Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Where do you draw the line between sincere mental illness and just plain poor behavior?
Maybe it's just because it's the holidays, time to swap news, office gossip, and smile politely while relatives act totally inappropriately, but I suddenly find myself questioning:
When do these symptoms:
"pervasive disregard for the law and the rights of others."
"a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and a lack of empathy"
"pervasive attention-seeking behavior including inappropriate sexual seductiveness and shallow or exaggerated emotions "
become A) antisocial personality disorder B)histrionic personality disorder or C) narcissistic personality disorder instead of pervasive Bitchiness disorder? Does a diagnosis excuse poor behavior? It probably does to the person who is so self-obsessed that they exhibit "an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of the culture of the individual who exhibits it".
Who out there knows someone who behaves innappropriately and doesn't think anything at all is wrong with their actions?
I've had the pleasure of meeting several women with these issues, one actually diagnosed, excused from her job responsibilities, and now eligible for disability benefits. For being a class A bitch.
Thanks to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personality_disorder for the info.
Sure, this is mostly just me having an ax to grind, and grinding it even harder once I looked up the diagnosis of acquaintences past (currently gestating, Merry Christmas!).
But I'm curious what other inexcusable behavior we can describe with syndromes (genocidal tendencies, fetal gnoshing disorder, perenial tardiness?), and then whether or not it would be worthwhile to take the viewpoint of the patient, the person making the diagnosis, or maybe the people living with the consequences, and do some dramatic dialogues. DRAMAtic dialogues? Probably pretty bad, eh? But if you didn't know/secretly dream of watching get run over by garbage truck someone with the disorder, then maybe it would just be an opportunity for dark humor? Or maybe lots of people know people with the disorder (booger displacement anxiety) and they would sympathize with the loved one struggling to steer her spouse through the tumult of dealing with such a socially devastating problem?
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
The first U.S. face transplant is the most complete one ever attempted. While it's nothing like what spy movies might have hopefuls thinking, that this is the ultimate plastic surgery or a better alternative to the witness protection program, for some folks who have been severely mauled or traumatized, this surgery may be the start of a new life.
To get more details follow links to article and photos:
The doctor in charge of the team of specialists who performed the surgery responded to some criticism that the surgery is dangerous and unnecessary. She spoke about people who couldn't live normal lives because their faces were so destroyed. The soundbite that really got me was, "You need the face to face the world."
I can't stop thinking about The Phantom of the Opera, and how underneath all the Andrew Lloyd Webber there is a story that validates Dr. Maria Siemionow's point. Can you imagine life severely disfigured? Getting a face transplant? Waking up with a new face?
I watched a bad Lifetime movie about a brain transplant...a model's brain ends up in a housewife's body. It sounds like a comedy, but it was actually sort of disturbing. How much does a person identify themselves as their body? Who do you become, what does your life become, not when your body is damaged, but when it is changed to an almost normal version of some one else?
Friday, December 12, 2008
The HFR blog recently hosted a holiday blog poem/fiction contest with several prize subscriptions to Hayden's Ferry Review, gift subscriptions for a friend or loved one, and a free back issue of my favorite issue, #42 The Grotesque.
Thanks to the intern judging the contest, I won! To read my Diwali poem, follow this link: http://haydensferryreview.blogspot.com/2008/holiday-blog-contestpoetry_12.html
A poetry contributor from issue 42 also won a place in the contest with her beautiful poem! Congrats to Lauren Berry.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Maybe. My recent submission, which included a poem about condoms, two about miscarriage, one about suburban voodoo and one about an bitchy person I went to grad school with all came back rejected in record time. The condom poem was on top, and looking at it, I was struck by the sudden idea that it was a little ridiculous that I had a poem about a condom and I had sent it to the Southern Poetry Review.
Now I'll admit I've never read a full issue of SPR, they don't have samples online, and I live in a literary vacuum now as far as lending privileges go. (Oh how I miss you, Piper Center Resource Library!) Skimming through the current contributors, I noticed K.A Hayes, a poet I know (somehow) from working at HFR. She wasn't one of the contributors on my issues as editor, but I think I solicited poems from her.
Since I can't comment on their aesthetic, I'll blame the condom poem.
