Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Day of Baseball Tweeting, with the help of Wallace Stevens & Old Ez

One of the unexpected joys of joining twitter--for purposes of marketing Tinfish Press--has been the discovery of the tweet as an art form. Stephen Colbert and Aaron Belz write brilliant, funny tweets. The Dalai Lama reminds me to find detachment. And then there's @TortyCraig, by St. Louis Cardinals' outfielder Allen Craig's pet tortoise. Torty is a brilliant observer and listener (he gets Pujols's accent right, notes the glint of Coach LaRussa's pendant, given him by Carlos Santana). I keep expecting him to tweet from the field, he writes so much. So yesterday, as the Cards fought for the Wild Card berth, I joined them, rewriting Wallace Stevens's "13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" (to say nothing of Gizelle Gajelonia's "13 Ways of Looking at TheBus"). Here in backward order, are my own status line/tweets:

Revision! "The apparition of these faces in the crowd / Cardinal homers off a wet, black bat" (Ezra Poundish).
and now to Stevens's "13 Ways"; find the original here.

It was an evening game this afternoon/It was humid/And it was going to be humid./The Cardinal sat/On the happy flight.

The ball is heading out/Mr. Pujols must be up.

He rode over Busch/In a big blimp./Once a fear pierced him/In that he mistook/The shadow of Bud Lite/for Cardinals.

At the sight of Cardinals/Flying at dusk,/Even the braves of Atlanta/Would fly out softly.

When the Cardinal flew out of sight,/It marked the edge/Of one of many base paths.

I know midwest accents/And lucid, inescapable runs;/But I know, too,/That the Cardinal is involved/In what I know.

O thin men of Atlanta,/Why do you imagine otherwise?/Do you not see how the Cardinals/Take intentional walks/And score?

Shadows covered the infield/With barbaric dark./The shadow of the Cardinal/Ran the bases, first to third!

I do not know which to prefer, /The beauty of sacrifices/Or the beauty of inside the park homeruns/The Cardinal...

A man and a woman/Are on first./A man and a woman and a Cardinal/are on first.

The cardinal whirled in left field / It was a small part of the ballgame.

I was of three minds/Like a tree/In which there were three cardinals.

Among twenty snowy mountains, / the only moving thing / was the eye of the cardinal.

That Torty knows something--how much, I do not know--about poetry shows up in his latest tweet: As Tennyson writes so eloquently, "The shell must break before the bird[s] can fly."

Yesterday was one of the great baseball days ever. Let's hope it keeps up. I sure want to see more Torty tweets! He knocks me off my path of detachment, but one hopes only until the end of October.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Corporate Condolences & Assignments

[click to enlarge & read]

I don't want to think about this latest letter from the land of corporate condolences, but I'm drawn to moments in it where the prose more resembles New Sentence than business letter prose.

Ron Silliman
, on the New Sentence:

"But note that there is no attempt whatsoever to prevent the integration of linguistic units into higher levels. These sentences take us not toward the recognition of language, but away from it" (82).

For the poet, the New Sentence operates as an intervention; in the business letter, it operates like a pothole. It's not a deliberate axle-breaker, but it sure can damage your chassis. If the letter is not intended to be written in new sentences, the new sentence-effect gives the reader an interpretive toe hold. (Ah, metaphor.)

The first two sentences of the letter assert that the credit card company has learned of my mother's death, putting her name in all caps (lest I forget?), and then asks me to accept condolences. Just as I feel poised to do so (thank you for noticing! thank you for acknowledging my loss!), the next sentence hits me with the hammer force of a non-transition: "Because you're responsible for the estate, we want to provide you with the following information about MARTHA J's account ending in 1962." I was at first confused by the introduction of history into this note; what did 1962 have to do with it? Kennedy was president, we lived in Illinois, or was it Kingston, New York? Then I realized that we had moved from the condolence stage of memo-writing to the business stage. If there are stages of grief, there surely are to the business letters that come in its wake.

If that paragraph sounded New Sentence-y, then the third paragraph better fulfills Silliman's claim that writing good, clear, linearly progressing sentences has something to do with capitalism:

What happens when a language moves toward and passes into a capitalist stage of development is an anaesthetic transformation of the perceived tangibility of the word, with corresponding increases in its expository, descriptive and narrative capacities, preconditions for the invention of "realism," the illusion of reality in capitalist thought. These developments are directly tied to the function of reference in language, which under capitalism is transformed, narrowed into referentiality.

