Thursday, June 30, 2005

I was very excited when American Apparel first hit the marketplace. I loved the idea of a sweatshop-free, worker-friendly garment factory. I loved the fact that workers were given free massages, and access to affordable health care. I loved the fact that all fabric scraps are recycled and that some products are made with organic cotton. I still love these things. But after reading about the CEO of the company, my love for American Apparel has been somewhat tainted.

Even before reading this article, a couple of things had made me uneasy about AA. I like how the ads feature a diverse range of models (many of whom are not professional models, but AA workers), but the ads seemed vaguely exploitative to me. They seemed to fully embrace the beauty myth, the objectification of women's bodies,which seemed in opposition to the company's progressive mission. Also, most the clothes are sized small. I usually wear small/medium shirts, but the AA large shirts are sometimes tight on me. The company purportedly wants to make the world a better place, but their clothes seem to be designed for just a narrow (literally and figuratively) slice of the population.

Now that I know more about the sleazeball founder of the company, Dov Charney, these issues make more sense. According to the article (which I think is not nearly as tough on Charney as it could have been):

He is a self-professed "hustler." Women either love him and date him or complain bitterly of the flagrantly sexist workplace and blatant favoritism and general pervy creepiness on the part of Dov, and there was, apparently, a very strange article about Charney in adorably snarky Jane magazine a while back, wherein Charney performed oral sex with a female employee and masturbated in front of the interviewer multiple times, with full awareness and consent all around.

Charney is now faced with several sexual harrassment suits, and I hope that his actions will catch up with him legally. I am torn about whether or not to buy American Apparel products from now on--I want to support the workers, but I don't want to support this slime bucket. I am glad there are other sweatshop free manufacturers, such as No Sweat and Justice Clothing, neither of which seem to have creepy CEOs at the helm. Getting rid of worker exploitation is so important, but so is getting rid of sexual exploitation.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Last night, Matt and I went to the Hollywood Bowl to see David Byrne. This, for me, was akin to a visitation with the Pope (even though I was nowhere near close enough to kiss David Byrne's ring, or touch the hem of his pink suit).

I was first introduced to the Talking Heads my junior year of high school. It was the first year I really allowed myself to be a teenager--I was sick most of my freshman year, and held onto my sick girl identity most of my sophomore year, but junior year, I was ready to be part of the world. I was on the yearbook staff, and someone (maybe Liz Phair, who was the photography editor, and gave no indication that one day she would become an indy queen) put the Talking Heads on the turn table in our basement office. That music spoke to me in a way that no music ever had before. I had loved other music, had been moved by other music, but the Talking Heads reached a different, deeper part of me. They expressed things in a way that I wished I could, in a way I hoped I would one day be able to--their lyrics were so idiosyncratic, so philosophical and visceral at once. They reached into my chest, into my brain; they shook me to my foundation and made me profoundly happy. My friend Laura and I started to go to the Fine Arts Theatre in Chicago every Friday night at 10pm to see Stop Making Sense, the fabulous Talking Heads concert film; Laura even entered the "big suit" contest one week, jury-rigging hangers in the shoulders of her father's jacket to get them to jut out more. Those first strains of Psycho Killer always got my heart pumping. Fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa...

David Byrne sang Psycho Killer last night. He sang a bunch of Talking Heads songs, which thrilled me to no end. Burning Down the House was accompanied by a marching band. And The Arcade Fire (one of the opening acts, along with the fabulous Si Se), joined him on stage for my favorite song in the world, This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody). As soon as the song started playing, I burst into tears. I sobbed through the whole song, feeling the music fill my whole body, singing my heart out, watching the man in the pink suit wiggle around on stage like a flame, as we sang the truth of each word together: "Home is where I want to be, but I guess I'm already there."

Thursday, June 23, 2005

This sculpture, a thirty foot high desk and chair, was built by Giancarlo Neri as a "monument to the loneliness of the writer." It's a striking piece, to be sure--I'd love to see it in person--and writing can indeed be a lonely art, but I always like to remember that I am not indeed isolated in a giant field; I can look up and see other people pecking away at their work (at least in a symbolic way) while I'm pecking away at mine, and I can feel a sense of communion with them that mitigates any sense of loneliness. Yes, the work is done in solitude, but it is also done in community, and I love dipping in and out of both. I love how we can find that sort of community online, where it's easy to connect our desks to other desks, where our desks are no longer like islands, but bridges.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

You gotta love the fruit flavored mayhem...

