Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Recommendations, Skips and Hmm's

I assume like most people, my time spent blogging is "extra" time, that fortuitous time that sometimes falls within the tiny spaces flanking the every day responsibilities of work and family and which more often than not is consumed with catching up on "Lost." That said, I have very little time for full-fledged reviews of books I'd recommend, recommend you skip or fall somewhere in between on. Thus the new, occasional Poetic Desperation abbreviated review feature, "Recommendations, Skips and Hmm's." Enjoy.


1) "Dolls," prose poems by Tom Whalen (Caketrain Press, 2007). Whalen's "Dolls" is at once both infinitely creepy and saturated with a strange kind of sadness. The dolls that inhabit these prose poems terrify you at the same time they make you want to pick them up and hold them.

2) "Shutter Island," a novel by Dennis Lehane (William Morrow, 2003). The basis for a feature film of the same name released in February, I picked this one up as research for an interview I'm conducting in a week or so with Lehane in preview of a reading he's giving in my area. The book goes pretty much exactly where you think it's going to, but Lehane's great talent is in keeping you reading regardless. The dream sequences are fantastic.


1) "during my nervous breakdown i want to have a biographer present ," poems by Brandon Scott Gorrell (Muumuu House, 2009). There are some interesting lines here, but the only thing I really liked about this book was the lack of page numbers. Seriously: I tend to be slightly OCD when it comes to making sure the page numbers are truly consecutive every time I turn a page, and Gorrell's book at least took that out of the equation.

2) "Just Before the Black," a short story by actor James Franco (in the current issue of Esquire). This short is presumably from Franco's first story collection, "Palo Alto," which will be released in hardcover by Scribner in October. I like Franco as an actor. He's great. But if this story is any indication of his capacity for writing, I'll pass on his written work in the future.

I can forgive Franco, for instance, for calling the building the narrator is sitting outside "tan" in paragraph two, then calling it "beige" in paragraph six, but in graph six when he writes, "The building is beige, but the shadows make it shadow-color," he loses me altogether. "Shadow-color"? That's just lazy writing. Was the sky sky-color? Was the car car-color?

Actually, we find that out in the trainwreck that is paragraph five, where he describes the car using the phrases "Grandpa's old blue boat" and "Grandpa's blue machine" within a handful of words of each other. We get it: It's Grandpa's car and it's blue.

Then we have graph seven, where Franco writes, "Joe smokes. His window is all the way down, and he breathes his smoke out the black gaping gap." A "gaping gap"? Maybe it's just me, but I usually assume a gap is gaping without having to be told. The phrase reads like a Dr. Seuss lyric.


1) "How to Take Yourself Apart / How to Make Yourself Anew," prose poems by Aaron Burch (PANK Press, 2010). I say prose poems, but they could be flash fiction. Whatever. Unfortunately, this collection had two strikes against it before I even started reading: 1) It's a perfect-bound square, a structure that for me is always aesthetically annoying and always makes me feel like I'm reading a "Mr. Men" book; and 2) Why does the title say "Anew"? Why not just "New"? I realize "Anew" hearkens back to the "Apart," but it sounds clunky. Anyway, I liked the middle section of the three, but the other two did nothing for me. I'm mixed on this one.

2) "Wolf Parts," short fictions by Matt Bell (Keyhole Press, 2010). I usually dig Bell's work (what I've read of it), but not this one. I pre-ordered it through Bell's site and received an instant audio download, which I couldn't even get halfway through listening to before canceling my order for the book. It's not the writing; the writing is fine. It's the subject matter. It's billed as a "dark, fragmentary retelling" of "Little Red Riding Hood," and it is that, but it also touches on what to me sounds like child sexual abuse, which I don't really want on my bookshelf. If you can get past said issues with the subject matter, however, it's probably a decent read.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

1,000 Words from Laconic Oration

That egg is a puppy! Just another one of the who knows how many awesome images up at the image blog Laconic Oration. I just wish they'd post more often (says the pot calling the kettle black).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Read Zachary Schomburg

Do yourself a favor and read Zachary Schomburg's "The Man Suit" (Black Ocean, 2007). Preferably now. This second.

Then read Schomburg's "Scary, No Scary" (Black Ocean, 2009) or, like me, browse through it constantly while letting it sit unfinished on a shelf because you don't want to face the prospect of waking up tomorrow with no new Schomburg to read.

Black Ocean offers free shipping on all retail orders of the books through their Web site, and as an added bonus orders of $25 or more come with a free book.

"The Man Suit," incidentally, was No. 4 on Small Press Distribution's Best-Selling Poetry list for 2009 ("Scary" was No. 9), and was No. 27 for the decade.

