Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"I, too, dislike it..."

Robert Pinsky discusses Marianne Moore's "Poetry," one of her most widely anthologized poems, on Slate.com. The first part of the famous first line of "Poetry" -- "I, too, dislike it" -- is probably the line of poetry that pops into my head more than any other. The line perfectly embodies the conflict I feel about being a poetry fan (the full line is "I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle"). While I typically dislike (ha!) poems about poetry (there are far too many and so many of them are naval gazing dreck, pointing, I think, to a desperate need for poets to get out more), Moore's poem is an exception. It is essentially saying what I think so often: "How can anybody stand poetry with all it's pretense and self-absorption and all the truly terrible verse out there not to mention how humorless so much of it is?" Of course, Moore says it a lot more eloquently and magnanimously than that. She also answers the question.

While Pinsky does, at times, seem to think he can read Moore's mind (she's dead, so nice try), his remarks about her hatchet job revision of the poem are interesting. She reduced "Poetry" to three lines at one point, though the full poem is the one readers prefer and the one that stands, whether she likes it or not.

"Slog's Flying Monkeys Piss Off Area "Asshole" by Dan Savage

Flying monkeys enter the "culture wars" on Slog. Go get 'em, Dan. :)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Ilya Kaminsky in Poetry

There is an amazing sequence of poems by Ilya Kaminsky in the May 2009 issue of Poetry. All of the poems are available to read online, though the table of contents for the May issue is messed up on the Poetry web site. There is only one link by Kaminsky's name. Links to all the rest of his poems in that issue appear at the bottom of the TOC, underneath the letters to the editor. Go read them all. I am very happy to have discovered him and reading these poems felt damn good.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Cruising for monkeys

I have never really wanted to go on one before, but now, after seeing the towel creations (including a sting ray, an elephant, and this here monkey!) some friends of mind found in their room daily by housekeeping during their Carnival Cruise last week, that's a point in favor. My wife's propensity for sea sickness? Against.

"Poetry From Iran, One Tweet At A Time" on NPR

Something I am not sure any poet would want to hear said about them: "His Tweets range from the mundane to the spiritual."

But that's what NPR says about Parham Baghestani. Naturally he is from Iran, because it is apparently impossible to do a news story today about Iran without mentioning Twitter. God help us.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Conor Oberst quotes from Rolling Stone

"My whole thing is having heat. Where melody, poetry and sound all meet as one fiery liquid thing -- that's heat."
- Conor Oberst, Rolling Stone, June 5 2009.

"I don't necessarily believe in God. But when you hear music and poetry that's that truthful and spot on, you just don't feel as alone, you know? That's -- that's it. The highest form of art."
- Conor Oberst, Rolling Stone, June 5 2009.

Mad Cow or Mad Monkey?

My wife and I went to Lathrup Village Art in the Park because we dig art fairs. It was mostly a bust (except for the really good fudge). More crafts than art.

But there was one booth with some cool stuff. Pamela Cohen, a jewelry artist from Ann Arbor, had necklaces with little faces on them. Most interesting to me were the ones she called her Mad Cow pendants, which bore a striking resemblance to Paul Frank's Julius character. In fact, I was wearing a Paul Frank shirt at the fair and she pointed at me and said, "That monkey" (referring to my shirt, not me. I think).

On Cohen's blog there's a picture of the Mad Cow templates and there's really no question as to whether or not they're Julius. The finished product doesn't look exactly like the Paul Frank version, but pretty close. Except most of hers have horns (since they're, you know, cows).

Check out some of her stuff at her Etsy shop where she has a list of art fairs she's doing this summer if you want to check it out in person.

Poet Simin Behbahani: "the lioness of Iran"

There's more on NPR's blog.

Friday, June 26, 2009

"No one wants to be defeated..."

Michael Jackson is dead. I didn't even know about it right away because I said to myself yesterday morning, "I'm going to get some reading done today and stay off of the computer" and what do you know, as soon as I turn my head, half of the 1980s dies (Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, and Ed McMahon). It is a lot to have on my conscience.

