New Yorker Poetry-- May 30, 2005 issue

I'm going to start trying to do the companion piece to Grendel's fiction review. Hopefully I can manage to be as consistent. Anyone know what the rules are on offering the text of the poems here? I'm not going to jail for poetry. Though I suppose I had to get a job because of it. I don't think they are available online.

"Tennis Ball"
Donald Hall

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The narrative poem by Donald Hall describes the speaker's walk through a graveyard on a nice day. His dog notices a couple doing it and then dog and master walk back to the car. The poem is called “Tennis Ball” because the dog has a tennis ball in his mouth.

I've heard the word “accessible” used in reference to poems like this. It is that. It is very clear, not to say lucid, and after reading it one's feels as if one has read a poem. Unfortunately, there is almost nothing here outside of subject matter (death, sex, flowers, trees, and leaves) that makes it poetry.

After several reads I begin to assume that the speaker is visiting the grave of his wife. Very little emotion of any kind is betrayed throughout the poem, so I begin to also assume that part of the point is that death/loss becomes quotidian. A stretch. There are plastic chickens on one of the graves. This gives us the good line in the poem and it sole source of real music, “(Somebody loved somebody who loved chickens.).” This is an interesting bit of psychology and is part of the reason why the dog is along at all; perhaps the dead person loved the dog too. It's hard to tell. The speaker is so removed from the scene that nothing is felt. This is further demonstrated by the flatness of the language. I'm okay with plain language and normal syntax (I'm thinking of Stafford and Justice) but I don't really ever feel the intelligence attaching to the language in such a way as to render emotion. Everything here is passivity. I think I would have liked to have felt acceptance, which requires engagement.

Or surprise. Then the dog notices “a woman's long bare legs” and “a man's body / heaving between them.” “Heaving between them” is not bad on second thought. What is bad though is that there is no surprise or affection or even a realization that they are people. They remain body parts “a man's body” instead of “a man.” Wouldn't it be great to see some people boning in the graveyard? “Boning in the graveyard” would be a pretty good name for your garage band. But the speaker simply, “became the source of coitus interruptus.” Anyway the contrast is pretty obvious. Living and the Dead. They seem to be already dead though, so many arms and legs and later “her / head riding up and down” after the speaker peeks at them from a distance—the only way you'd know he cared at all.

Then I get a little angry at the return to the world of poetry (to be read with an English accent), “It was a fine day, leaves red.” The inversion there lets you know that we're ramping up. Finally, Gus the dog refuses to give up his tennis ball. Like much of the rest of the poem, it is an imaginable observation.

So back to accessibility. If it is, what are we accessing? There is no life on this planet. No one feels anything for anything. I respectfully suggest golf courses after dark over graveyards during the day for amorous trysts.

"Her Creed"
Sharon Olds

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The Olds poem is a conversation between a daughter and her aging mother who is “near the start / of the end of her life.” They are discussing cloning (the mother thinking it's a bunch of gobbledygook and tomfoolery), the miracle of birth, and the afterlife. It is a playful conversation with the speaker in quotes and the mother in italics.

There are some nice renderings of the mother, “a delight that lies near / the center of her nature” and “going gaga so slowly / she makes it look like a natural return / to a state of grace.” And that last one is a nice bit of music with “gaga” glancing off “grace.” I also like the idea of the irrational worry about current events that the elderly sometimes have—especially about things that have almost nothing to do with them. They've lived in the world so long it is more theirs even as they lose, perhaps because they lose, the ability to affect it. My own grandmother is getting more and more confused as the months go by, but has a nearly encyclopedic knowledge of the Michael Jackson case. Such is life.

I feel though that the italic wisdom is pretty cliched. “Not real flesh, she assures me—the men cannot make happen / what happened in her body.” And later, “Not a living / cell with a soul.” Besides that, it's just the chronicle of a conversation. They decide, if they can, that they'll meet on the mother's birthday in the year 3000 (in the year 3000!) to visit the earth.

This might be a good time to talk about Politics and Poetry. There's no indication that they're South Korean, but who knows. The problem is that the poem simply brings up the issue. Cloning. There's a religious angle; it's called “Her Creed.” The word “flesh” is all over the place. And it starts with “I believe” as opposed to “We believe” which is the beginning of the Apostles' Creed? I could be wrong. Anyway they say it at church. But she just thinks cloning won't work, when, to all appearances, it certainly will. Also, there isn't any overt religious argument. So is a poem political if it doesn't take a side? Asking that question felt very Sex and the City. If so, what is this poem saying? “Old people don't like cloning because they are more likely to be religious?” “God doesn't like cloning?” The speaker, our traditional guide through the poem, has no opinion on the matter. Instead there is a rambling conversation where the speaker posits playful impossibilities. On the one hand it brings up a Big Subject and on the other it backs away from it. No Big Shadow.

