Monday, April 30, 2007

Notes from Travels

from the diary: “Sunday 7/26/87

“Felt kinda dreamy all day. The weather was very nice. I did the weedeating. Finished reading Emblen’s latest book of poems, Notes from Travels. … There’s an anti-abortion letter in today’s Press Demo signed Christina Kalvin-Covarrubias. Rather articulate ire, I’d say.” The Press Democrat is the Santa Rosa daily newspaper.

I wrote about Christina previously, a post about a Poets-in-the-Schools reading at the local bookstore. A month or so after I wrote the post I got an email from Christina. I was sure she had googled herself but when accused she insisted she had been researching one of our old high school teachers. She found her way to my blog and began to recognize some of the people I was talking about. She’s living in Washington state these days, a passle of kids, a different last name. She says she still thinks of herself as a writer but hasn’t done any writing. Some day, some day.

I read a library copy of Don's book. When I visited this January I purchased Notes from Travels from the poet. He brushed some dust off before he handed it to me.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The 3-lb Universe

from the diary: “Tuesday 7/21/87

Reading “this book about the brain called The 3-lb Universe -- informative bk but, god, do they hafta kill all them animals? And torture and deprive and torment. Monkeys, cats, rats. gruesome stuff even tho’ it wasn’t described in the book, just sorta mentioned incidental.”

Whenever I think about brain research I think about all the research animals that have been sacrificed. As I recall there’s a point in the book where scientists realize that all their results are contaminated because they’ve been chopping the heads off their rats in the same room as all the cages of rats, thus every rat in the study has been living in mortal fear, under constant stress and anxiety. But why chop the heads off the rats at all? In order to get to the brain which the researchers would puree and analyze for the kinds & proportions of its chemicals. If you suppose you are looking at the normal brain’s contents rather than the terrorized brain you have set up an improper baseline for comparison. What to do? Throw out all your results and start over.

Don’t let's even talk about monkeys.

Says a Psychology Today reviewer, “[O]ne must be impressed by the regularity with which immersion in neuroscience research seems to lead to religious, mystical and spiritual preoccupations.”


Saturday, April 28, 2007

Rubyfruit Jungle

from the diary: “Tuesday 7/21/87

“Read Rubyfruit Jungle yesterday. It was funn-ee. Reminded me of Lisa Alther. Why can’t gay male novels be this funny? Dance on My Grave was funny but it had a tragic ending. Also read the latest issue of Blue Unicorn & more of Hayden Carruth’s selected poems …”

Since I so enjoyed Rubyfruit JungleI figured I would read more by Rita Mae Brown. Yet I haven’t. These days she seems to write piles of mysteries with her cat.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Tailchaser’s Song

from the diary: “Sunday 7/19/87

“Walked over Becky’s letter of ref[erence]. We went for a walk. She whispered, ‘A Gay Guy is living in Deanna’s house.’ [After Deanna moved out?]

“Ooh. Am I s’posed to be titillated? I said something about him being of ‘the proper, well-bred, intelligent people.’ She said something about how stupid that was and you know it’s unnatural.

“I said, ‘You’re wrong, you know.’

“She said, ‘It’s unnatural.’

“I said, ‘It’s not. I’m right and you know I’m right. You’re wrong and not right. I’m right. There’s nothing that you can do to prove you’re right cuz I’m right.’

“She was flustered, gathered her wits, ‘Well, there’s nothing you can say to prove you’re right.’

“’I don’t need to prove I’m right because it’s the Absolute Truth and you needn’t prove the Truth.’

“Reading a book Jeff lent me -- Tailchaser’s Song. It’s a nice pageturner. Adventure and all that. I’d forgotten how fun it was to indulge in one of these once in awhile.”

When I was a kid I loved talking animals. The first publisher Tad Williams approached when he’d finished Tailchaser’s Song told him, “’We don't do animal books. We'd make an exception if this were a potential best-seller, but it isn't.’" I guess the publishers would have been okay with Watership Down, had they already known it was going to be a bestseller, information its original publishers were likely lacking.

Do I remember anything about the book? Not really. In this excerpt Williams sets up some cat mythology: “Hearteater had been so long beneath the earth that the sun was blinding him. He clawed and rubbed at his steaming eyes, howling so piteously that Firefoot looked about for a way to protect him from the burning of the day-star. But when he turned away, the blinded Hearteater dug himself a tunnel, more swiftly than any badger or mole. By the time the startled Firefoot bounded over, Hearteater had disappeared back into the belly of the world.”

Thursday, April 26, 2007

“You haven’t identified it yet.”

from the diary: “Tuesday 7/15/87

“Sunday night when I boarded the GGT [Golden Gate Transit bus] at the Transit Mall in S[an] F[rancisco] I was pretty wasted. [Tired, not drunk.] I threw my stuff down and opened up my suitcase to fish out the change I’d had left over from the BART [Bay Area Rapid Transit train] ticket I bought on the way to Hugh McLean’s. The bus driver was arguing with a man who only had a twenty, nothing smaller, so he couldn’t pay the fare. None of the rest of us had change. I would be lucky if I found enough. The driver did finally get him off, then snapped at me still counting out my change. I had just exactly enough – mostly quarters – pennies, a dime left over.

