A Nice Reminder From John Haines

I was putting together my W203 Creative Writing syllabus for the fall and have been focusing on Rocky Mountain state writers. Naturally, sometime after Rick Bass I found poet John Haines’ work and have been spending sometime nosing around his work for stuff that is teachable. To say there is a lot would be a clear understatement. But as Creative Writer with a considerable amount of training in social informatics, I found the following excerpt from his “Poetry Chronicle I” enlightening. Particularly in a world that is seemingly dominated by NYC urban dribble poems (ala Billy Collins).

“For what I found often enough was more of what I find all too abundantly in poetry now: in fairly ordinary language, no subject beyond this uninspiring urban self with its minor distractions, combined with a school-bred tendency to force one’s poem in order to appear to have something important say. To point up the moral, imagine Keats or Wordsworth writing verses about the bad plumping in his house, or how scratchy his underwear felt that morning! Did William stub his toe while walking the country roads? We don’t know and we don not care.” (Haines 113)

Sadly enough, I’ve been preoccupied with worries about useless “ain’t it funny” crap poems after looking leafing through some of the garbage that’s been passed off as the year’s best in poems and fiction. We don’t like to talk about morals in writing. It’s hard to do in a world that none of us feel should be prescriptive. And maybe moral is the wrong word. But writing and most everything we do should be done with not only the Buddhist moral passed on to us by Gary Snyder “do no harm,” but more appropriately with a concern for the other. The words we write and things we spend time on matter, if only because both are so finite. There is something beyond all of us in the beauty of writing that touches us beyond the simple “Isn’t it funny when my coffee machine breaks.” Pull us the ordinary to show us something about ourselves and our relationships with others. All of this is to thank Haines.

Duckpin Bowling You Say

The Very Cool Sign Seen from Prospect St. Sidewalk

So the Mrs. is a science teacher up in Indy. Which means that we get in a good number of trips every month up that way for socializing purposes. Tonight was her first staff get together in the Circle City and got to experience the wonders of Duckpin bowling Hoosier style. Basically you tossed this slightly larger than softball size bowling-type balls at some very small pines. You get three tosses to knock down ten of the them and you score it like bowling otherwise. It’s pretty sweet on the whole. We hooked up the action in Fountain Square, and played on the fourth floor of the alley which really gave some great skyline views of the downtown. The place is on Prospect and has been pretty much a staple since 1928. Very cool, very “preserved” Indiana feel to the place. Indianapolis still keeps surprising us. It’s a very cool place to spend an evening.

What I’m Reading: Joe Mackall

It’s summer right. Which generally means a large amount of time to get reading done. And while trying to avoid the tedious things in life such as syllabus design and HCI technical readings, I’ve managed to lock down some good summer reads. Way back April way I went out to Denver for the AWP and heard Joe Mackall on panel regarding writing place. It was fascinating and the bit he read to the crowd (and it was a large one) was one of the best I heard at the conference.

Nice Red Cover
Joe Mackall's The Last Street Before Cleveland. (Nebraska)

Now, I don’t typically read that much non-fiction. Or, at least the non-fiction I read tends to be on the whole rather whinny day-time television stuff and thus I avoid it like the reheated street meat. But, Mackall’s The Last Street Before Cleveland: An Accidental Pilgrimage manages to break both of those previous statements for me. It’s a ballsy and occasionally highly emotional return of a man to his very troubled blue-collar environs of northern Ohio. And for various reasons that neck of the woods (most notably Cleveland, Toledo, and the Ohio lakefront) really grabs a hold of me. Maybe it was something about it being the “real” America for me, just beyond the debacle that Detroit and Southeastern Michigan seem to represent for those looking across the Detroit River. Either way Mackall’s work here is exemplary and brings with some very heavy and beautiful passages.

