Tuesday, February 20, 2007


One of my favorite things to do when teaching a poetry writing class is to have the class (as a unit) decide on a poem title that they will all use when writing a new poem. Each student comes up with three, we write 'em all up on the board and then vote it down until we get one. I got the idea from Nance Van Winckel back when I was getting my MFA and it has served me well since. Previous titles in my classes have included "Flattened Penny Trainwreck" and "Reindeer Fury" (which was chosen at a time that was really not that close to Christmas, by the way).

So this semester, my advanced poetry class has come up with "Vibraphone" (which edged out "Damn Drunks"). Anyone want to give it a shot too? A poem with "Vibraphone" as a title. How tough can it be? I've been working on one too -- whether or not it has anything to do with this guy, I won't say:

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Say what you will about him. He's got an impressive instrument.

And, yeah, if anybody wants to share their Vibraphone poems, post 'em on the comments.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Always Wanted to see Jus Rhyme in Person?

If you're around Kalamazoo this weekend, here's an event to check out -- two of the stars of vh1's (white) rapper show will be paired with two faculty members at WMU to discuss racism and what can be done on a community level. Should be interesting. Hopefully.

It's at 7 pm at the Berhard Center, room 208. See you there.

Just in Case...

If I lost any of my demographic from that last post about literature and interviews and Charlie Rose and what-not, here's a silly picture from the web to try and win 'em back. Well, the picture's as silly as a photo featuring an artist's rendering of a rapist can be.

Funny Pictures

Someday Soon

As was suggested to me not long ago by Molly Jo Rose, this blog seems like a good place to do things beyond just posting funny videos of vegans or posts about celebrities I'm told I look like (both of which are certainly staples of the O v. C that aren't going anywhere). Specifically, the idea is that I can occasionally post interviews (that will likely be somewhat tongue-in-cheek) with writers and people involved somehow in the book/publishing/writing/performing biz.

Obviously, I envision myself in this way:


Look how thoughtful and caring Charlie Rose is. One hand folded gently into the other -- the fingers not crossed in what would undoubtedly be an aggressive gesture. He's really interested in whatever it is that whoever this is he's talking to has to say. I mean, my chin isn't nearly that dimpled, but I can do this. Yeah, "tell me about this new book." That feels pretty natural. "What's the publishing life like these days?" Man, I've got a thousand of these. I should probably save 'em for the actually interviews. Or, you know, Charlie Rose (upon Googling himself) might have found this page and begun writing them down.

And those actually interviews, of course, depend somewhat upon my reading public (if 4 constitutes a public). Would you or someone you know be a good fit for a segment on Octopus vs. Chipmunk? Let me know (and that includes you, Charlie Rose). I have a couple of interviews in the works, but I would certainly like to have more.

So yeah, someday soon, we'll do something like this.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

And they're all Cardinals now. Weird.

These are, of course, three of my favorite baseball players. And somebody found a clip of them "acting" in a tv show. And I found the clip.

And, wow, they were/are a good infield, but they're not very good actors. Shocking, I know. They seem starstruck only there aren't any stars they get to be in this scene with (though the guy is in the not-soccer "Kicking and Screaming" and he is awesome. In that. Not this).

And, totally, I know Spezio, Eckstein, Kennedy -- would recognize them anywhere. But I'll admit these guys might not be the biggest marque names in sports. But, man, the cast here does their best to sell these three like they're Magic, Bird, and Jordan in their Dream Team jerseys. The guy looks like he's going to flip out. And the She-Spies are all coy, but they know what's up. That's Adam Kennedy. Adam Kennedy. This isn't just a normal day with the She-Spies. This is HUGE.

Think they fought over who got to say the "Who wants to be touched by an Angel?" line. Kennedy got it, I think. But Eckstein gets to pull a monkey out of his pants, so everybody's happy.

But really, if these ballplayers aren't great, I'm going to blame the writing of this show more than anything else. Anybody actually know what this show is? She-Spies? I don't know it, and I think that's saying something.

Anyway, they're all on the same team again, so maybe they'll get together for another acting gig. Here's hoping that, at the very least, local St. Louis tv viewers get to watch them advertise something or other.

And, stay tuned for the special bonus Stuart Scott footage. And local LA news personalities. Man, this show is STAR-STUDDED. But, yeah, without the stars.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Literature for Dummies

Because Octopus vs. Chipmunk is, at its heart, a literature website (well, that's a keyword I clicked once on some kind of search engine registry), I figured it was time to talk about literature. Like, you know, what is it.

