Category Archives: Fiction and Poetry

All Poems are Failures (as poems)

Good stuff:

Poems can, of course, succeed in any number of less grand ambitions than the ones I’m describing (they can be funny or lovely or offer solace or courage or inspiration to certain audiences at certain times; they can play a role in constituting a community; and so on), but I’m attempting to account for a persistent if mutable feeling that our moment’s poems are bad, that we hate them or at least strongly dislike them, and that it’s their fucking fault.

Thanks, R.

The Foyer is a Room: For John Timmons

He made much and there’s too much of it to say it all in one weblog post.

On Friday, December 12, I, other friends, and Tunxis Community College lost the powerful presence of John Timmons. John was a faculty and staff member of the college for over thirty years. I met John after moving to Connecticut in the mid 90s and started working with him closely soon after. At the time he was directing our ambiguous instructional media department. Why “ambiguous” doesn’t matter. What matters is that the department assisted the college with digital instructional and online tools. I remember my first encounter with John, telling him stories about my work at UT El Paso with digital forums. I wanted his assistance with replication and system development for commuter students. He jumped right on the case. We found the Webboard system and got right to work, and this was the beginning of a long and profitable friendship.

We developed tools and pedagogy. We developed Tunxis’s New Media program. We attended conferences. We met with others to talk stories and writing in the Narratives group. He introduced me to the guitar and gave me one. He helped build an air hockey table for my son. We developed and grew the 100 Days diorama. We collaborated on art, books, film, and media projects. He was principal, along with his partner, in guiding me through a divorce and opening my heart to new love and loves (for which I will always be grateful–that’s for you, Bae!). This was deep and intimate stuff, and along with Maggie, whom he dearly loved, and other good friends, we joined and have joined in a life circle that will continue to grow and effervesce even in John’s absence, because he was a big man with a big heart and big talent. He will never really depart the planet or the minds of those who knew him.

These last years saw us continue a habit: we’d meet and smoke and drink coffee or water or beer and talk for hours about what we had been thinking and were thinking. This was an old habit. In the old days, we’d stand outside the college and hatch plans, provoke those who walked by, then walk back to our offices. Then we’d go out again. Even when we quit the smoking habit, we’d sneak a pack together and pick up the conversation. We shared the art we were enjoying. He’d show me some progressions. Every movie he suggested was a good one. When I think of him now, it’s hard to be sad. Rather, I’m just glad he was a part of my life and I smile. I’m glad he will never disappear. Much of what I make from now on will see his subtle genius in it.

His legacy is and will be wide. No matter the demand, John would never say “No” to it. John’s influence brought online education to Connecticut and not a lot of people know this. He built the College’s first website and initiated early crews into the wonders of the digital database. He brought Interactive Fiction programming to new media students. When he told me about his adventures with Zork, Deus Ex, and Half Life, I knew we’d hit it off. His big line in this regard was just to say: “The Foyer is a room.” Or do well by your Grammy. It was because of his leadership that many people now have professions; they must now work to fill John’s shoes and learn to avoid saying “No” to the things and people that matter.

We’re doing a lot with wishes these days and so I’ll close with a story that John inspired in one of our fiction projects. It speaks a lot to John and how he thought about things. Sometimes it’s hard to read between lines. It’s called Wishing Tree.

People have that book they remember reading. They find the book later in life, pick it up, open it, then put it down because it isn’t the book they’d read when they were young. It has the same title, the same words, the same folds in those places where the reader had paused. But it’s a different book. The reader wonders what happened.

When I went back to that old wish tree, the paper slips now brown with age and clinking in the breeze like dried fruit peels, I found the one I’d written and hung there so long ago. Understand that we can wish to keep something; we can wish to hang on to what we have. In this world, one can wish for riches or peace or a cure or even another world or rain. Given this, the tree had sagged, so weighted down it was with wishes. When they’re new the trees stand green and high and proud, but whey they grow old, they lean and look sad in the shaded evenings. Their backs grow crooked. There are so many wishes.

When I removed my wish, the tree kept its posture. It wasn’t such a heavy wish, not so bold, and wasn’t the kind of wish that would bring the clouds to the desert or the warm to winter or life to the dead. No, it was a simple wish, the script written small with the nervous hand of a child. It is, however, customary to keep wishes to oneself, and so I can’t reveal the wish, and I wouldn’t know what to make of it anyway, as, since the wish had been made, I couldn’t say what had happened, what had changed. Why such a wish would matter to me, unknown. But I do know that in most things, other than oil spills and the sicknesses I can do nothing about, I would wish for nothing, as I yearn for nothing more than what I have.


