Tag Archives: poetry

Tea With Chris: Disorienting Pleasures

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Thursday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Margaux: B.F. Skinner, the villainized behavioral scientist, is the ghost behind the most recent issue of the Atlantic. I pulled B.F. Skinner’s “Beyond Freedom and Dignity” years ago from a random bookshelf scan because I thought the title was funny. All I knew about B.F. Skinner was that, as an experiment, he put his young daughter in a box. The title seemed appropriate for such a man. Though when I read the book, it was surprisingly thoughtful and interesting, and B.F. Skinner kind of seemed more like a friend than a comical monster. Since then, I’ve always had warm feelings towards Principal Skinner, the good-intentioned principle on The Simpsons who continuously gets abused.

The Atlantic‘s headlining article “The Perfect Self” by David H. Freedman is about how B.F. Skinner’s behavioral science is in the lead for the  figuring-out-how-to-combat-obesity race. David H. Freedman reminds us that B.F. Skinner was strongly against punishment in the area of behaviorial modification and that, to date, the most sinister manifestation of his findings is Weight Watchers.

B.F. Skinner’s main theory: “All organisms tend to do what the world around them rewards them for doing. When an organism is in some way prompted to perform a certain behaviour, and that behavoir is ‘reinforced’ – with a pat on the back, nourishment, comfort, money – the organism is more likely to repeat the behaviour,” is echoed in other neighboring  articles.

It’s a challenge to make your own positive behavioral boxes or to spot the boxes that others have put you in. The Atlantic explores some of these puzzles with an Editor’s Note from James Bennet, a short story on the evils of good students desperate for the right awards by Molly Patterson, “Honors Track”, and a short text on “Dumb Kids’ Class” by Mark Bowden, who discusses the benefits of being underestimated. Mark Bowden himself bounced back between dumb and smart class as did I and probably lots of kids do around the age of eleven – as you try to work out which is your more advantageous option (or your teachers try to work out which is their more advantageous option).

I always love  dumb or stupidity as a subject. Like in some of John Currin’s work,

or in this this exceedingly pleasing 2003 documentary by Albert Nerenberg, Stupidity. You can see the full documentary here. If I remember correctly the best parts of it were short interviews with the very few acedemics in the world who study stupidity – attempting to talk about it still seems to be a curse or a taboo, something that can get you in all sorts of trouble. During the interviews, when the academics made any mistakes in speaking, they would look around slowly and cautiously as though someone was about to accuse them of being a moron. Such disorienting pleasures!

Speaking of disorienting pleasures, I just went to the contemporary museum in Bentonville, Arkansas that Alice Walton of the Walmart family founded, Crystal Bridges.

Carl: I am going to use Natalie Zina Walschots’ prose-poem-like “Postcards from the Polaris Prize” (parts One and Two) to help me decide how to fill the final space on my ballot, because they’re the best things the Polaris ever made happen except for the prize itself.

Maybe I will vote for Fucked Up’s David Comes to Life, because Natalie wrote: “David fires a rock at the forehead of Goliath. David is seventeen feet tall and made of marble. David is willing to send a soldier to his death after watching a woman bathe. David is an award-winning environmentalist and broadcaster. David is sometimes called Ziggy Stardust, sometimes the Goblin King. David is married to a Spice Girl. David has been frozen, buried, and locked in a plexiglass case suspended above the River Thames.” Or maybe Marie-Pierre Arthur’s record, because Nat says, ” In every movie that ever brushes against the narrative of a young woman coming-of-age, there is a scene is which she is sitting in the passenger seat of a car, the window rolled down, holding her hand out in the wind like it is a smooth bird.” Though I think that might be a very subtle insult.

This week I discovered Jenny Woolworth’s Women in Punk Blog, which only has a post every four or five months, but one of those posts is an 86-page including interviews with Alice Bag and Liliput, and other posts are entire mixtapes. So quit yer complaining. Also, this is a good list. And so is this. And the Supreme Court didn’t strike down health-care reform, so Happy Canada and/or America Day, or neither if you prefer.

