<= 2001.09

2001.11 =>

[OCTOBER 2001.]

harvest ritual

My horrible autobiographical story about the mental hospital is getting shelved for now, because I can't, just can't, come up with a way to graft a profluent plot onto a sequence of events that is essentially static: in the hospital, then not in the hospital, that's all.

The telephone keeps ringing when I am asleep. The answering machine clicks on and then I hear a woman's agitated voice calling "Hello?...Hello?" In the morning there is never a message on the machine.

V.S. Naipaul cancelled. Frank suggests this is for a number of reasons, one of course being the Nobel, another being that he is so hated by so many in the developing world that he could very well be a target in the current political climate. For instance, here the New York Times talks to him about Islam. There ain't no such animal as a moderate Islamic state, he says. Also:

Q: You have described the Taliban as vermin.
A: No, that's my wife!

Frank, who gives us free books sometimes, handed out copies of Among the Believers, which I'm working on between Kavalier & Clay, Joan Didion's Salvador, the Qur'an, and Blood Meridian. Yeah, you can imagine.

Here's an account of Isaac Babel's strange life, coupled with a fairly amusing attack on the new translation of his stories:

...Constantine seems to have a tin ear: Did I mention that he actually uses the word "wimp"? Needless to say, it's not a word Babel would use, and finding it here is a bit like coming across a "gnarly" in Dante's description of the Inferno, or seeing Achilles "lose his shit" when news of a lover's death reaches him.

I have this old Meridian edition that I found years ago in a Tucson bookstore, and I'll stick with that, thanks.


bad & doubtful debts

I contain multitudes.
I have engaged a plan of attack to.
I can offer no specifics.
I have received intelligence that indicates.
I am pleased with the international response.
I enjoy a consistent approval rating.
I see no public health threat.
I have every confidence in.
I did not expect.
I ask for your continued.
I have been moved to a secure location.


sylvan scene

So about a week ago we were sitting down by the river, staring at a large bright object in the sky. Some said it was a star; some said it was a plane. We all held up our thumbs beside it and squinted to see whether it was moving, and looked like morons. The bright object is still there. I have determined that it is Jupiter, who has recently moved from Gemini, the sign of his detriment, to Cancer, the sign of his exaltation. Here, this is how it'll screw you up.

Saturday night at the Halloween party, we saw an eerie red glow hovering in the sky above a copse of trees. It looked like someone had painted a vertical strip of sky red. And an equally eerie blue glow was coming from between the trees' trunks. No explanation for that one.


intellects vast & cool & unsympathetic

Yes, I managed to paint myself green (Statue of Liberty) without permanently soiling the bathroom. Fortunately my bedsheets were green already. Then I came home and dreamed about walking down Linn Street and seeing a nail fall from the sky. It landed in the middle of the road, a few feet from me.

"Are you all right?" asked a passing cop on horseback.

"Fine," I said.

"Okay," said the cop, "because that nail is contaminated. I'm sure you're out of danger, though."

"All right," I said, though I didn't entirely believe his reassurance. Walking home, I remembered the Martians... of course, it's the War of the Worlds, the Martians are bombarding Earth with anthrax-contaminated items... and I thought it could never happen here...

This "A Nation Challenged" headline needs to stop. Euphemisms have eviscerated the word "challenged" of any meaning; now I think of "developmentally challenged" or "vertically challenged" or whatever.

Whiting Awards are out. Most of these I don't know except for Akhil Sharma, who got notoriety for the incest thing, and Matthew Klam, who is clearly not averse to self-promotion.


everything is green

Costume making. Super disco, disco breaking.

More Jen postcards.


this one drops a payload

This thing has happened to me with Kid A. When it came out a year or so ago, I recognized it as brilliant but I had a very hard time actually listening to it. It freaked the hell out of me. There was this inexplicable menace behind the layered keyboards, and the oblique, inarticulate lyrics seemed to skirt some awful truth that could only be conveyed through obliquity. "Idioteque" gave me conniptions. And then of course I found the hidden liner notes behind the CD tray, and those were no fun. "THE INNOCENTY HAVE BEEN USED TO THICKEN THE SOUPY THE SOUPY CAN BE USED TO FEED THE TROOPYS FROM TIN CANS" and so on. The album essentially convinced me that something terrible was going to happen soon, and the more I read about First/Third World relations the more apparent it became. This is the reason for last year's brief fling with far-left politics, which embarrasses me a little now.

Anyway, now the first terrible thing has happened. And granted it's not over, and granted it's going to get much worse before it gets better. But I've discovered that Kid A has suddenly become comforting rather than agitating. As soon as the international shit started going down, part of me felt a tremendous sense of relief: at last it's arrived, it's finally out in the open, we can observe it and define it and try to figure out what to do. It's not that I was self-satisfied about being proved right—no one wanted this—but at least I was no longer the only one worried. Though I shouldn't say "the only one"; many friends of mine report similar experiences. I think these events must have produced karmic shock waves traveling back in time or something, and it was hell to be on the receiving end. At least fear has been given a shape now.


plus list

  • Bach's Mass in B Minor, which is Baroque but deeply felt, not annoyingly boppy.