There are some nice moments in the poem, but it doesn't add up to a lot. I feel like the poem could have been about anything and the relationship between the speaker and the mother would have been the same. I think it's a poem about the mother's decline and the cloning stuff is just running interference.

"The Russian Riviera" by David Bezmozgis

New Yorker fiction -- May 30, 2005 issue

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Bezmozgis writes like a seasoned master, not a rookie upstart. In this story, there is no flash, no dazzle, no showing off or trying to impress. There is only the fluidity of deftly drawn realistic characters, a compelling story, subtle humor, and a sense of effortlessness in its execution. If it were up in workshop, I believe there would be nothing to say. We would adjourn to the Fox Head and toast the writer with pitchers of PBR. Hence, the blue traffic signal, which, ever since I first heard "The Wind Cries Mary" ("The traffic lights, they turn blue tomorrow"), has been for me an image of the rare and the unlikely. I guess for these reviews it will indicate the appearance of what, to me, is by all appearances Real Literature.

Because I can see nothing whatsoever to criticize in the story, I will not waste time trying to scrounge up something to make me feel smart. Saves me a lot of time this week. Does make me wonder who did this. Googling reveals that Bezmozgis has a book of stories out called Natasha and Other Stories, which certainly would appear to be worth picking up. He is a 31-year-old Jewish Latvian immigrant to Toronto and, somewhat obnoxiously, not the product not of an MFA program but of USC Film School, where he avoided taking any creative writing classes. What we have here is sheer natural talent, but far from raw, and surely Going Places. Velvet smooth, understated, chin-up honest, unflinching, unadorned, back-to-basics, the real deal, a Zen gusher spouting from that wellspring I myself lose track of ten times a day: the Beginner's Mind.

More Fun Than Old Confession

I don't know if this public confessional is "collaborative art," as the Times would have it, but it's kind of cool. Contributors mail their confessions anonymously on a 4-by-6 card. Typically, they illustrate the card in some fashion. Predictably, some are much better than others.


Barrelhouse currently reading for Issue #2

Mike Ingram, current 'shopper and editor at Barrelhouse, alerts Goats and Babies that the magazine is looking for submissions for Issue #2, which should appear by the end of this summer. You may recall TLB's alerting us to this new journal's birth last month.

"We're especially on the lookout for nonfiction that touches, in some way or another, on pop culture, whether that be movies or television or music or spelling bees or professional aerobics. One of the reasons we started the journal was to give writers a space in which to explore their pop-culture obsessions. In Issue #1, we published essays on punk rock, Magnum P.I., and the state of the movie-making industry."

Does that not sound like fun? More submission guidelines on the site.

Also: "We're always reading for the web site. Same basic rules, but shorter. About 1,500 words or less." And: "We're hoping to be able to pay contributors to Issue #2, but there's no guarantee (and in any case it won't be a whole lot). We will, however, buy beers for contributors, and last time I made everyone a [censored to protect the guilty -ed.]. We also provide contributor copies, of course."

Giving the world the finger

In case you missed it, this neat global analogy is from Indra Nooyi, President and CFO of PepsiCo, in remarks before the Columbia Business School graduation a couple of weeks ago:
First, let’s consider our little finger. Think of this finger as Africa. Africa is the little finger not because of Africa’s size, but because of its place on the world’s stage. From an economic standpoint, Africa has yet to catch up with her sister continents. And yet, when our little finger hurts, it affects the whole hand.

Our thumb is Asia: strong, powerful, and ready to assert herself as a major player on the world’s economic stage.

Our index, or pointer finger, is Europe. Europe is the cradle of democracy and pointed the way for western civilization and the laws we use in conducting global business.

The ring finger is South America, including Latin America. Is this appropriate, or what? The ring finger symbolizes love and commitment to another person. Both Latin and South America are hot, passionate, and filled with the sensuous beats of the mambo, samba, and tango: three dances that – if done right – can almost guarantee you and your partner will be buying furniture together.

This analogy of the five fingers as the five major continents leaves the long, middle finger for North America, and, in particular, The United States. As the longest of the fingers, it really stands out. The middle finger anchors every function that the hand performs and is the key to all of the fingers working together efficiently and effectively. This is a really good thing, and has given the U.S. a leg-up in global business since the end of World War I. However, if used inappropriately –just like the U.S. itself -- the middle finger can convey a negative message and get us in trouble. You know what I’m talking about. In fact, I suspect you’re hoping that I’ll demonstrate what I mean. And trust me, I’m not looking for volunteers to model.
Thanks to traca de broon for finding this link.


Summer Popcorn Reading

Okay, technically summer doesn't begin for another few weeks, but my brain already feels fried. Or, to put it another way, I am sick and tired of Literary Fiction (TM). So I hereby ask my fellow Goats and Babies and passers-by to recommend novels and authors in the beach-blanket genre to keep me occupied until the release of Harry Potter VI. Anything goes, whether it be thrillers with literary pretensions (like LeCarre) or just plain mind candy. Leave your shame at the door. Those who think life is too short to read anything but serious books are cordially invited to keep their opinions to themselves.

