Kristen McHenry Tackles the Prose Poem

Triplicity - Kristen McHenryKristen McHenry has just published two new poems. And by “new” I don’t just mean that they are new to me; she is working in a new form. Her work up to now has been traditional “lined” verse. My earlier article on her has a good example. These two new pieces are prose poems.

You can check out the poems over at Busk. The first of them is called Theme, and it is written in three parts. This is the third part called “Blue”:

And not just cooling shades of sooth-song, but white blue of rage, warning blue, what comes to us in spits and sparks, danger of first illumination, wild ignition of touch and blissful transfer. Light to use your earthen body as its holy host. Blue of over-worn, blue of standing on the shore in late December twilight, blue of eggs and Sunday sweaters, blue of lone boys and low note afternoons in the only open bar, blue of going home, blue of intimate winters, blue of the enlightened heron, who keeps exquisite equilibrium with cobalt sky and pond.

I’m still gnawing on the entire poem and this third part I find the most mysterious. But meaning is not what I find most remarkable here. In a traditional poem, I feel that the line breaks dictate the melody and rhythm of the words. With the prose poem, I’m free to find this “music” on my own. (And yes, mostly I do read poetry out loud.)

In this poem fragment, the opening line continues on and on, tempting the reader to resolve several times in the first sentence. Yet it never feels quite right. Following this, the second short sentence breaks in two. And then, we get into a much more rigid pattern which reminds me of a Gil Scott-Heron rap.

I’ve never thought much about prose poetry. But now I see it as perhaps a more creative art form—for the reader. As the reader of poetry is perhaps the most creative of artistic consumers, this is a very good thing.

Obama Kills at Second Debate

Obama HopeThis is what I wrote from The Reaction Quasi-Live Blogging of the Debate. I have to post it here. Today was really hard on me, because I feared that the President wouldn’t do well. I was wrong.

I have 5 pages of notes. But who cares? It was pretty much the same thing over and over: Romney mislead; Obama pounded him. There were a few places where I thought Obama went off track. He didn’t answer the question about gas prices (probably for the best. I thought that Obama could have said that Romney was the same as Bush because they had exactly the same 5 point plan. On the assault weapon issue he was trying too hard not to offend. But these hardly matter given Romney’s performance.

Romney was noticeably breathing hard as early as the third question. He wasn’t prepared for how facile Obama would be with the facts and the medium. He started off well enough with two big lies during the first question. But then he got a gut shot when Obama said that Romney didn’t have a 5 point plan, he had a 1 point plan. That was a great line, because the one thing people remember about Romney—the one thing that really defines him—is that he is for tax cuts for the rich. So Obama was saying, “Forget everything else he says: his only ‘plan’ is to cut taxes for the rich.”

Romney later used the education question to lie with his tax math. When Obama rose from his chair to respond, I noticed a certain swagger. Obama knew he was winning.

There were other funny moments. Romney claims to be for fair pay for women because he made sure he had token women in his cabinet. He was almost comical on the question of why he was different from Bush. “I really am! Don’t look at the policies or the advisers. It’s like my tax plan: trust me!” On the immigration question he wanted everyone to know, “I love immigrants!” I was surprised he didn’t say it with an Irish accent.

What was most interesting here was that Romney was clearly delivering a weaker performance than he did in the first debate. I suspect that this is because he wasn’t challenged in that debate. But it was clear. I sensed fear. Also, like Obama in the first debate, Romney often got into the weeds about issues that just don’t matter to most people: Benghazi? Fast & Furious? Please!

Just when I thought the debate could not get any better, Romney says that he cares about 100% of the people in his last answer. I couldn’t believe it! Was he really offering Obama this softball? Could it be? And if so, was Obama going to hit it out of the park? Yes. Obama’s closing was masterful.

But what do I know? What impresses me is not what impresses most people. So I switched over the Fox News. Chris Wallace was doing a “fact check” on the number of oil leases. Obama never said he increased the number of leases. In fact, he said the opposite. And then one of the Blond presenters talked about how the viewing audience doesn’t like it when the candidates interrupt each other.

