Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Thinking about boys

In preparation for having a son, I thought it would be a good idea to read about boys. I just finished reading Speaking of Boys: Answers to the Most-Asked Questions About Raising Sons by Michael Thompson. I liked the book a lot. Thompson clearly has great affection for boys and has thought a lot about their emotional health and development. He acknowledges that society has made it difficult for boys to grow and mature, but not in a "woe-is-them Title IX ruined their lives" kind of way. He also compares boys to young male chimps:
"Many social scientists believe that patterns of boy behavior at this age (junior high) are analogous to social dominance patterns among animals. Young male elk spar constantly, chickens have a 'pecking order,' wolves create a hierarchy with high-status males and low-status males. Young male chimps fight and wrestle until they establish a dominance hierarchy in which every young male knows his place, whom he can beat and whom be cannot beat."
Thompson then goes on to say that young males are constantly trying to define masculinity. He writes, "Masculinity is a social construction, it is not a biological given, and it is very hard for boys to define. Furthermore, from the beginning of their childhoods they have understood that you have to pass some tests to become masculine, but our society does not actually provide the tests, and the criteria for becoming a man is uncertain."

This, in a nutshell (no pun intended) is why some boys act like jerks who grow into men who act like assholes. There are unlimited models for this kind of thing in our society. We revere bullies and there are plenty of bullies who are rich and famous as proof (Rush Limbaugh, Mike Tyson, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, WWE stars, etc.). I can't help but wonder if this love affair with bullies is part of why it's so hard to get anti-bullying legislation passed (like Matt's Safe School Law here in Michigan). Granted, that's not the angle people who oppose such legislation take (usually opposition hinges on the acknowledgment of the existence of gay kids), but I do think some of what would be considered bullying under such laws is what a lot of parents see as "boys will be boys" behavior -- especially those parents who have strong, dominant sons or sons they'd like to see be tough. Thompson makes very clear, however, that cruelty doesn't make a boy "man up."

"The poetry of Glenn Beck" from Salon.com

Glenn Beck has the verse inside of him. Salon.com helps it to escape. My favorite is below.
Meatballs At the Furniture Store

Somebody said let's make Swedish meatballs at the furniture store
And somebody else said, that's a stupid idea; nobody's going to want meatballs at the furniture store.
And the first guy on that first day, his ass was on the line.
And so one customer came for lunch, he knew he had to get rid of the meatballs
And he was like, yeah, you want meatballs from the furniture store?
And they're like, yeah, I guess; my wife has been dragging them around forever.
Anything. Just whatever. I was thinking about eating an ottoman
A little while ago but then meatballs has actual meat in it
And then the guy behind the counter said, well, I'm not really sure
But ya, ya, sure. So then he takes the meatballs
And he has to put them on a huge plate
Because he has to get rid of them.
Otherwise, you know, the big Swede is going to say
That was the dumbest thing I've ever heard.
And so now that one fat guy who had the big bowl of meatballs
Now buys all of his furniture there and has told all of his fat friends,
Buy your furniture there because your wife will walk around
And you'll have an hour worth of eating meatballs
And that's what happened.

("The Glenn Beck Program," Premiere Radio Networks, Nov. 21, 2007)

Monday, March 30, 2009

Great snakes alive!

Pythons are on the loose in Florida, breeding like crazy after being dumped by pet owners and escaping from pet stores during hurricanes.

The snake proliferation inspired Florida wildlife officials to hold a Nonnative Pet Amnesty Day. The event was kind of a reverse of the Michigan Humane Society's Meet Your Best Friend At the Zoo.

"In all, the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission took in 102 animals, including one albino catfish, several red-tailed boa constrictors and a howler monkey," reported the Sun Sentinel.

It also serves as a reminder of how disposable pets are to so many people. Of the pets turned in at the event the Sun Sentinel mentioned "an African hedgehog named Cupcake, much ignored since his [owner's] 11-year-old daughter Emma took up saxophone and tennis" and "Kyat [a] 40-pound tortoise" who was digging holes in its owner's yard.

