Friday, February 29, 2008


This is my slightly febrile, lovelorn bloggerly tribute to two men named Wallace who in equal measure take my breath away:

Stegner and Stevens.

I am reading Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner and right from the start it brims with wide-angle truth.
I started to establish the present and the present moved on. What I established is already buried under layers of tape. Before I can say I am, I was.
In my mind I write letters to the newspapers, saying Dear Editor, As a modern man and a one-legged man, I can tell you that the conditions are similar. We have been cut off, the past has been ended and the family has broken up and the present is adrift in its wheelchair.
It reminds me of the apocalyptic, millennial dread that fuels the feverish brilliance of Angels in America.

The other Wallace in my life is Wallace Stevens, insurance man/poetic genius. His tables of contents alone make my brain tingle.
Invective Against Swans
The Curtains in the House of the Metaphysician
Forces, the Will & the Weather
Phosphor Reading by His Own Light
The Search for Sound Free from Motion
The Hand as a Being
Mountains Covered with Cats
Holiday in Reality
The Planet on the Table
Not Ideas about the Thing but the Thing Itself
His poems are often formal in construct but wild in content, awestruck and earthbound and metaphysical at once. The sun is not only a heavenly body but the source from which all things and all life, every atom of our bodies, is constructed; his poems too trace the lines between the universe and the self and the details of earth.

For some reason I cannot read his poems without my heart swelling almost painfully in my ribcage, even when I can't articulate why. I read them out loud every time, even if just under my breath. I recommend it. This one is more for summer but that's where our hopes are pointed now, so:

The difficulty to think at the end of day,
When the shapeless shadow covers the sun
And nothing is left except light on your fur—

There was the cat slopping its milk all day,
Fat cat, red tongue, green mind, white milk
And August the most peaceful month.

To be, in the grass, in the peacefullest time,
Without that monument of cat,
The cat forgotten on the moon;

And to feel that the light is a rabbit-light
In which everything is meant for you
And nothing need be explained;

Then there is nothing to think of. It comes of itself;
And east rushes west and west rushes down,
No matter. The grass is full

And full of yourself. The trees around are for you,
The whole of the wideness of night is for you,
A self that touches all edges,

You become a self that fills the four corners of night.
The red cat hides away in the fur-light
And there you are humped high, humped up,

You are humped higher and higher, black as stone—
You sit with your head like a carving in space
And the little green cat is a bug in the grass.

(from "Harmonium," 1923)
Others I return to again and again are Waving Adieu, Adieu, Adieu and On the Road Home and Connoisseur of Chaos. And the brief and spare The Planet on the Table, one of his last poems (I think), kind of devastates me--the mortality of the writer and the writing, the final yearning for a shred of worthiness in both. Eulogy material.

This is the one benefit of being enervatingly sick with the flu. Not only can I lie sprawled on the couch with a novel all day, my condition demands it.

Thursday, February 28, 2008


My brain is still cooked from yesterday's searing fever. I can't say anything about Garfield Minus Garfield any better than they can.
Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life? Friends, meet Jon Arbuckle. Let’s laugh and learn with him on a journey deep into the tortured mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against lonliness and methamphetamine addiction in a quiet American suburb.

They're slaying me! (Via my friend Jackie.)

Friday, February 22, 2008


For heaven's sake. Dogster now has dog horoscopes. Emmett's says:
December 22 - January 19
Your owner is focusing lots of energy on work. That's admirable, but they could be killing two birds with one stone if they spent more time with you. There are plenty of connections to be made at the dog park.
Not untrue, I'll admit.

Re: dog park connections, I would really like to make one with my camera, or the person who has found it. Today it hopped from my pocket somewhere in the vast fields at Oxbow. Why are the most valuable things the smallest?

UPDATE: Camera found! I got a call at 9:23 a.m. "It was pretty frosty," said the guy who came upon it this morning in the field. But it totally works. Thumbs up for the durability of the Canon SD1000. Limbs up for the goodness of fellow people.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


If you think it's been slow around these parts lately, take heart in the headlines of the Park Rapids Enterprise of late.

A rumor made a bunch of high schoolers skip school;

(interesting omission of "on" from that headline)

an area resident turned 100;

(the lady still lives in her house and reads a book a day)

and no news is, apparently, still news.

Front page, people. This is some deep February.

From the Incidents report, all you need to know is that
An officer was requested for a "pretty heated basketball game" in Nevis;
and the cryptically ominous
A small black car was reported coming from the west at a high rate of speed.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


I would like to suggest that we consider retiring these formerly-fresh tropes, which have hit their saturation point and gone soggy.

