Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Short and Sweet

The end of the year is approaching, and as I do each year about this time I take stock of the writing I've sent out to literary journals. Around fall, when my submission fatigue set in, it appeared that this would be a bumper-year for publications, however after several publications dates were postponed, it ended up just keeping pace with past years. Here's a selection from/of pieces that appeared on the world wide strangeness this year:

". . . His fingertips are like gentle sandpaper, soft from years of rubbing." - from Night Hungers, in Kill Author

"On the horizon a red sunset walls off the earth from grey rain clouds." - from Brick Harvest, in The Prose Poems Project

"Naturally, it is important for all business to be conducted reclining." - from To the Heart, in the Nashville Review

I know of a few pieces I'll have published in 2012, and meanwhile here's a final piece for 2011. After I submitted to Serving House Journal I had a brief exchange with the editor, Steve Kowit, about one piece, then SHJ decided to publish another and forgot to tell me.

No matter; it's so small (the smallest I've ever had accepted) that I might have forgotten to tell me too. You can read it here:

"At night, cars with one burned out headlight pretend to be motorcycles."

Thanks for reading. Happy Holidays and New Year!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Reflections: on the Death of Literary Journals

This morning I had a little free time and so I checked in on some of the internet publications I enjoy. I started by checking to see if Slurve Magazine, "The Arts & Culture Review that Masquerades as a Baseball Publication," had bit the dust yet.

Slurve was one of my first publications. I'd heard from a writing peer that she had been published there, and as I was somewhat publication-lite myself, and interested in having at least some work available online to the three people each year who probably Googled me, I decided I'd check them out.

Slurve was nascent. I looked around and liked the potential. The published contributors each had "baseball cards" with their stats and author info. I had just finished an essay about baseball cards and so it tickled my fancy. The editors asked not for "submissions" but for "tryouts," in all genres, including reviews and political commentary. This, I thought, seems like a good idea.

I submitted several pieces, had three accepted and published just a few months later. Not to say that I've had any pieces published that I'm not proud of, but I especially like the three they selected: an alternative-universe piece about baseball and poetry, and two about growing up in slightly odd ways. I was pleased to have them available to the world.

But they never managed to get my baseball card up on the site. And after another three months no new work had been posted. Then another three months passed. About two years later I checked in and discovered that the Slurve team was under new-management. The Head Coach had been jettisoned. The team had been moved from Boston to Los Angeles. New work was coming soon. It didn't come that soon. I stopped checking Slurve for new writing and instead visited periodically to see if it had died yet.

Their Facebook page indicates that the new work did come, and that in fact for at least a few months this year Slurve was posting regularly, however as of today, it's gone. I expected the end for so long, but that it's gone I'm a little surprised. Publication by Slurve was a minor milestone in my young writing career, and now they're gone. Selfishly, I guess I'm glad that their literary career petered out before mine.

Fortunately, internet is filled with many worthy little literary journals (both original and offshoots of print publications) that collect pieces you could never hope to run across in the Paris Review or Poetry, or some other high-falutin' journal, but are nevertheless beautiful and provocative. Through submissions and word-of-mouth I've discovered dozens of them (too many to read regularly) including elimae, which merrily trucks along in minimalist glory and PANK, which I check somewhat more regularly, and not just because they've published me.

Within the last couple years I also discovered two other journals whose format I especially liked, Wonderfort, and Abjective. Both featured one author or collaboration a week, a format which I found both simple and pleasing. To be fair (or maybe a little unfair), Wonderfort appeared to be a rather direct parallel of the style of Abjective, and the editor of one was published by the editor of the other at least once. Maybe it would be better to say they had a rapport.

Regardless, when I checked them today only Abjective remains online, for now displaying the somewhat terse message: "ABJECTIVE no longer publishes". If you go to the main site it displays random pieces from its archive, which are filled with many delightfully strange pieces.

Wonderfort, on the other hand, is completely gone. Where did it go? When was the fort breached? When did the wonder stop?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Selections from the Complete Rhyming Dictionary

... and Poet's Craft Book, Edited by Clement Wood, c. 1936

The desire to write poetry, or at least acceptable verse is almost universal. The achievement of this desire may be gained by anyone, without excessive effort.

* * *

Poetry is the expression of thoughts which awake the higher and nobler emotions or their opposites, in words arranged according to some accepted convention.

* * *

Insofar as the conventions of poetry were artificial and unnatural, poetry tended constantly to rigidify and petrify. It became artificial and unnatural,
whereas prose continued...

* * *

Poets, bound by fossilized conventions, have become a tepid social group...

* * *

The fulfillment of desire causes others to spring hydra-like from its invisible corpse.

* * *

In all cases the danger is rather in the overuse of the intellect, than in the use of inspiration.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Grass Jelly Soda [Drink]

I am an adventurous eater, and sometimes, that can backfire.

Every now and then, someone asks me about my least successful food experiences, and I only have one answer for them: grass jelly soda. Sometimes the name is so inexplicable that they're stuck, and don't bother to ask about it. Other times they're intrigued, and want to know more. But despite myself, I've been unable to give them an adequate explanation of my horror. It just seemed like too much. But at long last I've decided to, if not conquer my fear, at least put it into words.

During high school, my chemistry teacher, who despite acting as a professional taste-tester for Coca-cola for a several years (which I thought sounded cool), was mind numbingly, and perhaps competitively boring, managed to impart only one interesting piece of wisdom:

"If you want to eat really healthy, just eat brightly colored [natural] food."

