Poetry and things


Lots of breaking the no-starting-new-books rule this episode, I'm afraid. Largely because of my local library's excellent poetry display for Poetry Month and my renewed feelings of obligation to read more poetry. Besides the ones I finished, know that there were unfinished volumes from Claudia Rankine and Dorothy Parker and . . . others as well.

018) 77 Love Sonnets by Garrison Keillor, finished April 21

Although the types of love celebrated is broad (love for Obama, love for radio audiences, love for a daughter), most of the poems touch on or dive into romantic love. (And something strange, I must say, about reading Keillor on giving oral sex.)

The book is ridden with wonderful lines, but I'm not sure there's a single wonderful poem among the 77. Frequently that's because he can't resist silly rhymes and sillier allusions as they occur to him, but regardless of reason, it's a volume of great lines buried in this and that and th'other.

The type of sonnet varies much as well. 14 lines is strictly adhered to, but good luck finding iambic pentameter---line length and rhyme scheme are loose rules to be reinvented page by page.
about a week


017) Fidelity by Grace Paley, finished April 20

I don't know her, but she's been around a long time and this was her last book. Appropriately, much of the poetry is about being old and having outlived the known world.

Some poems were excellent, some I didn't make friends with, but her voice was infectious throughout. I was taken by her use of gaps within lines, something I've never liked until now.

I would certainly pick her up again, should I see her on library display.
about a week


016) The Jam Jar Lifeboat & Other Novelties Exposed by Kay Ryan, finished April 15

This slim volume of poems was published near the beginning of Ryan's term as U.S. Poet Laureate. I almost wonder if it was published be make a quick buck at that moment until her next full collection was ready. Which isn't a knock on the poem itself, which is a serious of poems inspired by quotations from Ripley's. It's as fun as it sounds, but only fifteen poems total which runs a dollar a poem, and seems rather a lot, even if it is illustrated.

[Incidentally, I was right and wrong. Yes, this was released to capitalize on her new job. But it started life as a collector's-only hardback, so. . . . At any rate, she's written hundreds (hundreds!) of these poems, so fifteen still feels stingy, even if it started life a a beautiful handcrafted object.]
maybe a week


015) Work & Days by Tess Taylor, finished April 1

Always read a neighbors' book. That's my motto. (Not one my neighbors share.)

This is the second of Tess's books I've read (the first) and although, like the first, her work is heavy on both bluster and guilt, the proportions have changed. The bluster is in greater supply while the guilt has slipped to the periphery.

I use the word "bluster" hesitantly as it has some negative connotations that might lead you away from what I precisely mean. Words can be funny that way.

Here's the press release. And here are three lines out of context that I thought were topnotch:
flavor is the artifact of light.

We hadn't seen it, hadn't tried, had been asleep.

removing, removing the stones from our soil.
And, if you're counting down, my two favorite poems were "Hung with Snow" and "Last Hay."

1. The overriding conceit of fertility presents itself in many different contexts.

Like her last book, this book suggests it will reward rereading. I think I am more likely to address my attentions to her less bucolic book, but nevertheless: this one is good too.
four days

Previously in 2016


Nonce poem of the week


Every week the poem is supposed to be about what's happening now and to include an accompanying explanation thereof. (And links, which I failed to do this time.) Although it doesn't follow, I'll choose to assume that the rejection coming eight hours later than usual means I last longer in the bracket.

Here's this week's accompanying explanation:
For twenty years now I've been meaning to watch Ghost in the Shell, recognizing that, until I do, I can't pretend to know anything about anime. I still haven't watched it, but soon the live-action version will be out, starring Scarlett Johansson. The first image of her in the role was released this week and internet-rage over Hollywood whitewashing is once again in the news. In my own feeds, it has overwhelmed little things like the earthquake in Japan. The title of this poem comes from a student's notes on Brave New World. I was taken with the phrase, and in googling it was reminded that an Indonesian pop star died in front of her fans last week after dancing with a cobra. Her opinion on ScarJo as Major Motoko Kusanagi will go unshared.
Aspects of this poem's style were inspired by my reading of Grace Paley's final book.

while collapsing between snakes

The main thing I know about Asian girls is their hair is black          and they’re hot
he said          knowing at least the difference between their
and they’re          So what if it’s a white chick in a wig          black hair
is black hair          is black hair          My own mother was Asian
when she had me          he said          at least to see the photos
lol          But you get me. And when walls collapse          it doesn’t matter
if the hero is white in a wig or yellow or green or          (the favorite color
of the colorblind)          purple. Doth the baby care          who doth lift it
from the rubble? Course not, bruh.          No more than a cobra cares if you’re passing
as blonde          on stage          in front of all your fans          you’re very best friends.



NSFW Poetry this week


Yesterday a student shared with me a video just now going viral. And I ended up writing my poem this week based on that video and its . . . comments. (An example newer than the poem appears below the video.) It's legit. The previous purchased poem, for instance, was inspired by this. Oh, and the bombings in Brussels.

Order of consumption doesn't matter.

Rechtmäßigen Persiflage

We may have moved from fricasseed baby
to vegan sausage but
the YouTube comments remain
unchanged, denying potatoes
to Irish and supplying pork
to Mohammedans.