Translation: Obama won big time!

Update (16 October 2012 9:45)

Jonathan Chait:

Romney’s message against Obama was that the economy has been bad, something everybody already knows. Obama’s message against Romney is that his opponent is a wealthy, self-interested Republican fully invested in his party’s platform. That’s something that not everybody believed after the first debate.

Robert Reich:

Romney was as combative as in the first debate, but our newly-invigorated president made Romney’s combativeness look like that of a child in a tantrum rather than a principled adult with facts and detailed proposals to support his position.

Romney was also an automaton—moving robot-like across the stage, repeating the same scripted paragraphs in answers to different questions as if he had been programmed with a limited number of options.

Obama, by contrast, seemed steady and relaxed.

The debate left me relieved—the President’s performance will almost certainly stop Romney’s momentum, and may turn the tide—but also left me perplexed. Where was this Barack Obama in the last presidential debate? Was it the altitude in Denver, a failure of preparation, exhaustion, a temporary emotional glitch?

Mostly, though, I’m glad Barack is back.

Me too!

Update (16 October 2012 9:45)

Matt Yglesias presents 5 bad policy ideas from the debate. Four of them are Mitt Romney’s and Yglesias is wrong about the other one. The four from Romney: North American energy independence (won’t happen in global energy market); E-Verify (note that Romney is against regulation—except here); Incentivize business hiring with personal income tax cuts (employers will just keep more profit; cutting sales taxes might help); and Sales taxes on Chinese goods (this is the wrong way to make exports more competitive).

The one that Yglesias is wrong about is “Manufacturing Jobs for Everyone!” Like most people of his economic class, Yglesias doesn’t appreciate the importance of manufacturing as the basis of a strong economy. See Ha-Joon Chang’s Excellent 23 Things.

Justice for Salim Hamdan?

Salim HamdanRemember Osama bin Laden’s driver, Salim Hamdan? The Bush administration used to love talking about him. He was an example of an important catch in the War on Terror. They were not being ironic. At the time, I remember thinking that we were doing a pretty fucking bad job if the best thing we could claim was that we had captured bin Laden’s driver.

AlterNet noted that putting Hamdan on trial was like trying Hitler’s chauffeur at the Nuremberg Trials because we didn’t have Hitler. Note that Hitler’s chauffeur was not, in fact, tried as a war criminal. This whole Salim Hamdan episode is both wrong and pathetic—it has made the United States look silly or worse.

It seems that Hamdan is finally getting some justice. He had already been exonerated for many trumped up charges like conspiracy in the 911 attacks. But one charge did stick: material support for terrorism. This is a pretty broad understanding of this charge. After all, the government could convict any taxi driver bin Laden hired over the last couple of decades. But okay: it is what it is.

The problem is that the United States only made this new law after Hamdan supposedly violated it. So an appeals court comprised of 3 Bush appointees threw out the conviction.

Of course, Salim Hamdan was released in 2009, after serving the time for his crime. But it’s still nice to know that some modicum of justice is still possible in the United States.


This from

New York, Aug.11 (ANI): Several Americans are outraged that Salim Hamdan—who was Osama bin Laden’s chauffeur before his arrest six years ago—will be out of jail before the end of the year.

But Hamdan’s jury of six military officers apparently agreed with Nasser al-Bahri, an al Qaeda operative interviewed by Jonathan Mahler for his book “The Challenge,” who called Hamdan “a really naive, simple guy who doesn’t know the first thing about jihad and was just tagging along for the job.”

Take a job; go to prison. It’s the law!

Sunday Politics Shows Designed to Suck

Paul WaldmanPaul Waldman tried to answer the question Why Do the Sunday Shows Suck So Much? over at The American Prospect.

It’s a great title for an article, but unfortunately, Waldman doesn’t really have much to say on the subject. Mostly he just grouses about how predictable it all is. A Democratic spokesman comes on and—Quelle surprise!—he spouts talking points. He suggests that the shows would be better if they used the Up with Chris Hayes model.

