April 27th, 2010

It’s 4 a.m. I’ve been having a lot of trouble sleeping lately (last couple of months). The reasons are these:

1. I drink too much Diet Pepsi.
2. I drink too much Diet Pepsi.
3. I drink too much Diet Pepsi.

I know I need to kick the caffeine. Here’s how I know:

1. I have sleep issues.
2. My use of it has escalated dramatically over time.
3. When I run low on cans, I start to panic. “I need to go to the grocery store,” I find myself saying out loud over and over, to no one and everyone.
4. I bought a Can Crusher. I was convinced I needed this.
5. I used the Can Crusher so hard it fell off the wall, taking casualties with it and hurting my leg.

I’ve had much advice for how to best kick this habit—go cold turkey, hydrate, switch to green tea or some other substance. Not to defend it too much, but I’ll say this habit is at least legal and fairly inexpensive. Also, it’s delicious. I WILL kick it, but possibly not for another year or two. My problems are these:

1. Vibble is two.
2. Vibble is two.
3. Vibble is—”Oh my God, Kid, slow [yawn] DOWN!”—twooooo.

I can’t keep up with her with my own allotted human energy power. I try from time to time and barely make it through the morning without crashing.

Among the awful effects on my life and body of a steady intake of Diet Pepsi are frequent awakenings at 3 and 4 in the morning. Although this one—today—I can blame on another cause of sleeplessness, too: The sky is a weird color. It’s sort of smoothie-coral and foggily lit. When you grow up in places where the telephone poles are mounted with tornado sirens, a weird-colored sky makes your hackles stand on edge. You get to be like a cow before rain: You can sense things no matter what’s going on, like if you’re sleeping, and the sky is a big smoothie, you wake up feeling like, ‘Something’s not right.’ I wrote a poem once about living in a tornado-place. It’s not a great poem, I never revised it, but let me see if I can find it … OK, here it is:


From the year I was five, I remember these things:

The day I cut my own hair with my art-scissors
and hid under the bed until I was found out

The tree-fort into which Robert Pirrahni and Johnny Ham
did not allow girls

Hot air balloons—too many to count—
landing in the park up the street

The terrible howl of the tornado-warning alarm in our subdivision

A storm with tornadoes makes the colors all wrong. The sky goes green and then orange. It is very quiet.

During a tornado, you are supposed to move to the center of the house.

The center of our house was the coat closet. Whenever the alarm sounded, I ran to it and did not come out for a long time. Hours. I squeezed between my father’s snow-boots and a box of mittens. My mother’s dark wool coat hung around my face. If the tornado should come, I

would not have to know.

All Bets Are Off

September 24th, 2008

There’s a lot to catch you up on, so very quickly …


We had a wonderful trip to Oregon recently, where we enjoyed the crisp, pre-fall mornings and hot afternoons in Corvallis and were treated to the company of Steve’s family and our friends the Kissers and Kate in Portland. You can check out
photos here.


No sooner were we back at No. 6 than we headed out to Palm Springs for a relaxing overnight. Steve’s sister Debi (from Corvallis) had a conference there, and it’s just two hours from Santa Monica and such a fun getaway. Debi said, “We’re going to get together every weekend now, right?” I do wish. What a good time.


I’m teaching my one class at Otis, and I have an enjoyable group of students this semester. Engaged, positive, on-board, and all at 3:45 in the afternoon. So it’s going well. I teach one day a week, and Stevel comes home from work early to stay with Vibble.


Speaking of Vibble, ALL BETS ARE OFF. I don’t know if it’s the teething or some kind of seven-month-mark phase or her true personality coming out or what, but she is a bit moody, and anything resembling a schedule or consistent demeanor … well, I just can’t predict her. She is still the world’s smiliest baby, still LOVES people everywhere we go. But she cries quite a bit more now, crawls around crying a lot. Pulls herself to standing and stands there and cries. Cries a lot at night in her sleep (or wakes up and cries). Sometimes she cries because she is being restrained. Sometimes, because no one is holding her. Sometimes because I have left the room. Others, because I have ENTERED the room. Cries because she is hungry, cries because we have put her in her high chair and suited her up with a bib. Cries—SHRIEKS—because we are trying to change her diaper and would like her to remain on her back on the changing table for five seconds. Cries about twenty times a day because she has fallen backwards and bumped her little head.

