28 February 2011

LITERARY DEATH MATCH: TWIN CITIES: TOMORROW! MARCH 1, 2011!


You gotta come to this or I'll just die. Click right here for all the information. See you there, right? Right? Right? Right.

Artificial Intelligence is a Waste of Time



And so is mowing your lawn!
And changing nouns into verbs.
This concludes today's installment
of what drags me shouting
into the darker parts of the ether,
never to reemerge exactly
the same, but that's true
too for all other aspects of
our everyday lives: strawberries,
cats, basketball and Shakespeare,
the sun blaring off the mound of snow,
your old books of poems
coated lightly with fuzzy dust.
Hello, you're back!
Not that you ever left.
That's just an urban myth
like the Kentucky Fried Rat
or that you weren't shot full of holes
that time after junior prom
when your parents asked you
to sit down, please,
we've got to talk to you.
Years later and I'm still somehow
learning how to tie my shoes,
how to ride my bike through
the intersection of self
and heavy SUV-laden traffic
to see the collapsed bridge,
no time for fussy politics!
Plastic bags are not like snowballs,
not fit for overly romantic poems
about beautiful suffering.
Plastic bags are like the hoods
we put over the condemned,
except we still get to see
what's coming to cut us
off from the world, they're just
what we use to ferry home
those things that keep us in it,
temporarily, at least.

26 February 2011

Do Your Job!



Debt piles on debt piling down
on debt incurred prior to
a millionaire commentator's toilet
gold-plating and installation.
He's got a great tie, though!
Great hair for sure!
He's writing a book right now
about his success,
you should read it.
Ratings through the roof,
vacations all around!
Not for you.
It's all the teachers' fault.
Do your job! rings roundly
out from the dome
and through the trees,
snagging in wi-fi hot spots.
I know you are but what am I?
I'm rubber and you're glue.
The Department of Public Health
wants to talk to you.
They would like you
to have a seat, please.
Outside the first flakes start to fall,
the baby crawls into the vault.
It's a lobster lover's dream.

25 February 2011

This Is Kind Of Interesting


"What are you looking at? You look just like me; it's incredible. Why do I look like you? Why don't you look like me? We look like each other, I guess. I don't know. Hey, you know...(chuckles) It's weird for me, too, you know? (stutters) Hey? Hey, you want to play some ping-pong? No. Come on, I'll teach you. It'll help you relax."

Garden of Earthly Something or Other



Take care, dearly departed, and know
the world chugs on without you,

mostly in strange new ways
our children will never regard that way.

The luminous woman climbs
back into the clam shell,

which no one bothers to paint. The bird-
headed demon with a chamber pot

on its bird head gets painted, though,
then gets elected. He's a commish.

He's your boss's boss's boss's boss,
the one you never see except in paintings,

the one with important connections
and a yacht made of space-age cigars.

On the moon, lots of evaporated wishes.
On the earth, we have to wait and see.

24 February 2011

I Am a Social Network



Detailed map of the heart,
messy as a steak on a paper plate.

Here any meat metaphors end.
Here ends empty speech

about bearing witness,
art as artifact, prelude to sleep.

There is no struggle.
There is no plague.

I'll make it and you new, and
you won't memorize a single thing.

23 February 2011

King of the Beach



We waste away icicles like
nobody's business, man.
My surf board is tied to the rack,
tied to the baking hot pavement
under the sun. I want
to see not the sun, exactly,
but its shifting shapes
drawing long over the crabs
as the moon comes up
over what will surely be
the best ever bonfire
outside of the King of England's
powdered dreams. I mean,
what inherent vice there
is to be royalty from birth.
It's not blood that flows in my veins.
It's something deeper than
this sea which is waiting
for its chance to claim me
and everything I ever loved.

21 February 2011

MSNBC and Chris Matthews Have Obviously Read and Loved Ghosts and Doppelgängers


You don't need to watch MSNBC's special "President of the World: The Bill Clinton Phenomenon." Celebrate President's Day with the REAL President of the World, the one in Ghosts and Doppelgängers.

Read about his loneliness on MPR.

A Short Note from Management: Announcements, Severally


The Planet Formerly Known As Earth will cease to exist on December 21, 2012. In the meantime, this journal updates every few days with art and poetry. Feel better about your impending doom by reading this journal. A poem of mine, "Beyond the Sea," is up there today. Don't forget to check out the other great work there, too.


Hell Yes Press is still alive and kicking. Check over at the Hell Yes homepage for the latest updates. Hell Yes Press is also on Facebook, like every other animal, vegetable, and mineral on Earth, so check us out there, too.

19 February 2011

OMvBLDPFM: PIRANHA 3D

Scott and I are writing a joint review again. When you're done here, click over to the OM to see what Scott has to say...

