Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Your Invitation to the First-Ever Poetry Roast

Winter will warm up again on Tuesday, 13 February, when Mercury goes retrograde and the insults start flying at ...


Dress appropriately -- it's going to get uncomfortably hot, at least under the collar. We suggest a tuxedo or gown tastefully accessorized with a martini glass or maybe something simple that you won't mind getting mud slug on.


The secret shames & foibles of both roastees & the untold failings of our knavish panel of roasters will be exploited for cheap, unfair laughs. The horrible thing that just popped into your mind? That's what'll be dredged up & made fun of.

23rd Street at 5th Ave
in South Slope Brooklyn
Tuesday 13 February 8PM

THE PANEL OF ROASTERS: Brandon Downing, Todd Colby, Carlos Reynoso, Kim Lyons, Edwin Torres, Matt Easton, Ian Bascetta, Aaron Kiely, Mitch Highfill, Rich O'Russa & others.

THE ROASTMASTERS: Jim Behlre & Tracey McTague

THE FORMAT: The panelists, cruelly introduced by the roastmasters, will defame, cut down & level gross injustice upon the two roastees. Then Mesmer & Lorber will respond.

YOUR ROLE: Eat, Drink, witness people being contrary.


Check out lungfull! for updates on the roaster roster & other details.

The roast comes from a long & ignominious tradition in America. Some say that The Roast, rather than jazz, is the one true American art form. If that helps you come to terms with this, that is, if you have to elevate a night of ribbing & ribaldry to High Art then, well, we'll remember this when you get roasted in 2008. But the rest of us are just here to enjoy the insults — for one night there'll be no backstabbing nor solipsistic blogging — it'll all be straightforward blows to the face & gut.

DIRECTIONS: LIVINGROOM LOUNGE. Take R or M to 25th Street, walk 2 blocks to 23rd then make a right. Uphill one block. 245 23rd St.

DEFINITION OF THE ROAST: According to wikipedia, a roast is an event in which an individual is subject to publicly bearing insults, praise, outlandish true and untrue stories, and heartwarming tributes. It is seen as an honor to be roasted, as the individual is surrounded by friends and well-wishers, who can receive some of the same treatment during the course of the evening. The party and presentation itself are both referred to as a roast. The host of the event is called the roastmaster. It is also known as a burn, as one is insulted various peers will call "Burn!" In short, it is both the opposite and the same as a "toast".

The Friars Club has held celebrity roasts in private since the 1920s. Only recently has the public been invited to see them. Dean Martin hosted a series of roasts on television during the 1960s and 1970s as part of The Dean Martin Show. The humor at these broadcast tributes was far tamer than the sometimes extremely vulgar and explicit language of the private, non-televised ones.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Fond Memories of Spring

Blue-Collar Typeface

“Gotham 2003: This plain yet quintessential font was designed by Tobias Frere-Jones and is based on vernacular architectural lettering
found throughout New York City. It is a blue-collar typeface that is both utilitarian and perfectly simple.”

From the colophon to Aaron Simon’s Carrier, Insurance Editions, 2006

Some people would like to be blue-collar
without actually having been born blue-collar.
They take visibly rigid stances against,
for instance,
public television
and eating in restaurants,
because public television
and eating in restaurants is
while you,
who were born blue-collar,
kind of like public television,
and walk past those very same restaurants
wishing you could afford something more
than the Wendy’s salad bar.
Some people are proud of how blue-collar they are
when they speak roughly to waiters,
never look them in the eye,
tip them miserably,
and refuse to pay to get into poetry readings,
while afterwards
they’re back home
putting their Manhattan co-op on the market
so they can buy a house on the outskirts of Paris.
Some of these people are so anxious to prove
just how blue-collar they are
they will say things like,
“Well, at least you have a grinding truck,”
when you tell them over the phone
that the grinding truck has pulled up outside,
never mind that they’re in the process of closing
on their house on the outskirts of Paris.
Some of these people are your friends.
They will surprise you.
Because someday you will discover
that all that time they seemed so interested in what you had to say about your
blue-collar upbringing
they never found actual blue-collar people
all that interesting.
Because a blue-collar person can’t recommend them to an editor
or get them into an MFA program
or set them up with a teaching job
or introduce them to important
(i.e., non-blue-collar)
people in Paris.
Blue-collar people often don’t care about
academic poetry,
the breaking of the line,
and they may not necessarily give a shit about anything
Noam Chomsky ever said.
But that doesn’t mean that blue-collar people are
“utilitarian” or “perfectly simple.”
I know lots of useless, imperfectly complicated
blue-collar people.
And their line breaks
can kick your line breaks’

