Friday, July 31, 2009

Gay penguins spawn a good kids' book

And Tango Makes Three, the true story of two male penguins who parented a baby girl penguin in the Central Park Zoo, has been causing a shit storm since it came out in 2005, but I did not read it until tonight, after finding it in the Buy One Get One Free bin at Borders. And I have to say, it's a really good book. For one thing, it feature monkeys ("There are monkey dads and monkey moms raising noisy monkey babies ... and cotton-top tamarin families too"). For another, it's a sweet story about parenting and families and it does a nice job presenting animals as creatures with emotions and intention, which is great if you, like me, want to raise compassionate kids who respect other living beings.

For those folks who are freaked out by this book, I think it's important to remember that it's about penguins, for goodness sakes. Reading about gay penguins will not make a kid gay. Everyone knows that gay men are the result of overbearing mothers. Lesbians, on the other hand, are the result of girls seeing Linda Carter as Wonder Woman in the formative years. Facts.

Carrie Brownstein on lyrics vs. poetry, featuring Color Me Badd!

Carrie Brownstein muses about lyrics versus poetry on her monitor mix blog for NPR. Not only does she make a sound point (that the "original power [of lyrics] likely came from the marriage between them and the way they were sung"), but she manages to bring Color Me Badd into the mix.

Fun fact: I owned Color Me Badd's 1991 album "C.M.B." on cassette and remember grooving to "I Wanna Sex You Up" on the back deck of a vacation house that belonged to the people my twin sister and I used to babysit for when I was 12 or so. This family took us on vacation with them to watch their kids. This was not a good idea. The music or letting the 12-year-old me babysit. But we all lived through it. And now I'm a mom myself and "C.M.B." is available used for 1 cent at Coincidence?

Also, have you seen Thunderant, Carrie Brownstein's comedy duo with Fred Armisen? My favorite is sketch is The Feminist Book Store.

Thanks, Laura, for the tip.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Man vs. Nature

Elizabeth Royte reviews Charles Siebert's The Wauchula Woods Accord: Toward a New Understanding of Animals in the New York Times. She identifies the book's "ultimate message" as “the degree to which we humans will finally stop abusing other creatures and, for that matter, one another, will ultimately be measured by the degree to which we come to understand how integral a part of us all other creatures actually are.” Word. Another to add to my reading list.

Also, check out Siebert's 2005 New York Times Magazine article "Planet of the Retired Apes."

Royte, by the way, is the author of the excellent Garbageland, a must-read book for anyone who has ever thrown anything away.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Love That Dog by Sharon Creech

Love That Dog (Harper Collins 2001) by Sharon Creech is a novel for kids in verse. It's written as a series of dated poems/letters from a grade school boy named Jack to his teacher Miss Stretchberry. You never see what the teacher is writing to him, but you can tell from Jack's responses that Miss Stretchberry is encouraging his poetic endeavors. In the book Jack learns to appreciate poetry, both the writing and the reading of it, and crushes out Walter Dean Myers. Reading Myers's poem "Love That Boy" inspires Jack to write a poem called "Love That Dog."

Most of the time Creech gets the voice of this grade school kid spot on, like on the book's opening page:
I don't want to
because boys
don't write poetry.

Girls do.
There are times, like the Walter Dean Myers crush-out fest, where Jack's voice and the short little lines he communicates in feel a bit less organic, a bit too "gotta move the story along." But the overall premise of the book is rather adorable. If only an elementary school teacher spent that much time teaching kids poetry. And if only more boys fell in love with it as a result.

Added bonus: Creech includes the poems that are referenced throughout the book at the end including "The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams, part of "The Tiger" by William Blake, "Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening" and "The Pasture" by Robert Frost, and "Street Music" by Arnold Adoff. So should a kid read this book and be inspired to seek out more poetry, it's already in his or her hands.

Added bonus: Creech just published a followup, which I have not read, called Hate That Cat.

Sock monkey onesie!

My sister Laura and her girlfriend Jamie bought my son this sock monkey onesie at Detroit Comics, a very cool comic store in Ferndale. They also bought him a Wonder Woman bib from the same place made by the same lady because they are trying to turn him into a lesbian. I don't think it will work, though.

Sotomayor haiku time!

Dahlia Lithwick's collection of haikus on is pretty much the definitive wrap-up of the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

And thanks, Laura, for the tip. :)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

"...that big wild good life..."

Is Sarah Palin the "anti-poet"? Yes, says Huffington Post's John Lundberg: "Palin offers delightenment--if that were like, you know, a word. Quote unquote. All those things. (Sigh)."

The proof, as they say, is in the Shatner, as in William Shatner reading Sarah Palin's farewell speech as poetry on the Tonight Show:

Sad to say, I've been to readings like that.

