Wednesday, August 31, 2011

When There's Too Much Good Music, You Get Two

Last week, I received my contributor copies of the Threepenny Review. It's a knock-out, and I'm honored to share space with writers I've admired for a long time: C.K. Williams (on the same page!), Dean Young, David Wagoner, Anne Carson, Kay Ryan, Roberto Bolano, and too many more to name. Get yourself a copy! Or, better still, subscribe!


In the spirit of football season, here's a great poem from Poetry Daily by Elizabeth Poliner, who just joined the permanent faculty at Hollins (lucky for Hollins, lucky for her). If you're in the thick of applying to MFAs, you should definitely consider Hollins. For me, it was perfect, and I'd be happy to answer any questions poetry applicants may have. And, while I value the spirit and intention of Seth Abramson's rankings, I think it'd be foolish to not look beyond them (and I'm not alone). I can't fathom some of the intricacies behind Hollins' recent movements in the rankings. The fact that we're ranked so high in non-fiction is evidence of how far the rankings are off the mark, not because Hollins doesn't have an excellent non-fiction program (it does), but because you can't find one writer on faculty who would classify themselves as an essayist (they'd likely all just call themselves writers, as they should, damn good ones, at that). And if you look at the last 5 years of graduates, you could probably count the 'non-fiction writers' on one hand. It's one of those situations where the perceived doesn't even begin to do justice to the reality. Okay, I'm off my soap-box. I just love that place so much, I want other people to have the chance to love it, too.


It’s important for people interested in a teaching job in creative writing to get a sense of what you’ll be up against with your debt load and current publication record. There are a handful of jobs for hundreds if not thousands of job seekers who are all highly credentialed. Of the available positions currently listed, 4 are in fiction, 5 are in poetry, 8 are open and 4 positions are for visiting lectureships. It is early in the job season, so more positions will likely be posted but not many. I would guess there will be 40-50 available positions in creative writing. Some of these searches will be cancelled when funding is pulled. Some of these searches will be run even though there are inside candidates. (The wiki will often have this information, which is nice.) When you compare that to the number of graduate students going on the market in the next couple years, the imbalance is pretty stark.

This seems ever pertinent as I eye my first serious foray into applying for a job teaching creative writing at the university level. Let's just say, I'm hopeful, but not optimistic.


From the beginning, the spectacle of doomed people jumping from the upper floors of the World Trade Center resisted redemption. They were called "jumpers" or "the jumpers," as though they represented a new lemminglike class. The trial that hundreds endured in the building and then in the air became its own kind of trial for the thousands watching them from the ground. No one ever got used to it; no one who saw it wished to see it again, although, of course, many saw it again. Each jumper, no matter how many there were, brought fresh horror, elicited shock, tested the spirit, struck a lasting blow. Those tumbling through the air remained, by all accounts, eerily silent; those on the ground screamed. It was the sight of the jumpers that prompted Rudy Giuliani to say to his police commissioner, "We're in uncharted waters now." It was the sight of the jumpers that prompted a woman to wail, "God! Save their souls! They're jumping! Oh, please God! Save their souls!" And it was, at last, the sight of the jumpers that provided the corrective to those who insisted on saying that what they were witnessing was "like a movie," for this was an ending as unimaginable as it was unbearable: Americans responding to the worst terrorist attack in the history of the world with acts of heroism, with acts of sacrifice, with acts of generosity, with acts of martyrdom, and, by terrible necessity, with one prolonged act of -- if these words can be applied to mass murder -- mass suicide.

-via Esquire


-Tom Perrotta, via NPR


I was already sold on Trombone Shorty because of his cameos in Treme, but after seeing him at Bumbershoot, I'm a fan for life. Thanks to Oliver de la Paz for hipping me to this most excellent video.


Why don't millions of high-schoolers buy Macklemore records instead of Lil' Wayne records?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Only Things That Make Lots of Money Should Exist

Grateful to have my poem "Psalm for Third Base" featured over at THEthe Poetry. Big thanks to Brian Chappell for featuring the poem, and to C. Dale Young and the New England Review for first publishing it.


