Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Tene(mos) X-Box!

When I was in college, a friend suggested that I take a poetry-writing workshop. Having tired of all the Derrida and Judith Butler I was being forced to read, I figured a creative writing class would be kind of fun. And more importantly, that it would be an easy "A."

And I did have some experience writing poetry.

Two years earlier, I'd been responsible for a whole notebook of verse that was clearly written by a freshman taking Intro to Existentialism and who'd had a junior high school penchant for both Nine Inch Nails and Sylvia Plath.

"Death at my door," began one knee-slapping howler. "And I shout, 'Come on in!'"

Really, really bad shit. At the time, of course, I thought it was really, really good.

Cameron, the professor who taught the seminar, eschewed all things canonical and adored all things modern. 

As a result, we ended up reading a lot of poetry that didn't really say much but was kind of cool to look at, composed as it was from random, weird words (mostly nouns), inexplicably bisected by parentheses, with lots of back- and forward slashes and colons thrown in for postmodern panache:

ly/sis: : cannot/
the (dro)sera

This head scratcher was the poem (the entire poem) that Cameron handed out the first day of class.

"And what do we think of this?" he asked.

"I don't know," I volunteered hesitantly. "It seems like a literary 'Hooked on Phonics' to me."

Several people laughed and Cameron shot me a withering look.

"It's easy to dismiss. It's not 'pretty.' But it's about seeing beyond straight rhyme and rhythm. It's full of contextual possibilities."

So's the toilet after I eat a bag of dried apricots, I thought sourly.

It was a harbinger of things to come.

The only student in the workshop who was any good was a quiet girl named Megan with whom I later became friends. 

When Megan would have to read, her face would turn nearly purple and her hands would shake from nervousness. Her stuff was subtle, disturbing and insanely complex for someone so young. I still remember whole lines, it was that good.

Based purely on phenomenal writing chops, she should be famous right now except no one, myself included, really gives a shit about modern poetry. And besides, none of her poetry contained deliberately abstruse postmodern shtick.

Cameron gave Megan "A's" though. 

He had to. She was too good for him not to but you could tell that they were grudgingly meted out. Her poetry insulted his sensibility.

It actually made sense.

Unlike Paul's. His mid-semester masterpiece “GO/n:Ad” dealt with "o/nion:: vegetable (for)mica/tritan(op)ia." He explained to the class that it was about insomnia, circumcision and black hole theory as well as corporate greed in America. Since no one knew what "tritanopia" meant and Paul had cleverly bisected it with parentheses, he got an "A."

"I like it," said Cameron slowly. "It's a little...rough around the edges, but there's a certain 'found object' quality to it that I think works."

Then there was Katie, whose poetry revolved entirely around her boyfriend Josh whom she "loved like a star that rides through the night to my heart." 

I actually kind of liked Katie. She was sweet and dumb and pretty in that ripe, voluptuous, just short of porky way you know is going to turn into full-fledged obesity a couple years down the line. Every day after class, Katie would call Josh on the pink cell phone that featured Enrique Iglesias’ “Hero” as his ring tone.

Cameron hated her poetry, of course. Not only because it was sidesplittingly funny ("Hold me, Hold me, Hold me now/Under the sky"), but also because it always rhymed: "Your mouth tasted like cotton candy/That night on the beach so sandy.”

Katie often sat next to me and made no effort to hide the many lip gloss applications that were performed during discussions of, say, silence as textual space. She wrote in big, puffy, girlish script in a Hello Kitty notebook. Sometimes, she'd scrawl notes as Cameron rambled on about phonological signifiers and push them over to me.

"I think Billy just farted," read one. "LOL!!!"

Jenna, another girl in the class, I didn't like.  Her poetry revolved around anal sex. And witchcraft. And anal sex. Sometimes, cum. But always anal sex.

Once she wrote a poem called "Ch:lamy/dia." It was about chlamydia, pyromania and her perennial favorite, anal sex. And witchcraft.

Witch, I re/fuse to k(iss) your: bitters!
the itch/not just the f(ire)
but your: c/ock
in my a(s)s

Nothing was too revealing for old Jenna.

