It has been a year of readings, lectures, classroom visits, book festivals, fairs, and signings: Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; Boston, Massachusetts; Iowa City, Iowa; New York City; State College, Pennsylvania; Albany, New York; Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota; Dayton, Ohio; Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids, Michigan; Chicago and Rock Island, Illinois; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Louisville, Kentucky; among others. I’ve read in the basements of punk rock bars and community arts centers, in book stores and libraries, brewpubs and coffee shops, in university lecture halls, on stumps, in alleyways and old movie theaters, and in at least two boutique clothing stores. There have been mics and no mics. There has been money, but mostly no money. Sometimes I sold books, sometimes I didn’t. I once read to an audience of two, mostly to audiences in the teens and twenties, and twice I’ve read to audiences of almost two hundred. Sometimes those audiences have come of their own free will while others have been conscripted. Sometimes I’m the draw while other times I am a happy hanger on. I’ve traveled by plane and train, but mostly thousands of miles in cars. I prefer the trains, hate planes with a passion, but as it is America, cars are simply the path of least resistance. I hate cars, too. Cars, it’s said, are coffins. I’m almost at the end of it. Three Twin Cities events yet in front of me. I’ve smoked too many cigarettes. I’m tired. I’ve learned a lot, much of which concerns the fact that I am most certainly no longer twenty and being almost famous as a poet is about the equivalent of being a hobo. I’ve always liked hobos.
Have courage. Work hard. Be kind. Those are the rules. There is no other.
There is this, from the New York Times, about teaching creative writing to non majors. It is a little bit about love and magic, two concepts I find sorely missing in academia.
As a lowly MFA in a tenure-track line, I always feel a little bit like Gorey’s Doubtful Guest, stealing things from the swells and dropping them into the pond or tearing pages from their valued books. In my paranoia, I’ve become hyper conscious of Stanford literary critic Mark McGurl’s accusation that academic departments dabbling in literature have become so locked in battle over who’s the failed writer and who’s the anti-intellectual, they’ve lost site of the prize, starved rats fighting over crumbs. Only the poet/scholar will be saved, McGurl predicted. Every time someone asks the question, why do the humanities fail, I always have to choke back the urge to invite the speaker to look in the mirror. The humanities are alive and kicking, I think, looks at this, look at that, you’ve just wandered away from the party and are pissy no one came with you.
Should elephants teach? Emphatically, yes. Besides, no one else is doing it, so why shouldn’t we?
In other news, did you know there is new [PANK] in the world? It’s true. My heart bursts. Our March online issue and a new print issue are alive. They’re alive! And both are chockablock with both magic and love – brimming, bursting, overflowing magic and love. I hope you’ll dive in and take a swim. No. I hope you’ll fly.
The Things Happened Machine got me. I bent over to pick up a shiney. My hair got caught in the gears. It pulled me in. Now my shoes hurt, lacerations, and I’ve a lump on my head. Who are you? Where am I? Last thing I knew it was the middle of February. Now it’s the end of March?
I seem to remember something about AWP, something about Boston. Things are fuzzy. There was a slush storm. North easterners panicked. Silly north easterners. A tavern named after a famous drunk, a famous writer, a famous drunk writer, filled with almost famous drunk writers. Panels of mouth holes were speaking, speaking, speaking. I remember piles of unsolicited manuscripts and sure I’ll read your thing, why not, but no, I don’t want to trade, and sure I’ll answer some questions in front of your camera, but not now, not now. Dinners with good friends too far away, didn’t we? And too many faces I didn’t kiss? During the first few hours of AWP, there was desperation in the air, a miasma, cloying and sticky. What a bunch of sad bastards you are. And that bitch from that one journal, fuck her. Then people started drinking, I think, and everyone calmed down. By the end, PANK sold out of all its merch and there was much back slapping and elbow nudging and on our insides we were all doing the fuck you thrust and flipping our birds and we were thinking “ugh, yeah, suck it, swells.” But really we just wanted to be liked. And we wanted to like you. And we were. And we did. And it all felt really, exhaustively good. Thanks, AWP. Thanks, liver. Thanks smoke bummers and haven’t seen you in a long time huggers and all the other kindly faces. Somehow I got home.
March snow storms.
The reward for good work, you know, is more work. Websites to be redesigned. Funds drives to be organized. Shipping and distribution to be managed. A post-AWP swell in submissions to be waded through. And I have students, too, I think. I think I’m teaching two classes this semester. I’m not winning any teaching awards this semester. They suffer the most, the wee children. Easily misplaced on the battlefield. Between the tenure process this year, the service load, the magazine, the grubbing for money and time and space, life (kids need to eat? I have kids? they have lessons?)… And don’t get me started on the state of my own writing; your Facebook gloating and self-congratulation, writers, makes me want to punch you in your stupid faces. It’s just jealousy. You’ve your own crosses, I know. I love you. I’ll get over it. Chin up. Chin up. Tomorrow is a new day.
Read and strongly recommend the following books, in no particular order: The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell; The Writing Life by Marie Arana; issue 4 of The Common; Homage to Homage to Homage to Creeley by Joshua Ware; The Explosions by Mathias Svalina; Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons by Tara Laskowski; Dear, Companion by A.W. Watkins; Cloudfang::Cakedirt by Daniela Olszewska; If You Won’t Read, Then Why Should I Write by Jarett Kobek; The Romances and Other Poems by Micah Cavaleri; Other Kinds by Dylan Nice; Imperial Bender by Amanda Smeltz; Man Vs. Sky by Corey Zeller; Scuffletown by Chris Mattingly; The Illusion of Seperateness by Simon Van Booy; 23 Cheeseburgers + 39 Years by Mark Lamoureux; Book of Rhymes by Adam Bradley. Write your own damn reviews. Or better yet, just read these books like I’ve told you to and make up your own mind. I loved them. You think you know better than me? You don’t.
