Wryly Responding to Crises: “What Are We Going to Do Now?”

The good news is that for a while, I can stop talking about how abundantly fertile March 2009 was for me as a poet. This piece arose later that spring, on April 17, 2009, and was revised into its current form during the following summer, on July 22. The bad news is that I can’t remember too many of the details of its creation or revision.

Here’s what I recall and what my records reveal:

I had cooled my jets by mid-March. When I started writing again on April 4, I kicked out a poem a day, maybe a few a day, maybe one every few days. No more days like March 8, 2009, when I wrote twenty-three poems in two sittings (only one of which, though, would ever see publication).

On April 12, I wrote a few poems, ending with one inspired by a Tony Hoagland passage in his collection of essays, Real Sofistikashun, one that would get me in trouble eventually, one that I’ll discuss at a later date. Maybe. Anyway, that last April 12 poem kinda shut me up and made me withdraw for a few days.

On April 16 or 17, I read a list poem based around reiterating a common idiomatic saying. I can’t remember the saying, the poem, or the poet. But I remember on April 17 wanting to write my own list poem based around another common statement or question. I struggled to think of one for a while until settling on “What are we going to do now?” I started writing answers to that question. I got stuck. I Googled the question, saw what kinds of responses regarding what kinds of issues came up, and grabbed the best statements and ideas. (I still feel guilty that I didn’t annotate my poem with citations leading each appropriated line back to its original inspiration. But writing poetry is not the same as scholarship…that’s what I tell myself, at least.) Those search results definitely supplied my lines about click fraud and polar-bear advocacy.

The resulting poem was okay; I let it rest in The Files for a while, until another writing bug flew up my ass in late July 2009. I wrote a poem I really liked — longer, with more sustained ideas, less of a brief quasi-Brautiganian burp — on July 21. I wrote another poem I liked on July 22. While I was waiting for another fresh bit of inspiration, I looked through The Files and rediscovered “What Are We Going to Do Now?” Now I had a better handle on it. I increased its length by about fifty percent, with lines entirely from my own mind. I also rearranged all the lines so there was more of a thematic progression, more interplay among the various list items. I added an ending; it’s not a great ending, a little corny, perhaps, but then, I always struggle with endings. Whatever. Done. Ready for takeoff.

“What Are We Going to Do Now?” first appeared in The South Carolina Review Volume 42, Number 2 (Spring 2010).

Notes on a Tebot Bach Reading – Goldenwest College – 29 July 2011

Friday considerably redeemed Wednesday.

Though I was running late, I managed to find the closest parking lot, unlike last month, and get inside in time. I followed everyone else’s lead and parked in a staff space, which The Man apparently doesn’t check during summer evenings.

There were baked goods, coffee, tea, and three professorial features tonight: Pam Arterburn, John Brantingham, and Gerald Locklin. Both Arterburn and Brantingham teach at Mt. San Antonio College. Locklin taught at CSULB from 1965 to 2007.

Arterburn read poems about being single after forty, about her daughter’s affection for homeless men, and tangentially about her antipathy for brown shirts. A couple of the poets during the open reading were wearing brown shirts and each apologized for doing so, resulting in laughter from the audience.

Brantingham brought the same youthful entourage that had accompanied him to Gatsby Books last week; one of them, a sociable guy named A.J., recognized me from that reading, which was cool. Brantingham might have recognized some of us from his earlier reading as well, since he made a point to read different, newer, more travel-oriented pieces this time around. He mentioned that he has just, as of today, established a non-profit organization with [I forget whom else] to produce an international arts festival and [I forget what else]. (I should have grabbed a flyer after the reading, but my social anxiety was getting the best of me.) Both readings seem to be part of his ongoing book tour for East of Los Angeles.

Locklin seemed like an eminence grise: everyone knew who he was, he has produced a ton of books, some of which were available at the merch table, and someone has even published a thick volume of critical responses to his oeuvre. He was a bit of a variety act, telling anecdotes, reading multiple poems about blow jobs, singing opera, and performing tap-dancing moves.

After the features, near the end of the break, I met Lorenzo, whom I remembered from last month. He pointed out the painting on the cover of a particular poetry collection on the merch table, reciting from memory a somewhat erotic ekphrastic poem about it. He then shared a number of sperm-related trivia facts with me.

Tom Thomas technically hosted the reading, but Mifanwy Kaiser still ran the show, providing the opening and closing remarks at either end of the reading and going over the ground rules before the open reading component, after the features. Maybe due to the time constraints involved with hosting three whole featured readers, Tom only let each open reader read one poem apiece, unless they were very brief.

As Tom randomly selected open readers, I ended up being the second to last. I read “Jungle Love,” which went over well, especially in the beginning, the lighthearted part before I start discussing divorce and souring relationships, and the end, which becomes lighthearted again. Whatever the reality beyond my perception may be, I do think I did a better job reading it tonight than when I recited it for Red Lion Sq. People laughed at several of the right points, at least.