Last weekend I watched The Double Life of Veronique by Krzysztof Kieślowski for the first time. It’s a beautiful, beautifully shot film that explores the mysteries of human identity and connection. The luminous Irene Jacob plays two different women who are strangers to each other, but who share a deep, metaphysical connection. The film also seems to gently double as an exploration of art and filmmaking and ways of seeing the world, and the operatic musical score threads the narrative together as much as imagery and plot. The Double Life of Veronique doesn’t provide many answers, and its happiness is tempered with the knowledge that even the best parts of life, like love, may fade. I watched it, and then I watched it again.

A few days later I watched Piranha 3D, which is also a movie. The similarities end there.

Piranha 3D is a remake of a Jaws-style 70s exploitation movie that I’ve never seen, and it delivers on everything you’d expect. Is it dumb? Check. Is it gory? Check. Is there a lot of gratuitous nudity? Check, check, and check. So it’s hard to find fault with Piranha 3D for these things, because it achieves its modest goals. Moreover, to level criticism at such a self-consciously dunderheaded celebration of stupid seems churlish and just kind of lame, and doing so would probably miss the point besides.

But I watched it and I’ve got a thing or two to say about it, and most of it is critical. So what follows is a review in which I do my best to explain why I didn’t like it, and but also to follow up those thoughts with a quasi-directionless essay about what this dumb movie made me think about, like why and how it’s different from other mindless fare. Spoilers abound, not that you should care.

This movie stars everyone in Hollywood. Elizabeth Shue is the nominal lead, playing the sheriff of a small community on the shore of a vast lake that has just attracted its annual influx of hormonally-charged undergraduates on spring break, an event that carries with it all that’s implied – lots of alcohol and bikinis and hedonism, lots of good-looking chum for the killer fish, and so on.

Ving Rhames, all authority and deep baritone, plays the deputy. Presumably in a nod to Jaws, Richard Dreyfuss shows up for a few minutes as an unlucky fisherman in said lake. Adam Scott plays a seismologist (!) there to study the recent earthquake (which earthquake opened a passageway to a secret, prehistoric underground lake beneath the regular lake, which secret lake is home to these dinosaur-grade piranhas (duh)). Eli Roth has a cameo.

There’s still more. Jerry O’Connell has a fairly big role, and he manages to steal every single scene he’s in, playing a sleazy, Girls Gone Wild-style filmmaker there to exploit the willing and the drunk. I don’t think he’s ever been better, actually, and he seems to be genuinely enjoying himself. His scenes (up to a very precise point) were my favorite part of the movie. Finally, Christopher Lloyd appears exactly halfway through the film in full-on Doc Brown mode as an ichthyologist who explains everything you already knew about the plot and piranhas. I’m probably missing a few people, too. Regardless, this strange assemblage of actors all plays second fiddle to the titular killers.

The basic plot you’ve already put together: killer piranhas in the lake during spring break. Can they be stopped?

Answer: oh, you don’t care. None of the people here are thicker than the soggy bar napkin on which this script must’ve been written, so the real draw is not human drama and conflict derived from character, but carnage. So how’s the carnage?

Well, surprisingly and disappointingly, it’s just okay…and then it’s truly disgusting. First, the fish themselves are kind of a letdown. The special effects with regards to the piranhas are pretty cheap and flimsy, all inexpensive-looking CGI, and there are a lot of annoying, unnecessary 3D scenes shoehorned in that can only be endured. I blame Avatar for this. Piranha 3D is a lot better (better being a relative term in this case) when it’s focused on the victims – the wounds the swimmers suffer are really, pretty truly grotesque and horrifying. Young co-eds are partially or wholly skeletonized by the boatload, and a number of others are unlucky enough to suffer even more horrific deaths in the crush of crazed humanity struggling to escape the churning, red water. It’s really, really gross. It’s also kind of weirdly joyless and empty.

Why?

For one, there are no surprises. Everything you expect to happen happens, in approximately the sequence you expect. It’s like someone said, “Want a lift to the grocery store?” and then they dropped you off at the grocery store and you did your shopping and went home. Boom.

That’s one thing. Another is that there’s just no depth to the movie at all. I know that seems axiomatic to a flick like this, but there’s really nothing there. This, to me, is key to understanding why a movie like Piranha 3D can fail in even its own modest aims.

For example, in other movies of similar ilk, like Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, or They Live (all of which I think are legitimately good), there is an attempt to provide some semblance of story or history or thematic significance to the events that unfold. Things happen for specific reasons. Because the camp counselors ignored their duties, Jason Voorhees died, and later the counselors are called to atone for their neglect. Because the parents in this small town took the law into their own hands and killed Fred Krueger, their children must suffer the burden of their guilt (with a bonus for adding imaginative terror to teenage feelings of helplessness and disenfranchisement). Because we stick our heads in the sand and allow ourselves to turn off our brains, people (or aliens (or elected officials)) will exploit us. The filmmakers here may not be shooting for timeless profundity, but there are still explorations of retribution or class warfare or what have you. Even Kill Bill, a movie that’s empty, unsatisfying, fawning spectacle could at least profess to be working within certain traditions.

