Notes on Types of Poetry

  1. You look at something you believe should be familiar but see something else, something unexpected. A moment of confusion, you are given a start, seeing something new or strange, out of place or off kilter, in place of what usually passes practically unnoticed. Some like that feeling; others do not. But the feeling, whatever it is, passes. You dismiss the experience as a kind of déjà vu as what you expected to see comes into focus and the other vision, the mirage, the mistake, disappears.

 

  1. That night, you dream of a chess game, even though you don’t play chess. The chess pieces are friends, neighbors, and relatives. The Queen is a woman who walks by your house daily but never says hi. The King is the friendly dog from across the street, always happy to see you. The Knights are kids riding bicycles. The Castles are bell towers full of birds over empty churches. The Pawns are corporate employees you once supervised, riding a desk all day in a building of sealed windows. In those days, you used to dream of getting up from your desk and throwing open a window, a breeze of fresh air blowing all the papers off the desks, creating a ruckus. You are called down to the Personnel Department and summarily fired.

 

  1. You learn a new word, eggcorn. Slips of both the tongue and ears. You make a list of words you frequently misspell, fold the list, and put it into your Moleskin pocket notebook. You save the Moleskin pages for poems that never come. A week later, the Moleskin still empty, you take out your list of frequently misspelled words and throw it away. You make a new list of words you often mishear or mispronounce. You think of getting a dog and naming her faux pas.

 

  1. The plumber arrives to fix the pipe that froze in last winter’s silver thaw. Something about him smells familiar. It’s a stale beer odor. It’s late afternoon, a hot summer day, and he must have been out at lunch drinking beer, perhaps in the lot of food carts located down by the creek at the bottom of the neighborhood. You look into the back of his van. An old blue and white striped mattress lines the floor. The sidewalls are cubbyholes full of tools and plumbing parts.

 

  1. The power has gone out again, another rolling summer blackout. You light a candle. The phone and Internet are also out. You think absurdly of walking down to the corner to use the pay phone – the pay phone was taken out years ago. The evening is dark and quiet and peaceful, and you decide this is your favorite kind of poetry, the kind that creates a still clearness, and the stars are like rocks on the floor of a shallow, smooth running stream that ebbs and flows with the salt water tides. Suddenly the power comes back on, the fan spins, the radio blaring, the streetlight flooding through the open front window. A door slams. A car starts up. The lights flicker indecisively. Blackouts are only rarely epical.

 

  1. A young woman knocks at the door, a canvasser. Lonely for someone to talk to, you invite her inside. You make tea. Her skin is like parchment, full of colorful tattoos, pictures and words. And she has piercings, one in her upper lip, another in her ear, and a tiny diamond on the side of her nose. Her eyebrows are painted black shellac. She comes quickly to the purpose of her mission: she is selling low cost cremation plans. If you buy now, pre-ordering, before you die, you save lots. She’s already been able to help several of your neighbors. Your block is a gold mine of old people.

 

  1. You’ve the kids for the day, to babysit, day care. You get out large, thick sheets of brightly painted paper. Everyone takes a pair of scissors and cuts alphabet letters out of the sheets. You string the letters together with clear fish line and hang them from the ceiling with thumb tacks, creating slow moving mobiles that say different things depending on the breeze coming through the open windows. Everyone lies on the floor with pillows and blankets, watching the letters turn this way and that, reading aloud new words that appear.

 

Minefoolnest & Other Misfits

I’m not a spelling bee. I think the reason I’m not a tiptop speller (well, apart from maybe the more obvious reason) has to do with sound and pronunciation, where sound is what we hear, and pronunciation is how we repeat what we think we heard.

I remember President Bush bedeviled for misspelling tomato, or maybe it was potato. I remember he was in Florida. Why do I recall he was in Florida, at a grammar school, but I’m not sure of the mot juste he abused? That’s probably a misuse of mot juste; I don’t care – I like the way the ooze comes together in juste abuse. Is misspelling word abuse? In any case, and while I was not and am not a G. W. Bush fan (including his paintings, which I did not like not because they were poorly drawn – in fact, they were quite modern – but because they were so narcissistic, selfie obsessed. At the same time, they gave me pause to think about form and content, particularly the one where he was taking a bath – or was it a shower? – because I’ve always been confused by the form and content business: form, apparently, man in tub; content might have been improved with a plumber at work fixing the toilet while the implacable Bush continues his bath), the news story of Bush’s misspelling boo-boo (to wit: tomatoe or potatoe) I found unworthy of sarcasm or cynicism, and I did not join the spelling bee buzz of hecklers making fun of him.
(see correction note below.)

