Sleeping with the Dictionary by Harryette Mullen
This book throws. It throws me against language. It throws the poet against language. It throws sounds and associations and playfulness into the air between us. I'm appreciative of how this book challenges the notion that play cannot be meaningful or important. Using the n+7 method and other scrappy linguistic tools, Mullen has created a book that feels so odd and joyous coming out of these lips and back into the world between us. Here is my favorite ditty from the book.
Wesley Anderegg's ceramic sculptures
Waiting on Diana to come out of a classroom as playwriting superstar visiting Westmont College, I stumbled into this tiny Christian liberal arts college's art museum. And goodness, I did not find what I expected. I found these bowl-headed ceramic little folks. Part creeped out, part elated by their oddness, I revisited each sculpture over and over, again and again spooked and mesmerized by their squinted eyes and empty skulls and odd situations. Exploring more of Wesley's work, I'm stoked about the strange world he is creating (or maybe it is capturing).
Class visits as visiting poet
Ever since my first visit into a classroom as visiting poet, back in undergrad as a much underqualified visitor to Mrs. Lucas's middle school English class, I've been hooked. This month I had the pleasure of visiting three classes--Paul Willis's Intro to Creative Writing class at Westmont College, Laurie Saurborn's Intro to Poetry at UT, and Ms. Dorman's fourth grade class at Oak Meadows Elementary. Springing among a group of stoked young poets, I get to see the flame flicker and hopefully expand, while also, inevitably, learning something new about poetry and my own poem scrabbles. If anyone would ever like me to visit their class, either in person or by Skype, please don't hesitate to holler.
The Father of the Arrow is the Thought by Christopher DeWeese
DeWeese's new book is full of these long, skinny poems that build the way I imagine clouds build--particle-by-particle, tiny weight-by-tiny-weight. They shift into recognizable shapes. They expand and twist into globs and globes until they drop. These poems amaze me for their venturing-as-tumbling, tumbling-as-build--"A lion on the wind / and then its skeleton / chopped within the gusts." Here is one of my favorites from the book, "The Meadow."
Both my Midwestern upbringing and my current plop spot in Texas have me poorly suited to be a fan of California, but I must say I'M A CHANGED MAN. After nearly a week popping between LA and Santa Barbara with Diana (her home turf), I am enthralled by California's beauty. To stand in the ocean and stare at a mountain. To stand on a mountain and gawk at the ocean. This trip had it all--beautiful sunrises, disc golf with suburban stoner punks, great beer, midnight romps into the Pacific, amazing plays (more on that later). Next up: SAN FRANCISCO.
I have horrible / odd tastes in television, depending on your particular sensibilities / enthusiasm to judge. I don't much watch movies, but I love a good episode of a goofy show or overwrought drama. New Girl is my newest revisit to lala-land. It's the show I go to for a cheap laugh during lunch break or to pump me with good feelings before I close my eyes for the night. I am so into how weird Winston gets as the show progresses, how much of a charming mess all the characters are, and by the shows ability to get me to care about "on paper" unlikeable characters like Schmidt.
Antigonick by Anne Carson (w/ illustrations by Bianca Stone)
I've seen the complaints about this translation of Sophocles' Antigone--Carson's clear redoing of the text, Stone's seemingly unrelated illustrations, etc. But I just don't care. This is a captivating book, both Carson and Stone doing what they do best as translator/writer and illustrator. Carson synthesizes classic texts that are important to her, as any good translator does in one's own way, through both a personal and contemporary filter. Stone throws logic to the river and instead creates these odd visual accompaniments that instead of explaining the text, create new sparks beside it. I read it outside on one of Austin's first crisp autumn days, and yes, I felt great.
Weird Little Birthday by Happyness
Just happened to stumble upon Happyness's NPR Tiny Desk concert and felt immediately the way I did when I first heard bands like The Promise Ring and American Football back in the day. The distorted vocals, cool grooves, and odd lyrics have this Gob spine tingling--"There's something so funny about a sick body / and the things that it does that it shouldn't do." Instead of blasting the face off, these tunes vibrate the whole body in a way that's both spooky and pleasing.
Too Late: A Tribute to Bernadette Mayer
Awhile back, the awesome poet / pal Natalie Eilbert sent out a call for submissions for a collection of poems inspired by Bernadette Mayer's line "I guess it's too late to live on a farm" in conjunction with a play Old Paper Houses in Brooklyn. Honored as both a fan of Mayer and Eilbert, I jumped at the chance to respond to such a great poet. But I never could've guessed what it turned into! Now a special issue of The Atlas Review, this collection is amazing, heaping with stellar poets like Feng Sun Chen, Alexis Pope, Morgan Parker, Carrie Lorig, Kelin Loe, Roberto Montes, and more. Truly honored to be a part of it.
