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Favorite Reads in 2011

December 15, 2011

Trying something different this time… I’m going to actually list these in a somewhat loose order of personal significance. Full reviews of all books mentioned can be found on My Goodreads page.

The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil
in which a difficulty is earned not by modernist wordplay, but by tackling mercurial and impossible ideas head on, and not without humor. A novel of ideas that is (among other things) also an argument against ideas (or at least against systematizing or simplifying them).

My Friends by Emmanuel Bove
in which the most simple, self-evident language is contained in a perfect novel of quiet humor, sadness, and crystallized beauty; a criminally underread masterpiece.

Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius by Ray Monk
in which the life of one uncompromising SOB is laid out, showing all the seeming contradictions therein, which in the end turns out to be the perfect vehicle for his ideas (or perhaps the idea itself). A thought provoking book, in which I saw many parallels to Musil’s musings.

Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar
in which the trick of hopping around randomly is ultimately trumped by the non-trick of great writing. As one Cronopios put it, this is a very serious game, one that you can put your whole life into.

The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro
in which a frustrating amount of things keep getting added to the to-do list, though nothing that truly matters is ever addressed; the uneasy feeling produced by this novel rings true for me, and in the end, though nothing is solved, I feel refreshed as if emerging from an ineffably sad dream.

The Atoms of Language by Mark C. Baker
in which a linguist explains the curious logic of all languages, how even the most radically different ones are made up of similar ingredients in different ratios. Also: find out why English is more similar to Indonesian than any other European language.

The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman
in which Ms. Kalman charms us with her drawings of dodos and superfluous tassels and ladies with big hair from the back and hats hats couches hats. A year of jottings and journalings by a quirky and interesting woman.

g-point almanac: passyunk lost  &
g-point almanac: id est by Kevin Varrone
in which is found the best contemporary poetry I’ve read in the last 5 years or so.

Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck
in which time-lapse photography is transfigured into written form, the episodes building one on another like a photograph superimposed, significances becoming apparent that aren’t there for the myopic characters themselves. Surprisingly affecting.

Speaking of the Rose by Robert Walser
in which sentences are like contortionists, able to keep your interest in all ways but what is actually being said (and sometimes in that way too).

A Few “I Must Also Mentions” (in no particular order):

  • How Should A Person Be? by Sheila Heti
  • Wittgenstein’s Mistress by David Markson
  • In the Land of Invented Languages by Arika Okrent
  • Winter’s Journal by Emmanuel Bove
  • Illuminations by Walter Benjamin
  • Out of Sheer Rage by Geoff Dyer
  • Malone Dies by Samuel Beckett
  • The Tanners by Robert Walser
  • Fermat’s Enigma by Simon Singh

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So I got a Google Voice account about a year ago. One of its features is that when someone leaves you a voice mail, it will automatically try to transcribe it for you. But Google Voice doesn’t know that my parents are speaking Cantonese. So its transcriptions of their messages turn out to be quite entertaining:

Mom (cell): When our mom. He did not send a deadly man planned to do that. They that happy that they might be Hall I. I don’t know. Bye bye.

Here is the audio:

Interestingly, she actually said the English word “plan” in that message, but in the form of “planning” not “planned”.  She also ended her message with the English “bye bye”, which Google was able to transcribe correctly.  I don’t know about this whole deadly man business, though.  What are you trying to tell me, Mom?

Mom (cell): Way it out. I’ll email and I like that. They they Lisa. If you have about the he had bought the house. I need to have dot, com The. Online. I don’t know the phone.

Mom (cell): Hey, if you got busy. My whole life. I cut them. I had a AT from, so on. So in case on and so being from anything on Sunday. So on a thing on the bye bye.

Mom (cell): Maria, pack and I’ve been on my last. I owe you guys. Okay so my ass a whole. It’s on 7 May, lem. I’m 050. I think I’m gonna have to get the not off right there on time on Monday at home today. I’m with us on the hope upon the tower on the mould and everything like that feed off, i’m just towel, so now I’m doing fine looked out it without it up so my god bless. Bye bye.

I started not answering the phone on purpose when my mom called, just to see the transcriptions of her messages and the weird poetry I could get from them.

Mom (cell): May not on the the garbage in my life. The by, that if I don’t know. I got bye.

Mom (cell): Went on on it, but I thought the most central data and just well it off, but I’m not goodbye.

Dad (cell): Right. Jimmy Jimmy about not ready. Lila if you got a phone call and give me a joke and bye bye.

