Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Cabbages & Kings

One linguistic tic that seems pre-programmed to annoy is using the name of the person being addressed to punctuate a sentence, e.g. -
"I have a few questions about your report, Bill."
"There's something I don't understand, Joan."

Unlike placing a name at the start of the sentence, where it asks for someone's attention, using the name at the end seems patronizing, a mark of presumed superiority. With it the speaker takes a stance. It's even more pompous used in writing than in speaking, when it's completely clear to the reader that s/he is the person being addressed.
"There's one thing that sits oddly with me about your comment, Nathan."

A friend in the office says this linguistic device is taught in business school as a way of "establishing closeness with an employee." Gack. More like a way of demonstrating bossdom. To me it's the linguistic equivalent of someone poking you in the chest when talking to you.
I do admit there are times when it could be used simply for innocuous emphasis. But even in a positive sentence it seems weird, e.g. "I really like this cake you made, Bill."
Does that make it seem like the speaker was expecting not to like the cake?

I'd be interested to know what others think. I should take more time to read linguistics! Maybe I will.

Anyway, in a tenuous segue from linguistics, my poem Liaoning Snapshot is up at A Clean, Well-Lighted Place. Ages ago I taught and studied in Liaoning province in a city named Dalian, another huge Chinese city no one has ever heard of, whose cabbages inspired the poem.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Annual Limbo

In German the week from Christmas to New Year's is called "between the years" (zwischen den Jahren), a phrase evoking a no man's land of time, and it does seem like that - taking the train with hardly anyone in it, floating around the office while nearly everyone else has off, the kids home from school.

Here comes the new year. I remember being a little kid and trying to figure out if I'd be alive after the year 2000. I made it. As always, in the new year I
1.) plan to eat more broccoli. I failed this year with about 6-7 servings, tops.

I also
2.) plan to read more German/y-related literature - The Magic Mountain, more Heinrich Böll, Herta Müller's The Appointment, that Goldhagen book, and The Beautiful Mrs. Seidenman.

Travelwise I
3.) hope to visit my dad and step-mother in Santa Fe, with or without appendages.

And, after some bad experiences, I will
4.) avoid delusions of grandeur, and just as importantly
5.) avoid people with delusions of grandeur, in real life and on the internet, where they are apparently legion.

I'm sure there are other, even more constructure ventures I could pursue, but these seem about doable.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

happy trails

Since I'm doing a slow read of Moby-Dick, I doubt there will be more to add to this list before the year ends. So here are all the books I read in 2011, not counting some re-reads. Though many of these were worthwhile, I highlighted 'only' 15 of them as especially good, in whatever way. In January I wondered if I'd find anything as good as Mrs. Dalloway in the rest of the year - it such was a terrific novel. But without devoting too much thought to it, which sometimes leads to nothing but confusion, I'd say the book I liked most this year was The French Lieutenant's Woman. Having disliked the film, it's wonder I ever took it up.

1. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (Jan)
2. Why Did I Ever by Mary Robison (Jan)
3. Among the Monarchs by Christine Garren (Jan)
4. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (Feb)
5. Dances With Snakes by Horacio Castellanos Moya (Feb)
6. Small Island by Andrea Levy (Feb)
7. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (Mar)
8. The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles (Mar)
9. Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner (Mar)
10. The Alphabetical Atheist by Andrew Rihn (Mar)
11. The Chameleon Couch by Yusef Komunyakaa (Mar)
12. Jejuri by Arun Kolatkar (Apr)
13. Mapping the World by Caroline Laffon (Apr)
14. Zirconia by Chelsey Minnis (Apr)
15. Oracle Night by Paul Auster (Apr)
16. The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien (Feb)
17. Chronicles I by Bob Dylan (Mar)
18. Moscow to the End of the Line by Venedikt Erofeev (apr)
19. Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist (apr)
20. Call Me Ishmael Tonight by Agha Shahid Ali (Apr)
21. A Book of Luminous Things, edited by Czeslaw Milosz (Apr)
22. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (May)
23. Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein (May)
24. Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin (May)
25. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (May)
26. Geography of the Forehead by Ron Koertge (May)
27. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson (Jun)
28. The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds (jun)
29. The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst (jun)
30. Laika by Nick Abadzis (June)
31. Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi (Jun)
32. The Redcoats by Ryan Murphy (spring)
33. The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles (Jul)
34. The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie (Jul)
35. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (jul)
36. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Jul)
37. Enduring Love by Ian McEwan (Jul)
38. Undertow by Anne Shaw (Jul)
39. The Pill versus the Springhill Mine Disaster by Richard Brautigan (Jul)
40. Juan Luna’s Revolver by Luisa A. Igloria (Jul)
41. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie (Jul)
42. Vernon Little God by DPC Pierre (August)
43. Then We Came to the End (August)
44. Temper by Beth Bachmann (Sept)
45. Number 9 Dream by David Mitchell (Aug)
46. The Trees by Eugenio Montale (Sept)
47. Aphorisms by Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach (Aug)
48. Skylark by Dezso Kosztolanyi (Aug)
49. Every Riven Thing by Christian Wiman (Aug)
50. Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson (Sep)
51. The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan (Sept)
52. Maus I by Arthus Spiegelman (Oct)
53. Maus II (Oct)
54. Fantastic Women: 18 Tales from Tin House (Oct)
55. Twisted: Collected Stories by Jeffrey Deaver (Oct)
56. The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr
57. Selected Poems by René Char (Oct.
58. The Boom of a Small Cannon by Mary Ann Samyn (Oct)
59. The Children of Men by PD James (Oct)
60. Anthrolpology by Dan Rhodes (Nov)
61. Haywire by George Bilgere (Nov)
62. Surrealist Poetry in English, ed. Edward Germain (Dec)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