The one moment I’d like to take back was after the reading was over. In the hall outside the meeting room, Tom waved good-bye to me and asked, “Are you taking off?” I answered, “Yep,” kinda curtly and too forcefully. I wish I’d sounded nicer.

Notes on Two Idiots Peddling Poetry – The Ugly Mug – 27 July 2011

Last night? Bah.

Parking Buddha usually smiles upon me Wednesdays, enabling me to find a space on Glassell right by The Ugly Mug. But yesterday, I had to park several blocks away, having first plunked the car in a couple of closer yet non-viable locations.

I didn’t have enough money to buy my usual dry cappuccino. I don’t like end-of-month poverty.

Somebody was already sitting in my usual seat, so I had to place myself even further back into the darkness.

This Two Idiots Peddling Poetry reading began with a poem by Blair. I don’t know Blair. Or rather, I didn’t know Blair. Blair died this last weekend, possibly from heatstroke.

The featured reader, Aaron Belz, did well. With a deadpan demeanor, he quickly moved through many witty poems, never really pausing to garner applause.

Almost everyone left after the break.

Both of the poems that popped up in my recitation rotation came off as rather creepy and disquieting. On a different night with a different vibe, that might not have been the case. So it goes. I read “Operation: Overshare” and “Playing Talk Show.” I keep thinking that I can’t wait to finish wading through my old, published stuff and get to the fresh, new, possibly better stuff. But maybe I’m seeing only ostensibly greener grass on the other side.

There were a lot of first-time readers last night. That part was cool. And most of them were quite good.

Notes on a Hump Day Reading – Gatsby Books – 20 July 2011

Gatsby Books is a very cool bookstore. It’s not huge, but it has a cat (a new addition, Ruby, from another, closed bookstore down the street) and stages quite a few regular artsy events. At least tonight, they also supplied water, wine and cookies.

Tonight’s event, featuring John Brantingham [n.b.: His blog seems to be under construction as of this post's date.], was standing room only. Regular host Kevin Lee of Aortic Books and Re)verb was busy celebrating his wife’s birthday elsewhere, so Anna Badua stepped in. She did a good job of keeping the ball rolling, but how am I supposed to subtly charm Kevin Lee into publishing me if he doesn’t show up?

Oh, yeah, Brantingham did well, too. Brantingham looks a bit like William Petersen from CSI. But based on what I heard, his poetry is better. He came with an entourage of past and present (?) students from his classes, some of whom signed up for the open reading.

Who else read stuff? Um, ba ba ba ba…Daniel Romo, who had been kind enough to invite me here via Facebook. Anna’s husband, who was funny. Tom Thomas, whom I think I last saw manning the Tebot Bach merch table on June 24. One eighty-six-year guy, who ended by reading a heartfelt Elizabethan sonnet, a paean to elderly wives of elderly husbands, who made himself cry, who thus choked up a lot of the audience. Lots of male readers, Brantingham especially, read poems about their wives.

The open reading rules here are a little stricter than other venues. One can read two poems or four minutes (not five), whichever comes first. And the Powers That Be cap the number of open readers at fifteen. Some people, apparently well-known by the regulars, didn’t get to the list in time.

Last night, I had been told that Hump Day Readings are typically quite well attended, so I made sure to get there early and grab a chair. Someone had also mentioned that quite a few of those attending are local movers and shakers, that the vibe was, perhaps, more…”distinguished”?…”elegant”?…than other venues. That last bit freaked me out, influencing my choice of readings. I had been planning on reading the two-page  “Documented Immigrant” and maybe another, short poem. But because I thought I was going to be surrounded by frowning major leaguers sitting in judgment and by Anna with a timer, I pulled out the short “Anybody Can Live on the Moon,” which seemed like a potential crowd-pleaser, and the equally short “Poem for Christy’s Daughter,” my one official “big gun” due to its Pushcart nomination. (I didn’t mention that last fact at the reading, though.) People seemed to like them. I got positive feedback afterward. Cool. Now I feel less bad about discharging the big gun and sending it back down to the bottom of the pile.

I ate two cookies on the way out. I live on the edge.

Notes on a Smiley Face Reading – The Neighborhood Cup – 19 July 2011

Usually, Smiley Face readings take place on the third Tuesday of the month in Aliso Viejo in a shady, chilly outdoor courtyard tucked between The Neighborhod Cup cafe and the Aliso Viejo Public Library. But for some reason, last night the courtyard was filled with herds of cows and flocks of sheep, all lolling about playing ruminant games on their MacBooks. Maybe there was a livestock auction scheduled for today. Whatever the case, fearless leader Jen Donnell suggested we move the reading to the front patio, which sounded like a good plan. The front patio had a reasonable number of chairs and was quite a bit warmer than the usual courtyard, although the traffic noises seemed louder. Fortunately, the traffic noises could be easily drowned out by any human voice augmented by a microphone and speaker. Unfortunately, the microphone and speaker didn’t work for the first half of the reading. I think Jaimes Palacio said there was a loose wire in the microphone cord. I also think he went to his car and got a replacement microphone. Maybe it was a microphone stand. I wasn’t a part of the whole fixing-stuff scenario, so I’m not sure. Whatevs. People read, people raised voices, people got heard.

