blog, Fiction, Nonfiction

Zombie Gangnam Style

A little bit of silliness to start the day:

I was researching proper punctuation with quotation marks, and found these examples:

Bob snorted and said, “I don’t believe in zombies”―right before thirty of them emerged from the tunnel.

Her favorite song was “Gangnam Style”; she spent weeks trying to learn the dance.

Kind of mundane, in the end. I think they could be spruced up a bit:

Bob snorted and said, “I don’t believe in zombies”―right before thirty of them emerged from the tunnel. Their favorite song was “Gangnam Style,” and they had spent weeks trying to learn the dance.

I’m envisioning a gaggle of K-pop-loving undead eager to come out to the world. They decide the best way to do so would be to put together a group choreography, maybe get it filmed and put online in the hopes it’ll go viral, so they work it out and practice and practice and practice, making sure to get all the steps just right. They even find the perfect rehearsal space—a cold, underground room off an abandoned tunnel, where they won’t disturb anyone or be disturbed themselves, and where decomposition will be limited. They work hard, and finally, after weeks, they’re ready to emerge and show the world what they’ve got. And then, when they do, what happens? People like Bob are stunned and everyone thinks there’s a zombie outbreak and panics.

Those poor, rotting souls.


Two very different uses of sighing

I’m for the moment just posting this because I find it an interesting example of how a single artistic gesture can be used to greatly differing effect in two different works. (Not that this should be surprising; but it’s nice to see it done so well and so differently.)

Anyway, listen to the two songs below:




Hear the sigh each singer uses? How do they make you feel?

Of course, a sigh isn’t just a sigh, nor is it sighed in isolation. The musical context contributes heavily, creating the atmosphere that the sigh breathes. In the case of “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.”, it’s creepy and disturbing; even more so for the way it works with the whole song—thetremulous voice, the quiet, tender melody that worms into your head carrying the initially unremarkable and eventually deeply dark lyrics—to create something profoundly unsettling, and unsettlingly attractive.

Meanwhile, in Buckley’s rendition of “Hallelujah”, there’s a hell of a lot of sex appeal. Buckley notably trims down the lyrics to focus almost exclusively on those pertaining to love and desire. And the inhalation at the beginning, as if Buckley had just been touched for the first time by a long-desired lover…


A Dime a Dozen

Even the most practiced writers make mistakes. Here’s one I found today, in Slashfilm’s piece “The 28 Best Movies of 2017 So Far“, in a section written by Ethan Anderton:

Romantic comedies are a dime a dozen, and most of them aren’t even worth that 10-cent piece when all is said and done.

Well, no, of course not. If they’re a dime a dozen, then one would be worth about eight tenths of a cent.

Nonfiction, Poetry

Persona Poems

It’s a funny thing—I really enjoy writing persona poems—they’re a bit like acting—but I’m not tremendously excited about reading them. Or at least, I’m not any more excited about reading them than I am any other poem. Maybe even a little less, if I know in advance what it is. Does this have something to do with preconceived notions of pretentiousness? Fears of heavy-handedness? I don’t know. Pound wrote a whole book of ’em, and Pound, though intellectually brilliant, often fails to move me. (For one thing, I don’t like being obliged to do intense research to understand a poem. I feel a poem should work on me through language, not through arcane reference; and that if there is arcane reference, it should add to the experience but not be essential to it.)

Thus when I do write them, I try to make them poems first and persona poems second. The point of adopting a persona, for me, is to explore the experience of another character, to imagine what a given moment might have been like for him, her, or whatever. To that end, the poem should contain within its language everything absolutely necessary to present the experience to the reader, to move them. If I do it right, you should be able to read the poem and experience it, be moved, without needing to go looking for information outside of the text; but if you do, that should only deepen your encounter.

I’ve been thinking about this because the other day, I was browsing through poems from when I was at Sarah Lawrence and came across a handful of persona poems and demi-persona poems. I’ve got one from the POV of Joe in Angels in America, which imagines him confessing his internal struggles to his wife; one exploring what Hektor might have thought and felt in his last days at Troy; one about Odysseus beginning the journey home; one that is an apology from Prince Harry to Falstaff on how he treats his friend on becoming King Henry V; and more. I’ll post one or two soon so you can see.


Read All the Things!

I’ve got this crazy idea that’s been banging around in my tin can for almost a year now, and I want to share it with you. Now, don’t get your hopes up too high—it’s not a creative project, per se. But I realized that I have a lot of books. A lot of them. Maybe not the most ever, but enough to make moving a real pain in the back. More significantly, though I’m ashamed to admit it, a good many of these books are ones I have never read. (Gasp! And I call myself a reader, a literary man.)
So here’s what I’d like to do to rectify the situation: I’d like to methodically read through every single book in my house.
To make it a bit easier, first I will be selling off or donating about 90% of them.
Just kidding. I’m not going to do that at all. Instead, I’m going to create a spreadsheet with the bibliographic information for each book as I read it. I’ll post the link somewhere on this site, and maybe on others, so that those who are interested can follow along. I think I’ll make it all-access, just for fun. And if I feel up for it, I’ll write a little critique or review of the book after I finish it and share that with my patrons. Or maybe with everyone, and also link to a GoodReads account. We’ll see.
Or this is what I hope to do. Right now, it’s just an idea, the smoke of something yet to take form, and many other, more pressing, more solid concerns are manifest before me.