How to have a light saber duel

and wind up in the hospital:

1. Get yourselves two light sabers (long, cylindrical fluorescent light bulbs should do).
2. Fill them with gasoline.
3. Light them on fire.

While we're on this, anyone have any comments on Revenge of the Sith? I thought that -- once I gave the film a pass on the wooden dialogue and stiff acting (Lucas has only had nearly three decades to improve these) -- it was barely okay. I came out feeling satisfied that the series had filled the gaps, brought the whole thing rather poetically full circle, and explained much more than I wanted to know about why mannikin -- sorry, Anikin -- went all DV. However, the last two films had lowered my expectations nearly to the floor, so on balance, as a film per se, like any other film, I'd have to say it very nearly also sucked, though not quite. And it was nice to have the Senate nuclear option happen in a galaxy far, far away that is not called Washington, D.C. -- an 11th hour deal by moderates would have so ruined that climax.


Notes from an Abject Cine-dork

This new Time magazine Top 100 movies poll didn't anger me as much as I thought it would (City of God? Rock on), but it did get me all listalgic and stuff. So - pants down, red-faced - here's my top 10. And I invite you all to chime in with yours. I'm curious, darnit.

1) Citizen Kane
2) The Decalogue
3) 8 1/2
4) Touch of Evil
5) The Seven Samurai
6) The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
7) The Seventh Seal
8) The Thin Blue Line/The Fog of War
9) 2001
10) The Exorcist/The Exorcist III


"Two's Company" by Jonathan Franzen

New Yorker fiction -- May 23, 2005 issue

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I really dug this story for a few reasons. For one thing, it's short -- roughly seven New Yorker columns -- and the pace is careening, rollicking, the style relaxed and informal. It's almost a yarn, a little bit like some of Annie Proulx's stories, like a transcript of overhearing the author tell it as opposed to coming off as soberly crafted. My favorite kind of writing. And it's funny.

Pam and Paul, the "perfect couple," are vividly rendered (without much physical description). Here's a pair who married before they even got out of college and hit it big together as cowriters of an NBC sitcom that sounds a lot like That 70s Show. I like how the two pieces they are (mostly) separately writing now act as microcosms of their own relationship. Pam is working on a romantic comedy film about the perfect couple; Paul is having trouble with a pilot, based on "comic literary vignettes" from his high school notebooks, for a TV series about a high school couple whose parents die and who then have to run the family businesses in a big mansion. Rather like the 30-acre spread in the mountains that Pam and Paul have recently purchased after retiring from their hit show. Another "spread" is that of Pam's girth of late. Leading naturally to...

Paul's hankering after the young actress Tracy Gill -- which he consummates using her photo in the guesthouse bathroom, and whom he wants for unspoken but surely prurient reasons to cast in his pilot. Paul's desires are unwittingly cropping up in Pam's script, wherein the perfect couple, "Sam and Paula," are on vacation in Maui, and Paula suspects that Sam is interested in a dumb blonde bombshell named Kimbo who is also vacationing there, but he's really not interested in her -- misunderstandings abound, hilarity ensues, etc. "Why can't he be?" asks Paul when she lets him read the script. "Why can't she be like Paula, only younger?" That combined with Pam's hostile reactions ("Because she's a big-titted dolt" and "...because that wouldn't be funny. Apart from that one little problem, its total lack of funniness, it's a great idea.") are all the reader needs as a setup for the rest of the plot. The reader gets it that their creative endeavors are no longer fictional from here on, but a way to work through their problems without having to deal with each other.

Of course Paul brings things to a head with Tracy Gill -- immediately, which I appreciated as a reader. No lengthy subplots, no dinner parties where their tensions are further cranked up. Paul sets up a lunch with Tracy Gill, gets in his car, and meets her at Starbucks. The 20-year-old Tracy has brought her mother to this meeting, crushing Paul's plans and leading immediately to the crisis. The mother has four questions for Paul: "What exactly does the phrase 'pre-meeting meeting' mean?" "Where's your wife?" "Why aren't we meeting in your office?" And "Why did you not want Tracy's agent here?"

The crisis beats him home, for the mother has simply phoned Pam, who kicks Paul out. His typical male reframing is priceless: "You're splitting up with me because I had coffee with Tracy Gill and her mother?" I love how the karma kicks in, in which Paul has to sign away all rights to her movie, which goes on to gross $110 million, the first of a string of hit "comedies for an older female audience." Pam's "higher tolerance for cliche," which even he acknowledges as the source of most of their commmercial success together (even though he is the "funnier" writer), continues to be a source of success for her, while he, with "the whole nation" against him, moves to New York. "You could see him at a certain type of party, standing near open windows, wearing black, smoking cigarettes, and hoping to talk about his favorite subject, which was the badness of his ex-wife's films."