No matter the friendly fucking,
the fuckyouüping
remains, and so as lions
lie with lambs,
the groyners lift back up
frozen boulders spilled in sun.

Righteous rammsteins may don sandals
over socks, yet unlost
Teutonic expertise
exports to abattoirs abroad,
blueprints shared by
sadomasothebest and Sletvard Juice.

And this is their white flag:

Dear pro-immigrant Germans. I just hope, I am wrong, and You are right. But i wish to see, You will weak up in time, and Your stupidity will not force Your children and grandchildren in the future to look for asylum…because they will be not safe in own country… We, Europeans must stick together, or We will be in next century only a memory. Wishing You best luck.


First-quarter films


In theaters:

Zootopia (2016): Almost all our going-to-see-a-movie plans have fallen apart this quarter, but I don't regret making it to Zootopia which, I suspect, will be everyone's second favorite movie. (Their firsts will differ, but everyone gonna like Zootopia.) And rightly so. It captures better than any other movie I've seen our mobile world, and it's very funny at times and genuinely moving at others. Its central metaphor also succeeds, although it has to break the central mystery slighlty awkwardly in half to really fully accomplish that aim. In fact, my only real complaint with this film is its mystery---the engine of its plot---which has no real twists because said reveals project themselves a few scenes ahead of time. This damages a first watch, but the value of a mystery film has more to do with all the non-reveal aspects---after all, the second through nth viewings all begin with the ending already clear. Too soon to say if those aspects will hold up to repeated viewings. They seem great, but they all hang off the arms of a plot that's a bit lacking in rigor. So: time will tell.

At home:

Wonder Boys (2000): A colleague was shocked a couple weeks ago when I admitted that I had never seen this movie. As an English teacher and especially as a writer I was guaranteed to love it. Um. Hmm. In fact, I don't even really get it. A bit of thinking tells me it's because I really don't understand any of the relationships in this movie. None of them ring true to me. Lady Steed and I even laughed some times when the narrator talked about how important other people were to him. I don't think the movie was joking though....

Mystery Men (1999): I've been wanting to rewatch this movie for so long and now I finally have and guys! guys! guys! It's so good! It totally holds up! Sure, the effects are a tiny bit dated and sure it's responding to mid90s Batman movies, but it's totally now! This is the comic-book era and this movie has a strong claim on the Best Superhero Comedy prize. It's parody and satire and absolutely earnest and real. And it dates back to that moment when both it looked like Hank Azaria was going to be a big movie star and Ben Stiller was becoming one. And the latter's interaction with Janeane Garofalo's never been better. And William H. Macy's stolid, downhome performance is amazing. And it has one of the most shocking midmovie turns since Psycho (though that shock might be less now than it was a decade ago). Mmmmmm. Any chance we'll finally get a Flaming Carrot movie on the 20th anniversary?

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015): Well. It's not as good as the first one. Some of the wit feels a bit forced and no matter how hard movies try, I'll never believe Jeremy Renner's anything but a tool. Plus, the CG was grotesque. Nothing about that first fight scene felt part of the real world. (And don't get me started on the use of breasts in this movie.) Even the parts of this movie that felt honest in the moment, in retrospect feel a contrived and manipulative and frankly a bit dishonest. I think part of the problem is the weight of juggling so many characters and ongoing storylines. Ant-Man was more focused and I think that's part of the reason it succeeded. All that said though, it did a good job setting up the next Captain America and I'm looking forward to seeing how that plays out.

Help! (1965): This is the kids' first Beatles movie and it's certainly easily accessible madcap nonsense with vocal work that will recur in Terry Gilliam animations for Python. It might be a bit projective of me, but one of the things I find interesting rather than headshaking is the whitewashed acting of a nonsensical Eastern . . . thing. Is it a people? Merely a religion? How many of those white Easterners are maybe known to be white? The film feels like a parody of all-white casts of people of color. The only actual people of color are the Bermuda police---who, it might be pointed out, are by far the most competent people to help the Beatles in their hour of need. (And this is without mentioning the satirical barbs at 1965 Britain.) At any rate, it's one of the high points of 60s film-comedy madness. I would love to see this kind of creativity in current film comedy. (I'ld also love to dress as a 1965 Beatle.) (They can keep the hair.)

Inside Out (2015): Did I weep? Yes I did. Now I'm off to watch Riley's First Date and weep some more. [UPDATE: That short's not really a weeper.]

The Princess Bride (1987): First time for the kids! And it's apparently been over a decade and a half since Lady Steed's seen it as well, so she was gasping and laughing along with them. You know what for me is the most emotionally resonant line in the movie is? The last one. And knowing it's coming gets me teary-eyes in anticipation.

Seven Samurai (1954): You know, for a three-and-a-half-hour movie, this sure did not drag. It just kept on going. Even the slow and quiet moments were laden with below-the-surface action of one sort or another, whether scene-setting or character-building or what. It's beautiful and moving and even the most absurd characters are slowly invested with pathos and reality.

A Hard Day's Night (1964): Has some classic moments and captures an era and comes first, but besides those---call me a philistine but, well, I like Help! better. Probably even the music. Still. Given that I'll spend most of my time middle-aged and old , the least I can hope for is to be clean. . . .

