Friday, November 30, 2007

Blackout

A friend wrote me of travel delays caused by train strikes in Europe right now. It reminded me of my most memorable travel delay.

While en route from Seattle to Basel (through New York, Milan, and Zurich), we landed at Kennedy Airport five minutes after the August '03 blackout began. This would have been a horrible experience, but one of the two flights that left during the night was our flight to Milan, so for us the tragedy was a comedy: an extra six-hour layover with a three-year-old, but when we took off from Kennedy, it was 12:30 a.m., so Miles went right to sleep (it being 9:30 p.m. in Seattle), and he slept straight through to Milan.

Plus there was an Israeli youth orchestra stranded at the airport, and the kids serenaded people for several hours.

I did write a poem about it, but it never quite came together. Here's where it was when I abandoned it.

BLACKOUT

Rumor stumbles round in JFK,
Terminal One, International Flights.

Our flight from Seattle arrived just after the lights
went out. Deplaning was delayed:

there weren't enough mechanical stairs to go round.
AM radio was on the intercom for a few moments

of fumbling speculation: "We cannot rule out
terrorism; we cannot rule out terrorism."

Freed when our plane's turn for the stairs came,
we followed unlit TRANSFER signs here

to our puny little corner with a view
of the Alitalia check-in counter.

The bathrooms are lit by emergency power.
The toilets are still flushing; one faucet's stuck.

The travelers are sprawled across the floor like cattle
chewing cuds, only it's cake and nuts,

all that's left at the cafés and fast-food outlets
staying open to sell their perishables.

Humor mumbles up and keeps us cool
as the air surrenders its condition.

Every hour or two, we hear the news:
the power will return in three or four.

We'll connect to Switzerland; others
to Senegal or Macedonia.

Beside their great wooden boxes, two bright-robed men
from Dakar are leaning against the counter.

The Asian-American woman going to Skopje calls
the Balkans and Los Angeles on her cell.

Sudden music jingles through the hall:
"Stars and Stripes Forever," bringing cheers.

It's an Israeli youth orchestra playing
one last encore at the end of its tour.

They make their way from there to klezmer;
two leaping clarinets accelerando.

Then Alitalia smuggles us through security
and onto a midnight plane, with nobody's luggage.

After transferring to Zurich in Milan,
we will not miss our bags on the train to Basel,
Everywhere, the lights will be on.

*

I recall that I had worked further with it, and the line that I remember liking was something like this:

And nine months later, a round
of babies on the East Coast, and blackout
poems in the little magazines.

I'm not sure whether either of those statistical spikes actually happened. :-)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Oh Forbidden

I read Jill Alexander Essbaum's Oh Forbidden (Pecan Grove Press, 2005) on the bus yesterday. It was a striking experience: the book is a series of sonnets that pretty much all describe sex in extremely explicit ways. So it's not the kind of thing one usually reads on a bus.

And the sonnets provide dozens of different perspectives on sex. Before, during, after; in serious relationships or in one-night (or one-hour) stands; full of new lust or already burned out. It's dizzying enough to read it in one sitting—imagine doing it on a bus! (No, as far as I remember, there is no sonnet here about doing it on a bus.)

This was my favorite, perhaps for its variations on Erica Jong's old "zipless fuck":

I'm lost, lusting, last to leave. You've gone
already, and the party's done. But I'm
drunk as all disaster from the ragtime
waltz we danced. It ended as it had begun:
me, droopy in your arms and woebegone
over what bright, blue eyes you have, my Lamb,
my wooly Woo. We tipped to the doorjamb,
trippingly, your hand at my bra clasp, my thumb
in the band of your briefs. We did it
in the master bath, pressed against the sink.
We were quick, but very quiet. You came
like Christ, as a thief in the night; I split
into halves, a crimson sweet. You polished the wink
of my wet, wistful eye. Then you went home.

There's another poem from the book here.

