Sunday, October 06, 2013


After four years, I've decided to start up the blog again. My life has changed drastically. Social media has moved on, but still, I find myself composing in my head what today I recognized as blog posts, so . . . here goes. A new life recorded in an obsolete format. Most of my posts will be typed late at night with one thumb, while draped in babies.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

My Brilliant Students

today did a little presentation about this poem


As the cat
climbed over
the top of

the jamcloset
first the right

then the hind
stepped down

into the pit
of the empty

by, as they put it, William "CarLOL" Williams, which included a drawing of the cat's misadventure labeled "OH NOES! IT HAZ NO DURT/FLOWERZ!" It was extremely cute. (Background necessary for finding this funny here.)

My favorite lines right now

Note that, in this bitterness, delight,
Since the imperfect is so hot in us,
Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.

--Wallace Stevens

Monday, November 30, 2009

from the New York Times

"One of the rare things known for certain about Bach, who did not leave much of a verbal trail, is that in 1705, as a young man, he got into a fight with a fellow musician. Mr. Siblin notes that the insult delivered by Bach has been variously translated by scholars as “nanny-goat bassoonist” or “bassoonist breaking wind after eating a green onion.”"

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Some notes on "The Waste Land" which I am teaching tomorrow

[I just wrote this to help me think. No pressure to read it. I didn't even proofread it or worry too much about making sense.]

To begin in the middle, at teatime, in the violet hour:

There are four characters in this episode: the typist; her lover, the young man carbuncular; Tiresias the narrator, blind seer, hermaphrodite, old man with wrinkled dugs; and iambic pentameter.

Eliot says in his notes that Tiresias is "the most important personage in the poem, uniting all the rest," that "the two sexes meet in Tiresias," and that "what Tiresias sees, in fact, is the substance of the poem." Eliot's note suggests that what blind Tiresias sees as he goes about his immortality encompasses all of human history, and that, after a while, this history appears uniformly dreary. Like the Cumean Sybil of the epigraph, who, granted immortality without eternal youth, interns her frail body inside a hanging jar, this Tiresias has age without vitality, knowledge without agency, and wisdom without consequence. And like the Sybil, the only sensation his body feels is pain; he "throbs" between two lives, the male and female, but not with pleasure.

The source of Tiresias's wisdom, and also his pain, is an unlucky involvement in the sexual lives of others. As Eliot notes, Ovid's account of Tiresias's blinding begins with the future seer disturbing a pair of giant mating snakes and ends with him attempting to mediate a sexual dispute between Jupiter and Juno; neither was a good idea. In both cases, the consequences of others' sexualities are enacted on Tiresias's own body, first with a change of sex, then with a change back, then with blindness, and then with second sight.

Because he bears the marks of others' sexual passions, the passionless Tiresias resembles the poem's victims of rape, Philomel most notably, though he can speak his hard-won knowledge intelligibly while she, as a nightingale, is reduced to pure lyricism, pure song. It is also arguably in this victimized capacity that Tiresias most resembles the typist whose story he narrates.

A question this episode suggests is whether the typist is doubly violated not only by her lover, the young man carbuncular, to whom she unenthusiastically acquiesces, but also by Tiresias and by extension the poem itself. The typist, opening cans, smoothing her hair, does not know she is being watched, and though the scene is intimate beyond narrative credibility--Tiresias tells us her thoughts--it is not not convincingly interior. We see what she does but not why, and so, in her blankness, we are invited to use her again, in a literary sense, to see her not as a person but as a symbol for modern decay, for hopeless passivity in the face of vulgarity, for the parallel destructions of passion and decorum.

The discomfort of this violation is both soothed and exacerbated by the beauty of the lines themselves. Pound called parts of "The Waste Land" "too penty," and much of the poem's original pentameter was varied and tightened in revision, but this episode is spoken in almost perfect blank verse, unwavering for forty lines. This prosodic allusion to English verse traditions reinforces the contrast between high and low, grand and banal, that structures this section and the poem as a whole, and uses the familiar and venerable English meter to triangulate the relationship between classical and modern.