An attempt to raise the world's largest ice pop in a city square ended with a scene straight out of a disaster film — but much stickier.

The 25-foot-tall, 17 1/2-ton treat of frozen Snapple juice melted faster than expected Tuesday, flooding Union Square in downtown Manhattan with kiwi-strawberry-flavored fluid that sent pedestrians scurrying for higher ground.

Firefighters closed off several streets and used hoses to wash away the sugary goo. Some passers-by slipped in the puddles, but no serious injuries were reported.


Have your own fun with flickr here.
I can't sleep. I think it's because I'm so inspired. I attended the most amazing event tonight. My sister-in-law Magdalene is executive director of The Bridge Program, a free humanities education program for low-income, mostly homeless, adults. Some of the students were presenting their final projects tonight and I am so glad I was able to witness their triumph. I met a man who wrote "The Zen and Tao of Carnivals", based on his seven years traveling the carnival/fair/rodeo circuit. He made me a balloon animal (he said that he had been dedicating his life to letting go of desire as a Buddhist, but his job as a carney was all about creating desire. He learned to make balloon animals and give them away for free to balance out the karma.) Another man spoke about how racism is like a 200 lb. hog in the middle of the living room, gnawing on the furniture and passing gas while we all pretend it isn't there. He ended his presentation saying it was time to slaughter that hog and cook it in a backyard barbeque. A woman gave a passionate and deeply moving argument for gay marriage (a different woman later argued against gay marriage in her presentation, and even though it was clear most of us in the room didn't agree with her position, everyone honored the work and time she had put into her project). Another woman created an ice cream social to show ways in which we can connect with our community and bring about change. A man shared a gorgeous memoir about life and love on the streets. The evening ended with a woman's beautiful meditation on balancing thought and action, self and world. I am still buzzing from all of it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

I just finished reading Bee Lavender's amazing book Lessons in Taxidermy. The publisher describes it here:
Diagnosed with cancer at age twelve and perilously pregnant at eighteen, surviving surgeries and violent accidents: sometimes you can't believe Bee Lavender is still alive; sometimes you think nothing could kill her. Lessons in Taxidermy is Lavender's fierce and expressive search for truth and an elusive sense of safety. This autobiographical tale is stark and resolved, but strangely euphoric, tying together moments and memories into a frantic, delicate, and often transcendently funny account of anguish and confusion, pain and poverty, isolation and illusion. While staying conscious of the particulars of her circumstances, Lavender frames her life in the context of history, traveling, landscape, and freak show culture. Lessons in Taxidermy is apocryphal, troubling, cathartic, and important.

I've known Bee for several years; she's one of the editors of Hip Mama and is an incredible woman/writer/mother/activist/human being with the coolest signature cat eye glasses around (not to mention the coolest name). I remember when she was first sending Lessons in Taxidermy to publishers. Editors told her it was too dark, too depressing; no one would buy it, they told her. She ended up publishing parts of it herself serially in zine form. And then Akashic/Punk Planet picked it up.

I had been blown away by the portions of the book I had seen when it was in its zine incarnation; it's wonderful to see how she has pulled everything together into a narrative that is breathtaking in its horrible, beautiful honesty. Such a vivid exploration of what it's like to live in a dramatically unpredictable body, a dramatically unpredictable world. And despite those early editors' dire predictions, the book has ended up on the bestseller list of the Village Voice, and is earning accolades far and wide.

Go Bee!

Monday, June 20, 2005

It's time once again for The Girlfriends Cyber Circuit! Alison Kent, author of over 20 novels and 8 novellas, is currently making the blog rounds to promote her latest novel, Larger than Life. Here's a synopsis:

After being beaten and left for dead in the New Mexico desert, Smithson Group agent Mick Savin tries to piece together his last few days. He remembers bits and pieces: gathering crucial intel. An ambush by Spectra thugs. And then…nothing, except waking up in some medical center in rural West Texas. His mission was top secret. So how did he end up here?

The answer is Neva Case. If the former big-city attorney hadn’t been out in her pick-up, Mick wouldn’t be alive. Mick’s never met anyone quite like Neva. She’s smart, sexy, and passionate. She also has a secret. Neva runs the Big Brown Barn, an underground shelter for young girls forced into unwanted polygamist marriages. Neva would do anything for these girls—and that’s what worries Mick. Neva may be trusting, but Mick’s instincts tell him that something’s not quite right. He’s not about to let someone get to Neva and the girls on his watch. Especially when one of the girls brings trouble straight to the barn's front door . . .

