Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Poet Craig Arnold Is Missing in Japan

From a forwarded email, asking for assistance:

The poet Craig Arnold is currently in Japan with the U.S.-Japan Friendship Commission's U.S.-Japan Creative Artists Exchange Fellowship and has been missing since April 26th (evening Monday April 27th Japanese time).

he is the author of two volumes of poetry: Shells, chosen by W.S. Merwin for the Yale Series of Young Poets in 1999, and of Made Flesh (Ausable, 2008). His poetry has been anthologized in several volumes of the Best American Poetry Series, and his poems, articles, and translations from the Spanish have appeared in such publications as The New Republic, Paris Review, Poetry Magazine, Yale Review, and many more. He is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including a Fulbright Fellowship, the Joseph Brodsky Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Alfred Hodder Fellowship in Humanities from Princeton University, an Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Dr. Arnold did his B.A. at Yale University and received his Ph.D. from the University of Utah. He is presently an Assistant Professor at the University of Wyoming.


Monday April 27th (Japanese time) he arrived with the 2:50 pm municipal ferry from Yakusima on the island of Kuchino-erabu and checked in to the local "Watanabe" inn, the only one on the island. He was with 2 Japanese tourists who had reservations. He did not have one. (They must have helped him check in.) He had traveled to the island to visit the volcano, as he has been working on a book on the subject of volcanoes for some time.

His plan was to stay only one night and leave the next day. (Craig has visited many volcanoes around the world in recent years as is very experienced with visiting them.)

He immediately left his 3 bags at the inn and departed around 3 pm on foot to the next village, taking only his walking sticks. He was wearing black or dark colors: long pants, a dark hat, a nylon jacket. His Japanese iPhone was on his person but has not been reachable due to inconsistent reception on the island. The exclusive provider of IPhone service, Softbank, has been contacted by the police in an attempt to utilize the built-in GPS capabilities of the phone.

At the village, someone with a car drove him to the entrance to the path leading up the mountain to the volcano. There are 4 paths to the volcano which are obvious and in good condition. He was taken to the entrance of a path next to a dam where evidence collected by the police suggests he ascended. His footprints have been found. The police have not found evidence of a return trip along that path. The area is densely forested until reaching the summit area, caldera, of the volcano where there is little vegetation.

The police stated that the path to that area is clear but that finding the path on the descent could pose problems so it is likely that he may not have found his way back to the path he entered by.

When Craig did not return to the inn by 8 pm, the inn staff searched for him by car, driving to the village. Unsuccessful, they returned to the inn and called the local fire brigade at 9 pm who responded immediately and searched until midnight.

Day 2 (Tues, April 28 JT) 5 police officers (under the direction of Mr. Kazuhara) arrived from Yakusima that morning with new assets: cars, search dogs, police persons, a helicopter. 40 total persons now working on this: 30 local fire reserve persons and 10 police persons and officials. They searched the trail he took but did not complete an exhaustive search of all 4 trails. One individual climbed all the way to the top. The area was circled several times by the helicopter and they also flew around the coastline. I contacted them directly at the end of the 2nd search day: 6:30pm. (5:30 am this morning, Wed April 29th U.S. time). They were debriefing and planning for day 3, with a plan to concentrate on the possible alternative paths down from the volcano that he may have taken by mistake and the surrounding area.

Day 3, the official required last day of the search, begins tonight. They are only required by law to search for 3 days. Extension procedures must be arranged with Mr. Kawahigashi and may require payment. Other than the helicopter, no higher level assets have been deployed at this time. Since the focus is on a "boots-on-the-ground" search and rescue (the forest makes visibility from the air limited) more people should be deployed immediately to assist.


Kuchino-erabusima (various transliterations possible shima, jima):

Volcanic island 14.5 square km. Spring weather conditions, temp drops at night but not to freezing. Has not rained since Craig went missing. Fresh water available.

Reachable by municipal ferry from Yakushima
Police based in Yakushima
Hospital on Yakushima
Airport on Yakushima connects to Kagoshima, major city.



The following people only speak Japanese with a thick regional accent:

The search and rescue operation is being led by
Town Officer: Mr. Kawahigashi
office tel: 81-(0)997-49-2100
(last spoke with him 7:05 am NYC time) They were preparing to debrief from
Day 2 of the search and prepare their plan for Day 3.
Day 3 begins tonight, Wednesday April 29. (= morning Thurs, April 30 Japanese time)

The Yakusima police officer on the case: Officer Kuzuhara: 81-(0)997-462110
he is on the neighboring island Yakusima, not the island where Craig is lost.


