Monday, April 30, 2012

Things I've Learned While Vacuuming

1. If it was important, it would've made more noise when I ran over it.

2. Vacuuming plug-in chords means no more vacuuming!

3. I wish my parents had taught me how to clean better. That's dumb; my dad didn't even know how to vacuum. It's my responsibility as an adult to learn these things.

4. Shredded toilet paper is the best.

5. Vacuuming hardwood doesn't really work, no matter what the manufacturer says.

6. That stink bug wasn't dead.

7. Someone should invent a vacuum vacuum.

8.If I stick the vacuum to my mouth, will it suck out my soul?

9. If I stick it to my belly button, can I give myself a home liposuction?

10. I should really do this more often.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Review of Ben Tanzer's This American Life

This American Life, stories by Ben Tanzer. Tecumseh, Michigan: Achilles Chapbook Series/Dogzplot, 2011. Ben Tanzer is a crazy-prolific writer who’s quickly becoming a staple of the small press world. This American Life is a chapbook of short, funny stories linked with a handful of common themes and similar characters. I think of these as ‘one-off’ stories; they are funny, inventive stories that might be difficult to place in a longer collection, which is why the chapbook form is perfect for them. Tanzer begins with “Ira Glass Wants to Hit Me,” a story of a guy who isn’t a stalker but is ‘kind of a starfucker.’ The narrator is a writer who desperately wants to have something featured on the NPR show “This American Life,” hosted by Ira Glass. He gets his chance when a coworker is invited to a taping of the show, and afterward to a bar for drinks. Tanzer’s expertise is evident in the way he balances the expectations of the reader and the actions of his characters. This isn’t the obvious story in which one lone grotesque is punished for his awkwardness; many of Tanzer’s characters are quirky, self-absorbed, and often oblivious to the inappropriateness of their own actions, but also driven to achieve, at times, nearly impossible goals. It’s this juxtaposition that usually gets them into trouble. “Daddy Dearest” is, ostensibly, a letter from a father (published as an ad in Variety) answering allegations made by his son in a ‘tell-all’ book. Again, Tanzer reveals surprise after surprise, exceeding the reader’s expectations on how this story will play out. He also manages a quite humorous commentary on celebrity in America, a theme that plays out through several of these stories. Several of Tanzer’s stories take a theme or humorous situation and just run with it, like “It’s Only Rock and Roll, But We Like It,” which is, on the surface, a contract for a never-was ‘80’s rock band, or “Notes for the Honorary Oscar Speech I’ll Never Give,” whereas “Jesus Walks” has the closest to a traditional story structure. In all of these, Tanzer balances smart social commentary with humor at times bordering on surreal. Much like “Daddy Dearest,” “Hate You” takes an epistolary form, but this time, a man is addressing his significant other. These two hit me the hardest, as a reader – “Daddy Dearest” because it is just damned funny, and “Hate You” because Tanzer really moves beyond simple slapstick and raises some serious issues sometimes seen in damaged and damaging relationships. I could certainly see myself thinking – if not actually vocalizing – some of the things this narrator says. I have to admit this is the first book of Tanzer’s I’ve read (apparently, I’ve been living under a rock) and this is a great introduction to his work. He’s a deft and talented craftsman, and I’m eager to read more. Luckily, there’s lots more to read! -CL Bledsoe

Monday, April 23, 2012

Delilah Poems

The Malvolio of the Soul*

There is a melancholy in the finality
of the day, and yet, how interminable
would the burning light be
if it never ended? Try to understand: sigh
onto any scale, and our deepest sorrows
would weigh not an ounce. We are, all of us,
made of night and day, capable
of such sight we choose
to be blind. We reek of the smoke
of burnt offerings from the moment
we’re spat into the gloved hands of brotherhood,
but how soon we forget the taste
of those ashes in the sullen scream
of that first aching desire. We are doomed, then,
to marry the tongs, the cold matrimony
of necessity. The heart reeks of nothing
but blood when severed from the mythology
of the ribcage. But it’s oh so warm in there
and tastes of honey.