I bring this up, because the color of grass jelly soda, and particularly the grass jelly, is almost utterly devoid of brightness. I think it's the darkest green a semi-opaque substance can be without turning black. It stands to reason that grass jelly soda is in no way healthy, but it goes beyond that. While the colors of other foods are inviting, the color of grass jelly soda is a warning. It's a color with glittering, malevolent intent, like the eyes of an attacking swamp monster.

For the taste, imagine blending a bunch of grass, bitter-glossy leaves, a child's handful of potting soil, with a hint of mint. Add to that the same cloying sweetness of the liquid amoxicillin doctors prescribe to children.

Finally, "grass" "jelly" "soda" contains no grass (it's made from some sort of mint-like leaf) and no soda (it was a syrupy liquid. To be fair, "Grass Jelly Drink," is far more common. My can had no English on it, and so the store where I bought it was responsible for that element of false advertising). As for the jelly, that's where words really fail. It's not so much jelly, as gelatinous-substance, and also, it's chunky.

Ultimately, truth in advertising wouldn't have mattered: I still would have bought it had it been called "Malevolent Chunky Gelatinous-substance in Leaf Syrup" (not that far-fetched if you've ever wander around a Super 88 market). Apparently there are many different kinds, and I feel like I should give another variety a try, but it's hard. Very hard. I'm just not sure I'm ready yet.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Reading the Street

Lilly, my parents' dog, is a sweetheart. When you're sick she'll lie down on the floor next to your bed and keep you company. She very rarely barks, and instead communicates using a variety of whines, all with different pitches and tones, to let us know she's hungry, wants to go outside, or is excited to see someone. When her food bowl is brought to her outside she prances merrily until it's put down. She occasionally jumps up to greet people, but usually she returns to the ground quickly. Certainly, there's no question: Lilly has many admirable traits. She is a good dog.

However, despite what might be expected of a German Shepherd, she's never struck me as particularly smart. She completed an obedience school class, and then returned for remedial work when she was about two years old. Of course, practice makes perfect, and while they strongly encouraged me to practice my trumpet every day for a couple of years, my parents haven't done much to ensure that Lilly continued her education and practice at home.

Now, at over 4 years old, it's not clear what Lilly remembers/learned from her training. She sometimes acknowledges her name by lifting her head, but rarely comes when called. She's trained my father to play a form of fetch in which he throws, she brings the ball or stick back to within about fifteen feet, and only relinquishes it once another ball is thrown. After the final walk of the night, we have successfully conditioned her to sit and wait for her treat, but outside of that context, and without a treat forthcoming, Lilly simply looks on quizzically as I encourage her to do tricks.

Despite not retaining much memory of her schooling, I still hold out hope for Lilly, because I believe she's an inquisitive reader, and as I always tell my writing students, reading can make you better at just about anything. While the house is filled with books, I'm not suggesting that Lilly is a big fan of literature, rather she's a street reader, a reader of scents.

When my parents take Lilly on her final walk of the night around 10, they let her sniff around a little, but especially as Autumn descends and it becomes colder, the walk is more of a march. We complete the .75 mile loop in about 15 minutes, however we have to pull Lilly away from her reading in order to make it in around that time.

Once I had the idea of Lilly reading in my head I couldn't get it out. I hate being bothered while in the midst of a book, and if some tried to pull me away while I was reading the last few sentences of a page, I might snap at her. Lilly never does, which I think is a testament to her good nature.

So when I was dog-sitting a few weeks ago I decided that I would give Lilly all the time she wanted to Read the Street. That same .75 mile loop that usually takes 15 minutes, took us nearly an 1.5 hours, but I'm sure Lilly was satisfied with her read. I have yet to determine exactly what constitutes a page, but I like to imagine each area she sniffs as a poem that she's studying carefully so she'll remember every detail. Lilly is especially lucky to read a book that's constantly changing, and I hope to give her another chance to read it in full the next time I visit.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Audio Piece in Anomalous 3

I have a piece in the latest release from Anomalous Press.

The piece is a multi-track Michael Martone interview remix,in which Martone elucidates his thoughts on becoming a writer, the purpose of MFA programs, and the nature of authorship. Despite these heady concepts, the piece clocks in at a mere one minute long.

Michael Martone is the author of many books, including his latest release Four For A Quarter. Buy the book and follow Michael's meditation on fourrays (ha!) on Twitter.

Bonus Points: Can you identify all the writers in these Four For a Quarter photos?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Book Review #15

The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party BrideThe Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride by Daniel James Brown

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Do you remember playing Oregon Trail in middle school? God, I loved that game. You earned some outrageous score for completing it as a school teacher, but I think I only managed that a couple times. Beating it as a banker was a foregone conclusion. You just bought extras of everything wagon related, lots of ammo, and made your party the maximum size. Sure, Mary-Ann, Todd, and Uncle Biff were almost certain to get lost, come down with malaria, or get bit by a snake, but if you had enough people in your party you were all but guaranteed to win.

The first third of the book covers familiar territory for any one who loved Oregon Trail (or the Little House on the Prairie series). Daniel James Brown is an excellent lister. He loving describes all the supplies that each family brought, including food, and extra axles and tongues. He also described the fire arms that people would have brought, as so essentially archaic that it made me question the hunting dynamic of Oregon Trail. That was one of the most fun parts of the game, but as it turns out a good bow and arrow probably fired with more speed and accuracy.

