Sunday, May 23, 2010

check, check

I'm truly astonished by my friends who are married and/or have kids -- every single one of them -- because I cannot comprehend how they have time to do anything. Yet they do. They are able to pursue careers full-time, go out to dinner, travel on vacation and do other time-intensive shit like read novels and learn foreign languages WHILE maintaining their marital relations and/or raising their child(ren). Absolutely phenomenal.

I can't even find the time to post a blog entry each month.

This is the first weekend I've had that hasn't whipped past before I knew it. So I'm taking these moments to pause and recap all that I've been doing, knowing that the next opportunity to write a blog post won't be coming along until God knows when.

In the last month and a half, I've been spring skiing with Scott and Rob for the first time in years (here we are, at the Ice Bar on the backside of Alpine Meadows during the last weekend of their ski season.) The following weekend, I celebrated the opening of yachting season out in Tiburon with Ben and Megan, who were in town visiting from New York. After they left, I spent all day drinking Mint Juleps with strangers after going to Golden Gate Fields to place losing bets on the Derby (and spending the rest of the weekend recovering.) Then I coordinated with my brother in Manhattan to fly home to Pittsburgh to surprise mom for Mother's Day. The weekend after that, I went over to Jon and Kim's for an evening of burgers, scotch whiskey and watching their daughter Franny show off her gymnastic skills on their living room furniture. This weekend, I visited Carv and Janine to eat Three Amigos burritos and play with their son, Liam the Destructor. Next weekend, I'm off to St. Helena to spend Memorial Day in wine country with Rob and Kate.

In June I'll even have less time at my disposal. I'll be entering the MFA program at the University of San Francisco. On top of my work responsibilities and my own writing (I pushed past the 100-page mark of my memoir manuscript last week) I'll have additional critical writing to do, not to mention a shitload of reading. So I doubt I'll have much else to be writing here in the coming months. Maybe I'll post an occasional critical writing assignment, or a chapter or two from the memoir.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

poultry night

I wanted to begin this blog post with a picture of the sky here on Twin Peaks. Alas, my camera sucks. Every attempt of mine to capture an image of the sky in all its awesomeness failed as badly as the crap picture of the city lights from my window in my previous post.

Instead, I lifted this shot from davidyuweb's flickr photos to give you some idea of what I'm talking about...'s the kind of sky you get when a pissed-off wizard is standing on a mountaintop.

I thought this image of the Twin Peaks skyline characterized my mood after returning from an open mic poetry reading a few weeks ago. When I moved into my new place, I vowed to seek out the various open readings in the city. The first I attended was at a bar in the Mission District on my way home from work. Oddly enough, I knew the bartender tending bar that evening -- Zoe. I knew her from when I last lived in the city almost ten years ago. Then, she worked at the Mauna Loa in Pacific Heights. Running into her was odd luck, and kismet that it happened to be on poetry night. She offered a perspective on poetry that I found interesting.

"We call it 'poultry night'," Zoe said, referring to her and the other bartenders.

"Why is that?"

"Oh, I don't know," she said.

While talking to her, I got the sense that this deprecating name didn't have to do as much with a dislike for poetry as it did with the less than tipping-friendly crowd that it attracted.

"You know what you should do? You should serve wings during 'poultry night'. I'd like to see poets try to read their verse while their audience was sucking away at chicken bones," I said. "It would separate the wheat from the chaff."

"You know, some of the poets are fun to hear," she said, "but most I'd rather not listen to."

"I hear what you're saying," I said.

After participating in one of the more forgettable poetry readings I've attended, I found myself thinking about Zoe's perspective and the reasons underlying its salience. There have been many essays written about the "death of poetry" or the "problem with poetry." They pose arguments in a myriad of meandering vectors that end up pointing toward one commonality -- either an implicit or explicit critique of our post-post-modern culture (Should I add another 'post-' to that? I don't know. I haven't been on a campus in a couple of years.) for either a) not being able to appreciate the nuanced art poetry is, and/or b) discouraging would-be poets from the practice by enticing our best and brightest creative minds in other directions. How many great poets have we lost to the advertising industry? Or screenplay writing? Or iPhone app development?

While reading an older essay of Stephen Dobyns, I began to wonder if the problem doesn't lie in how we try to cultivate an interest in poetry. Having had this interest cultivated at an early age, this is not a question I've really ever considered. I've been consumed with a nonfiction project these last few months and removed from thoughts about poetry, though. When I decided to return, having let too much time pass since I'd last read a poem or about one, I picked up Dobyns' essay. I read him with the understanding that his love and knowledge of poetry would inspire me as it had done before. So I was shocked to find myself disagreeing with him vehemently upon reading his analysis of the French poet, Jean Follian.

The poem he analyzes is "The Women Who Sew Livery" (in translation by W.S. Merwin). Here's Merwin's translation of the poem:

When night falls
the women who sew livery
stop and wait to be given the light they wish for.
The town is covered with snow,
it is then that they sing
and the passer-by hears in the birdless street
the warm clear voices rising
from those girls who make clothes for valets
and he goes off sad and alone
to phantom dinners.

I've read and re-read this poem (and typed it out here, as well) and for the life of me, I can't set this poem alongside the poetic genius Dobyns ascribes to it. The way he reads into it, you'd think this was a masterpiece -- and I would, too. Back in the day when I was a student, if Dobyns was my professor and discussed this poem in class the way he does in this essay ("The Passerby in the Birdless Street" in his Best Words, Best Order) I would think I was lacking in some crucial regard, that I didn't have the insight or capability to comprehend what this great poet Follian was expressing in his simple verse.

