Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day

I wrote this a couple of years ago. Reposting today (for obvious reasons).

The dominant hegemony of consumer driven romantic love assures that most of us will never even consider the saint associated with Valentine's Day. Although almost nothing is actually known about him, he was a third century priest who, after trying unsuccessfully to convert Claudius II to Christianity, was imprisoned, beaten to death, and beheaded by the Romans for refusing to renounce his faith in Jesus somewhere on or about February 14, 269 AD. Beheading isn't typically considered very romantic and, aside from the color of spilled martyr's blood, doesn't account for most of the discourse we associate with Valentine's Day today—the hearts, roses, chocolates, diamond bracelets, and candlelit dinners. So where did all this modern bricolage come from?

Some have suggested Valentine sent parchment hearts to fellow imprisoned Christians while others claim the romantic connection revolves around the belief by Europeans of the Middle Ages that February fourteenth was the day birds gathered to mate. The latter is most likely an attempt to connect two disparate events with a coincidence of date while the former is probably pure, unabashed myth and wishful thinking. The real story may, in fact, stem from medieval Christianity's affinity for appropriating holidays from anyone who didn't appear to be suffering enough. In the fifth century, pagans were still partying it up at the Feast of Lupercalia, celebrating the deity Lupercus or, as he's better known, Pan—the horned (and horny) god of fertility. All of this hedonism and merrymaking was too much for Pope Gelasius I, so, in 494 AD, he banned the celebration of Lupercus and, for convenience sake, moved the feast from the fifteenth of February to the fourteenth, renaming it Saint Valentine's Day in honor of the slain martyr. Not ones to be easily put off, revelers stuck with Pan's ideals while transferring them to the largely unknown saint and, well, here we are fifteen hundred years later spending billions of dollars on Hallmark cards, flowers, and jewelry in hopes that, at least once this year, we might just get lucky. It probably isn't exactly what Gelasius had in mind, and, for his part, Saint Valentine would almost certainly be appalled by the epicurean excess practiced in his name.

And what about the heart? That red arched signifier of love and the pinnacle of overdetermined everything that is Valentine's Day doesn't even point to a genuine signified. It is a complete social construct—an orphaned icon. An actual heart, the one beating inside all of us (even the cold, black one kept alive by a pacemaker inside Dick Cheney), is far removed from the imagery of Valentine's Day. What if one substituted the symbolic heart with a depiction of an actual one? How would the meaning change? Of course someone has done this. In our postmodern age of irreverence and irony, it was only a matter of time before the symbol was replaced with a representation of the real. In the case of an image I discovered (above), a simple message, “Happy Valentine's Day,” is printed in a red serif font that sits on a beige background above an equally red representation of a bona fide, out of the chest onto the paper, heart. It isn't quite anatomy class, but it's close. It gives a whole new meaning to the idea of giving someone your heart—conjuring images a la Apocalypto instead of romance and roses.

There is something truly disturbing about the juxtaposition. In an act of resistance and parody, the artist forces us to face up to our ideology. The heart, long-vaunted symbol of emotional love, becomes the fragile muscle that forces blood through our body for the finite time we're alive. It is a heart violently torn from the flesh. It signifies death. In this way, bloody images of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre—where Al Capone's cronies mercilessly gunned down rival gangsters in Chicago in 1929—are closer to the new interpretation than anything offered by DeBeers or See's Candy. It is with this fresh gaze we are forced to follow the thread of violence from the Romans' persecution of Saint Valentine himself to the Christians' persecution of the pagans for celebrating a different, randier, god; from Al Capone's slaughter of Bugs Moran's men to images of horrific atrocities committed in the modern diamond trade. With this wider view, we are able to see how our choices affect others—we are able to undo ourselves from the subject position to view the world more objectively. That diamond necklace may buy a night of nookie with the wife, but it may also contribute to the pain of someone in Sierra Leone.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with spreading romance. However, we should consider considering our loved ones every day, not just on the one day our hyper-consumerized culture tells us we have to. The next time I see the simulacrum heart, I'm going to remember that image of the real one. I'm going to try to make choices that, hopefully, maximize the happiness of my lover while minimizing the misery of my fellow global citizens—and I'm going to try to do it without the advice of some slick Madison Avenue advertising firm. To put it simply, this Valentine's Day I'm going to try not to do what St. Valentine did, and lose my head.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Poetry Finds Static

I had a request to repost this:

Poetry Finds Static
(A Manifesto)

Poetry rides shotgun on a highway going nowhere anyhow. Let’s just get that straight out front. You just want to find a station. Let’s get that straight too. I can’t remember the last time poetry put in. It can tell a story. That is true. But it’s no friend. Don’t make that mistake. Sometimes poetry shakes you to wake you. That is true. Poetry always turns to the station you don’t want to hear no how. Is that true? Poetry never finds it anyway. It gets stuck between stations. Poetry finds static. You can almost hear what it’s trying to say. That is true. But it can drive you mad. That is true too. Two tunes at once. Can poetry be both? What isn’t really? That might be true. Poetry takes its time or no time. Depending. What is poetry but language? What is language but the scenery? The same images shifting perception, each of us interpreting but not really knowing. As if you could. As if it could. What is true? If nothing else, that is. It makes sense to look at poetry this way and that. Drip comes close. Buzz is closer, but that’s about it. Whisper and sizzle and clang too I guess. There are more of course, but no more are needed. Buzz Whisper Sizzle Drip Clang. Drip Whisper Clang Buzz Sizzle. How can that be true? No, true, of course, is meadow horse lake love nightingale God. So true yet it certainly doesn’t seem so. The road is what we decide. Get that straight if nothing. Poetry finds static.

