Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Aaron Lowinger's "Bills Fan"

So the Eagles are in the playoffs again, and that makes me tired. But after hearing Aaron Lowinger's poem "Bills Fan" - which I nominate as the greatest poem ever about football - I figure, okay, okay, I'll go to the bar and watch the goddamn game.

Here's Aaron reading "Bills Fan":

Back in September Aaron gave an incredible reading of dense, rolling poems here in Philly at the Chapterhouse . He read from his chapbook guide to weeds, which he made with his wife, Becky Moda, who did the illustrations for each weed (they also sang a folk song together). We've got a recording of it and will have it up on the Chapterhouse site soon.

For more of Aaron Lowinger's poems, go here and here.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ted Greenwald's Common Sense

Back in March one early morning during the cold, cold week Temple University calls Spring Break my doorbell rang for, I think, the first time since I’d moved in four months before. We just call each other now, right? “Yo, I’m here, come let me in.” Anyway, it was a delivery. Ted Greenwald’s Common Sense (1978), which I’d ordered from Small Press Distribution after listening to some of his poems on PennSound (esp. “Whiff” from 1979) and reading a selection on EPC. I opened the package and opened the book and read for maybe an hour. Stayed up, starting writing a poem, then returned to the book and read some more. The poems kept me up. I didn’t go back to bed when all else was telling me nothing’s worth getting up for. I was hibernating, depressed. It’s hard to believe I got up in the first place.


picked up
a shovel

and started

pretty soon
I was
in china

and started

I’ve been reading this book all year. I’ll read parts of it several times a week and try to carry its rhythms with me throughout the day. In a letter I wrote Greenwald recently (he doesn’t have email; maybe he listens for the doorbell), I tried to articulate what I like about Common Sense: it’s how the poems unfold from line to line (as if the poem were folded up in the beginning, in the title) and the depiction of a world of fluid objects. That’s what I told him. There’s always a transformation of object or image that pushes the poem, that makes the rhythm. One word leads to another, and the words themselves seem like live objects. (I think some people call that “materiality.”) That’s the sense of the poetry, perhaps. Sometimes the transformation happens through repetition, sometimes rhyme or word association, sometimes narrative. (The book is actually a selection of Greenwald’s first 10 books, I think, which explains the variation in style and its length [195 pages]). Here’s a few:


the piano shivers
someone’s singing through
the radio through
shrugged shoulders
his tongue rolling over black keys
each note like a bone
added one by one to a skeleton
the sky, flesh, brings
the beast back to life
it walks upright
snacking on hedges
low-hanging twigs
low flying planes
the song lands at three points


Martha wears a mu-mu
and Ellen has a boo-boo
Bill has a beautiful b-b
and Morris has everything

Turk has a cigarette
and Michael has Ellen
Zeke has a bandanna
and Martha loves it

Louise has a thought
and Martha’s in it
Zeke has Louise handy
and Bill plays blues

Martha Ellen Bill Morris Turk
Zeke Michael and Louise


clean glass
dark park and buildings
part night
lights clear
and then I look in
to find my weariness
I wear my work and its dust
over my body
passing into a wonderful darkness
on the other side
morning wakes
it is not late it is just right
I wash and shave
smoke a cigarette
have some coffee
my body wakes up
that was a long time ago
my body wakes up
snow turning to rain

In many of the poems the human body is fused with other objects in the cityscape. There’s often an expression of odd, slightly surprised detachment from the self, who is found again and again situated in or linked to a part of the world just now observed. I come away with a sense of human clumsiness, which contrasts with the fluidity. I’m made aware of my own objecthood, physicality and fragility, while my focus on the movement around me is heightened. Neither the thing nor the word right in front of me is overlooked or ignored; rather, it determines what follows, and the effect is a kind of motion I’ve always been after in my own writing. The tone of these poems alternates between a “seamless fatigue”, a phrase I take from the following poem, and a “wonderful darkness” that leaves me feeling “the world wide and awake around me.”


scanning the outer world
with my senses the inner world
bumps against a tree in a park
filled with strollers after rain after hot morning
with a large dog pissing against the bark
a wind so it seems
hot from all the activity
is arriving in a car circling the block’s blood
for the millionth time (it happens so fast)
looking to park and does across from a store
crowded with shoppers entering and leaving
the revolving door revolving charges
plates and kids clutched in the hand in the pocket in the bag
my ear (left) is bumping into a radio
that moves rapidly past in the hand of a stroller
while the other ear barges through two couples
dressed up and looking down the street discussing where to eat
my feet ache from a long walk in the rain and are wet
sogging my legs as my heart coughs through its hangover
a little faster than the cigarette I puff
sidewalk movers-over
a slowing down, all,
to catch up with the hotter parts of nerves
a seamless fatigue
tailored to the city like a flush
a seeing of brain upon the gates
doors and windows open and close to exits and entrances
light travels
shade cools
sound carries
animal vegetable mineral
here and there are heroes and villains

