Thursday, June 26, 2003
wtf: The new weblog is here. Just don't expect it to look the same each time you come back.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:03 PM.
Wednesday, June 25, 2003
I have a shiny new MT weblog that I'm going to unveil over the coming weekend. At the moment I'm messing around with the settings & making sure everything works. And at some point I'll have to get all my Blogger archives into the new system. I'm also going through my blogroll & dropping dead links or sites that haven't updated in a long time. Still thinking about how to organize the template, so I'll probably use the plain basic white for a while, though I do love to tinker so that probably won't last too long. Many thanks to Shelley & the members of the coven, ur, I mean coop.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 7:50 AM.
Tuesday, June 24, 2003
I don't know about you, but I feel a whole lot more secure now that Digby is back blogging. Honestly, I am more frightened of the Bush Administration than I am of terrorists. And if I had to choose among terrorists to be afraid of, I'd put the Christians who might kill a local doctor ahead of Muslims. Sure, I live out in the country, so I'm not in a target area for terrorism. But I sure as hell am in a target area for fanciful economic theories & outright mendacity from my own government. There is a Faustian arrogance about the neocons in charge of things. But is the Faust narrative still viable? Or have the relativistic narratives of the extreme right drained the energy out of the old story?
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 8:00 PM.
614 What I want from democracy
is the chance to stand not behind
my beliefs or even for them but
as the integrated history of paths
gets created on a dare on a rainy
late spring afternoon, the argument
takes its weight from a wish to
undertake the living and not
the other thing. Tonight I'll put
roots in the oven and imagine
a landscape supervised by birds,
and the rituals of bedtime will
stretch back across generations
and off into an unclarified sadness
not unmixed with safe-and-sound
property, pro-landlord, let's
pull our weight now for a moment
not code for keep putting money
in my till. The mayor's friends
get together and make ads
to press the point -- it's just better --
and the court says they have
the right, so who are we not to put
on headphones and listen to
"Keep smiling" until the sun
puts us asleep and the moon
covers our bones? We're me. I'm
that. It's almost a life.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:40 PM.
Imperialist chic: Have you seen the Land Rover commercial in which a religious procession & a huge new Land Rover with smoked-glass windows come to an intersection of small village streets in a vaguely Indian but generally just ethnic setting? The Land Rover stops, the procession stops; a hand emerges from the muslin-draped sedan chair being carried in the procession & waves the Land Rover ahead with a gesture of a gold-encircled index finger. Screen goes to black with the white word: Respect.
Blogging from the deck, overlooking the river. Hot today. Some yardwork this morning & worked on fixing up my little writing room, but mostly a day for lassitude. Angel & I are sitting on the deck. I've got a beer & the trusty laptop. There's a very light breeze just stirring the surface of the patch of river I can see through the trees. Sound of an empty log truck going over the bridge. They sound different from loaded ones. Yesterday I set up a mini-irrigatioin system for a couple of flower beds that have a tendency to dry out in hot weather. Couple of soaker hoses & a little submersible pump I had from when we first moved in & had to drain the cellar. Put the pump in the creek & plugged it into a heavy duty extension cord that runs up through the woods to the house. Strictly a temporary setup for the hot weather. But in just two days there has been a noticeable change in the microclimate & ecology of that little patch of the yard. The water brings insects & the insects bring birds, specifically flycatchers. The soaker hoses attract White Admiral butterflies, named after the striking white bar on their black wings. Angel just bolted off the deck after a chipmunk. They love to torment him. It's now sitting high up in a maple scolding the poor dog, who's walking back up toward the deck panting, tongue drooping.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 2:54 PM.
Sunday, June 22, 2003
Lanny Q's permalinks are not functioning, so I'm taking the liberty of posting this entire. I think it's very good--out-Gibsons Wm. Gibson, or maybe is the sort of thing some stowaway in a Gibson novel might write on an interstellar hop when he woke by accident & realized he wasn't going to be able to go back to sleep:
Technician Found in the Aisles of Production
alas, the lunatic raves alone tonight
here in my stellar cube
modular hermitage of the phaneron turned
awry and inward, ingrown
by a phantasm sheathed in mad jowls
how might it have been different
years ago I might have been a joiner
might have learned to move easily
in the midst of others
but now like an old door
rusty hinges, broken slats
wind whistling through the cracks
i peer at the dancing candle
like a jolly goblin,
mewling to green stars
melting in the goo of numbers
as i march, dumb and remote
as a sea-lion, tiny as a thrip
glass-eyed and useless
staring at life's information
"Is it good?"
there are no words to describe
the incandescence of failure
to suffer the splendor of the sublime
they vomit tickets
i sew on the same old coat of pad-locks
and i feel nothing but a hankering
for ice tea, and the smell of rain
a kind of existential droop
and a tingling like ants
beneathe a skin
like emerald rabbit's fur
bah hummbugg, you're all
puppets of spaghetti code
schlepping in the madness..
not one poem about Ohm's law..
i will not perform the labor
of the lonely
i have found a valley within..
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:21 PM.