Your cum in my mouth/
Cock in my As/S:
C(ock): C/ock"
went one.

Although Jenna wasn't particularly attractive, whenever she would read the guys in class, some of whom had probably never had their cocks in anyone's mouth or anal cavity or, for that matter, vagina would sit at rapt attention.

I'm not making this verse up. I only wish I could write that funny. You see, I saved Jenna's final project. Because her final class project "ADAM:) aN:tine/ CuM (H)ere" is one of the most satisfying comedic reads I've ever experienced. And it's held up well. I still almost piss myself laughing when I read it.

Although Cameron was one of the most pretentious motherfuckers on the planet, he was also one of the biggest closet sleazes.

Jenna always got "A's."

"Visceral," he remarked one day after she had read yet another poem about yet another "C(ock) c/ock :cocK" ramming into her "a/Ss a/ss (A)ss.

Jenna smiled at Cameron.

Cameron smiled back.

 If I play my cards right, you could see him thinking, Maybe I can ram my C(ock) into her a/ss. Who cares about the ch:lamy/dia?

Then there was Ron who, either like me, thought it was an easy credit or that a poetry writing workshop meant a lot of fast–and-loose artsy pussy. With a scary ardor, he hit on every girl in class and wrote a lot of stuff about horses and dogs. Apparently, the untimely passing away of Cody, the mixed breed German Shepherd he'd had when he was ten, was one of the most profound influences on his life: "The furry body shuffled out/And I knew he was no more."

Near the end of the semester, Cameron announced to the class that our final project would be a portfolio, containing no less than fifteen poems. 

Ron and I exchanged worried glances.

Fuck, we both said with our eyes. This was supposed to be an easy "A".

Sure, outside this classroom Ron was probably a date rapist but in here, he was the closest thing to a comrade that I had. Because like me, he was at least smart enough to know that his poetry sucked balls.

Later in the student union, as I played Velocita!, a weird Italian race car game that was located next to the janitor's break room, Ron cornered me.

"What are you gonna do for this project?" he demanded.

"I don't know," I replied, swerving to avoid the polizia. 

I had no idea what this game was doing there but I loved it and played it every day between classes. 

"I may copy down the ingredients from a ketchup bottle and throw in some back slashes and colons."

I really wasn't kidding.

“This fucking sucks,” he sighed. “Cameron told me that 'Last Day of Cody' was 'puerile.'"

He brooded for a second.

I sped up.  I was near the finish line.

"What's 'puerile' mean?" he muttered.

My car flipped over a barrier.

 "Facile bersaglio!" taunted the game.

"Fuck!" I yelled.

Before Ron had distracted me, I'd been close to getting the best score yet this week.

I turned to him.

It means he thinks you're a fucking idiot, I wanted to shout.

Instead, I heaved a sigh.

"It means you're gonna have to write something with lots of weird punctuation. Throw in random words. Throw in big words. Just look through the dictionary."

"Huh," he said, considering. "That's not a bad idea."

It really wasn't, I thought later as I rode home on the bus.

As the bus passed the Safeway, I saw a sign in the window. "Fresh Whole Split Chicken Breasts," it read. I jotted that down in my notebook then crossed out "chicken."

I looked around and continued scribbling. 

“Yolanda's Hair Weave Central. Tenemos X-Box! Checks cashed here.”

My neighborhood was pretty shitty.

This was easy. And sort of fun too.

I added, "No spitting on curb," "We Accept Food Stamps," and "Pollo y cerdo" to my list. And then, "Pupuseria de Miguel."

I scribbled in my notebook until my hand hurt. Then I added "my hand hurts" in my notebook. When I got home, I went through the dictionary and pulled big words that I thought sounded cool. Then I looked up "erection" in my thesaurus and jotted down several high-end synonyms.

I strung everything together and added some creative punctuation. When I was done, it looked like this:

sin/ter sin/ter (s)inter
Ten(emos) x-bOX!