Mom (cell): Hello hello hello. All of that on mon. Hey Dad, It’s me back bye bye bye hey there. Bye bye bye hi.

Mom (cell): Hey my mom and I’m A, I don’t tell you not be able to 1,000 I intended. I expected to see if I don’t know if you don’t mind it is not the Done. Hi. The. I think that the other thing is that they they said they liked homa la. Simon lack of my house I. I hope that you got it. I have but it’s about 510. I’m on my cat harness is 11 films talk to them so important. How fine. A Hi Donna, hey Chinese. Anyway, talk to you at the intended. Hello. I’m not. Bye bye.

Mom (cell): The maximum 10 the Martha. Or might be a M. One last question and some.

Mom (cell): Yes, and on it and I hope that I’m not yet they got it in my on, Hey Jimmy, Lo. Bye.

That last one was weird, because it interpreted something which sounded nothing like “Hey Jimmy, Lo” as “Hey Jimmy, Lo” and why the hell would it think that she said that?  Jimmy Lo is my name.  So does Google Voice just think that my mom would say my name at this point?  Probably Google guesses things based on what it knows about me so things sounding even remotely like my name would probably be guessed as my name.  But yeah, weird.  Here is the audio of that message:

Mom (cell): Rachel not they come out Sunday and I’m gonna with anyone. They are be 45. Okay, see you about the Monty Hall feedback on the can do. A message that part of it might be in my mouth. I will talk to you or that was the one here are you standing there. I don’t know. Bye bye.

Dad (cell): Gimme a. So go ahead. I’m gonna. Thank you. Hi.

Dad (cell): Jimmy call back. Looks good about other.

Mom (cell): Hello. Indiana. You don’t have it in my our deadline little now. Bye bye.

Dad (cell): Jimmy, bye bye. Something tells me that and envelope. We’re going to have a lot, so you guys are going to send this is the last.

Dad (cell): David about where if you’re not gonna behind and stop by pick up the most and that.

Mom (cell): Went along with the S E dot baby are doing on our. I know it by E. I’m on my photo. Yeah savings say bye Walton face. I don’t think I found.

Dad (cell): Gary about list from Google, and maybe we can. I love. Pre-approved.

One thing you should probably know is that when it says “Jimmy” at the beginning of these transcripts, that actually is my parents calling me that.  They call me by my English name Jimmy sometimes, and sometimes by my Chinese name “Nam Nam”.  Although in one of those messages up there it transcribed it as “Gimme”.  Also, my dad doesn’t leave as many messages as my mom, and generally when he does, he doesn’t say as much.  Also, interesting that Google thinks my Dad said “Google” when he said no such thing.

Mom (cell): My name is that may be right. So iPods all but in Idaho and good luck and I. You’ll you’ll be available date I thought. I hope goes all the with the light up pen back, almost, William comes up and I don’t know the new vehicle Golden Gate Dr. So. I’m sorry if I don’t know. Hi will give up on it and coming in front of a going fine, I don’t know and I thought I’d see if I think. Yeah. Bye bye.

Dad (cell): Okay, I got a lot. Bye bye Seattle purebred haven’t bye.

Mom (cell): Bye and I’m dating my last night and hung up. Goodbye.

Mom (cell): Hello help wanted a lot. Bye. Hello testing process. Hello. All, Hello okay. Okay, bye bye.

Mom (cell): Hey. Hello, Well hello.

Mom (cell): The dear. I might be back or what but think about it bye bye.

Mom (cell): Bye, hey i hall. Hey the, well, the telephone with voice up so case with the potluck. Does that sit down with such a fun in fact and where you left. So, is the third party. My not. Bye bye.

Mom (cell): But it on them. I just want to go. It is doing that on something or not it at and Brendan refund that the most. I did lose so I’m glad to drive you know it is man. Bye Daisy’s night Sunday that if I miss him on my side. Hey, Chucky, and I’ve put all I get a basement. At this the program. And I said, I guess I need to know if I I got the reply.

Mom (cell): Waiting on on the history I hit him. Hey, Linda gate and I wanted to see and tell him that bye bye.

Dad (cell): Thank you, that they are doing well and It’s other. Do not call her. Hello.

Unfortunately, at this point Google must have changed their algorithm.  Now it won’t transcribe anything that it recognizes is in another language.  Instead, it just says “Unable to transcribe this message.”  How lame!