But then she will be happy as can be for hours with no complaints. I don’t know how to make this happen on purpose. I just enjoy it when it comes. The rest of the time, I go down the list. Teething pain? We have MANY solutions to help with this, from a frozen washcloth to Orajel to Tylenol. Hungry? Bananas? Cereal? (If I could just stop her from snorting them all up her nose.) Sleepy? She still calms to the swaddle. Want to crawl? Want to cruise? Change of scene? Need a little Baby-Einstein-in-your-swing time? (Amazing how miraculously this sometimes works; the reaction on her face reminds me of when I’m really stressed out and step into a hot bath.) Most often, the only thing she wants is to be in my arms. “Hold me, Mom.” OK. We live in 15-to-20-minute chunks. Change it up often, that’s the Vibble ideal. But a schedule? Not so much. I mean, some days she does her “usual” thing, but other days, it’s up in the air when she will sleep, for how long, how much she will eat, etc. Fortunately, she still does the whole night-sleeping thing for the most part.

Meanwhile, the crawling is quite accomplished. She is compelled to pull herself up now on anything she can reach. This involves a lot of falling down. A LOT. And also a lot of crying while standing, presumably because she’s not sure how to get down without falling?

Summary: She is more enjoyable than ever … and more work than I imagined. Hm. Also, her cheeks are tasty. I eat them frequently.


Kelly is here! Hooray!!!!!

Core Meltdown in Reactor Two

July 2nd, 2008

* Warning: The following content may not be suitable for Jeremy Roush.

So I finished my editing project and met this morning with two members of the group who had written the book. And an hour into the meeting Violet dropped a diaper bomb that was completely uncontained. I looked down to see the mustard running out of the bottom of her pantleg. It was an awkward interruption to our discussion. What followed was an impromptu bath for Vibble in the restroom. She did a lot of rolling around on the nasty restroom floor, and I could not seem to keep her in my paper-towel nest. Lucky for Baby, I had a spare outfit in her size. Sadly, I was not so lucky and had to accept my new role as human-wad-of-toilet-paper.

So that’s my baby poop story. What’s yours?

It Begins

July 1st, 2008

I did something today that I’m not that proud of. I sat my four-month old in front of the TV so I could get some things done. It’s even worse than it sounds. She wasn’t wearing any clothes, just a baby-blanket toga. See for yourself.

It was the No. 6 debut of a DVD called Baby Mozart, which was gifted to Violet by her grandma, and though I have never seen anything so inane, the kid loves it. She watched it repeatedly, giggling and gesturing toward the TV all the while. Thus, en route to No. 6 as of this afternoon: Baby Bach and Baby Beethoven.

Incidentally, if anyone with a video camera feels like getting rich, these things are $16 each and feature 30 minutes of footage primarily of toys, fruit, and a hand waving a sock puppet around. And were they available, I would immediately order Baby Petty, Baby Seger, and Baby Stones.

Violet’s initiation into TV-babysitting practices followed two days of her playing and sleeping next to me as I edited an exciting project about responsible land development. Here she is conked out by my laptop. It’s actually been a cozy work experience with this project, having my two girls (here’s my other girl) join me. And now that the evening has passed, and I’ve managed to bathe and even dress my child, it’s looking a little less like someone needs to call Family Welfare Services on me.

Meanwhile, Vibble seems perfectly happy with everything.


April 30th, 2008

A few new Vibble pics here

I don’t know how to tell these cats that the amazingly comfy little cat curl-up and play stations all over the house are not for them. Mia has been hanging out under the play gym, where she enjoys hunting the rattle-toys, and Linus somehow heaved himself into the bassinet today.

We’ve been busy the last week spending time with friends, and Stevel’s been hard at work on his own programming projects. Okay, okay, and we acquired Mario Kart Wii with its cute little steering wheels and Gran Turismo with its more real-like steering wheel. (Yes, there are now multiple gamer steering wheels alongside the guitars and drums in our living room.) And the guys are getting into Grand Theft Auto IV. I know not everyone in “my readership” (Hi, Mom) agrees with the playing of video games that include violence, but having married someone in the programming/design of special-effects/gaming/other-stuff industry, I have developed an appreciation for aspects of video games that GTA-IV seems to have mastered. Plus, it’s very funny.