It started as just a crazy idea; I liked the fact that a major condom company had its name in a two-part mythological boobie trap. Destroyed cities, viruses, and condoms--they share a physical and a linguistic connection! I wrote the poem as a diptych: on one side, the condom. On the other side: the condom's significance. After all, a condom seems silly and physical and just like a bathroom joke in some ways. But on the other hand, condoms stand in for protection, or lack there of, from disease, from pregnancy. They are a physical barrier in a sexual relationship where there is some need for physical distance. Deep.
I loved the poem I wrote and it has gotten mixed results. People liked the idea of two independent poems commenting on each other in the space of a page, but didn't like the two poems together. C.D Wright liked it the way it was, and suggested I write more. But at some level, the jokey-ness of where I tried to go, taking two words as poem titles that are innocuous together but suggestive when paired, (Trouser Snake) was fun, but didn't reveal everything that the first poem did.
After getting this rejection and thinking about it on my drive home (honking and braking to avoid hitting a vulture that was just a little too full to lift off a roadside deer quickly)I realized what it was I liked about the poem. It takes something physical and vulgar that elicits teen movie humor and school yard giggling and presents its very physical nature on one side. But the other side of the poem is about what the thing really is, it's about the push and pull of a sexual relationship, the desire for intimacy and fear that the intimacy will destroy the person who desires it. So that pun allowed me to get at something real in my life.
I'm thinking about what other "vulgar," "taboo," or "ridiculous," things might hide a real connection to who we are as humans on the other side of their surface. Things that people have taken the time to fetishize or make taboo are powerful things. They make us uncomfortable, and they show us how we feel and what we fear.
I'd like to take a moment to thank the Southern Poetry Review. I looked at a copy and met the editor at AWP Atlanta, and it's one of those journals I'd love to get from my family as a gift subscription this Xmas. And I'm sure they support safe sex.
UPDATE: The condom poem, "Trojan Horse," was recently accepted by Puerto del Sol.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
I just found the Ploughshare blog. Ploughshares has long been one of my favorite literary magazines; I've been unsuccessfully submitting there, the Indiana Review, and Mid-American since college because I just LOVE them, and the editors were nice to me when they read in my bio that I was trying to get into an MFA program.
I like the blog because it's more than just an addition to the magazine; it discusses poetics and criticism. A recent blog post focuses on bad habits that writers/poets discover in their writing. We've all had that moment, looking over poems when we realize (or have pointed out in workshop) that we do the same thing routinely. For some of us it's a word, (I used "stone," in about twelve poems before someone in my workshop finally had enough)but sometimes it's a movement when we run out of other ideas, a default.
It's not that these are necessarily BAD habits, just that they're bad for us because, well, they're habits, and you can't really be new and fresh if you do the same thing every time.
My idea is that the next time I find myself following in my old ways, I'll use SOME ONE ELSE's bad habit instead. So I try to end all poems with a neat bow by throwing in some unrelated abstraction paired with at least two concrete details and hard consonants. When it comes off just too pat, maybe I'll try a slant rhymed couplet instead! At least it's not what I usually do, and isn't that the interesting and helpful thing about form anyway?
Here's a link to the blog for more ideas, and if you have bad habits of your own, you can post them in the blog comments :)
Monday, November 17, 2008
I always thought the Cher song went, "gypsies, chimpanzees." Apparently, it's "gypsies, tramps and thieves." Oh well. Apparently there's a word (and a website, see last in list on bottom) for the phenomenon of mishearing song lyrics: mondegreen. Cool, huh?
A famous example of the misunderstanding made into a poem is Elizabeth Bishop's "Man-Moth." The poet was intrigued by a misprint of the word "mammoth" in a news article and subsequently wrote one of her more vulnerable poems featuring the character of the man-moth, a subterranean agoraphobe with the hidden, private spirituality of a hermit.
To read the poem, click here: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-man-moth/
I was listening to some public radio jazz when I had a similar experience, thinking the lyrics of "I got my mojo workin" were "I got my mojo wagon." I loved the idea of a wagonful of mojos or a wagon that increases mojo...in an Austin Powers kind of way.
If you don't have any of your own misprints or mondegreens to fall back on, here are some online resources:
Friday, October 31, 2008
The idea is that people post postcard sized images with a secret on them. They range from the cliche and self-absorbed, to the political, to the funny, to the incredibly sad.
While I normally wouldn't suggest stealing people's stories (well, maybe I would) the nature of this project is that the contributors are offering up these secrets to be art, to be a part of collaborative art. I think some of them would make great poetry or fiction premises.