The circumstances this list is surrounded by, most notably the Best American Poetry issues, should not overshadow the importance and greatness of this list. It seems true what Adam Fitzgerald says in his intro: "The increasing vitality in contemporary American poetry is, to my mind, indistinguishable at present from the aesthetic and moral wealth of an extraordinary number of now active Asian-American poets, both young and old." So many of my favorite poets sit on this list (Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Hieu Minh Nguyen, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, Bhanu Kapil, Wendy Xu), along with many more I've thankfully been reminded to enjoy further (Kim Hyesoon, Don Mee Choi, Hoa Nguyen, Wong May). Every aspiring contemporary poet should be handed this list now.
Hit the Spot Cafe in De Valle, TX
Diana has been bragging to me about this spot for awhile. The best burger I've ever had, she says. It's half-dinner, half-library, she says. And finally, we stopped, cruising home recently from a sweet weekend in Smithville, Texas with our dear pal Jenn Whalen. And Diana was so right! Delicious! I'm a sucker for two unhealthy foods in this life--chicken fried chicken and mac and cheese. Hit the Spot delivered top-notch versions of both. Not a good place (for the gut) to visit regularly, but when ramped up on joy and friendship, this is the perfect place to chill.
Issue #31 of Forklift Ohio
Long one of my favorite magazines, Forklift does it again with this awesome collection of new work from the likes of F. Daniel Rzicznek, Emily Bludworth de Barrios, Meg Freitag, Dobby Gibson, and Nina Puro. The object is always beautiful--this one with a honeycomb front image and waxed binding; Eric Appleby, I know, puts a lot of thought and work into these--other favorites include the corked wine issue, the chalkboard issue, and the meat-replica issue (check 'em out). And in addition to my favorite poets popping up with new work, I always discover some new poets to admire (I know his work, but you can discover the greatness of my pal Adam Edelman in this issue: "My house should be done / burning by now."). Here, for me, it was Vi Khi Nao. Check this beginning of "AA Meetings for a Limestone:"
Today is my last day.
My lipless lips can't talk a river no more.
About being drunk sitting by the river.
Almost toppled over by another human-sized stone.
They are going to cut me into slats.
Texas Book Festival / Lit Crawl
Big applause to all the folks who made this year's Texas Book Festival / Lit Crawl happen. Such an underappreciated blessing for this town, a whole free weekend of readings and panels, smack dab downtown. This year's festival seemed bigger than ever (and dare I say, better). Saw some amazing panels featuring Tomas Q. Morin, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Gregory Pardlo, Mark Neely, and more. My favorite lit crawl readers were Griffiths, Matt Bell, Kirk Lynn (Literary Death Match Champion!), and Matthew Salesses. But of course, there's always that feeling of I MISSED SO MUCH, a shake I'm still shaking off.
Austin's disc golf courses
Another joy of the Texas Book Festival was that it brought my former professor Mark Neely down to Austin, where I could show him the brilliance of the disc golf courses here. Mark, along with Sean Lovelace, was one of the people that pulled double-duty inspiration for me in college, pushing me towards both the poetic page and the disc golf links. Seeing his wide grin on the Searight course threw me back towards appreciation for how awesome, varied, and numerous the disc golf courses are here in Austin. Don't believe me, just click the link for a map above (or come to Austin and let me show you!).
Mother Merey and the Black Dirt
I've been raving about these pals for years now (weird!), but after a great Halloween show and after-party playing tunes on a porch with these rad musicians, I must get the stoked trumpet back out for them. Amazed by their ability to jangle up a room. Inspired by their ability to meld many influences. In awe of their pure talent (Merey's angel vocals! Eric's guitar sliding! Kevin's harmonica mojo!). Here's to hoping they record a new album soon.
Good Day and Mad & A Goat by Diana Lynn Small
The bias police can just take me away now because I'm not ever gonna stop bragging about my dear galpal Diana's amazing art. All biases aside, Mad & A Goat is one of my favorite plays ever. Before I even knew Diana, I saw her perform in this great show she wrote and directed. Having seen it three times since, now with Paige Tautz alongside the original Heather Johnson, I can honestly say it's one of the most rewarding, hilariously bold shows I've ever seen. And Good Day, Diana's dance into dramatic realism, totally popped under Mitchel Thomas's direction. What joy!