Spy (2015): Totally lives up to the billing. A brilliant new take on the spy genre and this is the showcase Melissa McCarthy has now proved she absolutely deserves. It's also a good example of how over-the-top vulgarity can be used like a paintbrush rather than a bludgeon. Though that's hardly the correct simile for this movie.

Life Itself (2014): This life of Roger Ebert is a bit so-what in its first act, but ultimately, it finds a lot to say. It has genuine emotion and finds a way to be about love and family and friendship and kindness and art. It takes some interesting chances too, such as extended outtakes from Siskel & Ebert, that do more storytelling than, for instance, the filmmaker's voiceover that was much of the problem in the first act. But I imagine it's hard for a director who no doubt owes Ebert's love of Hoop Dreams at least in part for his career, to be dispassionate. And would you want him to be?

The Magnificent Seven (1960): Maybe it's because I just watched Seven Samurai but . . . it's no Seven Samurai. Although the individual scenes are paced much as in Kurosawa's film, those scenes are crammed together. And for a long time it has a tortured relationship, uncertain what to borrow, what to leave, and what order to put them all in. The film's strongest when it goes off to make its own path---the third act, notably. Final analysis? A bit slight in its development (perhaps the director was relying on our [formerly] preexisting knowledge of what sort of characters the bit actors tended to play?) but it ends strong---we learn more about many of the characters in their final moments of action than in the preceding ninety minutes.

The X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008): Having been watching the six new episodes and trying to answer questions about things we'd forgotten, we discovered there'd been two movies. Two movies! Why don't we remember the second? Anyway, we'd seen it before. In fact, all our memories about the two movies were off. Me, for instance, I remember going to the theater and watching the first movie with Lynsey. But when it came out, we hadn't met yet. And no memory of having seen this one before, yet we had seen it. Maybe we forgot because it was more like an overlong episode than a movie? I don't know. I don't know. Pretty good episode, though, even if it was a bit long.


It Follows (2014): What a great movie. I was squirming in my seat the whole way through. A note on interpretation. The obvious one is that it's a commentary on modern sex culture and, you know, kids having sex too easily etc etc. That's too simple, though. Because once they have their supernatural STD, their behavioral options diverge. So I think it deserves a variety of readings. Make it about youthful error in general, for instance. Try reading this movie as a comment on student-loan debt and never sleep again.

Romeo and Juliet (1968): As I grow more and more familiar with the play, I find any given director's choices all the more interesting. For instance, why drop all references of Rosaline until Friar Lawrence? And that's not the only thing rendered nonsequitery by this script. But no matter. Yet I love it.

Romeo + Juliet (1996): I am rather predictable, am I not? Maybe if any other play had two movies so different yet so true I could make a change...?

Stranger than Fiction (2006): Will Ferrell is incredible in this movie, don't you think? And Emma Thompson! Emma Thompson, everybody! And Maggie and Dustin and Queen (do people call her "Queen"?) are no slouches either. The acting is great. It's well written. The play with image is terrific. I just tried out using it as a companion to The Princess Bride with the freshmen (metafiction, yo). I need to refine it a bit, but this trial run was a huge success.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1998): My brother has been promoting this movie to me for years. His general pitch is this: "This won't be your favorite movie, but everyone I've ever recommended this movie to found it to be time well spent." And he is right. It's not my favorite movie, but I certainly enjoyed myself. The first third was a bit slow and I saw the final reveal just before it happened, but the latter in particular I don't mind, because it had a secondary payoff that was greater than the first. I love me a good con (in film, not real life, stay away), and this one lets the matchsticks pass by each other, work together, work against each other, etc. And seriously: Michael Caine and Steve Martin? Come on!

Previous films watched




Reading books like a sloth, yo.


014) The Little World of Liz Climo by Liz Climo, finished March 29

Not my fault! Lynsey brought it home! Many of these are very very funny! Check her out!



013) Forgive me, I Meant to Do It by Gail Carson Levine, finished March 26

I have gone
and checked out
some poems for kids
from the library

which were witty
and played
games with much
of children's literature

Forgive me
the concept was tempting
so clever
and bold.
two days


012) Fences by August Wilson, finished c. March 14

Any week spent reading Fences with an AP class is a week well spent.
about a week


011) The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson, finished March 19

It took me a while to find our copy of this book so I could read the parts we skipped during our road trip. So I found those parts---and a few more that Lady Steed remembered but apparently I dazed through.

Some of the happiest moments of my reading life have been with Bill Bryson. I don't know if I've ever laughed harder at the printed page than at his dog story in his Australia book. While this book wasn't all that for me (because I am older?), it was a lot and a bit more.

I miss the days, sometimes, of focusing on filling in the gaps of my favorite writer's oeuvres.... is breadth all it's cracked up to be?
a month

Previously in 2016


Poetry out of the present, week 4


I haven't skipped all the previous missed weeks. I've decided that if I like a poem enough, I'll keep tweaking it post-rejection and try to place it elsewhere.

This particular poem I didn't get started on until less than two hours till doomsday. I didn't successfully juggle all the conceits I threw in the air. There's something here, but it's not here yet.