Poetry and Symbols

Jonathan Mayhew often puts thing wonderfully succinctly. Here's a recent comment of his that I can wholeheartedly affirm, from a post on Lorca and "symbols":

"I don't see poetry as a process of encoding ideas in symbols that the reader then must decode. I understand why anyone who is taught that this is what poetry is might grow up to hate poetry."

As I quoted Lorca a few days ago: "I'll let you know what I see there. Just don't ask me to explain it."

Monday, November 26, 2007

A Book of Lives

I pour the amber
of a poem over it.

"1955, A Recollection"

*

No matter how beautiful that image is, it may imply a poetry that is static and reminiscent—and that is not at all what the poems in Edwin Morgan's A Book of Lives are. A long sequence called "Planet Wave," beginning with "In the Beginning (20 Billion BC)" and concluding with "On the Way to Barnard's Star (2300 AD)" bursts into splendid moments over and over again:

The earth dreams like a dog in a basket,
twitching, it likes to show it is alive.

"The Lisbon Earthquake (1755 AD)"

And look, a finch on the back of a tortoise
as if it had been listening
lifts its beak and begins a singing
so piercing it gives no end to that beginning.

"Darwin in the Galapagos (1835 AD)"

When Hendrix plucked, it was the mane of a lion.

"Woodstock (1969 AD)" [which concludes with a stunning poetic evocation of the fracturings of Hendrix's version of "The Star Spangled Banner"]

*

Long sequences seem to be where Morgan really comes into his own. "Gorgo and Beau" is a dialogue between two cells, one cancerous and one normal. Morgan gives the cruel "Gorgo" the stronger voice (à la Paradise Lost):

"Nothing is more boring than a well-made body."

Beau, the normal cell, is less biting but still beautiful:

"Each one of us is a world, and when its light goes out
It is right to mourn."

"Love and a Life" is a sequence of thirty-odd poems with a striking form: seven lines, the first four and the last relatively long (and varying in length), the fifth and sixth shorter, with an AAAABBA rhyme scheme. It works powerfully, and with enough variety to carry one through the whole sequence, which involves often extremely explicit recollections of (mostly?) gay love affairs. The most striking involves a man who talks Scots and does not want to leave his wife:

"'Ah love ma wife an ma weans. Ah don't go aroon thinkin aboot you day an night.
Ah wahnt tae come in yir mooth, an see thee teeth a yours—see they don't bite!
Ah like ye right enough, but aw that lovey-dovey stuff is pure shite."

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Look We Have Coming to Dover!

Daljit Nagra's debut, Look We Have Coming to Dover! (Faber and Faber, 2007), deserves the attention it has been getting. Nagra "do the people in different voices": the sheer variety of varieties of English here is astonishing. By the end of the book, I found myself slipping into my cheap imitation of Indian English effortlessly, and it usually requires a huge amount of concentration on my part to get into that delightful rhythm.

That said, the two poems that struck me most as individual poems are both in "standard" English: "Parade's End" and "Sajid Naqvi." "Parade's End" memorably describes a "champagne-gold Granada" that belongs to the speaker's father and that is vandalized with acid, while "Sajid Naqvi" describes a young student (a fan of The Smiths) who dies of a "freak heart attack" and is then buried by his family in a ceremony at a mosque, where the only music is "endless hymns from the Koran."

Saturday, November 24, 2007

American Lit Professorship in Basel

Here's the official English text of a job ad at the University of Basel, for various professorships, actually, but the one I care about most is the North American Literature job (which is in the department where I am an English-language, the English Seminar). So get out your resumes, all you people with Ph.D.s who might be interested in moving to Switzerland!

*

The Philosophical-Historical Faculty of the University of Basel has four openings for professors of Linguistics and Literature, to be filled as soon as possible:

Medieval French and General Literature
North American and General Literature
Slavic and General Literature
German Medieval Studies in a European Context

We are looking for people who both teach and do research in these areas and can demonstrate an appropriate breadth and theoretical-methodological variety or the potential necessary for such breadth.

The future strategy of the University of Basel plans to increasingly organize and emphasize research into "Culture" in interdisciplinary terms. Thus, the applicants are expected, beyond their work within their individual institutes and teaching programs, to be willing to do a great deal of interdisciplinary work, to participate in the existing interphilological program "General Literature;" and to be capable of working in a team.

