Thursday, December 10, 2009

Make No Mistake

Reading Obama's Nobel acceptance speech, I came across this sentence: 

"For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world."

A stitch of rhetoric from the Bush years. Rumsfeld, as I recall, was fond of that little flourish: "make no mistake." Every other breath after 9/11 was "make no mistake." What they didn't utter so audibly was this addendum: "That's our job." 

I don't know if anyone else has made the connection, but every time I hear this uttered by a politician, especially one with a thick cowboy accent, I can't help but think they ripped it from the 90's Western Tombstone, where Doc Holiday has this to say about Wyatt Earp's bloodthirsty romp across the plains wiping out his enemies: "Make no mistake: it's not revenge he's after. It's the reckoning." 

Friday, December 4, 2009


Broadsheet number 4 of Paul Stevens' the FLEA is out, chock-full of good poems, including one of my little ditties. 

I really dig the FLEA. All of the best publications have an editorial vision you can put your finger on, but the FLEA has/is a persona you can shake hands with. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


I'm not the first to take notice of this, I am sure, but tonight I was struck by how we refer to a person's age in English, particularly when we say, "How old are you?" This would seem funny, I suppose, to anyone for whom the word "old" is derogatory. I remember when I was four years old yearning to be five, dying even for the right to say "I'm five and a half." 

In Portuguese we ask "How many years do you have?" I like that better. It suggests that one is accumulating sought-after collectibles. 

Monday, November 23, 2009

Taste Accountants

Here is a response I wrote to someone on Facebook who expressed disdain for fans of the Twilight series. As you can tell from my response, I understand fully where my friend is coming from, but I offer a bit of a different point of view. This touches on subjects I've written on or linked about before, so here you go, blog. 

I used to feel that way about the Harry Potter phenomenon. I still don't have any interest in reading that stuff, and I won't go out of my way to catch one of the movies. Hell, I feel the same way about comic books and science fiction and fantasy. But I realized that I could have all the righteous indignation in the world regarding the tastes of others, and it wouldn't accomplish a thing. (I've also learned to appreciate more of the things I used to find distasteful)

I am saddened by the fact that many of my favorite literary journals probably won't survive the economic fallout of 2008. The future of the printed word is, if we are to believe all the articles and editorials, in jeopardy. I'm saddened when I think of all the cuts in arts education that have happened over the years (Hell, Venezuela has a better music education program than the U.S.--AND it's been shown to reduce violence). And insofar as high box office sales are a sign of the greater cultural wave that is killing the culture I love, yes, it's saddening. I wish I could replace all the Black Eyed Peas on every iPod in the world with Chopin's Preludes, but I would probably be executed without trial for doing so. 

Looking down on people just because they enjoy some book or film series, no matter how trashy, doesn't do anything to change matters. And when you go around thumbing your nose at those people, what are they to do but assume that the things you like are only for snobs? I find that, instead of talking trash, it's better to just promote the things we like, and find good ways to articulate how we enjoy them. That way, we may win over a few converts. What you're doing is preaching to the choir. 

The Dark Knight was trash, in my opinion, except for parts of Heath Ledger's performance and some elements of the cinematography. I thought Son of Rambow was a greater movie, and it was made with a much smaller budget, absolutely no celebrity actors, and it probably just broke even earnings-wise. As long as movies like that can find their audience, and as long as that audience doesn't die out, I'm not going to complain too much about what others find entertaining. 

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Player Piano

Forgive me for linking to such an old post (August 2009, which in internet years is equal to the time between the end of the dinosaurs and the appearance of homo sapiens.) 

David Yezzi introduces one of my favorite poems, by one of my favorite poets: "The Player Piano" by Randall Jarrell. 

Reading this again, after a long interval, I can see Jarrell's influence on my work, my work poorer by comparison. But this poem! I love the phrase "Play I play." And that heart wounding line: "If only, somehow, I had learned to live!" 

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Kafka's Dictionary

While trying to say that a certain dictionary of mine was cheap, I called it a cockroach. 

Monday, November 2, 2009

Ordering Pizza in Brazil

If Portuguese is your second language, be careful how you pronounce "pizza." It sounds the same as in English. Don't try, as I did, to pronounce it like the Italian "Pisa," with a long "z" in the middle. "Pisa" means "spanking." Where ever it may be appropriate to ask for a spanking, at the local pizza parlor it is not. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Nostalgia's the New Nicotine

Digging through old jottings and ramblings, and came across this post I put on myspace a couple of years ago to inform my friends of a reading of mine in Louisiana. I think it's charming and more than a little funny. Is it? Or is it annoyingly bombastic? If you were to see a reading advertised in this way, would it pique your interest, or would you dismiss the reader as a juvenile charlatan? (That's what I am, but I don't want any potential audience members to think of me in that way, if it means they won't fill seats and/or buy whatever I'm selling). 

Anyway, here it is: 

I Can Read, and I'll Prove It! 

Come one! Come all! Southeastern alumnus and D. Vicker's Creative Writing Award winner Kevin Cutrer promises to delight with selections of his newest work (and a few oldies-but-goodies). 

Here's the man whose iambic pentameter has beguiled the editors of The Hudson Review, Connecticut Review, Texas Review, and more! 

Listen to his tales of braving the Boston public transportation system, rubbing elbows with literary giants, and tracking down an affordable, delicious breakfast in a city full of lavishly over-priced diners! 

One day only! Let's get out there, folks, and spread the word! Let every seat fill up! Let's break the fire code, people! He's using up all his vacation time! What a guy!

WHEN: 12:30PM NOVEMBER 8 2007

A Moderate Burp on Trends least it's not a loud fart. 

I've been meaning to comment on my comment on Chase Twitchell's poem (a post or two previous to this). My first reaction was "not another cancer poem," before of course falling madly in love with the poem. I hate that reaction (i.e., the first reaction). I think it's a product of the workshop culture, a culture I've managed to mostly avoid, compared to many of my friends and contemporaries (and my friendly contemporaries, as well as a few contemporaneous friends). Why a product of the workshop culture (whatever the hell that is--let's workshop the idea, shall we?). Well, there's always the rhyming double sestina about getting in a car accident on your way to the grave of your grandmother whose loss you're still trying to heal from while your stepmother is in labor in the back seat telling you that you should finally ask that girl out to whom you address so many of your science fiction odes casting her as Barbarella and whose eyes are brighter than the shards of glass that litter the highway as you die and meet the angels above. In other words, we encounter the same scenarios over and over again, whether we're the poor suckers taking the workshop, or the poor sucker(s) leading the workshop. I think that it creates an overload that forms a filter in the brain when one encounters these familiar subjects and tropes. Not another granny never said goodbye poem, we say. Another car accident story? Are all creative writers such terrible drivers? 

I fight to take each poem I encounter on its own merits, without the sour taste of the many horrible poems I've read, the way you munch on ginger root to prepare you for the fatty tuna after just devouring some mackerel. Christ I miss sushi. 

Write Love Poems Not War Poems

Just dug up this little gem I wrote to myself some time ago while reading the Georgics, wondering why it wasn't much mentioned in my undergraduate days. I was reading David Ferry's translation at the time and thought I would have liked to encounter The Georgics at least as much as The Aeneid in my classes. Here's the blast from the past: 

I'm opposed to war poems because they tend to be boring. Yeah, I get it, a lot of people died, women were raped, gold was taken, civilizations fell and civilizations rose. Blah, blah, blah. Tell me how to harvest apples, how to breed oxen, how to keep bees. Show me how life itself can be conquered day in, day out. Well, thank you, Virgil, thank you for that. 

Pretty simplistic, yes, and I want to note now that I don't know what I'd do without the war poems of Wilfred Owen or, for that matter, Brian Turner (and many in between), but I think I hold to this preference most of the time. I don't like the poetry of daily life because it's cozy and warm, but because daily life is itself a war, one way or the other. 

I'd also like to write a great big didactic poem like The Georgics one day. Too bad I know jack squat about nuttin. 

Monday, October 26, 2009

What's Going On

I'm going to post something here that I left as a comment on another blog, namely Steven D. Schroeder's blog. 