At the same time, this triangulation makes it more difficult to read Tiresias as the true speaker of the lines, as do the many modern references, and the mind-reading. All of this suggest a uniting consciousness beyond Tiresias, a speaker-poet who is both complicit in and apart from the ambiguous violence of the scene. On the one hand, the poem, like the young man, uses the typist without allowing her agency; its vanity, like his, requires no response. On the other hand, there is tenderness in the attention paid to the details of the typist's evening, in the elevation of them into poetry, and there is sympathy, based on experience, in Tiresias's narration.

In this scene, then, in its strangeness and artificiality, juxtaposed with the intimate and potentially shameful everyday, the poem dramatizes the danger of witness and the difficulty of sympathy. There are no true connections, and yet there is feeling, and yet the scene dissolves without resolution, with a cinematic fade from the typist's gramophone to Ariel's song in "The Tempest," leaving the characters alone to enact the scene again.

Sunday, October 04, 2009


From Roethke's notebooks: "An eager young coed was poised with her pencil. What is the most interesting phenomenon in American poetry, Mr. Roethke? What I do next, he said, abandoning her for a ham sandwich. My Gaad, he's rude, she said. No, he's just hungry. His tapeworm just had a nervous breakdown."

After the initial excitement, dissertation writing is proving to be more difficult than anticipated. The more material I gather around me, the more like speculative bullshit my hunches seem. But even though I feel like I don't have any ideas and I don't know anything, on the plus side, for research and for teaching I'm reading and rereading poetry and the epiphenomena of poetry and feeling my appetite for it whetted rather than diminished by stress and obligation.

Speaking of appetite, I found the quote above while trolling Roethke's notebooks looking for inspiration for my first chapter and, despite its sexism, I find "his tapeworm just had a nervous breakdown" a kind of awesome explanation for unruly hungers.

In further "the lighter side of sexist [or fascist, whatever] poets" news, I was pleased to discover when rereading Ezra Pound for teaching a sentiment I agree with heartily:

"Winter is icummen in,
Lhude sing Goddamm."

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Welcome back, fall.

Welcome back, stove.

Tomorrow I teach my second GRE class and I am actually, I think, maybe more nervous for it than I was for the first. Will there be a disaster? What if I can't unlock the room? What if no one shows up? Why does the logo look so dumb? That's my mental soundtrack right now.

But I had another exciting-for-me small-business-owner first today, when I used my special business bank account, full of the money from the last class, to pay for printing and photocopying this week's materials. It's real money that can buy things!

Real school starts on Wednesday. I am excited but nervous about that too. I am still scrambling to put together my class on modernist poetry and just decided to have a course website for the first time ever. One reason is swine flu (we're supposed to make it easy for students to keep up from home so that they don't spread their piggy germs around) but really I just want to be able to add online readings throughout the quarter instead of choosing everything now.

We're mid-landscaping and my backyard is a field of dirt. It's scenic actually in an apocalyptic way.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

It's official

I own a business that actually does business. As suspected, my course is good. We were all tired at the end, but it is, as I'd hoped, completely possible to get through the entire GRE in one day without rushing madly or skipping important stuff. If you or anyone you know wants to take the GRE or GMAT, or just wants to spend a fun Sunday, I have the course for you.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

An illustration of the problem of trying to emphathize with your audience based on what you think they are thinking and feeling, which is especially

notable to me in the context of a lesson I recently received from a marketing professional.

Dear Zyzzyva,

In answer to your question, no, I am not "hurt because my manuscript was rejected." Are you kidding me? Anyone who has ever read for a journal or even just sent out poems knows that almost all of them get rejected and it's nothing personal and pretty random.

No, there's no need to ask for forgiveness "for returning [my] work and not offering comments or suggestions." After all, I didn't ask for your feedback, I asked if you wanted to publish my poems. If you don't, it's cool with me.

