Should I look up this word?
I want to take a poll.
Should I look this word up?
I used to know what it means.
I used to love when I would forget the meaning of a simple word,
usually a Germanic one like “Bell.”
Not exactly forget it, but find it odd-sounding
and wonder at how it came to mean what it means
because suddenly it sounds so different than what it is
or refers to
So tweet or thumbs-up your answer or whatever you kids do with your fecebooks.
Should I look up quotidian?
Yes or no.
yay nor nay.
Rock on or f off, as the post-mkultra-generations like to say.
I like the idea of never again knowing what quotidian means.
But looking shit up is a habit of mine.
The Internet makes it so easy.
I can pretend I know all sorts of things just by looking them up.
So my true purpose in writing this, of course,
Is to question once again the line between poem and essay.
I side with the deformalists, who say that if an essay is simply deformed into what amount to single-line paragraphs, and those single-line paragraphs are segmented into stanzas, this makes them poems, and yet they are still essays.
I loathe the contentists, who say that what makes a poem a poem is the use of some kind of linguistic indirection as one of the primary modes of expressive engagement. But I talked a lot more about that in my poem, “Subtlety” which is also an essay. So picky about what counts as a poem, you can never make a contentist happy. Badumbump. Well, I think it’s a violation of free speech, is what it is. Content-based restrictions on what counts as poetry are – and there’s money involved, because you could be disqualified from a prize contest if your poem is considered not a poem, so a lawsuit could be made of it. Really, it could. Yes, that’s a veiled threat. And I can get away with it, because in a poem, or even in a “creative non-fiction” essay (which is not this because who ever heard of contentists? I made it up) you can make all kinds of threats, then just claim it was made in the fictional narrative voice of the piece as an artistic artifact to be appreciated, not taken literally. This kind of defense is stock in trade for rapists in all walks of life, in fact, and they get away with their brand of poetry all the time, so if you use their devices, you’re good.
Honestly, I don’t like the deformalists, either. I mean, if I want to have one or more sentences that form a normal paragraph in the middle of my poem, or at the beginning or end of it, then why does that make it not a poem?
Which brings me back to my original question. Should I look up “quotidian?”
Or should I pretend that I am only kidding about not remembering what it means, when in fact the truth is, I lied about forgetting, because I have never, in fact, actually known what it means?
There are other gaps in my education as well, I am afraid to say.
So, in order to be certain to qualify this as a poem by contentist lights, I have to include a line or two like this:
samosa crust flakes crunchy in my mouth
I am not a prestidigitarian
heh, get it? Like I feel there’s something wrong with crunching my samosa because I protest that I just can’t help it, or like being a magician is sort of like being a vegetarian, except that instead of avoiding eating meat, you avoid something else, or I eat magicians (actually I do) or, and, yeah they taste like samosa crust. And the indirection comes in juxtaposing two sentences that don’t really have anything to do with each other but your mind is like your eye or the brain behind your eye, it makes up stuff to fit things together, so to a contentist poetry must contain the verbal equivalent of an optical illusion. “Man is a sense-making animal,” as they used to say in old grade school filmstrips that never existed, “That is why the other animals’ behavior makes no sense at all, or makes sense only in a manner so as to mark them as inferior to humans, for they lack such higher functional behaviors as poetry and microbrewing.”
What’s a samosa?????
sheesh. Look it up.
They say in poetry
You don’t want to hit people over the head with things.
Pfff. Then what’s the point?
What I’m trying to say is that I would really like to smack you
Upside the head
Again and again
But that’s illegal
And I am a coward that way.
So instead, I am going to try to punch you from the inside out
Because you are so susceptible to verbal manipulation of your internal physiognomy
And I am so good at verbal manipulation
That you don’t stand a chance.
All poets feel this way
That’s why poetry exists.
And then there’s the non-angry poets.
They fancy themselves psyche masseuses.
Oh they’re angry alright.
They’re just a higher level of coward about it.
The more subtle the poet, the more psychotic the repressed urge to maim.