It has snown.

I was browsing a Roz Chast book recently and one of the comics was "Kitsch in Nature." The three things singled out were peacocks, foliage season and snowfall shortly before Christmas. All true!

I woke up this morning and it was snowing copiously and beautifully. My son jumped for joy and I kind of did, too, but also felt unnerved because my mother and sister are scheduled to fly from the states tonight and if their trips get screwed up I will be unhappy. Last year my sister had to scrap her trip completely because of snow, and my mother only arrived on Dec. 26. PLEASE GOD! Save the snow for later.

Snow is nice, though (please stop!). And here's a nicer thing. The International Center of Photography in NY used a photo by my brother Thatcher for its Christmas card this year. Click on it to make it bigger.

The victim has yet to be identified.

Monday, December 19, 2011

This blog is operated by a human being

Just sayin.

We visited IKEA this weekend and I was surprised to find out they are banking on the death of the book. They're redesigning their Billy bookcases to be deeper, because they don't expect people to use them for books anymore. We recently bought a "bookshelf" from IKEA that's very deep, but I didn't appreciate the sinister warning in it. Now that I look I realize the depth is mostly unnecessary since we are using it for books, which we continue to accumulate. Maybe here the expression "like they're going out of style" would be appropriate?
I know many believe books are headed for extinction as just another outdated technology. But books have been around for thousands of years, like houses, like shoes, like earrings. I haven't seen those things fall by the wayside yet.

One thing in need of a serious update is the umbrella. When it is windy that contraption just does not work. Why is no one able to improve on this old technology?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

All that barking

More poems. Last night Verdad published its new issue, which has two of my poems – Death Roster and Good Wife of Hunan. The first is a spontaneous European sidewalk poem from some other decade, the second is Chinese-American and concerns my obsession with the Dog Star.

I’m taking a class in writing short prose, which is sometimes a class in reading short prose, which is also good. I’ve read many things in small formats, including Dan Rhodes’ Anthropology and some of Lou Beach’s 420 Characters, both new to me. Though I’m not big on gimmick I preferred the latter to the former. As the class ends soon we went out last night for a drink. I was looking forward to it because I next-to-never have an evening out and I assumed we’d talk writing and books but instead a talk ensued about American television, which was supremely depressing. I never watch tv, I don’t care about tv, especially tv I would have to make an extra effort to watch on the freaking internet in my miniscule free time! Anyway, I didn’t say this because as soon as you say you don’t like tv you look like a snob. It was a deflating evening.

Back to reading and writing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

in which the bluebirds black out

It is becoming more difficult to write a letter
from the slow country of summer.
The light makes a mess of the trees.

A lawn chair broods in a corner way off the map.

I have two poems in the new issue of DMQ Review - Seven Postcards from Solitude and This tree requests dedication and patience. My lawn chair and bonsai are happy to be there.

Another thing I've meant to mention is my chapbook Excuse me while I wring this long swim out of my hair made Jessy Randall's list of favorite (chap)books of 2011. Yeah!

Those end-of-year lists are rolling in. I enjoy them, although I rarely read a book the year it comes out. My favorite book this year was The French Lieutenant's Woman, fresh from 1969.

Monday, December 12, 2011


I am so disappointed in the French. One of our French managers visited the office today. He laughed at my joke and was generally charming. But when we retired to my desk to discuss "input queues," did he notice the book of Francis Ponge poems on my desk? Non! Or worse, he noticed and did not know Francis Ponge. It was truly disappointing.

