Thursday, April 30, 2009

Thanks, Grinnellians! ... Leviathan


Friends at Grinnell College . . . thanks for hosting me for a poetry reading in the Writers@Grinnell series there this evening.

Honestly, you were the best audience I've had in quite a long time. I felt very welcomed. And I felt a synergy among us that really enlivened my performance. So thanks! From the bottom of my heart. I know that's a cliché but my gratitude is certainly heartfelt.

Gratitude and props to Dr. Carolyn Jacobson for coordinating the evening, providing great publicity, and giving such a generous introduction. And many thanks also to Dr. Shuchi Kapila, English department head, for your hospitality.


And thanks also to my daughter Amanda for a truly lovely visit. It was a genuine treat for your old man to give a reading at your school. I love you, hon! Congratulations on your last semester at Grinnell.

Here's the new, one-day-old poem I read tonight. (Terza rima in pentameter, if you're into such esoterica.)

Leviathan


My friend Janine has a tiny terra cotta
serpent made of arches, loops of red
fire-hardened clay. When you set up

the curves in a row, a line on an obsid-
ian table-top, let's say, or any other
shiny surface, water-like, what you get

is an illusion, mirage, fantasy — a dotted
stitch sewn by your eyes: four small arcs,
at one end (rising) the head of a velociraptor,

at the other (diving) the tail of a rattlesnake.
On this coffee table of dark stone, a mirror
clouded by years of creosote mist, Loch

Ness breached by mesozoic shimmer,
coils of a beast that should have been long dead.
St. George, England's patron . . . it was him or

this monster, devil-vermilion-scaled ophid-
ian champion. Chalk one up for good Sir George.
Or is this Quetzalcoatl? Feathered god

dipping in and out of clouds, a large
pterodactyl-winged, emerald-eyed
messiah. Or Poseidon’s messenger, the huge

sea-snake sent to devour Andromeda,
killed by Perseus, conquistador of the Gorgon.
Whose hair was made of small snakes, dread-

locks each exactly like these curls of auburn.
The sea-dwelling Orc the hippogriff-riding
Ruggiero bested to save Angelica. The Kraken.

The Basilisk. The Wyrm. Treasure-heaping
Wyvern: Grendel’s cousin, Beowulf’s fate.
Geryon, snake with scorpion tail, winging

Dante downward into abyss. Bahamut.
The Giant Anaconda. Ouroboros.
Dragon, dragon, dragon. But no, it’s not

like that. It’s just a little hocus-pocus,
a parlor trick. Just a sea serpent
of brick-red, kiln-fired curlicues.

And yet, she must also be a Titan
somehow. Somewhere inside the terra cotta
smoulders a small flame of a Leviathan.

— Vince Gotera
       
Parking Lot Border
Florida State University
 

Quetzalcoatl
(www.ravenmedium.com)
Constellation diagram,
Cetus the Sea Snake
(sent by Poseidon to eat
the maiden Andromeda).
From Chandra Observatory.

Ruggiero saving Angelica
from the Orc sea serpent
(
Orlando Furioso by
Ludovico Ariosto [1516],
art by Gustave Doré,
from Wikipedia.)

I wrote this poem as a response to Robert Lee Brewer's Poem-a-Day Challenge for National Poetry Month, in his Poetic Asides blog sponsored by Writer's Digest. During the month of April, Robert issued a prompt each day, accompanied by a sample poem he had written from that prompt. This poem was inspired by a prompt to write an animal poem. In "Leviathan," I have ranged freely, pretty loose and easy, with a coterie of legendary or literary animals that fall within the general herd of sea serpent/dragon/reptile/amphibian/dinosaur/snake.

While the topic may be loosey-goosey, the craft is tight: roughed-up pentameter with terza rima (aba bcb cdc . . .), often slant rhymed, sometimes distantly. Pentameter: the BAS- | il-ISK | the WYRM | TREAS-ure | HEAP-ing  (line 28) /   WY-vern | GREN-del's | COUS-in | BE-o- | wulf's FATE  (line 29). Terza Rima (starting at line 8): arcs / rattlesnake / Loch //  mirror / shimmer / him or //  dead / ophid- / god //  etc. Then the middle rhyme word cotta in the last stanza is grouped with the a rhyme at the top: cotta and set up. Fun, eh?

In any case, back to the reading at Grinnell College: here are a couple of photos, courtesy of Molly McArdle. Thanks again for a magical evening, everyone!





     

Vince Gotera's poetry reading
Writers@Grinnell reading series
Grinnell College, 30 April 2009


Photos by Molly McArdle

Oh, also, a couple of students bought Ghost Wars but didn't ask for them to be signed. Yes, they were already pre-signed, but if you like I can sign them more personally. Just tell Amanda. Quite easy to arrange.


Added 1 April 2012:  I just found out that "Leviathan" was published by the University of Iowa's arts and writing website, The Daily Palette. Quite fitting I found that out today because I'm now taking up again Robert Lee Brewer's poem-a-day challenge, as part of National Poetry Month, 2012. Hope I end up again this time with a poem as lovely and lucky as "Leviathan." Take care, everyone.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pause for the Cause (6.0) ... Bertram's Blog, Grinnell College, and eBay


I have the honor today of being a guest blogger at Bertram's Blog, novelist Pat Bertram's helpful compendium of advice and how-to's for writers. Thanks for the opportunity, Pat.

My article today on Bertram's Blog is titled "Submitting to Literary Magazines 101: Professionalism." It is the first of a set of articles I will be writing for Pat Bertram based on my experience as a poetry editor at the North American Review as well as at other magazines. The purpose of these articles is to help make it easier for you to get your poems (and other writing) published. The basic question of these articles: how might you be hurting your chances of getting published by not knowing the "unwritten rules" of submitting your work?

Sometime in the next couple of days, I will host an article by Pat Bertram on promoting one's books. I'm looking forward to that. It's the first time I will have a guest blogger on The Man with the Blue Guitar.

Tomorrow (Thursday, 4/30), I will be visiting Grinnell College to give a poetry reading as part of the "Writers@Grinnell" reading series. For more on that event, check out the college's website, which has my blue smurfy mug gracing it today.

This reading is truly a treat for me because my oldest daughter Amanda is a student at Grinnell College. She is in her senior year and will be graduating from Grinnell in the next few weeks. I am truly glad to have the distinction of giving a reading at Grinnell College while she is still a student there.

Also, do you remember that hilarious eBay auction selling Michael Martone's leftover water that I featured on April 4? The entire text of that auction listing is now available in that post. All eBay auctions expire after 90 days . . . meaning they disappear from the eBay site. But, with the permission of Martone-water seller madcabre, The Man with the Blue Guitar has the honor of hosting that auction text forevermore, so that it will be available to Michael Martone's fans from now till Judgement Day.

Why don't you take a look at that auction text now? The clever and fun questions and answers alone are more than worth the price of admission!