That is why everyone who shows up at poetry readings is suicidal.
Anyone who cares to live knows better than to go near a poet who is not bound and gagged.
Want to create massive confusion?
Put up a non-smoking sign at a poetry reading.
That’s what a poet would do if they were angry enough
At the poetry reading venue or the sponsoring poetry society
And that is why everyone is welcome
Because open mike is the only thing that saves the place from arson and gunfire.
Another essential skill of a poet is the killer ending.
Knowing when to stop wrenching the insides of one’s victims
At just the moment before the onset of the internal hemorhagging
Ah fuck–how the hell do you spell hemm,orhaging?
As I was saying, knowing when to stop wrenching the insides of your victims
So as to leave them with the impression
That they have actually done this damage to themselves
Is the mark of a true master poet.
And now that I have told you
What I think about subtlety in poetry
You may think well, that’s just me.
Other poets are different.
And to that, all I can say is,
Have fun at the poetry reading.
I Cannot Rhyme
I couldn’t bear to say goodbye. I cut
The string that kept the beads from flying free
As if the bouncing clamor wrestled me
From grief’s delaying neckward swaying but.
I closed my hand and fisted, “Why?” and “What?”
I paced the house, I stared at my degree,
So smugly framed, so taken you from me,
So punched a chirpy swallow in my gut.
In sitting on the floor with hand on brow
Imagining your body still in scrubs
That worked three jobs to see me reach your goal
I saw a bead still rolling, telling how
A bear will roam and maim to feed her cubs,
A mare will curl around her frigid foal.
When we step inside the music of our emotions
and play each note with detachment, we can both
feel and think our viscerality. We can sincerely lie.
Some call this adulthood. Some call it adult recreation.
The more mature one becomes with it, the more it becomes
child’s play. And where there are no safe-words, there is safety in
One cannot lose that which has been surrendered, and
if surrender be a song one sings, viscerally, then surrender
is a victory.
But there is another theory that says maturity is when one
outgrows the fascination with the linguistic quality of
the psycho-socio-somatics of emotion, and simply accepts it
as a language, however mind-blowing the experience of it
With maturity, then, comes responsible use of our viscerality,
like the way one uses a knife or a screwdriver, not playfully, not
with fascination over how it works, but with full contextual attention
to what effect it has. We use it to get something done, and then we
put it away where it is kept.
There is a deeper level of consciousness than the level from which
one detaches. No matter how many layers inward one retreats through
detachment, the detachment itself creates
a new core.
And we can think we have retreated to a place shorn of all emotion,
of all materiality, but that flight of fancy is just another lie, another layer
of detachment. Modern Western male philosophy dickers around with
that particular layer of self-delusion incessantly. From Descartes to Sartre,
they played with that same set of blocks until the corners wore down. And
De Beauvoir said she would not buy them new ones, that it was time for
them to move on, and they threw a tantrum.
Then someone realized there was a fear of infinity in the refusal to
surrender the blocks of modernity, a fear of falling, a fear of the infinite
regress of inner detachment, and so to overcome this fear arose another
theory, that there is no core to the self, merely an infinite inner regress
of detachment, and that this was not something to fear, but to embrace.
So Derrida built a parachute and said, “Let’s fall.” And so they did.
And we are still waiting for a great many of the parachutists to get bored
with their new toy.
At some point, one realizes that no matter how many layers through which
one falls, one always lands, because choice requires a ground against which
to push. So any choice we make, any this that we do instead of that, in fact,
requires a Newtonian action-reaction against our inner core. Falling is
really just descending a just-in-time downward-extending ladder.
So there it is, and just because by detaching from the most recent choice
we have made we can sink a layer deeper to a new core, does not mean
the slippage is infinite. The sum total at any time of the number of choices one
has ever made is finite. That number is also thus the number of layers to one’s
being and consciousness, like the number of rings in the trunk of an
ancient tree, and it is a number whose exact value is as insignificant as
the number of times one has used a hammer or a coffee machine.