Saturday, June 21, 2003
Poetry & Cooking: I've frequently had the experience of finishing a poem after many drafts and having a sense that I have discovered rather than made the thing. I can praise it almost as if I had nothing to do with its composition. Cooking operates the same way for me. Unless I've got a very particular assignment, I almost never cook from a recipe. (I do carry around in my head a fairly large collection of general recipe's & a decent knowledge of cooking techniques.) Most of the time I make variations on five or six basic things that Carole & I like, but occasionally I take a notion & produce something new. Doesn't always work out, of course; but when it does, I have the same relationship to the food I've made as to the poems I've written. I can stand back in admiration almost as if I hadn't made it. Today Carole has been off riding her horse, so I wanted to make something for my dinner that she could eat if she came home late. It's a summer Saturday so time wasn't really an issue. When I went into town to get some stuff at the hardware store, I was thinking that I had cilantro I needed to use & that it was a good day for grilling. The process of coming up with something to make often runs in the background while I do other things. Cilantro suggested chicken--this is a common combination in both Asian & Latin American cooking--& once I had thought of chicken, I thought lemon & lime juice. Decided to go Asian. Added fresh basil to my mental shopping list. Went through what I already had at home: red onion, rice wine vinegar, peanut oil, rice sticks (noodles). So, a Thai-Vietnamese noodle salad was born. One of the best things I've come up with for a while. Carole did come in late, after helping her pals at the barn try to wrestle a reluctant mare into a trailer. She loved the noodles. Carole usually has what I'd call a Nordic reserve about expressing herself, so I knew it was a hit when she said several times how good it was.
Chu Joe's Vietnamese Grilled Chicken with Rice Noodles 2 lemons
1 bunch fresh cilantro
1 bunch fresh basil (about a half cup of roughly torn leaves)
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup peanut oil (or any light oil)
1 package rice sticks
1/2 cup roasted peanuts
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup finely minced red onion
1 or 2 cloves garlic
freshly ground black pepper
2 whole boneless chicken breasts
Marinate chicken in 1/4 cup of rice wine vinegar, juice of 1 lime & 1 lemon, 1/4 cup peanut oil, black pepper & 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce for at least an hour. Grill the chicken. While the chicken is grilling, combine in a large bowl, the onion & garlic finely chopped, juice of 1 lemon & 1 lime, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, roughly chopped cilantro, sugar & freshly ground black pepper. When chicken is done, let it rest for 10-15 minutes while the flavors in the dressing come together. Boil the rice sticks until they are soft, drain & let cool for a couple of minutes. Cut chicken into strips & put in dressing, toss with noodles. Just before serving, mix in basil leaves & top with coarsely chopped roasted peanuts. Best served at room temperature or just slightly warm.
Notes: This is a northern Vietnamese version of this dish; for a more southern-style / Thai version, substitute fish sauce (nuoc mam) for the soy sauce in the marinade & the dressing, double the amount of sugar & substitute red chili flakes for the black pepper. Chu is Vietnamese for uncle.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:47 PM.
Friday, June 20, 2003
Blogging, Blogger, Blogger Pro, Movable Type & the Burningbird Coop: It looks as if my weblog will be the first to get up & running on Shelley Powers' new cooperative server. As I write I have next to me the O'Reilly volume Essential Blogging, to which Shelley contributed. I have the sense that I am in good hands technically; but because I have also been a reader of her weblog, I also have the sense that I am in good hands personally. So, I am about to move from Blogger to Movable Type & from Blogspot to a server that will be leased cooperatively by a really weird--& I say that with affection, you understand--group of literary bloggers with a taste for the technical. That's me, anyhow. Though I was an early adopter of Blogger Pro & Blogspot Plus, I am writing this post from the regular Blogger interface because Blogger Pro is down this evening. But that's all right. Blogger is an amazing tool & one that I will continue to use. I am a teacher & the ease with which I can set up a class blog with Blogger will always make it my quick & dirty choice. I am also deeply indebted to Blogger for introducing me as a writer to an entirely new publishing milieu. I have published several books & contributed in a minor way to American literary culture over the past three decades. I'm not advancing any great claims for my self here. But I am delighted that a (mostly) younger generation of poets seems to have take to blogging. I read their blogs with great interest.
Many of these poet-bloggers are listed in the sidebar of my current site & when I make the move to new software & a new server, I hope to produce something like a comprehensive listing. Shelley is working on her "for poets" essays, which will explain the technology behind the screen to us literary types; I am hoping I can convince her that there is a need for a tool that would syndicate the best hundred or so poetry blogs. The notion of best is of course subjective, but I am unashamedly talking about pulling together the online work of poets with some reputation or status within literary circles. I want to make sure that circles is always plural. So yes, the poetry aggregator would be a meritocracy, but it would be radically democratic in terms of schools, groups & circles of influence. The shift to MT will also allow me to more easily organize collaborative projects under a single rubric. I am particularly interested in the academic & creative use of weblogs. Later: It strikes me that the current crop of mostly younger poet-bloggers are using blogs to publish in the same way that young poets in the fifties & sixties used mimeographed & stapled little magazines to get their work out & to create a buzz. It is a way to sidestep the limitations of the mainstream structures of literary power.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 8:07 PM.
My former student Elvis thinks that writing as therapy can only work if there is some relationship to language, but he doesn't specify what that relation would be. I'd propose that it is form. As a physicist, Elvis would assent, I think, to the idea that the physical world presents human consciousness with certain irreducible facts (thought that is a contested word). As a poet, I think that the physical world in all its freakingly weird complexity, insists on only one thing. Form. Coherence. Poetry, which is my little bag, acknowledges this reality in language. Later: Jeff Ward pushes this discussion forward at This Public Address.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:28 PM.
Shelley of Burningbird (sounds like a saint's name!) quotes Halley this morning & though I'm male, the sentiment really resonated with me. And the comment to the post by Joel strikes me as deeply insightful. It is simply a fact of life that some people behave as if they have a divine right to decide things for others. They can be the owners or dominant voices of email lists, academic deans, vice-presidents of insurance companies, literary critics or what have you. What binds the type together across occupations is a sense of entitlement & a (willing?) blindness to the ways in which they marginalize those who have not accumulated power (either by choice or because they have been shut out). I'm not griping. I'm very fortunate to be in a position where such folk can't hurt me in significant ways, but my situation is not the norm. It is incumbent of people like me, who are in a position to do so, to speak out & to act for the common good. It is important for us to recognize that our good luck is built on the commons. I have not always behaved in this way, to my shame. Something I'm going to try to remember, though, as I go about my business.