“I put my suitcase and knapsack at my feet and leaned the chair back. I remember glancing at the seat across the aisle and seeing this black jacket exactly like mine atop a white pillow. I remember wondering if it was the black man’s jacket who’d had the twenty. Hope he gets it back. I slept more than I was awake the way in to Rohnert Park. As we were coming to my stop I gathered my stuff and – NO COAT! My jacket, where’s my jacket? I’m saying, ‘Oh, shit. Oh, God.’ And not getting very much sympathy. I ask frantically, ‘Has a jacket been turned in?’ At first driver doesn’t seem to want to admit it. I say, ‘It’s got $200 in it.’ She says, ‘No, it doesn’t.’ No? Well, of course, I spent some of it on the trip. She asked my name. ‘Glenn Ingersoll.’ ‘No, that’s not it.’

“What the hell could be in my coat. ‘You haven’t identified it yet.’ I tried describing it, but she dint want none o’ that. ‘There’s a name in it.’ What name could possibly be in my jacket? Well, she weren’t givin’ it up, so I reluctantly exited the bus, upset, and vaguely grateful that at least if she was such a bitch to me then no one else would get my jacket either. I had no money to call home and didn’t know whether [my brother David] was home [at his place in Rohnert Park]. I tried calling from a pay phone but it wasn’t AT&T so it required 20c – no collect or charge calls allowed. FUCK!

“I stalked to David’s apt. all afume. He was decorating his room (1:30am) and I ranted about my missing coat until Mom got there.

“Monday morning Mom called GGT and talked to a supervisor who had the jacket. I then called to identify it. Dint get him till the evening. He was suspicious. He read me something saying, ‘Hi, Glenn. You’re invited to a party.’ Did that ring a bell? Could I identify the inviter, give name & phone number? No. What party? Who? Mom came up with Jeff. ‘Jeff Ensley?’ I asked. ‘Yes,’ [the GGT supervisor] sounded more excited. [F]irst I had to give the location of the party. I thought of Juan’s parties. A beach, the supervisor [hinted]. ‘Russian Gulch?’ ‘No.’ When Mom said Jeff I said, ‘Salmon Creek Beach?’ ‘Yes.’ That clinched it. Mom picked up the jacket today. My money is safe.”

I was returning from the Oz Convention in Monterey. Afterwards I’d hung out in SF with some Ozzies.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Trot of Oz, part II

from the diary: “Saturday 7/4/87

“Oz convention this coming Friday! Less than week! Heavens. … Dint go to beach party Jeff invited me to. Instead wrote chapter eleven of Trot of Oz. My final chapter! Yay! Wrote it all today. Tentatively titled, ‘A Battle of Giants’. Ooh. Give it to Eric. He can figure out how to end it. He’s s’posed to anyway.”

7/5: “Typed some of Trot’s Chap. 11. Now titled, ‘The Rise of Rottug’. Not a better title I guess, but not much worse.”

Eric and I traded chapters. I wrote Trot of Oz Chapter One, he wrote Chapter Two, etc. In an earlier DIR post I mention Trot. It seems I noted its genesis in 1982. I had forgotten it took five years to work our way through it. More than five years, I guess, as Eric still had to write the concluding chapter.

I knew I had to tie up a lot of the dangling plot threads in the penultimate chapter. And I had to make it exciting! The second to the last chapter is the climax, the last chapter the denouement, the summing up, the closure. Eric had done an ambitious chapter or two limning Shroom society (the Shrooms lived in a city in a cavern under Oz’s Lake Quad) and I thought I ought to step up with something comparable.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Witches of Eastwick

from the diary: “Thursday 7/2/87

“[Greg and I] went to [the movie version of] The Witches of Eastwick, which ain’t much like the book at all. But was fun anyway.”

John Updike has a reputation as a literary novelist, which seems to mean Realism. You know, professors bonking undergrads (& feeling angsty about it), office politics, and heart attacks. So I was surprised when he published a book in which the main characters actually engage in magic/witchcraft. In a tennis game the balls turn into frogs, for instance. The story is set in a small town in Rhode Island and the witches dabble in “artistic activity, albeit of minor kinds. Lexa makes ceramic earthmothers, which are sold in the local crafts store, Jane plays the cello, and Sukie writes, badly, a gossip column for the weekly paper, her participles dangling like earrings.” Margaret Atwood’s review in the NYT is playful and Atwood seemed to be tickled by the book, though she does seem to find the witch’s dependence on men a bit suspect. The witches “are merely restless and bored; they amuse themselves with spiteful gossip, playing mischievous tricks and seducing unhappily married men.” Atwood does not, however, feel Updike’s sexual politics are here unfair to women; nobody comes off righteous.

As an old Ozzy I have to reproduce this paragraph: “Cotton Mather and Nathaniel Hawthorne aside, the great American witchcraft classic is The Wizard of Oz, and Mr. Updike's book reads like a rewrite. In the original, a good little girl and her familiar, accompanied by three amputated males, one sans brain, one sans heart and one sans guts, go seeking a wizard who turns out to be a charlatan. The witches in Oz really have superhuman powers, but the male figures do not. Mr. Updike's Land of Oz is the real America, but the men in it need a lot more than self-confidence; there's no Glinda the Good, and the Dorothy-like ingenue is a 'wimp' who gets her comeuppance. It's the three witches of Eastwick who go back, in the end, to the equivalent of Kansas - marriage, flat and gray maybe, but at least known.”