:like the ecchymo(sis)::

di/lated with (blood)

fresh :wHolE s/plit: breasts
yo(landa)'s hair
                                                          No (sp)itting on /curb


                                de Mi:guel

                                                       C/heck (s)
                     cashed here
poLLo (y cer/do)

we: acc(ept) foo/d st:amps

my :h/and (hurts).

Using my notebook and the dictionary, I did this fourteen more times. At the beginning of the portfolio, I included an artistic "statement of intent." 

It was, I wrote, a polemic against commercialism in the United States as well as an indictment of racial, sexual and class segregation in low-income neighborhoods.

Then I passed it in.

I got an "A" on my project.

And so did Ron.


Dustin said...

/ my wrists

i_M ec[static]

shh(ohh)ve that c(aww)k up my (ahh)ss!!!

The sad thing is that there are plenty of people on my buddy list that communicate this way.

h. said...

Ron became Randall somewhere towards the end, and I think you may be overusing your trick of repeating the same exact phrase in different places.

I've been reading this blog for a while, and I love your writing, and I'm finally commenting in the hopes that you'll stay prolific. It's hard for me to tell how seriously you take it, but I hope my constructive criticism is more useful than Cam/ron(s).

Anonymous said...

Overusing the callbacks? I like the callbacks. It worked for Jerry Seinfeld and that motherfucker's worth billions. If it's funny once, it's funny a whole bunch of times.

Who are you going to trust? "h." who obviously checks in with your blog before he/she goes to work (lame) or alternatively doesn't live on the east coast (even lamer), or me, who takes time out of my busy workday schedule to tell you anonymously how I feel about your writing: it may actually suck, and a creative writing professor could probably explain in leaden excess what's wrong with it (bastards), but reading your work is an obsessive pleasure for me. God knows there are few enough of those in the world.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with the first annoymous. I'm an uneducated, blue collar, East Coast guy who can't get enough of you... I mean your writing of course! Cheers babe.

Anonymous said...

this shit made me laugh my ass off. that's all i care about.

Dustin said...

H, you know what I'm going to tell you to do with your constructive criticism don't you? Shh(ohh)ve it u/p your (ahh)ss!!!


abf said...

While we're all splitting words here, what's the story behind "forksplit," or "fork/s(pli)t"?

Anonymous said...

This is one of the best blogs I've seen! I'll visit often.

Could you come see our raster to vector site and view our raster to vector offerings?

Thanks a lot... in the meantime, keep up the great blogging!

Short(ital)ian/bas:tard said...

I think I went to the prom with Jenna.

The rash never completely went away, either. Dammit.

Anonymous said...

Not only did I find this post incredibly funny (I'm wondering where you specifically took that class) -- it's nice to see people offering up good raster to vector offerings. I wasn't even entirely sure what the hell that meant -- but it's good to learn new things daily.

I hate comment spam. A LOT.

forksplit said...

Forksplit...I just like the word. It's always kind of cracked me up on the Thomas' package. They trumpet it so proudly: "It's FORKSPLIT!" Like it's such a huge achievement that the muffin's only slightly torn apart with a fork instead of neatly cut with knife. That quote below the blog title I got from a string I found when I googled forksplit to see if the name was taken. It was all these people very seriously discussing the merits of English muffins over toast: with jam? without? Butter put on before toaster oven? Or after? And I thought I spent a lot of time pondering useless shit...

abf said...

I left that comment asking about the story behind "fork/s(pli)t" about nine or ten years ago, and here I am almost a decade later still enjoying this post. Thanks for the explanation, which I read at the time but was too lazy or too busy to acknowledge then. More important, I still think you're a great writer.

Anonymous said...

Where is your fucking BOOK, girl? What do you need to get it out? And...we all fucking miss you.

Anonymous said...

Are you on Twitter? I sent a shout-out there. What happened with trashbot? You can't leave your fans hanging.

Unknown said...

Sighhhh, you stopped writing here actively a very long time & I'm still checking for ya. Gawker is gone. I'm chuckling over the dude above referring to his "buddy list". You & Caity Weaver were the best things to come from that place. I hope your book is coming along. I'll be waiting for it in the new era.