Notes On Poetry, Online And Otherwise
Where Are the Poetry Blogs?
Published on October 18, 2011 by guest author: Dan Schneider

A couple months ago, I was considering starting a blog, perhaps about poetry. And though I had always considered creating a site to promote my own work completely self-indulgent, I was beginning to reconsider. Perhaps blogging has become more acceptable, a way to get one’s work out there, connect to fellow writers, or start a conversation.

But before I engaged in such an act of shameless self-promotion, I wanted to see some other poets’ blogs that would show what was possible and help me decide on a format. Would it be better to post my poems or others’ poems I like and admire? Would it be interesting to write about day-to-day life and include ideas for writing, or keep discussion limited to poetry and poetics? Would there be a way to combine the two? How could one make interesting use of the internet as a medium?

As I fired up Google, I figured everyone must have a blog by now, so I started by looking for blogs of my favorite poets. I searched "Billy Collins blog," "Thomas Lux blog," "Stephen Dobyns blog," among others, but came up surprisingly short. Jean Valentine? No blog. Charles Simic? A quick scan of searches revealed that he’d written articles for the New York Review of Books blog, but I didn’t come across a blog he was writing himself.

Finally a search for ‘Mark Doty blog’ revealed an entry into the vast world of poetry bloggers.


Drinking is Cultural
Published on October 18, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the BBC News, social anthropologist Kate Fox argues that the way people behave when they're drinking is the result of cultural rules and norms, rather than the alcohol itself. She writes:

"Clearly, we Brits do have a bit of a problem with alcohol, but why?

The problem is that we Brits believe that alcohol has magical powers - that it causes us to shed our inhibitions and become aggressive, promiscuous, disorderly and even violent.

But we are wrong.

In high doses, alcohol impairs our reaction times, muscle control, co-ordination, short-term memory, perceptual field, cognitive abilities and ability to speak clearly. But it does not cause us selectively to break specific social rules. It does not cause us to say, 'Oi, what you lookin' at?' and start punching each other. Nor does it cause us to say, 'Hey babe, fancy a shag?' and start groping each other.


Too Many Homeruns?
Published on October 18, 2011 by Sara Foss

The Week asks whether home runs are making baseball boring.

I'm going to go out on a limb, and say ... no.

Seriously, who thinks home runs are boring? 

A baseball game becomes boring when it turns into a rout; if each team is hitting tons of home runs, and the game is tied heading into the ninth inning, I don't see what the problem is. The games last weekend turned into routs, but don't blame the home runs. Blame the lopsided scores.


Marching Band Art
Published on October 18, 2011 by Sara Foss

The September issue of Harper's, which I just got around to reading, features several drawings by New Orleans-based artist Bruce Davenport Jr., who lives in the Lower Ninth Ward and draws junior high and high school marching bands. According to the magazine, many of Davenport's drawings depict marching bands from schools forced to close down after Hurricane Katrina.

I loved Davenport's drawings. They are vibrant and meticulous, and a fine testament to the many students who devote their time and energy to marching band.

The Harper's gallery can only be accessed by subscribers, but I found a number of other websites with information about Davenport and examples of his work.

To read a little about Davenport and see some examples of his work, visit Argot & Ochre.

For an article about Davenport, visit the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

For an interview with Davenport, visit Left of Black.

Watching "The Ides of March"
Published on October 18, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new political thriller "The Ides of March," which is engrossing, entertaining and smart, although not necessarily original.

Here's an excerpt:

“'The Ides of March' is a crackling political thriller, and I was pretty much pinned to my seat from the first frame to the last. It was only after the film ended that I found myself questioning certain aspects of the story, and wondering whether they really made any sense, and reflecting upon the film’s somewhat cliched plot. If you’ve seen 'The Candidate' and 'Primary Colors,' you probably won’t find a lot that’s new in 'The Ides of March,' but the movie is so well-crafted, consummately acted and, for the most part, sharp and insightful, that maybe it doesn’t matter.