The featured speakers this month were Oceana Callum, my fellow adjunct English faculty member at Orange Coast College, and Daniel Romo, whom I recognized from The Ugly Mug readings. Both of them did fine jobs last night, each reading an array of poems about youth, family, testoterone-fueled endeavors, and Other Topics. Oceana had journals to sell, but I had no money. (I had to make a special raid on the change jar to get a couple of bucks to dump in the usual Green Plastic Bucket O’Candy, O’Magnets, O’Questions, and O’Collection. I hope my check comes tomorrow.) She also brought her new husband, Geoff.

Oh gosh, who else was there? Kelly White, whom I just met and learned went to college in my home state of Michigan. Jaimes Palacio, of course. Jen brought Julian, of course, who did very well at answering my question about why certain beetles taste like chicken while other beetles taste like sea urchin, and who sang a non-Bruno-Mars song. Several people seemed to be off-duty employees of The Neighborhood Cup. That one guy, and that one woman, and that other guy… I dunno. There were a good dozen people there.

I was the first open reader. Why the hell did I sign my name in the first slot? Oh, well. I read “Small Elegies” (a poor choice, but short) and “A Menu of Cerebral Aneurysms” (a more interesting choice, but a bit long). I learned that open readers can read two poems or for five minutes, whichever comes first. I always worry that I’m going to go over the time limit, but I also have such a damn big backlog of poems to get through.

As at Beyond Baroque July 9th, everyone got smiley-face magnets and chocolate kisses. Score!

Some Poetry News from the Arab World

On March 10, I mentioned my discovery of the Arab language’s foremost poet, Adonis/Adunis (Ali Ahmad Sa’id), a figure with a reputation for a spirit of revolution and modernism. Today I ran into an interesting piece of Adunis backlash rooted in the great poet’s recent ideological shortcomings, particularly what he’s both said and failed to say about the “Arab Spring.” The opinion piece seems to examine a classic situation, that of the former iconoclast who has become an icon, the onetime “lone voice crying in the wilderness” who has become the distinguished opposition, the shadow of the establishment.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the power spectrum, Ayat al-Qurmezi, 20, the young Bahraini college student who had been jailed in March for reciting reformist poems critical of the regime of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, was released from prison on July 13. Still imprisoned are at least twenty doctors and nurses who had dared to give medical attention to the protesters and activists. While in custody, Ms. al-Qurmezi was beaten, electrocuted, and threatened with sexual assault. One official commentator has asserted that the young Shi’ite woman was not arrested for writing the poem, but for insulting the Sunni king and inciting sectarian violence by reading it publicly. I remain unaware of the official position on the use of torture against her.

Passive-Aggressively Coping with Grudges: “Best-Selling Children’s Books According to the SALINAS SCARAB”

I do love my sister, Kathleen Buckley.

I partly dedicated my first chapbook, Breach Birth, to her as an “unlikely midwife.” But not even Kathleen knows, at least perhaps not until now, that the dedication was somewhat back-handed, that it had to do with how upset I was at her in 2008 and 2009, upset enough first to whine, then to turn from whining to producing, to looking after my own long-stifled artistic urges. Behold the resulting creative crapstorm of March 2009!

I didn’t talk to her for about a year and a half. The estrangement supposedly had to do with what I saw then as a broken commitment, even a betrayal, but what in retrospect now seems more rooted in my silly hurt feelings and my not being simply given something for which I should have fought harder. And that’s all I’m going to say until she and I actually discuss the matter. One day, I showed up at the opening of her art show, gave her a hug and a kiss, and forgave everything without anyone making a speech. (That was the best resolution, anyway, because she gets…well, never mind. Family laundry.)

Of course, in March 2009, we still weren’t talking. I was trying to deal with things, to process the issues. [WARNING: IRONIC BITCHINESS AHEAD] I considered the apparently stunning quality of her proposed children’s book, the writing for which she made so eminently marketable by banging it out within an hour. I thought about how wonderfully, terribly productive she was — if you wanted something achieved without drama, without someone flying into a narcissistic tizzy, Kathy Ann Buckley was your woman. I thought about how wonderfully, terribly flexible she was — truly her current exalted station in life was due to her ability for compromise, her vast proclivity for balancing her desires with the needs of others. Given all that, certainly her book would be published almost immediately, in the year 2020, seven to eight years after the end of the Mayan calendar and several months after the notable freezing-over of Hell.

Wallowing in petty malice got me started. I gave her book a pseudonym, Giuseppe Slides Away. I started making up and listing the titles of other books equally unlikely to get published for another decade or three. Somewhere in there, a quasi-narrative took shape, of gradual human evolution and sudden devolution as the punch line. It was all a little cathartic.

“Best-Selling Children’s Books According to the Salinas Scarab” first appeared in Gargoyle Number 56 (Summer 2010). Its publication must have freed up some reserve of repressed psychic energy, because after I received my contributor’s copy, I just wasn’t mad anymore.