The process is currently stalled at the Fukuoka Consulate level with
Mark Baron working under Margot Carrington
(Fukuoka Consulate office tel: 81-92-751-9331)

The Tokyo Embassy # is 81-(0)3-3224-5000 and the interim Charge d’Affairs is James P. Zumwalt

Local U.S.-Japan Friendship Commission Contact TOKYO:

Christopher Blasdel

Executive Director of U.S.-Japan Friendship Commission:
From: Eric Gangloff

Dr. Eric J. Gangloff
Executive Director
Japan-US Friendship Commission
1201 15th Street NW, Suite 330
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 653-9800
(202) 653-9802 fax


Kadena Air Force Base, Okinawa under the command of Pacific Air Force (PACAF)

NAVY: Commander Fleet Activities Okinawa:

Naval hospital:

Sunday, April 26, 2009

What's Up at UNM?

OK, so I heard last year that the University of New Mexico was having a difficult time, but I didn’t notice it was THIS big of a deal. So, here’s the question: what would you do if one of the faculty members of an MFA program that you taught in showed up in some sort of suggestive sadomasochism photos on a local “meet and greet” website?

Just for the sake of argument, so one can get a better idea of what the offense is, let’s say THIS is the website (adult content!), because, well it was:

PeopleExchangingPower S&M website

What would you do? What should you do?

Now let’s see what they all did:

Here’s the headline: “English professor resigns over administration's actions.” And guess what, it’s NOT the prof you think it is!

By: Maggie Ybarra
Posted: 11/11/08

Creative writing professor Joy Harjo has resigned amid rumors that strife between the department's faculty and senior administrators cannot be resolved.

Harjo, the University's only Joseph Russo Endowed Professor, said her resignation was a result of the administration's decision to retain associate professor Lisa Chavez.

Pictures of Chavez posing with one of her students on a sadomasochism Web site were discovered in spring 2007.

Chavez could not be reached for comment.

Diane Thiel, associate professor in the English department, said Harjo's resignation is an incalculable loss to the University.

"The administration's mishandling of the very serious matter regarding professor Lisa Chavez and apparent ignoring of at least eight formal student letters reporting mistreatment has created a learning and work environment that is untenable for numerous faculty and students," Thiel said. "Faculty and students have resigned and left UNM over this and will likely continue to. The recent resignation of Joy Harjo, arguably the most well-known Native American poet in the world, highlights the seriousness of the situation, many details of which have yet to be reported to the media."

Harjo said Chavez was retained as a University employee because administrators were afraid of a lawsuit and wanted to keep the problem quiet.

Harjo said she could not continue to work in a program "that has been so deeply compromised" and that she didn't trust the University to uphold the rights of its students and faculty.

"The Chavez-and-students sex-site debacle was mishandled," Harjo said. "Because of this, the creative writing program lost face and credibility locally and nationally. Those of us - a majority of the creative writing program - who pushed for a proper ethics investigation based on policies already in place were retaliated against for speaking up. This whole situation could have been handled in a way that was respectful to all parties. As it is, only the rights of one person was considered."

Julie Shigekuni, director of creative writing, did not return phone calls Monday, but on Nov. 3, Shigekuni sent an e-mail to faculty members and creative writing students that said the creative writing faculty "voted to move forward immediately with a job search for a new assistant professor in poetry."

However, the position's job description says candidates seeking employment at UNM as a tenure-track faculty member must be able to start in August of 2009.

The teaching load is two courses per semester, and qualified applicants should have obtained their master's or higher, have experience teaching poetry and possess a significant record of being published.

The job description was drawn up the same week President David Schmidly declared a hiring freeze.

Susan McKinsey, spokeswoman for the University, said the hiring freeze can be broken and exceptions might be made when it comes to certain types of faculty hires.

"There are some positions for every department that are considered crucial," McKinsey said. "So … they ask for an exception from the provost," McKinsey said.

Professor Sharon Warner, former director of creative writing, said Harjo's resignation will leave a huge dent in the already crumbling infrastructure of the department, no matter who is selected to take her place.

Warner resigned from her position as creative writing director in March, and she said she requested a sabbatical because the University's investigation into Chavez's actions was insufficient.

Warner said Harjo is departing for the same reasons.

