Friday, November 24, 2006


I'm so full of my stuffing I can't bear the thought of turning my brain on, but just in case you overate less than I and are looking for a little something, here are two links that showed up in my email recently and which are work a look:

Josh Wallaert at the University of Minnesota has a new blog in which he posts entries from the first edition of Webster's American Dictionary (1828). I was skeptical of his claim to their being "found poems" until I read the entry for "badger":

Badger, n.

A quadruped of the genus Ursus, of a clumsy make, with short, thick legs, and long claws on the fore feet. It inhabits the north of Europe and Asia, burrows, is indolent and sleepy, feeds by night on vegetables, and is very fat.

Its skin is used for pistol furniture; its flesh makes good bacon, and its hair is used for brushes to soften the shades in painting. The American badger is called the ground hog, and is sometimes white.

Fun stuff. If you're interested at all in the evolution of language (and if you're a regular here, my guess is that you are), check out Webster's Daily.

Also. Martha Brockenbrough has a new column on playing with kids over at "In The Name of Fun". First of all, everything Cranium does is bound to be cool, but Martha's spins are always entertaining and she's got a gift for capturing the parental epiphany.

From the first entry:

If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you have kids. That means you could be doing dishes right now. You could be picking up dirty socks, or maybe signing permission slips, driving to soccer practice, or encouraging someone — anyone? Please? — to practice good oral hygiene.

Honestly though, I hope you’re taking this moment for yourself, because that’s what I’m doing.

Bound to become part of my weekly checklist.

That's it. I can't think anymore. I wonder if there's any more apple-cranberry jam....

Monday, November 20, 2006

Five Books, Part III

Tina Kelley’s poems consistently contain two of the qualities that are essential to successful, memorable poetry: they apply language in a precise manner, conscious of both sound and definition, and they make extraordinary observations in unexpected places. Further, she is playful in both situation and voice, which showcases those essential qualities in novel, often fascinating ways. In The Gospel of Galore, her first book, she imagines a letter from God to humanity, considers labrador retrievers as both Gods and a school teacher, and projects herself as the blood in her lover’s veins and as a kite. Kelley’s passion for precision is incredible, and her deeply developed sense of wonder are simply unmatched; this uncommon combination makes her an essential read for people who are exploring poetry’s capabilities.

In “The Word Kite”, Kelley uses names from other languages to capture the way we sometimes describe things that are difficult to describe:

In Italian, it’s cervo volente, flying red deer. In French, flying stag.
In Germany, it’s the same word as dragon. In Japan, octopus.
The Spanish cometa suggests the stars, and fengzheng, in China,
is the wind’s stringed instrument. Kite for us is predatory bird,

from the Old English cyta, for which “no related word appears
in the cognate languages,” though we know now that kites
were once used by virgins, midwives and surviving twin sisters
to hang their laundry up to dry.

She routinely asks questions that are anything but routine, as in “I Love A Man Who Gave Blood Thirty Times”:

And everywhere I go, I think Do you have a pint of him, honey?
Does the sweet health and consideration running through him
run through you, too?

The Gospel of Galore contains also a number of poems based on bird names, birdsong, and almost-found poems from old Audobon guides, and makes magnificent connections, such as “Other Names”:

Remind me of the Scrabble words when I have too few vowels:
the strany, the tysty, wagell and wamp. Particularly the quandy,
the marrock willock scuttock, kelinky,
murre and gwilym, kiddaw and skiddaw.

Tina Kelley crafts poems to hang in the corners of rooms that most people would walk through without stopping, poems that create moments that become irreplaceable, once you become aware of them. Word on the street is that she has another book ready for a smart publisher to snap up. I'll be first in line with my preorder.

Next up: Something from outside New Jersey.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Five Books of Poetry Everyone Should Read, Part Two

Bill Watterson once remarked (through his alter-ego Calvin) that “People who are nostalgic for childhood were obviously never children". Catherine Doty’s book Momentum proves that statement wrong. In her poems, Doty deals turns the fear and anxiety of childhood into funny and powerful moments without resorting to imposing her the filter and judgment of adult voice on her former self.

