“If there is no room in poetry for difficulty, where is difficulty to go?”
As Richard Blanco moved to the podium to read his inaugural poem “One Today,” I felt tremors of excitement, and fear for the significance of the moment. Any poet will tell you that poetry is not dead, but that it is often forgotten, except on this one day when the whole world watches a poet read a poem written specifically to honor the induction of a new President of the United States. The pressure on the poet to most people is obvious, but to most poets the pressure is almost unimaginable, so I sat on my bed with hope in my breast.
I was disappointed. Immediately, there was a self-reference of the poet & the poem. For those who don’t know what I mean, I will directly quote the line. Read more »
Watson, the “question answering machine” from “Jeopardy!” can’t engage in smalltalk, but can get a little testy. After reading (memorizing? uploading?) the entire contents of the Urban Dictionary and Wikipedia, Watson proved incapable of gauging its audience. The supercomputer “even used the word ‘bullshit’ in an answer to a researcher’s query.”
“Ultimately, Brown’s 35-person team developed a filter to keep Watson from swearing and scraped the Urban Dictionary from its memory.” -from the Jan 2013 issue of Fortune
It’s only a matter of time before Watson and SIRI team up to create the ultimate set of Your Momma jokes. Somebody warn Ken Jennings.
It’s that most excellent time of the year again, when the American Dialect Society gathers to look at what we’ve been saying for last year and vote for the best words and phrases.
Here’s what those linguists, lexicographers, etymologists, grammarians, historians, researchers, writers, editors, students, and independent scholars decided upon for this year (winners are marked with an asterisk):
WORD OF THE YEAR
YOLO: acronym for “You Only Live Once,” often used sarcastically or self-deprecatingly
fiscal cliff: threat of spending cuts and tax increases looming over end-of-year budget negotiations
*#hashtag: a word or phrase preceded by a hash symbol (#), used on Twitter to mark a topic or make a commentary
Gangnam style: the trendy style of Seoul’s Gangnam district, as used in the Korean pop song of the same name
marriage equality: legal recognition of same-sex marriage
47 percent: portion of the population that does not pay federal income tax
YOLO: acronym for “You Only Live Once,” often used sarcastically or self-deprecatingly
* -(po)calypse, -(ma)geddon: hyperbolic combining forms for various catastrophes
hate-watching: continuing to follow a television show despite having an aversion to it
beardruff: dandruff from one’s beard
MOST CREATIVE Read more »
I have never fully understood the idea of grace, in the religious sense. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary has three slightly different definitions for the religious term alone. I was raised Episcopalian and I don’t remember the concept of grace ever being talked about much in my church, but then again, it wasn’t really your standard church. For several years, it operated out of a rented room behind the Dunkin Donuts in town and was led by a lesbian priest, years before that was officially accepted.
I know that the idea of grace is somewhat disputed among different branches of the Christian church, and that it seems to be something people can be given, not something they can achieve, though it still seems to be an envied and desirable state. Indeed, one of my professors said in class last year, “Grace is inherently passive.” For some reason, this statement has stuck with me. I have my own ideas and associations that come up when I hear the term, but I still don’t really understand the full scope of its meaning.
I’m no longer a practicing church-goer, and haven’t been for years, so when one of my friends, who often reads early drafts of my poems, told me that he saw most of my poems as seeking a kind of grace, I was taken aback. I didn’t even know what that meant. I still don’t know what that means. Poems that deal directly with religious belief, on the whole, make me uncomfortable. Or I should say, those that praise or otherwise profess their beliefs make me uncomfortable. I can appreciate the poem, but can’t always embrace it completely. (In other words, I love the complex language of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “Pied Beauty,” but I can’t feel a connection with it on a deeper, more emotional level.)
But this is, perhaps, a failing on my part; I reject the kind of belief they ask of me. Read more »
When we first moved into our house, one of the first things we noticed was that our neighbors proudly displayed a rather large Confederate flag in their garage.
As my wife and I both grew up in this area of rural Minnesota, we’d seen Confederate paraphernalia before, but that was primarily from yokel high-schoolers, kids who would skip class to go hunting or come to school via snowmobile. And while I detest the Confederate flag, you know what—that’s forgivable. Sophomores in high school rarely (never?) consider the implications of their actions.*
But my neighbors are adults—and if you’re an adult and fly the Confederate flag, that means something else entirely. This is especially true in the North. Minnesota was a Union state. It was the first state to respond to Lincoln’s call for volunteers in 1861. The 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry played an especially important role in helping the Union win the Battle of Gettysburg, which helped win the war. So, if you’re flying a Confederate flag in Minnesota, you’re literally flying the flag of an enemy nation.**
Oddly enough, my neighbor’s Confederate flag is flanked immediately by a large American flag. It’s like dueling banjos. Even though we’ve lived here for three years, despite my misgivings, I haven’t reacted publicly to my neighbor’s flag.
