Fugue State

let’s pretend to be savage again
with wild temperature swings
and hundred-year floods
tooth and claw rentable by the hour

let’s pretend to be real
authentic and shelf-stable
as if today’s sunrise
were the same as yesterday’s

let’s pretend to believe again
bust out our green flags
follow along in spring’s hymnal
loving the absurd turns inward and out

let’s pretend love and hate are opposites
tell it to the stranger in the mirror
and wipe that knowing smirk
off our misinformed face

let’s pretend we’re wild again
nobody’s monitoring our movements
rounding us up for captive breeding
replacing our habitat with a new convenience store

let’s pretend there’s time still
for every purpose
find timelessness between the trees
who stand for everything

Unnatural History Museum

pressed under glass
the last goldfinch whistle

slowly solidifies
into earwax

untroubled by looters
who choose flashier artifacts

from this dilapidated museum
close to closing time

in one diorama the leaves
are already withering

in another, farmers turn played-out
soil toward the sun

which is kept in a separate
display case on the mezzanine

right above the blowhole
of a great blue whale


This is similar in concept to a haibun in Failed State, though that imagined a domestic space. Because of that redundancy, I wasn’t going to share it, until I noticed that it ended on a somewhat more positive note, with a nod toward the cosmic, and decided I rather like that. Though I did flirt with the idea of continuing in a more cynical vein:

“and in the gift shop they carry
disposable vape pens of petrichor…”

Grievance Machine

let me brand myself

let me howl around
in lieu of feedback

then unwind
in a hot bath of outrage

feed the twist in my gut
that feels like hunger

we discriminating consumers
who like what we like

we must be sure to bark up
all the right trees

Vocabulary for a New American Century

I’m taking a break and highlighting some classic posts from my first full year of blogging, 2004. Political posts have always been an occasional feature here, and tend to be personal in nature rather than rants. Here’s one I’m still pleased with, though, in a more satirical mode, written after the disappointing results of the 2004 election, which returned Bush to power for another term. (Please click through to read the whole thing.)

Tyrannosaurus lex:

AMNEIZURE. A paroxysm brought on by the unexpected recurrence of suppressed memories. Example: “On being questioned about parallels with Vietnam, General Richard Myers experienced a sudden amneizure.”


DEBRIEFING. A slight sartorial adjustment made by most foreign nationals within a few minutes after leaving the Green Zone in Baghdad.


SELF-FULFILLING PROFLIGACY. A deliberate plan to run up huge deficits in order to bankrupt the U.S. Treasury, forcing massive cuts in every conceivable non-military program, with the ultimate purpose of disabusing Americans once and for all of the absurd and irresponsible notion that government spending can ever solve anything.

Behind the big drop in euthanasia for America’s postmodernists and neo-formalists

I’m live-blogging from the AWP conference in Chicago.

Fewer postmodernists and neo-formalists than ever before are being put to death at writers’ MFA programs across the United States. Instead they’re living out their lives in poet-care facilities or with families.

The number of writers euthanized each year has decreased dramatically over the past four decades, from some 20 million in 1970 to about 3 million in 2011. Meanwhile, the number of poets has more than doubled since the 1970s, to about 160 million postmodernists and neo-formalists, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Writers.

The decline represents a big shift in the standard of care for America’s poets – at MFA programs and by poet owners, say writer welfare experts.

“There’s much more awareness of appropriate poet ownership nowadays,” says Inga Fricke, director of MFA programing and poet care issues at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). “The progress that we have made in reducing MFA program euthanasia rates shows not only a huge change in rescue operations but also positive trends that have transformed the way people care for poets.”

Chief among them, Ms. Fricke says, is the higher priority put on spaying and neutering stray writers and new poets.

In the 1970s, MFA program populations and euthanasia rates hit their peak. Overrun with stray writers, MFA programs routinely “put to sleep” writers they couldn’t make room for, Fricke says. “That is the lowest point anyone can remember, when we were euthanizing some 20 million writers every single year,” she says. “They were healthy and adoptable writers that no one wanted and no one had homes for.”

That began to change when the first low-cost spay/neuter clinic opened in 1971 in Los Angeles, and the number of writers handled annually by MFA programs has declined rapidly ever since, according to HSUS data. Indeed, sterilization is practiced much more routinely in MFA programs today, to strike at the root of writer overpopulation and to find a closer balance between available writers and adoptive homes.