Steven listed a number of "big picture" projects he has going on, and it inspired me to list what's rolling around in my noggin in regards to writing goals. I haven't considered this a poetry blog, but it should be no secret that's where most of my interests lie, and I love directing the few readers I have to poems online they may have missed. So why not share a little something personal about what's going on in my writing life? Here's what I wrote:

I'm working on my first collection of poems, all more or less set in, or about, the south, many of them persona poems told by middle aged housewives and the men who love them. And a lot of barroom monologues for good measure, as well as not a few poems involving head injuries that more often than not result in religious visions and conversions. 

Oddly enough, the second manuscript is forming as well, with not a few poems already drafted for that one--all set in Brazil. 

On top of that I'm drafting short stories and battling to complete a libretto for a composer friend.

A friend and I would like to start an online journal, but that's pretty far down the road. 

And in my professional life, my wife and I have started an English school. So that's taking a lot of time and energy. But I find a busy work schedule only makes the writing life better. 

So, if you feel like sharing, please let me know what you're working on. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Surprisingly Good Poem at Poetry Daily Chase Twitchell.

When I read the first line, ending on "tumor," all I could think was, "Crap, another cancer poem." I'm glad I kept reading, however. Even the most seemingly exhausted subjects are, in capable hands, inexhaustible. At least that's my feeling reading this one.  

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Possible Domestic Abuse Situation

Not to make light of the very serious issue to which my title alludes, but I might just be beaten to a pulp by my wife tonight. I was ironing our clothes while she was off squaring things away for the new school we are opening, and like the inexperienced ironer that I am, I burned one of her favorite tops. There's a huge hole in this white angelic affair, now, with parchment colored edges. Just got off the phone with her, and there was an awful disappointment in her voice. I offered one of my favorite shirts to be burned, but she declined, saying it wouldn't bring back her nice blouse. She's being very graceful about this, but I haven't ruled out possible and deserved violence directed upon my person when she gets home. 

All this after flooding our kitchen and living room yesterday. I arrived home from an all morning teaching gig to find her waiting for the water man. He shows up, puts the huge plastic water tank in our living room and takes the old empty vessel away. So far, so good. I then hoist the new water tank, carry it to the kitchen to set it down on the floor where we normally keep them when they're full (our "water cooler" is pretty cheap and we're not confident it can hold the weight of a full tank). So, I lightly drop the tank on the ceramic tiled floor and crack! and sploosh! there goes all that water into the hallway, rushing into the living room, and all throughout the kitchen. "Oh no Oh no Oh no!" So I spent a good twenty or thirty minutes mopping up spring water. (No carpet, so it could have been worse) Adding insult to injury, we had to pay for a new bottle on top of the charge for more water. Jesus. 

Lesson: always pay attention to the thickness of a plastic water tank before just dropping it on the ground. I've handled these babies before, in nearly every office where I've worked. The Poland Springs and Abita! tanks are much sturdier than these local Brazilian brands. 

The burned blouse? I should have looked at the label. And to punish myself further, I'm recounting my idiocy here so that 1st grade classmates googling me can rest assured I've come a long way from stuffing crayons up my nose. 

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Death of the Book

Reading this article made me sick.  

Quote: “When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books,’’ said James Tracy, headmaster of Cushing and chief promoter of the bookless campus.

Books are not outdated. That is what I hate about the info-age zeitgeist: everyone is in such a hurry to make grand pronouncements such as this without thinking them through. And they assume that because technology now is characterized by its fast decline into obsolescence that all old technologies will find similar fates. 

People like this headmaster need to listen to what others have to say. From the same article: “Books are not a waste of space, and they won’t be until a digital book can tolerate as much sand, survive a coffee spill, and have unlimited power. When that happens, there will be next to no difference between that and a book." - Keith Michael Fiels, Executive Director of the American Library Association. 

I remember visiting the Watertown Free Library when I lived in Massachusetts. It never became the hangout my old university library had been, chiefly because their stacks had dwindled to an embarrassingly small assortment to make way for banks of computers. I realize they are serving a legitimate need for the community to have computer and internet access, but what about the community's need for books? I'm not sure I could have survived the small town I was raised in without the local library. Why has it been so easy for many to forget the value of browsing and reading? 

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


The president said "jackass." What the fuck does this have to do with anything? 

Pop Culture

I am always elated when I drop some pop culture reference from the States and my students don't get it. Today I mentioned Jerry Springer to blank stares. The other day I prattled a list of light night talk show hosts, from Johnny Carson to Conan O'Brien, and nary a student knew what I was talking about. They have their own talk shows, of course, but something about meeting people who haven't been stained by the same culture as I have is charming and refreshing. The first day I met my wife, in fact, I mentioned that I was from the hometown of Britney Spears, not to impress her as much as just get it out of the way. She said, "Who's that?" And that's how I knew it was love. 

It turns out she knew who Britney was. But it took a few minutes to jog her memory.

All this in light of the Kanye thing that most of my friends on Facebook are mentioning. Before that, the most popular topic was the upcoming LSU Tigers football game. What will happen if I ever see the phrase "Geaux Tigers!" again? I don't kneaux. Something violent. 

All of this has made it easier to turn off the computer, though. 


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Friday, August 7, 2009

Good Morning

I didn't mean to let this much time elapse between posts, but I guess things have been hectic. During the winter vacation, tons of time on my hands conspired with my new DSL connection to hold me captive for weeks. The result: I became nocturnal. I would go to bed after sunrise, and wake up at sundown. I didn't think this was too unhealthy until I managed to get into the sunlight one morning, and felt a sudden burst of energy. I had been lethargic for quite some time, addicted to the glow of my laptop screen even while feeling drained from all the exposure. This week we started class again, and my sleeping patterns have reversed--I'm going to bed before or around midnight, waking up around sunrise or a few hours later. Feels good to be a morning person. I hope to keep it that way. 

Trips to the Academy, as I mentioned in my last post, and a church service, managed to pry me from the apartment's vise grip. The church service was done out of courtesy to the director of our school. Normally we would not attend, but she invited and out of friendship we assented. There is much about Christianity that I dig: the love your neighbor aspect, holding onto a faith in goodness in the face of evil and adversity, etc. So I try to focus on those things any time I find myself in a church, and forget the associations I have with fear mongering southern pulpit punchers of my childhood. It was easy, this time, because I really couldn't understand the sermon. It's easy to tune out Portuguese, which is a blessing and a curse. 

I have been listening to Bach lately--Brandenberg concertos, The Art of Fugue, and at this very moment some keyboard concertos. This particular CD has been with me for years. I used to wake up to the opening track (Clavier Concerto #1, Allegro, played on piano by Murray Perahia) every morning. I'm not so much of a classical aficionado to be able to name most pieces, but a few pieces are always reverberating somewhere in a drawing room of my subconscious. Therefore I can name them immediately whenever they turn up unexpectedly (unexpectedly--I'm sure it's rarer to hear a piece of classical music in public than in my childhood, which wasn't all that long ago, while we're bombarded by rock, inane pop, hip hop, club music, etc. ) My first year in Boston, some friends and I saw the Mexican film Battle in Heaven that was screened as part of the Boston Underground Film Festival. It was terrible. But there was one scene in which the first movement of the first clavier concerto by Bach played in, at all places, a gas station. I nearly when crazy, having a Proust-cookie moment, flashing back to every morning I used to wake up to that piece of music. I couldn't help but tap my feet and kind of hum along.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Academy

Tonight we attended a meeting of the Academia de Letras de Garanhuns.  We were the first to arrive, and had a delightful conversation with the director--I was surprised at myself for understanding what they were saying, mostly word-for-word... I even added my own comments in Portuguese, with a little help from my wife when I forgot a word. I thought back to April, when I only knew a handful of words, and having drunken conversations with some local hipster types about favorite bands (I was helped by them knowing a bit of English). My progress learning Portuguese is not astounding, but it is progress. 

I get tired. I find that I can carry a conversation in my broken Portuguese for about half an hour, and then something snaps and I can't pay attention enough to follow what is being said. When the director was officially welcoming us to the club, after the minutes were read, I understood most of the words he spoke, but for the life of me I couldn't figure out why he was putting them together and directing them to me. When it was explained to me, I felt silly. 

