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Thursday, January 29, 2004


Two sestinas. Suggestions? Preferences? I guess the second one has kind of a cheat in it, using "the" as an end-word, but it just came out so nicely. Here goes:

The Time-Traveler's Dilemma

We asked the English professor who
He would most like to dine with, and upon what,
If ever modern technology came to the point where
He could go back to the time when
Some favored author lived. And then, why
Austen and falafel? At that time, we eschewed the question of how,

But later asked the physics professor how
Probable it was that a time-traveler who,
Having invented time-travel, and having so traveled, could return, and why,
If it was as probable as he said, it had not been done yet, when
We had such fascinating technology already, what
With all the blinking lights and space-age clothes we wear.

We asked the theology professor where
The soul would end up if the body time-traveled, how
Should it maintain integrity, when
Its housing chassis should be dismantled, pulled out. Who
Would risk it? But is that the only objection--because of what
We can prove about the soul? Which is zip. If that's not it, why

Object? So we asked the business professor, why
Not capitalize now that we've come to the point where
Our fearsome captains of industry might learn what's what
With time-travel. With a little research, we'll have the know-how;
We can make it work. And shouldn't it be us who
Get in on the ground floor? And if not now, when?

We asked the geography professor when
The best time to travel to would be, for weather purposes. What
Time would be coziest for persons of our nature, who
Are accustomed to central heating and wicked AC. Where
Should we start from, so as not to end up inside a volcano, and how
Could we be sure? Are there maps of the past, or what?

Finally, we asked the professor of rhetoric what
We should put in the grant application for time-travel, and when
Is the due date to submit? What department is in charge, and how
Should we frame our request? We'll need a few billion, natch. Why
Stint ourselves? This is the future of progress we're talking about here! Where
Would the world be without visionaries and the men who

Are willing to fund them? I won't speculate. Who could deny the import of what
We're doing, fulfilling humanity's destiny of going where and when
It pleases? Nobody. Why should they bother? It's happening -- just a matter of how.



I stand on the platform at Chambers Street having
My daily fantasia of how I will save myself when
A raving maniac pushes me onto the track and the
Oncoming 3 train is rumbling toward me and I
Must avoid the third rail at all costs while using
Upper body strength granted by the fear of death

To hurl myself back onto the platform. Death
Is momentarily avoided by the train's having
Arrived in station. Entering the car and choosing
A seat keeps me in realtime a moment, but when
I'm seated, I have my daily fantasia wherein I
Fight vampires in a dark alley while wearing the

Type of leather coat they had in The Matrix, and the
Bitch-ass shoes I saw last week at Macy's. I am death
With wooden bullets as I dispatch legions of undead. I
Have a soundtrack. It is Basement Jaxx, having
The time of their lives spinning for my mighty self, when
The train comes to a halt, and I rise into a sky fusing

Daylight into darkness, the last rays of sun losing
Their battle with night. Now is the time when
I dream of being an innocent victim, the
Kind whose memoirs win Nobels, grind death
To a halt in some backwater nation. Having
Four blocks to go is just enough; I

Am writing my Nobel acceptance speech; I
Am thanking the Academy; I am musing
As to whether to wear western dress or, having
My choice, what oppressed culture's native costume--the
Woven poncho, the cotton sari--would honor the death
Of my countrymen as well as my beauty. When

I reach the stairs to my apartment, that's when
I switch gears, imagine a domestic life where I
Have no children yet and a husband whose tragic death
Loads me up with lucre and freedom. I'm cruising
In my yacht, in my Rolls. Materialism doesn't hurt me; I'm the
Type of person who isn't ruined by having

It all. Having all that cash, I give it away. And when
I turn the key and die, looking down from heaven, I
smile, perusing my epitaph: Maureen -- beloved in life; wept in death.

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You ever look in your notebooks and wonder "what was I thinking"? Seems to me I have a lot of stuff that makes no sense. That, of course, may be its beauty. Nonsense du jour includes:

"Tattoo me a unicorn."

"The moon's getting Botox to smooth its gouges."

And the following linguistic quickie:

Hagiography, say
Hat glossary, say
Kundahar, say
Come so far, say
Balanchine, say
Balance beam, say
Ideological perspectives on the work of the high Modernists fail before an eclectic, historical approach emphasizing common themes and assumptions, then
say no more.

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I just wrote a sestina about time-travel using the keywords "who, what, when, where, why, how." Ridiculous.

May post it later. Needs a little goofing with. As if that weren't obvious.

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This sign betokens a cafe in Minneapolis that you should not patronize. It also is just about how I feel today. For more about poet-friendly and -unfriendly cafes in and around the Twin Cities, look here.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2004


I need more Christopher Logue. Just finished All Day Permanent Red, which I loved. Of course, the bastard has set himself up for success in a way, retelling the Iliad. The subject matter is rock-solid. But he tells it like a movie. Visual, powerfully emotional, and still nuanced...it sweeps you in rises. It has a virtue a lot of contemporary poetry lacks: escapism. It pulls you out. Mimesis of thought process, childhood remembrances, meta commentary on the elements of language: none of this is on the table. We have instead: big fat sweeping epic involving Gods, monsters, and prophecy. With all its built-in, tricksy, cheap, real-as-the-day-is-long emotional heft. Now with anachronistic references!

I wonder could you do the same thing with the Book of Acts? I've always though Acts would make a great movie; Paul, stung by the freaking word of God as he trumps his jerkoff way to Damascus, ends up getting bitten by poisonous snakes, chased out of Turkey, yelling at the Areopagitica, and shipwrecked --twice. I imagine Paul as a youngish Harrison Ford.