  • People are actually buying my old laserdiscs on half.com. I mean, laserdiscs. Somebody still wants them.

  • Tostitos, except I ate them all. That may not count.

  • Julia's reading last night, was good.

  • Justin's introduction to Julia's reading, which was all about Justin, nevertheless, good.

  • The water lily Nymphaea ampla, thought to contain the psychoactive alkaloids aporphine, nuciferine, and nornuciferine, which according to different accounts can mimic anything from opiates to MDMA. It's the New World equivalent to the Egyptian lotus. It was associated with the Maya rain-god Chac, and also certain types of Central American toads which yes, you can lick to get high. I'm not personally licking the toads or anything, mind you—this is research.

  • The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. Hot damn!

  • It's 18 degrees Fahrenheit out there w/ wind chill, yeah, but at least my apartment no longer feels like one giant radiator.

  • School board says yes, kids can drop eggs on bin Laden's face. (via ObscureStore).


  • concrete and barbed wire

    Check the New York Times... nope, world hasn't blown up yet. Back to weblogs.

    Yesterday in workshop Frank gave a lengthy disquisition on sex and writing, culminating in the surreal scene of a visiting writers' panel some years ago, where Norman Mailer and John Updike apparently got into a public argument over whether the female genitalia were best described as "cunt" or "pussy." Mailer favored the former, Updike the latter.

    When Jonathan Franzen was here last month he was asked, inevitably, about Oprah's book club, and his subsequent comments made it fairly clear what he thinks of the average Oprah book and the average Oprah reader. "Hoo boy," I thought at the time, "he's going to get it." And see: Oprah has formally uninvited him to her show. "Jonathan Franzen will not be on the Oprah Winfrey show," sez the press release, "because he is seemingly uncomfortable and conflicted about being chosen as a book club selection. It is never my intention to make anyone uncomfortable or cause anyone conflict."

    The thing is, I don't think The Corrections was that good. It had some nice passages and clever connections and so on, but it felt to me like a watered-down and more accessible version of the large, heady DeLillo-type pomo conspiracy novel. Maybe that explains its popular success; they're selling it at Target now, next to Tom Clancy's Op Center. I know, who's being elitist now. But the book's even more fundamental problems are that a) it tries to turn formal tricks while still telling a fairly traditional family story, and as a result it suffers from that schizoid split of intention that plagues all but the very best of the brainy white-boy books; and b) it comes far too close far too often to outright contempt for its characters. The mother in particular was treated pretty mercilessly.

    I've been complaining too much this week. Tomorrow I will talk about things I like.


    welcome to the working week

    Last night I read that biting New Yorker article on the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference; granted, the author went in there looking for things to mock, but it's like shooting fish in a barrel—so much of it is absurd. And most of it also applies to this program.

    The conference largely consists of M.F.A.-program teachers leading classes stacked with M.F.A.-program students whose dearest desire is to get a job teaching in an M.F.A. program and ultimately return to Bread Loaf as a teaching fellow or faculty member. From the outside, the whole business looks weirdly self-replicating, like a psychoanalytic institute whose members spend most of their time training new psychoanalysts.

    The triple compulsions of Bread Loaf have, traditionally, been getting published, getting drunk, and getting laid; and, though each is honored more in the breach than in the observance, the reputation lingers.

    The professional model dominates the conference workshops, which combine the detached efficiency of a committee meeting with the emotional exposure of a group therapy session.

    For the majority of Bread Loafers, the ascent up the literary ladder is slow and difficult, and publication is a far-off goal; a more immediate preoccupation is reaching the level where they get a personal rejection rather than a form one. Such handwritten letters are scrutinized for meaning as if they were the Dead Sea scrolls, and are recalled with absolute precision.

    By the conference's end, a degree of shaking out had occurred: the hot writers were being circled by agents... Some of the faculty seemed drained by the eleven days. "This place is the shocking culmination of all that is foolish and ill-conceived in the writing programs," said Vivian Gornick, who led a nonfiction workshop. "The boosterism, the childishness, the prolonged collegiate atmosphere. It's like a fucking parody."

    There is this emotion I get that doesn't seem to have a name: a sense that everything is childish—Talmudic preoccupation with rejection letters, jockeying for the North Dakota Assmaster Fellowship or whatever, salivating over visiting agents, squabbling Israeli ministers, New Yorkers trying to buy gas masks for their dogs, payloads dropping on unoccupied camps, and on and on. It's not really misanthropy; it's more a generalized sense of being fed up. Everything seems venal. We're not all going to die; we're going to live in a world that will seem incresingly compromised with each passing year. There are worse fates, sure. But sometimes you really have to talk yourself into leaving the couch.


    let my children hear music

    Thick thick black clouds outside: it's nearly eclipse-dark. Gusts of wind are coming up, stripping orange leaves from the branches; they go past in flurries, illustrating the air currents like iron filings illustrate the layout of magnetic fields, scraping for a moment against my window screen, falling away. Great piles of leaves are appearing all over the city. I guess maybe there will be bonfires soon: is that what happens? I can't remember what was done with the leaves last year, but last year I didn't live near many trees.