Now, with the shelter in unimaginable danger and time running out, Mick is in for the fight of his life, one that could cost him the woman he’s come to love more than anything…

I had the chance to ask Alison a few questions about her work...

> --You are such a prolific author. Where do you find your inspiration?

Unfortunately - or fortunately, depending on how you look at it *g* - I
have more ideas than I'll ever have time to write. Most are a simple
case of "what if" after I've read a magazine or newspaper article, or
watched one of the primetime news shows. And it's not even that I write
that article or that show into a story. It's that I take one little
piece, whatever most sparked my interest, and build something around it.
LARGER THAN LIFE had its spark in such a newspiece. The next book I'll
be working on was inspired by the movie National Treasure. I watched it
and thought, "I want to do that!" *g* There won't be a bit of
resemblance between the two, of course, but I loved the idea of two or
more parties searching for the same valuable artifact, and voila!
Hardly an original concept - the originality is all in the execution.

> --Could you give us a peek into your writing life? What's your process like?

Even when I start with a spark as described above, the first thing I
develop is characters. I'm a very character-driven writer so I have to
know these people that I'm sending on these adventures. And, no. I
don't do character outlines or charts or anything more in depth than
naming my cast and finding pictures and tacking it all up on my
character board. I'm visually oriented and need to "see" my people and
places. Since I work with a 3-act structure and Vogler's Writer's
Journey, the next step is to plot out my main turning points - then hope
like mad I can fill in all the pages between!

> What are you working on now?

I'm just starting to outline the road trip adventure mentioned above.
This is the scary stage, hoping that I can actually pull off what I've

> --Any words of advice for new writers?

Something that I've only put into practice recently. Protect the work.
This is from the fabulous Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Too many times we
ask for input on our work way too soon, and it ends up being a committee
project or ends up diluted with nothing left of our original voice.
I've learned to write through, and ask for help only when all hope is
lost. *g*

> --Because this is a Fruitful interview, what is your favorite fruit and why?

Key limes, of course, since they're the main ingredient in my all time
favorite dessert, Key Lime Pie!

>--One of my favorites, too (especially the ones from Trader Joe's--mmmm)! Thanks so much, Alison!
An update on Muhktaran Bibi, whose story I linked to a few days ago:

Thankfully, Ms. Muhktaran has been freed by her Pakistani captors and is back in her village. She is only allowed to leave the country under strict government supervision now; she has declined to travel to the US until she can do it on her own accord. In the meanwhile, according to the article, she "is using donations (through to start an ambulance service and a women's shelter, and she is also campaigning against honor killings, rapes and acid attacks that disfigure women."

I am so grateful that she is safe and is continuing to speak out, continuing to fight against violence and oppression, even under constant threat. What an amazing woman.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

I am a huge fan of typos, mishearings, malapropisms, and any other way language can be turned on its ear. Sometimes corrections in newspapers are great sources of linguistic hilarity. Today, there was one in the New York Times:

Because of a telephone transmission error, a front-page article yesterday about Walt Disney's plans to serve shark's fin soup at its theme park in Hong Kong misstated the species of another Asian culinary delicacy, which had been seized by the authorities. It was pangolins, a type of anteater, not penguins.

But that's not nearly as hysterical as another recent New York Times correction:

Because of a transcription error, an article last Sunday in Summer Movies, Part 2 of this section, about the director Don Roos rendered a word incorrectly in his comment about the use of onscreen titles in his film ''Happy Endings.'' He said, ''I love foreign films, which have a lot of signage in them'' -- not ''porno films.''

Friday, June 17, 2005

I usually don't cross-blog, but I felt the need to share this entry here, as well: Remembering Jack.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

We had quite an earthquake today. It felt like it lasted forever, the floor pitching and rolling beneath us. We woke up to an earthquake on Sunday, too, but that was more of a jolt; this was more of a ride. The biggest one we've felt in years, even though it wasn't that dramatic on the Richter scale--4.9. I yelled to my daughter to "Stand in the driveway!" even though I meant "Stand in the doorway!" This is the first quake she can remember; she's slept through all the other major ones. She was only a couple of weeks old when the huge Northridge quake hit in '94--I remember standing in the doorway, holding my sleeping newborn, while my husband held our sleeping 3 year old son. This time, she came running out of the bathroom, trembling--both nervous and excited. "Feel my neck," she said, and I could feel her pulse there, hummingbird fast.