Okay, friends, that's all for today's "Pause for the Cause." I hope you are having a great "hump day." Don't forget to watch the 100th episode of the TV show Lost later tonight. The most intelligent TV show ever!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Cutlass Supreme Tour ... Shaindel Beers - A Brief History of Time



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Hello, friends! This is the seventh stop — the middle one — in Shaindel Beers's 13-stage tour of the blogosphere in celebration of her 2009 book A Brief History of Time. Come "downstairs" (that is, scroll down) and join us; Shaindel and I are discussing forms, specifically sestinas, in her brilliant new collection. I've included, directly below, the main poem we will address, titled "Why It Almost Never Ends with Stripping." Enjoy the interview! And do respond with comments below, please.  —VG




Why It Almost Never Ends with Stripping


You start out doing it for the bucks —
more than you'd ever imagined,
enough, at first, to make up for the rest
of the shit that comes along with the job —
the groping despite the "No Touching" sign,
the bastards who bring in straight girls to con-

vince them they're bi, the girls nervous and con-
tinously fidgeting, while cash —
sweat-stained tens — shake in their hands, signaling  
you over to dance while they imagine
themselves anywhere but there. "It's a job,"
you tell yourself, you’ll just hold out the rest

of the summer. But you realize the rest
of the girls said the same thing, and they've con-
templated quitting for years, give blowjobs
in the back for fucking crazy money.
You don’t want to be them but imagine
living the way they do, see them signing

five-figure checks on shopping sprees, signing
feature dancer contracts at clubs. You wrest
with the fact that girls who have the image
of putting out make ten times more. Buy con-
doms. Keep them on you just in case. The sugar's
pouring in — you're only giving handjobs.

You hear what you can make at outside jobs
doing bachelor parties, you're signing
on for three most weekends, making it
hand over fist, stripping at clubs the rest
of the week. The girl who dances as Con-
suela Cummings says she can imagine

you being “the next big thing. Imagine
your picture on boxes — Not just a job,
a career!” You read over the contract —
mark Xs for things you'll do, or not, sign
on the line — $5k if you check the rest —
anal, gangbang, scat bring in the greenbacks.

These days you don’t read contracts, you just sign
to compete with the rest of the gravy-
starved girls who try to imagine it's just a job.








VG: Shaindel, as I was reading A Brief History of Time, I became interested in your use of traditional forms — the villanelle, sonnet, ghazal, sestina. To start off, could you very briefly define the sestina for readers who may not know the form? Then, could you please define your take on what a sestina is and can be for a poet? What opportunities does it offer the writer to connect with readers that other forms, including free verse, may not?

SB: It's funny that you're the one asking me this because every time I've ever written a sestina, I've had your Craft of Poetry website open in front of me. The sestina is a 39-line poem, which consists of six six-line stanzas (called sestets) and a three-line envoi. Where the fun comes in is that the six stanzas all have the same end words, which are repeated in a mathematical order. The end words, which we will call 1 2 3 4 5 6 in the first stanza, keep repeating in the order 6 1 5 2 4 3 in each subsequent stanza. Each stanza takes the end words from the stanza before in that 6 1 5 2 4 3 order, so that the sixth end word in the second stanza becomes the first end word in the third stanza, and so on. The three-line envoi must have three of the end words in the middle of each line and three at the end, so that all six end words appear in the envoi. And last, but certainly not least, the sestina really should be written in iambic pentameter.

VG: Wow, that's really interesting. I'm glad that little website has been a help to poets. To be honest, though, when I write a sestina, I don't really do that iambic pentameter thing. You know, maybe I never did, ha ha.

SB: I think the sestina is a fabulous form. It sounds impossible at first, but it's really a great challenge. When I sit down to write a sestina, I actually feel an adrenaline rush. It's something about the "problem-solving" aspect of it. I write out the end-words in order on my paper beforehand (though now I've discovered an online form that does it for you), and I get to work with those six end words just waiting for me all down the page. I think I've always written the first stanza before deciding on the end words to make sure it's going to work. I'm sure I could write a sestina with random end words, but I like feeling like I'm on the right path to start with. And I'm not ashamed to admit, I count the iambic pentameter on my fingers. So, if you see me in a bar or coffeeshop with a notebook, counting on my fingers, now you know I'm up to composing a form poem.

VG: No shame there. Doesn't everyone count meter on their fingers? Or tap it out on the table?

SB: What I like about the sestina is the reassurance of those six end words. You have a frame to build something on. I also like the obsessiveness of the end words; some poems need to be a sestina — for instance, Anthony Hecht's "Sestina d'Inverno," in which two of the end words are "Rochester" and "snow." Anyone who knows Rochester, New York, knows how those two words go together and deserve the repetition throughout this poem. My poem "Moonlight Sestina" describes new love, and one of the end words is "infatuation," which, I thought, worked nicely because what is infatuation but to keep coming back to thoughts of that person again and again and again?

VG: Thanks. How did this particular sestina get started (as a sestina, that is)? Is this the same for all your sestinas? Do you start off saying, "I'm going to write a sestina about _______?" Or do you start off with a character or image or scene or topic and then find out as you're writing that the poem wants to be a sestina?

SB: I think this particular sestina got started as me wanting to write a sestina about what seemed like the least likely topic for me to write a sestina about, and I came up with the adult entertainment industry. But then I realized the cyclic nature of the industry and how people get into it and can't get out of it, and it seemed the most perfect form to write the poem in.

I think some poems seem to come to me wanting to be sestinas. Even the title, "Why It Almost Never Ends with Stripping" is in pentameter. It was meant to be.

VG: Wow, you're serious about that pentameter thing. Good for you.

SB: I think I have one unfinished sestina that I need to get back to, and I think that it went unfinished just because I had too many other things going on, and I couldn't (or didn't) give it the attention it deserved.

VG: The world waits for that sestina!

Okay, moving on. In terms of craft, how does
this sestina work? How did you choose the words? (For example, what led you to that genius "con-" repeton?) What innovations are you making on the form here? I did notice you often do something hip and new at the ends of your form poems: your 14+1 tailed sonnet, your ghazal with the nonstandard ending, the sestina where in the envoi you change a repeton to plural to both hide the word and expand the meaning — fun stuff.

SB: To be honest, this was a much more standard sestina originally. I mean, I've always played with form — I had the syllable "con" because I wanted to play with enjambment and other elements like that and open the form up a bit. I think it's important to look at things the New Formalists did to make form more interesting. I think we've all seen some pretty wretched form poetry from the past — which was really beautiful for what they were writing then, but no one outside of a boy band needs to rhyme words like "love" and "above" or whatnot today. The big change that opened this poem up (to me) was that Hunger Mountain was doing an issue on "appropriated form," and I sent in tons of poems, and I didn't know how much the form needed to be "played with" in order for the poem to be considered an "appropriated" form poem. Roger Weingarten emailed and asked if I would consider changing the end word "money" to a synonym in each stanza, and it worked beautifully. Something about that one end word changing makes the obsession with money seem even more real — like, no matter what you call it, it's all the same thing, and you can fall into a trap of doing almost anything to get more of it. I later learned that the syllable "con" is French slang for "prick," which I thought worked well, considering the nature of the poem and that the sestina is originally a French form. That was one of the "happy accidents" involved in this poem.

VG: You know usually I don't cotton to that synonym-as-repeton device. I'm pretty insistent about alterations happening with rich consonance. And I'm talking here as both a teacher and an editor. I would very rarely publish a sestina in the North American Review that relied on synonyms for repeton change. But I would certainly have published yours hand down if you had submitted it to the NAR.

Okay, Shaindel. So far my questions have been craft-oriented. Let's try something a bit more personal. Could you tell me what this particular poem means? Also, what do you envision this poem "doing" out in the big bad world?


SB: This poem is really important to me because I think it's one of the first poems I wrote that I wanted to "do something." I mean, we all want our poems to connect with people, but I wanted this poem to change one particular person's life and, on various levels, to inspire social change. I had a friend who I met when she was in law school and I was an adjunct college instructor, and she started doing what many young women do — stripping to work her way through school, but what was shocking to me was how quickly everything in her life deteriorated. She went into this downward spiral of drugs, pornography, and prostitution, and it seemed to come out of nowhere to the point that it was unbelievable. I'm sure that many, many people's lives don't fall apart this way, but hers did. And I'm aware that she had factors in her life that may have predisposed her to this kind of meltdown (in case anyone tries to say that I'm generalizing and emails me with their testimonial of their perfectly happy life in adult entertainment). But I came to know friends of hers who had the same sort of life. One of the girls contacted me after a roommate of theirs was found dead from a drug overdose in their apartment, and I told her, "You have to get out of there," meaning that crowd, that whole lifestyle. I really felt like that was the path a lot of these young women were on. One of them was raped in the VIP/private party room of a club, some of them were set up by police officers who tried to bust them on drug charges but were really trying to extort sex from them — all kinds of horrible things happened to them. And no one seemed to care. And they seemed to know that no one would believe them; they just looked at some of these things as the way it was.