'The Ides of March' takes place on the eve of the Ohio Democratic primary, with liberal presidential candidate Mike Morris (George Clooney) hoping to defeat his rival for the nomination and secure the endorsement of a politically powerful senator from North Carolina (Jeffrey Wright). The film focuses not on Morris, but on his talented and idealistic press secretary, Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), who professes to really believe in Morris as both a candidate and a man. Meyers works for Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a campaign manager as seasoned and shrewd as he is cynical and manipulative. Zara’s rival is Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), who manages the campaign of Morris’ opponent. One day Duffy contacts Meyers and asks Meyers to meet him privately, at a downtown bar. Meyers senses that this is an offer he should refuse, but goes anyway, and is shocked yet flattered when Duffy offers him a job. Meanwhile, Meyers, against his better judgment, finds himself sexually involved with a smart and attractive intern named Molly (Evan Rachel Wood), whose father happens to chair the Democratic National Committee.

Like 'Primary Colors,' 'The Ides of March' keeps its candidate largely off-stage. Morris remains an enigma; he seems sincere, but it’s hard to tell for sure, and although he insists he won’t compromise his values to win, you sense that the entire film is building to the moment when he sells out his ideals, because that’s what 99 percent of all politicians do. Morris is a political star, but he isn’t the star of the film — his aides are. 'The Ides of March' takes an in-depth look at the behind-the-scene machinations of a tense political campaign; we meet a hot-shot political reporter (Marisa Tomei), listen to hushed conversations about polling data and watch Meyers and Paul try to convince Morris that he should promise the North Carolina senator a cabinet position in exchange for his endorsement. The entire film functions as an actor’s showcase; I particularly enjoyed watching Giamatti and Gosling go at it."

In the post, I list some of my other favorite movies about politics.

Click here to read the whole thing.

Mommy Making It Work
She Keeps Going and Going ... Right Into Her Mouth
Published on October 17, 2011 by guest author: Cindy F. Crawford

My daughter Allison, whom we affectionately call Alli, is a slip of a baby. At 22 months, she weighs only 22 pounds with shoes and a full diaper.

But you wouldn't know she's that petite from watching her eat. She'll eat everything on her plate, ask for seconds and thirds and THEN eat what her older brother, William, turned his nose up at.

While she could easily be characterized as a great eater, she unfortunately eats literally everything in sight. Rocks. Dog food. Crayons. She's one of those kids who experiments with the texture and flavor of just about anything. About a month ago Alli tried out the culinary value of a disc-shaped battery. I found out when I discovered something shiny in her poopy diaper.


Small Town Virtues
Published on October 17, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over on The Reality-Based Community, Michael O'Hare ponders why political candidates are more likely to boast about growing up in a small town than a big city, and attempts to understand the virtues of growing up in a place where almost everyone knows your name.

O'Hare quotes from a piece by Sara Bishop, in which she describes her small town childhood in Bishop, Calif., and the thriving small businesses that were once the lifeblood of the community. She writes, "In my mind’s eye, I can walk up and down Main Street of my hometown as it was 30 years ago and easily name 50 thriving small businesses, each of which was supporting at least one middle-class family, often two or three  (and I can usually name the families, too, because one of them was mine). On the profits they made from these businesses, these families were able to own nice middle-class houses, send their kids to college, take vacations, buy new cars, and generally live the American Dream as we understood it then.

Several things happened to put an end to that. First, K-mart moved into town, and in short order shut down several of the sporting goods stores, at least one book store, one family-owned pharmacy, two hardware stores (one of which had been in business since 1888), the local dairy, and a couple of dozen other core businesses. The result was a significant loss of middle-class, independent jobs, which were only partly replaced by the deeply inferior $6.50/hour jobs offered at the new store."


New Tom Waits
Published on October 17, 2011 by Sara Foss

The new Tom Waits album "Bad As Me" comes out Oct. 25. Here's the title track.


Walking in the Dark
Published on October 17, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes in her weekly column Greenpoint about some of the sounds she's heard, and some of the wildlife she's detected, while walking her dogs in the very early morning.

Here's an excerpt:

"I like to walk. You might say I need to walk. And if I don’t get a good long walk in every week, preferably one that takes me deep into the woods or up a mountain, I get cranky.

Very cranky. You can ask my kids.

Part of my recent crankiness is that I haven’t been hiking in about six weeks as family obligations, most of them involving a car, have encroached on all of my time away from work. So I’ve been trying to make the most of my morning dog-related escapades, getting my walks in half-hour increments.

