Friday, June 26, 2009

Not Ball Sack

It is no small coincidence that I recently finished the first book of Honore De Balzac's History of the Thirteen and also happened to cook pizza for thirteen people the other night. A premice that sort of runs throughout the three-in-one book centers on a secret society of thirteen men in Paris. (Here is where I admit my fascination with secret societies because my grandaddy was a Mason and is interred in the Mason section of a cemetery in Tennessee. When my sister and I spent time in Mississippi during our summers, my grandaddy used to take us to his Mason meetings when we were little. The most I could understand is that they were fundraising to build a charity hospital.)

History of Thirteen, cleverly enough, refuses to focus on the secret society, but each one of the thirteen appear from time to time and I have immensely enjoyed counting them. It's like finding the poem among the novel, which centers largely on the double standards that women face with love: men are stallions and women are sluts. Unfortunately in 19th Century Paris, the women usually die because of their passions. Even through the somewhat shoddy translation, the sarcasm is easy to gather. I wonder if Balzac knew Dickens. One of my favorite directors, Jacques Rivette, made a film of The Duchess de Langeais. If you're as crazy about Rivette as I am, you should read Balzac too.

Jonathan Lethem said he planned to read Balzac this summer in Brooklyn. (If you need a good fiction recommendation, just read whatever Lethem says. It's usually always good.) Alas, I have taken my Balzac with me to Mexico and will leave you with two small quotations from The Duchess de Langeais. By the way, The Thirteen seem to be a pretty good bunch. They show up, thirteen carriages, to funerals and they also help one break out a former girlfriend-turned-nun.

"From the day when it was made clear to the most intelligent nation in the world that the restored nobility was organizing power and finance for its own profit, that day it fell mortally ill. It wanted to be an aristocracy when it could be no more than an oligarchy..."

"Who has not, at least once in a lifetime, turned his house and home and papers upside down and impatiently ransacked his memory to think where he has left a precious article, before experiencing the ineffable pleasure of finding it again after wasting several days in vain searches; after suffering the alternations of hope and despair; after fuming over this tremendous triffle to the point of impassioned exasperation? Well now, extend this rabid quest over a period of five years; for the trifle in question subsitute a woman, a woman's heart, a woman's love."

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Ronald Johnson Brunch

Yesterday the old man made an amazing souffle from Ronald Johnson's cookbook, Simple Fare: Rediscovering the Pleasures of Humble Food. Guy Davenport, as you may well know, described Ronald Johnson as "America's greatest living poet," for Johnson was alive at the time this particular cookbook was published and running a restaurant in San Francisco. Johnson wrote many cookbooks that are extremely helpful and creative. He describes the souffle by its dictionary definition, "a breath of wind." He says, "...any souffle should be a wonder created for the moment--not sneezed or cajoled, but snatched from the air for silent eating." I love the silent part. I forgot to take a photo of the old man's souffle and was going to leave you with a photo I took of Ronald Johnson's former house in Kansas, but I'm transitioning to a new computer and haven't imported all my photos yet. So please believe me when I say that very late at night, after the old man's poetry reading at the University of Topeka, I took a photograph of Ronald Johnson's house. You're going to cook a souffle soon, right? Ronald Johnson says, "It only sounds like a lot of trouble to those who have never made a souffle. Learn the knack and trust the souffle to behave."

Saturday, June 20, 2009

More Time for Miniatures Later

There were two events I had to go to in Queens, New York today and I didn't make it to the first. It's a shame because I wanted to revisit the Queens Museum of Art, which houses a miniature panorama of the five boroughs of New York City. The museum usually posts a curator who knows everything you ever wanted to know about the fascinating buildings in New York. The miniature buildings in the panorama are not glued down, but placed into position temporarily, to save the museum staff a bit of effort throughout all the City's changes. In order to change or add anything, they fly over the panorama and replace the little buildings at night. You believed that, right? The last time I was there, the little plane that lands at JFK wasn't working, so I was hoping to see that today.

Of miniatures, Gaston Bachelard says:
Miniature is one of the refuges of greatness.
I feel more at home in miniature worlds...
...tininess is the habit of greatness.

Hmm. I always wanted to be great, but now I want to be tiny. Do you believe in secret societies? Do you believe in secret miniature societies?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Back from the South with Stories and a Mosquito Bite on my Butt

While sitting around a hotel lobby with my extended family, one of my aunts related what happened to my great-great grandfather. He lost a leg while fighting in the Civil War. My aunt said that the leg was removed with a guillotine-like contraption. My great-great grandfather was very concerned about being buried a "whole man." So after the War, he had his leg smoked and cured so that he could be buried with it. And he was.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Brought to You By The Letter M

When you scroll through your music, do you ever worry that you favor one letter over another--as far as bands and singers are concerned?