We expect the following specialties from the individual professors:

— Medieval French and General Literature: a historical emphasis on French and European literature of the Early Modern Period.

— North American Literatures and Cultures and General Literature: an emphasis on the methods and theories of Cultural Studies and Literary Theory that have emerged in the United States.

— Slavic and General Literature: an emphasis on Russian should be complemented by expertise in at least one other Slavic culture, preferably Czech.

— German Medieval Studies in a European Context: Emphases on Historical Anthropology, General Literature (Literary Theory and Comparative Literature), and History of Language / Historical Linguistics.

The individual chairs will be filled as "Ordinariat" (Full Professor), "Extraordinariat" (Associate Professor), or tenure-track Assistant Professor, according to the qualifications of the candidates to whom offers are made. In French and English, all teaching is done in the language of study. The University's administrative language is German.

The University of Basel is committed to increasing the number of women among its professors. Applications from women are thus especially welcome.

The University of Basel offers excellent working conditions, modern infrastructure, and an exciting scholarly environment in a relatively small-scale setting (www.unibas.ch). As an autonomous university, the University of Basel depends on the participation of professors in the University administration.

Contact addresses: Applicants with Habilitationen or equivalent qualifications are asked to submit the usual documents (CV, list of publications—without writing samples, list of courses offered, current and planned projects) to the Dekanat der Philosophisch-Historischen Fakultät der Universität Basel, Bernoullistrasse 28, CH-4056 Basel, Switzerland, by December 31, 2007. Further information is available from the Dean, Prof. Ueli Mäder (Tel. 0041 (0)61 267 34 09).

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Animal Bar

Party Shuffle gave me "Animal Bar," by the Red Hot Chili Peppers (from Stadium Arcadium)—what is it with songwriters these days, suddenly including references to "great" novelists? (See also my post on Bright Eyes, "Gold Mine Gutted")

never 21 when everyone's a sailor
coming up strong with the animal bar
ever loving more with mr. norman mailer
turn another page at the animal bar
and it wont be long
no it wont be long
no it wont be long
because it can't be long

The extra touch of irony here, of course, is that Mailer died last week.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Tricked Out Like a Poet

"I'll let you know what I see there. Just don't ask me to explain it." ("In the Forest of the Lunar Grapefruits")

*

Clock Echo

I sat down
in a clearing in time.
It was a pool of silence.
White silence.
Incredible ring
where the bright stars collide
with a dozen floating
black numbers.

*

Might as well say star
as orange.
Riverbed as sky.

("South")

*

By day, the farmhand's
guitar,
by night, Pierrot's
mandolin.

("Three Crepuscular Poems II")

*

And so the boat stops.
There's a rhythmless peace
& I scamper on deck
tricked out like a poet.

("Dreams")

Federico Garcia Lorca, Suites, tr. Jerome Rothenberg, Green Integer, 2001

Jacob and Trintignant

Sam of the Ten Thousand Things posted a stunning still of Irène Jacob from Kieslowski's Rouge. Here's one of Jacob and Jean-Louis Trintigant from the same movie:

What a beautiful movie. I must watch it again soon.

Homeopathy

One thing that drives me nuts is when someone says, "All I know is, I get better with homeopathy."

If that drives you nuts to, you need this: Ben Goldacre's "Bad Science" post about homeopathy.

The extra twist to the article is that Goldacre provides a clear, concise introduction to the contemporary medical application of the scientific method.

There's also a short version of the same thing here (which Goldacre published in Lancet this week).

Here's the beginning of the Lancet piece:

"Five large meta-analyses of homoeopathy trials have been done. All have had the same result: after excluding methodologically inadequate trials and accounting for publication bias, homoeopathy produced no statistically significant benefit over placebo.[1–5] And yet homoeopathy can still be clinically useful."

("[1-5]": that is a footnote in the original.)