Monday, April 23, 2007

“my gangly ill-formed contraption”

from the diary: “Wednesday 6/24/87

“This morning in swimming we learned sidestroke with scissor kick. I kind of got the hang of it till we were doing [the] lifesaving technique of dragging [a] person through water. The guy who dragged me did a great job. I got almost no water in my face and felt relaxed. But when I tried to drag him. ARG! I kept dunking him and kinda flailing around. When we got a few feet from the end I let him go and said, ‘Swim!’ It dint help that this kid is damn lovely. Perfect little bod, makes my gangly ill-formed contraption for locomotion and general living look low rent. I asked the girl who was being stroke observer what I did wrong. She asked, ‘What were you doing? It looked like you were making up your own stroke.’ Yeah. Umph. Do we get points for originality?”

Swimming was one of the summer school classes I was taking. It was in the outdoor pool and met at 9am. 3 mornings out of 4 that meant cool overcast. The fog would burn off by noon and the day would be shirt sleeves warm. But, damn, did I shiver in that morning pool! I remember the teacher would lecture to us while we were in the water, clinging to the rim of the pool. I kept willing him to shut up and let us swim so I could build up some heat.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

what I bought at APE

mini comics as follows:

Man Enough: a queer romance by Bill Roundy

Capacity by Theo Ellsworth

Blood Seeds Become Poetry, a biography of Nguyen Chi Thien by Jonathan Hill

Gaylord Phoenix
by Edie Fake

Holiday Funeral
by Nick Mullins

Nome Sang?
by A. Vanderhoof

And a small paperback anthology of comics “by students from the Savannah College of Art & Design”, Little Moments: 17 stories of youthful folly, edited by John Lowe.

Oh, yeah. Also got a Troubletown tshirt from Lloyd Dangle.

I attended a panel on the graphic novel that included Art Spiegelman and Gene Yang, then didn’t have much time to traverse the hall. I could’ve kept snatching up postcards and shelling out two bucks here, ten bucks there all afternoon. But I had to get to a friend’s party.

Compare to last year.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Pink Triangle

from the diary: “Tuesday 6/23/87

“I was in the Bear’s Den cafeteria talking to Andrea Dolin – she spotted me, sat down, we talked for awhile. Started discussing terrible things – Chris’ suicide attempt (I can’t help bringing it up when I feel fairly secure talking), The Pink Triangle and Nazi exterminations (I was reading Robert Plant’s book today), sundry murders and rapes and traffic accidents. Oh, well. It was fun.”

The most famous example of Nazi color-coding is the six-pointed yellow “Star of David” the Nazis required Jews to sew to their clothing. But I was fascinated to discover a chart of other colors on the back of Richard Plant’s The Pink Triangle: the Nazi War Against Homosexuals. Besides the yellow star -- which was two yellow triangles, one sewn atop the other -- there was the pink triangle for homosexuals, a black triangle for political prisoners, and others. It’s hard to see in the chart here reproduced but it looks like you could be several different kinds of vermin with maybe the most egregious being represented by the triangle and lesser crimes by dots and stripes. These remind me somewhat of military rank as shown on a sleeve. I doubt the Nazis kept this system in meticulous order through the end of the war, what with war’s inherent chaos, but that somebody came up with it in the first place … I don’t know.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Dancer from the Dance

from the diary: “Wednesday 6/17/87

“Boring and endless day at the library. I searched books, sorted courtesy cards, brain decayed. When I finally got off work – only worked five hours – I meandered or staggered or plodded or whatever downtown and bought comics. Contemplated buying a new record but dint have the passion for it so I just sat in Old Courthouse Square and read Dancer from the Dance.”

Andrew Holleran’s Dancer from the Dance is another NYC gay tricking novel. Sex seemed the only thing in life one should look for. These days I see such writing as literary porn, at least as much fantasy as fact. I remember the novel having a downer of an ending, too.

On how he discovered writing, “In 8th grade we were asked to write reports on Alaska and Montana and I became known in my class for setting them in a context. The information was always transmitted between two people on a deck overlooking a sunset and when I’d start describing the sunset the class would shriek! I think that’s when I discovered writing was fun and that I could just let go.” That’s from a 1996 interview conducted by Owen Keehnen.

In a more recent interview the interviewer at one point reflects, "I was at a gay party the other night and told people I was going to be interviewing you.” Holleran finishes his sentence, “And no one had heard of me.”

I didn’t know “Andrew Holleran” was a pseudonym until researching this post.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Selected Poetry of Hayden Carruth

from the diary: “Tuesday 6/16/87

“I have turned on to poetry. Wow. It’s like suddenly it makes sense. I checked out The Selected Poetry of Hayden Carruth, and I love reading it aloud. You just have to read poetry aloud.”

Part of it was that so much poetry was disappointing me. I couldn’t get a grasp on it. What was so wonderful?

There were poems I liked. But reading poetry was like listening to a radio station where most the time you turn it on you wish you hadn’t. Just once in awhile along came a song that made you want to rush down to the record store and jump around outside waiting for it to open.

Hayden Carruth has his own website. You can read some of his poems there. Reading them now doesn’t give me a thrill. Curious. I’ll look for the Selected again and see if it’s there the poems lurk. I have to say, though, I love that name. Hayden Carruth. It’s poem enough, innit?

A little more than a year after I read his book the poet committed suicide. He tells about it on his website.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


from the diary: “Saturday 6/13/87

“I napped most of the afternoon. I tried to sustain the half-conscious state described in Colin Wilson’s Mysteries. Sort of succeeded for awhile but it dint feel too profound an experience. It’s comfortable …” [ellipsis in orig.]

