Saturday, February 28, 2009

"Diplomacy by poetry..."

Hillary Clinton: diplomacy poet?

Feb. 26, 2009 was a very fruitful episode of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. Poetry and monkeys!

"Just to clear the deck, I own no monkeys..."

Congress at work. Engaged in actual monkey business.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Monkey jokes

Last night I went with my friend Lisa and her husband Alan to see Tenacious D at the Nokia Club in Los Angeles. I am not a Tenacious D fan (I think they're over rated and not that funny), but Alan is and since I am out visiting I was invited to come with. After seeing them live, my opinion of TD has not changed, except for a solidification of my previous feelings. They have a very good back up band, though.

I did like their opening acts, Craig Robinson (known and loved by me for his role as Darryl in The Office) backed by his band The Nasty Delicious, and comedian Nick Swardson. The whole thing was a fundraiser for The 24th Street Theatre, which seems to be a pretty cool organization.

As for what this has to do with poetry or monkeys, well, you may remember that horrible chimp attack story I posted about. Nick Swardson made jokes about it. He was also apparently in a movie called Grandma's Boy that had a monkey co-star, which he joked about as well. And he told a story about losing $300 in Vegas on Monkey High Five.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Hanging out at the Los Angeles Public Library

When I come to Los Angeles (where I am now) I often hang out at the Los Angeles Public Library while my best friend Lisa is at work. I do not come to LA for the library, I come for Lisa, but she has limited time off and works just a few blocks away from the library. It's the biggest library I have ever been in and I love to read so it's a fine way for me to spend my day. The only negative thing about the library is that it's the #1 favorite spot for LA's homeless. They come in and fall asleep in the comfy chairs, the police wake them up and they move to another spot to sleep. Sometimes they read or, as I saw frequently, intensely study papers they have brought with them. Don't get me wrong, the library should be free and open to everybody and I don't begrudge the homeless from using the library as a place to get out of the sun or to chill out and read. But it's hard to get engrossed in a book when I have to frequently move because the guy sleeping next to me smells like pee and sweat and all manner of "earthy" scents and has started to snore.

In any case, I spent two days at the library and my first day involved both monkeys and poetry.

On my reading list for quite some time has been The Adventures of Tony Millionaire's Sock Monkey. It is now happily crossed off my list. It's weirder than I thought it would be, but not as good as I had hoped. Basically a toy monkey and toy crow drink heavily and get shot at by toy cannons. And there's enough tragic-comic death to be had by all.

Looking through the library's collection of current lit mags I found that Linda Gregerson just had a knockout poem published in the Winter 2009 issue of The Kenyon Review titled "Dido Refuses to Speak."

Also, Francine J. Harris is in the newest issue of Ploughshares. Her poem, "because when all is told, i love objects. even the threatening ones," is below. And is awesome.
"because when all is told, i love objects.
even the threatening ones."

-agnes nemes nagy

every few minutes, through a metal flue
the throat bursts into flames from the furnace
above my bed. it's the color
of fire. i can see the chokeholds catch.
fire ants carry off the heat
down the metal ducts, and the vents
push out the heat, which falls
down the walls behind me
in drapes.

i try to imagine
my mother's hair on fire.
that under her flame colored skin
were bones. that a skeleton smiles
on fire. that if a bone skeleton
tried to hold you, you would
run. that a bone
stack of fire would not run
but would come to you gently, outstretched
arms ablaze, flames still lapping at eyeballs
that were no longer there. that through
the rib of the bones you could
see her throat catch fire
every time she tried to explain
why she called the time operator at night
to listen to her voice. in her sleep
she would call out to her mother.
her throat on fire. the bones
churning the pillows.
people said she was a sweet woman.
was stuck to her
the way smiles are stuck
to skeletons.

someone had to tell me
you are supposed to put the pilot light out in spring
and turn off the gas.

(Francine J. Harris, from the Winter 2008-09 issue of Ploughshares)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Oh, great

David Orr argues in the New York Times that "for the first time since the early 19th century, American poetry may be about to run out of greatness."


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Killer chimps

Another good reason why chimps shouldn't be kept as pets.

Warning: this will wreck your day.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Books: an endangered species?

As a writer, the idea that no one reads books any more is a sad one. Because if no one's reading books, no one's buying them. And if no one's buying them, no one's selling them. And if no one's selling them, that means no one's publishing them. Which means writers won't be able to make a living plying their trade. The only places publishing books will be vanity presses which means the only people writing books will be delusional with money to burn and a web site equipped with PayPal. Bookstores will become extinct. Even good bookstores, like Shaman Drum whose owner published an "Open Letter from a Distressed Bookseller" on the Drum's blog yesterday.

