Monday, March 29, 2010

So You Think You Don't Like Poetry

This week's poem is by Emerson faculty member Gail Mazur, who studied poetry under Robert Lowell. I will be taking a workshop led by her in the fall and based on this poem, I'm pretty excited about it. I love the first line of this poem -- it draws you right in. And while the narrative of the poem is literally about a trip to the zoo, there is so much else going on with the speaker. It's really well done and the wonderful moments of humor in the poem make its profundity all the more poignant.

In Houston

I’d dislocated my life, so I went to the zoo.
It was December but it wasn’t December. Pansies
just planted were blooming in well-groomed beds.
Lovers embraced under the sky’s Sunday blue.
Children rode around and around on pastel trains.
I read the labels stuck on every cage the way
people at museums do, art being less interesting
than information. Each fenced-in plot had a map,
laminated with a stain to tell where in the world
the animals had been taken from. Rhinos waited
for rain in the rhino-colored dirt, too grief-struck
to move their wrinkles, their horns too weak
to ever be hacked off by poachers for aphrodisiacs.
Five white ducks agitated the chalky waters
of a duck pond with invisible orange feet
while a little girl in pink ruffles
tossed pork rinds at their disconsolate backs.

This wasn’t my life! I’d meant to look
with the wise tough eye of exile, I wanted
not to anthropomorphize, not to equate, for instance,
the lemur’s displacement with my displacement.
The arched aviary flashed with extravagance,
plumage so exuberant, so implausible, it seemed
cartoonish, and the birdsongs unintelligible,
babble, all their various languages unravelling—
no bird can get its song sung right, separated from
models of its own species.

For weeks I hadn’t written a sentence,
for two days I hadn’t spoken to an animate thing.
I couldn’t relate to a giraffe—
I couldn’t look one in the face.
I’d have said, if anyone had asked,
I’d been mugged by the Gulf climate.
In a great barren space, I watched a pair
of elephants swaying together, a rhythm
too familiar to be mistaken, too exclusive.
My eyes sweated to see the bull, his masterful trunk
swinging, enter their barn of concrete blocks,
to watch his obedient wife follow. I missed
the bitter tinny Boston smell of first snow,
the huddling in a cold bus tunnel.

At the House of Nocturnal Mammals,
I stepped into a furtive world of bats,
averted my eyes at the gloomy dioramas,
passed glassed-in booths of lurking rodents—
had I known I’d find what I came for at last?
How did we get here, dear sloth, my soul, my sister?
Clinging to a tree-limb with your three-toed feet,
your eyes closed tight, you calm my idleness,
my immigrant isolation. But a tiny tamarin monkey
who shares your ersatz rainforest runs at you,
teasing, until you move one slow, dripping,
hairy arm, then the other, the other, the other,
pulling your tear-soaked body, its too-few
vertebrae, its inferior allotment of muscles
along the dead branch, going almost nowhere
slowly as is humanly possible, nudged
by the bright orange primate taunting, nipping,
itching at you all the time, like ambition.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

All the single ladies....

Well, I put off writing about this on my blog because I have been coming to terms with it on my own and adjusting, but I'm not one to shy away from writing about my personal life, so here goes: I am once again single and I am pretty terrible at it.

I tend to jump from relationship to relationship, with little down time for reflection in between. So I'm making a conscious effort to really be ALONE for a while. Just because I need to prove to myself that I can be on my own and feel good about myself without the awesome validation that comes with having a significant other (i.e. "See? I can't suck too much because THIS PERSON loves me!")

Perks of being single? Um, let's see:

1. Dancing uproariously to that Beyonce song
2. Shamelessly flirting with people who are totally wrong for me
3. Less shaving/waxing (money saved can be put toward important things like shoes)

I'm sure there are more perks, I just haven't figured them out yet. Oh yeah -- more time with friends. That's a good one.

I'm not trying to whine -- I've been very blessed in my relationships. And I'm on excellent, friendly terms with my recent ex, who is a delightful human being in every sense of the word. We're having lunch tomorrow, in fact. But it's daunting to think about starting over with someone new, even if I'm not rushing into it. Eventually, I will want to date again and the idea of having to start all over, convince yet another man that my relative high maintenance is worth feels like a Sisyphean task. Hell, just finding a man that knows with "Sisyphean" means is going to be a challenge.

But for now, I'm just going to try to relax and trust that someday, someone will like it enough to put a ring on it.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Ok, first of all, apologies for not posting in over a week. Sometimes, you know, life intervenes.

So, I recently filed my taxes (on my own, using TurboTax) and got a larger refund than I was expecting. Instead of doing the responsible thing and paying off a chunk of my student loans, I have been buying plane tickets and planning frivolous trips. I love to travel, so it's a good thing I picked such a lucrative career. I mean, basically every cover of US Weekly features a millionaire poetess sunning herself in Belize.

Where am I going, you ask? Well, in a little under two weeks, I'm going to Chicago to celebrate a friend's 30th birthday. I will be in the Windy City for about 48 hours. Which sort of makes the trip absurd, but the birthday boy in question is one of my closest pals from childhood and just finished a tour in Afghanistan. Yep, I'm playing the he-is-in-the-army card to justify this trip. Also, I can stay for free with a at least I'm saving money in that regard.