Pam's working out of her marital issues through her film script is based on her erroneous belief that she and Paul actually are the perfect couple. She is oblivious to the turmoil gurgling within him. This innocence, ending up handsomely rewarded, stands in stark contrast to Paul, who in his attempt to escape the confines of his co-writer-wife reaches back to high school for his material, a period when he was more purely himself, the only time in his life when he was apart from Pam.

It's tempting to speculate that Pam and Paul (and the possibly unconscious and revealing gender-bent Sam and Paula) represent the two Jonathan Franzens that appeared to coexist at that certain cultural moment we're all thinking of, and if it's true, it makes the story even more interesting. The author's very public and awkwardly handled brush with mainstream popular bestsellerdom could conceivably, had he gone that way, which he wouldn't have, led toward more of a Pam-esque career. The narrowly avoided Oprahfication and commercial pigeon-holing can be seen as the equivalent of turning out "comedies for an older female audience." And the dark-clad writer standing around at New York parties needs no interpretation. Is this story a kind of hashing through of that what-if instant in Franzen's life, when his previously serious literary image was briefly and bizarrely eclipsed by the what-the-fuck-is-going-on influence of a TV show book club? It's certainly fun to think that.

The only thing that nagged me during the enjoyable seven minutes it took to read the story is the vague sense that the author was not being compassionate to his characters. This also bothered me with The Corrections, which I thought was brilliant and hilarious for about 80 pages but whose finish line I ended up limping across with a grudge. It's a fine line between biting satire and being dismissive and sadistic toward your creations. A few times I thought, "He's making fun of these people, he's too distant and cold toward them." However, by the end, for whatever internal reason, I decided I didn't much care, and that the tale worked for me as entertainment anyway. Is it "literary" or autobiographically symbolic or merely frivolous and fun? Who knows. Maybe you can tell me.


It takes a Brit to stand up to the Republican juggernaut

George Galloway yesterday before a Senate subcommittee (the mainsteam media snippets are the tip of the iceberg):

I told the world that Iraq, contrary to your claims, did not have weapons of mass destruction.

I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to al-Qaeda.

I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to the atrocity on 9/11 2001.

I told the world, contrary to your claims, that the Iraqi people would resist a British and American invasion of their country and that the fall of Baghdad would not be the beginning of the end, but merely the end of the beginning.

Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong and 100,000 people paid with their lives; 1600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies; 15,000 of them wounded, many of them disabled forever on a pack of lies.

Read the whole transcript. Blistering!

Michael Cunningham Running the MFA show at CUNY Brooklyn

Came across this surprising interview with Michael Cunningham through Maud Newton's Blog.

Surprising that he's taken on the administrative duties of an MFA program, and that in many ways he's trying to fix what he sees as the deficiencies of other programs, including Iowa's. I don't know if I buy everything he has to say. Something about the diversity and income issues seems a little too... I don't know... politically correct to me. But he has some interesting ideas. Class size is small. And I'm curious how he's running his novel workshops, something that seemed to be a real concern in the IWW Director's search. Also interesting how everyone is always saying the atmosphere at the Iowa Writers Workshop has changed over the decades. Was it really that different, I wonder, or do the war stories of alumni across the years just make it out to be so?

"The Room" by William Trevor

New Yorker fiction -- May 16, 2005 issue

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A meditative, deceptively complex character study is how I'd describe this. Trevor seems to excel at intense, intimate looks into the lives of ordinary folks going through their crises in Ireland or England. This one takes place in a cheap London flat, the "temporary accomodations" of a married woman's married lover, who is never named (even she doesn't seem to know or remember his name). Beginning as a straightforward tale of a loveless affair, the reader is gradually let in on the darker reasons that have led her to get involved with another man and then released along with her in the end, after nearly scraping bottom, as she believably comes to a fateful decision.

Nine years prior to the action, cops showed up at her door to talk to her husband Phair (how about that -- "a Phair") about the death of a woman of leisure that he had been seeing (note: never pay a whore with a check). Phair was accused of the murder and arrested, even though Katherine "instinctively" lied to the officers about when he came home two Thursday nights ago. With no corroborating evidence, the case then hung on the word of one witness, the old landlady who identified Phair from a photograph. Eventually, though, her memory and confidence faded, and the judge threw out the case.

Katherine finds herself telling this story for the first time ever to the complete stranger she's sleeping with. The surprising and interesting thing is that she's still with this husband, still claims there is love there. They have gotten through it. It's in the past. Can you imagine? "You're fairly remarkable, you know," loverboy says. "To love him so deeply still." "And yet I'm here," she replies. But it's not even revenge that's driven her into another man's arms. As she says, she was merely curious about deception. And now she knows "what it had felt like for Phair." As the bland affair drags on, it seems she's more drawn to this man's room (see story title) than to him. The details of the room are as follows: books, boxes, open suitcases, word processor that "had not been plugged in, its cables trailing on the floor," clothes hanging on the back of a door. And a giant anatomical study of an elephant on the wall, with "arrows indicating where certain organs were beneath the leathery skin."

