Thursday, August 26, 2010

I've moved....

Hey ya'll; decided to head over to tumblr, namely so that I can more easily follow friends and post videos. Head to Mental Yoga if you are still masochistic enough to listen to my blathering. I've imported my old posts from here into that new blog. xo

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The N-Spot: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: Or, the Modern Prometheus

In her provocative anti-war tract Three Guineas, Virginia Woolf again and again invokes a horrific wartime newspaper photograph, manipulating (to good purpose, mind you) the delicate sensibilities of her readership. However, as she reminds us, the figure responsible for the pictured atrocities—this shadowy, gargantuan figure we might call ‘Tyrant’ or ‘Dictator’—cannot be wholly disavowed by members of ‘respectable society.’ The ‘Tyrant’ is not entirely other to those capable of ‘identifying’ him, as such. Indeed, for Woolf the photograph itself “suggests a connection…that the public and private worlds are inseparably connected; that the tyrannies and servilities of the one are the tyrannies and servilities of the other…It suggests that we cannot dissociate ourselves from that figure but are ourselves that figure.” The division of parts, the distinction between the oppressor and the oppressed, the good and the bad cop, dissolves under pressure; such lucid myths cannot hold.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: Or, the Modern Prometheus seems to me to provocatively prefigure this sentiment. For, despite your—or my—expectations, Shelley’s Frankenstein is no drive-in monster movie. Dismiss visions of rectangular greenish skulls, inconvenient steel bolts, and incomprehensible low-throated grunts. There is a dash of suspense here; a spine-shiver or three there; but the tale is horrifying more pointedly in the way that campfire stories chill the childlike sense of wonder we persistently retain. In fact, the story evidently originated in a scene rather like that, around the eerie glow of the campfire, though I suppose most of us cannot boast winning three-legged races or battles for the top bunk against Percy Shelley or Lord Byron.

The body count is relatively high for such a highbrow novel, but the chief terror of this novel is its indictment of an ambitious, seemingly charmed intellectual who presumes to play god. Frankenstein (Victor, the creator; the monster has no name) believes he has discovered an antidote to the usual cycles of life—birth and death—or at least unearthed paths that obviate the conventional route humans trek along. When the creature that emerges from his unethical (or at least blasphemous, if you go in for that sort of thing—and I don’t) experimentation turns out to be visually repulsive, Frankenstein abandons him to the cruelties of the human world and subsequently expects his own life to resume its usual motions. Indeed, it is this conflict that tends to be left unmentioned when people speak of Frankenstein—or at the least, it was a tension in the novel that I was more or less unprepared for (particularly seeing as I consider myself a fairly well-informed ‘literary’ type).

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Aural-gasm: Scissor Sisters, "Night Work"



I’m less of a music snob than you likely believe me to be; in fact, if you’d asked me two months ago, I probably would have confused the Scissor Sisters with Le Tigre or some other hazily riot grrl band. On a whim I grabbed their first two albums, which quickly became my personal soundtrack as I danced around my apartment, packed it up, moved to my new one, stomped through the streets of Cambridge, sat in coffeeshops around Harvard Square tapping my foot wildly, &co&co. It was as if I’d returned to my old haunt—The Wave, in Norfolk, and found myself woozy and suddenly dancing on stage. Fortunately, the sheer fun of listening to the band dispelled the melancholy of homesickness, and I eagerly anticipated their new one—enter Night Work. Whether you’ve never heard of them—or you have—or you hate them—or you hate music on principle—you should feel obligated to allow this album at least two listens, and come to the revelation that no other album will as perfectly slide into the discomforting heat and ennui of this summer.

Imagine your favorite dance-band revisiting Footloose, Dirty Dancing, and Flashdance, tossing in a stash of poppers and meth, twisting it with a healthy dose of anonymous semen, and finally emerging from that skeezy back-alley to keep on dancing. This is, without question, a rather naughty album; one to dance to, certainly, but more importantly, one to fuck to. It’s got the energy and the Velveeta-drip of the 80s but brings with it the tainted despair of our post-romance, post-social, post-internet age. The album runneth over with runaways, hookers, “sexual gladiators” (as Ian McKellen so wisely says on the album’s final track), tweakers, dirty dancers, terrifyingly deluded stalkers, and lovers who will almost certainly never see one another again (or if they do, say on the T for instance, they’ll studiously avoid one another’s eyes and continue to cruise the other passengers).

Thursday, June 17, 2010

TAH-TOO

I finally finally did it. Yesterday, my little sister & I went up to the Red Lotus parlor in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, & became tramp-stamp-sistas-4-LYF. Well actually, my sister got her tatt between her shoulderblades, but it'sh official: I'm a tramp, & I now have the stamp on my lower back to show for it.



"Nolite te bastardes carborundorum." Or, "Don't let the bastards grind you down." It's from The Handmaid's Tale, & I'm happy to give the full story sometime, though not feeling like ruining the pleasure of storytelling on here.

Actually, it wasn't nearly as painful as expected. More an annoying sensation which infrequently blossomed into brief & pointed torture. It hurt most around the spine & by the time she hit the right side, I was more or less accustomed to the feeling & got through the rest easily. Oddly enough, I might have caught the tattoo bug--as in, I think I'd like another at some point. Maybe a design around this one or another altogether.

My mom said to my sister that men wouldn't want her if she got more than one tattoo. Hopefully I'll have the pleasure of hearing the same advice before I head back to Boston--ha.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Thoughts on SATC2



So I have a confession: I've never been a tremendous Sex & the City shipper. I'd catch the (tragically censored) reruns on TBS; once in a while I'd watch it on DVD with friends (which was always better, with the abundance of hot male ass), but I never stuck with it, & so missed the end of the series & the first movie. But, you know, I can name the gals; I can generally follow the plot even if I'm coming into the middle of a storyline; but let's just say this movie was on my unconscious never-to-be-seen list. ANYWAY, ran into my fabulous roomie on the way home from the T last night; we grabbed a drink & a smoke, & she ended up asking me to see it with her (& with sister/sister's fiance). Since I only had the joy of apartment hunting & syllabus revisions ahead of me, I emptied a water bottle, filled it with white wine, grabbed my smokes, & we hauled ass to the theater.

Cutting to the chase...if you've ever wondered why multitudes of people around the globe find Americans so terribly repellent, just see the cultural icons that are most strongly identified with the US. Watch SATC 2 & tumble into 2.5 hours (MY GOD WHY WAS IT SO LONG?) of the most repulsively indulgent, extravagant, decadent, consumerist escapism of your life. The characters are so far removed from reality that you feel almost as if you're watching slightly different blowup dolls moan & groan about their phenomenally challenging lives. Everything is shimmering & polished; the fucking film opens with My Big Fat Gay Wedding (a contrived relationship, to boot, which I won't spoil here), replete with LIIIIIZZZZAAAAAA cameo (also, I don't care what people have been saying; Liza BUTCHERS "Single Ladies"--it was embarrassing to watch) & the most ridiculous displays of wealth you could ever imagine.