Blogging the 30-Day Novel

A colleague of mine a couple of months ago turned me onto The Guardian’s pieces on how to write a novel in 30 days. Admittedly, their title is misleading (and mine might be, too), since the process they tout (created by XXX) really only (“only”) has you create a sort of very thorough and detailed outline that (they say) should practically count as a first draft, or at least make your first draft potentially your only draft.

But I started looking at the process, and I’m intrigued. As an experienced (but, silly me, practically unpublished) poet, I am familiar with, and comfortable, writing short pieces that I can revise in great detail ad infinitum, until they feel perfect. This procedure doesn’t really work for novel writing, though, and so I’ve become interested in various authors’ systems for getting their bigger stories down on the page. I’ve tried the Snowflake Method (helpful for me in some ways) and 5KWPH (which has dramatically improved my ability to ignore errors and let go of my tendency to tinker endlessly with the tiny details that might make or break a poem but would be of infinitesimal significance in a novel). Now I’m trying this one.

But here’s my idea: like others before me, I’m going to blog about my process. Maybe I won’t follow the method to the letter—I do have many other things to manage in my life—but I’ll follow it all the way through and talk about what I come up with. Maybe show you some cool things. And at the end, maybe I’ll have a novel!

Nonfiction, Uncategorized

A Return

New year, new face, renewed self. Despite all the horrible news in the world, I am positive: already much good has also come out of the bad, with millions organizing and becoming active voices in their local, regional, national, international communities. That alone is inspiring, but on a more personal level, I am also coming alive and active in different ways. Looking forward to exploring that here! Stay tuned for a change of pace, and a change of space.


What’s in a name?

Here’s a little something I posted on Facebook this morning after seeing Star Wars 7:

Ok, Star Wars 7 was awesome. I want to go live in that world again, and that’s quite an accomplishment after the failures of the prequels. But let us just acknowledge that “Snoke” is kind of a lame name given what the character is. It’s not puerile like “Dooku”, nor does it try too hard like “Sidious”, but it feels lackluster, wanting both mystique and menace.

The Bard, of course, asked the title question, and argued that the name doesn’t change the nature of the thing. But in the Star Wars universe, names are often onomatopoetic, giving a strong indication of how viewers are meant to take characters—or at least matching in sound what they are in personality and role. Chewbacca, for instance, may sound a bit like a loyal canine companion (or maybe that’s my retrospective interpretation). Ewok is appropriately cute with maybe a hint of bite. Han Solo, of course, is an independent, buck-authority, make-your-own-rules type. Yoda is appropriately bizarre and perhaps guru-like.

And others. Darth Vader echoes “invader” and thus threat. Darth Maul’s name mirrors how he is used. And for the most part, this seems to work well—Lucas and other writers have to balance this wear-your-heart-on-your-sleeve aesthetic with appropriate restraint and taste so as not to go overboard and end up with something that undermines the audience’s ability to take the character seriously. Jar Jar Binks may be one example of such failure, or you might argue that his name fits almost perfectly his role in the story. (But don’t go bringing up that “Jar Jar Binks is a Sith Lord” bullshit. That’s fan retconning at its worst, an attempt to transmute flaws and gaffes into something more subtle and refined, a deliberate, secret crafting.)

Dooku is probably the strongest slip-up—rather than sounding sinister, the name resonates with “poopy”, “caca”, and “doodoo”, so that rather than some evil Force master, I think of a pile of crap (like those prequels) and imagine small children snickering and whispering “He said ‘dooku’!” Sidious isn’t as bad in that sense, but it and Snoke both lack imagination. He’s Sidious because he’s an insidious threat? Really? Why not just leave him as “Palpatine”, a name that sounds snakelike and sinister without directly pointing to a particular quality? And though Snoke echoes smoke, what does that give us? Smoke doesn’t carry any real danger in itself. And swapping “n” for “m” sounds faintly ridiculous, a character bearing a slightly silly pompousness, something out of Dickens or Rowling or maybe Susannah Clarke. Not what the towering alien figure onscreen evokes at all.

There is precedent for onomatopoetic and thematic naming all throughout literature, so that ain’t a problem at all. Shakespeare gives us Dogberry, Snug the Joiner, Bottom (the Ass), Touchstone, and more. Dickens does it, too, and so do many others, to great effect. It’s just that you have to hit that fine, sweet spot. Lucas messed up a number of times in the prequels, which added to their ridiculousness. Abrams and Kasdan, in 7, generally do an excellent job with interesting names that at the least fit well in the Star Wars universe (Rey, Maz Kanata), and at best resonate with interesting meaning (Poe). They just missed with this one character, who, unfortunately, needed to sound more significant and imposing that it ends up doing.



A short poem or snippet or thingy by Brian Andreas (source: Story People), which I like a lot, but which also needs a tiny bit of improvement. See that last little phrase there? Yeah, “& there are no words for that”, that’s the one. It’s nice because it calls up once more the opening lines talking about specialized cultural vocabularies. So it gives a sort of circularity to the poem. But what it expresses? That’s already included (and very strongly so) in the phrase immediately prior. 95% of what these last words do is already done and far better; they simply serve as a way to wrap up the piece—elegant, sure, but also unneeded, extra.

Here, try this: cover up that last, extraneous phrase with your hand, and then read the poem. See how the evocation of two lovers snuggling against each other in bed hits you, right in the solar plexus, knocks the wind out of you? That’s where the poem needs to end.

(The depiction also implies that that very snuggling is a language in itself, its own vocabulary—a suggestion that is not borne within the statement “& there are no words for that”.)

(Also, I am aware that I do not know the context for this snippet. Maybe it all makes sense in its original place. Maybe my critique is not valid. Maybe not.)