    Dear reader, if the New Yorker continues to reject your fiction, it's probably al Qaeda's fault. Bill Buford sez:

    I edit the fiction at the New Yorker. My colleagues pass me notes. "I liked this story," one writes, "but that was before September 11. Now it doesn't seem right." "This story was written before everything happened. I thought it was good. It's about not having money in an affluent New York. Now it doesn't seem right." I speak to fiction writers. They want to write non-fiction.

    The Alice Munro story that he goes on to mention was excellent, though, no doubt.

    Leos Janacek: the third way in classical music's 20th-century culture wars. Of the pieces mentioned, I'm a fan of the two string quartets in particular.


    voices of quetta

    Hi, I'm ambulatory again. Last night I locked myself out of my apartment before we went to the Shriner-run haunted corn maze (dead people grabbed my ankles) and I ended up spending the night on Aimee Phan's couch. And on Friday night we shot far too much whiskey; and we saw a star that was not a star; and we discussed the caliphate and global warming; and we serenaded third-story windows; and though I could barely stand up I shot baskets with surprising accuracy. Thirty-six hours later I have at last had my coffee and shaved and read Season of Migration to the North, which is an odd book, so I'm more or less back.

    Thinking about spending a month this summer at the Hermandad Educativa in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. A conversational and sociopolitical crash course, plus showing some movies to campesinos or whatever; it could be good.


    post-millennium tension

    So yes there are germs in the mail, but keep in mind, say, the antibiotic-resistant bacteria in American meat and poultry, which are everywhere. Twenty percent of the meat in your supermarket, if the study is to be believed, has salmonella; and most of that is drug-resistant super salmonella, these days.

    Here are two leaflets they're dropping around Afghanistan: The Partnership of Nations is Here to Help and Information Radio. My question is, what the hell are non-English-speaking Afghans going to make of these? The photo of the soldier shaking the Afghan's hand looks Photoshopped or something; there's a sinister falsity about it. The radio tower and the happy receivers just look like they ought to be in a Cingular ad.

    Oh, here's the happy radio in Arabic.

    Propaganda leaflets from the past: here's a fake LIFE magazine dropped in 1943 by German planes over U.S. air bases in East Anglia. The cover is taken from an actual issue, but the inside is full of blood-spattered corpses with captions like "This young man and his friends lost their lives over Brennan in the night preceding August 9th 1943. Within 24 hours 107 British and U.S.A. bombers were shot down over Germany. The great majority of the crews were killed."

    Here are leaflets dropped in Japanese territory by the U.S.

    Our Sympathies

    You (the occupiers of Kiska Island) who are cut off from communication with the mainland and are in a state of complete isolation, are now suffering and will come to the same savage and meaningless death as those in the Aleutian Islands.


    U.S. military power is about to swallow you like the surge of a wave beginning from the U.S. continent and moving up through the Aleutian chain. Your plight has been rendered completely hopeless by the U.S. military. Ever since you landed in Kiska [you] have been unable to attack. You have lost the ability to defend yourself. Your situation is miserable. We pity your family on the other side of the Pacific Ocean because you are dying without accomplishing anything.


    white blood cells

    They're mailing anthrax to Kenya now? What the fuck? Is this just to confuse people?

    Fracas over the Stonehenge road. I went to Salisbury Plain when I was ten, but we couldn't get very close to the stones as they were roped off. There was graffiti on them, I think. And it was so windy that our umbrellas kept blowing inside out. My mom did a painting of the monument, but really dark gray isn't the most attractive shade in watercolors, and as a result it looks sort of crusty and blobby. We mocked it so frequently that I think she's willed it to me now.

    Jen's in Europe; postcards at the Tove.


    blood and milk, water and wine

    Email from mother, which I'm not sure how to take:

    Paul, I had the funniest dream about you last night. I dreamt that Tom and I came to an English lecture you were giving. You were really animated and entertaining. You had bright white hair and monkey ears, and by the end of the lecture you had turned into a really fat, really happy Eskimo boy. It was weird.

    Here's an article that gets all snippy about that David Foster Wallace grammar essay from Harper's and that Roget's Thesaurus article from The Atlantic. I find it mainly interesting as an example of how Wallace reads to someone who just completely misses the point and refuses to enter the joke:

    Then, Wallace's piece is badly written in a way that only an academic intellectual could manage: it is the most self-indulgent, narcissistic piece I can recall seeing in any mainstream publication. His manner is nauseatingly cute and condescending; he uses words imprecisely, offers bad analogies (whose point he then explains at length—the sure sign of a bad analogy), says everything several times, and intrudes much purely personal and otherwise irrelevant matter. A particularly objectionable feature of his piece is his alternation between parading erudition (often irrelevant) and cosying up to us as just another Regular Guy. One minute he's overawing us with an epigraph in Latin (untranslated) from St Augustine, the next he's speaking of a statement's "biting Gove's whole argument in the ass"—he's Mr All-Things-to-All-Men.