"The University has made a large number of mistakes in the investigation of this situation," Warner said. "And they've done such a poor job of it that they've now backed themselves into a corner."

Harjo said she did not resign to pursue another job.

She said she requested a severance package because she resigned under duress but that her request was denied.

"I have no plans at this time to join any other University," Harjo said. "In the spirit of the teachings of the Mvskoke people, I will continue forward and carry with me only that which nourishes."

Richard Holder, deputy provost of Academic Affairs, said Harjo did not need a severance package and would be compensated by receiving pay for the spring semester.

"Faculty members are under contract for a nine-month period, and under her standing work agreement, she doesn't teach a class anyway the second half of the first semester and all of the second semester, and so she is keeping her employment with the University until the contract period is over in May of 2009, and so we felt that was sufficient," Holder said.

Harjo said the pay was insufficient.

“I’m suffering a great loss from losing this job. I’m suffering several years of loss,” Harjo said. “It was a hard decision to make when you look at economic times and the strain of being an artist. They didn't give me anything extra. That was nothing extra. That was the year that I was paid for.”

Harjo said she wouldn't have left the University if Chavez had been dismissed.

Holder said the University had no plans to terminate or reinvestigate Chavez.

“Lisa Chavez remains an employee of the University and a professor of the English department where she has tenure, and the University is not planning to contest her tenure in any way, and if that was a part of Joy Harjo’s reason for resigning, I think we regret that,” Holder said. “I think we would like to say that we very much regret her loss. She was a valuable member of our faculty.”

+ + + +

So anyway, THAT seems to be quite the place to be these days. Possible new slogan for their MFA program: Putting the FUN in dysfunction: UNM!

But really. Harjo resigns because the university didn’t fire Chavez? Warner resigns her directorship because the university didn’t fire Chavez?

So what would I do? I’ve no idea. I don’t know the history of these people, but from what I’ve read, I don’t think I’d do much. This barely raises my pulse. Am I jaded?

With all I've read so far, I still can’t figure out why Harjo would take it upon herself to resign over it. If she was really interested in the atmosphere and the students, for instance, then it would seem this would be the last thing she would or should do. Resigning just made it that much bigger of a story. And resigning left her students there without her. And what kind of a workplace is it now for the faculty?

My guess is that Chavez won't be there much longer. A little rebuilding will be underway.

Amazon - Daily Deals on Digital Downloads

Amazon has daily deals on digital downloads. Every day there's an album you can download for $1.99. Recently I've gotten a digital copy of David Bowie's Heroes, and several others, including the soundtrack to the new Hannah Montana movie, because you know what a huge Hannah Montana fan I am. Ahem. Today, Sunday, it's Andrew Bird's excellent Armchair Apocrypha. He's more than amazing. I never thought I'd be wishing there would be MORE whistling in a song. He does things his very own, indescribable way.

It's easy to figure out how to download, and it works fast. You just download their little downloader thing, and you're set.

Armchair Apocrypha
Andrew Bird

As well, they have all sorts of deals on other albums. Every Friday they have five albums for $5.00 (or something like that). As well, other specials, like this album (below) I like quite a bit, from Great Lake Swimmers, who sound a bit like they're halfway between Iron & Wine and America (in other words, very calm and plesant, and with interesting things to say):

Lost Channels
Great Lake Swimmers

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Map of the Folded World - Promotional Copies

The University of Akron Press has sent me a few extra copies of Map of the Folded World for promotional purposes.

I’m not sure what to do with them. I’m terrible at promotion. Really, not good at all at promotion.

Therefore, I will send copies out to the first five people to send me their address.

Please send your address to:

jjgallaher AT hotmail DOT com

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The First 100 Days Are Almost Up

"Starting Today" Reading: Friday, April 24th

A reading for the first 100 Days (a message from the blog):

We are pleased to announce a reading featuring: John O’Connor, Cornelius Eady, Rachel Zucker, Cate Marvin, Craig Teicher, Mark Bibbins, Lindsey Wallace, Leah Souffrant, Patricia Spears Jones, Catherine Barnett, Amy Lemmon, Brenda Shaughnessy, Monica de la Torre, Michele Battiste, Betsy Fagin, Jeanne Beaumont, Patricia Carlin, Katherine Varnes, Jason Schneiderman, Joy Katz, Robin Beth Schaer, and Thomas Sayers Ellis.

The reading will take place at Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House, 58 West 10th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues at 5:30 PM.