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Is This What It's Come To? Really?

Back in September, when my severely broken foot had four rods poking out of it and I was getting around on a walker, I called a writer friend to ask if she could sub for me for the first day of my fiction class at the New School. I got her machine, so I left a message that it would be just the first day: hand out the syllabus, explain to them why I wasn't there, take attendance ... that's all. I told her I could pay her $50. She never called back, so I asked my department if they could get someone. They chose another teacher, and graciously paid her a guest speaker fee so that I wouldn't have to shell out.

Yesterday I ran into this friend at an event at the New School. She said the reason she never called me back about subbing was that she was deeply offended that I would ask her to do it for only $50.

"What about my time getting ready?" she demanded. "And the time it takes to get there and back on the subway? I was so offended, Sharon, because I respect you so much and I thought you were my friend."

I asked her why she didn't just call me back — we could've discussed a higher rate.

"I shouldn't have to bargain with you."

I explained to her that $50 was all I could reasonably offer because I was looking at having to pay $75 a week for fifteen weeks just to get myself to school and back in a car service, because as part-time faculty I don't qualify for disability, and the school has no provision for reimbursements like that.

"That's none of my business," she said, and turned away.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

She Over Brooklyn

Carthage and Fusion

She would yet make amends
croaking and complaining
the harvest was late
there stood a strange dog
by the wire fence that circled the haystack
a row of red winged girls
clad only in a cause
thin bit of the weekend and of the fright
together shared

To search a muslin
which a pamphlet scarce covered

Blur of homesickness
of many pleasant evenings
the wind sang dismally
sickened blackbirds
like a string of jet beads
waiting for oat structure

She served dinner to a long line of stoppers
she was Lys, and she was
teaching brute spacecraft
along the danger-infested way
known as the Red River frame
and the corners

The guests at table were a typical pioneer group
a joiner at each side
machine men journeying through the country
loudly recommending and gesticulating
forced to take to dairy products
to crab trees
to escape the clutches --

So spent in her little shack
with the same wind making eerie music
of the boys she had not seen
since the winter before
and while she finished the fashion called saddle
she discussed neighborhood matters with them --
the pleasing
see sex unharmed

A huge brute
just the litter bin --
and his foot reached the cliffs when --

Yesterday and today were separated by a gulf
a sizzle of eggs
frying on a hot pan
making a running accompaniment

Whatever can be done to a house
to spoil its appearance
had been done to her words
wide as death itself

She was so close
to selling machinery
to harvesting grain
not yet grown

(this poem currently appears on morton hurley's
blog anthology of spam poetry)

Friday, January 19, 2007

"In Ordinary Time" (1)

(title story from the collection In Ordinary Time, Hanging Loose Press, 2005)


The cab from Midway Airport turns right at the Tootsie Roll factory, crosses the boundary of south side to suburb, and sails past the now-empty State Road house. As the cab takes a left at 79th, en route to Cousin Snooky’s place, I keep my eye on the house until it disappears behind the Walgreen’s. What’s awaiting me there, I wonder, now that Ma’s not there? To begin with, five generations of family history going back to Poland to sort through before I put the house up for sale, and only three weeks to do it.