The show of course always adorned the ladies with glamorous wardrobes & Park Avenue apartments &co&co, but the movie takes this decadence to an entirely other level. At one point Miranda & Charlotte raise a toast to "mothers without full-time nannies"--but the moment falls totally flat and suddenly you're disgusted by the film's inability to consider anyone that doesn't have more money than they know what to do with. OF COURSE we'll all jump on the opportunity to have FOUR private vehicles in the Middle East, even though we'd all fit in one & this is supposedly a "gals-getting-crazy-together-trip." OF COURSE we'll take advantage of private butlers--what amounts to personal (and orientalized) slaves. OF COURSE we're only going to wear couture the entire movie (except when we get out of the shower, & are draped in 40k towels).

Toss this atop the rampant racism in the film's portrayal of the Middle East (much elementary commentary on the wearing of the veil--with the four SATC gals realizing that they're SO liberated in the US), blatant displays of disrespect towards non-Western culture which are never *really* reconciled (except in an almost ludicrous literal un-veiling scene), and conflicts & resolutions that seem so generated as to have come from a fill-in-the-blank wordgame--and you've got one of the most disingenuous & pathetic examples of film I've seen in years.

The show had a sense of whimsy, joy, tongue-in-cheek awareness of the extravagance & escapist tendencies; the film took everything jubilant & wrung it out until the interactions between the characters felt forced, the travels & the clothes seemed disgusting instead of glamorous, & the jokes seemed dried up & dejected. The writing was atrocious, the acting was mostly pretty terrible (the one great moment of the film was when Miranda & Charlotte admit to one another that motherhood is tough), the shine was too glimmering, & all in all, the movie infuriated rather than titillated me. Two thumbs way down, my friends.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Tutoring?

So need a touch of advice. I've been throwing around an idea for some time now, which is to try and freelance tutor this summer. The thing is, I figured if I was going to go through with it, I'd like to do it in the way I want--and to avoid compromise. If I want to compromise, I'll just wait tables or take some other shit job. So essentially, my plan is to--basically--form a mini-version of the course that I'll be teaching in my grad program in a bit over a year. Which is to say, I'm designing a syllabus around texts I love and would be comfortable teaching--and the tutoring course (perhaps unlike the one I'll be doing at the school) will be about equal parts seminar discussion and composition training. I'm organizing it as a small group tutoring 'class'--perhaps capping it at 5 or 6 students--and then holding private tutoring hours one day a week (which would be how I would charge it comparably to private tutoring).

I've got a preliminary syllabus together, and basically, we'll meet two days a week for an hour and a half or two, discuss our texts, discuss some theory/criticism, and discuss the weekly responses they'll be working on. I'm thinking of doing a number of things to help with the papers--peer critique, various assignments (re: the responses) in terms of writing approach, one or two will be responses to the theory rather than the fiction, etc. Then in private sessions, I'll really nail down the specifics of their papers. It's a lot of work, I suppose, but ultimately only adds up to around 15-20 hours per week, so I think it's entirely manageable. They'll also do one short, formal paper, and one longer one (around 8-10 pgs) at the end.

Oh, I should say that I'm aiming this at rising college freshman & high school seniors thinking of applying to college. Basically, this is designed to aid in the transition between high school level reading/writing & college level work.

My questions: a) anyone done comp. tutoring before, with general advice? b) I was thinking of assigning Elements of Style alongside our fiction--think this will be helpful? The thing I worry about is that my writing & grammar & the like has always been very intuitive--I tend to be able to tell when something is off, but I don't know that that unconventional approach will be as useful in teaching. c) Should I/can I charge comparably to private tutoring. I was also considering charging it more like a summer course--a flat fee, rather than hourly. d) Anyone know good places to advertise this sort of thing? I figure craigslist might suffice & some fliers in local coffeeshops, etc. but maybe something a bit more legit would help my cause? e) Is this whole idea just totally moronic?

Advice much appreciate. And if you don't--in the words of Very Mary-Kate, "WHY is everyone pooping on my dreams???"

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Poem o'the Day: John Keats, "La Belle Dame Sans Merci"

I'm not well-versed in Romantic poetry, but I adore this poem & want to share it with ya'll.



La Belle Dame Sans Merci
John Keats

I.

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
alone and palely loitering?
The sedge is wither'd from the lake,
and no birds sing.

II.

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
so haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel's granary is full,
and the harvest's done.

III.

I see a lily on thy brow,
with anguish moist and fever-dew;
and on thy cheek a fading rose
fast withereth too.

IV.

I met a lady in the meads,
full beautiful--a faery's child,
her hair was long, her foot was light,
and her eyes were wild.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Woo Lawd

Been quite some time, no? Let's see...a lyf upd8? Finished my first year; waiting on my review from the faculty to come in. The papers went fine, though I may be spending part of the summer revising one for possible publication. That'll take a shitload of work, however, as the paper just didn't crown as easily as I expected. On the to-do list:

-Employment? I have money saved up & probably don't need to work, but I'm terrified that I'll have a Bell Jar summer if I have nothing to get up in the morning for. Kidding? Ideally, I'd like to tutor, but I hear freelancing in Boston is pretty tough because you're competing with big groups like Kaplan & the like. May advertise, just in case. Thinking maybe an 8-week intensive course teaching high school seniors and/or college freshman how to write college level papers--with some literary crit & seminar-style discussion thrown in. This is mostly just a dream, but I figure it can't hurt to try. Otherwise, waiting tables, working at a coffeeshop, something like that, part time.

-A new place. If you're in the greater Boston area & know of any good places in Cambridge or Somerville opening up, give me a holler. Budget's around 600-700 on rent. I need out of my apartment asap.

Also, I joined okcupid...hahahaha. Whatever, it seems like a pretty classy site, & I need to expand my social circle or I'll hate Boston forever. Already had some interesting conversations there--and actually, a pretty good date? Don't feel like confessing details here, but I'm sort of interested to see where things go.

Other than that, just reading, looking around for a job & an apt, catching up on sleep. Not sure what to do with the blog this summer. Maybe I'll try and do the poem-a-day (poem-a-week seems more feasible now) thing again. Would be good critical stretching for me. I wanna start writing again regularly, & also take up exercise in a more serious way. I miss doing yoga every morning; might also start jogging, though that might require me to quit smoking. We shall see...

Hope ya'll's summer is off to a fabulous start. Boston's an oven again, but it has been perfect outside-reading weather for the past several days.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

In lieu of anything interesting, some recent book reviews...

Desperate to get through the next month. Lawdy lawdy. Nothing to say, but plenty of books read, and here are a few reviews, x-posted from my goodreads. Included: Plath's The Bell Jar, Ted Hughes's Birthday Letters, Diane Middlebrook's Her Husband, Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, and Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Iceland: The World's Most 'Feminist' (?) Country

I'm curious to hear what ya'll think of this.

Strip Clubs Shut Down in Iceland

Iceland is being hailed as the most 'feminist' country in the world because of their nearly unanimous vote against the commodification of nudity in the workplace--most notably, in strip clubs, but the new ban places stricter parameters around this, in the case that loopholes (topless waitresses, etc.) are exploited. Also, I just said 'hole' and 'exploited' in the same sentence in a post about stripping. I'm 3 years old, thx.