After about the first third of the book, the book becomes misery followed by more misery with a misery cherry on top. It's Christmas: let's boil a little more buffalo hide and have a handful of nuts! It doesn't get better from there. Around page 200 there's a cliffhanger a la "but his troubles were just beginning." I nearly stopped reading right there. I mean enough is enough. But while the writing left something to be desired, the author's research was excellent. While exhausting, the content was as compelling as a suspense-thriller-horror story.

One small note: I think the title of this is pretty misleading. Okay, so I can't verify whether the stars were in fact indifferent, but the subtitle concerning the bride felt pretty irrelevant to me. It's possible the story spent a little more time on her, but mostly she just felt like one more in a fairly long list of characters.

Anyway, it all makes me wonder, with the many upgrades to Oregon Trail over the years, why did they never release a Donner party edition?

View all my reviews

Friday, August 5, 2011

Poetry Prize Finalist

My poetry manuscript, "Where the Bees Are Going," was a finalist for the Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize.

Poems from the manuscript can be found all over the internet (as well as a smattering of other places):

To the Heart
Night Hungers
Brick Harvest

The manuscript is still being considered for a number of late-Spring and Summer contests. Obviously I hope someone picks it up. And if not I'll continue to edit, cut, and add so hopefully it will be accepted next year.

Writing on the Side, Part II

I've always written. My parents have saved various artifacts of my nascent writing career. There's a story I transcribed to a teacher in preschool, and my first book, a graphic novel written and illustrated on construction paper about the adventures of Fred and his best friend, a piece of bread come to life (called "Fred and Bread"). In fifth grade I had my first taste of true inspiration. While walking on the beach I had a fragment of poetry come to me and I spent dinner with my family finishing it on a napkin.

The encouragement I got from my parents for those few lines was amazing. Over the next two years I wrote many "poems," but in truth few of them had any spark to them accept the first I wrote on the beach. Even I could tell when I started clawing at words, desperately trying and failing to make something magical happen.

In high school I started writing again. I had some genuine inspiration and when that didn't come through I just covered it with slavish homages and mimicry of Beck's lyrical style circa Mellow Gold. My freshman year I joined the high school literary journal club, a shunned circle filled with young women who wore to much black make-up and had a deep feelings about the nature of stuff. I'm only a little sorry to say that I mostly felt contempt for the student-written pieces we considered for inclusion. The final straw came when we read a submission that started like this:

My life
is like
a deep
dark pit

... it didn't get better from there. To my surprise everyone in the club praised it heartily, for it's honesty, and for getting things so right. I was flabbergasted, but when I went home and re-read the things I'd written I realized they were no better. Right then, in my sophomore year I made the determination that I was done with writing, at least until I was sure that I could avoid writing only about the deep importance of my high school angst.

The amazing thing is, I kept this resolution. From time to time an English class would offer a creative option for a project and I would take it and usually do well, but I didn't even consider it again until I was registering for my first college classes.

I was determined to be a Cognitive Science major, but Oberlin didn't have it and so I determined that I would take Neuroscience and Psychology 101, and see which was more fun. With those and an English seminar I was at 12 credits, and so I began flipping through the course catalog (when did they stop printing course catalogs?) looking for something light to slot in. My dad, who had his own copy of the catalog, said "What about Technique and Form in Poetry?"

Mid-way through my first semester in college I was already doing so disastrously bad in Neuroscience that even 100% scores for the rest of the semester would only have been good enough for me to pass with a very lenient curve. In Psychology 101 I had severely alienated myself from the department when I got into an argument with one of the professors in class where I posited that reported rates of male depression were far too low because men don't seek help for their depression and it manifests itself in different ways (now acknowledged as obvious in most psych circles). The professor then tried to tell me that women, who have so many responsibilities, not to mention ovaries, really have far more to be depressed about than men. At that point I called her an idiot. Things devolved from there.

Meanwhile the class I was loving most was Technique and Form in Poetry. Professor Martha Collins was just a little quirky and very enthusiastic. Every week we were responsible for writing at least one poem. There were couplets, haiku, sonnets, prose poetry, and many more. For individual assignments she awarded check minuses, checks, check pluses, and on a couple rare occasions, check-plus-pluses. I never received a check minus, though Martha was not a push over, on a few a occasions she gave me the check, but commented that she felt my work was weaker that weak. Every week Martha put a couple poems up on an overhead projector for the class to discuss, and I found mine poems going up nearly every other week.

About 3/4s of the way into the semester we were required to turn in a handful of poems, these inspired by the work of another poet. I knew immediately what I wanted to do. When I'd first gone to the book store for my textbooks I had browsed the poetry section. There I ran across Pablo Neruda's Book of Questions and was captivated. They didn't have it in Oberlin's library (or maybe it was checked out) and so I kept returning to the bookstore, surreptitiously making my way through it. I determined that I would write responses to the first few pages of questions. Once I got going I couldn't stop. By the time I finished I had written 50 pages of poetry.

When I got to class I threw my manuscript into the stack by the TA. Then I waited one week.

The next week when I came in Martha was waiting for me at the door of the classroom. "Come to my office after class," she said, "we need to talk." Her tone was flat. She didn't smile. That day nothing I'd written was on the overhead. Martha began the class, "I received a lot of interesting responses to this assignment. Many of you took it seriously. Some of you took it VERY seriously." I felt myself go red.

I sweated through the class and when it was over I was the first one out. I waited a healthy amount of time, enough so I was sure Martha would be in her office, and then headed over.