It is encouraging, however, to be able to speak any Portuguese at all. It's a thrill to hear foreign words coming out of my mouth, or forming in my mind. Anyone who has studied foreign languages knows this feeling. No one was bilingual in my family, save an uncle who once spoke Spanish and German but lost them due to lack of practice. Learning a new language and, for that matter, living in another country, is something I can do while safely saying "I'm the first in my family to do this!" My immediate family, that is. I have cousins into world travel. My siblings and my parents all live within a mile of each other, and have for their entire lives. The family business is but a few hundred feet from my childhood home. Nothing wrong with that, nor is there anything too special about the youngest abandoning them for adventures abroad. It's just kinda neat. 

Back to the Academy meeting. A number of members shared their work. I hadn't brought anything, but the director asked if I had one of my poems memorized. I do not intentionally memorize my work, although tonight I learned the value of doing so. I did have one little sonnet memorized, and recited it for them. My wife then explained the poem in Portuguese, and translated it line by line for them. They seemed to enjoy it, and the director said that even though he couldn't understand my language, he could hear and feel the music of the lines. I was flattered, to say the least. This is the poem I recited. 

All in all, a wonderful evening.

Last night we attended a graduation party for a good friend of ours who just got a degree in Justice. Any time we spend with this particular friend is a good time, because he and his wife have a great sense of humor and share our love for food. The food was simple but good--crepes. The only downside was that the music was incredibly loud--not surprising, this being Brazil and all. The room, while not a closet, was not an amphitheater... it was so loud I couldn't think. On top of that, there were a number of strobes, lasers, and a smoke machine all going on overdrive. I don't like being thrown into an epileptic seizure while eating a cashew-chocolate crepe. The band, however, was very good. Not sure how to describe the music--big band jazz, I guess, although with a smaller band (trombone, sax, trumpet, keyboard, drummer, bassist, guitarist, percussionist, male and female vocalists), and with some Brazilian rhythmic infusions. Despite good food, good music, and good company, I was happy to leave. 

We stopped by a little used bookstore and magazine stand yesterday. I bought a copy of a cordel book. I mentioned literatura de cordel in at least one previous post. The typical cordel book is the length of what we call chapbooks in the U.S. They tell stories, usually based on some historic figure, all in verse. They became immensely popular around the middle of the last century. This store has stacks of them. The one I bought yesterday (for the low low price of only R$2) is about Lampiao, a famous bandit who led a group of bandits and ne'er-do-wells in the northeast during the 20's and 30's. A friend of mine, the one who had invited me to the Academy meeting, told me that Lampiao is the Brazilian Hitler--but my wife and I found a better comparison in the figure of Jesse James, to which our friend assented. Many people in the States revere James despite of (or because of) his brutal ways. But I can understand my friend thinking of Hitler--I have a problem with making heroes out of murderers, no matter how justified the killings may seem to some. I feel this way especially since we have heroes who have used non-violence (Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., The Freedom Riders, etc.) to affect the kinds of changes in society that one might assume require bloodshed. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Reading, Church Music, etc.

For the first time since childhood I am creating a wish list. While we are making rent here, we do not have much (or any) disposable income. Our financial goal for the year is to make enough money to save a little bit each month after rent, groceries, and other expenses. So far, it's all going into the apartment and in our bellies, and we're skimming off our little nest egg. 

All that to pre-amble my sudden desire for a Kindle. I would like to try one, first. I would also like to be assured that I can upload Project Gutenberg e-books. I know that some of the newer formats on the Gutenberg site are supposedly compatible with Kindle, and of course you can upload .pdf files to the device. I've read, too, that many books are only $0.99 ... the same books you find on Project Gutenberg. I am glad that my taste is as old-fashioned as it is. 

This brings to mind one of my first roommates in Boston. She was an avid reader, herself, but couldn't help but ask me, upon seeing my copy of The Tempest lying around, "Why are you reading that?" The only answer: "Fun." She commended me for reading The Tempest just for fun. I can't think of any other reason to read that play. Sure, you might have to write a paper about it for a literature course, but once you start, so starts the fun. Not every Shakespeare play is as delightful, of course. But it is hands down one of the most delightful and inviting of his plays. Ariel! Caliban! Ladies and Gentlemen... Prospero: 

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces, 
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yeah, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, 
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. 

Maybe fun is not the right word to describe the joy of reading this play. We have this silly phrase in English to describe our leisure reading , to set it apart from reading for school, for business, for the news, to check the cholesterol and sodium content of the Campbell's Soup: "reading for fun." You read Stephen King for fun. Michael Crichton. Dean Kootz. I don't. Mind you, I don't knock these authors, nor do I fault anyone for reading them. I enjoyed the hell out of Jurassic Park, The Sphere, Andromeda Strain, and Congo years ago. But these days, if I'm going to put in the effort of attention to read, when I have all of this electronic stimulation just a click away--I want to read something that will give greater rewards for my added effort and concentration. I want to rub my eyes after a passage and feel the buzz of my brain cells reforming after a genius turn of phrase. I want to feel--to be--changed. 

Here's one thing John Berryman had to say about Shakespeare: "Sometimes a series of this poet's phrases will drag out our profoundest thought as if, truly, we overheard the soul of the world murmuring truths to herself." If ever asked again why I am reading The Tempest, Lear, or A Midsummer Night's Dream, I'll just say that I feel like overhearing the world murmur truths to herself. 

I just had a happy session of reading that included no Shakespeare, but did include various selections from the King James Bible and Milton's Samson Agonistes. Milton's command of the line floors me. Though out of church since adolescence, I find reading the Bible a treat because the words reverberate and rattle awake some of my earliest memories. So does listening to old hymns, especially when done with only piano or guitar and a lone voice, or a small choir. The last time I was coerced into churchgoing, I was appalled to find a drum set and electric guitar and bass as part of the instrumentation. The pianist hardly played during the entire service--a few members were moved to sing along to a back-up tape that distorted during playback by the Peavy speakers. Of course sound quality wouldn't have mattered as much had the lyrics and music been worth a damn. Instead of the psychologically complex and literary hymns I was raised on, what I heard instead were banal, uninspired "inspirational" songs, or what I gather is called "Praise Music." Any of these songs can be boiled down to this: "God I love you/You're so awesome/I'm going to worship you all the time." Something like Kiss's "I wanna rock n' roll all night/And party ev-e-ry day..." Maybe this: "I'm gonna love God all the time/and praise Him ev-e-ry day."

Anyway, I don't mean to overly criticize something that is really none of my business--like I said, I'm not a churchgoer. How worshippers choose to worship together is their business. But I have had devout friends lament the loss of the old hymns with me. 

Nothing about Brazil in this post. I am thinking of creating a separate blog to meditate on things literary and (more or less) spiritual, thereby leaving this blog entirely to Brazil. I'll keep you posted. 

I have not forgotten my promise from yesterday--I am going to research the rain song tradition of the northeast and report my findings here. Stay tuned, Internet friends. 

Monday, July 27, 2009


Cordel do Fogo Encantado, again, this time with their song "Chover" -- "Rain." There is a famous song in Pernambuco that begs for rain, and lists the miseries of drought, dwelling on starving animals unwilling to pull the cart or plow. I'm not sure if this Cordel song is a version of that, but I'm pretty sure it comes from the same folk tradition. I will try to find out more by asking around, searching online, etc. Will update this blog with any findings.  

P.S. - Note the clouds in certain scenes with the band. In this area, and particularly Garanhuns with its high elevation, the ground approaches the sky, almost touching the enormous, ubiquitous cumuli. I have never lived in a place with such varied elevation--it compares with what I have seen of San Francisco in movies and photographs. One of the most beautiful aspects of this landscape is looking at the crest of a hill and the  thrill of imagining that the planet drops off just past it because all you see beyond the crest are cloud and blue--no land.  

Movies, books, etc.

