Sunday, November 30, 2008

From the Fishouse...

One more poetry post for today, this one a gem you can find at "From the Fishouse." Although I first heard this poem on the "Poetry Off the Shelf" podcast, I have been learning more about "From the Fishouse," an audio archive of emerging poets, for several weeks now. You see, our department is hiring someone in the field of poetry and poetics this year and, as a result, I've been reading lots of application packets from perspective applicants. Lots of these folks are poets and literary scholars and several of them have poems at Fishouse, which has brought me to the site to have a listen.

Anyway, check out this poem by Tyehimba Jess. For the full experience, though, you've got to listen to the audio recording. It will knock your socks off. A note about the form: it's an example of stichomythia in which alterating lines (or in this case, half lines) are spoken by alternating characters. That's pretty essential to understanding the poem. The scene: 1934's MLA convention in Philadelphia, where the scholar Alan Lomax had taken the blues musician known as Lead Belly to perform. You can find more background on the people in the poem here and here.

"The Colonel" by Carolyn Forche

On my drive up to Long Island, listening to the "Poetry off the Shelf" podcast, I found myself blown away by the poem I'll paste below. I'll also link to the longer article about documentary poetry that accompanies it. I am a bit skeptical about the label "documentary poetry," but it is an interesting article nonetheless.

Anyway, here's the poem (some of the formatting gets messed up in blogger--the line breaks look wonky--check out the original here):

The Colonel
by Carolyn Forché

WHAT YOU HAVE HEARD is true. I was in his house. His wife carried
a tray of coffee and sugar. His daughter filed her nails, his son went
out for the night. There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistol on the
cushion beside him. The moon swung bare on its black cord over
the house. On the television was a cop show. It was in English.
Broken bottles were embedded in the walls around the house to
scoop the kneecaps from a man's legs or cut his hands to lace. On
the windows there were gratings like those in liquor stores. We had
dinner, rack of lamb, good wine, a gold bell was on the table for
calling the maid. The maid brought green mangoes, salt, a type of
bread. I was asked how I enjoyed the country. There was a brief
commercial in Spanish. His wife took everything away. There was
some talk then of how difficult it had become to govern. The parrot
said hello on the terrace. The colonel told it to shut up, and pushed
himself from the table. My friend said to me with his eyes: say
nothing. The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries
home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like
dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this. He took one
of them in his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a water
glass. It came alive there. I am tired of fooling around he said. As
for the rights of anyone, tell your people they can go fuck them-
selves. He swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held the last
of his wine in the air. Something for your poetry, no? he said. Some
of the ears on the floor caught this scrap of his voice. Some of the
ears on the floor were pressed to the ground.
May 1978

Amazing, right? That image of a bag of ears will stay with me.

Here's Philip Metre''s take on the poem (taken from the article I've linked to above):

"Carolyn Forche’s years in El Salvador (1978–81) working as a human rights activist led to this poem, in which a poet visits a colonel who lives a privileged but barricaded existence in his country. Forche’s poem, written in prose, offers itself as a documentary retelling. It ominously begins: 'What you have heard is true.' Yet this poem is interesting precisely because it contains both a documentary veneer and plenty of hints of literary artifice. In other words, it suggests the highly fictive nature of the life the colonel leads behind his walled compound, as well as the literary aspect of all documentary poetry. In the poem, the moon itself 'swung bare on its black cord over the house,' as if it were an interrogation lamp or a stage prop."

Kelsie and Erin's Comedy Routine

Here's a first for this blog: a video taken by yours truly. When I was home for Thanksgiving, she showed me how to take videos with my camera (yes, a ten-year-old showed me how to do it in less than a minute) and then put together a little comedy show for you (with the help of my sister).

Here's what you need to know before you watch: Kelsie loves corny, silly jokes. A couple of years ago, Erin got her this joke book that has a whole series of "doofus" jokes, including our personal favorite--one that Kelsie didn't get when she first heard it (and that only made it funnier). It's the old "how do you keep a doofus in suspense" joke, where you just stare at the person who says, "I don't know, how?" We think she finally gets it now, as evidenced by her ad-lib at the end.

Remember October?

Well, it's almost December and I am just now getting around to posting some pictures from late October. Sorry about that. Anyway, they're from a visit my parents made one weekend. The first few are from a Shepherd football game in which the Rams crushed their opponents.

Just one action shot this time since I figured you got your fill of my football photography with this post from last year.

The halftime show was kind of fun, especially for my dad. It was Gloria Estefan-themed and he's a big fan. I'm only posting this one shot, because the blond singer on the right was in my class last year and she's pretty darn good.

My parents at the game. Now you might be wondering why they aren't sitting next to each other, but the actual reason is kind of sweet. It was pretty sunny that day (with the sun to our backs) and my mom made my dad sit in front of her so she could shade him a bit (he needs to be very careful in the sun).

This excited me very much: I finally got to see Livingstone, our mascot. I don't know why he's hiding his face, but check out those horns!

The next day, my sister Erin drove over to Martinsburg and then we all headed to Charles Town Races and Slots. None of us had been there before, but I'd heard a lot about it from students and Shannon, who is a big fan. We all enjoyed it--but wouldn't make a habit of going. We bet on a lot of the horses (small bets--don't worry) and weren't all that successful.