Ingredients

Editorial Anonymous is a blog written by a children's book editor (I was tipped off to it by Brian Campbell). This is from a post about what to say in cover letters:

"Showing me that you are aware of the ingredients of a good manuscript rather than simply your reaction to it sets you apart."

That seems to me to nicely capture an important distinction: between one's understanding of how a work of art works and one's response to the work.

To this day, I cannot stand the movie Blue Velvet. But at least I confronted it once (in a class on American films) and now understand both what makes it so powerful and what makes it so disturbing.

Editorial Anonymous continues with a lovely metaphor:

"You know, most people enjoy any cake that is pretty and palatable, and that's about all they can say about it. Other bakers, though, can tell that this one has a good crumb and a touch of nutmeg and that the type of icing is a good match for the texture and sugar content of the cake."

You heard the man you love

I am not much of a Margaret Atwood fan. I have read several of her novels (Surfacing and The Handmaid's Tale, as well as at least one other one, I'm pretty sure), but without being thrilled by them, and I have never been that excited about her poetry, either.

But I like this one, on Poetry Daily today.

He wasn't singing for you, or about you.
He had some other source of joy

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Love in the Time of Cholera

One of my favorite books has been made into a movie. David Denby was not very impressed by the movie (in his review in the New Yorker), but he wrote a beautiful description of the book, Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera:

"The book, moving toward its triumphant conclusion, is a wonder. The long, magnificently adorned sentences—a stately river depositing alluvial riches of Colombian culture, décor, sexuality, humor, and manners into the reader’s heart—are as intoxicating a literary experience as any available to us."

A wonder indeed. One of the most beautiful books I have ever read. "Forever," he said: that is the last line, and I would read it forever if it just kept going.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sacks

A friend of mine sent me a link to an interview with Oliver Sacks about his new book Musicophilia. After I wrote an email to my friend about my (admittedly limited) reading of Sacks, I thought I'd post the comments here.

I've avoided Sacks's books in the past because I have read quite a few of his articles in the New Yorker and have often had a somewhat irritated feeling about them. For example, in his article about an autistic boy who drew spectacularly detailed pen-and-ink drawings of buildings from memory, OS's representation of the case seemed distorted to me because he kept obsessing on the issue of whether such aesthetically successful works could mean anything when they were so clearly not examples of "artistic expression" (given that, OS argued, the autistic boy was not "expressing" himself through his drawings).

That said, I must also admit that I would not care as much about that slight but persistent irritation if I did not otherwise enjoy OS's essays so much.

Inspired Notes

These two paragraphs were in a post at Contest Central, where they are linked to a set of quotations about poetry at a site called fieralingue. Tranströmer's comments (translated by my old friend Judith Moffett, whose science-fiction novels The Ragged World and Time, Like an Ever-Rolling Stream I highly recommend) nicely disrupt ideas of how poetry ought to "matter" by giving us poetry people a powerful image to describe what we are doing: passing "inspired notes" to each other, under the radar of "official life."

"In my civilization it's customary to describe poetry as discarded, almost moribund, an all-too-exclusive art form, without power to break through. And the poets try to push themselves upon the world of the mass media, to get a few crumbs of attention. I think it is time to emphasize that poetry--in spite of all the bad poets and bad readers -- starts from an advantageous position. A piece of paper, some words: it's simple and practical. It gives independence. Poetry requires no heavy, vulnerable apparatus that has to be lugged around, it isn't dependent on temperamental performers, dictatorial directors, bright producers with irresistible ideas. No big money is at stake. A poem doesn't come in one copy that somebody buys and locks up in a storeroom waiting for its market value to go up; it can't be stolen from a museum or become currency in the buying and selling of narcotics, or get burned up by a vandal.

When I started writing, at 16, I had a couple of like-minded school friends. Sometimes, when the lessons seemed more than usually trying, we would pass notes to each other between our desks--poems and aphorisms, which would come back with the more or less enthusiastic comments of the recipient. What an impression those scribblings would make! There is the fundamental situation of poetry. The lesson of official life goes rumbling on. We send inspired notes to one another."