We have been watching a lot of movies since our break from teaching began a couple weeks ago. Last night, we saw Shop Girl -- the Steve Martin adaptation of the Steve Martin novella. It wasn't all that terrible, nor was it all that great. You, whoever you are, probably know this without me telling you. Depending on the phase of movie-going and movie-renting I am in, I either catch movies right as they come out, or I only see them years after the enthusiasm for them has dissipated. Saturday night we watched Tropic Thunder. We caught that one while it was in theaters. We saw it at the giant Loews theater in Boston Common. Ben Stiller isn't as funny as the people who work with him on any given movie (although he is funnier than Jim Carrey, star of the under-rated Stiller movie Cable Guy). Robert Downey, Jr. Nuff said. 

I have translated a couple of short poems by Carlos Drummond de Andrade, my wife's favorite Brazilian poet. I had tried months ago to translate Joao Cabral de Melo Neto, a poet from Pernambuco, our state, but I find Drummond more attractive because more lyrical, with a fluid syntax. Cabral's lines are patterns of small stones painstakingly arranged. Drummond's style is closer to mine than Cabral's, although I'm sure the more I get into Cabral I will appreciate more because he is known for his narrative poetry. I am only just beginning. Anyway, the main purpose of translating is to strengthen my Portuguese. And to work the poetic muscles. 

My sleeping pattern is out of whack. This happens whenever I don't have many responsibilities to attend, errands to run, classes to teach. My bedtime these days is 5:00 or 6:00 AM. I managed to go to sleep before or around midnight last night, but awoke at 2:30 for a bathroom run and failed to fall asleep. There was an obscenely huge pile of dishes in the kitchen, now all clean thanks to me. Also took the time to wash my socks. We share a washing machine with my wife's sister, which is a drag by itself because laundry means hiking back and forth since neither of us can legally drive (wife's working on getting a license; her dad gave her a car he isn't using anymore). We wash socks and underwear by hand because the washer isn't as effective on these articles. 

I don't think even the richer people in Garanhuns own dryers, and most people here don't own washers. Usually if you have money, you hire someone to wash your clothes by hand, clean the house, and cook lunch. They're known as empregadas.  

So I slept a few hours, got up at 2:30. It is now 7:30. I'm going to stay up as long as I can, see if I can start reversing this sleeping pattern. The new semester starts next week, so I damn well better. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mais Sobre a Musica

I noted in my last post that I wanted to write a bit about Marisa Monte and Cordel do Fogo Encantado, two of my favorite Brazilian musical acts. Through the magic of Youtube, I'll let them sing for themselves. 

Marisa Monte was huge in the nineties and, I think, even made a little headway in the states. But I don't think she ever released an English album (if I'm wrong, and you know, please correct me). Good for her, but of course Americans are less tolerant of foreign languages that just about everyone else (I hear American and British music here almost nonstop, and not many here know what the lyrics mean). 

This is one of my favorite Monte songs: 

Cordel de Fogo Encantado began in the late nineties and is now one of the biggest indie acts in the country. (The link to Cordel will help you with a translation of that word, which really has no equivalent in English for the meaning used by the band.) I listened to an entire album a few weeks ago with my sister-in-law. The first comparison that came to mind was Neutral Milk Hotel, but only because I was getting a sense that the lyrics were legend-building the same way the Hotel's are. Well, see for yourself: 

Here is a fan video of "The Kind of Carrot Flowers Part 1" by Neutral Milk Hotel. I think it's the guitar sound that sparked my comparison.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

As musicas

My students often say they enjoy listening to "musics" when they mean they enjoy listening to songs. Because in Brazilian Portuguese, you can use the word "musicas" to mean "songs." My wife (just married!) has made the same mistake since moving here--her English is deteriorating while my Portuguese slowly improves. 

I have spent this afternoon listening to a Brazilian Portuguese podcast, actually practicing. My wife is out running errands. When she gets back, my first words will be "fala so portugues." Portuguese only, please. I have been shamefully lazy learning the language, a typical American. At least I haven't been yelling at the locals, "Speak English, God damn it!" 

I realize that dropping the GD-bomb will offend some readers (assuming there are any for this blog). Truth is I am trying to curse less in English. In Portuguese I favor the mild curses I have learned, "Drogas!" which literally means "Drugs!" but is used, in movie subtitles, to mean "Shit!" It's less offensive than "Merda." I find it charming. Another common interjection of exasperation is "Ave Maria!" This is one of the first I learned; its meaning was immediately apparent when I heard it aloud (it's not in any of my textbooks, of course). I will never get over how French and Portuguese speakers have no problem with verbal sacrilege. 

One of my favorite expressions is "Onde Judas perdeu as botas," translated: "Where Judas lost his boots." It is used to describe deserted places, dead small towns, what we call in English "the middle of nowhere." 

On the one real note they have a picture of a hummingbird. In Brazilian Portuguese, the hummingbird is known as the beija flor: "flower kisser" (my translation). Unfortunately the single note is a rare note, as the real coin has taken over. Brazilian currency is a veritiable jungle, depicting sea turtles, monkeys (particularly the mico-leao dourado, or golden lion monkey), and lynxs. Most of the animals depicted are endangered species. I find the wildlife portraits charming, coming from the dull world of American currency and its official portraits. My wife misses the days when Brazilian money depicted famous writers, although sometimes they would depict a real hack. I miss the days when a writer or thinker could make it onto a postage stamp in the United States. I also miss the days when postage stamps cost pennies (well, a quarter and some pennies--I am a youngun). 

The Brazilian coins follow no rhyme nor reason when it comes to size and design. Most fifty cent pieces are thick and silver colored, but are also the thickness of the common silver twenty-five cent pieces, and at first glance look identical. Also, twenty-five cent pieces come in copper and nickel. There are no pennies in Brazil, and yet the stores do not adjust their prices accordingly. Which means that if you are due change of 2.97, they will round it up to the next real (or round it down to 2.95). 

One last thought on coins here: one of the five cent designs features a man who, at first glance, looks like Jesus. But if you read the inscribed name, you will find he is Tiradentes, which translates to "teeth puller." Dentist by profession, he was a revolutionary leader now commemorated by a national holiday, although a lot of Brazilians seem to think of his attempted coup as a joke. He was betrayed by one of his own followers, in exchange for tax exemption. Because of this circumstance, the betrayer is thought of as a Judas figure, and Tiradentes as Christ-like. Many paintings show him in white robes, with a long beard... anyone ignorant of the story would call him Jesus. 

Well, that's all I have time for at the moment. I want to continue this post by discussing two musical acts I have grown fond of: Marisa Monte and Cordel do Fogo Encantado. The latter will be playing Garanhuns this weekend. I can't wait to see them. 



Friday, July 17, 2009


My first year in Boston (2006), I went to a friend's house in New Hampshire for Thanksgiving. Her family lives in Walpole, a quaint little town with a mountainous horizon. Incidentally, I had lived in Walpole, Massachusetts, for a couple of months, where a couple of very good friends let me crash in their basement until I found a job and an apartment. 

While in Walpole, New Hampshire, we passed through Keane, a college town that seemed oddly familiar to me. I was nearly overwhelmed with deja vu when we passed through the town square, and suddenly it hit me: I had indeed passed through this town before. Twice, in 2003 and 2004, on my way to Franconia for the Frost Place Poetry Festival (where I met the Massachusetts friend who graciously offered her basement when I expressed interest in moving to Boston after winning my bachelor's). Keane is a stop on the Concord Trailways line going to Franconia. I had spent almost a year among unfamiliar surroundings. It was an immense delight to find myself unexpectedly in a place I somewhat knew. 

On one of our trips to Recife recently, the bridge over the river, taking the city bus, the tall buildings, the subway, all gave a vague sense of traversing Boston. Many talk about the differences from culture to culture, separations of language, custom, religion, and taste. But I find it more interesting to discover what we all have in common. Traveling through a large city, I get a sense not only of its peculiar character and energy, but also a trace of all the other cities I have visited and lived in before. Despite its violence, Recife seems to have a very good energy. All of the strangers we asked direction from were extremely friendly, and accurate in their advice. One walked with us for a couple of blocks, in the pouring rain (borrowing an umbrella), to make sure we headed in the right direction. 

