Monday, December 28, 2009

Look What I Stumbled On!

An interview I did with the poet Campbell McGrath that originally appeared in BOMB in 1994. McGrath has now published eight books of poetry, and he has received the extremely prestigious MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships and the Kingsley Tufts Prize, but this was the first interview with him to be published. The wide-eyed interviewer is a bit embarrassing in retrospect, but my interest in the list poems he introduced me to have not abated over time.

Dept. of Shameless Self Promotion

Two poems that originally appeared in volume two of the Minnetonka Review are now available online. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Has Anyone Noticed . . .

that critically-acclaimed holiday movies The Messenger and Up in the Air are basically the same story? A pair of employees goes around informing people of bad news, the older ones, settled in their ways, supposedly showing the young pups the ropes, while ending up learning a lesson or two along the way themselves.

A Few of Her Favorite Things

The smell of water. The smell of the back stacks of libraries. A good steak, medium rare. Growing garlic. Sleeping in late under a down comforter. Reading and rereading certain poems. Watching my dog run.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Line of the Week

"You gave me nothing; now you're taking it away."
—Soul Asylum

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Line of the Week

“What people are ashamed of usually makes a good story.”
—F. Scott Fitzgerald

Name Game

Nothing whiles away the minutes like mischievously categorizing proper nouns!

A Cormac McCarthy List

A few years ago, I was contemplating teaching Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but I felt like teenagers would find it boring. I could see them complaining and rolling their eyes almost unanimously. I love McCarthy and The Road, but let’s face it—most of the time not much happens. Page after page, the boy and his dad have variations of the same conversation and the same experiences. A colleague went ahead and taught it—and the kids have loved it! Many of them have raved about it to me.

I thought back on my original approach to teaching it the other day when she told me she had a student complaining that he didn’t understand what was going on in it. If this were an early McCarthy book, I would understand the complaint, but The Road? Every day is more or less the same, and every day the boy is going to ask the same questions, and the dad is going to deal with them in the same way. I’m intentionally making it sound boring or static, because the reasons I love McCarthy have nothing to do with plot. I love the way he uses words and makes sentences. In fact, when I read him, I underline all the words I don’t know and the phrases that blow me out of the water. The words he chooses are lyrical, archaic, earthy, rich. Here’s my list from The Road (with page numbers):

Gryke (11)
Collet (16)
Batboard (17)
Bulldrums (17)
Pipeclayed (18)
Breakfront (21)
Chifforobe (22)
Discalced (24)
Shoddy (as a noun, 28)
Creedless (28)
Feverland (28)
Firedrake (31)
Godspoke (32)
Disclets (38)
Mayapple (39)
Pipissewa (39)
Mastic (48)
Cheroot (56)
Advents (59)
Bracken (61)
Stakebed (61)
Rachitic (63)
Colliculus (64)
Temporal gyrus (64)
Siwash (68)
Truckgarden (68)
Billets (of wood, 70)
Claggy (75)
Skifts (76)
Quoits (76)
Cowled (77)
Catamites (92)
Sedge (94)
Kerfs (98)
Port cochere (105)
Sleavings (106)
Dentil (107)
Haspstaple (109)
Tang (as part of a shovel, 109)
Illucid (116)
Swag (123)
Duff (124)
Chert (129)
Coolingboard (130)
Cakebell (184)
Envacuuming (191)
Slagpools (192)
Lightwires (192)
Loggia (204)
Knurled (209)
Scud (as a noun, 221)
Seacrawl (221)
Isocline (222)
Davits (223)
Turnbuckles (223)
Mae west (uncapitalized, 225)
Gimbaled (230)
Bindle (230)
Pampooties (243)
Salitter (261)
Entabled (261)
Bollards (262)
Gantry (262)
Scarpbolts (271)
Bloomery (271)
Uncalendared (273)
Incinerate (as an adjective, 273)
Ensepulchred (273)
Crozzled (273)
Hagmoss (274)
Counterspectacle (274)
Hydroptic (274)
Wimpled (286)
Torsional (287)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Line of the Week

"I may have been a gerund in a previous life."
—Avrom Schwartz

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Line of the Week

"Heaven's where you find it."
—Townes Van Zandt

Monday, October 19, 2009

Line of the Week

"Pops wasn't looking too good. I think he's dead but still talking."
Padgett Powell

Thursday, October 15, 2009

New Lynx!