Via America Blog (thanks, Laura, for the tip).

Sunday, July 26, 2009

See it! Write it! It is what it is.

I just finished reading Lynda Barry's latest book What It Is. Part memoir, part creative writing text, part sketchbook/doodle pad, all awesome. Lynda focuses on the importance of image in writing, something I, too, focus on with my students, both in my creative writing and composition classes.

Barry uses a recurring image of a zen monkey throughout the book (like on p. 8, featured here). Also making an appearance is the Nearsighted Monkey, who, I am excited to find out, is the subject of Barry's next book due out in September by Drawn and Quarterly.

Proving once again that monkeys and poetry are never far apart from one another, Barry quotes William Blake's "Auguries of Innocence" on p. 28 ("Every night and every morn Some to misery are born. Every morn and every night Some are born to sweet delight. Some are born to sweet delight, Some are born to endless night"). On p. 84 she quotes Emily Dickinson's Poem 937, (a.k.a. "I felt a Cleaving in my Mind"):
I felt a Cleaving in my Mind --
As if my Brain had split --
I tried to match it -- Seam by Seam --
But could not make it fit.

The thought behind, I strove to join
Unto the thought before --
But Sequence ravelled out of Sound
Like Balls -- upon a Floor.
NPR's Talk of the Nation did a great interview with Barry last June. In it she discusses going into a "cereal trance" as a kid: "Do you remember going into a cereal trance where you'd just look at the side of a box of cereal and every word on it looked like poetry? Like, 'Dextrose. I'm gonna name my first baby Dextrose'."

The awesomeness of Lynda Barry cannot be overstated. Neither can the feeling of having my 6 day old son sleeping in my arms even if that does mean I am typing this one handed and am not sleeping myself.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

"The Milkman and His Son" by Thomas Lux

I've been reading my baby boy poetry whenever I can. I read this poem to him today and thought it was a good one to post.

The Milkman and His Son

For a year he'd collect
the milk bottles—those cracked,
chipped, or with the label's blue
scene of a farm

fading. In winter
they'd load the boxes on a sled
and drag them to the dump

which was lovely then: a white sheet
drawn up, like a joke, over
the face of a sleeper.
As they lob the bottles in

the son begs a trick
and the milkman obliges: tossing
one bottle in a high arc
he shatters it in mid-air

with another. One thousand
astonished splints of glass
falling . . . Again
and again, and damned
if that milkman,

that easy slinger
on the dump's edge (as the drifted
junk tips its hats

of snow) damned if he didn't
hit almost half! Not bad.
Along with gentleness,

and the sane bewilderment
of understanding nothing cruel,
it was a thing he did best.

(Thomas Lux, from New and Selected Poems, 1997 Houghton Mifflin Company)

Friday, July 24, 2009

"Monkey Moog Trio" by Married to the Sea

This is the daily Married to the Sea Comic from July 20, 2009, the same day my son was born. Coincidence? Impossible.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Monkey mama

My sister Laura,, who will now be the one responsible for finding all of my blog content now that I have a three day old son, sent me a link to Tom Scocca's essay about "The 'Family Bed'". As she said, "I know you'll never maybe have time to read again, but this column is really cute and well written. It's about trying to get the kid to stay in his own bed at night. As an added bonus, he uses the phrase, 'I’m not all cruel wire-monkey-mother about it' when explaining his reasoning for not wanting to make a habit of 'the family bed.' See? Blog worthy!"

And so it is, so it is.

My own monkey

In case you wonder why I haven't been posting lately: this little guy is why. I call him my little spider monkey. I'm going to be busy for awhile. I'll post when I can.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Summer Poetry Scarab Mondays

Over the Hedge
Come out to the Scarab Club tomorrow, July 20, for Springfed Arts-Metro Detroit Writers Summer Poetry Scarab Mondays. On the bill are the winners of the 2009 Springfed Arts-Metro Detroit Writers Fiction & Poetry Contest. The event will be hosted by poet Olga Klekner and includes Sophia Rivkin, Kevin Griffin, Zilka Joseph, Christine Rhein, Randy Schwartz, Linda Nemic Foster, John Jeffire, Maria Costantini, Dennis Hurley. I know most of them personally so I can vouch for the good hearts behind the mic that night. I will not be in attendance since for all I know tomorrow could be my son's birthday. We're sticking close to home in wait-and-see mode.
Summer Poetry Scarab Mondays schedule:
July 27: MDW Open Mic, hosted by Tonja Dudley Bagwell
Aug 3: Margo LaGattuta (Northern Oakland poet & fiction writer), Daniel Padilla (Marick Press poet), Christine Rhein (Metro Detroit poet). Hosted by Olga Klekner
Aug 10: Steven Abbott (Columbus, Ohio poet & literary activist), David Cope (beat poet & Western Michigan legend), Phoenix LaShaun (slam poet & poetry Host @ Cliff Bells in Detroit)

The readings are Monday nights, 7pm-9pm @ the Scarab Club (217 Farnsworth @ John R across from the DIA). All free.
Call 313-831-1250 for directions.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Nom, nom, nom: it are my Snacks!