In longer poems small narratives evaporate while the trace of them—their sound (the exhaust, you might say) form the next part of the music. This is most evident in the 26-page poem “The Life.” Below are the first five stanzas and then a few more stanzas that appear a few pages further into the poem.

a boring moment
I pick up a book of poems written by boring poets
the poems aren’t good they aren’t bad

they get jobs
they get wives and children raise families
they write poems
they live interesting lives

I’m getting pissed off
pissed off
I pick up a pen and start to write
I take a break
burn most of my old poems
throw out letters
dump boxes of papers
I get back to work
there are poems and poems

there are limits to what I can put up with
there are those make me want to puke over my shoulder

night steals into afternoon
and mugs one
formal like a dress, the coming of winter
what trees there are
lose leaves and gain edge
while I get my winter nerves
something weird’s going on in my left shoulder
like a crazy parakeet
banging against bars of muscles and bone
whims drive cars into the garage of the blood
there are rush-hours and images of sadness
making the nose flute
there are beer senses searching for a rug to be snug in
the hand turns to winter
and raises a landscape to the nose
and the nose knows

. . . .

isn’t it strange how ambition
takes on a high and bright language
almost rushing into a play with murders
as it crosses the mind like a roach crossing the wall
it’s something I have
and something I admire in others even if
I feel misdirected the energy is terrific
and soothes and rubs like a towel after someone’s bathed
it’s the difference between indifference
loosening furry bonds chomping on the brain
as someone, pressed, says
I’ve lost my train why can’t you be more realistic
and that’s what I am
only I’m making everything up from scratch
and can hear even the tiniest feet strolling along white flat

bundling noises enter my ear
and release a catch to many synapses
something is starting to take place,
I want to tell you, don’t you think you should ask
I’m running out the door
running out of things to say
“stay awhile” I thought and did
and want to say to you “stay awhile”
does this sound like a complaint
vaulting out of the imploring hand over
the bar of the heart
ear of the cup of woes

morning dreams
afternoon dreams
evening dreams
night comes in sits down and dreams
the ashtray dreams the cigarette its smoke
the hand bracing my head dreams of writing down dreams
upstream, a dream starts to take root in the river
as a sliver of light dreams a shiver in my spine
the back waves bye-bye to the brain
a hand writing the dreamy words
“this is them”

smooth and bumpy wonder meet in a tongue
licks the lip of the day
something special (instantly forgotten) brings this on
forms a landscape
adds a little motion makes a scene

[NOTE: Previous posts on this blog labeled "common sense" do not feature Greenwald's poems. "Common Sense" is the working title of a series of poems and letters I have been writing, inspired both by Greenwald's book and Thomas Paine's pamphlet of the same title.]

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Symposium on Organizing Reading Series

This Sunday, December 13th at 2pm at 4226 Spruce St., I'll be participating in a symposium called "Venues: Aesthetics, People, Politics, Readings and Performance", hosted by the Poetic Arts Performance Project. A few us will be answering questions about the how and what and why of running a reading/performance series.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

some common sense

made man

each week i watch pigs
pulled off the trailer
flopped over shoulders
gutted into the deli
esposito’s pork & beef
each week slit perfectly
the spine of a bus stained
under closed eyelids
nothing out of the woodwork
but “what” questions
hung up to dry
what’s the point
says that one
give it up
i am the point i say
i leave holes all over
in trying to make myself
punch a past in world
series disappointment
what i meant peels itself
out of a bus that doesn’t
stop like water
follows the path of least
resistance you flow by
the mural that tells you so
that peels you out
of the woodwork a chill
sent down the spine
of the bus you caught
open the fare and say
ahh where to

Dear Tom Paine,

Looking back, it’s the thing that keeps everybody down I’ve always written about. The thing I’ve always been infected by. Just when I believe it’s cleared my system there it is again some afternoon. I think that thing is common sense.

Hear me out.