When I arrived she was flipping through my Answers. The pages were covered with her pen marks, some comments, but mostly check marks and a few smiley faces. I began to relax, a little. Martha turned to me and asked, "So how long have you been working on this?" When I explained that the spirits had done it all in one night, she nodded once and turned back to the pages. Then she asked another question, "What's your major?" I started to say biopychology, but Martha stopped me. "No you're not," she said, "you're a creative writing major."

Since that moment I've never doubted that I, whatever else I may do in life, am first and foremost, a writer. It's not an easy career/life choice. I've had dozens of pieces published, but I haven't yet had a manuscript accepted. I have an MFA, but an MFA is apparently no longer a terminal degree. I've scraped by the last few years with writing-related jobs that barely support me, and while I love the job I have now it's not tenure track and I don't receive benefits.

This history, and everything I wrote about in Part I came flooding back when I had a student ask a question I think about often (in the conditional past tense):

I really like writing: should I major in Creative Writing?

It was so assured, so matter of fact, that for a moment I had no idea how to answer. I often wonder, should I have majored in Creative Writing? I was interested in economics, psychology, and computer science. Surely one of those would have me in a position to be making bank now. But at the same time I know there were many things I've written, that almost certainly never would have come into being.

I hemmed and hawed, I made allusions to Wallace Stevens. Finally, I told her to double major, or if she writes on her own to join writing clubs or school lit magazines and minor in Creative Writing. I told her, despite what I chose, to keep her options open.

But not everyone can be Wallace Stevens (in fact, I'd guess only one person ever can). For me, and I think many other writers, there was no other way. I needed the mentoring and the validation to assure myself that I was making the right choice (even if I question it at times). By writing for so long, with such focus, I've steeled myself. Even if writing on the side only makes it impossible to write a few good pieces in a year. Even if I have to scrape out a living and wait years (I hope not) for one of my manuscripts to be accepted for publication, I write not for a grade, or remuneration, or even for the adulation of my peers, but because I love it and I must.

Monday, August 1, 2011

New Piece in The Nashville Review

I have a piece in the current issue of the Nashville Review.

My piece, about an island with a uniquely evolved people and culture, is called To the Heart.

I'm pleased To the Heart is in the company of other provocative works. I particularly enjoyed Ben Loory's short story The Cracks in the Sidewalk and Sarah Vap's long poem excerpt Winter:aphorisms.

Book Review #14

Enigmatic PilotEnigmatic Pilot by Kris Saknussemm

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the last book I review on goodreads, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, I complained that I was not always convinced of the narrator's age and that he seemed just a little too precocious. The same complaint could certainly be made of the main character of Enigmatic Pilot, Lloyd Sitturd, but I'm not going to make it.

Enigmatic Pilot steers it's reader so quickly and so deeply into a strange land that his antics seem just right for the [very] pre-teen 19th-century robot-building uber-genius protagonist. While Lloyd character demanding highly-hyphenated descriptors, particularly his man-sized libido and multiple-men-sized intelligence, his mistakes as well as his innocence make his character surprisingly sympathetic.

Despite it's diminutive length Engimatic Pilot is jam-packed with mystery, adventure, magic, tragedy, and growth. I finished this book about a month ago, but I'm still turning many of the mysteries over in my head.

View all my reviews

Friday, July 29, 2011

Writing on the Side, Part I

[Wouldn't the title be a great name for a blog/book of some sort?]

This week, after a one and a half month summer furlough, I returned to work. My time off was spent between a variety of frivolous and productive activities. I joined a book club and a writing club, I caught up on sleep, played large amounts of tennis, went to a wedding in Seattle, and of course did some writing. During my Winter furlough I had set a goal: to finish a collection of poetry. Through some dedicated attention and a last week writing-cram session I managed to complete this goal. But I didn't set that sort of goal during the summer. Instead I made an effort to tie off some loose ends, and revise. All told for a 1.5 months I wrote or revised about 6 proems into what I think is a publishable state. I think this is a pretty reasonable pace. It works out to a roughly book length collection ever 1.5 years.

I even got ambitious, and a couple weeks ago I began working jointly on a collection with a friend, Katie. Since graduating from her MFA program two years ago with a flurry of prestigious publications, Katie has admitted to me that she almost never writes. She complains that her MFA program sapped her will to write, and I understand that to some extent, but I think there's a more glaring reason: she works. And not just any work, Katie "fights the good fight," working as a Reading Specialist at a charter school specifically for "at risk" and underprivileged youth.

I had feared, because of her admitted difficulty in writing the last couple years, that Katie would control the pace of our collaboration, but it turns out I'm the one slowing things down. What happened?

Well, first I started the Hunger Games trilogy. After years of seeing it "around" and having select friends telling me that I had to read it, I picked up a cheap paperback at SEATAC and devoured it. Then, over the next 1.5 weeks I devoured the next two. By the end I felt that I needed serious time to recover. And just as I felt like I was ready to move on as both a reader and a writer, I returned to work.

Don't get me wrong: I love what I do. I'm a Writing Specialist for Northeastern's Foundation Year program and I love helping these students grow as a writers and individuals. However, at the same time, it doesn't leave much room in my head for other things. After a day of helping many different students at many different levels of writing I'm burned out. Sometimes I try to talk to my housemates at the end of the day and can barely string together a coherent sentence. The last thing I want to do is sit down and work on my own creative writing.