A new convenience store opened in Seattle called Snacks! The Stranger has a review by David Schmader who found poetry among the junk food.

He writes, "For now, Snacks! is a wide-open work in progress, a fact addressed by the two-by-four-foot wish list hanging near the door that invites customers to share their dreams for Snacks! inventory. It is the greatest poem about America since "Leaves of Grass":
Pita bread
Rap Snacks
Soy creamer!
Vernors ginger ale (X2!!)
Grey Poupon
Cheap champagne
Tastykakes! (YES!!!!!!)
Shredded cheese
Sparks (black can!)
Frozen pizza
Fingernail clippers
Stash teas
Smarties (YES! Yes!)
Day of the Dead candles!
Asian snacks!
Pinball machines

Friday, July 17, 2009

"Poetry is a type of literature, retard."

From the Aug. 2009 issue of Harper's: A reference to a Sylvia Plath poem causes all hell to break loose on a parenting message board.


From anonymous comments posted in June on the message board of, a website for parents. The term “dc” is shorthand for “darling child.”

Just read a wonderful poem by Sylvia Plath and wanted to share here. It is about a mother’s wishes for her son. “I do not will him to be exceptional./It is the exception that interests the devil./It is the exception that climbs the sorrowful hill/Or sits in the desert and hurts his mother’s heart./I will him to be common,/To love me as I love him,/And to marry what he wants and where he will.” (From “Three Women,” 1962)

Sounds like she was trying to come to terms with putting her son in general ed over gifted and talented.

We all know what happened to Sylvia later. Word to the wise, ladies—

Did you know that her son killed himself a few months ago, forty-six years after she killed herself?

So clearly her twisted view on being average as some sort of protection was internalized by her son as a negative view of himself and of life.

What? Clearly her son suffered from the same mental illness that his mother did, as it is hereditary. Nothing to do with this poem or being “average.” And in case you are not aware, many writers, brilliant ones like Plath especially, suffer from mental illness. I think this is what she is hoping to protect him from—the illness that often accompanies genius.

Can’t take anything seriously from a woman who writes about suicide and freaking kills herself. Sorry.

Do you feel the same way about Van Gogh’s paintings or the works of other mentally unbalanced geniuses?

I can appreciate the man’s art but I’m certainly not going to model my life, or how I raise my dc, based on anything he produced.

Yet you begrudge Sylvia Plath her sentiment regarding her son, and you seem to be bristling, taking it as some form of a parenting commandment.

She certainly didn’t think about him when she slit her wrists, now did she?

No, but she thought about him when she wrote the poem, and I believe, in the moment, she meant it.

Seems like she meant she wanted an average kid because it would be easier for her. I read the poem as quite selfish, to be honest with you.

It’s pretty well known that she stuck her head in an oven. After taping the doorway to seal herself (and the gas) off from her sleeping children. Unlike Ted Hughes’s second wife, who took their child with her when she also stuck her head in an oven.

You are kind of sick to care about so much detail and reiterate it.

If you study poetry (as I did), this stuff is widely known and discussed. I agree the details are sad, but knowing about them is just part of knowing the minimum about Plath and her work.

For me, there’s a difference between art/paintings and poetry. I can appreciate a painting for what it is. Poetry, I think, is more personal, and it makes a bigger difference to me what the person intended and who the author was.

Don’t be sorry. You’re the one who’s missing out.

How in the world is she “missing out”? If she reads what’s written and it doesn’t touch her or she gives it less credibility, that is her call. Just because you are into something doesn’t mean others who don’t share your sentiment are “missing out.”

She’s missing out because she’s rejecting out of hand the work of one of our generation’s great poets because of some preconceived idea she has (and is stubbornly clinging to) about what she should take seriously in literature. That’s reductive and limiting.

Wow. You are pretty freaking judgmental. You are also mistaken. For example, a Claude Debussy toilet may not be art to one person yet another may love it. That’s what makes it art, bitch.

Do you know Debussy’s medium? It is pretty obvious that you are, indeed, not an art lover.

Plath sucks and so do you.

Why can’t you admit you are an idiot?

Do Plath and I suck because we went to college?