Writing about Recife has made me nostalgic for the lost New Orleans. Toward the end of 2004 and through the middle of 2005, I finally came around to exploring the decadent city I had avoided much of my life, convinced by my family that, if I entered those vile gates, I might never return. I only really got to know a few trendy restaurants and a decent movie theater on the edge of the French Quarter before Katrina hit. I am interested in going back there, for only the second time since that hurricane, to see what has survived and what has not. 

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Finally Back

The Portuguese word for "flu" is spelled just like the English "gripe." Which is all I have felt like doing for much of the past three weeks following our move to what is now our third apartment in Garanhuns. This time we were fleeing a mold problem that seems to have followed us in a milder form. Right after moving, we went to Arcoverde to run some errands there, and to take in their local version of the Sao Joao (St. John) festival. The nearby city Caruaru is ideally the place to take in Sao Joao, but we were in Arcoverde and enjoyed a bit of the local flavor there. At first it looked like any town fair in the U.S., with various rides and concessions. But the food. The food was top notch. I missed out on much of the folk musicians, but got a small, unforgettable taste. Before we left, we passed some clowns on stilts. That's always fun. 

Here's the Wiki link to Garanhuns, where we rent our apartment. I have loved all of our apartments here despite their weaknesses (lack of running water, mold, noisy neighbors). What I love about keeping an apartment here is the solitude. Living in Arcoverde, we shared that house with family. Alienated 21st century white boy is still getting used to the close-knit Brazilian family structure. Although my Portuguese has noticeably improved, I still can hardly communicate with my new family when they are all together at once. Although if you put a beer in my hands, and some music on the stereo, I manage to falo muito portugues.  Err, actually, half-Portuguese and half-English. 

So, we moved into our new apartment, and the next day drove to Arcoverde to spend the weekend. The morning after Sao Joao, I suffered a sore throat. All I did to alleviate it was drink some near boiling water, gargling it before swallowing. I figured that would kill the germs that were setting up shop. Turns out I'm a medical moron. I developed a nasty head cold with a few flu like symptoms, the worst of which was dizziness. I managed to keep teaching classes (although my students mercifully forgot to come to one class when I was at my worst, so I waited half an hour and painfully moseyed home). I got better, but stayed up all night working on a short story draft and ended up getting sicker than before. I'm a moron. During this second bout, I took a number of over the counter flu remedies, none of which worked very well. All in all, it was a week from hell that halted my creative work. I'm still trying to get back into a rhythm. Taking time off from writing is always good for me, refreshes the batteries, but the problem is it takes forever to build up the courage to face the blank page again. 

After nearly dying of flu we went back to Arcoverde, this time to meet more family from Petrolina. Which further interrupted attempts to restart the writing schedule. We now have internet em casa, which is my biggest weakness and distraction. I have been online practically nonstop all day today. 

I hope to make posts here more often going forward. 

In publication news, the latest Naugatuck River Review is out with my poem in it. Please visit the link on this page and show a fledgling journal some support. I have a poem forthcoming in The Raintown Review as well. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

West Chester Poetry Conference

Live blogging from West Chester here:

I wish I could have made it this year. Alas.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Naugatuck River Review

I found out that one of my poems was selected for the upcoming issue of Naugatuck River Review, a brand new journal devoted to, of all things, narrative poetry. I know of no other magazine solely devoted to publishing narrative poems, although there are a lot of venues that are narrative friendly. One wishes for a reincarnation of The Reaper. I encourage anyone interested to check it out. The first issue features a wide range of voices and approaches. There's something for everyone there. The first issue was reviewed at New Pages. 

My long silence here is due, as previously mentioned, to limited internet access. I check my e-mail regularly, but rarely have time to sit down and write a blog post. Things continue to go well for us here in Brazil, although getting my papers the way I want them is a challenge. We see the light at the end of the tunnel, though. 

Anyway, speaking of never having time to blog, I have to end this post here. Please do check out that new magazine, and tell a friend. 

Friday, April 17, 2009

Reading, Writing, Teaching

If I am less prolific here lately, it is because of limited internet access. At the moment, I am at the mercy of internet cafes charging one real an hour. But locals staring at the gringo, that comes free of charge. Everywhere.

This has been a strange week. On the one hand, I have had to put up with guests in the apartment, in-laws. But the past few days have been quiet, the in-laws staying with another relative, and we have enjoyed an empty, cool apartment with a big office, tons of space to pace around in. That is how I get a lot of thinking done, by pacing around like a lunatic. Been that way since I can remember. Gets the blood going.

This morning was especially idyllic. Woke up, made some toast for breakfast. Girl already had the coffee going. Laughed and talked through the meal, then took my coffee to the office. Stayed there going over drafts until it was lunch, making minor corrections and revisions.

Spent most of yesterday emersed in various critical essays, and Ciardi's translation of The Inferno, which I am rereading for the first time since college. I also have his translations of The Purgatorio and The Paradiso, which were not taught in my undergraduate survey course. It will be interesting to take the rest of the journey with Dante.

I used to be intimidated by this most welcoming and genial of poems. The subject matter, of course, is not welcoming, as is forces even the modern reader, I think, to come to terms with the worst of his sins. But to paraphrase Ciardi's comments on the task of translating it, Dante's language is the common language at its perfection. Thanks to the generous notes, I am able to catch a few levels of the allegory, but the poem would be enjoyable--and the importance of enjoyment mustn't be scoffed at--even on its basic level of denotion. There is pleasure, too, in revisiting the poem after a span of years.

I mentioned Boethius in an earlier post. I caught a reference to Boethius that the editors of this Dante did not mention, and I gave myself a pompous pat on the shoulder. Figuratively, of course. I don't want dear reader to get an image of the author alone in his room, patting his own back. Too late, I guess.

I have been teaching for a few weeks now, maybe a month. I am loving it. Last night I was especially on a roll. It was a conversation class. The conversation classes I teach are a lot less structured than the other classes, which rely on a series of drills and listening exercises that must be painstakingly broken apart, explained, and repeated. Those classes are very fun in their own way, and allow for moments of fruitful discussion. The students with the most English, of course, they have multitudinous questions. Conversation class is a great time for them to ask those questions, and I have ample time to turn those questions into conversations, getting them to pull up more words and phrases from their learning. The challenge of the class is that there is a mix of skill levels--some of the students are in the early stages of the course, others more advanced. But even then, I sometimes get the advanced students to help out the beginners.

I also spend a lot of time talking, myself, and I am trying to do less of that because the goal is to get them comfortable speaking themselves. But I can't help but list tons of phrases, informal and formal, for their use. Kind of like Homeric epithets, those little cliches that have so much cultural cache and provide a fast rhythm to our verbal conversations. "Bring it back in one piece," for instance. A student asked if the word "wicked" always carries negative connotations, and I got to briefly talk about the idiosyncracies of Bostonian English. Last night, I think, struck a fine balance between class participation and teacher running his mouth. The students left with tons and tons of phrases scribbled in their notebooks, and I think everyone was happy.

I felt very high after the class, and a fellow teacher (who is taking the class herself) told my girl that I was really energized and "on" this time. I just had to give myself a big pat on the back.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Good Friday

We left our new apartment in Garanhuns yesterday for Arcoverde, where we had lunch with an aunt and some cousins. She, the aunt, called me a gatao, meaning "big cat," meaning cute, handsome, a ladies' man. I have learned to get a laugh around here by saying "Eu sou gatao...I am a big cat." 

The aunt lives on a farm... Fazenda de 2 irmaos, Two Brothers Farm. We admired the cocks and hens, sows and boars, Holsteins and a turkey. Some kind of garden spider... I think the English name is Crab spider, for what I saw... had built a web between stalks of red flowers, and was enjoying a meal of some kind of insect, looked like a katydid. Brought back memories. My father, when he was a boy, born in the Depression and poor all his childhood, used to catch those huge, black and orange crickets you see in Louisiana in the dog days of summer, used to catch one and toss it into the conspicuous web of a black and yellow garden spider. When I was a boy, he showed me this in our backyard. We would watch the spider, awakened by the tremors of his strong-as-steel silk cables, wrap the panicked prey like a wrapper at the slaughterhouse wrapping a mound of ground beef (my father was a butcher). 