We didn't have any damage, although the book I mentioned a couple of days ago, Stop the Next War Now, fell off a shelf onto my desk. And the drawer of my dancing clown music box, which I've had since I was about 10 (I can't believe I found a picture of it online), slid open, making the clown dance, filling the shaking room with jaunty mechanical carnival music. Quite surreal.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Woo hoo! The House passed the Freedom to Read amendment to the Patriot Act today, blocking the FBI from searching library and bookstore records. Take that, Big Brother!

In less happy news, a House panel recently voted to eliminate all funding for PBS and NPR, starting with educational children's shows. To protest this, and ask the goverment to continue their funding of public media, please sign the petition here.
A friend recently sent me an article about a 2,000 year old date palm seed that scientists were able to germinate in Israel. I found myself very inspired by this story. It made me think about the dormant seeds that have been hidden inside us, the ideas for stories and poems and songs and creative actions we thought about when we were younger. It made me want to try to dig up some of those old seeds, see whether they will sprout, whether they will bear fruit.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

I just read a disturbing article in the New York Times about a deeply courageous Pakistani woman named Mukhtaran Bibi who was

sentenced by a tribal council in Pakistan to be gang-raped because of an infraction supposedly committed by her brother. Four men raped Ms. Mukhtaran, then village leaders forced her to walk home nearly naked in front of a jeering crowd of 300.

Ms. Mukhtaran was supposed to have committed suicide. Instead, with the backing of a local Islamic leader, she fought back and testified against her persecutors. Six were convicted.

Then Ms. Mukhtaran, who believed that the best way to overcome such abuses was through better education, used her compensation money to start two schools in her village, one for boys and the other for girls. She went out of her way to enroll the children of her attackers in the schools, showing that she bore no grudges.

Mukhtaran was supposed to travel to the US this week to speak about her experiences, but the Pakistani government, in the reporter's words, "went berserk."

On Thursday, the authorities put Ms. Mukhtaran under house arrest - to stop her from speaking out. In phone conversations in the last few days, she said that when she tried to step outside, police pointed their guns at her. To silence her, the police cut off her land line. After she had been detained, a court ordered her attackers released, putting her life in jeopardy. That happened on a Friday afternoon, when the courts do not normally operate, and apparently was a warning to Ms. Mukhtaran to shut up. Instead, Ms. Mukhtaran continued her protests by cellphone. But at dawn yesterday the police bustled her off, and there's been no word from her since. Her cellphone doesn't answer.

If you want to help, you can send a check to Mercy Corps, with "Mukhtaran Bibi" in the memo line, 3015 S.W. First, Portland, Ore. 97201. You can find out more information at the Asian-American Network Against Abuse of Women website.
A few days ago, I went to my favorite Vietnamese restaurant, Pho Saigon (which I still love even though a few pieces of tripe ended up in my bowl of vegetarian pho by accident!) When I got my change, I was excited to see that one of the dollar bills had stamped on both sides. Matt had received a Where's George? dollar a couple of years ago, and was able to track its progress online. You just plug the serial number into the website, and you can see where the bill has traveled before it found its way to you. If you register, you can also continue to track the progress of the bill after it's made its way back into the economic stream of things. There was only one previous entry for my dollar--it had been in Omaha about a year and a half ago. I thought this was very cool, since I have origins in Omaha, as well. My mother's mother grew up there, raised by an aunt and uncle after her mother was sent to a TB sanitarium. My grandmother's sister was also raised by this aunt and uncle, but her brothers were sent to an orphanage; the aunt and uncle didn't think they could handle boys. The siblings met up again years later in Chicago.

Another Omaha connection--when my grandmother was a teenager, she worked as a cash girl in the Brandeis Department Store. When my mother met my father, my grandmother assumed he was part of the Omaha Brandeis family. He's not (he changed his last name to Brandeis from Bransky during the McCarthy era), but I love the synchronicity of our naming (and the synchronicity of this dollar bill that's taking me back to my roots. I'm eager to see where it will travel next!)