Hayes doesn’t bother interviewing politicians or party hacks; instead, he brings on people who know a lot about whatever issue they’ll be discussing, aren’t constrained by the need to score partisan points, and might have something interesting to say. With a little creativity, you could come up with any number of models for how to make programs that are interesting and informative.

He doesn’t say it, but what makes Up a better than average show is that Hayes will not allow people to repeat talking points. In the many months I’ve watched the show, I’ve only ever seen one person try to slip in a talking point (a Republican, of course) and he was savaged for it.

Waldman’s observation gets at the heart of what’s wrong with the Sunday shows: they equate being important with having powerful people on their shows. Asking them not to book John McCain 20 times a year is like asking Entertainment Tonight not to cover Brad and Angelina’s newest baby. It is what these shows do. And the only way they will change is if people stop watching them.

I’m doing my part.

Romney Not Bipartisan

Romney - No We Can't - NopeDo you remember the first debate where Romney hammered Obama about not reaching across the isle and creating bipartisan consensus? If you are like me, you were angry because working with Democrats in Massachusetts is a hell of lot easier than working with Republicans who have publicly stated that they won’t work with you because they want to make you look bad.

As a result of this, you probably didn’t give Mitt Romney’s claim much thought. I didn’t. And I should have.

Just after the last debate, Michael Wines wrote an excellent news item that looks at this question: Romney Claims of Bipartisanship as Governor Face Challenge. You should read the whole thing, but here is the heart of the matter:

But on closer examination, the record as governor he alluded to looks considerably less burnished than Mr. Romney suggested. Bipartisanship was in short supply; Statehouse Democrats complained he variously ignored, insulted or opposed them, with intermittent charm offensives. He vetoed scores of legislative initiatives and excised budget line items a remarkable 844 times, according to the nonpartisan research group Lawmakers reciprocated by quickly overriding the vast bulk of them.

So even Pretend Moderate Mitt is a lie. He was never the guy to reach across the isle. He is an ideologue and always has been.

The 12 Million Job Myth

Romney's 12 Million Job Myth

Matt Yglesias reports this morning on an analysis by Glenn Kessler about Romney’s claim that in the next four years, his economic plan will create 12 million jobs. I’ve never thought much about it, because in January, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that if we just continue on with current policies, 11 million jobs would be created in the next four years. They have since revised this number down to a bit below 10 million jobs, but it’s the same thing. The take away is that Romney hasn’t been promising much and you can bet that if he were running for reelection in 2016 having created 10 million jobs, he would talk of nothing else.

Kessler notes that Mitt Romney’s 12 million figure comes from three areas:

  1. 7 Million from tax cuts;
  2. 3 million from “Drill Baby Drill”;
  3. 2 million from standing up to China.

There are problems with all of these numbers, but broadly speaking they fall into two categories. First, these job creation numbers are based on longer time lines, like 10 years for tax cut number. Second, these studies aren’t specific to Romney’s policies. In particular, the “energy” number is based upon current policy, not anything new that Romney is proposing.

The China claim is ridiculous on its face. Conservatives always seem to think that China is some naughty school boy that can be intimidated into doing what is in our best interest. It doesn’t work that way. Besides, Romney is not even planning to go after the Chinese for what is really hurting us: undervaluing their currency. (Conservatives hate the idea of a weak dollar, so they rarely talk about this fact which is the main cause of our crumbling manufacturing base.) Romney plans to create 2 million jobs by getting serious about Chinese patent and copyright protections. So the 2 million jobs number is like those record company claims that they are losing $20 billion per year because your daughter made an illegal copy of a Justin Bieber song.

Romney isn’t providing any ideas that are going to improve the economy. In fact, his tax cut proposals will probably not create nearly as many jobs because they will be focused at the top of the income scale (You do know that, right?) where the money will sit around with all the other money that currently isn’t being usefully employed.