Then, this week, as I was heading to work, I noticed that a Confederate flag was displayed in a different neighbor’s garage. Read more »
My parents always told me that I could be a lawyer. I hated it when they said that. I wanted to be a dancer, or a singer, or write books, but never a lawyer. I didn’t want to go to law school, I didn’t want to take the LSAT, and I knew I didn’t have the ability to be as well-versed while thinking on my feet. No, I wasn’t cut out to be a lawyer. I had explained this to my parents several times over the course of eighteen years. I insisted on it. They said it anyway. I fumed.
They wondered why.
Pride is certainly my greatest character flaw. I love being precise, and when I find that the meaning of my words has been misconstrued to mean something I did not intend, I grow frustrated and panicked. I wonder if I’ve hurt someone, I fret that people won’t like me anymore, and all because my words weren’t precise. The language that I grew up loving so much, that I used to tell stories and write plays and work out my ideas about life, was unreliable and imperfect. Instead of giving up on it and accepting the flaws of trying to communicate something through a living language, however, I hacked at it again and tried different words. Read more »
By day, I work as the editor at a publishing company. We primarily produce field guides and the like, so I’m pretty familiar with the form. I therefore humbly present this field guide to bad poets. As all reputable field guides also include photographs (or scientific drawings) of the included species, I will use my computer’s webcam to make corresponding faces for each type of poet.
The Confessional Poet
Description: As the name suggests, the confessional poet’s work often discusses the intimate details of that poet’s life. While such work can be quite powerful (see Sylvia Plath and John Berryman), in the hands of an amateur this poetry style is prone to oversharing. Graphic, graphic oversharing. More often than not, it’s really, really boring.
Poetry Subject Matter: Guilt, parents, depression, ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, suicide, trysts, sadness, pretty much anything pertaining to any aspect of reproduction
Range: Ubiquitous, unfortunately.
Population Status: Least Concern.
good for learning to read.
When I was in college and had a radio show on WBAR with my friend Sahy, I used to sit in the station and read all the English lyrics from the Japanese hardcore bands we were playing. There was something inspiring about the insanely nonsensical interpretation of the English language contained in the liner notes of bands like Lip Cream and Paintbox, and I remember those nights in the station with Sahy not only as a crucial moment in my relationship to music, but also in my understanding of what is was that made me love language so much.
Now I get to have those moments often, as the friends I spend the most time with speak English as a second or third language. For example, sometimes they translate Polish sayings into English to describe things in ways that make total sense but I never heard put like that before.
Also, five-year-olds are masters of invention when it comes to words, and I spend most hours of most days with nineteen of them in a bilingual kindergarten, encouraging them to communicate in English.
Read more »
From October 14, 2012
An Israeli judge has ruled that a huge trove of documents written by Franz Kafka and his friend Max Brod that have been hidden from view for decades must be turned over to Israel’s national library, which plans to publish them online.
(“Woman Must Relinquish Kafka Papers, Judge Says,” The New York Times)
“Kafkaesque” doesn’t even begin to cover it.
You may already know the basic background: Kafka died in relative obscurity and many of his most famous works were published posthumously. Before he died, he entrusted his closest friend, Max Brod (a fellow writer), with all of his literary papers and other documents, with the explicit instruction that all of the remaining papers be burned. (Kafka had already burned many of the papers himself.)
Upon his friend’s death in 1924, Max Brod ignored Kafka’s instructions, claiming in a postscript in the first edition of The Trial that “Franz should have appointed another executor if he had been absolutely and finally determined that his instructions should stand.” Brod published The Trial, The Castle, and Amerika in the three years following Kafka’s death.
In 1939, as the Nazis entered Prague, Brod and his wife fled to Jerusalem. Legend has it that, in dramatic fashion befitting the movies, Brod and his wife were among the last to escape (they caught the last train out of Prague! Five minutes before the Nazis closed the border!); that the suitcase of Kafka’s papers was one of the few belongings they took with them; that if they’d been caught, Kafka’s papers would have been lost or destroyed by the Nazis or distributed among private collectors, never to see the light of day. Now, who knows how accurate the image of Brod sneaking out five minutes before the borders closed with nothing but the shirt on his back and a suitcase of Kafka’s papers is, but it does lend the whole thing a certain…oh come on, it’s romantic as all hell. (Danger! Intrigue! Nazis! Let’s face it, somewhere James Franco is making a movie about this right now, and he’s studying footage of The Sound of Music to get in the right head space. Liesl: “Rolph! Please!”) Read more »