I walk two dogs, a little rat terrier who arrived a few years ago and a larger yellow Lab-type that showed up almost five months ago. Both were dumps, dropped off to wander on the roads near us by people who wouldn’t or couldn’t keep them any longer.

The large dog inexplicably continues to live at our house despite having twice failed the Good Dog Test, and endears herself to us by moving our shoes around the house during the day and climbing onto the bed to snuggle at night. Also she sings, which is the only reason our daughter loves her.

I appreciate the fact that she’s forced me to take a brisk walk every morning, although I don’t appreciate the fact that she is not exactly a model walker. Or that the little dog eggs her on to badness by jumping and barking at any moving thing the big dog might have missed jumping and barking at.

Throughout the summer the three of us walked two or three miles every morning, generally starting a little before 6. After the walk, I’d figure their general good-to-badness ratio, based upon how many squirrels they had yanked my arm to chase, and how loud the barking was.

Since school started, the walk has moved to 5 a.m., and we can’t go as far. Three miles have become one, but the biggest change is that we’re walking in the dark. Some mornings are darker than others, if there’s no moon or an overcast sky, or both."

Click here to read the entire piece.


The Kids You Deserve
Published on October 17, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over in my weekly column at the DG, I write about parents, and how they often seem to wind up with the kids they deserve.

Here's an excerpt:

"I recently went to New Hampshire and visited two sets of friends who happen to have small children.

But when I arrived at the home of my friends Amy and Sam on Saturday, the children were missing. Sam had taken them to a birthday party. Amy was full of warnings about how loud and distracting the boys could be, and I was half expecting them to run around trashing the living room when they returned, shrieking like banshees and tearing stuff up.

But they were actually pretty calm, engaging in the sort of mildly disruptive behavior that’s typical of kids under the age of 5 — turning the sofa into a fort, lining up toy soldiers on the floor, etc. They went to bed without too much trouble and, although I was told that they would start making a ruckus at a ridiculously early hour, I had no trouble sleeping until 8 a.m. In the morning, I could hear the boys running around and talking and laughing, but these sounds were faint, and not at all responsible for waking me up.

The boys were nice, well-behaved, watchful and funny. I didn’t find them bratty or unusually destructive. They were a lot like their parents to tell you the truth — pleasant, fun to be around, relatively calm and drama-free. Occasionally the boys protested when they were told to do something, but for the most part they did what they were told.

From Amy’s house, I traveled to the home of my friends Iris and Brian, who also have two small children. I worked at camp with Iris, where she was definitely one of the wilder characters on staff — an exuberant, joyful, unpredictable and impulsive presence. The camp owned a doorless truck that we used for on-site supply runs, and on one of our drives Iris turned to me, said, 'You know, I’ve always wanted to jump out of a moving vehicle,' and leaped into the dirt road before I could say anything. My friend John and I watched her roll around in a mud puddle in the rearview mirror. 'Why would you want to jump out of a moving vehicle?' John asked, after a beat.


Happiness is Overrated
Published on October 16, 2011 by Sara Foss

In the Boston Globe, Gareth Cook suggests that there's a dark side to the pursuit of happiness.

Which comes as no surprise to me. I've long thought that people who are always happy are deluding themselves, turning a blind eye to some ugly truths.

Here's an excerpt from the Globe piece:

"Now, though, there is gathering evidence that happiness is not what it may appear. A string of new studies suggests that the modern chase after happiness--and even happiness itself--can hurt us. Happy, it turns out, is not always the way you want to be. To be happy is to be more gullible. Happy people tend to think less concretely and systematically; they are less persuasive. A happy person is less likely to discern looming threats.

And the chase itself can backfire: The more you value happiness, it turns out, the more unhappy you will become. The problem, a team of psychologists reports, is that when you focus too much on happiness, you are disappointed when happy events--your birthday party, say--don’t deliver a bigger boost. Which makes you unhappy. Reach for happiness with both hands, and it will abandon you.

'We have put happiness under the microscope just like we do with every other mental state,' says June Gruber, an assistant professor of psychology at Yale University, who coauthored a recent review of happiness research, 'and we see that there is this dark side.'"

Cool Dolphin Footage
Published on October 16, 2011 by Sara Foss

Click here to check out this awesome video of a super pod of dolphins.

