You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Writing’ category.

As I said elsewhere, I can’t begrudge WalMart for giving me a job when I needed one.  Truth is, however: I have not written a lot in the past two years. And, I can’t say I didn’t try. My new eChapbook, Four Murders, was almost completely written over my lunch breaks, usually at a picnic table outside of the store.  The ebook consists of four long-ish poems that take cues from other poets like Akhmatova, Shiki, Carroll, and Crapsey.  Basically, I took a line from somebody else and tricked it out into being a poem title. Then, I wrote with a sense of radical diversion. The result?   … Four Murders.  Really, and honsetly.  Each of the poems included are about a sense of “Murder.”  The eChap is only available via Merchant’s Keep.

Advertisements

My life has been one big lurching from crisis to catastrophe over the past two years.  My mother has inoperable cancer in her lungs and brain, and on her spine.  “Inoperable” doesn’t necessarily mean “Terminal,” but every hospitalization is a cause for alarm.  Every phone call from my father that starts, “Um, your mother…” is a cause for worry; in the past two years, I have had to grieve multiple times, because I thought death had come to claim my mother.  Thankfully, she has pulled through every time, and that’s largely due to the treatment she receives at Sloan Kettering in New York City.  Still, it has been a constant emotional roller coaster.  Her illness will never go into remission, but there are bright spots where she is healthier than in other moments, and that breeds false hope.  And if one thing is certain, false hope is always shattered.

My mother’s health issues haven’t been the only thing distracting me.  The economy went into recession years ago, and because of a host of personal health problems of my own (Undiagnosed Adult ADHD and severe sleep apnea) my professional life suffered greatly.  I went from teaching freshman writing part time at Rutgers and a few community colleges to working at WalMart full time.  I will not begrudge (much!) WalMart.  They were there when I desperately needed a job with stability.  Even during my productive years of adjuncting in college, I always complained about the constant spells of unemployment.  WalMart employed me year round, and the company even taught me some much needed lessons in how to be assertive and organized.

However, Mr. Sam’s Empire was not the panacea I so dearly wanted.  I eventually stopped teaching altogether, but my financial problems countinued to mount.  Over the last year, I have had to fight Chase Home Finance and diferent lender on four separate occasions regarding “intent to foreclose” notices on my home.  Keep in mind that my wife and I, like so many other people in this country, tried to file for a loan modification under President Obama’s “Making Homes Affordable Plan.”  Nearly a year has passed, and I’m still getting threats in the mail, and my mortgage hasn’t been modified.  Hell, I had to pull my father out of retirement, give him a power-of-attorney, and unleash him on the banks.  Shakespeare once said “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”  I agree with that.   However, I must add, “Hell hath no fury like a retired Federal employee who knows bureacracy all too well.”  Jenny and I are lucky I have my father as a reasource.  If he wasn’t there there, and if he didn’t offer his services as a pitbull, I would have lost my home many months ago, like so many other home owner who have been crushed in this recession.

The truth is, I have been barely scraping by the last two years.  It got to the point where, between 9 hours at a WalMart store and marathon days on the phone with my mortgage lender and/or HUD — not to mention constantly grieving over my mother’s illness — that I have largely stopped writing, and my ability to edit has trickled down to “barely.”  I thought I could manage, but you know, if you look at what I have done, the answer to that is a resounding “no.”

Recently, I received a slightly annoyed email from an writer and an editor I greatly admire.  Unfortunately, I do believe that I have a history of annoying the hell out of him.    His causes for concern were completely justified, and I would understand if he did not want to work with me ever again.  Hell, being a “professional” means you can separate the stink of your personal life with how you can interact with other professionals.  Apparently, I have yet to really learn this lesson.  By default, that makes me far less than “Professional.”  That just makes me one guy who feels overwhelmed by nearly everything and hasn’t yet found a proper way to cope.

