Friday, December 23, 2011

The Horse and the Hamburger

A while ago, somebody close to me read about the horse and the hamburger and asked how they had found themselves alone in a medical tent, one tormented, the other unconscious and dying. The answer is that there was violence, of course, and it did not go well for the hamburger. The sad thing, what upset the horse the most, was that the hamburger was not wounded by enemy fire or artillery but by the explosion of a poorly maintained generator on which he was sitting. He was not supposed to be injured, in other words, and this thought dismayed the horse, and it dismayed the horse that it dismayed him, because nobody, of course, was supposed to be injured, it just seemed more natural that if the hamburger was injured it would be because of combat action and not becuase of poor maintenance of a generator.

The horse and the hamburger had not known each other at all, and the total infamiliarity between them increased the horse's dismay. They were alone now in the medical tent, and not just alone for the first time but near each other for the first time; the hamburger was close to the horse but the horse could not be said to be close to the hamburger, really, because the hamburger was unconscious and probably irrevocably so and so nothing could really be said to be close to him. The horse had some ideas about what might be close to the hamburger now, but they were watery and contradictory: the leftover religious want of his youth created a hazy paradise for the hamburger, and a long-forgotten religiously experimental friend from college informed now an idea that the hamburger had transferred  into another plane, and the horse's medical training, his strongest influence, inclined him to believe that the hamburger, right now, was nonexistent, nothing, void of feeling and thought, suspended. Then too his own desire influenced him, and his desire was to imagine this hamburger in a delirium, living a fantasy from which he wouldn't want to (and probably would not) return, sharing pizza with a long-forgotten girlfriend or driving his first car, all the world glowing softly and comfortably heated.

The horse and the hamburger may have been friends outside of this tent, outside of this conflict, but it was more likely they would not have been. Despite his respect for soldiers like the hamburger, the horse had difficulty imagining them in positions with status reflecting his own, as physicians or lawyers or politicians or executives. It seemed likely that the hamburger, before this conflict, had worked as a pipe fitter or a plumber or as a cook at the sort of restaurant the horse would usually not visit. It was possible that, had the horse seen the hamburger working at one of these restaurants, he would have enjoyed an uncomfortable moment of pity, a prideful judgment on the hamburger, dressed probably in the baggy, shiny slacks of kitchen staff, in the loose NASCAR t-shirt of kitchen staff, in the sweat-matted hair of kitchen staff, and he would have thought that the hamburger's life was awful, a nightmare lesson to him about the dangers of professional laziness, a congratulations to the horse on the pursuit of his advanced training. And now the horse felt shame for thoughts he hadn't actually had. The hamburger, of course, did not work in a kitchen.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sharp things frighten me

The fear of knives is called aichmophobia. It also refers to a more general fear of sharp objects, up to and including things like fingers pointed in accusation. I don't think I was always phobic around knives. I don't think I liked them especially. My hands shake constantly. I'm clumsy. Knives are not my friends. But it didn't used to be that whenever I saw a knife I immediately imagined what could go wrong--how it might end up inside someone's body.

It may have started one day when I was unloading the dishwasher. I had put a large knife into the white plastic silverware bin blade-up. I leaned down over the dishwasher to lift up some bowls. My mom pointed out that the knife was pointing up at my chest. If I had tripped, I would have fallen directly on the knife. I'm not sure how deep it would have gotten. The edge was probably pretty dull. Still, I would have fallen right on it. I laughed it off at the time. It still freaks me out a little now.

But I was wondering the other day if it's also partly a thing about writing. My work took a huge step forward when I started operating on the principle that what could go wrong in a story usually should. I started looking for opportunities to ruin my characters' lives. One of the best way to ruin a life is to have a character disregard what seems like a small risk for the sake of a short-term gain. The small risk turns out to have major consequences. A life is difficult to build but it's easy to break down. That's what scares me. It's also what obsesses me.

