26 December 2007

Jackalope Milk

Eleven or twelve years ago a sacred gift was passed to my hands from the hands of my grandfather. It had been in the family for years, and was traditionally re-gifted every Christmas to a different family member. Each year, the person cared for their charge, until the next Christmas, when all others had forgotten, and a present unexpectedly revealed the treasure: a can of jackalope milk. This can had remained untapped until the year I received it. It was my first possession of the heirloom, and I was thrilled. The next Christmas, no one opened a present to find it. It went unnoticed. An invisible blip on the radar of Jesus's birthday. It wasn't until a few years later - no one knew how many - that my cousins wondered about its whereabouts. I was fingered, but even my memory was weak, and no one could be certain. The well-sealed can certainly remains, dusty and lonesome, in some hidden place in my house. The lonely milk of the jackalope cries quietly at night.
What is a jackalope? A near extinct creature, with the body of a rabbit and the horns of an antelope - a beautiful thing to see running across the meadows of the Sierra Nevadas. We used to chase at Yosemite with my grandfather. My father tells the story of a camping trip when he was ten, and awakened under the stars by a clamor of bear-scaring pots and pans. The black bear had chased a foolish jackalope into the campsite, and both, in their sylvan glory, soared above him in their return to the wild, the bear blotting out the moon.
My uncle trapped and stuffed a jackalope three or four years ago. The species produces the softest and most lovable of all taxidermic results. The teddy is now passed, as the milk once was, and as my grandfather did years ago. My sister gave it to my Auntie Carol today. Carol suffered from a stroke and can't really speak now, just can repeat a few things. She said "jackalope. jackalope." when she opened the present. And smiled and laughed. You have to love the jackalope, because it is there to love. It is there to remember. The jackalope across the plains and my grandfather puffing along behind it, ready to capture its final disappearing leap and put it down into a watercolor. The jackalope across Carol's lap, ready to leap with her, ready to be held at night. A stuffed animal for having and giving. A hug for a year.

03 December 2007

Let me in...

Could not gain admittance to the ACI tonight. Once a friend wrote a poem about that. Something like: what man, do I gotta be high/to get myself in to the ACI? hmm... wasn't sure what I thought of it. How strange though, to complain once of not being able to get into prison. Plenty of people don't complain about it, and yes we are voluntarily attending in the first place, but nevertheless.
Even the guards would love a day off. One of the guards told us he had been sick and had diarrhea. Phil recommended using baby wipes, cause they don't soak through. "Can't complain, no diarrhea here..." A fellow 'teacher', from CCRI, started asking the guards about working as a prison guard. "You gotta be a certain kind of person, I couldn't do it myself." and the guard in reply: "Yeah. You gotta be fucking crazy."

19 November 2007

Spoken Word

Not many of you came to see the WORD! poetry show this past weekend. That's okay, you've seen slam or spoken word before. What I have to tell you is that I have been doubtful about the genre for a while now. My doubts stem from artistic concerns. I list a few:

Spoken word

is more entertainment than art.

is necessarily a personal form.

is always an immediate experience.

sometimes gains emotional clout by tapping into 'real' events, which are effaced in an effort to provoke chills or tears.

is stuck in a form with a very limited range of possible variations.

These things have led me to choose to perform very specifically selected pieces. Last fall I collaborated with Eva on a piece called Moving that was literally about moving, in a lot of different ways. Not explicitly personal, no make-you-cry punches in the face. Good. This year I performed a piece called Building that was intentionally obscure, although far more personal. The poem referred obliquely to both a specific place (a prison) and a specific person (an inmate). I mentioned the inmate's name, in the midst of a gesture intended to erase the graphic novels of criminality that had been sketched onto him, but in doing so (as was pointed out to me) I completely obliterated him for the sake of using an inmate (any inmate) in my poem. By only mentioning his name, I fell softly, but firmly into my own critique.

His name, your brother's illness, some kid's death at police hands, hardships elsewhere, histories of hate.

Easy fodder, right? Tricks of the trade. Talking about things we all already know (the president is an idiot, racism is present) get snaps, and things we don't understand yet get passed over. And with the same ease that the Slam Poet slides facts into his fiction, the facts become art and artificial, and begin to stand next to the churning wheels of armchair liberals who went out and started the car, but it was cold, so they are just waiting and rocking. Waiting and rocking.

Not all poems rock like that though, some rock it big like boulders, some rock it silent like stones. And some do rock it like a brick through the window that tells you that its time to wake up. One poem caused one person to look up Executive Order 9066, and then caused me to write here about it. Another has led to at least four conversations that I considered worthwhile, and built towards something.

It can be either bringing a new light to something familiar, or bringing something new to a new light. The same tired topics are getting worn and falling apart. If the poem sees this, relaxes, and doesn't try to put anything back together, it destroys spoken word, and makes something new. The conversation is like a real one. I write something. You write something. And they were about the same thing, and had the same words, and I was looking at you, and you at me, and somehow we were talking. What could be more personal than freaking out, or arguing, or laughing? And if it is artificial, then I am artificial when I ask to hold hands, and when I apologize, and that's alright I guess.

Spoken word does not need to be saved, or to be told what to do. Criticism does not take you all the way there.

15 November 2007



first watch this. then think about everything you do and stand for. and it is all falling into pieces, but that is ok because you can go to the home page website and watch more. they are a group comprised of two interneters, Young-Hae Chang and Marc Vogue. "Language is the essence of the Internet, the real gateway to using the Web." So they try to use it to its fullest, employing music and words to produce Web Art. The text in Dakota, for example, is based on works by Ezra Pound (mostly his first Canto). The pieces do not need to be understood in a critical sense to be Understood.