Try to understand: the elegance
of the worm, the reliability of impermanence. How similar
the scream of the fox and the laugh of the crow,
the infant’s gas that resembles
laughter. The sun’s master is its setting:
but complain, complain, complain, as soon
as you find willing ears to fill. If thou art virtuous;
there shall be no more cakes and ale. The white stone
of remembrance will remain cold to the touch
though warm to the sight. But don’t look. Instead,
search for that instrument capable of measuring
the weight of a mother’s final breath, the jar
in which to keep le enfant terrible from between
the ears. Better yet: die, and rot. Stimulate
the economy of the soil. It will thank you
with the richesse of digestion. Night soil
will fall and be reborn.

*originally appeared in Tryst.
_____________________________________________

Munchausen by Insemination**

And now was one to believe that there was nowhere a god of hogs, to whom this hog- personality was precious, to whom these hog-squeals and agonies had a meaning?
–Upton Sinclair, The Jungle

Delilah, I’m afraid I’ll be a father to hogs, snuffling,
curly-tailed little things that grow into rough-skinned
meat. The smell alone puts me off sex. Me,
in my living room, trading pork futures, it, licking the salt
from the hardwood in the hall, squealing toska
when it encounters carpet.

Weekends, we’ll bundle it up to taste the milk-sky settle
over the park with all the other hogfathers, but instead of peeing
on the swing sets, it will nose for truffles. It will never play catch,
other than to eat the ball. Oink me no oinks: I’ve seen them
with their hapless fathers wearing the sad smiles of compassion
and avoiding the eyes of the barbeque dons.
Delilah, I thought I’d left the stink of the farm behind me
when I changed my shoes. I was not a beautiful child;
am I not due beautiful children?

I’ve heard your talk about the velocity of apples, falling,
but my child will eat them from the ground. The only curly bits
I see inside my genes are pink tails. Don’t ask me
to show my teeth: I’ve had them updated to plastic.
I’m no hog, father; let’s not get off topic.

I’m afraid. Who’s to say all progeny won’t be porcine
even without the tusks? Who’s to say even the sweetest
girl-child won’t grow fat on corn and mud-baths? Who’s
to say I won’t father something unrecognizable as even
mammal? Delilah, I’m most afraid the answer to all these
things is pig-hearted me.

**originally appeared in Caper.
______________________________________________________
Stop.***

No matter how it’s dressed, solace cannot empty
the lungs of fluid, the heart of fire, dumb things
that they are. Say: my fingers have lost their claws
and might as well stroke and soothe. Say: clearly,
all things value what I value, or else of what value
are they? Say: soon, I will be
dead. Look at how clouds form
above our heads. I can taste their whiteness
from here. Can’t you? Can’t you?

But death is only a journey for the undertaker.
All morticians abhor the smell of rotten meat.
The bitter copper that can never be spent
again. I am afraid, Delilah. You don’t
understand: I was meant for more (so much more)
than emptying my blood on the white tile
of the nurse’s eyes. And those perfect
shoes. Let me explain: I have things of value, things
anyone would value: a glimpse of a red fox
trotting along the stone wall behind the kitchen,
a woman’s face in climax, defeat and accomplishment,
wings and puns. Morituri Nolumus Mori. See?

The slow read of our lives must be savored—who
doesn’t agree? Delilah, I need you to sit on the face
of death for just a little while. Tweak his nipples
and call him whole. Just until he feels
wanted. I’m sure it’s not his fault
his teeth are a bit cold. I’d do the same for you. Fair
is fair. (He really thinks you look nice today,
by the way.) Couldn’t you learn to like it? For me?

You’re not picking up what I’m putting down. This guy
over here is special. Someday, he’ll do things none
of us could even imagine. And what
if he doesn’t? What great loss is an empty
grave? Of great use. Believe me, of great use.

***originally appeared in Prick of the Spindle

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Review of Howie Good's Little Tragedies

Little Tragedies, poems by Howie Good. India: Graffiti Kolkata, 2011.