No such luck here, which is why Piranha 3D seems like nothing more than a ninety-minute music video – and even the requisite hedonism and death feels completely media-derived and familiar. At one point I thought I was watching that old MTV show The Grind (the people I was watching with seconded this observation). I know I’m too old to be the target demographic for Piranha 3D, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that this movie was nothing more than a big advertisement for itself and those things it’s supposedly mocking.

That doesn’t leave us with much, and ultimately the audience is asked to delight in violence qua violence. The movie assaults and bludgeons the senses at the expense of suspense or even the most rudimentary sense of pacing, favoring shots of beautiful young people dancing and then dying, in that order (I should’ve known this would be the case when the opening credits revealed the movie’s mononymic editor). There’s nothing in between. It’s a mayonnaise sandwich.

Okay, to be fair, there is a subplot about some 17-year-old wiener’s crush on a girl, but the movie can barely be bothered to care about it.

But there’s also a question that’s hard to avoid asking in trying to account for Piranha 3D: how do self-awareness, irony, and/or camp factor into something like this? Aren’t we just supposed to enjoy this guilty pleasure and not think so hard about it?

To which I say: Ugh. I don’t want to get myself into a tired, exhaustive accounting of how irony and camp may or may not factor into a movie like this and audience expectations (I recently read in a well-known, well-respected publication an article about the concept of camp that sounded for all the world like an academic trying hard to make his or her bones in some American Studies department – it was tired, tiring, and plainly awful), but jeez, even latter-day, recycled slasher fare like Scream made a good-faith effort at picking up the metafictional ball made by Barth and Coover and other post-WW II black humorists and gleefully running with it in a new direction. That movie isn’t great, but there is a pulse and a spirit of subversion.

And in the end I don’t think ideas of camp or irony excuse a movie or any other art form from certain basic requirements like engaging our intellect, emotions, or sense of wonder. Superficial crap is still just that even if it’s aware of how much it sucks. And Piranha 3D simply goes through the motions, churning toward an ending that’s obviously ripped-off from the far superior aquatic threat movie, Deep Blue Sea.

So no, Krzysztof Kieślowski this isn’t. At the end of The Double Life of Veronique, we’re presented with a series of ambiguous images that lead us to reflect on everything we’ve just seen. I got the sense that there was much more lingering just beyond what we could see and just beyond our understanding, that our world is as beautiful as it is mystifying. By the end of Piranha 3D, I felt only that I’d seen far too much.

I made my wife and our friend Ryan watch this with me, and to them I say: sorry. My bad.

15 February 2011

LITERARY DEATH MATCH: TWIN CITIES: MARCH 1, 2011


Straight from the horse's mouth (i.e., the official LDM website): Literary Death Match returns to the brilliance of the Twin Cities (this time debuting at Aster Cafe) for a talent-packed 5th birthday blowout that will, at the very least, titillate, wow and fascinate.

Witness the wildness, as you'll see arbiters Jeff Kamin (producer of the brilliant Books & Bars), Brave New Workshop's comedic mastermind Mike Fotis, and musicianess extraordinaire Ellen Stanley (Mother Banjo).

They'll oversee a fiercely diverse foursome of authors, including Stonewall Book Award-winner andWater~Stone Review rep Barrie Jean Borich (My Lesbian Husband), Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers’ picks Matt Burgess (Dogfight, A Love Story) and Nicole Helgit (The Turtle Catcher), and InDigest's hand-picked reader-rep Brad Liening (Ghosts and Doppelgangers).

Hosted by LDM creator Todd Zuniga.

Where: Aster Cafe, 125 SE Main Street, Minneapolis
When: Doors at 7, Show at 8:05 (sharp), afterdrinks after.
Cost: $10 at the door or call ahead to reserve a seat: (612) 379-3138; $25 for T-shirt & Ticket

Please come and cheer me on to victory!

07 February 2011

INDIGEST NO. 19 OUT NOW


I'm a little late on this, but the new issue of InDigest is up. The image above is by Kirk Demerais, it's called the Torrances, and you can see lots more in the new issue. See the press release from our intrepid main editors below, and then go check out issue 19...

Dear Readers,

As always, busy times here at InDigest. First, kudos to poetry editor Brad Liening on the publication of his latest book, Ghosts and Doppelgängers. A wild read that gives pop culture a nice (poetry) knuckle sandwich. It's not to be missed.

Other things not to be missed: This issue of InDigest, which includes a free e-chapook that came out of our WikiLeaks centos project. It's amazing what can happen when you put leaked diplomatic cables in the hands of a bunch of poets.

On top of that we have a recoding journal from Tapes 'n Tapes' Josh Grier, a gallery from Kirk Demerais, a meditation on performance and failure by Franz Nicolay, and so very much more.

Please enjoy this lovely, and lovingly-made, magazine.
Dustin, David, and the InDigestions