Chris: I’m always reticient to link to my B2TW comrades here, because it can seem a little too incestuous, but Margaux’s Paris Review advice column response to the misguided query “What books impress a guy? What should I read to seem cool, sexy, and effortlessly smart?” was so impious and wise: “The only way to be cool, sexy and effortlessly smart without just being seemingly so is to build your own stupid house of books. Feel free to use all the wrong books in all the wrong ways, but the house really has to be real and you need to know why the house is there, in that specific location, in that specific configuration.”

“I am going to write a poem about using Meryl Streep’s laugh as a ringtone. / I’ve bookmarked an LA Times article from 1989 / in which her giggle eruptions are explored with great amazement. / I’ve tweeted extensively on the tone and timbre of/ each particular laugh.”

Up here Canada Day shares its 24 hours with Pride, a happy coincidence indeed. I’ll be at Shame, wearing a Will Munro pin, and this week Sarah Liss explained why.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under carl wilson, chris randle, linkblogging, margaux williamson

Tea With Chris: A Kitten Head Struggles Out of Your Face

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Thursday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Chris: The young poet Patricia Lockwood, who often commits her funniest textual sprees in the logographic asylum of Twitter, is one of my very favourite people on the Internet. Her neverending “sexts” series uses the most lizard-brained form of erotic communication as a platform for rampant surrealism and sinuous hookups between cultural detritus. (I’ve written a bunch of my own – she was one of the people who made me want to do weird comedy myself recently.) This clip below is the first time I’ve seen her reading her work, and I love how much her voice sounds like the one that’s cut off after two or three sentences, right down to explaining a mutual fixation, Animorphs. “Tweens, turning into animals, having powers.”

Carl: I’ve had a busy month and haven’t been keeping abreast of former Canadian Idol finalist Carly Rae Jepsen’s slow conquest of the world. I’d heard her stutter-step teasing hit “Call Me Maybe” a bunch of times, enjoyed the cute video, and thought little more of it. Luckily, my friend, the ever-keen-eared and expansive musical humanitarian Ann Powers, has been paying attention to the way that a pretty casual same-sex-crush joke in the video has turned the song into an improbable vehicle for guys on YouTube to kid around about their masculinity, in a way that seems like a signal that big parts of our culture are finally getting over the idea that homophobia is somehow the root and foundation of being a man. Ann’s post is also packed chockablock with links, so be prepared to lose 45 minutes or so in giddy (mostly) pleasure.

Likewise, even if you’re not a media person, this Tumblr about what being an editor is like a lot of the time is, as a friend said, “just a fantastic collection of gifs, under any circumstances.”

The Toronto Standard‘s out-of-nowhere ode to the singing saw was particularly endearing for recalling the brief halcyon period of James Anderson’s Singing Saw Shadow Show, one of the sweetest “why not?” atmospheric projects I’ve ever been lucky enough to witness   from start to finish.

Evan Kindley has a piece in the LA Review of Books that very thoughtfully, actively and critically (if occasionally fannishly) engages with Jonathan Lethem’s new book about the Talking Heads’ Fear of Music in the 33 1/3 series. Along the way he asks some interesting questions about the album as a (dead?) form, about fandom and narcissism, and about Asperger’s Syndrome as an aesthetic but potentially also an ethics. (Conflict warning: I am briefly mentioned in this piece, but I don’t know Evan.)

1 Comment

Filed under carl wilson, chris randle, linkblogging, margaux williamson

Tea With Chris: Oblivion Scattereth

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Friday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Chris: “The ruins of Wonderland.”

Owen Pallett started a Tumblr devoted to Toronto show posters (2000-09), and it’s already fascinating – not only for suggesting what the local musical topography looked like a decade ago to us babies, but for its explicit rejection of nostalgia. Who wants to live in a museum?

New John Ashbery poem, 11 perfect lines, the last one almost a wink:

Oblivion scattereth her poppy, and besides
it’s time to go inside now,
feed the aggressive pets, forgive our trespasses
for trespassing against us.

Margaux: This sort of feels good, this video “#nov30 WHY I AM STRIKING”. “I’m going to try to do this, actually, without swearing and shouting.” (he doesn’t succeed)

Speaking of which, fuck you my Canada! for being the first to pull out of Kyoto.