And so I don't. Whereas when I have nearly unlimited free time, or when I have a deadline for new writing I can finish 1-2 pieces a week, when I'm working that number plummets, leaving me at around 1-2 pieces a month (and sometimes less). It also leaves me with a special awe for the people who work hard and write hard, and a curiosity about how that breaks down. How many writers, particularly those who are getting published/successfully finding audiences of readers also have a demanding day job? Clearly a very large number of them are involved in academe, but I also wonder about course load and other responsibilities. If I were teaching 4 writing courses per semester, between preparing, teaching, conferencing, and grading I don't how I'd maintain friendships, let alone write on the side.

Fortunately I'm only co-teaching 4 classes for FY's summer session. Even so, reality and a change in my sleep patterns toward earlier waking (I must be getting old) has lead me to try something I never would have predicted 2 or even 1 year ago. I write in the morning. Or at least I have the last two mornings: I guess I'll see if I can be persistent with that or at least keep up my side of the collaboration with Katie.

[To be continued in Part II next week, if I can keep true to my new resolution]

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Why Not Moleskine?

Yesterday, while in the men's bathroom at the Mason Library at Keene State College I saw a few lines of graffiti that piqued my interest. I mulled it over for a little while, and later while I waited for my mother to get ready to leave her office for the day I had an idea about it I thought I could use and so I whipped out my notebook.

Later, on the way to the car, my mother asked me why I don't use moleskine notebooks. This is something I've pondered several times. They're very attractive little tools and every now and then someone gives me one as I gift, and yet I just don't enjoy using them. Here are my reasons:

1) My preference is for reporter-style notepads with spiral rings that can fit in my back pocket. The notepad I'm currently using has surface area of an index card, about 3 x 5 inches. The pocket size notebook fits the bill at 3.5 x 5.5 inches, but it's a new product that I've never seen in a store, and besides, it still suffers from the two other problems that plague all moleskine notebooks I've seen.

2) Price. I think even the Caliber notebooks I bought at CVS for $1.19 were somewhat overpriced. The moleskine notebook I've already mentioned that comes closest to meeting my needs costs $10.95. As with any other writer I have my own affectations and dreams of what I'll do once I'm a internationally bestsellhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifing poet. For instance, I've always thought it would be cool to have some fine writing utensils. My brother received more than half a dozen gold and silver Cross pens and my Dad has a Classic Montblanc rollerball, which I covet. Yes, the Montblanc has some nice heft to it, however you could by 300 effective Bic pens for the same cost. But I'm just not drawn in the same way to expensive notepads.

3) Most importantly, I need to be able to rip out pages. This is essential to my writing process and always has been since we started using blue-books for tests in school. I enjoy the visceral sensation of tearing and the catharsis that comes with crumpling a page and throwing it in the garbage. With my ringed pads it's easy. Tear out a page and it's gone, with nothing but a thin strip tangled in the rings remaining

The perfect-binding which I think is a main attraction for many moleskine users is one of it's main problems for me. I don't harbor the illusion that everything I write is a grand idea: a lot of it is utter hogwash. Yes, I could rip pages out from the binding, but there are some barriers. It's the savagery and swiftness of utter elimination that makes tearing pages out of my notebook so satisfying. With a bound notebook you have to be careful when you remove pages.

In some cases ripping out a page can mess with the binding, which in turn moves other pages. In a ringed pad, each idea and page stands on it's own individual merit. If the book binding is stronger than the individual pages you've ripped out then you're inevitably left with the frayed fragments of your disappointment. Always the book seems to fall open to those spots you've tried so hard to eliminate, little bookmarks of failed ideas.

The notebook I linked to earlier has 24 pages that are specially designed to be removable, but that makes it even worse. If I have any suspicion that what I'm writing is not good enough to remain in the notebook, I don't bother to write it down in the first place. I'd far rather that *all* the pages were removable.

Finally, I find it hard to refer to a perfectly-bound notebook as anything but a "book," and I find the idea of tearing pages out of a book beyond distasteful.

Moleskine makes beautiful objects. The covers are sturdy enough, whether you choose to go with soft or hard. The elastic enclosure is non-essential, but sort of cool. The paper is thick and creamy. The design is simple and timeless.

By contrast the notebooks I use are junk. The paper is thin and nearly transparent. They have no "class" to speak of. The rings bend when I sit on the pad in my back pocket and require adjustment to ensure it can be opened and closed.

The pages are individual, but I can easily flip through and see a year of ideas. The thin pages means that they're easy to turn into paper footballs or tiny airplanes if that's my fancy. The cardboard of the cover has been worn and rubbed till it's as soft and supple as kid leather. They hold the ideas I want to keep and make it easy to dispose of the ones I wish to be rid of, and quite simply, I love them: that's why I choose not to use moleskine notebooks.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Book Review #13

The Selected Works of T. S. SpivetThe Selected Works of T. S. Spivet by Reif Larsen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was really excited to see this in the basement of the Brookline Booksmith for just $5. I'd seen it a few months earlier and knew the general story/hype (it's not often that an author gets a 6, let alone 7 figure deal for a book, particularly a first book).

I bought it toward the end of February and read the first 35 pages in a white-heat, captivated by the precocious narrator and his amazing "maps," both of the land, and of the habits of his family member. I particularly loved "Father Drinks Whiskey with a Sensational Degree of Regularity."