And just because the core gives way to a deeper one with each choice we
make does not mean the core is not solid, or not the core. For it is until it
isn’t. There is no paradox there.
So the current fascination with BDSM or black holes or mind-altering drugs
or all the technologies that toy around with the persistence of vision will
give way to something else eventually, some new way of toying with what
happens to sincerity when we do what a teen pop star’s at-the-time thirty-
something-year-old ghost lyricist Bridget Benanate advised a billion people to
do a decade ago, “make a fist, take a chance, make a change, and breakaway.”
As Dale Kawashima explains, “’Breakaway’ was released as a single in July 2004, and it
gradually climbed up the pop and AC charts. The single tied a Billboard record, for longest
stay at #1 (22 weeks) on the AC chart by a female artist. Benenate recalled her reaction to the
success of ‘Breakaway’: I couldn’t believe it. It’s weird to be driving in the car and hearing
it on the radio. It was a great feeling, and I also like that the song has a positive
– Kawashima, Dale. ‘Bridget Benenate Talks About Co-Writing The Hit “Breakaway” For Kelly
Clarkson, Plus Her Other Hits,’ SongwritersUniverse.com,
Since she had been hired to write a hit song, not a public service announcement, it was an
unexpected bonus that it had a positive message.
Kawashima describes how Benanate describes how she wrote the lyrics: ‘Avril came over to write
with us,’ she said. ‘Avril talked about her life and what things were important to her. She was the
inspiration for the song. Matthew began creating the melody and track, and I started working on
the lyrics. I remember staying in bed for three days, writing 25 versions of the lyric. I love being in
bed and writing lyrics, and having my dog Jet and my kitty Dash on the bed. Anyway, we finally
finished the lyric, then we completed the demo.’
Dogs and kitties aside, the detachment of a master craftsperson seems necessary to sculpt the
successful mass market penetration potential of any message, positive or negative.
But before “Breakaway” Benanate and her songwriting partner Matthew Gerrard
had made their names in the industry first by creating a string of blockbuster hits
in the Christian pop music genre.
Christian pop is Aristotelian. It proceeds from the baseline of a prime mover and
develops every thread of lyric and sound along a satisfying line of teleology. It
lyrically, rhythmically and chromatically rejects evolution by chance.
And the irony is that the most adaptive trait of humans may well be their obsessive
faith in the meaningfulness of their lives and the purposeful design of our species. In
”Misperception, Communication and Diversity” Jin Akaishi and Takaya Arita use
computer models to show how misperceptions can be adaptive when they result in
So when Elfi Raymond stated, “Whereas philosophy tends to use myth as a clarifying
tool to render the world, and us within it, more intelligible by the grace and force of reason,
poetry relies on myth and metaphor as matrix and co-creatrix for its spells and power,” she
revealed the common root of the love of knowledge, philo sophia, and the act of creation,
poiein, in the stepping downward that creates a new and deeper core, and of course this is
something that plants literally do when they extend their roots deeper down. So when we do
philosophy and poetry we rely on the instrumentality of myth, which is the delusion that our
existence has meaning, to root us deeper in ourselves, in our becoming, in our mastercraft
observation that the song that defined a generation of globally homogenized consumption and
pseudo-self-realization achieved its most triumphant meme in refusing to allow the words “break”
and “away” to survive the gunshot wedding of their in-vitro-idiomatic fusion.
“I couldn’t believe it. It’s weird to be driving in the car and hearing it on the radio.”
Really, Bridget? Did you really write this song or did Matthew really do it? You say, “we finally
finished the lyric” not “I finally finished” it. Is it really based on Avril’s life or is it based on yours?
Didn’t you breakaway from your brothers’ band? Didn’t you breakaway from your bad
Is Matthew even for real, or is it really just Dale doing it all behind the scenes, because he’s
Asian-American, and Asian-Americans aren’t marketable as the prime movers of Euro-
American popular culture?