It's oversimplifying things to say that the Internet is ruining everything, but the Internet is ruining everything. People don't want to pay for information any more. Why buy a newspaper when you can to to the New York Times Web site? Why slip into an adult bookstore wearing dark sunglasses and a top hat (you're not fooling anyone) when you can just download free porn to your heart's content? Why pay for cable when you can watch The Daily Show With Jon Stewart online?

Why buy a book when you can, uh, scroll through pages of poorly rendered .pdf files while your MacBook battery burns a hole through the leg of your jeans? Or while you can buy an electronic book-reading device from Amazon for $359? Or when you can just engage in the cat-honored reading tradition of absorbing reading material through your undercarriage (witness my cat "reading" Preeta Samarasan's Evening Is the Whole Day, for example).

Or why read books at all when you can just read blogs? Like this one! Then again, what will blogs do once the news organizations they rely on for much of their content go extinct (like the reindeer uprising of 2012, it's coming)? For the few outlets that still do good investigative journalism, what will happen when they just can't afford to do it any more? Because people who sit in front of their computers all day just aren't going to cut it. The kind of journalism we need so badly in a democracy is just the kind of journalism that we're seeing less and less of as it stops turning a profit for shareholders.

I don't know what the answer is, but I do know that I love books and I love bookstores and I fear for what a future without them would mean.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Whip it good

Thanks to Claire for making me aware of Whiplash the Cowboy Monkey.

According to Whiplash's web site, "Whiplash is an old time cowboy. He was just born 100 years to late. When you see him ride, it is not hard to envision him leading a wagon train west – keeping the herd in line as they cross the prairie."

Oh yeah, that's not a stretch at all.

Claire moved with her husband Pat and their two kids to Georgia recently which is where she happened upon Whiplash: "My first weekend here, we went to the rodeo with my sister and her in-laws. This monkey named Whiplash riding a dog was the best part. Liberty (Claire's 5-year-old) leaned over when he came out and asked me 'Why is that monkey wearing a shirt?' To her, that was the questionable part of the whole thing, not that he was riding a dog."

While adorable, the act is questionable if only because I generally don't dig animal entertainment acts, whether it's a circus or a dog track or a rodeo, since there have been so many tales of woe for the animals involved. I know there are respectable handlers out there and I sure hope that Tommy Lucia, the man behind Whiplash and his trusty steed Ben, is one of them.

Check out this commercial for a past Whiplash appearance in North Carolina:

Half price or no, I think I'd buy my kids somewhere else.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Spend Wednesday night with Vievee Francis, Matthew Olzmann, and Blair

If you've been looking for a good excuse to check out the Detroit Artists Market, this Wednesday night is a good one. Poets Vievee Francis, Matthew Olzmann, and Blair will be reading at 7 p.m.

Vievee and Matthew are friends of mine. They are good folks and good poets. Vievee is finishing up her MFA at UofM, which is how I met her and then kind of re-met Matthew, who I had seen around town here and there but had never been officially introduced. Matthew's chapbook The Discarded Halo was published in 2007 and Vievee's book Blue Tail Fly was published by Wayne State University Press in 2006. It is a most excellent book.

"It is crucial to me to read my work to audiences. Voice can layer the poem, provide another valence that can increase its resonance, much the way wordless sounds do for song, the open "O," the moan, the hum, those sounds carry the song farther. Voice can carry the poem farther," Vievee told the Metro Times in 2007.

This is definitely worth checking out.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Humping carrots and wild parrots

Not sure what to send your love for Valentine's Day? Don't worry, has got you covered with their Poetry Valentines.

Have a vegan girlfriend or a couch potato husband? Send humping carrots celebrating their "vegetable love." Don't like vegetables but would like something that rhymes with "carrot" and features Judas Priest lyrics? Try parrots. Wait a minute. Scratch the Judas Priest reference. It's Emily Dickinson. My mistake.

The nicest thing about the Poetry Valentines is that they come six to a page if you want to print them out, which is ideal for those folks hedging their bets regarding their sought after "wild night."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Wonder Monkey

So my wife did a quick Google image search for "sock monkey" because she wanted to compare an ordinary sock monkey to the Obama sock monkey and, lo and behold, up popped this beauty via Rare Bird Finds: A Wonder Woman Sock Monkey. Buy it it for your ownself (or for me) for a mere $150. On Etsy, of course, sold by bigREDlips -- who has plenty more sock monkeys for sale.