The room, rented by the man during this trial separation from his wife, appropriately squalid and joyless for an affair, becomes for Katherine a sort of dry run at leaving her own spouse, something that had never been brought up between them before. This realization sneaks up on her and the reader at the same time. Boxes and suitcases, once visualized, become possible for her. The elephant, dissected on a poster there, would appear to be a symbol for the grisly guts underneath the leathery skin of her marriage. She begins staying in the room after he leaves for work, making up excuses for her husband when she comes home (she has lost her job and says she's looking for work -- her sudden unemployment also may have precipitated this "variation of the order and patterns"). She loves to sleep in the room -- a ten-minute nap there seems boundless. She is testing the waters of leaving, but this doesn't occur to her until the end of the story. That's one of the cool things about "The Room": somehow Trevor is able to keep a lot of emotional stuff under the surface of his POV character, letting it dribble out, and the character is as suprised as the reader is when it does. Another neat thing is there is no sex at all, and yet the sordid atmosphere of afternoon sex with a stranger in a shabby flat is very much present nevertheless. She drinks coffee at a cafe across the street and finds as much pleasure in it as she had in the afternoon's romp. Trevor knows you can fill in the sex yourself.

The nine-year-old unsolved murder case nibbles away at her throughout the story, as if once she has talked about it to someone, once it has escaped, it gains a life of its own that eventually gnaws away at the remaining shreds of her marriage. Her thoughts about it and memories of it creep more and more into the present action until they begin to directly interrupt and hijack paragraphs. After six months, somehow she knows it's over one random day after they sleep together. "They had not said goodbye, yet as she went downstairs, hearing again the muffled gabble of the racecourse commentator, she knew it was for the last time. The room was finished with. This afternoon, she had felt that, even if it had not been said." The words echo an earlier scene: "They didn't embrace before he hurried off, for they had done all that." This is not an intimate affair, not something done for love, but an ongoing event that is allowing her to break her pattern and see herself anew for the first time in a long time.

She decides on this day to leave her husband. "It wouldn't be a shock, nor even a surprise. He expected no more of her than she'd given him, and she would choose her moment to say that she must go. He would understand; she would not have to tell him. The best that love could do was not enough, and he would know that also." So, she suddenly understands that just because you still love someone doesn't mean you have to stay. And also that by staying this long she has already exceeded her husband's expectations for her loyalty and continued commitment. It's quite a complicated working through of emotion for such a short story.

The tone is as flat and dead as her affect, which would be classically objectionable in a story for workshop, for example ("I want to see her emotions more" or "numb characters make poor points of view"), but Trevor pulls it off somehow anyway, in my opinion. Something about the subdued ... everything ... makes it okay. Maybe because it's such a contrast to the scandalous subject matter at hand: extramarital affairs, a murder, an arrested husband. Maybe by tackling such large, loud stuff so quietly, Trevor is able to transcend both cliche and reader boredom. At least that was true for this reader.


Cross Promotion at the Hy-Vee

Many of you, if you were in the IC this past winter, might remember seeing Larry Baker's novel "Athens, America" in the produce section of your local employee-owned grocery. Here is Larry's take on how that came about. Of course Moby Lives always gets the skinny first, but just in case you missed it...

On a more personal note, Mr. Baker lives across the alley from me and has a nice wife and two very small dogs, as well as an ivy-free lawn after which I lust in my sinful heart.


McSweeney's open letters

McSweeney's is soliciting "Open Letters to People or Entities Who are Unlikely to Respond." (This has your names written all over it, Roper, SER, Gwarbot, Segall, Brando, etc. Speaking of Brando, there's some great new content up at Circle Jerk at the Square Dance.)


"Along the Highways" by Nick Arvin

New Yorker fiction -- May 9, 2005 issue

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This story by Nick Arvin, (workshop class of 2002? 2001?), simply combines a love triangle and a car chase. How does it get away from the cliches of each? I'm not sure it does. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em? But let's see. We have a neat-freaky-geeky code monkey named Graham, who has an unreciprocated thing for his widowed sister-in-law, Lindsay. In the middle of this comes Doug, a friend of Graham's. Graham spies them in a convertible and follows them. And follows them. They notice. Cell phones are employed. The lovebirds were going to her parents' place "on a lake up north," but skip this when it's clear that Graham is not giving up.