    Well, either you dig it or you don't, I guess.

    Edward Said sez: "clash of civilizations" is a grossly misleading term.

    ...the personification of enormous entities called "the West" and "Islam" is recklessly affirmed, as if hugely complicated matters like identity and culture existed in a cartoonlike world where Popeye and Bluto bash each other mercilessly, with one always more virtuous pugilist getting the upper hand over his adversary. Certainly neither Huntington nor Lewis has much time to spare for the internal dynamics and plurality of every civilization, or for the fact that the major contest in most modern cultures concerns the definition or interpretation of each culture, or for the unattractive possibility that a great deal of demagogy and downright ignorance is involved in presuming to speak for a whole religion or civilization.


    steady hands at seattle general

    Yesterday we learned the valuable lesson that literary celebrity can backfire to the point where no one talks to you. Denis Johnson came to the Dey House yesterday for a Q&A in the basement; it was filled to overflowing, duh. He was tanned and healthy-looking and casual and friendly, but the thing was that everyone was too intimidated to ask questions. He had to start out the session by asking us questions: e.g., what's the difference between a land mile and a nautical mile? Nobody knew, though everyone was looking at me like I was supposed to know. So all right, I looked it up yesterday evening.

    There are three different nautical miles: the British mile (aka Admiralty mile), which is 6080 feet; the American mile no longer in official use, which is 6080.20 feet; and the international mile used by the U.S. since July 1st, 1959, which is 1852 meters or approximately 6076.11549 feet. The differing measurements come from the fact that the mile is calculated by taking one minute of arc (1/60th of a degree) of a great circle of the earth; but because the earth is an oblate ellipsoid rather than a perfect sphere, you get different lengths depending where you draw your circle.

    That was kind of a tangent. Anyway, I didn't know that at the time. Then people started asking shy questions, which Denis Johnson used as excuses to tell entertaining stories about his land in Idaho and the plays he's been writing (much more fun than writing fiction because a) you interact with other people, and b) certain people have the job of memorizing every single word you wrote, and additionally they want to know how those words sound inside your head) and the making of the film Jesus' Son (not Jesus's Son, he pointed out; too many sibilants). He also talked about 09.11; he was in New York at the time and saw the second tower go down. Someone asked him what the writer's duty was in these times and he said he had no clue. He compared Manhattan in the aftermath to war zones he'd visited (Mogadishu, Kabul). Close paraphrase:

    I can no longer remember why I had the urge to pack up and visit those places. There is no shred of me that would want to be there now. But I had to go there and see it, see if this was really happening on my planet. And it was my planet—it's fifty percent of the planet, really, that are killing each other daily or figuring out how to kill each other tomorrow or cleaning up from killing each other yesterday. And to see this happening on my planet, I knew then it would come to the United States, that one day I would see this within our borders. And then I did. Manhattan was like the other war zones not in that people were shooting each other, but in that there were official people everywhere—emergency workers—so many official people moving around, and not many unofficial people at all.

    He choked up a little, talking about the towers going down; and the same thing happened at the reading yesterday evening, when he read a piece from Seek about the hippie Rainbow Festival and got to a passage about a childhood friend who was now dead of AIDS. Both times he paused for a moment, apologized for his sentimentality, and then moved into a few jokes to help leaven the mood. He gave the impression of a highly intelligent and complex person who had seen and done unimaginable things, but who had not been destroyed by the experiences—they had somehow left him all the more gentle and human. Someone you'd definitely want to hang out with. Only that's not what happened at the after-reading party.

    I arrived just as he was leaving. Apparently everyone was so intimidated that nobody really talked to him, so he just sat in a chair for a while and watched all of us wannabe writers talk to one another, then he left. The curséd backfire effect. The chair he had been sitting in stayed empty all night, out of a weird sort of communal respect, blankly facing the rest of the room.


    dark autumn

    So one laboratory anthrax spore sez to another: "The difference between us and regular anthrax is that we're cultured."