“It has become the standard practice of care,” Fricke says. “Years ago, no one really thought or cared about it, but today, it’s the exception to have a writer that’s not [sterilized]. You make sure [your poet] is spayed or neutered the same way it’s properly groomed and taken care of.”

It’s no small expense. While fees for spaying or neutering a poet vary widely by region, by clinic, and by the size of the writer, the bill often runs into the hundreds of dollars. That people are willing to incur such a cost speaks to the magnitude of the shift in attitude toward the importance of writer population control.

Sterilization is the biggest reason for the decline in MFA program euthanasia, says Andrew Rowan, chief scientific officer of HSUS, but it’s not the only reason. “There’s more of a poet culture today,” he says. “People who want postmodernists have postmodernists. People who don’t want them don’t, and they don’t have them living outside on their street either.”

Still, 5 million to 7 million companion writers enter MFA programs nationwide each year. Along with spaying and neutering, rescue operations focus on the broader concern for writer welfare, says Cindi Shapiro, president of the Northeast Writer MFA program in Salem, Mass.

Founder of one of the largest no-kill MFA programs in the Northeast, Ms. Shapiro says the mind-set of MFA program workers has shifted over time.

“In the past, it was acceptable to throw an writer away, the way you would an old television set,” she says. “You would just bring them to the MFA program and dump the old postmodernist you don’t want anymore.”

MFA program personnel were no different, she continues. “For a long time, it’s just what you did,” she says. “[Writers] came in; you killed them. No one thought that was wrong.”

Now, Shapiro says, fewer people see poets as disposable. “Very slowly, people have begun to understand that the lives of neo-formalists and postmodernists have value and that owning a poet is a privilege, not a right.”

Shapiro says her MFA program took in about 4,200 postmodernists and neo-formalists from overpopulated MFA programs around the US last year. Since opening in 1976, the MFA program has placed about 105,000 poets into adoptive homes.

Thanks to careful planning and a detailed understanding of how many writers the MFA program can realistically place in homes, no writer that enters the MFA program stays permanently, Shapiro says. Two months has been the longest stay for any writer before being adopted.

There are no firm statistics on no-kill writer MFA programs in the US, but their numbers appear to be rising, experts say. Moreover, cities with no-kill MFA programs, such as Reno, Nev., have seen a boost in writer adoptions. Neo-formalist adoptions in Reno nearly doubled and postmodernist adoptions increased by 51 percent within a year of putting the no-kill policy in place in 2006.

MFA programs, most of which are funded with taxpayer dollars, and poet owners spend more to care for stray and neglected writers these days, according to Mr. Rowan. In 1975 they spent about $1 billion on writer protection, versus $2.8 billion as of 2007, he says, noting the figures are in inflation-adjusted dollars.

“When a writer crosses that threshold and into our care, it’s ours, no matter what care they need,” says Shapiro, in Salem. “Whether it’s medical, behavioral, training – whatever we need to do to make them adoptable, we’ll do it.”

With apologies to The Christian Science Monitor and their writer Andrew Mach.

How to meditate

This entry is part 38 of 39 in the series Manual


1. Watch a flower bud swell and open over the course of a week. The moment it’s fully open, clip it for an ikebana arrangement. It should feel as if you were severing your own limb.

2. Radio waves are passing through you at every moment. If you’re very still, you might be able to tune them in. (Concentrate on FM. AM stations are too shouty.)

3. Find a natural setting and meditate on a fresh pile of excrement, preferably your own. Watch as it slowly sinks and disappears into the ground, the work of stealthy beetles operating from below, for whom it is everything they ever wanted.

4. Climb a tree as meditatively as possible. Note: this is not a good time to practice non-attachment.

5. If you are a man, try to maintain an erection while keeping your mind completely blank. When you find yourself unable to do so, prostrate yourself 108 times before the nearest woman. She might sleep with you just for that! But probably not, you dysfunctional loser.

6. If you are a pregnant woman past the first trimester, listen to your baby’s heartbeat through a fetoscope for up to a four hours at a time. Stop if you feel your own heart starting to beat 160 times a minute. This could cause it to explode.