For the third is an amazing paragraph, beginning from the following sentence: "Because we understand this is a difficult time for you, it's important to us that this be handled by experts, which is why we've contracted estate specialists to help you with this matter." What do they mean by "a difficult time"? My first thought is that this phrase refers back to their note of condolence. Yes, it's a difficult time, thank you for caring about my feelings, in whatever ugly font you have chosen, with its odd caps and bold face and bullet-points. But as the sentence moves on, I realize the difficulty is more financial than emotional. The experts in question are not therapists or Buddhist monks; they are "contracted estate specialists." Their expertise is not in my emotional state, but in my estate. (They take the "motional" out of e-motional, but leave in the "state," which sounds like "intestate.")

And what am I to do with the way they've written my mother's name? Dare I say I rather enjoy seeing her referred to as MARTHA J, as in "MARTHA J's account ending in 1962" and "MARTHA J's estate"? While she was never called that, it begins to sound like we're intimate friends, talking about our dear departed MARTHA J. We are family, after all. And family is a mixed state, at once emotional and economic. My colleague, Laura E. Lyons, has written eloquently about corporate personhood. You can find the book, Cultural Critique and the Global Corporation, which she co-edited with Purnima Bose, here.

The letter ends, "We're sorry for your loss, and if there is anything else we can do to help you during this time, please do not hesitate to contact us," and is signed by the "Vice President, Member Debt Solutions" of the bank. Where "debt" manifests in all its meanings, an incoherent grenade of possible connotation.

The new sentence is a decidedly contextual object. Its effects occur as much between, as within, sentences. Thus it reveals that the blank space, between words or sentences, is much more than the 27th letter of the alphabet. It is beginning to explore and articulate just what those hidden capacities might be" (92).

The torque between the sentences of the bank's letter cracks open the mask of corporate personhood. The corporate person, represented by said VP of Member Debt Solutions, whose name is--oddly enough--very close to "Good Enough," has offered his emotional support as an entree to asking that I pay my financial debt to him. (That my mother's balance is $0 strikes me as an unconscious, posthumous instance of her wit.) Her and my account is closed, the experts have been cont(r)acted, and the balance will be paid (if not earned, arrived at). We have our solution, and we're not talking chemistry.

Assignment: what are the stages of corporate grief? Enumerate them, then write a flash fiction about at least one of them.

Assignment: Change the font of the letter and describe the change in effects/affects that ensue.

Assignment: write an elegy in which you use the words "information," "account," "creditors," "executrix," and "MARTHA J."

Assignment: use the language you find on this page (or other source of "sympathy resources") to write a poem.


Never mention money the deceased may have owed you. This can be dealt with after the grieving period has passed.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Post-Trip Ruminations

[I've just returned from what I fondly called The Dementia Tour.  The Kelly Writer's House gigs had been planned for nearly a year; I'd thought going to Philadelphia would make it easier to visit my mother in Virginia.  But as it happened, my reading at the Writer's House included a farewell to the long project about my mother, which became, more importantly, a farewell to her.  And so I gave a reading, did a public interview with Al Filreis, and recorded a PoemTalk with Al, Leonard Schwartz, and Tom Devaney on a poem, "Eating Fried Chicken," by Linh Dinh.  After going to see my Cardinals beat the Phillies (though Al and I only heard the game as it was ending on the car radio, streaming St. Louis announcers into the bowels of Philadelphia), and spending time with a college friend and a couple of UNO pals, I went on the West Virginia University to give a talk on Alzheimer's writing, meet with grad students, and see old graduate school friends.]

That's the inventory.  But what actually happened?

Al Filreis began our conversation by noting that I have written about the Cambodian genocide, and he began to connect that content to the Alzheimer's writing I've done that offers a testimony of witness to my mother's decline.  But we adopted our son from Cambodia! I told Al.

Our friend Hongly Khuy was a survivor of the Khmer Rouge.  He's come to several of my classes to talk about his experiences.  He traumatized that first class of freshmen, talking about what it's like nearly to starve to death, what it's like to see a woman butchered to death for asking for more food (his laughter at the situation's absurdity bothered the students most), how far one had to walk simply to get a few grains of rice.  After a couple more such talks, he had grown much more gentle.  He talked differently.  Al distinguished between "deep memory" and "common memory."  Deep memory occurs in the present tense, always.  Common memory acquires a past tense verb, assumes a distance between the moment of trauma and the moment of story-telling.  It's easier on the teller and his audience, but less "true" to the experience.

