Friday Random Ten

I have no idea how many songs I lost in the changeover--I have at least 2 gigs fewer on this one than on the last one, but I also deliberately cut down some of the stuff I had last time--a bit less Clapton on this computer, for instance.

So here we go--iTunes on par-tay shuffle (that's the new upgrade), first ten songs to pop up.

1. Acknowledgement-John Coltrane
2. On Love, In Sadness--Jason Mraz
3. Voyager--Daft Punk
4. I'm Expanding My Mind--Superdrag
5. Fables of Faubus--Charles Mingus
6. I Believe In Miracles--The Ramones
7. Fortunate Son--Creedence Clearwater Revival
8. Paperback Writer--The Beatles
9. I Looked All Over Town--Magnetic Fields
10. La Paloma Azul--Dave Brubeck

Bonus Track: Wiggle Stick--Reverend Horton Heat

Whatcha listening to?

A return for Thursday Night Poetry

No promises on how long I'll keep this up, but it's been so hectic the last couple of weeks that neither of us have had the chance to post very much, and I want to get something out there. So tonight it's one of mine.

I've been teaching forms in my Interpretation of Poetry classes the last few weeks, and today we did sestinas, so I'm posting my latest one (as though I write them all the time or something--I think I've written a half-dozen in the whole time I've known of their existence). This is part of the Witness series, part of manuscript currently known as Knock Knock.

An Experience of Blood

And so, a wondrous, witless witness
sent abroad in missionary position
(try saying that without a grin
when you’re a twenty-year-old virgin
afraid to get laid lest Jesus’ blood
be spilled in vain) to spread The Truth!

(in caps we say it, honest) Truth!
yes, with exclamation, witnessed
by men of faith who saw the blood
(notice only men in that position)
spill out, so pure, so virginal
the Son of God, His death grin

macabre joy, a rigor-mortised grind
of teeth exclaiming that truth
could triumph even on the verge
of temptation. I was the witness,
okay, a witness to exposition
from those who had heard of blood

spilt from Jesus. We think. Blood
not seen by any who wrote the grim
story, only heard from those in position
to know, trustworthy and true
to faith. They must have borne witness,
have known His mother the Virgin,

(not known, mind you—-she was virgin
only for God) her hymen’s blood
spilled out at His birth, witnessed
by angels in midheaven, grinning
and singing and rejoicing that truth
had come to earth to take possession,

retake, really, man’s position
as God’s favored. Or some version.
Pilate asked “What is truth?”
and then washed his hands of blood,
he thought—-Truth was grinning
in his face, was bearing witness.

Or so I thought, I, a virgin, witless,
unblooded, a fool’s grin slapped on.
In truth, an impossible position.

And since I have a computer again, I'll have a Friday Random Ten in the morning! Hooraw!

I've never met a poet who liked the submission part of the gig. It's a pain, deciding which poems to pair and where to send them, not to mention the eternal question of whether to send to places where you think you have a better shot at making the cut versus sending to the "name" journals. And there's the very few journals that pay money.

I dropped three in the mail today, and I plan to do some more before Friday, even though this week is packed, what with Sven Birkerts' reading tomorrow after a full day of teaching.

I went with an old friend as an editor for the first submission, a name that pays a little for the second (and I met the editor briefly at AWP), and one that pays a lot comparatively speaking for poetry. And now the waiting begins.

Speaking of waiting, over a year after I got a note from Hayden's Ferry Review saying one of my poems had made the final cut, I finally got a rejection. I'd written them off months ago. It was nice to hear, but I don't imagine I'll be sending them anything again, at least not soon. I like the journal, but holding on to them for 15 months is crazy, even if they do encourage simultaneous submissions.

Class Issues in Graduate Education

Wouldn't that be a nice, dry title for a nice, dry essay about po' folk incursions into the foothills of the intelligentsia? I've occasionally dreamed of writing such an essay, but I never will: the pitfalls outnumber the benefits, and what COULD it be but a description of the strange alienation Brian and I have felt in the company of our fellows during our post-baccalaureate pursuits?

Better to save such personal memories for fiction, drama, poetry, anything but an essay, in which the attempt to make wisdom out of experience is too naked to be true.

So let this blog entry suffice for any essay I might have written or did write in alternate universe -- to put it bluntly: most of the peeps in grad school are decended from the relatively well-off, and the average upper-middle-class grad-school enrollee gets mighty uncomfortable when he discovers one of his classmates grew up in a trailer, or didn't graduate high school, or was divorced young, or went to community college, or worked two jobs to pay for tuition and child-support in addition to rent and ramen.