Update: My response above was to the paragraph Shelley quoted from Halley's Comment regarding women & weblogging. I've now gone back & read all of Halley's remarks on marriage as well as Shelley's response to them. Without trying to support or refute anything either blogger wrote, I'd simply observe that whatever will replace marriage will probably be called marriage, even though if we came back in a hundred years we wouldn't recognize it. Marriage has been an amazingly flexible institution over time & across cultures. I'd also suggest that whatever will replace marriage as we know it at the beginning of the 21st century in the US probably already exists. People are amazingly inventive with social arrangements. As an aside, I'd note that all the fear & loathing generated among conservatives by the notion of "gay marriage" is a reaction-formation to something that actually already exists. It's just that our vocabulary & civil systems haven't caught up with reality. Married couples--gay or straight, legally sanctioned or not--that choose not to have children represent another stem of development. Nancy F. Cott, author of Public Vows, testified before the Vermont Legislature during hearing on that state's "civil unions" legislation. [Yale UP book description of Public Vows; see also Katha Pollitt on why successful women drive America crazy.]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 9:37 AM.
Haven't posted anything here the last two days because I've been involved in an academic pissing match. I spent yesterday writing & deleting furious emails. This morning I woke up just wanting to be free of the whole thing so I've been out lying in the sun with Angel & pulling weeds in the garden.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 7:41 AM.
Wednesday, June 18, 2003
Yesterday in the late afternoon I watched a small garter snake, yellow & tan, traverse the whole length of the flowerbed beside the driveway. We kept each other in view, but it was a friendly encounter. The snake, maybe sixteen inches long, was certainly aware of me, but seemed unconcerned. I didn't stand stock-still, but moved naturally along the edge of the bed as the snake moved carefully in & out among the hostas & fescue. At one point the snake moved to within about eighteen inches of my feet, then veered away. A paradisal, prelapsarian moment.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:03 AM.
Tuesday, June 17, 2003
This blows my mind. I published this chapbook in 1980 & it is butt-ugly. I think it sold for five dollars. I'm not sure I even have a copy myself. There are maybe one or two poems in the thing I'd put in a selected poems, should such a volume ever become warranted.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:04 PM.
Correspondence: Out of the blue, I have acquired a correspondent. It began with a note about Mark Strand, but soon developed into something far more charming:
Have you ever encountered the word "qua"? It is an actual word in English; it means "in the capacity or character of " or "as." It is pronounced, simply, "kwah." Here is a sentence in which the word "qua" is used:
Example sentence: "My physician qua friend suggested that a vacation would be good for both my mental and physical health."
Now, I bring to your attention a species of extinct African zebra called a "quagga." Let us suppose that one day you are discussing the habits which the now defunct quagga exhibited.
Well, it is important to note that sometimes the quagga behaved just like any ordinary zebra; other times it acted with characteristics distinct only to quagga. It is not inconceivable that at some point you will want to stress this fact--that a quagga acted at times only like a quagga and no other kind of zebra. Thus, would it not be perfectly reasonable to find oneself, at some point, making use of the phrase:
a quagga qua quagga ?
To be followed by this:
According to The British Cactus and Succulent Society Handbook (1991), there are about two thousand species of plants called "Asclepiads," which are divided into some 300 genera, of which about half are succulents. A number of these succulents belong to the genus Quaqua, pronounced "kwah-kwah."
Now, all Quaqua belong to the Asclepiads, but they have substantially different attributes than other Asclepiads. For example, all Quaqua are cactus-like, even though many Asclepiads are milkweeds. In fact, there are physiological features characteristic only of Quaqua which are not generally seen in the rest of the Asclepiads.
So, in discussing the genus Quaqua--as succulent plants distinct from other Asclepiads--I do not suppose it would be entirely unlikely that one might have recourse to the phrase:
a Quaqua qua Quaqua.
Trouble is, I'm a generally lousy correspondent. Just ask the various friends around the world to whom I owe email. I always imagine I'll be able to write a better letter tomorrow, so put off writing, sometimes indefinitely. In fact, this belatedness characterizes many of my human interactions. My correspondent had already told me he had written a thousand letters to one poet. Consequently, I was a little frightened by this gift the gods of letters had dropped in my inbox & so last night wrote:
many thanks for your recent letters qua emails. Is that right? You have, obviously, a good deal of--what shall we call it?--epistletory energy. I'm charmed to be among those you write to, but like my old teacher Mark Strand I may not be able to keep up. I'll post stuff you send me from time to time on my weblog & answer directly when I can & when I have something to say.
My friends call me Joe, please follow suit.
To which, this morning, I received:
Sincerely, I thank you for your offer to post some of my correspondence on your Weblog, at least from time to time. But I am very despondent. I cannot find anyone who'll become, with me, an epistolary prose-poet. It is a tiny genre practiced only be me, it seems.
Do you know, I really think many people are just dull and tepid, and it doesn't matter what kind of titles they have or letters affixed to their names. You can be an M.Ed. or a Ph.D., but that doesn't save you from being a C.O.W. The crime of evolution, Joe, is that most people aren't more human.
Do you know anyone, anyone at all, who'd correspond with me? I've come to a complete standstill with poetry, painting, and my math studies (I've tried very hard to understand the concept of a tensor)--it's because I can't find anyone to share with. What's the good of trying to do anything if there's no recipients? Does a musician go on playing to an empty house?
And this is really where I am now, really feeling like I've left the continent.
