Monday, April 24, 2006

The War on Poetry

Paul sat in his baff, wondering what to do next. "Well, what shall I do next? What is the next thing demanded of me by history?" If you know who it is they are whispering about, then you usually don't like it. If Paul wants to become a monk, that's his affair entirely. Of course we had hoped that he would take up his sword as part of the President's war on poetry. The time is ripe for that. The root causes of poetry have been studied and studied. And now that we know that pockets of poetry still exist in our great country, especially in the large urban centers, we ought to be able to wash it out totally in one generation, if we put out backs into it. But we were prepared to hide our disappointment.
--Donald Barthelme, from Snow White

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

NYC recap

On Thursday morning, Lara dropped me off at the train station. She gave me eight dollars and a pack of tissues. The train ride was very long - almost twelve hours. I re-read Alex Robinson's epic graphic novel, Box Office Poison. My seatmate was a person named Denise. Denise appeared to be trans. This freaked out the two teenagers from New Jersey across the aisle. They advised caution. Upon arriving at Penn Station, I took the subway to Brooklyn and made my way to Amy King's apartment. After the train, it felt great to shower and change clothes. Amy was giving a reading in Baltimore that night, so I had the place to myself. I walked to the other end of Lorimer St. to meet my friend Janet, who I lived with for a couple years in North Carolina. I'd only eaten train food all day, so she took me to a bar where you get a free pizza with any drink purchase. It was delicious. I made it back to Amy's around 2 in the morning and read a little from Amy Bender's latest book before falling asleep.
Friday was the day of my reading. In lieu of preparing, I threw all my poems and most of my clothes into a suitcase the morning I left. So on Friday morning, I took my poems to Gimme Coffee and got very overstimulated on caffeine as I blocked out my reading. Then I went to Manhattan to have lunch with my friend Arye. Then Amy and I primped simultaneously for our respective readings, hers in Manhattan, mine in Brooklyn. The Fall Cafe was really cute. Some of my Pitchfork colleagues showed up, and Jim Behrle brought me a painting (pictured above). Christian Peet, a remarkably hirsute man, read first. He was being experimental by reading blank verse. I read from This is the Motherfucking Remix, my in-progress collboration with Marcus Slease, and from F7. The crowd was friendly and responsive. They laughed at my jokes. After the reading I had a great time hanging out with Matt and Katy (Cannibal editors and reading curators), James (Moistworks peep), and others at the Brooklyn Social Club, drinking beer and shooting pool. I wore my t-shirt with a design that looks like nonsense characters until you fold it up, Mad magazine style, and discover that it says "fuck you," so strangers paid attention to me, which I enjoy. On the way home, Matt pretended that he was about to fall onto the train tracks, which Katy did not appreciate one bit. Amy and I exchanged poetry scene gossip deep into the night.
On Saturday, the weathe was atrocious - rainy and cold. I spent the morning drinking coffee and reading Cannibal at Gimme Coffee. Then I went back to Manhattan to meet Janet. We wanted to see the Munch exhibit at MoMA. Lara's brother is the projectionist there, so we got in for free. We tramped through the freezing rain. I bought an umbrella for five dollars. The Munch exhibit was great. I was text messaging a friend to tell her about it, and an eldery women peevishly asked if I was interested in the art or my cell phone. I wondered why she was worried about my cell phone if she was so intent on the art, but I demurred in telling her so. After the museum, Janet and I had dinner and went shopping at H&M, one of the few places where spending NC money on NY clothing doesn't utterly break you. That night, I headed over to Northsix to meet up with Arye, Wendy Raffel from Continuum Press, and some Pitchfork people for the Parts and Labor CD release party. Then I went to Janet's birthday party at Redd's Tavern in Williamsburg. There was skeeball, popcorn, and drunk girls dancing to "Survivor". I ran into someone I know from Chapel Hill who was taking the same 7:15 am train back to NC that I was taking the next morning. She asked if I wanted to just stay up all night. I said maybe. I went to Barcade with Janet after the party dispersed, then stumbled back to Amy's at about 3:30 am. I got to sleep by 3:45, then woke up to my cell phone alarm at 5:45 am. I wouldn't say that lurching back out into the cold after 2 hours of sleep was the high point of the trip. I made it to the station just in time, and wound up sitting beside the person I know from Chapel Hill. She had indeed stayed up all night, and did a better job of sleeping on the train than I did. The train ride home was odd. It was some kind of Lynchian dystopia, a catalogue of human dysfunction. The person in front of me had multiple conversations on her cell phone where she would repeat the phrase, "I'm sorry, I just don't have anything to say to you," for upwards of half an hour. A Chinese person in the back intermittently screamed - literally screamed - Chinese into her own cell phone, which had a ring that reminded me of an air-raid siren. I got sunburned on half my body because I was sitting by the window. Between bouts of light dozing, I read the Village Voice and Fence. Now I'm home, trying to catch up on the deadlines I missed while I was away. I'm going back to New York to read in September, and I'm already looking forward to it.