Are you kidding? Do you mean Marcel Duchamp? You are an idiot. Debussy was a composer. You just proved that poster’s point beyond a doubt.

What a pompous shitbag you are.

Disliking Plath’s poetry is one thing. Disliking it because she committed suicide is another, and I think that is why everyone seems so taken aback. Most people don’t judge artists’ work this way. If all of the work by womanizers, liars, and opiate-addicts disappeared, there would be very little great art in the world.

Love it. And I’m not sure why we should discount it because it was written by someone who struggled unsuccessfully with depression.

I discount it because I discount it. I am not happy saying that what I want for my children is for them to love me and do whatever makes them happy. I read everything. It doesn’t mean I take advice from poems all the time.

Who said anything about taking advice from poems? You said you discount the poem because you do not agree with it. Most people do not assign literature a value based on whether or not they “agree” with the thoughts expressed by the narrator.

This is not literature. This is poetry. I might be able to enjoy literature if some of the characters have ideals I don’t agree with. But I don’t know why I’d enjoy poems whose theme I fundamentally disagree with.

Poetry is a type of literature, retard. It is so sad that there are people like you out there. You are smart enough to turn on your computer and type words, but you can’t bring yourself to learn even a teensy bit about the world of letters. Why not enroll in an intro Western-lit class? Or pick up a book. One that’s not a best-seller. Even a high school lit textbook, say.

You know what? I think you are obnoxious and I think the point I made above is still valid. But I have to say that you are correct that poetry is a type of literature, so I stand corrected on that.

The writer is wishing for her son to be equal only in her love for him, which is perhaps the one truly simple thing she knows, simple as in without conflict. It makes me think of times when I am with my son and I want to just eternally freeze that moment of mutual devotion.

I guess I'm just not a poetry wizard

Also from the Aug. 2009 issue of Harper's: An application to a poetry workshop I am sure I would never be invited to attend.

This is exactly how I met my wife


Monty, Sept. 2004

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Peel this

I am used to really, really stupid headlines offered up by the Yahoo homepage as if they are news. Rarely are they monkey related. Until now.

Logging in to check my email and what do I see but a headline reading, "Peel banana like a monkey."

The teaser: "The fastest, easiest way to open a banana is probably not the way you're doing it," followed by a link: "The big secret."

Are you kidding me? "The big secret"? This is peeling a banana, people, not the meaning of life. At least it isn't for most people, I hope.

And yet, I admit, I have never peeled a banana in this way. And so, here is the video, complete with a man wearing monkey pajama pants. If my blog were Scrabble, this would be the equivalent of a double word score. Or something.

Reading rainbow

In the July/August 2009 issue of Poetry Katha Pollitt remembers her former teacher Elizabeth Bishop. It's a good essay, especially the part where Pollitt writes about going to see Bishop read at the Guggenheim in the late 70's:
"Bishop is sometimes described as a notoriously poor reader of her own work—flat, low-key, lacking in presence. After all, she was a short, gray-haired woman who wore nondescript wool skirts that fell below the knee, the antithesis of what a poet was supposed to look like. I thought she was a good reader—I dislike theatricality in poetry readings, and that super-sensitive breathy chanting thing poets get into where every line ends with an upward lilt like a question. But more than that, her reading was a kind of gift; it made me see that whatever way a poet reads his or her own work is fine, is, in fact, perfect, because the way they read is part of their sensibility, their own personal expression of their poem. No one else can have that relation to those words: it’s unique. It was interesting that Bishop said 'rainbow, rainbow, rainbow' in a straightforward, even way, and not 'rainbow! rainbow! (pause) RAINBOW!' She let the words do the shining. The way she read said: the words on the page are the poem, I’m not going to slather a lot of emoting on top of them, I’m going to let them speak for themselves. True or not, this insight has helped me not to be nervous about giving readings: however I perform is all right, I tell myself, because I am the writer reading my own work."

I also dislike, as Pollitt calls it, "theatricality" in poetry readings. It makes me crazy, in fact. Years ago I interviewed Mark Doty for Between The Lines and he said something similar. Artifice in poetry readings is a drag. I think it contributes to why so many people dislike poetry. I've seen poets I really like and admire read and their work in such a cringe-inducing way that it was as if they were crumbling each one of their poems into a ball and throwing it in the trash in front of me. I'm not naming names, but one poet in particular was such an impatient and unpleasant prima donna during his reading that even though I bought his book at the reading I still haven't been able to bring myself to read it.