When I'm in doubt at moments like this, I do one of two things. Curl into the fetal position in a corner of the room behind the door and cry. Or go to Wikipedia. I already cried once today, so let's go to Wikipedia!

So, I typed "literature" and clicked.

And I received a lengthy and thorough article in return. Which was cool 'cause I was thinking that Wikipedia was mostly just dedicated to Japanese cartoon characters (and yes, I'm using the word "cartoons" in anticipation of a backlash) and obscure actors and actresses.

I think I once noticed that Steve Feffer, faculty member at Western Michigan and a playwright who has had a great deal of stuff produced and published, had a Wikipedia entry. It is no longer there, which made me realize that someone consciously decided that this writer--who has work can be read or seen in performance with little difficulty--was not worth a Wikipedia entry.
But you can find Lisa Rieffel which, obviously, would be a more useful resource for research. She is much hotter than Steve, though.
  • King of Queens

That picture of her? Came from a website called "King of Queens World." That made me sad.

Also, the "anime" page is larger than the "literature" page, though not by much. So there's a chance this literature thing can make it after all.

So let's see what it says about literature. I'll leave all those links in there in case you need to refer back to find out what an "historical period" is. Go ahead, I can wait.

"Nations can have literatures, as can corporations, philosophical schools or historical periods. Popular belief commonly holds that the literature of a nation, for example, comprises the collection of texts which make it a whole nation. "

So, confess, you clicked on "nations" and "nation" to see if they were the same, right? Or did you simply forget the definition of "nation" by its second appearance? Though they didn't give us the hyperlink by its third appearance. Hmmm, maybe they developed enough confidence in their readers to assume they don't need it hypertexted three times. Oh well, hopefully someone will fix it someday. And then unfix it. Oh, the cycle of wikis.

One thing I really dig about this first sentence, the thing that gives me a tremendous amount of hope (you can read that as "no hope," by the way) is that "corporations" is listed second among the possible entities that can have literature. Nations first. Corporations second! Second! And then, sure, philosophical schools or historical periods, but those are afterthoughts. And what about specific cultures, ethnic backgrounds, communities built on a shared racial background or gender? That's too liberal, I suppose, so we won't even consider it a real afterthought 'cause, yeah, no one talks about African-American Literature or Women's Literature. But they're always talking about Citicorp Literature. In fact, I believe I'll be teaching a class on the Literature of General Mills next semester. We'll mostly be reading cereal boxes, but it's very worthwhile. Here is one of our primary texts:


The article doesn't seem to talk much about "literature" as a term referring to documents you would distribute to elucidate some subject matter of importance to the entity (like a church or a corporation would use), yet the word "corporation" still appears. Thank you, mysterious wiki user, for making sure that even in an entry that spends most of its time discussing artistic writing (well, trying to discuss artistic writing), you still get me thinking about capitalism and business. For no actual reason. Bravo.

Anyway, later in the entry, it discusses poetry and makes this little claim:

"Language and tradition dictate some poetic norms: Persian poetry always rhymes, Greek poetry rarely rhymes, Italian or French poetry often does, English and German can go either way (although modern non-rhyming poetry often, perhaps unfairly, has a more "serious" aura)"

"Perhaps unfairly?" It's little statements like that and the corporation crap that make Wikipedia so dangerous. These little subtle things that people stick into wikis that seem innocuous if you don't know the subject very well. I mean, to make a statement like "non-rhyming poetry often, perhaps unfairly, has a more "serious" aura" shows either a lack of knowledge of any poetry since Whitman or a complete disregard for contemporary poetry (and the use of the word "modern" also shows that this editor is a fairly clueless tool, assuming that modern, I'm guessing, means "now"). And quoting the word ""serious"" so as to emphasis how foolish and lazy people who don't write in rhyme are, mocking the mere idea that what they do is serious.

I'm guessing this person has not spent a huge chunk of the last eight years reading poems for literary journals. If had, "perhaps" it could be determined that people who write in rhyme today are usually completely unversed (that's a pun) on the ins and outs of contemporary lit (and therefore not really part of it) or trying to be funny. There is an outlet for people who excel in writing exclusively in rhyme and rhythm -- it's called popular music. Be serious there. Not in English poetry. Which, oddly, has evolved in very interesting way since Tennyson. You should look some of those writers up. Wikipedia has entries on some of them.