All right, I've taught the ancient Greek dramatists. I know that fate cannot be avoided & that when the gods--however minor--begin messing with you, you can try once, politely, to refuse to play; but after that, there's nothing for it but to plunge into your fate. I've written to Gordon saying that I am in the game. After all, I'm the one who recently wrote that minds do not exist in isolation, that language is a collaborative effort.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:24 AM.
Monday, June 16, 2003
"That time will come. Our prison, so wide and yet so narrow, so suffocatingly full of foul air, will some day open. I mean when the war now raging will have found, one way or the other, its end--and how I shudder at this 'one way or the other,' both for myself and for the awful impasse into which fare has crowded the German soul! For I have in mind only one of two alternatives: only with this do I reckon, counting upon it against my conscience as a German citizen. The never-ending public instruction has impressed on us all the crushing consequences of a German defeat; we cannot help fearing it more than anything else in the world. And yet there is something else--some of us fear it at moments which seem to us criminal, but others quite frankly and steadily--something we fear more than German defeat, and that is German victory. I scarcely dare ask myself to which of these groups I belong. Perhaps to still a third, in which one yearns indeed, steadily and consciously, for defeat, yet also with perpetual torments of conscience. My wishes and hopes must oppose the triumph of German arms, because in it the work of my friend would be buried, a ban would rest upon it for perhaps a hundred years, it would be forgotten, would miss its own age and only in a later one receive historic honor. That is the special motivation of my criminal attitude; I share it with a scattered number of men who can easily be counted on the fingers of my two hands. But my mental state is only a variant of that which, aside from cases of ordinary self-interest or extraordinary stupidity, has become the destiny of a whole people; and this destiny I am inclined to consider in the light of a unique and peculiar tragedy, even while I realize that it has been before now laid on other nations, for the sake of their own and the general future, to wish for the downfall of their state. But considering the decency of the German character, its confidingness, its need for loyalty and devotion, I would fain believe that in our case the dilemma will come to a unique conclusion as well; and I cannot but cherish a deep and strong resentment against the men who have reduced so good a people to a state of mind which I believe bears far harder on it than would any other, estranging it beyond healing from itself. I have only to imagine my own sons, through some unlucky chance, became acquainted with the content of these pages and in Spartan denial of every gentler feeling denounced me to the secret police--to be able to measure, yes, actually with a sort of patriotic pride, the abysmal nature of this conflict." [Thomas Mann, Doctor Faustus (1948)]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:43 PM.
Sunday, June 15, 2003
Twaddle: A few days ago I mentioned that writing can have a positive effect on depression, anxiety, etc. But because I'm a poet, I wondered whether it had to be good writing. Dorothea Salo dropped me an email with her answer to my question & since it's a little different from my (provisional) answer, I reproduce two paragraphs from it here: ". . . any old verbal twaddle can do the job--writing is a significant therapeutic tool for me, because it gives me something outside myself that I can diagnose and work to fix when I'm not otherwise in enough of my right mind to recognize that I'm not in my right mind. // However, writing can drive me down a sinkhole as easily as pulling me out. [ . . . ] // Not to say that it's a panacea for everyone. That's the facet of medicalization of mental states that drives me bats--the idea that there's One True Treatment that works universally. But writing, even twaddle, does help some people."
Since the American Confessional poets of the middle 20th century, the notion of the therapeutic nature of poetry has had a good deal of currency. This issue probably goes back to the Romantics, but let's take a shorter view for purposes of discussion. The major Confessionals (Lowell, Berryman, Sexton, Roethke, Plath) were all, one way or another, committed formalists. All of them employed the tool kit of standard prosody to their own idiosyncratic ends. That is, despite their roles as one source of the poetry-as-therapy meme in pop culture, all of these poets were devoted to the intricacies of the craft of poetry. The "self-expression" of the American Confessionals was distanced & made manageable through the application of craft. Aside: there are many kinds of poetic craft; it so happens that the poets I'm talking about mainly employed "traditional" poetic structures, however eccentrically.
Many years ago during a late-night anxiety attack focused on someone breaking into my apartment, I got up out of bed & spent maybe two hours writing a poem about a burglar. I then went back to bed & slept like a babe. It was a poem in regular stanzas & was loosely metrical. The point is, I could not merely sit down at my typewriter--I told you it was a long time ago--& write, "I am afraid that someone is trying to break into my apartment." No, I had to imagine the burglar in some fully realized way, which involved getting the words right. Twaddle would not have worked, would not have let me go back to sleep. Given what I've seen of her on-line writing, Dorothea takes care with her forms--sentence, image, metaphor, etc.--so I'm guessing that her "therapeutic" writing is not, in fact, "twaddle." I do wonder, though, about Dorothea's statement that writing can "drive [her] down a sinkhole as easily as pulling [her] up." I don't think I've ever had this experience. Being unable to write, or writing twaddle, can drive me down the sinkhole; but if I can actually write something that takes on a reality outside myself, that will work. Maybe I ought to be defensive about this--I certainly harbor philosophical objections to writing-as-therapy--, but it's possible all my poems have been born of anxiety. If so, I'm deeply fortunate to possess the intellect & imagination to be able to construct these little verbal cures.
Maybe the mere act of writing can be therapeutic for the writer & in most cases that's no doubt enough. It doesn't work for me, but I may be some kind of emotional-aesthetic snob. We could all agree, though, that twaddle's therapeutic effects must be limited to the writer. Writing, though, has the power to transfer its effect from writer to reader. If I get to worrying about my own death, I can (& do) recall Yeats' lines, "Cast a cold eye on life, on death. / Horseman, Pass by!" Poetry--this is so pre-post-avant!--appears to have the ability to transfuse the imaginative juice of one mind to other minds. To accept this idea, one will have to jettison the comforts of Cartesian dualism & the scientific solipsism of the isolated mind unable to do anything but make weak conjectures regarding the existence of other conscious beings. But that's not so hard, really. We do it every day when we walk out our front doors. It is only when we allow what Blake called "Abstraction" to dominate our thinking that such problems even arise. Minds do not exist in isolation; language is by its nature a creation of communities.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 12:35 PM.