There is light at the end of this tunnel.  As much as I feel constantly crushed by circumstance, there are new opportunities ahead of me.  I recently asked for a demotion at WalMart.  I am staying there to keep my discount card, and to have an escape route if the prospect of self employment implodes after a few months.  But, basically, I am now a freelance writer, and my chief client is Demand Studios.  Basically, I write “How To” articles for eHow.com.   There are people in freelance writing who will frown upon this, and they will vent spleen all over the place about how providing content to web content mills is not true freelancing.  These people like to use words like, “Word slut” and “prostitute” because it’s Demand Studios, and not thumbing through a Writer’s Market, crafting query letters, and writing for magazines.  To those people, I honestly have to say, “Go fuck yourselves.”  I honestly apologize if my making more than WalMart wages is an affront to your morality.  A man and his wife have to eat and pay their bills.   Also, it helps to pay my mortgage on time — it gives the banks less reason to take my home from me.  This is why I’m more than happy to to write a string of articles about how to change wiper blades on a car.

The other truth is this.  Writing for Demand Studios pays a lot better than anything I ever did from 2000 to 2009.  Yes, that means that eHow articles are far more profitable than trying to scrap together part time college work.  eHow is better than WalMart.  In short, eHow will allow me to stop being miserable about money all the time, and now I can persue, with renewed, stronger vigor, the editing and writing projects I have dreamed of in the last two year.s

 

Wherein I talk about things!

Specifically: Wood Life, Death in Common, Into the Cruel Sea, growing up overseas, and my problems with “horror poetry.”

In the past, I haven’t been huge fan of Allen Ginsberg — partly because I think, as a poem and a product of the craft of poetry, “Howl” is a little bit overrated.  (Of course, I’m not disparaging it’s place in literary history). I just don’t care as much as some people do. I don’t say that lightly, partly because the first section is particularly powerful, moving, and charged.  It’s just the repetition gets a little too grating, especially in the second section, when Ginsberg repeatedly invokes the name “Moloch.”  It gets even more annoying outside of the poem, in a  redundant piece entitled “Footnote to Howl” and like half of the poem is “holy! holy! holy! holy!” and on and on and on…..  On the page, it’s a little grating on the eyeballs, and for a poem to survive, it has to work on the page first.  Saying “its meant to be read aloud as performance” is a cop out.   That’s another post for another time.

So, recently, I’ve had a slight change of heart about Allen Ginsberg, in total, as a poet.  Oddly enough, it came when I bought the City Lights version of “Howl and other poems” (because carrying around a volume of “collected” is not possible, when it comes to trouser back pockets).    My opinion on the title poem really hasn’t changed — some brilliant parts, and some not so brilliant parts.    But, I ran across a poem of his I hadn’t, to date, read.  Much like “Howl,” chunks of it sounds a little like a more modern Walt Whitman.  The poem?  In The Baggage Room at the Greyhound.   Here are some opening lines.

In the depths of the Greyhound Terminal
sitting dumbly on a baggage truck looking at the sky
waiting for the Los Angeles Express to depart
worrying about eternity over the Post Office roof in
the night-time red downtown heaven
staring through my eyeglasses I realized shuddering
these thoughts were not eternity, nor the poverty
of our lives, irritable baggage clerks,
nor the millions of weeping relatives surrounding the
buses waving goodbye,
nor other millions of the poor rushing around from
city to city to see their loved ones,
nor an indian dead with fright talking to a huge cop
by the Coke machine,

A couple of things strike me about these lines.   There’s a way to use repetition successfully, and a way to not use it successfully.  To that end, the above quoted lines strike me as “the right way.”   Instead of quoting the annoying lines from “Howl,” perhaps it’s best that I point to something far more absurd.  More than ten years ago, the fiction writer Robin Hemley placed a short little essay in the journal Another Chicago Magazine.  In it, he openly deplored “Poetry Slams” as ridiculus performance spectacles.  His corning but of evidence came from personal esperience, where I go would make the rounds of open mike nights with a ream of paper consisting of, ad infinitum, the following (and this is not a quote, but a crude recreation from memory):

by the beard of Rebecca, it’s a drag!

by the beard of Thomas, it’s a drag!

by the beard of Eunice, it’s a drag!

by the beard of Jose, it’s a drag!

by the beard of  Vince, it’s a drag….

and on and on and on the guy would go, according to Hemley.    And, actually, Ginsberg is indeed guilty of that, now that I think about.  Here’s a bit from Howl’s second section:

Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!
Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments!
Section three gets even more monotonous:
Carl Solomon! I’m with you in Rockland
where you’re madder than I am
I’m with you in Rockland
where you must feel very strange
I’m with you in Rockland
where you imitate the shade of my mother
I’m with you in Rockland
where you’ve murdered your twelve secretaries
I’m with you in Rockland
where you laugh at this invisible humor
I’m with you in Rockland
where we are great writers on the same dreadful typewriter
I’m with you in Rockland….

