Sunday, March 28, 2010

The lifespan of a poem

I had poems in the February edition of Pank Online. In "Facts About Marsupials," I take a stab at answering where poems begin. A couple of weeks ago J. Bradley, author of Dodging Traffic, interviewed me for PANK. He asked me where poems go when they die.

It's curious: there was a stage in my life where I was worried about where I'd go when I died. That stage has mostly passed. I don't know where, but it's less interesting to me than where I'll go while I live.

However, the life cycle of poetry is now very important to me. First there's the unpredictable gestation period. The poet can carry the first cells of a poem in them for years before they even know it's there. Then the actually birth may take a few minutes to several months.

Just a few back and forth talks and eventually the poems are sent out into the world to find a home. For the most part they become tempered by repeated rejection. When sent by mail they almost always return to the poet, who then must look them over for defects before sending them right back into the fray.

Hopefully, finally, the poem is accepted into the dormitory like pages of a literary journal. So many different poems, so many different types of writing. The poet can only hope that the poem is accepted by the other poems and by the other poets. Then, for a long time the poem remains in that one place. Very, very rarely it gets invited to hang out with other poems, in another place. Usually this happens within it's first year of life out of the poet's home. Other times the poem eventually finds a place to live with its relatives.

It's a strange life, and of course there's more to it than that.

If you're interested in where poems go when they die, or what the world would be like without typos, check out my interview over at the PANK blog. If you like it, if you makes you think of anything, leave a comment.

If you're not interested, sign up here. We have a gang of dinosaurs to kill.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

South Roxbury Living

When I wake up in the morning it's unlikely that I will eat breakfast. But if I don't eat breakfast I'm bound for 10:30 a.m. crash at work. Over the years I've experimented with various "fast" breakfast options.

Pop Tarts would be the obvious, economical option, but one summer many years ago, my camp bought a full truckload of pop tarts. In the past pop tarts had been a treat, processed food reserved as a special treat for afternoon nosh, or as prizes for camp games, but that summer we were offered pop tarts at every meal. Quickly I came to understand pop tarts for what they really were: packing peanuts reprocessed into crumbly rectangles with a layer of sweet,non-adhesive glue barely bonding them together, and a brittle layer of sugar glass on top. Plus, even with fortification I'm pretty sure they have less nutritional value than a spoonful of potting soil.

Pop tarts were not an option.

I tried some liquid-breakfast options, but my innards were not impressed, and besides, they tended to have about the same nutritional value as a glass of milk, but at double the price. Nutri-grain bars were an improvement on Pop tarts in texture, but still didn't feel like more than an over-processed fruit bar sprinkled with a bit of oatmeal.

I soon forayed into breakfast protein bars and settled on "South Beach Living" bars, as "not awful." The chocolate-berry and cinnamon-raisin bars were nearly even "okay." The best had a little give, a little chewiness to them. Regardless, at 10 grams of protein per bar and assorted vitamins and about $.50 per bar I figured that the nutritional price was right.

Well two things happened. First, the boxes, which had been 2 for $5, went up in price. Not a large amount, but they passed a psychological affordability barrier. Then it became clear that they were not restocking the best flavors. Cinnamon-raisin was gone first, then chocolate-berry, till finally all that remained were the peanut bars, which were the least palatable.

One week my Hy-Vee announced the change with one of their coupons:

Finally the reason became clear, South Beach had decided to do a redesign. No big deal, and the coupon restored the boxes to their previous boffo value.

The new boxes shifted the KRAFT trademark from the upper right corner to the left and in it's place proudly proclaimed that these protein fit bars had "Twice the Protein of the Leading Cereal Bar."

In smaller font the box indicated the amount of protein: 8 grams.

So, KRAFT added some cursive, and removed their assertion that their cereal bars were a "Nutritious Way To Help Satisfy Hunger." And while they were doing this redesign they also lowered the protein content of the bars by 20%.

There's a small mathematical part of me very disappointed that South Beach Living Protein Fit Bars which once contained 20% of my minimum RDA of protein now only contain %15. If they had instantly restocked my favorite flavors I'd probably ignore it and carry on. I bet they even taste slightly better now that they have fewer dessicated soy krispies, or whatever they did to bulk up the protein.

I'd tell you to stop buying South Beach Living Protein Fit Bars, but I assume you already had more sense than that. For me, it may be time to start waking up 15 minutes earlier so I can make eggs and toast.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Scooped: New NY Times All-Nighter Blog caused All-Nighter

For my Nonfiction M.F.A. thesis, written between 2007 and 2008, I put together a multi-genre piece called "The Insomniac's Almanac," which as it sounds, was meant to be a pamphlet styled as an almanac, but with articles, stories, and information that would be particularly interesting to insomniacs (such as myself). I figured I'd get to learn about a chronic ailment that had been affecting me for many years, as well as have a product that a publisher might be interested in. Almanac-style books such as John Hodgman's The Areas of My Expertise, Amy Krouse Rosenthal's Encyclopedia of a Modern Life, and Ben Schott's Schott's Miscellany were selling like hot cakes. At the same time pharmaceutical solutions for insomnia like Ambien and Lunesta were making tons of money. It seemed like the perfect combination.

My thesis, like many others, was both a success and failure in many ways. I learned over the course of writing it that I didn't have the design [or perhaps research]skills I needed to follow through on my idea in exactly the way I'd originally conceived.

I'm the sort of writer who loves computers. While most of my writing starts on tiny memo pads that fit in my back pocket, my handwriting is cramped and approaches sloth-like slowness. Without a keyboard I would get little done. But despite considering myself pretty savvy with some creative computer programs like ProTools and Adobe Audition, I'm just learning to use Adobe In-Design after years of becoming frustrated at not knowing how to turn off auto-functions (like numbering, or capitalization) in Microsoft Word. I still use the most basic word processor, Notepad, for most of my drafts and only put something into Word when I want to know how long something really is, or get spacing right.

Whenever I set out to make a graph for my thesis, or some other interesting and friendly presentation of information, I'd find myself thinking, "...maybe I can get the same message across by writing a story or a poem," and then, without wasting much more time that's what I did.

A friend sent me a link to a new NY Times online feature last night: All-Nighters.

I scrolled down to find out who was in charge of bringing these thoughts together and there it was: Ben Schott seems to have decided that an Almanac for Insomniac's is a pretty good idea too. But where as I wasn't ready, Schott has the experience and skills to pull this off beautifully.

I did have one sleepless night, or a all-nighter (har! har!) over this: if only idea known how to do a little bit more a little bit faster, if only my follow-through could have been better.

In fairness, I'm also excited: I look forward to seeing his (and my) idea unfold in his blog. The pieces in it are really quite thoughtful and interesting.

Meanwhile, I'm not throwing the baby out with the bathwater; I'm still pleased with the pieces in my thesis and many have been published. This has just made clear what I knew already: getting an M.F.A. isn't the pinnacle or capstone of a writer's creative journey. It's another clarifying step. At least this proves that I had a good idea, and fortunately, I think I've still have some pretty good ideas I've just begun to explore. There are skills I need to tend to if I want future ideas to be able to blossom properly, and I will.