Monday, June 13, 2005

I have been spending a lot of time with the book Stop the Next War Now: Effective Responses to Violence and Terrorism, edited by CodePink Cofounders Medea Benjamin and Jodie Evans, published recently by Inner Ocean. The foreword is written by Alice Walker; the introduction is by Arundhati Roy. The book is filled with wonderful essays and poems and meditations on creating peace by such luminaries as Terry Tempest Williams, Eve Ensler, Barbara Lee, and Benazir Bhutto. And these aren't just pie in the sky ideas--the book is filled with very specific ideas, both practical and creative, for how to take action to combat poverty and violence world wide. I recommend it highly. And I found great hope in this quote from Susan Griffin: "War is not inevitable. The only thing in the universe that is inevitable is change."

Friday, June 10, 2005

If you're lucky, you're going to the grand opening of the Roald Dahl Museum this weekend (supposedly the doors are covered with chocolate! Not sure how that works--do they continually reapply the chocolate? Do visitors get to lick the doors, like they do the fruit-flavored wallpaper in the story? Or is the chocolate encased in resin, or some other taste-unfriendly substance?) If you find yourself in Southern CA rather than England, you can get lucky, anyway. We're having a busy weekend at the Brandeis-McGunigle household, and you can join in on the fun (I'm just realizing how this sounds after writing about getting lucky! The fun I'm talking about is not nearly so salacious--at least not the fun you can join in on...)


Both of my husband's bands, Old Brown Shoe and Bucksworth, are going to be playing at the Riverside Brewing Company (3397 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside, CA) this Saturday, the 11th, at 9:30pm. I am not much of a beer drinker, myself, but Matt touts their Victoria Avenue Amber Ale. And then Sunday at 7pm, I'm going to be giving a talk/workshop on Writing from the Senses at the Claremont Jung Society. I can't promise chocolate doors, but there will be strawberries!

It's time once again for a GCC visit! Today, our guest is Mindy Friddle. Mindy's book, THE GARDEN ANGEL, has been an SEBA Best Seller, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, and a pick of the Pulpwood Queens Book Club. The synopsis sounds wonderful:

In Sans Souci, South Carolina, talk is cheap, real estate even more so. No one knows this better than Cutter Johanson, a gruff tomboy who waits tables, writes obits, and makes every effort, however comical and in the face of her mercenary relatives, to avert the sale of the dilapidated ancestral home. And despite her plucky resolve, all appears to be lost—until she strikes up an unlikely friendship with Elizabeth, a shy and fragile academic who puts both their fates on the mend.
The Washington Post writes "Friddle has a way with the comic yet apt image...funny, down-to-earth and steeped in a sense of place."

I recently had the chance to walk through Mindy's garden (via an email interview.) Here is what I discovered...

--What inspired this novel? What inspires you, in general?

I was inspired to write THE GARDEN ANGEL by a dilapidated old house at the edge of a city-swallowed mill town here in South Carolina. It was a once-grand estate boarded up, abandoned, and for sale. I even had a real estate agent take me inside. The once-gorgeous garden was swallowed up by Kudzu, although the climbing roses were doing their best to outrun the weeds. Rumors were that two spinsters had once lived there, and had come from money. All that ruined finery! Later, I found myself wondering what kind of character would live in such a place and what lengths would she go to to keep her homestead? I pictured a young woman soaking in a claw foot tub in the attic bathroom, plotting to thwart buyers. That was Cutter: A nostalgic, eccentric, comical character who gardens in the family cemetery, knits hair doilies, and writes obits for a living. She began to tell me her story.

I continure to be inspired by the hidden history of neglected homesteads, by elegiac buildings, by cemeteries, and by nature-- gardens, forests, wildflowers. The lessons of writing are all there, in our gardens, aren't they? Deadheading spent blooms keeps a plant budding (revsision), thin out seedlings ensures the remaining ones are strong (more revision), composting-- thinking and ruminating and letting the draft sit for a while-- enriches the characters and story.

--Any words of advice for new writers?

Tenacity. Tenacity. Tenacity. The more I talk to other published authors, the more I realize how rejection is part of the writing life, and tenacity is a must. I have to remind myself of that everyday.

--What are you working on now? Could you give us a window into your writing

I'm working on a new novel, and researching a third. I like to write about four hours a day...but it's not easy. The world intrudes-- publicity work for my book, dirty dishes, occasional day jobs. But ideally, I love to write from about 9 am to 1 pm or so. Saturday is usually my most productive day. I think that just comes from years of Saturday's a groove.

