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On Being Weird and Fashion

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I remember it very clearly. It was Chinese New Year, this year: to celebrate, I wore red pants and a black and white polka dotted shirt and a red and brown cardigan. I looked down at myself and thought: Who let me out of the house like this? Luckily, I had not left my house. I was pacing in my backyard, smoking a cigarette, making circles and circles. I looked down at myself and had an epiphany: I’m fucking weird.

This is funny because for most of my life, I’ve tried to be weird, and then one day, I just became weird.

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July 11th, 2014 / 12:54 pm

Catalog of ri¢h poets: Carabella Sands

Ri¢h like a ¢ockaroach scrambling and fighting other lesser insects for a bite of discarded pizza ¢rust. Ri¢h like a fifty ¢ent soda. Rich like a fire poker in the bottom. Rich like green eyeshadow all over your face. Carabella Sands is a ri¢h poet, and if you ever saw her reading poems laying on a concrete floor, you would never have any doubts about it.

carabella
photo credit

Pornography

I hugged your boyfriend last night
He felt real good and warm
I tried to connect my brain to yours
All the way in Disney World
So you could get an image
Our bodies
A leading center
And imagine your bodies
I wanted you to feel him
And need to come home

ABOUT THIS POEM

Fuck. This poem is about love obviously. Feeling so good about hugging someone that you feel bad someone else doesn’t get the chance to do it. I don’t know how to write an “about this poem” Can’t I pay someone to do it for me?

Carabella Sands is the ri¢hest poet ever. She owns the sun and most other stars. Her Tumblr is made of platinum and diamonds.

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July 2nd, 2014 / 2:29 pm

ATTN: Ink Press Productions Summer Micro-chap Contest 2014

Tracy Dimond sent me all the details about another opportunity to submit new work this summer. If you got a manuscript perfect for the micro-chap contest, you best pounce on this one:

Inkpress

Ink Press Productions is thrilled for summer and for our first ever micro-chap contest judged by Joseph Young!

What is a micro-chap? We’ll be looking for more than just a short collection. As Joe says,

The micro-chap is a form in itself. It’s not a shorter, or more condensed, chapbook, it’s a book with its very own aesthetics. What can a series of 7 very short poems or 6 tiny stories, do that 50 poems can’t? What are its limitations, and what are its possibilities?

I’ll be looking for a chap that would do just that: push against its edges, try something it might not know how to do.

Submissions will be open July 7-21. The winning chapbook will be announced by August 1 and then published in a handmade edition of 50 books to be released at the end of August.

To submit, email 10 pages or no more than 250 words in one document to inkpressproductions@gmail.com

There is no fee for submitting; however, we encourage anyone sending their work to check us out: buy a book, some merch, or show your support by making a $5 donation to Ink Press!

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July 2nd, 2014 / 9:00 am

Buk–Everytime

I talk to you on the phone you tell me I’m a great

writer

and everytime I read you in print you’re putting me down.

 

What is it with you?

 

the knifer

buk 3

 

I presume you are either Steve Richmond or Harold Norse.

I’ll have to presume it’s you, Steven.

there is nothing wrong with your writing—Or Norse’s.

it’s when you guys get outside your writing that you

often get depraved and nonsensical. I don’t want to

say it, but I will, and check it out if you please.

I asked Martin sometime back to print both you and

Norse feeling that you both deserved it. I have backed

both your and N’s writing—in forwards (forewords) to

your books and even by word of mouth over a bottle of

beer. and I don’t do it out of good feelings or comradie,

I do it because I believe in the artistry of your work.

then Norse attacks me in print (indirectly), asserting

that I have come between him and Sparrow, ruined his

chances when I have done just the opposite. I am not

out to get anybody; you guys are ridiculous. stick to

the facts. and on those 300 poems you showed me that

night, babe, since you hardharp it so much—most of them

did happen to be bad. all right, I’ve written some bad

ones too, plenty of them. we run into slumps of spirit

and life…now, do you understand? I say you’re

a very fine writer but you’re too jumpy about movements

in the fog. relax. I defended your work against a

certain guy you know quite well who said you couldn’t

write.                       (over)

 

HE CAME BY A WEEK AGO

 

I told him that I thought you were one of the most

powerful and original writers alive. I don’t want

to tell you these things but you fore ce me to. now

if you’ll get your head on straight and get into

doing the WORK you’re capable of instead of imagining

I wish your beath death, then we’ll both feel one hell

of a lot better.