I kind of like our lack of manners in the  age of WikiLeaks, but I like this article Good Manners in the Age of WikiLeaks from Slavoj Žižek too. “The only surprising thing about the WikiLeaks revelations is that they contain no surprises. Didn’t we learn exactly what we expected to learn? The real disturbance was at the level of appearances; we can no longer pretend we don’t know what everyone knows we know.”

A magical Spanish man named Eduardo Sousa has maybe provided one solution the nightmarish foie gras problem – as part of a slightly more Peta-friendly This American Life “Poultry Slam” broadcast.

This would be a nice service for adults too, What children’s drawings would look like if it were painted realistically.

This seems easy and useful – ethical fashion options.

“They’re making everyone do socialism to each other” – a wonderfully unrigorous rant on Ayn Rand and a Lulu Lemon misstep.

Carl: For my sins, I’ve been reading a shitload of year-end music lists. For my virtues, I have gotten to see this: A blog in praise of older women’s “advanced style”.

A man with a great many sins and virtues, Christopher Hitchens, died today. My closest personal connection to him was sometimes in the early 1990s being in the same room in which his Nation column was being edited, over the phone, by the fantastic and patience-of-a-saint-having JoAnn Wypijewski. So his death makes me think of her.

Also died this week: George Whitman, the 98-year-old proprietor of Shakespeare & Company bookstore in Paris (the successor to Sylvia Beach’s famous institution). Whitman would let writers and artists live in the (filthy) upstairs of the store if they would either work there a day a week, write a one-page autobiography, or pledge to read a book a day. The illustrator Molly Crabapple joined that tradition at 17: She made this picture today in tribute.

And on top of that, RIP to Russell Hoban, who managed in his life to write both this and this, among many other things. That’s a life.

If I were in New York this weekend I would go to this conference, “Occupy Onwards,” at the New School on Sunday.

But first, if I were American, I would do something about this Internet censorship bill in Congress: David Rees entertainingly helps explain why shit is fucked up and scary

1 Comment

Filed under carl wilson, chris randle, linkblogging, margaux williamson

Tea With Chris: Sofia Cosplay

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Friday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Carl: Psychoanalyst-essayist Adam Phillips, one of my favourite writers, talks to human-rights activist Sameer Padania: “This is where an information culture counts against us. People need to be educated into believing that evocation is more important than information. If we could bear listening to people, without trying to understand what they’re saying, we would get more from them. Effectively, psychoanalysis listens for the incoherencies that are saying more, or something other, than the coherences. It’s got something to do with the musicality of people’s voices and intonations; it’s a form of listening that’s less hypnotized and distracted by their coherences.”

Your call: Is Kate Bush’s new album, as my friend Ann argues here, “just what the best of Bush’s work has done since she burst on the scene, Spandex bat wings flapping, at the dawn of the New Wave era. It melds extravagant tales to unconventional song structures, and spirits the listener away into Bush’s distinctive hyperreality”? Or is it, as my friend Patrick has found, “feeble, empty, mindlessly repetitive, adolescently self-indulgent and, more than anything else, boring. … How does a great chef come to offer the world cold hot dogs in his own restaurant with a straight face?”

Tom McCarthy, author of The Remainder and C, eulogizes the communications theorist Friedrich Kittler, author of Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, while lovingly lampooning his acolytes, actually known as the Kittlerjugend. Tribute and travesty at once, it’s a ticklish balancing act, but McCarthy finesses it.

What would Kittler have to say about this? Christianity, remixed as crypto-postmodernist poetry. (Thanks to Sasha Chapin for the diversion.)

Chris: Rich Juzwiak judged a child beauty pageant and the resulting essay is amazing, venturing into this demimonde of flattery, rhinestones and outlandish performance with the perspective of a temporary insider. He ends up demystifying the pageant circuit’s notoriously strange image somewhat, but one can only do so much: “The weirdest celebrity emulation was Sofia Coppola, as brought to us by a child in the 11-13 group named Courtney. Her dress looked like an old-time director’s slate, bordered in thick, diagonal black and white stripes and featuring a blank template on the chest (‘Movie: ________’). Clearly, someone had found this and thought, ‘Who’s a reasonably young, attractive, brunette, gawky director? Oh right. You’re Sofia Coppola.’ She danced around with an actual slate to a disco version of ‘Hooray for Hollywood,’ much as I presume Sofia Coppola does on her days off.”