That didn't diminish the force of Al's intuition about genocide and dementia.  If there are national dementias, imposed from above, then the Holocaust was one of them, enabled by forgetting on a massive scale.  The comparison comes at a slant, not directly.  Alzheimer's is nature's evil, not humanity's.  The disease is not ethical, though our reactions to it are.  But the force of Al's comparison hit hardest when I sat in on his Holocaust literature class and his students discussed Aharon Appelfeld's Story of a Life, which I later read on my brand-spanking-new electronic device.

Much of Dementia Blog and what followed on this Tinfish Editor's Blog happened not in "deep memory," but in the "deep present" of confronting Alzheimer's sufferers.  Or it may be the "deep demented tense," as it lives in an out-of-time that resembles the surreal in its reality.  Appelfeld writes about stuttering.  Do not tell the story because you cannot remember it, counsels the child who became the writer.  Do not claim to master any language, because you have either lost those you spoke or failed to attain full command of the new language.  A mother's loss is likewise the loss of her language, which was German.  Hebrew was an imposition, one he molded into a lifetime of work.  A mother's loss is the loss of her language into illness.  I do not want to overplay the comparison (I spent years furious at Plath's illness/Nazi metaphor), but reading Appelfeld's memoir proved to be an amazing exercise in reading a poetics that works for Alzheimer's writing, as well as Holocaust literature.

--I've carried with me my mistrust of words from those years.  A fluent stream of words awakens suspicion within me.  I prefer stuttering, for in stuttering I hear the friction and the disquiet, the effort to purge impurities from the words, the desire to offer something from inside you.  Smooth, fluent sentences leave me with a feeling of uncleanness, of order that hides emptiness (AA, 102-3)

After the war, Appelfeld writes, the memoirs and the books started to come out: "these pages carry a great deal of pain, but there is also within them much that is cliched and superficial.  The silence that had reigned during the war and for a short while afterward seemed to be swallowed up in an ocean of words" (104).  And then, most tellingly (as it were): "The really huge catastrophes are the ones that we tend to surround with words so as to protect ourselves from them" (105).

The direction of these catastrophes does not follow the same compass, and the silence is not shared between sufferer of Alzheimer's and caretaker or family member, but the sense of writing toward an awkward comfort is familiar to me.  Why do I not write down everything my children do?  Why instead did I obsessively write down everything I heard in the Alzheimer's home?  Why does lack of memory spark the desperate need to remember, while living with other memories does not?  The answers may seem clear, but then they blur back into lack of clarity, the stutter.  The comfort is in the record, not what has been recorded.  (I discovered that while reading some of the material out loud.)

Linh Dinh detests the poetry world; according to reports from that world, he has renounced poetry, as well.  It does no good, he says.  There is no audience.  Use photographs, use Counterpunch, use means that arrive at more doorways than does any line of verse.  His anger is sublime.  He has taken on all the hurts of our age.  I want to say to Linh, be easy, remember also to love the good.  Appelfeld did.  Some of the most moving passages in his book are about the goodness he felt in the midst of total murderousness.  Hard to remember the day after the murder of Troy Davis by the state of Georgia, but.  Leonard Schwartz spoke repeatedly about "big anger" and "little anger," about the importance of persuading readers not through direct action, but unconscious influence.  Not sure I go all the way with that idea, but agree that deflection (and to my mind, the carnivalesque) work better than onslaught.

In West Virginia the reunions with two grad school friends were good.  They'd been married for most of the time I've known them, and now they are not, but thrive in different ways that are lovely to see. John Ernest has written several important books on African American literature, history and theology of the 19th century, and now has an Eberly Chair at WVU.  Justin Legleiter, whose lab just got a $100,000 grant to study Alzheimer's, came to the talk and a dinner afterward.  I wish I understood his language better.  He got interested in Alzheimer's not through family experience, but because the problem so resembles a problem he started from in working on nano-technology.  Yes, that too becomes clear in the Alzheimer's world.  We are technologies, and our controls (remote or not) often do not work as planned. 

Appelfeld's book is about the power of the stories you cannot tell.  In so many ways, I identify with that problem, finding the stutter more eloquent than the speech, the search for memory as powerful as any memory your mind claims to hold to.  On returning home, I discovered in the mail pile a beautiful note from our department secretary Gayle Nagasako on the loss of my mother.  In the note, she mentioned also being an only child, and imagined the loneliness of the loss.  My mother spent her last years anti-social and then ill.  Her friends and neighbors fell away.  Without making too much drama of it, I am her last witness, the remnant of her memory.  It feels a burden, but as the man at Gate 8 alerted me, it is also, at times, a (loving) responsibility. 