Holy Week, 4 –1

We share a national past-time–La Pelota–and later today our players will compete on the same Havana field that Jackie Robinson played on before he made his Major League debut.
Barack Obama
March 22, 2016
Havana, Cuba

Forty-one days ago, ancient cubano cars felt at peace
as their masters arrived with foreheads marked in holy ash.
We are aging and smoking and we are together,
the cars said to each other. We are Cuba!

Four days yet to la crucifixión de Jesús
and the Americans have arrived to take the field,
black paint under their eyes. Leading off: Varona,
native son, outfielder, defected, yet returned intact.

Before Movimiento cast casino-happy Americans
from the garden, gods like Home Run Johnson and
Cool Papa Bell wintered on these islands, picking up scratch
and setting records unrecorded. Jackie Robinson was here.

And once long ago, mis hijos, he took his lead from third,
believing somehow the tomb would open
and he could buy the same Ford Pilot
we are so anxious to shed.



The First Book of Samuel, chapter eight


6 ¶But the thing displeased Samuel, when [the elders of Israel] said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the Lord.

7 And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.

8 According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee.

9 Now therefore hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and shew them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.

10 ¶And Samuel told all the words of the Lord unto the people that asked of him a king.

11 And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots.

12 And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots.

13 And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.

14 And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.

15 And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.

16 And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.

17 He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.

18 And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day.

19 ¶Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us;

20 That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.

21 And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of the Lord.

22 And the Lord said to Samuel, Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king.


Overdue: Fringe Folk


010) Folk of the Fringe by Orson Scott Card, finished March 9

I don't know when I first heard of this book. Certainly well after it was published. Certainly long before today. I purchased my copy new from the BYU Bookstore on some occasion . . . my graduation? last time on campus before leaving Utah? something like that. It seemed an appropriate choice given it's significance in Mormon lit. It's still, in some respects, arguably the best very Mormon book from a very Mormon writer. At least to hear people talk about it. It's part of your first $17 investment in the field, after all.

Perhaps it's the weight of great expectations that explains why I don't love it like I'm supposed to. After all, not only is this allegedly the Best Mormon Book ever, it's also short stories from one of my all-time favorite short-story writers. That's a lot of expectations to be saddled with.

Anyway, I don't have specific complaints. Stories range from the thrilling to the provocative to the familial, and Card's evocation of character and place are as strong as ever. Were I to write a serious review, I would mostly discuss what what great about these stories. But this isn't a review I'm writing---it's a personal response, and that response is disappointment in not being blown away.

Perhaps this feeling is representative of how far the field has come in 30 years. Perhaps 30 years ago, being unprecedented, this book stood so far above its (nonexistent) competition that it was like Chimney Rock. Now it's more like Bryce Amphitheater.

Again: I'm not knocking this book at all. It's only failure is not being as unique as once it was. Perhaps that should be chalked up as another of its successes.
about nine months

Previously in 2016


Doing great, thanks.


Before we get into the books I've read, let's review this year's goal of not starting new books:

Sorrrta good. Although I've found new categories of exceptions, I've overcome to start new books in the manner in which I usually start them. And I think there's some evidence that I'm not setting aside books that take longer to finish (this time last year, I'd finished 18 books---double this year's number).

The first book you'll read about (#9) I picked up from a wee free library during a long walk home. I was without anything to read while walking and this fit the bill. I had intended only to read an essay or two during my walk then put it back in a box, but Beck's writing is too compelling to just put down, and the importance of listening across cultural boundaries is just as important now as it was in the early '70s.

Then: two books we listened to during a drive to Utah. Then: two books I read because I'm reviewing them or interviewing the author. So: zero of this books were started prior to January.

I'll get better!

009) The Naked Soul of Iceberg Slim by Robert Beck, finished February 29

Throughout my white Mormon upraising, I have never met anyone like Iceberg Slim. His best known book is Pimp: The Story of My Life, in which he lays out how he ended up in that life. The book I read is a collection of essays, many mere vignettes, ranging from forgotten friends to why only people who hate women get into the pimp game, to the problems with being black in "racist America." It's difficult to read about, say, police shooting down unarmed black men, and argue that we've come that far. On the other hand, I can't read his words and really believe it's quite where we are today. Although parts of America are as far apart as ever, I think a serious percentage of us are finding middleground.

Still: I certainly know young black men as angry as Iceberg Slim. Both Ice-T and Ice Cube named themselves after him; I'm not sure how directly he's influencing the current generation, but indirectly he's still with us.

I highly recommend checking him out. His language is not my language, but his anger and pain and fatigue are honest. And current.

eight days


008) Half Moon Investigations by Eoin Colfer, finished Feb 20

This was the third audiobook from our trip (we skipped a few parts of book two, which I'll be finishing in paper form as we have a copy around here somewhere).

This is what I expected from Colfer, only without any fantasy. But it doesn't need to be fantastic. It takes it's hero seriously enough (and puts him into serious enough situations) that reality holds as much weight as a dwarf who rockets dirt out his butt.

The kids dug this even though we were listening to it long past the time they would normally sleep---they didn't sleep as much as they should have.