I read a few more pages, and then heavy fatigue set in. There were several reasons:

1) The 12 year old narrator is just a little too smart (and perhaps autistic). Don't get me wrong: I love novels with alienated gifted-and-talented narrators, with Hal from Infinite Jest probably taking the cake, but for some reason I just wasn't as convinced by T.S. I could never quite shake the feeling that I was reading the work of an extremely intelligent slightly older person trying to impersonate an extremely intelligent younger person. This wasn't universal throughout the book, sometimes it was totally convincing, but the gaps were disconcerting.

2) T.S.'(s) maps are great and punctuate the book like footnotes. Little arrows stemming from the text indicate to the reader that a map is relevant to a particular section, and while these are initially cute, following all of them can be fatiguing, both on the eyes, and in how they slow down the progress of the plot.

3) While there are plenty of sublime moments, at times the writing seemed to drag on. I was significantly more taken with T.S.' maps, and a part of me wishes that there had been significantly more maps, and significantly fewer words.

Ultimately, I'm torn about how to rate this book. In the program where I teach there's endless debate about how to grade pieces of writing. On the one hand, there's the technical execution crowd: an unoriginal essay may receive a higher grade than a particularly thoughtful one if it demonstrates solid follow through. I more often find myself in the camp that wishes to award higher grades to papers that may not work out perfectly, but make an original argument.

And so it is with this novel. On the one hand I feel it could have been executed better, but on the other it's such an original piece with so many bright moments that I can't help but be kinder in my assessment.

At one point the narrator speculates that true success of a book should be measured in how re-readable it is (or something to that effect). I can't quite imagine wanting to reread this book from start to finish, but over the last month or so since I've finished it I have found myself flipping through to find a particular map, and so I get the impression this is a book that is more likely to rise in my esteem than go down.

This is Reif Larsen's first book. I feel the ending left considerable avenues to continue the story of T.S. Spivet and I'd love to see a sequel in which he enters puberty and perhaps "navigates" his first romance. Regardless, Larsen is an author I'll be looking out for in the future and will, despite reservations about his first book, pounce on his second, particularly if I can find in the bargain bin for $5.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Prose Poem Project and Kill Author

Two more of my pieces are available on the interwebs.

The latest, Night Hungers, can be viewed at Kill Author.

Another, Brick Harvest, is at Prose Poem Project, the fifth poem down on page 2 of the 5/26 additions.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ubiquitous Notepad

Everywhere I go I carry a pad and pen. Before I leave my apartment I slap my pockets. Front-left, phone; Front-right, keys/pen; Back-left, wallet; Back-right, pad.

I prefer gel pens, but lately I've been smitten with a liquid ink pen, that is Pilot's V5 RT. It writes incredibly smooth and the metal clip is sturdy enough so I've never broken it off in my haste to take it out of my pocket.

The pads are always small enough to fit in my back pocket, usually with a metal spiral holding the pages together. They also must be college-ruled and sturdy enough to withstand constantly being used and sat on.

The pad I'm currently using is the Caliber 80 page memo book. I really like the hard-ish plastic cover; it sort of reminds me of the Five Star notebooks that were my favorite in high school and college.

This is the third of three notepads I bought about two years ago at CVS and it has about 20 pages left. Every few weeks, or while I'm stuck waiting for the train, I do a purge. I tear out fragments that have become poems, or when I'm embarrassed I wrote down something so devoid of lyricism. The contents of the rest are as follows:

50% Writing. That is fragments and starts for poems
15% Scrabble games. Words and scores.
15% Grocery lists.
10% Research. For certain more technical poems, as well as curiosity.
5% Magic the Gathering game scores.
5% Books and websites friends have recommended to me.

Soon it will be time for me to start a new notepad. Usually I stockpile. Even though I bought three of these a couple years ago, in that time I've gone through many more pads. I like to change it up, sometimes setting aside a half-full pad in favor of a new one, only to return to the old one a year later and finish it out. But and I'm a little nervous, because I don't have one waiting in the wings. Yes, I could go to CVS online and get a lifetime supply of the one I'm using right now, but I enjoy the serendipity of going into a physical shop and finding just the right thing.

As to the title of this post, not only do I carry this notepad with me everywhere I physically go, but last night, for the first time, I carried it into the meta-physical realm when I whipped out my notepad to write down a good idea I had while I was dreaming. Now if only I could remember what I wrote!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Interviewed by Monkeybicycle

Today the literary journal with arguably the finest name, Monkeybicyle has posted an interview with me about the piece 'Clockwork Dog' which appears in their latest issue.

Enjoy an excerpt here and follow the link after the break to read more about the joy of baseball, why I write prose poetry, and the gentleness of Iowa:

‘Clockwork Dog’ is built on a disparity of terms – ‘friendly
friction’ / ‘retrieving discarded’ / etc. – how important is this
discord to your poetry (or this poem)?

In poetry, and contemporary poetry in particular, I think that the
pairing of disparate words and contrasting language is a common
strategy. The goal, I’m pretty sure is to be evocative, but often it
results in obfuscation. You could say the same about the very title
and subject of this poem. I understand that an initial reaction may
be something along the lines of, what the hell is a “clockwork dog”
anyway? Well, I don’t want my reader surrounded by a jangle of words,
so while the exact form of the dog is left to the reader, by the end
they have an idea of this dog’s motivations, and I think would agree
that he is a “good dog.” So rather than discord, in this and other
pieces I work to create chords from unlikely notes.http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif

There is also an aggressive use of range in this piece –
running the reader from a ‘tornado’ to a ‘merry-go-round’ – can you
talk to us about what you hope this scaled-variation will do to

Simply, the range makes the poem livelier and more engaging. The
reader has the opportunity to fit their own rotations and clocks
somewhere between bottle caps and planets, and make their own personal
connections to time with the Clockwork Dog as a guide. . .