For one thing, I don’t hear the second t in tomato, and if I were going to misspell it, I would probably write tomadoe. Probably that’s yet another reason why I’ll never be a POTUS. Bush’s misspelling was perfect because it’s the same misspelling millions of Americans make every day (or would make, if they were asked to spell tomato), so there was instant populist empathy for him, and it was a chance for the populists to go fsst to the academic snob spelling bees. The academic stings but once. There’s a good reason I hear a d in tomato: /təˈmādō/ – that’s how it’s pronounced. On the other hand (or ear), I do not hear a d in potato, even though potato, like tomato, is pronounced with one: /pəˈtādō/.

You might be thinking I can’t spell because I can’t pronounce, but you’d be a step short if you didn’t acknowledge I can’t pronounce because I don’t hear the same sounds you do. On my own, left to my own devices, I’m in fact a perfect spelling bee. There will always be those who rush to correct (jab, jab, jab, as Susan says) or who think to be a spelling bee is to be a smart bee, when it simply means to be a drone. Like the artist whose painting is as accurate as a photograph but unimaginative, the spelling bee is productive but hackneyed.

Words in all their dress and display should surprise us – startle, chortle, spark the double take.

Spell check, by the way, while helpful, is not a solution. You don’t learn to spell using spell check. In fact, spell check often makes matters worse. Did you mean spell-check? Did you mean spellcheck? Some will argue that’s not a spelling issue. And (underline the right word following) they’re there their probably right. Which is why I’ve been working on mindfulness. Perhaps I meant spill chick, or spoil choke, but chuck it all, anyway. I know how to spell, believe it or not, delete, though I take no delight in it.

I’ve developed Minefoolnest © as a self-improvement program designed to improve both your spelling and your overall attention to text. It’s a program for language misfits, those who, like me, hear words in sounds and sounds in words, often, not the same words and sounds others hear.

Correction: Reader John Dockus (see comments below) has identified Vice President Dan Quayle as the miscreant misspeller of potato, and not Bush, not Florida, and not tomato. Would that there were a fact-checker as well as a spell-checker. Leave it to readers to do both for you, and this is what you get! Thanks, John. The Toads blog regrets the error.

 

Read and Nap

Sunday Comics Jun 24 16Scamble and Cramble
Two Hep Cats
and Other Tall Tales

Deconstruction & Design

Scamble and Cramble Cover DesignIn the process of deconstruction we discover new ideas. We need not start with a design in hand. We don’t necessarily need a plan. Unless, of course, there is some destination we are particularly interested in, we need to get to. If that’s the case, we’ll usually find ourselves on the wrong path, wrong way on a one way street, people barking directions at us, flipping us off. But if we begin with deconstructing that destination, we often find we discover interesting things along the route we end up taking we would have otherwise missed. There will be constraints. Fences and gates. Do Not Enter signs. No Solicitors. Beware the Dangerous Critic!

At the same time, we shouldn’t be afraid to ask for directions, listen to our critics, gather advice, ask for consent, patience, forgiveness of our trespasses. That the severe critic may be lurking behind the next corner, hiding in a recessed alcove doorway, spitting sunflower seed shells from an open second story window, pulling us over to ask for license and registration – that the severe critic lurks in the shadows of our path is a good thing. The critic keeps us awake when we might otherwise fall asleep, and reminds us of our responsibilities to audience, sense, time, and place, direction, design, and deconstructions.

Coming Soon!

Common keyboard signs and punctuation marks become characters in this experimental children’s book for readers of all ages. Scamble and Cramble are two cats observing, interpreting, and commenting on daily events. Other animals come and go, too, changing with text and form and story. “Scamble and Cramble” may work best for independent middle grade readers. Younger children may enjoy perusing the book with an older guide. The book’s Concrete Poetry techniques use standard keyboard symbols and readily accessible font types and sizes. Readers may be encouraged to explore more the world of concrete poetry.