Update (16 October 2012 3:14 pm)

Paul Krugman discusses this issue. He ends with an obvious, but important observation:

So they’re just faking it—the same way they have with the “six studies” supposedly validating the tax plan, four of which aren’t studies and one of which actually validates the critics.

What’s amazing here is the contempt the campaign is showing for the voters and the media. Unfortunately, that contempt may be justified.

Update (16 October 2012 3:23 pm)

Everybody’s covering this story. Perhaps they think it’s important? Here’s Ezra Klein:

So Romney’s claim of 12 million jobs over four years breaks down to 7 million jobs over 10 years in an economy that’s already at full employment, 3 million jobs over eight years that have nothing to do with any of Romney’s policies, and 2 million jobs if China suddenly became very, very respectful of U.S. intellectual property laws.

This isn’t the first time the Romney campaign has had some trouble getting studies to persuasively prove their point. Their recent white paper and op-ed on the economy either misquoted, selectively quoted, or misread most of the research they mentioned. In fact, it relied heavily on the work of Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff, and Reinhart and Rogoff were so concerned about the misrepresentations that they wrote a whole new paper rebutting the Romney campaign’s arguments.

And then there are the six studies that supposedly prove their tax plan adds up. That’s perhaps the most brazenly wrong claim of them all.

Djuna Barnes

Djuna Barnes drawingIf you’re like me, you don’t know Djuna Barnes as a poet. But as you can see on the left, she was also an artist. And a prose writer and many things more. However, unlike in Paris at Midnight, where I discovered her, there is no evidence that she was a serious jitterbugger.

I read through quite a lot of Barnes’ poetry, trying to find something that would be easily digested by my hungry readers. The good news is that unlike serious modern poetry, her work is pretty easy to scan. I understand it on a first reading, which says a lot. Just the same, it isn’t that easy; it isn’t like song lyrics.

This poem is “Seen From the ‘L’.” I don’t know exactly what it is about. There are a few themes that seem to be floating around. There is nakedness as a symbol for communication. There is rumination on the process of becoming and being. But mostly, it is a lovely word picture with a wonderful rhythm:

So she stands—nude—stretching dully
Two amber combs loll through her hair
A vague molested carpet pitches
Down the dusty length of stair.
She does not see, she does not care
      It’s always there.

The frail mosaic on her window
Facing starkly toward the street
Is scribbled there by tipsy sparrows—
Etched there with their rocking feet.
Is fashioned too, by every beat
      Of shirt and sheet.

Still her clothing is less risky
Than her body in its prime,
They are chain-stitched and so is she
Chain-stitched to her soul for time.
Ravelling grandly into vice
Dropping crooked into rhyme.
Slipping through the stitch of virtue,
      Into crime.

Though her lips are vague as fancy
In her youth—
They bloom vivid and repulsive
As the truth.
Even vases in the making
      Are uncouth.

Now that you’ve been all cultured up, you can continue with your day.

Economist Joke

Dean BakerDean Baker provides us with an excellent joke to start the day. It made me laugh more than The Daily Show (which was quite funny last night) and The Colbert Report (which wasn’t that good).

I love economics humor. There ought to be more of this. Economist jokes are easy to create.

Question: How many economists does it take to fuck the economy?

Answer: Alan Greenspan

This is from Baker’s article The wrecking society: Economics today, which is in the very good Al Jazeera English:

There is an old story from the heyday of the Soviet Union. As part of their May Day celebrations they were parading their latest weapon systems down the street in front of the Kremlin. There was a long column of their newest tanks, followed by a row of tractors pulling missiles. Behind these weapons were four pick-up trucks carrying older men in business suits waving to the crowds.

Seeing this display, the Communist party boss turned to his defense secretary. He praised the tanks and missiles and then said that he didn’t understand the men in business suits. The defense secretary explained that these men were economists, and “their destructive capacity is incredible.”

Update (16 October 2012 8:57)

Everyone seems to think that this joke is a groaner. Well check out this site about the Romney-Ryan tax plan. Note that if you try really hard, you can get the details.