I can't pretend to be an expert on Iceland. I like Bjork, which means I know about 90% of what needs to be known about Iceland. (And just so you know, I hated her last album, so you better step it up, Iceland.) It seems that prostitution was banned last year; they're putting together an action plan against the trafficking of women; and now, of course, the strip clubs have been shut down. And don't get me wrong here; I'm not trying to claim this is some strange Handmaid's Tale-style introduction to a totalitarian state of control over female bodies.

I certainly have a great deal of respect for any action taken against the trafficking of women--but as I've argued with my friend Gina, there are profound differences between sex trafficking and sex work. And within sex work, there is not a monolithic Platonic 'form' of the sex worker--there are people (not just women, though it seems no one remembers this when it comes to heated discussions about sex work) who become involved because of addiction or coercion, those who feel that it's the only viable survival tactic. There are also those who do it because it pays better than a lot of shit work, and some find it easy, or boring, or enjoyable, or horrible, or demeaning, or empowering, or whathaveyou. I'm unsettled by the almost colonizing compulsion for privileged feminists to point out the 'victimized' position of sex workers. I should say that I am not against sex work. I am against the criminalization of the industry, rather than regulation--to my mind, it'll happen whether or not the law says it 'can' happen, and so we should be providing services--HIV/STI testing, prophylactic provisions, possible wage-standardization and destigmatization. I still question the efficacy of regulation--in Amsterdam, for example, there is a major problem with human trafficking, despite the legality of prostitution. But I don't think the sex industry is a clear-cut issue, and I don't like the assignation of the term 'most feminist' to a country simply because it finds sex work necessarily unacceptable. Feminists are not unanimous on this issue--I count myself as a feminist, and as I've said, I do not wish to demonize sex work.

But pragmatically speaking, what I do question are these details: A) What happens to the women involved in the sex industry? I can see why Iceland believes this to be a 'feminist' move, and I don't know the culture well enough to say that this isn't a wider (not simply talking heads) belief. But how will the chips fall? I think about the U.S. conservative insistence on abstinence education, on eliminating abortion, on keeping non-heterosexual individuals from adopting children; these tactics assume that sweeping an issue under the rug will right the situation. But how do these coalesce in a larger wave of fuck-up-ery? This approach denies, for example, underage access to birth control; abstinence education pretends that these underage kids won't fuck--of course they do. Then, the same kids that have been already failed by the educational and healthcare systems are overloaded with unwanted children--these children are thrown into toilets or, if they're lucky, into orphanages. These centers are overflowing with unwanted kids--but the same conservatives who insist on the 'value' of these lives leave them ignored, and place further limits on *who* is able to give them the love and the homes they deserve.

What kind of fuckery is this, Amy Winehouse might ask. And I'm with her on it. Logic simply doesn't enter into this situation--it's a series of irrational moves congealing in a majorly flawed system.

So what happens to the Icelandic women who lose their source of income with the shutting down of strip clubs, with the banning of prostitution? Are the sex workers simply expected to pick themselves up by the bootstraps and move right along? Or are they provided for? Are there services to aid them in finding new employment, to help support the livability of their lives as they seek new venues of financial stability? I'm just curious about the details of this decision; is there the assumption that the end will justify itself? That the outright ban will cure the symptoms? None of this was mentioned in the articles I've stumbled across. If ya'll have seen answers and have links, or have some of your own to offer, leave 'em in the comments section.

Oh, and my B) thing was the conflation of anti-sex-work with feminist, which I addressed earlier, accidentally. That's it for now.

Currently in Pennsylvania, surrounded by my dogs. The pups have doubled or tripled in size, and the four of them together comprise a little wolf-pack. The pups' obedience class was amaaazzing--only cuteness and puppy tricks. Got some blog plans for the next few days, so keep an eye open. Just one.

Finally, here's that crazy Bjork, breakin' laws:

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Poem o'the Day: Sylvia Plath, "The Detective"

A random favorite from Ariel. I'd never noticed it before this read-through, when the image of trains shrieking like 'souls on hooks' hooked me and I read the poem a half-dozen times, trying to figure out how the fuck SP manages to capture these X-ray images of horror and anguish so beautifully. Full poem and comments after the jump.




The Detective
Sylvia Plath

What was she doing when it blew in
Over the seven hills, the red furrow, the blue mountain?
Was she arranging cups? It is important.
Was she at the window, listening?
In that valley the train shrieks echo like souls on hooks.

That is the valley of death, though the cows thrive.
In her garden the lies were shaking out their moist silks
And the eyes of the killer moving sluglike and sidelong,
Unable to face the fingers, those egotists.
The fingers were tamping a woman into a wall,

A body into a pipe, and the smoke rising.
This is the smell of years burning, here in the kitchen,
These are the deceits, tacked up like family photographs,
And this is a man, look at his smile,
The death weapon? No-one is dead.

There is no body in the house at all.
There is the smell of polish, there are plush carpets.
There is the sunlight, playing its blades,
Bored hoodlum in a red room
Where the wireless talks to itself like an elderly relative.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Aural-gasm: Review of Goldfrapp, Head First



Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory, the two musicians that congeal behind the aptly-named duo Goldfrapp, prove themselves, once again, to be fascinating little sonic changelings. For over a decade now, they've been driven with each album to try something a little bit off, to veer in a direction that perhaps you thought would never happen following their previous effort. It began with 2000's stunning Felt Mountain, an atmospheric, film-noir-esque spectacle that sounded as if it were the soundtrack to the best townie bar on Pluto. Black Cherry followed, a bit more erotic, a bit more electronic, perhaps slightly more dance-able, particularly with robotic-grind tracks like their famous "Strict Machine." Nevertheless, the same icy sheen that accompanied Alison's breathy, wide-ranging siren call on the debut seemed intact. 2005 saw their venture into 70s-esque disco on Supernature and brought them into heavier club rotation, with singles "Ooh La La" and "Ride a White Horse." By this point, Goldfrapp seemed somehow everywhere and nowhere at once: songs like "Ooh La La" and "Strict Machine" were joyously accompanying phone company commercials, and every up-and-coming act interested in electronic music and in reviving New Wave either counted Goldfrapp among their influences or blatantly ripped them off without credit. Still, Goldfrapp has somehow evaded the mainstream spotlight, despite the instantly gratifying accessibility of much of their music and their wide-ranging (but usually unnoticed) reign over current 'It' kids like Little Boots and La Roux, not to mention that wacky bitch Madonna (who supposedly looked to Goldfrapp's Supernature tour for inspiration on her own Confessions on a Dance Floor tour). In 2008, the pair vomited up the glam image and club-crowns to tackle pagan-esque folk music and their most dreaded instrument--the acoustic guitar--in Seventh Tree. Alison's trademark vocals carried the effort, but the spacey chill of their first three albums was replaced with a lush new warmth. Alison shed her sex-bomb image to become, as in the first track "Clowns," a mischievous circus performer.

I begin with this because even those of my friends that are familiar with some of their music know little about their history, or the far reaches of their output--I've a friend, for example, who listens to "A&E" from Seventh Tree on the way home from the club weekly, but who probably doesn't know how much he'd love their more grind-y, eminently danceable work on Supernature. Sorry for the lengthy history.