  • Paperback: 108 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (June 24, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1533501084
  • ISBN-13: 978-1533501080
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.3 x 8 inches

Scamble and Cramble
Two Hep Cats
and Other Tall Tales

Things to Do in the Twenty-First Century

CapitalI had thought Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” would be one of those books I would continue to read about but would probably not read first-hand. At 685 pages, its great strength data, its cost new $39.95 (speaking of wealth and distribution), the French economist’s thick tome was not on my list of books to keep an eye out for, let alone add to one of the several stacks of books to read already piled about the house. Piketty’s book is a stack of its own.

In an Isaac Chotiner interview with Piketty at the New Republic , Piketty himself speaks to to the difficulty of reading such books:

IC: Can you talk a little bit about the effect of Marx on your thinking and how you came to start reading him?

TP: Marx?

IC: Yeah.

TP: I never managed really to read it. I mean I don’t know if you’ve tried to read it. Have you tried?

IC: Some of his essays, but not the economics work.

TP:The Communist Manifesto of 1848 is a short and strong piece. Das Kapital, I think, is very difficult to read and for me it was not very influential.

IC: Because your book, obviously with the title, it seemed like you were tipping your hat to him in some ways.

TP: No not at all, not at all! The big difference is that my book is a book about the history of capital. In the books of Marx there’s no data.

But I was wrong. First, fortune brought “Capital” my way. I was walking down to a distant mailbox (like newspapers disappearing, so too are the neighborhood mailboxes). On my way, I looked into our local library box. Only about five or six books. The Believer magazines I’d dropped off the other night were gone. But there at the end of the top shelf in the library box was Piketty’s “Capital.” I picked it up. Looked unread, brand new. Weighed about five pounds. Would it still be there in the box when I got back from dropping off my mail? I glanced through it. Couldn’t take that chance. Not with this kind of fortune. So I walked away with it, feeling a bit guilty though because I knew I might not actually read it, those stacks of unread books about the house already weighing upon me like a seven course meal when you’re not really all that hungry to begin with.

But I was wrong. Second, the book is not all that hard a read. While it probably won’t make anyone’s top ten common reader list, Piketty’s book is clearly written, concise, with well-wrought sentences, and full of remarkable insights and surprises. Consider this paragraph, the subject of which (experiential, anecdotal, or empirical data) revitalizes the current humanities in crisis folderol. Piketty says,

Intellectual and political debate about the distribution of wealth has long been based on an abundance of prejudice and a paucity of fact.

To be sure, it would be a mistake to underestimate the importance of the intuitive knowledge that everyone acquires about contemporary wealth and income levels, even in the absence of any theoretical framework or statistical analysis. Film and literature, nineteenth-century novels especially, are full of detailed information about the relative wealth and living standards of different social groups, and especially about the deep structure of inequality, the way it is justified, and its impact on individual lives. Indeed, the novels of Jane Austen and Honore de Balzac paint striking portraits of the distribution of wealth in Britain and France between 1790 and 1830. Both novelists were intimately acquainted with the hierarchy of wealth in their respective societies. They grasped the hidden contours of wealth and its inevitable implications for the lives of men and women, including their marital strategies and personal hopes and disappointments. These and other novelists depicted the effects of inequality with a verisimilitude and evocative power that no statistical or theoretical analysis can match.

Indeed, the distribution of wealth is too important an issue to be left to economists, sociologists, historians, and philosophers. It is of interest to everyone, and that is a good thing (p. 2, Introduction, A Debate without Data?).

And we learn on page 24 of Piketty’s book (Figure I.I) that income inequality in the United States (1919-2010) was at its lowest between the years 1950 to 1980. From 1980 to today, income inequality in the US has grown steadily, and is now higher than it was during the Great Depression years. Those 30 years of comparative stability (1950-1980) allowed for a sharing of accumulation of capital and knowledge unprecedented and not seen since. The US working class achieved a remarkable degree of middle class provisions, its children went to college in unprecedented numbers, without incurring today’s debt for education, but today nearing or in retirement may be returning to its roots.

 Today’s library box held only three books, none of which I picked up: “A Nun on the Bus”; “Jesus for President”; and “Bernie Sanders: an Outsider in the White House.”

A Short Excerpt from Coconut Oil

Here is a very short excerpt from the “Wintertide” chapter of “Coconut Oil.”