The best reader/reciter I've ever had the good fortune to listen to is Dorianne Laux. There is a seriousness to her reading - a reverence for the work, for sure - but she is not without humor and humility. Words possess a seemingly effortless grace when they come out of her mouth. She recites a lot of work by other poets (her capacity for memorization astounds me) and I have discovered some really wonderful poems this way. In fact, some, after hearing Laux recite them, seem to lack a little something when I later seek them out on the page. That, I think, is the gold standard of readings: to leave a poem better than when you found it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"Is there emo pandas?"

These questions and more posed in Gary Sullivan's poetry comic "Am I Emo?" published in the July/August 2009 issue of Poetry.

You're a ho monkey

Or a nut monkey, or a retard monkey, or a scum monkey, or a lot of other much dirtier words placed before the word monkey. This is all thanks to Creative Cursing: A Mix 'n' Match Profanity Generator by Sarah Royal and Jillian Panarese. The combinations are endless. It's wildly inappropriate to infinity. Now go out there and hurt some feelings!

Amazon monkey planters!

Just wanted to give a shout out to Kyle and Kurt White, the handsome twin brothers behind The duo brought their adorable little monkey planters from Flint to hawk at the Wyandotte Street Art Fair. I liked them so much I bought one (a monkey planter, not a 20-year-old boy).

Read about this adventure and more in the latest Wonder Twins column in the Metro Times.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

$20,000 can't be wrong

This happened back in March, but it's news to me. A poem Elvis scribbled on a notepad sold at an auction for $20,000. That's not a bad take for poetry, even for The King.
Something tells me his poem isn't intended to be sung to the tune of "Don't Be Cruel." But hey, it's better than anything Jim Morrison ever wrote. (Oh, snap!)

Via Buzz Feed.

More verse from the cube

Back in May a certain Detroit office worker who wished to remain anonymous submitted a poem he or she (I'll never tell!) composed by compiling comments overheard in the office. Well he/she's back!

Artist's statement: "Maybe it's because nobody can be expected to concentrate when 8 people having 5 different conversations are surrounding them. But I decided to take a second and type out what I pulled from the din in an effort to not kill one or all of them. The title, like last time, is the last thing I heard. It's not as exciting as the last one I wrote, but it's fun."
I need it to work 100% of the time

Please call me on channel one
The exhibit is such a big deal
The water pumps can seize up
I’m trying to find somebody
That whole row has been like that for weeks
Thanks for doing that
That’s very cool
What was the action on that?
How do you mark the bench?
I don’t know how it ties into us
It would look really nice and innocuous
Don’t make it seem negative
If a popular performer comes along
They’ll feel like they got shorted at the end of the show
I don’t want to get wet

(Anonymous cubicle worker, July 14, 2009)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Best American Comics 2008

I just finished reading The Best American Comics 2008, edited by my favorite cartoonist ever, Lynda Barry.

There is plenty of monkey-dom to be had in this book. For starters, Lynda Barry draws herself as a monkey in her intro.

Then there's this little fable called "The Monkey and the Crab," which is disturbing on multiple levels and teaches us all important lessons on sharing and death. Or something like that.

You can read the entire comic via PARTYKA.

Also included is a kind of creepy story of children who live in a dumpster by Martin Cendreda, who has a cat named Monkey, according to his author bio.

There are several comics from Matt Groening, including plenty of Will and Abe explaining their adventures in Bali and how they saw "these really cool monkeys there, but we couldn't touch them or play with them because they might hurt us really badly." In another strip, Groening tries to calm his son's professed fear of monkeys.

In Joseph Lambert's "Turtle Keep It Steady," a retelling of "The Tortoise and the Hare," one of the animals grooving to the beat in the last panel is a monkey.

That's not to say all the good stuff has monkeys. "The Teacher's Edition" by John Mejias is most excellent. "Seven Sacks" by Eleanor Davis is really good, too.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

"Let Me Count the Waves" by Sandra Beasley

I read "Let Me Count the Waves" by Sandra Beasley tonight and pretty much had to post it right away. Not only does it feature monkeys, but it also features butts. What more could you want in a poem? Well, okay, a lot. But this poem has that, too.

Let Me Count the Waves

We must not look for poetry in poems.
—Donald Revell

You must not skirt the issue wearing skirts.
You must not duck the bullet using ducks.
You must not face the music with your face.
Headbutting, don’t use your head. Or your butt.
You must not use a house to build a home,
and never look for poetry in poems.

In fact, inject giraffes into your poems.
Let loose the circus monkeys in their skirts.
Explain the nest of wood is not a home
at all, but a blind for shooting wild ducks.
Grab the shotgun by its metrical butt;
aim at your Muse’s quacking, Pringled face.