So the thing is that when I see a knife I can't help but imagine a scenario where it ends up hurting someone badly. Any movie becomes a horror movie the second a character starts chopping vegetables--carrots, say. I always imagine them cutting their fingers, their hands, and on up their arms, as if they wouldn't be able to stop once they had started. When I see one sitting out on a counter I imagine it falling into someone's foot. When someone holds a knife so that it's pointed in my direction--even if it's someone I love, who loves me--I can't help but imagine them stabbing me, by accident or on purpose. I imagine them stabbing each other, too, and themselves.

It's not a crippling fear.

I have a thing with guns, too. I don't consider that a phobia. They're guns. Chekhov said, "One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it." I assume that if I see a gun then I will see someone shot. Maybe me or maybe not. I had a housemate who wanted to buy a gun. Hell if I know why. Ostensibly for self-protection, but we lived literally five houses away from the university police station. It wasn't exactly a neighborhood with a lot of crime. He didn't really have the money to spend on that sort of thing either. Honestly it creeped me out that he wanted the gun. He told me he was thinking about it. I said he couldn't get one while I was living in the house. I said it that way, too: that he couldn't while I was there. He looked a little shocked and a bit pissed. But I felt I had the right to decide not to live with a gun.

I remember once there was a knife on my TV tray--a steak knife, the cheap kind you get at Wal-Mart. It fell off of my tray (I knocked it off). When something falls while I'm sitting I tend to instinctively clap my legs together. (Remember Huck Finn disguised as a girl, clapping his legs together in the dress to catch the ball of yarn, thus revealing his gender?) I caught the knife not on my legs, but between them. The sharp end passed through my jeans and pressed into my thigh. The meaty part. The blunt end was up against my other leg. If I had brought my legs any closer together, the knife would have punctured the meat of my thigh. I don't know how I knew to stop. It happened so quickly. It was terrifying, but only after the fact, like the knife I could have fallen on.

I have dreams where people casually destroy each other, or me. For instance, one where a man with a hook for a hand tears off my limbs one by one, laughing because it's so easy. And I guess what I'm saying is I feel like writing fiction is at fault for all this, in some way. Like it trained me to see how everything could go wrong. I wonder if other people feel that way too. Or I wonder if I had this tendency already, and it's why writing feels so natural to me--because I was already thinking, always, about how a life might be ruined. Mine or yours.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Mother 3: Over There

Hey guys, thought I'd let you know that I did a post about Mother 3 over at HTMLGIANT, where I will be writing regularly now. I expect to continue posting periodically to this blog as well, but things have been quiet here for a while due to real-life stuff anyway, and you can expect its somewhat slower pace to continue. It's not that I don't love you! I do, and we do. And we're putting together an excellent magazine to prove it.

Apostrophe and the Post-Romantic Part 4: Conclusion and Afterword

An interesting thing to me about these above mentioned poets, is that, for the most part, they do not fit into a box.  Even the “hybridism,” described in Cole Swensen’s introduction to American Hybrid, does not contain these poets.  Swensen’s idea of hybridism, is relegated to only poetic hybrids, discussing nothing of genre hybrids, which is what I see Wenderoth and Göransson doing.  This bending and breaking of genre and form to fulfill a poetic goal, seems to lead into the bending and breaking of other poetic conventions, such as the conventions of apostrophe.

Younger poets will always have this ability to shake things up because they don’t have anything to lose, and they are not set in their ways.  There are some poets that do change constantly throughout their career, but they are the exception, not the rule.  For poetry that confronts the status quo, is alive, and full of potential, and I’ll always look to a younger poet.  They still have a sense of ambition, that gets lost somewhere along the way to becoming an established poet.