Bill Griffith in Hudson
Published on October 16, 2011 by Sara Foss

In his blog Get Visual, my colleague David Brickman reviews the Bill Griffith exhibit at BCB Art in Hudson.

Griffith is the creator of the cult/underground comic strip "Zippy the Pinhead," which I grew up reading in the Boston Globe. Brickman writes:

"Irreverent, absurd, existentialist - Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead embodies these traits as only a character born out of the San Francisco underground comics scene of the 1970s could. Yet in 2011 he is going stronger than ever, in syndication to about 200 daily newspapers, out in a new book, and now appearing in an inspired exhibition at BCB Art in Hudson.

Titled Are We Having Art Yet? Selected Drawings 1978-2011, the show presents numerous original inked versions of daily strips, several inked originals of a 1990 Zippy calendar, a few pencil renderings of early Zippy covers, and signed inkjet prints of other Zippy material. All the work on the walls is in ink or pencil – i.e. no color – and was, of course, created for reproduction, so it has that special quality of blacks and whites, of hatching and cross-hatching, that gives all graphic art a certain eye-appeal."

Click here to read the entire piece.

The Incomplete Book of Running
Published on October 16, 2011 by guest author: Cindy Pragoff

I can feel my midlife crisis coming on, and instead of buying a Porsche, I've decided to take up running. At the age of 35, I've just reached that point in life where I wake up at least once a week with a backache. I notice that I juuuust take a little longer to recover from sprains. I can twist my shoulder just from brushng my teeth too vigorously. But better to start running now than when I wake up twice a week with a backache, right?

I was never interested in running as a kid. I dreaded even the sprints I had to do while playing tag with my brothers, and forget kickball. Phys Ed. was a nightmare for me, and I can't even blame being a bookish nerd, since most of my bookish friends had no problems clearing hurdles or doing a few laps inside the gym. It was just a painful chore for me - my legs ached, my ankles twisted this way and that, and I always got a nice big stitch in my side. Not exactly a great reward for trying to stay fit. Instead, I turned to the instant gratification of donut after donut, and have been more or less chubby since age 12.

I learned to at least tolerate running when I joined marching band in college. Every time a member missed a step, the director barked out his order to "Take a lap! Go!" I was a stitch-ridden mess with noodle arms for the first four weeks, but adapted surprisingly quickly. I learned how to keep my head help up and my back straight. My legs stopped hurting and starting building calf muscles the size of my head. Unfortunately, I dropped out of band after only a year and lost my mojo for running without Art Bartner to blow his whistle and call me out in front of 250 angry Trojans. I also regained my mojo for carbs, and lots of them.

Fifteen years and 25 pounds later, I came back to the idea of running a few months ago after a talk at the Paley Center. I went for screenwriting tips, but when one of the panelists compared writing to running, I realized one would be far easier to start than the other. "You're going to [bleep]ing hate it at first, but after a while you start doing it just to relax." That resonated with me in a way nothing else really had, showing me that it didn't always have to be a lung-squeezing grind, but that it was still OK to grit my teeth and curse it all the way. I was ready to do my worst.


Rooting for Detroit, and Against My Husband
Published on October 14, 2011 by guest author: Ann Williamson

I love the Detroit Tigers.

My husband loves the Texas Rangers.

It’s been a difficult week in our little apartment in Topeka. We are both used to cheering for the other’s team, but this week, because of a twist of fate, we have actively cheered against each other.

One of us takes the cheering much more seriously than the other. I’ve learned through the years that yelling at the TV and pounding around the living room doesn’t really do any good. My husband, the sports professional, still thinks they can hear you through the glass. It’s not like I don’t cheer, but old age has taught me that I can’t control the outcome of the game from my couch in Kansas.

I do still flip my Tigers cap inside out and backwards when it’s time to rally, and because I was wearing a Ronald Reagan t-shirt last Thursday night when they beat the Yankees, I wore the same shirt this Thursday when the Tigers were on the brink of elimination again. Hey, it’s worked twice, so I washed it this morning to be ready for Saturday.

I’ve been in love with the Tigers since the 1984 World Series, when the Boys played the San Diego Padres and won. My mom is an Ohio native and grew up about an hour away in Toledo. She was the one who told me my fate of being a Tigers fan. There wasn’t another choice in our family.


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