Jackson's passing is obviously monkey related (duh: Bubbles), but thanks to The Awl and Detroit performer/poet Blair, it is poetry related, too.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Craig Arnold, R.I.P.

So I'm reading my April 2009 issue of Poetry (I am behind in my reading), and I come across a poem by Ramón Cote Baraibar translated by Craig Arnold. The poem, "Coal Deliveryman," is amazing and that is due, in large part, to Arnold's translating. Also in April, I posted about Arnold's disappearance in Japan. This was, in fact, how I discovered Arnold's work, which is incredible. In any case, coming across his translation in Poetry made me wonder whatever happened to him. I was hoping to find that he'd been rescued or that there'd been some kind of misunderstanding and everything was fine. Sadly, that is not the case. He is, as far as I can find out, presumed dead and has been since early May. I'm obviously a little late to the news.

According to Poets and Writers, poet Jacqueline Osherow said after his death: "I'm more broken-hearted for him than the poems he didn't live to write. This is a loss to American literature and letters. It's wrong to say he was full of promise, because he delivered on that."

Arnold's poems really are amazing. I urge you to seek them out.

Monkey Hugz

An eco-friendly baby store. And it's called Monkey Hugz. It's totally okay if you want to buy me stuff there.

Ape Genius on NOVA

Thanks, Meghan, for bringing this episode of NOVA to my attention where "experts zero in on what separates humans from our closest living relatives." You can watch the whole thing online.

Warning: not intelligent design/creationist friendly.

Here are my notes from the video. Because I am an educator:
Part 1: Chimps and water sports. Monkeys eating monkeys (a.k.a. "You'll poke your eye out!"). White people in the jungle.

Part 2: More chimp water sports. Monkey see monkey do. Judy gets addicted to slots. Obligatory Jane Goodall cameo. Ape grief.

Part 3. Termite fishing. More monkeys eating monkeys. Apes work together to prepare the Great Takeover. Helper monkeys. Chimp chow challenge. Foster apes. Invasion of the body snatchers.

Part 4: Chimp math. Ape English majors. Ape spaz outs. Ape greed. Gummy Bear gimmies.

Part 5: Take off my shoe, ape. Princess Sally and the stupidity of three-year-olds. Will work for food.

Part 6: It's not rude to point. Turbo-triangle. Teaching, smeaching. Smarter than a monkey.
You're welcome.

Dorianne Laux in Hunger Mountain

Speaking of Dorianne Laux, she has two new poems in Hunger Mountain.

P-town Stories by R. D. Skillings

Dorianne Laux introduced me to R.D. Skillings, or, rather, his work. She brought some of his poems to her Bear River workshop. Actually, calling them poems isn't entirely accurate. His book, P-town Stories, or, The Meatrack, is categorized as fiction and much of what's in it is just that. There are some poems, too, but the best pieces are what I suppose are best called prose poetry. One or two paragraphs of witty, snarky brilliance.

I was in a bookshop on Orleans and I said to the owner Do you have Kate Millet's Sexual Politics? The woman said This is a Christian bookshop. Well I said I'm very interested in Women's Liberation. Do you have anything at all in that line? And the woman said Christ is our liberator.


When I was 16 or 17 I used to drink in a bar like this, I'd wait till my parents went to bed and then climb out the window. One night my father caught me coming in and he just picked up my stereo and threw it at the wall. That was when I decided I'd better to go college, get the hell out.

(R. D. Skillings, from P-town Stories, or, The Meatrack, 1980 Apple-wood Press)

Monday, June 22, 2009

TXTS FRM LST NGHT: poetry and monkeys

Have you ever sent an embarrassing text you wish you could take back? Well, you might want to look for it on Texts From Last Night (TFLN). Thankfully the only identifying info is the sender's area code. Here are some highlights featuring (what else?) monkeys and poetry.
(941): i just found a plastic monkey in my sweatshirt pocket
(212): Umm I had a plastic mermaid in my pants......
(212): Really
(941): You win
And here's one I think any poet can relate to, and from a Detroit area code, no less:
(313): Holy wow, I found all the old poems u wrote me back when we were in looooooooove...just sort of wild to look back on, thought u'd like that
Um, no, I wouldn't. If I were the poet in question. Which I'm not. Thank God.

