Anything scares me, anything scares anyone but really after all considering how dangerous everything is nothing is really very frightening.
Anything scares me, anything scares anyone but really after all considering how dangerous everything is nothing is really very frightening.
In dealing with the State, we ought to remember that its institutions are not aboriginal, though they existed before we were born: that they are not superior to the citizen: that every one of them was once the act of a single man: every law and usage was a man’s expedient to meet a particular case: that they all are imitable, all alterable; we may make as good; we may make better.
The post-Irene footage from New Jersey, New York, and Vermont is sobering and sad. Our hearts go out to those who have lost so much.
In 1927, Bessie Smith was scheduled to perform in Mississippi when the area was hit by torrential downpours. The Mississippi River flooded, innundating the area, and Smith was taken to the venue via row boat. The audience, many of whom had lost everything in the storm, asked Smith to sing a blues about the flood. She told them that she was sorry, she didn't know one, but she would write one for them. She wrote "Backwater Blues" that evening. This recording features Smith accompanied by the great stride piano master, James P. Johnson.
Sitting in a bar with a guy’s guy, a man so manly he not only writes crime novels, but also solves actual crimes, I lost control of the debate and joined him in ordering a Sambuca. To illustrate how far from sophistication I’d slid,Sambuca does not rate an entry in Alexis Lichene’s Encyclopedia of Wine and Spirits. Ouzo gets an entry. Pernod. Pastis. Absinthe. But not Sambuca, refuge of ex-cops and the Common Man, especially the Italian-American, went-to-community-college, Tea Party version of the Common Man.
Sambuca is an angry liquor. If you don’t believe me, set it on fire. Watch it burn. Let the whole goddam Federal budget go down in flames. See if I care.
Well, I do care, but as I mentioned, I lost control of the debate. Sometimes Sambuca comes to your table flaring up against government interference and high taxes. A licorice-based apertif like pastis might have noted that from 1932 to 1986 the tax rate on rich people never dipped below 50%, while now it is 35%, pretty low by historical standards. Only taxes on poor people have plateaued at a higher level—10%—than in 1932, when a person earning $2,000 would owe 4% of his wealth to the guvmint. Samuca, flavored with star anis (so close to anus!), could care less about such pointy-headed facts and figures.
Other times, like this one with the ex-cop, Sambuca arrives in a calmer mood, with its three little coffee beans floating in clear resolve to take back our country, take it way back, back to the late 19th century, when violent boom-and-bust cycles were a commonplace of a deregulated market, the gap between rich and poor yawned, and a cabal of super-wealthy industrialists had the politicians in their pockets. Sound familiar? Never mind, says Sambuca. And never mind that the 1890s kicked off the Progressive Era, named for the pinko policies that came out of such extremes—child labor laws, women’s right to vote, restrictions on how much arsenic manufacturers could put in wallpaper. (Seriously, arsenic gave wallpaper a vivid green tint you could admire until you got poisoned and died.) Never mind. Obama’s a socialist and let’s get rid of the EPA, Department of Education and collective bargaining, which fought for the pension check that Mr. Sambuca used to paid for his drink.
Sambuca’s inability or refusal to grasp complexity is born out by what happens when you add a splash of water. It becomes cloudy, confused, opaque. So do Pernod, pastis, ouzo and absinthe, all of which are frequently taken with water as a matter of taste. In the writing program where I teach, we value such complexity, but because Sambuca hates the taste of compromise and never reaches across the aisle, its tendency to cloud up when assimilated with other substances is so little known it’s practically classified. Also a state secret is why Sambuca is served with those three beans. One conspiracy theory contends that the beans represent health, happiness and prosperity, three qualities that were not widely shared in the 1890s.
The Sambuca arrived. We raised our snifters to health, happiness and prosperity. He tasted uncompromising principles of small government and individual liberty to fire the union organizers in the arsenic factory, replacing them with 11 year olds. I tasted capitulation.
My name is Neil de la Flor and I am (probably) (moderately) bipolar. Thank you, Oprah.com.
Last night I took the “Mood Disorder Questionnaire” at www.oprah.com because I believe in Oprah, polar bears and the accuracy of self-diagnosis on the Internet at the witching hour while moderately depressed.
In other words, I had nothing better to do.
I was listening to Ladytron's “Soft Power” in bed and that's when I decided it was time to learn my psychological truth. I wanted answers from the dark side of my baboon head—answers from the part of me that swings back and forth between seas of entangled and unentangled states for no apparent reason.