    all this useless beauty

    Spied yesterday on a T-shirt—a rare instance of clever jingoism:

    rm -rf /bin/laden

    So there's this translation conference happening, and W.S. Merwin kicked it off Friday night. There's something very patrician about him—he has the most incredibly glossy white hair and speaks in an American accent so refined that it almost sounds European. He read some new poems that he'd written since 09.11, mostly about nature and winter and the recurrence of seasons and so on. I was iffy on most of them, though there was a great one addressed to Zbigniew Herbert's bicycle (an item which, Merwin acknowledges, may never have existed), and a nice little elegy for Ted Hughes. Then he got into the translations, reading a splenetic Catullus piece and a long section from his new version of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (the Christmas feast/first beheading scene). I guess not everyone was into the Gawain part, but I thought it was fantastic. Merwin grew up in Scranton but his family was Welsh, and this translation was a Reclaim-Your-Heritage opportunity for him since the original poem is written in a version of Middle English so Welsh-inflected that Chaucer would have found it unintelligible. Merwin's version was rhythmic and alliterative and all that, as standard, but the great thing was that as soon as he started talking he got so Welsh. He turned into Dylan Thomas. At that point it became very clear to me that not only was this poem meant to be read aloud, it was meant to be read aloud by Welsh people. Plus there was lots of spurting blood.

    Next morning the translation conference moved to the memorial union at the heart of the heart of the campus, and William H. Gass talked about Rilke, whose elegies he's been translating. I faded in and out on this one, though it was interesting to hear the biographical background on his relationship with the painter Paula Modersohn-Becker, for whom he wrote "Requiem for a Friend," which I can't find a complete version of online.

    And finally you saw yourself as fruit,
    lifted yourself out of your clothes and carried
    that self before the mirror, let it in
    up to your gaze; which remained, large, in front,
    and did not say: that's me; no, but: this is.

    Gass's take on those lines was better—she swam up to her gaze—but he didn't read his version in its entirety either, so what the fuck.

    And last night it was the Houston Ballet. The Firebird: yes, good, cool sets and everything. When King Kastchei first appeared in the palace a sort of giant frame descended from the ceiling and people wheeled in his throne attached to a giant egg, and it reminded me of the way a boss would show up at the end of a Blaster Master level. The egg swallowed Kastchei at the end, of course. The surprise highlight, though, was one of the introductory dances: a piece called "Indigo" choreographed by Stanton Welch to two Vivaldi cello concerti, for four men and four women. The choreography was very modern and erotic in a wholly stylized way—in particular when the men and women paired off, it was moving in a way that I'm not used to from ballet. But then most of my ballet experience comes from watching umpteen recitals, all featuring my little sister, as a child; so I'm probably behind the times.

    Stay tuned for Denis Johnson.



    I'm engrossed in Culture Weekend, which I'll have to write up as a big piece tomorrow because I have to clean all this stuff in my apartment. This time tomorrow: W.S. Merwin, William H. Gass, and The Firebird.

    There's a literate graffitist going after men's rooms in Iowa City bars. In the last week I have seen "Fickt nicht mit der Raketmensch!" written over urinals in Martinis and the Deadwood. The sentence is from Gravity's Rainbow and means "Nothing fucks with the Rocketman!"—though I think the correct German would be "Fickt nicht mit dem Raketemensch!" I can't look it up because Marlowe has had my copy of Gravity's Rainbow since May, when he spent a couple weeks lying on my futon and reading my books while I was in Arizona.

    Rocket 00000 (mp3: 3.7 mB) is a song from summer 1999, when I was living in a Reno apartment. It's about bombs.



    Happy birthday Lauren—may you always be as vivid as your hallucinations!

    The time has come to divest myself of certain possessions. First to go is the blue glow. So! If you or a loved one in the Iowa City area would like a 20-inch television with built-in VCR and bilingual menus, cheap, talk to me.

    It's probably not nice to laugh at the Bangladeshi bin Laden poster with Bert on it. But I mean, it's Bert. Here's a clearer photo that Juliet/Eclogues has archived. Looks like they got the image off this joke page, maybe.


    monotremes of the pac-10

    Whenever I go to the HandiMart, I see the Weekly World News with the "Bat Boy Joins Up!" cover; fortunately, Lauren has transcribed the salient portions of the article so I won't have to buy it out of morbid curiosity, because that's how I ended up with a copy of Smells Like Children.

    Naipaul got the Nobel. He's coming here too, in like a month. So much hot shit on the Iowa City sidewalks I'm surprised they don't melt.

    But today I want to talk about The Moldau. This was written by the Czech composer Bedrich Smetana in the 1870s, and is the second symphonic poem in the six-piece cycle Má Vlast ("my country"). The Moldau springs in Bohemia, then flows on through Prague and off into the wide world. Smetana's piece lasts around ten minutes and is simply sublime—it was the second classical piece I ever fell in love with, back in high school, the first being Mozart's Symphony No.40. I figured out how to play the main theme of the symphony on the guitar and piped it through really heavy distortion and committed a horrible sin againt Viennese music in the process, but that's another story.

    The Moldau starts with some ripples on the flute to symbolize the springs, then the clarinet joins in and pizzicato strings follow with a regular soft plunk. Nanananananananana, plunk, like that. It's in 6/8 because they agreed in like the 1500s that 6/8 time would always connote rivers. They were right, too. Then the harp comes in, and as the rippling figure moves to the low strings (the stream broadening) the humble triangle makes an appearance. The whole symphony ripples for a minute, getting steadily louder, and then it moves to the dominant chord and just as things are starting to sound almost chaotic we get the river theme.