Oh, and in its "poets" entry, it lists these guys as being among the most influential and profound writers in English literature.:

Chaucer, William Shakespeare, John Milton, Wordsworth, John Keats, W. B. Yeats, T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound.

It's kind of no-brainer list. Sort of. There are only so many you can list. But Pound? Seems odd. Somewhere Blake is smashing his head against a wall in sadness and disgust.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The 19th Century is for Losers

Much to my delight, I have learned that one of my all-time favorite songwriters/vocalists is going to be singing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl today. That is, of course, Billy Joel.

Okay, that was sarcasm. I don't so much like Billy Joel. In fact, he really bothers me on levels that I'm not even sure I fully understand. But I'll allow you to travel into my dark dark heart by listening to my inner-thoughts as I read an article about Billy Joel's feelings about singing at the big game.

This is the part of the blog where I would put a picture representing the subject of my blog. But I don't want to lower myself to that. So here's a picture of Prince, who will be singing at halftime. Prince is cool.

I've included the article I found in red italics. My responses are blue. Patriotic, eh?

While Prince (see picture above--my note) will tackle the half-time show at Miami's Dolphin Stadium, Sunday's Super Bowl XLI will kick off with the National Anthem sung by Billy Joel – who calls it "a tough song."

"It's not the greatest song ever written," Joel, 57, told a group of reporters in Miami Beach this week, when asked how it is to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner. "What it represents is a terrific thing. But 'America The Beautiful' is actually a better song."

So, according to Billy Joel, freedom (which I guess we can safely say is what the song represents) is a "terrific thing." That's big of you. But it isn't the best song ever written. Which, while likely true, is also true of every self-indulgent crap lyric Billy Joel ever put to pen. And while Billy is forced to sing this song that is evidently beneath him for the joy and pleasure of all of us, we can rest assured in knowing that brilliant tunes like "Uptown Girl" probably won't be sung much in a couple hundred years. Unlike the lousy song he has to sing today.

What makes the Frances Scott Key lyrics so tough, Joel explained, is that the anthem, "was written early in the 19th century, and that's the vernacular of the song. Nobody remembers the lyrics because they don't know what they mean. The melody is difficult, and everybody drops out in the high notes. It's kind of a slog, actually."

Geez, everybody knows that nothing done or written in the 19th century is worth anything. Well, except "America the Beautiful," I guess, but the version we know was written in the first decade or two of the twentieth century and, clearly, the vernacular is pretty much the same then as it is now. There were some huge linguistic shifts from 1800 to 1890, but for the hundred years following, nothing changed.

And, man, this guy's an ass. People don't remember the words to the song because they don't know what they mean? Is that why the lyrics of a Billy Joel songs are so simple? Because we're dealing with a guy without the capacity to understand complex lyrics like "bombs bursting in air" and "broad stripes and bright stars." Look, here's the plot of the song -- there's a war, a guy sees the American flag waving and he realizes that, in even this most desperate time, the resilience and courage that flag represents is still alive. Seems like a pretty decent song to me and if you have trouble remembering the words because a couple of them are too big for you or you're frightened by the "vernacular" of a previous century, here's a suggestion: get a dictionary and shut up. Or, better yet, let someone else with a little more class and talent than you sing the song.

When asked what will be going through his mind just before the performance, he cracked: "Don't forget the words."

What a wit. Other things going through his mind: "Wow, I am Billy Joel. I am the greatest singer. Songwriter, too. I am lowering myself by singing this inferior song. I should be singing "Always a Woman." Or "She's Got a Way." Or "Just the Way You Are." I mean, they all sound the same, sure, but no one's noticed that. Yeah. "Just the Way You Are." That should be the National Anthem. I love you just the way you are, America. And why is Prince doing the halftime show? Everybody knows I'm way better than Prince. Maybe I should just write my own words to this stupid song. Stupid 19th century. I'm the Piano Man!"

Still someone must have liked the way Joel sang it before, since this will actually be a Super Bowl encore for him. The Grammy-winning Piano Man's other delivery of the National Anthem was prior to 1989's Super Bowl, also in South Florida.

Wow, what a gift this is to us. Twice. In one Super Bowl lifetime.

In fact, for a song that gives him problems, Joel sure seems to sing it a lot. "I did it at the Stanley Cup, I did it at the World Series, I did it at Super Bowl XXIII," he said, "so I'm kind of an old dinosaur doing this kind of thing."