Detroit Twitter poetry

PoeTweet is a terrible name, but it sounds like a pretty cool concept. Poets collaborating line by line to write about Detroit. Not surprisingly the source is M.L. Liebler and the Scarab Club, Detroit's poetic forces of nature.

Spend your Mondays at the Scarab Club

If you're looking for stuff to do around town this summer, the June 17-23 issue of Metro Times has you covered. One thing they suggest is hanging out at the Scarab Club on Mondays:
Summer Poetry Scarab Mondays (July 6-August 10)
Formerly known as Poets @ the Opera House, the reincarnation of the series will be born at the Scarab Club, a longtime refuge for arts, both visual and literary, in Detroit. Located behind the Detroit Institute of the Arts, the Scarab will present a lineup of poets each Monday night (at 7 p.m.) that promises to provoke the mind. From beat poets to performance poets to those who get their kicks in the slam scene, each week will be different than the last. On July 20, Springfed Arts will present the 2009 winners in fiction and poetry, and the Metro Detroit Writers group will host an open mic for anyone who wants to read on July 27. If poetry's your bag, the Scarab has you covered all summer long. At 217 Farnsworth St., Detroit; 313-831-1250; scarabclub.org.
And hey, speaking of Metro Times, that same issue happens to feature a Wonder Twins column as well.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Followed by monkeys t-shirt

A t-shirt from Cyanide and Happiness, a web comic I rather like sometimes, that very much belongs in my collection.
Explosm - Evolution t-shirt @ SplitReason.com
Explosm - Evolution t-shirt design @ © SplitReason.com

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Monkey Doodlez cloth diapers

So I'm trolling through the (seemingly) millions of cloth diaper options in this world and I come across a line called, of all things, Monkey Doodlez. Game changer? I just don't know. There are so many options. As a soon to be new mom who wants to use cloth diapers as much as possible and one who has a thing for monkeys, I think I am mandated by some kind of karmic law to at least try these. Of course, if the company wants to, like, sponsor my blog then I will write about nothing but my son's excretory system output from here on.

Now that's news you can use

Haaretz, Israel's oldest newspaper, let poets and other writers take the helm for a day about two weeks ago.

According to The Jewish Daily Forward, "This was a near complete replacement of the newspaper itself. Save for the sports section and a few other articles, all the reporters’ notebooks were handed over to poets and novelists, both bestselling and up-and-coming. Their articles filled the pages, from the leading headline to the weather report."

Said Haaretz editor-in-chief Dov Alfon, “Thirty-one writers decided, what are the real events of the day?” he mused. “What is really important in their eyes? They wrote about it, and our priorities as journalists were suddenly shaken by this.”

As Slog's Paul Constant mused: "Maybe that could save journalism."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Monday, June 15, 2009

Gorilla escape update

You know what an escaped gorilla in one of your state's zoos is a great excuse for? Well, if you're Rusty DePass, a GOP activist from South Carolina, the answer is: racism!

Congrats, Rusty. You are a dick.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Mike escapes

A gorilla named Mike had taste of freedom yesterday when he escaped from his enclosure in a South Carolina zoo. His foray was brief, however, as he quickly realized that he preferred the confines of the gorilla exhibit to more of South Carolina. He returned on his own, but not before tackling a pizza stand employee.

Thanks, Dad (also named Mike), for the tip. :)

There is also apparently a poet named Michael Witkowski who, as far as I know, is not my dad. He does, however, use the term "berserk nuns" in one of his poems, which is totally something my dad would say.

Friday, June 12, 2009

More monkey nephew

Okay, so he's not a real monkey...

Necessity breeds filthy invention

Thanks, Videogum, for making me aware of this important invention.

Okay, wait. Toilet paper is disgusting but a wand that attaches to toilet paper is not? I am having a hard time with this line of logic.