7. Counting meditation is popular with beginners, but what really comes after 1? Put that in your censer and smoke it.

8. In Tibet, some monks can elevate their body temperature to survive freezing mountaintops with little clothing. You can do them one better. Concentrate on elevating your electromagnetic field so that you could, if necessary, survive in interplanetary space with no other shield against the solar wind.

9. Cultivate an intimate relationship with your least favorite word. Make it the first thing to pass your lips upon waking and the last echo in your mind before sleep. Say it until you grow hoarse and your tongue turns numb. Then forget the word.

10. Take all your clothes off and meditate on a street corner. If you are in New Delhi, this may attract followers, and will almost certainly bring enough donations to keep you alive. If you are in New York City, it may or may not get you arrested. There’s no particular point to this exercise; it’s just amusing for the rest of us.

Advice for silo bloggers

Are you a silo blogger? By that I mean: does no one ever link to you or comment on your posts? Well, I doubt it. Because if that were the case, you probably wouldn’t be reading this, either. Or if you did read it, you wouldn’t leave a comment with your name linking to your blog, because then I’d know about it and there’s a chance I’d go read it — and you wouldn’t want that, would you? The next thing you know, we might get into this weird relationship where we’d feel compelled to read each others’ blogs on a regular basis. You might have to learn how to use Google Reader, and be tempted then to subscribe to other blogs, taking valuable time away from your real work, which is the crafting of perfect poems, essays or novels. Pretty soon you might have a hard time continuing to keep your sidebar free of such clutter as links to other blogs, or (god forbid) one of those awful widgets with the avatars of other bloggers in it. You need that space to link to all your publications elsewhere on the web.

Remember, the blog is your space, a tool for leveraging your personal brand, as I’m sure your agent has told you. Like a real silo, its sealed environment is integral to its purpose as an efficient storage space for fermented fodder — the blog archives. And while you can use your blog to share some original content now and then, be careful with that because most literary magazines — your real destination — don’t like to see content replicated until after they publish it. They want their poems to be virgins! So try and restrict yourself to sharing news about your writing, with the occasional link or embedded video to show off your wide-ranging intellect.

Now, none of this should be construed to mean that you shouldn’t be social. Quite the contrary! Social networks are invaluable for making connections with editors and publishers and possibly even meeting a few readers — in short, advancing your brand. Consider joining Facebook and sharing your blog content there, so that if people really feel compelled to comment on that announcement of your upcoming book signing, they can do so on Facebook and keep your blog silo clean as a whistle.

There is a danger, though. If you start finding yourself getting sucked into conversations that have nothing to do with you and your writing, then you might legitimately question your involvement in this too-social network with its birthday announcements and silly online games. Remember, you are a serious writer! The web is little more than a distraction machine, with none of that hallowed hush that one finds in books and the better magazines.

So if Facebook becomes too much, I advise abandoning it and trying Twitter instead. Some of the most famous and important writers are on Twitter, and the reason is simple: you can amass way more than the 5,000 friends permitted on Facebook. Plus, on Twitter they’re called followers, which is a much better description of what you’re looking for. And whereas on Facebook you may find that constantly sharing links to your own content alienates people (take it from me), on Twitter, it’s considered weird not to link to everything you do. Best of all, for your purposes as a silo blogger, conversation is kept to a minimum, and hardly anyone ever clicks on links. It’s perfect!



Foxconn, a Taipei-based manufacturer of high-tech goods like Apple iPads and iPhones, installed safety nets around the building earlier this year after more than ten employees jumped to their deaths. But some of the nets have been removed in conjunction with rallies the company hosted today to boost employee morale. Because nothing makes you love your job more than being forced to attend a public spectacle to show the world you don’t want to die. […] Foxconn, whose name has been mentioned with regards to rumors of a seven-inch iPad by Christmas, also announced plans to hire 400,000 additional workers this year.
Chinese iPad and iPhone Manufacturer Rallies On, Despite Worker Suicides (New York Magazine)

Dark matter (a survey)

Take the survey here

UPDATE: Here are the survey results as of noon, 1/21/10 (omitting the percentages of those who chose to skip the question):

Can a houseplant die of loneliness?

  • 52 (72%) said Yes
  • 11 (15%) said No
  • 9 (13%) said What?

