Random Books, Forgotten Poems, Funny Podcasts, and A Forklift Whose Beep Has Lost Its Tone

Pop Culture Happy Hour, the awesome NPR pop culture podcast hosted by Linda Holmes, ends each podcast with a round-the-table of “What’s making us happy this week.” And one of the things that’s making me happy this week is their Oscars Omnibus podcast (all about the nominated pictures) — an even more awesome than usual feast of smart, clever people being intelligent and entertaining about pop culture from high to low.

Other things that are making me happy this week: having been reminded of a poem I’d somehow forgotten about, Philip Levin’s “This Be the Verse” (the one that begins “They fuck you up, your mum and dad”), the two books I’m reading, The Bullpen Gospels, recommended by a friend last summer because I liked Scott Simon’s Home and Away so much, and The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, a mystery with, as the blurb promised, a heroine who’s a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Eloise, which I picked up at Mercer Street Books on a jaunt to lower Queen Anne last weekend.  Continue reading

AI’s “Hoover, Edgar J.”

For this month’s Famous People post, Ai’s “Hoover, Edgar J.

The poet Ai’s is usually summed up with something along the lines of “noted for her uncompromising poetic vision and bleak dramatic monologues” (Poetry Foundation bio). The first couple times I tried to read Vice, her National Book Award-winning new and selected from 1999, the bleak and uncompromising part turned me off. But friends kept recommending her because I write dramatic monologues, so I went back. My initial take: the 1st person (all her dramatic monologues are in 1st person) sometimes works well , and sometimes sounds like the poet putting words/metaphors the character wouldn’t actually say into their mouths, to less effect.

One poem I do like though is “Hoover, Edgar J.” It’s a long-ish, tight, fast-moving poem with internal rhyme that takes soundbite/quotation/political colloquial and pushes it to poetry without sounding like ‘poetry.’ The tension of line and speech holds things taut here, and the character painted, right in line with J Edgar’s pop culture persona (I don’t know much about his deep biography), is complex and fascinating (and a little scary).

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Babel’s Artifacts Reminds Me

Babel’s Artifacts” by Scott Cairn caught my eye on Plumepoetry.com— I love “nattering tribe” and I like the in-in-and-back moves the rhythm makes.

Seeing this poem reminded me that I have on my shelf and really liked, years ago when I read it, his book Philokalia. Frequently the poems are quite engaged with the spiritual/religious, but they’re lovely poems that even heathens like me can get into (though presumably those who know their Bible better will get out of him even more). Like his poem “Nous” for example.

He’s good at the long sentence and its movement down lines, Continue reading


On Defeat

(A post-Super Bowl follow-up to the pre-Superbowl “How to Survive Living in a City Going To Its 2nd Super Bowl in a Row When You Don’t Care About Football: An Epiphany“.)

“Let’s go all “Whos in Whoville” and have a parade anyway,” says a friend so I ask her a question about the Worst. Call. Ever. without calling it the Worst. Call. Ever. But it’s too soon still, still too soon.

In public, in Seattle, it will always be too soon. Continue reading

“Nobody Dies Like Humphrey Bogart”

Sliding in with just over an hour of January to spare (in my time zone anyway), the first installment of 2015’s monthly series, which for this spin around the sun will look at poems about famous people. (Previous years having covered poems about Music, Animal poems, and poems —I was really hewing to the literal idea my first year of blogging, apparently—about Months).

I already know this topic’ll let me work in Linda Bierds, Ai, some more William Matthews, and a Frank O’Hara, maybe that great Barbara Hamby sonnet about Marlene Dietrich if I can find it again. I already fear it’ll devolve into a 12-part argument with myself about how much a reader needs to know about a poem’s subject (or be told in the poem, and how to do that) to really enjoy it/get it. Continue reading

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How To Survive Living In a City Going to its 2nd Super Bowl in A Row When You Don’t Care About Football: An Epiphany

So…I’m not into football.

So…I recently moved to a city with a team going now to back-to-back Super Bowls.

