Erased from memory

Over the summer, Geist held an “erasure poem” contest, in which you had to take an excerpt from Roughing In the Bush: Or, Forest Life in Canada and, just by erasing individual characters, come up with a poem. I wasn’t going to enter — I like Geist, but, having entered other of their contests in the past, I wasn’t exactly aching to send them more money, even with a subscription renewal thrown in. And I’m not exactly a world-class poet. But I thought it was an interesting challenge, and before I knew it I had something I rather liked.

I didn’t win. But that’s okay. Like I said, I like Geist. And I probably won’t be entering their Postcard Story Contest this year — I understand the whys of the new “make your own postcard” rule, but I can’t say it appeals — so they can have this entry fee instead.

Anyway, like I said, I liked what I wrote…or, rather, what was left after I erased. And since I didn’t make the short list, I’ve got no reason not to post my poem here:

a week passed
the dark stranger and my husband
the same horror
attracted their attention and
they were delighted

I almost screamed
then followed intently
their dark eyes fixed upon the map

what strange hex of names
every lake and river on the paper
held hard my sorry eyes

I was consumed by a curious word
which had been given — a strange gift
to a glade fenced on three-sides

a moving snake
or a hideous image of god
conceived by the most distorted imagination

claws that formed hands
a face strange and awful
a wood of serpentine form

my name

I thought to demand an explanation
longed to flee

in the east, far over the great lake
there were bad prayers made of wood
and this was one of them

they said
that hideous thing
they had made with their own hands
were highly amused
and passed the word from one to the other
in spite or contempt

I was sorry to perceive this circus in their eyes

they regarded it with mysterious awe
for several days
then left vexed and annoyed
by the height of my curiosity

Thursday various

  • Oregon allowing spell-check on written school exams? I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this, and I didn’t have the kind of knee-jerk reaction I might be expected to as an English major, writer, and editor. I think spelling is important, but not always critically so, especially on exams where spelling is secondary to whatever is being tested. I think spelling is less important, for instance, than reading comprehension and overall communication skills. Many great writers have been notoriously bad spellers; and outside of a spelling bee, crossword puzzles, and certain game shows, success in life rarely hinges on knowing when it’s “i before e” or the opposite.

    At the same time, spelling is important. An over-reliance on spell-check can lead to laziness, and not knowing how to spell can impede communication. Spell-check is far from perfect — their, there, or they’re, anyone? — and a poor substitute for really understanding why words are spelled a certain way. Further, many of the standardized tests these students will later encounter — like, for instance, the SAT — will not allow them use of a spell-check.

    I think, if the Oregon Department of Education really wants to help its students, it won’t just allow them to ignore spelling altogether. It will allow its teachers to grade spelling more effectively, more fairly; it will design standardized tests that weigh other, perhaps more important, factors, and look at spelling in a broader context. [via]

  • First they came for the ignorant news pundits and I stayed silent… Glenn Beck is quite fond of quoting Martin Niemöller’s famous poem about the rise of fascism in Germany. (As well as of crazy-as-all-bugfuck conspiracy theories.) It’s quite telling which parts of the poem he always leaves out. [via]
  • Dubai’s archipelago of luxury islands, already something of a financial disaster, is sinking into the sea. [via]
  • Robotic ghost knifefish is born. Somebody should totally start a band with that name. [via]
  • And finally, Zack Handlen remembers Indecent Proposal:

    Yeah, the movie where Robert Redford turned Woody Harrelson into a pimp and Demi Moore into a, ahem, lady of the evening. It was a ridiculous movie, all slick visuals with no real soul or character, but the concept was so intriguing that it didn’t need to be good to be successful. Everyone was just so fascinated by the moral question at the heart of the story that everything else was just gravy. Stupid, stupid gravy.

    It’s all in the context of a Star Trek: The Next Generation review, naturally.

Merry Christmas!

He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle:
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight —
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

— “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clark Moore

Tuesday various

  • “Scientists scouring the area around Stonehenge said Thursday they have uncovered a circular structure only a few hundred meters (yards) from the world famous monument.”

    Is it wrong that my first thought was to wonder if it was the Pandorica? [via]

  • Oh, good, because the one thing Torchwood hasn’t been is dark.

    But I kid. A warning, by the way: that link contains a pretty huge spoiler for (the pretty terrific) Children of Earth.