These are all my M bands obtained within the last year:
M. Ward (Playing Summer Stage in Central Park on August 1st!)
Mark Knopfler & Emmylou Harris (Do you consider this an M? I think it's cheating, so I offer Laura Marling in their stead. When is she going to play New York City?)
Marla Hansen (She moved to Berlin?)
Meg Baird
melpo mene (Two points?)
Midlake (Now MIDLAKE on Facebook.)
Mumford & Sons (I'm betting Marcus Mumford has the kind of English accent that makes him say pizzar. Did you know there were conferences in both England and the U.S. that determined the correct pronunciation/spelling of aluminum/aluminium? Aluminium was favored by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemists for being closer to the pronunciation of the other elements, such as beryllium. I read about this in John Emsley's Nature's Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements. Language councils must be so fun.)

P.S. This afternoon I walked very traveled-tiredly through the MOMA, in none other than an exhibition on music created by former artists such as Patti Smith and the like.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Next Time I See You, You'll Be Postered to the Door

Before leaving on my recent travels, I was hanging out with some friends who are sadly moving from New York City. I am right now watching lightning bugs in Arkansas (and forcibly baseball) with some friends who also moved from New York City. During my recent visit to the California desert, I ran into a door at a bar and a poster on the door featured a friend of mine from eighth grade, when I lived in Louisiana. (She's a singer and is going to be performing next weekend.) After reading from my book in Pasadena, I caught up with my sandbox buddy from when my family lived in Sicily; I hadn't seen him in twenty years.

My family moved pretty much every two years while I was growing up. Right before a big move, from Nebraska to Belgium, a teacher once told me that I shouldn't be bothered by having to move because it would mean that I would have more friends, not less. I know it's schmaltzy, but I guess it was something that I always thought about every time my family had to move, that there would be more of something. 

New York City has been my home for the past ten years and now it's my turn to watch people come and go. I can't tell you what a weird feeling it is for me to be the one who stays behind; I was the one who was always leaving. My Arkansas friends make books and tonight the old man and I were telling them how we like to help. The old man is good at poking holes and I like collating myself, so it turns out that we're a regular help factory. I caught myself feeling as though these people had never left, that hardly any time had passed at all, that we could have easily been hanging out in one of our living rooms anywhere. Yet they have a baby on the way and so much future to think about. When I return to New York, I'll have to work on saying good-bye to the other ones who are leaving. It's so hard to know what to say. The city will feel so empty.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Syllabus: Poets' Jobs

Poets & Texts:
Wallace Stevens, Vice President of Hartford Accident & Indemnity Company, from The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens
Julia Cohen, Education Editor--Palgrave MacMillan, Who Could Forget the First Sensational Evening of the Night
Frank O'Hara, MOMA curator, from The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara
Ron Silliman, market analyst--computer industry, Alphabets
Sommer Browning, librarian & comic book maker & Flying Guillotine Press, The House in Narwhal
Frank Stanford, land surveyor, You
Keith Newton, Harp & Altar & Copy Editor--Wine Spectator, Sent Forth to Die in a Happy City
Elisa Gabbert, copywriter for WordStream, Thanks for Sending the Engine
Edward Thomas, journalist and soldier, from The Poems of Edward Thomas
William Carlos Williams, pediatrician, packet
Monica Youn, entertainment lawyer, Ignatz
Sampson Starkweather, science textbook editor, City of Moths
Justin Marks, copywriter--Weight Watchers & Kitchen Press editor, A Million in Prizes
Andrea Baker, antique dealer, like wind loves a window
Shafer Hall, bar keep, Never Cry Woof
Mathias Svalina, former baker & low voltage electrician, Play
Steve Scafidi, cabinet maker, Sparks from a Nine-Pound Hammer

Field Trips:

Wallace Stevens' house in Hartford, CT
tour of a bakery

Course Objectives:

How do poets earn a living. Since there are more poets than there are teaching jobs, what do we do. The relationship of academia and poetry, poets: discuss. Does a job influence a poet's work. Does it matter. Does it make the poet a more interesting literary figure. Jay Hopler's (I think) analyzation of Wallace Stevens' reports. There are poets among us. What do these careers say about what poets value. What is value. Describe the financing of poetry. Name the poet who used to be a nun. 