As a helpful Videogum reader pointed out in the comments section, the makers of the Comfort Wipe totally store their idea from Anne Rosenfeld, featured in this video from The Daily Show (which, not incidentally, features a chimp).
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorNewt Gingrich Unedited Interview

I hope Ms. Rosenfeld sues. Also, the FCC should totally hire her as a watchdog.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Her name is Sonya

More slow loris YouTubeing via Videogum.

"Does motherhood ruin poetry?"

Such was the question posed on the Poetry Foundation's Web site yesterday along with a link to a feature on writing and motherhood by Geeta Sharma-Jensen from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. In the article, titled "Kids change world of writer moms," she talks to several writers of poetry and/or fiction about how becoming mothers affected their writing. Not surprisingly, all of the women in the article said that having kids turned their world upside down, but not necessarily in bad ways.

Take writer Alice Mattison, for example: "...pregnancy and motherhood affected her creativity in other ways. Children, with their undisciplined sense of humor, their strong feelings, their fresh way of seeing the world, gave her imagination permission to go anyplace." (Mattison discusses her experience as a writer and mother in greater detail in her essay "Drowning the Children: To a Writer, Interruptions are Life.")

That reminds me of a scene from Anne Lamott's book Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year, a book I have loved for a long time. Lamott recalls a time when Sam, her little boy, looks up into the sky at night and says, "It smells like moon." It's the perfect description for what the night air smells like, but one that only could have come from the mind of a child.

That's kind of what I'm hoping motherhood will be like for me. That my time to write will be limited, but maybe more focused (I've always worked well with deadlines) and that my son will teach me things that otherwise would have been lost on me.

Oh, and proving, once again, that poetry and monkeys are never far removed, on the same day the motherhood and poetry headline appeared, the Poetry Foundation also included this: "Gorilla guy takes over for poet as new UK children's laureate."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Elephant on a Wire

Another UofM MFA poet is in the jewelry making business. Lauren Proux, who graduated in 2007, the year before me, has some really cool necklaces and such for sale on Etsy under the store name Elephant on a Wire. I'm not a big jewelry wearer (I wear my wedding ring, my engagement ring, and a necklace that my best friend Lisa gave to me and that is pretty much it), but I do love to give jewelry as gifts. That is, when I can afford it and when I find something really unique that isn't tacky. I like stuff that is fairly simple and hip yet still classy. Elephant on a Wire totally has my number.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Shaman Drum to close

June of 2009 will be the last month Ann Arbor's Shaman Drum Bookshop will be open. The store, which opened in 1980, is set to close June 30. Seeing as the Drum held easily a quarter of the city's poetry readings and had an excellent poetry selection, this is a sad day for poetry, indeed.

"The U.F.I." by Robbie

Posted on The Awl under the heading "Awesome New Jersey Middle School Poem of the Day."

Pugs vs. monkeys

My father, who recently adopted a pug named Louie from the Detroit Humane Society, emailed me this video with the following message:
Louie would pull the stuffing out their butts in seconds. He barks when he hears the pugs bark in the video.
By "Nutcase" I am pretty sure he's referring to Louie. But he could very well be referring to himself.

Monday, June 8, 2009


I just watched an old Smokey the Bear PSA that made me and my wife laugh very hard (much of the funny is in the Videogum blog post we came across it at so I'd be doing you no favors by embedding the video here. Go forth to Videogum and prosper). My wife then said to me, "I'll bet you're wishing that had something to do with poetry or monkeys so you could put it on your blog." And in less than a minute I found a poem about setting God fires with your mind via Poetry Foundation's handy dandy Poetry Tool.

You are welcome.

Staying Power

In appreciation of Maxim Gorky at the International Convention of Atheists, 1929

Like Gorky, I sometimes follow my doubts
outside to the yard and question the sky,
longing to have the fight settled, thinking
I can't go on like this, and finally I say

all right, it is improbable, all right, there
is no God. And then as if I'm focusing
a magnifying glass on dry leaves, God blazes up.
It's the attention, maybe, to what isn't there

that makes the emptiness flare like a forest fire
until I have to spend the afternoon dragging
the hose to put the smoldering thing out.
Even on an ordinary day when a friend calls,

tells me they've found melanoma,
complains that the hospital is cold, I say God.
God, I say as my heart turns inside out.
Pick up any language by the scruff of its neck,

wipe its face, set it down on the lawn,
and I bet it will toddle right into the godfire
again, which—though they say it doesn't
exist—can send you straight to the burn unit.