Clearly, someone has been taking a virtual vacation from his blog: three posts in the past two months—for shame! Fortunately, other bloggers have been picking up the slack for me. I've added two that have caught my attention recently to my Lynx! list, both of them with aesthetic bents: The Book Design Review and Strange Maps. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Horse Sense

• horsing around / horseplay
• healthy as a horse
• so hungry I could eat a horse
• pee like a racehorse
• hung like a horse
• horse-trading
• changing horses in the middle of a stream
• straight from the horse's mouth
• a horse of a different color
• dark horse
• clothes horse
• beating a dead horse
• dog & pony show
• putting the cart before the horse
• horsepower
• back in the saddle again
• get right back on the horse that threw you
• feel like I've been rode hard and put up wet

Saturday, September 12, 2009


This morning, W. (six years old) informed me that "Tight!" shows far more enthusiasm than "Cool!" or "Awesome!"

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Really, Sasha?

Last year, I posted a couple of examples of what I thought was wonderful writing by New Yorker pop music critic, Sasha Frere-Jones. In both cases, his comparisons were surprising and intriguing, making me want to hear the music he was writing about. But this week he has let me down—or perhaps his editors have let him down. In the current issue (August 24, 2009), he writes, "Cohen's voice has shed its honking quality and grown darker and looser, like a tire ripped open." Sorry, but I don't buy it, Sasha. How does a voice sound like what the inside of a tire looks like? It's a weak image that doesn't help me understand how his voice has changed over the years.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

My Son Channels Yogi Berra

"If you're from Canada and you don't play hockey, you're probably not from Canada."

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Coffee Table Display

I’m long overdue for a list, so how about what’s on my living room coffee table. It feels like I am constantly trying to clear it off and organize it, so I can see the table, but then it grows misshapen layers of books and papers. Will a list give it some form, make this mess more acceptable in my sights?

• 20 books on top, including
5 books of poetry
2 kids books
2 photography books
2 books that were given to me
2 books for school
2 books on fly-fishing
1 library book
1 novel unfinished since spring break
1 borrowed book
4 bought secondhand
• 6 books underneath, including
a world atlas (permanent resident)
a book of poetry
3 books bought second-hand yesterday (1 for school and 1 on fly-fishing)
1 borrowed book that is long overdue
• 4 magazines on top
• 3 magazines underneath
• Also a box of tissues (Puffs with aloe vera), two coasters, various photocopies (on stretching and for school), clippings (recipes), my sunglasses, a calendar, and 40 or so pages of loose-leaf typed poems in neatly-stacked piles (more of which are also in orderly stacks on the floor next to the table).

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Monday, July 27, 2009


How come Peter Paul doesn’t combine the best of both worlds and offer a candy bar with the nuts of the Almond Joy and the dark chocolate of Mounds? Even if it was only one month a year, a special seasonal offering. Think about it, Peter Paul, take your worst sales month, and offer a special limited time dark chocolate Almond Joy during that period. You would see a serious increase in sales, Peter Paul. You would make many people happy and you would make more money. Peter Paul, this could be the best of both worlds in so many ways. Paradise on earth is practically within reach.

Also, why is the flatter of the two candy bars you produce called Mounds? That mystifies and sometimes confuses me, Peter Paul.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Lines of the Week (or Month)(or even Season at the Rate I’m Posting)

“Had anybody in the history of St. Paul ever had a positive experience with a roofer?”


“She really was a very patient girl, she had the metabolism of a fish in winter.”

—from Jonathan Franzen’s story, “Good Neighbors,” in the July 8 & 15 issue of The New Yorker

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Monday, July 6, 2009


Last year I wrote about a non-word, aibohphobia, that I thought should be a word. Now I’ve got a much more practical non-term that is deserving of word status. A contronym is a word that is it own opposite. I have also seen these words referred to as antagonyms, auto-antonyms, and Janus words. Wikipedia even traces the use of contronym back to 1962.

I become most vividly aware of these words while teaching the short story, “The Guest” by Albert Camus. Before the kids even read the story, I point out that it was originally written in French, and that the original title is “L’hote,” a word that means not only guest, but also host. It’s a fine opportunity to point out the decisions translators must make, but the contradiction in the title also reflects the paradoxes and reversals of the story. It seems to me a clear case of a writer using ambiguity deliberately to increase the complexity of his story.

Many kids blurt out that it’s stupid to have a word mean its opposite and see it as a shortcoming of the French language, but I point out that we have many words like this in English, words such as


A more complete list can be found at this site.

As a side note, it’s interesting to me how many of these mean to attach or cling in one form and to separate or move in their other form. Perhaps an etymologist could explain why that is.