Violet had some stomach stuff going on this week. Lots of spitting up and diarrhea, including one batch that required an immediate bath in order to remove the poo from such crannies as her belly button. Man, was she feelin’ good once that explosion was out of her.

Stevel took off Friday to spend at home with her while I went into Otis for a meeting and to join in the portfolio reading panel. It was fun to interact with people as a “colleague,” although I really just wanted to be home with Violet the whole time. We’re so fortunate to be able to have me at home almost full-time. As Stevel says, he’ll bring home the bacon … and I’ll bring home the milk.

The Scoop

December 19th, 2007

The semester ended at work, and although there are a few things to do to wrap that up, I’m now done for the most part and trying to rest. I have a few things to catch you up on:

First, there are now SIX litter-boxes in our house. You see, this cat has been staying with us. She is the cat of Steve’s friend Kate Choi, and her name is whatever the Korean word is for “Shadow.” We mostly call her “Little Cat” or “Cat Choi,” although sometimes I also call her “Spook,” because she spent her first week with us living mostly in the ceiling. We were worried about her, but then she lost her fear of the other cats and entered the realm of the rest of the house, and, well, there have been some changes. First, there is a lot more hissing. Second, Mia quickly became the Omega Cat and is now terrified to leave the safety of a corner in our bedroom … even to eat or, say, POOP. Sigh. Thus the added litter box. There are now litter boxes on all three floors, just to make sure there’s always one handy in case one of these felines gets the urge. Anyway, Little Cat is very cute. She is a year old and is quite playful. She does a lot of cute stretching and has a cute pink tongue. We like her and will miss her when she goes, but we also look forward to returning to the balance of just two cats who hate each other.

Speaking of cats who are NOT so little, Mia continues to do well, as long as she gets her medication. Linus, meanwhile, is in the middle of some health adjustments. He’s been losing weight—not a bad thing necessarily, but six pounds in two months is a lot for a cat. He’s also become uncharacteristically aggressive; his and Mia’s fights rarely came to blows before (mostly just a lot of hissing and growling, with the occasional swat), but he now stalks her like prey and is out for blood. Many times, I’ve had to physically remove him from a fight scene, because he didn’t respond to shouting. There are cuts and bites on them both. He has several times waited until she was in the litter box to try and murder her—so you can see why she doesn’t want to go there. Anyway, turns out Linus has diabetes, with a very high blood sugar count. This is not surprising—it’s been suggested for years that he might have it, based on his largeness, but he’s always tested negative. In any case, we are glad to have a diagnosis and a plan of attack for getting him back on track and feeling better. And hey, what’s two shots a day for one cat when you’re already giving the other pills all day? No. 6 is now officially a cat nursing home, and we now officially spend more per year on our cats’ medical care than on our own.

In other news, my mom came out for a visit last week. She brought the gifts from the baby shower she and my sister hosted in Penna. last month, which I attended via Web-cam, and she worked her butt off helping me with things I have been too wiped out to do myself. Most important was her work in getting the baby’s room organized and decorated. What a relief it is to not look in there several times a day and think, “How am I going to do that? I’m SO TIRED and barfy.” Anyway, here are some pics of that:

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]

Some Fresh, Unrevised Poems

November 14th, 2007


The task assigned, classroom order
breaks into mumbly chaos.
They convene and are
The hardest part
is overcoming inertia,
getting in the mood, but once
they do, it’s not
about English (capital E) anymore. Now
is for making
each other laugh and admire, and English
can be useful for that.


Whatever you believe, this
is spiritual. Inward,
with breath-work.
Each one is elbows
and inkpen, bent
like a desk-lamp
illuminating empty
paper filling, emerging
something of the brain-soul,
and all I have to do
is say it:
Ready, Set, Write.
Bow your heads in prayer.


Did she
really like
those flowers of
disposable boutonnieres,
of teenage prom corsages—
squeaky-toys for puppy love?

Or did she let him think
they were her favorites
because she believed
they were the most
she deserved?


Wall, wall, do you mirror
us? Sterile canvas
for dents and stains.

Let’s patch and spackle,
roll on a thick coat
of fresh green. The best
money can buy.