Speaking of meat, I am eating less of it. I have learned to avoid fried foods here. The other week I ate a pastel -- basically a deep-fried pastry filled with shredded chicken and bacon--and paid dearly for it. You want to know what Hell is like? Imagine being stuck on a toilet with the music scene from Return of the Jedi inexplicably stuck in your head, you know, the scene at Jabba's palace where the pot-bellied alien with stalks for legs and puzzling, glittery lipstick squalls over a horrible dance beat, and the disturbingly attractive alien with tentacles growing out of her head dances moments before her grisly demise. Imagine having that awful music in your head in a moment of intestinal distress. 

Getting back to my newest diet... I think if I can remind myself to avoid the temptations of ice cream (at least at the volume of consumption I am used to) and the very delicious new pizza place (I love getting the frango com atum,  chicken and tuna pizza... and coating it with ketchup and mayonnaise)... anyway, if I can avoid those monsters of saturated fat, I could really get in shape, because almost every day we walk over a mile, usually up some very steep inclines. 

Looking over that pizza description disgusts me... mayo on Brazilian pizza is tasty, but it can't be good for my arteries. I can't believe how unhealthy I have become... my eating habits in Boston were atrocious. But I am correcting that here. We go to a very clean, health-oriented Self-Service (a buffet) often, where I eat mostly salad, some rice and tomatoes, just a little chicken for protein, etc. At some point I think I'll completely cut out the meat, to see what these self-righteous vegetarians are all yelling about. Not sure if I will ever give up dairy entirely. 

Which brings me back to the farm. They asked if I wanted to watch the cows being milked. Normally I am interested in seeing real people perform real labor, only to remind myself that I have nothing to whine about, being a life-long pencil pusher. But I find the very idea of milk disgusting. It's glandular discharge. For years I have looked for an adequate way to describe my distaste for it (granted, it's not the flavor of milk but the thought of its source). I finally found the proper description. By putting it in latinate, clinical language. Glandular discharge. Think of that next time you have a glass of warm milk before bed. 

Now, you're looking at a guy who relishes the opportunity to consume snails. (And I don't want to hear it from anyone back home who will gladly suck the head of a crayfish, or slurp down a raw oyster, how disgusting it is to eat snails. Or, for that matter, anyone who will eat shrimp. Shut up.) I also don't mind tripe, if it's cooked right. And I have gnawed on chicken feet with my Chinese friends, with some enjoyment. I have had pig ears without complaint. I remember jellyfish being kind of tasty, at least for its texture. If I ever find myself in a really good Japanese restaurant again, I'll probably order the Uni. Hell, I once woke up with a craving for blood. Blood sausage, that is, in the form of black pudding. Thankfully I was living in the Boston area, and headed over to the nearest pub pronto for a filling Irish breakfast. Much to the chagrin of my poor arteries. 

But a tall glass of milk? Don't make me vomit. 

But I love dairy. I also love pretty much anything made of tomatoes, but I hate unprocessed tomatoes themselves, unless they are diced into tiny cubes. Their seeds have the same consistency of snot. 

As an old roommate of mine was wont to remind me, there's no accounting for taste. What she had against accountants, I'll never know. 

Ouch. Now that's a joke that'll lose me some friends.  

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Starlit is the new compact disc release by Louisiana-based composer Stephen Suber. Suber's career spans over thirty years and includes everything from electronic music/tape manipulations to symphonic works. This new disc collects some of his best orchestral and choral pieces. Not to be missed is the title track, "Starlit," which is a perfect blend of seriousness and playfulness centered around a violin exercise based on the tune of "Twinkle, twinkle little star." Another highlight is the choral piece "Soleil," as vigorous as it is haunting. The album truly has something for everyone. Seasoned classical music fans will find much to appreciate, but the less experienced listener will find that he has not been left out.

While available on iTunes, I urge any interested buyers to pick up the CD for the bonus of liner notes, written by yours truly. This is a great way to support contemporary music of the highest quality from an independent classical music label based in Louisiana. The sound quality on this recording is simply astounding.

Full disclosure: I am a former student and longtime friend of the composer, and we have collaborated in the past. I am also a native of Louisiana and can't promote the good things of that State often enough.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


As things stand right now, we only have running water three days of the week in our current apartment. For the rest of the week, we have to fill buckets at a nearby spigot, and rely on the kindness of an uncle for real showers. We have talked to the landlord, and a solution is definitely forthcoming. It all has to do with the way the water is delivered. Each house has a tank that collects water when it is available, and the tank is meant as a backup when the water is no longer running. We have a small tank. The landlord is buying and having a bigger tank installed. We just have to be pushy to make sure it happens. The guys who do the work tend to be slow on the pick up. We're talking about running water, here.

A meddlesome neighbor had one of the workers turn off our water when she saw that we were travelling this weekend. Luckily, a relative visited the house and turned it back on. So, we had running water for as long as we have been back in Garanhuns, but it has slowed to a trickle by now. On top of that, we have contracted a stomach virus that is going around. It takes a whole bucket of water to satisfactorily flush a toilet.

So that's a taste of the ugly side of life here, but it isn't so bad. I was talking with my family this weekend, and they brought up Katrina. I think we went ten days without electricity then, although at night we would run a generator to cool the house down with AC, to bathe, etc. In fact, I had running water during Katrina due to my pump's connection to the generator powering my family's business. There was a lot of belly-aching during Katrina, but mostly not by me. I read a lot, helped out with various tasks when asked, and pretty much did all I could to ignore the heat. We were lucky, being as far inland as we were. And everyone knew it. It is wholly possible to count your blessings and belly-ache at the same time.

I think the tone of this post may be a bit colored by my recent reading. I have been reading the The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius. It's a wonderful little book, in case you don't know it.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Pearls Before Swine

One of my favorite syndicated cartoon strips (click on the image to view the entire strip): 

Pearls Before Swine

Sunday, March 29, 2009

I'm Not The Only One Killing the Language

There is a store across the street from the deli where we eat most of our meals (good, cheap food, proof of God's love). The sign above the store says "Casa de Coco." Now, Coco has two meanings, depending on the position of stress: COco or coCO. COco means coconut. coCO means shit. The sign above the store literally says: House of Shit. 

Someone told me she passed a supermarket whose sign translates to: Good Thief's Supermarket. I immediately thought of the wise thief who died on the cross beside Christ, who asked Christ to "remember me." I am very touched by the story, but I agree with my friend: not a good thing to name a store. But pious storefronts abound. Every town has some form of Lanchonette de Bom Jesus. "Well, you know there's an Evil Jesus Diner right around the corner," my love observed as we passed one the other day. And that's one reason she's my love. 


Mania do Brasileiro

So I tried a glass of Pitu, a local brand of cachaça. To me, it tasted weaker than vodka, but, drink being rare to me, I can't say for sure. I didn't order a vodka to compare, which might have proved enlightening, because we were at a bar, not a laboratory, thank you very much. The catch phrase for Pitu is Mania do Brasileiro, the Brazilian's madness, I suppose. 

One of the little hipsters that accompanied us told me to be careful with the Pitu. The strength of cachaça seems to be a point of pride in Brazil. Although I stopped at one, it wasn't because I was in over my head. Don't kill yourself in one night, that's my motto. Draw it out a bit, take your time, enjoy yourself.  

Mostly just drank beers. A popular way to order beer for a table of friends is to order a chopp (draft beer) in a huge cylindrical tap plopped own in the middle of the table. It's self-service. You press your glass to the white plastic spigot, and there's your golden ambrosia. I am not sure, but I think they call the apparatus itself a chopp. I drank cerveja -- beer, yes, but distinguished from chopp because served in a bottle. I told you this is a precise language

I have no idea why I have spent all this time talking about drinks when the real pleasure last night came from the people. I alluded to a hipster, there were a few. One of my worst moments in recent history involved being stuck in a car with a bunch of hipsters in the back seat prattling on about how to classify various indie and post-punk musical stylings. The low point of the evening was hearing a bespectacled, skinny guy in a Western shirt with pearl buttons declare, "Uhh, I prefer older Modest Mouse" as if they were talking wine vintages, and with a tone of voice that seemed to say, "I prefer older Modest Mouse, which is all the evidence you need that I am a wise and well cultivated gentleman with superior taste." As much as I hate pomposity in general (especially when I notice it in my own behavior, I hasten to add), I particularly loathe the transformation of pop culture into some graded course in connoisseurship. It's only rock n' roll.