Note I said "most" -- not "all."

But it really is most.

There is this "oh, us" comraderie, in which people (in any walk of life) stand around comparing their experiences, delighting in the things that are the same. Most don't consider it the end of the world, though, if someone in the conversation -- gasp! -- has a different experience of things. I don't think it's too hard to accept if someone says, oh no, I couldn't have asked my parents for rent money: they wouldn't have had it! But upon saying such a thing, all that gleeful laughter about milking mom-n-dad fades to uncomfortable gazes askance. Should I have lied? Should I have pretended my life has been like whatever you say? If you want to hear my contribution to the bull session, can you at least hear it without acting like I've just farted or belched the alphabet in front of your sheltered maiden aunt?

In their defenses, though, they never asked to hear it more than once. :-)

Coming from where I come from (a transient, international tourist-destination where people get drunk and do things they wouldn't ordinarily do -- and meet people they might not otherwise meet), I've always been pretty comfortable around people of all walks of life: I've had friends who were millionaires and petty lords -- I've known people who lived in European castles. I've also had friends who were homeless, whose lives were filled with bouts of rape and disease. And I've known lots of people in-between. But the only ones I've found who treat me like a weirdo for not being just like them have been the artistes I've met in various post-grad endevours.

Any guess I would make as to why that is would be pure bullshit.

But it's true.

Again, I said "most" -- not "all." Honestly, if you're bothering to read this blog, I'm probably not talking about you.

Can we get this guy to be Florida's Secretary of State?

I've heard about Ion Sancho ever since the 2000 election debacle, and he seems like the kind of guy I'd want running an election, no matter what party he belonged to, because it sounds like he's more concerned in the process than in the outcome. And hell, if Diebold, ES&S, and Sequoia all hate you, you must be doing something right.

With the memory of a botched 2000 presidential election still etched in the minds of most elections supervisors in the state, Leon County's Ion Sancho is now finding he can't get the equipment he says he needs to guarantee an honest election.

Vendors of the ATM-like electronic voting machines, tired of Sancho's criticisms over the level of security in their software, no longer want to do business with him or the county. All three companies certified to do business in Florida -- Diebold Inc., Election Systems & Software Inc. and Sequoia Voting Systems Inc. -- have said "no."

Sancho's insistence on quality also has angered several Florida officials, including Gov. Jeb Bush, and has already cost his county more than a half million dollars.

Nonetheless, the feisty 55-year-old has his share of supporters, with the Tallahassee Democrat dubbing him "a zealous solider in election reform battles."

"Ion is one of the few to ask the questions," said Herbert Thompson, chief security strategist for Boston-based firm Security Innovation. "Like, what is this thing actually doing to my vote? How is it processing my vote?"

That's the kind of questions any person interested in the ideal of democracy ought to be acking, and yes, it may be asking a lot that the people in charge of elections actually care more about process than outcome, but shouldn't we be asking a lot of ourselves? Yeah, it's idealistic, but hell, Bush talks a mean idealistic streak about democracy (not that he means it, or even understands a damn word of it, but he talks it)--might we at least try for an ideal in what is supposed to constitute the very basis of our form of government, the free and open election?

Keep asking those questions, Ion, and if you ever decide to go after bigger game, I'll knock doors for you.

I try to not be (explicitly) political, but has anyone noticed that the time has come? The time to tell your idiot bu$hloving relatives, "bet you feel like a bonehead, now"...? Has anyone noticed?

The weekend starts now!

Just finished my last class of the day, and I finally finished up the grading I had to do over spring break (and successfully stretched out until this morning). My Monday classes are doing peer review and I have some minor grading to get done before Tuesday morning, but that's it. Time to re-lax for a couple of days.

And no Michael, I'm not gloating. Good luck on your comps--you're going to walk them, I know it.

If my daughter
is ever with the kind of guy who would wear this shirt, I would be more than disappointed.

I saw this guy on campus today, and a female was with him--they were eating lunch together, and she didn't seem to be bothered in the least. Go figure.

Edit: I checked with Monkey, and she confirmed that she would knee in the balls any male who attempted to attempted to hook up with her while wearing such a shirt.

Things that make you go hmmmmm...

Via Atrios, here's an article from the Toronto Star about a funny little personality research study.

Remember the whiny, insecure kid in nursery school, the one who always thought everyone was out to get him, and was always running to the teacher with complaints? Chances are he grew up to be a conservative.

