28 February 2010

Beverly's Furnace

Our aged next door neighbor, Beverly, has been weathering February in Arizona. She asked us to keep an eye on her place and to make sure all was well with her furnace from time to time. Then she dropped her house key in my hand and bid us farewell. Pictured above is her Mesozoic, underworldly furnace. I'm happy to report that for the past four weeks it's been chugging along, secret machine of ashes.

In other news, Janelle and I went for a walk downtown yesterday and ended up in the Prairie Lights bookstore. We were just wandering around sampling new poetry collections when Janelle held up a 2008 Jack Micheline collection from Ugly Duckling Press and said, "Hey, you like this guy, don't you?" I was all "Whoa!" and then it was mine. On p. 152 he says he's "ready to spurt firecracker to all the constellations!"

26 February 2010

Pt. 6 of the Hy*Vee Files

Ladies & gentleman, I give you...the Tur-Duc-Hen, available at participating grocery outlets. And what's a Tur-Duc-Hen? Well, it's an unholy alchemy, a union of birds: A turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken. Creole Style. READY TO COOK!

25 February 2010

Carle Junge

This morning, in my creative writing class, I was telling my students about dream states, flow psychology, Jung, and how the creative state is a kind of dream-flow state, and that, therefore, when we read poems and short stories, we should read them as if they were dreams...which is to say, we shouldn't try to deconstruct and analyze them and crack them open against our intellects for the "meaning" hidden inside. Rather, we should be receptive to them - emotionally, intellectually, sensually - allowing them to inform our lives and shape our existence. One of my favorite students said "Yeah, like, E.E. Cummings probably wasn't writing so we could sit here and debate about whether or not Buffalo Bill is truly defunct, as an expression of, like, bullshit cowboy Americana. He was probably writing with the hope that maybe, possibly it could close a few wounds and make us happy." (Murmurs of approval.) Good feelings after a class like that, lemme tell ya...

Afterward, on my bike ride home, I realized I might have left my cellphone on the teacher's podium. So I slowed down, dismounted, and eventually found it in the recesses of my pea coat (which has a torn pocket and swallows things). I happened to look up and see "Junge" (see photo above) on the bumper of a car. Misspelled version of Jung, sure, but how's that for (meta)synchronicity?

24 February 2010

This Season

I've been taking an informal poll of my students, classmates, colleagues, and friends. So far, the vast majority agrees that a widespread sense of seasonal depression kicked in last week. It - the winter - just sort of climbed on top of us all. I suppose this graffiti is part of that informal poll. I found it scrawled above the toilet of George's last night.

23 February 2010

From the Hy*Vee Files, Part V

America loves beer. The only country that drinks more beer than the U.S. is China. According to the most recent stats from the Brewers Association, there are 1,525 breweries in the United States. That's a lotta barley pops. A lotta oat sodas...a lotta brew.

So here's a little poem from S*PeRM**K*T...

What's brewing when a guy pops the top off a bottle or can
talk with another man after a real good sweat. It opens,
pours a cold stream of the great outdoors. Hunting a wild
six-pack reminds him of football and women and other
blood spoors. Frequent channels keep high volume foamy
liquids overflowing, not to be contained. Champs, heroes,
hard workers all back-lit with ornate gold of cowboy sunset
lift dashing white heads, those burly mugs.

- by Harryette Mullen

22 February 2010

Consequences (From the Hy*Vee Files, Pt. IV)

My friend Hope was the first person to explain to me that white flour is Satan incarnate. We were young - in our early twenties - driving across Texas at breakneck speed and for days on end. At some point, the silence broke. She said "Biscuits are evil," and stared over the steering wheel into the flat cactus void.

As I say, this was news to me. I had never considered that the essential ingredients to biscuits and bread - white flour and milk - are the exact same ingredients necessary for making homemade paste. "White bread turns into glue into your intestines. It's, like, one of the worst things you can eat. Ever." And now I was staring into the cactus void as well, which had become a void that contained every slice of white bread I'd ever eaten.

A few days later, we broke out of Texas and crossed over into New Mexico. In a town called Truth Or Consequences, we stopped at a diner on Main Street. It was full of sloe-eyed, drawling locals. The line cook was also our waiter. And he spoke with what appeared to be great concentration: "The special...of...the day...is...brisket. Beef brisket." I had never had brisket before. And Hope warned me against that too.