Colin Wilson’s book is full of all sorts of fun weirdness and he presents it all so plausibly. What sticks with me twenty years later? Ley lines. Stonehenge was built on a ley line, which is a line of power in the earth, kind of like the fault line between two plates of the earth’s crust, only not at all like that. Vibrational dimensions. I remember Wilson describing dangling a ball on a chain. At length A the ball always rotated counterclockwise, at length B clockwise. These rotations corresponded to dimensions. At one point Wilson climbs a ladder so his pendulum will be long enough to allow him access to the spin of yet another dimension. I found the pendulum thing fascinating and baffling. What was Wilson learning about these other dimensions?

A description at Amazon: “Through personal experience, Colin Wilson discovered that human beings consist of a ladder or hierarchy of selves, whose upper members may be called upon at will for personal transformation and deep knowledge. … Mysteries [is] an attempt to apply his theory to all paranormal phenomena, from precognition to Uri Geller's spoon bending. He presents detailed studies of hauntings, possession, and ‘demonic hypnosis,’ as well as magic, the Kabbalah, and astrology.” Exhaustive, somewhat exhausting, amazing, strains credulity.

When people would see me reading the book I would get, “Colin Wilson? The Outsider!” I later looked up The Outsider. It’s a book of literary criticism. The Outsider, Wikipedia says, “examines the role of the social ‘outsider’ in seminal works of various key literary and cultural figures (notably Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway, Hermann Hesse, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, T.E. Lawrence, Vaslav Nijinsky and Vincent Van Gogh) and aspects of alienation in their works.”

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

what’s new

Lovely day in Berkeley Wednesday. I walked up to Euclid north of campus. There was a line poking out the door of Stuffed Inn, the sandwich & salad shop. I’d brought books & diary with me so willingly waited in line as it’s a nice place to hang out after eating. Quiet, solid tables, picturesque wood interior. I read some of Stranger in a Strange Land, a collection of columns for the UK Guardian by their foreign correspondent to America, Gary Younge. Essay after essay I’m impressed by his quick wit and informed intelligence. Also read a few poems in the fourth volume of The PIP Anthology of World Poetry of the 20th Century, edited by Douglas Messerli. I wrote in my diary, not that I could think of much to say.

After that I crossed the street to Analog Books thinking I probably wasn’t going to buy anything. However, I saw a new issue of Georgetown Review for $5 and Instant City, a new literary magazine out of San Francisco, and I changed my mind. I thought about buying a coffee at the café across the street but it’s so noisy and crowded. After the cool quiet of Stuffed Inn the tables crammed with portable computers and the hubbub of voices dissuaded me from an otherwise attractive coffee drink and cookie. Like I said above, it’s a lovely day in Berkeley, so I turned and walked.

A couple blocks along I came upon a plastic bin. On the lid was written “Comics!” … “25c each” was crossed out and “Free” written in its place. Upon lifting the lid I was surprised to find the bin filled almost to the top with Justice League and X-Men and such. I pawed through them a bit but ended up closing the lid without a treasure. I felt weird about that. If there’d been a graphic novel I probably would have taken it but I didn’t want the loose issues. Glossy paper, colorful costumes, lots of action. And more than a little money spent on them. To see them just left out on the curb.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Love in Relief

from the diary: “Sunday 5/31/87

“Read Love in Relief. Hung out at the house.”

I am not just interested in what goes on in the United States. The world is full of lots of places other than where I’m standing. Everybody thinks where they are and what they know is pretty much what everybody thinks and what everybody knows.

One of the things everybody takes for granted is that “every man has a woman who loves him” and vice versa. There is, actually, a lot of variation in this around the world. But when I’m looking for gay people it doesn’t make me feel better to read that “gay” or “homosexual” are recent social constructs that have only a specific local meaning and that meaning is out of place in other cultures, whether contemporary or historic. Secure in your contemporary American mom-dad-junior nuclear family it probably doesn’t cause much discomfort to hear that the “nuclear family” is a recent social construct that has only a specific local meaning and that meaning is out of place in other cultures, whether contemporary or historic – because that just sounds silly. Of course moms and dads love their babies. Please. What do you take us for? On the other hand, saying “gay” is a cultural construct can be yet another way to dismiss gay people, to define them out of existence.

Love in Relief was translated from the French of writer Guy Hocquenghem (and, no, I don’t know how to pronounce that), and I got the feeling he was working out the notion of the cultureless child. The French seem to love this idea. You’ve heard of the Wolf Boy? The kid discovered a couple centuries ago who had been raised by wolves, had no human culture? Didn’t his example prove that the human mind is a blank slate, ready to be whatever the already written-on write on it? (Where did culture come from in the first place?) Love in Relief is a novel with a blind man at its center. Because he can’t see the differences between men and women and judges every individual by his/her heart he can interact (even sexually) with either/every gender. This annoyed me. Blind people aren’t stupid. They imbibe the same culture as seeing people, pretty much.

Actually, what sticks in my mind most about Love in Relief is the danger of setting a scene in a place to which you’ve never been. A character walking across the Golden Gate Bridge gets whacked by a rogue truck and thrown from the bridge into the water. You can only write a scene like that if you’ve never walked the Golden Gate Bridge. The pedestrian walkway is raised above the traffic and there’s a stout metal barrier. If a truck, even a big one, careened out of control toward the walkway it would ricochet right back into traffic.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Creative Writing with Don Emblen, part VIII

from the diary: “Wednesday 5/27/87

“In Creative Writing Marty handed out five poems; we critiqued all five in the hour. One was my poem, “Heat”. No one said anything negative about it. Not even Marty. Pooh. I kept waiting for a criticism, hoping for a criticism (cuz I know the damn thing ain’t perfect) but it was just good stuff. Just good.”