Thanks to PostSecret for creating a forum where people can share these things about themselves.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
I went through the poems and pulled out some words I like, which I plan on using in a few poems this week. I was like, ruffle!! I love ruffle.
Then I typed a bunch of them into polyvore to make a collage. Here are the words I used:
plum, ruffle, spot, sleek, proper, ribbon, and clean.
April Galleons by parrotflower
a huge list of Ashberry words follows:
vetiver smudges fishhook sleek mood sawdust hat bank plum taste thin floor sharp stick scrub door shave shake tactics ship ruffle fit cloak tilt tag crunch fatal bottom strive ask spot sink lost ribbon rust proper plug fresh quiet rich bound wander nourish kind riot wrist find tease canvas jug wisp honey forget fragile burnt pave balloon burst fetching cabbage shut slow moist calm mode lock cash claw simple fakes settle faint judge thistle clean tip lavish stir blind step shy stack stalk whisper
Note: Yes, in the original post I said Rilke instead of Roethke. Oops. To make up for it, the exercise, pulled from The Triggering Town by Richard Hugo, is as follows.
Use five nouns, verbs, and adjectives from the above lists and write a poem as follows:
1. Four beats to the line
2. six lines to the stanza
4. At least two internal and one external slant rhyme per stanza
5. maximum two end stops per stanza
6. clear English grammatical sentences, must make sense.
Nouns: tamarack throat belief rock frog dog slag eye cloud mud
Verbs: to kiss to curve to swing to ruin to bite to cut to surprise to bruise to hug to say
Adjectives: blue hot soft tough important wavering sharp cool red leather
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
I probably wouldn't be blogging about what is, when you think about it, sort of a confusing call for submissions if it weren't for this color wheel. Doesn't it sort of look like the Wheel of Fortune, or that wheel on the Price is Right?
Anyway, I love the idea of taking a tack and sticking it in this wheel a couple times, making each color block it lands on a stanza, and the title of the poem an agent of change.
I think the key, as it always is when dealing with huge abstractions, is to find something small and personal.
Here's what each of these things would be for me the first time I stuck a tack in them:
Identity: waiting for my Georgia voter registration card two weeks before a presidential election
Work: watching the soda pumps from the back room of the theater concession stand
The Arts: ceramics summer camp where I learned how to play poker and a kid threatened me with an exacto knife
Tradition: baptism photos of my husband
Beliefs: the Augustus Caesar statue my husband got in Italy, sitting on our fireplace
Family: my little sister getting rolled out of the nursery in her terrarium
Change: my baby bump
Knowledge:I have an encyclopedia of trivia
Home: digging through the azalea hedge for a frisbee
Any of these sections of the wheel could be a pretty personal lyric fairly quickly if you just try to conjure up very specific episodes. If you have trouble keeping the agent of change in the title personal and concrete, list all the years you've been alive and stick a tack in the list. The episodes you picked will lie before or after this date and there's bound to be something that happened between the two.
I just did this and its sort of depressing to see how long the list of numbers is. I got 1999, my Sophmore year in high school, the year I went to Spain, a year before my cousin died. So depending on how morbid I wanted to be, there's my poem. Of course, if I didn't have anything important happen that year I could just see if any relatively obscure thing happened in the headlines. That could be even more interesting. W2K was pretty big, but maybe a Spice Girls tour stop in a small town would be good. I'm getting nostalgic already.Thanks Crab Orchard Review for their beautiful publication and for offering a call to submissions vague enough to be interesting. To see the call go to:
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
The gist of the movie is that Bergman was run out of town as a pregnant teen after filing a paternity suit against her lover. He bribes two witnesses for a bottle of brandy each to say that she is promiscuous. The authorities take her child, who quickly dies in an institution, label her a fallen woman, and she becomes a big city prostitute. Years later, she returns, a wealthy woman, with a proposition for the town that turned its back on her. They are struggling…the local mines, the factory, the riverside...all their business has mysteriously dried up and she offers them 2 million to kill the man who ruined her instead of taking responsibility for his child.
I’m not suggesting that people write a poem where they make an “indecent proposal.” What’s interesting to me about this movie is that by making this offer to the town, she puts her ex-lover in the exact position he put her in, a position where those in power, the people he’s trusted and grown up with, his own friends, actively set him up, ruin and finally move to take his life. This is the interesting moment to me, when he moves from disbelief, thinking of course that he was right in what he did, to struggling with the same forces he set in motion before.