Oh, and the jouissance of the creamy oil’s single flavor savors of favor, in the bath, kitchen, by the four-poster or berth, for dry skin, diaper rash, or when the dark knells for thee. No need to refrigerate. Oil squeaky hinges, refurbish dull wood finishes, fry Copper River salmon in cast iron skillet, remove warts (rub under duct tape), fly cats to the moon or snorkel under ocean kelp beds, race around the ceiling, the coconut salesman is at your door!

Be the first on your block to order a copy of “Coconut Oil”!

Paperback $8 … e-Copy $2.99

 

  • Paperback: 194 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (May 24, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1530995264
  • ISBN-13: 978-1530995264
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches

Coconut Oil eCover

 

 

Coming Soon! Coconut Oil, a New Novel by Joe Linker

Jonathan Swift’s 1729 essay, “A Modest Proposal,” argues a single solution to homelessness that Swift proudly suggests would provide a host of beneficial side effects. Satire is sometimes hard to get, or hard to take, the difference between satire and farce being that satire aims at a target. One might today imagine a certain presidential candidate coming up with a proposal like Swift’s that many might take seriously, missing the satirical target – and that would be farcical.

Of the critical reviews appearing for “Penina’s Letters,” several stand out for their clear and concise but right-on insight into the book. Lisa, a family friend from the Vatican Hill days, posted a picture of “Penina’s Letters” being read in a swimming pool in Cabo with the comment:

“So this was a great read – hit on some serious issues – but I enjoyed the ride – and still can’t figure out where 48th Street is located.”

Lisa’s comment hits on significant aspects of the book – how do we treat serious issues in fiction that is also intended to entertain? And she joins in the fun by wandering around looking for a fictional street she knows doesn’t exist.

My friend Dan posted a longer review to his blog, and when I thanked him in an email, he wrote back,

“It’s a very good novel.”

Dan’s a reader, suffers no delusions about stuff, and is thrifty with his complements.

Meanwhile, over at Youssef Rakha’s Cosmopolitan Hotel site, Philippa Rees has this to say in a comment:

“Hugely atmospheric, and sharply conveys the sightly abrasive affection, the wind and the sand papering the uncertainty. Enjoyed the drive to the ocean.”

And under the “Penina’s Letters” excerpt published by Berfrois, Philippa wrote:

“An underpinning of real harrowing tension in this. Could hardly bear the savage exposure of the truly private in a ribald public arena. There are some crimes of insensitivity that merit the return of the stocks!”

Also meanwhile, my Facebook friends had a bit of fun posting pictures of their copy of the book, being read or held or posed at various locations, including Mexico, France (on a Kindle in Paris), Montana, airplane to Los Angeles, dashboard of car in Sellwood, Studio City, Minneapolis airport bookstore, in the woods above Los Angeles, on an office desk near the Willamette, a deck in Bend, Voodoo Doughnuts, a pool room in Portland’s Hawthorne neighborhood, a bike repair apartment in Seattle, outside the Mojave Cancer Center, a very cool San Francisco pad, a neighbor’s house on 69th, a laptop with Instagram photo in Aloha, another sitting out in the yard on a warm day on the west side, on a table with the rest of the mail in Ione, on a shelf at Em’s with her cookbooks, Warren’s place in North Portland, a desktop in El Segundo, on a quilt in Barstow, and please let me know if I missed one, because what a great marketing idea!

Anyway, I was encouraged by the reader response to “Penina’s Letters.” The novel may not be what many expected it to be. And most readers seem to intuit that we probably should not criticize something for not being what it was not intended to be. It’s also hard to finish everything we pick up. I get that. I’ve nearly always got a dozen or so books and magazine articles in disarray around the house in the process of being read, but then there’s always something that pulls you to it, and you wind up finishing it before anything else. That’s maybe a good definition of a good read.

And I was so encouraged by the reader response that I’m now announcing the sequel to “Penina’s Letters,” called “Coconut Oil.” Please don’t think I wrote “Coconut Oil” in a couple of months. Like “Penina’s Letters,” “Coconut Oil” is a final (Beckett said abandoned) draft of years of writing and reading work. As Cornel West said in “Examined Life,” “Time is real.” So I finally decided to “light out for the Territory,” though unlike Huckleberry, ahead of hardly anyone else.

I’ll let you know when “Coconut Oil” is ready to launch!

Oh, yeah, that bit above about Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” That has to do with “Coconut Oil.” You’ll see.

Meantime, thanks to the readers of “Penina’s Letters”!

IMG_20160417_143645

on Hawthorne Blvd