5/31: “Did another language study today.”

6/3: “Finished four language studies for Creative Writing. The two I turned in today and the ones I turned in before. … In lieu of a Final we all gots to meet wit’ [Emblen] for twenty min.s.”

6/9: “This morning I had my twenty minute conference with Don Emblen. I almost forgot to go. It was actually rather pleasant. He commended me on my level of production, my rewrites, my reading cards. Said my language studies came in a bit late. But he saw no problem with giving me an A. Thought I’d done solid A work. We talked some about sign language.

“‘Did [that professor] like that critique on his Zach the Dead Dog poem?’ Yes, sez Don, he was pleased to receive it. But has he done anything with the poem? Not so far as Don knows. … Emblen asked me if there were anything about the class I thought should be changed. I couldn’t think of anything at that moment.

“I turned in over 460 lines of poetry.”

Saturday, April 14, 2007

the diary, 10/16/86 – 5/16/87

I wanted the notebook to be for short stories as I’d had success with poetry-only notebooks. The stories stalled out. After a period of mourning I decided to switch the notebook to diary. Prose is prose.

I liked the job at the campus library. I was doing well in my classes – Spanish, Biology, Political Science in the Fall, Creative Writing, Spanish, Death & Dying in the Spring.

I was finally dating. I fell in love. Or wanted to so badly I imagined I had. It’d seemed to me all my love affairs had been one-sided (unrequited!) and here was a boy who wanted me! Or not. I got to write moony giddy diary entries about him for a few days, then philosophical fuck-him diary entries when he called it off. I also found myself the unrequiting one. Hard as it is to say no, it’s easier than being said no to. Funny thing, in two instances (or four?) I fixed up a boy who wanted me with another boy who wanted me … and these dates, I got reports, were not disasters.

Lots of new people coming into/going out of my life. Visits to Marin, SF, as well as the usual SoCo haunts. I joined efforts to create community institutions for gays & lesbians in Sonoma County, mostly because I was under 21 thus could not go to bars (the main gay meeting places) and, after I attained my majority, because bars were boring, dark, smoky, and loud. I kept up with a pen pal in Alabama and another in Oregon, having found them through Alyson Publications’ young gay penpal service.

I broke my arm for the first time. I refused to say, “I broke my arm.” I would say, “My arm got broken.” I was at a gay rollerskate night and tried to keep up in a group skate, though I knew I couldn’t, ended up being thrown off the end of the chain and, as I fell, tried to stop myself with my left arm. I guess I stopped. The bone cracked and I wore a splint for a few weeks. And in another more serious incident an old friend of my mother nearly choked to death in her kitchen. I performed the Heimlich maneuver. Have you ever done it for real? Did it work for you? Me, it just felt like I was abusing the poor woman – nothing popped out of her throat. She collapsed to the floor. When the paramedics arrived they said she had been getting enough air. She would survive.

Yes, I was getting along better with my mother. I wasn’t around the house so much, for one thing. And I could contribute a bit of money to expenses. And I wasn’t so fucking depressed. Depressed people are no fun to be around.

Now that I again had money coming in I started buying used records, even went to a couple live shows. I’m no big fan of live shows, tell the truth. They’ve got a high noise to melody ratio.

Peggy Sue Got Married
Down and Out in Beverly Hills
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Blue Velvet
Nobody’s Fool
Swiss Family Robinson
Little Shop of Horrors
Personal Best
Moby Dick
Animation Celebration
Where the River Runs Black

Town and Country music videos
Rocky & Bullwinkle

Bronski Beat
Joan Armatrading
Talking Heads
David Bowie
Bonnie Hayes & the Wild Combo
Paul Simon
General Public
Thompson Twins
David Lindley
Depeche Mode
Simply Red
The Clash
Club Nouveau
Romeo Void
Bruce Cockburn
Grace Jones
Howard Jones
Culture Club
Camper Van Beethoven
Love Tractor
Limbo District

Friday, April 13, 2007

First Leaves Again, Part III: “Can’t Be Put Back Together”

Two poems were published in the 1987 First Leaves, “Can’t Be Put Back Together” and “New Suit”. Here’s “Can’t Be Put Back Together”:

Can’t Be Put Back Together

She cracks a smile –
I swear, it breaks upon her face –
a space opens between her lower lip and chin.
At first she doesn’t notice, so happy she is to see me, she says.
Her hand half reaches out to touch
but mine retreats to cover my mouth.
The cracks in her new joy shiver, the fault lines separate,
her smile falls away,
she snatches at the air to catch it.
I step back.
Her hands save only jagged bits.
We stare at the fragments on the carpet –
scattered shards, dust.
Even when she looks up, fixes me with her frightened eyes,
I know I cannot help her:
the smile is gone.


I located the original in Although: another bat book. There are a couple changes I can trace to Emblen suggestions. The original was in the past tense. With Emblen’s class I wrote a lot more in present tense because it’s supposed to be more immediate, more you-are-there. It also felt more artificial; I mean, what you’re reading cannot be happening NOW. And all those esses on the verbs! I prefered the pop of the dee to the hiss of the ess. But I got used to present tense, especially as I found so much contemporary poetry was written that way. Emblen suggested I add “she says” at the tail end of the fourth line. I never quite got what problem that fixed, and I guess I still don’t, otherwise I probably wouldn’t remember that it was his idea.