Yesterday, I received a voice mail from a computer automated system from Kaiser Permanente.  Google Voice took the call and transcribed it.  The idea of Google (a computer) transcribing what Kaiser (a computer voice) was saying made my head go in loop de loop circles, but also seemed very poignant.  The machine miscommunicating with the machine.  Here is what Google transcribed:

Kaiser: Hello Yeah, this is Kaiser Permanente, you calling for you. Yang. Hello we’re calling to share some important information, to help make sure you’re getting the most out of your new benefits. Yeah, he’s call us back yo free. Yeah one. Yeah. 877. You re 57. Yeah 7626. Again, your number is 1. Yeah. 877. You re 57. Yeah 7626. Thank you for your time. And remember. Today is a good day to thrive. Bye bye.

And here is the audio:

Why did Google keep thinking Kaiser was saying ‘Yeah’ and ‘yo’ like some punk? Thrive, indeed!

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Errata Slip (a found poem)

October 11, 2010

Page 32, line 3 Insert comma after come
Page 44, line 16 veer and strut and saunter
   for veers and struts and saunters
Page 51, line 17 exciting for existing
Page 52, line 6 Delete a
Page 53, line 14 shifty for shift
Page 53, line 17 effulgent for efflugent

 

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Free Poems Blog

September 20, 2010

For those of you who enjoyed my last post here, please note that Free Poems on Demand now has its own blog (as it is becoming its own thing, with multiple events), so I will not be writing anymore about that project here.

free_poems

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Write-up: FREE POEM Days

September 14, 2010

FREE POEMS ON DEMAND was a success at the Decatur Book Festival.  We collectively wrote more than 100 poems over two days on topics as diverse as: “neon broken arm”, “cannibalism”, “how to tell your grandmother you’re pregnant”, and “wow!”

free_poems_table

Participants included: me, Jeff Dahlgren, Zac Denton, John Selvidge, Mary Richardson, Michele Rozga, Allison & Ping Pong, and a random stranger who wanted to try her hand at it (she wrote a good poem about “corners”).

I got out there around 3PM and wrote nonstop until 8PM.  Various people joined me in the task throughout the day.  I found these sales slips at Wal-mart that let you write things on the top sheet and it will transfer to the carbon copy on the bottom.  We used these sometimes to get an instant copy of the poems we wrote for people.  The pad had 50 sheets, but we ran out of sheets about half-way through.

hippos

Some people asked for silly topics like Hippopotamus.  But some people, you can really tell they needed a poem to get through whatever they were going through.  You got to learn a lot about people sometimes, like the woman who asked for a poem about “the end of an affair”.  Or the older man who asked very genuinely for a poem about “hope”.

Those vague words are the hardest to write, (we got “hope”, “true love”, “life”, “determination”, “perseverance”).  There’s an impulse to undercut the subject with cleverness, but if the person looks like they really meant it, then you don’t want to do that.  You want to write a genuine sincere poem about hope.  Now, all you ironic poets out there can smirk all you want, but that is fucking hard.

Overall, though, writing instant poems is fun and easy.  It’s much easier than writing a real poem simply because nobody expects a good poem to be written in 5 minutes.  So if you write a bad poem, that’s par for the course.  If you write a mediocre poem, that’s considered wonderful, fantastic!  This way of thinking about it really freed me up to write whatever crap came into my head.

I got so many encouraging responses.  One woman even said she will frame it on the wall, and some just said thanks over and over again.  One boy said “thanks, i really like it”  then later “It’s really a good poem”.  He was so sweet.

Some people had special requirements for their poem.  Like this following one, in which I was instructed to include the words turquoise, sun, detritus, monkey, fresh-cocoonut, chanting, hand-spun, and moon:

Turquoise and blue, natural colors
filling up the stream.  Nearby
detritus ends up in Detroit
where the monkeys wear suits,
teleconferencing.  But here, only
the din of traffic reaches me
as I crack fresh coconuts,
drinking its contents, its
flesh regards me, chanting.
The clouds look hand-spun,
custom made for the moon.

Many people asked for personalized poems, dedicated to someone.  Like this one for Elsa, who just turned 2½:

Ode to Elsa and fingers
and O’s where Elsa steps
and sunshine swings Elsa’s mom
to Elmo here and Elsa there
does hops with Elsa’s hair
here there and everywhere Elsa.

And this one for Grant who his father claims never listens to anyone.  His father gave me a $10 tip for this poem!

A book of poems
for Grant who doesn’t listen.
Nobody listens, though, right?
Grant is listening now
just because.  He likes
to talk the big talk.
Talking is when words
come out of your mouth.
Grant is a big boy
so big words come out of
his big mouth.  Everything
is quiet now.  Silent night.
Perfect opportunity.