Slang also takes advantage of contranyms. Bad can mean good as well as something negative, and my students these days are quick to use sick when talking about really impressive things. It also makes me wonder if there is a term for when you use two different words that seem to be opposites for the same purpose. For example, something really appealing can be cool or hot.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Yesterday’s Concoction Inspired by My Frustration and Fred’s Comment in France

I am no great chef, so it doesn’t happen very often, but now and then a new dish simply presents itself to me. A few years ago I had a vision of shrimp and bell peppers with feta and sun-dried tomatoes over rice pilaf, and it became one of my signature dishes for a while. A reliable, simple, colorful, flavorful dish that people weren’t going to get anywhere else.

Yesterday, I was trying to decide what to make for dinner that night. The boys were coming over, and I wanted something that would appeal to them as well as me, but something a bit different than the ordinary fare, and something that wouldn’t take too much time, when another culinary light went on for me.

While on my recent trip to France, I was complaining to Fred, my traveling buddy, that the US still really hasn’t caught on to crème fraiche. You can find it in any French grocery store, but while many other delicious French foods and ingredients have become much more common in the states since my first trip abroad a quarter century ago, this one is still fairly rare. It shows up on the menus of many fine restaurants, but I can’t get it at my local grocery store. She suggested Boursin as an alternative for my purposes—creating a creamy sauce for a pork or chicken pasta. The Boursin idea kept rolling around in my head for a couple weeks without finding traction, when suddenly I knew what I wanted to do with it.

So, here’s what I came up with and what you will need to make it chez vous:

chicken breasts.
olive oil
white wine

An hour before cooking, cut chicken breasts into one inch pieces and then marinate them.

Mince two very large shallots, then sautee them until they turn brown. Add the chicken. When it is nearly cooked, toss in some small pieces of prosciutto. Once the chicken is cooked, remove it from the pan. Pour a little white wine into the pan, and turn up the heat. Once it has begun to cook off a bit, turn the heat back down, and mix in the Boursin until it is smooth and creamy, then place the chicken back in the pan, and mix until it is all covered in the sauce.

I served this over pasta with haricots verts on the side, and R. said I should quit teaching, go to the track for a few years to get enough money, and then open a restaurant. Not only is it one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received for my cooking, but it sounds like a fun way to raise money for such an enterprise. In any case, it’s easy and delicious. Try it at your home.

Success du Panache

Nearly twenty years ago while spending a couple weeks in Provence I was introduced to a drink I fell in love with: the panache (pronounced pan-uh-SHAY—there should be an accent mark over the e—pronounced correctly, the first and last words of the title of this piece should rhyme). I was told it was a mix of lemonade and beer, and after a day of hiking around the warm, dry countryside (always concluding with a final uphill to the town where we were staying), a glass or two of this was more refreshing and flavorful than anything I would have imagined on my own.

When I returned home, I set about recreating this concoction on my own, and met failure after failure. Clearly what the French called lemonade was different than anything I could find in the Midwest. I even tried mixing lemonade, mineral water, and beer, but to no avail. The funny thing is whenever I told friends what the drink was made of they all did some version of wrinkling or turning up their noses—lemonade mixed with beer didn’t sound appealing to anyone.

As time passed, I almost began to doubt my memory. It seemed like something I had made up or dreamt, and eventually I even forgot about it. When I returned to France for the first time a couple years ago, it never even occurred to me to try to track down a panache. Coffee éclairs, bread, cheese, and wine—yes! Panaches—never crossed my mind. Of course, I was in Paris and Bretagne, places that with their relatively cool climates might not have as much cause to cultivate panache drinkers.

This year’s trip, which started out with Paris and Bretagne, passed without incident, but one of the first restaurants we went to once we headed south listed panache on their drinks menu. I knew I needed to ditch the high school students we were traveling with, and find a little time alone to see if I still found this drink satisfying almost two decades since I last tasted it.

I only had to wait a couple of short, hot hours—the perfect preparation for such an event. It proved to be nothing less than glorious. The rest of our time on the Cote d’Azur, I looked for opportunities to savor a panache at the end of a hot day of walking and sightseeing.

At some point, while enjoying one of my drinks and mourning that I would soon be leaving them behind, it dawned on me that I lived in the age of the internet. Surely, I could find a recipe, so I could recreate this drink in the comfort of my own home. And I did. Though, it is more commonly known as a shandy, some version of this drink is enjoyed in a number of countries around the world.

While that seemed affirming in and of itself, I felt like I hit the jackpot when I found a discussion thread on the topic, which included the telling detail—Trader Joe’s carries a French lemonade and a lager is the ideal beer with which to blend it. I promptly went out to the suburbs and bought multiple bottles of their limonade, and raced home to try it out—a 100% success. I no longer have to cross an ocean for this pleasure.