One can see through these examples that young emerging poets have interesting perspectives, techniques, and ways of employing their unique poetics, at least in the realm of apostrophe.  These poets take the apostrophic trope to new levels of interrogation and challenge the preconceived notions of what apostrophe is and can do.  Wenderoth shows us that apostrophe can exist inside of theory that exists inside of poetry.  Göransson demonstrates apostrophe’s ability to alienate in contrast to its traditional mode of reconciliation.  And through Doxsee we see apostrophe blankly evoking the you in opposition to the pathos that so readily typifies Romantic address. Though I’ve shown them against Culler’s romanticized vision of what apostrophe is, these poets still operate inside of the strictures of the trope:  the speaking I, utters to the absent and unspeakable you.

Afterword:  Criticism of the Criticism

With all this interesting work being done, one must ask, why isn’t there more criticism written about these emerging poets (in academic journals) or on this interesting topic of apostrophe?  Some of this lack might have to do with the size of the poet’s publisher, some of it might be the sheer amount of poetry out there and there are too few critics to delve into it all, and some of it might be embarrassing to the critic.

Cole Swensen’s introduction to American Hybrid briefly discusses the shift in the publishing world.  She points out that the vast majority of poetry publications come from small independent presses and that the once big publishing houses, now publish only a few titles a year.  When examining the role small presses play, and have played, in the world poetry publishing, one can see that they are important.  Some important books of the twentieth century were originally small press publications that were later picked up by large presses (specifically, and just off the top of my head, I’m thinking of Ted Berrigan’s Sonnets, though this can’t be the only example).  With the possibility that important work is being published on small presses, is ignoring small press publications really a good idea for critics?

Also a part of this “explosion” of small presses is the explosion of books of poetry.  Lots and lots of poetry is being published.  I might even say more poetry is being published now than ever before, although I would have no way to know.  There is so much poetry out there, any anthology that is superlative, (Best New Poets, The Best American Poetry, The Best of the Web, etc.) is going to be flawed.  How could anyone, or even how could any one group, read every poem published in a given year, and come to a sound conclusion about what is “Best”?  So how does one talk about all this poetry?  Well, the easy answer is, just start reading.  Since there is so much, anywhere is a good enough start.  Start reading it for fun, start incorporating it into papers, and start treating it as the potentially groundbreaking work that some of it surely is or will be.

Looking at the poets that have been used as examples by the critics I have drawn from for this paper, one can see a common thread:  they are all established, well known and/or canonical poets.  Now, this isn’t a problem in and of itself, but one can see how voices can be left out of discussions.  If the internet, digital printing, and direct marketing are leveling the playing field, as Swensen asserts, then why haven’t these small press poets received the same critical examination as the large press, established poets?  The answer to this question, I think, lies in the desire to say something important about important poets and the difficulty it would be to convince the reader of criticism (other critics) that Unknown Poet is important.  It would also be embarrassing if no one agreed.

What are the consequences of critics ignoring small press publications?  Swensen shows that the rise of MFAs is leading to communities that are analyzing as well as creating the new poetries.  Eventually I can see this as a leveling force in criticism, but I honestly think it shouldn’t.  I feel that there is a place and a need for both.  Poets are already the primary readers of poetry, we don’t need to become our primary critics as well.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Lost weekend: Not alcohol, just work. Accept this entire issue in lieu of usual weekend story link.

Of note: Mitch Patrick's video piece, Tyann Prentice's polyvocal poem, M Kitchell's splash page, and Ken Baumann, Helen Vitoria, David Peak, James Tadd Adcox, Mike Buffalo, Eric Wennemark, Ben Segal, Nate Dorr, Elizabeth Witte, William VanDenBerg, Clayton T. Michaels.

A Review Of Juicy Oozers

Juicy Oozers are a gummy candy made by Black Forest (what a good website eh?).  According to the results of a google image search, they come in a variety of flavors and styles (can candy have a 'style'?  what is the word I'm thinking of here?) such as sour skulls, sharks or insects (I am here reviewing the Insect variety).  Because of this blog's obsession with gummy candy (see gummies! gummies! and gummies! ) I decided that our audience and my fellow bloggers needed to know about this variation of the sort.