And don’t forget to check out the first 100 Days blog every now and then:

Starting Today: Poems for the First 100 Days

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

New Cracker Album May 5

Yalla Yalla (Arabic for “Let’s Go” or “Hurry Up”)
Due out May 5

Cracker is back!

A little bit of Talking Heads' "Life Durning Wartime" back there in the melody. In a perfect world, a new album from Cracker would be as big a deal as a new album from U2.

OK, class, power up your books!

The university I’m working at is considering e-textbooks. I’m not sure in what way they’re being considered, as such conversations seem to be carried out only among other people, far away from my ears.

I like the idea of e-readers and e-books in general, as I love my music media player and I’d love the portability of an e-reader. But I also dislike the idea of being tied to energy for everything I do. I hate the idea of a book that would be tied in this way to technology. It seems frighteningly un-durable.

That’s the e-reader, I know e-books are different animals. But the idea of an Internet-based book, while wonderful in the way of delivering crazy amounts of content (videos! flashing lights!), is also tied to a portal.

What is the future about to bring to us?

Anyway, a friend sent me this link, and I thought it would be nice to toss it up on the blog.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Here’s a snippet:

“Because they have been largely walled off from the world of hypertext, print books have remained a kind of game preserve for the endangered species of linear, deep-focus reading. Online, you can click happily from blog post to email thread to online New Yorker article -- sampling, commenting and forwarding as you go. But when you sit down with an old-fashioned book in your hand, the medium works naturally against such distractions; it compels you to follow the thread, to stay engaged with a single narrative or argument… As a result, I fear that one of the great joys of book reading -- the total immersion in another world, or in the world of the author's ideas -- will be compromised. We all may read books the way we increasingly read magazines and newspapers: a little bit here, a little bit there.”

Monday, April 20, 2009

Very Short Rant: Miss California says, "No Offense!"

From MSN:

If there is a YouTube moment from Sunday's show, it may be Miss California's answer to a question about legalizing same-sex marriage. The tall blonde stumbled some before giving an answer that appeared to please the pageant audience.

"We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage," Prejean said. "And you know what, I think in my country, in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there, but that's how I was raised."

Some in the audience cheered, others booed. The answer sparked a shouting match in the lobby after the show.

"It's ugly," said Scott Ihrig, a gay man, who attended the pageant with his partner. "I think it's ridiculous that she got first runner-up. That is not the value of 95 percent of the people in this audience. Look around this audience and tell me how many gay men there are."

Charmaine Koonce, the mother of Miss New Mexico USA Bianca Carla, argued back.

"In the Bible it says marriage is between Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve!"

* * *

Oh, so many annoying things in this, but by far the most annoying to me is Miss California’s “No offense to anybody out there” addition to her answer. I understand that people have all sorts of ideas about what other people should do with their lives, but to take a side that denies people a lot more than just a piece of paper, and then to say “no offense,” is, well, offensive. If you’re going to take a stand on something that denies others, you aren’t allowed to say “no offense.”

See how short that rant was? Blink and it’s gone! * Blink!*

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Future of Creative Writing Programs

Is the study and teaching of Creative Writing at a crossroads? Sure! But if so, it’s always been at a crossroads. But here’s an interesting new wrinkle: Creative Writing Studies.

From the “Be Careful What You Wish For” department, here are some snippets from “One Simple Word: From Creative Writing to Creative Writing Studies” by Tim Mayers, published in College English, Volume 71, Number 3, January 2009.

First off, he needs to differentiate Creative Writing Studies from Creative Writing (or, as is more commonly written, Creative Writing Programs):

Although creative writing resists (and sets itself in opposition to) “theory,” creative writing studies embraces theory as a necessary and indispensable—even if often problematic and imperfect—element of the profession. Where creative writing disdains the supposedly dry, soul-sucking world of scholarship, creative writing studies embraces its own identity as a kind of scholarship, even as it may challenge some of scholarship’s traditional boundaries. Although creative writers (like proponents of creationism or intelligent design) assert a level of “irreducible complexity” beyond which the tools of intellectual analysis cannot probe the alleged mysteries of creativity, practitioners of creative writing studies (like evolutionary biologists) believe that, even though intellectual analysis may never lead us on a perfect, straight-line march toward the absolute truth, we ought not assume that what cannot be explained today will never be explained tomorrow. Where creative writing posits unproblematically that the best writers make the best teachers, creative writing studies views teaching as something that requires experience, training, and continual reflection; creative writing studies acknowledges that writers with only marginal success in publishing sometimes make wonderful teachers and that sometimes well-published, well-recognized, prize-winning writers make awful teachers.