Josh Marshall at his ironic best in discussing the parsing of the Bush Administration's lies about the war in Iraq: "Seldom, I think, has a country undergone such a subtle, textured, distinction-granting debate about lying and truth-telling."
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:23 AM.
Saturday, June 14, 2003
A stunning pastiche of cliches. [Google cache here if FR takes the page down, as they seem to have done with her faked posts. -jd] Not to mention some kind of kinky father-fixation on recent Republican presidents. Oh, & it turns out she's a plagiarist:
An apology to Jim Robinson and Free Republic June 12, 2003 | Victoria Delsoul
Posted on 06/12/2003 7:41 PM PDT by Victoria Delsoul
I have a confession to make. I have taken some articles and posted them as my own without giving credit to the authors. I have also won "Essays of the Week" here based on someone else's work. On several occasions I posted excerpts on threads as my own comments. All of this was plagiarism.
My conduct has been reprehensible and I know I'm the only one to blame.
I want to sincerely apologize to Kelly L. Ross for lifting his article without giving him credit, and posting it as my own. I am making every effort to help make sure that those threads and posts are deleted.
More than anything, I want to apologize to Jim Robinson for my shameful actions and to everyone here at Free Republic. I have cast the forum in a bad light, and I'm truly sorry. Please forgive me.
Gordon Moyer apparently doesn't mind if I use his name. Anyway, he writes to correct my memory:
Dear Joseph, I think your weblog for this Friday the 13th is a gas! I mean it's really amusing, and I don't care who knows I've written Strand so many times. But you might take another look at my second e-mail, because there I was quoting Mark himself; it was he who claimed I've sent him "a thousand letters." // One time I was riding with him in his fire-red Camaro, and I said "You know, we have a rather strange relationship, don't you think?" And he said, "Yeah, you've written me a thousand letters, and I've sent you four." But that was an exaggeration on his part; I think he's sent me around twenty, all told." // I guess, over some fifteen years I really wrote him around three hundred times; these were long letters, a lot of them, with drawings on occasion or formulas, so maybe it seems to Strand that my correspondence had run to a thousand. // When Strand remarked that he'd sent me "four," he didn't mean four thousand; he meant one less than five. By this, I took him to mean that, indeed, I am some sort of obsessed individual, and we really didn't have any relationship, strange or otherwise. Well, I am obsessed,okay, with the art of what I call the epistolary prose poem; as for Strand's lack of reciprocation, I chalk it up in the end to shallowness--it's hard to conceive a former Poet Laureate is really this way, but I know him well enough now to believe it. That's another illusion I've lost, that men bearing titles deserve them. // His letters to me were always short and almost never contained anything of interest. All told, he probably sent me about twenty replies, with one or two postcards from vacations. I gave him a great deal of myself, and I often thought of quitting, but letter-writing is art, so I kept up the correspondence despite the fact that it was so stupid a thing to keep doing. // Strand did say once that he loved getting my letters, and he said other things I was glad to hear, and I think he was being honest then. Sometimes he apologized for being lazy and never feeling like he had much to say, or much worth saying, and at long last I trust him on that. I haven't written him in three or four years, though I miss it quite a bit." Yours, Gordon Moyer
I really only have one question: Why Strand? Why not Hayden Carruth or John Ashbery or . . . ?
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 8:13 AM.
Friday, June 13, 2003
This will be the last time: One correspondent writes: "I suspect your depression/anxiety disorder is OCD. And I have a theory that the etiology of obsessions is the very same as benign fasciculations, so I was wondering if you also suffer from frequent twitches." Nope, no twitches here by the river. Just a little tinnitus in the left ear. The tinnitus did begin just after the onset of my worst episode of anxiety, though. Look, I'm not anxious to write about this. There is a certain--real or perceived--professional risk involved. I'm not an expert in these matters. My correspondent, GM, claims to have written four thousand letters to Mark Strand, so he has to be some kind of authority on OCD. (One thing's certain, the OCD Foundation's website was designed by someone who knows this problem from the inside. Just looking at the page makes me feel jittery. I'm not kidding or being cute.)
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:32 PM.
Thursday, June 12, 2003
Run Hillary, run! Driving to the lumber yard to get some pressure-treated two by sixes today, I caught most of Terry Gross's Fresh Air interview with my senator, Hillary Clinton. I have rarely heard a politician so conversationally at ease. For all the right-wing propaganda that Hillary is a scheming bitch, what I heard was a woman at peace with herself & a politician who is able to articulate her ideas coherently & pointedly. Senator Clinton made the point that the Bush Administration is not "conservative," but radical. While I would quibble with her use of the word radical, I would grant that it is a pedant's quibble. Radical means root & what the Bush Administration is about is ripping out the roots of American democracy & egalitarianism. Everyone listening of course knew what she meant--that the current gang of oligarchs is out to turn back the clock of Progressive democracy in the US. "I used to think they only wanted to turn back the clock on the Clinton Administration," she said, "but now I see that they want to turn back the clock on Franklin Roosevelt & after that they'll go after Teddy Roosevelt." [Quoted from memory.] I was deeply impressed. Look, I'm just a middle-class guy who has more or less done what's expected of me social-contract-wise. I've gotten an education & become a productive member of society. I am saving for my retirement, but I'd like to collect my Social Security payments when I retire. I grew up thinking I had a deal with my government. A New Deal hard won by my parents & grandparents, who had to tough out the Depression. Now it looks like the deal is off. I'll be all right--I've got (modest) retirement savings. I should be putting more away, but I'm a bit of a grasshopper. I have started to send $25 a month to the DNC, though. Actually, given the right-wing goal of gutting Social Security, Medicaid & other features of a progressive American polity, I consider my contribution a supplement to my retirement savings. You can contribute too via blogger Kos of Daily Kos. Sign up as an ePatriot & make a contribution to your retirement & that of the millions of Americans the Bush oligarchs want to write off as an expense of doing business. Afterthought: Isn't the reader of Aesop's tiny story about the grasshopper & the ants supposed to have a bit of sympathy for the dancing grasshopper? He represents our Dionysian side, which we ignore, like King Pentheus, at our peril.