At least, he did if he was one of 95 kids from the Berkeley area that social scientists have been tracking for the last 20 years. The confident, resilient, self-reliant kids mostly grew up to be liberals.

The study from the Journal of Research Into Personality isn't going to make the UC Berkeley professor who published it any friends on the right. Similar conclusions a few years ago from another academic saw him excoriated on right-wing blogs, and even led to a Congressional investigation into his research funding.

But the new results are worth a look. In the 1960s Jack Block and his wife and fellow professor Jeanne Block (now deceased) began tracking more than 100 nursery school kids as part of a general study of personality. The kids' personalities were rated at the time by teachers and assistants who had known them for months. There's no reason to think political bias skewed the ratings — the investigators were not looking at political orientation back then. Even if they had been, it's unlikely that 3- and 4-year-olds would have had much idea about their political leanings.

A few decades later, Block followed up with more surveys, looking again at personality, and this time at politics, too. The whiny kids tended to grow up conservative, and turned into rigid young adults who hewed closely to traditional gender roles and were uncomfortable with ambiguity.

The confident kids turned out liberal and were still hanging loose, turning into bright, non-conforming adults with wide interests. The girls were still outgoing, but the young men tended to turn a little introspective.

I enjoyed the expected inner giggle I got from reading the article, but I have to say that the really fascinating thing about this story is the study itself--that it was started up 20 years ago. In a world that expects immediate results, the idea that you would study a group for decades with no real expectations of what you'll discover in the end is extraordinary to me.

It would have been nice if these people had figured it out in October 2004

but I'll take what I can get.

President Bush's declining image also is reflected in the single-word descriptions people use to describe their impression of the president. Three years ago, positive one-word descriptions of Bush far outnumbered negative ones. Over the past two years, the positive-negative balance has been roughly equal. But the one-word characterizations have turned decidedly negative since last July.

Currently, 48% use a negative word to describe Bush compared with just 28% who use a positive term, and 10% who use neutral language.

The changing impressions of the president can best be viewed by tracking over time how often words come up in these top-of-the-mind associations. Until now, the most frequently offered word to describe the president was "honest," but this comes up far less often today than in the past. Other positive traits such as "integrity" are also cited less, and virtually no respondent used superlatives such as "excellent" or "great" ­ terms that came up fairly often in previous surveys.

The single word most frequently associated with George W. Bush today is "incompetent,"and close behind are two other increasingly mentioned descriptors: "idiot" and "liar." All three are mentioned far more often today than a year ago.

Incompetent, idiot and liar. Sounds like the trifecta to me.

My Fifteen Seconds of Blog-Fame

Because in the world of the intarweb, that's all you get.

I've been a regular at Daily Kos for quite a while now--let's put it this way, my user id is 842, and there are more than 80,000 people who have or who have had user ids there--but not until today was a diary of mine ever linked to from the front page.

Peer closely at the story, way down at the bottom.

(diary on the news by incertus)

Oh yeah, baby. Front page.

I am such a dork.

Back from Austin

Austin is what Texas would be like if radical Christians didn't suck--in short, it's what Texas should be like all the time.

Here's a little fact I don't cop to very often--I'm a native Texan. I was born in Houston and lived in the netherworld between Houston and San Antonio until I was about 7. We moved around a lot--by the time I started second grade in Louisiana, I was in my 4th school, and before I started school, I'd lived in at least a half dozen small towns (including Shiner, TX, home of Shiner Bock beer). I don't remember most of them, which is why I tend to think of Louisiana as home--I lived there until I was 30, when I left for grad school.

Texas gets a lot of shit from liberals--and with good reason, most of the time--but Austin is a haven of the best of liberalism. Creativity, acceptance, a love of art, music, and good food, friendly people, and an unwillingness to bow to the corporate sameness that infects so much of our present culture. No Disneyfication going on there.

As for my panel, it went over well. I'll be posting my presentation on the home page as soon as I get my own computer back--no Dreamweaver on Monkey's. I think I was the most practiced speaker of everyone in my group, except perhaps for Xochi, and part of that, no doubt, comes from extensive time in front of a classroom. The only joke that bombed was my Republican one, and I think that's because the audience didn't realize that Austin is not Sugarland or Dallas or Midland.

The leader of our panel, Emily Rosko, also did a reading with other people involved with the University of Iowa Press. Her book, Raw Goods Inventory, is now available, and I highly recommend it. I'll be using selections from it in my Interpretations of Poetry class in the coming weeks.