Oh, we have only so many words to think with.
Say God's not fire, say anything, say God's
a phone, maybe. You know you didn't order a phone,
but there it is. It rings. You don't know who it could be.

You don't want to talk, so you pull out
the plug. It rings. You smash it with a hammer
till it bleeds springs and coils and clobbery
metal bits. It rings again. You pick it up

and a voice you love whispers hello.

(Jeanne Murray Walker, from Poetry May 2004).

Dorianne Laux on Verse Daily

Today's poem is by none other than Dorianne Laux. It's from Salt Hill Journal, the latest issue of which includes poems by Detroit's own Vievee Francis and Matthew Olzmann.

Supine under branches
and blossoms, eavesdropping
on a hummingbird,
the high-pitched flutter
of her seed-sized heart.
Drunk on the scent of apricots.
My spine's thirty-three stones
lined up on the new grass.

I'm a rosy dot on a map's
patch of green, my naked toes
pointing east below gobbets
of buttery sun. Between journeys,
obstacles: water and rock, iron
and chalk dust, the white ribs
of the fence and the gopher's
freshly dug holes.

Petals in tatters on my bare thigh.
the screen door's wheeze
doesn't bother me, the news
still rolled in its red rubber band.

Right now I'm nowhere and no one
cares. Nothing needs me but the dirt
beneath me. The sky gazes down
and doesn't see me. Even the wind

is like a mother, thinking of her lover,
as she parts my hair.

(Dorianne Laux, from Salt Hill Journal issue 22)

"I'm an angry gorilla, I hear you needed me..."

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Malaysian gorilla cake

From a lady (Flickr handle: The Ladygloom) who makes really amazing cakes in Kuala Lumpur. This isn't even her best one. She has a ton of cake photos on Flickr.

I found my way to her photostream via Cake Wrecks.

Even cuter than a monkey...

...is this little boy right here. He's my best friend Lisa's son. He's not even a week old yet. I'm a very proud aunt. :)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Poetry and twin power in Metro Times

In this week's Metro Times there is a short review of poet Keith Taylor's If the World Becomes So Bright and another of Hilarity by Patty Seyburn.

Oh, and there may be something else I'd like to draw your attention to in there, too (*cough* Wonder Twins *cough*).

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Hello, Captain Obvious

I stumbled upon a copy of Charles Simic's That Little Something in the bargain bin for a dollar at Borders today. The majority of the time I was reading the book the phrase, "Hello, Captain Obvious" kept popping into my head. I haven't read a lot of Simic, but I do remember some poems of his I've read in the past that I liked. So I think it is safe to say that this is not his best work. Or I am hoping so, anyway. One thing Simic does well is his economic use of words. I appreciate the straightforward language of his work and the resulting rhythm of those lines. He writes "tiny" poems -- in scale, anyway (not Kay Ryan tiny, mind you, but none of the poems in That Little Something are over a page). He also focuses on tiny things: small moments and details that are intended to carry the weight of some larger truth. The problem is that few of the small moments and details he so relies on are particularly fresh or vivid. Oftentimes a detail inserted in the last line of the poem is in charge of heavy lifting that it isn't nearly strong enough to do. A dog's grave, a clenched fist, a black cat, a leafless tree. Perhaps if the poem leading up to those lines had established some import the "crashing wave" at the end would sing in some way that such an image has never sung before instead of teetering on the brink of cliché. Alas.

The book does, however, feature a monkey. In the poem "The Elevator is Out of Order" Simic writes of "A monkey dressed in baby clothes, / Who belonged to an opera singer."

So if anything Charles Simic has given me more direct evidence that monkeys and poetry are never far removed from one another.

