Thursday, September 17, 2009

good news! god's shitty car fleet and shallow faith.

so it's official. i am a resident of canada until 2011. today i went to the border at sumas. there are all sorts of funny rules about border stuff. one of them is not to be funny. i had one friend who, when asked if he was bringing weapons into the country, said "just these guns" and held up his arms. the border agent was not amused, and said humorlessly, "pull your car over and come on in." they proceeded to interrogate him and his wife for almost 2 hours.

another funny rule about the borders is the sudden change that happens when you exit one building and go into the next. one second, you're in canadian jurisdiction. the next, it's american. anyways, along those lines, when i went to apply for my canadian work visa, i was told that i had to actually walk over to the american building and walk back so that i would be entering canada and then applying. i could not apply unless i was coming in.

anyhow, despite walking to the american side and returning, they told me i didn't have the correct documents to apply and that i needed something called a labor market opinion. unfortunately, that would take weeks, and i needed the visa asap!

i called jill and she, being the wonderful woman she is, scoured the canadian immigration website, and found that i could apply for what's called an open visa (because of her job). so we went down to the border again TONIGHT and got it without a hitch. in the end, it was a better and less restricted work visa. that's good news.

it was also a good reminder that just when i thought my life was going well, little things can throw a big snag into it. and the lesson i learned (and quickly forgot) when our camry was giving us trouble on the road west was "the car doesn't get you there. God does." (to which i'd often add the refrain, "it's a bummer God keeps such shitty cars, though.")

so today while there was a big snag looming, i happened to be listening to david bazan's new album, curse your branches. i've been a fan of bazan's christian/sad bastard act, but his new album marks a definitive break. some have even called it his "break up" album with God. (the title curse your branches should have given that away). i was inclined today to agree with bazan: "all the fallen leaves should curse their branches." but then things ended up working out.

it makes it seem as though i have a shallow faith, to sway so much at the shadow of trouble. reminds me of that verse (oh yea, that verse...) from james about men who doubt being like ships driven around by the waves. men who doubt are unstable.

so, in honor of doubt, and david bazan, i'm going to try and blog what i envision to be a three part review of his album. we'll see how it turns out. could be terrible.

p.s. one last thing: vonage in canada is the bomb. we have an american virtual number, so all our american friends can ring us...and we have a canadian number so our canadian friends can ring us as well. huzzah!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

connoisseur of style (manuals)

as i settle into my new life in langley, bc, i am re-entering a place i haven't been in a while: the academic world of patrick henry college. by that i mean that i'm mostly returning to the basic lessons i learned there and applying them as i begin to teach foreign students who aspire to attend north american graduate school. in my usual cavalier style, i have dismissed most of the stuff handed to me and insisted on reinventing the wheel. instead of looking to one textbook, i am culling through all the collective manuals i have consulted in the past, like strunk & white and my old rhetoric book. i am also taking lessons from other style manuals that are new to me, such as joseph williams's book.

this is not to say that for the last several years i haven't ever consulted the trusty old elements of style, or that the lessons taught to me were forgotten and left unapplied. indeed, dr. smith's rhetoric class was one of the best classes on how-to-BS that i've ever taken (it also taught me about substance, fyi). but i am consulting them more often as i attempt to go about teaching writing myself. it is true, what they say about teaching. you never learn it better than when you teach. this summer, for example, i taught a philosophy class and finally acquired an actual affinity for aristotle that i had been pretending to have for years. going back through these style manuals has really turned me into a beast of style. whether it's a good or bad beast remains yet to be seen.

on a separate note, i wonder what mrs. bergel, my 11th grade english teacher, would say if she knew i were teaching writing. she would probably be proud (and confused). though in truth, my ability to write really has nothing to do with her. in fact, she almost turned me away from writing with her withering red slashes. she was one of those frustrating teachers who would destroy my papers on account of poor writing but never offer a helping hand. now that i think about it, i don't think i ever had a teacher lend a helping hand. i just learned at some point, i guess? i remember my 12th grade teacher enjoyed my writing much more, and i felt empowered. but i don't think i really got a handle on writing until somebody handed me a copy of strunk & white. or rather, made me buy a copy. so perhaps i should thank dr. smith. he had the same withering red pen (i once watched him grade a stack of complex bibliography exercises without ever consulting a manual himself; the man was a certifiable genius), but at least he gave me the tools to correct it myself.

incidentally, i would like to say that having gone through several other style manuals, i still believe strunk & white is perfectly useful. anyone who doesn't take a style manual with a grain of salt should have their head examined. yeah, strunk & white can seem a little bossy at times, but so can the people who excoriate it so viciously.