Head First finds Alison and Gregory shifting shapes once more. Now that Goldfrapp's many proteges have seemingly exhausted the 80s revival, Goldfrapp finally make a record that seemed perhaps inevitable--perhaps impossible--for so long: an unabashedly sincere, joyous, warm, orgasmic 80s album. A number of critics have claimed that Goldfrapp fell behind the curve here--after all, who hasn't revisited the 80s by now? But what these critics leave out is this: who the hell does the 80s in the way Goldfrapp can? There are moments on the album that make you want to throw your hair into a bouncing side-ponytail and slide grease over your thighs to slip into fuchsia Jazzercise spandex--see "Alive," "Believer," lead-single "Rocket"--and others that evoke the ambient experimentalism of Kate Bush, circa The Dreaming and Hounds of Love--for this, go to "Hunt" and "Dreaming." The album is short and sweet; a mere 38 minutes long, this is easily listenable on your morning walk/run/shower, and it's about all I've listened to during those activities since it leaked a week or so ago.

(Continued after the jump...)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Poem(s) o'the Day (Month?): Sylvia Plath, "Morning Song," "Barren Woman"

It's been quite some time since I updated the blog, I realize. I was feeling burned out on a lot of things, including--GASP--Anne Sexton. I just finished Ulysses last night, and had been working on that for nearly ten weeks; had been working on Sexton for six or seven; and I'm simply at an intellectual impasse with my Feminist Methods class. The weather only finally turned last week (now it's rainy again), so I was beginning to feel that I was at an entire-life-standstill. In any case, it feels good to turn a few new leaves--onto a book-a-week in my Modernism class (now that Ulysses is no longer a bag of bricks in my backpack), onto not caring about said impasse-class, and onto Plath, onto Adrienne Rich, Louise Gluck, and hopefully spring as well. Time to get out of this nasty blue funk I've been in for so long.

That said, really nothing new on a more general level. My life is lived almost entirely on the page these days, so the new thing for me right now is rethinking my work on Sexton through the lens of my work on Plath. One of my biggest ongoing concerns with Sexton is to articulate a sort of "ethics of confession," in my loose terming of it--applying schemas like Jessica Benjamin's notion of "mutual recognition" (vis-a-vis intersubjective theory) and Judith Butler's conception of the 'ethical postmodern subject,' etc. This is probably too pretentious for a blog post, sry. So one thing I wonder is this: if I believe Sexton is interested in recognizing the Other--those she addresses in her poems, be they living or dead, base creatures or Christ--in a mutual way, do I believe Plath does the same?

I don't know, to be quite frank. As I immersed myself in Sexton, who seems by all accounts to have been a deeply compassionate and loving, if troubled, person, I found myself slightly repelled by Plath, who often seemed like rather a bitch. But now that I'm back in Plath-camp, I'm again strangely taken in by her tale. They're very different people and poets, though people tend to conflate them; Plath was a myth-maker; Sexton a sort of private storyteller, interested in revealing the underbellies of our darkest moments (sometimes her own, but often not). If you care to learn about the women themselves, I highly recommend Diane Middlebrook's biographies on each--Anne Sexton: A Biography (sort of notorious, because AS's private therapy tapes were released to Middlebrook and used, to the consternation of many), and Her Husband: Ted Hughes & Sylvia Plath, A Marriage. The Sexton one is really the only biography on her, to my knowledge; the Plath is one of many many many, but is almost certainly the best, though it's interested in the marriage between her and Hughes far more than her pre-Hughes life. Any case, here are a couple of poems. I'll probably be avoiding the really famous ones on here ("Daddy," "Lady Lazarus," "Ariel"), simply because I feel like it'll be a bit redundant.

Anyhow, "Morning Song" (part in the open, part after the cut) and "Barren Woman" (behind the cut):

--

Morning Song

Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.

I'm no more your mother
Than the cloud that distils a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind's hand.

Whoa, Nicholas Sparks, lay off the opium...

Pointed out to me by a friend, Conley, this interview in USA Today with Nicholas Sparks is perhaps the most deluded dreck I've come across in some time. I felt physically ill after finishing it.

Nicholas Sparks and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good-Very-Bad Interview

If you don't care to read it, allow me to pull a few golden turds out of it. Sparks compares himself to:

-Greek tragedies ("I didn't invent my genre, Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides did!")
-Romeo and Juliet and Jane Austen ("They gave the tragedies a rimjob and then I, the amazing NICHOLAS SPARKS, followed the lead!")
-Hemingway ("The Garden of Eden" fucking sucked, but A Farewell to Arms? *THAT'S WHAT I WRITE*"...note, he literally says 'That's what I write' at that point.)

He disavows the following:

-Melodrama ("Sure, I kill characters off in every novel, but not in a *manipulative* way that intentionally toys with my audience's emotion. You know, man, it's *real* emotion I'm evoking. Cuz I'm Hemingway. I'm Aeschylus. I'm Shakespeare.")
-Romance ("Uh, don't you know that genre is for icky girrrrlllls? Plus, it's formulaic, and my novels are NOT BY ANY MEANS DEFINITELY NOT NO WAY formulaic.")
-Cormac McCarthy ("Blood Meridian is a steaming pile of horse feces. I *allowed* him to win the Pulitzer.")
-...everyone else ("No one is doing what I do." --Another actual quote, b-t-dubs.)

And here he is...the man himself...the great...the incomparable...the clearly so-deluded-he-needs-to-be-institutionalized-before-he-hurts-himself-or-others...NICHOLAS SPAAAAARRRKKKKSSSSS! ! ! !



Damn, break me off a piece of that. On a semi-related note, ya'll should check out Conley's (the mastermind that linked me to the interview) hilarious blog. He and his friends battle chatroulette head on!

In which 95% of users are headless phalluses, and 5% are tweenage skanks and imbeciles

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Poem(s) o'the Day: Anne Sexton, "For My Lover, Returning to His Wife," "The Ballad of the Lonely Masturbator"

Two more from Sexton's Love Poems--one of my faves ("For My Lover"), and one that's just wonderfully striking ("Ballad").

--

For My Lover, Returning to His Wife

She is all there.
She was melted carefully down for you
and cast up from your childhood,
cast up from your one hundred favorite aggies.

She has always been there, my darling.
She is, in fact, exquisite.
Fireworks in the dull middle of February
and as real as a cast-iron pot.

Let's face it, I have been momentary.
A luxury. A bright red sloop in the harbor.
My hair rising like smoke from the car window.
Littleneck clams out of season.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Poem(s) o'the Day: Anne Sexton, "The Touch," "The Kiss"



I'm tackling Sexton's fourth volume, Love Poems, this week, and as such, expect beautiful meditations on romantic attachment and intimacy...GOTCHA. Sexton doesn't title a collection 'Love Poems' only to offer orthodox lyrics ruminating on a cuddle-hour on a pleasant, lilac-drenched spring day. These are poems about broken people (even literally, as in "The Break") reaching out for contact, only to be shredded and chucked back into a chaotic and meaningless world. There are married men and women parting to return to their 'proper' spouses, girls awakening into a violent and invasive sexuality, lonely hollow-people crying into their pillows as they masturbate themselves into temporary oblivion. It's not all bad; one poem is a joyous celebration of the uterus, another is a really hot short piece about the sensuality of barefeet and telling your fella to 'pierce me at my hunger mark.' But largely, Sexton's romantic topography is one pockmarked by people unable to fathom identity and existence, begging for a release from inward-looking (and thus annihilating) solitude, even if it means just the single moment of orgasm that removes you from your self. Bodies are always already failed caverns in which we're all trapped, and sometimes allow others to use up in the hope that they'll stay with us forever. But they don't.

