June 3, 2010

poetry interlude: happy birthday, allen ginsberg.

The poets who really woke me up with their writing were prurient and profane when I found them, but exciting enough to keep reading until I understood what made their work lasting, important, and profound. Allen Ginsberg is the first of these. I read Howl at fourteen years old crouched in a Barnes & Noble in a suburb too far from Los Angeles to really be a suburb. After Howl I spent then next couple years seeking out other writers whose work felt like a punch in the stomach: Henry Miller, Charles Bukowski, and Stephen Dobyns knocked the wind out of me during my high school years, and it's partly due to Allen Ginsberg that I found them.

There is a poem other than "Howl" in the book of the same name that is strikingly beautiful and strange and melancholy, and it is this poem that I return to when I pull out my dog-eared copy of Collected Poems 1947-1980: "A Supermarket in California" is a fantastical poem about tailing Walt Whitman through a grocery store, and it ends thusly:

Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America did you have in mind when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?

If you want to read some of the scholarly things people have to say about Allen Ginsberg, Ann Charters said most of it, you can check it out here.

Today is Allen Ginsberg's birthday: Happy Birthday, Allen Ginsberg. Celebrate by reading one of his other poems. I found this audio clip of him reading his poem, "America" that I had never heard before, and I was struck by the joy and humor in his voice as he reads it: He was able to be loud about serious things, but always with joy and a sense of humor.

May 24, 2010

the poetry problem, part ii: picking up where you left off.

Our first experiences with poetry, for those of us fortunate enough to have been children sometime after Where the Sidewalk Ends got published, came from Shel Silverstein--he introduced us to the silly, funny sing-song things our language could do, in such a way that anyone who uses language can appreciate. This is a fundamental characteristic of the accessible poetry we are trying to discover here: It should offer something to anyone who uses language, and help them experience language in an unusual way. The exaggeration in Silverstein's work appeals to the mountain-sized imaginations that children carry around with them, and the rhyminess allows them to play with the sounds of language almost separate from meaning, which is a wonderful way to explore when you are a little person whose vocabulary is expanding exhaustively.

Sometime between Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout and today, you stopped thinking of poetry as a fun and approachable way to enjoy language. So let's pick up where you left off and explore some smart, funny, poignant people who don't expect you to obtain an MFA before reading their work.

Billy Collins and Poetry 180.

Billy Collins is an American poet who used to be Poet Laureate of the United States, and while he held that title he did a wonderful thing for poetry and for young people by creating the Poetry 180 project. He compiled a list of 180 poems that he thought would speak to young people, and these poems were read, one per day, over school intercoms during homeroom. His work matches the humble, thoughtful tone of his voice, making it a joy to hear him read his own work, which you can do here and here. His poem entitled, "Introduction to Poetry" speaks to the issues we're trying to work out here.

Ron Koertge.

The universal experience of awkwardness, adolescent or otherwise, is treated with kindness and humor in Ron Koertge's work. The reader is made to feel comfortable about his/her own awkward moments, and perhaps even laugh at them. Some of my favorites of his poems are "Lonely as a Leftover Thumb," which appeared in In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet's Portable Workshop by Steve Kowitt; and "The Poem Enters a Beauty Pageant," which I can't find online. He also writes young adult fiction, and you can find books of his poetry on Amazon.

Richard Brautigan.

Trout Fishing in America was an important discovery for me when I was in high school, and The Pill Vs. The Spring Hill Mine Disaster is a book of Brautigan's poems that comes in the same volume. His work is silly and beautiful, often at the same time, and reading his poetry made me consider some of the strange things that language can do: He articulates truth using absurdity to get there. Enjoy "Your Catfish Friend" and maybe take a look at some of his prose, too.

I hope this is helpful! Go read some poems and see if any of them make you laugh. Click around the Poetry 180 site next time you're bored at work. Let some poems bore you and some poems jump out at you without judging the experience. See if you can articulate what's working for you and what isn't.

May 14, 2010

the poetry problem, part i.

In honor of National Poetry Month, and mostly just because I thought it would be a fun writing exercise, I posted 140-character poems on Twitter in April. I tried to post one each day, but this was my first experience making my poetry public and I didn't want to post mediocre poems on days when nothing good came. The format had an effect similar to attempting haiku, in that the language has to be really concentrated in order to make an impact in so little space. I also found that the nature of the medium impacted the kind of writing I did for this project: the poems passed through the Twitter feeds of my followers pretty quickly, and I tried to write about moments that felt just as ephemeral.

A happy consequence of this writing was that friends saw the poems, and this provoked conversations about poetry that may not have happened otherwise. An upsetting consequence was that most of the people who talked to me about poetry were not generally readers of poetry, though some of them wished they were.

This is the depressing thing about poetry: Almost no one thinks that poetry is for them. And that's wrong! Poetry is for you. It's written for you, especially. It's just that there are some barriers coming between you and poetry that you haven't figured out how to get around yet. Let's work on that.

The first problem is that poets don't even read poetry anymore. Are you listening, poets who do not read poetry? Good. You should be ashamed of yourselves. Poetry is not all about you, this is not the you show, where you get to put your work out there and expect people to read it and pay attention to it when you aren't even up on what your peers are writing. Go pick up an anthology--a recent one--and read some poems. Subscribe to a journal. When you like a poem, write down the name of the poet and take it with you to a bookstore. If they haven't stocked the book, ask them to order it. They might order extra copies, and then the next time a forlorn teenager is browsing the poetry section, bam! you just introduced them to a provocative up-and-coming poet who might make being a teenager more bearable for them. Problem solved.