First, common sense is something we tend to direct at people. Thus, its sense is hardly common, hardly shared. Consider the rhetorical contexts in which the term “common sense” is used usually. We use it to disparage. In order to buffer a weak argument, we use it to imply that those opposed to us lack common sense, i.e., are too stupid to understand us: “We must change such and such – it’s just common sense.” If the proposition were actually common sense, there’d be no need to say so. We also use the term to reprimand. I imagine a father yelling at his son, smacking him on the back of his head: “Use your common sense next time!”

Tom, your pamphlet both disparages and reprimands. Beautifully. In choosing “common sense” as a title for your pamphlet, no doubt you had in mind a second definition of “common”: ill-bred, low class, disgusting (a much more common definition back then). You sought to inspire righteous indignation in the American masses, who would then direct their rage at the English aristocracy: “Damn right we’re common. And proud of it!”

Perhaps this is why our conservatives today try to co-opt you—not for your libertarianism so much as your rhetorical savvy. But I can’t give them that much credit. Instead I’ll say what’s more likely, and what no politician would dare say: our country is rife with idiots. Rife with commonness. George W. Bush would never have become president otherwise. Such is democracy, eh, Tom?

Borges once argued that arguments convince no one. I believe him. I am forever unconvinced. What’s most convincing to me about your pamphlet is the music. The orchestration. As Isaac Kramnick has written: “It was not Tom Paine’s common sense but his rage that turned hundreds of thousands of Americans to thoughts of independence in the winter of 1776.” Well, I am one of them. Long dead, flesh rotted to bone. Common.

Why was there almost nobody at your funeral, Tom?

Ryan Eckes

the chase
(poem written by stan in a dream)

the whole hour

it’s out


after the


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

we're robots

Hailey Higdon and I have made a chapbook that consists of 3 of my poems and 3 of Hailey's. It's called we're robots. Want one? Let me know or go to the website.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

happy survival

Eddie Okwedy, "Happy Survival"

Cheers to the genius who thought to synchronize this song with this cartoon.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Earlier this year, Carlos Soto Román translated a few of my poems into Spanish, and now the translations have been published in the journal 60 Watts, along with Carlos's translations of poems by Debrah Morkun. You can read them here.

Here you can listen to Carlos read his poems in the Wooden Shoe in Philly last summer.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

looking for an apartment

carbon monoxide is colorless

and odorless

but joe loves the phone

so it rings

hello, he says

we walk around his mouth

it feels like philadelphia

in august or august

in philadelphia

the fan cuts a hot circle

out of us

a dumpster slams

in the alley out


it’s a brand new fridge

says joe

open it and take a look

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Common Sense: 8/18 at 8pm

Tuesday, Aug 18th at 8pm
at Wine-O Bar, 447 Poplar St.
Phila, PA

Donald Deeley will be reading fiction
Brandon Eckes & Chris DiOrio will be playing music
and I will be reading poetry & letters inspired by
Thomas Paine's Common Sense and
Ted Greenwald's Common Sense.

$2 cans of Yuengling & Pabst; $3 glasses of house red or white wine.
Hosted by Abbi Dion.

DiOrio & Eckes, the musicians, pictured above.

Friday, August 7, 2009

notes on innovation

Since reading Magdalena Zurawski's response to the negative review of The Bruise and the recent conversation between Dale Smith and Kenny Goldsmith in Jacket, I've been thinking a lot about this concept of innovative literature. I know the word "innovative" is used to distinguish between conventional, traditional modes of writing and more experimental work, but I wonder to what extent "innovation" is now a primary concern for writers who identify themselves as avant-garde or post-avant, and what the consequences of that might be. When I hear the word "innovation," I think of technology, mass production and one-upmanship, impatient American culture of consumption and disposability. I think of my new "energy-saving" refrigerator.

Most people, I'd bet, would say they value originality - that word seems to have nothing but positive connotations. But I don't think we all share the same definition of originality. I don't see originality as at odds with acknowledging influence; nor do I see it as at odds with dialogue with other people (alive or dead). I mean, if you really produced something completely original, or innovative, nobody'd know what it was, right? The product wouldn't communicate. I think much of what's tagged "innovative" in literature actually sacrifices communication, and I'm not sure what for. To fool people into believing one is "ahead of one's time"? It's hard for me to buy some imaginary historic timeline of art, some Structure of Poetic Revolutions. Do publishers ask for "innovative" work because they see poetry as a science on which the progress of civilization depends? Are we rapidly approaching a glorious point in time, an apotheosis, when nothing could possibly be any newer? Are we going to heaven or something?