In short, these are precisely the kind of 'love' poems I can support--indeed, the only sorts I can 'love' in some sense. It's perhaps Sexton's most subtle work--it doesn't dazzle with the precise language of To Bedlam and All My Pretty Ones, doesn't drown you in surrealism and madness as with Live or Die, doesn't draw blood and cackle like Transformations does, or meditate ceaselessly and despairingly on religion in the last three volumes, The Book of Folly, The Death Notebooks, The Awful Rowing Toward God. I suppose that's why I so often forget how much I adore these poems--they brush against you delicately, bruising but not piercing the flesh, and leave a sensual smoke behind. Much recommended. Here are two samples:

The Touch
For months my hand had been sealed off
in a tin box. Nothing was there but subway railings.
Perhaps it is bruised, I thought,
and that is why they have locked it up.
But when I looked in it lay there quietly.
You could tell time by this, I thought,
like a clock, by its five knuckles
and the thin underground veins.
It lay there like an unconscious woman
fed by tubes she knew not of.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Poem(s) o'the Day: Sexton, "Consorting with Angels," "Sylvia's Death"

Behind. Sunday was hangover-from-hell day. Monday was exhausted-from-idiocy-in-class day. Yesterday was holy-shit-I've-got-so-much-to-do-for-my-directed-study-meeting-tomorrow day. Thus, three poems, all from Sexton's third collection, Live or Die (which is what I'm working on this week in my directed study). She won the Pulitzer for this collection, actually, and re-reading it, I'm beginning to see why. It's as though everything Sexton had already or would soon tackle was in top form in this collection. There are the inklings of her later desperate grasping towards a nebulous god figure; there're incredible musings on the excesses and failures and joys of the (mostly female) body; mothers and daughters and their strange bonds abound; suicide and madness are dealt with in some of the most philosophical poems of her career. It's just lovely. Unfortunately, many of the best poems of the collection ("Flee On Your Donkey," "Little Girl, My String Bean, My Lovely Woman," "A Little Uncomplicated Hymn," "Cripples and Other Stories," "Live") are also incredibly long, so I'm sharing three that I enjoy, but that are also relatively short and easy to type up.

--

Consorting with Angels
Anne Sexton

I was tired of being a woman,
tired of the spoons and the pots,
tired of my mouth and my breasts,
tired of the cosmetics and the silks.
There were still men who sat at my table,
circled around the bowl I offered up.
The bowl was filled with purple grapes
and the flies hovered in for the scent
and even my father came with his white bone.
But I was tired of the gender of things.

Last night I had a dream
and I said to it...
'You are the answer.
You will outlive my husband and my father.'
In that dream there was a city made of chains
where Joan was put to death in man's clothes
and the nature of the angels went unexplained,
no two made in the same species,
one with a nose, one with an ear in its hand,
one chewing a star and recording its orbit,
each one like a poem obeying itself,
performing God's functions,
a people apart.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Poem(s) o'the Day: Yeats, "Leda and the Swan"; Sexton, "Housewife"

Two short poems today--and one ISN'T ANNE SEXTON??? Nah, it's my favorite W.B.Yeats poem. The Sexton one is one I used to think as a bit of a throwaway, but have since recanted. By the way-is this a good idea? Is anyone reading? Frankly, I guess I'll continue posting either way, but of course, I'm totally paranoid and wonder if this thing (the poem-a-day) seems like an exercise in narcissism, or my attempt to seem literarily-holier-than-thou.

Like I said before, I'm really doing this--at least to my conscious knowledge--as a way of blogging regularly without having to bore you with the details of my boring life. I'm not interesting, or rather, my life is not interesting. This is something I've come to realize over the past four or five months. My days are filled with the same things, placed as if on a loop. I wake up; I eat; I shower; I eat; I go to a coffeeshop; I read; I read; I read; I read; I eat; I read; I read; I booze; I sleep. That is my life. Everyday. I'm not sure if I'm dissatisfied. In all honesty, it seems there's nothing to be but content--nothing throws me on either side of the fence, I guess. In short, I have little to blog about. I don't have as much time to keep on the culture wars I'm certain are raging out there--I'm not all that current on current events, because I'm bogged down (mostly) in writing from people who've died decades ago. It's a bit tough to capture my interest these days, because everything begins to seem a bit like deja vu. I've seen or heard it before and perhaps if I tried to focus, I could appreciate it, but I'm just tired or lazy or busy. So yes. That's my apologia for the status and style of the blog at this point.

---



Leda and the Swan (1924)
W.B. Yeats

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
by the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
he holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
the feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
but feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there
the broken wall, the burning roof and tower
and Agamemnon dead.

Being so caught up,
so mastered by the brute-blood of the air,
did she put on his knowledge with his power
before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

--

Housewife
Anne Sexton

Some women marry houses.
It's another kind of skin; it has a heart,
a mouth, a liver and bowel movements.
The walls are permanent and pink.
See how she sits on her knees all day,
faithfully washing herself down.
Men enter by force, drawn back like Jonah
into their fleshy mothers.
A woman is her mother.
That's the main thing.

---

Some commentary after the jump...

Friday, January 29, 2010

Poem o'the Day: Anne Sexton, 'The Operation'

Since I've been a bit bad this week, this'll be a bigger, better, faster, harder post. A long Sexton poem, and a link to an incredible mini-film of her at her home. Found it on youtube the other evening, and was struck--of course by her beauty, I guess everyone was, but also by the sheer radiance, the wonderful humor. It's difficult to imagine someone so full of life taking their own, but as you probably know, she also suffered from severe mental illness, and was in and out of institutions throughout her life. I'm re-reading Diane Middlebrook's biography on her, and it's tough not to be taken in. In any case, here we are.

Anne Sexton at home, Part I
AS at home, Part 2














---
The Operation
Anne Sexton

I.

After the sweet promise,
the summer's mild retreat
from mother's cancer, the winter months of her death,
I come to this white office, its sterile sheet,
its hard tablet, its stirrups, to hold my breath
while I, who must allow the glove its oily rape,
to hear the almost mighty doctor over me equate
my ills with hers
and decide to operate.

It grew in her
as simply as a child would grow,
as simply as she housed me once, fat and female.
Always my most gentle house before that embryo
of evil spread in her shelter and she grew frail.
Frail, we say, remembering fear, that face we wear
in the room of the special smells of dying, fear
where the snoring mouth gapes
and is not dear.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Poem o'the Day: Anne Sexton, 'A Story for Rose...'

So I missed a day. Maybe you'll have two tomorrow. Sure, this whole thing is a bit of a dumb idea, but at least it will keep me blogging regularly during the busy semester, not to mention I can use it to double as both blogging and 'research' inasmuch as I'll hopefully post at least a few thoughts about each poem. Like I said, expect Sexton for a while (though I've got an inkling that Yeats and Maxine Kumin may appear this week).