The occasion for the piece is Mackall’s return to his old neighbourhood to bury a very troubled friend from his past. His return home conjures up the demons of his past and pulls a lot on his experiences of growing up poor and Catholic in a factory dominated community. It is a place of heavy drinking, fast living, hard luck lives that most people familiar with Cleveland and the Rust Belt have known well over their lives. Mackall does very well to capture this section of American life. And given the continued hard luck or tough runs that Cleveland and the Lake Erie front seems to enjoy it seems rather worthwhile to look at this book for this reason alone. If you still have some space on that list and are looking for a good read, well, here you go.

Much to Be Caught Up On: New Poems to Be Published

Had to take a wee break from this whole blogging thing. I’m working on Library Science Degree and getting ready to finish work on my Fiction Manuscript for my MFA out here at good ol’ IU. All in all the summer has been pretty busy, which explains a lot in terms of not getting at this thing. We recently tried to purchase a house in Indianapolis’ Rocky Ripple neighbourhood, but the deal fell through and alas, here we are still in B-town for another year. Sometimes things aren’t meant to be, and some places just might not be for some people. Indy, I still love you, but I’m gonna have to move on.

Over the last week, the Hawk and Whippoorwill took two of my poems: “A Natural Violence” and “Pool Beneath the Old Bathhouse” for their upcoming issue. The journal is based out of Boston and is one I’m really looking forward to having my work appear in. Consider these guys if you’re hunt for a new journal to subscribe to. If you’re a writer and submit to places you should also be subscribing. In the very least it’s throwing good karma back your way. More importantly though, you’re support your fellow writers and editors.

Indiana has been sweltering (like much of the rest of country, mind you) over the past couple of days. A heat wave that should have kept you inside doing some reading or writing or whatever kind of craft you enjoy setting your mind too. I’ve peaking around at the Pushcart Prize 2010 collection this last little bit. Griel Marcus’ essay is worth a look as is Paul Muldoon’s piece. I’d prefer not to talk about the centre justified poem in terms of format. But then again, just putting that last sentence says something. On the whole with the Pushcart collection thus far, I have to say I’m not overly excited. It is a big collection through and I have some work to get through with it.

A Balloon is a Circle and Compass Both – Ben Greenman

Book Cover

Some Thoughts About Greenman’s A Balloon is a Circle and Compass Both:

Just finished up this collection for workshop this week and figured it at least worth a few notes on the web. On the whole Greenman does some pretty fun work here. The Editor of the New Yorker that Greenman is comes through perhaps strongest in his satiric type humor that runs through the stories here. The stories are advertised a love stories and in so much explore the various ways that humans feel love for each other. The majority of book is constructed through the notion of love as a joke. But there are some single pieces that connect to things such as place, power, and music. There is a really interesting web of story connection that is established by the table of contents (one that pairs up stories that are seperated by sizable space) and if read in this alternative order really could much to establish a rather different type of collection.
Much of the individual pieces could be read as allegory with a nice layer of controlling and connected metaphors that open up the possibility for deeper readings. Clearly the table of contents helps to illustrate this particular facet of the collection. It’s a fairly quick read and something that is most likely not going to be Earth-shattering. That said it is on the whole entertaining and could provide something of a nice distraction for the casual reader. Something worth checking out, if only for the piece on Bigfoot.

My Crack at A Pho Recipe

We love Pho (Vietnamese Rice Noodle Soup) and will drive as far as Louisville for a good bowl of the stuff. The obsession all started back in Windsor, ON at that blue-signed restuarant on Wynadotte Street West. Now we carry forward in Indiana.

We made some Pho the other day and it turned out good enough to share. Here’s the basic broth ingredient list:

4-5 lbs soup bones (I like lamb and beef mixture)
2 yellow cooking onions
1 2-3 inch piece of ginger
6 Star Anise Pods
1 tbs fennel
1 cinnamon stick
2 tbs dried lemongrass
1 tps coriander
1/3 cup fish sauce
optional: 1 tbs whole cloves and 1 tps cardamon.