Being a fan of Good, I immediately noticed that many of these poems were longer than his usual fare, though they continue to be the surreal, yet poignant, snapshots at which Good excels. “Scene of the Accident” is the opening poem. Good hints at a scene of tragedy in the first section with a “nurse in white clogs” who “has to give the boy with the cuckoo clock heart a sedative.” The second section covers reactions, for example, “Pedestrians stood weeping at the crosswalk.” And in the third section, Good paints a vivid final scene, “The light doesn’t last all that long, of course, but as long as it lasts, we become like souls with red-painted toenails, the fallen factory chimneys along the Merrimack, dancing peasants scantily clad amid the snow of a Russian prison camp.” There is joy amidst the wreckage, here. Though there has been tragedy, there is hope because these characters don’t let the ‘accident’ overwhelm them.

“Exit Visa” describes a narrator who “woke up speaking another language.” The narrator can’t seem to communicate. He (I assume it’s a ‘he’ though this isn’t made clear) is a kind of romantic hero, alienated from the world and unable to bridge that gap. And the world is a terrifying one. “I started home, but cops were beating a man on the corner. It might as well have been the fall of France, or the day Sacco and Vanzetti were executed.” Even the weather offers no solace: “The sky was the dismal gray of neglect.” I could quote the whole poem, there are so many standout lines. Good uses surreal language in a Kafka-esque manner to heighten the alienness of the narrator’s situation.

Good uses war imagery throughout this chapbook, “the last Jews in Krakow are hanging from lamp posts,” “blackened corpses, mounds of rubble,” “the sound of a shell being jacked into the chamber.” These scenes are often set ‘far away,’ either in location or time, but they could just as easily be a warning for the future. The poem “9-1-1” brings this idea home by portraying a hostile world in which naked women resemble corpses and the narrator sleeps with a weapon under his pillow. What should’ve been a ‘safe’ world has been changed, tainted; even sex has been tainted.

Even though these poems often tend towards the surreal, they are grounded in reality, often a horrible reality. Let us not forget that the incorporation of surrealist elements into literature really grew from a reaction to the atrocities of war in the early part of the Twentieth Century. The characters in Good’s poems face fractured realities in which joy and horror come equally as unexpectedly, and can end just as suddenly.

-CL Bledsoe

Monday, April 16, 2012

Oklahoma Poems

I've been including these in readings lately.

Tulsa*

Sex is in the eyes and the smell and the past. The hint
of sweat from straw-colored hair. The taste
of a smile. The lilting voice. The slow catch of silk
on nipples. Delilah, I miss you. I miss
Tulsa dying in the rearview, the sickly linger
of your cigarettes. But I’m not humping the passenger seat
anymore. Remember the time we got stuck in a ditch chasing
a field fire? A farmer called a sheriff, refused to tow us,
and kept his snake-rifle on us while we scrambled
to find wood to shove under the tires. He was afraid
we’d steal the night, the fire, the slow death of not knowing
what to believe that choked his heart. But we were
all first sons, whistle-britches, all looking for a place
to stick our hearts for safe-keeping. The boarded- over windows
of our mothers’ eyes watched from graves half dug
but not full yet. We were forever looking back, saying:
we will stand tall when the winds die down.

* * *

The Rye*

Where is that white camper of my youth? The old
Ford that only drove in third? Horses painted
on the side as we circled the back roads
out by Summer Sweet then back home, stoned boys
hanging from the back bumper. When did I begin
to consider Holden Caulfield’s student loan debt?
The rank smell of feet in his unchanged socks?
We drank Cisco, vodka, whatever our already graying
hair could get us across the tracks. We didn’t have
to worry if the music we made was too good, only
if it was real. Now, there is so little room left in the closet
to store my old drum set. Holden didn’t know the cliff’s edge
was protected by a guardrail. We never grew and yet
we’re grown. These knees, blown from humble living—
if I could climb, I’d be over that edge, falling, falling.

*"Tulsa" and "The Rye" originally appeared in Blast Furnace.

