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Monday, April 16, 2018

Cultural Ephemera: Edna St. Vincent Millay and the Carpeted Staircase

I can't remember being smitten by an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem before. Here is "April," a recent Poem of the Day featured at Poetry Foundation.

It doesn't get interesting until she gets to the maggots squirming in brains--"Not only under ground are the brains of men / Eaten by maggots"--an unexpected image from what came before, but it's interesting also in that it is life in death ("there is no death").

The ending is good, but this phrase was the most fascinating bit: "a flight of uncarpeted stairs"--as a metaphor for life being nothing. Does that mean that carpeted stairs is something? The poem reveals itself as a product of its time, a flag of history where carpet on stairs was a technological thing of wonder, perhaps something to be envied (they're so rich they have carpet on their stairs!).

This thing we now take for granted--a simple option homeowners briefly think about--was once a wonder, perhaps even a thing of joy.

A brief search shows carpet was beginning to be affordable in the mid 19th century, with some innovations in the early 20th century. No way to know when it fir
st became a thing to fit carpet on the stairs.

Belatedly, it strikes me that the carpeted stairs could be a joke (oh, remember when people used to think carpets on stairs was novel? ha, ha--my parents were such rubes). Even so, the innovation would have to been within or very near Edna's lifetime, for that to have been a joke.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Cultural Ephemera: The 1960s Generational Divide in Art Linkletter's "We Love You, Call Collect"

I'm repurposing the use of a term ("ephemera" meaning printed matter not intended to exist for long--which seems to be the most popular use according Google searches) by going back to the word's primary use in order to get at a phenomenon that intrigues me--and possibly others, which is "something of no lasting significance" (according to Merriam-Webster).

When I combine the term with "cultural," I refer to those things that momentarily struck a culture's zeitgeist, for whatever reason. The reason is usually the fascinating part. Why did it strike the culture's fancy?

Here's an example. Art Linkletter (Wikipedia) was a talk show host on a variety of radio and TV programs. You sometimes hear people still using Linkletter as the butt of a joke--as if the meaning of the joke should be clear--although its use is rather dated if not obscure to most of society now.

Art's daughter, Diane, [video clip of Diane in a commercial with her father] jumped to her death in 1969, out of a six-story window [further info on her death]. Art said it was due to an LSD flashback although people like Bobby Darin blamed Art's parenting (his song "Baby May") as Art became staunchly opposed to drug culture and figures like Timothy Leary who said LSD was safe. John Waters did a short film about Diane featuring his famed drag queen, Divine [It's early John Waters--the dialogue jumbled]. David Foster Wallace refers to it in his novel, The Pale Kings.

Art released the following spoken word audio, "We Love You, Call Collect," which peaked at #42 on Billboard Top 100 and won that year's Grammy Award:

Supposedly, there's a rebuttal from the daughter ("Dear Mom and Dad") though I couldn't locate that.

The power of this ephemera is not how it delivers its art, which is nigh nil except for its moving last line, but how it captures the generational divide of its time. One can extrapolate both perspectives.

Note that even in Linkletter's excoriation of Leary, he also praises Leary, which makes Leary smile (see video linked above). Whatever else one may have against Linkletter, he was talented at engaging people, even in anger.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Amazing Stories Magazine Is Staging a Comeback

Amazing Stories, the oldest SF magazine, is prepping jetpacks to make a comeback, but they need your help.

Here's a Kickstarter with the details. They may need a few more goals and possible stretch goals. So far they've received 25% of their goal within 25% of its month of being up.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018


Here's a movie about writing that I'd heard much to get excited about. It uses real poetry from Ron Padgett, a poet whose poetry can be fun, and it was supposed to be realistic about the writing life and poetry. 

Most of the drama gets buried or is held out of view. Sometimes a glimmer of what may be the conflict arises, but it's a red herring. The poet's partner gets involved in projects: first, decorating (house, apparel); then cupcakes; then guitars. Is the conflict going to be her revolving, sometimes costly interests? In a word: No. The bus breaks down, and everyone mills around waiting for the next bus. Are we going to see how miserable life can be as a laborer of the lower class and everyone feels obligated to complain to/at you? No. A group of gangsta guys warns Paterson his dog might get stolen. Was that a foreshadowing or a warning of what those guys planned to do? No. His girlfriend warns him his poetry might get lost; he should make copies. Seventy percent into the movie, a gun is drawn (the guy's girlfriend doesn't act scared--she seems more dubious). Is that it? Is that the central conflict? No.