 

I hope you’re getting some good ass and some love

and that the lines are falling into place. I’ve come

off a couple bad days drinking but am back to getting

all things now. stay with it. Some day it will come to

you    it has now. you don’t know it. get your teeth

into the typewriter ribbon.

Sure,

BUK

 

p.s. I’ve moved. you ever got any need to phone, o.k., it’s 661-7754.

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June 27th, 2014 / 8:13 am

The Opening Pages of Joshua Corey’s “Beautiful Soul: An American Elegy”


Available now from Spuyten Duyvil

Because my home office has stacks on stacks of books, because new books are added to the stacks almost daily, because I have not finished half of half of the books I’ve started, I cannot grant attention to more than the opening pages of a book before I decide whether or not to stick with it. In truth, if a book has not convinced me within five or six pages that it deserves my complete attention I put it in the box labeled “To Be Traded At The Bookstore in Jacksonville.” Sadly, many many books end up in that box. Given the limited number of books that escape such a fate, I thought I might spotlight a few of them this summer in a series I’m calling “The Opening Pages.” Could have also called it “Books that didn’t end up in the trade box,” but that sounded less catchy.

Joshua Corey’s Beautiful Soul: An American Elegy did not end up in the trade box. Quite the contrary. I think it’s one of the most interesting and impressive books I’ve read lately. And since it has just been released, I thought it would be a great place to start this series.

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June 13th, 2014 / 12:00 pm

30 Pictures of Refrigerators

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Amina Cain is the author of Creature, one of my favorite books in 2013.

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Andrew Weatherhead is funny. I follow his twitter and laugh often at his tweets.

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June 5th, 2014 / 2:00 pm

Catalog of ri¢h poets: Manuel Arturo Abreu

I usually write the introductions on my own posts around here, but Manuel Arturo Abreu’s intro is hella cute. And their post is hella cool and good and important. Sooooo /Tsaritsa out.

Poets stack that immaterial paper by living in the danger zone. Making written or typed marks is a way of briefly reminding ourselves we exist. It’s easy to forget when you’re rolling in the dough. The world is confusing when the spirit is so rich. This is why I say “you feel me?” Alexandra the based goth (aka Tsaritsa aka Billy Corgan’s Whore aka the version you were afraid to ask for) asked me for a poem for her Catalog of ri¢h poets and I sent her this one about changing the game.

manuel

VIRTUOSO

Mr. A and Mr. B had just graduated from the same college. Mr. A was a biology major and Mr. B was a physics major.

º

Mr. A felt the need to “change the game.” He vaguely knew about biometrics, and wanted to learn how to code, but felt like his “instincts had failed him,” that he’d discovered about Silicon Valley too late, or something, and should’ve started coding when he was ten, maybe. He would have been a virtuoso by now.

º

Mr. B wanted to become part of a startup. He was a quiet beast at coding. He remembered once when a white guy wrote in a notebook, after a conversation with him, “QUANTUM COMPUTING → $$$” and then said he had to go do something. He was carrying a purple yoga mat. He had said he had just finished rehab for “a bunch of dumb shit.”

º

Mr. B’s parents had visited recently from India. He felt “drastically changed” from the experience, and stopped smoking cannabis. He had not been back home to Tamil Nadu in two years. He felt aversion to the idea of returning, but only had three months to remain in the US after graduation before needing to find employment, before his “grace period” ran out. He tells Mr. A, “I’m an alien. That’s what they consider me, like the government you know.”

º

Mr. A remembers when one of his friends told him a story about “how I believed for way too long that ‘illegal alien’ meant actual aliens, like from outer space, and I was hateful and afraid, until when I was like nine I learned it just meant real people, who like, the government or other random people had decided weren’t allowed in this country, and I was like oh, that’s so evil.”