It’s good we’re talking like this, face to face.
There should be more headbutting over poems.
Citing an 80s brand has its cost but
honors the teenage me, always in skirts,
showing my sister how to Be the Duck
with a potato-chip beak. Take me home,

Mr. Revell. Or make yourself at home
in my postbellum, Reconstruction face—
my gray eyes, my rebel ears, all my ducks
in the row of a defeated mouth. Poems
were once civil. But war has torn my skirts
off at the first ruffle, baring my butt

or as termed in verse, my luminous butt.
Whitman once made a hospital his home.
Emily built a prison of her skirts.
Tigers roamed the sad veldt of Stevens’s face.
That was the old landscape. All the new poems
map the two dimensions of cartoon ducks.

We’re young and green. We’re braces of mallards,
not barrels of fish. Shoot if you must but
Donald, we’re with you. Trying to save poems,
we settle and frame their ramshackle homes.
What is form? Turning art to artifice,
trading pelts for a more durable skirt.

Even urban ducklings deserve a home.
Make way. In the modern: Make way, Buttface.
A poem is coming through, lifting her skirt.

(Sandra Beasley, from the July/August 2009 issue of Poetry.)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Blair: King of Poetry?

Okay, Blair is probably not the King of Poetry, but he has made quite a name for himself in the Detroit poetry world. He also has a new book and record out all about Michael Jackson. He's also the cover story of this week's Between The Lines.

While you're there, you can read my Creep of the Week column, which I write, as the name implies, every week.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Grammar monkey

I've always hated the term "grammar nazi." Comparing grammarians with people who tried to wipe out the Jews is a little over the top if you ask me. "Grammar monkey," on the other hand, is a term I can get behind. And science is on my side.

(Via Slog).

Richard Wohlfeil in Metro Times

Travis R. Wright profiles Detroit poet Richard Wohlfeil in Metro Times.

Writes Wright, "It's hard to fault the guy for being turned on by reading poetry enough to make it his art. After all, poetry is the epitome of thankless art."


Kids [change your screensaver to] the darndest things

I'm not a fan of scatological humor. And yet, I find this Married to the Sea comic funny. Maybe it's because this is totally something I could imagine my brother doing when we were younger. Or maybe it's because I'm going to be the mother of a boy soon and all of the books I've read say that boys love that kind of thing. Though, in my defense, I don't find the fart joke aspect of this funny, it's the technological cluelessness that makes me laugh. Because that will probably be me some day.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Monkeys and cats, BFFs 4-evr

First there was Koko the gorilla and her cat All Ball (Koko named him herself, digging the fact that "all" and "ball" rhymed).

Koko's story, no doubt, influenced Anthony Browne's children's book Little Beauty in which a gorilla befriends a kitten. My dad gave the book to me and my wife last month as a gift for our son-to-be (soon, people, soon). Little Beauty is a good book, but also kind of weird. And by weird, I mean not what you'd expect in a kids' book. It isn't one you can read to a kid (at least not to a kid who can talk) without that kid asking, "Why did the gorilla get so angry?" Anger, of course, isn't a bad thing in kids books (there are many written on that subject alone), it's just that the only answer I have for this particular question about this particular book is "I don't know." The gorilla in the book has a scary and violent freakout that comes out of nowhere. Granted, he doesn't hurt his kitty friend, but he does destroy a TV with his fists.

Then again, kids are pretty expert when it comes to random freakouts. So maybe they all totally get it. Also, according to the Guardian UK, "Browne's greatest strength [as a children's illustrator] is his willingness to let the darkness in."

Speaking of dark and random, have you ever seen a monkey kissing a cat on the mouth? Well, now you can, thanks to Videogum. Let me just say, that's one patient cat. Also, don't keep monkeys as pets even if the monkey is your cat's boyfriend.

"Smack [Your] Bitch Up"

I am not a marriage counselor, but I think maybe my neighbor should not call his wife a bitch so much. Also he should maybe not threaten to "punch you in the fucking mouth." Especially not while he's holding their infant son in his carrier. But then, I'm no child psychologist, either.

Domestic Violence


It was winter, lunar, wet. At dusk
Pewter seedlings became moonlight orphans.
Pleased to meet you meat to please you
said the butcher's sign in the window in the village.

Everything changed the year that we got married.
And after that we moved out to the suburbs.
How young we were, how ignorant, how ready
to think the only history was our own.

And there was a couple who quarreled into the night,
Their voices high, sharp:
nothing is ever entirely
right in the lives of those who love each other.


In that season suddenly our island
Broke out its old sores for all to see.
We saw them too.
We stood there wondering how

the salt horizons and the Dublin hills,
the rivers, table mountains, Viking marshes
we thought we knew
had been made to shiver

into our ancient twelve by fifteen television
which gave them back as gray and grayer tears
and killings, killings, killings,
then moonlight-colored funerals:

nothing we said
not then, not later,
fathomed what it is
is wrong in the lives of those who hate each other.