It's early evening and dark, with a crisp two inches of new snow on the ground. As the cab pulls into the driveway, past the fiberglass wishing well and St. Francis statue, Snooky appears with her arms open, smiling. I haven’t seen her in seventeen years. Her red hair is blonde now. She looks like the mature Debbie Reynolds.

"Hiya honey," she whispers, embracing me. “It’s good to see ya. It’s been so long.”

“Thanks for letting me stay with you, Snooks,” I say as I breathe in her signature “Vanilla Fields” cologne which, mingled with the winter air, reminds me of Christmas when I was a kid.

“Oh, honey, you’re my godchild and I’d do anything for ya. You got a big job ahead of you, too. I just wish I could help you more, but I got that little balloon in me now and the doctor says I can’t exert myself.”

We eat dinner — “Friendship Chicken,” her specialty — at the little table in the corner of her kitchen. A figure skating competition plays on the black and white TV perched on the corner of the counter: Olympic gold medalist Oksana Baiul’s emotional comeback. She’s shaky, she falls, she gets a shitty score, but a standing ovation from the crowd anyway.

“Oh, my God,” Snooky whispers, voice quavering. “Wasn’t that wonderful?”

The phone rings. Brushing away tears, Snooky gets up to answer it.

“I bet that’s my mom,” I say, and get up, too.

“Hello? Oh my God, Frannie! Sharon just said it’d be you. She must be psychopathic!” She passes the phone to me.

“Did you start on the house yet?” Ma wants to know. “I wanna know if you found the Thorn. I think it’s between my mattresses in a little box. Whatever you do, don’t throw it away, okay? It’s from the Cr0wn of Thorns, you know.”

“I know, Ma, I know. But I haven’t even been over there yet. I just got here an hour ago. I’m going first thing tomorrow.”

“Okay, I’m just sayin’. Don’t get all hyped up. Put Snooks back on, will ya?”

I hand the phone back and sit down. On the TV, the words “Stop Feeling Everything” appear. A message to me from the ether? No, just an ad for shock absorbers.

After Snooky hangs up we do dishes — I wash, she dries.

“The last time I was in this house I was twenty-one,” I say. “God, that was a long time ago. Do you remember that time? Right before I was going to get married? Ma brought me over here so I could talk about calling off the wedding with you and your mother. We all sat at the table over there —”

“That time you slit your wrist. Oh, that was a terrible time. You were such a rebel back then. But that guy really was no damn good.”

“Everyone was so adamant that I call the wedding off.”

“So . . . ada-what, honey? I don’t know that word.”

“Everyone was so insistent that I call the wedding off. And your mom told me that story about how your stepfather used to hit her.”

“That’s right. Drunkie John they called him. Oh, he was no damn good, either. But God rest his soul anyway. When he got drunk he usta tell my mother that if she didn’t give him sex he’d get it from me. That’s why Grandma Mesmer raised me at her house. My mother didn’t want me there when he was there. If my real father had lived, life woulda been real different. But John was a nice man when he wasn’t drinkin’. You know how my mother met him? He was the milkman! Oh, she had so many boyfriends around the neighborhood, after my father died. Probably when he was still alive, too. He just turned the other cheek. Did I ever tell you he was the seventh son of a seventh son? And his one brother, Basil, could talk to trees — he was a healer. He would just put his hands on people and heal them. His other brother, though . . . His name was Elmer, and he married a big, mean, red-headed woman and they had a tavern with a whorehouse upstairs called the Bucket o’ Blood, over by Sherman Park. All the gangsters used to drink there. He ran the tavern and she ran the whorehouse. After my dad died my mother hung out there, with the gangsters. Can ya beat that? Jesus, I don’t wanna think about half the stuff she did . . .”

After the dishes are put away we go into the living room. Snooks says she wants me to see something really beautiful on TV.

“It’s the . . . how do you call ‘em? The Royal Lippi-something Stallions? You know, the white horses? They perform to classical music, and it’s just gorgeous. You’ll watch them, and you’ll feel better about yourself and everything.”