--What have been some of the gifts and challenges re. having your book

Oh. That's a great way to put it: "gifts and challenges." Gifts were accomplishing a goal I set for myself-- to publish this novel, THE GARDEN ANGEL, which I'd worked on for about eight years or so. (Mostly weekends.) It's such a pleasure to meet one's readers, to hear from them...and I've received heartfelt and inspriring e-mails from all over. It's also wonderful to have an agent who believes in me, and editor who edits, and new friends who are fellow writers-- cyber and non-cyber alike. The challenges are, quite frankly, balancing the isolation and rumination that is necessary for writing with the clanging, loud but oh so necessary business of publishing. To be a pro-active author involved in the publicty process of her books can sap your strength and time and energy and money. But, face it, there's tons of books out there, new ones flood the bookstores every week-- and no one cares about your book as much as you do. So writers are expected to partner with their publishers these days when it comes to promotion..even spearhead their own campaigns and tours.

--Because this is a Fruitful interview, what is your favorite fruit, and why?

That's an easy one! Peaches. Succulent, juicy ones from here in the South. If there is a better fruit-- I have yet to taste it. I just got my first batch of early peaches from the farmers' market this morning-- a little small but they are heavenly.

--Yum! I'm about to head over to the farmer's market now--I'll have to look for peaches (although I doubt CA peaches are as good as those in the South!) Thanks so much for stopping by, Mindy--I am very excited to read your book!

Thursday, June 09, 2005

I can't wait to visit the Homegirl Cafe. I read about it in the LA Times yesterday; it's a restaurant in Boyle Heights, and is backed by the nonprofit Homeboy Industries, which helps former gang members remake their lives. The Homegirl Cafe provides training and jobs for women who once were, or are at risk of getting, involved with gangs. The menu is a fresh, healthy take on Mexican food, with an emphasis on vegetarian dishes (yay!) The mole sounds amazing--Barbara Hansen, the Times reviewer, writes

Rosa's mole, named for a friend who showed Zarate how to make the sauce, blends six kinds of dried chiles, four kinds of nuts, pepitas (squash seeds), ginger,banana and many other things. This is top-level artisanal mole, slightly sweet, mellow and rich.

Pepa's creamy poblano chile soup sounds delicious, as well (as does every other dish mentioned in the article). There is a picture in the paper of a drink made with raspberry and mango juice--it looks like a sunset, the colors of both fruits swirled together. Another drink, "Angela's green potion", is mentioned, too--it mixes mint and spinach with lemonade (the reviewer says you can taste the mint more than you can the spinach.) Every dish there is named for a woman associated with the restaurant. I love what these women are doing to help one another (and what they're doing to nourish the community!)

P.S. I need to send congrats to one of my own homegirls--my sister in law Heather was just sworn in as a lawyer today. Congrats, Heather McGunigle, Esq.!

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Now, I love James Lileks. His Gallery of Regrettable Food is one of my very favorite things (both in book and web form.) But, oh, his latest column in the Star Tribune raised my hackles!

Lileks is glad that the governor of Minnesota has decided against naming a state poet laureate. He writes
Doesn't mean poetry is useless or lacks intrinsic merit -- but people no longer pretend to laud the poet or his craft. The Poet was once the man who wrestled with the Olympian concepts and brought them down to Earth mortal-sized morsels for the Saturday Evening Post. Poetry was the expression of truth and/or beauty professed through the rigors of language and form. When poetry meant Kipling, it had a certain valor and heft in the public mind. Now, that was a poem. By God it rhymed and you could march to it. Then came the new poets who shed the old styles as a useless encrustation of the old dead past, and they lost their claim on the popular mind. Now poetry was seen as a way to detail the author's tormented, neurotic, indecisive inner life -- by means of gassy exhalations devoid of form or discipline. I should know; I wrote miles of that stuff in college.

So the article is self-deprecating and funny, and I agree when he says "No one ever turns the car around halfway to the picnic because you forgot to pack the sliced sonnets in sauce" (although I might just do that. I wonder what sliced sonnets in sauce taste like...) Still, it makes me sad to see poetry denegrated by both the Bush administration and by hilarious cool authors I admire. And I guess this makes me one of the "extra snooty" poetry snobs he mentions, but I kind of like his tongue-in-cheek riff on New School Poetry (but maybe that's just because it mentions fruit):

I think a poem
Should hang
On the page like an apple
To fall into your
Just like Isaac Newton's revelation
But with arbitrary
Line breaks and an absence of
Except for emphasis.