    Smetana's notes on the river theme are "Allegro commodo non agitato" and "dolce;" that's "fast, comfortable not agitated" and "sweet." It's a stepwise melody in E minor, pretty simple in itself, moving six steps up the scale and six back down; but the low strings keep rippling underneath it, and after the previous buildup it's like the appearance of the sun. The theme repeats, then fades away, and for the next few minutes we get some sketched scenes: a hunt with the brass section in full force, a brisk peasant dance in 2/4, a bizarre shift down to A-flat for a "nymphs in moonlight" scene with long woodwind notes, then the return of the strings and harp and a mounting brass fanfare which leads us right back to that river theme. And then Smetana transposes the river theme into E major; by now it's clear that one does not fuck with this river. Some hurried brass notes indicate rapids, then the river theme returns with the full orchestra behind it. The music slows into a more incantatory mode to indicate the ancient castle Vysehrad near the river mouth, and over the next minute it slowly dies away as the river flows beyond the poet's game. A quick, forceful V-I cadence closes the piece, just so you know it's over.

    I mention all this because the Philadelphia Orchestra was here last weekend, and The Moldau was one of the pieces they played. I had never before heard a live performance of a piece I was so intimately familiar with, and it suddenly became very clear why people will plan their monthly schedules around the symphony. It's honestly too sweet to describe. But keep an eye out for these folks if they happen to tour near you.



    Holy hell, there's a new state of matter out there. Supercooled rubidium atoms lose their particulate nature and start behaving like one unified wave. There is also a great physicist quote: "You want the biggest, fattest, fluffiest atom you can find. It worked just dandy."

    All hell is breaking loose outside my window. There's wind and rain and lightning and an group of official-looking trucks that are going around cutting down trees. KKKKKRRRRRRNNNNG, go the trucks and branches fall and the men in orange suits run out to collect them.


    who killed cock robin

    Don't worry, sez Michiko Kakutani, irony is not dead yet. It's only a flesh wound. Come back here and it will bite yer legs off, ha.

    We watched Throne of Blood yesterday. Ha ha.

    Denis Johnson and William Gass are coming soon. Ha ha ha. But I have to go to workshop now.


    the 99 names of allah

    1) al-Rahman (The Compassionate);
    2) al-Rahim (The Merciful);
    3) al-Malik (The King, The Sovereign);
    4) al-Quddus (The Holy);
    5) al-Salam (The Author of Safety);
    6) al- Mu'min (The Giver of Peace);
    7) al-Muhaimin (The Protector);
    8) al-'Aziz (The Strong);
    9) al-Jabbar (The Compeller);
    10) al-Mutakabbir (The Majestic);
    11) al-Khaliq (The Creator);
    12) al-Bari (The Maker);
    13) al-Musawwir (The Fashioner);
    14) al-Ghaffar (The Great Forgiver);
    15) al-Qahhar (The Dominant);
    16) al-Wahhab (The Bestower);
    17) al-Razzaq (The Sustainer);
    18) al-Fattah (The Opener, The Reliever, The Judge);
    19) al-'Alim (The All-Knowing);
    20) al-Qabid (The Retainer, The Withholder);
    21) al-Basit (The Enlarger);
    22) al-Khafid (The Pleaser);
    23) al-Rafi' (The Elevator);
    24) al-Mu'izz (The Honorer);
    25) al-Mudhill (The Humiliator);
    26) al-Sami' (The All-Hearing, The Hearer);
    27) al-Basir (The All-Seeing);
    28) al-Hakam (The Judge);
    29) al-'Adl (The Just);
    30) al-Latif (The Subtle);
    31) al-Khabir (The Gracious, The Aware);
    32) al-Halim (The Clement, The Forebearing);
    33) al-'Azim (The Mighty);
    34) al-Ghafur (The Forgiving);
    35) al-Shakur (The Grateful, The Appreciative);
    36) al-'Aliyy (The High, The Sublime);
    37) al-Kabir (The Great);
    38) al-Hafiz (The Preserver);
    39) al-Muqit (The Protector, The Guardian, The Feeder, The Sustainer);
    40) al-Hasib (The Reckoner);
    41) al-Jalil (The Beneficent);
    42) al-Karim (The Bountiful, The Gracious);
    43) al-Raqib (The Watcher, The Watchful);
    44) al-Mujib (The Responsive, The Hearkener);
    45) al-Wasi' (The Vast, The All-Embracing);
    46) al-Hakim al-Mutlaq (The Judge of Judges);
    47) al-Wadud (The Loving);
    48) al-Majid (The Glorious);
    49) al-Ba'ith (The Raiser [from death], The True);
    50) al-Shahid (The Witness);
    51) al-Haqq (The Truth, The True);
    52) al-Wakil (The Trustee);
    53) al-Qawiyy (The Strong);
    54) al-Matin (The Firm);
    55) al-Waliyy (The Protecting Friend);
    56) al-Hamid (The Praiseworthy);
    57) al-Muhsi (The Counter);
    58) al-Mubdi (The Originator);
    59) al-Mu'id (The Reproducer);
    60) al-Muhyi (The Restorer, The Giver of Life);
    61) al-Mumit (The Destroyer);
    62) al-Hayy (The Alive);
    63) al-Qayyum (The Self-Subsisting);
    64) al-Wajid (The Perceiver);
    65) al-Majid (The Glorious);
    66) al-Wahid (The Only One);
    67) al-Ahad (The One);
    68) al-Samad (The Independent);
    69) al-Qadir (The Capable);
    70) al-Muqtadir (The Dominant);
    71) al-Muqaddim (The Promoter);
    72) al-Mu'akhkhir (The Retarder);
    73) al-Awwal (The First);
    74) al-Akhir (The Last);
    75) al-Zahir (The Manifest);
    76) al-Batin (The Hidden);
    77) al-Wali (The Governor);
    78) al-Muta'ali (The High Exalted);
    79) al-Barr (The Righteous);
    80) al-Tawwab (The Relenting);
    81) al-'Afuww (The Forgiver);
    82) al-Muntaqim (The Avenger);
    83) al-Ra'uf (The Compassionate);
    84) Malik al-Mulk (The Owner of Sovereignty);
    85) Dhu'l-Jalal wa'l-Ikram (The Lord of Majesty and Bounty);
    86) al-Muqsit (The Equitable);
    87) al-Jami' (The Gatherer, The Collector);
    88) al-Ghani (The Self-Sufficient);
    89) al-Mughni (The Enricher);
    90) al-Mu'ti (The Bestower, The Giver);
    91) al-Nafi' (The Propitious);
    92) al-Darr (The Distresser);
    93) al-Nur (The Light);
    94) al-Hadi (The Guide);
    95) al-Azuli (The Eternal);
    96) al-Baqi (The Everlasting);
    97) al-Warith (The Heir);
    98) al-Rashid (The Guide to the Right Path);
    99) al-Sabur (The Patient).