[The reading & conversation with Al Filreis will be on PennSound soon, and the PoemTalk will come out in good time.]

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Next stop on the dementia tour, WVU

The West Virginia University Department of English and the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences will host the the Eberly Family Distinguished Lecture Series, featuring a presentation by Susan Webster Schultz, professor of English at the University of Hawaii. Her discussion, “Writing Alzheimer’s: It Must Be Experimental” is noon to 1 p.m. Monday, September 19, in 130 Colson Hall from. This event is free and open to the public.
For more information, please contact John Ernest, Eberly Family Distinguished Professor of American Literature at (304)293-9714, or at

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Kelly Writer's House, today, 9/14/11

Please tune in at 6 p.m. eastern, 12 noon HST.  I'll be reading from my forthcoming book, Memory Cards: 2010-2011 Series (Singing Horse Press) and from the next volume of Dementia Blog: Love in the House of Alzheimer's (press unknown).

Mahalo to Al Filreis & the Writer's House staff.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Incidents, Assignments: "Wicked Woman"

Honolulu International Airport, 9/12/11, Gate 8, flight to San Francisco.

A man comes and sits across the gap in the black seats from me. He gets on his cell phone, says chirpily that he's arrived. He says, go get your exercise today, we're going to have good week together, enjoy Rush.

He's a handsome tanned white middle-aged man in glasses, blue polo shirt, tailored jeans and belt. His briefcase is a shiny light leathery brown with a gold-colored clasp. His phone rings. Someone has let Roslyn's bird free. Oh no. He gave her xanax this morning. When we're away she just has to stay in her room. Leave her some water. That's the rule now.  Let me talk to her, he says. 


She said she didn't do it.  Imagine that. Just keep her in the room, and lock the door. Someone can clean the sheets later. Give her water.

She might just die. If she goes, she goes. Her evil days are over.

Such a liar. I told her she's an evil wicked person. I thought it might be dementia, but it isn't, because she planned this. She knows what she's doing. Trying to hurt people. At least we've got this under control now.

I'm sorry about your bird, sweetie. I know that bird meant a lot to you. Sweetheart, we'll get you another bird. Don't worry.


I'm behind him in the corridor at San Francisco Airport, walking to the AirTrain. I will tell him his mother has Alzheimer's. I will say something to him. I walk more quickly.  I see his light-colored slip on shoes on the escalator in front of me, but he's on the cell phone, talking. We get to the platform He waits a moment for the train, gets on, cell phone stuck to his left ear.

I should have done it. I should have leaned in after him.  I should have said: YOUR MOTHER HAS ALZHEIMER'S. YOUR MOTHER HAS ALZHEIMERS. YOUR MOTHER IS NOT EVIL OR WICKED. But I do not. The doors close, his train leaves.


Assignment: rewrite from the point of view of the mother, the daughter, or the bird.

Assignment: look out the window of the airplane, wondering if it's Cleveland by the lake in the dark, city lights pushed up against its illegible shore.  Try to make something out that is not evil or wicked or mom.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


Dropped Sangha off at the airsoft/paintball field next to Nimitz Highway this morning for a birthday party of Air Soft wars with friends.  The underside of Nimitz, a raised highway next to the airport, is a small subcity of the homeless, men pushing carts, piles of old strollers, tarps, tents.  When I leave, I follow this city into town; Ala Moana Beach Park is at least two cities, this one and the one the tourists wander through, a third city being the one residents barbeque in on holidays, weekends.  I haven't seen him in some time, but a white vet with a battered sign marking in crooked letters his hunger and joblessness, walks beside my car when I take Sangha home some days.  He limps heavily, carries a paunch, a wide gaze in his eyes.  Other men come there to sit, drink, walk, stare. The freeway above offers a roof to this misery.

The mother of the boy-with-the-birthday and I were talking to the owner of the Airsoft place. She looked hardly older than her son, had tattoos on her arms, legs.  He was a heavy set Asian guy, seated at a metal picnic bench smoking a cigarette, demanding that his young male helpers bring him the radio (the Warriors are playing this morning--no bring him the radio with the right station on!)  That's why no one will be coming this morning; everybody's listening to the game.  A woman approaches through the parking lot.  Asian, running pants, no shoes (over the gravel), gap between pants and shirt etched with dirt, matted hair.  She wanted him to call the cops, the sheriff, she wanted him to call.  "I'm calling," he said, as he held his phone.  "But you're leaving now."  And then: "take your damn pipe and stick it in your ear!"