  • Tasha Robinson wonders: Should artists’ lives or opinions affect how people perceive their art?
  • Along somewhat similar lines — that is, of appreciating art on a level perhaps different than what the artist intended — separating the poem from the novel in Nabokov’s Pale Fire. Spoiler warnings here, too, I guess. Mostly, it just makes me want to re-read Nabokov’s book.
  • And finally, Inside the City’s Last Silent Place

    “I wish there were more drama,” said Alexander Rose, “but it’s convivial and collegiate. There’s no Norman Mailer trying to kill his wife in here. No tension, no melodrama.” Mr. Rose, author of American Rifle: A Biography, was taking a break from his work to tell the Transom about the Allen Room, a hush-hush space on the second floor of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (formerly the New York Public Library “main branch”) on Fifth Avenue. Founded in 1958 as a tribute to Frederick Lewis Allen, the historian and editor of Harper’s Magazine, the room serves as a workspace to a rotating group of authors. Rubberneckers take note: The door is locked at all times, and access is restricted to those who have book contracts, a photocopy of which must accompany requests for a key card. “It’s like Aladdin’s cave,” Mr. Rose said of the room, which he heard about through the literary grapevine. “I looked it up, and it actually did exist.”

    I work just a block from the Library. Now I guess I just need to write a book. [via]

Thursday cornucopia

  • Mark Evanier on the origin of the phrase “top banana.” I’m not entirely sure if this is true, but it’s a lot more convincing than some of the other origin stories I’ve seen.
  • The most environmentally friendly city in the United States? Surprisingly, it might be New York City. [via]
  • I wonder if that means we’ll be able to avoid post-apocalyptic scenes like these [via]
  • Maybe we can at least stop getting letters like these. Although I do particularly like the 1911 letter to Mayor Jay Gaynor about “the disgraceful acts that take place daily in Bryant Park.” Imagine if the letter writer had ever seen it during Fashion Week!
  • Speaking of letters, and more particularly, Letters of Note, I particularly liked Kurt Vonnegut’s letter home after surviving being a POW and the bombing of Dresden. Makes me want to re-read Slaughterhouse-Five.
  • Continuing a theme: Navy was ordered to listen for Martians in 1924.
  • Sure, an “iTunes for magazines” sounds like an intriguing idea — maybe — but what does it even mean? [via]
  • Often find yourself bemoaning the lack of originality in Hollywood and endless parade of remakes, sequels and prequels? It’s much worse than you think. [via]
  • Speaking, sort of, of such, should Stephen King write a sequel to The Shining? Well, if it’s a good sequel, why not? [via]
  • Meanwhile, King is delaying the e-book release of his new novel, Under the Dome. (I’ve heard some good things, but I am waiting for the e-book.) Allegedly, it’s “in hopes of helping independent bookstores and the national bookstore chains sell the hardcover edition.” Which actually, on King’s part I don’t really doubt, although I’m sure his publisher is eyeing its own bottom line more closely. The exercise will probably have no effect at all, given the price war being waged between Wal-Mart, Amazon, and Target (among others), except to annoy those of us who want a copy but don’t want to cart around a 1,000+-page hardcover.

    It makes me wonder, though, what things would be like if one could purchase e-books from independent bookstores. Maybe it’s time to start looking into IndieBound more closely…

  • For now, I guess I’ll just have to settle for reading King’s new poem in the November issue of Playboy. (That link, to The Guardian, is SFW. The link to the poem itself? Not so much. Then again, it doesn’t seem to be working anymore, so if you want to read “The Bone Church,” you may have purchase the issue or wait until it’s reprinted elsewhere. [via]
  • Also potentially a little NSFW: this Graffiti Control on the Death Star cartoon. I found it amusing, though. [via]
  • Of course, if I wanted to avoid the price war altogether, I could go with free books only. Like Gregory Maguire’s new novel. He and his publisher are giving away 2,500 copies of the book, provided you agree to make a small donation “to a local charity, someone who needs it, or a stranger on the street.” I don’t have any particular interest in the book itself — I liked but didn’t love Wicked, the only Maguire book I’ve ever read — but it’s an interesting idea. Although that seems like a big print run for a small publisher to just be giving away. [via]
  • I’ve heard reasonably good things about the book that started this Jane Austen mashup craze, and my sister and her husband even recently bought me a copy. But now there’s a third? Mansfield Park and Mummies? I don’t think I’ve ever been more glad that Jane Austen only wrote six novels.

    Though, there’s already a Pride and Prejudice and Zombies sequel planned. [via]

  • And finally, speaking of Jane Austen… Mitchell & Webb’s “Posh Dancing” [via]