EDIT: for all you wonderful people who are reading this (none, i suspect), don't take this post as an opportunity to write nasty comments on my style and grammar. it's a blog for strunk's sake!

Monday, June 08, 2009

is billy collins killing poetry? and the poetic line

over at first thoughts and siris they're having a small informal symposium on a question that essentially boiled down to this: is billy collins writing slam poetry for the upper middle class? you can say what you will about billy collins, whether you think he's killing poetry or not. i believe poetry has a pretty high tolerance level for bad writing (it's been happening for years), and if billy collins is the end of poetry as we know it, it would certainly not be for the reason that he is writing slam poetry for yuppies.

i cannot, however, let the post by the blogger at siris go by without response. he urged us to consider the collins poem 'another reason:
The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
He is barking the same high, rhythmic bark
that he barks every time they leave the house.
They must switch him on on their way out.
You could take the same thing and write it all together with no change, and it would be part of an essay, or of a novel, or of a letter home:
The neighbors' dog will not stop barking. He is barking the same high, rhythmic bark that he barks every time they leave the house. They must switch him on on their way out.
And you will have lost nothing. It is a poem, in the most basic sense that it is crafted language for the sake of the language, but the differences between Billy Collins and (say) Garrison Keillor, setting aside topics, are entirely incidental.
he is actually making this point along the way to his inverse point, that scattering whatever random sentences you find around a page does not necessarily make it poetry (an advertiser could do this, he says), but the fact remains that changing these lines does change this poem fundamentally. siris mistakenly thinks that because a poem is endstopped at normal breath points, therefore it would be the same were it in paragraph format. this is simply not true. all that an endstopped breath means is that the poet wanted the momentum of the line to end there, and not carry on into the next line. to say that collins in a paragraph form is the exact same neglects completely the possible elements of tone embedded in lineation. and with a poet like collins (or keillor) , it's not a stretch to say that tone is 9/10ths of the poem. for a helpful essay on tone, check out real sofistikashun by tony hoagland

siris also makes what i think is an unhelpful distinction between verse and poetry. i suppose it's helpful if you want to have a term that refers only to a relatively strict formal aesthetic, but this seems based more on a bias towards aesthetic rather than helpful distinction. especially when you consider the fact that someone who would fall under siris's category of "poetry" but not "verse" would be robert lowell. if you look at lowell's most famous poems, however, it would not be hard to turn them into his definition of "turns and returns of language":
Thirsting for
the hierarchie privacy
of Queen Victoria's century,
she buys up all
the eyesores facing her shore,
and lets them fall.
Thirsting for the hierarchie privacy
of Queen Victoria's century,
she buys up all
the eyesores facing her shore, and lets them fall.
you can see that lowell does indeed have a very simple rhyme scheme at work here, but he has chosen to deliberately lineate this poem differently.

poetry, is not only, as he concludes, "the craft of making excellent language" (and therefore great prose can be effective in the same way that a poem is ultimately). there is a deliberateness in poetry that does not exist in prose. a writer of prose does not intend to do anything except write in paragraphs. a poet, however, always has the options of writing in more than just a paragraph. therefore, the decision to write in lines or paragraphs, or in hypertext even, is a deliberate decision (and therefore, indicative of a reason, or at least the potential of a reason).

this is distinguished from ads, however, because an ad is, more or less, limited by the page on which it is printed. hence line breaks come from another necessity than the decision of the poet (though such a necessity can sometimes be parallel in reasoning to poetry, as for instance, in the timing and pace of text on an ad). in this sense, form poems are more likely to share a relationship with ads, because their limitation is, in some sense, imposed upon them (though again, by the deliberate choice of the poet). this stands in contrast to free verse, which 'ideally' allows the poem itself to determine its 'form' (the meandering and occasionally anxious timing and rhyme scheme of "Prufrock" being the perfect example of this).