The Brazilian hipsters, if they should be so-called, were the opposite. We spoke a combination of broken English and broken Portuguese. Guess whose Portuguese was broken. Anyway, the conversation mostly consisted of listing various bands and singers we enjoyed. I believe that, during the whole night, I only mentioned two artists they didn’t know: Elliott Smith and the aforementioned Modest Mouse. The conversation ranged over oldies but goodies like David Bowie, Pink Floyd, the Beatles (I was reminded of how much I used to enjoy the Fab 4) to Belle and Sebastian, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, etc.

Also, Miles Davis, Coltrane, Louis Armstrong, and Sidney Bechet also earned high praise in the form of Ah! Yes! and Eu gosto, eu gosto!

It was a good night.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Estou loco, sim? Sim.

We are back in Arcoverde this weekend; arrived to a full house. Two sisters and a niece are staying here before moving to Garanhuns. It's becoming a popular city in this family, for good reason.

My Portuguese is improving. Or, I should say, my willingness to speak. My shyness is receding. I realized that no matter what I will go through a period of sounding like the village idiot, and so I must accept this as the worm stage presaging diaphanous wings of fluency. Or some flowery shit like that.

Speaking of higher diction, I finally read Anthony Hecht in Conversation with Philip Hoy. Previously, I had only read snippets here and there. It is inspiring me to revisit his poems, which thankfully I brought back with me. In some ways I think it would serve as an apt introduction to anyone not already familiar with his work, if only to dispel the notion that it is entirely, or even mostly, autobiographical. I wonder just how many readers automatically assume that all poetry is about the poet. I try never to make that assumption. There is always "the speaker."

Well, enough of that. A fellow English teacher invited us over for lunch today before we left for Arcoverde. Cous-cous, rice, vinagrette, and rack of lamb in a fine gravy. Followed by the best chocolate mousse I have ever had (considering I only recall trying this once or twice before, that's not saying much--but it would be obscene to describe exactly how orgasmic this dessert was). We are scheming to get invited to more such dinners. We are thinking of an exchange of English lessons for delicious meals every Saturday.

On the ride to Arcoverde today, a man overheard us speaking English, turned around and said, "Beautiful, yes?" Meaning the hills through which we were winding. "Sim, Beautiful," I said. "Students?" he asked. "Professores," we answered.

He spoke mostly with my girl, in Portuguese, asking her how to phrase certain questions, then had a simple conversation with me in English, and I was all too happy to oblige. Students of English here are not at all shy. Most of them, that is. I have encountered some actual English teachers who will not say a word of English to me, so frightened are they of embarrassing themselves. Life is an embarrassment. So, get over it.

The highway landscape ... it floors me with its majesty. "Majestic" -- sounds so hackneyed, but at the moment a better adjective or description is impossible. I'm travel weary and about to get bleary eyed (God willing!) ... will hopefully finally sample some Pitu, a local brand of some distilled spirit which is supposed to put more hair on my chest. I'll report my findings at the next available opportunity.

Friday, March 27, 2009

God I Love that Rock n Roll

This post will probably have nothing to do with rock and/or roll.

According to the NEA, poetry readership continues to decline.

I have begun teaching English. I have one class right now, but will start a conversation course next week. The director of the language school, my girl, and I were at the local radio station to promote the school. Plus, there is a sign over the school announcing a new professor with a degree in English, a native speaker. Within a month, not only have I secured a job but my employer was so happy to hire me she had a sign made announcing my employment to the world. And I have been on the radio. Talk about undue attention! But I am grateful. I am giving this job all of the energy and attention I have, and am loving it. The students are wonderful--I am very impressed with the immersion method used. Judging most students' knowledge of the language, it is very effective. The secret is to present as much information in English as possible, and only referring to the students' native language as a last ditch effort. In the advanced levels, which I teach, you are not to use the students' native language at all (no problem for me... even the one or two month students here have a better command of English than I have of Portuguese).

Which fact shames me. I keep telling myself that I am not the typical American unwilling to learn another language, but sometimes I definitely play that part. The problem is we dont speak Portuguese in the house. If we spend all day at home, that is a day in which I have probably not heard a single phrase in Portuguese.

But I am able to function a little. Just a few minutes ago, I asked for, received, and paid for a bottle of water at the Internet cafe where I am composing this post. No small feat. And don't you ever take such small things for granted.

In other news... well, I don't think there is any other news to report. The heat is sometimes overwhelming. We spent much of this morning scouring Garanhuns for adhesive envelopes. All of the envelopes we have found do not include a strip of adhesive. Common sense tells me this is because of the chronic humidity coupled with a dearth of air conditioning. I am preparing snail mail submissions to editors in the States, and I hope that a non-adhesive SASE won't terribly inconvenience them. Using that common sense mentioned above, it occurred to me that there is no way any student worker or other saintly worker stuffing envelopes for a literary rag would actually lick each SASE. Every office I have ever worked in has kept a supply of glue sticks for that purpose. It is safer and faster.

Unfortunately, these are the things that keep me up at night.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Miller Williams Poem

Check it out.  Highly recommend Living on the Surface, his selected poems, to anyone who hasn't read it. His new collection is mighty fine as well. 

Lotado de Pessoas

The title of this post means "full of people." As in, the theatre was full of people. But I can't say "O copo esta lotado de aqua." (the glass is full of water) I must say "O copo esta cheio de aqua," with cheio meaning "full." I think I am grasping the distinction when I say lotado = things, people, books, cars, toys... objects. Cheio = water, sand, joy, sadness, etc. Two words for full. While English is full of many synonyms, the word full basically encompasses both distinctions made by the two words in Portuguese. I am beginning to realize the truth in what my girl said about Portuguese, that it is a very precise language. I am reading this aloud to her, for her comments, and she just added: "Precise, sim. Just like German." I am reminded, too, that some of our greatest philosophers were German, and that Western Philosophy begins in Ancient Greece, in another exacting group of languages. 

For crying out loud, Portuguese has two words for "to be." Ser, which denotes a noun's essential being or identity: I am Kevin, I am a man, I am a human being, I am a poet. Estar denotes things that can change: I am happy, I am sad, I am hungry (although the phrase for this would be estou com fome, I am with hunger). Now, French has two unique conjugations for verbs based on this same distinction. There is the passe compose which deals with things that did happen at a specific time, and the imparfait dealing with ongoing actions. The link above goes into detail about that. But French only has etre meaning "to be," although in certain phrases avoir and faire can also mean "to be." 

What I am getting at is that, in the Portuguese language, the age-old dilemma of Being v. Becoming is embodied in the language itself. I know no German, but am aware of Heidegger's explorations of Dasein as a way to explore Sein. Admittedly, it's all mostly over my head. 

Ser (getting back to Portuguese) seems to express the age-old proclamation that everything IS, the arrow never reaches the target, etc. Estar agrees with the equally old assertion that everything is in flux, becoming, you never step in the same river twice, etc. But not exactly. The existence of these two verbs reveals a willingness, I believe, to entertain both notions. In the world, there is both being and becoming. 

Of course, I have no clue what I am talking about. My reading in this subject, as well as my knowledge of any language (including English, honestly) is miniscule. Please, dear Reader, share your insights... and please correct any errors I have made! 

All of this just to get to a pointless vignette: yesterday we were going to take a bus from Garanhuns to Arcoverde. Instead, we took what is called a Lotado ... basically a large van that takes passengers on the same routes as the bus. Lotado, meaning "full." Yes, they stuff as many people into their van as they can. The driver claimed he would get us there quicker than the bus. I had my doubts, and my doubts were confirmed. The trip was about the same duration as a bus trip -- two hours -- due to many little stops along the way. Would you rather ride in a crowded van or a crowded bus? Bus, believe me. It wasn't my idea to take the damn Lotado. And we never will, again. 

