“On Watching ‘Makin’ Bacon Pancakes (10 Hour Version)'”: new poem in 300 Hours a Minute

In late September, a crowd of good-looking literati and the 6 sweaty weirdos converged on Reunion Island Coffee to celebrate the launch of Desert Pets Press‘s two inaugural chapbooks: the gorgeously designed poems from Still by E. Martin Nolan (you may know him as Ted); and the too-hip-to-be-square anthology 300 Hours a Minute: Poems about YouTube Videos.

poems from Still - E Martin Nolan

If you’re jealous of this cover…

300 Hours a Minute: Poems about YouTube Videos

…swipe right.

Thanks to Catriona Wright for (let’s say) commissioning my contribution to the anthology, “On Watching ‘Makin’ Bacon Pancakes (10 Hour Version).'” She may not remember insisting that YouTube poems are “the only kind of ekphrastic poem that counts,” but it was a pretty polemical pitch. Fastforward seven months: I was overtired and also ‘tired,’ so when I read “On Watching…” at the launch, I failed to read its title (yup), synopsize its source YouTube video, or explain its kid’s-table-seat at the venerable feast called durational art. But the Desert Pets Press website has gone live! And you can order this chapbook now! So here:

How to Write Your Own (10 Hour Version) YouTube Poem:

  1. Read the Vice interview with Benjamin Bennett, YouTube’s livestreaming meditation Lothario.
  2. Complete a statistically insignificant random sample of Bennett’s four-hour videos to determine that, yes, he’s sat motionless and smiling for a total of [updated as of posting] 596 hours.
  3. Stare at Tom Friedman’s “1,000 Hours of Staring” for 1 minute.
  4. Consider you’re staring at your screen, which has already suffered
  5. (calculate this quickly) some 10k hours of your eyeball beams.
  6. Read the comments section below the picture of Friedman’s sheet of paper, attending carefully to this apt deflation of literary criticism: “The fact that ‘art has no definition’ allows people to get obscene amounts of money and fame for staring at paper. Shameful.”
  7. Read the comments section below the KnowYourMeme entry on 10 hour videos to find one deemed the ___-est (e.g., an eleven-second clip of Adventure Time‘s Jake the Dog making excellent use of musical diegesis, not to mention bacon pancakes, looped 3273 times).
  8. Bid your live-in partner farewell / call in sick / file your living will.
  9. Watch for 10 hours straight, taking notes toward your poem.
  10. Confess. Confess.

Video reading: “Figure with Pressurized Hose,” “Ascension,” and “Last Bastion”

Another video, this time from the June 3rd edition (and season closer) of the London Poetry Open Mic Night. My thanks again to the organizers and to videographer Sebastian Rydzewski.

At the beginning, I’m responding to an earlier reader who mentioned a line famously misattributed to Valéry: “A poem is never finished; it is only abandoned.” Open mic host Joan Clayton polled the crowd on whether they finish or abandon poems. I ‘think too much,’ so I abstained and then, in this video, point out that the line is a gloss of Valéry from Auden’s Collected Poems foreword.

Valéry wrote roughly this: “A work is never completed except by some accident such as weariness, satisfaction, the need to deliver, or death: for, in relation to who or what is making it, it can only be one stage in a series of inner transformations.” Valéry’s examples of “accident” do suggest abandonment, but I prefer the ambiguity of “accident” itself. I like to think my poems exile me for causes beyond my control.

Here’s also Kelly Creighton reading “Day One” and, hilariously, refusing to parse it afterward. Unfortunately, this video’s audio dampens the hypnotism (which is Creighton’s forté), so have a drink first, I suppose, then watch it with your eyes closed.

A Poem in Hart House Review: “Counting Half The World”

After far too long writing PhD qualifying exams, paving my favourite neurons to put up a dissertating lot, I’m back to writing poetry. (But see how bad things have gotten?)

Perhaps I’ll begin a very delayed Shark Week Poemarathon 2014, though by my calculations I’ve already missed what would be the half-birthday/Xmas-in-July of Shark Week, January 11-17. I’ll just back-date the posts and no one will notice. You can keep our secret, can’t you, dear reader?

Speaking of reading, you should try it sometime. I have a very old poem newly published in the Hart House Review’s Winter Supplement 2015, “Counting Half The World.”

It has all the newsiest things: exotic locales! nipples! war tremors! (two kinds of) puddles! grandmother(‘)s! mules! (We all know how au courant mules are these days.)

A few thoughts on “Olbers’s Paradox”

Thank you to everyone who sent congratulations regarding my recent Descant prize win. A few of you generously mentioned that you ‘enjoyed’ my interview on the Descant blog. I’m convinced that (through no fault of the interviewer) I sound like an ingénue, so to compensate I’ve posted here a few thoughts on “Olbers’s Paradox,” my only other anything-winning poem. They were originally hosted on the Echolocation blog but didn’t survive a recent content cull. Evidently, I refuse to take that as a hint.

Page’s glosa “Inebriate” (which you can listen to her read here) pissed me off. From there, “Olbers’s Paradox” very quickly began to write itself. Many of its images respond directly to Page’s and are traceable through the rhyme scheme, which I annoyingly had to preserve in order to write a glosa from the same cabeza. And I wanted the same cabeza because I thought I could use the same source material to produce something more interesting. That admitted, I haven’t done much to advance the glosa form. Maybe I’ve brought in dramatic monologue, or dramatic lyric, but that’s a bit like adding whisky to bitters: what you get is still (an) old fashioned. Advancing the form wasn’t my interest. If I had to name one difference, it’s that Page wanted glosas to be celebratory and I want them to be quietly or loudly belligerent. Characters are pretty good at quiet belligerence; poets can be good at being loud.