I came across the Pet Amnesty Day article after learning about the great snake capers on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.
The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Florida Pythons on the Loose
Daily Show Full EpisodesEconomic CrisisPolitical Humor

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Go ahead, make my... Wait, WTF is this?

All I can say is that I hope the monkeys in You Make My Day: The Movie were well compensated (the image here is from the movie's official Web site). Who needs CGI animation when you can just film real animals and do, uh, this? This being a movie that is too fake to be real and too real to be fake. And, certainly, too beautiful for this world.

Thank you, Videogum, for bringing this important matter to my attention. You best bet is to read their take on things if you want this all to make any sense.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Monchhichis: monkey-like, but not quite monkeys

For some reason Monchhichis popped into my head today. Perhaps because I've been painting my son's nursery and thinking about how I want to decorate it with monkeys and what exactly that means. My love of monkeys is no secret and I have no doubt that folks will probably give my little guy monkey paraphernalia at the baby shower and maybe the rest of his or my life. One thing not everyone realizes is that not all monkeys are cute. Some are downright freakish, like the Monchhichi. I had one of these as a kid. It was the girl Monchhichi with a pink bow in her hair. One of the doll's features was her ability to suck her thumb. At least, hypothetically, since cramming her hard plastic thumb into the hole that was her mouth in her hard plastic face was quite the challenge.

According to Wikipedia, "Monchhichis were monkey-like creatures who lived in the forest land of Monchia at the very top of tall trees well above the clouds. The tribe's leader, Wizzar, was a magical wizard who could make up spells and potions to defeat their enemy, the evil Grumplins of Grumplor."


Hey, little girl. Stop loving your Monchhichi or you'll never get a date to the prom.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

"Can you actually disassemble a monkey?"

Saw this comic strip while over a friend's house today. Theirs is one of the few houses that still gets a physical newspaper delivered. I miss reading the so-called "funny pages." Of course, very little of it is actually funny. Most of it is dumb. This is a mix of both.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"Gossip Gorilla" by Tom Gliatto

I stumbled upon this while browsing through the archives at McSweeney's Internet Tendency. I remember reading a gossip column when I was a kid and it made no sense to me at all. Such columns still make no sense to me since I don't know or care who they're talking about. It turns out I just needed to read one written by a gorilla.

"Gossip Gorilla"

What Bengal tiger doesn't want you to know that he used to work with Siegfried and Roy in Las Vegas? ... The python has gone on the Zone diet—didn't like the portions on Jenny Craig. Whatever she tries, it's better than when she was doing the coffee enemas ... You've been wondering why a certain lady giraffe is always hiding behind a tree. I'll tell you why. Now that she's of a certain age, as they say, she's ashamed of the way her neck is wrinkling. Heard it from the tapir, and if there's anyone you can trust it's a tapir ... Question going around: Why is the leopard's fur so mangy? It looks like shag carpet in a porn movie ... OK, you know how the elephants Bilbo and Nimrod are best buddies since infancy? Then they get to a certain age and they start walking around holding trunks and blowing on each others' ears and hosing down each other in the fountain? Maybe it was puberty, everyone figured. Now they're putting their coconuts into a joint account. They've exchanged peanuts. The guys say it's no big deal, that it's spiritual, like Oprah and Gayle. All I know is, you haven't seen the elephant elders so worked up since Dumbo's mother had her breakdown ... The chimpanzees, Mabel and Mack? They think intelligent design is when you push a button in your cage and you automatically get an oatmeal cookie through the food slot ... Today's wisdom is from Coquette the meerkat: "You live in a zoo, the only natural predator you got to worry about is yourself. My brother gnawed off his own foot, and now he's got the sepsis. Why'd he do it? We'll never know. He doesn't know. But now he's got the sepsis." ... Here's why you zookeepers trained yours truly, Miss Opposable Thumbs, to text-message, whereas you give the polar bears a plastic milk carton to turn over and over like it's a Rubik's Cube. Mimsy the polar bear complains she's losing sleep over global warming—she's scared she's going to melt. This is the same genius who rejected her cub because she didn't recognize it as a baby—she freaked and thought it was Mini-Me ... The zebra is off to the vets, I hear. Ingrown stripes ... Those aren't crocodile tears leaking out of the crocodiles' eyes: With the market tanking, they've got as much chance to build equity in that fancy new reptile house as they do to eat the foot off Michael Phelps ... The penguins started out marching. Next thing you know, they're running in formation. Then they're goose-stepping. And now George Stephanopoulos reports they're lobbying to meet Hugo Chávez. And you ask me what is it I have against penguins! ... Advice to Hilly the lemur: Your friends are sick of you and your "I am the missing link" shtick. The only thing missing is your marbles ... The toucan finally figured out the $64,000 question. You know the melody the kiwi is always massacring? Everyone thought it might be "Born Free." Wrong. "I Believe I Can Fly." Cute or pathetic? You decide ... Weekends, Glenda and Joey, the llamas, work at the petting zoo down the street. Nothing to be ashamed of, right, being petted? ... Spotted at the baboons' party last night: baboons! ... Kimba the cougar gums his meat ... Liz Smith came by today, tried to bribe me with a banana. Sorry, honey, I don't share sources. And next time try an oatmeal cookie.
(Tom Gliatto, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, 11/24/08)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Not for Mothers Only: Contemporary Poems on Child-Getting and Child-Rearing Edited by Catherine Wagner and Rebecca Wolff