Hillary Clinton to Euripides. That's some paragraph, if I do say so myself!
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:23 PM.
Wednesday, June 11, 2003
I am preparing to teach Understanding Vietnam in the fall, a course I developed after my first trip to Vietnam in 1997 & have taught every other year since. I was not happy with the way the course went last time around, so this summer I have been thinking about & refining the goals for the course. We have a requirement at Clarkson that every syllabus have a section outlining the goals for the course & in the past I had emphasized understanding the culture & history of Vietnam, resisting focusing more than necessary on the American War in Vietnam. I wanted to share my love of Vietnamese culture & literature with my students. Fall Semester, though, I will teach a radically revised course that will focus on the war:
Understanding Vietnam: Objectives & Goals ·To understand the unique historical relationship between the United States and Vietnam through the study of documents, literature, and popular culture;
·To understand the origins, causes, and significance of the US-Vietnam War;
·To understand the ongoing consequences of the War on American foreign and domestic policy;
·To understand the relevance of Vietnam’s recent history to the process of globalization in economics, popular culture, literature, and the arts.
·To be able to think critically about historical and cultural issues;
·To be able to discuss in written and spoken form the results of critical inquiry;
·To gain mastery of the body of factual material regarding Vietnam and its relationship to the United States upon which critical understanding can be built.
I've decided to change the course for three reasons: 1) The current political situation; 2) student expectations; & 3) which is related to reasons 1 & 2, the course attracts quite a few ROTC cadets. As I've said before, I am unapologetic about taking a critical point of view toward historical knowledge
Update: I changed a typo in the first sentence--from 1987 to 1997. I wish I had been able to see VN in 1987. That would have been something. I also want to make it clear that I do not indoctrinate students, but I do challenge them to question their own assumptions.
Update: In looking over this post I've decided to add a bullet point to the list above: To understand the historical & cultural situation that led the United States to military involvement in Vietnam. It is so fundamental I had taken it for granted.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 8:41 AM.
Last week A couple of weeks ago I wrote a couple of paragraphs about depression & medication, drawing on my own experience. I received a couple of responses by email, one from S., who needs to remain anonymous for professional reasons. S. wrote: "I found your writing about depression quite poignant; I had a major depressive episode in Malaysia (Peace Corps). I think now that the baseline of new mostly unconscious sensory input (background noise including unfamiliar language sounds and structure, car horns, moist hang of the air, lack of temperature variation, smells) was a relentless driver of the illness (i.e. made that episode of a inherited disorder the more severe). It was hard to feel at home and settled for months. I'm glad to hear you've found a medication you can take; side effects and incomplete results are so common. Have you read Solms, The Brain and the Inner World? We'll find someday that there are a variety of illnesses that are collected as "depression" and that we didn't know how to treat the neurological "causes" of most. Some times though the best that can be done is good enough. Thanks for writing." [Note: S. is not Sue Bailey, who has also been writing about this subject recently.]
I agree completely that "depression" is a clinical catch-all for a spectrum of brain states. I'm in the manic-panic range, except when I crash. The description here of a pale northerner in the tropics catches my experience exactly & resonates with literary accounts of similar situations. Not that I have any desire to reduce psychology to weather, but the world's climate & the brain's climate are parts of an interrelated system. When I first began reading about "mental illness" in my twenties I was deeply offended by behaviorist & brain-chemistry accounts of troubled mental states. But I was in the grip of Cartesian dualism, which drives a wedge between thought & the world. These days, after having spent a lifetime dealing with debilitating panic & intermittent depression & obsessive fear, I am no longer offended by the reductionism of behaviorist & chemical accounts of my interior life. I understand that such accounts are partial & do not obviate the experiences I've had that have made me the person I am. Was I born a fearful child? That is, was my brain created more sensitive that average to fear or did my brain learn to be fearful because I was taught to be afraid by my environment, including my parents? Either or both. I think it's a feedback loop, a klein bottle. All I have is my own experience to triangulate against others' experience & professional accounts. Am I who I am because I was exposed to DDT on my grandpa's farm? I think it's an open question, but also one that assumes a causality of which I am highly suspicious.