Miniver Cheevy, Nostalgia, Scorn for #moocmooc

A response to Joshua Eyler’s question letter B:

“B. What does this poem have to say about the many different facets of nostalgia?”

It’s significant that Miniver Cheevy is called by the speaker in this poem a “child of scorn” (1). The first stanza provides a possible reason in that Cheevy “assailed the seasons,” seasons here coming with all kinds of possible interpretations: years, weather, habits, the general hard necessities that whittle at the body and the mind (including drink). Is there a relationship between the tendency to be nostalgic and the idea of scorn? In Robinson’s poem, scorn is self-directed. Is Cheevy disdainful of himself, thus wishing he’d been born a “Medici”?

The Angel’s Game

Just finished Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Angel’s Game. David Martin, a novelist, is tasked with inventing a religion by the strange and shadowy Andreas Corelli, a figure about which no one else can seem to find evidence of existence. I try to avoid stories with writers as the central character, but this is a fun, gothic novel with a relentlessness to the plot, drawing from patterns of “gothic horror” fiction. The twists become a little tortured in their over intricacy and the epilogue was a piece of the puzzle that didn’t really work for me, as the subject seemed out-of-world. But it was great fun anyway.

My Plans for After I Die

My plans for after I die include coming back to the living and confirming or disconfirming their ideas. In my literature courses, I often go into comedic mode for and during a writer who treats the afterlife or the meaning of death in whatever tradition. Blake or Dario. For Neruda, for some reason, Death had the color of “wet violets.” There are serious implications to this in terms of logic and musing.

I ask the students: why not just come back and inform the audience? Why bother with all this guessing.

Sometimes the response is: because you can’t.

Sometimes I respond: I guess so, as many have died and don’t return.

But then we have to head to the rules and this is where things get interesting.

Neruda writes:

I see, when alone at times,
coffins under sail
setting out with the pale dead, women in their dead braids,
bakers as white as angels,
thoughtful girls married to notaries,
coffins ascending the vertical river of the dead,
the wine-dark river to its source,
with their sails swollen with the sound of death,
filled with the silent noise of death.

Death, In terms of boundary lines, is an image and not much more. It’s not a science or subject to experiment. In the above poem, the key has to do with the size and extend of the phenomenon and, in a reading, how close and far it is, how nearby and distant.

We continue the conversation: How was the rule made that death would involve a conspiracy to withhold information? One way of getting around this is to go into Christian theology and assert that in the Christian universe governed by an Augustinian sense of time we do already know but don’t have access to the knowledge in the present mode. In this universe we are already long gone, soon to be created, and created always in the grand sum of things. There are analogies for this: someone, somewhere is playing in the key of C in the present moment, even though you might soon be doing the same but not in that present moment.

Many of my students are believers in the range of religions. But they aren’t quite sure of the arguments for or against, not quite sure of the contexts.

One of the meanings that Milton explores is the notion of rules and that there will always be an entity willing to break or test them. This is one method of creating drama. A person will test the boundaries.

Modern worlds and interesting reading: The Swerve and De Rerum Natura

Thanks to Timmons, I’ve read and read Stephen Greenblatt’s book The Swerve. Greenblatt’s study tells the story and influence of Lucretius after his text is found by Poggio Bracciolini. One thing I learned in the text was surprising. I hadn’t realized Montaigne’s copy of De Rerum had been found, complete with notes.

Regardless of some odd conclusions by the author, especially those having to do with Lucretius’s influence and the implications about the “modern,” Greenblatt has sent me back to Lucretius, historical context or no.

Shades of Grey and Other Entertainment Adventures

I’ve been having issues with E.L. James’s novel Fifty Shades of Grey. I’ve been cheating with it, that is, skipping even the juicy parts. I fear that I’ll miss the pay off, as this is foreshadowed in the Steele/Grey interaction. I’m afraid I’ll be leaving it at about 40 some odd percent on the Kindle. Maybe I’ll finger through it at moments of boredom.

We also finished the final House episode. The story goes semi-full circle with the “I can change” bit. It was okay. I found the hour lead up somewhat silly and bothersome. It strikes me that both stories are odd externalizations, the first a throwback, the second, a sort of strange, myopic self-indulgence that doesn’t know when to end itself. Maybe there’s a point to that.

I have no issue with the first as a potentially political book. I find it dull and syntactically, contextually vapid.

Narrative Imagination

More from Hemon on narrative

Narrative imagination—and therefore fiction—was a basic evolutionary tool of survival. We processed the world by telling stories, produced human knowledge through our engagement with imagined selves.