Archive for February, 2009


[From the “Robot Poet” series.  The narrator is an assembly-line robot in the BMW factory in Spartanburg, N.C. which has suddenly become self-aware.  It immediately begins to write poetry, of course.] 



Behold the BMW X5 Sport Activity Vehicle

Astride the globe on four wheels

Made by me, in part, who was

Made by Man, who was

Made, they say, by God Himself.

It is through my hand that God touches the earth.


The BMW X5 Sport Activity Vehicle

Seats seven in comfort.  Seven brave

X5-onauts, piloting this trireme of

Galvanized steel alloy composite

Amidst crashing boulders of mall and school.

I swivel in an arc not to exceed sixty degrees.


The BMW X5 Sport Activity Vehicle

Flashes its incurious lamps.  This dumb beast

Will not rejoice at wedding feast, nor weep

In funeral train.  It knows only

Thirst, and when to redistribute motive force.

75.2 cubic feet of cargo space cannot contain my longing.


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On my way to work this morning, a podcast ended and I switched over to shuffle.  The following songs made an interesting little set:

Tired of Being Alone —  Al Green      
Hands on the WheelWillie Nelson
Candy Man Blues — Mississippi John Hurt
Here Come the People in Grey — The Kinks
LDN — Lily Allen

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Let’s put aside the apparent pessimism of my last post — and the fact that anyone who has eyes can see that the entire world is falling apart around us and soon there will be no banks and the money won’t be worth anything and we’ll be trading in canned goods and ammunition  — ahem.   If you are trying to do something creative, it is conceivably possible that the general public or certain well-placed individuals therein might actually pay for it, freeing you from your boring-ass day job/poverty.   Your book gets optioned and made into a movie, for example.  Alternately, you get that second-best-but-almost-as-good currency, fame.  (See Shepard Fairey.) 

Let’s just say that happens: lightning strikes, but in a good way.  You pop your head up out of the bushes and go from being nobody to being a capital Somebody. That project that you worked on for five months or fifteen years transforms from slop into a marketable good.  They throw you a parade.  Then, the parade winds down, and the men in gray coveralls come by to sweep up after the elephants, and someone with slicked-back hair wearing a trenchcoat and sunglasses sidles up to you and asks the question that will be ringing in your ears for the rest of your life: What else you got?

Well, what else do you got?  Being anonymous, you had your entire life up until this moment to write that song, paint that iconic picture, bang out that screenplay for the Emmy-reel  season-ending episode of House, M.D.  Now you have to do it again, on their schedule.  You are a Somebody, and Somebodies have to perform, like bears in the circus.  Or, conversely, you can be a one-hit wonder, that guy that everyone, Nobodies included, can laugh and remember how they were talking about you for that little while, that one time. 

What’s the point of all this?  Mostly, it’s something I’ve been telling myself.  My major pastime since I’ve been writing is to try to stamp out any traces of hope or optimism that I might have about this project.  Still, the old estate planner in me believes in contemplating every eventuality, even the ones that don’t seem very likely — such as actual, tangible success.  And we certainly don’t get to determine the schedule for our unlikely successes. 

But if you are working on something that has the remotest possibility of blowing up into a Thing that you might ride all the way into the stratosphere before it runs out of gas and you start your uncontrolled descent — have an answer for thet question.  Somebody asks you: What else you got? Your response:  I got X, Y and Z, any of them interest you? None of them may actually exist, on paper or canvas or in pixels, but you have some ideas in the hopper. 


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I’ve been doing some fiction writing recently, working on one particular project (sporadically) for the past year or two.  I’m more or less pleased with how it’s turning out, although progress is slow due to intervening factors such as work, the internet, and other humans.  When I was much younger, I thought it was very (exceedingly, unequivocally) likely that I would write some kind of blockbuster novel that would secure my fame and fortune.  Having shuffled a bit further down life’s dusty path, I now see that it is equally as unlikely as I once thought it likely.   In the name of my sanity and self-respect, I’ve moderated my goals to include finishing a longer project that is readable and worth submitting to wherever one submits things, even if it is not actually published.   In fact, I take a certain grim satisfaction in working away while embracing the prospect of not ever seeing light of day as a writer — a true amateur, a monk, an obscure scribbler. 

[This is to put aside the strange linguistic convergence that makes something that is a bomb a failure, while something that is a blockbuster, itself a kind of bomb, a wild success.  I do not feel qualified to comment on da bomb, except to note that I am not it.]