In short, this is Encyclopedia Brown if his life were more like Sam Spade's. It made the kids laugh and it kept the energy and tension high and although it was a bit overlong, no one thought to complain except the 36-year-old woman.
a long slog all the way from midnevada to home


007) Bless this Mouse by Lois Lowry, finished February 16

This was the first of three audiobooks we listened to on our drive to Utah. I haven't read any Lowry besides her dystopian fic and this is not that. This is a charming story about mice living in a Church who have adopted the religion but still must fear the day the priest calls an exterminator.
basically nevada


006) Dendo by Brittany Long Olsen, finished February 14

I loved this book. Long Shimai's daily comics journal is a wonder. I've never read a missionary story that successfully built a new human from the mundane moments of a mission. Even the marvelous amazing moments are shown clearly in their mundanity. And that is one of the most honest things a missionary memoir can do. Expect more from me about this book in he future.
about two weeks


005) Dream House on Golan Drive by David G. Pace, finished February 5

I'm writing a serious review of this for Dialogue, so nothing much from me here. Just know it will be largely about a symbolic feedback look. Tempting, eh?

couple weeks

Previously in 2016


Svithe on Wards


Today's sacrament-meeting topic was
The ward's role in bringing me to Christ.
My role in bringing the ward to Christ.
The following is (roughly) my opening remarks.
[having dismissed those who presented the sacrament to the congregation]

The sacrament, of course, is the reason we come here, the most important thing we do each week, as we've been told.

When asked however, what the most vital thing to do is if we're feeling spiritually worn, the most common correct answers are daily individual and family prayer, daily individual and family scripture study. No one suggests that before brushing your teeth and crawling into bed that we pause a moment to bless an individual dose of bread and water for ourselves.

Consider the prayers we hear each week. The bread for instance is blessed for "all those who partake of it"---not for me. as I partake of it.

Clearly there are some things we must do together. Somethings that gain value by being done by a community, by a ward family, rather than by individuals....

previous svithe


Should Obama pull a Reagan here?


So Scalia is dead, darn it. And now President Obama has the Constitutional responsibility to nominate a replacement and the Senate has the constitutional responsibility to advise and consent. Shockingly, Republicans are promoting a bonkers notion that Obama should just let the next president make the nomination. Cruz at the debate claimed that it's been eighty years since the Senate's confirmed a Supreme Court nomination during an election year---which will make his next Reagan Cult meeting pretty embarrassing when they remind him about 1988.

I was not a SCOTUS fanboy in 1988, but I imagine that no one suggested Reagan should just wait for the next president to nominate someone. The last Justice who died while still serving on the Court was Rehnquist, and Bush made a nomination and saw it consented upon in, like, a month. But let's pretend the Senate didn't want Reagan to nominate someone before he left.

I don't think that's true, but it's easy to pretend because before the Court voted in Kennedy, they voted down Bork. This is where we get to Obama's opportunity to go full Reagan (although, given what we know now about Reagan's mental state during his waning presidency, if this was anyone's actual plan, it maybe wasn't his).

Obama could this Tuesday nominate a wildly unconsentable candidate like Pam Karlan. She will get eaten up and spat out then run over a few times with an old garbage truck. Then Obama can nominate someone like Sri Srinivasan or Jane Kelly who were, at their previous Senate advise-and-consents, voted in with 97-0 and 96-0, respectively. Maybe it's not putting someone as liberal on the court as Scalia was conservative, but it's likely enough to tip the Court and hard to imagine the Senate being able to call that second nominee unacceptable after beating Obama down publicly the first time.

Anyway. It's an idea.


Poetry out of the present, week three

The realtor failed to mention the spiritual sinkhole beneath our home
before we signed here and here and there and once more on this one
to trade one third of our income these next thirty years for a home
surrounded by the dying and the absent. Someday we we’ll no longer be
the youngest couple on this street and the land shall flow
with milk and honey and, more to the point, wifi, letting evil find easier passage
through our lives rather than taking up residence a thousand feet
from our front door, signaling the lost and the angry of our wired world that
here is the hell from which thy demons came.


On Jane


With the popularity of this new feed's listing of the introductions of female characters in scripts, I decided to look at my current draft of a script and see how well I'm doing in comparison....:

Seventeen-year-old JANE1 is standing against it, looking at the camera. She is thinnish and tallish, the child of a black mother and a Cambodian father. She is dressed in jeans and a tshirt. The tshirt has a drawing of Emma Smith and the caption UR MORMON CHICK. Even though it is clearly cold outside, she seems hot, as if she's been carrying boxes.

JANE2 at first seems to be the typical teen-movie perfect blond. She is seventeen, thin and wearing a 50s-style dress in a fascinating modern print; her hair is long and, like everything about her, kempt. Yet on closer examination, she'll prove to be a nerd, not a trophy, and her face will more emotive than beautiful. She, like the other two, is carrying a coat or other warm clothing to put on over what she's wearing.

JANE3 is built for strength. She looks like she could maybe make her high school's football team. She is dressed well, but it doesn't look like it was her idea.