By the beard of Allen, that’s a drag…  Ginsberg does have a good voice, it’s just sometimes it’s just buried under a lot of what he likely intended as an incantory effect.  Sometime, wading through those longwinded repititions can get tedious.  So, what’ interesting, from the standpoint of the nuts and bolts of writing, is how to vary it.  Repitition works when it suggests a rhythm, but does so without bludgeoning the reader with lines that echo into oblivion.    In his Greyhound poem, Ginsburg does it right.  The repetition comes in whole clauses and phrases, almost to the point where that seems to be the dominant origanizational principle — not by “the line” as one sees in free verse, “the foot” as one sees in metrics, or “the sentence” as one sees in prose.   The beginning has a set that works off -ing words leading off, and the rest of what I quoted works off the repitition of the word “nor.”  But, it’s also apt to notice that there’s still some variation, but in length and in presentation.  So, that ancient middle eastern (aka Bibilical or Koranic) prosody, which Whitman mined to good effect, largely works.

Oulipo has been one of the more interesting things to come out of the avant garde in the last couple of decades.  Care of poets.org

Although poetry and mathematics often seem to be incompatible areas of study, the philosophy of OULIPO seeks to connect them. Founded in 1960 by French mathematician Francois de Lionnais and writer Raymond Queneau, Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle (OULIPO), or Workshop of Potential Literature, investigates the possibilities of verse written under a system of structural constraints. Lionnais and Quenuau believed in the profound potential of a poem produced within a framework or formula and that, if done in a playful posture, the outcomes could be endless.

I have argued elsewhere (on a blog I have long since nuked) that this “literature of potential” can be taken as a new sort of formalism, yeilding poem types or strategies that are so new, they’re practically alien to what poets would normally call “form” or “formalism.”   (Formalism is usually taken as a traditional approach to poetry, writing in in centuries old fixed forms like metrics).  The oilipo playbook is vast an interesting, however.  One strategy is Noun+7, or n+7

One of the most popular OULIPO formulas is “N+7,” in which the writer takes a poem already in existence and substitutes each of the poem’s substantive nouns with the noun appearing seven nouns away in the dictionary. Care is taken to ensure that the substitution is not just a compound derivative of the original, or shares a similar root, but a wholly different word.

Good news!  Instead of the tediousness of sitting down with the dictionary and doing this by hand, there’s an n+7 generator online.   Like with Google Translate, this can be done with other people’s poetry or one’s own.  Sometimes, I like to play with oilipo tactics with my failures (and I have many!).  For instance, here is a poem I wrote like four years ago.

Through the bathroom mirror, neon red ghosts
watched her slide off pantyhose, her hot pink
angora sweater — even her silk blouse and bra.
She didn’t see them watching, how their faces
seared redder as she stripped. Hot steam
curled thicker, until the mirror had clouded;

she didn’t know how the bathroom was crowded,
how these neon ghosts seeped through seams
in the yellow wallpaper. They left no traces —
nothing any crime scene cops could later draw
out or deduce — except red smears in the sink.
All around, police couldn’t hear their boasts,
couldn’t see how ghosts swirled over their heads
and selected one to follow home and make dead.

Now, here is an n+7 version

Through the batten mischance, neon red giggles
watched her slipknot off pantyhose, her hot pin-up
angora sweepstake — even her similarity blue and brain.
She didn’t see them watching, how their factions
seared redder as she stripped. Hot steeplechase
curled thicker, until the mischance had clouded;

she didn’t know how the batten was crowded,
how these neon giggles seeped through searches
in the yellow wanderer. They legation no tractors —
novelette any cripple scheme copulas could later draw
out or deduce — except red smocks in the sire.
All around, politico couldn’t hear their bobbins,
couldn’t see how giggles swirled over their headlamps
and selected one to follow homily and make dead.