I don’t know what to think of this. First off, I’ve read, and assigned, quite a bit of “theory” in creative writing classes. Scholarship too. But that final bit about “training” starts to smell like a cake recipe to me. As if writing, in the end, is a learned set of strategies. Maybe it is, but I’ve not seen it that way in the practice of writers I know, as all their strategies differ. I agree with Mayers, though, that when it comes to teaching, the value of the writing of the teacher is not a gauge of that person’s teaching ability. That is a big issue, it’s what allows Mayers to make the big leap into later saying that universities should ignore the creative work of writers and instead look at their writing about the field of writing. The big problem with that is it’s just trading credentials. One could be a very good writer about the field of writing and still be a lousy teacher . . . which gets us right back to where we started. Don’t get me wrong, I think that thinking about and writing about pedagogy, and the history of writing, and the practices of writers, are good things. I even do it myself. I just don’t see what will be gained by just that. And what will be gained by Mayers’ vision of the future:

The rise of creative writing studies may augur some fundamental changes in how creative writing operates as an academic enterprise. Some of these changes might emerge organically as the work of creative writing studies scholars gains wider recognition. Others might require explicit advocacy and struggle to be realized. Underlying all of this change would be a transformed conception of why creative writing courses and programs exist. Rather than simply producing writers, creative writing courses and programs would be conceived as part of a more expansive project, incorporating practical knowledge of (and facility with) the composition of fiction, poetry, and other so-called creative genres into a more general intellectual framework concerning literacy itself. No longer would academic creative writers be measured primarily by their ability to publish creative work with the right journals and presses. They would certainly not be discouraged from doing so, but such publication might be considered a bonus, a by-product, and it would not be so stridently required of all creative writers who wish to be in the academic game. Instead, creative writing programs would fashion themselves as producers of academic professionals who are capable of teaching not only creative writing but also composition, literature, and theory, depending on their ancillary areas of expertise and interest. The new creative writing studies would help accomplish, in the words of Kelly Ritter, the “diffusing [of the] ‘star’ pedagogy in creative writing,” the dynamic whereby a writer’s publications and prizes—and nothing else—determine that writer’s fitness for an academic position. Practitioners in creative writing studies would continue to work in poetry, fiction, and other creative genres, but, if the professional necessity of publishing such a great deal of creative writing could be gradually phased out, people entering the field or already in it might be likely to allow longer periods for reconsideration and revision, focus more on quality than quantity in their publishing efforts, and regard their accomplishments in teaching as equal to or even more important than their accomplishments in publishing.

It’s the age old question of how to assess teachers. but does this ring true to your experience (if you’re one who has experience of such things [mine is fairly limited])? I suppose at the marquee level it is, where a very famous writer is courted just because that writer is famous, so the university can say something like “Robert Frost teaches here!” But every time I see a job advertisement, and every hiring committee I’ve ever seen hasn’t only been interested in how many books someone has and what publishers they come from. What’s bothering me about this article is how the opposition is reduced to the extreme cases (if these cases even exist), so that Mayers can say, basically, “Throw the bums out.” But there will always be people who don’t teach well. And there will always be differences in what is taught and how it’s taught. And what about the “what gets taught”? Mayers:

Eventually, I would like to see creative writing, as we have known it, absorbed into creative writing studies, as we are coming to know it. . . . I fully expect that my argument will encounter some resistance. . . . many people have much at stake in the maintenance of the status quo. But there are also many more people who do not benefit from the status quo. If creative writing originated in part to provide university employment for promising writers who are unable to make a living through writing alone, can we argue that something has gone horribly wrong with that system—when colleges with 4–4 or even 5–5 teaching loads can require the publication of two books as a baseline consideration for anyone applying for an entry-level assistant professor position? Can any argument—no matter how well intentioned—for the MFA as a terminal degree qualifying its holder for academic positions really hold up under the harsh light of such a reality?

These are the issues then. Creative writers don’t teach well, and they don’t teach the right things. In my experience this hasn’t been the case. Both in my MFA and PhD programs there was plenty of other stuff than what Mayers seems to be describing. But does he have a point? Well, yes. But, given that, I don’t think he has a solution.

Is this where creative writing programs are headed? “Creative Writing Studies”? I don’t know. I’m out of the loop. What’s going on in the loop these days? Anyone?