Five facetious future literary movements, from noird to salvagepunk.

Jessica of the K-pop group SNSD does not fuck with cucumbers.

Oh, Frank O’Hara.

 

1 Comment

Filed under carl wilson, chris randle, linkblogging, margaux williamson

Donny Darko (2001) & Southland Tales (2007) – both written and directed by Richard Kelly, Donny Darko exec produced by Drew Barrymore

By Margaux Williamson

(My friend Ryan Kamstra, a poet and a musician, recently asked me if I could articulate why “Donny Darko” worked as a movie when “Southland Tales” didn’t. They are both poetic, intuitive and unlikely Hollywood science fiction narratives, set in the near past and near future respectively and grounded in the contemporary. They were both made by Richard Kelly.

A lot of people love “Donny Darko”. A lot of people have defended “Southland Tales”. It’s easy to understand why – “Southland Tales” is an unusual movie that seems to have been made with just enough hope to strain past private despair about America, the war, the end of the world and celebrity in order to try to say something meaningful about it all. It is the kind of movie that most people I know would want to make – if they were the kind of people who made Hollywood movies. All that being said – I bet Richard Kelly had wanted “Southland Tales” to touch more people than it managed to. I bet it was confusing why “Donny Darko” touched so many people when “Southland Tales” struggled to. This is how I understand my friend’s question.)


Donny Darko is a teenager who lives in a big white house. He is very smart and a little off – luckily his family is also very smart and a little off too. A tall bunny with a scary silver face, named Frank, communicates to Donny Darko in hallucinations. Frank often calls Donny Darko out of bed and Donny Darko, sleepwalking, follows him out of the house. Donny Darko often wakes up on the road or in a field or in a golf course. One morning, after waking up on a golf course, he returns home in his pajamas and learns that, in a freak accident, a jet engine fell from the sky and crashed into his bedroom. He was not killed because he was sleeping on the golf course.

Life continues. Life is the suburbs, the bus stop, the private school, the television and the Iowa landscape. There is the school bully, a dearth of good friends, a little girls’ dancing troupe, the national election and the town’s beloved motivation speaker who spreads his own brand of gobbledygook. And though it is hard to see where meaning is in this life, the whole movie has the feeling of a meaningful dream that you can’t quite remember – a suggestion that meaning is hidden everywhere, but we just can’t quite see it.

Frank’s visits increase as do coincidences in Donny Darko’s life. Donny Darko is not sure if he is a high-functioning schizophrenic or someone who has been chosen for a great mystical mission. We don’t know either.

“Donny Darko” simultaneously tells two mirror-image stories: one is of someone going over and over random events in their life until they seem to be full of meaning and etched in stone by god; the other is of someone going over and over random events in their life because their destiny was etched in stone by god and they want to stay on the right path. The very beautiful thing about Donnie Darko is that it is both. It is meaningless and aching with meaning. It is meaningful and heartbreakingly senseless.

And then there is “Southland Tales”.

Boxer Santaros (an action star with Republican ties) starts out with amnesia, a porn-star girlfriend, and a screenplay. We’re not sure how he got there, how long he has been in this relationship, or why he seems so untroubled by his amnesia. Though the back story isn’t clear, we are easily fascinated by Boxer Santaros (Dwayne Johnson) and his girlfriend Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar). They are both a pleasure to watch. This situation is followed by time-warps, neo-marxists, poetic tag-teams of conservative presidential candidates, internet surveillance, riots, quantum soul-splitting and other catastrophes. Boxer Santaros doesn’t know what’s going on and neither do we.

Luckily there is an equally fascinating, gun-wielding and bible quoting narrator, Iraq war veteran Private Pilot Abilene (Justin Timberlake). Unfortunately, he is a poet.