Player Piano
Works Great
or it did, anyway, until
I started carting it around
in the back of this pickup truck
trying to sell it.
This duct-taped sign bites
its finish, this city’s soot
clogs its keys.
But once, when Rita Hayworth
came over on the arm of my father’s
coworker’s brother,
it played, and held highball glasses,
and was a novel entertainer.


October 16th, 2007

Number of hours over the weekend when I wasn’t feeling sick: 4

Total number of hours in the past five days when I wasn’t feeling sick: About 5

Point at which my printer ran out of ink today: Worst possible time

Number of times I screamed out loud at my desk today while grading the latest batch of essays from one of my classes: 6

Number of neighbors left who don’t think I’m insane: Yeah, that’s got to be zero

It’s the middle of the semester, and I’m still trying to figure out how to be pregnant (aka With-my-brain-seemingly-not-getting-enough-oxygen-to-do-anything-smart and Sick-most-of-the-time-either-with-the-pukes-or-the-puffy-headedness-or-the-exhaustion-or-the-SUPER-exhaustion-or …) and get my work done for my half-time teaching job. I really don’t know how women who work full-time pull this off. And if I had been teaching while I was in the FIRST trimester? I would have had to quit or would have been fired. If we women really want to get to a point where we are at equal pay with men, we are going to have to give up this whole continuing-the-species thing, because it is a serious career disadvantage.

In smilier things, most of the non-sick four hours yesterday was spent with Stevel and Sarah-Architect roaming the sort-of-lame Arts Festival at Virginia Park and then wandering to the very cool Arts Demos at SMC. Also, our stairwell has now been painted (green), and, after TWO years of living with half-stripped doors in our bedroom and without doorknobs upstairs, we now have painted doors WITH doorknobs. What a luxury it is to be able to shut Linus out for a night without having to barricade the door with random belongings.

In news of the WTF, why is my CVS selling this weird stuff?

Been Watching Babies Lately Everywhere I Go

October 5th, 2007

["Lately" = for four years]

you, little bundle,
will not remember
this day, but will you

stow somewhere
the feeling
of big adventure
seen from inside
arms and blankets


the toddler who will not
be tamed
explores the restaurant,
parents taking shifts
to follow, and

to follow is to be led.


if you throw that
on the floor
again, little cricket,

i will pick it up.


please do not scream.
screaming is inappropriate

unless you are
purely mad
or purely happy
or 21 and drunk
on the streets
of a college town.

A Couple Poemz

September 19th, 2007


Elastic waistband
defeats any hope I had
of feeling half-cool


Everywhere I go in this house
I think I smell poop
and think,
Is this how it’s going to be?


You will not have
to worry about me.
I have plenty
of doctors, and parents
of my own.

I will not be someone
so powerful
you try for years
to gain a little power
for yourself,
only to watch me become
in my old age
so helpless
you can’t
see the person you battered against
and greatly admired,
and this loss breaks
your heart.

I will tell you the truth.
I will not lie to you.

I will not
call you names
or predict your failure.
I will hope always
for your success
and try
to equip you to be
all right
no matter the outcome.

No one is perfect.
I will not be perfect.

Budding Talent Abud

May 11th, 2007


This semester, the college juniors in my creative writing course at Otis came up with some impressively imaginative, articulate, and interesting works. We’ve put together a Web site to show off this amazing poetry, fiction, and literary nonfiction, and I wouldn’t want you to miss out on it. So here’s the link:

You’re welcome. :)

Friday Morning

April 20th, 2007

It is raining in Los Angeles. We got some dining chairs, ones with backs. Now if somone will just buy our set of Pottery Barn Antique Honey Tibetan Stools on Craigslist. Linus was hungry this morning. He let us know this by trying to scalp me. Stevel took care of it. Stevel has been playing a lot of Guitar Hero II. He’s a mad Guitar Hero genius, but he’s very hard on himself when he misses a note. I’m not sure how many more times I can listen to “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” Not that I don’t deserve it, what with my own habit of putting a song on single-song repeat all day. Still. I just finished making up the final exam my creative writing students will take in two weeks. It’s an exam meant to hold them accountable for doing all of their reading homework. There isn’t much of the poetry on it this time, only a couple of questions. I wrote that because Stevel is always reminding me that my students can find my blog pretty easily, and for once, I’d like to reward the idustriousness of any of them industrious enough to Google their instructor. Study the stories, the articles and chapters and handouts. Know the difference between simile and metaphor. And if you haven’t read any of the stuff, read it, damn you.

