolerance.

Of course, another large part of the story is that ugly chicks can still find love so long as they're beautiful on the inside, or something like that. That part I found hard to buy, and not only because I'm shallow. It's because I remember very vividly the hideousness of the Wicked Witch in the original Oz. She was no beauty and she scared the shit out of me when I was a kid. As did those monkeys.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The written word as visual art

Send $50 to Lauren in Chicago and you can get yourself a hand drawn rendition of Dorianne Laux's poem "Antilamentation." It is pretty awesome.

She writes on Etsy, where it's up for sale: "Disclaimer: it's killing me a little inside, but I've misspelled the word 'smoky'. With ink, there's just no going back! So if you love the piece but are a bit of a spelling purist (I usually am, I swear!), I plan on making printed versions of this in the future, with the mistake fixed in photoshop."

Lauren also uses "it's" instead of "its" a couple times in the piece, so she can sick Photoshop on that, too.

Ah, if only there were a Photoshop for our regrets (and I'm not talking about inconsequential things like "it's" versus "its." In other words: I am not making fun of Lauren)...

If someone ever did something this cool with one of my poems, even if they did make a minor grammatical or spelling error, I would pee my pants. If they did it error free, I would pee my pants twice.

"The animals, the animals, let's talk dirty to the animals..."

Via my friend Claire, I came across a blog called Fuck You, Penguin, "A blog where I tell cute animals what's what." it appears to be the angry person's Cute Overload.

In any case, Fuck You, Penguin takes on some monkeys, in particular a baby monkey and some even babier monkeys.

The site as a whole reminds me of the Gilda Radner song, "Let's Talk Dirty to the Animals," which is, in my opinion, a classic and one I can't wait to teach my children.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Poets, monkeys, Kuwait and more...

Randa Jarrar isn't a poet, she is a fiction writer. But she's also someone I personally know and like who has written a novel that features a poet as one of its main characters and makes many references to monkeys (usually people calling other people monkeys, but still).

I should clarify and explain that the poet character in A Map of Home is actually an ex-poet. He's also the father of Nidali (the main character). Here's an excerpt from page 109 of A Map of Home:
"Poor Baba. He used to be a good poet. Now he was a dad and a husband, and he couldn't write anymore. He had an idea in his head, but that, unfortunately, was all he had. Through the years he'd build on it, adding layers and characters, descriptions of places he'd seen, hundreds of twisting anecdotes and witty lines, and store it all in his head. But because he wanted it to come out of his head perfectly, fully formed, like Athena out of Zeus (like, on some days, he believed I had come out of him), he could never let it go."
This passage is a great one to include in notes of encouragement to all of the poets in your life.

The book has been out since September and I've owned it since then, but was not able to read it (or much of anything aside from freshman composition essays) until now. Once I started it, however, I did not put it down until I was finished. In other words, I didn't get much laundry done, didn't do any planning for class and barely changed out of my pajamas today. And for this, I blame Randa.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Monkey Day is Dec. 14!

I don't usually have occasion to go to Wyandotte. The last time I was there, in fact, was several years ago and I was on stage at the Wyandotte Yacht Club doing a comedy show, opening for two comics who were exceptionally drunk. Jeff Brannen was the headliner (I could have his name wrong but he's not worth remembering). He was wasted and told anti-gay jokes prompting the entire table of folks who came to see me to get up and leave. It was awesome.

However, I have a strong desire to return to Wyandotte on Dec. 14 for Monkey Day at the Biddle Gallery. On display will be monkey-inspired art from a ton of local artists including Carl Oxley III of PopArtMonkey.

Monkey Day is not limited to Wyandotte, however. It is a much larger thing. Worldwide, perhaps, though the postal address address on the Monkey Day Web site is in Lansing. It is, as yet, something I do not 100% understand, and yet do 100% support.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Poetry "for all the bitches in the world."

I'd probably be a less anxious person if I didn't know about certain things. Round worm infection is one. VH1's Rock of Love Charm School, is another.

Of course, then my life wouldn't be nearly as full. So I guess it is appropriate that I thank, instead of curse, my sister Laura for bringing the Charm School "Poetic Justice" episode to my attention. In this episode, the girls (I can't really call them women -- and I don't think Sharon Osbourne bothers to, so I am off the hook) have to write a poem about someone in the house they don't like. It's catharsis through the written word. It's also hilarious. Take, for examples, Brandi M.'s reflection on her win in the "Express Thyself" challenge. "Maybe I'll write a huge poetry book for all the bitches in the world," she says.

Sorry, Hon, but Jewel beat you to it.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

It's like Dr. Seuss for grown ups who vote

I've actually never been a big Calvin Trillin fan. It isn't because he's not good at what he does, it's because what he does hasn't ever really been my thing. Still, if there's anyone out there hankering for an election recap in rhyming verse, Trillin has got your back with his new book, Deciding the Next Decider.

Thank you to my lovely wife who heard about this on NPR and told me about it.

Bonus: Trillin was on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart on Dec. 2. Stewart laments that poets today "don't use enough Russian gibberish" in their work. He is so right.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Poets has other skillz

Proving that poets are not one trick ponies, the venerable Megan Levad has launched Stargirl Jewlery, a jewelry making bizness to make some extra money while the poetry cash rolls in. Check it out.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

"Fred Phelps and the Orangutan" by Drew


Grumpy monkey baby

Thank you to Claire for bringing this Cute Overload post featuring a grumpy baby capuchin monkey to my attention. Says Claire, "I loved it because human newborns make the same exact grumpy face."

Check out the flickr account where the picture originates from for more primate photo goodness.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Poetry at the MOCAD

By way of my sister I came across a Detroit Free Press blog posting titled, "You Haven't Lived Here Until... You've been to a poetry reading at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit." I am assuming that by "here" they mean Detroit.
"Poetry as art? Kind of. The museum hosts the 'Woodward Line' poetry series, which showcases local wordsmiths. The next reading, features Hayan Charara, Christina Archer and Nandi Comer, is at 6 p.m. Dec. 17."
I'm not really sure that I get the weird distinction they're making between art and poetry. What, it isn't art unless you can hang it on the wall?

That aside, MOCAD is a very cool place (they even have a cafe now so you can get yourself fed and feast your senses on art all under one roof) and the Woodward Line poetry series sounds very cool. I am not familiar with the work of any of the poets on the Dec. 16 bill, but I have met Nandi Comer and she's a very nice person. That's got to count for something.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Poetry Night in Ann Arbor: Dec. 11

Dec. 11 is the 8th annual Poetry Night in Ann Arbor, an event to benefit the VOLUME Youth Poetry Project at the Neutral Zone.

I picked up a snapily designed post card at a local coffee shop advertising the event, but nowhere on the card does it say where it is or what time the event starts. So here are the essentials:
Date and Time: Thursday, December 11, 2008 7pm. Doors open 6:15.

Location: Rackham Auditorium at 915 E. Washington St.

Tickets: $5 for students of any kind in advance; $7 at door. $10 for general public in advance; $12 at door. Advance tickets can be purchased at Neutral Zone or contact Jeff Kass eyelev21aol.com or 734-223-7443 to reserve tickets at advance price.
This year’s event will feature poets Marty McConnell, Tim Seibles, and Paco, as well as writers from the VOLUME Youth Poetry Project and Ann Arbor Wordworks.