Number Spiral

Maybe the ibuprofen has worn off, but this seems weirdly interesting today and makes me think of gematria, perhaps because of the relationship of number and pattern.


Ugly Pajamas

The Pajamas Media venture launched today as Open Source Media.

I hope they didn't pay their designer yet. For a wanna-be cutting-edge media site, it looks like a company manufacturing precision ball bearings. And since when does a for-profit get a .org domain?


Language Log

Interesting blog here about all sorts of things language-related. I particularly liked the entry about "snowclones." Sounds very Oulipian.


Pull Up a Cushion

...and grow your brain.


Deja Vu All Over Again

He's not even really trying. Side-by-side comparison of two Bush "speeches."

Tin Foil Hats

They enhance certain government frequencies. Or so say four guys at MIT with way too much equipment and time.


Internet Quiz, Part MMMI

You are a Cyberculture Floozie. The theoretical aspects of postmodernism interest you only insofar as they can be used to make cool blinky things. You probably take psychedelics and know at least one programming language (HTML counts!). Other postmodernists call you a corporate whore. They're probably just jealous because you make more money than them.

What kind of postmodernist are you!? brought to you by Quizilla

Well, I think I've read way too much Derrida for this to be true, but I do regularly use four programming languages by their count (C#, Lisp (Scheme), HTML, Perl). As for corporate whore, my Microsoft badge is ORANGE, dad gummit.

(The Virtual World made me take it.)


Strict Constructionism

A wonderful Talmudic story embedded in a larger consideration of the plausibility of "strict constructionism."


On the Job — Not a Good Sign

I've managed to memorize the three-digit code the vending machine takes for Payday candy bars.


Dead Kitten Poetics

Very interesting discussion on K. Silem Mohammad's blog, Lime Tree, about the interrelationships of craft, taste, and prejudice. It all begins with a truly awful Mary Oliver poem, thinking about why it's bad, and whether or not that has anything to do with craft.

Start here and here. Continue here and here.

(Thanks to Jeannine at Webbish6.)


Report on last month's Oulipo conference in Los Angeles.


A Big Winner?

"Libra lottery tickets." That's the most recent search phrase that brought someone here. Maybe I should start a side business.

Lysistrata Motley

There's a discussion of Corinne Lee's poem "Lysistrata Motley" over at The Virtual World. After seeing the poem on Peter's blog, I bought the book it's in, Pyx.

I was a little surprised when I looked this afternoon and discovered that commenters have found the poem baffling, except for the last four lines. The exception was Pamela Johnson Parker who knew the scene in Lysistrata referenced in the opening (I didn't). Even without that, though, the poem strikes me as repaying attention. So, I'm going to describe what goes through my head when reading it, going sentence by sentence. Herewith, the poem:

Lysistrata Motley

Even the quitch loves, sashaying
belly-blade to blade-belly

when wind is low. Most days,
we fail to notice
that elusive, Rastafarian

canoodle. The poems
therefore darting away, sunken,
through the halls.

Our words becoming escapes,
not spoor. Why can't
our selves intersect
with the exterior?

Because something is sclerotic,
strung high
in the Burundi
Salvador trees. Where dewdrops

are slaver. Listen up:
The Egyptians jettisoned

a mummy's cerebrum, knowing
the heart should do
all thinking.

Lysistrata Motley Let's start with the title. Lysistrata, of course, is the main character in Aristophane's play who organizes the women to withold sex until their men stop the war. In the poem she becomes a figure placing a principle above the natural. Motley, of course, has several meanings. It can suggest a dissonant sort of patchwork. That might suggest a working method for the poem. But the word is also a synonym for "fool." So we have Lysistrata Fool, in another way of reading.

Even the quitch loves, sashaying belly-blade to blade-belly when wind is low. The way the sentence begins implies the speaker is different from what she is observing: (Unlike me) even the quitch loves. Even the quack grass shows and gives in to attraction. "Sashaying", of course, is slangy and sensual and a come-on all at once. And notice how in the construction, by reversing the compounds, the blades of grass are brought together: "belly-blade to blade-belly." "Belly," of course is slangy and, to me, calls to mind Stein's "Lifting Belly" and all of its sensuality. The phrase "wind is low" heightens the attraction between the blades of grass. Even when there isn't much external to force the blades together, they come together.