---

"A Story for Rose On the Midnight Flight to Boston"
Anne Sexton

Until tonight they were separate specialties,
different stories, the best of their own worst.
Riding my warm cabin home, I remember Betsy's
laughter; she laughed as you did, Rose, at the first
story. Someday, I promised her, I'll be someone
going somewhere and we plotted it in the humdrum
school for proper girls. The next April the plane
bucked me like a horse, my elevators turned
and fear blew down my throat, that last profane
gauge of a stomach coming up. And then returned
to land, as unlovely as any seasick sailor,
sincerely eighteen; my first story, my funny failure.
Maybe, Rose, there is always another story,
better unsaid, grim or flat or predatory.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Poem o'the Day: Anne Sexton, 'Unknown Girl in the Maternity Ward'

Since I know I likely won't be able to post as frequently anymore--though I hope to do something later tonight, when my work is finished--I think I'd like to post a poem a day in here. Perhaps every couple of days, but this way, I can share ones that strike me--which should be particularly persistent this semester, with my directed study on female poets after World War II. Of course, this also means that the poems will almost invariably be Anne Sexton for the next 4-5 weeks (this is how long I'm working with her), and then a couple of weeks of Plath, but hopefully others will sneak in now and again, and certainly, at the end of the semester, there'll be more variety (I've got Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Denise Levertov, Sharon Olds, Louise Gluck, Maxine Kumin, and Sarah Hannah for the last 4-5 weeks). Anyhow, here's one for today.

It's from AS's first collection, To Bedlam and Partway Back. Re-reading this collection, I'm rather astonished. I've read it in part or in full probably three times now, and have certainly read some of the more famous poems about a million times ("Her Kind" of course, and "The Double Image," and my two personal favorites, "Some Foreign Letters" and "For John, Who Begs Me Not to Enquire Further"), but oddly, the collection itself is very different to what I remember. First, it's not strictly confessional--there are a half dozen or more that are like little stories, narratives of other lives (though still I think Sexton's interest lies in sort of marginalized or silenced individuals--the 'cripples' of life, as she would probably remark). There's a positively anomalous, really odd (but quite good) little poem that features the nuclear holocaust and life on Venus ("Venus and the Ark"), and then quite a few that are clearly--well, to my mind anyhow--exercises, little workbooks Sexton tried her hand at. She's still finding her voice in this collection. It's less biting, less pop cultural, less assured than the later ones. But it's also beautifully tender, attentive to the most minute of details and experiences, and brave in a way that I don't think anyone quite does like Anne Sexton.

That said, this is "Unknown Girl in the Maternity Ward"--one of the little 'narrative' poems. I'll post the first stanza here, and you can click 'read more' if you'd like. Obviously, I don't own the rights to this poem.

Unknown Girl in the Maternity Ward
Anne Sexton

Child, the current of your breath is six days long.
You lie, a small knuckle on my white bed;
lie, fisted like a snail, so small and strong
at my breast. Your lips are animals; you are fed
with love. At first hunger is not wrong.
The nurses nod their caps; you are shepherded
down starch halls with the other unnested throng
in wheeling baskets. You tip like a cup; your head
moving to my touch. You sense the way we belong.
But this is an institution bed.
You will not know me very long.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Bitch is Back in Beantown

I'm officially back in Boston, lying in pajamas in my cold, dirty, empty apartment. As suspected, the place fell to shambles in my absence. So really, this was more a return to my maid duties than to my domicile. I should really deduct this service from the utilities I pay my roomies. It took about 45 minutes to re-organize all my books, which is one of those weird things I do, it seems, about once a month. I think I just really like to touch them all. There are so many. But now I officially have a shelf devoted to my 2010-reading-goal books (per the last blog post). I have no groceries, so I guess I'm ordering pizza and crying myself to sleep. Possible movie fest. I got the first three seasons of Six Feet Under for fifteen bucks at a Blockbuster that was going out of business. Those should tide me over through the semester, along with the million other movies I picked up at said Blockbuster.

I've been off my beloved ciggies for three weeks--three full weeks, in fact, as I made the decision the Friday night I got into PA. I had one with my aunt and grandpa (because they wouldn't restrain their addictions around me) and one today, after cleaning my room, just to check in with how it would feel. Neither was all that enjoyable, so I figure I'm pretty much good to go. Drunk smokes; special occasion smokes; once-in-a-while-with-my-still-smoking-roommate...these I will not kick myself over. I've just come to the conclusion that I no longer want to be a daily smoker, even though a number of my idols were lifelong puffers--Anne Sexton (at a whopping three packs a day, my god), Virginia Woolf (who rolled her own), basically every Atwood heroine, of course, Joe Camel, oh, and that queen from Brideshead Revisited. It's been shockingly easy--I just flushed one down the toilet and busied myself if/when a craving hit (which was not what I expected--less the burning desire to suck ash, as was the usual hint when I was still smoking, and more of a tightness in my chest, like a really really minor panic attack). Maybe I really was a poseur for those four years. Also, I can't believe I was a legit smoker for over four years. Wow, time flies, furrul.

Any case, classes resume in 9 days. I owe a bunch of people money. I have about 450809 textbooks to buy (mostly my fault, since I included upwards of 20 books on the syllabus for my directed study--thankfully, I owed several already). I fear I'll be blues-y until I'm too busy to acknowledge it anymore, but it was to be expected. The Jenny Wilson album, Hardships, deserves a retroactive inclusion on my best-of-2009 list, as I hadn't heard it until about a week ago. Also, the new Beach House album, Teen Dream, is really great. Probably not as good as Devotion, their last one, but still damn good. Check both of these out.

The magic 8 ball says MOAR BOOK RUH-VEWZ are in the near future. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

2010 Reading Goals, Hellz Yeah

I don't do annual resolutions. I fucking quit smoking three weeks ago; I think this should cover me for the year (unless I cave in again with it, but it's going pretty darn well, if I say so myself). Instead, I'm following Annie A's lead and doing a reading resolution list of sorts. Now, this isn't set in stone; it isn't even that I expect to read everything on this list. But I want to see how far through it I can get within the year. The list is comprised in part by texts I really want to read (for example, bunches of books that I'd hoped to read over the winter holiday and will not get to are included), but mostly by books that I think will fill in some gaps in my literary education. So there are some classics on there, even ones that I don't particularly want to read (re: Melville, Hawthorne, Dostoevsky), but also tons of contemporary works that I want to read *and* should hopefully be productive for me as a scholar--if I hope to go into the field of 20th century lit (largely women's lit), there are so many works that I need to get under my belt.

Sometimes I think that maybe these lists are simply things, not unlike NY Resolutions, that we--I--do to imaginatively shove aside mortality. I binge buy books on half.com--under the impression that they're all money well-spent. I have to live long enough to read them, right? Morbid thought, but it was rising up. Not to mention I found out about someone's passing today--someone I didn't know very well at all, indeed, only through an online forum, but well enough for her passing to really make me take pause. In any case, Michelle, you will be missed.