Initially I was hoping for Gushers (waaay better website huh?) or something even close, but was prepared for something terrible.  Something that would feel weird in my mouth, taste strange or familiarly gross, or a combination of all three. 


Upon first nibble, the "ooz" isn't immediately differentiated from the gummy part of the candy.  There is no gratifying "pop" or disturbing dribble of liquid goo.  It's very tame.  It's kind of like the opposite of fruit in your jello.  A softer spot in an already soft nugget.


Red:  medicine-y; like cherry cough syrup

Pink:  creamy; like lifesavers cream

Green:  just like green gummy bears 

Yellow:  like a tartness that's simultaneously overwhelmed by sweetness


They're a terrible disappointment.  I was hoping for an epic adventure for my mouth but I ended up with a walk through the "shady" part of Portland (which, surprise!  doesn't exist).  My favorite is the Yellow though, because you can see the green goo inside of it and that makes it easier to pretend I'm eating a real bug and sucking its guts out through a hole in its detached abdomen.  

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Apostrophe and the Post-Romantic Part 3: Doxsee, Göransson, and Wenderoth

So in Part 3 I'm getting to my argument.  In the next part I'll get into my argument's argument, something I even turned in to my professor as an "afterword" that was the whole reason for me writing this paper.
(fast forward to 2:28 for a reading)

In this era of so-called “hybrid” poetry, there are new “levels” of apostrophe that have emerged and existing levels that have been taken to such extremes that they become new, alien experiences for readers of twenty-first century poetry.  Contemporary poets are beyond all the levels that Culler describes and are breaking more ground than those that Keniston investigates.  They are not taking pathos as a given for poetic address, they break form and genre more forcefully, and if their address falls into one of the levels, they are more likely to take that level to extremes.

Emotional appeals in Post-Modern poetry often have to be tempered with irony or humor or a sense of self-consciousness so that the reader knows that the poet is aware of their pathos.  This is how a Post-Modern poet writes about emotions.  But, if a poet is writing in a genre, like apostrophe, that is inherently pathetic, can the poet opt out?  In Objects for a Fog Death, Julie Doxsee apostrophizes for the entire book, yet never seems to make an overt emotional appeal.  Doxsee uses surrealist gestures to wiggle around the use of pathos.  To talk about sex, Doxsee brings up knives:  “With a fingertip you cross/my chest beginning to end &//we graduate gradually/to knives” (75).  We can see this very intimate and sensual tracing of fingers across a chest eventually leads to violence.  To talk about longing, she uses HVAC and typography:  “I lined the ductwork//with emails you wrote from Alaska/& the heat thrums, now, on the low//moan linking serif to serif” (56).

Doxsee evades pathos in the apostrophic address through surrealism, though she is also able to address the thing that is somehow eluded as directly unaddressable as a you, though Waters mentions it as a this, and that is, the poem itself (Waters 6).


On this day
I take a bite of 

of glow & become
part of you.  I eat

a fireball in someone
else’s wooden yard.

When we fissure
smooth water

with fishhooks
I am handed the

legal pad of words
you hide in.  You

are a lizard in the
headlight but I see

only angel and tail.
(Doxsee 68)

In “HALO”, Doxsee addresses the poem itself, “the legal pad of words” that the poem hides in.  Her speaker becomes a part of the poem.  This fits into one of Culler’s levels, the creation of an event, the biting “of glow”, where the speaker is united, or reconciled with, the other, in this case, the poem.  Now, this is the case with all speakers, right?  That the speaker is a part of the poem?  Doxsee does this consciously, creating a twist, or expansion, of one of Culler’s levels.  It also shows that characteristic longing to address present in apostrophe, though it is done with despondency as opposed to pathos, (You//are a lizard) even though the poet wants to romanticize the object (but I see//only angel and tail).