Bonus Happiness Point: Trader Joe’s is opening a store near my home, so I no longer have to make a trip out to the suburbs to load up on supplies.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Six-Year-Old Boy's Response to Hearing "Passionate Kisses" by Lucinda Williams

"I'm going to make up stories about hugs and kisses, only they're gonna be warrior hugs and kisses."

Friday, June 12, 2009

Thirteen-Year-Old Boys

Yesterday R. and his friend played 57 games of ping-pong!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Highly Recommended!

Michael Lewis's article, "Jonathan Lebed's Extracurricular Activities," in Ira Glass's The New Kings of Nonfiction. Who knew that when Huck Finn lit out for the territories, he would end up trading stocks on the internet and getting busted by the SEC? Plus the writing is damn good! The paragraph at the top of page 18 is a work of art.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Student Neologism

Horridifying! I’m pretty sure it was unintentional, but it’s kind of growing on me. For use when something is extremely horrifyingly awful, as in its original appearance in an in-class essay on The Color Purple: “the horridifying scenes of Celie’s rape.”

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Honoring Irreverence

There's really no substitute for a well-turned definition, so the following passage from a new writer at a new blog had me swooning:

Back when I took myself more seriously, I could not distinguish irreverence from arrogance or ignorance. They were all symptoms of the same shortcoming. But now, the lines are clear. Irreverence comes from complete honesty and respect. It’s the ability to step outside a serious situation, see it objectively, and help others understand it with levity. To throw down a much needed reality check just in the nick of time.

Influenced by the recent biographies of John Cheever and Donald Barthelme and the ingenious NCAA-like brackets of the Tournament of Books, said blog also features a nice showdown between the stories of Cheever and Barthelme.

For a Good Time, Call . . . (pt. 8)

Escalator girl!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Former Student Writes

"I got into the U of M a week and a half ago, and just tonight I found out that I've been wait-listed at Lewis & Clark, which is better than flat-out rejection. It's kind of like when the girl you have a crush on lets you take her out to a movie as friends, better than nothing I guess."

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Leftover Breakfast Creation (More Twice-Cooked Food)

The highlight of dinner last night was my first attempt at aligot, a cheesy, garlicky, goopy version of mashed potatoes from the Auvergne region of France that I learned about in the current (April 2009) issue of Cook’s Illustrated (pages 18-19). The boys had left the table in the same fashion they had eaten—quickly and recklessly—and I was left staring at the remains of what I had started preparing four hours earlier and which had then mostly disappeared in about fifteen minutes of nearly wordless feeding when the vision of this morning’s breakfast came to me. The main dish had been a corned beef brisket, and since corned beef hash has long been a favorite breakfast treat of mine, the combination of potatoes and corned beef seemed natural, but there was a step before that as well. In the same post-dinner haze minutes earlier I had thought of another breakfast rarity I treasure: pan-fried mashed potato patties. Well, the combination was as good or better than I had hoped: pan-fried corned beef aligot patties. The crispy light brown surface, the soft, gooey, cheesy, interior, the salty shreds of the corned beef, and the underlying pleasure of garlic infusing every bite. Fortunately I have enough left for at least one more patty.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Found Poem

This is a very shallow monster,
a very weak monster,
a most poor credulous monster,
a most perfidious and drunken monster!

This puppy-headed monster . . . most scurvy!
An abominable monster,
a most ridiculous monster,
a howling monster, a drunken monster!

O brave monster!
Thou wert but a lost monster.

(from The Tempest, 2.2 & 4.1)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Two Beautiful Lists From Movies that Are Now (Gasp! . . . Sigh) Twenty Years Old

I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman's back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days.

—Kevin Costner as Crash Davis in Bull Durham (1988)

I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don't want to do that.

—John Cusack as Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything (1989)

I Can Barely Contain Myself!

I just learned that Julie Taymor, the director behind such visual masterpieces as Titus, Frida, and Across the Universe, has been working on a movie of The Tempest, which is currently scheduled for release this year, and which features Helen Mirren as a female Prospero and Djimon Hounsou as Caliban. The cast also includes a bunch of guys who don't give bad performances: Alan Cumming, Alfred Molina, Chris Cooper, and David Strathairn.

Taymor previously directed a production of The Tempest for stage, and the clips I have seen of it are remarkable. If I could go back in time, I would buy tickets to see it. Since that's unlikely, I'll be at the new movie version on opening night.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I Don’t Know if I’m Allowed to Do This, But . . .

