Wednesday, January 20, 2010

emperor's-new-clothes kind of moment

I was forwarded this article, written by Mike Young for HTML GIANT, by a few different classmates, on the some of the most common moves by contemporary poets. I guess it has been circulating for quite a while and I've managed to inadvertently avoid it until now. Anyways, here are some analogies I've come up with that summarize my response to it:

It's like that being naked in front of your homeroom dream.

It's like someone has found the magician's handbook.

It's like that scene in I Heart Huckabees where Jude Law's character hears the recordings of himself telling the same joke over and over again. [Unfortunately, I could only find the clip in Italian. On second thought, perhaps it's a good thing. Jude Law's American accent is rubbish.]

But, really, I find it funny mostly. It is comforting to know no poet is that original. Also, some of the items on the list are just things that occur when we use language.

Regardless, it's a good thing to be aware of what we instinctively do, repeatedly. I don't think we're meant to take the article as being judgmental, just a little self-ridicule-y. I actually wrote a poem recently that operates almost entirely on items 1b and 30, but I'm sure in a large way fulfills many of the other items. See if you can identify more:


it left my house
i mean it left my mouth
as if it were late
to an appointment and couldn’t
waste any time getting there.

i didn’t mean to say i love you.
i was meaning to say i hate you, instead
i showed you with my actions.

it’s called parapraxis—freudian
slip, colloquially—so
when i said good-bye, i meant please
don’t ever leave me.

i was alone in my mouth
and something was missing my lips.
i was alone in my bed
and i gave myself a paroxysm.

i looked at myself in the mirror
and then at a photo of you and saw
a parallel, i mean a parallax (it lacks
paratactic syntax; i also mean parallel
structure), what i mean,
succinctly, is that you were further
than i wanted you to be.

i wanted to be you
for at least the duration
of us fucking so i could make sure
it felt as you pretended. i mean
as i intended.

you left my house and my mouth
was full of snow. it was cold
and uncomfortable, and when
my tongue was fully numbed
i said i hate you instead of what i really meant,
spitting pretty snow flecks at your face.

I was also impressed and surprised by the variety of sources Mike Young used for his examples in the article. He called out some pretty big names, and curiously some of the lesser known, but emerging, contemporary poets. It points out that we're all in this together.

Since I brought up I Heart Huckabees, here's a scene I think is perfectly germane and we can all enjoy--in English!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

sharp as a

The Knife is keen in their musical engineering. They seem aware--more aware, to me, than many other music engineers, at least on a deliberate/conscious level--that music is not comprised solely by tone and rhythm. That there is a matrix of sonic phenomena that creates a musical experience for listeners. That there, too, is texture (in more musical terms, 'timbre') that not only operates on the plane of aesthetic aural pleasure, but also on an emotional and associative plane. Further, that they participate in a tradition of music making and, that though there are limitations of deviation from that tradition, that there are also destinations on the fringe of these traditions, which are seldom visited and/or mingled. Since I've already used the word "matrix," let me borrow a phrase from the film: "You have to see it to understand." Or in this case, listen to it. Here a new song, for which I thank my Facebook newsfeed, I stumbled upon.

Colouring of Pigeons by The Knife

Once upon a time, I made a music video using footage from Jean Genet's Un Chant d'Amour, a silent film on which I wrote my senior thesis. For reasons still mysterious to me, The Knife's Silent Shout made me think of that film.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

two is the magic number. 'nine' is just what we call it.

So this is my endorsement for the film, Nine, but it is also a love letter to two of my favorite actresses.

I should start by divulging that I’m a pretty obnoxious Fellini fan. Admittedly, it probably stems from some hero worship I harbor for D.A. Miller; however, that’s immaterial.

I had reservations and doubts about Nine before viewing it. I thought it was going to be an egregiously mishandled pop-music-video-esque celeb-orgy that desecrates Frederico Fellini’s masterpiece, 8 ½. Instead, I found Rob Marshall's film to be a provocative take on Fellini’s story and film (which was first adapted to the stage) that paid prudent and calculated homage to its originative sources: actors, cinematography, autobiographical referentiality, etc. Daniel Day Lewis, though deficient of Marcello Mastroianni’s je ne sais quoi, was satisfactorily charming and brooding.

The fact that it was a musical didn’t bother me. On the contrary, I enjoy musicals and I felt that the film did a great job at maintaining its movie-musical-ness. I recall in a lecture with D.A. Miller, him mentioning that Fellini’s films—the psychological internalities they afford, the quirky histrionics of his imagination, the (albeit, diegetically motivated) musical performances that often occur, and so on—lend themselves to being adapted into musicals. For instance, the musical and subsequent movie musical, Sweet Charity, is based on the Fellini film, Le Notti di Cabiria (my personal favorite; later you may see why).