The to-read pile is now taller than I am. I am a very tall man.
March snow storms.
And last, but not least, I finally finished watching Battlestar Galactica. Meh. It was OK. Way too religious for its own damn good. Does space really need god talk and divine intervention to affect wonder? That’s kind of sad for people. But for infinite space, that’s really fucking sad. Shame on you, Battlestar (but I kind of loved you anyway, late to the party though I may have been).
Stop nagging me, voices! Up yours, Heikki Lunta! Onward!
Happy Valentine’s Day. Here’s one of my favorite love poems. I’m giving it to you because I love you so much.
A Poem to the Freaks by Jack Micheline
To live as I have done is surely absurd
In cheap hotels and furnished rooms
To walk up side streets and down back alleys
Talking to oneself
And screaming to the sky obscenities
That the arts is a rotten business indeed
That mediocrity and the rage of fashion rules
My poems and paintings piled on the floor
To be one with himself
Through storms and hardons
Through dusk and dawns
To kick death in the ass
To be passed over like a bad penny
A Hot Piece
Raise your cup and drink my friend
Drink for those who walk alone in the night
To the crippled and the blind
To the lost and the damned
To the lone bird flying in the sky
Drink to wonder
Drink to me
Drink to pussy and dreams
Drink to madness and all the stars
I hear the birds singing
1. In which I admit to being a quitter with a dick bookmark.
I can’t seem to finish my second pass through Haruki Murakami’s Orwellian opus, 1Q84. You remember this book from a couple years back? I liked it enough then, though I struggled through it at the time, propelled in part, I think, by (A) my being a Murakami fanboy and (B) all the hype surrounding it. I liked it enough the first time to know I wanted to come back and do it again, maybe comprehend the whole thing better. I still wish half-heartedly that I could read Japanese because I’m a believer at heart. But I should have known something was amiss on this benighted second pass when my prescient 5-year-old son presented me with a “rocket” bookmark that looks a whole lot like a dick. That was a sign I just couldn’t see at the time.
Built things. My health is building back up so I spent Saturday clearing the snow from the patio and building other things up, as well. I built a fire in what we call the Swede stove. I built a harrowing sled run from the top edge of the lot, through the trees, around the woodpile, around the stove, to the bottom edge of the lot. I built a pyramid of empty beer cans. I had a lot of help from my friends with both the run and the beer. Together we all built camaraderie and elaborate hangovers. The kids built some muscle for their puny kid bodies by running up the hill a thousand times. At the bottom of the run we built a berm for a brake. If you’re not careful, the berm acts more like a ramp catapulting you into the downhill neigbor’s trees. We built some bruises, but only one of us drew blood.
I’ve been laid out sick with the flu all this week. I haven’t been ill with such intensity for as many days in I don’t know how long. Usually, I can at least type through these things, but not this time. Until this morning, it hurt to think. Instead, I drank tea and half watched, half slept through the entire second season of Spartacus. Holy Caligula. Probably not the best show for the circumstances.
On Tuesday, I foolishly taught both of my classes. I don’t even know what I said in either of them. On good days, I make a rambling and convoluted kind of sense. Who knows what I perpetrated on my students in the grip of disease. I’d feel worse about being a vector if it weren’t for the likelihood that I contracted flu from one of my students to begin with. I’m vindictive like that. I won’t make the same mistake today. Today, I’ve got people helping me out and I’m staying home to rest and kick this thing. Blurg.
The Antlered Ferret: A true account of my increasingly bizarre, specific, and impossible to misinterpret tenure anxiety dreams
Preface: This is my tenure year at Michigan Technological University. I am up for promotion from untenured assistant professor to tenured associate professor. The process began last May. I won’t have final word until May of this year.
The most recent dream begins with me walking across a snowy university campus. The landscaping is dense and ornate. The buildings are tall, hulking, crowded close onto the next, and broodingly Gothic. The sun is shining brightly off deep snow that covers every surface, the ground, trees and topiary, every rooftop, archway, sculpture, and fountain. There is only a thin winding path through the snow. I am following this path. There is no one else but myself. The campus is deserted despite it being midday. I’m walking toward the center of a commons, toward a small, dilapidated Tudor-style cottage dwarfed by the surrounding architecture. The cottage is in severe disrepair. Windows are cracked or boarded up. The roof is sagging under the weight of snow. The winding path is leading me toward the cottage.
For most of this week, the temperatures have been below zero in Houghton, Michigan. So far this year I’ve seen 114.5″ of snow fall with 25″ of the stuff standing on the ground at present. There was one public school cancellation (Tuesday), one delayed start (Wednesday), and one kid home from school (today) with a mild fever. My snow blower broke on Monday and I’ve been shoveling all week by hand. Strong like bull, but my left wrist and right knee hurt all the same. My only car got rear ended on Tuesday and is in the shop where they will be fixing it expertly, I’m sure, but in Yooper time. I’m walking everywhere and the boots I’m wearing have anti-gravity powers in this weather. I’m sitting in the university library waiting for an IT guy to give me a tutorial on iClickers. As far as this week is concerned, I’m throwing the fight and going home.