So that was an easy one. Next time, I'll tackle something harder. I'm invested in getting you to read poems, because I think reading poetry is truly an enriching hobby that will make your life better.

Until then, go read my poem, which was recently published in Chaparral.

April 26, 2010

soon my joints will predict the weather.

In the span of the first two months of being 30, I have already:

Realized I am too old to witness a mosh pit without trying to rescue preteens as I flee;
Had enough problems with the arch of my left foot to cause my mother to conclude that I can't wear "just any old shoes you want" anymore--I may need to pay attention to things like arch support;
Recognized the sounds of a keg stand taking place somewhere near my apartment and responded disapprovingly because it was before noon.

My knee has been stiff for two weeks. I've been icing, stretching, and mumbling voodoo chants over it to no avail, so I finally decided to ask the internet for some ideas. My Google search turned up exercises for healthy senior living.

Fuck you, Google.

April 1, 2010

the cruelest month.

Welcome to April, which is National Poetry Month. I'm excited by this challenge and I decided to change it a little bit--I will be tweeting a new 140-character poem for each day in April. Which makes me wonder, could 140 characters be the new haiku? Follow me to see how I hold up. And if you want to participate, I'm using the hashtag #poemaday. Happy writing!

February 28, 2010


I spent most of Saturday at Videocamp Austin, a conference coordinated by the up-and-comers over at Reel Social Media and Lights. Camera. Help. who created a great participant-driven event that was informative, fun and got me all fired up about video production. And I did some guest blogging on their site during the event, so mosey on over there to see what I had to say and learn about the resources that were presented.

I spent most of Saturday night at the after-party for Videocamp, and let me tell you social media and video production folks are hilarious. Also, several of them really know how to shake their asses. We met up at Annie's West on 6th Street, where once again I was amazed and confused by my bar tab. Listen up Los Angeles: I had two cocktails at a swanky bar in the heart of downtown, and I had to buy another drink to meet the $10 credit card minimum. You could learn something from this town.

February 3, 2010

pew pew, pew pew!

I've been in Texas less than a month and I'm already shootin' guns. Also, I'm pretty sure I'm going to drop the "g" in shooting any time I'm using that verb to talk about me and guns in Texas.

We went to Red's Indoor Range, where ladies get free gun rentals on Mondays, and shooting is half price. Sometimes it pays to be a lady. A gun-totin' lady. I went with two other noobs who didn't know how to handle guns really, either, so there was no one to make fun of the girl from California who doesn't know how to work the safety. None of us knew how to work the safety. Which maybe should have been cause for a little more concern on everyone's part. The man with the awesome moustache who hands out the guns asked us to fill out a little yes/no questionnaire, and seeing that two of us had never shot a gun before, he gave us a minute long tutorial on how to load and shoot the guns, then sent us off to get headphones, armed and confused.

I decided to go with something small and unintimidating since I've never even held a gun before, and the .22 I rented seemed to be just the thing. It was like shooting a cap gun, only dangerous. Oh, and see that crazy looking gun that's as long as I am tall sitting there next to me? That's the AK the boys rented. It was the loudest thing anyone was shooting that night. I'm pretty sure a gun like that could overthrow a government all by itself.

Verdict: Shootin' is awesome. I'm going back on Monday, and I think I'm gonna shoot something bigger and louder.

January 21, 2010

band names over the years.

I spent way more time coming up with clever band names than I ever spent learning an instrument. Which is maybe why I have this awesome list but can only play one instrument, and by "play" I mean strum and sound not unlike a remedial toddler with no thumbs. Anyway, band names:

Lesbian Driftwood*
Chicks Dig Pus
Topiary Manitoba
Guys in Black Vans**
First-Grade Pennies

*a collaborative effort with a college friend, who used to tell people that this was our all-girl folk band.
**In the alternate universe where I am a musician involved in multiple cross-genre projects, I wouldn't even be in this band. It would be comprised of the boyfriends of the women in Chicks Dig Pus. Kind of like how The Misfits was comprised of the nemeses of Jem and the Holograms. Update: Upon reviewing the "Jem and the Holograms" Wikipedia entry, I discovered that Jem was dating the frontman of The Stingers. So that would have been a better pop-culture reference to make, had my Jem-knowledge been up to the task. I won't fail you again, reader.

January 8, 2010


I drove halfway across the country as fast as possible with Willa in the backseat. My parents came, too. There were no major events worth reporting, except for some wonderful things my Mom said:

Mom [pretending to read from the Triple-A travel guide*]: Oh look, it says here Fort Stockton is a shithole. Population 7,526.

Dad [flipping channels on their hotel-room television]: The Sound of Music is on.
Mom: I hate that movie, it's so cheesy.
Me: You hate The Sound of Music?! You can't hate The Sound of Music, it means you have no soul. Or a black, black heart.
Mom: Oh, tell me you don't want to shoot yourself when that head nun starts singing, "Climb Every Mountain."

* Go to Triple A and ask them to make a little spiral-bound map of your route next time you take a long car trip. It includes information about every city you pass through, including hotels and restaurants. And for the record, Triple A didn't really call Fort Stockton a shithole. It's a lovely place where some of the hotels have jets in the bathtub, and for this I am eternally grateful.

December 17, 2009

see also: 'rithmetic.

A recent conversation between the woman who works the information desk at the Upland Library and me:

Me: Can you help me locate your study guides for the GRE?
Her: Sure, they're over here.
Me: Maybe my search failed because I can't remember what the 'R' stands for.
Her: Probably writing.