Evading pathos through surrealism isn’t the only way that younger poets are doing so.  Johannes Göransson’s Dear Ra: A Story In Flinches evades pathos, even though it’s entirely composed of apostrophe, through invoking the grotesque, hyperbolic, language of the conspiracy theorist, the serial killer, and/or the psychotic.  It’s a poetic that feels fresh, though disturbing:  “Kidnap a car thief.  Talk to him as though you want to be slammed in his trunk like a bag full of rocks.//Talk to me in the woods.  To my chest.  With your fingers” (31).  The achieved effect is often humor, though taken sincerely, the effect is anything but humorous.  This may have to do with the form.  Who reads/writes poetry sincerely anymore?  Hopefully not this poet.

The grand abuse of emotion in Dear Ra actually expands apostrophe out of Culler’s levels.  Göransson undoes one of these levels:  the creation of an event in which speaker and addressee can be united.  Göransson creates an event in which the speaker can be united with the other, but through the speaker’s disturbing discourse the event becomes one of alienation.  Even the reader as addressee is fully isolated from the speaker:

Dear Tourists,
You can grope for moist souvenirs in the basement, 
but you’ll need patience 
because nobody down there will warn you about the floor.
In the streets you’ll find squirrels; on my scalp, bumps.
If you want proof for the folks back home that you’ve surged
like a seagull, print your name and number in the bathroom.
If you want a seagull for a pet, talk to my therapist.
If you find her, tell me where she lives and where her daughter
goes to school.  If you want a piece of me, suck my dick.
If you want to sell trips to the general public, take my pulse 
or my coffee-table picture-books about Italy.  
If there’s a house in the trees, throw up a hammer
and see what falls down.  The bleeding kid isn’t 
the best prize and you can’t return it, so be careful where 
you walk when you’ve had a few.  
If there’s a nettle between your shoulder blades 
and you’re having trouble breathing, tell the teacher, 
but don’t tell her it was me because it wasn’t.  
I was just watching, maybe even laughing at your gurgling sounds.  
(Göransson 39)

Much of the criticism surrounding lyric and apostrophe sees the speaker as one who turns away from the audience, forcing the audience to “overhear” the poet/speaker.  I feel that the opposite happens with Göransson.  The audience turns away from the speaker, or he keeps yelling at you like a crazy person on the sidewalk.  There is no “overhearing” of Göransson’s speaker because he is quite loud and he is talking to everyone who is reading and everyone that is in his poetic fiction.  It’s very hard to do a close reading of Göransson’s work because of his low culture diction, syntax, and subject matter, and the fact that his poems are buried in irony and satire.  This also points to the third level.

Like Göransson’s absurdist apostrophe, Joe Wenderoth’s Letters to Wendy’s, uses the epistle address often to comic effect.  Letters to Wendy’s is a conceptual/procedural book, in that Wenderoth went to Wendy’s almost everyday for a year and filled out their comment card with a poetic address to the company.  Some are purely absurd:  “I drink tea at home but would never at Wendy’s.  Tea lacks the necessary brutality.” (December 22) and some are purely meditation on poetry:  “Eschewing verse, I’ve assumed it best to break my lines like prose.  I’ve assumed a visit (to Wendy’s) a full thing—a thing demanding as many words as possible” (December 31).  Letters to Wendy’s fits strangely into Culler’s levels of apostrophe because the event is created in equal parts by the poet and by the speaker.  Wenderoth, the poet, goes himself to Wendy’s, and then, when composing, chooses the mode of address for his speaker.  The event then is equal parts actual meeting of the other (the other being Wendy’s), and the fictional event that Wenderoth creates on the card to foster another meeting, another possible place of unity.  Even the act of going to Wendy’s everyday, is in a sense, creating a fiction (who really goes to Wendy’s everyday?).  It’s also a way of showing this passion for address.  In some ways, it is more akin to Pre-Romantic apostrophe, where the audience is literal and could have a literal reaction to the poet’s performance.  