Most days, we fail to notice that elusive, Rastafarian canoodle. Here, the speaker is further distanced from attraction. Not only does she not experience the force of attraction, but most days, she doesn't even notice that it's about in the world. "Rastafarian canoodle" is a wonderful phrase, suggesting the long tangles of the mutually attracted blades of grass. It also brings together words from two very different vocabularies, heightening the playfulness of the poem and also suggesting, as subtext, that even very different things get together, unobserved by the speaker. The etymology of "canoodle" also has senses of "fool" or "foolish lover", connecting it with the "motley" of the title.

The poems therefore darting away, sunken, through the halls. Because the speaker doesn't sense the attraction about in the world, her poems keep leaving her. They are heavy, sunken, unlike the lightness of the canoodling grass. The halls suggest that the poems never stay with her, never become a part of her, and that the speaker in a sense never comes out of the house (the self?) into the world.

Our words becoming escapes, not spoor. "Spoor" is the droppings of an animal and, thus, a way of tracking it. Without the connection to the world, to the vividness and sensuality of the world, language becomes an escape from the self rather than signs that lead back to an organic world and, perhaps to the fullness of the connected, sensual self.

Why can't our selves intersect with the exterior? For the speaker, this is not a rhetorical question. The interior of herself, her self, lacks a connection with the sensual world, "the exterior." Hers is an impoverished self. It is this lack of connection that turns words into escapes and poems into escapees rather than aspects of a full self.

Because something is sclerotic, strung high in the Burundi Salvador trees. Something blocks the connection between the speaker's impoverished, wholly interior self and the world. It's a sclerotic connection. Now, I confess that I don't know what "Burundi Salvador trees" are. Google was no help. But the something that is sclerotic, the connection between the self and the sensual, is "strung high" up in the trees and, therefore, out of the speaker's reach.

Where dewdrops are slaver. This seems a little problematic to me. I read it as telling us more about the location, high in the trees. There, beyond reach, what is romanticized and therefore emptied of meaning and sensuality (dewdrops) is really animal slobber (concrete, sensual, real, and animal). Again, this adds to the difference between the speaker and the world, and the speaker's interior self and the fuller, possible self connected to the sensual.

Listen up: The Egyptians jettisoned a mummy's cerebrum, knowing the heart should do all thinking. Folks over at the Virtual World wanted to seize on this as the principal theme (solution) to the poem. I understand the temptation. But I'm not sure that's right. First, it's not clear to me that the speaker knows the solution. She is certainly aware of her inner poverty and, occasionally aware of the sensuality of the world, but I don't think these lines show that connection being made. The speaker goes back into her catalog of knowledge to retrieve a fact. All it really says is that the Egyptians, too, knew the problem. (It may also imply that, for the Egyptians, it was only after death that the primacy of the heart was achieved.) Second, I'm not entirely sure the speaker is trustworthy. Notice the imperative. The impulse to teach others comes through. Sometimes this impulse comes not from knowledge but from lack. This could also be a speaker in motley, a fool, presenting a truth, but couching it in a way so as not to entirely reveal herself. Finally, given the complex thematics of the poem, even as short as it is, I don't think all of those elements could possibly be resolved in the final lines.

In a sense, then, the poem works some of the same ground as the Romantics: the connections among self, language, and natural world. The Romantics, of course, in happy moods, thought they had the mainline to the divine in nature. But not always: Shelley's Triumph of Life, Keats Lamia, etc. I think that it's that dark suspicion on the underside of Romanticism that gives rise to Lee's poem. But the poem is very much of our time, with its wild, slangy vocabulary; self-consiousness about its nature as a constructed thing; its disjunctive structure; and its refusal to provide a short, paraphrasable solution.