12 November 2007

David Elsewhere

I like to imagine that his name comes from where he usually was when people were reifying the dance-idea of popping and locking into specific, formal categories. He was elsewhere, in his basement, in front of a mirror, having attended a single popping showcase or watched one breakdancing video. After that initial contact, David went down to his basement, forget almost everything about what he had just seen, and didn't come back up until he was the master of his own style. A similar story is told about Kid Koala, who is sort of analogous to David as a strange scratch DJ. These moves, though.... What can we even do with them? They are difficult to process, coming so obviously from Elsewhere.

19 September 2007


I am inundated with writing this fall. Every day, Monday through Friday, I have at least an hour and a half devoted to writing, talking about writing, or listening to other peoples writing. Should be an incredibly productive time. Or I will be just boggled by everyone and everything. This is mostly a spot for The Hidden T.R.E.W.T.H. (Tabloid Realism Enlightening World's Troubled Humanity).

I sometimes say that it is a stupid acronym, as acronyms go. But I said that last Sunday and Bradley admonished me: "don't say that". He was serious and it changed the mood of the conversation. I thought about it some more, and realized that it is not stupid.

First of all, it does enlighten. The Inside is a totally foreign place for most 'citizens' of the United States. A little peak in, even in the form of inmates' writing, can do nothing but enlighten. To have the sense of the Inside, to attack the idea that we are Outside of prison because we are not criminals, is incredibly valuable.

Secondly, the incorrect spelling is not silly. Rather, it refuses to conform to the supposed right rules of the English language. Language is always a proposition, and there is a true side and a false side. Spelling the word truth like this: truth, is true. Spelling it like this: trewth, is false and wrong. Where does the dominance of 'convention' come from. Why not spell things wrong? Why not write? It is easy to say things that are true and obvious, it is much harder to say something untrue.

Finally, when you graf write T R E W T H across the cover of a publication, it looks cool.

04 September 2007


In relation to my promised building of a fixed gear bike.

God. What is it about hipsters that we dislike? That makes us sneer? Where is the line drawn between us and them? And who is paying for all those bikes?

In a glorious and exciting trade Peter is helping me to build a fixed-gear, and I am teaching him to cook. We will trade cookbooks for bikebooks, and kitchen intuition for dérailleur adjustment technique. I rode Peter's bike for 24 hours from Sunday to Monday (while he trekked out of the state on mine). I have never been so exhilarated on a bicycle before. I felt like hot lightning. I was up near Pembroke campus and wanted to go to Prospect Park, which would have been about 20 seconds away, but I was thirsty, so I shot home for a glass of water, and then back to the park. Monday morning I was sore. The first time I'd been sore from biking that I can remember.

Having my own monster bike back is lugubrious. I can hardly move the pedals. I wallow in gears, brakes, and a seat the size of a couch. The result of all this is that I want a fixed-gear bike, and I want to ride it, and I want to be hot lightning again.

The problem, and the reason I'd like to write about all this, is that I want other people to see it. Eyes will move over my single gear, and take in my constant pedaling. Somehow it will be different. It will be cool. But where does this 'cool' feeling come from? Cursed while blessed I am. An inability to shake this awareness haunts me, blows past me as I ride.

Cool and hip are two distinct things. I am defining them now=> Cool is the feeling you get when you wear your favorite shirt, rock new kicks, bust moves, answer questions, say hi to a lot of people, sing, and even vote (I voted!). It is a totally imagined awareness of people noticing your cool item/talent/attribute/sticker. I repeat: all imagined. I feel cool when I wear my green jean cut-offs because I think they look good, for example. I feel gazes slide smoothly over my thighs, even though they do no such thing.

Hip is what everyone thinks can't be cool because it is too cool. Bikes, being in bands, 'finding' bands, big basketball shoes and tight pants, screenprinted shirts, etc. I see the hipsters on their painted fixtys and I feel certain that they are too hip. But, and I think this is the key, who is this everyone? It certainly doesn't actually refer to everyone. Hip hop culture does not celebrate or reject or even recognize this kind of hipness. In the words of a former resident at the Training School, "Man, why you dress all weird an' shit? I seen y'all, wearing tight pants and all." Its not good, bad, or ugly. Just weird.

I propose that the 'everyone' that we are dealing with here are the hipsters. The visible hipsters, the hated ones, are the ones most likely filled with the most insecurity. But we only hate them because of our own insecurities. Who would actually snicker over a bike if it didn't affect them on some insecure emotional level, whether they are snickering over a lack of gears or a surplus? "Fixed gear, that's so hip"/"Mountain bike, ohmigod. Hideous." Anyone culturally informed such that they can mock someone for being a hipster, is a hipster. Anyone who wants to play the game. To stick the nose in the air. To jump when cool kids don't jump. To not jump when cool kids do. We are all hipsters. Anyone who knows what I'm talking about, who is affected, who jokes, 'that's so hip'.

And its fine. That is the great thing. Who cares? The necessary part is that we recognize it, own up to it, and then release our little dislikes and insecurities. We are all here in relation, and we all jump sometimes, and the better we feel about the whole deal, the higher and further we go, right? If I am perfectly honest with my self, as cheesy as this gets, I find that almost every judgment I make on others reflects on something in myself, some doubt or criticism. Through our complex network of hate and insecurity we are all creating the hipster snob, for good or for bad, s/he is the product of everybody's insecurities, slammed into a single human, wearing tight pants and placed for some reason onto a bicycle with a single, fixed gear.