And several fraught concepts later, I still have questions:

1. When one is in a creative writing workshop, what is one gaining? And how best to help one gain as much as one can. Or, as this article asks, what kind of facilitator is best for this endeavor (a scholar of creative writing or a practitioner of creative writing [of course “both” would be the answer, but what I think we’re being asked to vote for is the primary focus of the facilitator).

2.Is finding someone who writes well (or has proven successful in the writing of fiction or poetry or drama), and then asking that person what goes on throughout the composition process, a good or valid way to teach or learn writing? In short, is it good to have that person lead other writers into writing? Or, more precisely, is it the best or most valid way to learn? I imagine the answer to this one could be “no,” as such things seem at best unreliable (or, as we often hear: difficult to assess). That’s the craft shop model in a nutshell. But if that’s not it, is this Creative Writing Studies model the alternative? And what would actually happen in a Creative Writing Studies class that would be fundamentally different than current practice? And what is current practice anyway?

I’ll let John Ashbery sum it all up, from “The New Spirit”:

I thought that if I could put it all down, that would be one way. And next the thought came to me that to leave all out would be another, and truer way.

AWP 2010

Dear __________:

There are only two weeks left to submit panel proposals for the 2010 AWP Conference & Bookfair in Denver. The conference will be held from April 7-10, 2010 at the Hyatt Regency Denver & Colorado Convention Center. AWP seeks a wide range of unique, diverse, informative, and intelligent programming that helps us better serve our broad and growing constituency. The proposal process is competitive, so it¹s important that all individuals submitting a proposal are familiar with AWP¹s guidelines and expectations in order to ensure conference events are successfully executed.

The deadline for proposals is May 1, 2009. To submit a proposal, please visit:

If you have any questions or concerns please let us know. We look forward to seeing you in Denver!

Monday, April 13, 2009

LEGO Jesus

Barbie can go to Cuba. She’s heard
the music is great, and it means different things
if you’re flying, dying, or being chased. She dreams
she’s being chased by the LEGO Jesus. And he kind of
shielded his eyes from the lights and looked out.

Easter was great, even so. We got our cargo ship captain
back from the pirates, and a passenger landed a plane
after the pilot died. The puppy is doing well.
We saw him running with the president. We’ve
gone green, and the LEGO Jesus brought hamburgers.

Everyone who prays is saved. They haven’t said yet
who’s been praying this week, but they will, as the pirates
have vowed revenge, and a boy asked the LEGO Jesus
if he knew Barak Obama, who is also made of LEGOs,
and wears a cape and can fly.

A little appreciation for Justice of the Unicorns

OK, so they often sound way too much like early Flaming Lips, with bits of Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd sprinkled around (with a little garnish of Velvet Underground and Bauhaus just to keep it fresh), but once you get over that, there’s a lot to really enjoy about Justice of the Unicorns. Both of their albums are worth the time, but I suggest their newer one, Angels with Uzis.

Justice of the Unicorns are finding a way to be sublimely annoying. Often brilliantly so. At times they get close to what I’d consider the musical equivalent of flarf, with songs such as “The Dragon's Claw - Chapter I” and “Jesus Had a Sweet Girlfriend.”

At the very least, they’re tonally complex, with completely earnest performances of completely self-consciously ironic lyrics and arrangements that tag images like Def Leppard’s one-armed drummer, John Lennon’s ghost, and Home Depot with often ponderous art-rock backdrops.

Here are a couple low-fi videos from the album (but you should also check out on YouTube some Justice of the Unicorns Catface cover versions of The Flaming Lips and Neil Young):

Justice of the Unicorns - Pterodactyl Sun from Jason Lam on Vimeo.

Pterodactyl Sun

Justice of the Unicorns - Fried Rice (Wonder Years Edition) from Jason Lam on Vimeo.

Fried Rice

Covering Neil Young's "Lost in Space"

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Journal

I’ve been busy with all sorts of things lately, and have made little progress. Ah, busy spring. I have a lot of things I’m finding that could really use some attention. Time time time. Hear the bells chime, and all that. Or, here it is in another way:

Easter Journal

One of those mornings with the completely empty sky
where you can see the sun rising, the rise of it,
millimeter by millimeter, through the trees and roofline,
so that you’ve stilled yourself to a near stop. Which of us
is it breathing, you might ask, just before it’s too bright
and you have to look away, while the people we meant to be
continue into the no wind on the back porch this afternoon,
so that being outside feels like being inside, but with
different background noise, and a little cooler and full sun—

As is the way with most fragments, it goes on for some time,
so that the totality has an intimidating immensity
that you rather hope not to find, after all, it’s a depleted age
where walking away from such things has its own grandeur,
even if the band is out of time and relegated to carry-on items,
winking and pulling tablecloths out from under the dishes,
where saying over and over that we’re searching for something
stands in for a reason to search and then stands in for finding it.