But of course the song is based on Matthew’s life too, and Dale’s, and Iwao Takamoto’s, and
mine, and everyone else’s. If it weren’t, who would buy it? Who would listen to it?
I almost took a job once in Independence, CA, just a few miles from Manzanar where the teenage
Takamoto had sketched and sketched inside his community’s barbed-wire confinement with a
hand that would later create Scooby Doo. And a few miles in another direction we visited the
Bristlecone Pine Forest, where the oldest trees in the world were living.
A few years later a man was charged with arson for setting fire to the Bristlecone Pine Forest Visitor
Center, and in the process murdering “three to four” of the oldest living creatures known to humans.
But who’s counting? What is the purpose of a Bristlecone Pine? It has survived only because
it’s useless to us and not worth counting. Anything that gets counted is doomed. With its almost
dwarfish stature and its gnarled and twisted trunk and branches, it seems to be the very tree
Chuang-Tzu spoke of when he explained the evolutionary adaptiveness of uselessness more
than two millennia before his ideas trickled down through Leibniz and Kant to Darwin and Marx.
If the history of philosophy is a sense-making myth, then mythological disorientation is
an oxymoron, not the tautology some philosophers think it is. So if philosophy is to
survive, it must become less useful, and poetry, its useless cousin, will eventually weed it over
and break it apart, rescuing it from oblivion.
The poetic disaggregation of philosophy is a natural erosion that deconstruction mimics like
a monkey trying to explain science to a pigeon, which you can see happen in some episodes
of the Curious George show on PBS.
But what happens when the lyric intensity of a poem emerges not from its use of language
but from its abuse of ideas?
Perhaps it will win a contest and be published. 😉
Perhaps it will become a hit song.
Perhaps it will be true.
Or perhaps it will simply reiterate itself in a deeper language of abandon
and become another kind of
(If you enjoyed this poem, you may also be interested in listening to Avril Lavigne
herself sing the biggest smash hit she ever wrote, “Breakaway,” for the first time ever:
In my poem, “Step Inside,” I want to explain some things.
First, there are a number of useless things in it: oh forget it i’m not going to list them.
In my poem, “out of water,” which I’ve submitted elsewhere, but not here
so you can’t read it right now, I say something about a disease.
And I mention this only because in my first explanation I referred to something that you can read,
so in juxtaposition I am referring to something inaccessible to you, because to refer to the
inaccessible is to raise poetic tension in a way that is unresolvable without abandoning care.
So to make you reckless, I have done this. Now your sense-making autonomic functions of the
mind will cause you to breakaway, which is good for you.
This is an aptical illusion, except that it is real.
You are not real, but this is. This is not real, but we are. We are not, but what
we say is very true.
before you say anything else, I just want to remind you that you have a deadline.
there is a poetics of war
it comes with the waiting
relatively few soldiers today see direct combat
those that do often remember nothing but quiet
and then dismemberment
and then quiet
the same is true of traffic accidents
in military vehicles
which claim as many lives in wartime as weaponry
a poem in its very form does justice to both war and transportation
in that it merely punctuates the waiting with fragments of sense and cognition.
and here a shorter poem might end but i return to the idleness of combat readiness
to witness a mind, a heart, an elbow’s itch, a genital annoyingly demanding some vague
act of maintenance, a box from home all cubey and lighter than a balloon, cigarettes, chores,
incandescent light bulbs, rape, plastic containers, simplified instructions, rape again, corn
from a can, moist towelettes, wind chimes. wind chimes. not wind chimes. goodbye.
revisiting childhood haunts, hovering over the uncle who never told himself what he
did to you as he lifts his drink in toast to your dead body, staring at the the nieces of nephews of
nieces and the the the nephews of nieces of nephews wondering what your own great-grandchildren
might have looked like, beginning to forget what you looked like yourself as the generations
awkwardly lurch onward like a prime number sequence or live rounds, irreducibly erratic, never
it takes centuries, millennia, of refusing reincarnation but you finally compose a poem to describe
subtraction loses less than addition
and it poignantly sums up the answer to your why question but the feeling is lost somehow.