I'm not in contact any more with the original friend who was in law school because things spiraled out of control in ways that made me feel I had to cut contact with her. I did hear from a cousin of hers who thanked me for writing the poem and told me the poem had kept her from following in her cousin's footsteps. One of the girls told me she reads the poem whenever she thinks of going back. And I completely understand the temptation. It's hard for me to imagine someone calling me and offering to fly me in to a club and pay me a few thousand dollars for a weekend of work and me turning that down, but that's what my one friend has been doing, and I'm so proud of her. She's staying in school and working as a server at a restaurant and sticking with it all so that she doesn't lose control again. I don't know if I would have that kind of strength, if I had had all of that money available to me, to leave it behind.

I think this poem has done a lot of good already, and I hope it keeps doing more. Whether or not it helps more girls decide to get out of that lifestyle or keeps others from going in, I hope it makes people think. I hope it makes people be less judgmental toward adult entertainers, and I hope it makes people who are consumers of adult entertainment think of the women in it as people, not objects. It's definitely one of my most "talked about" poems; I know that Carolyne Wright teaches it at Seattle University and other college instructors have contacted me to tell me that they're teaching it in various classes. In another interview, I mentioned that I wanted to write poems that are "important, not just good," and I feel like this is one of those.

VG: I'll be teaching it too, Shaindel. May many more poems like this one come to you. Brava.

Now my last question. Though actually "each" of my questions above has been made up 2, 3, or more questions, huh. Sorry about that! Okay, here goes. What is your "personal relationship" to form (other than free verse, of course). Will you continue, do you think, to work with rhyme, meter, and inherited forms? Why? Or why not?


SB: I think being able to write well in form is an important skill. There's something to what Frost said comparing free verse poetry to playing tennis without a net. I write more free verse than anything else, but I think that form is part of the tradition. Even if we don't use it every day, it's nice as poets to have it at our disposal. Why would you turn down having more tools in your toolbox?

I hope to continue working with form because I feel like it works a different part of my brain; it's almost mathematical. Sometimes, getting the right number of syllables or the right end word is just like solving for x. I want to get better at villanelles. I don't think I've written a successful one yet (though there is one in my book). I want to try a double sestina (though I still need to look up exactly what that is). I've never even tried a pantoum or terzanelle. There's definitely still a lot out there to try. Why not just go for it?

VG: I haven't been brave enough to try a double sestina. Instead of six words, you have twelve. So twelve 12-line stanzas and a 6-line envoi, blah blah. Denise Duhamel wrote a great one called "Incest Taboo" that's just tremendous. It's in her book Two by Two. In an interview she says something like, when she first learned about double sestinas, she wrote six or seven in a row. Good God. I'd be lucky to finish one in my whole life!

Shaindel, thanks for
such a lovely interview. I hope this sells lots and lots of copies of A Brief History of Time. It was a lot of fun!

SB: You're welcome. It's a pleasure to finally "meet" the developer of the Craft of Poetry website, which made all of my sestinas possible, and to have such an in-depth discussion on form. Take care!




Friends, thanks for joining us. Do purchase your own copy of A Brief History of Time, either direct from Salt Publishing or from Amazon. Would you also please leave a comment down below? Thanks.

Oh, about the fetching "country girl" picture above, which I snagged off her Facebook, Shaindel said:
"I'm fishing for steelhead in the Deschutes River in Oregon, and I'm wearing a Where the Coho Flash Silver concert shirt from Tom Rawson, the folksinger. If you catch a fish wearing one of his shirts, he puts you on his website. My husband Lee took this picture, totally candid. He called my name, and I looked back, and he snapped it."
Simply lovely, don't you think? Clearly a woman who's enchanted with her cameraman.

Happy Earth Day, everyone!



Friday, April 17, 2009

VidPo (1.0) - "Maybe Dats Your Pwoblem Too" by Jim Hall


Today we have a poetry video in which I perform my favorite poem of all time, "Maybe Dats Youwr Pwoblem Too" by Jim Hall.




Maybe Dats Your Pwoblem Too

— a poem by Jim Hall

All my pwoblems
who knows, maybe evwybody's pwoblems
is due to da fact, due to da awful twuth
dat I am SPIDERMAN.

I know, I know. All da dumb jokes:
No flies on you, ha ha,
and da ones about what do I do wit all
doze extwa legs in bed. Well, dat's funny yeah.
But you twy being
SPIDERMAN for a month or two. Go ahead.

You get doze cwazy calls fwom da
Gubbener askin you to twap some booglar who's
only twying to wip off color T.V. sets.
Now, what do I cawre about T.V. sets?
But I pull on da suit, da stinkin suit,
wit da sucker cups on da fingers,
and get my wopes and wittle bundle of
equipment and den I go flying like cwazy
acwoss da town fwom woof top to woof top.

Till der he is. Some poor dumb color T.V. slob
and I fall on him and we westle a widdle
until I get him all woped. So big deal.

You tink when you SPIDERMAN
der's sometin big going to happen to you.
Well, I tell you what. It don't happen dat way.
Nuttin happens. Gubbener calls, I go.
Bwing him to powice, Gubbener calls again,
like dat over and over.

I tink I twy sometin diffunt. I tink I twy
sometin excitin like wacing cawrs. Sometin to make
my heart beat at a difwent wate.
But den you just can't quit being sometin like
SPIDERMAN.
You SPIDERMAN for life. Fowever. I can't even
buin my suit. It won't buin. It's fwame wesistent.
So maybe dat's youwr pwoblem too, who knows.
Maybe dat's da whole pwoblem wif evwytin.
Nobody can buin der suits, dey all fwame wesistent.
Who knows?

Jim Hall is most well-known as the bestselling, award-winning mystery writer James W. Hall. His 15 mystery novels include, most recently, Hell's Bay, Magic City, and Forests of the Night. Perhaps my favorite book of Hall's is his collection of humorous essays, Hot Damn: Alligators in the Casino, Nude Women in the Grass, How Seashells Changed the Course of History, and Other Dispatches from Paradise. According to his website, Hall's "books have been translated into a dozen languages, including Japanese, Swedish, Spanish, Italian, French, German, Portuguese, Romanian, Croatian, Dutch and Russian." He is also "the author of four books of poetry, The Lady from the Dark Green Hills, Ham Operator, False Statements, and The Mating Reflex [as well as] a collection of short stories, Paper Products." The poem "Maybe Dats Your Pwoblem Too" appeared first in the Beloit Poetry Journal and later in Jim's 1980 poetry collection The Mating Reflex.

NOTE: I suppose you've noticed that in my performance I changed "color T.V." to "HD T.V." It just seemed to need updating. I hope Jim is okay with this change, which I made to help the poem work better for a contemporary audience. Actor's prerogative, you know? Maybe this will elicit some good discussion in classes wherever about what can be changed in a text, and so on.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

VisPo (1.0) - "Immigrants" by Ren Powell


I'm starting something new today. I'm going to make The Man with the Blue Guitar, among the many things it already does, a showcase for Visual Poetry. And by "showcase" I mean not just my poems but the poems of other people.