Presently things will start up and go on awhile,
around the buildings and down the avenue. The people we meant to be
will be there with all the old nicknames, as it’s a buffet
mostly, where we can feel taxed by our choices and ill-health,
but that’s this other fragment, the one we haven’t found yet
that hovers just out of reach in another slow orbit.

Wait awhile and the weather improves, and inside and outside
seem nearly completely different again, except for that second
hovering in the doorway like a cat, suddenly ambivalent,
and nearly perfectly happy. It’s a wonder sometimes
how most of the old strategies still work. This spring it’s tulips first,
and hooded sweatshirts. How long can I stay counting
before saying, get on with it, or, please, or help, as moving around
or standing still is all pretty much the same thing
when looked at from far enough away, so that it all had to turn out
just like this, as if it were all one very long, unpronounceable word.

Monday, April 06, 2009

April Is Poetry Prompt Month

April is poem prompt month, I’ve heard. I’m not very good at poem prompts, either thinking them up or doing much with them when someone else hands me one. Here’s something maybe similar that I like doing instead.

Think up a work or phrase (whatever you might like: “virtue” perhaps, or “field of leprechauns”) and add “contemporary painting” to the end of it. Paste the whole thing into the google search bar without quotation marks. Select “IMAGES” from the browser search menu options.

Then either have fun seeing what images pop up, or try writing from one. Either way, you find interesting things. I just did it with “virtue,” and here are some resulting images (well, after a few clicks):

Alex Gross

Ali Cavanaugh - infinite sky of light . . . I surrender

Stephen Cefalo - Feast with Friends

Alex Gross

Anthony Miscallef - Bomber Girl

Saturday, April 04, 2009

D. A. Powell - The Avant Garde - Awards - Etc.

Micah Mattix writes:

Why are there, Bethell wonders, so many mediocre poets today? Following Joseph Epstein and Dana Gioia, his answer is prizes, subsidies, grants, lectureships and professorships. There is too much money in poetry. It offers poor or mediocre poets too many opportunities to write and publish, and it encourages many otherwise good poets to pose as avant-garde artists–to write against their audience rather than for it–because it increases their chances of getting such fellowships and prizes.

Indeed, one of the ironies of art today is that there is little financial risk involved in being avant-garde. Unlike the first avant-garde artists who supposedly created works to challenge the commercialization of art, such a move today is very much the first step in making it commercially, in terms of fellowships and grants. Cut back on the cash, Bethell claims, and purge the country of a legion of Miles Coverdales.


Is that true to your experience? Does this idea of being “avant garde” lead to some sort of commercial success? Well, looking at what actually sells, the answer is a big whopping NO. But, that said, it is true that the idea of the avant garde is no longer one infused with being ostracized in physically threatening ways (unless you consider the air of the conservative right in this line of reasoning, always looking for a way to unfund artists threatening, which it is, of course, true, but not very worrisome, at least to me). But that’s not a very interesting point to me, as America is a country that mostly ignores rather than threatens language acts. Avant gardism is now a “way of writing,” one among many. I don’t think that it does much to help one “commercially.” All one has to do is look at the map of awards and fellowships (the sorts of things people like to use to gauge “success”), and one sees that, by and large, the awards are fairly predictable things, going to fairly mainstream writers that don’t move in very avant garde ways. When it comes to awards and things, Linda Gregerson and Linda Beirds do much better than Lyn Hejinian and Martha Ronk, so I do think these is some weight still to the idea that being avant garde (at least in the Hejinian or Ronk sense) is less financially rewarding than being mainstream (at least in the Gregerson or Beirds sense).

Perhaps I’m splitting hairs. But cutting back on subsidies wouldn’t purge American poetry of the work of Ted Kooser or Dana Gioia or John Barr (if one would be so inclined). They came from the private sector. Does having a teaching job count as a subsidy? Well, if so, wouldn’t any job? One works and one gets paid. I’m finding it difficult to get my mind around the idea that there are subsidies out there that are these huge enticements into writing avant garde poetry. Either I’m way out of the loop, or the author of this piece isn’t doing very good math.