Next trip: St. Louis in May. I know what you're thinking, that these Midwestern destinations are not exactly exotic. But again, it's a birthday worth traveling for -- my Dad's 65th. I missed his 60th fete, which was a margarita-infused, karaoke affair that was so raucous that someone called the cops. Yes, the police made an appearance at my father's 60th birthday. That's just how my family rolls. So I'm thinking 65 is going to be even more insane.

But here's the vacay I'm really looking forward to: Amsterdam in July! Haven't bought my tickets yet, but I have the dates picked out (first week of July). I have never been to Amsterdam. And I haven't been to Europe since 2003 (I'm so underprivileged!). I hear Amsterdam is a cultural mecca, chock full of museums and lovely architecture. I swear, that's why I'm going. To appreciate the architecture. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. The fact that I will be able to legally buy and smoke weed in public establishments did not factor into my decision at all. I AM A LOVER OF ART AND CULTURE.

Ok, gotta run to class....I'll try to post more frequently because I know, I know life is so dull without my pithy entries to brighten your days. God, it's great to be important.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


According to the hit Broadway show Avenue Q, the internet is for porn. And while I wouldn't disagree that it promotes the proliferation of that industry, I do think it serves many other purposes as well. Without Facebook, I would not be in touch with the elementary school friend who, after we reconnected, asked me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding (or, for that matter, all the boys in middle school who didn't ask me to slow dance because I was a late bloomer). Without MySpace, Tila Tequila would not have a career that extended beyond a stripper pole.

Some claim the Web brings us together; others insist it has driven people farther apart by digitizing relationships (and I'll admit, my phone demeanor has suffered). One recent online development, however, strikes me as a throwback to the "old internet" I grew up with while also managing to be insidiously innovative.

I speak, of course, of the phenomenon of Chat Roulette.

If you've over 25, chances are you haven't heard of this site; it's pretty new and all the rage among the young Web-savvy kids. The concept is simple: talk to totally random strangers, selected randomly. But here's the really creepy part: with webcam technology, you can SEE and HEAR the creepy strangers. At any given time, there are thousands of people on the site and when you log on, you suddenly find yourself face-to-face with one of them. And if you don't like what you see, you can simply click "next" and talk to someone else.

As my brother pointed out, the sheer randomness of Chat Roulette is reminiscent of the 90s chat rooms I used to frequent when I was an AOL user. My family had an account and I had my own screen name: Liminal15 (precocious, I know). And sometimes, because I was a curious and horny teenager, I would chat, shall we say flirtatiously, with people I didn't know.

Chat Roulette takes this to the next level -- and having visited the site a few times (trust me, it's better to experience it with friends as opposed to solo), I can say that about 50% of the time, I found myself not so much face-to-face with a stranger, but face-to-penis. The truth is, Chat Roulette is saturated with guys who just want to jerk off on camera for the exhibitionist thrill. They don't really want to talk. The only communication I received was rarely in the form of complete sentences; one guy said "titties?" and another asked me to flash him after waving a ten-dollar bill at the camera, as if I could absorb the money via osmosis. I still can't decide if this gesture was tacky (I'm only worth $10?) or polite (it's the thought that counts?)

It's a strange world we live in, folks. And Chat Roulette just made it a little....ickier. Except this guy, he's awesome:

Another weird/scary internet trend in the news: Human-flesh Search Engines in China. Apparently, people gather together online and target those in their communities that they don't like and carry out a kind of mob bullying. This sometimes results in the victims losing their jobs and having to relocate.
I guess if I had to pick between being harassed online by a faceless mob or being inundated with images of masturbating oddballs, I choose the latter?

Which brings this post pretty much full circle: the internet is for porn (unless you are unpopular and live in China)

Monday, March 8, 2010

So You Think You Don't Like Poetry

This week's selection by Richard Hugo is depressing, yes, but also very powerful. I love the authority in the voice of the poem -- it grabs you right away. This poem is often anthologized because, well, it's damn good. Also good: Hugo's advice to poets, which is to "never write a poem about anything that ought to have a poem written about it."

Degrees of Gray at Philipsburg

You might come here Sunday on a whim.
Say your life broke down. The last good kiss
you had was years ago. You walk these streets
laid out by the insane, past hotels
that didn't last, bars that did, the tortured try
of local drivers to accelerate their lives.
Only churches are kept up. The jail
turned seventy this year. The only prisoner
is always in, not knowing what he's done.

The principal supporting business now
is rage. Hatred of the various grays
the mountain sends, hatred of the mill,
the Silver Bill repeal, the best liked girls
who leave each year for Butte. One good
restaurant and bars can't wipe the boredom out.
The 1907 boom, eight going silver mines,
a dance floor built on springs--
all memory resolves itself in gaze,
in panoramic green you know the cattle eat
or two stacks high above the town,
two dead kilns, the huge mill in collapse
for fifty years that won't fall finally down.