The rest of the cast, as expected and including Fergie, sparkles. Fergie is actually quite spectacular as Saraghina. Hear here:

The diamond among jewels—hardly any rough here—is Marion Cotillard. Not surprisingly, she plays Luisa, the wife of Guido Contini, the tragically flawed protagonist of the film. Both characters are thinly coded versions of Frederico Fellini and his wife, Giulietta Masina, which is true for both 8 ½ and Nine. I say that it isn’t surprising Marion Cotillard plays this character because I found her performance in La Vie en Rose very reminiscent of Masina’s performance in Le Notti di Cabiria, and nearly matched its virtuosity. Curiously, the character of Luisa isn’t much like the actual Masina. Though you should take this remark as only purely rhetorical, Cotillard’s Luisa is closer to Anouk Aimee’s performance in 8 ½ than it is to the actual Giulietta Masina. I just find it fitting Cotillard plays a character, in Nine, that is based on an actress who Cotillard resembles, performance-wise, in La Vie en Rose.

I urge you to delight in the similarities. I do. By “similarities” I mean “pathos,” of course.

*spoiler alert*

In this scene from Le Notti Di Cabiria, Cabiria realizes, too late, that her lover is a con man who has wooed her with the intention of stealing her money and throwing her off of a cliff. They are at a cliff. Dun dun dun. I don't have subtitles for you. Sorry.

This scene from La Vie en Rose takes place after Edith Piaf has been waiting all evening for her lover to arrive. In it, she recovers from a delusional episode. I can't embed this scene, forgive me.

Both scenes unfold with similar emotional arcs. If you didn't cry, I seriously doubt your capacity to feel. Their performances in these two scenes aren't the only likenesses I saw. I find them both so deeply comic and tragic, in the most honest and earnest ways, in their respective films.

The lesson here is watch Nine. Watch all of Cotillard and Masina's films.

Monday, January 4, 2010

theorizing thievery; of, composition as exploitation

I was given this assignment by my poetry workshop facilitator, Graham Foust, this past semester as our final project. I hope he doesn't mind me sharing it, but I thought it was indubitably neat and has helped generate some writing over the dull winter months. He states:

The title of this exercise has in mind archaic definitions of theory ("to map") and exploit ("to mine"). Consider it a very tightly focused version of one of the MFA Program's learning outcomes. If we want you to be able to "articulate the correspondences between [your] own writing and the corpus of literature and though which primarily informs [your] own aesthetics," let's at least entertain the idea that we can begin to "correspond" with other writers at the level of grammar and syntax by investigating and recuperating Eliot's all-too-often quoted (and almost always misquoted) maxim. How--and what--can we learn from theft?
The T.S. Eliot quote to which he refers is, "Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal."

In Graham's exercise we started by extracting the grammar and syntax of a sentence, structurally, and built our own statements with perhaps little deviations from the schema. We then moved on to some poems: one given and one of our liking. The following is my purloined booty.

The first one is from a William E. Stafford poem, Passing Remark.

Who Knows or Cares?

During meals I favor savory flavor.
During sex I like to be on my back.

During movies I often audibly and physically react.
And during concerts I prefer to dance and sing along.

My lover, a svelte gentle boy from the Midwest,
asks, “Are you aware how impossibly different we are?”

Concertedly I furrow my reactive brow and burrow into his gaze—
the lovely vulnerable sweetly prefer we play along in the game of curious irrelevance.

The next two are the poems of my choosing. The first from a book of poetry called Slow Air, by Robin Robertson. The second from Nick Flynn's Some Ether. I deliberately chose poems that I am very fond of not knowing why. I'm not sure if it was a prudent decision, but I'm not more than half displeased with what I concocted. Thoughts are appreciated.

Robin Robertson poem:


Rain, you said, is silence turned up high.
It has been raining now for days.
Even when it stops
there is still the sound
of rainwater, labouring
to find some way into the ground.

We lie in grim embrace: these
two halves trying to be whole, straining
for this break in the static,
in the white noise
that was rain falling
all day and all through the sheeted night.

Silence is rain with the sound turned down,
and I stare out now on a clear view
of something left out on the line:
a life, snagged there—
drenched, shrunken,
unrecognisably mine.

My Extraction:


An apology, she says, isn’t a backing down but a displaying of courage.
There’s been a cold front here.
For the past few days
everyone I know around
has been arming themselves
in fabric shields against the icy pound.

My mother calls me: a distant
cry that is an arm reaching out
through the receiver, holding
onto the last bit
of cold hope
that the voice on the other end will pause to finally listen.

Backing down is a type of courage and apology,
and in the frigidity the color leaves
my prickled fingers:
the numbness is oncoming—
quiet, invisible,
unavoidably in tow.

Nick Flynn poem:

Bag of Mice

I dreamt your suicide note
was scrawled in pencil on a brown paperbag,
& in the bag were six baby mice. The bag
opened into darkness,
from the top down. The mice,
huddled at the bottom, scurried the bag
across a shorn field. I stood over it
& as the burning reached each carbon letter
of what you'd written
your voice released into the night
like a song, & the mice
grew wilder.

My Extraction:

The Morning We Ended Things

I found your voice box
tattered like a flag put through battle
&, though dampened, still vibrating. The box
carries in it all the hopeless
from the night prior. The screams,
half tonal, half texture, rang and battered
into the apartment walls. I was in there, too,
& as the room filled with our anger
at what we can no longer recognize
the ceiling began to cave in
as if it were a pillow
muffling laughter.