    familiar dialogues

    Ach, mein Gott, English as She is Spoke (via Geegaw) was published in 1883 by a Portuguese man who only had a French dictionary. This is one of those special links, truly a pleasure rare. The word lists tend to reveal hidden connections after contemplation, like Zen koans:

    Parties a Town.
    The butchery      The low eating house
    The cause-way     The obelis-ks
    The sink        The prison, geol
    On the church.
    The sides of the nef    The little cellar
    The holywater-pot   The boby of the church
    A fine        To break upon
    Honourable fine    To tear off the flesh
        To draw to four horses.

    And there is real pathos in this short dialogue about the weather.

    We shall have a fine weather to day.
    There is some foggy.
    I fear of the thunderbolt.
    The sun rise on.
    The sun lie down.
    It is light moon's.


    moloch discount

    Wednesday, Marlowe declaimed:


    I saw the best mind of my generation destroyed by madness, starving vegetarian fussy, dragging himself down Dubuque to Peyton's at dawn looking for Tylenol PM,

    Who cowered unshaven in his tightie-whities, burning post-it note novel outlines in wastebaskets, listening to Aimee Phan and Julia Fierro through the wall,

    Who talked rapidly in workshop, leaning forward with two fingers pressed to his temple,

    Who howled on his knees at aloof agents in Dey House and was dragged off by Connie, waving diminutive genitals and elephantine manuscripts,

    Ah, Paul, you are not published and I am not published—but you ran through the icy streets of Iowa City with nasal snuff and a brandy snifter, and you match me shot for shot when we drink whiskey, although I outweigh you by 100 pounds.


    What place of wainscoting bashed open his skull and ate up Paul's metameat?

    Workshop! Where Ethan mooed of Mad Cow until Paul ate tofu!

    Workshop! Where Vu flipped him the bird repeatedly in Chris Offutt's class and was only once busted for it!

    Workshop! Whose name is Frank!

    Workshop! Where we moan for Steve Patterson's rum cake, and drink Bloody Marys with Tangeman and Emmons!

    Epiphanies! Space Breaks! Critiques! Present Tense First Person Omniscient!

    Meaning! Sense! Clarity!


    Paul Kerschen! We are with you in Iowa

    where it will be very fucking cold in about a month

    We are with you at Workshop

    where we're all writers on the same dreadful typewriter

    We're with you on-line

    where you posted a new story by Beth Wetmore today at owl dash farm dot com and where, in the never-ending darkness of night, you diligently search for high-quality porn

    Paul! Now we are with you, at the Mill

    where you will read us a well-crafted narrative

    Writers, Poets, Civilians: Paul Kerschen.