— Tomas Tranströmer. Translated by Judith Moffett. from "Answer to Uj Iras." Ironwood 13 (1979): 38-9.

The Nomoi

if you are sleepy and forget a verse
it is the song that dozed,
if you rush the ending
the melody was impatient . . .

D. Nurkse, "The Nomoi," The Hudson Review
Autumn 2007

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Bad Science

I have been riveted recently by Ben Goldacre's "Bad Science" site. Today's object of deflation is a machine that supposedly provides more energy than it uses. As Goldacre so wonderfully puts it as he goes about dissecting the claim: "Stick with me, science is fun when you’re making people look stupid."

Rereading in England; rereading Eugenides

Others can say whatever they like about these survey results; I'm going to say this: it is fantastic that three of the top ten re-read books in the survey of readers in Britain are Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights. Let's hear it for Jane and the Brontës, authors of some of the greatest novels ever written. Admittedly, I re-read Jane regularly, but I hope to get to Wuthering Heights again sometime soon (which I have read at least twice), and someday I will re-read Jane Eyre as well.

Right now, though, I am re-reading Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides, a book I was hugely impressed by when I first read it a few years ago. Here's what I wrote back then in an email recommending the book to friends:

"A book for Deadheads, hermaphrodites, runaways, people born in Detroit, people of Greek descent, San Franciscans, hitchhikers, lovers of silk, owners of Cadillacs, people who went to private schools, smugglers of bootleg liquor, sexologists, anyone who has ever declared bankruptcy, directors of horror movies, Ted Kennedy, future actresses, owners of topless bars, clarinetists, Stanford grads, Berliners, installation artists, career diplomats, anyone nervous about second dates, signalmen, people who were finally able to beat their Dads at ping pong, would-be kidnappers, obscure objects of desire, and everyone who has ever used a thermometer to try to influence the sex of a baby."

It's still all true, but it's not a great second read: the plot is not rich enough to drive the book on a second read (that is, JE's plotting does not stand up to Rowling's), and the proliferating details, so hugely entertaining on a first read, just seem like distractions on a second read. On a second read, in other words, JE's project of combining mainstream fiction with sophisticated post-modern fiction does not seem to come off as well as it did the first time around.

That said, I will finish it, since I have to mark a thesis on it that a student is handing in at the beginning of next month!

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Gore Administration

... the clearer nostalgia for what never happened:
Februaries in Rio, blind tropical sweethearts,
the last few treaties of the Gore Administration.

Rodney Jones, "Deathly"

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Return to Calm

One of my favorite poets is Jacques Réda, whose work I have been translating for a few years now. A new volume of his work has just been published in English, a complete translation of his 1989 book Retour au calme, translated by Aaron Prevots as Return to Calm and published by Host Publications (Austin) in September. I have not had a chance to read the book yet, but Réda is a wonderful poet, and I recommend his work highly.

Two of my own Réda translations are among those that I have provided links for in the "Translations" section on the right-hand side of this blog.

Just before I was going to posting the above, it crossed my mind that I ought to mention the other volume of Réda translations currently available in English: Treading Lightly: Selected Poems 1961-1975, translated by Jennie Feldman and published by Anvil Press in England.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Luna Park

I recently read Luna Park, by the Austrian poet Franzobel, some of whose more recent, as yet unpublished work I translated earlier this year. Here's one of my favorites from the book:

GERÄTSCHAFT. EIN LIED

Stell dir einmal vor, du bist ein Fußballtor,
so maschig, breit und dick, das wäre nicht sehr schick,
denke dir jetzt nur, du wärst eine Springschnur,
so ach wie lang und dünn, auch das ist nicht so schön,
jetzt glaube erst einmal, du bist so ein Turnsaal,
hölzern, groß und mit Geruch, das wäre doch ein Huch,
da lobe ich mir doch, das Holz aus dem ich Stoff,
gerne bin ich also weiter, die Latte einer Sprossenleiter.