Like a time bomb, the lunch special was unleashing its fury on my gut exactly one hour later. We had pulled over at a rest stop just in time. Beads of sweat, a mad dash. Great reckonings and bargains with God were made. As I paced back from the restroom, pale and lessened, the sun was hanging at a high, oblique point above Creation - and it was that bright, January sun that can make the Southwest almost too vivid for a body to behold.

20 February 2010

From the Hy*Vee Files, Part Three

Some Auden quotes for the grey winter daze:

Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can: all of them make me laugh.

Before people complain of the obscurity of modern poetry, they should first examine their consciences and ask themselves with how many people and on how many occasions they have genuinely and profoundly shared some experience with another.

Evil is unspectacular and always human, and shares our bed and eats at our own table.

What the mass media offers is not popular art, but entertainment which is intended to be consumed like food, forgotten, and replaced by a new dish.

Fame often makes a writer vain, but seldom makes him proud.

Who can bear to feel himself forgotten?

Geniuses are the luckiest of mortals because what they must do is the same as what they most want to do.

Good can imagine Evil; but Evil cannot imagine Good.

Choice of attention - to pay attention to this and ignore that - is to the inner life what choice of action is to the outer. In both cases, a man is responsible for his choice and must accept the consequences, whatever they may be.

Death is the sound of distant thunder at a picnic.

Every American poet feels that the whole responsibility for contemporary poetry has fallen upon his shoulders, that he is a literary aristocracy of one.

Between friends differences in taste or opinion are irritating in direct proportion to their triviality.

Like everything which is not the involuntary result of fleeting emotion but the creation of time and will, any marriage, happy or unhappy, is infinitely more interesting than any romance, however passionate.

Art is born of humiliation.

It's frightening how easy it is to commit murder in America. Just a drink too much. I can see myself doing it. In England, one feels all the social restraints holding one back. But here, anything can happen.

A poet is a professional maker of verbal objects.

A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.

We are here on Earth to do good to others. What the others are here for, I don't know.

You owe it to us all to get on with what you're good at.

Art is our chief means of breaking bread with the dead.

A professor is someone who talks in someone else's sleep.

Learn from your dreams what you lack.

Some writers confuse authenticity, which they ought always to aim at, with originality, which they should never bother about.

The center that I cannot find is known to my unconscious mind.

The countenances of children, like those of animals, are masks, not faces, for they have not yet developed a significant profile of their own.

The ear tends to be lazy, craves the familiar and is shocked by the unexpected; the eye, on the other hand, tends to be impatient, craves the novel and is bored by repetition.

Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.

We are all here on earth to help others; what on earth the others are here for I don't know.

All sins tend to be addictive, and the terminal point of addiction is damnation.

All that we are not stares back at what we are.

No good opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible.

No hero is mortal till he dies.

No poet or novelist wishes he were the only one who ever lived, but most of them wish they were the only one alive, and quite a number fondly believe their wish has been granted.

One cannot walk through an assembly factory and not feel that one is in Hell.

Perhaps there is only one cardinal sin: impatience. Because of impatience we were driven out of Paradise, because of impatience we cannot return.

Some books are undeservedly forgotten; none are undeservedly remembered.

A poet can write about a man slaying a dragon, but not about a man pushing a button that releases a bomb.

A real book is not one that we read, but one that reads us.

It's a sad fact about our culture that a poet can earn much more money writing or talking about his art than he can by practicing it.

Now is the age of anxiety.

19 February 2010

Golden Calf

Today is a very Leonard Cohen day in Iowa City...everything from Beautiful Losers to Dear Heather, anyway. On a wet asterisk snowfall day like this one, the luminosity of things is difficult to locate, but its ghost haunts you...


I'm at Dey House today, getting some work done. My work today is the same as ever: trying to get fiction and poetry to hand jive. It can be done, but - as with many concerns in writing - the solution has to be a personal one, a personal way of rectifying the differences that separate these two modes. And not just personal to the writer, but personal to each particular piece. There's nothing special about this problem, really. It's the old idea that each story or poem is its own universe, with its own rules. My charge is to pay strict attention to language and diction while also working out problems of narrative (concision and clarity, chiefly) in a way where the only things that are sacrificed are the distracting and the unessential. Beyond that, my charge is to stay committed and interested - to not lose the necessary energy/vision along the way. And in Iowa's February, this can all be quite difficult. Going to Dey House helps...it's like calling on the ancestral writerly spirits of all the amazing people who've studied and taught here. "Keep at it," they say, "don't be a bore."