ABOUT THIS POEM

VIRTUOSO is a poem about being the best there ever was. Changing the game is a pressing concern to most people. Thus my poem is an example of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). The key is that both characters are my real-life friends. One is American, one is not. Therefore, because quantum computing, yoga, cannabis, and immigration issues are trending, I firmly believe this poem will soon become the first google search result for “i don’t understand why people have to work to stay alive why can’t we just walk around and talk and heal from history and stuff.” I worked as a personal assistant for a self-described ‘SEO wizard,’ I know what I’m doing. He also had two poodles. VIRTUOSO is from a chapbook called List of Consonants, forthcoming from Dig That Books.

 

 

manuel arturo abreu is a poet and forgone soul based in portland. They are from the Bronx so the epithet ‘boogie-down’ applies here if you need a reason to google ‘manuel arturo abreu.’ manuel likes emo sexts, jazzercising, and sketchy ecoqueer fantasias. Their ideal date is a group of people sharing a laptop to show each other music online. manuel is hard at work tweeting, editing at greybook , and sleeping things off. Hire them, email for more info hearingdeafone@gmail.com.

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June 3rd, 2014 / 6:57 pm

Brohemia (2014)

Williamsburg is a place that memorializes masculinity while at the same time re-coding it. In the ‘olden times,’ man worked in a factory, provided for a family, controlled everything in a calm and fairly inarticulate manner. This sometimes worked. So I’ve read.

More often, the industrial society led by men descended into war, violence, chaos.

In 2006-2014 Williamsburg there is a bar called “Bar-cade” that is about a late 20c nerd’s revenge on the New York Nightlife. It’s post-industrial. It’s information society.


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May 21st, 2014 / 2:00 pm

Catalog of ri¢h poets: Jess Dutschmann

We’re flossy.

We’re the first poets to scream that we’re hot. We got our face tattooed on their arms. That’s right, we brought all the weird lit to the scene, and that’s right we’re the cats that’s getting the cream.

And it sucks because we want almond milk. Al-mond mi-ilk. Just because we are obtusely wealthy with our words and our pauses and our golden bars and other cliches doesn’t mean we don’t have standards.

Whatever. My thoughts are too expensive for you, anyway.

Another week brings another installment of our ri¢h poets series. Please throw your loose pocket change in the air and welcome Jess Dutschmann.

jess

When Possible

The snake in the road was dead.
When you picked it up it shook
its body shook like dance recitals.

It still and then calm and the also
having breathing. Imagine snake
lungs. In and out thumbnails.

There was a wrong snake. Green
and maybe teeth but not angry.
You picked it up it shook alive.

You killed the snake with your
hands and every day the snake
going killing again. You it killed.

Blood can coagulate did you know
but not this little guy. Just a vine
maybe teeth but not hungry dead.

ABOUT THIS POEM

This poem is about snakes. Snakes, as anyone alive is aware of, are made entirely out of cash money. This poem is about not knowing too much about snakes, which are, as anyone alive is aware of, made entirely out of calcium and borax. This poem is about snakes. Snakes, as everyone knows, are already dead. This poem is about snakes, which the cast of The View drinks for every meal in a steaming hot smoothie, each little elongated hexagon scale flitting through the vitamix, catching light like eyelashes on cheeks.

Jess Dutschmann lives in the castle of every vanquished Disney villain. She bought them on the cheap after the usual fire-pit scene. She is made out of thousands of dollars of medical bills. She prays to sixteen gods nobody has heard of and they rain down golden coins until she blinks upward, both eyes bruised to hell, and grins bloodteeth. SheoOOOOoOOOOOOoooOOOOOOOOO

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May 20th, 2014 / 11:57 am

In Theory, This Could Be Fun

Airport living from 5/14 thru 5/16 in celebration/mourning of the publication of my latest book, “The Fun We’ve Had.”

Any advice on keeping off of security’s radar? Anyone want a shout-out when I get really fucking bored? Anyone want to Skype while I’m leeching off the airport’s Wi-Fi?

Maybe I’ll just watch that Tom Hanks movie and do exactly what he did. Could be good.

Here’s the blog post I wrote about this, whatever this is:

In a big way, being in an airport is a lot like being lost at sea. So many places and possibilities to drift, but not if you don’t already know where it is that you’re going.