Brian Turner reading

Thanks to Allen Taylor for putting this one on his blog, which I like enough to do the same thing myself:

Jandl's "sonett"

Sarahjane mentioned that Ernst Jandl is hard to translate, which led me to mention Jandl's "sonett," which is pretty easy to translate. I did it by copying and pasting. :-)

In fact, I don't think you need to speak German to understand this poem! :-)

sonett

das a das e das i das o das u
das u das a das e das i das o
das u das a das e das i das o
das a das e das i das o das u

das a das e das i das o das u
das u das a das e das i das o
das u das a das e das i das o
das a das e das i das o das u

das o das u das a das e das i
das i das o das u das a das e
das e das i das o das u das a

das o das u das a das e das i
das i das o das u das a das e
das e das i das o das u das a

*

I turned Jandl's "fünfter sein" into a song to sing to my children, first in German and then later in English. The children's book with the poem and superb illustrations by Norman Junge has been translated into English, but the translation, well, did not really take the special qualities of Jandl's poem into account. Here's the German:

fünfter sein

tür auf
einer raus
einer rein
vierter sein

tür auf
einer raus
einer rein
dritter sein

tür auf
einer raus
einer rein
zweiter sein

tür auf
einer raus
einer rein
nächster sein

tür auf
einer raus
selber rein
tagherrdoktor

And my English:

fifth in line

door opens
one out
one in
fourth in line

door opens
one out
one in
third in line

door opens
one out
one in
second in line

door opens
one out
one in
next in line

door opens
one out
go in
hello doctor

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Szirtes on Lessing

George Szirtes has just posted an excellent comment on Doris Lessing's The Fifth Child, one of my all-time favorite books. 40 pages of my dissertation were on that book!

Lasting Achievement

Sometimes people remain obscure even if they did something that ought to have made them "household names." For an example, first answer this question if you can: "Who was Larry LaPrise?" Then check out this poem by Bob Hicok, "A Celebration of Lasting Achievement." Put your left foot in!

And then it turns out that Larry LaPrise probably did not do what he is credited with doing! And I also learned that this whole topic has a connection to Virginia Tech, where Hicok teaches!

Household Names

Simon Armitage provides a wonderfully funny definition of "household names" in his article on war poetry in the Times:

"Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon are still household names (that is, the answers to questions in the earlier rounds of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?) ..."

Try watching "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" in a country that you did not grow up in. For you, the hardest questions will be the early ones about idioms and common cultural references in that country. Even if you speak the language very well, you'll still regularly struggle with an idiom or two! A "household name" in one country is completely obscure in another. (Try talking about baseball players with the Swiss!)

Monday, November 05, 2007

Wondermark

A while back, some blogger posted a link to Wondermark, an online comic strip, and since then I have been a dedicated reader. Every Tuesday and Friday, David Malki ! (that's how he spells his name) posts a new comic, and just now I decided to use the "random comic" link to check out a couple old ones, and I got this wonderfully hilarious one. Check him out regularly!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

David Nalbandian

David Nalbandian is the man to watch in men's tennis in 2008. Here's what Rafael Nadal said after losing to him in Paris today, 6-4, 6-0 (!):

"Today I played against one who is playing better than me and than the rest of the players, too."

You heard it from Rafa first: Nalbandian is playing better than anybody. If he can start the year in the same zone, then watch out, Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic!

Mazes

If you like to do mazes, or if you have a child who likes to do mazes, then there are more mazes than you will ever be able to do in your whole life at One Billion Mazes. Miles is having a blast with them.

Nadal

Rafael Nadal when he's a break down:

Oh, you're a break up, are you?
Think you're rolling, do you?
Well, how about this?
And this?
And this?
And this?
Shake hands.
Good match.

I wrote that, in an email to a friend, after Nadal beat Andy Murray in Madrid two weeks ago. But he just did it again to Marcos Baghdatis in Paris, and I've seen him do it to my man Roger Federer a couple of times, as well as to the Swiss number two, Stanislas Wawrinka.