A Whole 'Nother Reason Higher Education is Collapsing...

From Edge Magazine:

"Universities are finally losing their monopoly on higher learning", he writes. "There is fundamental challenge to the foundational modus operandi of the University — the model of pedagogy. Specifically, there is a widening gap between the model of learning offered by many big universities and the natural way that young people who have grown up digital best learn."

The old-style lecture, with the professor standing at the podium in front of a large group of students, is still a fixture of university life on many campuses. It's a model that is teacher-focused, one-way, one-size-fits-all and the student is isolated in the learning process. Yet the students, who have grown up in an interactive digital world, learn differently. Schooled on Google and Wikipedia, they want to inquire, not rely on the professor for a detailed roadmap. They want an animated conversation, not a lecture. They want an interactive education, not a broadcast one that might have been perfectly fine for the Industrial Age, or even for boomers. These students are making new demands of universities, and if the universities try to ignore them, they will do so at their peril.

Contrary to Nicholas Carr's proposition that Google is making us stupid, Tapscott counters with the following:

My research suggests these critics are wrong. Growing up digital has changed the way their minds work in a manner that will help them handle the challenges of the digital age. They're used to multi-tasking, and have learned to handle the information overload. They expect a two-way conversation. What's more, growing up digital has encouraged this generation to be active and demanding enquirers. Rather than waiting for a trusted professor to tell them what's going on, they find out on their own on everything from Google to Wikipedia.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Collapse of Higher Education?

As you may have noticed, I am a sporadic blogger. I will post incessantly for a week, and then nothing at all. It is all related to my level of down time, in which I am able to just be lazy and ponder possibilities. As we speak, despite my insane amounts of work to do, I am doing a bit of self-imposed laziness. It's good for the soul. Tomorrow, though, I hit the books hard.

In the meantime, you may have noticed (if you follow my Google Reader share feed) that I've been posting articles about the collapse of higher education...or at least one. This particular article notes a series of disturbing trends that anyone who has ever been involved in higher education over the past few years will have noticed:
With tuitions, fees, and room and board at dozens of colleges now reaching $50,000 a year, the ability to sustain private higher education for all but the very well-heeled is questionable. According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, over the past 25 years, average college tuition and fees have risen by 440 percent — more than four times the rate of inflation and almost twice the rate of medical care.
I'm all about working hard to pay for your education. I'm all about waiting tables, being a teaching assistant, working construction during the summer. But those are pretty bad figures...tuition and fees at four times the rate of inflation and twice the rate of medical care?? That's just insane, my friends. Nothing can sustain those sorts of increases.

I suppose I could just say, let the markets decide, but we all know it is the trend of the government to prop up failing institutions, especially those deemed "too big to fail." So what is the college's options? Fail...OR expand at such an exponential rate, push through students during the sugar rush of false growth, that by the time the numbers don't add up, you've become too big to fail, hired too many people to fire without serious consequence, given out too many degrees that may become worthless. Conspiracy theories beside, I don't think I have to argue you into the belief that the consistency of these degrees would have been worthless long before the institution backing them failed. But degrees have become such a commodity, to not have one would render you useless to society, apparently.

This is not to say that I did not benefit from higher education. Indeed, I did. I received public funding as well (it really wouldn't have been possible otherwise these days). But there is no doubt in my mind that our current education system, given the title "bedrock of democracy," have come to mirror our own federal government: bloated, disconnected, and vacuous. Yet I am told, there is no other way! And education must continue! What would we become without education?? So, I read this with interest:
You probably haven't heard of the Ukrainian Catholic University - but I suspect that is going to change. For this wonderful institution offers a philosophy of teaching in radical contrast to the moribund model of Catholic further education found in this country and much of the West.

"You must look into this place," my (Anglican) friend Edward Lucas, author and Eastern Europe correspondent of The Economist, told me. "It's quite amazing." And it is. This university, run on a shoestring, teaches not only the liberal arts and trains Eastern-rite Catholic priests, but also places a community of mentally and physically handicapped people at the centre of its spiritual and social life.