Place the soup bones in cold water in a large soup pot. Bring to boil, scrap away scum from surface. Reduce to simmer
Roast the onion and ginger in the oven for 5 minutes per side at 375 degrees.
Add the onions and ginger (cut up would probably be a good choice) into the water. Follow with other ingredients. Let simmer for minimum of 4 hours (I let ours go for almost 7) with the lid on.
After the cook down period, strain out the broth and return it to the pot.
Get yourself some Vietnamese Rice Noodles, some bean sprouts, hoisin sauce, sirachi (aka Flaming Chicken) sauce, fresh basil or cilantro, thin slice beef or lamb (or maybe some beef balls if you can find them) and maybe some lettuce or greens. Cook the noodles (aside from the broth) and add the meat to the broth. Serve in a bowl with broth and noodles and meat. All the others are condiments that you put on the side. Add them to your liking.

Theatre Time and the Slow Burning Approach of Summer

We apparently have a nicely sized mass of thunderstorms on their way here from St.Louis-way. An event which, to me in some part, marks the slow march of summer our way. Of course, the flowers and plants are starting to come back round again, so that might be a more major source of this belief. Thunderstorms are just so much more writerly. The Mrs. and I went out to our last play of the current IU season and were blown away by this one. This one was Richard Greenberg’s Take Me Out, a play ostensibly about baseball and the role of gender in it. Of course there are much broader issues the play raises (sport and culture, escapism, isolation and community, etc.), but you get the basic drift of it all. Regardless, the cast and crew put on a very impressive performance. One that earned the first standing ovation I’ve seen this semester. Better even, given the fact the play was sold out. Great play and even better troop.

Still working a couple of manuscripts here. The new bit of experimentation is a narrative series of poems and about a fiction Bonspiel (Curling Tournament) in Northern Manitoba. I have to a working manuscript together in about a week or so and I am about halfway there. The Olympic curling bug got in my head, I’m trying to shake it with this piece. It was a fun thing to work through nonetheless. I’ll report some progresses back in a bit.

One last thing. I love to leave off with music. As I’m showing Life Aquatic for my comp classes this week, this song has become lodged in my head. Last week the film was Star Trek (2009). Doing the exploration of historical contextualism and the fictions we can create around our representations of our past and present. Well, that’s a rather large aside. Here’s Sigur Ros, the Icelandic post-pop now-on-hiatus band.

Look out it’s Freddie Hubbard time.

Ok, so I grew up in the metro Detroit area and remember sitting around on many weeknight listening to the rather classic Ed Love Program on WDET. He was always a big fan of Freddie Hubbard and used to play a great number of Hubbard’s tracks, particularly so when old Ed Love was feeling a little more on the energetic side of things. Anyways sitting around after a good feed on some homemade Pho, I was really grooving out some Hubbard while working on a couple of revisions. While the Pho was fantastic and do plan on throwing up the recipe in a few days time, I just plain old felt like sharing a little Hubbard with the world.

Freddie Hubbard was from nearby Indianapolis and actually got his start with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Hubbard is really cooking through this classic on the trumpet nice and early in this piece. I’m fairly sure it’s from a Blue Note DVD. Basically a little love being thrown your way from Hoosier land. Enjoy.

The First One – And We’re Off And Running

A great illumination so often starts with a whimper. Perhaps so with this page. Amidst a rather thoroughly cold spring day in Indiana, I’m taking a breath from the revision of a fiction piece I had in workshop last September. As promised in my most recent publication in Front Range, it is one of those instrumental pieces in the collection on Gallatin County, MT that I’m putting together. “Stuck Outside of Norris with the Holy Bucket Blues” is a long but perhaps nothing more than working title for piece. Very few things are worse than talking about an unfinished piece of fiction. Back to the break though. We’ve planted the garden here on 12th street and with any luck we’ll avoid a heavy frost and our first round of winter veggies will start sprouting. We’ll be having a tonne more flowers this year. Well, if the seeds some up. So pictures of our set-up to follow.