I like that the story attempts to deal with that awkwardness of the wedded one of a deceased relative, in this case his brother's widow. What to do about her? Graham doesn't have much woman sense. One kind word from Lindsay years ago sparks a fantasy that he, Graham, will end up with her. He likes Doug, for all his paunchy garrulousness, but because Doug is not the insular, socially awkward geek that Graham is, he doesn't understand why Lindsay would take up with him. I guess.

And that's pretty much the story. There's a lot of predictable dialogue, the wrenching working through of the situation we've all seen done many times. The difference here, and perhaps the problem, is that they drive all night. The car chase lasts all night until Doug's convertible runs out of gas (I did like the goofy parts where they both have to stop for gas, warily eyeing each other by the pumps). But doubtful that that would really happen. And it doesn't have to, it turns out, because at that point the bulky Doug simply overpowers -- beats up -- the weakling programmer Graham and takes his car, leaving him God knows where. Couldn't have expected that! What is to be learned from this? I don't know. I didn't learn much. I guess programmers are social misfits and get beat up when their obsession for someone else's woman hits the red zone. Why we are enlisted into Graham's POV to find this out is unknown. What of Lindsay -- is she perhaps the key? No, turns out she's a cutout -- who actually roots for the bigger Doug to beat up Graham harder. "Knock him out," she calls. So much for Lindsay.

There is a neat flash near the end as they are tussling, where Graham is reminded of his brother. So Doug is a brother-surrogate, and they fight like brothers. Graham's brother, also bigger than Graham, also beat up Graham when they "wrestled." But this is standard story stuff. You gotta throw something like that in there. Something to make it more poignant. Incidentally, he has also done with this story what I've always wanted to do: have all the action take place in cars.

But in the end, as I watched Graham watch the lovers drive off in his car -- which, luckily, does have gas in it -- and then take his revenge on the convertible's hood, I had to wonder, so what is the resolution here? What's been gained, added to the human specturm, what in the arc of this situation made it worthwhile for me to follow it? Has Graham's character been altered or enhanced in some way? No, he's reduced to hammering away at metal, as he hammers away at code in his work life. He is pathos.

The last line, "He felt very much awake and not at all himself," is too little, too late, in my opinion. No, you gotta not just show that, but show why we should care, no? Does it reveal something about the human condition, does it dispense a shard of truth in a way no one quite has before? Does it have a single surprise in it? That's one thing -- it's so conventional that it actually sets up an expectation of something amazing happening in the end. Needless to say... This story is like a typical workshop story, it seems to me, needing further reflection -- further meditation on the text, as Frank might have it. Why it's in the New Yorker ... you'd have to ask them. That's the question I wanted to find out by reading and responding to the fiction every week. So far, not much clue here. Am I missing something?

Close call for Danza

Many have expressed a perverse fondness for -- or at least a fascination for the overlongevity of the career of -- Tony on this blog. Seems he was nearly injured when his go-kart flipped during a taping of a Tony Danza Show segment called "The DayTony 500."

Poll results

Well, the poll about whether to allow non-contributor comments was at 69% in favor, 31% opposed when I yanked it. Of course, as a few people pointed out, it was fairly worthless and perhaps self-defeating. 55 votes is substantially more than the membership of EG (and BAF combined), meaning many non-directly involved folks voted, predictably for allowing themselves to post. And this is natural, I suppose. From the beginning, though, the poll started out even and then stretched into a rout for openness. Barring more abuse from gadflies, then, the status quo shall remain for the time being. Thanks for voting.


Frank remembered in the NYTimes

For those of you who just can't get enough Frank, and/or did not have enough of him when he was alive, here are James Salter's fond Frank memories.


What's been missing

I can't believe I've had a blog for five months and never shown pictures of my pet! Except for my profile, I guess. Anyway, here's his Dogster page, and now I can relax a little more, knowing I'm doing my best to keep things fresh and interesting. Only the best content for you people!