JANE4 is heavy but wears her weight with confidence--she clearly thinks of herself as voluptuous rather than fat. She is dressed well, and means it, but unlike JANE2 who provides an aesthetic to be seen from afar, JANE4's appearance is more a dare to come closer. She's a year older than the other three girls but could pass as a decade older if she wanted.

JANE5 is tall. Her hair is long and unstraightened. She's obviously tired after a long day but her demeanor suggests she's used to running at full charge.

JANE6 seems young to have grown children, yet she does. She dresses in an aggressively 50s-housewife fashion, but these dresses do not completely cover the tattoos on her upper arms, legs, chest, back. Her demeanor is so conservative it feels radical.

JANE7 is working at her desk.

JANE8, a blond girl who looks like the new-and-improved Stepford-student non-hipster version of JANE2 is standing beside JANE3, unexpectedly, as in a horror movie.

JANE9 is JANE2's older sister. She is a stay-at-home mom and, while dressed up, looks exhausted.

JANE10 is obviously trying to be the town badass.

Hmmmm. I'll let you tell me how I did, but I'll tell you what it makes me feel: sad I'm not spending more time with them. But scripts are hard to prioritize when the money ain't comin' through.


Lost Songs: Everything She Wants


One thing I'm fascinated by is how little Lady Steed's and my respective knowledge of '80s music overlaps. She knows George Michael's solo work (I don't); this song was just on the radio and she had never heard it before. I know country and saccharine; she knows new wave and hair bands. We do overlap here and there of course (Bon Jovi, natch), but not a lot.

How horrible not to know this song! (And holy crap: this song is really long.) As Lady Steed points out, it has no proper chorus, just an wordless bit between parts where a chorus would normally go. It's still a fully hooks-laden song however, just like folks want now, even though it's about as transgressive as, I don't know, "Hey Jude."

Which are strange observations to have now. As a kid, this was a song I simply loved. It was one I hated to interrupt, one I wanted to listen to all the way to the end. I think what holds up is the almost minimalist use of '80s extravagance---everything's reduced to a series of beats with soaring nonsense and hardluck overlaid.

Or, you know, whatever.


Practicing (attempting?) occasional poetry, week two


Wife crashes her own funeral, horrifying her husband, who had paid to have her killed

February 5, 2016

Surprise! I’m still alive!
In olden times, when your brains were out,
you died. But do they now rise again?
Which of you have done this?
You cannot say I did ought.
I stand here. I see her.
This is more strange
than any murder—
I do forget.

Surprise! I’m still alive!
But do not muse at me, my most worthy friends.
Give me wine! Love and health to us all!
Let us drink to my dear wife, Noela,
whom we miss. And do not see.
Would she were here!
Quit my sight, fiend,
your flesh is cold,
marrowless. . . .

Surprise! I’m still alive!
Take any shape but hers, and my nerves shall yet—
Cold breath gives shape to the heat of deeds. . . .
Hence, horrible shadow! I am free of you!
Hence, unreal thing—! They too see?
Credit not my strange self-abuse
to being steeped in her blood.
I am her man! Sit still,
bloody Noela. I—


AML AWARD: fiction nominees


As you may recall, all I really want in life is an AML Award. This dream cane true in 2011 when I was awarded an editing award for the Sunstone comics issue. As is the way with humans, however, I then discovered I was not satisfied. I still wanted one, but in my true field: fiction.

Well, this year I'm taking a step closer, having been shortlisted. Shortlisted, I might add, against some incredible competition. In fact, the entire list of fiction nominations in all three categories is a Venn diagram of great writers and good friends, with plenty of people in the middle.

Let's start with my category, short fiction:

Remainder” by Spencer Hyde
Someone new for me to discover! Delight!
The Naked Woman” by Theric Jepson
I'm quite proud of this story but it never occurred to me it might interest the judges. I know who one of the judges is and I'm immensely flattered that a writer of his quality thinks well enough of my story to nominate it, notwithstanding its lack of explicit Mormon content.
Absolute Zero” by Scott Parkin
I haven't read enough of Scott's work. I take this as an appropriate upbrainding.
An Immense Darkness” by Eric James Stone
Eric's willingness to participate in Monsters & Mormons was one of the major immediate lendings of legitimacy to the entire project. I haven't read this one, but it's online, so I'll get on that.

Short-story collection:

Dark Watch and Other Mormon-American Stories by William Morris
I love William, I have this collection, have read much of it in the past, but haven't read it straight through yet as a collection.
Wandering Realities: Mormonish Short Fiction by Steve L. Peck
I love Steven, I have this collection, have read much of it in the past, but haven't read it straight through yet as a collection.
Mothers, Daughters, Sisters, Wives by Karen Rosenbaum
I love Karen, I have this collection, have read much of it in the past, but haven't read it straight through yet as a collection.
Seriously. They could not be nominating three people I admire more.


The Agitated Heart by J. Scott Bronson
I've been hearing about this book for years. I didn't know until just recently that it was finally available.
Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia
I think I have an ARC of this book. I haven't started it yet because I was lent another Correia book by a friend which I . . . am having a hard time getting through. Maybe this one would've been a better place to start.
His Right Hand by Mette Ivie Harrison
I like hanging with Mette on Twitter. Here's my take on the book.
Sistering by Jennifer Quist
Her fist book was one of my favorites of recent history so I bought this as soon as it came out. Still haven't read it though . . . .