* * *

Kilgore Trout in Oklahoma**

There were donuts in those days,
and commodities spaghetti. Phones
lived on walls, and they waited
at home to be called.

Kilgore was a tall man,
but you wouldn’t know unless he stood
up. He had a dog once. And a wife. Sometimes
he misses the dog.

His father lived in a trailer in his mom’s yard.
They were working on their third
divorce. The neighbors were aliens, waiting
for something good on the satellite dish.

His fans are vermin. He lives
in a basement apartment
in Muskogee. He is an olive
in a world of cherries.

** "Kilgore Trout in Oklahoma originally appeared in Tipton Poetry Journal, which also nominated it for a Pushcart Prize.

* * *

Oklahoma

1. I fell asleep waiting for you to return, not realizing you were dozing downstairs.
2. Foxes mate outside; we can hear them scream when we mute the TV during commercials.
3. Last night, you rolled over, threw your arm out, and slapped me in the face without waking.
4. You wanted to dance and I wanted to set the table on fire, but neither of us liked the band.
5. You might think you love desolation, but you’ve never been to Oklahoma.
6. “Talk to me,” she said, “Share.” “Okay,” I said; “How are you holding up?”
7. I’m thinking it’s all been a waste, but then the light changes and I ease forward.
8. It’s not okay to cry on the interstate.
9. Clutter eventually becomes d├ęcor.
10. When I was a child, there were coyotes howling in the night. Now?
11. The waiting room thermostat says I’m not cold, so why do I shiver?
12. Somehow, it’s worse that the doctor is attractive.
13. When I close my eyes, I hear commercials.
14. The smell of onions and ice cream remind me of my mother.
15. Someday, it will snow like this in Oklahoma.
16. I wake and you’re holding my hand. I shake you, but you won’t let go.
17. I open the door, snow already blanketing the mangled oak and broken glass in my kitchen.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Review of Howie Good's The Devil's Fuzzy Slippers

The Devil’s Fuzzy Slippers, poems by Howie Good. Flutter Press, 2012.

This chapbook begins with “Prophets & Martyrs,” a prose poem which introduces the theme of faith while simultaneously questioning that faith. In section 1, Good writes, “The panhandler holds up a piece of cardboard. Beep if you know Jesus, shakily written in black marker. Cars behind me do.” Good also touches on questions of cultural morality; do these people beeping truly know Jesus if they pass this panhandler by?

“We All Fall Down” continues this theme from a different approach. It begins, “You’re the person who only resembles the person who committed the crime. I’m the officer here to arrest you.” Good introduces what could be a very heavy topic, but he handles it with skill. He continues, “You’re a novel that people start reading but can’t finish. I’m the sound of falling asleep on a flat rock sheltered by an apple tree.” Here, Good has disambiguated the cultural experiences of these characters in a telling, but immensely readable way.

“Undertow,” is one of the more powerful poems in the collection. Good is a master of portraying subtle yet powerful emotion. One of my favorite lines I’ve ever read is, “All the people/you admire are either dead/or secretly sad,” (2-4), which develops the running theme of alienation, the outsider at odds with a nonsensical world. “You feel//the undertow of everything/that has gone missing,” Good continues (4-7). The poem implies more than just the ennui of the outsider, though. There is an iceberg below the surface, of which we can only see the tip. “I should have been there/with you when the little//black flowers broke open,” Good continues with a simple, yet effective image on loss (8-11). “I should have watched/for children like the sign said.” (12-13). What does Good mean by this? Did the narrator ignore this sign and run over a child? Or is it more existential; has the narrator simply misplaced his values? Good leaves it ambiguous, which makes it all the more powerful.

The question is, what does the title mean? The Devil is in fuzzy slippers, so he’s comfortable. He’s at home, perhaps. Maybe the world offers him so little challenge (i.e. the world has become so evil) that he doesn’t have to work very hard. On the other hand, perhaps the Devil is Howie Good. Perhaps he is comfortable with his ‘badness’. Maybe he’s come to terms with it and no longer concerns himself. We could synthesize these two ideas and say that the narrator represents someone who has come to terms with his ‘badness’, but he’s not the only one, which is what allows the world to be evil. I don’t actually think the first two theories are mutually exclusive, at all; in fact, I think they both work for the collection.