A "Good" Night for Poetry *haw haw*

The Open Eye Café Presents:

A Poetry Reading.

Thursday, April 13; 7:30; in the secret room.

Featuring Adam Good; poetry editor of Your Black Eye. Liver in Washington, DC. Gentleman in most aspects. Poet on the make.

With Brian Howe; scourge of print and online media; Open Eye barista. Poet, natch.

The vampire shows me
my statements, shows me nice states
and vague dystopias, says,

"choose your engine, vampire."

--Adam Good; from “Engine Teeth Statements”

There are owl sobs
Yummy tweeds and acumens
Who eunuch me with their naiveté
Very shyster

--Brian Howe; from “Foreign Letter (Doom Kick Remix)”

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


[read part 1 here]

[read part 2 here]

[read part 3 here]

Today when I awoke, everyone was gone.

My mother-in-law failed to reply to my messenger swallows. I stepped into the sun and began to walk unsteadily down the cobblestones; my shouted halloos and footfalls echoed back. I staggered, leaned against an elm to catch my breath, and cried out when crows exploded from the boughs with a horrible caterwauling. I walked to the center of the deserted bazaar, mounted the sundial and surveyed my town. The empty homes of my friends and colleagues slept in rows to my right; beyond them, blue-hazed pastures where the cattle roamed freely and lowed their delight, for of course Macher the Shepherd was disappeared. To my left, in the distance, I could discern the phosphorescent vapors rising from the frozen isle, the pastel sea lapping at the silent harbor, and the old mansion perched atop its hill, quivering like a boulder about to roll. With no one around to reassure me otherwise, I could no longer deny that it was bulging at the seams. Its decaying timbers distended and heaved. I looked at it full on and thought I could see blurry forms flailing behind its semi-opaque windows, tiny points of light blinking on and off. It appeared to respire.

I became emboldened by fury and fear. Leaping from the sundial, I charged through the waist-high weeds around the base of the hill, ignoring the brambles that strafed my bare shins where they depended from my dressing gown. As I scuttled up the rocky hill, silt slithering down under my footfalls, the old mansion jutted crookedly into the atmosphere like a sunken monolith rising from an inky sea. In late afternoon, the moon was out, partially obscured by a corner of the mansion's roof and a tangle of dead branches.

Panting on the mansion's patio, I felt a vibration thrumming through the soles of my feet. Sounds emanated from inside: unintelligible voices, faint and far-off, or the groaning of old timbers? I could not say. I pulled on the doors, pounded them with my fists, kicked them with my feet; even beat them with my forehead, yet they would not budge. Panicked and deranged, I ran blindly through the town. The sinking sun cast the chilly, jet-black shadows of buildings and trees over me like dark nets. Drained, I finally collapsed on the sundial and passed out. My dreams were haunted by flickering images of grotesque creatures cavorting around the mansion, and a window in its upper level that framed my wife's stricken face as it turned away into shadow.

* * *

When I came to, it was night. The sky was a dark marble, deep and slick and veined with cloudy white bands. I picked myself up and walked toward the harbor, alternately moonlit and blanketed in shadow. The moon was stark white against the purple vellum of the sky, an interstice the darkness.

In a ten-foot skiff, I paddled out past the waves. The sky was alive with whirlpools of light and whizzing neon vapors. The stars looked flung, cast off from a grinder's wheel. I could still make out the silhouette of that dim mansion behind me, could still see its windows awaking with effulgence, then lapsing to darkness. The island drew near, and the air grew cold. My beard accumulated a fine dusting of frost; my hands ached and the dry skin on my knuckles split. Still, I turned the oars; still I advanced.

My boat has lodged on an ice floe; soon I will have to get out and walk across the frozen tide to shore. As I write, the natives wait for me on the snowy beach, their faces shrouded in fur-lined hoods. They are lit only by the moon and the torches rooted in the snow around them.

A thick copse of white-capped evergreens looms behind the villagers. The smoke that puzzled us so rises amid it. It dances with small twinkles that rise slowly with the cloud for a moment, then race off into the sky. Leathery creatures with pulpy bodies and translucent dragonfly wings turn slow, lazy figure eights in the air. Snow descends silently, steadily.

I will cloister this account in my tinderbox - gilt and monogrammed it is, a gift from my wife - cast it into the sea, then step onto the frozen waves, toward the uncertain light of the wintry isle.