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Knitting Needles Can Make You Bleed

The only time I ever cursed at an airport security person was when she opened by bag for inspection and jacked my very expensive silk & mohair blend yarn into the zipper of my bag. She most likely ignored my foul mouth because she opened my bag without my knowledge, while I was walking through the metal detectors. 

I absolutely refuse to think in the new way, that my knitting needles or anything else I may have, lip balm for instance, are weapons. Every time I fly, someone makes a comment about how surprising it is that I can get on a plane with knitting needles in my handbag. Take into account this craft blogger, who discusses how she could potentially strangle someone with her knitting needles. The comments, oy, are even worse suggestions about wearing slip-on shoes and the like. I'm supposed to make it easier for others to treat me like a potential killer? Am I the only one who hates it that people think this way? Like I'm not supposed to pack socks because I could potentially shove my sock balls up someone's asshole? This is how our decline starts, first one thing then the other, then we censor ourselves, then we have almost no rights at all.  

When I taught high school, my students became infuriated if they remotely thought I punished the entire class instead of the few people who deserved it. They're so right. Why should travelers be punished for what American foreign policy and intelligence agencies should be preventing? Keep in mind tourism is all most of our local economies have going since most of American industry is overseas.

While I slept last night, President Obama delivered a very moving speech about peace in the Middle East. I'm not sure how Obama plans to get extremists to agree with him, but couldn't we tackle some of our own extremism, hmm? So how about it, may I bring water with me on airplanes? I like peace too.   

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Who Knew About That Ding

They say cops are stopping bikers and ticketing those of us who do not have a rear reflector and a bell. Did you know that if you ride a bike in a major metropolitan area, you have to have a bell? Do you think there's a difference between a police officer and a cop? I agree and dutifully equipped my bike with a new bell. 

It's no joke that I really like to ring it, particularly on the Brooklyn Bridge. There's no more passing on your left for me. There's no more sorry, biker coming through. The bell is all that one needs dinging in order to make someone simulate a heart attack and move out of the way. Bell sadism: when you remind people they need to be somewhere else; see whip; see fascism meets eroticism on a bike seat. Who needs to feel heavy and breathy while going up bridges and hills? I know the bell makes people feel twenty years younger because they will worry that they're late to class or it's time to take out the pie or put the panties on. Just two dings, like two squirts of whipped cream, two squirts of anything really, and some woman will grab the handle of her handbag and briskly walk to safety. Ding ding and they are gone in two shakes of a lamb's tail. I like lambs. Don't worry, I'm not limited to people. I ding at cars too, especially the parked kind in which someone is about to exit and thwack me with the door. Too bad it's thundering and lightning outside right now

Monday, June 1, 2009

Dumplings and Trumpets: Dan Magers

Last night I dreamt about a poem called "Indie Message Board" by Dan Magers. Dan Magers isn't like any poet you know. His aesthetic is young--in the sense that he knows more about the real world than the real world--and simultaneously aged--everything one needs to know about changes so awfully fast. His range of existential hopelessness and sexual promiscuousness/artful deviance conjoins pop culture and hipsterdom in a space of poetry that reassures you that you no longer have to feel guilty about all those weird Youtube videos you watched, that guy's dick you saw hanging out of his dress, or when you touched that sleeping girl's arm in the New Museum. Poetry as Antonioni (the old man said that). Poetry Foucault. Poetry as a long party. Poetry as Ecstasy, post-Ecstasy, with a hint of Denis Johnson.

"Indie Message Board" begins with a post by Pwn_X. Pwnage is a gamer sort of term indicating ownership. (I'm not sure if I pronounced it correctly). (Also, I accidentally said "Message Boards" instead of "Board"). Listen to the poem here:

There's a thread in this poem about being witty, being fast. Who can imitate the hero while "syphildick" is still funny, before it's tragic. Who can turn the next phrase. Then we all have to face our fear. What if all of this is empty: "women were handing him things," the posters ready to be taken down and claimed, and summoning energy. Yet emptiness doesn't grow to The Nothing size: "it should be fine," "the eager month," and "barrenness that announces itself, but isn't there." It's too plentiful to be barren. Dan Magers is reading this Sat., June 6th, right here in Brooklyn and I'm really sad that I can't go.   

Possible Concept Outfits Include But Are Not Limited To:
  • unicorn t-shirt is all that matters
  • hipster librarian
  • tuxedo
  • hipster mom with apron
  • craft junkie with stamped, embroidered shoes
  • floating ankle skater shorts
  • exposed lace somewhere
  • hammer pants
  • perfectly ripped near all pockets and just above the knee
  • dead swan dress
  • something zebra striped
  • two french braids and a red dress
  • cowboy boots plus anything, nothing