Thursday Three #7

This week’s assortment of stuff in triplicate has no theme whatsoever. Or perhaps that’s a little defeatist? What I should say, rather, is that the theme of this post has yet to be determined, but I am quietly confident that you, astute reader, will immediately spot the common thread in this seemingly random rug of nonsense.

Mushroom Wood1. Malvern got wood. (Sorry.) Yes indeed, the mushroom wood has arrived and will soon be affixed handsomely to various Malvernian walls. Isn’t she lovely? For those of you lacking knowledge vis-à-vis all things timber, mushroom wood isn’t actually made from mushrooms—it’s usually made from cypress, cedar, or hemlock. It gets its fungal moniker from its day job: it’s used to make the bins in which mushrooms are commercially grown. Once the wood has done its bit for mushroomkind, it can be recycled as lovely, low maintenance, eco-friendly siding. You’d be well advised not to line your bathroom walls with this stuff, however—it’s possible that the wood might still contain a few wee mushroom spores, and mushroom spores tend to… blossom when things get damp.

2. I very much like this collaboration between artist Micah Lexier and poet Christian Bök:

Lexier and Bök

Eerie indeed! What does one call a paragraph-long anagram? One commenter suggests it should be an anagraph, while another plumps for paragram. In any case, I love how Bök’s reinvented text becomes curiouser and curiouser as he runs out of letter options—and yet that final line is so perfect, I wonder if he set aside the letters for it right from the beginning? I like to imagine that “resewn a touted art of” was frantically cobbled together from leftover letters. I also like to imagine that if I’d been in charge, that phrase might have read “his message had already rated stoneware tofu genuine poetry.” Bök is best known for his poetry collection Eunoia, which won the 2002 Griffin Poetry Prize. It’s an intriguing project: the book has five chapters, and each chapter consists of words that can use only one of the vowels (so in Chapter A, for example, a is the only vowel that makes an appearance). Bök claims he read the entire Webster’s dictionary five times while working on the book. And for his next trick, Bök will soon be making a string of DNA write a poem.

3. Finally, in anticipation of July 4th and your imminent departure for vacationland, here’s a glum little quote from Alain de Botton’s On Love:

The future has some of the satisfactions and safety of the past. I recalled that as a child every holiday grew perfect only when I was home again, for then the anxiety of the present would make way for stable memories. I spent whole childhood years looking forward to the winter holidays, when the family took two weeks to go skiing in the Alps. But when I was finally on top of a slope, looking at pine-covered valleys below and a fragile blue sky above, I felt a pervasive, existential anxiety that would then evaporate from the memory of the event, a memory that would be exclusively composed of the objective conditions (the top of a mountain, a fragile blue sky) and would hence be free of everything that had made the actual moment trying. The present was unpleasant not because I might have had a runny nose, or been thirsty, or forgotten a scarf, but because of my reluctance to accept that I was finally going to live out a possibility that had all year resided in the comforting folds of the future. Yet as soon as I had reached the bottom of the slope, I would look back up the mountain and declare that it had been a perfect run. And so the skiing holiday (and much of my life generally) proceeded: anticipation in the morning, anxiety in the actuality, and pleasant memories in the evening.

Poetry, I

Poetry Month is officially over, but that’s no reason to abandon our arbitrary and occasional Poetry A-Z series…

I is for Inez, Colette

Colette InezI couldn’t think of a poet whose last name started with the letter I, so I asked google to help me out, and google said, hey, you silly sausage, how about Colette Inez? Nice job, google! (And if you’re reading this today, June 26th, please google the word gay and enjoy the celebratory rainbow doodle.)

Colette Inez was born in Europe in 1931 under grimly romantic circumstances:

I was conceived in Paris, the unexpected outcome of a love affair between a French archivist and a French-American priest whose mother claimed Irish descent. In her ninth month, my mother crossed the border into Belgium where I was born and soon after packed off to the Catholic sisters, my stern caretakers for the next eight years.