And if the provenance of memory is
only that—remember, not atone—
and if I can be safe in
the weak spring light in that kitchen, then

why is there another kitchen, spring light
always darkening in it and
a woman whispering to a man
over and over what else could we have done?


We failed our moment or our moment failed us.
The times were grand in size and we were small.
Why do I write that
when I don't believe it?

We lived our lives, were happy, stayed as one.
Children were born and raised here
and are gone,
including ours.

As for that couple did we ever
find out who they were
and did we want to?
I think we know. I think we always knew.

(Eavan Boland, from Domestic Violence, 2007 W. W. Norton and Company, Inc.)

No Ho Ho's for monkey

Want to live to be 100? Stop eating Ho Ho's. It works for monkeys.*

*I may be simplifying the issue a bit.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

More on David Berman's scribblings

I've already made my feelings known about David Berman's foray into cartoons, but his book of them is written up by Ed Park on the Poetry Foundation site. There's also a slideshow of some of Berman's drawings (including the Oklahoma one at left, which is the best of what I've seen thus far).

Park writes, "A cynic might see The Portable February as a quickie offering scraped from the bottom of the barrel, especially as it’s being released by Berman’s record label, Drag City, in the wake of his recent surprise announcement dissolving the Silver Jews."

Well, I guess I'm a cynic. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy Berman has a cheerleader, I just think it's a wee bit hyperbolic to call these drawings "a skeletal Magritte." Just sayin'.

Monday, July 6, 2009

More Michael Jackson poetry

From the Awl, passed along by my sister Laura who was very adamant I give her public credit for this since she's the one who wrote the poem in question. May God bless her, indeed.

Barbara Hamby gets Satanic!

I just finished Barbara Hamby's Babel. One of my favorite poems from it, "Ode on Satan's Power," is all about Satan. Read it via Verse Daily.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Ghazals of Obama

So, Obama reads Urdu poetry. Or at least he tells people that when he's talking to the Pakistani press. But hell, even if it's all talk (probably isn't), it's still impressive on a PR level (I doubt George W. even knows, or cares, that Urdu poetry exists).

In Pakistan it's not unusual for poetry readings to attract thousands of people. In the United States a poetry reading could easily attract thousands of people -- if the reading was also the Super Bowl.

A lot of Urdu poems are ghazals. I was introduced to the ghazal in Keith Taylor's prosody class at UofM. I even wrote a few of them. Granted, I took my own liberties with the form's rules. I also didn't write in Urdu.

Keith recommended the book The Ghazals of Ghalib, edited by Aijaz Ahmad (1971 Columbia University Press). In it Ahmad does literal translations of Ghalib's work and then American poets including Adrienne Rich, Mark Strand, and W.S. Merwin, do interpretation of those translations. It's a pretty cool project.

Here's one of Ahmad's literal translations of the third ghazal in the book:
Simplicity of our desires! Meaning that
Again we remember her who cast a spell on our eyes.

Life could have passed anyway!
Why did we remember the way on which you tread.

Again, my thoughts go to your street!
But, I remember the heart (my heart) that has been lost (there).

What utter wilderness it is!
Seeing the desert, I remember my house.

In my boyhood (boyishness), Asad, I had once lifted a stone (to throw) at Majnoon;
But, immediately, I remembered my own head.

(-Mirza Ghalib, translated by Aijaz Ahmad fromThe Ghazals of Ghalib, 1971 Columbia University Press).
The last couplet is my favorite and I think it is a fitting one for Obama. Certainly one he should keep in mind as Commander in Chief.

Re: Obama's Urdu poetry love, Jon Stewart is unimpressed.
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Barbara Hamby's monkey brain

Proving that monkeys and poetry are often intertwined, I just started reading Barbara Hamby's book Babel tonight and the second poem in the collection, "The Mockingbird on the Buddha," contains the lines: "he's my enemy, / my Einstein, my ever-loving monkey boy, every monkey thought / I blame on him."

You can read the whole poem at the Superstition Review.

Incidentally, I also read American Widow by Alissa Torres tonight and it featured a panel in which Torres refers to her husband-to-be as "monkey boy," then six pages later there's this line from Pablo Neruda: "You will remember that leaping stream / Where sweet aromas rose and trembled."

The Neruda poem exists online, but I can't vouch for its translation or authenticity having never read the poem before.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Kidney stones: just say no

My twin sister Laura has had kidney stones for years, ever since we were in high school I do believe. I, on the other hand, have managed to escape this fate. Until yesterday. I will spare you the details, except to say it was the worst pain of my life. And wouldn't you know it, my friend and fellow poet Amanda Carver was having kidney stone fun of her own at the exact same time. And so I think it's appropriate to post "The Teacher" by Hilarie Jones since she mentions "the exquisite / painful shape of kidney stones." It's also appropriate because it's from a book of writing by nurse poets, which is what Amanda wants to be when she grows up.