I had mixed feelings about this trip the closer it got. I don't generally get along with other writers--too many large and fragile egos to deal with--but I think I did this one right way. In and out quickly, like a duck mating. I got to see a number of people I hadn't seen in a while, mostly positive, and was reminded just how many poets are writing right now, and how wide the competition is. I'll be sending out a ton of submissions in the next couple of weeks.

A brilliant, learned man I know recently railed and ranted to me and some others about how liberals are to blame for the current conservative abuses of reality: decades of academics convinced that "truth" does not exist essentially opened the barn door for the bold dishonesty of thought, speech, and act that rules American public life today.

Months have passed since that night, and I have only become increasingly convinced that he is right. I would further put some blame on writers, because I am a writer, and that is what we do.

Turn-of-our-century fiction will in the future be known for its formulaic approach (which we, being stuck in the midst of it, barely perceive, but which is responsible, in my opinion, for alienating readers in droves), its knee-jerk pessimism (writing anything showing a glimmer of positive life will get one quickly dismissed), and its absolute embrace of its own ignorance. Goshie, we LOVE our limited points-of-view... what better way to be lazy than to insist that if the character’s limited, so should the author be... and anyway, the readers are too. So let's do it convincingly: arrogantly.

Freshmen students in literature classes scan misanthropic reading lists and complain, "why is everything we're reading so depressing?" Teachers respond to this as though the students were fools: "that's literature! You want uplifting, go read a greeting card!"

And so every year thousands of would-be readers are deftly convinced that "literature" is depressing and that they are clearly too stupid to see why that's brilliant and important.

Yet we now live in a world where behaving like a sociopathic egomaniacal lower demon to the god of conspicuous consumption is beyond "accepible" -- it's preferred! People who are "nice" are boring, after all; my cousin who is attracted to horrible, selfish, abusive women claims that they're the only ones who are interesting. Fiction decided the same thing long ago: likeable characters obviously can't keep our attention; we need sons-of-bitches whose evil exploits will keep us spell-bound.

But I for one am bored with all these rotten eggs. They are very predictable, after all, and while watching a train-wreck unfold does have its unhealthy pleasures, why can't we watch an at least slightly admirable person struggle hopefully towards a positive goal?

A fiction anthology that I'm using for my Interpretation of Fiction course has an introduction by RS Gwynn, in which Gwynn writes, "Indeed, modern writers have often been so reluctant to seem didactic in presenting characters who are 'moral beacons' that they go to the opposite extreme in presenting protagonists whom we regard with pity or even disgust instead of with admiration."

"Moral beacon"? I'd settle for someone who didn't turn my stomach, someone with whom I could identify without feeling like I have to repent afterwards. Yes, human beings are complex and have both hopeful and hurtful sides; BOTH. I'm tired of stories where the only "hope" the character has involves a petty revenge, a self-destructive tail-spin, or some porno-fantasy performance art. I'm tired of stories in which the only hopes ARE hurtful.

Perhaps the authors are so disconnected from the struggle of daily life that they need to write about bored sickos in order to conjure up a conflict, but for the rest of the world, for whom struggle and circumstance are daily complications, and for whom a fulfilling life is a real, meaningful, but possibly unattainable goal, these stories are like boils and rashes: evidence of sickness, and something to be avoided.

All writers have some opinion somewhere in their souls about why fiction is a shriveling art form. They blame TV or movies, usually, but TV and movies are less popular these days, too. And the people who do embrace these entertainments still are the ones most likely to embrace the amoral consumer culture that these misanthropic fictions represent.

We've discarded truth. We've nipped and tucked beauty. And we've proven that only assholes are worth anyone's time. Let us repent, sinners! It's all our fault.

Life Without Brian, However Brief...

Brian and I have been together for 5+ years, now, and you'd think by now we could handle some time apart. But no. Any time we have to spend so much as a night away from each other, we turn into a couple of clingy, pathetic lust-junkies, desperate for one more smooch or even sniff of luff-luff's skin.

He's been gone a few hours, and will be back within 48, and yet I find myself half-obsessed, wondering what he's doing and thinking and wearing, what he smells like, whether he's laughing at a joke or considering an idea or zoning out and checking sports scores on his cell phone.

So I've gone and arranged a dinner-party to occupy my mind. I've bought food and such and tomorrow I must clean the house -- and the grill -- to prepare for company. Not to mention my dentist appointment mid-day. Oh distractions, distract me, and soon my love will be home!