She puts a tape into the VCR. After the opening credits (and some harp music) there’s a trumpet fanfare, and six Royal Lipizzaner stallions gallop in sync out of a dry-ice fog. Together they rise up on their hind legs, and then jump and kick. “The Blue Danube Waltz” begins, and they prance in time. I steal looks at Snooky watching from the couch, smiling and shaking her head. I recall how glamorous and beautiful I thought she was when I was little, with her red hair and red lipstick and the emerald green dresses she always wore when we saw her on holidays.
After it’s over she asks me what I thought, and I tell her it was nice. She looks crestfallen.

“You didn’t like it, did you?”

“No, it was really nice. I’m glad we watched it.”

She gets up from the couch, smiling to herself, and walks toward one of the bedrooms.
“I shoulda known it wasn’t your style. You go all over the world. You’ve seen a lot of things. But I like it, and I wanted to watch it with you.”

“Snooks . . . “

She comes back with a pink flannel nightgown tied with a ribbon and hands it to me.

“This is for you. You must be tired, honey. I’ll help you get ready for bed. You’ll be in the guest room. That was my room while Jerry was dying. So there are no bad feelings in there.”

“You know, Snooks, all those times I stayed at my mom’s after my dad died I slept in his bed. I didn’t care.”

“You know how Jerry and I met? Did I ever tell you that story? I was eight years old, and I was sitting on the steps of my house over on Aberdeen, and he came along with his dog. The dog went in the gate, and up the steps by me and wouldn’t leave. That dog just stayed there, and Jerry had to come in and get him. Diamonds was his name. We fell in love that day and we were together until the day he died. He died in my arms.”

“That’s a great story, Snooks.”

She turns and heads for the guest room.

“Come on. I know you’re tired.”

The guest room is a return to the past: it smells of the kind of perfume women used to wear — Heaven Sent or Chantilly — and on either side of the dresser two lamps with frilly pink shades give off a warm glow. It’s that light that’s most redolent of the past, evoking memories of the various apartments that Snooky’s mother, my Aunt Jewel (dead ten years), lived in when I was a kid. I loved visiting her. She had beaded curtains hanging in her doorways and Uncle Donny’s paintings (which she referred to as his “modern abstracts”) on the living room walls. She burnt incense and played Little Richard and Bobby Sherman records. And when she talked about her chronic insomnia — “Every night I walk the floors, thinkin’ about stuff I shouldn’t be thinkin’ about, like my mother’s stomach cancer and my sister Lily’s lobotomy” — I pictured her as some kind of glamorous woman from an old movie, waking up at 2 am with cold cream on her face and curlers in her hair, tuning her big Zenith radio to a talk show, and smoking in the glow of the dresser lamps.

Snooky comes in to kiss me goodnight.

“Sleep well, honey. And don’t worry about nothin’. Your ma’s in one of the good homes. You’ll see when we go there tomorrow. And don’t feel bad about her goin’ in there. She talked to me about it even before she told you. She just didn’t feel safe in that house anymore, with Nick hangin’ out with the gangs and all. And she didn’t want you to feel responsible for her decision. That’s why she went in when you weren’t here. She didn’t want you to have to spend your life takin’ care of her. That was her gift to you. She knows you’re not the kind of person who could take care of someone. And Nick’s not hangin’ out with the gangs no more ‘cause he’s with the Andersons, and they’re people he knows and they’re a real good family. I met them one time, in your ma’s room. They’re good people. I could feel it. And when you see him, you’ll see a difference. He really is a different kid. I’m tellin’ ya, it was a miracle how that all turned out. So see — everything’s gonna be just fine from now on. You mark my words.”

She kisses my forehead, pulls the covers up, and turns out the light. As the sleeping pill kicks in I wonder what she meant by “You’re not the kind of person who could take care of someone”? All I did for the last ten years was deal with Ma and her problems. And long distance, too.