According to the questionnaire, which I assume is totally legit and vetted by professional psychiatrists or, at the very least, one competent veterinarian, I am moderately bipolar. The diagnosis came with a disclaimer that read something like, we're not 100% sure you're crazy, so if you really really want to know, seek professional help.
I was pissed. I felt scammed and distraught to discover that I am almost officially probably moderately bipolar and that I would have to seek out more advice. Why can't Oprah.com just sell pills direct and bypass the middleman-woman?
FYI #1: I went to a therapist two years ago and I told her that I thought I was crazy. She told me that I'm not crazy because crazy people don't know they're crazy. I thought that was crazy and left disappointed that she didn't diagnose me with anything except being normal, which is the worst diagnosis of all. In my opinion.
FYI #2: My cousin's girlfriend just posted on Facebook that she is cancer free. They haven't been together too long.
FYI #3: A close friend, who is a writer and Wonder Woman's step-sister, just told me he has cancer. He is almost bald.
FYI #4: I am in love with a Cancer.
FYI #5: I am also in love with Jupiter.
Some twenty years ago, I was living alone in an East Hollywood apartment (directly across the street from the world headquarters of the Church of Scientology). One night as I tried to sleep, somebody’s dog commenced barking and never stopped. Subsequent nights I lay awake, trembling with anger, as the beast beat its giant wings inside a steel echo chamber. I experimented with earplugs, but they couldn’t shut out the constant, insidious yapping that pierced through the din of sirens and police helicopters and babies crying. Was this annoying debacle the owner’s fault? The Humane Society’s? Was it the smog? I worried that repetitive noise and sleeplessness might drive me crazy. I didn’t want to end up like a half-assed Son of Sam.
For weeks, I canvassed the neighborhood. I scanned backyards and peered under cars, staked out dumpsters and vacant lots. I grabbed people on the street and asked if they had any idea whose dog wouldn’t shut the hell up. “What dog?” was all they said. If I did find the owner, I planned to tell him I’d overheard a Scientologist announce that she wanted to call the police and, though the racket didn’t bother me, I felt obliged to warn him to muzzle the pooch. Brave, I know. But I never located the dog or the owner. Meanwhile, the barking got so loud it seemed to be coming from above.
Exhausted from lack of rest, I slogged through my days. At night I collapsed onto the Murphy bed and willed myself to sleep, but eventually the barking invaded my dreams. Had I kept a dream journal during my early-twenties, the following entry might have appeared: I drive to a sporting goods store and buy a thirty-four-ounce Louisville Slugger—the Pete Rose model. Bring the bat home and take practice swings in the kitchen as I wait for darkness to fall. Put on dark clothes and sneak out the back door of the apartment building. I follow the sound of howling through the neighborhood, struck by how sharp my senses are. I can actually smell fur. I see a house with a fenced-in yard. Approach the front of the house. No lights on. I make my way towards the back yard. Sure the animal is there. Suddenly the dog starts to whine and yelp, and when I turn the corner I am confronted by a man whacking the canine repeatedly with a baseball bat. He’s wearing dark clothes and curses at the dog as he beats it. The dog is defenseless, tied to a post. I know the man will not stop until the animal is dead. There’s a doghouse in the foreground. I lower my bat and walk away.
Months passed. That crazy barking curse contributed to my decision to get out of Los Angeles and move back east. I would love to say that I finally spotted a black and gray German Shepherd poised on the roof of the Church of Scientology, untouchable, clamoring mercilessly from his rampart. But life is rarely so artful, so ludicrous. All I have is this mysterious aural virus in my memory.
Molly is barely under her own dress today. The teeth in her mouth biting air, the teeth in her zipper biting hair. Twisted tired. Too much time in the tub tonight. Maybe it was that small thimble of gin (and then agin) Je besoined just a petit puddle to dit what je need to ecrite in mon lettre pour mon hot piment. Pour. Poor you.
Mon coco, my chou,
Today, our neighbor left a cake (de beurre) on the doorstep. In the rain.
Stoop, troops. Seal six, steal sex. It’s ashes, asses, all fall down. Fingery mess. Ring me round the rosey, something about a candlestick, a baker, my butcher’s a maker. I’ve never pulled out a plum . Confections, confessions. I ate wet cake.