I don’t know where I’m going. That’s why I’m not going anywhere.
I’ll be living in an airport for 48hrs.

Beginning 10AM on Wednesday May 14th through Friday May 16th around 10AM: Going nowhere and probably getting into some shit. There’s a good chance I will no longer be human by the end of it. There’s a pretty damn good chance that I’ve never been human. Not to worry, I’ll be online and active during the entire thing.

Odds are you’ll hear from me, be it a tweet, a post on Facebook, or a photo/video on Instagram. I’ll be calling out to everyone while I’m stranded in a state of flux. I’ll also have one of my best writer friends around, Kyle Muntz, hanging around, surviving this ridiculousness with me.

 Yes I’m serious. Look how serious I am:

Seriously

Will it be fun? I hope so. If not, I’ll be at the airport bar.

\m/ \m/

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May 12th, 2014 / 9:30 am

Catalog of ri¢h poets: Elizabeth Foster

Poets make that guap, right? Easy money. At least that’s what my nine to five office co-workers keep telling me.

It’s easy being poor, it’s much harder to be a ri¢h poet. People who are not poets have no idea how real the struggle is. Major label publishers, celebrities, Jay-Z– everyone wants a piece of the lyrical genius. It can be super overwhelming. Don’t even get me ranting about all those diamonds that get thrown at us on our way to the subway for the evening commute. Yowch! Thankfully, those precious stones can be ground up and sprinkled on cat litter to make that shit shine.

Today starts the first in a series profiling real life rich poets so that you get to know them, understand their pain. Please enjoy this poem by Elizabeth Foster and recognize that it’s hard out here for a ri¢h poet.

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May 7th, 2014 / 7:56 pm

Random & Reviews

Some Poems…

indexRussian Novels
by Luke Bloomfield
Factory Hollow Press, 2014

Unlike the archetypal Russian Novel, Luke Bloomfield’s Russian Novels is little more than a centimeter or so thick, 60-some pages of poems with names like “The Duffel Bag” and “Fisticuffs.”  Most of the poetry inside the book feels as flat as the book, a sort of day-old-seltzer meets #normcore poetics.  The first poem, for example, begins “When I go 2 Paris / it is like Paris,” and goes on to blanket classically French France in stereotypical American stereotype: “Voila, Paris France! / All the cigarettes everywhere / are pronounced cigarette.”  In this trick, Bloomfield spells cigarette cigarette and, abracadabra, we the audience mind-mold the word like Play-Doh.  The point seems to be that language is as wild and plastic as a “bird” that appears, disappears, and reappears throughout Russian Novels, always cast as simply “bird”—and yet each of these birds, conjured in Bloomfield’s magic, manages to manifest a somewhat unique form. The limitation of such simple syntax is clear however, when, in certain poems like “The Affair I Had With Sweden,” the author tries to reveal some semi-complicated personal gunk: “It sent me over the edge. / I don’t leave the kitchen ever. / All day I hack food into Swedish shapes. / And you know what else I do.”  I don’t know, do you?  What are we supposed to know? I know Russian Novels is not a novel; the MARC code on the back of the book says Poetry and the Very Poetic Word “flotsam” appears in the title of a poem on page 47. I know that the cover of Russian Novels presents a blurry photograph of a nose, but I don’t know whether or not this is Bloomfield’s schnoz?  And I just don’t know what Bloomfield thinks he knows that I know.

Flat affect tends to belie emotional content, and in lines like “Pity me.  I have nowhere to walk,” Bloomfield has incanted a dissociative poetics reminiscent of Nintendo sidescroller.  The action is pretty fun but Russian Novels, like video games, lacks a third dimension.  The book’s tender moment of intimacy (MOI), imo, comes in the author’s dedication, “for my sister.” A close second: Bloomfield’s confession that he sleeps in astronaut-themed bed-sheets.