I’m now at the stage where I become obsessed with how long the project has become.  I made the mistake (or gave in to the compulsion, whichever) of pasting all the various fragments of the thing together from various files into one larger file, so that the parts that I have written may be read through from start until wherever I am now.  It adds up to a certain number of pages  which was both heartening (in a see what you’ve accomplished! sense) and discouraging (all this time, and that’s it?).  This is pretty silly: if no one is going to read it, why should I care how long it is?  Also, the number of pages created has very litttle relevance to whether it’s any good or not.  I have an unreadable 400-page  monster sharing disk space with the current project, if that’s any indication.  I call him Horatio.

Mostly, I’ve been wondering what to call this project.  Not the title, which I think is set, but how to refer to this project in my own mind.   I am particularly wondering whether it is shaping up to be a novella or a novel, the primary difference being length.  I’ve been thinking of this project as my novella for quite some time, but it has grown in scope as I’ve been working on it.  The plot has remained the same, more or less, but suddenly it occurs to me in a flash that we must have a scene between these two characters, or that there are events in this time-eliding paragraph that would be much better dramatized than summarized.   I should say that this same phenomenon occurred with Horatio, but that project suffered less from the execution than from the fact that I had absolutely no plan at the outset, except the n00b strategy of just writing and writing and it will sort itself out.

Wikipedia, as the ultimate and definitive authority on literary matters, lets us know that

While there is disagreement as to what length defines a novella, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Nebula Awards for science fiction define the novella as having a word count between 17,500 and 40,000.

Looking forward at the amount of plot that’s left to cover, it seems that I will end up firmly in the novel side of that line. 

But who cares, right?

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Referring, of course to Science Fiction Poetry.  Why, it goes all the way back to 1978!  If I keep this up, maybe I’ll win a coveted Dwarf Stars Award!


Check out the latest edition of Speculative Poetry News.

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Let’s see how this goes:

The Future Guy is a Real Jerk
You have come back to
Prevent disaster, and so you did.
But why must I now polish
Your shiny silver suit,
Windex the plastic bubble helmet,
Give you sponge baths and hand jobs?
You scratch your equations into the finish
Of the kitchen table, thinking they would wipe away,
Disparage my feeble technology.
Why can’t the time traveller
Wipe his own ass
Or hit the toilet bowl?
In the future we have robots
You say, which sounds fine.
Why should I serve you? You are a hero only to
The future. You have only saved

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What Am I Reading?

The burning question . . .

The current book is Speak, Memory, by Vladimir Nabokov.   This is a memoir in fifteen chapters, each of them published separately during the author’s lifetime (many of them in the New Yorker, ultimately if not always initially).   I am currently on page 142 of 310. 

This is a marvelous book, so far — I say so far, as though Nabokov were in danger of starting to suck  at about Chapter 10.    The man just doesn’t give up.   In fact, the quality of the writing is so good that it’s my main complaint (as I said, so far).  The pages are dense with little prosaic jewels that ask to be admired, not happily skipped over as I read on the Metro.  My commute  is only twenty minutes, dude. 

Here’s an example, just from the part I read on my way home tonight.  A description of trees: 

On a picturesque boulder, a little mountain ash and a still smaller aspen had climbed, holding hands, like two clumsy, shy children. 

P. 135.  I have to say, that’s a nice little sentence, there.  And, in this book, it’s a throwaway, just a smart little spitball along the way to telling you about the young Vladimir’s obsession with chasing butterflies.  Folks, there a little pearl like this on every page, and you’re supposed to stop and savor them.  This book was not written for the likes of me, standing on a crowded Orange Line train with Peter Gabriel pounding in my ears, pressed between a plexiglass divider and an Air Force officer in his dress uniform.  The verbal pearls are before swine, you might say.

Maybe I do have another complaint, which would be the vocab.   I’m nothing if not a middlebrow reader,  and I do get tired clambering over the intervestibulars and the effluvias and the like.  Not impossible words, obviously, but they make the path a little rockier than it might be.   It’s clear to me that he wants it that way —  he’s just being playful.  Victor Kiam famously liked Remington Shavers so much that he bought the company; I feel like Nabokov felt the same way about English.

Here’s another gem, from p 25:

Neither in environment nor in heredity can I find the exact instrument that fashioned me, the anonymous roller that pressed upon my life a certain intricate watermark whose unique design becomed visible when the lamp of art is made to shine through life’s foolscap. 

Yeah, dawg.  I feel silly even trying to comment on this book, really — I have the feeling that these few paragraphs are going to embarass me down the line.   But it is a tough read — this is not a novel – there is no dialogue, no plot, just memories of childhood and young-adulthood, images and sensory pictures.

The images and sense pictures are compelling, however, and made even more so by the notion that everything he knew as a child would come to an end.  I’m thinking of when his mother purchases him the giant pencil, or when the peasants insist on the ritual of  tossing his father into the air three times for doing them a favor — they are crisp, vivid, and real.  It doesn’t really get much better.

So yeah, that’s what I’m reading.

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