For the full interview visit the Monkeybicycle blog

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Uterus Fiasco

I haven't uttered a more hilarious phrase (recently) than the title of this post.

The Huffington Post has the comprehensive story, but really it's fairly simple. Representative Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, used the word "uterus" on the House floor, and was then reprimanded for referencing body parts, and later another GOP spokesperson suggested that "uterus" is "inappropriate for children."

To me, deeming "uterus" an inappropriate word borders on misogyny. While that's a broad problem, I an think of one way for politicians to realize how ridiculous it is to get wrapped up around a word, and because it's clear the primarily-male House of Representative is more comfortable with their own reproductive organs, I call on the House to engage in a bipartisan competition of "the penis game" to demonstrate just has silly it is to get hung up on body parts.

. . . Also, I wonder if "uterus" is in the Word Mole word list.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Book Review #12

The Graveyard BookThe Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Though I loved many of the Newberry Medal winning books as I child, it's been years since I read a new one. If you're the same, let me whole-heartedly recommend The Graveyard Book as a re-entry point into the world of childrens' literature.

Simply, this is a beautiful little book. Gaiman takes the question, "what would it be like for a child to grow up in a cemetery?" and tells the story of a loving community, that despite it's obvious idiosyncrasies, feels surprisingly true, and nearly normal. The most compelling aspect of the book is the main character, Bod, short for "Nobody."

In books like Neverwhere, Stardust, and American Gods, Gaiman describes the growth of males from stunted adolescents to manhood. Unlike the males in those books, Bod's journey isn't strictly heroic, instead he grows through thought and exploration. He is a solemn, sympathetic, and inquisitive boy that I think many men could learn from.

My one quibble is with the adversary. The villainy was far more hollow and arbitrary than in other Gaiman works. In style and vague suspense they hark most to Croup and Vandemar from Neverwhere, but whereas C&Vs' relative lack of origins makes them even more chilling, with "the Jacks" I feel the opposite affect. Over the course of the book we learn that "the Jacks" are an ancient brotherhood of ne'er-do-wells, but the roots or purpose of their work is just a bit too ephemeral to me. "The Jacks" are tools, but to what end? Gaiman tells a hauntingly beautiful story about a boy growing up in a cemetery and for me that's enough. At times "the Jacks" were compelling (like when there were knives or history involved), but really they were too vague a menace to feel like a fully realized and necessary part of the book.

But leaving aside that aside, I wish there was more. I could have easily and happily spent another 100 pages watching Bod grow up, or finding out the truth (or more of the truth) about Silas. Gaiman has said that he hasn't rule out returning to this world, and I'd love to read a story about Bod's experience in the world beyond the graveyard.

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Why I Will Never Have Six-Pack Abs

... Parker's Maple Barn Fried Cinnamon French Toast, with butter and maple syrup.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Book Review # 11

The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #2)The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Never, even while I was waiting for the final books in Stephen King's Dark Tower series, have a I yearned more for the release of a book as much as this one. As time, and various release dates passed I grew nervous. What if The Wise Man's Fear was perfect before Rothfuss began to tinker? What if he added 100,000 unnecessary words?

I can happily report that was not the case. All the things I loved in the first book were continued and in some cases improved in the second book.

I have one, very small complaint, which is that I didn't find the writing/action in the first 200 pages nearly as compelling as the the latter half of the book, however I'd happily read another 200 of the same quality just to get to spend more time in the world Rothfuss has created.

I can only hope that the third and final book of the series comes out in less than three years, and that Rothfuss continues to write many more fine words.

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Monday, February 28, 2011

Hanky PANKy

Check out the review of PANK's latest issue at The Review Review. My poem, Stampede at the Premium Outlets, is featured as one of the "inviting titles" (and there are many others)in the Table of Contents.

More of my poems in (or is it "at"?) PANK Online.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Scrabble Dick-tionary

Fellatio is in the Scrabble Dictionary, but Cunnilingus is not.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Death of a Corpse

Exquisite Corpse, one of the first journals I ever submitted writing to, is dead. A friend had just given me one of Andrei Codrescu books and I was eager to see more things he was associated with (though I kept messing up his name, and still do). Plus, I had just completed a course on experimental poetry. When I searched for "exquisite corpse," it was the first site to come up. It was hip. Far hipper than me, and I instantly sent them something. I never received a response: I wasn't even put in the "body bag," a section of the journal for pieces that for whatever hazy reason did not make it into the main pages.

In 2008 the submission page was changed and this announcement added:

We will not accept submissions until May 2009. We have not lost our optimism! We just ran out of time! And we are drowning in text! From now on we'll only read checks!

I checked back in periodically, but it never changed. Now the submission page is the same, with the addition of "dead dead dead" scrawled across the whole page in digital blood.

To be fair, EQ died years ago, maybe as soon as they closed submissions in 2009. But I wonder why. Earlier today I was looking at Double Room, the journal of prose poetry and flash fiction. Like Exquisite Corpse I submitted to it a few years ago, and like Exquisite Corpse, this journal has been languishing since 2009.