In the Jacket conversation, Goldsmith states explicitly that he is interested only in making an impact within the history of art - so as not to be ignored - and that he has made a career of it by showing "the art world that poetry was as up to date as anything they were showing in the museum." And he suggests, as many avant-garde or "post-avant" writers have, that "adventurous" poetry has been "marginalized." By who, though? How is it that avant-garde writers (and not artists - somehow the other arts are different, according to Goldsmith) have less power than writers who aren't avant-garde? This argument always fails to account for social class. The truth is that the poetry is "marginal" because it's written for a privileged sliver of the American population. A more accurate term than "marginal" would be "special interest."

A writer's sense of audience is important. You might write alone in a room, but that room is in the world, right? If one's chief aim in writing poetry is to be innovative, then--given the historical exclusivity of art, the still limited access to higher education, not to mention widening class divisions--can one's sense of audience be anything other than an insular group of people who mostly come from the same privileged social class? And whose poetry, therefore, will not be innovative but apolitical, regardless of claims made on its behalf?

The desire to be read and be recognized is essentially the desire for human exchange, i.e., communication. Perhaps the purest form of trade. One thing I've liked about living this poetry life is that it often maintains elements of folk culture (readers as writers and vice-versa; opportunities to interact with other writers), unlike arts that are more firmly situated within entertainment/pop culture (marked by sharper divisions between artist and audience; a more passive, less participatory situation). If one's sense of audience is grounded more deeply in the entertainment model, that is, in the absence of genuine human exchange, then the desire to be recognized may become the whole point of writing--and then we've got ourselves a delusional poet, one whose values seem oddly similar to those espoused by Reality TV shows. I see this delusion in the pettiness, the wastes of breath I find in, say, negative reviews in lit journals, in the petty criticisms on blogs.

Writing to communicate is inextricable from valuing community. In Dale Smith's impressive defense of poetry's "communicative potential," there's an assumption that one has (or should have) an obligation to participate politically in the society in which one lives, and that that obligation is not separate from the work that one chooses to do/make. This happens to be a characteristic I've admired about many poets who live in my city--I draw inspiration from them, from the commitments that are evident both in their writing and in the work they do outside/around their writing (often their jobs).

It's important for me also to distinguish here between "community" and "network." Sometimes people conflate these terms. It's the difference between talking to/about somebody to know the person and talking to/about somebody to use the person. When a writer starts meeting innovation quotas, as I once caught myself doing in grad school (by, say, incorporating types of parataxis, disjunction, fragmentation into my writing), at the expense of saying what needs to be said, that writer is networking, not writing.

Taking chances, breaking habits, questioning norms - especially one's own - becoming conscious - yes, I understand the importance of that, in writing, in living. I have a hunch that originality derives from being relentlessly true to oneself (as cliche as that may sound), and that can be impossible to measure, impossible to quantify, and hopelessly subjective, which might nag the more scientifically-minded among us. But innovation for the sake of innovation is something to question. For real.

Friday, July 24, 2009


The mighty Kim Gek Lin Short has a blog, and on it she has written about the voices in my chapbook.

And Steven Allen May, a few months ago, w/ some kind words.

And several months ago, Stan Mir on Old News.

Thanks, folks.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

text messages

my inbox: a year in review

Working the handlebar tonight with some chick. Come by get a load on. Start this holiday off right.

Republicans are on my television chanting “drill baby drill.”

Muaaa! besitos muchos besitos monis. i am so lucky you are the best.

Jesus was born in a Wawa.

Or you could just let him know that there are anatomy lessons available next door at the Dive.

The swelling is going down.

Im workin at the handlebar with my lovely cousin Lauren tonight. Be there, cause every time you drink an angel gets its wings.

Skylar born @ 7300 am! All are well. :-)

Just an fyi – keith and i are not dating . . . You had a strange look on your face that looked as if you thought he was serious. Hope you’re having fun at the Locust.

Kids melted in rain. Stuck. Diner. Doubtful.

Allo, gubnor! Sup witchu? How’s the adjuncting? How’s life? How’s my Eckes?

theres a beef n beeR to help pay for my hit n run @ out of wack jacks on Saturday. Tickets are $25.

I am @ Claudia’s place. i want u to know that i will miss u a lot. love MM

Do you think it’s weird to have a dog in the shower with you – while you’re naked and taking a shower?

Broke gonna have to skip.

read remains again today. holy shit.

Everythings coming up ryan.

What are you up to this evening, cupcake?

Balls out no bull old fart prof. Was a good one. Lots of remembering to do tho.

You got cash?

Tell jack im sorry i missed him!

No really thank you.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


At 4th & South:

"I'm the only Duck driver brave enough to say it: Punk Rock Girl."