Some movies don’t work at all – things are consistently off key or, say, barely present. But “Southland Tales” is a different kind of not-working. In “Southland Tales” – though scenes contain humour, powerful moods and dynamic tensions – it is often difficult to understand what is happening, what people’s intentions are or even just who is who. It is hard to grasp the full weight and meaning of the narrative elements – and there are A LOT of narrative elements.

Near the end of the movie, when Boxer Santaros and Madeline Frost Santaros (his wife played by Mandy Moore) are reunited, alone together, in a luxury suite – no words of explanation or exasperation are shared. Instead, Boxer Santaros quotes Jane’s Addiction’s cryptic song of apocalypse “Three Days”. Madeline Frost Santaros quotes it back to him.

It is exciting to hear Dwayne Johnson quoting Jane’s Addiction to Mandy Moore with brutal sincerity in their luxury suite. If you sliced “Southland Tales” into 16 sections, you might have 16 remarkable poems. It is enough that Dwayne Johnson is quoting Jane’s Addiction to Mandy Moore in a luxury suite – that is a brilliant art show. That is something to think about. It is also exciting to witness an Iraq war scarred Justin Timberlake intentionally misquote T.S. Eliot to us while swiveling a machine gun around a crowd of civilians in a near-future Venice Beach.

But it is a very difficult task to turn 16 remarkable poems into a narrative movie. It is a lot for the director to control and a lot for the audience to pay attention to. In our attempt to grasp the full meaning of the complicated narrative (we assume that the director has given the narrative equal importance) AND juggle the depth of our culture’s beloved poetry, we frequently loose grasp of both. We are not good jugglers. So the power of the narrative’s turning points frequently escape us.

We understand narrative as well as we understand poetry (which is to say – not very much). But we have a great sense of both. We want to take meaninglessness and turn it into meaning, and we want to take what the world tells us is meaning and turn it into meaninglessness. It takes a lot of skill and luck to stay in the middle of those things.

In the familiar world of “Donny Darko”, we hold onto to the humble discoveries of meaning as tightly as Donny Darko does – they appear so infrequently. As we linger in this world, we also eventually begin to take the meaningless things and turn them into meaning – just as Donny Darko is beginning to do. There is not much else to do here and we have some time to spare. We begin to make out a beautiful and crazy (or senseless and sad) pattern. It’s a poem that’s inseparable from a narrative, a narrative involving meaningless tragedy and time travel – my favourite kind.

~
Southland Tales, section 16:

1 Comment

Filed under margaux williamson, movies, poetry, visual art

All the Critics Love U in Nippon

Starfish and Kanji

So I wrote a cycle of haikus about Prince. They are dedicated to Tipper Gore, without malice.

She fucked me, my sis
I’m pretty sure she meant to
See, I was budding

He and I could share
You used to wear all my robes
Please put down the phone

A coliseum
Chill winds, thrown trash; they want Stones.
Old phallic idols

Flicker’s a pretext
I got one thought, ten digits
Bet you got some too

Monogamy? Well
Let’s drive uptown – you caught red
I adore fascists

Couldn’t stop myself
I might be a low-down toad, but
He’s wearing the horns

Giant platform shoes
Tiny man, cicada-sized
Were you insecure?

Let’s fake sincere, let’s
Fuck the bass out of our mouths
Consummate, sleep late

Utubed weepy doves;
Prince’s creepy outstretched hand
Beckons…but to where?

Nikki thumbs, sweat-slick
She dug the lobby but not
The PMRC

Sue, Sheena, Sheila,
Vanity, natch; they sated,
For a few seasons.

She wore scant vintage
Old man curses indolence
Raspberry sorbet

Freshly washed hair
Slender fingers muss, console
Maybe we’ll get hitched

Music, not your God
Cleft us then. Revolution
Spat out its mamas.

A sign of the times:
Fiery armageddon
Becomes funky jam

Street of scattered glyphs
First forms thunder then blossoms
You, horny pony.

King Mob, Roi Ubu
Party like a harlequin
Fire scars painted face

Black marks on my cheek
I sweated on pyramids
The water’s cold now

The lech in winter
“Best since” always yet to come
Myth subsumes the man.

1 Comment

Filed under chris randle, music