Issues of affiliation aside, I suspect there is a passion at the center of this university that makes it a wholly different sort of place than our modern academy, which has, as Paglia has pointed out over and over again, become a four year booze-fueled, sex-infused resort town funded by mom and dad.

What has changed our current education system. I don't think I've ever been in a class (grade school to my masters) where I did not have a teacher or professor NOT complain about funding. Don't get me wrong. I have no doubt that most of the money that should go to the teachers and programs, gets sidelined into other 'ventures.' But just from this short description, I sense a passion for learning (and the scopes to which learning should reach, that is, compassion) that I desperately wish had been present in my undergrad. Again, this is not to say I did not have a good experience in undergrad or grad school. I felt like I had a better lot than most. But I know my experience is a rarity.

OK, so what this boils down to is my feelings on what should drive higher education, and I'll just state it outright. We have made higher education too education focused! This might seem to contradict what I've said. But the ancients used to consider education a sort of soul-formation. Until we come to understand the place of education in the scope of the rest of society, it will become bloated by self-righteousness and then later collapse in a heap of irrelevant drivel.

Socrates would have said it better, I know.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Psalm 1

Blest is the man
who doesn't sit, stand, or walk
with fast talkers.
Blest also
is the man who doesn't
shit in his own bed or stand
under the coconut tree he rattles.

Blessed even more
is the man
who doesn't shake for coconuts
when there are none.

You are like that tree.
You have a season.
Patience is a virtue.

But God is not
like us lowly sod, man.
He instead is the gardener
and His garden grows
at His command.

Monday, May 25, 2009


To seattle/vancouver. I think i have flown more in the last year than most of my life combined.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

on my own opinion

i learned the hard way last november how your opinion can get you into trouble. or more accurately, being too concerned with your own opinion. that is, letting other people know what you think all the time. it's a problem pretty much as old as humankind itself. and i struggle with it.

the problem last november is that there were so many opinions swirling, and it was so easy to get caught up in the mania of the election and forget that, hey, we go through this every four years, and despite the fact that our society may actually be slowly disintigrating, this election alone could not change that.

the hyped sense of urgency is manufactured every few years (in direct relationship to the magnitude of the election) by the parties to try and "get out the vote." ironically, i believe it actually has a lot to do with the way that americans approach (or neglect) elections. everything is do or die, and most people don't like being put into that sort of situation. it's a little like when i would try to diet in the past few years...get myself hyped up to believe that it was now or never. and then when i failed, i despaired. with urgency comes inevitable despair. similarly, most americans either feel an unnecessary urgency and/or despair.

two items managed to capture this almost perfectly:
1. south park's episode on "vote or die" is absolutely perfect when it comes to describing the way that our society approaches voting. when you refuse to vote, you are immediately relegated to the extreme wings of society (where else would you go, right?).
2. the onion captured the perfect post-christmas-esque let down most obama supporters felt after a year solid of obama frenzy.

concerning the problem of my own opinion. to put it simply: i got caught up in the frenzy of urgency and despair. starting up my own google reader feed had a lot to do with this, honestly. the constant stream of information and ideas made it impossible for me to remain evenhanded. any strong opinion (and there were many!) was enough to send me off the deep end.

unfortunately, i had an outlet for this instability: the facebook feed. i was posting articles like crazy. in the end, however, without meaning to, i ended up hurting a very close friend, not so much because of my opinion, but rather because of the insensitivity in which i posted it. it didn't even register to me at first, that i might hurt somebody, but i was so far off the deep end, i'm not too sure anything would have registered.

so now, you might ask, why am i blogging? isn't blogging centered upon the immediate publication (and hopeful exultation) of one's opinion? well...yes. but, let's be honest...blogs are old school. and on the constantly sliding scale of the internet, when compared to twitter and facebook feeds, blogs are the place of disciplined opinion. that's the problem with twitter, on a more fundamental level--it's unbridled opinion without discipline. or at least, being a new medium, it invites that lack of discipline. nowadays, it's the blogs that finally have come into their own as opinion that is finally coming under the reign of self-control. all those who were completely unbridled have left blogs for twitter. let's face it, when my old agrarian leaning prof, mark mitchell, is blogging, something has come to the blogosphere that is worth holding onto.