The most interesting aspect of the film is the composition of poetry. Even then, the poetry is written, not rewritten or tumbling down blind alleys, so we don't get a full sense of the poet's mind at work. However, we do get glimmers of the poet's inspirations.

Someone somewhere will say that conflict is overrated. If so, why not stare at a waterfall or a still photograph? We humans deal with conflict daily--not that we crave it (well, at least not most of us), but that we have to find ways out of it. We have dreams. Things don't go as planned. We have loves, but other humans don't see the world/situation as we do.

In the film, we could have started closer to the conflict and examined the repercussions in his life. Surely, his loss will make him at least a little irritable, causing other problems.

The quotes below summarize the movie, and you might wonder if you're following the right character although there are some nice parallels and minor details of interest like the mailbox and twins. The trailer makes it look like it's a little more thrilling.

The movie is well rated on both IMDB (7.4) and Rotten Tomatoes (96%), so don't take my word for it (there might have been one time when my feeling about a movie matched Rotten Tomatoes over IMDB). Those numbers match my expectations--not a thrill but poetically inspiring (which it was) and intellectually stimulating and perhaps moving. I suspect that many love the low-keyness, the cinematography (Laura's designs are kind of cool), the idea of poetry as subject matter (includes Real PoetryTM!), and the lack of conflict. If you ask what's going on inside him, your answer might differ.

Donny: Ready to roll, Paterson?
Paterson: Yeah. Everything okay?
Donny: Well, now that you ask, No, not really. My kid needs braces on her teeth, my car needs a transmission job, my wife wants me to take her to Florida but I’m behind on the mortgage payments, my uncle called from India and he needs money for my niece’s wedding and I got this strange rash on my back. You name it, brother. How about you?
Paterson: I’m okay.

Man in Low Rider: That’s an English bulldog, right? A dog like that get dog-jacked, majee.
Paterson: Well, it gives me something to look forward to, I guess.

Doc [looking at the chessboard]: I got my ass kicked a bit.
Paterson: Who are you playing?
Doc: Myself.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Ross Gay on Poetry Workshops and his Own Writing Goals

I’m interested in workshop the way you go to a place and make stuff. I’m trying to figure out how to make my classes — everything I teach — more like a lab or an experiment zone. 
I’m trying to encourage weird accidents of the imagination. I’m trying to set up a classroom as a place where people can make really beautiful mistakes, and where collaboration is among the highest achievements. Radical collaboration, deep collaboration. I feel like something is happening to my work — I don’t know what it is, but something that I trust is good.... 
I’m so uninterested in proficiency, and I’m so uninterested in mastery.... I’m way more interested in people who are doing things they don’t know how to do. 
Everything that I’m writing now I have no fucking idea how to write. I’m writing these little mini-essays. I’m writing a nonfiction book. And then I’m writing this very long poem, that is completely out of my league. 
--interview with Callie Siskel at LA Review of Books 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Ross Gay on his Revision Process for Poetry

[I]n the revision process[,] I’ll get a sort of feeling for what a poem’s going to be, and then I’ll go back into it and try to find cracks or openings where something might happen. It’s almost always the case that what feels really interesting to me about a poem arrives through the long and slow revision process — really sitting at points where I’m stuck in the poem or not telling the truth, and then finally, hopefully, arriving at the thing that opens the poem up to me. That actually is the moment... that transforms the poem into a thing that transforms me. Sometimes it’s a pronoun, literally — and it takes me months to figure it out. 
I have a poem called “Glass” in my second book, and I was working on that poem almost daily for a couple months... I was doing things along the way — but what I needed to do was change a “they” to a “we,” and once that happened the poem materialized. I was banging my head into this poem so hard, and then that happened, and it felt like, oh my god, this is what I did not know until now. 
The first [draft] feels like I’m being more verbose[.] I’m including is what’s available in my mind at the time, and that could feel sort of big and wild. The way that a revision might open up to include things is very different. 
[T]hat “Spoon” poem... went through many drafts, and it took a couple years to write it. At first, that poem was... about a spoon. It ended in a sort of sweet, boring way. And then I broke it back open, and I realized there was more, and then I broke it open again, when I realized that I could not get to where I thought I was going to get. [T]hat was a turn in the poem where I got to understand something about my poetic process or my imaginative process, but also about this more complicated relationship with people who are no longer with me.
--interview with Callie Siskel at LA Review of Books