Regardless, this is one of the stronger chapbooks I’ve seen in a while. Good is very readable and very pertinent, but he’s enough of an artist that he doesn’t hit you over the head with meaning.

-CL Bledsoe

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Things To Consider Before Moving To New York

1. Eat plenty of citrus. A diet of $1 pizza slices and EZ-Mac can lead to scurvy which makes it difficult to type (this is especially damaging for Executive Assistants).

2. Bears go ga-ga for lip gloss. More New Yorkers are eaten by bears than die in subway crashes. Which is a lot.

3. Not all New Yorkers are foreigners. Or, at least, many of them speak English as a second language.

4. It’s very rare that street musicians are actually Joshua Bell. This almost never happens. Usually, they’re escaped mental patients or foreigners. See #3.

5. Just because everything is filthy and overpriced, the people are miserable, and you’re probably already being murdered doesn’t mean New York isn’t a fun place. You have to keep an open mind.

6. If we’ve learned only one thing from Crocodile Dundee, it’s get a bigger knife.

7. Yes Central park is nice, but the other 8 million New Yorkers know that too. So they’ll all be there. Refer to #6.

8. New York offers opportunities to do things you can’t do anywhere else in the world. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to afford to do any of them.

9. It never rains in New York. (Actually it does, but homeless people steal the water before it hits the ground.)

10. Don’t worry about being an outsider; no one is actually ‘from’ New York. Except the bears. And they ate everyone who was born there. Which is why no one’s actually ‘from’ there.

Monday, April 09, 2012

The Death of Poetry

I hear a lot about the state of poetry these days, which seems to be something like Nevada – mostly wasteland with a bit of flashing lights and empty dreams here and there. I recently reviewed an essay collection, for example, that talked about how poetry needs to come down from the elitist heights to the piss and shit where the common man apparently lives. This is a common theme. The folks writing this stuff say poetry has become inaccessible to the apparently slow minds of the common man. They say poetry is dying and it’s the MFA programs’ fault! I think this is a bunch of bullshit, and the folks saying this need to get out and actually go to a poetry reading every now and then.

Let me be frank (I’m so tired of being CL!): I’m not the biggest fan of MFA programs for a couple reasons, but the idea that they’re churning out the same types of writers across the board is an idea born of laziness. The kind of writing referred to, here, is ‘experimental’ writing. Let’s not split hairs; we’ll just pretend we know what that means (stuff that’s really hard to read and doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense?) – but not all MFA programs endorse experimental writing. Mine didn’t. Actually, to be honest, I attended two programs (I transferred) and neither did. So how about that?

Also, the idea that MFA writers are the only ones writing and publishing is bunk. Maybe the prizes are going to mostly these writers, sure, but really – name me an art form in which the ‘prizes’ aren’t rigged. Go ahead. And we’re not talking about money when we talk about the survival of the art form; we’re talking about vibrancy. And I have to say that when I do readings (maybe 2-3 a month) I see a lot of different folks in the audiences and a lot of different folks behind the mic. Some of them are probably MFA students, but a lot of them don’t seem to be. And a lot of different kinds of poetry are being read. I was at a reading a couple days ago with an open mic which included poets reading formal poetry, spoken word, prose poetry, etc. on any number of topics. And it was accessible.

