#AuthorFail 10: Laura Goldstein

Um, well, this is embarrassing: if you checked this post this morning between 9 am – 9:26, you would have found an incomplete entry: devoid of this snappy opening, and truncated, it the main text, from its full form.

Could it be that #AuthorFail has had its first fail?  Would this then equal success.

I feel miserable, I mean happy…I mean, well, something else.

As Jean Francois Lyotard notes in The Inhuman, the sun will burn out one day.  Thus, all human activity is under the sign of this eventual catastrophe (no, I don’t think he considers widespread space colonization). I wonder if the sun will fail in its great and final task, to burn into nothing.

When you look into the sky today, enjoy the steaming ball of ambivalence–before that, enjoy this serious failure of a column from Laura Goldstein.

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On the Occasion of My Son’s 3rd Birthday

Joseph Millar is one of my favorite poets, and a faculty member in the MFA program I attended. Today my son, Lincoln turns three and it reminded me of hearing Millar read his poem, “American Wedding” during one of our MFA residencies. It’s a poem about his daughter’s wedding. My son wasn’t born yet at this point, it was January and he was due in June. I’d only recently started to come to grips with the idea of parenthood, I was slowly emerging from the fear of it all. I listened to Millar read this poem and a few minutes later I was taking a piss and it hit me that one day I would be watching my little boy get married, have kids, and a million things between his birth and adulthood and beyond.  Today, as I’m watching my son transform from infant to toddler, from diaper-wearing to fully potty-trained, and a million other minor milestones only parents keep track of, I once again found myself thinking of Millar, and “American Wedding” and wanting to share. So, watch this video of Millar reading this fantastic poem:


Announcing the launch of MadHat Press with a poetry chapbook competitio​n

MadHat Press is the non-profit imprint arm of the multimedia e-zine, Mad Hatters’ Review and a production of MadHat Arts Inc.  MadHat Press seeks to foster the work of writers and poets: explosive, lyrical, passionate, deeply wrought voices that stretch the boundaries of language, narrative and image, vital and enduring literary voices that sing on the page as well as in the mind.

Formerly based out of New York City, now at home in Asheville, North Carolina, and with our Managing Editor currently situated in Reykjavik, Iceland, MadHat Press is open to authors of all creeds and distinctions, from the emerging to the emergent, from the multicultural to the insolent. For a list of some of our contributors over the years, click on the Mad Hatters’ Review tab.

To inaugurate the official birth of MadHat Press, CAConrad, Philly poet extraordinaire and author of the gripping collection, The Book of Frank (Wave 2010), will be judging the first poetry chapbook competition. Future MadHat Press chapbook competitions will include flash-fiction, short story, and novella categories. Continue reading

A poem for Thursday: “Present Tense,” Harryette Mullen, from Sleeping with the Dictionary.

“Now that my ears are connected to a random answer machine, the wrong brain keeps talking through my hat. Now that I’ve been licked all over by the English tongue, my common law spout is suing for divorce. Now that the Vatican has confessed and the White House has issued an apology, I can forgive everything and forget nothing. Now the overdrawn credits roll as the bankrupt star drives a patchwork cab to the finished line, where a broke robot waves a mended tablecloth, which is the stale flag of a checkmate career. Now that the history of civilization has been encrypted on a medium grain of rice, it’s taken the starch out of the stuffed shorts. Now as the Voice of America crackles and fades, the market reports that today the Euro hit a new low. Now as the reel unravels, our story unwinds with the curious dynamic of an action flick without a white protagonist.”

Contemporary Verse Novels: The Anxiety of Reading Poems and Kimiko Hahn’s THE UNBEARABLE HEART

This book undoes a lot of the anxiety I have as someone who has to read a lot of poetry and has yet to discover more than two or three books of poems that I actually like and would want to read again.

Does that sounds shitty and ignorant?

I mean it, though. And this is one of the reasons I’m so drawn to book-length poems. I like narrative. I like characters. And plot and setting and drama. And while some may argue that these exist in poetry collections, I’ll say they’re easier to settle into and enjoy in book-length poems (or contemporary verse novels, which I have written about a lot here).

I mean, I have a lot of anxiety. Am I alone when I say that poetry is hard. It’s not like you can just pick up a book of poems and dive in and just read, and when I say read I mean, you know, read, like the way you did when you were a kid, or the way you do when you pick up a magazine or your favorite guilty pleasure novels (mine are those romance novels that feature neurotic career women who find love in the most unlikely suitors). These books fly by, you know? They’re easy, they offer a better world to escape to, and they don’t take forever to read.

Poetry, though. Sooo different.