And I recited my little tennis poem to my son Miles, who thought it was so funny he made me recite it to him a whole bunch of times, and since then he sometimes says, out of the blue, "Shake hands. Good match." Giggle. :-)

Friday, November 02, 2007

Wind; bonobos; Las Vegas

In his article "Swingers," in the July 30 issue of the New Yorker, Ian Parker describes someone he met while researching the article: "I spoke to a tall man in his forties who went by the single name Wind, and who had driven from his home in North Carolina to sing at the event."

I like to think I met that guy once, back in 1984. I was in Las Vegas for a Dead show (April 6, for those keeping track, a show full of set-list oddities), and after the show, I went out to the car of the folks I was supposed to be driving to Irvine with. Nobody there. I was wearing a T-shirt, and the night was cool.

At the next car was a guy who was also waiting for the one with the keys. He saw that I was shivering, so he gave me a blanket to drape over my shoulders. We fell to chatting, and I asked him his name. "Wind," he said, "like what's making you cold." "No," I answered, "Wind is keeping me warm."

*

That, by the way, was the only Dead show I ever flew to. And before the show, I won a few dollars on slot machines, so except for the plane ticket and the concert tickets, the whole trip cost me nothing.

There's also the story of the drive to Irvine, and then the drive home with some other folks, but I'll save those for some other day.

"An Open Letter"

"eternally stressed semanticist" posted a hysterical "open letter" (actually, a form letter with blanks to fill in) for anyone with expertise who does not have their expertise accepted by laymen.

In the followup post, the semanticist writes:

'Please, folks, I beg you, when an expert says "you have to believe me 'cause I'm all experty", maintain a healthy skepticism. But when an expert says "Here's what I think, based on my expertise, with supporting arguments formed with the facts and methods that I learned in the pursuit of this expertise": that's when you should please-I-beg-you listen.'

As always, I like to think about this in terms of poetry: how should one respond when a non-reader of contemporary poetry makes broad generalizations about the subject? I'd like to think I have some expertise on the subject (based on my large collection of poetry books, many of which I have actually read), and I want to tell people they are missing something (especially if said people are voracious readers of novels), but in the end, they never go off to read any contemporary poetry (or at least they never tell me they have).

By the way, I found this "open letter" because of Language Log, one of my favorite sites to read (although it is often far too busy for me to keep up with!). Interested in what linguists might say about language? Check it out!

Everwine; Idling

I liked this poem, "Aubade in Autumn," by Peter Everwine, in the October 15, 2007, issue of The New Yorker. They've got something going about handymen right now (as with Cornelius Eady's "Handymen"). Alice Quinn's farewell theme? :-)

*

The same issue contained a "Talk of the Town" item about letting your car idle, "Idle Hands." It includes a reference to car-engine idling in Switzerland (or the supposed lack thereof):

'“In Switzerland you have to turn your engine off if you’re more than four cars behind the stoplight,” Rebecca Kalin, the group’s founder, said the other day. “Idling is rude there. It’s like burping—you just don’t do it.”'

Well, actually, idling is not illegal in Basel-Stadt, the canton I live in. But it is in Geneva, which is why Irène Jacob turns off her car at the stoplight in Kieslowski's "Red."

But I turn off the car whenever I am at a stoplight. For reasons, check here and here and here. And before you say, "But you should only turn it off if you are going to be idling for ten seconds or more," here's my response to that: I might have the engine off for less than 10 seconds once in a while, but considering how often I am at a stoplight for a minute or two, my turnoff time averages to well over 10 seconds per time I turn my engine off.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Art and Jan Svenungsson

"In art, no problems are ever eliminated." (Jan Svenungsson, An Artist's Text Book, forthcoming)

I once wrote an essay on Jan's work, "Abstract Reception." Here is the opening paragraph:

'For me, Jan Svenungsson's work is "abstract" in the etymological sense: it has been withdrawn from me (Latin abstractus, from abstrahere, to withdraw, to draw away). When I suggested to Jan that I write something about his work, he immediately forbade me to look at any of his works until I had done so. This would be an interesting project: the obstacles faced by a writer discussing an artist's work from memory are worth addressing. However, I have never seen Jan's work (nor met him in person); I have only read texts about it ...'