Monthly Archives: May 2016

Poetry as Prophecy, or: The Poem I Did Not Want to publish


Part Two of my post about my all-time musical top ten will be delayed a week or two for technical reasons. In the mean-time, there’s something that’s been on my mind.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the meaning of the Trump phenomenon. Political pundits are giving post-hoc analyses of why they so severely underestimated his chances. Harry Enten of has a good take here, backed up by similar musings from David Byler at RealClear Politics here. Both contain good points that tell a lot of the story. But I think we all should have seen this coming for two completely different reasons.

1. Reality TV. I’ve posted a few times in Social Media how his candidacy is the culmination of what nearly a generation of Reality TV has prepared America for. We are the Kardashian Nation, and we are finally getting the election we’ve had coming. It turns out that I’m not the only person thinking along these lines, see similar musings from Van Jones here.

2. The Online Comments Section. Several people have noted that Trump is like the Online Comments Section come to life and running for President. Anybody who has read a story of any social or political import online in the past few years and then ventured into the comments section afterwards knows what I mean. There have been a lot of people with dark views, maximum bile, and minimum decency out there for a long time, all they needed was the right signal to draw them out. Which brings me to…

In Spring 2014, I did an exercise that I’ve done several times, using a format inspired by Brad Henderson and Andy Jones of the Writing Program at UC Davis, to write 40 poems in 40 days in response to a series of prompts. I forget the exact prompt the particular poem I’m about to share came from, but it had something to do with taking news items from one medium and then re-positioning the lines to make a poem. In my case, I was curious to see what would happen if I took highlights from the online comments sections of a few articles and re-worked them.

I choose a couple of mainstream articles covering the usual suspect topics- something about feminism, something about race, something about the gay community, etc. I highlighted lines from the comments section following the articles that were particularly evocative, and then ran them through a few rounds of an online version of the “cut-up” technique championed by William S. Burroughs. I then took what came out of that and arranged it into lines of roughly similar length, and did a minimum of rewording and punctuation to make proper sentences out of it.

The thing about cut-ups, and why I wanted to try it in the first place, is that they have an uncanny ability to reveal subtexts beneath a text. The results, though vile, were strangely coherent and compelling. I immediately felt that I couldn’t see myself submitting it anywhere, or bringing it to a workshop. Art can be prophecy, can use personas that aren’t the artist’s own to alert us to what’s out there. But I blinked and lost my nerve, because the results can be so easily misunderstood. I now kind of wish I hadn’t, because this is what was rattling around out there. We all should have seen Trump coming.

 Poem follows below, all appropriate trigger warnings are in effect.



The Online Comments Section (Reading Between the Lines)

Just stay lose gay I’ve included

church-owned bibles for you,

or a million handy WHITE

Congregationalists will fight your

Homosexual agenda (and the blacks too)

with the right kind of pistol.

Motherhood bible-believing people

will snuff your stinking well-educated life

and will save Christians from the pressure

of Jewish sexuality (those eternal animals),

breaking your Harvard governmental

very wrong crap no matter what price.

Careful Homie Bankers, our core covenants

are stronger in history than the Hell

of your well-crafted need-based Conspiracy

and the decades-old distributed colony

of your sexual bankers, their stinking appetites

attacking students, homes and fatherhood.

You think you can actually attack Christians

with your so-called propaganda, drugs,

and worthless Jewish campaign money.

Our race-based purity principles

will defeat your efforts.


Music Appreciation: My All-Time Top Ten, Part 1


I can hardly even tell you what Prince means to me. Despite that, I will give it a try in part two of this post next week. For now, suffice it to say that 1999 was one of the first albums I owned that didn’t feature a Muppet or music from Star Wars. It was a revelation to a rural twelve year-old living in the days before the Internet let you know that there were other weirdos out there. I’ve followed the twists and turns of his musical evolution ever since, and his passing has hit me noticeably harder than most celebrity deaths.

Maybe that’s why it caught my attention when a friend posted an observation last week about how we express our appreciation when someone’s gone, but we ought to do it while they’re still around, and then proceeded to list some of the still-living musicians who’ve had an impact on his life. Reading his post, I reflected that four of my all-time top-ten are already gone. It’s high time to do some appreciating! Forthwith, here are my top five musicians. Presented in chronological order of their debut, because I don’t even know how to approach putting them in an actual 1-5 order. Next week we’ll cover 6-10.

Bob Dylan There have, of course, been many Dylans- earnest folk singer, surrealist 60s troubadour, heartland country poet, born again evangelist, wry and grizzled veteran- I could go on, but the point is I love them all. In every incarnation, his lyrical vision is as idiosyncratic as his voice, and uncompromisingly intelligent. Musically, he draws from the deep well springs of American music, blues, country, folk, with the same fusion of playfulness and mastery he brings to his songwriting.  It’s not easy to be simultaneously utterly earnest and also obviously slyly on the con, but Dylan does it. His creations often already seem timeless at the moment they come out, and the legacy only grows as time passes.


The Who/Pete Townshend You’ll notice there’s no Beatles or Stones in this list. Obviously, I’m not arguing that those bands are crap. I love them. We are all required by law to love them. But for me, every time I clear a classic Pete Townshend guitar riff on a Who song, or the plaintive keen of his voice on his solo work, I am instantly transported in a way I am not with those other bands. To a place where the music is it’s own justification. Where there is no history, no fear, no me, just Rock. Long live Rock!


Neil Young Again, a voice that instantly transports me, and a fiercely individual viewpoint and lyrical depth to back it up. Those would be mighty weapons were they all that he had in his arsenal, but then there’s the guitar. He can play a country song so straight up that there’s not a hint of irony in it and then (on the same album even) switch to a scorching shredded feedback so damn hard that Grunge immediately recognized him as a spiritual fore-bearer when it arrived on the scene.


The Pixies/Frank Black The legend is that Frank Black recruited Kim Deal to the Pixies with an add saying that he was looking for a bass player who liked Peter, Paul & Mary & Husker Du. Now, I like Kim Deal. A lot. So much so that I don’t even think they should call the current band the Pixies without her. But it’s Frank Black’s musical vision,  crystallized in the story above, that most catches my attention in their albums and his solo work since. His music is a place in which surf harmonies and noise pop live together in unquiet peace. Lyrically he’s frequently dark, sometimes hilarious, often both at once, but creates obsidian worlds that are wondrous and unmistakably unique.


Nirvana I am always aspiring to reach a place in my writing so authentic, so direct, that the effect is searing and impossible to turn away from. Nirvana, for me, has come to symbolize that place. There’s never a hint of falseness in what they do, and a fresh listen to Nevermind now still reminds you what an amazing thing it was when they burned down the pop charts in 1991. Kurt Cobain remains haunting because he also symbolizes the flip side of having a vision that unrelenting- it can consume itself on the way. For both the promise and the caution, and because they still sound incendiarily fresh twenty years later, I keep listening.