No, I am not "discouraged by this or any other momentary setback," and your letter does not alter or affect my sense of whether "the road is long and the struggle must go on." And frankly, I find it hard to imagine that anyone would want or need this particular pep talk. Anyone who knows your journal exists knows enough about the poetry business not to sweat a few rejections.

Definitely no, "when the Muse does visit again," I will not "give her [your] best regards." Ew.

And finally, no, I will not check the box that says "ZYZZYVA is beautiful and fun to read." I like a little modesty in my literary publications or at least charming immodesty in the name of interesting, articulated literary ambitions. I guess I am "grateful that such a magazine exists," but not so much for this magazine in particular. So, no, sorry, but I don't think I will subscribe, even for the low introductory price of $10.


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

New Favorite Thing

One of the nice perks of having a sister who does amazing human rights work in China is the pirated DVDs. On the cape, we started watching my birthday present, 30 Rock, which is hilarious, and although we didn't get as far as this clip, my sister and I watched it just before I flew home just because it's so funny. It has been in my head all day and is my new favorite thing:

Watch it! Even without knowing the show I think you will find it delightful.

Boys becoming men! Men becoming wolves!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Today in Misrememberings

Say what you want about Crazy Uncle Ezra [Pound], not to mention about Orientalism and cultural appropriation (all of which would be justified); I still think "The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter" has a taproot down into a deep and mysterious gorgeousness. I had a simple but stunning line from it in my head today:

"They comfort me. I grow older."

(Referring to "paired butterflies.") But of course, that's not the line at all. The line is:

"They hurt me. I grow older."

It's a strange transposition I made, and I wonder what it means.

Good things

Obviously, this here blog's magic, because since my last post TWO good things have happened:

1. Yesterday morning in the space of 10 minutes the enrollment in my next GRE class (for this coming Sunday) went from 0 students (and therefore canceled, like the others) to 4 students and a real thing! I've been trying to get this going for 6 months and it's very exciting to get to hold an actual class. Now for real I'm a small business owner!

2. I just got home to Seattle and found out that one of the poems I sent out recently got accepted by a great journal, and one I actually subscribe to, one I have been given gift subscriptions to by very beloved family friends! The envelope not only contained a handwritten letter from the editor, there was also a check for $200, which is by far the most I've ever been paid for a poem. Maybe the most ANYONE has ever been paid for a poem. That's not the best part, of course . . . I guess I'd say, little kiddishly, that the whole thing is the best part.

And now I'm here typing while Kitcat prowls around my legs, and even though I miss my New York family and friends a lot, it is nice to be home.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Maybe something good will happen. Has happened. Is happening. It is not impossible.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Blue sky, mobile office

Hurricane Bill seems to have blown over. My summer class has almost blown over--only 4 portfolios left to grade and they have, on the whole, been very good and I'm pleased.

I'm in what passes on Cape Cod for an internet cafe (O modern technology, my student portfolios are online and my grade submission is online too) but I'm looking forward to some internet-reduced detox time over the next week. Swimming, family time, reading books. An attention-span adjustment, I hope.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Kiss Me, I'm Falling

The red-eye's not made for sleeping, at least not when you arrive in NYC at 3 am Seattle time. In a daze I stumbled to the baggage claim, the air train, the Long Island Rail Road, the subway, and eventually found myself lying on my mom's couch with a phrase running through my head:

Kiss me, [something], I'm falling through darkness into [the world].

Nice phrase, isn't it? I had no idea where it came from, but as I lay there sleepily, I started playing a game with it, which was to replace the words in brackets with whatever came into my head. Like:

Kiss me, arugula, I'm falling through darkness into Long Island.
Kiss me, ordnance, I'm falling through darkness into green light.
Kiss me, nowhere, I'm falling through darkness into a taxi.

Fun, right? I recommend it for your insomnia. (The ones I was coming up with on the edge of sleep were better than these, of course, but I don't remember them.)