The original is more horror movie. The published version is stranger, more suggestive. Plus, it makes me laugh.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Creative Writing with Don Emblen, part VII, and First Leaves Again, Part II

from the diary: “Wednesday 5/6/87

“We dint have Creative Writing today. Nope. Emblen passed out First Leaves and introduced our new teach. Emblen having neck surgery Thurs – tomorrow. Gad. He been warned he could have stroke any time. Not sure what [the surgeon is] doing – excising blood clot? … After handing out and introductions he bade us all adieu – had some things to do – and we all dispersed.”

I did not record the new teacher’s full name in my diary. All I have is “Marty.” In some ways I liked her better than Emblen. But this has been true of all my teachers. I doubt I could put together a perfect package.

5/10: “[T]omorrow at noon gotta read some poetry – combined Eng. awards & First Leaves. In Plover Library. Remember to take lunch.”

5/13: “Monday I read two poems – the two that were in First Leaves. Jen & Damon & a friend of his came, too. I read tenth or something. Damon was happy that he didn’t have to read for his English award.”

I remember Damon squirming about the possibility of his having to read his work in public. I didn’t get it. Heck, I like to perform. It’s one of the reasons I got into poetry in the first place. I would read a play and try to imagine myself in one of the roles, but I knew I wasn’t much of an actor. The acting I did in grammar & high school left me unsatisfied, but I did enjoy the audience. Frankly, I often didn’t like what the playwright wanted me to say. When I learned I could perform my own words, that one wasn’t just limited to reading aloud to the class but that there were venues for poets to stand up and speak, well, it was a serious selling point on my becoming a poet.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Funky Shoe All Digged Up for a Little Blue Bat Man

from the diary: “Saturday 5/2/87

“Inaugurated my new poetry notebook: Funky Shoe All Digged Up for a Little Blue Bat Man. Probably the last book in the bat cycle.”

I title all my poetry notebooks. The preceding notebooks were Bats at the Supermarket (8/8/85 - 11/7/85), Bats at the Laundromat (11/8/85 – 2/86), Bats in Hats and Cats in Coats (begun 2/86 with short stories, eventually converted to diary), Bats Wearing Pink Triangles (3/12/86 – 1/11/87), and Although: another bat book (1/12/87 – 4/30/87). Were there any poems about bats in any of these? Um. One? Two maybe?

Back then I titled the poetry notebook before I started writing poems in it. These days I choose a title after I’ve been writing in it for some time, usually when the book’s half or more than half full.

I was writing at a furious pace. In four of the cases above the notebook filled up in three months. I’ve bequeathed myself a lot of material. I’m going through it. Most of it is … dross. Surprise! Used to be I was never satisfied with revision. I figured if a poem failed there was nothing to do but write another one. These days I enjoy revision. It’s like discovering a new poem in an old one. And it’s not like I’ve destroyed the old one. It still exists.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Creative Writing with Don Emblen, part VI

from the diary: “Monday 4/13/87

“Got notice t’day that I got the $150 Eng. scholarship. (Damon Heim, a classmate, got the $250 one.) … Emblen handed out a couple of my poems with ‘classic’ poems attached. My ‘Love You More’ was accompanied by Elizabeth Barrett-Browning. Gad! I’m s’posed to look good in that company?”

Emblen wanted us to see our work in the company of the Big poets. Looking back I remember it as both scary & empowering. And I ended up appreciating EB-B a little more than otherwise.

4/27: “I stayed home today. Nursed my sore throat. … Got a call from Jeni at dinnertime. … [S]he told me some about Creative Writing. … They critiqued my two pomes. ‘Love You More’ and ‘Tellin’ the Sun’. Jus as well.”

Odd that Emblen went ahead & reviewed poems when the author was absent, but he claimed workshopping poems was as much for those doing the critiquing as for those who’d written. I like the way this focuses attention on the reading and the poem as an object independent of its author.

While reading my diary I sometimes run a name through Google to see what folks are up to now. This doesn’t do much good for persons with common names like “Geoffrey Brown” and “Chris Williams”, but when I ran “Damon Van Hoesen” I discovered his blog. I left a comment asking, “’Are you the same Damon that...bla bla bla....’” (as Damon subsequently paraphrased, ellipses in orig) … Damon and Jeni met in the Creative Writing Class about which I’ve been writing. Though I imagined them still together, as they got on so well, I really had no idea. In fact, they have been together ever since, married, and recently had a son. Since finding the blog Damon, Jeni, and I have exchanged a few emails and photos and are consulting our schedules for when we might reunite. (They live in Guerneville.)

I asked Damon about this “Damon Heim” mentioned in the diary and he doesn’t remember him. “I would remember another Damon!” he insists. He says he didn’t meet another Damon until he was going to SSU. Yet a “Damon Heim” does exist, according to Google, and he lives in San Rafael, which is closer to Santa Rosa than Berkeley. Damon Van Hoesen says he won the $250, which is what I was suspecting when rereading the diary. I think I wrote the entry while Damon was just another face in class. But I also think there were two Damons in that class. Perhaps the other Damon dropped out before he made an impression, his only residue the name in my diary. (Damon Heim, if you read this, feel free to correct me.) It was pretty typical to have a full classroom on the first day of school. When there were classes I needed (for transfer or whatever) there were times I worried about being able to get in, yet there was no class I ever took at JC that didn’t end the semester with some (occasionally many) empty seats. As I recall there were only a handful of us who made it all the way through the Spring 87 semester of Creative Writing. And by that time we knew each other well.