In Garanhuns we haggled with the driver. Or, I should say she haggled with the driver. I kept saying, in English of course, we should take the bus, but I did not explain why. Frankly, I trust a bus more than I trust some dude in a van. I was sure his business was as legitimate as any Brazilian venture (if you have a cooler and a supply of popsicles, you have a business here). But I had my doubts that his service held any advantages over the bus. I hate being right all the time. 

The trip was not unenjoyable, mind you. We admired a brilliant sunset over the hills, and our view was probably better than it would have been in the bus. And I don't necessarily hate being crowded in with a bunch of people. I love people. Our fellow passengers were courteous (each one, as she was leaving, said "tchau" to people I presumed were strangers... although in this country, everyone seems to know everyone else, for better or for worse). I can honestly say I "rubbed elbows" with the natives. 

Ah, the sunset. A various fire of rich roses, oranges, mauves, lilacs all scorched with looming clouds. Let me compare it with the Visualizer in iTunes only to say that those programers have a lot of catching up to do with the stratosphere. 

It was a wonderful ending to a pretty blah weekend. Sunday was hell. I was startled awake by the barking of Tio Abrahao's dogs. Tio had left for Recife this weekend, leaving us to care for them. I fed them, but could not go back to sleep, and spent much of a cranky day addictively browsing the internet, catching up on what I had missed throughout the week. Seth Abramson's blog was a happy discovery. I enjoy his poetry very much, although his theoretical statements often have me scratching my head. But I should add that when anyone starts talking theory, I usually walk the other way. Especially when said theory involves reinventing or creating a new poetics. I guess I don't give much conscious thought to these matters. What surprised me about Abramson was that a poet of such fine accomplishment could leave me utterly cold when discussing the art. I wonder if I'm missing something. I think it ultimately has to do with style as much as the current critical lexicon. For instance, I could read essays on poetry by Anthony Hecht all day long. 

Different strokes for different folks, that's what I'm always getting at. And, the more I think of it, I do agree with Abramson (if this is indeed what he was getting at): the metaphor ought to be taken down a peg. 

I've just skimmed over this post--what a damn mess. And yet it's one big mess, not a bunch of little ones. Should be easier to sweep up.  

Saturday, March 21, 2009


As one would gather from my last post, it has been a busy week. We're renting an apartment in downtown Garanhuns and expect to move in ASAP next week (we're getting the super to repaint the rooms and install a new shower head in the meantime... exciting moving-in stuff). It's cheap, quaint, and close to everything we need in town ... work, favorite restaurants, super markets, etc. Because our school is on the other side of town, we do a lot of walking around in this hilly city, and as a result are getting quite a work out every day. Good news for these two spoiled, American slobs. We've been training at the language school. I was supposed to teach my first class today, a class of one. She called in sick. So, we're rescheduling. But I spent about four hours at the school today, sitting in on classes, observing how the methodology works, etc. It's an immersion method, and apparently very effective. The students I spoke with today seemed to have quite a bit of comprehension, despite having only studied English for about a month. It's making me rethink my methods for learning Portuguese ("Eh, I'll move to Brazil and, you know, just wing it.")

There is a nice bookstore/cafe in the same neighborhood as the language school. They stock many classic Brazilian titles, as well as world literature in translation (of all books to have in stock, they had The Yage Letters by William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, most likely of local interest due to its South American setting... I am not sure, but I think that they procure the yage concoction in the Amazon. I picked up a copy of Pessoa's selected poems, and have translated (or transliterated) some stanzas with basic vocabulary. I think it's helping.

I made the mistake of leaving my iPod back in Arcoverde. I only brought one book (Ted Hughes's Essential Shakespeare) other than my Portuguese textbook. Brazilian TV isn't worth the time, at least not the original programming. So far, I've only noticed two different novelas: one set in India/Rio, and the other set in California/Rio. Other than that, it's BBB (Big Brother: Brazil). There are news broadcasts, of course, and kid's shows (some with racy material by the standards of American children's programming... but I guess a woman in a bikini does help one learn simple phrases like Bate as maos (clap hands)... I know I'll never forget it).

So I'm a little short on entertainment (not that I have had much time for lounging around the house reading ... we've been crawling through the streets of Garanhuns like rats in a maze, mostly buying stuff for the apartment, and meeting with our boss at the school). I've been writing a lot in my notebook, sketches for new works, observations, etc.

Interesting note about Portuguese. Aparently the noun saudade has no English equivalent. The closest is "longing," but that is really a gerund phrase. It reminds me of the French ennui which is often translated as "boredom" but has no true English equivalent.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

In Case Anyone Is Reading This

I will probably not post to this blog for an entire week due to limited internet access. The girl and I are going back to Garanhuns (see below). She's starting a job there, and I have training for an upcoming gig as well. Meanwhile I'm scrambling to make sure I have all my paperwork. Pity the poor immigrant.  

Speaking of the blog,  if you love or hate something you read here, please leave a comment. I'm having fun. Hope you are, too. 

Periodical Madness

An article from the New Republic about Socialism Re: Obama.  

From the article: "But it isn't just the right that has worked itself into a frenzy; on the question of whether we are approaching a new age of socialism, there seems to be remarkable political consensus. In recent weeks, the covers of National Review ("OUR SOCIALIST FUTURE"), The Nation("REINVENTING CAPITALISM, REIMAGINING SOCIALISM"), and Newsweek ("WE ARE ALL SOCIALISTS NOW") have--respectively--lamented, heralded, and observed the coming rise of socialism."

This is something that annoys me about glossy magazines. Because of its relative success, a glossy has to work ever harder to secure the readers it already has, as well as cater to the impulse buyer at the newsstand who came for a pack of gum but only has a 20 the cashier won't break. Therefore, the covers of the glossies are the prophets of our day. IS GOOGLE MAKING US STOOPID? I can't remember which magazine printed this headline, but whenever I see this kind of simplistic hucksterism I turn the other cheek. Everywhere you turn, some slick and shiny cover is going to tell you HOW this new thing or development is going to affect YOU. I guarantee you'll never see this on the cover of such a magazine: "A reasonable look at the pros and cons of xyz social issue," much less this: "We really don't know what any of this means, and we're not going to waste your time with 5,000 words of self-important speculation." 

There is a tendency in periodical nonfiction these days to make sense of overlying trends. The thinking goes, I suppose, that focusing on piles of statistics somehow gives one a handle on reality. I am not fully condemning the practice. It is important to take stock of mass developments in the social, political, and educational fields. But it seems to me that piles of statistical figures are used to draw arbitrary conclusions that, ultimately, cannot be honestly measured. It goes a long to way sell magazines that promise to guide you through whatever brave new world they claim we're entering. But does it offer anything more than opinion? 

The article linked above is a prime example of how this strange realm of false zeitgeist mongering can be put to bed. A far better antidote: read small magazines and quarterlies. Just let a conspicuous lack of advertisement be your guide. 

Saturday, March 14, 2009

France's Highest Honor

The Legion d'honneur is going to David Cronenberg. Director of The Fly. From the article: "He once explained his status in France by saying that the French, unlike North Americans, do not look down on genre films and appreciate films that do not fit the Hollywood format."

Fair enough. And I admit an opera version of The Fly sounds interesting.  The few Cronenberg films I've seen have not whetted my appetite for more. His adaptation of Naked Lunch was just as feeble as the Bob Dylan biopic I'm Not There. That is, it is cinematic porn for Burroughs-philes and little else. And don't get me started on the Dylan travesty. The script culled some great talent, not limited to Kate Blanchett and Charlotte Gainsbourg, but the film is nothing more than a mish-mash of insider references to Dylan fans, a cut-up of interviews and anecdotes sloppily pasted together in the interests of trendy surrealism. I went into the theatre expecting something different from the usual rock-star biopic, but was handed more of the same, only this time on acid. Almost two years later, and I'm still disgruntled over the whole mess.