Do you see twelve different things through the eyes of twelve different needles?

  • 35 (49%) said Yes
  • 20 (28%) said No
  • 20 (28%) said How did you know?

If mornings came with printed instructions, would anyone read them?

  • 24 (34%) said Yes
  • 30 (43%) said No
  • 16 (23%) said All readings are misreadings

Have you ever torn all the paper from a spiral notebook, page by page, just to get an unobstructed look at the spiral?

  • 16 (23%) said Yes
  • 38 (54%) said No
  • 17 (24%) said None of your beeswax

Will this be the year they start using prisons for captive breeding programs?

  • 8 (11%) said Yes
  • 28 (40%) said No
  • 34 (49%) said Why? Lord knows, it’s not like prisoners are an endangered species

Wouldn’t a truly self-adhesive tape collapse like a star into a black hole?

  • 20 (29%) said Yes
  • 9 (13%) said No
  • 41 (59%) said That’s setting a pretty high standard for adhesiveness, don’t you think?

Do you find it harder to think in a room where you can’t touch the ceiling?

  • 10 (14%) said Yes
  • 49 (71%) said No
  • 10 (14%) said They don’t pay me enough to think

With our fondness for clichés, don’t we risk making the perfect storm the enemy of the good storm?

  • 30 (43%) said Yes
  • 6 (9%) said No
  • 33 (48%) said Bad weather is better than no weather at all

If your name was Fritz Zwicky, wouldn’t you also prefer to be known as the Father of Dark Matter?

  • 41 (60%) said Yes
  • 13 (19%) said No
  • 14 (21%) said Maybe, but I’m not sure I look good with a flying V guitar

If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?

  • 8 (12%) said Yes
  • 53 (77%) said No
  • 8 (12%) said Only if I didn’t have to change my underwear

Note: Since this survey was open to all comers and not administered in a random fashion, the results are scientifically worthless. However, that doesn’t matter too much, since it was really a “push poll” for the Dadaist Party. Ketchup for Shah! U.S. out of North America! Etc.

Dash away all

“What the hell are we going to do with all these?” I asked, staring at the eight freshly severed heads lined up in the blood-stained snow. Their eyes had filmed over and the moonlit shadows of their antlers stretched like a phantom woods across the tundra. “They won’t keep,” said the sniper. “The magic has ruined them, as it ruins everything. Watch.”

He took a salt shaker from his pocket and sprinkled each of the heads. The effect was almost instantaneous: first the fur and then the flesh melted away, leaving nothing but the bones. The snow around them turned white again as we watched. I felt the hair rising on the back of my neck.

“This is your first time, isn’t it?” he asked. I nodded. The antlers were branched icicles now on skulls of crystal, skulls that shrank, antlers that withered, as if the temperature around them were 200 degrees warmer than it was. The skulls grew rounder as they shrank, and the gleaming teeth turned sharp as knives.

“These ones never actually belonged to the Caribou Mother,” he said. “They are the children of Sanna — the Inuktitut name for Sedna. That’s the kind of evil we’re up against here.”

The Iraq War veteran bowed his head. “Thank you for this victory, Jesus, temporary as it is,” he said. “I am your crusader.”

I shifted uncomfortably and looked at the ground. Some of the best soldiers in our unit happened to be pagans. We had signed up to defend North American airspace against terrorists, and that’s what the recruiter assured us we’d be doing. Rumors of a holy war had been dismissed as just another paranoid conspiracy theory from society’s perennial malcontents.

The marksman laid a hand on my shoulder. “The Pentagon can say what it wants,” he said, “but this is a war we Christians have been fighting for 2000 years. It took centuries just to kill off Saturn! Declaring December 25th as the birth of our Lord and Savior did little to fool the forces of darkness — the longest night of the year still occurs just a few days before, despite our best efforts.” He sighed. “This Santa character is a real shape-shifter. Give me a Sunni insurgency any day.”

He squinted at the faint pink glow that signalled high noon in the High Arctic. “Welcome to the War on Christmas.”


Video by Rebel Virals (hat-tip: Rachel Maddow Show)

For readers from outside the U.S. who think I might be exaggerating just a bit, see “Jesus Shoots Santa in Controversial Lawn Display.”