With “Stars / beyond stars unfold for me and shine,” Page practically handed me the paradox that the historical Heinrich Olbers posed: the universe can’t be both infinite and eternal (eternally static, that is) because if it were the night sky would be completely chocked with starlight. Being high on Anxiety of Influence at the time of composition, I evidently connected the potential frying of the Earth’s surface by stellar radiation with the woe of the contemporary writer. But the Earth doesn’t fry, they say, because space is expanding and the stars are moving away from us. That’s a simplification. Here’s another: time expands outward, pushing the past and its precedents away from us. The gradual departure of their lights is what allows and requires that we keep writing.

I traced Page back to Cohen, both back to Keats, and he too back to Elgin, incidentally Olbers’s contemporary but more importantly the one who ‘rescued’ the Parthenon Marbles from those crazy, statue-burning Greeks. Each of the four handled influence in a different way—lauder, renouncer, neurotic, and thief—but I have more fondness for Olbers’s patient, the character whose voice cohered quite suddenly out of this mess. The patient is my antidote to Page’s transcendently happy, ironically healthy, spring water-swilling septuagenarian. There’s something admirable, I think, in a younger person terminally ill but thermodynamically happy. You heard me, Keats.

A few thoughts on “Hop, Skip, Jump”

The Town Crier (the blog for The Puritan) has posted a few thoughts on “Hop, Skip, Jump.” What I failed to mention to them is my devastating inability to perform the triple jump, known in the seedy track-and-field world as the hop, skip, jump.

(Edit: after the migration of The Town Crier to its new website, I thought I’d fight the chaos of the internet by also posting those thoughts below.)

“Hop, Skip, Jump” neither attempts formal experimentation nor chances on it. The two of us are less interested in language than in image and story. More exceptional poetry, that written as a grammatically disrupted visual field, for instance, actively disinterests me. The words scattered across the page are at once too inert and too grandiose—stripped of syntactic musculature, tossed down like bones, begging for interpolation, as if a reader’s pleasure were in deciphering some internal divinity. There’s an encounter with the self that confirms the self. It’s not even mad libs.

But if imagistic or narrative densities are achieved, if they are set into collusion and conflict across the page, that page becomes more of a spatial field. The reader, secondary, encounters an independent organism or enters a system already in motion. “Hop, Skip, Jump” is foremost a set of synchronic stories. Its quadrants can be read as integrally or permeably as you like—as split-screens, counter-testimonies, seasons of insufficiency, you name it—but their friction aims to unsettle, to dissatisfy, to leave a bad taste, to leave you out.

Only on rare occasions do I not eat food that I’ve dropped on the floor. I once dropped a piece of peppercorn steak, picked a hair off it, ate it, then picked up a peppercorn and popped that into my mouth. When I start to bite down, it doesn’t feel quite firm enough, so I spit it into my hand and watch with growing disgust and abjection as the peppercorn starts shivering, wobbling, splitting open, waving a dozen little hairs from inside it. I never forget the feeling of that pill bug unrolling like a sleeping bag in my hand. This stamping of the reader is exactly what a poem should do.


Or the form of “Hop, Skip, Jump” is mainly a result of its mode of production: I type on A4 paper, and I like my poems to fit on one page.

“Telemachy” on Soundcloud

For someone with limited publication experience, there’s little better than an editor asking you to submit a particular poem. It’s not exactly an ego boost (“submit that poem now thanks” doesn’t mean “you’re amazing” so much as it means “that poem won’t make my journal look bad”). But as a near miss it also prevents the extreme discomfort brought on by direct praise.

I read “Telemachy” at the floorshow, held by the Irish Writers’ Centre in Dublin, back in January 2011. Someone sat through it thinking, “Well, this isn’t entirely shit.” I’m probably being overgenerous—’not shit’ is high praise coming from an Irish mind—but the poem appeared in the inaugural issue of Bare Hands Poetry last October and is now available in audio on the Bare Hands Soundcloud collection.

I have an ambivalent relationship with readings. My preparation usually includes (1) looking up pronunciations for those words I foolishly used without having heard them muttered by another human, which should serve as an indication that my diction needs work but which I usually ignore; and (2) frantically getting drunk before it’s my turn to read. I also have an ambivalent relationship with recordings, which I use exclusively as a revision aid to defamiliarize a poem so I can better hear its rhythms, stresses, and other sound patterns you could classify blobularly as ‘assliteration.’ Yes, this involves sitting by myself listening to a recording of myself reading my own poems. Yes, that’s extremely masturbatory, which is precisely why I do it alone and delete the sound files afterward as if they were a sordid internet history.

(Poetry as a quasi-sexual experience? More on this here.)

Echolocation 2012 Poetry Contest

After what I’m told was a very factious judging process, involving three entirely incompatible shortlists and a few reversals, a poem of mine (“Olbers’s Paradox“) has somehow tripped over the line to win Echolocation Magazine‘s 2012 Poetry Contest. The prize offered a fantastic shortcut to seeing one’s writing in print: the winning poem hand-pressed in a limited-edition broadsheet to be sold as a fundraiser for Echolocation. Phoebe, general editor, offered me a few broadsheets or their equivalent in cash; I went all sentimental and chose the broadsheets. It was difficult not to after having stopped by Massey College and pulling the first twenty or thirty myself under the patient tutelage of master printer Brian Maloney, who then asked me to sign two copies for the press’s and his own records. The whole was a ridiculous experience for someone with the naughty non-habit of never submitting his poetry nowhere.

Edit: My rumination on writing “Olbers’s Paradox” was originally hosted on the Echolocation blog but didn’t survive the machinations of a recent content cull. I replicate them in a more recent post.