1. Books whose titles pretend they are instructive but which are actually novels.

I submit as evidence: Boating for Beginners, Faith for Beginners, Adultery for Beginners, Beginner's Greek, Tuscany for Beginners, Sushi for Beginners, Tree Surgery for Beginners, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, A Concise Dictionary of Chinese for Lovers, Love: A User's Guide, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, and the one that perhaps spread this whole infection with its runaway success, A Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing. Is that enough yet?

Here is why I dislike this.
a) It reads like a marketing ploy that is at best uninspired and at worst cynical.
b) I am incorrigibly literal.
c) Seeing these titles triggers a contrarian urge in me to call their bluff. What if I actually want to learn tree surgery, or am a tractor-enthusiast practicing my Ukrainian, or am planning a trip to Tuscany, or want to learn how to adulter better? Who couldn't benefit from a practical user's manual for love? Instead these books will likely offer yet more lessons in how intoxicating/confusing adult relationships are, in disparate memorable settings, with flawed yet lovable heroines.
d) It's like, imagine if Kelly Clarkson's last album was called Black Metal.

Exempt from my condemnation are Magic For Beginners by Kelly Link because it is awesome and she is awesome; ditto the ingenious and inventive Life: A User's Manual by Georges Perec; The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy because it did it first; and An Arsonist's Guide to Writer's Homes in New England because although it pushes the cutesy buttons a little hard, the title is actually what the novel is about, someone burning down Emily Dickinson's house in Amherst.

2. Designs featuring bird silhouettes.
So delicate and pretty, so ubiquitous, so boring.

3. The human-pet "Mommy" and "Daddy" relationship.
Perhaps I am irreparably scarred by seeing my mother open her arms and summon my cat thus: "Foot Foot, come to grandma!" But it still gives me the howling fantods to be referred to as "mom"-- especially because it most often occurs when someone has taken it upon themselves to speak for my pet. "But mom, I'm not done playing yet!" they will helpfully tell me, on Emmett's behalf.

Look, I baby-talk my pets as badly as anyone; the poor dog hears more high-pitched rhetorical questions in a day than anyone should have to suffer in a lifetime. I am their caretaker, their kibble-pourer, their primary fur-loosener, their scratching post, but I am not their "mom." Ew. Some bitch in Tillamook County whelped my sweet Emmett, bless her, and I have no interest in stealing her title. Seven was a mother herself back in the days before I got her--no way am I the "grandmother" of some orange street cats roaming around south Brooklyn.

At the dog park recently, a guy rode up on his bicycle to meet up with his girlfriend and dog, and she cried out, "Look, Jake, Daddy's here!" I believe I need not add any further comment.

P.S. Band names that start with "Black" or "Super."
For obvious reasons.

Friday, February 8, 2008


Polaroid is scrapping instant film to focus on digital. (Good news is that they're producing enough to last through 2009, and are offering licensing rights for anyone else who wants to take up the slack.) I have a shoebox full of Polaroids, almost all of them shot from 1997 to 2002. I loved taking them: the hefty click, the hum and spit-out, the not-quite-instant gratification, their marker-like smell. The best ones are simple and straightforward, and usually of people. As with Super-8 film, everyone looks good in Polaroids--maybe it's the flash, the not-so-sharp focus, something with the dated technology. Or maybe it's just that everyone in my Polaroids is 22.

Digital is great and cheap at all, but low-value--those pictures can be infinitely manipulated and replicated. Polaroids are more like the moment: there's only one, ever.

A selection from the archives, taken in Brooklyn, Oslo, Oberlin, Iowa City, and Park Rapids, MN.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


On Saturday I ducked out of the AWP conference, half mad with artificial light, and walked to the Whitney to see the Kara Walker exhibit. Good call. Way more edifying than a panel.

Her silhouettes, which I have seen before, are of course stunning and upsetting, full of fucking and killing and bitter nursing and birthing, the literal inflation and lampooning of stereotypes--

(you can't see very closely here, but for example, that's Brer Rabbit humping a baby in the lower right)

--but I was most captivated by her drawings, which I had never seen, displayed in dense clusters. I love drawings more than almost any other form--I like seeing the fluidity of the line, the pencil shadows, the notes in the margins. In the drawings she is funny and excoriating and candid. I didn't take many notes, just eye-drank them, but I wrote down this deft/offhand comment (hers) re racism:
Kind of our national pastime
Loving to hate what we hate to love

In one film, as she moves silhouettes jerkily in front of the light, a child's voice says
I think he's going to hurt me.
I wonder what it will feel like?
I guess this is what happened to Abby.