When I wrote S. asking if I could use the email I quoted above, she wrote back, "I'd be honored: just to fill in, I'm a psychiatrist doing a PhD. in humanities at a new program. My work is long term psychotherapy; I use meds when they stabilize folks to do the work of getting to know themselves better. On the personal side, I've had years of beneficial therapy and two months of life-saving inpatient care after a serious suicide attempt 20 years ago. I still have the illness (probably a form of bipolar disorder with a single episode of mania associated with anti-depressants, which I must say is something to be careful of) and I try new meds as they come out; I work with a fine humane psychopharmacologist, but for me most drugs have side effects that interfere with cognitive functions or associative thinking). I think I have been stable for 18 years by staying busy. This staying busy certainly is a medication---when I was in med. school I noticed everybody on trauma surgery teams seemed in the hypomanic spectrum. I recommend it although if your energy fails, depression is the weather you endure. Use your judgment about what to use in the post; my history is not a secret although I do not inform my patients: that would shortcut their own experience---the reason for anonymity. Not coming out has very unpleasant implications however. // I just read this over and I have to add something I take for granted: I stay busy and I don't do drugs or alcohol. For people with potentially severe affective disorders this is very big. I didn't mention it above because I didn't have to give anything up; so many have to give up a habit they experience as comforting, settling and relaxing. Cigarettes may be a special case; smoking is statistically associated with severe mental illness and exacerbations occur when folks quit---isn't that a shame?"
Obviously, my correspondent has a vast professional knowledge that I lack, but we are both interested laymen in one sense--both of us have brains that do funny (not 'ha ha') things to our minds. I respect both S's experience & her personal judgement, but I do sense just a bit of that Cartesian dualism I have worked to leave behind. (Philosophy-as-therapy?) I gave up smoking twenty years ago without becoming any crazier than I already was & even before that had given up taking "drugs," meaning the stuff our culture frowns upon: pot, LSD, cocaine--all of which I had experimented with in my twenties. For the most part, I had used these drugs as a mental explorer, not a hedonist, though I don't claim anything like purity--sometimes I just got stoned. It is important to note, though, that my depression & obsessive behavior dates from childhood. In AA & NA lingo, I was "self-medicating," but the use of psychedelics--maybe twenty times over a six year period--was a genuine attempt to get outside of my preconceptions. It worked. I'm not sorry I took those drugs. I stopped because I was no longer able to pay the price in day-to-day sanity. I knew a couple of guys--both a lot smarter than me--who thought they could sustain that sort of search who simply burned out.
Against Dr. S's advice, I still drink a bit of beer & it is indeed a habit I "experience as comforting." Does S. exhibit a slight tone of superiority when she speaks of controlling her "disease" by "keeping busy"? I am in no position to pass judgement, but I can tell you for a fact that keeping busy would have led to a meltdown during my tropical crisis; drugs were the answer & I'm still taking my medication. It is natural that S., a physician, would describe our abnormal brain states as diseases, but I resist the medicalization of my condition even while being grateful for a medical "fix" for an untenable mental condition. Perhaps I am parsing things too finely here--I even find myself wanting to reject the label mental because the mental arises from--though it cannot I believe be reduced to--the material. There is another thing I "experience as comforting"--writing. Not comforting in the sense of mere comfort--no, writing has the power to discharge anxiety. I wonder if you have to be a good writer for this process to work, or whether any old verbal twaddle would do the job.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:12 AM.
A morning of rain showers broken by intervals of sun. Perfect for the basil I transplanted yesterday, but not so good for working outdoors. So the dogs & I are sitting around blogging. Well, the dogs are snoring, I'm blogging. Dogs are in "rain mode." Carole, as I mentioned yesterday, is in Chicago this week, so it's just me & my five four-footed friends. Very quiet this morning. I have to make a run to the food coop & the transfer station--cleared a bunch of crap out of the shed yesterday--this morning & stop by my office to sign some letters & pick up my mail, but after that I may just come home & read all day. Well, I have to slap some plaster on the walls in my writing room refurbishing. Yes, real quiet today out here by the river.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:56 AM.
Tuesday, June 10, 2003
Light blogging the last few days. Nice weather, so I've been working out in the yard. But the last three times I have sat down to tap something into the laptop, Blogger has been down or otherwise indisposed, as Victorian ladies used to say. Sometime in the coming month, I will be moving to Movable Type & a new server. I am grateful to Blogger, though, for getting me started in this medium & I'll be keeping Philosophical Investigations on Blogger for a while. I also have two longer posts-in-progress in my drafts folder & working on those has kept me from posting any apothegms the last few days: 1) my old obsession with academic honesty & 2) an attempt to get some feeling for--in a know-thy-enemy sort of way--the intellectual history of American conservatism. Oh, & did I mention I have five dogs in the house? Our three, plus Angie's old Max, while Angie & Carole are in Chicago for a week, & Cathy's blind Ingrid for a month while Cathy is in Nepal. With all the canine coming & going, I have to put a little post-it note on the inside of the front door with the current number of dogs so I can do a head count every now & then to make sure everyone is accounted for.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 2:47 PM.
Monday, June 09, 2003
Listening to NPR this morning, both Carole & I were flabbergasted to hear Justice Department spokesperson Barbara Comstock respond (audio link: Patriot Act Faces Opposition) to a question about opposition to the Patriot Act by noting that most of the communities that have passed resolutions in opposition are "in Vermont" or are "college towns in California." (I'm quoting from memory, but the link will give the exact language & context.) Two things stand out about this statement: 1) If you live in Vermont or a college town in California, your opinion is irrelevant; 2) Ms. Comstock would never have included, say, Wyoming in her dismissal of opposition to the act, despite the fact that there is as much right-wing opposition to the Patriot Act as there is left-wing. The reporter went on to interview Bob Barr, who said the act "basically throws out the Fourth Amendment." In fact, there is wide conservative opposition to the Patriot Act; for a Justice Department Spokesperson to imply that the only opposition comes from a few fringe leftists ought to infuriate principled conservatives.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:29 AM.
Sunday, June 08, 2003
Poets are used to rejection, but usually the rejection comes from the editor of a journal or some foundation. So who the hell is Blogsnob & where do they get off rejecting me when I haven't requested anything of them, or asked them to do anything for me? I received the following email today, with the heading BlogSnob application:
This is an automated notifier to tell you that a member of the BlogSnob team has seen your page but we're sorry to inform you that we will not be able to display your ads in the program.