I’m also not suggesting this be some epic poem about a life and death struggle, but that this kind of revenge, this very profound shift in position, is ripe for a lyric. Take a situation which you might still be harboring some grudge over, (unless you’re some profoundly well-developed person who doesn’t carry grudges) and put that person in a reversed position. The truly startling thing is the amount of sympathy you end up having with the character as they share, and realize they share, your same experience.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Friday, October 3, 2008
The Obscene Jester is a pretty interesting performance art blog I read from time to time. While I was catching up on my blog readership yesterday, I came across an intriguing idea in the blog describing a musical art performance.
The term "negative superman" has the ringing tone of film theory about it, but I haven’t been very successful tracking it down.
Still, it’s a compelling idea—the negative superman. The ubermensch evil one? The archvillain? I think what is perhaps most interesting about the character is the idea that these actors—aging, fallible typecast actors—play these larger than life mustache/cape twirlers.
I suppose for me this idea presents as a duality, a diptych. On one hand, the superhuman, the epic villain—and I suppose I would depart from a Milton-esque Satanic monologue here and maybe list or catalogue actions/narrative. (Maybe I think that’s what makes a villain.) A suggestion for this part: I just began reading an article from Comparative Literature entitled "Negative Comparison in the Literary Narrative Epic" and I see the negative simile, which poets will be familiar with as "describe what is by what it is not" or "what it does by what it does not" as being very potentially helpful here in describing the negative superhero. The formula sets up like this, x is not a, nor b, nor c, x is d.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Check out this issue of Blackbird online. It has a feature, "Tracking the Muse," with commentary by various poets about their process. Here's a link to Jehanne Dubrow's "Notes Toward a Nonexistent Poet." http://www.blackbird.vcu.edu/v7n1/features/muse/dubrow_j.htm
It is great. She starts off suggesting you lie a little bit about yourself, making up an experience you never had, like a childhood overseas. But she progresses toward creating a whole fictional poet and writing poems for her. While the amount of research needed for a whole book of works by a fictional poet might be a little more than a Wednesday afternoon will permit, you could pick a person you know and write a poem as them, or as a famous person, or as a made-up person.
My poet is Sara Johnston. She's from North Carolina, daughter of an Airforce captain, and her family lived in Germany from when she was eight to eleven. She recently was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
What I’ve realized recently is that many objects hold a magical realist text within their name. I was thinking about the stiletto shoe, which compares the traditional, thin steel heel of the shoe with a thin knife of the same name. It made me think how many objects, particularly clothing objects, bear names that keep them only a step away from being absurd: the Peter Pan collar, the bell sleeve, the pencil skirt. The interesting thing about these pieces of clothing is that they get their name from a strong resemblance to the absurd objects their name implies—these are absurd objects realized and normalized in the daily world.
You can take that for face value, but a human mind has already done most of the poetic work for you in creating a dynamic metaphor—a metaphor so dynamic, in fact, that it established a reality for itself in the text of the clothing. For a pretty interesting poem, the only thing a bell sleeve or a stiletto shoe needs is to be estranged from its normalized context so that it becomes obvious how strange it is that women walk around on dull knives with tiny plastic tips glued on the ends. What symbolic paydirt could this relatively pat realization hide? More than the often noted fact that some men tie a noose around their necks every morning.
When I was thinking about the stiletto shoe, it hit me that I have actually seen women dance up on blades (in a video, no, not Beyonce). Korean shamanism is almost exclusively the realm of women, and I had watched a video about a young shamaness going through her (failed) induction ceremony. In this ceremony, an offering of meat on a balancing tripod is made to the gods, who consent to descend into the shamaness. She assumes the particular god’s costume from a box she carries around with her, jumps on top of a pair of blades mounted on a platform, and continues to jump and dance on the blades as she delivers a speech from the divinity. The shamaness in the video is a chicken, however, and no amount of prompting from the woman who is inducting her can get her to jump and dance on the rusty looking blades.
My poem is about my steel-heeled Guess stilettos. What you might find revelatory in pencils, bells, or Peter Pan is yours.
Friday, September 12, 2008
Or could have been. This poem idea comes from my husband Tony, who is apparently very interested in the stories of nameless or less popular characters who live in a world run by and interested only in an elite few. Like the crew from Saved by the Bell.