Erin and I picked this horse because we thought he was the prettiest. He lost.

We picked this one, too, almost certainly because of his name (I can't remember what it was now). Most of our picks were based on the horse's name. Not a good strategy. He lost, too. did this one.

My dad gave my mom, Erin, and I some money to go play the slot machines. We burned through it almost immediately and then went back to find my dad again. We returned just in time to see that he had picked a winner!

Here he is with the winning ticket. Don't get too excited--he won $1.80 on his $2.o0 bet. Still--it was pretty exciting.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Dr. Heidi: World Traveler

Did you know I am currently touring Azerbaijan? That's me on the top, with Jane and Shannon below. Read all about it here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pushing Daisies...

The worst TV news of the season (of several seasons, in fact): Pushing Daisies has been cancelled.

UPDATE: Check out this wonderful list of the reasons to love this show. It's been about three weeks since I first posted about the cancellation, and I am still so very bummed.

Terrance Hayes

Sigma Tau Delta is sponsoring another poetry reading at the Blue Moon Cafe tonight, and I'm thinking of reading this poem (I've pasted the whole thing below, too), one I stumbled across on a recent road-trip while I was listening to the wonderful "Poetry Off the Shelf" podcast. The lines "But to rescue a soul is as close/ as anyone comes to God" seem to be the most beautiful lines I've heard in some time--especially in reference to a man raising a child who isn't his own. The last lines are just as lovely.

The Same City

by Terrance Hayes

For James L. Hayes

The rain falling on a night
in mid-December,
I pull to my father’s engine
wondering how long I’ll remember
this. His car is dead. He connects
jumper cables to his battery,
then to mine without looking in
at me and the child. Water beads
on the windshields, the road sign,
his thin blue coat. I’d get out now,
prove I can stand with him
in the cold, but he told me to stay
with the infant. I wrap her
in the blanket, staring
for what seems like a long time
into her open, toothless mouth,
and wish she was mine. I feed her
an orange softened first in my mouth,
chewed gently until the juice runs
down my fingers as I squeeze it
into hers. What could any of this matter
to another man passing on his way
to his family, his radio deafening
the sound of water and breathing
along all the roads bound to his?
But to rescue a soul is as close
as anyone comes to God.
Think of Noah lifting a small black bird
from its nest. Think of Joseph,
raising a son that wasn’t his.

Let me begin again.
I want to be holy. In rain
I pull to my father’s car
with my girlfriend’s infant.
She was eight weeks pregnant when we met.
But we’d make love. We’d make
love below stars and shingles
while her baby kicked between us.
Perhaps a man whose young child
bears his face, whose wife waits
as he drives home through rain
& darkness, perhaps that man
would call me a fool. So what.
There is one thing I will remember
all my life. It is as small
& holy as the mouth
of an infant. It is speechless.
When his car would not stir,
my father climbed in beside us,
took the orange from my hand,
took the baby in his arms.
In 1974, this man met my mother
for the first time as I cried or slept
in the same city that holds us
tonight. If you ever tell my story,
say that’s the year I was born.

In the podcast, Hayes talks about his father hearing this poem at one of the poet's readings, and about how the two men had never before discussed the fact that he wasn't his biological dad, although it wasn't a secret. Afterwards, he explains, his father simply said, "Like that poem, man."

Touching Strangers

Anyone but me think this is kind of awesome? Read about the photographer's project here. You know, some days I am the most cynical-leave-me-alone person you could imagine. But even then, there is, deep down, a part of me that gets all mushy for these kinds of images.

Challenged ballots...

What a mess out in Minnesota, where they are recounting all the ballots in the Senate race. Check out this kind of fun site where you can cast your own vote on the contested ballots. For the record, I found myself marking "throw it out" for a whole lot of them. If you can't mark the darn thing correctly, that's your own problem, you know?

And "Lizard People"? Scary.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Undeliverable mail...

Via Andrew Sullivan, a devastating reminder of the war in Afghanistan--something we don't talk about nearly enough these days.

Makes me think of Melville's Bartleby toiling away in the dead letter office: "On errands of life, these letters speed to death. Ah, Bartleby! Ah, humanity!"

Two quick God links (for lack of a better label)...

1) Did the Prosperity Gospel help get us into this economic mess? (Quick answer from me: sure seems like it and its purveyors ought to be ashamed.)

2) P.J. O'Rourke on his cancer diagnosis and God's mysterious ways. It's a funny and moving essay--one that I should have linked to about a month ago.

Five quick lit links...

I've been meaning to link to these for awhile now, so here you go:

1) The proposed bailout for American poetry. Pretty darn funny.

2) A profile of one of my former colleagues from UNCG. Dan and I were in ENG 681 together back when I was a new teacher and he was a guy with PhD who came back to school for an MFA. How's that for devotion to your calling? He's an amazing poet and a great guy so give the interview a read, okay?

3) Was Milan Kundera a spy?

4) Just how panicked were people after the War of the Worlds broadcast in 1938?

5) Have you heard about Dewey the cat yet? By the way, Dewey is a possible name for my next cat--but in honor of John Dewey, not Melvil.