The Teacher

I was twenty-six the first time I held
a human heart in my hand.

It was sixty-four and heavier than I expected,
its chambers slack;
and I was stupidly surprised
at how cold it was.

It was the middle of the third week
before I could look at her face,
before I could spend more than an hour
learning the secrets of cirrhosis,
the dark truth of diabetes, the black lungs
of the Marlboro woman, the exquisite
painful shape of kidney stones,
without eating an entire box of Altoids
to smother the smell of formaldehyde.

After seeing her face, I could not help
but wonder if she had a favorite color;
if she hated beets,
or loved country music before her hearing
faded, or learned to read
before cataracts placed her in perpetual twilight.
I wondered if her mother had once been happy
when she'd come home from school
or if she'd ever had a valentine from a secret admirer.

In the weeks that followed, I would
drive the highways, scanning billboards.
I would see her face, her eyes
squinting away the cigarette smoke,
or she would turn up at the bus stop
pushing a grocery cart of empty
beer cans and soda bottles. I wondered
if that was how she'd paid for all those smokes
or if the scars of repeated infections in her womb
spoke to a more universal currency.

Did she die, I wondered, in a cardboard box
under the Burnside Bridge, nursing a bottle
of strawberry wine, telling herself
she felt a little warmer now,
or in the Good Faith Shelter,
her few belongings safe under the sheet
held to her faltering heart?
Or in the emergency room, lying
on a wheeled gurney, the pitiless
lights above, the gauzy curtains around?

Did she ever wonder what it all was for?

I wish I could have told her in those days
what I've now come to know: that
it was for this--the baring
of her body on the stainless steel table--
that I might come to know its secrets
and, knowing them, might listen
to the machine-shop hum of aortic stenosis
in an old woman's chest, smile a little to myself
and, in gratitude to her who taught me,

put away my stethoscope, turn to my patient
and say Let's talk about your heart.

(Hilarie Jones, from Intensive Care: More Poetry and Prose by Nurses edited by Cortney Davis and Judy Schaefer, 2002 University of Iowa Press.)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Yo' mama wears combat boots. Walt Whitman wears Levi's

Because if Whitman were alive today, he'd want his ass to look good.

Via Towleroad.

David Berman, please go back to poetry or music

In January I lamented the break up of the Silver Jews, David Berman's sad core rock outfit while at the same time expressing a hope that Berman would put out another book. Well, I got my wish. Kind of. He's putting another book out, only it isn't a book of poetry. The Portable February is out now via Drag City.

As Pitchfork describes it, "The slim volume collects Berman's single-panel cartoons/study-hall doodles, and it presents them essentially without any sort of context, one freehand absurdity after another." They also call it "absolutely ridiculous." They provide a sample of the cartoons from the book, including the one I have included here.

My feelings about this project can best be summed up via a discussion on my Facebook page between my sister Laura and Austin musician Nick Hennies:
Laura: Looks like [Berman's] not as good at cartoons as he is at poetry...
Nick: But he's famous... that means he's good at everything, right? No reason we shouldn't publish/release every single little thing he does for the rest of his life.
Laura: I think Pitchfork is being too kind calling the cartoons “absolutely ridiculous.” I mean, if I was hanging out at his house and saw one of these cartoons on like, a doodle pad next to his phone, I wouldn’t pick it up and say, “Dave, did you draw this? This is absolutely ridiculous.” Because if you like to doodle when you’re on the phone, that’s fine! My Grandma Bea used to do it. But now that he’s put them in a book and is actually expecting people to pay real cash money for them, calling them absolutely ridiculous is just too mild.
Nick: I remember seeing an issue of Arthur (I think it was Arthur, anyway) with a bunch of Berman drawings from a few years back and thinking "Nobody would be publishing these if they weren't drawn by David Berman." Thank god there's a whole book now. :P

I am still holding out hope for the poems.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Michael Jackson's "Liberian Girl" video

I'm not going to lie, I always thought "Liberian Girl" was "Librarian Girl." But give me a break, I was 11 when it came out. In any case, Videogum has an excellent post about the video:
"In the outpouring of reminiscences about Michael Jackson's life and career over the past few days, it has been mostly overlooked that in 1989, he built a private celebrity menagerie, and he put all of the celebrities in there so that he could watch them mingle. Seriously, all of them."
See how many you can name (I'll give you one of them: Bubbles).