    Yesterday my mother sends me a job opportunity that looks nearly ideal. Literature/creative writing teaching position at Fresno Pacific University: MFA sufficient, half-time w/ health and retirement benefits, requires dedication to literature and writing and critical theory, etc. The only catch is that I would have to join the Mennonites.

    Today I have two newspaper articles to connote life in Iowa. The first, courtesy of Justin, announces the university's dis on Snoop Dogg. "I would imagine such a concert would draw quite a few undesirables from various cities," sez Chuck Green, assistant VP for Public Safety, "and probably quite a few gangbangers with weapons on them or in their vehicles." As Justin points out, what gangbangers? I guess the university was worried that the concert might bring together all five of Iowa City's black people, and then Lord only knows.

    And here's an article from last week's Press-Citizen, which I swear to God could have come from the Onion. Round here Al Gore's visit to Prairie Lights makes the front page.

    Gore, accompanied by Rep. Dick Myers, D-Iowa City, popped in Prairie Lights at about 2:30 p.m. and stayed some 30 minutes, [employee Paul] Ingram said.

    "He had coffee," said bookstore owner Jim Harris.


    "I said, 'I bet you're glad you're not president now,'" Ingram said, alluding to the deadly Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

    "He refused to say anything. I don't think he liked that question," Ingram said.


    the medusa v. the odalisque

    I could not have asked for a better reading last night. Marlowe's introduction was a takeoff on "Howl" which I really ought to post here if I can get a copy, though it won't be the same without the beret and the turtleneck and the whiskey and cigarettes and hand percussion. I was fortunate in that a) the story I read was short so nobody got bored, and b) I'd just done a tune-up to send it to magazines, so I was familiar with the prose. Reading it was like reentering a comfortable room. I haven't felt this good about something since that play I wrote two years ago.

    And then we walked a few blocks to see Nickel Bag of Funk (Justin Feinstein: percussion), who seem to get better every time they play. The bassist can rap like Dre, which is just weird. And I went home and swallowed some melatonin, which worked like a charm though I know it's all controversial and I'd be leery of extended use.

    Speech gene! Speech gene! Chalk one up for generative grammar. I feel sorry for the British family unable to inflect verbs, though; it sounds like a Monty Python skit.


    gathering the bones together

    I tried to do without the Tylenol PM last night, on the grounds that it gave me a weird hangover yesterday and I spent much of Frank Conroy's class trying to keep the room from spinning. No go. My body will not sleep unless it's daylight out. This might be because I am seriously afraid of the dark, so that I can't go to sleep at night because I don't trust the sun to come up, and only once I see that it's light out and objects have reemerged from the void can I safely surrender consciousness. This happens around 7:30 a.m. But then I miss all the nice sunshine during the day, and I need the nice sunshine. Tonight I will try melatonin. It's natural.

    We got our MFA final exams yesterday. They're due in a month. Here's a sample question:

    Please give your assessment of the current state of literary culture in the United States. What books if any will be read by subsequent generations? Why?

    Hot diggity! If there was ever an excuse to pontificate. And they even said "please."

    This evening I am giving a reading at a bar (Talk/Art Cabaret Night at the Mill, 120 E. Burlington). Some autobiographical melodrama.



    Thanks to Peyton for the Tylenol PM, which made all the bad thoughts go away, at least for 11 hours.

    On a tip, I called 1-800-555-8355 to hear the perkiest recorded voice ever.

    Felisa would like everyone to know that an arse-kicking is for sale on eBay; yes, people have bid. It's up to $1.25 now, plus airfare and expenses.

    Grumpy Doug picks Hemingway as a hero, pointing out that "if Adam had been made of the same stuff, the world would be a very, very different place." My guess is that he would have kept the extra rib and used it to hack his way through the larger wildlife in the Garden.

    The Amazon listmania thing usually irritates the hell out of me, but this one is cute.

    Thank you. How grand we are this morning.


    salaam aleikum

    Today is another wake at 4:00 a.m. day. The weirdness behind all things is becoming apparent.

    Re: heroes, y'all are shy. Susan mentions William James, aimless polymath who arrived at his groundbreaking psychology work late in life.

    So we started reading Junichiro Tanizaki's The Makioka Sisters and I thought yeah, family saga, not bad, ought to finish sometime. Then we opened Seven Japanese Tales and I mean holy fuck. These are ominous as hell. It doesn't get any better.

    New shit at the Owl Farm (photos from Karachi). And this New York Times piece about Pakistani-Americans in Illinois is a heartbreaker:

    The wispy girl with the chocolate-drop eyes piled the plastic blocks one atop another—red and blue and yellow and green—until the tower on the coffee table rose above her head, beyond the reach of her little arms. Then she picked up a toy plane and crashed it into a high story, toppling the tower onto the rug.

    "What's going to happen to the people?" the girl, Aisha Saqib, 8, said as she rolled the tiny figures on the floor. "They're going to go down. And they're running, and they're running, and they're safe."


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