There are a lot of journals out there publishing a lot of crap. Nobody’s arguing this. Most of the ‘hip’ journals and the ‘hip’ writers will not be remembered by history, as has always been the case. But there are quite a few solid writers out there chugging away. And they get into print. I see them. I read them. It’s our duty, as writers and readers, to applaud these good writers and to defame the bad. Just because someone’s popular or hip – or a journal’s popular or hip – doesn’t mean it’s any good. But don’t throw out the baby with the bath water; don’t say poetry’s dead just because there are a bunch of crappy poets out there. Find the good ones. Support their work. Fight the good fight.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Review of Mansion of Memory, poems by Helen Losse

Mansion of Memory, poems by Helen Losse. Rank Stranger Press, 2012. $11

This is an expanded (by about a third) and reissued chapbook of poems, the proceeds of which will go to the Joplin Bright Futures Tornado Recovery program. As Losse, explains in the preface, the tornado hit her hometown in May, 2011. The ‘mansion of memory’, Losse’s mother’s house, was spared, but a great deal of damage was done to much of Joplin. The poems are set in Joplin, and, in Losse’s words, “showcase a few of the reasons Joplin is worth rebuilding.”

Losse begins with a brief poem, “Before Definition,” which paints a vivid portrait of a young girl bathing, “I love to twirl my wash cloth,//make it slow-dance/across deep, soapy water, content in/the claw-footed tub, my mother singing.” (lines 2-6). Losse’s language is clear and purposeful. The memories she shares are compelling. “At Roaring River” describes a pastoral scene of a trout hatchery, a still pond, “yet there are/ripples beneath lily pads,/and all the better, if one views them/with the kind of eyes that find the genuine/in the mythic” (1-5). Likewise, there is a mythic quality in the genuineness of Losse’s language and scenes, and there are ripples beneath the surface which betray deeper meaning than simple scenes of the natural world.

One of my favorite poems is “The Cabin,” which describes a family vacation cabin. Losse begins with a description of their boat, kept “in the gully/between the Cabin/and the crude outhouse” (1-3). She continues, “Likely the heavy green boat was/worthless, except to us. Someone/stole it, anyhow.” (6-8). Losse explains that her father built it and named it after the kids; “I wonder if the thief loved that boar/as much as we did.” (15-16). It’s a subtle admonishment. She describes Fourth of July firecrackers and childhood memories. She concludes by jumping into the future, after someone has burned the Cabin down. “I wonder why some fool thought/a mere stranger could destroy/the Cabin/by setting it ablaze.” (page 2, 12-15). The poem becomes a portrait of the inhumanities of strangers, and yet, the purity of treasured memories survives. A similar theme is explored in “The Trouble Behind Us Is a House,” which is a lament against humanity encroaching on nature. In section 2, she lays it out, “The house behind us seems too close,” (1). The memories Losse holds remain, though the changes of the present push these memories further and further away from reality.

There’s something immensely appealing about a poet whose name evokes 'Loss'. But her poems are the antithesis of maudlin. Losse has captured a wonderful memory book of growing up in Joplin. There is, of course, horror right outside the door, but the little girl in these poems is mostly unaware. She’s too concerned with the flowers that grow on the railroad track, the beauty of the world, as children should be. Losse’s poems are intimate and accessible, but profound and full of hidden depths. I’ve enjoyed her full-length collections (Seriously Dangerous and Better with Friends) and I’m pleased as punch to have a chance to see this expanded chapbook – which frankly resonates with the life of a full-length collection.

-Reviewed by CL Bledsoe

Monday, April 02, 2012

Six Truths I've Learned To Help Make Sense of Current Politics

1. Conservatives aren't conservative. You don't spend billions on war when the country's already broke if you're conservative. You don't increase the size and reach of the government -- so that it reaches into people's bedrooms and women's bodies -- if you're conservative. The argument could be made that they are conservative in certain cultural ways, but these are usually used as smokescreens to hide their extreme lack of fiscal conservativism.

2. Liberals aren't liberal. At most, they're moderate. Fiscally, the Conservatives are much more liberal. See #1. And if the liberals were so liberal, why is this country so "conservative"?

3. The Christian Right isn't Christian. Christians believe in helping the poor, eschewing greed; you know, doing what Jesus did, short of the miracles. The Christian Right is more in tune with the Anton LaVey's Church of Satan. Seriously, look it up: 'Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.'

4. Religious freedom only applies to certain religions. You know, ours.

5. Seperation of church and state only applies to certain churches. Let me know when we have an athiest president.

6. All men are created equal, but some are more equal than others.