As for credit for this photo, and to get any other info, it seems like pretty much anything you'd want to know about this sitcom can be found at http://www.movieprop.com/tvandmovie/savedbythebell/
So Tony's idea is, what do all these students and nameless teachers who go to or teach at this big high school think about the fact that every major club or event, from glee club to Prom, is dominated by this small group of kids?
He also thinks that a poem about what people do after they go home from a TV show like Law and Order or what undeveloped characters from the Newhart Show do offscreen, or what those guys in the back of the command room in NASA documentaries think.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Politics, Collage and Poetry
I'd like to thank Aimee of Vint Condition http://www.vintcondition.blogspot.com/ fame for introducing me to Polyvore. http://www.polyvore.com/ I realize this is an ugly collage, so I'll make this post as untechnical as possible.
Politics is like a collage. Poetry is like a collage. Political poetry is often not, but is more like the rantings of insane or crotchety or both older person on a street corner who smells bad. The idea behind this poem prompt is that you would pick something from the headlines that you might like to blog about, but that you think might be a very poor poem. Perhaps you have tried to write this poem, like my attempt at "Felix Pie's Twisted Testicle." Maybe you failed miserably.
Polyvore is a neat little internet photo collecting and editing doo-dad that allows you to trawl the web, pick images revolving around your headline and compile them in a collage. You can add fashionable accessories if you wish.
My suggestion is to add a ridiculous title, then not to talk about the inciting topic. For instance, the poem would have guns, bears, wolves, Alaska, the city of Bristol, a pipe or piper figure, some weeping trees, an Olympic track runner and trigonometry. I would not mention Sarah Palin, yet the entire poem would let you know exactly how I feel about her.
If you're less technically savvy, you could skip the Polyvore feature. But it's fun.
Friday, September 5, 2008
Some things I love about this photo:
2. Allegorical Content
3. Center of Focus
Here is a palette of colors: aqua, deep cadet, dove gray, spackle white, matte steel, and yellow. Everything is cool, working toward a cohesive tone. It all belongs to the same landscape, a particular mood.
In this one image we have a seagull, an anchor, a boat, and the sea. All of these are literal things that are found in each other’s company, but they are all also supercharged with meaning when taken out of their ordinary context and say, for example, dropped into a Biblical quote or a Victorian morality story. What I love about this collection of symbols is that they act as themselves rather than the things they stand in for, so the immediate response is to the thing itself.
The center of focus on this photo is interesting—it works in some ways like a triptych. The seagull immediately gets attention, having the most animation, but the anchor is in the center of the photo. Behind the dull-colored anchor, the white muck that covers the boat is scraped away from a bright blue docking post.
My idea from this photo is a triptych, or a poem with three strong central images. I’d like to take a symbol, take it back to its literal object-ness, and surround it with two other objects from a scene that makes sense to its thing-ness. I think I’d put the weightiest symbolic thing in the middle, something alive in the first stanza, and a brilliant piece of landscape behind it. I’d be sure to fill in with details like texture (mud, grain, screen, dirt-spatter, nubble) and color.
Maybe I would suggest movement in the past, or movement about to happen, and name the poem “Still Life of a _____”
My example would be a wedding ring, a kitchen sink, and an insect on the window—maybe a grasshopper, a moth, or right now in Georgia, a pair of love bugs (which look a lot like two stink bugs doing it). Depending on which insect I gravitated toward, it would be a different poem. Right now I'm thinking, "Still Life of a Carpet Moth."
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
A fairly technical procedure for making gems, the verneuil process involves grinding up the raw material, superheating it, and dripping it onto an “earthen support rod.” The end result of the process is a “boule” at the tip of all the accumulated melted matter that crystallizes into the manmade ruby/whatever, which is broken off the support rod and sinter cone to be faceted and sold.
For more information on this process, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verneuil_process
Applying a similar process to create a poem is not new. Many poets suggest taking a favorite line of poetry, writing a poem using the “stolen” line as a first line, and then knocking the line off the finished poem. I was once in a workshop with C.D. Wright where she changed this up a little bit by taking a line at random out of a novel.
My thought is that the “support rod” for a poem doesn’t need to be literary. A line of directions, journalism, one stolen from a sibling’s diary or the letter of a famous person, or for that matter off the back of a cereal box might all work.
My suggestion for today: “The cartoonist beloved by GIs and regular guys”