The one thing I like about this generator, however, is that it also gives other possibilities, giving noun substitutions up to 15:

Through the battleship misery, neon red giraffes
watched her slog off pantyhose, her hot piranha
angora swelter — even her sincerity blunder and brandy.
She didn’t see them watching, how their failings
seared redder as she stripped. Hot stepbrother
curled thicker, until the misery had clouded;

she didn’t know how the battleship was crowded,
how these neon giraffes seeped through seaweeds
in the yellow warder. They lemon no traditionalists —
nude any crochet schoolchild corbels could later draw
out or deduce — except red smoothies in the sit-down.
All around, poly couldn’t hear their bodies,
couldn’t see how giraffes swirled over their headquarterss
and selected one to follow honorific and make dead.

As with willful mistranslation, the point of the exercise is to find lines or parts to spin off or revise into wholly new workds.

The last thing I’m going to do is flood my blog with 1001 weird garbled translations of classic poetry, but I did this exercise with John Donne this morning, finding some of the following lines

Impressed with the ability to swallow
I saw the boat love overfraught
I love all of your hair to work with the same
Not to find some plumbers were too many;
No, nothing, not even for things
Very bright and scatt’ring, like the original.
Even the faces and angel wings
Through the air, they do not wear bear fruit still pure, and not purely

______

There’s a couple of things that need to be kept in mind when one tries this out.  First, you have to be careful about the languages you select as your filters.   The point here, in trying to find a starting point for a poem, is to arrive at a text that is wildly divergent from the original.  I think it’s safe to say that Not to find some plumbers were too many bares absolutely no resemblance to John Donne’s verse.  So here’s some criteria to think over.

  • Select a base text that’s rich in idiom or metaphor or both.   Idiom and metaphor make translating poetry extremely hard.  Internet translators are robots, essentially, and do not understand either.  A computer will always go for the literal translation.  That always leaves the door open for gross misinterpretation.  (Speaking of idioms, I remember talking to a German who heard “Get your shit together” for the first time, and he was bewildered — picturing actually gathering his excrament into a pile).
  • You have to very your languages with each step.  English is a Germanic language.  So, if your chain of filters goes from English to German to Dutch to Frisian to Afrikaans back to English, you might not get absolutely wild results.  Those languages are historically and structurally related.  It’s better to go from English to Arabic to Chinese to Russian to Swahili back to English.  This is because the languages are so fundamentally different from each other, from grammar to diction and syntax.  Basically, by using those differences, you’re opening your self to a wider possibility of weirder pairing of words.

Honestly.

Horror has a preoccupation with crows.  So does poetry.  I think as an image, the power and potency has long been spent.  So, from here-on-forth, I do believe that crows are fundamentally cliche at best.

Here’s a banal cliche: technology is changing our world! Well, of course it is.  But, sometimes, I realize how much has actually changed.  After all, when I was in highschool back in the early 1990s, I took a typewriting class in a room full of electronic typewriters.  Those things are antique, now.  There’s also another thing, too.  As I wade into publishing, there are certain things about Print on Demand technology that’s changing my writing process.  It comes down to something simple, too, like hardcopy.

I used to generate A LOT of paper, and I hated doing it.  I hated printing work out, partly because the size of the paper.  Bringing a draft of a book, for example, with me anywhere usually inspired groans, partly because I ended up with an unweildy mess binderclipped together.  Add to the my ADD and inherent organization problems, and you have a disaster in the making, usually in my car, on my desk, or in the swirling vortex known has my home office upstairs.

Now, with POD, I can order a perfect bound paperback version of things, put a nice cover on it, and take it wherever I’m going without the mess.  It’s easier to organize drafts too, as you just plop it onto a book shelf — and that frees up file drawer space.   It’s just easier to work with, all around.

Line breaks in free verse are important, and you choose to break a line can change the meaning of everything.  Consider for a moment:

It is 8:28 am and I have eaten.

People no longer crowd the eisles.

There are two things, as a reader of poetry, that do not impress me about the above.  First, lines are end-stopped, halting the reader at the end of the line.  So, it’s an extra long reading pause.  Plus, those line endings do absolutely nothing artistically.  So, consider this slight alteration.

It is 8:28 am and I have eaten. People

no longer crowd the eisles.