I [Kidney] You

February 8th, 2007

I’ve been teaching a section of creative writing at Otis, and it meets for three hours, once a week. The class is right after lunch, so there’s a subtle drag on enthusiasm, an undercurrent of nap-yawn. Yesterday we had a great discussion, though, about two Haruki Murakami stories we had read. If you have read any Murakami, then it makes sense to you that some of the discussion questions I posed were these:

- Why spaghetti?

- Why a kidney shaped stone, rather than some other shape?

- What if she had been something else, instead of an urban tightrope-walker?

The class came up with creative and intelligent answers for all of these questions. My favorite were the associations with kidneys: They filter things. They have no cliche social connotations (like the heart does). They make you think of beans. And you can donate one. With such insight, I saw the story in a new light. And now, for Valentine’s Day, I think it would be more romantic to receive a piece of jewelry depicting a kidney than one depicting a heart. Or better yet, a real kidney. That’s love.

Please Send the Smart Energy My Way

December 20th, 2006

This afternoon is my tough final. My last final of grad school, actually. Yesterday’s was a piece of cake. I studied 20 minutes. Today’s? Not so much. I might sit down at my desk in the classroom and throw up on it. I’m sort of nervous. So please send positive vibes in the Long Beach direction. Address them to “The girl with the Dickinson-fist-sized bruises across both eyes.”

I went to the doctor yesterday and am on the mend, I hope. I look forward to being in touch with you people again after a few days. I mean actually being in touch, like answering e-mails and stuff. I miss my people. Dead poets are nice, but they are quiet.

Dickinson, You Are Defeated

December 16th, 2006

Emily Dickinson tried to kill me this week. I now require Vicks Vapo-Rub in order to breathe and a mallet in order to beat any thoughts out of my gelatinous brain, but at last, after two complete rewrites, I turned in my paper. It is titled:

“I’ll tell it You —”: Emily Dickinson and the Ontological Nature of Virtual Experience

It includes sentences like this one:

It makes sense that her poetry experiments with themes of identity performativity and external world skepticism; she had few sensory experiences with the ideas, people, and objects about which she wrote, and her representation to her readers and friends eventually became almost exclusively a disembodied, written one.

and these:

The philosophical comment of Dickinson’s oeuvre on such experience, the consensus among critics seems to be, is one of the manifold possibilities of identity and self, especially of gendered self or self as constructed through language. The poetic and epistolary works of Dickinson offer similar commentary on virtual experience.

and this one:

If we view immortality in her works in light of this connection to questions of virtual experience—as connected to Dickinson’s own experience of her friends through letters—it is apparent she uses the term not only to explore possibilities of an afterlife, but as a means to discussing disembodied experience and the spatial and temporal questions of ontology that problematize it.

Oh no she DIDn’t just say that! (Yes, I did.)


November 29th, 2006

Only 25 days to finish EVERYTHING. This TA needs a TA.

Update on the Construction

November 9th, 2006

The construction continues. Here’s what I’m listening to right now:

1. an ear-piercing power-saw

2. a guy repeating over and over the phrase, “Sit, Ubu, sit,” loud enough to be heard over aforementioned saw

3. a guy telling another guy, “Well, that doesn’t look any better.”

4. a guy replying, “Fuck. I know.”

5. a lot of REALLY AWFUL singing, including “Dream, dream, dreaam”

The door to our wing locks itself after 5 p.m., and few of us have keys. A lot of times, if we’re here late, we just prop the door open with a chair so our students can get in. Also, lately, the air circulation in here has been cut off, so the door gets propped open in the daytime, too. Someone printed out a little sign and taped it to the door. It says something like this: “To the person who keeps propping this door open after hours, It has a security lock for a reason. Please don’t prop it open after five when it’s set to lock.” Someone else wrote in pencil undernteath this message: “We have a plastic wall. I don’t think this lock really makes it secure in here. Just don’t leave valuables in this office.”