At the age of eight, with Europe on the brink of war, Inez was sent to America, where she spent her adolescence in a fairly menacing Long Island foster home. She found solace in literature, turning to the works of Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and Robinson Jeffers, who moved her with his “disdain for mankind and love of hawks, horses, and cliffs.” She won her first poetry competition while she was an undergraduate at Hunter College, and this gave her the necessary confidence to immerse herself in the New York poetry scene. She began attending readings at the 92nd Street Y and hanging out at poetry cafés in the Village. After graduating in 1961, she initially found work “in the blur of big corporate offices” as a switchboard operator and secretary, before beginning her teaching career. Over the years she lectured at a number of universities, including Bucknell, Cornell, the New School, and Columbia, where she was a long-time faculty member of the undergraduate writing program.

Inez has published ten poetry collections and a memoir, The Secret of M. Dulong. Her first collection, The Woman Who Loved Worms (Doubleday, 1972), won the Great Lakes Colleges Association National First Book Award and was reissued by Carnegie Mellon University Press in 1991. More recent volumes include the excellently titled Spinoza Doesn’t Come Here Anymore (Melville House, 2004), and Horseplay (WordTech, 2011). She has won numerous awards, including two Pushcart Prizes, and has received fellowships from the Rockefeller and Guggenheim Foundations and from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Her poetry is direct, fiery, and ebullient, full of sentiment but seldom sentimental. She’s also a courageous and deeply personal writer, unafraid to examine the legacy of her peripatetic and troubled childhood. In an essay for the Poetry Society, Inez had this to say concerning the issue of identity:

I’d have to describe myself as a narrative, lyric poet who writes in American English. I am an American citizen, long and well-married to a Brooklyn-born freelance writer whose parents were immigrants from the Polish Pale. I am an American whose roots are European although I certainly keep in mind that my true ancestors were also one-celled plants floating in water. My interests are varied, yet the mysteries of my French family and their history continue to inform and . . . haunt my work.

Here are a couple of my favorite Inez poems:

The Tuner

Choose how the forest
was deprived of a tree.
Blight, wind, fire?
I once lost a cantankerous man,
who tuned pianos.
Tall, an oak to me,
he goaded music from the keys.
I almost see him biting on his pipe,
tamping down the London Dock.
Blown back leaves, birds, moths,
the gestures here.
Pendulum, tool box auctioned off.
Summer roars another blast of green.
“I like to see a piano perspire,”
he’d say to me, slamming the lid
of the Baldwin.

* * *

Blind Mouths

He looks at a circle
of mouths.
Nothing to say.

His grandparents sit
in another blind time,
each in a circle
of worrying eyes.

The children, away,
rolling like hoops,
a distant park
eating their screams.

In the speed of hunger
his parents meet,
two round mouths
to devour their child.

Round as moons
the mirrored plates
reflecting the rooms
in a widening haze
of losses and blame.

The bicycle locked
in the fog of old toys,
wheels, two mouths
of spokes and dust.

Nobody speaks.
The table is cleared.
He looks at a field of snow,
the whiteness longer
than he dreams,
a blizzard of scraps
confusing the house

large as a van
devouring roads
as it moves through the years
pregnant with his furniture.

Tuesday Tidbits

Here’s a little link love for y’all on this hot and humid Tuesday:

  • Big BrotherLionel Shriver’s new novel, Big Brother, is getting mixed reviews. The book is a fictionalized account of Shriver’s struggle to “rescue” her obese brother, who died of a heart attack in 2009 (just days after Shriver published this article about their relationship). It sounds like a… tricky subject for a novel, and reactions to the book have been decidedly mixed. While the Telegraph’Elena Seymenliyska gives Big Brother high marks for originality and sensitivity, John Crace of the Guardian takes great delight in skewering it in six-hundred acerbic words, and Zoe Williams calls it “more an exorcism of guilt than a functioning novel.” Meanwhile, the Independent’s Carole Angier declares that while Shriver is “wonderful at the things she is always wonderful at,” like pace and plot, the novel’s unreliable narrator is ultimately “annoying” and self-defeating. As always, such conflicting reviews make me extra keen to read the novel myself and pick a side. (BTW, this review in the Age wins the Best Title award.)
  • In an essay in the Guardian, Kathryn Heyman asks why there are so few women in the London Review of Books and is told by the Review’s editors that… it’s complicated. Hardly, she retorts:

By publishing a literary journal with about 70% male contributors in every edition, the implicit message is that male writing is better than female writing. If you believe this to be the case, have the courage of your convictions and admit it, so that we can acknowledge what the argument really is. If however, you believe that women writers are equal to male writers, then try harder. It isn’t complicated. It’s simple.