Biography of Water

Carrie Bennett, author of Biography of Water, which won the 2004 Washington Prize, was kind enough to answer my stupid questions in an email interview that transpired after her reading at Prairie Lights on Wednesday, April 27th. So here they are, questions and answers almost unedited.
ME: How did you feel upon your triumphant return to I.C.?
Carrie: it was ok. but actually different than i thought--probably because it was so out of context for me. lots of people i didn't know, etc. plus, the fox head is a bit depressing now i think. (now?--ed.) but i still loved walking around in the beautiful neighborhoods--very peaceful, very green.
ME: How much of your book was written while you were in the program here?
Carrie: almost all of it. actually, i think i finished it before i left and then just revised it, made minor touch-ups over the summer before i started to send it out.
ME: Now that you have the luxury of perfect retrovision, what do you consider the most valuable aspect of your stint in the workshop?
Carrie: working with Claudia and Cole. having the time to actually write and think about my poetry for hours and hours. not being stressed out with tons of papers to always grade. but really getting to work with the two ladies and getting to write lots.
ME: How would you describe your book to your grandmother?
Carrie: i have no idea, i don't talk to my grandma. but i'd still tell her if i did get the chance basically what i said for the reading. it's about the fragility of the human form--human's inability to ever fully connect with another person.
ME: If you could have any actress play you in a miniseries, who would it be?
Carrie: oh my god, i have no idea. (for my money, I think a young Mia Farrow would fit the bill nicely.--ed.)
ME: Who do you see as your poetic foremothers?
Carrie: fanny howe, lorine niedecker, gertrude stein
ME: What was the hardest thing about writing your book?
Carrie: ordering it once it was finished. thinking about it as an actual book instead of individual poems.
ME: What have you been reading lately?
Carrie: _dead souls_ by gogol. and jhumpa lahiri's first book of short stories.
ME: When did you realize that you wanted to be a poet? What else did you want to be?
Carrie: freshman year of undergrad. my freshman comp teacher was a poet and she said i was a good writer and gave me her poet's market to look through. i started writing poems seriously then. other professions i wanted to be--my major at the time was music therapy. and before i wanted to be a vet.
ME: If you could change one thing about the world of poetry, what would it be?
Carrie: that poets could actually make some type of livelihood with their writing.
ME: What is your favorite word?
Carrie: brilliant
ME: What are you going to do now that poetry has made you rich and famous?
Carrie: keep writing. try and do it all over again.


Robert in Paperback, Robert in the NYT Book Review (again)

Our Robert has a nice little note in Sunday's "Paperback Row" section of the Times Book Review. For those of you too broke to purchase "Rosenberg's vibrant first novel" in hardcover, you now have a paperback option (the lovely Mariner). Robert, you get the coolest covers. We should all hope for such funky, colorful covers.


It's not going to be an orgy

Excuse the self-pimpin', but I wanted to mention that I've started one of these blog thingies myself: Circle Jerk at the Square Dance

I have thought about starting a humor blog for quite some time. TLB, wearying of my comedy routines at 7:47 a.m., has repeatedly encouraged it as well. I have been posting at Frau Roper's excellent, clever Jane's Calamity (like Shouts and Murmurs, but funny). But I wanted a room of my own where I could explore my humor more deeply, post some skectches and other pieces I'd like to share, and remove my pants.

So if you're looking for a cheap laugh, head over and take a look. I'm just getting started, but there are a few things up, and I will update the blog at least a couple times a week (including Top Ten Tuesdays every week). I also plan to clear any ethnic humor with Synthetic before posting.

Debate on Earth Goat's future

In case you haven't been following the thread ... a feisty, pseudonymous Synthetic has suggested a different way forward for this blog. I'm fairly sure how I feel about it, but I'd like input from others -- howzabout some of you lurkers? I'm open to changing my mind. (So I guess there is democracy after all -- who knew.) The questions are age-old: Who are we? Why are we here? Where are we going? Who's going with us? Who really gives a flying you-know-what? The story so far:

At 11:15 AM, May 02, 2005, Grendel said...

Synthetic, would you mind emailing me and letting me know who you are, and I can return the favor? I'd be much obliged -- you can get my email from my profile. Most everyone who regularly posts here knows who's who, and if you'd like to be included, the same should go for you, I reckon.

At 7:24 PM, May 02, 2005, synthetic said...

Gee, I dunno, that sounds kind of clubby, Grendel.

At 8:56 PM, May 02, 2005, Roper said...

Putting a name/face to aliases builds trust and respect. What's clubby about that?

At 7:08 AM, May 03, 2005, Grendel said...

It's a collaborative blog -- a community, not an anonymous posting station. You missed the meeting five months ago. All the contributors are to be known to all of us. I don't think it's too much to ask for the identity of someone who posts so much here. (In fact, I am revising the rules in the fine print, the last thing in the right-hand column.) It's a matter of knowing who is regularly saying things on this blog that I started and that will be linked to my and other contributors' names. End of story. It's not anarchy here, nor libertarian utopia, nor commune. It's not even democracy. It's a benevolent, informal Grendelocracy. You don't like, free to get your own -ocracy. So come on, Synthetic, we don't bite, unless roused, and all the kids have done it.

At 10:04 AM, May 03, 2005, synthetic said...

Oh, I don't know. It seems to me that if you want that kind of control, they have things called intranets and private servers and phone calls and gated communities and Team Blog Only. I like Grendelocracy as is, it's on a bench in the Tim Berners-Lee Municipal Park.

If you do go Team Blog Only, though, then in all seriousness I propose changing the name of the blog to "TinPot EarthGoat".

Jane: I've never seen online community need Names! Names! in order to build trust and respect. The quality of posts and moderation determines poster and community reputations. See Slashdot and The Decembrist, both of which remain open and anonymous, because that's how you get smart, perceptive people you don't already know to come and keep things from getting stale and...clubby.


But can I get a cut of the action figure sales?