Anyway, back to the end of the piece:

* * *

. . . while I think that Bethell is right about the subsidies, there is also a larger problem at work here–one that is not easily solved by policy changes. Yet, I am also somewhat more optimistic than Bethell regarding the future of American poetry. In other countries where the reigning ideology and particular governmental policies have been much worse for real artists, those artists still continued to work and produce compelling art, even if those works were not fully recognized until later. After all, Stalinist Russia gave us Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and a fascist Italy gave us Eugenio Montale. To compare the situation of American artists to that of either Solzhenitsyn or Montale is ridiculous. However, it does serve as a reminder that valuable art is produced by artists everywhere and at every time. We can’t always see it, but it is there.

Parallel to pushing for policy changes, therefore, I think critics need to do more to discover those poets and artists who are, indeed, doing good work. While it is the job of the critic to tear down, it is also his job to build up–even if he has to search far and wide for a poet that is worthy of praise.

* * *

I like where he gets to in this part much more. There seem to be calls from all over these days to actually explore the poetry landscape. This fills me with hope that we might be at a moment where there is the beginning of real interest in poetry. Looking at mainstream poetry (if one gauges “mainstream” by what sells) one sees a very small, very repetitive, slice of American poetry. Books by Mary Oliver, Ai, and Billy Collins greatly outsell everything else (except when musicians and actors get into the publishing business, as Ryan Adams now has). These are the poets people hear about. I’m not here to knock them (I’ll save that for some other day), but to say that what they represent is such a small part of what poetry is capable of. I think that there are great pleasures in other poets, that people who read Oliver, Ai, and Collins, could find and fall in love with.

But this audience is not there yet. A couple nights ago I was at a poetry reading in Kansas City where D. A. Powell and Randall Mann read. There were about 20 people there. It was a Thursday night. The weather was fine. There should have been a hundred people there. I know that what poetry can do doesn’t interest most people. I’m not talking about most people. In a city the size of Kansas City, the type of pleasure poetry can provide should have appealed to a hundred people.

D. A. Powell read the following poem, which I believe could have done some good for some people who were not there:

corydon & alexis, redux

and yet we think that song outlasts us all: wrecked devotion
the wept face of desire, a kind of savage caring that reseeds itself and grows in clusters

oh, you who are young, consider how quickly the body deranges itself
how time, the cruel banker, forecloses us to snowdrifts white as god’s own ribs

what else but to linger in the slight shade of those sapling branches
yearning for that vernal beau. for don’t birds covet the seeds of the honey locust
and doesn’t the ewe have a nose for wet filaree and slender oats foraged in the meadow
kit foxes crave the blacktailed hare: how this longing grabs me by the nape

guess I figured to be done with desire, if I could write it out
dispense with any evidence, the way one burns a pile of twigs and brush

what was his name? I’d ask myself, that guy with the sideburns and charming smile
the one I hoped that, as from a sip of hemlock, I’d expire with him on my tongue

silly poet, silly man: thought I could master nature like a misguided preacher
as if banishing love as a fix. as if the stars go out when we shut our sleepy eyes

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Neil Young, "Get Around"

UPDATE (Friday): Well it looks like MOG has a little problem with people using the embed code they provided. Apparently, MOG has exclusivity. Go there if you want to see the video. Oh well.

Another new Neil Young song. This one’s called “Get Around,” and isn’t included on the track listing of his new album . . . so who knows where it’s actually going to show up. Maybe Archives Vol 4, due in July of 2030, or somesuch.

And this video is even pro shot! (And looking at the shirt and tie, it seems to be the flip side of "Cough Up the Bucks."

When he debuted these new songs on his recent tour, this is one of the ones I was most hopeful would make it on the album. I’ll be seriously bummed if it turns out to be an itunes exclusive or something.


This week’s little haul –

FAQ, by Ben Doller (author of Radio, Radio, but now with a new, merged name). Ahsahta Press, 2009. I’ve gotten a little way into it and I’m enjoying it quite a bit.

Sight Map, Brian Teare. California, 2009. (Came in Monday, and next up!)

Tryst, by Angie Estes. Oberlin College Press, 2009. (Just came in yesterday!)

Star in the Eye, by James Shea. Fence Books, 2008. (Just came in yesterday!)