Partway through I remembered that it was a line from Theodore Roethke, which I now see that I got closer to right than I would have expected: "Kiss me, ashes, I'm falling through a dark swirl."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ad hoc

I just met with a student who wants to "ad-hoc" my fall class, which apparently means doing more work and getting honors credit for it. I don't know what I think about an honors program that teaches students that "ad hoc" is a verb. I feel like kids these days have enough problems without introducing that kind of confusion. (It kind of reminds me of when my boss at the Atlantic was consulted by the American Heritage Dictionary on the issue of whether it is acceptable, despite the redundancy, to use "the" with "hoi polloi"--he said no--the whole situation of which, for some reason, kind of blew my mind.)

Also, in today's moment of bad form, when he turned his computer to me to show me the ad hoc requirements, I saw that he had been googling me (a totally useless enterprise, of course, given my name--maybe he found my double's Pulitzer prize!--but still).

I really don't like the last day of classes, which is today. Last quarter I had an actual panic attack while attempting to sum up everything they had learned. Today before we do evaluations, I am bribing the students with brownies and making them recite their favorite poems from the quarter. Then I'm hopping on the red-eye.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Funny Cause It's True

I gave this sample paper to my students today and I think they all recognized themselves in it. Imitating bad student writing is one of the major joys of my job.

What is Northwest Poetry?

Theodore Roethek was one of the most important poets of the Pacific Northwest. He moved to Washington in 1947 after having grown up in a greenhouse in michigan. His teaching was very popular with students including Carolyn Kizer, from Spokane, and Richard Hugo, originally from White Center, who became poets themselves. These three different poets wrote about different things, but also some of the same things. Northwest poetry is defined as a very influential kind of writing in the region where the poets thereby find out what is so important about the northwest.

Carolyn Kizer wrote the poem “Semele Recycled.” In this poem, a woman is split a part into different body parts because she loves the Greek god Zeus. Kizer writes, “comfortable odor of dung.” This suggests the earth and a determination to accept the less pretty side of nature.

Greenhouses sound beautiful but can also be unpleasant and full of rotting plants. “Dank as a ditch.” He even describes some plants “long evil yellow necks.” It doesn’t seem here like he likes plants very much, but actually it may be that his problem is more with his father, who owned the greenhouses. There is a clue to this when he says “battered on one knuckle.”

Alki Beach can be very pleasant but Richard Hugo doesn’t think so, despite having grown up in White Center, a suburb of Seattle. “Spray, / abandoned, falls from the statue / by the marked-off, unused picnic grounds.” Hugo was too busy with worries about what people are doing to have awareness of what is in the beauty of the space that is all around him everywhere his eyes can take a moment to find the time to look at what is in front of them. His poems are very depressing.

All in all, Northwest poetry means different things to different people, but it can also mean whatever you want it to mean.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


So I pull into Portland with a little time to spare, navigate my way to an old haunt without looking at the map, instantly find a cute little coffee shop and one of the abundant free parking spots, pass a sign pointing to a "Free Pile," and am stopped for by a car with an "I love my library" bumper sticker. In the coffee shop, there are crayon drawings by adults and good-looking young people comparing indie t-shirts. Portland, could you be any more yourself?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

My Day

This has to be one of the weirdest and most varied days ever:

1. Morning coffee and chatting with K
2. Work on op-ed about police brutality in China with sisterkins
3. Teach class on Pacific NW poetry
4. Meet with student, finish and deliver recommendation for former student
5. Teach class on how to perform a "man overboard" recovery in a sailboat (and then supervise and coach 10 kids attempting to rescue lifejackets: DON'T HIT ANOTHER BOAT EVEN IF IT MEANS YOUR BUDDY GETS EATEN BY SHARKS!)

and finally, why not,

6. Opera! 5 hours of Wagner, gorgeously staged and kind of a major change of gears from everything else.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Triggering Tuber

I just wrote a poem about beets expressing some of my thoughts about relations between men and women.