No advance, no hard edits, but Macmillan will publish your novel and give you 20%. I say if someone's stupid enough to publish a young author without serious edits ("freelance"? pah!) then they deserve whatever they get.


A racist, a gay guy, and a Chinese protester walk into a bar

I was writing late at the Java House Friday and began walking home around 12:30, dodging packs of stumbling, singing youths in matching bar-crawl tee-shirts. I walked up Linn to Market Street, where I noticed a car swerving and a guy running out in front of it, blocking the car every time it tried to go around him. "I love you!" he was hollering, slamming his hands on the hood. Somehow the car squirmed around him and took off.

That's when he turned his attention to the Greyhound bus barrelling down on him. He calmly stepped into its path, in the middle of Market, hands waving in the air, until the bus hissed to a stop right in front of him, a la Tienanmen Square. Guy started smacking the bus windows, yelling, "I love you! I love you!" He walked around to the driver's side and was nearly clipped by a car cruising by in the left lane. When he was out of the way, the bus roared to life again and left him, bereft of reciprocating bus love, in the middle of the street. Backed up on Market were stopped cars, their drivers waiting to see what he would do next. By now I had crossed Market and was standing in front of George's. The dude, facing the glare of wary headlights, finally dropped his hands, turned, and began staggering in my direction.

Naturally I slipped into George's, took a seat at the bar, and threw anxious glances out the front window. But the guy did not come in. The bartender, Jenny, asked what I wanted. I found two dollars in my wallet and ordered a La Crosse.

"Hey, did you see that drunk out there flagging down traffic?" I asked her.

"Scrawny, tall, goatee?"

I nodded.

"I just tossed him out of here!"

"What happened?"

"He wouldn't leave Steve here alone. Kept pawing at him, saying he loved him." She grabbed a thick stack of bills from behind the bar. "On his way out, he threw fifty-six dollars at me. Idiot."

"Probably in the drunk tank by now," observed Steve. "Or the ER." He and I then got caught up in a muted, captioned Sandra Bullock movie.

Down the bar to my left, an old guy slapped a friend on the back and wheezed, "You know the difference between a Jew and a Gentile? A gentile goes out and looks for work. A Jew waits for an offer."

"Hey, who's the racist down there?" someone on the other side of me piped up. "Racism is ugly and ignorant."

"I'm not a racist," the old man protested, though he sounded somewhat chastened. He sat down beside his friend and nursed a beer.

"Sounds to me like you are."

The matter was dropped. Back to Sandra Bullock, some lame crime flick on the Oxygen Channel. I finished my beer, and Jenny approached.

"Another one?"

"No cash, I'm afraid."

"Here, let's let the asshole buy you one." She peeled bills from the stack and replaced my glass under the tap.

"If someone had told me," I said, "while I was watching him stop that bus, that he would be buying me a beer within fifteen minutes ... there'd be no way I could have imagined how that would work."

"And yet it did," she said, pushing the glass toward me. "Fate is funny."

As I sipped that one, I heard two guys talking in low voices on my right -- one of whom had called the racist on his lame joke. "That's rididulous. He's not coming down here." "What if he does?" "All I said was the truth." "I want to leave." "Don't be so scared!" "I don't like it." "Look at him, he's pathetic." "But I'm uncomfortable now." And so on. From their voices, I inferred that they were gay, maybe a couple, maybe not. Which made the guy's challenge to the racist all the more admirable.

I drained the beer bought for me unknowingly by a man who was likely getting used to a jail cell and on my way to the door, on a whim, stopped beside the two guys.

"Who's the one who called that guy on being racist?" I asked.

"I have no idea," said one with a weary smile.

"I did it," the other said, turning on his stool. "I called that fucker a racist. Why?"

"I just wanted to say I admire what you did. Most people don't say anything when they overhear something like that."

"Why don't they?" He was looking at me fairly severely.

"I -- I don't know," I said. "They want to avoid conflict and tension. Take me, I was sitting closer to him down there, and I never made a peep."

"Why didn't you?" He was definitely frowning at me now. He wasn't letting up. It seemed I had made a mistake in stopping to say something.

"W-well, I'm not proud of myself. I grew up with that kind of stuff, and I guess I just found it not worth calling him on. But I just wanted to say I respect that you did. That's all."

He just shook his head at me.

"Okay, well," I said, backing away, "I'm gonna get going now."

He just stared at me. The other one raised a half-hearted hand and turned back to gaze philosophically at his beer.

I walked home feeling slightly uneasy. Why hadn't I said something? At what point would I step in and correct the stupid and the foolish? And why had I stopped to praise someone who had done what I had not? Was I trying to ingratiate myself, to let a little brave behavior rub off on me by association after the fact? I was only in the bar at all to duck a confrontation with Mr. Tienanmen Square in the first place. Like a pinball, I had been passively bounced about, winding up with a free beer on the one hand and a nagging conscience on the other. The free beer was good though.