Nous avons le beurre et l'argent du beurre,
Photograph by David Secombe, via Esoteric London
Hello, Best American Poetry World! I guest-blogged here a couple of years ago and am delighted to be asked back.
Last time I spent my week developing a little theme about a particular strain of "formalist" (though we don't really call it that here) poetry in England that emanates, if you trace it back, from the old vaudeville-style (for want of a better comparison) music hall tradition. That was fun, and included some YouTube work, and amusing photos.
This time I was thinking about micro-reviews of some UK poets, and I still plan to do that; but I see that Todd Swift has pipped me to the post with an excellently comprehensive roundup of some current poets over here. So I'm going to go straight in on an up note, spreading cheer around me like a veritable Jonny Appleseed.
The big news in the UK right now is a cataclysmic government spending review, announced last Wednesday, which stripmines the UK's public purse of over 20% - the biggest cuts since 1918. That's the umbrella figure; the details are just too horrifying to go into, whether or not you agree that radical action was necessary to deal with the (banker-induced) deficit. Even PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the gigantic corporate consultancy firm, predicts a possible million jobs lost. (And England is smaller than New England.) So it's very scary, and that's before you talk about the services that will be cut. But I'm not here to talk politics. What I want to do - or have to do, really - is to ruminate on how, in a daily, practical way, poetry (and one's almost mystical belief in its power) will coalesce in this brave new world.
Slumming has a fascinating history as a slang term. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, in 1839, it meant “passing bad money,” but by the 1880s, it had taken on its present-day denotation of visiting poor neighborhoods “esp. for charitable or philanthropic purposes.” I’m going to take issue with that part of the OED’s definition, the purpose. To begin with, the illustrative quotation right next to it, from 1884, reads, “I am not one of those who have taken to ‘slumming’ as an amusement,“ suggesting an entirely different and uncharitable purpose: doing it for fun. Slumming has always seemed on its surface to be connected to class consciousness, like the reform-minded muckraking journalism of the Late Victorian period exposing corruption in high places, or like ecotourism today, but those are essentially documentary endeavors, interested in fact-finding and, for all their ideological overlays, open to new information.
Slumming, on the other hand, seeks thrills, not social change, and gets there by exploiting the existing social order. It’s only amusing to visit a slum if you can leave. The second illustrative quotation in the OED is from 1894: “Slumming had not become the fashion at that time of day,” and that one, too, emphasizes the superficiality of the act. “Fashion,” not philanthropy, is the prime motive here, which makes perfect sense going back to slumming’s earliest incarnation as slang for counterfeiting. The slummer pretends to be poor, but isn’t really. Both quotations suggest slumming is a counterfeit of caring about the economic misfortunes of others, a pose more attuned to Decadence than altruism.
Rolling Rock had its own brush with counterfeiting when Anheuser-Busch closed down the only factory this dive-bar staple had ever known, in Latrobe, PA, moved it to New Jersey, and tried to re-brand it as a “craft” beer. Obviously, its parent company missed the whole point of Rolling Rock, which was to get away (temporarily, at least) from one’s own status as an artisan cheese eater who listens to R.E.M.
Now there’s no reason to order Rolling Rock, nor is there a reason to go slumming. To paraphrase Walt Kelly, we have met the slum, and it is us. Remember, the amusement value of slumming derives from the ability to leave. But those who ten or twenty years ago would have been upper-middle-class-bound are today not so sure about their financial destiny. Yeah, we’re in an economic recovery, blah, blah, blah, but I don’t believe it, nor does anybody else I speak with. My friends and neighbors want to be hopeful, but they express their optimism in quiet undertones that sound more like fear. This slump seems different, bigger, more serious, and deep, as in unfathomable. Only Washington and Wall Street , with the Dow again springing above 10,000, cling to the delusion that we’re on the road to recovery. The rest of us see an economic house of cards that makes the corrugated tin shacks fringing the Nairobi dump look better built.
We spend more than we earn. Our country consumes more than it produces. Our planet is one giant maxed-out credit card, and the time is coming when even a $4 Rolling Rock won’t fit on it. That’s neither amusing nor fashionable. We’ll all be making home brews then, our hands banged up from digging ourselves out of debt.
Au revoir, Rolling Rock. Hello, ’33.