So the lists. I read a little over 80 works in 2009. I've got a list here of about 70 total works, divided by type--nonfiction/theory (ten), poetry (ten), and fiction (fifty). This doesn't include texts I'll read for school, though I suppose it could in the future (seeing as I don't really know what I'm studying in the next two semesters), so this is a really really lofty list. But I'm doing it just out of curiosity--just to push myself, see what I can accomplish over the next twelve months. If I've got any glaring omissions, leave me a comment--I really tried to cover many bases, with classics and contemporary works, men and women (mostly women), various national origins (France, Russia, England, America, Canada, Argentina, Ireland, Colombia, Germany, and Italy are all covered), realist novels and fabulist fiction, gargantuan works and novellas and short fiction...they're all here. Without further ado (and pardon my bookishness)...

Monday, January 4, 2010

The N-Spot: Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood

I’ll confess up front that I don’t often have the opportunity to read contemporary fiction; or in any case, I’m always a few years behind. Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood, for example, was the only book I read in 2009 that was actually published in 2009 (and I should say that I finished the novel about an hour after midnight on New Year’s Eve—or Day, rather, at that point—as I sipped the dregs of my celebratory champagne). The novel was the latest on my kick of trying to work through everything she’s written, a little mission that began nearly two years ago, when I decided to include her novels The Edible Woman and The Robber Bride in my senior honors thesis on fairytale revisions by recent women (some might say ‘feminist’) writers. I re-read The Handmaid’s Tale for about the eleventh time that summer, and quickly devoured the two aforementioned novels for academic appropriation, and then moved on to Cat’s Eye, Oryx and Crake, Bluebeard’s Egg (short stories), some poetry (Selected Poems and Morning in the Burned House), and, most recently, Alias Grace, which I had the wonderful opportunity to teach in an honors seminar I was TA-ing for. When The Year of the Flood was released in September, I was at the exact point in the semester where I began to be overwhelmed by everything; if nothing else, my first semester in graduate school stripped me of my pleasure reading time. The book sat on my shelf for nearly three months, a shiny, brand-spankin’-new hardcover copy (and you should know by now that I almost never buy books new—it’s just not in the grad student budget, despite the fact that I have to purchase about a million per semester now)—and more importantly, signed by Atwood, who had stopped in Harvard Square to give a reading on her book tour. She sang, she danced, she enticed me by reading bits and pieces from the novel…but still I had to wait.

And then winter break. My reading list is hemorrhaging books—everything that’s been shoved to the side over the past four months, but I made certain to crack into Atwood’s before the opportunity escaped me. I posted thoughts on the novel as I worked through it, which you can find on my goodreads.com review of it, but here are some more overarching musings about the novel.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Because I'm not fucking old enough to do a Best-of-the-Decade List (Part II)

Music, 10-1

10 Metric, Fantasies

I may find Live It Out to be a catchier album, but Fantasies is mature and resilient from beginning to end. Emily Haines will never let me down. Key tracks: Gold Gun Girls, Collect Call, Help I’m Alive

09 Patrick Wolf, The Bachelor

Pop, electronica, folk, and piano balladry—not to mention Tilda Swinton as the ‘narrator’ of the album’s journey—all compressed into a hot white ball buoyed by Patrick’s beautifully emotive vocals, The Bachelor may well be his strongest and most cohesive effort yet. Key tracks: Oblivion, Blackdown, Count of Casualty, The Sun is Often Out

08 Gossip, Music for Men

Gossip outdo themselves on this one; every track has the power to provide a soundtrack to your stomp-offs and mirror-karaoke. If the last album showed that Gossip had come into their own, this one proves their true artistry. Beth Ditto’s voice remains soulful, uplifting, and full of conviction. Key tracks: Music for Men, Love Long Distance, For Keeps

07 Tori Amos, Midwinter Graces

Tori was well on her way to complete irrelevance and oblivion, but strangely, a seasonal album dragged her kicking and screaming out of the slump. It’s a tender, deeply felt, and beautiful album, focused by her kooky eye trained on traditional carols, while remaining universal enough to play for the whole family. Key tracks: Star of Wonder, Winter’s Carol, Holly Ivy and Rose, Candle: Coventry Carol (yes, had to choose four)

06 Lady Gaga, The Fame Monster

If you don’t love Gaga already, I won’t be the one to convince you; nonetheless, this is a flawless eight-track EP that blows even her impressive debut out of the water. Impossibly catchy and fascinatingly constructed, TFM wears its influences on its sleeve while proving that Gaga has both come into her own and harbors the capacity for transformation. Key tracks: Bad Romance, Telephone, Monster

05 Florence + the Machine, Lungs

A truly exciting debut album filled with gems; Florence’s voice is at turns violent, booming, caressing. Each song shines, sometimes drowning out the album as a cohesive whole, but give it time to sink in—she’s certainly got a bright future. Key tracks: Cosmic Love, Girl With One Eye, Howl

04 Bat for Lashes, Two Suns

Her debut was fantastic, but Two Suns takes Natasha Khan far away from the sophomore slump and proves that she has staying power; she’s matured from what could have left her as a Stevie-Nicks-knockoff into a voice all her own. Key tracks: Daniel, Siren Song, Sleep Alone




03 PJ Harvey and John Parish, A Woman a Man Walked By


I’ve come to realize the PJ Harvey is possibly the only artist I love that has a spotless track record, at least in my book. Every album is ace; nearly every track is spot-on. I can put her on at any time, in any mood, and find something enjoyable and new. People bitched about her new collab with John Parish, complaining that it’s intentionally ugly, that her gimmick is wearing thin, that she’s doing things simply to seem avant-garde—but I couldn’t disagree more. Admittedly, I loved Dance Hall at Louse Point (their first collab), which is another divisive album, but just when I thought she couldn’t take her music in any other directions, she and JP pull this one out of their sleeves.

Every track is a surprise, and each one inhabits its own sonic and narrative world. Black Hearted Love is vaguely reminiscent of the alt-pop glitz of Stories; Sixteen Fifteen Fourteen is a biblical tale gone sour, or perhaps a Hansel-and-Gretel fable of lost innocence. If Grow Grow Grow (on her last album, White Chalk) was a child’s terrifying elegy for her dead grandmother, April from this one is the grandmother’s haunting poem to her lost granddaughter. The title track could be dissected within the parameters of feminist body horror theory, with its bizarre attention to a woman/man hybrid with “chicken liver balls,” not to mention the narrator’s violent declaration that she wants to “just get up your fucking ass.” The album runs the gamut of emotions, with fury and arrogance carrying Pig Will Not and violence the title track. Melancholy dominates much of the rest: “Send me home damaged, and wanting” she cries in The Soldier, while in April, the plea is for escape, when “these days just crush me.” Passionless, Pointless is perhaps one of the subtlest laments for a love-gone-bored-stiff that I’ve heard; the breakout into wailing midway through the song elevates the yearning to the passion she wishes for, but otherwise, the song merely encapsulates the failure of a love to sustain itself. Cracks in the Canvas, the closing track, is a reflective glance back over the many places the album’s been, and fittingly leads us into the silence that follows.