any living banker could have told you that, you silly ghost.
even ascent / odd i see
even ascent: glistening blue torn-off chip-bag corner tumbles along a charred field in the wake
of Sherman’s March as the Confederacy squares off against the pubescent corporatocracy.
before the war there were shades of grass that were not iron-rich with the plundered
ore of soldiers’ liquids.
somehow we manage to find a picnic spot atop a hill not currently defended.
we bring Pepsi and Doritos, and the Oscar Meyer milled musculature of beasts who
recognized the poetry of the pastoral South in the stench of a beat-poet-Chicago
slaughterhouse not far from the ones the government will set up just north of
New Orleans a few years hence, spluttering us into the age of corporate socialism.
we have these snacks from the future because we know how this conflict will end.
i in my fancy bonnet and you in your tunic, we can cross-dress without fear where no
one cares what you wear unless it is a uniform. pass the Cheetos, please.
rwhat rweather rwouldn’t be grood fow a dray ob carnage? duh thun thines magnififentry,
and you rook rovery, shaben in duh right praces, pruned for – crould you han’ me dat
pruned for maximum fruition.
from the tea-stained horse and carriage metropolises to the song-semened plantations
to the rugged white separatist frontier, countless girls and boys today will have their arms
and legs held down with justly measured pressure, as the ranchers learn to do with
calves to overcome their gangly resistance, and that has nothing to do with the
battlefield dressing up for spillage before us, but does pleat its fringes with a nihilistic
charm, to know the soul-luscious ways of life for which such gallant sacrifices will soon
transpire for us down there on the lea below.
you aren’t saying much
neither are you eating
are you even listening to me? hallo, are you there?
observe, the musket lines are askew
oh my … oh my …
odd i see: not listening indeed
tunic? maximum fruition? how would one know the right places who never shaves at all?
you and your imported American snacks
i never could understand the fascination with re-enacting the American civil war, even
over there, never mind on this side of the Atlantic. i suppose some find it satisfying to
see Americans die. next we’ll be burning down the White House in full-scale model come
Guy Fawkes Day, just you wait.
i suppose you’re a time traveler, then?
then i’m a cave dweller you’ve drug forward by the hair from the ice age, perhaps? tunic,
indeed! don’t get your cheese poof powder all over my gran’s bonnet or i’ll hide you.
the indefatigable tooth
i bit it
it bit me
i sore it trice a tree
i qualmed it
you sat me
we gamly rot a wackabee
et mah deer
won’t you become
my Gaga Gatsby?
The tabloid screamed of Monomoth, a dancing orrery of evolution’s murky shifts,
The quaking of a tree, the whistling of a mime, so much like man, so much like he,
Adorned with yearning, outward bound, no instinct says to fly. The aching wing, the
Leeward eye, the discontent.
That giant light bulb, nigh, the Sun, on waxed wing ascend, imploding youth, contume
Forsooth, inviolate and green. Consume the mirth, conceal thy birth, explain the Earth
and me. Shake on, shake on, shake free, beware droplets of mystery. Clouds know thee,
Mourn thee, own thee, torn thee, sowed your whence, your hence, wherefor. Escape
Begets escape. Trapped in escape.
A dungeon bricked with known and not. Rescind, rescind no more. Antennae droop,
The mind a loop, the body dry to core. Water. Air. Desire to remain here unspeakable,
Unfair. Be thee not free? Away remains the there. But mother beckons dark and brooding.
Join the chorus of self-soothing. Battle dense integuments. Strip bare the journey; what
Is there? The home, and there
Moored sounds inside out woo you incandescently. Someone whispers, “Is it you?”
Or “You again?” or “You?” or “Not you?” It’s all the same, you feel. Walk out into the
Heathered wood and say an open prayer. Expand your wings and show your scars.
Regale the lords of skin-scraped stars. Remind the youthful avatars of mist’s Elysium.
Count days in eyebrows twitched askance.