"The elephant has a point"

Everyone concerned about the health care "debate" needs to read the March 9, 2009, opinion article from Joe Conason, writing for on "The questions our health care debate ignores." I would argue that the questions -- Why does every developed nation except the U.S. have universal health care? Why do they pay half as much in medical costs? Why are their infant mortality and longevity statistics superior? -- are ignored because there is no debate, just a bunch of fear peddlers engaging in disgusting and misleading news conduct.

According to Conason:

"Among the OECD's 30 members -- which include Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom -- there are only three lacking universal health coverage. The other two happen to be Mexico and Turkey, which have the excuse of being poorer than the rest (and until the onset of the world economic crisis, Mexico was on the way to providing health care to all of its citizens). The third, of course, is us."

This is pathetic. If Mike Cox, Michigan's attorney general, goes through with his plans to sue the federal government in response to the current health care bill -- which is way weaker than it should have been -- I'm afraid there's little hope for the future of my already unfortunate home state.

If you think it'll make a difference -- though really, what is there to lose? -- contact Cox's people through one of the numbers listed here and stand up for those in our government who are actually trying to do the right thing by supporting health care reform.

(The comic above is by the New Jersey Star-Ledger's Drew Sheneman, who gave it the headline, "The elephant has a point.")

Monday, March 22, 2010

i have thoughts and feelings about tao lin

And those thoughts and feelings are mixed.

Tao Lin is known as much for his eccentricities as he is for his writing, maybe more. He notoriously financed the writing of his forthcoming novel "Richard Yates" (Melville House, 2010) by selling $12,000 worth of shares to investors. Last year, he may or may not (see the comments) have sold his MySpace page to an investment banker for $8,100 on eBay.

I don't remember when I first ran across Lin's writing, but my personal experience with his perhaps more singular personality began last fall, when I ordered a complete set of his art prints (images above) in October during a special Halloween sale.

It took more than a month and a half for the prints to arrive, and when they finally came Lin had written, on a small, square piece of cardboard included in the package:

"I'm sorry for the very massive delay. To compensate I've included some 'bonus' items. I hope you find this satisfactory overall. Thank you for your order."

The "bonus" items included a blank, pocket-sized Moleskine notebook, two narrow bumper stickers that read "fuck america" and five random photographs: four taken of other pieces of Tao Lin artwork and one of a random white poodle standing on a grassy beach. Also included was a copy of Brandon Scott Gorrell's poetry collection, "during my nervous breakdown i want to have a biographer present," published by Lin's small press, Muumuu House, in 2009.

An incredibly detailed account of the book's publication can be found here, in which Lin writes:

"I feel it may take ~1 to ~5+ years to sell ~1400 copies. I feel strongly that Brandon's book will become 'a kind of classic' (as I feel with Ellen's book), that it will be referred to by people in the future and remain 'known' for 10+ years or something, and that Brandon's second poetry book, blog, first novel, etc. will continue to generate interest in Brandon as he remains alive, and doing things, in the world; and so I felt secure, and other things, printing 2500 copies. I anticipate 2nd, 3rd, etc., printings of any book published by Muumuu House."

I read Gorrell's book rather quickly, and can see why Lin likes it, as it's basically like Tao Lin Lite. The book is rife with experiences of being an adolescent in the digital age: The only major player aside from extreme bouts of self-consciousness is the Internet. It's a book that -- and I mean no creative disrespect to Gorrell when I write this -- feels like it was written by someone inspired by and emulating Lin's poetry.

That in and of itself isn't necessarily a bad thing, though it is, I think, why I've started becoming disillusioned with Lin's poetry. While I don't remember how I first came across Lin's work, I do know it was the originality of his poetry that first drew me in. I remember posting the link to "a poem written by a bear" on my Facebook page with a caption that read something like, "Sometimes you discover certain writers who make you feel bad for not being a genious. This is one of them."

And of course, there's the clever-upon-first-reading "i went fishing with my family when i was five," which I've heard he reads in its entirety at open mic nights (follow the link and you'll see why that's notable, if not necessarily necessary).

I still enjoy Lin's poetry to an extent -- this entire post began as a way to say that since the end of February Lin has had 12 poems up at The Lifted Brow, and for the most part I enjoy them immensely -- but the more I read work in the vein of he and Gorrell the more it feels unnaturally forced.

I appreciate the formation of what to me seems like a new school of poetic expression, fueled by those up-and-coming poets who may have grown up with current technological innovations as the norm, but I can only read so much poetry that seems like such a hybrid of high school vanity poetry ("i think," "i feel," etc.) and text and instant messaging.

That said, Lin has a knack for narrative poetry, which despite its possible flaws keeps me coming back for more. And with titles like "i feel weird, like my favorite book is a novelisation of 'metroid'" I'm afraid it's impossible for me not to keep reading, even when the opening line is "i feel like giving my penis papercuts."

ABC News: "Checkbook Journalism"

In which ABC News waits two years to admit a $200,000 payment to accused child-killer Casey Anthony. Great piece.

