January 2010

So Mike Young won the Literary Death Match in Baltimore. I know it was my post here that cinched it. Congrats, Mike! Hopefully there will be videos and so on soon.

Just now walking on Wall Street near the stock exchange I saw a guy leading an excited crowd and carrying a white binder with the words “AYN RAND TOUR” printed on it.

Elisa Gabbert begins her blog post, “Publish the Poem, Not the Poet” with the following anecdote-

Going through Absent subs lately, I’ve been reading a lot of poems that feel basically perfunctory. They are perfectly competent poems written by poets who have every indication of being good writers: I recognize their names and the places that they’ve been published; their credentials are impressive; often I’m already pretty familiar with their work. (Everyone submits to and gets published in the same online journals, for the most part.) But the poems are merely competent; they have no [oomph/je ne sais quoi/duende/poetry]. It’s like the poet wrote them just because you gotta write something. These writers are probably capable of turning out a “publishable” poem any day of the week.

The post is worth reading in full. Also interesting is the comments section, where there’s a lively thread going. It seems, for the most part, that people are in agreement with her, some of them quite vocally so. Personally, I felt my own agreement-strings tugged hard at the out-set, but then the upwelling of a consensus so perfectly in line with my own made me distrust my own first instinct. If we’re all in such fine agreement on what the problem is (that is, the problem of “competence,” as outlined above; later EG introduces and “image vs. idea” argument with a highly tentative relationship to the ostensible initial concern of the post) then why has the problem not resolved itself by dint of our own collectively adjusted behaviors? Is there anyone out there who knowingly practices the poetry of mere competence, or sufficiency? Is there a describable (defensible) logic or ethos informing such practice? I would love to hear from that person or those people. Also, does anyone want to make the argument FOR publishing the poet rather than the poem? I actually think there’s a strong, albeit difficult argument to be made for this practice, though not necessarily as it applies to the mid-rangers and “competents” EG is talking about.  DISCUSS!

Web Hype / 50 Comments
January 31st, 2010 / 5:23 pm

Sunday Service

David Peak Poem

The Destruction Loops, Parts 1-8

I’ve let my blood out in a steamy bath

I’ve jammed a butter knife into the toaster

Lied down on my back and dropped a shot put on my face

I stuffed balls of newspaper print in my mouth

And spelled the state capitals in alphabetical order

I allowed myself to be hypnotized at the count of 8

The snap of my neck like the snap of a hypnotist’s fingers

The hypnotist showed me the earth as the angels see it

The streets are a twisted maze and we are lost in the maze

We are born walking into the world’s maze

At the count of 4 you will forget your confusion

The bathroom is filled with steam and the mirrors are steamed over

You cannot see yourself or your face in the mirror

The maze is all right angles

You are born into a confusion of angles

You will realize your confusion at the count of 4

1 – turn right

2 – turn right again

3 – turn right again

4 – turn right again

You are where you began

You must make this circuit twice

You are no longer lost in this section of the maze

I hear the snap of fingers like the snap of my neck

I am alone in a great square in a gray city

There are clouds adrift in the swollen sky

The clouds are swollen with acid rain

The gray city is one of many on an island in the ocean

The ocean is green

Its green waters are a bath of acid eating away at the coastline

You cannot see yourself in the mirror

Soon the clouds will open up and let loose their rains

You will strip naked and let them eat away at your skin

In the morning your skeleton will be found by a group of hungry lions

The lions will have ribs like wishbones pushing out at their fur

And they will pick you clean

You have given them a fullness

The meat on your bones will have completed its circuit

You will feel that you have done the right thing

You will feel an angel place a heavy hand on your shoulder

You will close your eyes and count to 8

You are clean now

You have smeared jam on your toast

You are no longer hungry

It is warm here in the lion’s den

David Peak is the author of a novel, The Rocket’s Red Glare (Leucrota Press), a book of poems, Surface Tension (BlazeVOX Books), and a chapbook, Museum of Fucked (Warm Milk Press). He lives in New York City and blogs at davidpeak.blogspot.com.

Horror Affect

Been watching a lot of horror movies lately. Seems like there’s a lot to be learned affect-wise in the way certain films can build a space and response in the viewer by simple depictions, sound and color. Though often, these effects, by the end of a film, are dispelled: any inherent blank or fear in buildings or suggestions are explained away by removing masks, using weapons, spilling gore. This, for me, always is simultaneously a relief, because I can get out, but also a supreme disappointment, because then there is nothing left to rub. Specifically, last night I watched a pop horror film, The Strangers, and was actually starting to feel really activated, but then after the fear became murder it was easy to forget. There are, of course, though, horror films that don’t answer the questions, and have the affect, such as The Shining, and other films not quite horror in name but that cause that stir and don’t dispel it by the film’s end, such as Solaris or Invocation of My Demon Brother or Mulholland Drive. I can think of a lot of films like those, but much many less in the “official” horror genre, which seems weird.