-- driver of a Ride the Ducks bus/boat to tourists on board, pointing out the store that used to be Zipperhead, "immortalized" by The Dead Milkmen in their song "Punk Rock Girl."

All last summer, in one of the apartment windows on South Street, there was a sign that said FUCK THE DUCKS.

Monday, June 15, 2009

what i've wanted

I started this blog last year to post pieces of a manuscript as it developed, but I wound up posting other things, too, adjacent concerns, whatever I wanted. So the blog is Old News but the blog is not the Old News that is the manuscript. I might post the complete, ordered mss. here soon. As I finish it up, some notes here on what I’ve wanted to do:

I first got interested in poetry, about ten years ago, because I saw in what I was reading the possibility of telling a story that was also a meditation. (I was inspired by two poetry classes I took my last year in college: Postmodern American Poetry, taught by Jeffrey Nealon, and a writing workshop taught by CS Giscombe, whose book Here was also a big influence.) Since then, I’ve tried to address, through writing, the question of how to inherit the world. And directly correlated: how to be in the world. How to live.

Old News is driven by doubt yet hinged on the idea that one must invent (rather than find) one’s own way of being/doing (faith), and that this must happen through interaction with one’s neighbors, with one’s nearest public, while remaining conscious of that public’s slippery extensions into more distant publics.

I wanted to write a book about my neighbors that was a little history book of Philadelphia, a narrative driven by conflicts I see and feel, hashed out by characters (neighbors) who recur as remnants of each other. I used old newspapers I’d found under the floors of the house I moved into a few years ago. They were from the 1920s. I wanted to retell some of the tiny forgotten stories in these, the common everyday mishaps, tragedies and curiosities that are rarely reported in newspapers today. To pronounce names no longer attached to anything. Not to memorialize, but to gain a sense of scale. I tried to weave the mystery of the antique seamlessly with present-day conundrums and banalities to gain a sense of scale that is holier, I think, definitely less destructive than a view narrow enough to justify, say, the hideous contrast of luxury architecture being built upside or in place of longstanding redbrick houses in gentrified neighborhoods like Northern Liberties (Who remembers just a few years back black people attacking whites with bricks there, beating them unconscious?).

But there are seams. I took care not to reduce people’s experiences to my own, nor to elevate mine; to let each be discrete, stand alone, and to know I’m gonna die. Don’t know if I succeeded.

I wanted to state bare facts and face them.

Philadelphia remains mostly poor and violent.

I don’t mean accept facts. I mean face, as in “not turning away.” Journalism 101? I didn’t want to make a newspaper, though. Nor parody of one. Initially, I thought of each piece as a page in a newspaper (e.g, the sports page). I abandoned that idea. It was cute, but ultimately this is just a book of poems that make up one long poem. I wanted to write a poem. Investigation, sure, but more songlike than reportage, I hope. Poetry is more nuisance, new-sense, than news. It should keep working, keep going. To resist inevitability - the psychology if not the politics of inevitability. To resist the cult of the final word and cultural amnesia. To value means no less than ends. And for the pleasure of it, the pleasure in placing one thing next to another - by knowing that first thing first - and moving your eyes across both, creating a sound. Pleasure and idea in the experience of juxtaposition. That is sound. A sound sound.

I wanted the book to move from page to page the way my prose poems (from my previous mss., stolen cars) had moved from sentence to sentence. This would be the form of investigation. With the prose poems, I began with a particular image or circumstance and followed it with a sentence that developed what was most at stake, most urgent in that first image or circumstance, then treated the second sentence the same way with the third, etc. There were two methods of development (or, investigation, if you like). 1) description of an object or situation that is physically near and in relation to the circumstance described in the sentence preceding it; 2) metaphor, simile, or association (sound or sense of something) that is grounded in the reality of the circumstance it is developing—not reference to something that will remain outside the perimeter of the story merely for the sake of description. The point was to show the world in motion. I wanted the digression that adds (not decorates or erases) – this is inspired by the talk-poems of David Antin – the digression that builds, digs deeper, arrives and arrives while it leaves and leaves. This got really hard to do from page to page; probably I failed. Sentences and pages aren’t the same thing, after all.

As I read Old News I see and hear two motions: digging (unearthing) and an accordion-like motion of unification/separation among the characters (myself included). This I didn’t plan. I can only write without knowing where I’m going. If that sounds like a romantic position, okay, but it isn’t hopelessly so. It’s how one learns.

The poetics is in the poem “remains” - the rhythm I arrived at is in that. It has carried over into living.