Rattle: Poets Respond


The online poetry magazine Rattle has a cool weekly feature, a poem responding to current events. Rattle overall is a pretty great little zine, but I like the challenge of a weekly response-to-now and so I'm going to try and submit every week. I'm not in it for the fifty bucks, though---I'm in it for the craft.

This first week's submission just got rejected, so I'm going to share it here. I'm not surprised it wasn't chosen; besides the over-a-hundred-competitors-a-week thing, it just wasn't all that great. The sort of poem you let lie fallow for a few weeks before returning to it. But that wasn't an option!

Here you are:

A Sonnet for Iowa

The apocalypse is scheduled for Monday,
she says outside her usual channels of irony.
The apocalypse, she says, starting in Iowa. And who
could have seen that coming? I mean—trampolines
were invented in Iowa, sure, and I'm not alone in my
broken-boned childhood, but the only existential
concerns I recall are those I shared with Michael Collins,
1969, as he flew alone around the moon.

The rapture is near. He smiles as he changes channels,
searching for more good news. He will caucus as he waits,
not because it will matter but because, come judgment,
he wishes to declare that he has done his share, disregarding
that no mere man can return the lost to innocence and glory.
Touch me. Touch me, Son of God.


Lost Songs: "Everything for Free"


I was scrolling through a list I made on Spotify of the music I listened to largely the year before and the year after my mission. I made this list early in my Spotify run thinking I would frequently be nostalgic. In fact, I've barely touched it since. But glancing over it, I felt like spending some time with K's Choice.

K's Choice is one of my favorite '90s bands but, like the Cranberries, say, not a band I listen to anymore. And since they're not on the radio, that means I just never hear them anymore. I suppose I may have heard "I'm an Addict" on a tv show or something, but it's literally been years since I've listened to K's Choice. Even more remarkably, they seem to have fallen out of rotation on the ol' internal jukebox.

My favorite K's Choice album is Cocoon Crash. And having spent the last two days reliving it, rightly so. While some of the lyrics are a bit inane ("Too many happy faces / I wonder what that means / Are you personally offended by an iron on your jeans / Too many happy faces / is that more than you can bear? / Or is it part of what you should be / Lack of hygiene in your hair"), overall these foreigners' use of English has a certain purity that I imagine is somewhat like reading Beckett in French.

The first K's Choice song I ever knew came on a Lilith Fair cd and in the point of view of a girl at a mental institution (I've never seen the video before):

I could write about every song on this album as something that matters too me and is a shame I haven't heard in ages, but I'm reacting against my Ronnie Milsap post---and "Everything for Free is emblematic of what's great about just about every song on this album.

Starts quiet and gets loud? Check.

Fun to sing in a car while speeding and the speakers about to explode? Check.

Emotionally resonant with perfectly balanced lines? Check.

Slightly insane? Skip the slightly and check!

In fact, "Everything for Free" being about insanity makes it all the better. These balanced lines can be interchanged and swapped around and the sense of barely holding onto sanity is only emphasized.

I thought putting this album on would get old quickly, but I haven't grown out of K's Choice. I hope I never will. Next up: their new album.


A Year of Checkbox Reading




This year I'm planning on doing something a little different with my book reading. Most of the books I record every year are books I started not long before finishing them. Here's the times from 2015:
six months
week plus
about under a mouth
three or four or more weeks
17 days
one evening
about nine days
maybe fifteen hours
most of a week
twoïsh weeks
under a week
four days
month and half
about two weeks
literally years
mere minutes
two or three weeks
two nights
two days
one lying-in-bed
half a week
under a month
maybe three weeks
two or three days
three days
about a month
i dunno maybe a month
two days
one evening and past midnight
one evening and past midnight
fourish days
about five days
two or three days
four months or so
two nights
a month or two
since spring training
a few months
maybe two weeks
two and from school
under a week
under a week
a couple days
two days
two nights
two days
one night
one day
two days
two days
two or three days
about a week
about nine months
a few days
five days
during our drive south
a small number of weeks
one day
two days
maybe five years
a week
just over three months
not long
ishly, two weeks
a few days
two weeks max
four days
three days
six days
over two weeks
less than a month
two nights
over a month
two-plus months
one morning and afternoon
maybe two weeks
over two weeks
one day
an evening
over a month methinks
maybe two weeks
over two months
took me one week
under a week
four days
four weeks
five days
five days
about a week
a few days
a couple weeks or so
five months or more although the bulk of the book in about two weeks
about eleven days
early afternoon
eight of ten days
off and on on an evening
a few weeks
a few measured, treasured weeks
perhaps two weeks
two days
one eventide
two days
two days
ten days
maybe as long as six months
maybe three weeks
an hour
dunno but let's say an hour again
Yeah, baby. That's the finest of found poetry right there.

What I notice first is that I surprisingly frequently forgot to record how long I'd spent reading something. The second surprise was a typo. Shameful.

Anyway, the point is that most of those times are quite short and only two broke a year. This is misleading. I'm probably in the middle of a couple dozen books I've been working on for over a year. Me not finishing things is a problem. I started Rejected Books and Unfinished Books to officially give up on books, but many many more books am I still technically "reading."