(to be continued)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The attributed master left unstated

The attributed master left unstated
the correlation that seemed to exist between

my hand and his arm
as though we were a pair of friends;

the constitution of the two, he said,
was a probable inference

that I had the corresponding rapier.
But had I been him, I might’ve

found the common boundary
at which the parts join

in the that which is less —
and by the that which is less, I mean the less which is greater,

more dense, owing to the fact that its parts are closely combined
with long-lost relatives.

Practically all such cases convince us
that genius is relatives —

as in the case of Nietzsche, for instance,
and his sister Elisabeth —

and the relatives, also,
which are said to be such and such

in virtue of some or one of their qualities,
and properly so.

Later, at a merchants in the Luckenbooth’s
I had myself fitted out,

for people are said to be the sum of what can be found
in their pockets, and by what I could make out,

these pocket-findings are interdependent
in bodies thrust low, and simultaneous

with that of the “other,” which is always
a young-ish lady.

And it becomes obvious that these pockets
have the matter of expressions double and half

with reference to the contraries of bad bipeds
overly receptive of knowledge; in other words,

they are human, and thus should be removed.
Naturally, the parts do not reference to anything outside

themselves, such as wood, which, ultimately,
is only wood.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

From "Sic Transit" (8)

She rummaged inside her purse for a cigarette, but instead pulled out a roll-on bottle of Avon's "Rapture." She applied it to her wrist while describing her journey from backstage tryst to committed relationship with the lead singer of the local proto-new wave band, Guest List. I was mildly surprised by the scent of "Rapture": it was like an old church on Easter. Her silver rings clicked together as she untangled her feathered hair from her new sweater. The next day I ordered some "Rapture" from a classmate whose mother sold Avon among the candlepin bowling winners. And when the girl passed me the perfume in the bathroom between classes I rolled it on my hands, arms, neck — all areas of exposed flesh — on the edges of my textbooks, even on the furry parts of my chukka boots, elated that I was now on my way to being more like B. I suddenly found it easy to believe what I'd read years before in Taffy's Tips to Teens: that someday I'd create something about the human condition as great as anything Harry Chapin had written. Being more like B guaranteed the inspiration.

But then B disappeared before graduation. Rumor had it she was in an institution because her boyfriend switched from heavy metal to fusion and she couldn't get used to it. I figured I still had the bottle of "Rapture" whenever I wanted to remember, and so decided to open it and smell it, but never again use it. If the smell evaporated I could always just order it. But then Avon discontinued it. I wrote to company to inquire; their only answer was that it had been unpopular. And so when the bottle was finally empty there was no trace of B whatsoever. For awhile, I forgot about her. But then a few years ago I found a tiny vial at a tag sale in Vancouver, and I was right back to being a senior. But at that remove, what good did it do? Besides, cultivating the memory of B had long since become a labor of love that I longed to be quit of. Isn't it tribute enough to be occasionally thought of?

But who laid the foundation for B? For all my years of intrasigence in tenements I still seek the beauty of a slop sink at evening. Someone somewhere has the responsiblity for sowing that seed.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Meme, Myself and I

I've been tagged by fellow flarfista Mel Nichols to post five little known-facts about myself. All facts about me are little-known, so ...

1.) I worked as a "Dancing Dollar" for a country music radio station in Chicago for one horrible summer in the early 80's

2.) I married a guy whose column in Seventeen magazine -- "Relating: A Boy's Advice to Girls" -- I read (and laughed at) in eighth grade

3.) I grew up in the same neighborhood as the Unabomber (Back-of-the-Yards, Chicago) and my grandmother bought meat at his family's store, Kaczynski Sausage, on Ashland Avenue

4.) In grammar school I won an honorable mention for a haiku about Nicholas Copernicus in a city-wide contest sponsored by the Polish Roman Catholic Union (or something) of Chicago

5.) I like to pick up and hold bugs

On to: Douglas Wolk and Todd Colby and Christina Strong