I head to the airport in about an hour, to spend parts of the next three days in Austin at the AWP Conference. When I get back, I'll post the paper I presented on my website, and I'll link it from here. I know you all will be positively palpitating at the prospect of reading my musings on the use of personae in contemporary poetry, but you'll have to be patient.

I wish I could blog the trip--not the conference itself, mind you, just the trip--but I still haven't heard back from Apple yet. I don't expect to hear back before Friday at the earliest, mind you, but I still really wish I had it with me for the trip. I guess I'll have to make do with regular books and those pesky Poetry midterms I need to grade. If I get access, I'll check in from Austin.

Some pictures from the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans

Available here. The devastation is still incredible, even six months later. These were taken in January.

I get asked sometimes why I have such contempt for the Bush administration. These pictures give you a sense of why--the rampant incompetence of those in charge of the reconstruction is evident. It's come to this--Bush could come up with the greatest policy of all time, a way to stop death using nothing but tap water, for example, and he'd find a way to fuck it up.

Friday Random Ten, My Computer's Broke Edition

I put my lovely Mac in the shop yesterday, and it'll be at least a week before I get it back. The hard drive is gone at the very least, but fortunately, I have most of my important stuff on a flash drive. I'll lose some music and a lot of video, but the writing is largely backed up, a habit I picked up when the first computer I ever owned took a dump on me about ten years ago.

So here's this week's list, brought to you courtesy of my iPod.

1. Kiss Them For Me--Siouxsie and the Banshees
2. Romance--My CHemical Romance
3. St. James Infirmary--Dr. John
4. Angel From Montgomery--Susan Tedeschi
5. Crash Into Me--Dave Matthews Band
6. Good Times Bad Times--Cracker
7. The Sky Is Crying (live)--Stevie Ray Vaughan
8. Psalm--Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra featuring Wynton Marsalis
9. Fortress--Pinback
10. Do the Vampire--Superdrag

Bonus Track: Sit On My Face--Monty Python (which doubles as my cell phone ringer).

I'm sold

James Wolcott gives the upcoming film V for Vendetta his nod of approval. No, he gives it far more than that.

V for Vendetta may be--why hedge? is--the most subversive cinematic deed of the Bush-Blair era, a dagger poised in midair. Unlike the other movies dubbed “controversial” (Fahrenheit 9-11, The Passion, Munich, Syriana), it doesn’t play to a particular constituency or polarized culture bloc, it’s working on a deeper, Edgar Allen Poe-ish witch’s brew substrata of pop myth....

This movie is fully engaged. Its masked, caped vigilante is both Batman and Joker, nocturnal enigma and nimble trickster, the Count of Monte Cristo, Zorro, and the Phantom of the Opera tucked into one suavely tormented frame, the antihero’s secret lair a gothic sanctuary equipped with its own Wurtlizer jokebox on which Julie London’s Cry Me a River sultrily plays. The river of tears is the Thames, on the bank of which sits London’s House of Parliament, the movie (based on Alan Moore’s graphic novel) drawing its inspiration from Guy Fawkes and the foiled Gunpowder Plot to destroy Parliament on November 5th, 1605, a day celebrated annually in Britain with fireworks and parties. In V for Vendetta, monochromatic tyranny so oppresses, represses, and depresses Britain in its totalitarian condition that the only proper way to honor the memory and insurrectionary spirit of Guy Fawkes is to finish what he started. V for vendetta, v for violence, v for vindication. The return of the repressed with a vengeance....

And make no mistake V for Vendetta is fun, dangerous fun, percussive with brutality and laced with ironic ambiguity and satirical slapstick (a Benny Hill homage, no less!). But gives the movie its rebel power is the moral seriousnessthat drives the action, emotion, and allegory. That’s what I didn’t expect from the Wachowski brothers (The Matrix), this angry, summoning Tom Paine moral dispatch that puts our pundits, politicians, and cable news hosts to shame. V for Vendetta instills force into the very essence of four-letter words like hate, love, and (especially) fear, and releases that force like a fist. Off come the masks, and the faces are revealed.
I'll give this one a shot. I was, like many others, disappointed with the ham-handed way the Wachowskis overdid the symbolism in the final chapter of the matrix trilogy. By the end of that film, I really felt like shouting "Enough! I get it!" at the screen, so if they've managed to focus this story (a story I know nothing about but am now interested in), I'll be very pleasantly surprised.

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