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Contemporary Verse Novels: Carson, Saterstrom, Conrad, the Roubauds, Boully, and Ruefle

What is a beginning? What is an ending? What makes a particular grouping of words become a poem or a story or a fiction or a non-fiction? And do these labels, these distinctions, even matter?

For anyone who does not know, I’ve been reading and thinking about books that may or may not fit into the category of Contemporary Verse Novels. In attempting to define “contemporary verse novel,” I turned to several presses, books, and authors that I wanted to study and better understand.


Contemporary Verse Novel


Novel in Verse (vs. Novel vs. Poetry)

I first looked at Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red, Selah Saterstrom’s The Pink Institution, and C. A. Conrad’s The Book of Frank. In grouping together these three books, I examined the role of family as both familiar and unfamiliar to readers. I spent some time discussing the mother/son relationship in Autobiography, the abusive father in Pink, and the strange mother who keeps jars of fetuses in Frank. In better understanding the families, readers also gain further entrance into the lives and minds of the protagonists. Whether fiction or non-fiction, poetry or short story collection, family is a solid theme that many authors write about.

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New Work for New Devices

At the Consumer Electronics Show a few weeks ago, at least 100 new tablets were revealed. A minority of these were e-readers, including a “Multimedia Novel” by Pandigital that comes preloaded with Barnes and Noble’s Nookbook store. Exciting name, but not such an exciting device other than its under-$300 price tag. With very few exceptions, the texts one can read on these devices are digital versions of existing books and magazines. I’d like to share with you one of these exceptions, the iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch app What They Speak When They Speak to Me by Jason Lewis.

What They Speak screenshot

Screenshot of iPhone version

The digital page opens on a jumble of translucent white letters on a black background, slowly jostling one another. I shook my iPad, wondering if the letters might bunch together and form words. Nada. I dragged a finger across the screen, leaving a thin white line on which letters started to gather like pigeons on a telephone wire. So one reads by creating a surface for the phrases, line by line. It’s a simple and satisfying interaction, just a finger swipe. Reminds me of the act of turning a page, which of course also makes text “magically appear” on the next sheet of paper. But there is something more playful and exciting about watching the letters come together before your eyes, I caught myself starting to predict what the words were about to speak to me. I was also reminded of a beautiful talk by Virginia Woolf where she asks us to “Look once more at the dictionary. There beyond a doubt lie plays more splendid than Antony and Cleopatra; poems lovelier than the Ode to a Nightingale; novels beside which Pride and Prejudice or David Copperfield are the crude bunglings of amateurs. It is only a question of finding the right words and putting them in the right order.”

But why is it important to make the reader work for the words, tease them out of a chaos of letters? Why not just write the darn poem out flat? Is it a desire to expand reading to embrace seeing and touching? Interestingly, this work is listed under the Entertainment category rather than Books on the iTunes App Store.

What they Speak is only 99 cents at the iTunes App Store. Support your local digital media writer! As tablets become more and more visible, I’m hopeful that bit by bit (har har) we’ll see more fine writing produced specifically for this new reading surface. Fellow readers, have any of you published for this platform yet? What do you think of the experience of reading on a tablet?

Between Blog and Book: Mairéad Byrne’s The Best of (What’s Left Of) Heaven

Publishing Genius, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-9820813-5-8
208 pages

A kind of Lydia Davis of the poetry world, Mairéad Byrne is an absolute whiz at the short poem; she excels at the one-line poem, the two-line poem, the one word poem, the brief list, the permutational riff, the conversational aside, the set-up and punchline, the Objectivist observation, the found fragment, the compressed paragraph, the precise and neatly cropped haiku.  In what will undoubtedly become a classic ars poetica (mischievously titled “Donald Hall Would Hate Me”), she says,

My poems are usually brief
they resemble each other
they are anecdotal
they do not extend themselves
they make no great claims
they connect small things to other small things


While it is tempting to dub her a miniaturist, an inveterate tinkerer of small verbal machines, I don’t want to detract from Byrne’s truly holistic vision — her conception of poetry as a lived practice that exists within time, as an active and encompassing mode of being. The “small things” that are her poems connect to each other in such enriching and dialogic ways that The Best of (What’s Left Of) Heaven becomes, in the process of reading, greater than the sum of its constitutive parts. Taken as a whole it amounts to an oftentimes comedic, sometimes steely-eyed, but ultimately compassionate manifesto on how to live life poetically: how to find, in our post-modern world, what will suffice — and, alternately, how to re-calibrate our perception so that we can fully experience, in the words of Shelley, the “wonder of our being.”

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Michael Palmer vs. Michael Palmer: The Mash-Up

In the tradition of Godzilla vs. Mothra…

…I give you Michael Palmer vs. Michael Palmer!