As a poet and a mother-to-be, Not for Mothers Only: Contemporary Poems on Child-Getting and Child-Rearing (2007 Fence Books) has been on my radar screen a long time. I remember coveting it at the Fence Books table at AWP last year, in fact, well before we were actually pregnant ("we" meaning me and my wife, not me and Fence Books, an entity with which I have no children). I had first read about the book online, so I was surprised at its heft when I physically held an actual copy. It's over 460 pages, which makes it comparable to carrying around a copy of the New Testament - another book that some might argue goes on too long.

But the Bible it isn't, nor is it one of those Hallmarky collections of overly sentimental poems about little feet and new beginnings. Though, I admit, I am a sucker for sentiment, done well, of course. And I think Not for Mothers Only could've benefited from a little more warmth. A lot of these poems feel like overly academic explorations and/or cooly removed ruminations of "child getting and child rearing" (the poems from Norma Cole and Akilah Oliver are a good example of this). I think some further paring would make this a tighter collection. Also, I noticed a good number of typos throughout.

Not that there aren't good things to be found here. I discovered Pam Rehm, for one, and am eager to read more of her work. You can read her poem "Indebted," which is included in the collection, at durationpress.com.

Susan Holbrook's "Nursery" was a surprising favorite. Surprising because it is really dense and really long (meaning there are no line breaks so the text just engulfs the five and a half pages it spans). According to the book, after giving birth, Holbrook "decided to make her mothering life work for, rather than against, her writing, and started composing a line every time she nursed the baby." Every line starts with "Right" or "Left," depending on which breast she's on. Here are the first two lines: "Left: Trace pictograph of an elk in the fine veins of your temple. Right: If it were a Virgin Mary we'd be on the news." Not all of the lines are this brilliant. Some are only two words ("Left: not again") or feel more like what one mom might Twitter to another ("Left: Ugh, plugged ducts"), but the over all concept is awesome and the result is a surprisingly intimate ride-along, if you will, of the nursing experience between these two people.

Michigan is well represented in this collection: Thylias Moss and Amy Sara Carroll from University of Michigan, Christine Hume from Eastern Michigan University, Carla Harryman from Western Michigan University.

At least two poems in Not for Mothers Only mention monkeys: "At the Door" by Jean Valentine ("Chimpanzee of longing, / outside the light, / wrap your long arms / around the globe of light") and Maxine Chernoff's "Identity Principle" ("...twins, those clever monkeys, allowed to eat at table").