Polly’s voice remains chameleon-esque; on April she croaks like a century-old hag; on Sixteen Fifteen Fourteen she howls like a lost girl; she growls and shrieks her way through the title track; she’s an otherworldly siren for The Soldier and an androgynous demon on Pig Will Not (evidently, inspired by a Baudelaire poem, to boot). If DHALP at times suffocated under the weight of its experimentalism, AWAMWB creates its own private world that thrives on its strangeness and gains coherence through loosely connected narratives among the songs. PJ has never been more daring vocally, and even if the stakes weren’t high for a side project like this, she and JP are both (chicken)balls-out for the whole run. It’s ugly, it’s haunting, it’s violent and beautiful. Incredibly difficult to rank these top three, I should add.

Key Tracks: Sixteen Fifteen Fourteen, April, Black Hearted Love



02 Neko Case, Middle Cyclone

I know most prefer her last one, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, to Middle Cyclone, but I think I may be on the other, more evil, end of the spectrum. Though the standout tracks of FC shine brighter (re: Star Witness, Dirty Knife, Hold On Hold On), Middle Cyclone tears you open with its opening note and doesn’t stitch you back up until the bitter end. There are (to my mind) two weak tracks on the album; everything else is simply perfect. This Tornado Loves You would probably top my Songs of the Year list if I were making one, and nothing is quite as heartbreaking as the title track. Of course, Neko’s soaring voice is the highlight of every track, but she never suffocates the music. This isn’t a ‘narrative’ or a concept album, but it feels like it could be, because I always feel as though I’m doing it a disservice if I don’t listen to the thing in its entirety.

And now that I’ve sat down to write about this, I have no idea what to say. I was lucky enough to see Neko live in Richmond, VA in April—she was as stunning and powerful as you might expect. There are artists with distinctive voices that I love—PJ and Karen O among them, not to mention Bjork or Joanna Newsom, or Patrick Wolf—and then there are vocalists that are simply so polished and beautiful. Neko somehow manages to excel in both of these, and the best of it was that this power came through even live. Her lyrics seem only to get better with time, whether they’re darkly humorous, as in “You spoke the words, ‘I love girls in white leather jackets’—that was good enough for love, it was good enough for me” from The Pharoahs, or simple and emotionally wrenching, like with “Baby, why’m I worried now? Did someone make a fool of me? For I can show ‘em how it’s done. Can’t give up actin’ tough; it’s all that I’m made of. Can’t scrape together quite enough, to ride the bus to the outskirts of the fact that I need love” on the title track.

She’s a bit country, a bit indie, a bit pop—none of these and all at once. I suppose she’s a bit of a hipster darling from her work in The New Pornographers, but there’s not a more earnest or genuine artist in music right now—she truly strikes me as an artist’s artist, and that shines through on this album. It’s a moving forty-five minute trek into a timeless sort of landscape, and you’ll be kept warm with Neko’s incredibly voice to hold your hand along the way.

Key Tracks: This Tornado Loves You, Middle Cyclone, People Got a Lotta Nerve, Don’t Forget Me, Prison Girls, all the rest



01 Yeah Yeah Yeahs, It’s Blitz

Essentially flawless from beginning to end, It’s Blitz is the album that, according to the band, brought the Yeah Yeah Yeahs back from a career precipice. Karen O confessed that Show Your Bones and the ensuing tour nearly brought the band to their breaking point, personally and creatively. Some people have called this album derivative or said that the YYYs jumped a little too quickly onto the neo-eighties bandwagon, but nothing on the album feels stale or forced; it’s electrifying, fresh, and strangely compelling (though the emotional power of the YYYs isn’t, for me, usually the first strength to come to mind). They’ve revitalized their sound without leaving behind all the qualities that make them so distinctive in contemporary music. Karen O coos and howls her way through each track; the band matches her word-for-word, and the listener (okay, well, I) follows the siren-call. Some tracks compel you to stomp around (Zero, Heads Will Roll, Shame and Fortune); some to dance (Dull Life, Dragon Queen); some to cry (Runaway). Tracks like Soft Shock and Hysteric are of the sort that no one does better than the YYYs—they impeccably juggle reflective melancholy and na├»ve hope. Maybe it’s Karen O’s voice that captures this—I can’t think of anyone who really sounds like her right now, or, if they do, they don’t do it nearly as well. I’m sure this is why she was asked to do the Where the Wild Things Are soundtrack, because who better brings a childlike joy to a frighteningly jaded and adult world than Karen O?

I honestly don’t even know what to say about this album without sounding forced, mawkish, or kiss-ass-y. The best thing I might close with is that this album has followed me throughout the year, through high moods and low, through lonely nights and booze-fueled tranny parties; I played it in the car, in the shower, at work, for my friends and for my mother. As much as I love Neko and PJ, this album had already topped my year-end list by the time I finished my first listen.

Key Tracks: Dull Life, Heads Will Roll, Soft Shock, Runaway, all the rest

There you have it.

Because I'm not fucking old enough to do a Best-of-the-Decade List (Part I)

I was thirteen-years-old when the big, bad Y2K apocalypse threatened us all; my memory is so awful that anything before that moment is a bit hazy. As such, I’m not going to pretend that I can wield any goddamn best-of-the-decade lists. Here’s a few things from the year that I loved; if you trust my judgment at all, check them out. Trusting my judgment™ is recommended by 0 out of 5 ADA-approved dentists.

The movies list is sadly incomplete, as I really haven’t seen that many from 2009; the books, likewise, are comprised almost entirely of books *read* this year, though not published in 2009 (except for Atwood’s Year of the Flood). The books are alphabetical; the films are basically unranked, except for Bright Star and Inglourious Basterds, which were my two favorite films of the year. The albums list isn’t too bad, though, and so there’s a pretty strict ranking system there.

In conclusion, 2009 had its high points—I completed my thesis with highest honors, I somehow managed to sneak into graduate school, I read about a million books, and survived the two most harrowing academic semesters of my career thus far—and its low, which I have no desire to get into, but all in all, I’m ready to kiss that shit goodbye. Not sure what 2010 has to bring, but as Ella F sings, something’s gotta give, and hopefully, this year will at least run a bit more smoothly. Cheers to you all.

Films

Best film of the year:

Bright Star












Runner up:

Inglourious Basterds












Honorable Mentions:

Star Trek
Coraline
Drag Me to Hell
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Up

Disappointments:

X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Halloween II
Paranormal Activity

Books

I read approximately 82 books this year (which means I didn't reach my goal of one hundred), and these were the ones that stuck out for me:

Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace
Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood
Jane Austen, Emma
Alison Bechdel, Fun Home
Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
A.S. Byatt, Elementals
A.S. Byatt, Possession
Angela Carter, Wise Children
William Faulkner, Light in August
Ian McEwan, Atonement
Toni Morrison, Beloved (re-read)
Alice Munro, Open Secrets
Sapphire, Push
Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
Jeanette Winterson, The Passion
Virginia Woolf, Orlando

Music, 18-11

18 Martha Wainwright, Sans Fusils, Ni Fouliers, A Paris: A Tribute to Edith Piaf
17 Nellie McKay, Normal as Blueberry Pie: A Tribute to Doris Day
16 St. Vincent, Actor
15 The Decemberists, The Hazards of Love
14 Marissa Nadler, Little Hells
13 Little Boots, Hands
12 Karen O and the Kids, Where the Wild Things Are
11 Tori Amos, Abnormally Attracted to Sin

To be continued...