Okay, the debut VisPo video is Ren Powell's "Immigrants."




Immigrants

A poem by Ren Powell

There are fish swimming just above my ceiling
under the feet of the tenants on the second floor
I can hear them swirling the water
with each thrust of a fin, with each
slap of a gill, I can guess they aren't big
probably the size of pennies
copper, green and orange
but making a lot of noise
And sometimes the tenants upstairs
clog in Appalachian fashion
and the fish get really pissed-off
and whisk up a buzz about it — to each other
but I can hear them.
They say, "Jesus Christ,
I can't believe I left the Amazon
for this."

From Powell's Thanks for the Cornflakes,
a bilingual book forthcoming from
Wigestrand Publishers in Norway.

Ren Powell is "a writer, translator and poet — a native Californian living on the west coast of Norway since 1992. She is the author of three full collections of poetry and has eleven books of translation to her credit. Her own poetry has been translated and published in six languages" (http://www.renpowell.com). Part of what makes this poem fascinating is the fact that Ren Powell is herself an immigrant. Check out Ren's website to learn about her work in human rights and social justice.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Pause for the Cause (5.0) ... Suite101




Suite101.com has published an interview with me, thanks to Linda Sue Grimes, Suite101's poetry guru, who graciously invited me and then guided our conversation. Interestingly, she conducted the interview completely within Facebook. Many thanks, Linda Sue!

Also, do browse through the good stuff at Suite101, a leading online magazine and anthology of articles on the arts, literature, writing, and a plethora of wide-ranging topics: food, music, business, education, health, science, sports, technology, travel, and on and on.

You poetry enthusiasts out there may find it interesting that Linda Sue Grimes's Suite101 articles use the spelling "rime" rather than "rhyme" — she has a fascinating article explaining her reasons for this preference. I would be interested to hear what all y'all think about the question of "rime" vs. "rhyme." Please read Linda Sue's article on the topic and then weigh in with a comment below.

Oh, and of course, if you have remarks about the interview, do share those in a comment as well. Thanks, everyone!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Pause for the Cause (4.0) ... Fiera Lingue


Friends, some poems of mine were recently (re)printed by Anny Ballardini in the Poets' Corner of the Fiera Lingue literary website from Italy.

Four titles: two poems on Filipino American subjects, titled "Organist and Butterfly" and "Swimmers"; and two other poems, "Letter to Hugo from Indigo Farm" and "In Your Gifted Dream," which form a tribute to the poet Richard Hugo, imitating the letter- and dream-poem format in his book 31 Letters and 13 Dreams.

I am honored and delighted to be in the company of the fine poets featured by Fiera Lingue. Grazie, Anny!

Check out the homepage of the Poets' Corner at Fiera Lingue as well as Anny's personal blog Narcissus Works. They are both wonderful websites on contemporary literature across the world. Fiera Lingue, for example, has sub-sections that are pertain to literature in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, and Italian, all with different content. Amazing. Check it out!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

In his Inky Apron, My Father Smiles


Over the last couple of weeks, I have been posting and commenting on my poems reprinted by editor Shawn Wong in the 1996 textbook Asian American Literature. The immediate occasion for these blog posts, as I have mentioned previously, is that I was contacted through Facebook by members of an Asian American Lit class at the University of Georgia, and we have been discussing these poems online. At about the same time, interestingly, my own Asian American Lit class at the University of Northern Iowa reached these poems in our ongoing course schedule. Here, then, is the last of the five poems from Shawn Wong's textbook:

Dance of the Letters


My father, in a 1956 gray suit,
had the jungle in his tie,
a macaw on Kelly green.
But today is Saturday, no briefs
to prepare, and he's in a T-shirt.

I sit on his lap with my ABC
Golden Book,
and he orders the letters
to dance. The A prancing red
as an apple, the E a lumbering elephant,
the C chased by the D while the sly F

is snickering in his russet fur coat.
My mother says my breakthrough
was the M somersaulting into a W.
Not a mouse transformed into a wallaby
at all, but sounds that we can see.

Later, my father trots me out
to the living room like a trained Z.
Not yet four, I read newspaper headlines
out loud for Tito Juanito and Tita Naty
or for anyone who drops in.

Six years later, I am that boy
in a black Giants cap, intertwining orange
letters S and F, carrying my father's
forgotten lunch to the catacombs
of the UCSF Medical Center,

and I love the hallway cool before the swirling
heat from the Print Shop door.
In his inky apron, my father smiles,
but his eyes are tired. The night before,
I pulled the pillow over my head, while he

argued with my mother
till 2 A.M. about that old double bind:
a rule to keep American citizens from
practicing law in the Philippines.
His University of Manila

law degree made useless.
But California's just as bad.
"You can't work in your goddamn
profession stateside either!" he shouts.
"Some land of opportunity."

There in the shimmer of the Print Shop, I can't
understand his bitterness. I savor
the stacatto sounds. He leans
into the noise of huge machines, putting
vowels and consonants into neat stacks.

                            








— Vince Gotera, first appeared in Ploughshares (1989).
Reprinted in Asian American Literature: A Brief
Introduction and Anthology
(1996). Appeared also
in Fighting Kite (2007).

Readers of this poem often say it's about "the making of the artist." Not quite like James Joyce though, I'd say — more like "the making of the artist as a young preschooler." My father did train me for amazing feats, of sorts. He worked with me on the alphabet at age two or three so that I was reading before I was four years old. When I was about six, he decided he would make me into a chess Grandmaster. So every day, we would drill on the chessboard, sometimes for hours. The King's Gambit. The Sicilian Defense. The Ruy Lopez Opening. (I only now learned, via Google, that there's an interesting irony here because the Philippines was named after King Philip not by Magellan, it turns out, but by the Spanish explorer Ruy López de Villalobos. Fancy that. Ruy Lopez. I wonder if my father knew that.)

We would replay famous chess games, such as the 1956 so-called "Game of the Century" in which chess master Donald Byrne lost to 13-year-old Bobby Fischer; as we duplicated the moves in these replayed games, Papa would have me analyze what made each move weak or strong. I suppose Papa was probably glad he taught me to read early, because he had me begin reading chess strategy manuals at this time. We spent a lot of time with endgame puzzles and checkmate tactics. (The only result of this training is that I ultimately lost my love for chess and now play only seldom.)

Back to the poem . . . I have always thought that this poem is not about me (as those who call it a "making of the artist" may assert) but rather about my father. His strong ambition for himself, later deflected to/through me. His dogged andeavors and planning, culminating with earning his law degree. His disappointment at the Philippines enacting a law to prevent American lawyers from practicing there (since Papa was a naturalized US citizen). His even deeper disappointment that he was also not able to be lawyer in his beloved America; to pass the bar in California, he would have had to go back to school, but since he was already a lawyer, he felt that such schooling would be below him. His further bitter disappointments as he worked jobs in the US that he felt were similarly beneath him: selling encyclopedias door-to-door, selling dress shirts at a department store, working as an offset printer running enormous printing presses. (Some of this is also described in the autobiography started on this blog.)

Of his many jobs, the one I remember fondly was when he worked in a print shop. Ten years old, I loved the gigantic machines Papa ran, the sharp smell of the ink, the thunderous noise in the shop when the presses were turning. Probably the only way he could have been more heroic to me was if he ran a bulldozer or earth mover on a construction site.

Needless to say, he was keenly disappointed in himself for not being a lawyer, for having to work under supervisors he felt were intellectually inferior to him, etc. Today though, I gotta say, when I go to a print shop for my work as a magazine editor, all that love for Papa comes flooding back when I smell that ink-laden air, hear the thudding whirr of the presses. I don't think Papa ever knew how much I idolized his printing-press work. Though I suppose, even after the fact, that would not have been sufficient consolation for his workaday suffering.