[Michael Palmer (born May 11, 1943, New York, NY) is a contemporary American poet and translator.]

[Michael Palmer, M.D. (born October 9, 1942, Springfield, Mass.) is the author of fifteen novels, often called medical thrillers.]

[from Publisher's Weekly:
Hieratic, hypnotic, at times apocalyptic, Palmer's 10th volume (his first since 2001) offers more of the serious pleasures and delvings that have won him admiration over 30 years.]

[from Publisher's Weekly:
Palmer's 10th medical thriller rides on his usual wave of unrelenting adrenaline, and will make readers think twice the next time they're due for a routine vaccination.]

Now, without further adieu, the first page of Company of Moths re-mixed and mingled with the first page of Fatal:

IT HAD STARTED WITH A SORE THROAT. Nattie was really sick and Nadine had the discomfort of forgetting whether the hierophant had bathed the antibiotics in invisible water or artificial light. She knew the cold had gotten progressively worse. The pounding headache and the talking mosaic told her so — that her scratchy throat would project a diffuse song beneath the elements, as snow going down in the season of fire. After the first treatment, she remembered when the exact moment, despite its dailiness, was scented in fire.

In the abandoned clinic, doctors were consuming green beans, chicken nuggets, and Hashish Pudding for dessert. Across the raised glass counter, fragments of dioramas suddenly lined up in unison, swelling the sphinx-like eddies of Night. From the thresholds of the hospital — The Passage was beginning to remember the season of nothing, the tales from before her fiery pain was writ with nothing more than long oaks and the oils of thought.

There, the ship sweats in the rain while time divides its name in half…

Now we go toward The Moth.

Above the glass cedars, The Moth was seen as a shining wax sail enfolding in flames. The red winds were beginning to cough the iron ornaments of morning.

And the moon did not appear that night to scatter these sick heads from our bodies.

The Varieties of Poetic Experience

A while ago I began to solicit videos of friends and associates reading/performing/interpreting poems from my collection, In This Alone Impulse, in exchange for a copy of said collection. A dozen or so videos into this project, I’m amazed and impressed by the range of attitude, voice and dimension the videos have exhibited. Each of these videos represents not just a reading, but a unique response to poetry, and in that respect I think they’re quite valuable and interesting art-ifacts.

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Video Two Ways.

1. It’s been over a year since I first saw Roderick Coover’s video The Theory of Time Here (there’s a teeny video preview available; click the teeny blinking camcorder icon), created in collaboration with writer Deb Unferth. I still can’t get it out of my head. Footage of London traffic and passersby plays harmony to computer voiceover melody in this six-and-a-half-minute jewel of a piece. Cars and people are shot in a way that makes them seem like words and phrases traveling back and forth across the screen, a kind of spoken-word Ballet Mécanique. If the repetitive, speaking-clock voice (“At the tone / everyone went / was / was already / now is not / everyone was not”) were perfectly timed with the frequent visual cuts, the effect would have been trite. Instead, the slightly-off timing gives the voice a force, as if it is controlling the minute workings of the city. Unlike most works of writing in digital media, this one can be purchased: a DVD is available from the Video Data Bank.

The Theory of Time Here by Roderick Coover, Deb Unferth

Stills: Roderick Coover

2. This evening I attended a tech networking event, full of freelancers and start-up fever. One of the presenters demonstrated speakertext, which pairs YouTube videos with its text transcription. The transcription is done by the human drones of Amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk service. With speakertext, you can search through the video via text, pull out a quote and use it to link to a precise moment within the stream. Flexible, mutable, and quick to travel over the Internet, text is the ultimate digital interface. The speakertext system is begging for creative use; someone has to do a writing piece with it. Get your video on and save us from copy/paste utility.

“Let us remember…that in the end we go to poetry for one reason…”

I firmly believe that poetry serves a range of cultural functions and I tend to bristle when someone says otherwise. Enter Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry, and his following statement that I got in the mail yesterday along with information trying to convince me to subscribe to the magazine:

Let us remember…that in the end we go to poetry for one reason, so that we might more fully inhabit our lives and the world in which we live them, and that if we more fully inhabit these things, we might be less apt to destroy both.

I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t appreciate the assumption that we all read poetry for “one reason.”

The Poetry Foundation, which received a $200 million gift from the late heiress Ruth Lilly, was in the news a few weeks ago because of recent allegations of “questionable governance and management practices.”

I would add to these grievances questionable proofreading. I think the promotional card should have read:

Let us remember…that in the end we go to Poetry for one reason…

So along with blowing “$1 million on a Web site and a brow-raising $706,000 on a survey to determine poetry’s place in American life today,” the foundation needs to worry about firing the intern who missed the capital “P” and italics.