Shoreline Sure Am

June 15, 2007

We’re reaching record temps for the area this week, and as I griped in a previous post, my upper apartment is sweltering. Though I found this morning some mangled and ill-shaped screens on my steps that I can only assume are meant for my windows, it’s too little too late, and I’ll have to wait until this evening to cool the joint down. 

But here’s a great link to a poetry website that, in addition to showing the text, has a limited selection of classic work being read by a pretty well-honed reader. I’ve listened to the whole catalog, and it’s worth it. There are no downloads or anything like that. It’s supersimple point-and-click. Also, there’s an email address to drop suggestions their way. Enjoy the site, and tell ’em Puddle sent you. Just kidding. I always wanted to say that, you know, like my name opening great and secret doors. Or a speakeasy and illegal gambling den filled with men in tailored clothes and flappers dancing on plywood floors.

Keep on, all. And tune in soon for a Yusef Komunyakaa poem with a brief gloss.

Puddlehead 

     


Puddlehead Learns a New Trick

June 14, 2007

As I’ve mentioned in comments sections on a few other blogs, I’m newish to this whole blog thing. For that matter, I’m newish to just how much a laptop can do. Until recently, if it wasn’t email, a few poetry websites, itunes, or MS Office, I didn’t care. Or, more honestly, I was afraid of it. Technophobes are nothing new, and the Luddites come to mind. But, for my part, I’m flexible. I’m willing to admit my ineptitude and seek ways to fill in the missing information. Which is what I did today. I filled in a blank!

Backstory: I was listening to Regina Spektor’s album Begin to Hope this morning, and it dawned on me that I want to stream music on this blog. Sure, there’s the whole sonific.com thing, but the options are limited. That I can “widget” a song is fine and dandy but I want to share my favorite music. Not something close to a song I love because it’s the nearest thing on sonific. So I did my homework.

It turns out that you can’t stream music without purchasing upgrades on wordpress. However, I did find a nifty little website that allows me to upload music for free that anyone can access and download for themselves (also for free). It’s a great way to share what we love, and I want to turn you on to a song that wrecks me every time it plays. 

As I mentioned, it’s off Regina Spektor’s album Begin to Hope. She’s a beautiful vocalist who’s voice carries over the top of the simple piano rifts in “Samson.” It’s a plaintive ode of sorts, and the line, “You are my sweetest downfall / I loved you first” rises into a heart-shattering breathy trill. Spektor sing-talks through parts only to break into brief moments of vocal undulations and a heavier piano that currents beneath her lyrics.    

When you click here, you’ll come to the site where you can download the song. The link is on the left hand side. It’s completely scanned for viruses and can be put right into your music file. I’m a sucker for strong voices and piano…Hope you are too. Come on back and let me know what you thought. And, as usual, more to come soon.

Puddlehead


William Who?

June 12, 2007

I recently came across this editorial from the Toledo Blade detailing the wane of Shakespeare’s influence in English departments across the country. Here are two amazing paragraphs:

Just 15 of 70 institutions surveyed require their English majors to take a course on the 16th-century author. And since a similar study was done in 1996, at least six of those schools either dropped or weakened those requirements.

It’s hard to believe that Shakespeare is not essentially “a dish fit for the gods” for students studying English at the top 25-ranked universities and liberal arts colleges in the nation, plus schools in the Big 10 and a selection of California and New York colleges. 

It boggles my mind how anyone can have an English degree without at least devoting one semester to Shakespeare. He’s essentially the basis of all modern English literature. In some way, any author writing in English has, if not directly at least indirectly, been influenced by his work. This includes Carribean writers such as V.S. Naipaul who, it could be argued, writes, at least partially, against the patriarchy and imperialist sympathies some critics read in Shakespeare’s work. However, even if a writer is smashing his or her views against the views of the previous norm, it is still being influenced by that earlier work. Shakespeare helped shape centuries of minds, and while some of the ideas propagated are now seen to support imperialism, sexism, or racism, we can revise how we read Shakespeare in light of our changing awarenesses. This is the more acceptable and scholarly responsible way to approach English departments’ move toward a greater awareness of world literature.   

I fully support a given university’s autonomy and respect an English department’s decision to, say, scrap Hemingway or Steinbeck, or limit the amount of time students spend on 18th century English Literature or whatever, but I cannot believe that Shakespeare could somehow be dropped from the canon of Western Literature. 

Ugh. Put his mug on a milk carton.

willy_speare.jpg

Have you read me?


The Best Laid Plans

June 12, 2007

needoneofthese.jpg With my schedule as unscheduled as it is, I have to rely on my inner-tyrant to keep discipline in my working life. My personal life can be a mess, it often is, but work, work is a special kind of plodding, a methodical effort that never stops, rarely slows, and can accelerate without warning. With that in mind, you’ll understand when I say that today was terrible. It is evening, and I’ve not worked at all. I put this lack of productivity squarely on the sloping shoulders of my aging, yet irresponsible, aspiring slumlord. He has yet to actually reach the title of “slumlord,” though he does try.