and so, it is with this in mind that i plan on blogging in such a way that is disciplined in opinion, in hopes that i actually have something interesting to say.

oh, and i thought of a catchy new phrase to describe this blog....punctuation, without capitalization. like?

academia and the art of motorcycle repair

my lovely fiance passed along a great article to me from nytimes magazine about work with your hands, by matthew crawford, a PHD graduate from chicago (and postdoc fellow for the committee on social thought) who now works in a motorcycle repair shop.

one of his starting points is the dismantling of shop classes in the 90s:

educators prepared students to become "knowledge workers." the imperative of the last 20 years to round up every warm body and send it to college, then to the cubicle, was tied to a vision of the future in which we somehow take leave of material reality and glide about in a pure information economy.

i remember this dismantling. by the time i took "tech ed" at my school, the equipment had become run down (not to mention out of date), and the teachers were demoralized to the point of idiocy. tech ed had become a required anacronism in our scheduling. crawford continues:

when we praise people who do work that is straightforwardly useful, the praise often betrays an assumption that they had no other options. we idealize them as the salt of the earth and emphasize the sacrifice foro thers their work may ential....but what if such work answers as well to a basic human need of the one who does it?

crawford continues with some very interesting anecdotes about the work he's done actually using his degrees, and as you might expect, how unfulfilling it was, even denigrating. our attitude that we might be able to "take leave of material reality and glide about in a pure information economy" seems to have wreaked much havoc in this most recent generation. all you have to do is watch a few middle schoolers send hundreds of texts and hour (seriously), and then wail in literal pain if their parents take their cell phones away to see the damaging sway of information's constant stream.

but the larger point of crawford's is work and economy. what has our economy turned our work into? this, of course, all seems to connect to a wendell berry article i've been reading lately, "racism and the economy." he starts with this same attitude towards work that crawford identifies and ties it to issues our country has been struggling with for years:

the root of our racial problem in america is not racism. the root is in our inordinate desire to be superior--not to some inferior or subject people, though this desire leads to the subjection of people--but to our condition. we wish to rise above the sweat and bother of taking care of anything--of ourselves, each other, or our country. we did not enslave african blacks because they were black, but because their labor promised to free us of the obligations of stewardship, and because they were unable to prevent us from enslaving htem. they were economically valuable and militarily weak.

it makes a lot of sense to me that racism could be our quickest excuse out of history. we think, we are much superior, we believe, because we are not racist. we have solved the essential problem of slavery, which was hatred because somebody looked different. yet we have progressed beyond that irrational contempt, we have moved forward and will continue to move forward.

but what if berry's right, that there is something more fundamental at stake, something that is still motivating us, something, indeed, that motivates our very idea of progress? is it possible that the issue berry identifies is responsible for both slavery and affirmative action? berry says so:

the problem of race, nevertheless, is generally treated as if it could be solved merely by recruiting more blacks and other racial minorities into colleges and then into high-paying jobs. this is to assume, simply, that we can solve the problems of racial minorities by elevating them to full partnership in the problems of the racial majority. we assume that when a young black person acquires a degree, puts on a suit, and achieves a sit-down job with a corporation, the problem is to that exten solved. the larger, graver, more dangerous problem, however, is that we have thought of no better way of solving the race problem.

i forget who it was that said something to the effect of to be well adjusted in a profoundly sick society is no virtue. the problem is not a race problem, berry says, or even an economic one, but a moral and spiritual problem. we have not actually solved the problem of slavery, we only got a better slave: technology, powered by oil (or some future magical boundless green energy). we live in a society that seeks to escape what is aptly summed up in the curse of genesis:

so the Lord God said, the woman, "you will bear children with intense pain and suffering. and though your desire will be for your husband, he will be your master." and to adam He said "because you listened to your wife and ate the fruit i told you not to eat, i have placed a curse on the ground. all your life you will sturggle to scratch a living form it. it will grow throns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. all your life you will sweat to produce food, until your dying day. then you will return ot the ground from which you came. for you were made from dust, and to the dust you will return."

you don't have to be a fundamentalist christian to see the whole of human history and struggle encased in that statement. foretold there is the last 200 years: slavery, energy dependency, patriarchy and the feminist movement, communism, its fall, out of control markets. scary.