It seems a real shame to me, especially for an e-journal, for whom the cost of printing and posting isn't an issue, that journals should go gently or totally silently into the digital night. Could Andrei Codrescu or Mark Tursi not have found some young and eager writer/editor to take over editorially responsibilities for their site if they no longer have the time/inclination/money?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Book Review #10

The Final Solution: A Story of Detection (P.S.)The Final Solution: A Story of Detection by Michael Chabon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is Chabon's first book after Kavalier and Clay (I'm not counting Summerland; I mean The Final Solution was his first book of merit). The Final Solution is a slight volume, but I don't think it's a slight work. In some respects it reads like an erudite young adult book. The language is mostly simple and direct. The conceit of the main character is amusing, and the boy and his parrot are provocative ciphers. The actual mystery isn't quite as interesting as I would have hoped, but the mystery really serves as a foil for the characters and their relationships. Ultimately, this book is plenty worth the 2 hours it will take you to read it.

View all my reviews

Monday, February 7, 2011

Self-Promotion #4 - The Seasons

I have a piece in the latest issue of Zine Scene's The Reprint.
This piece originally appeared in Subtropics and was my first publication in a print journal.

Stay tuned later this week as I unpack my 2011 AWP conference swag bags!

Swag[ger] Store Bag Boy

For many conference attendees, the bookfair is the most important part of each AWP conference. With well over 500 tables and writing organizations at the fair, presenters need to go the distance in order to attract interest, and having a friendly personality and great writing in your journal may not be enough.

In essence, the bookfair is trick-or-treating for writers. I almost wished I'd brought a pillowcase for all the pins, magnets, sample issues, candy, and other bits of swag I collected. This year's trends include the usual bookmarks and pens along with a strange uptick in fortune cookies. Feast your eyes on this photo of consolidated swag:

Later this week I'll fulling unpacking my swag in a followup to my swag posts from the 2009 AWP conference in Chicago.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Word Mole for Blackberry

Nearly two years ago I was addicted to the game Word Challenge on Facebook. However, eventually I had to stop. Word Challenge word list was disappointingly, and inconsistently prude and also had questionable "words" on their list. I became frustrated and stopped. I'm reaching a similar point now with Word Mole for my Blackberry.

It's the only game I have on my phone, and after a year of not bothering to even try it, over the last week I've been playing it as constantly as my phone will allow (it's a horrible drain on the phone's battery. Like Word Challenge, Word Mole has done a little censoring. For instance, you can't make the word "fuck." But then there are other words that are mysteriously not on the Word Mole list, like fanged, snivel, and puce. This is especially frustrating when you're just a few points away from making it to the next level, or seconds from the game being over, only to discover that a perfectly good word like prattled isn't accepted. It's almost enough to make me want to quit playing, however my curiosity has been piqued. While I still yearn for an amazing score, I'm far more interested in seeing which words somehow didn't make the cut.

The following is a list of words that Word Mole doesn't accept (and I'm sure I'll find many more).


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The League of Extraordinary Sneezers

The Highstakes World of Competitive Sneezing

The wikipedia entry for sneeze has this to say under epidemiology:

The speed of human sternal release has been the source of much speculation, with the most conservative estimates placing it around 150 kilometers/hour (42 meters/second) or roughly 95 mph (135 feet/second), and the highest estimates -such as the JFK Health World Museum in Barrington, Illinois- which propose a speed as fast as 85% of the speed of sound, corresponding to approximately 1045 kilometers per hour (290 meters/second) or roughly 650 mph (950 feet/second).

On a relative scale of sneezing I feel that mine have a surprising amount of force behind them. Plenty of people have small, mousy sneezes. The muscles of their face barely engage, it's more like a weak nasal hiccup. A strong sneeze can contract a surprising number of muscles: the face, neck, abdominal, lower-back, and even sphincter.

While over the last 24 hours I've transitioned to my usual winter sport (wheezy coughing), in the days preceding this one I feel I have taken my sneezing to glorious new heights. At last I feel I am a true athlete of the sneeze; a finely tuned sneezing machine. From the moment the tingling begins in my nasal cavity my muscles from the waist up go on high alert, ready. You have to be careful not tense your muscles or attempt to stifle the sneeze. This can lead to popping a blood vessel, involuntary urination, or it could even force air into the eustachian tube causing a rupture of the eardrum. You can also pull muscles that are unused to the fast-twitch fiber contraction. To prevent abdominal strains due to sneezing you may want to do planks or a few fast sets of situps every other day, along with several minutes of stretching, so your muscles will always have the strength and elasticity necessary to get the job done.

But, while I feel ready to join the high stakes world of competitive sneezing, there are still some barriers to forming this league. First we need to develop judging criteria. For instance, judges might give style points on a scale of 1-10 for the categories facial expression and audio. But those are both subjective measures, and I believe far more weight should be placed on objective sneeze accomplishments. In particular, the force or speed of the sneeze. However, first the league would need determine a measuring method. Here are a few I'm considering:

1) A speed gun, like those used by highway patrol or baseball scouts.
Pros: Intuitive design
Cons: The particulates that make up a sneeze may not be large enough to register.

2) High-speed camera images of sneeze particulate against a backdrop
Pros: Tried and True.
Cons: The website explaining this technique is a distressing red color.

3)Portable Doppler or Wind Meter
Pros: Fancy, high-tech sounding.
Cons: Does portable doppler even exist? Also, wind meters may not be able register the fastest sneeze, or the volume of the sneeze may be too low to measure.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011