The problem, this time, is this: I have no screens in my windows. Because I am about two blocks from the lake (a big scary one), and because he pays all utilities, we get these industrial strength stormwindows come October. They make bulletproof gas station windows look wussy. While this is quite nice in a blizzard, it’s not so nice come June, come a heatwave (for us at least) that’s kept my upper apartment a toasty 87 degrees all day. He was supposed to put the screens in last week. It is unworkable warm. When my fingertips leave sweaty sluglike trails across the mousepad, it’s time to call it a day. I’ve heard that Hemingway shared this belief. Myth has it that he worked in the morning until he felt sweat on his brow and then blew off the day, went drinking down at some dive in the Keys. 

But, since I’m not much of a morning drinker, I went hiking the shoreline instead. I know, it’s pretty lame to bitch about hiking. But hear me out: though I often go hiking, most days I have the ability to not-hike and work instead. Today, I felt like I was exiled from my house Microsoft documents. I didn’t have the choice to say, “I’m not working now. I’ll work tonight.” I was trying to work. But I got cranky, sweat went in my eye, and DawgE was staring at me with an ironic, are you kidding me? look. I went through these choices that would have allowed me to continue working:

1. Move the desks into the kitchen, open the freezer and fridge door. 

2. Break into the basement.     

3. smash out all windows, flies and lawsuit be damned.

Of course, all three have their merits, but I opted instead to take the forced morning and afternoon off. If it wasn’t for some wonderful company and the pollen turning streaks of neon yellow in the deep blues of the lake, I assure you that the hike and the swim would have been a sullen affair, and, had someone seen me, they’d have thought I was on some self-imposed deathmarch.

The plan, after all, was to work all day, with breaks at my whim (or the dog’s), and take a good hike in the evening. I’m flexible with everything else in my life, really. I don’t care what I eat, where I go, or anything else. I don’t mind the plow rusting in my frontyard or the weeds challenging the wrought iron porch rails. I don’t care that my floors are uneven, that a tennis ball rolls to the corner, quickly. All I want is a breeze–and there is one out there–to come through a window without bringing along flies and other bugs. Damn landlord, he’s getting more slummish to me each day the mercury peaks.      


PSA: Poetry Service Announcement

June 11, 2007

I’ve found that it often takes a while for a poem to circulate, let alone a whole collection getting its feet under itself. “Young” poets are often in their 30s and 40s, and books languish with low sales, years between second printings (if the book is lucky enough for a second print). Poetry, for a number of reasons not relevant here, has gotten somewhat of a bad reputation as the activities of depressives, wimps, or the self-absorbed. While I’m sure there are depressives, wimps, and self-absorbed poets out there, some of our greatest poems are, in essence, hymns; they are praises to the small and the great of our lives. See the work of Ilya Kaminski, for example, in his collection Dancing in Odessa. While he doesn’t shy away from tragedy or flinch when recalling brutality, the poems are, strangely at times, expositions in the human ability to love and persevere regardless of the external circumstances. This is but one example of some poetry that refuses to buckle. Instead, the poems witness without despair. It’s powerful stuff and not the “Woe is me” so many readers expect from their verse. 

On the wimpfront: False. I have seen poets fight. Some of them are good at it. Scarier yet, many of those who are good at it, enjoy doing it. But that’s neither here nor there. Consider a better form of non-wimp in Frederico Garcia Lorca who, for debatable motives, was executed in Spain. Or Russian poet Osip Mandelstam who was arrested twice by Soviet forces and ultimately died in a transit camp where he was being held for “counter-revolutionary activities.” Here’s a fragment of an untitled poem from 1937, a year before his death:

You’re still alive, you’re not alone yet—

she’s still beside you, with her empty hands,

and a joy reaches you both across immense plains

through mists and hunger and flying snow.

 

Opulent poverty, regal indigence!

Live in it calmly, be at peace.

Blessed are these days, these nights,

and innocent is the labor’s singing sweetness.

 

Miserable is the man who runs from a dog

in his shadow, whom a wind reaps at the knees,

and poor the one who holds out his rag of life

to beg mercy of a shadow.  

Translated from Russian by Clarence Brown and W.S. Merwin, the poem captures the desperation of the speaker’s plight while balancing the hope found in the speaker’s female companion’s “empty hands.” Definitely a not-wimp.

As for self-absorption, well, that’s endemic, and you can hardly blame poets alone for a flaw such as this.