The view from san pedro

Amazing if my crappy cell camera managed to get it.

Two blog posts coming your way when my lappy gets some yummy bandwith to gobble.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The dharma initiative

Is it just me or does every housing development in southern california look like the dharma initiative? Squat, yellow huts encased by perpetually manicured landscaping... My (soon to be) sister-in-law pointed it out to me and now i see it everywhere.

on capitalization; on vers libre, ritual, and the jazzy stylings of christ.

1. some of you might notice that sometimes i capitalize my entries. and sometimes i don't. if they are capitalized, there's a good chance it's coming from my phone, which automatically capitalizes text (and is too much trouble to fiddle with for the sake of consistency). sorry for those who hate my all undercase drivel. but not really cause i'm not going to change.

2. onto other things. in my research for ed hirsch i come across some really good stuff from time to time worth sharing. from an excellent essay (so far) by david antin called "modernism and postmodernism: approaching the present in american poetry" (a boring name, i know--why can't they come up with something a little more, "castrating the turkey: on POMO and poetry"?)...he begins with a quote from john crowe ransom:

"i think meters confer upon the delivery of poetry the sense of a ritualistic occasion. when a ritual develops it consists in the enactment, or the recital over and over again, of some experience which is obsessive for us, yet intangible and hard to express. the nearest analogue to the reading of poetry according to the meters, as i think, is the reading of an ecclesiastical service by the congregation. both the genius of poetry and the genius of the religious establishment work against the same difficulty, which is the registration of what is inexpressible, or metaphysical. the religious occasion is a very formal one, with its appointed place in the visible temple, and the community of worshippers congregated visibly."

ok, stop. this is old ground, i know, for most poetry people--poetry attempting to express the ineffable through structures (rhyme) that imitate other things we use (the liturgy) to express the ineffable, etc etc etc. what is cool is the way antin turns it backwards...

you don't have to be especially committed to ritual or religion to observe that this is a kind of poetical episcopalianism. the sermon on the mount was also a religious occasion; it didn't take place in a 'visible temple' and wasn't delivered in meter. but if the meaning of meter for ransom is amiable and nostalgic, that is a triumph of personality. for eliot and for tate, as for their last disciple, lowell, the loss of meter is equivalent to the loss of a whole moral order. it is a 'domino theory' of culture--first meter, then latin composition, then in'ja. this persistent tendency to project any feature from any plane of human experience ont a single moral axis is an underlying characteristic of the particular brand of 'modernism' developed by eliot, tate and brooks.

ouch. of course, what antin neglects here is the fact that christ, in the sermon on the mount, is in many ways building upon the religious structures of the day. not only the law he is building, but his parable style was common for rabbis in his day. he was using structures with which his listeners were quite familiar.

nonetheless, he makes a good point that there is also a sort of jazzy freestyle to the teaching of christ. actually, the teaching style of that day was freestyle. they used midrash, a somewhat obsessive retelling of the same stories over and over, to both teach and meditate upon issues in a story, to replay the emotional journey (one question about midrash: what is up for grabs in a story? can you actually change the narrative?).

as for the question of poetry, what is up for grabs? one thing i have learned in the last year or two is that structure can actually be quite freeing. when you are writing completely unstructured free verse, there is a sense in which you have to juggle more things. contrary to what most people think, there is music in free verse. it is just not determined by meter, rhyme, form, etc.

one problem i find though, when i write free verse, is that it's easy to mistake the overflow of emotion in which we poets often write, as the topic of the poem. when in reality, it's usually something quite different (also contrary to what people think, poets--indeed, most artists--very rarely control the topic of their art). what structure (form, meter, rhyme) allows you to do is put down one of the balls you're juggling and focus on what really matters.