In terms of craft, nothing much jumps out at me that I haven't already discussed at length vis-à-vis other poems, except for the emphasis here on the letters of the alphabet. Not only in the earlier section when the child speaker is learning the magic of reading, but also the letter-based logo on the ten-year-old child's ball cap, the UCSF of Papa's work (University of California, San Francisco), and the single numeral "2" followed by the letters "A.M." And finally of course, the father's work with letters — vowels and consonants &mdash making Papa a sort of primal man of letters, though he would not have appreciated that complexion in the least.

To round out Papa's story, he eventually did find work that suited him. As I have noted in various posts here, my father was a WWII veteran who had deep concern for veteran's issues. Papa ultimately found an occupation, not just a job, as a Contact Representative for the Veterans Administration; he assisted veterans with all sorts of problems: pensions, health care, service-connected disabilities, etc. Although this was not working with the law, the job was sometimes legalistic, and more importantly Papa felt great satisfaction in being of service to other veterans. So this is a story with a happy ending.

And I bet my father did know about that Ruy Lopez who named the Philippines. Papa was a heck of a smart guy.

NOTE: the graphic above is the cover image from the Wikijunior Animal Alphabet.

Oh, also, there was one small change between the
Ploughshares and textbook version and the one above (same as in Fighting Kite): the earlier "two a.m." was changed to "2 A.M." to coincide with customary usage (numeral with A.M. or P.M. in small caps) as well as to include yet one more single-character entity to match the alphabet letters throughout the poem.

Added 7 April 2009: a slide show of this poem. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Want some H-2-Tone? MARtone, that is.


Check out this eBay auction: Writer Michael Martone's leftover water: Imbibe literary genius (dozens of authors) in one swig!


Go to the auction listing (click on the auction title above, in blue) and read the auction description by water seller madcabre. It's a hoot. Be sure to look at the questions and answers near the bottom of the auction page too. Great literature, I tell you.

Oh, and keep watching this blog post. As the auction continues, I'll be posting more here. And also, when the auction ends, I have permission from madcabre to upload the text into the blog.

Double oh . . . put in a bid! The bids are up to $10.51 right now. This item could be the beginning of your Michael Martone shrine/museum, a sure moneymaker! The auction ends on Monday morning (6 April, 9:22 A.M. PDT). Thanks to writer Dinty Moore for the tip that this historic auction was going on.

Triple oh . . . please be sure and comment below. I really want to know what you think about this whole affair. And if you bid, do tell us if you win. Or if you lose, we want all the juice . . . and your story better hold water. Good luck!



Update on 5 April, with under twelve hours left in the auction: the top bid at the moment is $12.03 (about $1.45 per ounce of Martone backwash). So far, 12 bids have been placed by three bidders — 6***w, h***6, and o***p (identities hidden by eBay behind these code names . . . let's give them handles: 6-draw, Hot-66, and Oglethorp, respectively) — with Hot-66 currently in the lead. Though who knows what potential buyers are lurking in the internet shadows, waiting to bid in the last 10 or 15 waning seconds of the auction? It's very exciting, folks.

Update on 5 April, after the auction has ended: As I thought might happen, a fourth bidder coded as m***d (let's call this one Mandood) came out of the shadows with 4 minutes left in the auction and began to chip away at the price, seeking the maximum bid Hot-66 had placed. It turned out that Hot-66 had authorized a maximum bid of $20.00, and Mandood won with a bid of 50 cents more, with about a minute and a half left in the auction. Too bad Hot-66 wasn't on hand to duke it out with Mandood!

It was an interesting finish, rather like David and Goliath: winner Mandood has a current feedback score of only 1 while runner-up Hot-66 has a score of 56. This means Mandood has only completed 1 eBay transaction in life, compared to the respectable 56 transactions of Hot-66. One wonders how Mandood — presumably an inexprienced newbie — knew to "snipe" (as eBay parlance refers to the action of appearing in the last moments of an auction and outbidding the competition without leaving them time to retaliate). I suppose, though, one could argue that Mandood didn't actually snipe because there was still a minute and a half left for Hot-66 to respond with a higher bid. Evidently Hot-66 had previously decided to go no higher than $20.00. In any case, the winning bid was — ka-ching — $20.50. Sold! (Gavel thump.)

$2.47 per ounce. Assuming that the seller madcabre bathing in the water and gargling it then returning it back to the bottle has added to the liquid volume, we might estimate a slightly lower per-ounce-price of $2.28 (though of course if we are counting only the Martone water, then we still have $2.47 as the final price per ounce). In either case, quite a coup for madcabre, who has not only earned $20.50 for water that would ordinarily have been discarded, but has also gotten a bath and a gargle out of the deal. Which of course means that madcabre has now absorbed many H2O molecules of literary genius(es) both externally and internally. Well done, madcabre!


NOTE: Watch this blog post further . . . it will grow in size and import as I insert the text of the auction page and Q&As over the next few days. Whew, it's been a fascinating auction, folks.

Please comment below. It would be interesting, for example, to find out who the four bidders were, that is, both their actual eBay usernames and their real names in the quotidian realm. Also, who is
madcabre? Muwah hah hah. Whoever you all are, sign in please.

Over and out. For now.



Added on 29 Apr 2009: eBay auctions are left up for only 90 days. In order to make the Martone-water auction available beyond its expiration, seller madcabre and I have agreed that my blog will host his eBay auction text for the enjoyment and edification of Michael Martone fans.




Writer Michael Martone's leftover water
Imbibe literary genius (dozens of authors) in one swig!


Seller: madcabre (140)
eBay item number: 150335870168

Winning bid: US $20.50
Ended: Apr-06-09 09:22:31 PDT

Starting bid: US $0.01
Starting time: Mar-30-09 09:22:31 PDT


Description

You are bidding on approximately 8.3 ounces of Dasani water (plus backwash) in a 20-ounce plastic Dasani bottle (lot number NOV0909 TOC0931L3). This was left by writer Michael Martone on Wednesday, March 25th, 2009, after a reading at Brigham Young University, during which Martone read the "Contributor’s Note" where he talks about his mother writing his school assignments, "G# Minor 7th in the Second Inversion," and "Seventeen Postcards from Terra Incognita."

Why should you want Michael Martone’s leftover water, especially when Elvis’s may come up for bid again? You may recall from one of Martone’s "Contributor’s Notes" that:
"In his role as host of a reading, he is often faced with what to do with the leftover water of his guests ... Martone is left behind to secure the room, coil the microphone cables, clean up, kill the lights. Part of the cleaning up part has always included the disposing of the evening's water. Often the lecture halls and auditoriums are not outfitted with a sink. Indeed, the whole point of the headache of providing water in the first place has been the fact that the hall is not in close proximity to sources of water. So Martone has found that he has fallen into the habit of finishing the water himself, drinking the dregs from the glasses or bottles left by the readers like a priest ingesting the leftover Eucharist at the end of Mass. Martone does this more out of a sense of neatness and order, but, he supposes, there is some of the spirit involved as well. He has witnessed some really amazing performances, listened to the work of famous and remarkably gifted writers. And he has drunk their leftover water. Perhaps a part of him believes some of that talent and skill will find its way into his own metabolism through this communion with greatness. It is a kind of inoculation, by means of this tainted fluid, with the cooties of the greatest. Martone hopes, as he drinks, that its inspirational properties, if not the medicinal ones, have 'taken.'"
So, you’re securing decades' worth of literary genius — "the cooties of the greatest" — all at once, through the cooties of this pioneering collector. Whose DNA might you find swirling in this literary stew? Gordon Lish, Tobias Wolff, Mary Karr, David Foster Wallace, William Gass, Jane Smiley, Lewis Hyde, Susan Dodd, Susan Neville, Tony Early, Louise Gluck, Dean Young, Louise Erdrich, Charles Baxter, AND MORE! Plus, with over eight ounces of the muse-juice, you can pass it around at your next writers’ group meeting and still have liquid to spare. Save it a few years, collect other writers’ backwash, spit in it yourself, resell it on eBay and make your money back, do what you want to do: you bought it; it’s yours.