So this year, 2016, I am going to focus on books I've already started. I've done this before, but this year the plan is to not start anything new all year long (with some exceptions to be noted later). This will almost certainly means 2016 won't be a century year because, you know, Don Quixote will take longer to read than half a dozen comics collections picked off the new shelf at the library. But that's okay. I loved the first fifty pages of Don Quixote when I read it at my cousin's house when Lady Steed and I spent a month with him in 2000. Now that I finally have my own copy, I'm looking forward to finishing it.

Don Quixote is unusual though in that it doesn't already have a bookmark in it and that I'll feel like I should restart at the beginning. Most of the books lying around I'm in the middle of aren't like that. For instance the one, two, three, four, five, six, seven . . . eight . . . nine . . . ten . . . at least ten short-story collections I am currently "actively" reading. I also have a few novels I've hesitated to declare either Unfinished or Rejected. Now I will have to either finish them or not. This will be a year of cleaning house.

Eleven! At least eleven short-story collections. And half as many poetry collections.

Right now I'm thinking I may make 2017 a year in which I am only allowed to read books I own but haven't opened. And maybe 2018 I can try actually rereading for a change! But we'll see. Those years are still a ways off.

Now for the exceptions to this rule:

Books I've already spiritually begun: Primarily by this I mean books in series. For instance, I will read the next two volumes of the Complete Peanuts this year and I may knock out a couple more volumes of Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone books as well. Anything I checked out of the library before New Years also fits in here.

Recently published books that are in my wheelhouse to review: Mormon comics, Mormon fiction. Books publishers mail me. That sort of thing.

Books I can't get out of being lent: If someone presses a book on me and I feel obliged to take it, I will read it. (Also includes books I should have returned long, long ago but never started. Mostly we're talking Wodehouse here.)

Now let's examine the first four finished books of this year, shall we?


002: checked out of library before new year

003: checked out of library after new year but before making this resolution

004: in my review wheelhouse

(I'll get better.)

004) Mormon Shorts, Vol I by Scott Hales, finished January 23

I'll be giving this a more significant review on A Motley Vision.

two days


003) Shirt in Heaven by Jean Valentine, finished January 18

This book felt valedictory. Valentine spends a lot of her wordcount dropping names of friends and colleagues and peers and heroes. The collection is held together in a handful of connected series, but I just read through it once. Her phrasings are a pleasure to read, but it feels a bit too me-and-my-buds for me to get too excited about rerereading to get all the details down.
maybe a couple weeks


002) Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, finished January 14

Parts of this book are achingly beautiful. To pick an example I'll wager does not get talked about much, take Park's relationship with his father. Park's a teenager and thinks his dad is, like, the worst, and so it takes us a while to uncover how strong and healthy it is. The moment they speak before Park leaves near the end of the book is achingly wonderful. So sure this is a book about two teenagers falling in love, but it would not work as well as it does were the supporting cast not as truly drawn as they are. Another example from near the end of the book would be the revelation that the seemingly bullies aren't that way in their own minds---and they have a chance to serve as the good guys without realizing they are behaving any differently.

In short, I think this is a book about teenagers misunderstanding the world.

Which is a fun discovery because near the beginning Eleanor dismisses Romeo and Juliet as not being about. She thinks it's Shakespeare making fun of young love. And she's not wrong, but that doesn't mean she's exactly right either. Is Shakespeare making fun of the obsessiveness and everythingness of young love? Yes. But he does so in a world with real people fully drawn whose tragedies are real. So is Rowell.

Now, she's not really "making fun" of young love, but she does recognize that it is both fleeting---and something that can change you forever.

And so it is.

And so when ever her villain progresses from a bully and a jerk to an abuser to someone with a potential for kindness to someone truly evil to someone merely pathetic---you can see she knows the man. She has compassion for him. He may be a failed human, but he is a human.

And so I'm not going to worry too much about my complaints about the book. Some (such as some seeming anachronisms) aren't that important, really, to the novel as a work of art. Others get overwhelmed by the what the book does right.

My only real complaint is a personal one and I recognize it has more to do with choices I made as a teenager than anything to do with Eleanor & Park.
maybe a week maybe more maybe less but about a week


001) Spy School by Stuart Gibbs, finished January 9

My son loves this book and lent it to me a long time ago---I think two summers ago? when he got it from the library's reading program?---but I didn't get that far before Lady Steed cleaned our room and it and another book I was reading disappeared until about a week ago. But now I've finished it!

It . . . was fine. It's a kids book. Which I don't mean exactly pejoratively, but kind of I do. It's a good introduction to spy fiction and it's twist is that it takes place at a 7-12 school for spies. It has, you know, a pretty girl and a bully and stuff.


So there's stuff like that.

That said, it was a fun enough book. I sure I would have loved it when I was my son's age. I'm glad he loved it. (And I'm glad he has picked up and is reading Lord of the Rings. His world is about to get much, much bigger.)
approximately seventeen months


* most recent post in this series *


final booky posts of
2015 = 2014 = 2013 = 2012 = 2011 = 2010 = 2009 = 2008 = 2007