structure is also a way of interrogating your own art. by giving you a limit, something to overcome, you are able to focus on what "truly" matters in your moment of writing (unless what truly matters is lack of structure). you have to decide what is essential. the line you wanted to write originally doesn't fit with the rhyme scheme? well, you then have to ask yourself: "is this line really important?" if it is, then leave it, and it will stick out probably (but hey, it's important right? so let it stick out). but if it's really not important, or if there's a better way to say it, then try that.

structure is also a great way to generate material. in freshman rhetoric class, we learned about the many different rhetorical "topics." these were things you could talk about about no matter what the issue at stake was. (by the way, i recommend that any college freshman take a good classical rhetoric class as a learn to effectively BS their way through most of college.) in the same way, poetic structures function like these rhetorical "topics." no matter what you're writing about, if you're writing a sonnet, you know at a certain point you have to insert a volta (a turn). you have a certain number of lines to make your case in, and then a certain number of lines to turn that case upon its head in a way that makes your reader want to read more.

not only this, you can more consciously decide to break the rules. when you write in free verse, you are always breaking the rules...or creating your own. so you cannot deviate or change the game in the middle of the poem. in this sense, you are a slave to what you set out to do in the very first place or else you risk writing some very confusing poetry (which is often confused in modern poetry for being good).

one last point: any good practitioner of free verse will tell you that the real reason they practice free verse is that they want the topic of their poetry to determine the structure, that structure arises from the topic. the fact remains though, at the end of the day, none of us are really creative enough to come up with a vital structure that matches the complexity of our topic. truly great structures typically come from many people practicing them over years and refining them.

it's like a good recipe. the first cookie was probably a mistake. somebody was probably making a muffin and screwed up and i bet it tasted like crap. but they liked the idea of this flat thing and began refining it. originality is very rarely a virtuoso genius that creates something entirely new and perfect at the same time.

in the same way, when left to their own devices, most writers create something that is exactly alike to another free verse poem. or they start imitating another free verse writer they like (hm...the creation of a new "structure"?). i once heard an example given about the inherent limitations of free verse that seems apt...if you tell a bunch of grade schoolers to write a free verse poem, all the poems come out sounding the same. but if you tell them all to write sonnets, you end up getting a wide variation of unique and interesting poems. of course, the problem with this is that if you write bad poetry in form (especially rhyming form) it sounds trite in addition to being bad.

maybe that's the test, then. if you write bad poetry in form, maybe you should stay away from form totally. (aside: ginsberg apparently was terrible in form, but great in free verse. the exception that proves the rule?)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

First clammy steps

Into the Pacific!

California, California

In the sunny land of hot dog sticks for a few days to see my brother graduate from seminary. Bummer you can't actually see the mountains for the smog. I had to cough up a good bit of smog induced lung butter upon arrival. Yum.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

meanwhile across the street

from the greyhound, amera's cup o soup cafe is getting a facelift. this guy has is a tenacious little stinker. when i first moved in there was a place called "the jamaican yardspot" that was only open sporadically (though the food was pretty good). then suddenly, in the middle of the night (literally), i see a giant moving van outside and they're all moving like the dickens. the next day, i walk in and there's an egyptian fellow making soup. i come in, say hello, ask what happened.

the yardspot was closing down anyhow, and he was moving in after, he told me. apparently, though, they took off with a lot of his equipment, which he had moved in ahead of time. this doesn't stop the guy...he begins to remodel, while selling food! pretty good food too. over the last few months, bit by bit, he's been investing in this place. it's in a good spot too. when they're done tearing down the greyhound, they're gonig to build the binghamton intermodal transit terminal, and my guess is that if he can survive until that point, he'll do pretty well with all the traffic going through this formerly dead intersection of binghamton.

oh, and one last thing...apparently his wife drained 10k out of their accounts and kicked him out? i don't know if i blame her, though...this guy's a workaholic.

on suddenly feeling like blogging again...

so, i have pretty much not blogged since...a long while. and i mean blogged for real. i don't know if i ever did it, in fact. i used to post poetry and depression on my xanga, but i hardly do even that anymore. for years i preferred xanga because they didn't screw up the formatting of my poetry. but it seems as though blogger may have resolved some of its issues.