Monday, April 09, 2007

First Leaves again

from the diary: “Thursday 4/2/87

“Got a letter yesterday from First Leaves; they took two of my poems – ‘Can’t Be Put Back Together’ and ‘New Suit.’”

First Leaves was the SRJC campus literary annual. It did not restrict its choices to students & faculty as many campus lit mags do. I’d gotten a poem in it three years earlier. I remember a staff member telling me there were votes to put all three of my poems in, but in fairness to others (there being only so many pages) an argument to hold each contributor to no more than 2 works won out. Thus “Blah de blah”, a dialect piece that Don Emblen liked missed the cut. I no longer feel the … confidence? is that the right word? the colonial prerogative? is that more PC? … to write in dialect. Other varieties of English will turn up in fragmentary form these days in poems in which everything is essentially fragmentary and the register swings from high to low, jargon to jargon, fact to impossibility within the space of a line.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Creative Writing with Don Emblen, part V

from the diary: “Wednesday 3/25/87

“Don Emblen, after class, called me up to the front – along with another young man, Damon … and handed us applications for English Department scholarships. Submit two or three samples of your work – you might get $150, $250. hey wow. I can use it.”

3/26: “… had a helluva time tonight trying to decide what to turn in for that scholarship application. God! I’m in an ultracritical mood. I hate it all!”

3/27: “Don Emblen came by the library to pick up an Interlibrary loan, saw me, said the scholarship application samples ‘were not very representative’ of my writing. Asked if I had any others with me; I said no; he expressed the most interest in the dialect poem. Told him I’d turned the rewrite of that in just today for class; he said something again about the inadequacy of my choices, looked like he expected some explanation so I started to tell him how ultracritical I was last night and – he said, don’t tell me your personal problems. I kind of didn’t say anything – something like, well, fine. He turned, left, I shouted after him – You better be careful; you don’t want to have too good a day. Don’t know if he heard it.”

I was at work at the time so it’s not like I could follow up.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Beloit Poetry Journal

I just learned Beloit Poetry Journal has scanned 55 years of back issues and they are available as free pdfs. Say the BPJ folks, “The archive contains rare texts such as Anne Sexton's first published poem, Langston Hughes' translations of Federico Garcia Lorca's Gypsy Ballads, and a memorial chapbook for William Carlos Williams edited by David Ignatow in 1963 whose list of contributors reads like a Who's Who of mid-twentieth century American poetry.”

I had two poems in the Spring 1994 issue. Check it out.

Friday, April 06, 2007

“topless she still waves the knife”

from the diary: “Sunday 3/22/87

“Almost to the restaurant we’re stopped by a battle. A man getting out of his big off road vehicle is confronted by a youngish dark haired woman in sweater and brandishing a teeny key chain knife. She splatters him with invective, lunges repeatedly at him with the knife. He tries to fend her off, grabs at ther arms to get the knife, shouting What’s the matter with you? She keeps calling him a cock, that he thinks with the head of his cock. From something she’s said I get the idea he scratched her car. When? She sez he’s got the 'same license plate'; has she followed him from somewhere – accidentally run onto the culprit she witnessed from afar? Who knows?

“In the battle he drags off her sweater and shirt – topless she still waves the knife. Don’t know what happens to the knife. He throws her her sweater and shirt, she drags the sweater over her head, still furious, still foul mouthed. He’s got a cut on his upper arm. A grandmotherly woman – plumpish, low key elegant – shows a badge, sez I’m a police officer (to the woman) is there anything I can do to help? Man sez he wants to press charges. Woman storms into restaurant to call police (this one is off duty).

“We pass irate young woman at front desk as waitress is speaking to cops on telephone. We go to our table, spend most the meal rehashing the incident. And what did we do? Well, Becky grabbed the leash of the man’s frightened poodle. Nobody played hero. How big was the knife? The blade looked about an inch long – just a keychain doohickey.

“Jack sez she had nice tits. S’pose so, if you like that sorta thing. I’m not turned on by madness anyway.”

Becky was a friend from high school. We became better friends after high school. Jack was Becky’s dad.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Poison Penmanship

from the diary: “Saturday 3/21/87

“Read Jessica Mitford’s Poison Penmanship. Have been for several days.”

Jessica Mitford is best known for her bestseller, an expose of the funeral industry, The American Way of Death. It had such an impact that twenty years after it was published I took a Death & Dying course at SRJC and the instructor devoted a chunk of the syllabus to it. I read excerpts and watched documentary updates (Mitford herself published an update in 1998) but I still haven’t read the original book. I became curious about Mitford (she was quite a character) and I found this collection of shorter works in the JC library.

One of the incidents described in Poison Penmanship (as summarized at the Albion Monitor) saw Jessica hired by “San Jose State University [for] the fall 1973 semester. The trouble began when the University ordered Mitford to sign a loyalty oath, demanded her fingerprints, and deleted the word ‘muckraking’ from her class outlines. All of which she refused or ignored. The administration fired her and canceled her classes, actions which would have devastated most academics. But not Jessica. She simply ignored the administration's order. With extraordinary student support, she kept teaching her classes although unpaid for it. She eventually signed the oath ‘under duress’ but forced the fingerprint flap into court. Finally, an embarrassed University paid her and, after the semester ended, the court ruled that the fingerprint requirement was not enforceable.”