In “For May is the Month of Our Mother”, she recalls what she learned from breaking a statue of Mary:

… I learned then to use something right
or leave it alone. No, I didn’t. I learned twelve-inch Virgin,
polystyrene, luminous ivory, black beads in screw-off bottom
ran $4.95, or twenty weeks of allowance.

In “Curriculim Vitae”. she inverts the normal model for this summary of a life by listing all its mistakes, instead of its successes:

… All the attempts,
like the fish tanks of your childhood,
begun in eager greed and soon to fail,
twenty-five gallons of well-lit bouillabaisse.

This book is filled with characters she feared and loved, imitated and avoided, and they will be familiar to you whether or not you have in your past a neighbor who recorded her son’s BMs on a calendar in the kitchen. You’ll have to get the book for that one.

But for me, the real magic of this book is that it creates metaphorical moments without betraying its sentiment, applies skillful use of language without contriving the behavior or speech of the remembered characters it presents to us.

Momentum is a book I insist people read before they tell me they “don’t like poetry”. It has changed minds, believe me. Don’t make me come over there and read it to you.

Next in our series: Tina Kelley and The Gospel of Galore.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

A List that Reaches Out, Not In

I was checking out Wil Wheaton’s “Five Books Every Geek Should Read"* when something struck me: It’s been a theme among the bloggers I follow recently to talk about what’s important about “us” to “us”. Like geek books for geeks, poetry books for poets, modern philosophy books for modern philosophers, etc.

Maybe I’m unique, but rather than publishing possible credentials for membership in a club I’m already in, I’m more interested in being an ambassador of sorts for people outside the club. I find myself in this position naturally a lot anyway: I’m more deeply involved in the arts than many of my business and technical colleagues, but more aware of issues in business and technology than my artist friends; my personal politics are way to the left of most of my family, and way to the right of most of the people I encounter in the pursuit of poetry; I’m by profession and nature a developer of new products and new ideas, but I’m by hobby (inherited from my father) a student of the past and an occasionally voracious reader of history, etc., etc., etc.

All of which is a long way of saying: Hey, Wil Wheaton, as respected and linguistically gifted ubergeek, how about a list of 5 Books People Who Want to Know More About Geeks Should Read, That They’ll Find Enough Interesting Content in to Want to Finish, but Which Are Representative Enough of Geekdom to Reach Them and Hopefully Change Them a Little?

Granted, that’s a crappy title for a blog entry, but you know what I mean.

Let me put my money where my mouth is and give you “Five Books of Poetry Everyone Should Read”, with the idea that it will be a bibliography of reasonable length which I suggest you read before you attempt to credibly tell me that you “don’t like poetry”.

I want to roll this out one book at a time with enough exposition to be meaningful, and this entry is already 3 scroll-clicks too long, so the first selection is short with more to come later:

First up, the shortest collection in the bunch and therefore the least intimidating place to start, is
BJ Ward’s 17 Love Poems with No Despair. The title is an obvious nod to Neruda, but the collection is a Whitman’s Sampler of love poems that have something for everyone. My favorite opening lines, from “Coffee”:

Honey, I hate mornings
like a dead leg hates a polka

Within the covers of 17 Love Poems..., you'll find both classic themes and references to members of the Justice League of America. If you love now or have loved once, have read Neruda or have never read Neruda, know who Zan and Jana are or didn't watch ABC on Saturday mornings in the seventies, you will find something to impress you in this slender volume. More on this book in the wrap up entry at the end of the list, which I promise to you, my six devoted readers, will be less than eight weeks from now (which my geek friends have already projected base on the average post density over the past few months, making certain allowances for impending holidays but my artist friends think is ridiculous because of the obvious passion contained in this entry....).

Next entry, with a more meaningful treatment: Cat Doty’s

* A quick note: You can get to Wil Wheaton’s column from the WWdN link at right, but be aware that his column is hosted by a website that contains some content your business, family, and maternal filters will find questionable, so I’ll leave it to you to go read the original list if you like