(8 Possible Beginnings)
It chilled me to the bone.

One floor down, the tastefully muted gouaches and collages and taxidermied chickens of the New Acquisitions exhibit felt utterly run-of-the-mill by comparison. And What's-His-Name's I will not make boring art scrawling just read TOOL to me. But Jenny Holzer's aphorisms etched into a white marble bench had some apt wisdom:

Photos: Whitney Museum site + good New York Times article

Monday, February 4, 2008


One of the great pleasures of getting into a taxicab in New York was sinking into the dark backseat and watching the city go by outside the windows. Maybe to the soundtrack of some Spanish radio or the cabbie chatting in Arabic into a headset or the static and crackle of the dispatcher. But you had this little dark thinking space to yourself, a particular moving view of the city that you just don't get from the high jostling position on the bus or (obviously) the subway.

Since the last time I was here, though, they have installed television screens in the back seats of the cabs. Which blast NBC. With a column of logos up the left side and a running ticker tape along the bottom, leaking digital light all over the back seat and speaking loudly and insistently. Who wants this? Cabs are not for aerobics infomercials and the 100 Most Outrageous TV Moments. They are for gazing pensively out the window, for hopping into all adrenalized and in a hurry, and for making out.

Last night after a rousing L Word party at Sara's Williamsburg apartment, I took a car service home. I was relieved to slip into the wide black backseat of a Lincoln and ride home in quiet, experiencing in silence the little recognition pangs of street names I haven't seen in years. It took a few days + escaping Midtown, but now I do remember why and how I lived here, and the parts that did feel like home. I love the density of brain power and ideas, how everyone is a cog of activity and ambition, interlocking and turning constantly.

Saturday, February 2, 2008


Oh, New York City. I love you, but how did I ever live here? This is a hard place to live. I mean literally hard--all brick, pavement, concrete, asphalt, stone--as well hard in all the ways you can tell just by looking. (Portland, on the other hand, is soft--sodden turf, dewy air, hoodie-swaddled.) I'm staying at my former home in Fort Greene. Turning onto my old street at 8:30 am yesterday and approaching the front steps, I felt overwhelmed for a moment. I had not been to this house since May 2004. The time shift made me feel like a deck of cards cut in half.

It's the dove-gray one there.

I am here for the AWP Conference: seven thousand writers + academics + aspiring-such, scampering around in the airless windowless carpeted habitrails of the midtown Hilton. There are panels and parties and a bookfair of mostly small presses, and all of these are lit with fluorescent lights.

Last night Cathy and I went to a party at the New York Times building. The prospect delighted me: my favorite newspaper, their fancy new modernist building, a benefit for some small presses. I had forgotten for a moment that this was a writing conference party. Of course it was in the basement and looked like this.

A vast red expanse of social awkwardness, slightly helped by pre-mixed bottled mojito. A tiny table bearing cheese cubes and grapes was pushed up against one wall, and the Postal Service was playing at elevator-levels in the background.

But look, we did see the prettiest Midtown moment I've seen in close to ever--the sun invented new windows on the buildings.

Today outside a realism vs. nonrealism panel, my treasured knit cap was thieved--the only Marc Jacobs item I have ever owned and probably ever will, and a sentimental favorite. My only consolation is that it was not my laptop. I will attempt to knit a replica. And my spirits were lifted considerably by the stellar and sadly underattended Akashic Books Fiction Bonanza (w/Amiri Baraka, T Cooper, and Marlon James); a cozy dinner and drinks with Cathy at Nancy's Whiskey Pub in Tribeca, which is battered and hobbitt-sized and feels like old old New York;

and finally some wild genius at the most entertaining and out-there poetry reading in town. Here I give a shoutout to Johannes and Joyelle and their incredible press Action Books. It is wild brainiac punk madness and funny as hell. If all poetry readings were like these readings, people would not loathe or mock poetry. There would be a scalpers' market.

This is Johannes Göransson reading from his new book A New Quarantine Will Take My Place (actually an Apostrophe Book.) He read one poem in Swedish that said fitta over and over and made me giggle.

Those cute ladies are my two favorite living poets: Cathy Park Hong, who is so on fire the alarm went off during her reading today (second time it's happened to her!), and Joyelle McSweeney, whose poem "Still Life With Influences" I letterpressed and to this day hangs above my writing desk, influencing me. The best part of Iowa was making friends like these.