My father suffered a series of brain seizures due to sleep apnea at the end of August '09 and I, his only child, was responsible for taking care of him (my mother passed away from breast cancer in 1995). So I flew down to Naples, Florida. He didn't know who I was. He would answer your question with the same question. You could tell he was fighting, tell there was some recognition in his eyes, but the engine wasn't turning. The first few weeks were scary, but he soon began to recover. I returned to Vermont with a promise to visit as soon as I could and with the happiness that not only was my father alive, but seemed to be a man that I hadn't known in about a decade. And it would be easy to visit him any time: I'd lost my job at the Northshire Bookstore because of my month-long absence.
My hard drive died last Thursday, the day before my 34th birthday, the day before I was scheduled to visit my father in Florida. I was upset about my hard drive, but the good people at Driversavers made it sound like nothing more than a standard fail. It would be expensive to recover the data, but they seemed confident they could do it.
I received the call yesterday.
Complete physical damage.
Nothing can be recovered.
My shaking was imperceptible at first. The light-headedness soon followed. 20 years of writing. Notes. Work from other poets, all the poems I'd selected for my new literary journal, The Equalizer. Syllabi. Résumés. List of published works. Correspondences. Years and years of poetry. All gone.
Greetings, fellow traveler…
Congratulations on making it this far! It’s been a full day of adventures, and as the sun finishes its descent, purpling the hills over lovely Phoenix, AZ, and Josh hums along to Arcade Fire behind the wheel while Special the Dog snores loudly in the backseat, I’m happy to take this time to reflect on what we’ve learned today.
So what did we learn, exactly? Well, let’s rewind to this morning—after we spent a good half hour at the Tetris-style game of trunk packing and were finally situated—to the moment we turned on the car radio. Or, tried to turn on the radio, to be exact…only to face an LCD radio screen as scarily blank as the first page of a new writing notebook. “Dead, dead, deadsky,” as Beetlejuice would say, which is clearly not acceptable for a several day drive. (Even if you’re Josh and Jess, yappers extraordinaire.)
So there we were, cruising toward Volksgolf Repair Shop in Culver City, where we eventually learned that it was just a weird radio code thing, easily fixed in a half hour by Luis, my car guy who must moonlight as a rock star, he’s that awesome. But, still. Being detoured before we even got started wasn’t the best of all signs, some might say.
As annoying as that was, though, it sort of fit in to the conversation Josh and I had been carrying on since he arrived last night. We’ve been discussing the uses and benefits of doubt, especially in terms of our writing careers.
See, as thrilled as I am to be sharing this journey with you, my new BFFs at Best American Poetry, lingering in the back of my mind is the knowledge that most of the bloggers here have at least one, if not many, books. I don’t, and neither does Josh, and we’re both writing up a storm and reading everything we can, talking about poetry all the time and sending manuscripts to publishers and contests.
Somewhere in the middle of the country, desert and rock formation and green hill and wind farm—so much to see, but not yet where we’re going—both of us are feeling the metaphor. We’re in that limbo between publishing a lot and having a book, the moment of truth where the industry declares, yes, you’re welcome here, you’re, dare I say it, potentially employable (that dirty, dirty word.)
When Annika got back into town, she and I had a serious talk about my backyard cemetery project.
ed note: If you want to catch up on Mitch Sisskind's Hard Times project, you can view all previous reports here.
I'm starting a cemetery in my back yard! Progress is being made. "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
I certainly admire Annika for her business skills and her embalming capabilities, but I don't actually know her too well and for that reason I'm a bit suspicious of her on a personal level. The fact that she's lived in several different countries -- she was even in Russia for quite a long time -- give her an "alien" vibe that makes me uneasy. That's especially true since if all goes well there will be a significant revenue flow from my backyard cemetery. The bottom line is, I do need someone with at least a bit of experience in the funeral industry, and I don't know anyone except Annika who can actually embalm a body. Plus, she's willing to do grunt work like digging graves and stuff. Maybe I'm just being paranoid.
Annika is a very interesting young woman. Born in Ireland, she lived in Sweden till a teenager, then moved with her family to Texas where she entered Southern Methodist University at age 15. She has an undergraduate degree in biology, and has also worked in technology -- and last but not least, in the funeral industry! That's why I invited her for a chat about my plan for financial salvation.
Right now it's every man for himself, financially speaking! Well, so be it. I have a fairly desperate idea for keeping myself afloat that I'll be tracking here with my new flip camera ($129 at Best Buy.) Here's the first installment --->>
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.