This brief take is, of course, not meant to be comprehensive. Nor is it meant to be taken too seriously. My main hope is that we can scrap the whole high school memorization of a Shakespeare sonnet forced upon us by well-meaning but ill-informed teachers. Poetry can be a vital energy for our aesthetic and moral development; it can slow us down long enough to see the poetry in our lives, in the grind of the predawn garbage truck, in the call of a far-off dog barking down the moon.


Your Guide to the Outland’s Eateries

June 10, 2007

 (I don’t even know where in the area this place is. It might be the Holiday Inn).  

Food and me: We’ve had a tough relationship over the years. It wasn’t either of our faults, really; it was more the circumstances of my life which led me to quit eating hot food for nearly two years. The heat almost ruined everything. For a few years I had traveled throughout the US, following the cactus blooms and the warm weather. But, one cannot live on Yucca alone, and necessity dictated that at times I find gainful employment. This usually meant stints in kitchens in summer. With temperatures in the 100’s outside and me tending what might as well have been blast furnaces, I was not unlike Hell’s coalman, stoking the flames, flipping burgers, and nurturing giant vats of green chili over doubleburners. Needless to say, at the end of my shifts, all I wanted was cold cereal and an apple. This is still the case for me. I’m a cold breakfast guy. But, since relocating, I’ve tried to rekindle some love for cooked food. And, since I’ve been tagged by WriterChick, whose site is fabulous and strongly recommended, I’m here to guide you to the finest eateries this remote and wintery land has to offer. In no particular order, then, my five must-eat places on Lake Superior’s southern shore:

The Thai House: Nothing says Upper Midwest culinary craft like Thai food. Yet, for some reason, this city of just over 20,000 souls supports two Thai restuarants. The Thai House is the good one. The other shall remain nameless and shunned. Located in what was once a fast food joint of some sort (the drive-through lane is still there, complete with broken down speaker and menu board), this restaurant offers a full slate of authentic Thai cuisine. They seperate their calamari into heads and legs, so I am always sure to ask for the heads alone as an appetizer. It comes with a peanut plum sauce which I have been caught eating alone straight off the tiny spoon. I’m told this is bad form. From there, it’s wide open. The menu boasts curries, noodles, stir fries, soups, and you-name-its. If it’s Thai, it’s there. But I suggest underestimating your ability to stomach spicy food. Though you can select from a one to five spice range, anything above a two is uneatable.

Vango’s: Looking for late night pizza and beers with the soccer team? With friends? With your alcoholic cousin who just wants a quick beer or twelve? Vango’s is the place. It’s a less-than-inviting atmosphere at first with a fixture of sullen hipster types drinking Pabst at the bar, wearing sunglasses indoors, and otherwise trying to appear menacing or cool. I don’t which but assure you they are neither. However, once they’re done hateglaring you, settle on in to the darkly varnished booths or belly up to the hightops edging the room, and you’re in good shape for the best pizzas in the Upper Peninsula. Made from scratch, they use giant Blodgett ovens that are wonderful for cooking hard, slightly darkened crust. They serve as well a white chili with pork that, while good alone, is wonderful poured over a basket of french fries. It’s also within walking distance of a couple sports bars and neighborhood taverns. A must for your cousin.

The Pasta Shop: For a tamer dining expierence, check out The Pasta Shop. It’s a small converted house that not only serves meals but sells in bulk the best homemade noodles, pesto, and meat sauces I’ve ever eaten. It’s reasonably priced, and the portions are deceptively filling. The employees, though courteous, are a little intense, and I think that this would be your best chance in the Midwest for a soup-nazi-like experience. Critical of that spinich and riccota gnocci? Well, maybe you should just get the hell out and never let your unappreciate ass darken this door again. But if you mind your manners and drop the obligatory superlatives loud enough for them to hear, you’ll be allowed back for more.    

Thunder Bay Inn: Because of its location and lodging option, this bed and breakfast is a Friday/Saturday get-away. About forty minutes from my home, the Friday fishfry is one of the better ones in the area and worth the drive. A fishfry, for those of you who don’t know, is predominantly a Midwestern Catholic tradition that has become a social event by which much of the town flocks to the taverns for fried perch or walleye with rye bread and onions. Anyway, the manor house once belonging to Henry Ford, and the rooms he and his executives used for hunting retreats are now rented out to lodgers at reasonable rates. Which makes for a wonderful get-away. The town of Big Bay is located on Independence Lake, and you can enjoy a whisky and water after dinner on the porch overlooking the lake and its abandoned lumber mill. The one drawback with Thunder Bay Inn is that the reasonable rates and remote location sometimes attract a rather unsavory clientele. One example: Staying there a while back, I had left a bottle of Dominican Rum in the backroom where I had been playing cards. Stepping in from a cigarette break, I caught a greasy bastard and a skank scurrying off with my bottle (and my cards). Shame on me for leaving it there and tempting the twits…they could have just asked for a glass. My date and I would have gladly shared. Be that as it may, the fishfry is worth the drive and the risk.