Whatever you do with it — whether you gulp it down in one swig, savor it a sip at a time, share it with friends, or simply place it as a trophy on your writing desk — you may be assured of immediate inspiration and better literary output, followed by fame and adulation, and most likely a hefty advance on your next book, not to mention the royalties from the movie version, starring Sean Penn and Winona Ryder.*

In addition to this priceless H2O, the winning bidder will also receive a handwritten Postcard of Authenticity from Michael Martone congratulating him/her on his/her wise investment and certifying that the leftover water is indeed Martone's.

*Results may vary; seller makes no guarantee, expressed or implied, of literary potion’s actual effectiveness at making your writing better.



Questions & Answers

Q:Does Martone floss? (Apr-01-09)
A:Allow me, instead, to answer the questions I think you're really asking: 1) Did Martone floss soon before drinking, thereby limiting the quantity of valuable food morsels floating in the water? A: No, he did not. The water is sufficiently infested. 2) Why is flossing important? A: If you're like me, then you may floss occasionally, when you remember and aren't too tired, without much gusto. But hear ye my sad tale: Now I've got "deep pockets"— and not the kind that begets prodigal spending — which means "deep cleaning" from the dentist, which hurts, and requires quarterly instead of biannual visits, which most insurance companies won't quite cover, which does some damage to those "shallow pockets" most writers have, which brings up this interesting note from the dictionary — "floss: v. intr. to flirt; to show off, esp. (in later use) by flaunting one's wealth, possessions, etc." — a thing Michael Martone most certainly does not do.
Q:I'd like to inquire about the safety of this product ... has Martone been tested for Insanity and other transmittable mental conditions? (Apr-01-09)
A:You are hoping, perhaps, to catch some of what he has? Some of that "benign neurosis" (to borrow a phrase from George Higgins) called "writing"? That's understandable. It is, after all, a rare individual who will hole up for hours, conversing only with himself, spinning stories and ideas from gossamer words, lining them up neatly (or putting them in a cage to fight to the death), straining for communication. If at the microscopic level our atoms never quite touch, then maybe words and diseases are all we have to reach one another.
Q:Are there any visible signs of Martone's interaction with the water bottle (floating particles, teethmarks on the cap from opening it, etc.)? (Apr-02-09)
A:I submit into evidence the video stills of Martone drinking from this very bottle of water. From that point to now, I will submit my own spotless record of honesty and truth-telling, even down to my choice of literary genre. Dr. Martone has also agreed to send to the winner a handwritten Postcard of Authenticity suitable for framing or recycling. Of course, you are free to hire your own forensics expert to verify the water bottle's authenticity. Next time you see Martone, simply pluck one of his long gray hairs to get your DNA match. As for the other writers whose germs are also likely swimming in this swill, you'll simply have to believe Martone. We do.
Q:Hello, madcabre ... (though I wonder who you are). This is Vince Gotera, editor of the North American Review. Michael Martone is one of the NAR's contributing editors, so we are very interested in your auction. ;-D But I'm really writing because I wondered if I could import your eBay auction text, pictures, and Q&As into my blog? http://vincegotera.blogspot.com As you know, after 90 days your auction will go poof, so I'm offering eternal access by Michael's fans (and yours) to your wonderful joke/spoof/moneymaking scheme. Possible? —Vince (Apr-03-09)
A:Hello Vince! Of course. That sounds like a wonderful plan. We're fans of the North American Review here in Utah, and we're all for cyberimmortality!
Q:Would it be possible for Martone to personalize the Postcard of Authenticity? (Apr-04-09)
A:Ooh yeah. It's a handwritten postcard from Michael Martone telling you A) that the water is authentic; B) that you're awesome; C) don't drink it all now; save some for later.
Q:How will you ship this leftover water of Michael Martone? Will certain precautions be taken, it being not just water, which is, speaking from personal experience, tricky enough to ship, but also a unique collector's item? Thank you for your time. (Apr-04-09)
A:In order to keep would-be mail thieves off the trail of this valuable and unique collector's item/literary potency potion, I will mail the bottle, padded by Styrofoam(TM) "peanuts" or bubble wrap, in an inconspicuous corrugated cardboard box of indeterminate dimensions. Contrarily, I am happy to simply spill the water in a major river upstream from you, at a preappointed time, or to simply leave the bottle uncapped outside in the sun for several days so the water evaporates and rejoins the Great Cycle of Life, to then rain down and bless the earth and her inhabitants with deeply moving ideas and inspirations (I'll have to charge a little extra to do my rain dance to make the winds blow the clouds from Utah toward your home).
Q:What color is the water? (Apr-04-09)
A:Color, when understood beyond the 64-variety Crayola box, is essentially the eye- brain's perception of a certain wavelength range of electromagnetic radiation (approx. 390-730 nm), which we call visible light. An object's color, then, basically consists of the wavelengths of light that it reflects or transmits (as opposed to absorbs). Other factors, such as viewing angle, reflectiveness, source-light, etc. can also influence color perception. In the case of water, small amounts, such as the approximately 8.3 ounces offered here for auction, tend to be viewed as "clear." Yet, as you no doubt remember from your high school physics course, water tends to absorb the longer wavelengths of light (the red end of the visible spectrum) while allowing the shorter wavelengths (blues) to pass through. This effect is enhanced by particulates suspended or dissolved in the water. Water may also reflect ambient light (from the sky, the table it's placed upon), thus offering the curious viewer a soothing spectrum of grays or browns. I highly recommend viewing your Michael Martone Water in a variety of settings and under a variety of circumstances. Perhaps the most rewarding would be this: place a shining flashlight horizontally in a darkened room. Face the same direction as your flashlight beam, a few steps to the side. Hold your Michael Martone water at arm's length in front of you at a 45-degree angle. Turn the bottle, tilt it a little this way, a little that way, raise it, lower it, to find the optimal viewing position. Soon you should see, on the right side of the water, a red sliver; soon you will recognize the rainbow! And thus we see that Michael Martone's leftover water is all colors.
Q:I have seen the pictures of Michael Martone you have posted. How can I be sure that the Michael Martone who gave the reading was the Michael Martone who wrote the book Michael Martone? Does the Michael Martone who will write the postcard of authenticity of the water come with any kind of certificate that he is indeed Michael Martone or the Michael Martone? (Apr-04-09)
A:"But how do I know that there is not something different altogether from the objects I have now enumerated, of which it is impossible to entertain the slightest doubt? Is there not a God, or some being, by whatever name I may designate him, who causes these thoughts to arise in my mind ? But why suppose such a being, for it may be I myself am capable of producing them? Am I, then, at least not something? But I before denied that I possessed senses or a body; I hesitate, however, for what follows from that? Am I so dependent on the body and the senses that without these I cannot exist? But I had the persuasion that there was absolutely nothing in the world, that there was no sky and no earth, neither minds nor bodies; was I not, therefore, at the same time, persuaded that I did not exist? Far from it; I assuredly existed, since I was persuaded. But there is I know not what being, who is possessed at once of the highest power and the deepest cunning, who is constantly employing all his ingenuity in deceiving me. Doubtless, then, I exist, since I am deceived; and, let him deceive me as he may, he can never bring it about that I am nothing, so long as I shall be conscious that I am something. So that it must, in fine, be maintained, all things being maturely and carefully considered, that this proposition (pronunciatum ) I am, I exist, is necessarily true each time it is expressed by me, or conceived in my mind."
Q:Is this your only Martone item or will you be auctioning other collectibles? I'm most interested in Martone's water from AWP conferences, or pieces of toast with the burnt silhouette of his pompadour ... (Apr-04-09)
