Thursday, March 29, 2012

Even the Best Voices Have to Mumble Through

A very sad day for language and stories, losing Adrienne Rich, Earl Scruggs, and Harry Crews all on the same day. Rich was one of my mother's favorite poets and eventually, one of mine:


This apartment full of books could crack open
to the thick jaws, the bulging eyes
of monsters, easily: Once open the books, you have to face
the underside of everything you’ve loved—
the rack and pincers held in readiness, the gag
even the best voices have to mumble through,
the silence burying unwanted children—
women, deviants, witnesses—in desert sand.
Kenneth tells me he’s been arranging his books
so he can look at Blake and Kafka while he types;
yes; and we still have to reckon with Swift
loathing the woman’s flesh while praising her mind,
Goethe’s dread of the Mothers, Claudel vilifying Gide,
and the ghosts—their hands, clasped for centuries—
of artists dying in childbirth, wise-women charred at the stake,
centuries of books unwritten piled behind these shelves;
and we still have to stare into the absence
of men who would not, women who could not, speak
to our life—this still unexcavated hole
called civilization, this act of translation, this half-world.

-from The Dream of a Common Language by Adrienne Rich (W.W. Norton, 1978)


When Trayvon Martin was killed, he was wearing a hoodie and somehow, this hoodie has become one of the focal points of the growing and necessary conversation about this young man’s death, the justice he deserves, and the racial climate in this country that makes a grown man with a gun perceive a 17 year old holding Skittles as a threat because of his skin color. I will admit to having not known that a hoodie was some kind of universal symbol for criminality. I teach on a college campus and I see probably five hundred hoodies a day on young men and women from all walks of life. In my world, a hoodie is a useful piece of clothing. That is a privilege, too, I suppose. When it comes to discussing Trayvon Martin and race, it is important to remember that the hoodie is beside the point. Discussing the hoodie is the same as discussing what a woman was wearing if she was raped. What was George Zimmerman wearing when he shot Trayvon Martin? Did his outfit contribute to his paranoia and vigilantism? Discussing the hoodie is as ridiculous as trying to come up with an answer to that question.

-Roxanne Gay at The Rumpus



I'm all for efforts like these. But why so much emphasis on what goes into our mouths, and so little on what goes into our minds? What about having fun while exerting greater control over what goes into your brain? Why hasn't a hip alliance emerged that's concerned about what happens to our intellectual health, our country, and, yes, our happiness when we consume empty-calorie entertainment? The Slow Food manifesto lauds "quieter pleasures" as a means of opposing "the universal folly of Fast Life"—yet there's little that seems more foolish, loudly unpleasant, and universal than the screens that blare in every corner of America (at the airport, at the gym, in the elevator, in our hands). "Fast" entertainment, consumed mindlessly as we slump on the couch or do our morning commute, pickles our brains—and our souls.



Sunday, March 18, 2012

March Gladness

Are you watching these basketball games? Holy moly.





Indeed, though soundscape ecology has hardly begun, natural soundscapes already face a crisis. Humans have irrevocably altered the acoustics of the entire globe — and our racket continues to spread. Missing or altered voices in a soundscape tend to indicate broader environmental problems. For instance, at least one invasive species, the red-billed leiothrix of East Asia, appears to use its clamorous chatter to drown out the native European blackbird in Northern Italy. Noise can mask mating calls, cause stress and prevent animals from hearing alarms, the stirrings of prey and other useful survival cues. And as climate change prompts a shift in creatures’ migration schedules, circadian rhythms and preferred habitats — reshuffling the where and when of their calls — soundscapes are altered, too. Soundscape ecologists hope they can save some ecosystems, but they also realize they will bear witness to many finales. “There may be some very unique soundscapes around the world that — just through normal human activities — would be lost forever,” Pijanowski says — unless he and colleagues can record them before they disappear. An even more critical task, he thinks, is alerting people to the way “soundscapes provide us with a sense of place” and an emotional bond with the natural world that is unraveling. As children, our grandparents could hope to swim in a lake or lie in a meadow for whole afternoons without hearing a motorboat, car or plane; today the engineless hour is all but extinct, and we’ve grown accustomed to constant, mild auditory intrusions. “Humans are becoming an increasingly more urban species, and so we’re surrounding ourselves with concrete and buildings” and “the low hum of the urban landscape,” Pijanowski says. “We’re kind of severing the acoustic link that humans have with nature.”



Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Slightly Mesmerizing

Still trucking out here in the Northwest. Working, writing, and revising. For the first time in what seems like ages, not submitting relentlessly. It feels good to let the poems breathe a bit, to let them shift and speak and grow. I'm writing 7 poems in 7 days with some tremendously talented folks, which has me energized and writing forward.


For me, beautiful poems (or stories) are as we are all describing them: volatile examinations of the world. I don’t especially care what corner of the world is being examined, or in what tone or style or vernacular. The crucial thing is my unconscious sense that the speaker cannot stop herself. Whenever I have occasion to teach, I always inflict on my students stories and poems that reinforce this urgency, and broaden their sense of how language can be used. Barry Hannah. Emily Dickinson. Stephen Elliot. The freaks and obsessives who run howling toward the shame, with only their precision as a shield. I love to reach those moments in a piece where the reader is suddenly implicated in the madness. To be joined to the reader, made more common, less alone. It hardly ever happens for me, and never as a poet. But it does happen.

-Great conversation between Steve Almond, Timothy Donnelly, Matthew Zapruder, and Ange Mlinko over at APR




Mr. Gilbert’s career-embracing “Collected Poems” is, however, a revelation, almost certainly among the two or three most important books of poetry that will be published this year. His poetry is helped, not hurt, by this context and relative abundance. Around this book’s margins a scruffy and blood-warm autobiography emerges.

-Heading to Open Books this week to pick up my copy...


Is there anything worse than watching yourself talk? Seriously mortifying. Still, huge thanks to 32 Poems for allowing me to read with such a stellar line-up, and to Smartish Pace for co-hosting and making the video. AWP was awesome and exhausting.