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Trainwreck Union

Around the corner from the Claremont branch there’s a bakery café where I sometimes take my afternoon break. I’ll sit and read and sip a coffee and break bits off a cookie. The Nabolom Bakery seems always on the verge of going under; it’s one of those extra-healthy (vegan cookies!), hippy-esque, Berkeley places. It’s a collective, which means the workers all get together and make the business decisions. There’s an upright piano which customers occasionally bang on. A couple different weekends I walked in on a folk/jazz band jam. Not quite room for ‘em, but they were fun.

Yesterday I saw a zine/chapbook on the counter beneath a hand-lettered sign. “Support Poets! Support Nabolom! $2” … I asked if they had a copy that didn’t have oil stains on the cover and the counter girl enthused, “Oh! That’s really great poetry!” When I asked if the poets worked at Nabolom she said, “They’re associated with the university.” When I asked if she had work in it she said, “Yes! Oh, not in that issue. In the next issue. It’s monthly. I chose the poetry for this issue.” Charmed, I bought the thing without reading a line.

The cover proclaims: The Trainwreck Union Presents: Switchyard. The Two-handed Engine

14 poets are included. None of the names are familiar. Pablo Lopez: “If I could suture geometry. The days falling from the sky.” … Jesse Brownstein: “Speaking candidly / I am at a loss / and that has made / me, Pangry, / reek tragically” … Sarah Stone: “From the proliferation / of new kinds of love letters, readers // learned that love is superior to / property” …

As there is no contact info on the zine I googled “Trainwreck Union” and found their blog. Cuddly, aren’t they?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Creative Writing with Don Emblen, part IV

3/16: “In Creative Writing today my poem was one of those discussed. 'I Will Be New' – It was one of the class’ livelier discussions. They picked up pretty well on the poem’s major pluses and minuses. The discussion was interesting and helped clarify the poem’s faults but none were news to me. I hadn’t thought the poem great anyway.”

3/19: “Wednesday we had individual conferences in Creative Writing. Got called out one by one to the hall and informed of our progress. Emblen’s complaint to me – no language studies! yeah yeah.” Give me a deadline. I will make the deadline. No sooner.

Monday, April 02, 2007


from the diary: “Saturday 3/14/87

“Kinda boring day. Started reading another of the paperbacks from the huge stacks on my white dresser. Don’t know how many of them I’ll eventually read. Tsing-Boom, the one I’m reading, is a murder mystery. Bleh. It’s interesting but I’m not all that thrilled by mysteries. They all sort of meld into one another after awhile.”

I’ve tried reading mysteries now & then over the years. They tend to come in series and I like a good series. Right now I’m reading the Dave Brandstetter mysteries. Dave is a death claims investigator for an insurance company. Like I care. I am reading the series because Dave is gay and doesn’t have any trouble with it. He likes his boys femme, though he’d rather they didn’t wear dresses. “A femme in a black leather jacket”? He also smokes & drinks. A lot. I like author Joseph Hansen’s spare prose.

The problem with mysteries, however, is that I rarely find myself caring who did it. I don’t expend much effort trying to beat the author to the reveal, though I am disappointed when it’s hammer to the head obvious.

I don’t remember Nicolas Freeling’s Tsing-Boom. I suspect I read it merely because I liked the title. The lead character of the novel is “the Amsterdam detective Piet Van der Valk.” According to an obit for Freeling, after ten Van der Valk mysteries (which were so successful they were adapted for television and allowed Freeling to buy “a grand and romantic, if dilapidated, house at Grandfontaine, in the Vosges, France”) the author killed off his detective, “tired of the tyranny of having to write the same story over and over again.” Eventually, to placate his fans, Freeling drafted Van der Valk’s widow into the crime-solving business. Tsing-Boom was the eighth Van der Valk novel.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Creative Writing Class with Don Emblen, part III

from the diary: “Saturday 2/28/87

“I realized what animal Don Emblen reminds me of – a Galapagos Tortoise.”

3/1: “I typed up three poems for First Leaves [the campus literary annual] an’ sealed ‘em up in an envelope. Actually I typed up five but then I reread the submission guidelines Don E. had handed out. It said ‘three literary works.’ So I’m sticking with the three I’ve handed in, the ones he’s handed back with ‘try First Leaves’ on them.”

3/3: “Don gave the class copies of [‘a poem about a dead pet … by … a fellow faculty member’].” In critiquing the poem I wrote all over it – maybe I even rewrote it, as that’s one of the ways I figure out what a poem is doing. Said Don, “’Steve will be surprised and delighted to receive your critique. I wasn’t surprised but I was delighted by the depth and length of your critique.’”

3/11: “Creative Writing today was intensely boring.” It was probably a workshop day; that is, the poems of classmembers are handed around and you’re supposed to say intelligent things about the poems, especially suggesting improvement. This is a common form of creative writing pedagogy. It don’t do much f’r me.

One of Don’s assignments was a “word study.” I chose to research my name. It’s very English, first middle last. Ingersoll, for instance, comes from a place in Derby’s called “Inker’s Wall” (more recently I’ve read it’s “Inker’s Hill”). Didn’t find an explanation of who/what “Inker” was. I also did some work trying to figure out the origin of the queer construction “ough” which appears in so many words and has so many pronunciations. It goes way back.