Isn't this your life? That ancient kiss
still burning out your eyes? Isn't this defeat
so accurate, the church bell simply seems
a pure announcement: ring and no one comes?
Don't empty houses ring? Are magnesium
and scorn enough to support a town,
not just Philipsburg, but towns
of towering blondes, good jazz and booze
the world will never let you have
until the town you came from dies inside?

Say no to yourself. The old man, twenty
when the jail was built, still laughs
although his lips collapse. Someday soon,
he says, I'll go to sleep and not wake up.
You tell him no. You're talking to yourself.
The car that brought you here still runs.
The money you buy lunch with,
no matter where it's mined, is silver
and the girl who serves you food
is slender and her red hair lights the wall.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Higher Education

Inevitably, once I get to know someone in a work or school setting, they ask me where I went to college. Sometimes my answer of "Yale" elicits a nonchalant nod or "Oh." But more often than not, I get something more along the lines of "Whoa" or "Wow," which makes me feel a little proud but also nervous because people tend to associate going to Yale with not just being smart, but also being a rich snob. I'm definitely not rich and I do my best not to be a snob (though I have
pondered the question).

But let me assure you, you should not be intimidated by my alma mater. There were plenty of absolutely ABSURD classes offered at Yale, classes with arguably little to no scholarly merit. Here is a sampling:

Science Fiction, Science Fact? (Physics)
This class examined the actual "science" behind stuff from Star Trek and other sci-fi pop culture gems. Like, how would a Holodeck actually work and is beaming even theoretically possible? Most of my friends took this class pass/fail and, I kid you not, came very close to failing. Turns out, there was actual math and science involved.

Mass Media and Mass Culture (Sociology)
All I know about this class was that those who took it got to go on a field trip to Chicago to attend a taping of The Ricki Lake Show. The topic that day: "I Can't Live Without My Weave."

Computers and the Modern Intellectual Agenda (Computer Science)
I was dumb enough to attempt this one, only after I was assured that no actual computer programming would be happening and that my shaky understanding of how the internet works would not be a problem (tubes underground? magic?) Joke was on me, though -- the professor, who was missing one hand because the Unibomber sent him a bomb in the mail, hated me. Maybe because I never did the reading or went to class. And that, boys and girls, is how Katie got her one and only C in college.

Local Flora (Biology)
Some schools have "Rocks for Jocks"; we had Local Flora, a.k.a. nature walks for stoners. The class consisted of long walks through New Haven's less urban areas and then...discussions about those walks.

Heterosexuality (Women's and Gender Studies)

When I told my mother about the existence of this course, she began to seriously question the monetary investment in my Ivy League education. My freshman year boyfriend signed up because he saw in the syllabus that he'd get to read a lot of Maxim. You know, to understand how his heterosexuality was socially constructed.

Camp as a Genre (???)
As opposed to an childhood summertime institution. Can't remember which department offered this, but every gay man on campus tried to take it. The coursework included screenings of John Waters films and Oscar Wilde's Salome. My roommate Laura wrote a research paper on Showgirls. I truly regret not signing up for this class.

Doomed Love in the Western World (English)
This was a legit seminar, with an awesome reading list (Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, House of Mirth etc). What made it funny/tragic, however, was the fact that it was taught/created by a member of the faculty going through a messy divorce with another faculty member. Whom she did her best not to trash talk, even though the entire campus knew he'd been caught cheating on her with a grad student. Despite her middle age, the professor started to coming to class in leather pants and occasionally let personal details about her new single life slip (like the fact that she was sleeping with the young Italian guy she hired to paint her new apartment).

So you see, my undergraduate education had its questionable moments. I'd love to hear what ridiculous courses you readers may have encountered in your pursuits of higher education. Oh, and speaking of higher education, my junior year I took a class called The High Modern Novel. And on 4/20, as you can guess, it became the Really High Modern Novel.

Finally, let me settle this once and for all -- Yale is nothing like this:

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

And so my 30th year of life begins....

Guess what? I turned 29 yesterday!

I had a hangover approximately the size of Montana since the celebrating started the night before, after my first full-length concert with vocal band, Funkin' A! (yes, the exclamation point is part of the name). Or more accurately, the celebrating started during the concert when during an extended instrumental break of one of my solos (Michael Jackson's "Working Day and Night"), I did a shot at the bar. Because I'm just that gangsta. We performed with more established (but less visually stylish) groups Overboard and Similar Jones. Fun times.

Then we went to my former place of work, the Hong Kong, for some karaoke. My brother (visiting from NYC) serenaded the pretty bartender with an amazing version of Taylor Swift's "You Belong With Me." My memory starts to get a little fuzzy around the point where my old boss started buying rounds of shots. Hence, the Monday hangover.

But I pulled it together in time for a lovely birthday dinner at Cuchi Cuchi, where I reserved the Chico Chica Boom Table, New England's first interactive LED (light-emitting diode) table.

It was a great night, with great company. I am a lucky girl. And like a French Bordeaux, I'm only getting better with age. I'm confident that my 30s will be filled with less folly than my 20s, a.k.a. "my salad days/ when I was green in judgment" (Antony and Cleopatra, Act I).

Green in judgment, indeed. That's putting it mildly.