 Jasper Ridge Brewery: It is my experience that you find quality microbrewery resaurants in the damnest places. While not actually in my town, Jasper Ridge is one of two local brewpubs in the area. It is by far the better of the two and the drive, while not as beautiful as the one to Thunder Bay, does take the driver past Teal Lake which is pretty enough in its “lake on a state road” sort of way. The building itself is prefab and sort of depressing, but once inside the open concept bar with its high ceilings and smoke-eaters is as nice as you could hope for. Prices here are reasonable, and the way to go is gorging off the appetizer menu with a couple friends. The meals themselves are ok, but the real fare is found in the twice-baked potato wedges, the nachos, and, my favorite, the hot wings. Furthermore, for you sports fans, tv’s are strategically located throughout the bar, allowing for you to keep an eye on whichever score most interests you. I come here on Saturdays in fall to root against Michigan or Michigan State. It’s a fun time for us exiled Wisconsinites to call loudly for the Badger game to be turned up, asking, “Is anyone even watching the Spartans?” Also, their selection of microbrews is hands down the best I’ve found in Michigan. And, if your curious, you can watch the brewmaster toiling behind the plate glass, crafting his beers in the giant tankers.

And there you have it, folks. The five best places to eat in the Central Upper Peninsula.  I want to thank WC for the tag and the opportunity to trot out my golden ponies of ribsticking goodness. It was fun for me to write, and I hope it was fun to read. Should you ever find yourself in land of pine and sand (though I don’t know how you would find yourself here), drop a line–we’ve got dinner plans.       

    


I *Heart* Literary Journals

June 7, 2007

One of my favorite things about being a writer is the sense of tradition I feel whenever I fire up a new Word Document or take pen to paper, jotting in my illegible scrawl some thought, some image, I will one day try to craft into a piece. The act of writing is the act of joining a community that spans time and space, and cannot be limited by age, race, or era. When you write, you join a conversation. A “California Supermarket” that shows up in one of your poems cannot be seperated from Ginsberg’s. We write from, or in response to, the views of those who came before us. For me, I write from Cormac McCarthy’s driving prose, from Yusef Komunyakaa’s lyrical visions, and from Wallace Steven’s technical precision. And, if you write in English, you cannot escape the Great Bard’s impossible shadow. Nor, for that matter, can you escape Emily Dickinson or Uncle Walt, or T.S. Eliot or whomever. The point is is that those tried-and-true English-speaking writers (not to mention the many great non-English writers) have left some vast footprints, and it’s important to know where we come from. That’s what our anthologies and favorite college texts help us with. And I love revisiting certain authors whose work continues to mean so much to me.

Equally as important, though, is to know where our contemporaries are. This point is why I think it is so important that we nourish what literary journals we can. I don’t only mean with our submissions but mean as well with our monetary support through subscriptions. Too many dedicated editors and their quality publications fold for lack of funds. Often times, these journals rely solely on subscription fees to keep afloat. There are only so many grants to go around, and many editors find themselves unable to keep their journals afloat for lack of subscribers. Yet, there never seems to be any shortage of submissions.

But, it’s not charity that drives me to subscribe to journals when I can; it’s greed. I love reading what my contemporaries are doing, love finding some gem of a poem that sends me spilling beyond my boundaries. I love when, a year later, I see a first book published by someone whose poem moved me when I read it in a journal. I am not advocating any particular journal, mind you. But I do advocate buying a back issue of a journal or magazine you might submit to. For me, it’s a good way to get an idea if my work would fit, but I am also exposed to more work, more writers I might not have read if it weren’t for their appearance in said journal. And, if I like the mag overall and have the funds, I’ll drop the 15 or so dollars for a year subscription.

The other side of writing well is reading well. Many of my books and magazines are annotated to the point of sin. There are cross-reference marks, question marks, lines I love underlined softly in pencil. That way, I’m actively involved . I’m a participant in making meaning of what I read. Not only is this fun, it helps me as a writer. If I am careless as I read, I will be careless when I write. That does no one any kindness.

For my part, I read as I’d like to be read. Sure it’s a remake of childhood’s golden rule, but I tell you what, whatever you read has cost someone a lot of time, effort, and energy. Plus, it might be damn good and, if you’re rushing, you’ll miss the greatness. And there’s a lot of greatness in journals and magazines and other small presses.

If you like, I’d be happy to comment on a few of my favorites, but I am not advocating any particular press or magazine. Rather, I believe writers should read nearly as much as they write. And just about every University has a magazine filled with worthwhile prose and poetry.

Anyway! I’m off to watch the rest of the NBA game. And then off to read and to bed and in the morning…Friday, which is Billiards day for me. Nine ball run, come on! Whoot!