Despite sounding like he's singing a blues song about the disappointing seats in his new Jaguar, an MFA grad does have the right to question and critique the value of his expensive education. Yet, when you question the intrinsic value of an arts education for everyone else, the cynical attitude is revealed to be very close to the neo-con belief that the arts don't pay so there should be no arts education. Of course, success being relative, it's always difficult to quantify the value of the arts. If, as its publisher claims, Jonathan Franzen's "The Corrections" sold 3 million copies, then it netted no more money than "Saw 3D." Now, according to the theory that only things that make lots of money should exist, and because the most critically discussed literary novel of the last decade--by an author with no MFA at that--only made as much money as an underperforming 3D sequel, we should rethink this whole MFA thing.


Yet there is one manifestation of good manners that appears to have exactly the opposite purpose, a form of social lubrication that makes a mockery of everyone connected to it. I refer to the Facebook birthday greeting. The Facebook birthday greeting has become a symbol of all that is irritating about the social network. Every April 11 or June 7 or Sept. 28, your Facebook account suddenly chatters with exclamation-point-polluted birthday wishes. If you are a typical Facebook user, these greetings come mainly from your nonfriend friends—that group of Facebook "friends" who don't intersect with your actual friends. The wishes have all the true sentiment of a Christmas card from your bank. The barrage of messages isn't unpleasant, exactly, but it's all too obvious that the greetings are programmed, canned, and impersonal, prompted by a Facebook alert. If, as Facebook haters claim, the social network alienates us from genuine friendship, the Facebook birthday greeting is the ultimate example of its fakery.

via Slate


SEATTLE — Already, a gender divide seems to be developing over the desirability of being launched into space, at least in the Bordian family, who were visiting the Space Needle here the other day, staring out at the cloudy cityscape and mulling the tower’s latest promotionalcontest — for a suborbital spaceflight, 62 miles above the earth.

via NYT. Our city is sending citizens into space, no big deal.


“They created this kind of world that was just the four of us, and they allowed us to be weird, as weird as we wanted to be without making us feel like we were strange,” he said. “And so I thought about a lot of that with the Fangs. The weirdness exists, but you don’t comment on it. It’s just the world that you’ve made for yourself. And it’s the same thing that Leigh Anne and I are doing with Griff, trying to build this weird world for him and see what happens.”

The family lives outside Sewanee on the edge of a one-acre pond in a thicket of woods teeming with rabbits, bats and deer. Inside the house signs of Griff, 3, were everywhere: a basket of toys near the wood-burning fireplace, a child-size canvas swing from Ikea hanging from the ceiling and a remote-controlled train set taking up most of Ms. Couch’s office upstairs, where she writes her poetry on a drafting desk in the corner.

-A great profile on Kevin Wilson from the New York Times. I'm currently flying through his novel, The Family Fang. It's the best book I've read all year and it more than deserves the attention it's been getting.


Ballard, what.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Negligent Blogger Returns, Hang-Doggedly

I have been a bad blogger. Too many things have happened to try and compress and recapitulate them here. Suffice to say: life moves pretty fast. Summer is here, which means: good weather, good people, good poems. That triumvirate hasn't left much time for blogging, but I'm doing what I can to stay plugged in with you amazing folks. Onwards.


I am not perfectly certain what our forefathers understood by “the pursuit of happiness.” Of the friends whom I’ve asked for an opinion, the majority have taken that phrase to mean the pursuit of self-realization, or of a full humane life. Some darker-minded people, however, have translated “happiness” as material well-being, or as the freedom to do as you damn please. I can’t adjudicate the matter, but even if the darker-minded people are right, we are entitled to ennoble the phrase and adapt it to the present purpose. I’m going to say a few things about the ways in which poetry might be seen as pursuing happiness.

Richard Wilbur on poetry and happiness over at Shenadoah, from a lecture he delivered in 1969


Killer first line of the moment:

"Oil drunk,"

from Henry Hughes' "Skeleton Pirates of America"
(Moist Meridian, Mammoth Books, 2009)

I was lucky to share a cabin with Henry for the last few days at Fishtrap, when I came down from the rural Outpost workshop. He's a great guy, and a damn fine poet. Plus, he caught a ginormous fish while we were up there.


A really nice exploration by David Orr of both Ammons (wonderful) work and what it means to be living a life hundreds of miles from home soil.