Monday, June 06, 2005

I just found out that France's Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin, is a poet. Very cool. This article in the (UK) Times Online explores the gulf between how words are used politically in France in the US (the piece is titled When Rimbaud Meets Rambo.) In 1998, George Bush, Sr. said "I can't do poetry." And, according to the article
At a Nato summit in Prague, Donald Rumsfeld was once forced to sit though a performance of modern dance and poetry. Asked for his reaction afterwards, he shrugged: “I’m from Chicago.”
Well, Mr. Rumsfeld, I'm from Chicago, too. In fact, we went to the same high school. And I ended up getting a degree in modern dance and poetry! I guess you didn't take advantage of the rich culture Chicago has to offer. Chicago is a vibrant creative community--full of dance, and theater and art and literary life. It's your loss, Mr. Rumsfeld. And it's the country's loss when poetry can't thrive in the White House, when your administration is so hell bent on war, on destruction, that there is no room for creativity to breathe, no room for dance to happen. And so you begin to see creativity as a threat--a threat to order, a threat to power. And that's what makes poetry so powerful and subversive, so potentially dangerous and healing.
George Bush and Dominique de Villepin might learn much from each other, but no amount of translation could allow them to speak the same language. In the aftermath of 9/11, M de Villepin walked through Manhattan: “In the flayed city, facing the raging winds, I called upon the words of Rimbaud, Artaud or Duprey. At such a grave hour, how could one not think of these thieves of fire who lit up, for centuries, the furnaces of the heart and the imagination, of thirst and insomnia, to build an empire only within oneself.” Mr Bush also surveyed the city, but did not think of poetry or imagination: he invaded Afghanistan.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

My sister-in-law Sharon, aka Venus De Mille, was just named the 2005 Legend in the Making at Miss Exotic World, the premiere burlesque competition! Congratulations, Sharon! As far as we're concerned, you're a legend already!

Sharon dances with Velvet Hammer Burlesque, which is a cool company in so many ways. They are a very woman-friendly troupe; the director doesn't allow dancers who have had plastic surgery, so their shows end up being real celebrations of women's bodies, in all shapes and sizes. It's always a very exuberant, tongue-in-cheek, vintage-tinged revue. And Sharon, who works in the costume shop for the LA Opera, makes the most amazing costumes (check out the Venus DeMille link for some of her creations); she puts on quite a theatrical extravanganza. Legendary, to be sure!

Friday, June 03, 2005

The NY Times recently featured an article about a woman in Beijing who stands by a busy road and reads out loud during heavy traffic. She has become somewhat of a celebrity. Commuters see her every day and wonder what she is doing. She isn't reading to the people in the cars--she is teaching herself English, and she figures that if she reads out loud in such a distracting environment, it will help the words really sink in. She has been doing this for five years. And now she is teaching other people English, people who got out of their cars to see what she was up to.

I think about the "Get Caught Reading" campaign in libraries a few years back, and I wonder if we need to set more readers in unexpected places, turn them into celebrities like this woman in Beijing. Reading is an endangered activity--we have to find ways to sex it up, to make it more intriguing to those who wouldn't automatically reach for a book.

At Book Expo America last year, the publisher of The Purpose Driven Life had the hallways of the McCormick Center in Chicago lined with paid "readers" holding TPDL in front of their faces. I think each person was supposed to represent one million readers who have already bought the book (obviously the book is a huge seller.) It was kind of cheesy--and I highly doubt most of these people were actually reading the book (most of them were just staring blankly at the pages)--but it was quite visually arresting to see dozens upon dozens of readers standing in a row. I know some publishers plant readers in subways and buses and on park benches with their book du jour so they can talk it up to the masses. So a few things are being done here and there to make reading more visible and viable, but we have to do more.

I'm so frustrated that I'm not at BEA this year. It's happening in NY as I write. BEA is the biggest publishing convention of the year; it's like Mardi Gras for book lovers. Tons of authors to meet. Free books everywhere (and other free goodies like tote bags and other tchotchkes; I ruined my back when BEA was in LA a couple of years ago because I was so greedy. I kept filling up my backpack with book upon book. I still haven't gotten through all of them.) This is the first year in four that I haven't gone. Maybe I'll be able to go next year when it's in Washington, DC. In the meanwhile, we can vicariously visit via blogs like The Elegant Variation and Moorish Girl.