  • Want to save yourself the price of a movie ticket? Avoid Sofia Coppola’s latest deep-as-an-eyeshadow-pan music video movie, The Bling Ring, and instead check out Nancy Jo Sales’ “The Suspects Wore Louboutins,” the Vanity Fair essay on which the movie is based. (Fun fact: the burglarizing brats had to break into Paris Hilton’s house five times before she noticed anything was missing.)
  • KanyeKanye West uttered some sublime nonsense in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago; this slideshow reminds us he has been full of (genius) wind for a long, long time. As the Man himself says, “Damn Ye, it’d be stupid to diss you / Even your superficial raps is super-official.”
  • In the Philadelphia Review of Books, esteemed Malvern pal Lee Klein has published a thoughtful review of the second volume in Karl Ove Knausgaard’s six-volume My Struggle series. I’m halfway through the book and finding it every bit as riveting and astounding as its predecessor.

Alice Unchained

Today Adam introduces us to the awesome (and decidedly metal) Alice…

Alice in Chains is an American rock band that emerged from Seattle, Washington, in the early 1990s. They were often lumped in with the grunge movement because they came around at the same time as other grunge acts and their music shared some elements with grunge, but their heavy guitar sound and high level of musicianship had more in common with metal bands than anything else. If Alice in Chains was not recognized as metal, it was more a result of the timing of their emergence than anything else. Regardless of their label, Alice in Chains was one of the most prominent rock bands of the ’90s and their music was an influence for many bands to come.

Alice in ChainsOne of the things that was most notable about Alice in Chains were the gloomy, dark sounding vocals of lead singer Layne Staley. Staley and guitarist Jerry Cantrell would often harmonize vocals together to produce a pitch that was highly innovative at the time. Since then, many bands have gone on to imitate this style of singing, but Alice in Chains were the first to embrace it. Another aspect of the band that brought them to the spotlight was Jerry Cantrell’s guitar work. Cantrell was known for his smooth style of playing as well as his impressive soloing skills, which is something that separated the band from typical grunge bands, who would rarely have guitar solos in their songs. The other two members of the band are Sean Kinney on drums and Mike Inez on bass. Prior to Mike Inez joining the band, Mike Starr was the bassist.

The band’s first album was entitled Facelift. This album has one of Alice in Chains’ most well known songs, “Man in the Box”:

The band immediately got recognition for their unique sound with the release of their first album. The band’s third album, entitled Dirt, was a great album and is considered by many to be the band’s most prominent album. The songs on the album reflect in large part lead singer Layne Staley’s lengthy battle with substance abuse and addiction. Songs like “Junkhead” and “Hate to Feel” clearly portray Staley’s desperate state of mind as he fought against his addiction to drugs, primarily heroin. The band in fact had to cancel two of their biggest tours because Staley was in such bad condition as a result of his drug abuse.

The band put out a live album that debuted on MTV Unplugged. It was the band’s first live performance in three years. When guitarist Jerry Cantrell released a solo album entitled Boggy Depot, which was pretty much Alice in Chains without Layne Staley, it became clear that the band had been derailed by the lead singer’s problems. In April 2002, on the same date that grunge icon Kurt Cobain committed suicide with a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Alice in Chains lead singer Layne Staley was found dead in his Seattle home. His body wasn’t discovered until three weeks after his passing. The official cause of death was a fatal injected dose of heroin mixed with cocaine, also known as a speedball.

Many Happy Muldoons

Let’s raise a pint of Guinness and say sláinte to poet Paul Muldoon, who turns sixty-two today. Muldoon was born in County Armagh, Northern Ireland, and was educated at the Queen’s University of Belfast, where he studied under Seamus Heaney. He has lived in the United States since 1987, and is currently Howard G.B. Clark Professor of the Humanities and Chair of the University Center for the Creative and Performing Arts at Princeton University—and, as if that isn’t enough of a career mouthful, he’s also the poetry editor of The New Yorker, a guitarist in a rock band called Rackett, and an amateur actor. He has received numerous awards, including the T. S. Eliot Prize, the Irish Times Poetry Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, and the Griffin International Prize for Excellence in Poetry. Most importantly, he owns this insane hound:

Paul Muldoon

Muldoon’s poetry is often contrasted with that of his former mentor, Heaney, with Heaney cast as “the people’s poet”—his poetry is better known and he enjoys greater popular success—and Muldoon as “the poet’s poet,” a writer whose work is too cryptic and obscure for a more general readership. It’s true that Muldoon loves wordplay and allusion, and his poetry is full of wit and riddles. (In a New York Times book review, Peter Davison remarked that Muldoon is “doubtless a dab hand at crossword puzzles.”) But if you don’t mind putting in a little work, there’s a lot of fun to be had with Muldoon’s postmodern high jinks. In honor of his birthday, let’s enjoy a little Muldoonery…

Symposium (you can hear Muldoon read it here)

You can bring a horse to water but you can’t make it hold
its nose to the grindstone and hunt with the hounds.
Every dog has a stitch in time. Two heads? You’ve been sold
one good turn. One good turn deserves a bird in the hand.

A bird in the hand is better than no bread.
To have your cake is to pay Paul.
Make hay while you can still hit the nail on the head.
For want of a nail the sky might fall.

People in glass houses can’t see the wood
for the new broom. Rome wasn’t built between two stools.
Empty vessels wait for no man.

A hair of the dog is a friend indeed.
There’s no fool like the fool
who’s shot his bolt. There’s no smoke after the horse is gone.

* * *

The Fish Ladder (from Maggot)

Forty years since I proved a micher
and ate blackberries
along the plank road by a dilapidated weir
that had somehow failed to pave
the way from being a local eyesore

to something on which we might rest assured,
a corduroy causey thrown down by Caesar
across the Fens
being cut and dried by comparison.
Though a flax dam

in which our enthusiasm may be damped
as we grope
towards clarity with the high-strung
sea trout and salmon
is not to be confused with the bog hole

in which my father proved a last ditcher
during World War II, a flax dam may be the very
pool in which we find ourselves in the clear.
Less and less, though, will bog water stave
off the great gobs of gore

that come and go like Jonah’s gallows gourd
from the wound where a doctor still views his tweezer
through the lens
of day-to-day life in a Roman garrison.
Even Jonah has run himself ragged as he swam

against the workload with which he’d been swamped
those last few months in the hope,
I expect, of skipping a rung.
Sometimes the more we examine
things, the less we understand our dual role

as proven escape artist and proven identity switcher.
Just look at how two ferries
have gone down within plain sight of the pier
but only one tatterdemalion wave
has managed to stumble ashore.

And here’s Muldoon reading “A Hummingbird”:

Habits & Habitats

A few bits and bobs for your midweek delectation…

  • Frames, we got ’em! Yep, Malvern Books is coming along nicely: stick on some wood, slap on some paint, bung up some shelves, and Bob’s your bookstore! (Can you tell we’re getting excited now?)


  • Today on everyone’s favorite tote-bag peddling radio stationLeonard Lopate chatted with author Mason Currey about his new book, Daily Rituals, which takes a look at the quotidian habits of creative types. Highlight #1: Apparently Beethoven believed that the perfect cup of coffee required exactly sixty beans, and he would count them out one by one. (If you find this sort of thing intriguing, Brain Pickings has a lengthy post on rituals from the book.) Highlight #2: As always, there was a call-in from a batty rich lady with artistic aspirations. Today’s caller was an über-mom who demanded Currey provide her with a morning writing routine that would give her some “me time” while taking into account her child’s “needs.” She insisted that she was not willing to get up early, did not believe in “the nanny culture”, and refused to let lil’ Augustus watch TV. In other words, you can find her heartrending memoir, Yoga Ate My Brain!, on a shelf near you in July two-thousand-and-never.
  • Have you seen the BBC’s much talked about kitty-cat documentary, The Secret Life of the Cat? You can watch the whole thing online…


    … but let me save you the time. A bunch of “cat scientists” descend upon a charming Surrey village, attach GPS units to fifty of the village’s finest fluffies, and then track their comings and goings for a week in order to reveal that… cats do pretty much exactly what you thought: they sleep, they steal food, and they engage in the odd territorial skirmish. Yes, my British chums, your television licence fee is going toward SCIENCE. On the plus side, the cats themselves were jolly nice to look at; I’ve never seen such absurdly plump, fluffy, whiskery specimens. Their salon blowouts were impeccable.