It is hard to resist the urge to revise these now.  A tweak here or there could make it so much less cringe-worthy, but then again I have to remember it is not about the poems, but the process.

I thought writing poems for 5 hours straight would exhaust me but it just kind of put me in this weird state of mind.  At the end of the first day, I was a little bit ecstatic.  The second day was less busy, but my mind was also less fresh.

There were many people who wanted to know who we were.  ”Are you poets?”.  A lot of interest in Eyedrum was generated from these encounters as well.  I thought above all that it was really good for cloistered experimental poets to do this as a way to get out of our own headspace a little.  We complain that nobody reads our poems, but I’ve been surprised by the amount of receptiveness that most people have shown.

There was also someone who asked, unbelievingly, “do you use some kind of template, or formula”.  No, we don’t.  That would defeat the whole purpose.  If the purpose was to always safely hand the audience a pretty good poem, then that would be a good strategy.  But the purpose was to challenge ourselves to go outside of our comfort zones, to risk writing that bad poem, writing 50 bad poems.  No, we didn’t have a formula or a strategy, and that can be why it’s such an awful project or an awesome project, depending on which end of the lens you’re looking through

We’re thinking about doing it again sometime soon.  We need to find a place with a lot of foot traffic in Atlanta, maybe L5P or East Atlanta Village… or Piedmont Park.  It would be nice to get a totally different crowd, to see how different the experience is.

Much thanks to Eyedrum Lit Committee for being open to this idea, and to Bill and Amy and the Seen Gallery for opening up their space for us.

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To An Artificer

January 19, 2010

Marianne Moore Not of silver nor of coral
But of weather-beaten laurel
Carve it out.

II
Make a body long and thin
And carve hairs upon the skin.
Make a snout.

III
On the order of a tower
Faintly wrinkled like a flower
On the paws

IV
Carve out heavy feline toes
Make each claw an eagle’s nose.
Carve great jaws.

—Marianne Moore

Bonus: this from a letter Marianne Moore wrote to Robert McAlmon on September 2, 1921, found on page 179 of her Selected Letters:

You are right; the intellect has not the last word today—any more than it ever had.  Sophistication is no match for nature and as I have written Bryher, I have a respect for nature, blind or conscious.  The blind instinctive behavior of old fashioned unenlightened society has many advantages over our conscious behavior today; psychoanalysis is a fascinating study and in some ways a useful one but it pre-empts too much of the mind and people tend to feel that a situation analyzed is a situation solved.  In rapping marriage on the head as it sometimes does, it is unscientific—when you consider the evolution of the marriage relation and the instinctive tendency to idealize it, and to explain religion away is ludicrously superficial.  Religious conviction, art, and animal impulse, are the strongest factors in life, I think, and any one in the ascendant can obliterate the others.  We see different phases of them, for example, Bryher’s interest in education and in securing freedom to the race, are a tangent of religion.  Religion may be pigeonholed as a transference but religious conviction in operation has always made room for itself over the head of every obstacle.  It is apparent that sincerely religious people are contented and are not easily at their wit’s end.

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Forces, The Will & The Weather

September 30, 2008

At the time of nougats, the peer yellow
Sighed in the evening that he lived
Without ideas in a land without ideas,
The pair yellow, the peer.

It was at a time, the place, of nougats.
There the dogwoods, the white ones and the pink ones,
Bloomed in sheets, as they bloom, and the girl,
A pink girl took a white dog walking.

The dog had to walk. He had to be taken.
The girl had to hold back and lean back to hold him,
At the time of the dogwoods, handfuls thrown up
To spread colors. There was not an idea

This side of Moscow. There were anti-ideas
And counter-ideas. There was nothing one had. There were
No horses to ride and no one to ride them
In the woods of the dogwoods,

No large white horses. But there was the fluffy dog.
There were the sheets high up on older trees,
Seeming to be liquid as leaves made of cloud,
Shells under water. These were nougats.

It had to be right: nougats. It was a shift
Of realities, that, in which it could be wrong.
The weather was like a waiter with a tray.
One had come early to a crisp cafe.

by Wallace Stevens

nougat

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Two Essays

September 16, 2008

Two essays for thought…

1.) “Is Poetry a Job, Is a Poem a Product?” by Murat Nemet-Nejat

Not your typical why-can’t-poets-make-money type of whiny essay, he draws some really cool parallels between poetry and money, observations about class, and audience.

2.) “Sucking” by Ariana Reines

Went to see her read this past week, and came across this essay when I googled her beforehand. Intelligent, funny, personal. I like what she says about shit. And the French.

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