Gertrude Stein said there ain’t no answer. She also said there ain’t gonna be an answer and there never has been an answer. That, she said, is the answer. Poetry is as good an answer as any. Or not. If poetry claims to have the answer it is lying maybe. Maybe not. How do you know? Gertrude Stein says so, that’s how. Poetry finds static. That is the only true thing. Poetry will smoke your last cigarette. It sits beside you or behind you. It sleeps a lot. Poetry can be ahead of you sometimes always anyway. That may be true or not. Don’t ever let poetry drive. For that you’ll be sorry. If you only take one thing away from this or that let it be. Poetry is not dependable. It barely looks at the road ahead anyway. It gawks at the rabbits and the tumbleweeds and the lines behind. It will leave you in the ditch or worse. That is true. Out of gas and out of cash listening to static. Believe it or don’t—it doesn’t matter much anyway. An old, drunk poet said there are worse things than being alone. That may be true. But he didn’t say what. He also said that friendship means sharing the prejudice of experience. That of everything seems true. So maybe poetry is your friend. Remember, it can tell a good story if you let it. You can let it. But you have to be willing to listen to both stations at once.

You can find it in this really lovely anthology of manifestos---------------------->

Which can be ordered from these really lovely people here:

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Desk

I've been writing, I just haven't been posting here. So before it starts to get all cobwebby, I've decided to dust off my blog and start posting again, beginning with this little story I wrote a few years ago and just recently uncovered...

The Desk

The desk sits in silence. Its seat perfectly molded to imperfect specifications in a low-grade, space age, polymer-like polymer substance. A perfect fit for the average student’s average-sized rear end. Its flat, laminated surface attracting—no, begging—for the kinds of misuse and abuse that it has been subjected to.

I see that “J.D.” was here back in ’01. I wonder what that little fucking vandal is up to now—now that he’s out there in the real world. I bet he wishes he’d picked a different major. Ancient gum hides just out of sight on the pressboard underbelly of the thing. After we’ve blown ourselves to bits; after the nuclear winter, some visitor from space will puzzle over this little petrified, pink blob—the last remaining remnant of our sensationally-sophisticated, super-sexy civilization.

More interesting than the thing itself are the reflections in the fingerprinted, curved, faux-chrome legs of the stale, jaundiced fluorescent lights above. Morphing and twisting shapes like a fun-house mirror, they’re a lot more engaging than this lecture. If I wanted to, I could tilt my head at just the right angle and use the reflection to look up that girl’s skirt—you know, if I wanted to.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

"Troubles Swapped..." is finally out...

I have a manifesto in this anthology...

Go here now to support a publisher that supports poets:

Salt Publishing or Amazon

(it's cheaper from Salt)

Friday, June 5, 2009

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Mammal Soup

We ate the mammal soup.
Methadone ponies hawk idolatry,
forecasting plasticized night terrors.
Our dream puppies
succumb to the kryptonite,
their nostrils spitting phlegm.
These ruminations,
these bedtime space parades
triggered by the harpy heartthrobs
that ply us always on nights like these
with liquor and Vantages,
smegma and sweat.

Masters of wet dream paraphernalia
and bagpipe marionettes—the flesh-coated proletariat
cry out when the Magpie Priestess sings.
Her little wisps of daisy lipstick
bend the willows of our worsened angels.
A bourgeois cutesy, she's always up for a smug grizzly caress
as she belts out Kerouac eyeshadow serenades.

Frazzled moments of shoestring importances,
Blake-like contrivances,
Hobbesian nightmares, and expectations

upon expectations
upon expectations

Another sanctimonious sunrise—
this binary travesty, this cheetah-scream light show
shakes us from the trick, moonlit facade.
Be happy the sunshine tapped you
for this twisted evolutionary carnival.

Ambiguities traded for electric hipster mugshots,
mud-cake diseases for Facebook lobotomies,
and regrets for these scurrying bombasts.
Scant relief, I know.
Each hour, a stanza,
the day,
this poem.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Graduation Ruminations

I haven't been posting lately and, for those of you who are still paying attention, I apologize. I am currently busy working on a chapbook of poetry which should be finished in a couple of weeks and, honestly, just enjoying my life.

Yesterday, someone reminded me both of my poor neglected blog and the late David Foster Wallace (who pops up here from time to time). He was one of the finest writers who ever lived. Here is the transcript of the commencement address Wallace gave at Kenyon College in 2005:

I'll post more soon, I promise...