Maureen Owen's "Bedtime" is one of my favorite poems from Not for Mothers Only, and incidentally one of the shortest.
I have this power     At night
I kiss three people     minutes later
they are all sound asleep     the bizarre
& the miraculous     are the same thing.

(Maureen Owen, from Not for Mothers Only, 2007 Fence Books)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The secret lives of poets

My friend Claire sent me this quote from Overheard in New York (if you are not familiar with this site, go there and get acquainted. It's a wonderful thing):
Man reading Richard Scarry's What Do People Do All Day?: "What? Poets do not write poetry all day! They work shitty jobs in design firms and sell things to assholes from San Diego! (turns page) And writers don't write all day! They pick up laundry for Park Slope bitches!"
--Overheard by: Amused Bookseller, Children's Section, Barnes & Noble, Court Street

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Tangled Line by Tod Marshall from Canarium Press

Book-length collections of poetry aren't usually an easy read for me. It usually takes me a very long time to read a book of poems, most likely because I know too much about poetry now so reading also takes on a "studying" quality. It's like that Aerosmith song, "I don't want to miss a thing." Sometimes it hurts my brain. The slow reading, not Aerosmith.

So reading The Tangled Line by Tod Marshall was a good change of pace for me in that I read it straight through in a short amount of time. It's a good book. Not great, not life changing, not something I will be revisiting over and over until I'm familiar with it on a know-it-by-heart basis, but good, solid writing.

The Tangled Line is one of the first books published by Canarium Books, which was spawned by Josh Edwards with the help of the University of Michigan Creative Writing Program, which is where Josh and I got our MFAs. (I say "Josh and I" like we're BFFs, but we're not, though we did attend the program together. He's a good guy. A handsome guy. A fine writer. But not my boyfriend. Just to make things clear lest I be accused of misrepresenting.) Josh and Canarium were mentioned in the latest issue of Poets & Writers in the "Small Press Points" column. So that's pretty cool.

If Marshall's book is any indication, I expect further handsome little volumes of smart, interesting, maybe even a little hip poetry to follow.

My favorite poem of Marshall's from his new book is "Describe Wildflowers to Ethics." I love the incongruous imagery and the sounds of the thing. Perhaps, also, it's because I, too, will have a little boy soon and will have to deal with all sorts of penis-related issues I have never before had to consider.
Describe Wildflowers to Ethics

The ground gives a push. Rocks applaud,
and nearby, waterfalls like rivers of joyful tears--
that time laughing so hard at my son
toddling around the house
with an erection on which he'd hung
the friendship bracelet from the Bible People
that said "What Would Jesus Do?"
Answer that one and you might be able to see
those purples, reds, and yellows
the subtle lavender gloss, sheeny pinks,
even the over-the-top oranges,
and not be tempted to pick the explosive petals
to press into a notebook
with the desperate hope
you could one day open the pages
and say as it was, so it shall be. Try again,
write scribbles of smoke against the sky--
fillyum trillium birdfoot violet blueflag.
Try paintbrush, buttercup, try please. Try
fire and tears. Try greeny green green.

(Tod Marshall, from The Tangled Line, 2009 Canarium Books.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Patton Oswalt for Poet Laureate

If Patton Oswalt is making fun of poetry, doesn't that mean that poetry is hip? Kind of? I mean, he name drops Kay Ryan ("a fearsome, Sapphic wordsmith"), Stanley Kunitz, Wallance Stevens, and Hart Crane!

Friday, March 6, 2009

"Sometimes a joke about monkeys is, well, just a joke about monkeys."

Response from Daniel Luzer on the Mother Jones blog regarding the Feb. 18 New York Post political cartoon by Sean Delonas that has some folks up in arms (yes, I'm a little behind the times on this) is the best response I've read so far:
"The truth is, it's not a good cartoon. Because it is an awkward attempt to combine two unrelated news stories, it doesn't resonate....You many not even get the cartoon at all (stimulus=monkey?), but that's understandable because it's not that funny; it's just not racist either. Sometimes a joke about monkeys is, well, just a joke about monkeys."