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Oneword. They give you a word. You write about it for sixty seconds. They post it. Go! Via One Good Bumblebee.

National Book award nominees for poetry. Via Poetryhut.

Seth Schoen reveals himself as author of the DeCSS haiku, a 457 stanza work explaining how to decrypt CSS. Cyberpoetics, indeed. Via Me-Fi.


So it's gotten to that point where the next logical step in the old poetry rat race is for me to actually submit stuff for publication. Which is a gi-normous pain. It's like applying for a job through cold letters. You have to research journals -- what kind of stuff they take, what their requirements are, in order to ascertain your best chances. Moreover, you have to go over your work and figure out what pigeonholes it goes into--basically, a tedious process of "defining" yourself. Do I write New York School? New Formalism? Confessional Lyric? Post-avant pastiche? (Can I tell you how much I hate the "post-avant"; what the hell does it mean? Not what does Ron Silliman think it means, but what does it mean, where meaning is a socially agreed-upon value? Can I look it up in Websters? Is it like obscenity--you know it when you see it? For the un, or under-initiated, such terminology is obnoxiously subjective.)

Anyway, I actually made a freaking Venn diagram of my poetry last night, in order to help me visualize the type of stuff I've been writing. Given, however, that many of the labels on my diagrams reflect such "poetry groups" as "fish," "sounded good in my head," "started out forty lines, ended up three," "robots," and "written on a moving bus," I'm not sure that the exercise has helped me to figure out where to submit.

On a happier note, I wrote two new Calamities last night, at least one of which is pretty darn good to start with. The other is sort of on the line between "good enough to revise," and "start over," but at least I have something down. My plan to have enough of these things to fill a chapbook is looking more and more realizable.

And now it's interactive time! If you were a poem about a mythic character named Calamity, what would you be called? Anything goes!

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Sunday, January 25, 2004


Snarky Norwegian bureaucrats reject tax-cut in verse.

Perhaps that would work with our President.

"Cut taxes and citizens will thank
me all the way down to the bank!"
But though it may win elections
There's the looming suggestion
That it will make our economy tank.

Link via Poetry Hut. Stupid limerick: all mine.

posted by Reen |link| ...talkety...0 comments

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These last three weeks have been insanely productive, so I'm thinking about funnelling this energy away from random poems, and into finishing the Calamity series. I've got eight finished Calamity poems, four in more or less set form but which still need a little revision, and three that I've got ideas for or have at least a few lines jotted down to guide me. I've envisioned twenty total, probably to form a chapbook. I'm thinking I'd like to get up to twenty-five now, though, and I could whittle down if I wanted then.

The idea for Calamity came from Gu Cheng's "The Bulin File," which is about a sort of larger-than-life trickster character...a few of the poems are available in Jerome Rothenberg's "Poems for the Millenium" Anthology, but I've had a hard time finding any others in English...it's just come to my attention, though, that there's now a volume of Cheng's selected poems available from Renditions, a press in Hong Kong. Huzzah!

God, I would love to read "Bulin's Composition for the Professional Lullaby Composers' Entrance Exam." With a name like Smuckers, it has to be good.

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Went to another reading today. It's a readariffic weekend! Whoo.

Anyway, this was the first Frequency Series reading for the spring. Met some people, including Shafer Hall and Dan Nester. I talked poor Shafer's ear off. He was victim of his own friendliness and the fact that he looks exactly like my former boss, whose ear I also used to talk off. And the cycle continues.

Reading today were Ellen Hagan, Deborah Ager, and Sanjana Nair. Ellen read a series of dramatic monologues; I gather that some of them were written in conjunction with her students. They were all about becoming or being a woman, some of them in a very funny "I am a nerd getting her first kiss" kind of way, and some in a much darker vein. She bookended her reading with the funny ones, lest we all go kill ourselves over violence against women, or seeing as how the reading took place in a bar, drink ourselves into a depressive stupor. Had to love the last one about a seventh-grade or so girl whose crush on a guy named Chad had led her to name their three future children as follows: Chad, Jr., Chadwick, and Chadwell.

Deborah Ager is pictured here, eyeing the camera as though she were pretty sure it was feeding her a line of bullshit. She is founder of 32 Poems Magazine, and opened her reading with a couple of poems by other poets that were featured in the magazine. She then went on to read a few of her own, which dealt heavily with landscape. Seeing as how I've spent the last few weeks bathing myself in language poetry, I was nearly floored by the sudden reminder that one can use "I" in a poem, and, you know, write in a confessional mode. If she'd had the gumption to rhyme, I would have fallen over stiff as a board and would have to be unfrozen with hairdryers, like a car lock in Minnesota. She did not rhyme, however, and read about the coast of Florida, San Francisco, Iowa, and to end up on a happy note, about a turtle.

Finally, Sanjana Nair read, beginning with an ancient Indian poem by a woman called Vivia. Sanjana read with a deep, even, modulated voice, poems about writing and longing...I took one line down, which I hope I got right:

the dialogue of dancing has become a foreign nation.

Basically, througout the whole reading, I was stunned by context. Cause and effect were in their appointed places. Things happened because of other things that made logical sense. Not so much supping the word broth from the random ladle that I've experienced at Segue.

Afterwards, people chatted and hung around the bar --The Four Faced Liar in the West Village, which was really cozy. Chatted a bit myself and then went on my merry way. Looking forward to the next reading, in two weeks, which will feature Erica Kaufman and Catherine Daly.

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