17 February 2010

Jon-Dog's Seasonal Depression Kicks In (Finally)

I keep hearing that forty is the new thirty. And that's cool (I guess. Actually, I don't care. No, actually, I don't even know this is supposed to mean.), but it occurs to me now that there's a terrifying implication at hand. If thirty is, in fact, the new twenty, then twenty is the new ten! This means that the average middle-American adolescent now "enjoys" about a 25-year period of wandering reign before being consumed by home ownership and then, probably, a midlife crisis (which is why I rent). That's 25 years of instant-gratification & indulgent, self-obsessed behavior. That's twenty-five years of having no idea what they're really about and acting as if there were no consequences to their personal actions. And that's all okay for a while, but for 25 years? That's just too long. I mean, damn - one and a half generations ago, adolescence still lasted only about seven or eight years (and in other parts of the world, I'm told, this is still true), then it was time to step up and be a pillar, or at least a cog in the social machine. So I wonder, will this new generation of guinea pigs even be able to survive all that adolescence???

My answer: Yes, physically. But psychologically, unless something is done to stop it (and here I'm thinking along the lines of some form of social or therapeutic intervention), an unconscious terror-despair will take root...and it will be a dumb terror-despair. And its eyes will be vacuous. And it will find no expression in any of the silly material possessions and artifacts of pop culture that promise to grant a sense of self-definition. And none of the older people will be able to relate to these young, who will barely even be able to relate to one another, beyond the sticky grope. And there will be little prizing of these things called "maturity" and "wisdom." And the universities and armed services and ashrams and churches and clinics will brim with people in search of meaning - any meaning - as the old ways gasp finally in the godawful end times.

From the Hy*Vee Files...

WANTED: Hard working cardboard boxes for exciting opportunities in the food containment industry! Applicants must be willing to contain various mixtures of white flour, baking powder and sugar sealed in plastic bags. Must also be willing to wear bright, garish costumes and hawk wares to overworked and underpaid consumers. Ideal candidates skilled in confusing, enticing, and overwhelming the eye while competing with other cardboard boxes doing same. If interested in this rewarding high-pressure sales/entertainment experience, contact Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker (or any of our sales representatives) for more details.

Per Welinder/Psycholinguistics

Another compulsion of mine ('long with the "Cristo Joke" compulsion) is that I can't say the word "pear" without following it with "Welinder." Example: "Would anyone like to split this pear Welinder with me?" This is so lame I can't even tell you how lame it is. But, alas, I will try:

In the 1980's, there was this rare phenomenon called a "freestyle skateboarder"- someone who skated on a skinny board and did all kinds of flatland acrobatics. One in particular became pseudo-famous and ended up skating for Powell-Peralta. He was born in Sweden but moved to the U.S. at a young age. His name? Per Welinder. He partnered with Tony Hawk and became filthy rich.

Why do I feel the need to reference a freestyle skater every time I reach for a pear? I reckon that's a question for the therapy hour. But I figure that it's because when I was a kid, me and my friends worshipped the Bones Brigade/Powell Peralta pantheon. Per Welinder may as well have been a demigod to me then. And you can't worship something and simply expect to just walk away once you lose interest. That devotional energy must go somewhere. In my case, language is the great Processor of my existence. So all kinds of archaic, telling things keep showing up in my vocabulary. Examining my language is like examining some kind of a weird bird's nest, really - a nest formed from every day I've ever beaked through.

16 February 2010

Wrapped In Plastic

Some weeks back, before my 9:30 AM Tuesday creative writing class, I stepped into the men's bathroom of North Hall to take a leak. Afterward, I turned around and saw that the sink was wrapped in plastic...Cristo-style.

There's a running (and stupid) joke between Janelle and me. Whenever I see anything wrapped in plastic, I'll say "Cristo was here," and she'll look over and see - a sandwich, a moped...whatever - then grow faintly annoyed and say, "Ah. Right." While we lived in Athens, during that last few months, the Hampton Inn on Broad & Hawthorne was undergoing this endless renovation. For a loooong time the whole thing was scaffolded, tarped, & wrapped in plastic. It was on our route to the co-op, so we drove by it all the time. This fact, coupled with my need (compulsion) to habitually enact my lame Cristo joke, almost drove Janelle crazy.