it's not that i've given up on xanga...ok, i have. it's just depressing being over there! i resisted blogger for many years, but it seems now that i have finally succumbed. but not before meeting my (future) wife on xanga first! (yea, lame, i know.)

so sue me. i've changed blogs more twilight kingdom. it was too depressing and existential and freshman year in collegey anyhow.

but the fact is, i haven't blogged anywhere really for a long time, and suddenly i feel like doing it. probably because i suddenly have more time on my hands, having finally finished a long 2 years of schooling.

i can't promise that if i get busy again i won't drop this...or that i won't get bored...or hell, that i won't change blog sites (xanga also suddenly became and eyesore and confusing to use and blogger's all integrated with google products, and it was just so tempting, i couldn't help myself anymore). but so help me God, blogger, if you do the same i will drop you like an ugly prom date.

and in fact, i'm probably already outdated...everybody's got their twitters and their facebook notes, and some of my old favorite friend blogs have closed down (RIP roox ampe). i'm really going oldschool here kickstarting my blog again, but hey--i'm contrarian, no servant of free enterprise.

goodbye greyhound

i have to admit right up front my bitter relationship with greyhound. after 2 years of riding with them, they never told me about their frequent rider program until the end of my stint, by which point it was too late and i couldn't actually benefit from it in any real way.

also, after 2 years of riding greyhound, by the end they finally got nice new buses and started running them to nyc all the time. free wifi, more legroom. and i'm like, wtf mate? you couldn't do this 2 years ago?

but now i'm feeling all nostalgic. they're tearing down the greyhound of my youth! and i'm watching it all happen through my window.

it's also been exciting, of course. watching them demolish the building is exhilarating. except for the fact that i've missed every major wall come down. i waited all yesterday for one side to come down, and they finally took it down this morning when i happened to be not looking out my window. and then, in the midst of this very blog post, i took a bathroom break to come back and find that yes, indeed, another wall had come down. needless to say i was pissed.

but it also made me think of rod serling. one of the prides of bingo-town is the fact that the creator of the twilight zone came from binghamton. most people don't recognize that binghamton actually is the real twilight zone. any of you who've ever come here will know that.

the beer is cheap, though, so i stick around.

inspired, however, as i was by the tearing down of the greyhound, i began watching old episodes of the twilight zone, mainly the one set in the binghamton (or near binghamton--ithaca?) station. it's worth a looksee.

one last thing before i show you the video...i've noticed construction workers (or at least the crane operators) have a complex sign language they use to communicate with each other over the roar of the machinery. who knew?

Watch 21. The Twilight Zone - Mirror Image in Entertainment | View More Free Videos Online at

Monday, May 18, 2009

Psalm 131

My heart is not proud,
I swear, my eyes
have never scoured
another soul because
I was unhappy
myself. I try not
to know more than I
need to know but

instead I try to be like
a man with a camera
who expects
the picture to happen before
his eyes. I told
my soul be patient
I told my soul
wait for the right light

and then the photo of the Lord
coming would be a good one.

Aubade on a Sunday

Why wait until the doldrums of the coming afternoon
even make our socks seem heavy?

The sun rises and comes and saps the tree branches
of their breeze

anyhow, and soon we'll be sapped too
and what will it matter then,

what will it matter,
all the glorious thundering we make while

the morning clouds rise up
from the ground, like an offering to the sky?

Why bother with the forceful blink
into the Chinese fingertrap of day?

Let's go ahead and just admit we're
useless. Let's rise to fall again so that we rise.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Not There

Sometimes at dusk
I drive a car
nobody knows I own
on a road nobody knows I drive.
(You can imagine my horror
when I see some body else
I know driving a car I don't
on the same road.
Usually I hide behind
the wheel and they're so busy
looking forward
they don't notice me.)
I look into the houses I drive by
with the lights on
in their sad
and perfect inscrutability, damp beams
through brown
lampshade blinds.
I insert my face on
the fireplace mantle,
that odd shelf, my face
into the pictures of the family,
play fetch with their old and
neglected dog,
eat the leftovers.
Nobody notices when I close the window
to the summer rain
or crack the moon open
and pour out the glass inside
(that's why it shines),
nobody says thank you
when I take out the trash, it's like
I'm not even there.