I highly recommend becoming Facebook friends with Avrom Schwartz. There’s more consistently funny humor there than you will find on many a website. His status updates are comic examples of absurd minimalist literature, and his recent note, “Ten Things I’m Searching For. Ten Things I’m Fleeing,” is a funny, poignant, honest, and deceptive catalog.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Chevre for Breakfast

Sometimes it only takes one ingredient to turn an ordinary dish into something extraordinary. This week that ingredient was chevre. After work on Monday, I stopped by the grocery store to pick up four items. Whether it was because I was hungry or because I had a serious lack of supplies at home, I quickly exchanged my basket for a cart, and loaded up for the week. One of my first unplanned purchases was a little package of the tangy goat cheese. Even before I got to the deli counter to pick up the week’s rosemary ham (a staple of R’s Wednesday lunches), there was a woman offering samples of a local chevre produced by Stickney Hill Dairy Farms. By chance, the cracker I tried was topped with a peppercorn chevre. It tasted good, so I picked up a small package of the stuff with no plan for how I would use it.

The next morning, I was contemplating a homemade egg McMuffin, but I was low on cheddar, which I needed to save for R’s lunch and the possible emergency quesadilla if W didn’t want whatever I was serving that evening. Then I spied the chevre. It was a more than perfect substitute. It brought the breakfast sandwich to life. In fact, I treated myself to the same breakfast on Wednesday morning as well.

This morning brought a slight but no less satisfying variation to the eggs and chevre breakfast. I sautéed a shallot, scrambled a couple eggs, then added chevre, sun-dried tomatoes, and leftover salmon. Served with a couple slices of ciabatta toast, it was a wonderful way to start the weekend. You could do worse at any number of restaurants.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Line of the Week (#9, which, given my paucity of posts lately, also makes it the line of the month)

"All of this like some ancient anointing. So be it. Evoke the forms. Where you've nothing else construct ceremonies out of the air and breathe upon them."
—Horseback McCarthy, The Road (p. 74)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Michael Lewis Bowl

When I was a kid, I loved New Year’s Day for the line-up of college bowl games I would spend the afternoon and evening watching, but I have long put away such childish things—for the most part. I don’t follow college or professional sports as ruthlessly as I did in my youth (in fact, I barely follow them at all), and the NCAA has done their part as well, spreading out oodles of bowl games over the course of weeks. However, there is one bowl game I will be watching this year, The Michael Lewis Bowl. Most people refer to it as the Cotton Bowl, a storied game that during my childhood used to pit the champion of the Southwest Conference, as I remember it, against another team I didn’t care about that much, maybe the winner of the Big 8. (I was always more of a Rose Bowl guy myself.)

This year again it features two teams I wouldn’t care about—Texas Tech and Ole Miss—if it weren’t for Michael Lewis. Lewis is the husband of former MTV news cutie Tabitha Soren, but more importantly he is a remarkable sports journalist—when he isn’t committing other forms of journalism. His article on the innovative and unconventional Texas Tech coach Mike Leach in the New York Times Magazine just over three years ago was the best piece of writing on football I had read in a long, long time. I was photocopying it, and sending it off to anyone I thought might appreciate it. I didn’t have cable at the time, and the next season I would scour the tv listings to see if I could find a Texas Tech game to watch. Leach was clearly a character, but the way Lewis wrote about his team’s offense, it sounded like something I had never seen before, something that had to be seen to be fully believed and appreciated.

After falling for that article in such a big way, I was overjoyed to hear that Lewis’s next book was going to be about football. I hoped it would be an expansion of the piece I had loved so much, but it turned out to be on entirely different aspects of the game, though they proved to be no less interesting. The Blind Side weaves together two different threads. The first traces the evolution of the game both on the field and in the front offices of the NFL as the Offensive Left Tackle develops from an anonymous member of the faceless, seemingly interchangeable, often-ignored offensive line, to one of the highest paid positions on the team. The other thread follows Michael Oher, a young African-American who can barely read or write and is growing up in brutal poverty, at real risk of becoming another statistic who falls through the cracks (I realize I am mixing metaphors here, but I’m sticking with it). He is taken in by a wealthy white evangelical family, and before he has played a single down of high school football at Left Tackle, he is being projected by scouting reports as the foremost college prospect at that position. It is a smart and surprising book that I can’t recommend highly enough.

Which brings us to tomorrow afternoon’s game. For me, it is the only must-see bowl of the season. Michael Oher will be playing in his last game at Ole Miss, and after his most successful season, Leach may be coaching his last game at Texas Tech. I hope he stays on, but rumors have been flying all season that a number of more glamorous programs that have fallen on hard times may try to woo him away from Lubbock. I imagine Texas Tech will wallop Ole Miss, and I guarantee the broadcasters will drop Doak Waker's name at some point and mention Leach's interest in pirates, but when I watch the game I will be doing so through the eyes of Michael Lewis.