***

IMG_2194Manual for Extinction
by Caroline Manring
The National Poetry Review Press, 2014

 

The earth in Manual for Extinction is a dour place where to be “alive was as good as dead.”  The manual doubles as a field guide for understanding this wilderness-less mess, a contemporary big-boxed landscape that, lucky for us, Caroline Manring has surveyed with her poetic binoculars.  Fans of “flotsam” will be pleased to find the word has survived End Times (hi flotsam!) and can be found in this book alongside lots of titles that start with the word how, as in “How to Go Extinct” and “How to Write a Debut Novel.”  There are a few outliers, such as “The Cartographer’s Children Go Without Shoes,” an evolutionary meditation that invokes the proto-winged avian-ancestor, Archaeopteryx, in which “A fossil is deciding / whether to save us.”  Manring demonstrates a cool familiarity with Biology while at the same time grappling with the paradox that Borges called exactitude in science. “A copy of a wolf & the wolf itself / are the same if you draw them both.”

A world of illustrated (aka dead) dodo birds, lost turkeys, and dilapidated human remains sounds shitty and scary but it is also quite literally what we’ve got.  In place of live starlings and spring robins we might increasingly encounter the complexity of nature only in the complexity of research finding that predict diminishing populations of red-winged blackbirds, ruby-throated hummingbirds, and buffleheads alike.  Manring writes in sympathy with these vanishing species, “I want less & less to be in present use.”  Would that we were all to follow such a guide.

***

tumblr_mj61u0pCl81qit5mao1_1280My Enemies
by Jane Gregory
The Song Cave, 2013

 

We’ve a lot to learn from My Enemies.   As the title suggests, many things are often as much what they are as what they are not.   Take, for example, Jane Gregory’s sonic yin and yang, “Cymbals / when washed up or out to sea are silent.”  Much like the potential for both mute and crash held in tempered bell bronze, Gregory has set temporality in opposition to intuition, and by that I mean . . . listen to her ring like an animated slomotion gif of a Zildjian: “I recognize the tongue of the wolf / before it is in the wolf’s mouth.”

1309197226_cymbal_hit_in_slomo

Wallace Stevens sez “Poems must resist the intelligence / almost successfully,” and My Enemies outmaneuvers the brain’s insistent cognition, which just cannot compute Jane Gregory.  The many poems entitled “Book I Will Not Write” are, as announced, books never really written.  But in the poetic summation of these non-books, the author has penned a must read.

Though unable to locate a single instance of “flotsam” inside this text, I found plenty of poetic words like “guncotton,” “ecdysis,” and “Proust.”

***

Peter Nowogrodzki lives in Hudson, NY

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April 11th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Providence is scary but at least there is a library

Dylan Little, Manager at the Providence Community Library, is clearly lying to us.

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March 19th, 2014 / 12:00 pm

Eight Imaginary Writer Residencies

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Many writers are excited to sit on a train, shit in a moving closet, and eat microwavable food. I can understand the appeal of having quiet-time for consecutive days, looking through a window at a flashing landscape. We want to escape our daily physical space so badly, but also remain in a chair, so the Amtrak residency seems ideal for many. Here are eight other writer residencies if you’re not down with Amtrak but are looking for something different:

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March 18th, 2014 / 12:00 pm

Who’s Playing Doctor to the Physicians of the Soul?

Poets are the physicians of the soul.”—Irving Layton, Canadian Nobel nominee for literature.

“She wouldn’t react that way to rape—you bet your life she wouldn’t. Along with the rest of her sex she’d lie back and enjoy it”—Irving Layton in private correspondence. Wild Gooseberries: The Selected Letters of Irving Layton (Toronto: Macmillan, 1989), 53.

***

oh-canada

Canadian Lit likes to think it’s known for being boring, or multicultural, or for surviving in the wilderness. It is hardly known at all, besides by a certain charming Scandinavian institute for Canadian Studies, and those non-Canucks who do know it exists prefer not to think about it. We have heard dull battle cries from other bookish people: “Can Lit isn’t literature”; “Or you could read an actual book” & “Don’t waste your time with that shit”. The Stephen Leacocks, Michael Ondaatjes, Margaret Atwoods, Alice Munros, Anne Carsons, Robertston Davies and Irving Laytons be damned; there’s nothing particularly Canadian about them, they just live north of the 49th. I don’t care to address those suckers of canonization’s long, evil phallus. “Tell us what to read!” they say. “Tell us what set of pseudo-conflicting opinions to harbor,” they murmur through their facile, troubled dreams of greatness. This letter is also not to the children of Canlit, those ‘iconoclasts’ who treat famous poets like demigods, and who worship in a side-chapel of the same institution of thinly-veiled brain-death. Keep your precious feelings, everybody, but leave discussions of taste to snobs who read.