Touched by a monkey, in a bad way

I happened upon this via Giantmonster.

It reminded me of the 4th of July.

It's like the Christmas song: "Do you see what I see?" And no, it's not a star.

Racism ruins monkeys for everybody

(I'm totally late in coming to this, but I stumbled upon it while searching for a monkey toy for my best friend's baby.)

Making a sock monkey Obama doll is racist. Yes, even if you also make a Biden sock monkey and give him a little silver mullet. For shame, racism. You've ruined monkeys for everybody.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Monkey Time by Philip Nikolayev

I bought this book because of the title. Had Philip Nikolayev named his collection of poems anything other than Monkey Time (2003 Verse Press), it probably never would have wound up in my hands. And that, as it turns out, would have been okay with me.

I won't say I hated it, because I didn't, but I can't really say I liked it, either. What I can say is that Nikolayev is very inventive. Sometimes to distraction, but inventive none the less. He also loves language. That is clear. But this love often transforms itself into the linguistic equivalent of stupid pet tricks ("language (land gwidge)"). His word gymnastics in poems like "A Polemic" and "Soup" make them virtually unreadable. There are also a lot of "poet poems" in this collection. I understand that poetry is a lonely pursuit and the only other people who read poetry tend to be other poets, but self-referential poet poems most often feel like the very naval gazing that so many readers find off-putting about poetry. Hell, I'm one of those readers and I write the stuff. To top that off, one of his self-referential poet poems rhapsodizes about his penis, another poetry-ism cliche ("... my dick / that elegant utensil reaching for its sugar basin..." What?).

Not that there's nothing to like about Monkey Time. He writes sonnets that are sort of entombed in surrounding, unrelated language. They look really cool (There's an example of one of his "immured sonnets" in Jacket). And there are flashes of wit throughout the book (there's "the butterfly is a flying sandwich of pollen" as well as "Found Sonnet," which is made up primarily from the text on the back of a can of air freshener).

The poems I liked the best were the two that weren't like anything else in Monkey Time, that being the title poem, which is about a temple in Tibet where monkeys live, and a prose poem called "Can You Hear Me?" which is written as if from a boy to his father. Both of these poems follow a much more narrative path than the other poems here and that's more my bag. But while I liked the title poem primarily because I liked the subject matter, "Can You Hear Me?" has a music to it that seems to be missing from the less narrative poems. Perhaps it's the prose form itself, but there's a definite tug from word to word, sentence to sentence. It's one of the better prose poems I've ever read.

Overall, I can't help but wonder if Nikolayev's eye and elbow got sore from winking and nudging so much during the writing of the poems in Monkey Time. Frequently I felt like I was reading an inside joke and I was on the outside. I was curious at first, but after awhile I gave up, eager to go write a few jokes (or maybe poems) of my own to get back on the inside again.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Hey sad poets, cheer up!

Poets are not generally thought of as happy people. Hell, even Shel Silverstein glowers in his author photos. And why shouldn't he? To write a poem is to wring it out of one's tortured soul. We wear black turtlenecks because that's how we feel on the inside: like black turtlenecks, a garment that has become the very symbol for the sad soul of its wearer.

About this sadness, well, there's nothing to be done. Such is the price of art. After all, the more tortured the artist, the better the art, right?

Or not. The whole notion of the artist as a tortured soul, while certainly romanticised in our culture, is, at best, flawed. At worst, it's keeping sick people from getting help they might need to get better.

Such is the belief behind the majority of the essays in Poets on Prozac: Mental Illness, Treatment and the Creative Process (2008 Johns Hopkins University Press).

I've been interested in the whole "tortured artist" thing for a long time. In 9th grade my hero was Eddie Vedder, hardly the picture of mental health back then. When I started getting into poetry, I dug sad poems. That's what I thought poems were. I didn't really write happy poems. The fact that so many of the poets I learned about in high school and early college killed themselves (Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, John Berryman, Hart Crane to name a few) certainly didn't help dispel the notion that sadness (or, more accurately, depression) and art were joined at the hip.

A couple of years ago I read Peter D. Kramer's book Against Depression, which was basically a polemic against the romanticized notion that depression is good for art. Kramer made a lot of good points, but the book was, for the most part, dry and felt self-righteous. It probably would have been better as an article in Harper's than a 368 page book.

Poets on Prozac manages to escape the trappings of Kramer's book if only because it has a narrower focus (poets) but also because it's written by its target audience (poets). And most of the poets say that being a sad bastard doesn't necessarily make you a good poet.