A highlight:

"Some argue the money doesn't distort coverage, but that seems a fantasy. If a news outlet pays $200,000 for access to a source, will they report information which limits or ends that source's value as a news source? Will they report stories which anger the source and make them uncooperative?

"In Anthony's case, ABC News had the answer to a question which had been bugging observers of her case for a while: How does a woman who was unemployed for a year before her arrest pay a "dream team" of defense attorneys? But viewers never learned that information from ABC News, because it was already ethically compromised."

Read the whole article at The Feed, a blog on TV, media and modern life by St. Petersburg Times TV/media critic Eric Deggans. Then send Deggans a complimentary e-mail at

(Link via Super Punch. The image above is from Common Sense Journal.)

Holden McGroin Steps Up for Writers

Author Robert Swartwood continues his campaign against journals taking advantage of aspiring writers in his latest blog post, "Reminder Redux: Money STILL Flows To The Writer," a follow-up of sorts to a previous post taking the journal Narrative to task for charging $20 to submit a prose manuscript.

In response to the journal's recent call for interns, Swartwood set up a Gmail account under the name "Holden McGroin" and began a correspondence with the editors. A highlight: When the editors respond that "Holden" failed to attach a resume to his previous e-mail, Swartwood replies:

"Dear The Editors,

"I am very sorry about that. I was not aware I had already started something. What would you like me to resume?"


I agree Narrative has it coming. Yet, unfortunately, even Swartwood must agree it's a person's own fault if they shell out $20 to submit to a journal.

P.S. If anyone wants to pay me $20 to consider their work, feel free to shoot me an e-mail. I, like Narrative, will accept multiple submissions, since I, like Narrative, feel that "it's unreasonable to expect writers to give a magazine an exclusive look at a work unless the magazine can respond within two to three weeks."

I mean the last thing I want -- and I'm sure Narrative must feel the same -- is to be unreasonable.

(The image above is from The Writers' Police Academy, whose motto appears to be "Sweat Now, So Your Manuscript Doesn't Bleed Red Ink Later." Nice.)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Reality Check, Courtesy of John Klima

Electric Velocipede editor John Klima posted the above graphic on his blog this past Monday, showing his journal's submission and acceptance numbers from 2009.

Klima writes that he received 967 submissions last year from August through December, and of those submissions only 33 pieces were accepted for publication. That's an acceptance rate of about 3 percent.

It's a kind of reality check for writers, as it shows why it's so important that you're work be at its best when you send it out. Editors are deluged with submissions, and if your pieces aren't up to par it isn't hard for an editor to scrap them and find work that is.

Thanks to Klima for the blog post. I wish more editors would publish the numbers for their publications in a similar way.

Incidentally, Electric Velocipede's sale celebrating their 2009 win of the Hugo Award for Best Fanzine is still going, and as those who read the review on my genre blog know, it doesn't disappoint.

Brave Men Press Reading Manuscripts in March

Massachusetts-based Brave Men Press has announced the details of their first open reading period for chapbook manuscripts, which continues through this month.

According to their e-mail on the topic:

"We are primarily interested in POETRY, will most likely choose POETRY, but are also possibly interested in ESSAYS and OTHER MULTIFARIOUS WORKS OF NONFICTION. Sorry though, NO FICTION. Manuscripts may range between 12-30 pages. Multiple submissions okay. Please send electronic submissions in a WORD document to"

I like Brave Men Press and I will be submitting work to the fine people there this month, possibly in the form of multifarious works of nonfiction. Won't you join me?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Alternate Covers for Mirov's "Ghost Machine"

Ben Mirov has revealed two alternate covers for "Ghost Machine," his soon-to-be-released winner of Caketrain's 2009 Chapbook Competition, on his blog. The post covers his writing process for the collection, as well as for the related "Collected Ghost," another of his chapbooks I reviewed on this site in November.

Among the revelations:

"The poems are all collage poems made up of sentences I wrote after a breakup. I was also unemployed and sleeping on my brother's couch. I wrote most of the sentences as a method of passing time and dealing with my fucked emotional state. I would describe my overriding emotion during that time as a feeling of emptiness. I wrote so many sentences during that period. I wrote down things I heard people say. I wrote down things I thought or dreamt. I wrote down things that happened on TV or in books I was reading. I wrote down sentences I made up. I wrote down anything. The majority of the sentences were short and used simple grammar. They weren't really poems."

Most of the poems were written in San Francisco in 2006, Mirov writes, and he didn't revise the manuscript until later when he moved to New York. It took him three years to do it.

"It was like sampling myself," he writes.

"Ghost Machine" will be published by Caketrain sometime in May. One of the alternate covers -- the other is much more colorful -- is pictured above, designed by Caketrain's Joseph Reed.