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March 17th, 2014 / 11:00 am

Herschel Hoffmeyer, Dinosaur Enthusiast

Herschel Hoffmeyer alternate image“I’ve been learning about and drawing dinosaurs since I was a kid,” explains Herschel Hoffmeyer, creator of the Apex Theropod Deck-Building Game, now on Kickstarter. “I even won a dinosaur art contest at a local library when I was very little. I was made to create these guys and bring them to life.”

Apex Theropod looks like a dinosaur-lover’s nocturnal emission…and Herschel himself might be the biggest dino-enthusiast you’ll ever meet. “I have National Geographic’s The Ultimate Dinopedia and the super-sized book Dinosaurs by David James. I really love what the indie company Lukewarm Media has done with their game Primal Carnage,” he gushes, adding as an afterthought that he hasn’t actually been able to play said game yet.

According to his Kickstarter bio, Herschel is an 8-year Army veteran and Game Art and Design student at the Arts Institute International in Kansas City. Intrigued about how his Army life segued into his current saurian pursuits, I contacted Herschel for an interview. “Apex started as a simple prototype dinosaur-themed game used for an assignment in one of my game design classes at the Arts Institute International of Kansas City,” he explained. “After seeing my game concepts compared to others, I knew I had a knack for game design. Shortly after, I worked on many different prototype games under the same dinosaur theme, game goals, and playable class ideas.”

“The dinosaur theme was definitely the theme from the beginning, just because I thought it would be really fun to play.” As for the mechanics, they were inspired by the Legendary: A Marvel Deck-Building Game, published by Upper Deck Entertainment. Like other deck-building games, Legendary starts each player with a small deck of relatively weak cards (in this case, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents). However, over the course of the game, they can use these cards to “recruit” more powerful, iconic Marvel heroes into their deck, and the winner will be the player who builds the cleverest deck in the shortest time. This evolution from humble beginnings is a potently addictive formula, which explains the explosion of popularity deck-builders have experienced since they were popularized by Donald X. Vaccarino’s Dominion in 2008. Herschel isn’t naive to the economics of the situation: one reason he selected the deck-building format is that, since the bulk of their contents are composed of duplicate cards, deck-builders are relatively inexpensive to manufacture.

Apex theropod cardsThis evolutionary gameplay is also the perfect complement to the theme of becoming the world’s top saurian predator. Herschel explains, “Most of the game’s mechanics are shaped around the theme, and three are really unique to the game. The first is the territory-based decks. With the environmental deck affecting those territories, that drives a sense of environment immersion. The second is that each player has a nest. The nest is separate from your playing deck and unique to whatever dinosaur you’re playing as. In the nest, you hatch cards that consist of just your dinosaur, and you also bring any prey hunted back to your nest to eat later. The third unique mechanic is the unforgiving boss battles. To dominate each territory, you have to fight off the other competing apex predator of that territory, and that is the boss. In a 5-player game, you have eight total bosses, and in a single-player game, you have three bosses and one ultimate boss.”

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March 12th, 2014 / 11:00 am

I Am Heavy Bored

It’s amazing how many times I’ve received this email, usually from a sane, diligent, intelligent and widely-published poet. Have your received it too? Have you done it?

I’m totes pro this sort of thing, cuz, whatever, it’s sweethearted and anyway I’m against more important things like reality TV, but when I first received it (from Mike Young—I told him it was going down on his permanent record), I thought for a minute about what poem I would send.

Then I realized if I did this, I could potentially receive a poem from ~20 people.

Who started this?

Some friends started a collective, constructive, and hopefully uplifting exchange, a form of email art exchange. It’s a one-time thing and we hope you will participate. We have picked those we think would be faithful, and make it fun. Please take just a few minutes to send an encouraging quote or verse to the person whose name is in position 1 below (even if you don’t know him or her). It should be a favorite text verse/poem/meditation/recipe that has lifted you when you were experiencing challenging times. Don’t agonize over it–it is one you reach for when you need it or the one that you always turn to.