A:Thank you for bidding and asking this intriguing question, though I have to take issue with your characterization of Martone's hairstyle. The pompadour, which I've just researched a tad (http://www.lordoflaughs.com/pompadour.htm), is short on the sides, combed up in front and back on top, forming a kind of smoothly rounded forehead shelf. Think Elvis, Roy Orbison, James Dean. If you're interested in making your own pompadour (while you still can; I'm beyond this possibility), you may find the instructions at http://www.geocities.com/pompadour101/instructions.html useful. Additionally, you may find it interesting/frustrating to learn that the pompadour is named for Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour, who was King Louis XV's mistress in the mid-eighteenth century. Did she wear her hair like this? Not according to the portraits. So why do we trace the etymology of the hairstyle to her? Because "she introduced these styles." Whuh? To make a long story short: I am hoping the exclusivity of this Martone Memorabilia will send its auction price skyrocketing. I have nothing else to auction (at this time).
Q:This is delicate, but I have to ask. Does Martone ever sell other fluids, as in, fluids, you know, that have already passed through certain of his bodily channels? I don't want to come right out and name what I'm looking for, but you get my drift? (Apr-04-09)
A:You mean tears? You must mean tears. I can't think of anything else you might be referring to. The good news is, YES, I believe I recall Martone, moved by his own poetical prose, eyes glistening, a drop meandering slowly from his moist ducts to the tip of his nose, gathering mass, tensing, testing the limits of molecular cohesion until, in the exact moment that he unscrewed the cap of his 20-ounce Dasani water bottle, the teardop dripped and dropped--plop--right into the open mouth of the vessel.
Q:In question eight you refer to him as "Dr. Martone." When I graduated from his program, last year, he was Michael Martone, M.A. What institution within the past year granted the great one his doctorate? And what is he now a doctor in? Is he a real doctor (the medical kind)? (Apr-04-09)
A:You're very observant! The truth is, there are plenty of "doctors" who don't have doctorates or medical licenses. To wit: Dr. Pat Robertson, Dr. Johnson, Dr. Demento. Samuel Johnson, for instance, left Oxford without a degree and though his friends long sought to obtain for him some document of his erudition, he received his master's only just before he published his monumental Dictionary of the English Language in 1755 (he was 46). His honorary doctorate degrees came a decade and two later, long after he'd acquired his honorific nickname. William Hazlitt didn't much like Dr. Johnson's writings, but James Boswell sure did: "Had Dr. Johnson written his own life, in conformity with the opinion which he has given, that every man's life may be best written by himself; had he employed in the preservation of his own history, that clearness of narration and elegance of language in which he has embalmed so many eminent persons, the world would probably have had the most perfect example of biography that was ever exhibited. But although he at different times, in a desultory manner, committed to writing many particulars of the progress of his mind and fortunes, he never had persevering diligence enough to form them into a regular composition." This is just fine by us. He wrote essays, not memoir. Super. Anyway, who'll be the first university to confer an honorary doctorate on Michael Martone? Perhaps it'll be Brigham Young. I'll ask.
Q:Hi, I'm interested in acquiring the Martone water for my rare waters collection. But I'd like to know, where did the water originally come from? I'd appreciate any information you can share about its origins. (Apr-04-09)
A:Leaving aside questions of "origins" for the moment, the water in Martone's water bottle was taken from the Atlanta, Georgia, public water supply before it was purified by "reverse osmosis" (essentially straining through a filter) and "enhanced" with trace amounts of magnesium sulfate, potassium chloride, and salt (sodium chloride). The Coca-Cola company, which brings us Dasani water, assures us that "DASANI is water -- pure and essential. DASANI helps you embrace life with a fresh, optimistic outlook. As basic as breathing, DASANI quenches thirst naturally and deliciously." I'm feeling better already. [Do they realize that they're claiming that Dasani is as basic a breathing?] As for the origins of water on the earth, well, even Wikipedia doesn't quite know the answer, so I can't help you there. I will say, though, that thank goodness there is water on the earth, or how could we live!
Q:What is it with universities in the western United States that they must put an intial on the side of a mountain face overlooking the campus below? (Apr-05-09)
A:Sheer boredom.
Q:I collect Dasani products and Dasani-brand memorabilia. Michael Martone I'm not familiar with. Can you please provide more details about the bottle itself? Thank you! (Apr-05-09)
A:I'm glad to know that this item has broad appeal to all sorts of collectors. The bottle at one time contained 20 fluid ounces OR 1.25 pints OR 591 mililiters of water. Now, not quite so much, because this Martone fellow drank a bit more than half. The bottle is roughly a cylinder, tapered at the top into a narrow spout, with five "knobs" at the bottom, for greater stability. The bottle measures approximately 8 inches high, 3 and 5/8 inches at its largest diameter. It is made of relatively clear Polyethylene Terephthalate, with a translucent blue shrink band around its middle. This band says such things as "Dasani," "a product of the Coca-Cola Company" (in script), "NON-CARBONATED crisp, fresh taste. Dasani is filtered through a state-of-the-art purification system and enhanced with minerals for a pure, clean taste that can't be beat" (I'll say; not when you mix in the remnants of the best literary minds of our nascent century!). You can get a cash refund for this bottle in California; you can get 5 cents for it in Hawaii and Maine; but you cannot get a refill. The plastic above the blue band is decorated with relief patterns in the Art Deco style. Between two parallel bands of two outdentations each, we find the cypher "SOSOSOSOSOSOSO," which one might easily take to be a cry for help until one notices that there is no second S; therefore one is forced to conclude that the sculpture is a comment on the content, that it is "so so." Above this declaration of mediocrity, we find four large S figures marching counter-clockwise as a symbol of the Coca-Cola company's disregard of what is trendy or faddish, like selling bottled water. Finally, atop it all, there is a blue cap, separated from its still-present blue safety band. The cap includes around its circumference 24 Gription (TM) grooves to help you open the bottle, plus a few more decorative esses up top. It is a fine, fine specimen indeed.
Q:Besides that it belonged to and was sipped upon by Michael Martone (who himself has sipped upon the water of many illustrious writers), is there anything else that makes this particular water unique? Does it have an interesting smell, for example? Is it somehow wetter than normal water? Will it make a strange sound when swished or gargled? (Apr-05-09)
A:The only way I know of to test water for wetness is to bathe in it, so that's what I did (making sure to funnel the resultant drip back into the bottle), and, sure enough, it's wet! Perhaps it's even wetter than the water I usually get from my shower, I don't know. While bathing, I also took the opportunity to sniff the stuff, which seems not to smell like anything but water. By the way, I do not recommend "sniffing" water, as the liquid cannot be processed by human lungs, the oxygen in the water molecule remaining stubbornly attached to its two hydrogens. In my case, my organism reacted rather violently to the introduction of H2O into my nasal cavity, causing me to quickly jerk and sneeze the water back out of my nose, along with a collection of sputum that I'd been harboring in the upper reaches. This, too, was collected back into the bottle, which I then swished and gargled, to test your hypothesis about strange sounds. I have good news to report: Whether it was the water or my wife, there were certainly strange gagging sounds accompanying my experiment. What's more, with these tests I seem to have increased the volume of liquid in the bottle nearly 0.2 ounces! Talk about more for your money!
Q:Re: Trophy You suggested Martone's water might do well as a trophy to be displayed on a something such as a desk. But don't you think that it might feel more at home in a well-lit, specially designed cabinet complete with a plush velvet cushion lined in gold trim? If interested, please send me a query denoting any other decorative flourishes you have in mind. As for the cabinet's security, I have some big ideas that involve a special heat-&-nose hair-activated locking system. (Note: the laser-printed display plaque would come free of charge!) (Apr-05-09)