What are some horror films that open these doors and leave them open, and also are beautifully made, clean of cheese?

What about books that cause this fear in you, and extend beyond page turners? House of Leaves is a close example, in that it has that affect, and the craft is decent, but I wish the book had had a more thorough edit to pare down the distractors.

Film / 156 Comments
January 30th, 2010 / 4:22 pm

Gawker.tv has clips of Oprah audience members doing group process after Jay Leno’s visit to O’s show. WARNING: Watching this has basically ruined/made my day. It has sent me into paroxysms of stupidity, which are kind of like hate-sex orgasms, only they come out kind of sideways, and share certain fundamental attributes with the concept of “negative infinity.” No Harold Bloom for at least an hour after Oprah audience share-time, or you will cramp up and drown like a swimmer with a gutfull of Chinese food. Also, what is negative infinity, exactly? Dr. Achilles at the Math Forum, take it away-

>I would also like a real world example of negative infinity that I
>can use to explain it to my daughter.

Regarding this question, I don’t think I can help because I am at a loss to come up with an example of negative numbers or of positive infinity which would work for a 4-year-old (and I can’t even come up with an example of negative infinity for anyone, offhand.

Best wishes for you and your child in working through tough math concepts.

Oh, well. It was worth a try.

Reviews & Web Hype

Let’s See What Some Stuff’s About

The Scott Timberg io9 piece I mentioned the other day is live now. “Welcome to the Soft Apocalypse.”

At TNRBook, Sophia Lear is unimpressed by Sheila Kohler’s Becoming Jane Eyre. Also, reprinted classics by George Orwell and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Two things I pinched from Bookslut– “The Poetics of Amateur Products Reviews” and Margaret Drabble introduces you to William Wordsworth. And why the heck not?

Okay, NYTea time- Tom Carson really likes Just Kids, Patti Smith’s memoir of Robert Mapplethorpe. I’ve heard amazing things about it as well–out in “the streets”. Wells Tower is pretty ambivalent about the new T.C. Boyle. Antonya Nelson calls Robert Stone’s Fun With Problems “a book for grown-ups,” which is a concept I both do and do not understand; both am and am not vaguely attracted to. Has anyone out there ever read any Stone? Also, obituaries. Charles McGrath on Salinger and Michael Powell on Zinn. A blog I’d never heard of (before Paper Cuts linked to it) called “Classics Rock: Books Shelved in Songs” has playlists of songs that reference the works of each man (Zinn, Salinger). But the Farah Fawcett Memorial Overshadowed Death of the Week (literature edition) has absolutely got to go to poor Louis Auchincloss, who wrote over 60 books over 50 years, mostly while also still practicing law, and who, at 92, had a year on Salinger and four on Zinn.

Finally, a question. For three days now I’ve left Emerson’s Divinity School Address in an open tab on my browser. Will today be the day I print it out and actually read it? (That’s really two questions.)

January 30th, 2010 / 11:54 am

10 Part David Foster Wallace Interview 2003

[Parts 2-10 available from the end of part 1. Thanks Gene Kwak]

Author Spotlight / 43 Comments
January 30th, 2010 / 3:18 am

Friday Night Lights (Group Effort #2 and Rule of Threes)

Taylor Kitsch of Friday Night Lights

1. It’s Friday night. Remember when that meant something? We’d get dressed up in our tutus and paint little pink circles on our cheeks and pirouette the night away. Our thirties are different, are dark around the edges, are full of tennis matches and distracting tv shows that we don’t even watch on televisions anymore. Speaking of we, I remember loving The Virgin Suicides, particularly for Eugenides’ use of that wily, sometimes achingly beautiful first person plural.

2. Friday Night Lights is actually a pretty good show.

3. Here’s another group effort prompt for those of you who also don’t leave the house many Friday nights, smoking your cigarettes and drinking your delicious quiet with a straw. Let’s write a story this time. Keep your contribution to a few sentences, por favor.

We are goober. We are brontosaurus. In the back of a car, we are dumb luck.

Random / 20 Comments
January 29th, 2010 / 11:01 pm