1)
2)

After you’ve sent the short poem/verse/meditation/quote/etc. to the person in position 1, and only that person, copy this letter into a new email, move my name to position 1. and put your name in position 2. Only my name and your name should show when you email. Send to ~20 friends BCC (blind copy). If you cannot do this in five days, let us know so it will be fair to those participating. It’s fun to see where they come from. Seldom does anyone drop out because we all need new ideas and inspiration. The turnaround is fast, as there are only two names on the list, and you only have to do it once.

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March 10th, 2014 / 9:58 am

ALL SEVEN SEASONS OF “MELROSE PLACE” IN SCREENSHOTS

One of the first “essays” I ever wrote in elementary school was in response to the heavy question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I am not sure this translates correctly in English, but there was a clear indication in the teacher’s inquiry this was about our professional aspirations. I correctly predicted at the age of six that I would move to “California, Beverly Hills” (which is one place) and inevitably be added to the cast of the epic tele-universe Beverly Hills 90210″ Aaron Spelling produced. Without irony, I consider my watching of this show about bratty teenagers dealing with their brattiness as a key paragon in my successful and organic learning of the English language.

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March 4th, 2014 / 11:00 am

Organisms that do not exhibit recursion in communication still have the capacity for recursion

Hauser, Chomsky and Fitch 2002 (HC&F hereafter) incited a flurry of discussion in response to its distinction between the faculty of language in the broad sense (FLB) and the faculty of language in the narrow sense (FLN): “FLB includes a sensory-motor system, a conceptual-intentional system, and the computational mechanisms for recursion, providing the capacity to generate an infinite range of expressions from a finite set of elements. We hypothesize that FLN only includes recursion and is the only uniquely human component of the faculty of language.” (HC&F, 1569). The implication is that the observable structural differences between human language and other forms of animal communication can be explained by the exclusivity of recursion to human language. This statement also operates on the assumption that recursion is a universal trait of human language.

Image courtesy of this site.

Daniel Everett’s work with the Pirahã tribe in the Amazon presents evidence contrary to HC&F’s claims. Everett found that the Pirahã language lacked embedding, at least representational recursion1: “Pirahã does not make use of CP-embedding or recursive possessors.” (Kinsella 2010: 188)2 Nonetheless, they can, through other linguistic and pragmatic means, express concepts which in other languages would be expressed recursively (ibid.). Everett says “..Pirahã most certainly has the communicative resources to expresses clauses that in other languages are embedded…” (Everett 2005: 631) Therefore, though Pirahã does not seem to have recursion, it is by no means restricted in its expressive capacity, countering the claims of Hauser, Chomsky and Finch 2002 regarding “the rich expressive and open-ended power of human language (based on humans’ capacity for recursion),” which capacity they claim animal communication lacks because it does not exhibit recursion (HC&F, 1570). If Pirahã’s expressive capacity is not hindered by its seeming lack of recursion, then perhaps recursion is not in fact a distinguishing feature of human language (Kinsella 188), or at least not the only one: perhaps it can be found in non-linguistic and non-human domains.

Image courtesy of HC&F 2002.

This may in fact the case. HC&F 2002 themselves speculate that recursion may be evident in animal navigation and kinship cognition, and songbirds have exhibited the capacity to comprehend recursive hierarchical syntactic structure (Abe & Watanabe 2011; Gentner et al 2006). Bengalese finches exposed to an artificially-constructed, center-embedded birdsong grammar “revealed a striking sensitivity to the recursive structure of the grammatical strings [they] were exposed to.” (Bloomfield et al 2011) The finches responded equally to familiar and novel grammatical strings, but decreased in response when presented with ungrammatical birdsong strings (ibid.). This indicates that recursion is not necessarily specific to humans, and that it is only sufficient, not necessary for human language, as Everett’s work with the Pirahã indicates. Therefore, since recursion as a unique feature of language is questionable, it would be fruitful to comparatively investigate the other possibly-distinguishing properties of language— the syntax-semantics interface particularly, as well as the lexicon and the nature of phrasal categories (Kinsella 2010).

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March 3rd, 2014 / 11:00 am

see you in seattle

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February 23rd, 2014 / 10:10 pm