The Seahawks’ blue and green is everywhere, I mean everywhere. I mean dictionary editors are rewriting their definitions of ‘ubiquitous’ to take the prevalence of Hawks paraphernalia in Seattle into account. I mean every business in town that has dress codes or uniforms now officially includes in employee handbooks “or just head to toe Hawks gear, that’s cool too.” I mean the “12th man” flag* flies from cars, yards, windows, balconies, construction cranes, high-rises, busses, ferries, church readerboards with the message lined up to read “Services at 10 so you can be home by “12””, the Space Needle, people’s ears, people’s dogs, people’s kids’ Lego castles. I mean at a production of Measure for Measure a board member of the Seattle Shakespeare Company with perfectly bobbed silver arts patron hair and an expensively tasteful outfit came on stage, gave her nice patrician welcoming speech, then flashed open her sweater to reveal a jersey and yelled “GO HAWKS!” and then the play started. I mean my mother is now raving about Cam Shamwow “just leaping like a gazelle over the other guy. Like a gazelle.Continue reading

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A 2014 Reconnoiter

Dawned cold in Seattle this morning, which means it’s clear and gorgeous, mountains out. Hello, 2015, good to meetcha.

I’ve been out of school for ages now and am not a teacher, but fall still always feels like the real start of the year to me, calendar and tradition notwithstanding. This year in particular — I got a big new job and moved to Seattle in October, a brand-new start on all fronts. (I even have new hair! growing it out after something like 15 years of having it very short). And years are funny anyway, some have those moments you can specifically date, when someone close died, when someone had a wedding, when you got your puppy. Other years you remember but can’t date, that year we all had terrible coughs on Orcas Island and had to sleep sitting up in the beach chairs in the living room, which year was that? that year the family friends’ boys so entertainingly hog-tied their mother’s pugs with Christmas ribbons, which year was that? the year I finally broke down and started texting, which year was that? the year I read like all of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels back to back, which year was that? And now I’ve got my Portland years, nine of them, and fairly soon I won’t be able to remember which apartment I had while I had with which job, which year I started going to Stumptown for coffee every morning, which year my writing group started. Continue reading

Bessie Smith & Bessie Smith

Here’s a two-fer Music Poems post (since I missed November by a mile) — two with Bessie Smith, the ‘Empress of the Blues’ who had an unsurpassed voice and was in her time (the 1920s) the highest paid black performer around.

First up, Jericho Brown’s “Langston Blues“. I saw Jericho Brown last weekend at a Copper Canyon Press shindig in Seattle and holy moly is he a great performer! He was mesmerizing and his work was beautiful (not pretty beautiful, hard beautiful). I strongly urge you, if you have the chance to hear him live, to take it.


Let my words

Lie sound in the mouths of men
Repeating invocations pure
And perfect as a moan

That mounts in the mouth of Bessie Smith.
Blues for the angels kicked out
Of heaven. Blues for the angels

Who miss them still. Blues
For my people and what water
They know. O weary drinkers

Drinking from the bloody river,
Why go to heaven with Harlem
So close? […]

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Briefly Reviewed: the Catch-up Edition

Briefly reviewed: City Boy by Edmund White (2009) | Almost Invisible by Mark Strand (2013) | Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger (1990) | The Fiddler in the Subway by Gene Weingarten (2010) | A Lady’s Life in the Mountains by Isabella Bird (1870s)

I’m behind on my what-I’ve-been-reading posts (moving+new job = such things!) so here’s a catch-up Briefly Reviewed, briefer than usual. This list includes two of the best-written non-fiction books I’ve ever read, and some really excellently executed prose poems.

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Rambo and Rimbaud at the Seashore

Delightful to open my email today and see that Bellingham Review‘s latest issue is up…including my poem “The Vagabonds, Now Mortgage-Bound” — in which Rambo and Rimbaud “are living out their golden years / together in a house on the coast / with ropes and buoys decorating the deck.”

I wrote this poem several years ago — part of a whole series I wrote mashing up the 80s action symbol and the French Symbolist bad boy — and it’s really fun to see it out in the world at last. You can read the whole poem here: “The Vagabonds, Now Mortgage-Bound.”



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