Still, it's my week at Good Reads to pick the poems. My theme is THINGS. I've chosen poems that either take a close look at objects, or use them as a springboard. I include Ponge, and a bunch of others, including myself:

Monday: Fork by Charles Simic
Tuesday: Pity the Bathtub its Forced Embrace of the Human Form by Matthea Harvey
Wednesday: Oranges by Gary Soto
Thursday: The Frog by Francis Ponge
Friday: The Groundfall Pear by Jane Hirshfield
Saturday: Whisk by me
Sunday: Wick Effects by E.C. Belli

Below is Ponge's Frog, and maybe later this week I'll put up my Whisk, which also isn't online anywhere but will be in my chapbook Homebodies, due next year from Hyacinth Girl Press.

The Frog
When stabbing needlepoints of rain rebound from the sodden fields, an amphibious dwarf, an Ophelia with amputated arms, no bigger than a fist, springs up sometimes under the poet’s feet and hurls herself into the nearest pool.
Let the nervous creature flee. She has lovely legs. All her body is gloved in a waterproof skin. Barely flesh, her long muscles have an elegance neither fish nor fowl. But to escape your clutch the quality of fluidity in her combines with the efforts of a living thing.
Goitrous, she gasps . . . And that heart which throbs so heavily, whose wrinkled eyelids, that haggard mouth inspires such pity that I let her go.

La Grenouille
Lorsque la pluie en courtes aiguillettes rebondit aux prés saturés, une naine amphibie, une Ophélie manchote, grosse à peine comme le poing, jaillit parfois sou les pas du poète et se jette au prochain étang.
Laisson fuir la nerveuse. Elle a de jolies jambes. Tout son corps est ganté de peau imperméable. A peine viande ses muscles longs sont d’une elegance ni chair ni poisson. Mais pour quitter les doigts la vertu du fluide s’allie chez elle aux effort du vivant. Goitreuse, elle halite . . . Et ce cœur qui bat gros, ces paupières ridées, cette bouche hagarde m’apitoyent a la lâcher.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Owls and Kiwis

I've had to activate the "moderate comments" function after receiving a number of spam comments recently. As far as my blog goes, the spambots are posting with links to what I assume are shopping sites for purses. I don't know. I didn't click, and I wouldn't want anyone else to either.

The amount of offensive spam I get in my work email has also gone berserk. Even the subject lines are pornographic. Thinking of my kids receiving the same stuff makes me want to go out and arrest people. It's at the point where I see the words "long" and "hard," even in the most innocuous settings, and I cringe. I was at the store the other day fingering the kiwis. A man beside me was doing the same and he turned to me and said "they're all hard," and I was like, "you pig." It's sad.

Spam isn't as bad with my Yahoo! account, the trade-off being I have to look at celebrity stories on the homepage. I keep thinking there must be a way to 'personalize' my page, as the site promises. Block all Demi & Ashton. Block all Kardashan. Block reality tv "news." Bloooock!

It hit home (again) today when I read a story in the New York Times about how many wines now have in-your-face names, like "Sweet Bitch," "Royal Bitch," and "Sassy Bitch," as well as "Fat Bastard," "Ball Buster," and "Bigass Red." The wineries using these names claim they must separate themselves from "the herd on the shelf." To me it sounds more like getting down with the lowest common denominator. Or maybe I've lost my sense of humor. My house wine is La Cuvée Mythique, a dark, mysterious red with a charming non-sexual owl on the label.

Thursday, December 01, 2011


The nice thing about December in Germany is it’s spelled with a z. Exotic, no?

December also brought the publication of YB and Umbrella, both of which include some of my poems. YB, in its Animals issue, has “Reindeer” from my chapbook, and Umbrella has “Our Lady of Busted Cutlery” and “Keeping my Cool.” Umbrella also has two poems by our lady of escape, Kathleen Kirk.

Some days ago The Medulla Review also went live, publishing my poem “Baseler Platz.” My office is on Baseler Platz. It’s an odd geography, encompassing a couple nice new offices and residential buildings, but also rundown store fronts, a chronic traffic snarl and the outskirts of the main train station. The poem, as always, is based on a true story.

On a side note, Diane Lockward a couple days ago blogged about guest editing for Adanna’s inaugural issue (which published my poem “Low Grass”) for anyone interested in the ins and outs of submissions.

While we’re on the subject of submissions - from a poet's point of view - yesterday was my birthday and I got a rejection. (You’d think in this age that your email would let you program what kind of mail you receive on your birthday.) It was funny because after letting me know they didn’t want my poems, they asked me to 1) follow them on Facebook; 2) subscribe to their updates; 3) take the time to register their response time on Duotrope (a lit magazine guide); and 4) reminded me to please take six months before submitting again.

It was my birthday. And I didn’t do a damned one of those things.

As my folks say, “Happy new month.”
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