Letters to Wendy’s is also interesting from a genre perspective, as it’s part memoir, part poetry, part diary, part theory, part Dadaist game.  Because of this blending of form/genre, Wenderoth is able to chronicle and critique his own actions:  eating fast food, capitalism, poetry, even his daily apostrophe:

September 3, 1996
There may be no you—no other to receive and understand
these revelations of myself.  The Post Office may burn them
for all I know.  It’s not important.  I only need you as a good
idea—to make me apparent.  I love you, even if you don’t
understand me, even if you burn my attempts to reach you,
even if you are no one, nowhere.  After all, I warm my hands
by the same fires.

Here we see a poem that fully explains the concept of apostrophic poetry, and it’s also a poem that exemplifies all of Culler’s levels.  It has the passionate intensifying address, even a passion for address itself, “I only need you as a good idea—to make me apparent.”  It has the creation of an event where a relationship of you and I can happen, the letter itself and the relation as possibility as opposed to concrete.  This poem has the intensification of the I, “these revelations of myself.”  And it has the conflation of the I and you, “I love you, even if you don’t understand me, even if you burn my attempts to reach you, even if you are no one, nowhere.  After all, I warm my hands by the same fires.”  Wenderoth achieves this sign of a successful apostrophic poem in a radically different form and with radically different content than Culler might expect (or pay attention to).

Monday, December 5, 2011


Here is the entirety of Ravi Mangla's story 1954, from his collection Visiting Writers:
Vladimir Nabokov bought my daughter a chess set, with pieces carved from sandalwood by hand. Every little girl should own a chess set, he said, and my daughter nodded in feigned agreement, eager to rejoin her friends. Late afternoon, once the guests had left, my wife sent me to collect the plates and glasses from the backyard. And there was Nabokov, crouched in the garden, his pant cuffs folded to his knees, following a caterpillar across his finger.
 Go read them all.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Variations on the Sun

An excerpt from Mike Kitchell's Variations on the Sun went up at Everyday Genius a couple of weeks ago. A couple of weeks before that, there was another one. I don't know what Variations on the Sun is, but I would very much like to read the rest.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

More PokeQuotes from Herman Cain

So Herman Cain, in the midst of announcing the suspension of his campaign today, also announced that he is a gigantic nerd by quoting the ending theme from the Pokémon movie. But why did he stop there? A wealth of talking points and life lessons can be drawn from Pokémon. Here are some he missed.

What PokéWisdom do you live by? What PokéValues should your ideal candidate espouse?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Ravi Mangla's Visiting Writers

Dear Internet,

We are excited to publish Ravi Mangla's collection of small stories, Visiting Writers. Each story describes an encounter with someone like Thomas Pynchon, Richard Yates, Harper Lee, or etc., with a sort of surreality, and a sense of humor and tenderness. We've tended to go for more aggressive stories here in the past, especially in our online offerings, which are generally geared toward the Internet in (we think) fairly obvious ways. This one is, for lack of a better word, a little more quiet, a little more subtle--and yet, in its own way, still very strange. We hope that you'll like it as much as we do. Go have a look.

And of course, please don't forget about our craaaazy holiday deal.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Friends, Deals, Giftwrap

We have two fun things to announce.

First, thanks to the efforts of Candra Kolodziej, Issue 0001 author, tireless Occupier, bookstore worker, we are now available for real-life purchase at Elliott Bay Books in Seattle and City Lights in San Francisco. A thousand high fives if you spread the word to Seattle and San Francisco people. A million high fives if you visit and buy one, or take a picture for us. Just having the spine on the shelves is a great feeling. Many thanks, Candra!

Second, do you like hearing about special holiday deals all dang month? I do. We're running a holiday special through the end of the month: Buy a copy of Uncanny Valley 0001 and we'll send a copy to your friend for just the cost of shipping. We'll even giftwrap it. We will be buying the paper this weekend. Will your friend's copy have robots on it? Will you ship the second copy to yourself just so you can see it? (Note: I am an amateur wrapper at best. If Mike wraps it, it will be more...special.) We are looking forward to it. Get the details on our Press page:

Happy December!