In the Twin Peaks pilot, David Lynch makes a big deal over wrapping Laura Palmer's dead body in plastic. One of the characters even says this - "she's wrapped in plas-tic!" - it was Jack Nance's character, "Pete," who also played the lead role in Eraserhead...Anyway, I consider things wrapped in plastic to be bad news for the environment, but basically a good omen for the Jon-Dog. Not that that makes any sense at all.

14 February 2010


South American papayas wrapped in plastic & "on sale" at the Hy*Vee for $5 per half. Weirdness = the fact that I can be in two feet of Iowa snow and, if the ducats are there, purchase a tropical fruit grown thousands of miles away. I do not have political statements to make about this, either. This kind of weirdness is, simply, the modern way of life. (Try and escape it wholly & you'll end up on a compound in Montana, etc.)

13 February 2010

20 Degrees And Another 2 Whole Months of Winter Left

It's 20 degrees F here...and, you know, something nice about winter is that you can stash refrigerator-dependent items outside in the snow, which makes the actual refrigerator less crowded, and is also just sort of fun. Anyway, we had cheeseburgers for supper tonight. And while I stood by the grill, in my pea coat & snowboots, flipping burgers, our young milkwhite coed neighbors were gy-rating & posing in bras and panties, (Lowrider-style!) for their boyfriends to JPEG. And, naturally, Jay-Z was blasting. And no, I'm not kidding. This actually happened. I called Janelle out to witness. We stood there on our back porch like Ma & Pa Kettle while they shrieked with abandon and yawned out over the frosty hoods of cars in the parking lot across our mutual alley. It was 8 P.M. and they were already trashed.

And I dunno. You might think: Oh snap! Hot young cornfed coeds in skimpy lingerie! But, no. Sadly, this wasn't that. Or maybe it was. But if it was, why was it so dumb-looking and generally sans Eros? A few reasons, it turns out: Because the Jon-Dog isn't 19 anymore. And real Eros is missing from about 98% of what passes for sexy these days. And they're all young. Just kids. And really, despite what any of us might expect, at a scene like this, all you can do is sort of glance over, shake yr head, giggle, & imagine the head colds that they're gonna have tomorrow. This is winter, though. It's been known to make people a little stir crazy...

11 February 2010

An Assessment Of Sorts

Four weeks into the semester and everything is happening (hence my posts on this blog getting fewer and farther between). Teaching two classes and feeling like a jedi, like this is the part of my Iowa experience where everything comes to fruition. Also, Jim's workshop is - while semilucid - a fun and strange environment that's causing me to write one of my most dystopic stories to date. Good times there. I've been experimenting with automatic writing while blasting Patti Smith on headphones. The result's uneven but really interesting - alluvial flush from the oblique twilight of consciousness. (From there I pare and mend, piece together a scaffolding that'll hold a whole dreamscape.) And next week I start reading flash fiction for NPR. They're doing a short fiction contest and have enlisted 20 of us from the fiction workshop to help judge it.

Overall judgment: This winter's a hell of a lot easier than last winter: I actually look forward to snow storms! And with so much on my plate, I'm not really even at risk of over-indulging that natural drawing-down of internal, psychic energy. Iowa can be beautiful in the winter, and I'm happy to be able to write that and to mean it. And, of course, there's this amazing new life on the way, which is a concept that boggles my mind and keeps Janelle and me up late talking wonderment while the winter moon scrolls overhead and shining.

10 February 2010


Always the procreant urge of the world. Out of the dimness opposite equals advance, always substance and increase, always sex, Always a knit of identity,...

- Walt Whitman

06 February 2010


Bang! Spring semester's in full effizzect. And, so far, it finds me shining. After a year and a half of trial and error, my pedagogical approach is finally finding its middle way. I've found my voice as a teacher, I guess, and can say that this whole enterprise has really (truly) made me a better person. It was a big fear of mine, taking on the whole teaching ball of wax and wrestling with several varieties of insecurity. And now, as graduation draws nigh, I'm left wondering what frontiers are left for the Jon-Dog??? Just kidding. But only sort of. I mean, I am humbled by the reaches of consciousness.

(For Endy)

02 February 2010