J. D. Smith puts it this way in his essay, "The Desire to Think Clearly," my favorite in the book: "For a poet, seeking treatment for depression is to break with an implicit social contract. To the extent that the culture at large has a view of poets, beyond acknowledging their existence as a strange but seldom seen life form, such as a platypus or giant squid, that view is based on the Romantic myth of the poet as a strange, distraught creature, preferably consumptive, who occasionally breaks forth in song or a dirge. The poet in this view is morose so that others do not have to be, a pack mule for the collective burden of consciousness."

Many of the poets argue that depression actually hinders creativity. They can't get jack shit done when they're depressed. Think about it: depression is an illness. How productive are you when you have the flu?

While most of the essays feel honest and offer unique perspectives, the book does occasionally tumble into the very naval-gazing vortex its subject matter invites.

David Budbill is the only poet in the book who argues that depression is a good thing - that without it he could not create his art. And he makes no apologies for his illness or for putting the Angel of Depression before his family. He writes of receiving a Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry in 1981 and how that pushed him into a deep depression. He then offers the poem "When You Were Four and I was Forty-One," a poem to his daughter. In it he recalls how she would come sit on his lap as he sat in a chair day after day crying ("...not ever, not once, did you ask me why / I was crying, nor did you ever ask me to explain").

This felt extremely selfish to me. I can't imagine having an illness that makes me, essentially, worthless (if not harmful) as a parent, but that I refuse to get treatment for because I believe my art would suffer without it.

Perhaps I would feel differently if Budbill wrote amazing poems, but from what I've read, he doesn't. All of the poems he offered as examples of his work felt, to me, like decent undergraduate writing at best. The titles of his poems are the first clue ("When I Get Depressed," "The End of Winter," "No Poems," "Thirty Five Years Alone"). Their content is the second ("O, Angel of depression, I give myself to you" and "When I get depressed / I get silent and I stare / at nothing all day long").

Then again, I think Budbill's poems are a great example of what happens when a poet falls in love with sadness. You stop being able to see past your dark little cloud. And it's hard to see how any interesting poems - poems relevant to anyone besides your misreble little self - can come from that place.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Deastro, electro-pop poet

Last night my sister Laura and I went to Detroit Unplugged II at PJ's Lager House (read our review on the Metro Times Music Blahg). The show included Augie and Korin from Hard Lessons, Ryan and Liz from Friendly Foes, Mick Bassett, Lo-fi Bri from Carjack, and Randy Chabot, a.k.a. Deastro. Deastro, who usually has a lap-top on stage with him, played beautifully stripped down versions of "Spritle" and "The Shaded Forest," as well as "Child of Man, Son of God." He ended his set by reading "If" by Rudyard Kipling, saying that it reminded him of the people of Detroit. He is earnest and awesome like that.

If you are not familiar with Deastro, you should be. Go to his MySpace page where you can even download some EPs for free. And keep yer eyes peeled, because this one's a winner.

Friday, February 6, 2009

30 Days with the gays

Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me fame has a show on FX called 30 Days, a reality show in which an individual spends 30 days in the life of "the other," so to speak. Last year one of the episodes dealt with the issue of same-sex couples fostering and adopting kids. Kati, a Mormon woman against same-sex couple adopting, went to live with Dennis and Thomas Patrick in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I know Dennis and Tom, as does just about anybody paying attention to the issue of same-sex parenting rights in Michigan. I also know most of the other gay advocate folks in this video seeing as they're all members of the local LGBT community.

Because I don't have cable, I never saw this episode. But then I discovered Hulu. Since Stacy and I are having a kid of our very own (well, a kid of her very own legally speaking since Michigan allows me no rights to our child), I am obviously very interested in this subject. In any case, the show is well done, I think. Worth watching, which you can do for free on the internets.

Oh, and the connection to monkeys or poetry? A little girl with two daddies is shown briefly a couple of times wearing a Paul Frank Julius sweatshirt. :) That's enough of a connection for me.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Best Friends Forever forever!

If you were not at Crazy Wisdom last night for the Work In Progress Series, I extend my condolences. Because you missed a hell of a reading. Well, it wasn't a reading, actually. Or only half of it was a reading (18-year-old Eva "I'm on the editorial board for the Best American Nonrequired Reading series" Colás read some stories. Remembering her name would be a good idea). The other half was Best Friends Forever, the art-folk duo comprised of poet Alana DeRiggi and artist Holly Mae Haddock. They were fantastic. Funny, adorable, smart - everything you could possibly want in such an enterprise. I laughed, I smiled until my face hurt, and I regret only that I did not videotape it. Because I could and would watch it again and again and again. Especially the song about the half kitty half robot having problems with English syntax. While they didn't play their 2007 hit "Karate Team," (Alana said they tried to do an acoustic version of the song but it just sounded "creepy and sad"), they did play "28 is the New 15," "You Don't Know My Personality" (the lyrics of which were taken from a conversation with a 7-year-old), and "Cartoons from the 80's" complete with references to Inspector Gadget, Jem and the Holograms, Transformers, She-Ra and Care Bears.