Fact is, this poem does nothing for me. And it's not because I don't understand it. (I understand it all too well after Dobyns' essay.) It's not lost to me through Merwin's translation (I know Merwin translated it as well as anyone could). I can place myself in the context and time period of the poem. I even agree with the argument Dobyns' is making in the essay -- that poetry educates the emotions, and in doing so provides us an invaluable service. It serves to remove human beings from their own existential isolation by linking them in an empathetic way through language to a better understanding of the human condition. It helps us understand others and ourselves better by tapping at our root humanity.

But I think Follian's poem sucks. I think many better poems could have been substituted in its place and provided stronger examples for his argument. When I was a student, I would be inclined to write a paper refuting the praises Dobyns touches this poem with (for example -- the line "and he goes off sad and alone" -- tell me that there isn't a creative writing professor, anywhere, that wouldn't red-marker the fuck out of this line if submitted by one of his or her students.)

That line is unimportant, though, so is the poem and Dobyns' reading of it; what's important is what I realized about a lot of the education in the art of poetry that I received -- that since the form more than any other is governed by the emotive, what is 'cliche emotive' and 'nuanced emotive' is entirely a subjective argument. I've had some colossally shitty poetry professors who've argued like lawyers for poems guilty of poetic atrocities, and I nodded my head in class to their arguments. And I wasn't the only one. Perhaps this is what sucks about poetry -- its arbitrariness -- but it's also what initially attracted me to it -- the fact that it is a lawless proving grounds where, like blog writing, anything goes. Maybe now that I'm getting older poetry seems too lawless; perhaps a sheriff needs brought into town. Total stinking dogshit can be argued to be sweet, sweet French pastry, and eventually you just want to give up arguing. You break down, throw up your hands and concede, "OK I'll eat this dogshit pastry now." I think this is what underlies the problem with poetry and why our night is disparaged as 'poultry night'.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Éirinn go brách

While driving home this Saint Pat's I was pining for some clover.

A parking spot opened in front of my neighborhood bar, and I pulled over.

Had a Guinness, a corned beef sandwich and listened to Where The Streets Have No Name.

Struck up a conversation with a shamrock who fell off her bar stool in pain

Either because she was too drunk, or I was too boring and sober.

photo courtesy of

Saturday, February 6, 2010

you are here

Now that I've settled into my own, into a new apartment in a new city, I finally have the time to do more than simply post photos with a caption as I've done with my last couple of blog postings.

(Btw, this is my desk, overlooking the city lights at night. I've always yearned for an apartment with this kind of view. Hopefully I'll be able to afford this place long enough to someday take it for granted.)

I intended to write this post about a rare thing for the poetman -- poetry. However, I had to comment upon something I heard on the radio before I get around to doing that.

I now reside in San Francisco and work for a in Mountain View 40 miles south on the Peninsula. Due to my commute, I've found myself listening to NPR in the mornings. If there is any benefit to an hour-long drive to work everyday, it's listening to National Public Radio's broadcasting.

After having worked for major network's news station in Pittsburgh, I appreciate the quality of NPR's news reporting all the more. Not only is it not sensationalized to a nauseating degree (as is all of mainstream news media reporting) but it is legitimately intelligent. They broadcast news the way it should be. You step out of the car and something you've heard during their news broadcast remains with you afterward. Unlike mainstream media that attempts to replicate an action/adventure cinematic experience in its newscast (thus the emphasis of "live" or "action" or "breaking" news) NPR gives something so rare in media today -- a perspective that is conducive to philosophical thought. You're left thinking about where you stand personally, on one issue or another, in relation to society, culture and/or the world at large.

Immediately a few news reports come to mind:

There was an insightful interview with a North Korean national who escaped that fucked-up part of the world. What I found most interesting in the interview is that the individual did not bemoan the squalid and repressive conditions of his homeland, but rather the shattering of the illusion under which he had lived for so long and taken for granted. He believed -- BELIEVED -- that the North Korean standard of living was superlative to the rest of the world's, especially the decadent West's. Only upon leaving did he realize he had lived his life under the guise of propaganda and saw, for the first time in his life, what he had taken to be true had all along been false. It's a perspective you don't get from a mainstream broadcast. It was authentically emotional. Shakespearean. Human.

There was a NPR reporter covering the catastrophe in Haiti who, in mid-newscast, lapsed and showed something so rare in news reporting -- a fissure in his objective reporting demeanor and (gasp) an genuine emotional reaction to the sheer magnitude of the suffering and despair there, epitomized in the sight of a bandaged girl whose broken body waited in a long queue of wounded outside a medical facility. Listening to Jason Beaubien's report, I felt moved in a way no other reporter's reporting has ever been able to.

This particular blog post, though, was inspired by something else -- something that hit closer to home than North Korea or Haiti, personally. It was a report on a survey taken of young people in America; its findings supplemented previous studies that had established reading and writing is on the decline among our young people (17 and under).

This latest survey focused specifically upon blog reading; the results of the survey showed even this type of reading and writing has fallen out of favor with young people. Respondents to the survey complained that blogs not only took too much to write but also took too much time to read. Overwhelmingly, our young people prefer to express themselves -- and read the expressions of others -- through social networking sites and through texts between their cell phones.

If this is the case, really ... how much less dire are our straits than any third-world country's?

Saturday, January 2, 2010


...and we still don't have flying cars.

We. Suck.