Job Opening

October 26th, 2006

I’m surfing job postings online. Here’s something I clicked on that made me realize I was on the wrong Web site:


Under general supervision of the principal investigator, perform rodent neuroanatomic experiments by cutting brain sections on cryostat and microtome; perform histological staining, immunohistochemistry, and in situ hybridization. Employee will work closely with the Neuroanatomist and Principal Investigator, develop, perform, and troubleshoot the laboratory procedures, techniques and protocols. Additional responsibilities include ordering; lab maintenance; toxic waste management and other routine laboratory activities.

Right Now

October 12th, 2006

I am in the TMAC (Teaching Associate) office, where 13 people and I share six desks. The TMAC office is in a random corner of a random wing of a random building. This is standard at universities for teaching associates, whose pay is also so criminally low we make our lunches out of pilfered office supplies. (“More paper-and-WiteOut sandwich, Dan?” “Don’t mind if I do.”) The best part of this scenario is, we compete to BE teaching associates, and we consider ourselves lucky. (“Please. Use me. I have been thoroughly brainwashed by the coded messages in my Norton Anthology.”) But these conditions comprise the standard hazing/dues-paying of one in the beginnings of her career as an academic. I’m grateful to those in the English department who fought—and, I’m sure, have to fight every year—to get a line in the university budget for “TMAC” funding at all.

So the random building in which the TMAC office is situated is actually not a building at all, but a part of the library with a separate entrance, as in, there is an impenetrable wall between us and the rest of the library. Or, there WAS, until they started the library renovations this summer.

The first step in renovating the library was to find temporary offices elsewhere on campus for anyone in this random wing of the building who mattered. This did not include teaching associates. OUR office remains intact. The “environment” in which this office is situated has changed somewhat, however. Instead of other cubicles being across from ours, we now have giant stacks of desks and other furniture from the former offices of those relocated people-who-matter. Behind the stacks of furniture, there is a giant wall of translucent plastic-tarp taped from ceiling to floor. From behind this tarp come many sounds (and sometimes little arrows of spark from welding projects). The sounds include the following:

“This won’t work. There’s no fucking way this is going to work.”

“Look at this. I keep tellin’ them about this shit. This is just shit.” “Whose fucking shit is this?” “I don’t know, I don’t fuckin’ know.” “Shit.”

[Large chunks of debris falling and hitting the ground, for hours]

[Jackhammer noise, for hours]

[Cell phone ringing to a hip-hop tune I recognize but can't identify] “Yeah? Uh huh. I fuckin’ told her. I gotta go.”

[Two guys coming through slit in the tarp-curtain to exit the building via our wing and spotting us at our desks] “Oh my God, there’s still PEOPLE over here? I didn’t know there were any people still over here!”

Just try conferencing in this office with a student—who mind you, has had to follow the directions you’ve given her to GET to your office that include the instruction, “Turn left at the crane”—at whatever desk is free in the TMAC cubicle while all of this sound is coming from behind the tarp. It’s difficult to do. Doing it and appearing to that student to be a “legitimate” faculty member: Impossible.

But I don’t mean to just complain. It’s nice not having the other offices over there anymore. They were always having meetings that started with the agenda item, “Recognitions and Kudos” (“Oh, I have one! Sandy helped me carry my slide projector to the presentation last week. Thanks, Sandy!”). I’m not sure why, but I prefer these construction guys. I AM starting to get a little worried about the library project, though. Here’s the one I heard this morning:

“No, this isn’t a wall.”
“Yes, it is. This is a wall.”
“There’s no wall here.”
“Yes, there is. It’s right here. THIS is a wall.”
“I don’t think this is a wall.”

Yes. A little worried …

Poetry for the [Five or So] People

September 20th, 2006

I’m taking this poetics class, in which we read a bunch of theorists from throughout the last century who’ve published essays about the state of American poetry. Most of the theorists are addressing what poets need to do to be better and/or to appeal to more readers. All of them discuss the state of poetry’s readership—how fewer and fewer people read (and buy) poetry, how the art is dying and why [e.g. poets writing more obscure poetry, and a less artistically cultivated readership among the masses].