The origins of laughter

You know what I love? Babies laughing. You know what is also pretty awesome? Monkeys laughing. As Wired put it, "Humans aren’t the only ones who like it in the armpit."

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

"Seed and Soil Theory I" by Alexandra Simpson

Pebble Lake Review has a poem in it by the lovely and talented Alexandra Simpson. I know her as Allie because she was in my MFA cohort at UofM. The poem, "Seed and Soil Theory I," is a favorite of mine and I remember it well from workshop. Congrats, Allie!

Thousand Ships Vintage

Love vintage clothing but hate that "trolling through the belongings of dead people" feel of resale shops and Goodwill stores? Wish you had some hip artist friends who just got right to the good stuff? Well, then Thousand Ships Vintage, the just-launched Etsy shop by poets Alana DeRiggi and Elizabeth Gramm, is so for you. As they describe it: "We're inspired by old timey movie heroines, memories of our grandmothers' amazing collections, and that childhood feeling that dressing up could be fun." And they look mighty fine doing it.

"Chorus" by Katharine Whitcomb

At Bear River I got to work with Dorianne Laux (who has been one of my favorite poets ever since I met her at the Walloon Lake Writer's Retreat in, I think, 2002) and completely disregard her instructions (not willfully, mind you), like when she asked us to bring a "memorable poem" to workshop. I totally meant to do this, but failed. But I was planning on bringing "Chorus" by Katharine Whitcomb, which I may have posted here before, but it's worth posting again.


a man in Canada has the aurora borealis all rigged up

he tells the radio reporter that he engineers

and records sound in the universe

the northern lights clamor down at him

they hurl what he calls "hissing whistlers" at the earth

he says the chorus always sings to him in the wilderness

a cacophony of swooping colored wings

and maybe you do have to be in the right place

at the right time to hear what is being sung to you

for my painter friend Werner that was his bedroom

the night his apartment building in New York City burned

in those slowed-down moments when the smoke was thick as Jell-O

he knelt on the floor to get more air

but the smoke was coming up from between the boards

and he could not breathe

he said he heard a voice tell him

he could lie down then with his pet cat in his arms

there was nothing to fear and dying would be all right

or said the voice he could stand on his cold windowsill

five stories up from the street and dive across an eight-foot gap

headfirst through a plate glass window

dive into a lit portal in the building next door still holding his cat

and that is what he did

he jumped across back into our world

where he can tell us this story

and show us his shoulders scarred with his choice to live

and mostly we do want to live

it may be that no one is truly safe but it does not matter

the chorus is singing

and the songs they sizzled and hummed over the radio

brought the deep calm of Quetico to me again

when the sky rippled with lines of phosphorescent laundry

and voices on the wind sang arias so beautifully

voices of my grandmothers and great-grandmothers before them

when they reached over to me singing don't be afraid

and all those hosannas swam together

into the one music that sounds within everything

(Katharine Whitcomb, from Saints of South Dakota, 2000 Bluestem Press)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Monkeys in space

Thank you to those of you who sent me the link to the NPR story about the 50th anniversary of the monkeys in space program (Jamie, Meghan -- that would be you).

Is it any coincidence that this anniversary should roll around right as I was reading The Time It Takes to Fall, Margaret Lazarus Dean's fantastic novel that deals, in part, with the 1986 Challenger explosion?

Proving that monkeys and poetry are never far removed from each other, The Time It Takes to Fall opens with two epigraphs. The first is from poet Jennifer Metsker:
"What does it say that an egg recites poems that are utter nonsense
in the face of trying things? Of course, we know he was cracked

by his own faith in balance. When the horses and men returned home
from their assembly job, they were too numb for words, they had no stories

to tell their children, they spent the evening in silence."
The second is from Ronald Bedtime for Bonzo Reagan, announcing the Teacher in Space Program: "When the shuttle lifts off, all of America will be reminded of the crucial role that teachers and education play in the life of our nation. I can't think of a better lesson for our children and our country."

Added bonus: Other famous chimps via Mentalfloss.

Added added bonus: Margaret Lazarus Dean's Book Notes Playlist on Large Hearted Boy.