A:This is the thing about which I am talking! If we, as a race of bipedal, opposable-thumbed, wondering, pondering creatures, have thus far limited ourselves to velcro shoe fasteners and decorative lunchboxes, then we have surely missed our potential. Just imagine what wonders we might yet discover/invent if we combine our ideas and our skills to fashion a world in which seemingly ordinary, even disposable things are given their proper due as miracles of existence without which life would remain empty or perhaps only just under half full, approximately 8.3 ounces out of a possible 20, let's say. But with collaboration and ingenuity, plus maybe a little bit of capital supplied by the great worldwide garage sale that is eBay, we can subvert our species' most widespread and more wrongheaded notions. What was it that Montaigne said? (Don't worry; I'll tell you; just let me look it up.) He said "From the most ordinary, commonplace, familiar things, if we could put them in their proper light, can be formed the greatest miracles of nature and the most wondrous examples." And what was it that Charles Caleb Colton said? He sent a tribute to you, dear questioner: "Some men of a secluded and studious life have sent forth from their closet or their cloister, rays of intellectual light that have agitated courts and revolutionized kingdoms; like the moon which, though far removed from the ocean, and shining upon it with a serene and sober light, is the chief cause of all those ebbings and flowings which incessantly disturb that restless world of waters." You will forgive the gendered language of that benighted past, I pray.
Q:A few years ago at the AWP in Austin, Michael Martone was played by one of his students. The student gave Michael Martone's reading, wore Michael Martone's nametag, and generally put across the idea that *he was* Michael Martone. My question, then, is: how do we know that this water touched the REAL Michael Martone's lips? Certainly your pictures and your postcard could be faked. And then if I were to drink this water, I would not be imbibing literary greatness, which would inspire in me great works of the pen, but con artist greatness, which might inspire me to great works of the short or long con. Are you okay with this potential life of crime should your product be a fake? (Apr-06-09)
A:The quick answer is Yes! Whether literary genius or criminal/mischievous proclivities, it is all the same to me. I walk away with my (so far) $12.03, minus posting and purchase fees to both eBay and PayPal, and laugh my way to the bank. But your question takes me beyond my good friend Descartes, to whom I've already recurred. Did you know: A quick, superficial search for "Michael Martone" on http://switchboard.com/ produces phone numbers and/or addresses for up to 81 individuals? Michael Martones populate many of our fifty states, though it would seem, from a cursory glance at the data, that most of them reside in the Northeast. In Alabama, last known residence of the Michael Martone in question, there is only one, which thereby proves my contention that this water was indeed sipped by THE Michael Martone, quad erat demonstratum. If you're still not convinced, try a Google images search for "Michael Martone" (in quotation marks). Then try it without the quotation marks. Either way, the results are the same: along the top row of recollected images, we find a picture of former vice president of the United State Dan Quayle, known mostly for his boyish good looks and spelling difficulties. There are also, within the first page of results, a picture of a strapping young man on Facebook and/or a Michigan judge. A judge would simply get himself into too much trouble impersonating a well-known writer. And thus we see that whether this water be authentic or not, even the REAL Michael Martone is quite a literary huckster, so you're exposing yourself to conniver's germs either way. What an adventure!
Q:In the head-on picture of (not yet Dr.) Martone drinking from the item, his expression is clearly one of barely suppressed rage. I was wondering if you have any knowledge about what so ignited his fury. I've often heard him described as a rather gentle, genial being, but evidently that's not the whole story. Do you have the whole story? (Apr-06-09)
A:As you have suggested, there is always more to the story. To understand Martone's apparent "fury," we would do well to consult the Oracle (Internet) to trace the etymology of that term. It turns out that the Furies were born from the severed genitalia of Uranus, long, long ago. According to the Iliad, their purpose is to "punish whoever has sworn a false oath," which once again confirms this auction's fundamental claim that the water is legitimately Michael Martone's. Beyond that, and leaving aside for a moment all talk of vengeance and snake-hair, Mr. Wikipedia assures us that "[The Furies] represent regeneration and the potency of creation, which both consumes and empowers." This is an apt description of literary genius, no? I would like to add that R.E.M lyrics are often very difficult to decipher, but I once did a pretty decent job of figuring out "It's the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)," which includes the line about "with the Furies breathing down your neck." This may have been my first encounter with the Furies, though perhaps not with fury. I have a friend whose brother, instead of giving an actual "speech" to his graduating high school class, stood at the podium and sang this very song from start to finish, then just sat down. I don't think I would have had the guts to do that. In fact, I didn't. I made a reference to the students in Tiananmen Square, basically saying that we, the Whippany Park High School class of 1989, had it easy, so we should try to DO something with our lives. And here I am, doing this auction.
Q:Clearly, the leftover water of Michael Martone, writer, is worth many more times than its value when purchased from, say, a 7-11. Does the seller have plans for what to do with his money? (Apr-06-09)
A:All profits will be used for the advancement and glorification of the essay in the world.
Q:Do you have any suggestions for distilling the writing-enhancing particulates of Martone, et al. from the water so that a successful bidder might turn this little plastic factory into a goldmine through massive synthetic reproduction of said particulates? Also, does "Writer Michael Martone's Leftover Water" have any effect on pets? (Apr-06-09)
A:Your second question first: The seller makes no warranty, expressed or implied, about Writer Michael Martone's Leftover Water's effect on pets. There. That said, sure! Give it a try! There's those painting elephants and sign-language-using gorillas, so why not!? As for successfully distilling writerly particulates: I recommend you boil the liquid at exactly 100 degrees Celsius until all the water has vaporized. In your pot, you should find a whitish film. Carefully scrape this caked-on residue with your index fingernail, then soak your contaminated finger in a new bottle of water for seven minutes or until the white film has dissolved completely. Repeat this process until your pot is completely clean. I suspect you can make several gallons of WriterWater at a concentration of 19-23 parts per million. Good luck!
Q:As you insinuated before, by drinking this water we may imbibe greatness. I had questions about that greatness. Does the greatness get better with age? If it does increase in genius quality is it like a fine wine or is it like an old parchment? If I win the bid, would you suggest drinking the water right away so as to aquire the amalgamated greatness or should I let the water age and drink it after a year or two? (Apr-06-09)
A:The great thing about literary greatness is that it DOES improve with age. What's even greater is that this greatness greatens whether it's sitting in a bottle in your trophy case or coursing through your veins. Except in cases of dementia or self-plagiarism, literary greatness continues to grow until death (in some cases, even after death). So go ahead and drink up now. (By the way, I notice that you haven't actually bid on the water; you won't be drinking anything if you don't pony up!)
Q:Been talking to a buddy of mine about the possibility of cloning Dr. Martone using the DNA left behind in the dry spit on the top of that bottle of water you got. Think that will work? Also, perhaps we can clone the DNA of the other writers who swim in Dr. Martone's spit. Don't you imagine? (Apr-06-09)
A:Imagine all the people!
Q:In what little time remains (in this auction and, perhaps, in life), would the seller — the original collector of the leftover water of writer Michael Martone — care tell us a bit about the seller's self? (Apr-06-09)
A:We are Legion.
 


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