Did I mention how awesome it was? Because it was.

The artwork, by the way, was done by Adam Boehmer who is a poet/artist/dancer and co-host of the WIP Series at Crazy Wisdom with Megan Levad.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Saltwater Empire, taffy not included

It took me a long time to read Saltwater Empire, the second book of poetry by Raymond McDaniel. The wasn't due to a lack of trying on my part. In fact, I bought it the week it came out. Since Raymond and I are friends and colleagues, I put the book in his mailbox with a request that he sign it. Eight months later I got my book back, and though eight months is an inexcusable length of time to keep a book someone has asked you to sign, Ray made up for it by not only signing the book, but also providing annotations for the majority of the poems. So I am now the proud owner of The Annotated Saltwater Empire. And now that I've actually had the chance to read the book, I'm the happy owner of said book. Because it's damn good.

Here's one of my favorites. Each line is a shining example of Ray's ear for language and eye for detail (one always informing the other):
Assault to Abjury

Rain commenced, and wind did.

A crippled ship slid ashore.

Our swimmer's limbs went heavy.

The sand had been flattened.

The primary dune, the secondary dune, both leveled.

The maritime forest, extracted.

Every yard of the shore was shocked with jellyfish.

The blue pillow of the man o' war empty in the afterlight.

The threads of the jellyfish, spent.

Disaster weirdly neatened the beach.

We cultivated the debris field.

Castaway trash, our treasure.

Jewel box, spoon ring, sack of rock candy.

A bicycle exoskeleton without wheels, grasshopper green.

Our dead ten speed.

We rested in red mangrove and sheltered in sheets.

Our bruises blushed backwards, our blisters did.

is it true is it true

God help us we tried to stay shattered but we just got better.

We grew adept, we caught the fish as they fled.

We skinned the fish, our knife clicked like an edict.

We were harmed, and then we healed.

(Raymond McDaniel, from Saltwater Empire, 2007 Coffee House Press)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

I film monkey porn by accident

Since this has been a very video-focused day (including a personalized shout out from the Obama girl to me and my class. What?) I decided I should take a look at the dozen or so videos I have saved on my computer that I made with my trusty little Cannon Power Shot. Lo and behold, I found these two monkey videos from my time at the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine, Florida (I also have one of - surprise! - alligators).

Though not done intentionally, I managed to capture a couple of, shall we say, "blue" moments at the Alligator Farm. In the first video is a swinging monkey letting it all hang out. And in the next video of the marmoset, well... All I can say is I obviously didn't plan on capturing this particular moment.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Cece Bell and Sock Monkey postal mail surprise!

Remember how a couple of weeks ago I was raving about Cece Bell and her incredible books about Sock Monkey?

Well, I sent a link to the posting to Ms. Bell herself and got a super sweet email back:
Hi D'Anne!

Thank you very much for your note, and especially for the blog post. They both really made my day! Consider yourself the newest member of Sock Monkey's fan club.

Also, many congratulations on your soon-to-arrive baby. That is wonderful news. I will be sure to enclose something for Peanut.

I would love to see your children's book collection, by the way. Wow.

Thanks again for the positive energy! Sock Monkey himself is pleased as punch.

With many good wishes to you!
Well, imagine my surprise and delight when I got a big envelope in the mail today from none other than Cece and Sock Monkey themselves!

In the surprise package of happiness was a Sock Monkey pencil, a laminated membership card, an original drawing of Sock Monkey, a Sock Monkey button that says "I like Sock Monkey he is my friend," a Sock Monkey flattened penny (amazing!), a laminated "Admit It! You Love the Monkey" ticket, a bookmark featuring Jerry Bee from her new book Bee-Wigged, and a Monkey Power t-shirt (a child's size medium, which would have fit me a few years ago, but no longer. However, I'm pretty sure that the shirt is the aforementioned "something for Peanut." Perhaps Cece knows something about childhood obesity rates that should worry us).

Wow! And it isn't even my birthday!

Needless to say, Cece Bell and Sock Monkey have a fan for life, and a couch to sleep on should they ever be in Michigan.