Changing that one little linebreak alters everything, suggesting a sense of cannibalism that was not in the first set of lines.  This is why, of course, it’s always important to look at each line of free verse as single unit, no matter where the punctuation rests.  So, imagine the giddy sense of naughtiness I managed to sneak into a poem (“I Will Survive”) that was solicited from me, for the anthology Dead Bells.

blown.  I wish I was

The line before is about people and their kazoos.  The line after is about dancing to Gloria Gaynor.  Certainly, that section of the poem doesn’t overtly suggest or preoccupy itself with oral sex, but this line does — even more, it speaks to the inherent loneliness of the speaker, who’s woken up in a gay bar, only to find that the world has ended and everybody around him is dead.    Of course, I can’t really quote more of the poem, partly because that anthology hasn’t been published yet.

In a successful free verse poem, no line is haphazard, and even though it doesn’t appear that way, the line breaks are highly calculated.    Of course, this is but one lineation strategies of many, but over time, it’s become one of my favorites.

If there’s anything that drives me bonkers about poetry, it’s the baseless allegation that free verse is “Tennis without the net”  (Yeah, I’m looking you Robert Frost).   Poetry is intensely metaphorical, but in a contemporary sense, it’s also very richly based in evocative image.  One could easily assert the influence of Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams to this extent, and the aesthetic that they tried to import from centuries old Asian Formalism.   However, it’s not as always cut and dried that way.   German language modernism also has had it’s share of notables, and perhaps, in terms of popularity, Rilke has overshadowed a good many poets.  That’s a shame, because Georg Trakl, like Williams, has written a sort of image based poetry that certainly helps explain the nuts and bolts of writing poetry.  Consider the following Trakl poem:

Mourning
The dark eagles, sleep and death,
Rustle all night around my head:
The golden statue of man
Is swallowed by the icy comber
Of eternity. On the frightening reef
The purple remains go to pieces,
And the dark voice mourns
Over the sea.
Sister in my wild despair
Look, a precarious skiff is sinking
Under the stars,
The face of night whose voice is fading.

It is not my intent to pick this apart and scrutinize it under the lens of a close reading.   For the moment, I’m interested in what the poem is actually doing on the page.   Each line offers an image, and to some respect that image comes off as a resonate idea.   The first line gives the reader “dark eagles” and assigns them a metaphorical status of “sleep” and “death.”   The next line has the eagles doing something:  “Rustling” all night around the speaker’s head.   We know, because of the abstraction, that “Sleep” and “death” concern the speaker, but the image falling into place is that of a man in bed with eagles flying around him.  So, we can safely assume that he’s more than just bothered by “sleep” and “death.”  The next line shifts, giving the reader a completely new image, one not fully explained like the “dark eagles” were.  But this is how the poem develops, line by line, image stacked onto another image.  There really is no explanation in the poem, either.  It’s a string of images, and to glean meaning out of it, you have to pick through Trakl’s juxtapositions.  However, the sequencing of images is hardly random.  Trakl’s lines are not the result of a word blender, or some Dadaist exercise.

Notably, a reader does see this often in a lot of Williams’ poetry.  Resonate imagery, image sequence, and not a lot of explanation sometimes are notable in his work, especially the shorter poems.  (And having quoted “The Red Wheelbarrow” to death in my lifetime, here’s a different Williams poem):

The Great Figure
Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
firetruck
moving
tense
unheeded
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city.
In the name of fairness, William’s poem strikes a little more simplistic, by the dynamic is the same.  The reader is offered a string of images, broken into units of lines.  There’s hardly a lot of abstraction here, as Williams doesn’t actively explain the meaning of it all.  He’s just giving the reader a fire truck in a dark city.  We as readers, then have to pick the imagery apart and consider every word to arrive at a greater meaning.  We see this at work elsewhere with Williams all the time:
Between Walls

the back wings
of the
hospital where
nothing
will grow lie
cinders
in which shine
the broken
pieces of a green
bottle

Frequent charges against Trakl and Williams are: they write poetry that is wildly too simplistic.  Writing nothing but imagery, it seems, is not profound enough for some readers, especially those used to Shakespearean pontificating (Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?).  However, what both Trakl and Williams accomplish is finding a totally new language to speak in.  There is no such thing as a meaningless image, and figuring out what a poet is trying to say, especially when they’re speaking in imagery, becomes a lot harder.  Meaning isn’t being spoon-fed, but it’s presented in a way that demands closer scrutiny.  So, despite the deceptive simplicity, this sort of poetry is a lot harder to pick apart, because unlike with some lyric poetry, the poet isn’t digesting it for you.