We recommend you to check the kind of sites that we accept at the following URL:
If you feel that your site qualifies for the program, but it was still rejected, do post a message at the forums. we'll try to check it out rightaway.
Do check out the blogsnob website for the active Forum, and the sport that so many members indulge in, SnobJumping.
All this and more at the blogsnob site at http://blogsnob.idya.net
Let's keep the spirit of blogging alive!
The BlogSnob Team.
First, I didn't apply for "the program." I don't like clubs. And when, out of curiosity I went to the BlogSnob site & discovered that I couldn't use "foul language" & that "When people checkout a BlogSnob site, they expect it to be a nice Blog by somebody . . . So your site should either be a personal blog, or something close to it," I knew my application--which I did not submit--was doomed. I guess I got tripped up because this most definitely is not "a nice blog by somebody" & I'll use any goddamn language I think appropriate to the situation. Note to BlogSnob: You should check out Mike Golby's weblog. Now there's a nice blog by somebody & I know for a fact that Mike is dedicated to keeping "the spirit of blogging alive." Really, check it out rightaway.
Afterthought: Automated email is definitely, I believe, the best way to "keep the spirit of blogging alive." Really, who the fuck are you people? You write like sorority sisters.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:23 PM.
Bagatelles: Shelley, I'm glad you liked the poem, though it is more of an exercise than a poem. I don't post "real" poems in this weblog--there's a book of them accumulating on my C: drive, but they're not ready for an audience yet. I write in incoherent fits & starts & most of what I write remains in fragments for a long time. In any case, I am an obsessive reviser. The piece I post here never take more than ten minutes & are notational in structure & intent. Not that this should take anything away from your or another reader's enjoyment. When you say "let the sentiment drip," though, I have to admit it gives me pause. Much of my work has been about finding ways to avoid the sentimental without giving in to formula & emotional aridity. The dog as love poem came about in reaction to several of the poet-bloggers playing the anti-sentimentality game by taking the most hackneyed formula in English--made famous in a series of book in the sixties & seventies by cartoonist Charles Schultz--& trying to make something of it. The formula goes: abstract noun + is + concrete noun = warm syrup of satisfaction. The original Schultz phrase was, I believe, "Happiness is a warm puppy." The most pointed response would have to be John Lennon's "Happiness is a warm gun."
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 1:22 PM.
Friday, June 06, 2003
Love is a dog in motion.
Love lies in the sun panting.
Love's fur is hot to the touch.
Love goes in the river to the chest
& drinks by just opening its mouth
& letting the river flow over its tongue.
Love slurps huge gulps of water
& when love comes to you
love drools on your shoes & you love it.
You know you do.
Later: The lines above attempt to camouflage their sentimentality with words like slurp & gulp & drool, but it is the barest trick. Better to just let the sentimentality be itself or keep quiet, no? That's not love barking forlornly across the river at midnight. That's another spirit.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 12:39 PM.
Thursday, June 05, 2003
Yesterday was gorgeously sunny but it's early enough in the year that it wasn't very hot--around 70. So I finally got around to pulling the chipper-shredder apart & unclogging it's circular blade, which I had managed to completely immobilize with some very tough woody vine. Today I was going to grind up all the brush & saplings I've been cutting in the woods, but we're having what in Vietnamese is called mua phan, dust rain. Lightly blowing mist. So I guess I'll go back to plastering the little room I use as a study. I want to get moved back in there before the beginning of July, when I start teaching a summer course--a section of Clarkson's first-year Humanities course. My version for the summer could be called Depressing Literature: "How to Tell a True War Story," The Stranger, Heart of Darkness, The Last Summer of Reason, Maus, & selections from Lady Borton's After Sorrow. I think I'm forgetting one text, but the list gives the flavor of what I'm going to try to do. Probably should end with some ecstatic poems by Blake & Ginsberg. Ecstasy against the empire.
I am unapologetic about having what Accuracy in Academic would call "an agenda," even "a left wing agenda." I am unapologetic because my class is likely one of the only places students will be exposed to anything resembling a critique of the dominant culture & politics in which they live. My entire teaching project is pluralistic: I want to make the case that there are multiple ways of looking at any issue. You could ask former students of mine, though, if I push students to accept my own particular constellation of social, aesthetic & political views. I don't. But I do ask that students develop a capacity for pluralism, multiplicity & ambiguity. It is my hope that such a capacity leads to tolerance, but I can't be sure.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:22 AM.
Tuesday, June 03, 2003
I read in the Times
that Hippos thrive
on Pablo Escobar's abandoned estate.
One cannot escape
irony's wide scope.
In times like these
the hippos thrive.
I've never been a subscriber to conspiracy theories, even when they would validate my sense of the world, but the times they are a changin'--when I read a piece like this from the Miami Herald, I begin to wonder if the Bush Admin doesn't actually want another terrorist attack on American soil in order to perpetuate a policy of endless wartime powers. [link via Eschaton]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:36 AM.
Monday, June 02, 2003
In winter, politics & the damage of power;
in spring, the river & the weakness of knowledge.
There will always be these crowds of believers.
Intelligence reduced to a vague smudge.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:56 PM.
[I have taken down my post containing an exchange with Bogden Caceu regarding Leo Strauss & the Bush Admin's neoconservative cabal. Mr. Caceu & I have begun a more extended email exchange that I hope to present in some form in the near future.]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:10 AM.
Sunday, June 01, 2003
Dan Tessitore has taken up my challenge & begun a poetry blog, Writing. Dan & I are both products of the "official verse culture" who would no longer get an official stamp of approval. I'm glad to have him around.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 8:19 AM.