There’s no doubt poetry has lost a foothold in terms of respect from the “common person” in our culture (in other cultures it is still highly valued and more widely read by the public). It’s not just poetry—publishers of novels are suffering as well—although poetry is no longer a primary career option for anyone. You simply can’t be just a poet in our society. And a lot of people—theorists—are mad about that. They’re mad at the masses, who don’t have any interest in educating themselves in how to read poetry, and they’re mad at their fellow poets, who make their poetry inaccessible to those masses. They’re even mad at Jewel, who wrote some overly accessible poetry that a lot of people liked, but who was not a “real poet” but instead published a bunch of bubble-gum poetry that the dumb old masses just loved (OK, they’re right, but you see my point: there’s just no winning).

A lot of movements have addressed this dilemma: How to save poetry?? Slam and performance poetry aim to invigorate the art with dramatic appeal, placing emphasis on entertaining the audience, for example. And there’s been some success there. And some theorists have tried to get a movement to catch on in which you neither need to “learn” how to read poetry, nor does poetry need to be “accessible” at all; rather, every reader is invited to make a meaning of his or her own from every poem. In fact, the more nonsensical the poem, the better, because then the reader “can’t” extract a meaning that isn’t personal, emotional/tonal. For these theorists and poets, there is no “communication” taking place between poet and reader, just a work made of beautiful language waiting for meaning to be created. But this hasn’t really caught on in any widespread way.

It seems to me the masses are not any dumber than they used to be. I know a lot of people would disagree with that, but there are all kinds of “smarts,” and I would challenge anyone from 1940 who has just memorized “Oh Captain! My Captain!” to attach a document to an e-mail message.

The masses are inadequately educated, I’m not denying that. It’s a just-about-insurmountable challenge to adequately educate a populace in our modern world; success requires an incredible amount of knowledge now. And there is a difference between “knowledge” and “cultivation.” One cultivates appreciations and talents. With knowledge, one learns how to do things and finds out what is known about things. Public education has to focus on knowledge. It has no choice. Cultivation is left to after-school activities for the lucky and to individual pursuit.

We all have a lot more options in terms of what interests we will pursue, and poetry is an interest. You have to LEARN how to enjoy reading poetry. Like you have to learn to play the flute or learn to play chess. People simply don’t opt for it. It may not be as true as many poetic theorists would like to think that they ever DID opt for it. Remember, at one time, cultivation of reading poetry was taught in school, and a respect for it was reinforced in society. In short, it was “cool” then. It may not be cool now.

Thanks to the Internet, every member of the public can find the most insanely specific interest to cultivate. If you’re interested in yodeling-while-playing-backgammon-and-drinking-coconut-milk-naked, I’m sure there’s a club you can join. And if you’re interested in cultivating your ability to read poetry, there are a lot of poets and literature-buffs who would love to help you learn how WITHOUT first discussing how “dumb” the masses—including you—have become.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested in just reading poetry here and there, maybe you don’t need any guidance, or maybe self-guidance is all you need. And if you’re interested in WRITING poetry, well, you don’t need any help with that, it’s available to everyone (if it’s publishing poetry you’re interested in, there are about ten million MFA programs now that can help you grow your craft and find your niche).

So I guess my point is: Poets, Indie rockers, Drinking-straw sculptors, listen. Whether your art is brand new, or whether you have joined a very old art with a long tradition, take heart. It doesn’t matter if the masses appreciate what you do. It matters if the people who appreciate what you do are served by your contribution. It doesn’t matter if you set yourself up for anthological immortality. It matters if you make yourself happy now, doing what you love and growing in it. And it doesn’t matter if you live in a society that loves “Grey’s Anatomy” more than the latest issue of “Poetry” journal. It matters if you can get what you love—the time to write and some people to share it with—in the moment you’re in that society. The same “evils” that are “dumbing down” our society are some of our greatest tools. We are LUCKY to have the Internet; how many times have you read a poem online and loved it, and been so glad to have encountered it? And how much has Seinfeld changed our language, made it unique to our time and no time before it?

Don’t worry if you can’t have a wealthy life writing poems. Those days are gone forever. Mourn them at length, or move on. This is a time for exploring a whole bunch of interests and hopefully making a living doing one of them (or at least, a second or third career). Keep your writing high on the list, and keep the SHARING of your writing high as well, but don’t beat your head on a wall trying to figure out how to get more people to read it. The ones who want to read it are out there … find them and appreciate them, and don’t be sorry there aren’t more of them. The rest of the masses are yodeling naked.

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