I'm sorry, can someone interpret Billy's last quote for me? He's a lot older than I am and must be speaking in a dialectal vernacular that is difficult for me to wrap my brain around.

By the way, asked whom he favors to win – the Chicago Bears or the Indianapolis Colts – Joel replied: "I have no idea. I was rooting for New York."

I hate this garbage too. Look. If the Super Bowl people think enough of you to put you out there as the opening to their biggest event of the year and are obviously paying you way more than you would ever deserve to sing for three minutes, shouldn't you at least pretend to have an interest in the game? Couldn't you just say, "I'm excited to be at the game. It's such a great event, I love getting to go back." Not "well, they're making sing I song I hate at an game between two teams I don't know or care about." Yeah, that doesn't make me want to watch you kick off (so to speak) the event.

So, yeah, I'm excited. Go Billy Joel. Don't screw up.

Look at that Lizard! He picks up rocks as if they're nothing!

I'm not so much a Star Trek fan (a "Trekkie" as the kids call 'em these days), but even I couldn't help but be compelled by the action of this clip.

Here's hoping today's Super Bowl battle can feature action half as exciting as this fight.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Terror of the Mooninites.

Oh man, Boston was engulfed in a bomb scare that, evidently, nearly paralyzed the city. Fortunately, there was no threat, it was just an ad campaign for Aqua Teen Hunger Force. An ad campaign that had apparently been running in several other cities with no problems. Here's a local Boston news report about the incident. And notice how fair and balanced this report is.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Confuses Boston

What I enjoy most about this story is the tone established by the media and law enforcement. There's no sense of relief or anything like that--it's all anger directed toward the ad campaign to divert us all from the fact that they were too stupid to realize that the Light Brights being hung in various places were not actually bombs. My favorite quote might just be when the Police Commissioner assures us that "concern is lessened." Concerned is lessened? Lessened? There is no concern! You figured out the thing was an ad!

And you know those old Energizer Bunny ads that made you think for a moment you were watching an ad for something and then the bunny showed up and it turned out to be an ad for batteries? Yeah, that's a hoax, too.


So, I’m checking out the sport news this morning and see that the NBA All-Star team has been announced in full (yeah, this might not be the most exciting blog entry). So, anyway, the headline for this article is “The Stars Come Out,” which is fine and innocuous, as a SI.com article about something as frivolous but entertaining as an All-Star Game likely should be, but then the subheading reads, “Carmelo does not make squad.”

Now, does every single thing have to have a story attached to it to make it controversial? Can’t some things in our lives just exist as a playful diversion? Does the media have to make everything a controversy? The first six paragraphs in the only SI.com article I found about the announcement of the reserves for the teams were about Carmelo Anthony being left off—before we even mention that three members of one team were picked and the guy who’s the best player on the best team making it on.

Denver Nugget star Carmelo Anthony is a good basketball player who lead the league in scoring but plays in a conference where every team seems to have a superstar or two. But he got into a well-publicized fight (and, oddly enough, every NBA fight becomes well-publicized) and was suspended for a few games, so this omission gives us a chance to remember that. And, honestly, I wouldn’t have even noticed he was missing from the team if the first six paragraphs hadn’t told me. Six.

Now, I could've included a picture of Carmelo Anthony, but that would, it seems to me, indicate I was engaging in the same type of reporting as the people I'm criticizing. So, instead, I include a picture of a Caramello bar, which shares all of its letters with Carmelo's first name.


It seems to have been building in all media over a long period of time – the first reaction on the Oscar nominations was “Dreamgirls got screwed” even though the movies nominated for Best Picture give us more stories and angles than you could possibly want (and Dreamgirls was nominated for a boatload of stuff, just not best picture). Besides, if you want to complain about a movie that should been nominated for Best Picture and didn’t, that would be “Children of Men,” but I’m complaining about said trend, so I shouldn’t engage in it.

I wonder if the WMU English Departmental Newsletter takes this tack with the Creative Writing Awards? “Poetry Awards Announced: Olsen Doesn’t Win.” Likely not. Those jerks'll probably just announce the winners and be done with it. They clearly don't get it.

Oh, and Suns guard Steve Nash, who has made comments critical of the war effort in Iraq, also made the team. He’s also the two-time defending league most valuable player and a likely front-runner to win it again, but who cares about that? Even if he does win it again, we’ll just be talking about how much Kobe was screwed out of the award. Sigh.