"Is there lots of meth use down here?" I ask.  "Was," he said.  "Cops can't deal, so I got private security."  They don't go by the rules.  They do what they have to do.  "Cleared them all out of this place, the chronics."  Gotta do what you gotta do. 

"She said she'd been attacked by a werewolf," the owner said.  One of his helpers grinned.   

"How long have you been here?" asks Sangha's friend of the owner.  "Since 2001," he answers.

At the last week of Borders going out of business sales (all around bookshelves, computers were getting hauled out), two elderly Asian women and an elderly white man huddled around one of the tables.  One woman was leafing through a book that looked more like a game inside a large box, adorned with the American flag.  It was a Sarah Palin package.  I couldn't hear what they were saying, drifted away.  "No one knew it was going to happen," the clerk told me.  "It's no one's fault."

Assignment: Compose the incident that comes between these two incidents.  Make sure it's structured like a bridge, like the highway over Nimitz, the one that takes us to the airport when we leave.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Automated messages to Me-As-My-Mother

This message, followed by a LEGAL DISCLAIMER, appeared in my email box yesterday morning.  It's addressed to that entity one might call Me-As-My-Mother.  That entity has morphed into Me-As-My-Mother's-Lawyer (or is she I?), but I still get paperwork in hard and virtual forms.  This one came from her bank.  
Dear MARTHA SCHULTZ:  This is an automated alert message. Please do not reply to this email.   Our records indicate that you have not signed on to Online Banking in more than 180 days. As a security measure, we have de-activated your Online and Mobile Banking service.  In order to keep Online and Mobile Banking active, you must sign on at least once every six months.  To reactivate your service, please call us at __________.  ________ representatives are available from 6 a.m. to midnight ET, 7 days a week to assist you.  ________ Client Commitment: ________ will never send unsolicited emails asking clients to provide, update or verify their personal or account information, such as passwords, Social Security numbers, personal identification numbers (PINs), credit or Check Card numbers, or other confidential information. As always, ________ respects your privacy. To learn more, visit
Some words and phrases to ponder:
--automated alert
--sign on
--active, activate, deactivate, reactivate

Assignment: do a free write in which you use this vocabulary in writing about a recently deceased family member.

Assignment: write a paragraph in which you write about the difference between "sign" and "sign on" in your capacity as your mother's legal guardian.

Assignment: meditate on the concept of "activation."  Then add and subtract prefixes.

Assignment: write the narrative of those 180 days in which neither you nor she nor you-as-she "signed on to Online Banking."

Assignment: write an impersonal message to someone you do not know, while carefully considering which words begin with capital letters, and which with small ones.

Assignment: contemplate the automated message's respect for your privacy.

Assignment: create a website that ends with / and the abstraction of your choice.  Consider /hope; /reconciliation; /condolences; /heterodoxy; /obstreperousness.

Assignment: respond to this email.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Scribbles 1

Last night we had a friend over who spent years working with Youth at Risk. Seeing through the tunnel at the end of which there is no light, namely the imminent end of federal funding, he's returned to school to study for a degree in psychology. One of his instructors, noting that counselors, in the face of others' anguish, need to take care of themselves, suggested drinking water and then urinating between sessions.

Lauren Berlant notes the dis-engagement between appearance and feeling (an exuberant friend killed herself). In sum, she writes, a mood is neither anchor nor plot.

I discovered my sense of humor during my worst depression.

She left the keys in her car on the bridge, then “vaporized.” Self is usually bounded, but self-loss is total, complete. An anchor and a plot (though if the body's never found . . . )

Smarter than they are wise, academic conversations circle us, performing acts of magic, which then vaporize. There are no keys to the spirit, which is taboo, “infected” by (pat) association with religion.

The Baby Who Cries wailed half the morning, then quieted down. He is crying again. Sounding up. You can call 911 for a “welfare check,” good for its pun, if not its efficacy. His mother has an accent, Radhika tells me. His father is often away, a neighbor explains. “I cried like that when I was a baby,” the man with the dogs tells me. I wonder how he knows that.

Stuck between speakers. Had to download her blogpost and carry it into another room, because Talking Man next door was on the phone. Something about Las Vegas. Radhika wondered why we don't go there on vacation. All her friends' families do.

We mean to observe the ordinary, as discipline, as odd faith, without wanting ourselves to be ordinary. (Except for Bryant, who claims he's “average.”) The writer's position, always in the ad court, toeing the fragile verge of winning, without yet owning the set.

Another friend said Vegas is the perfect place to be a poet. It's the real unrealized, or the surreal serialized. I want is different from I need, we tell our kids. The Strip must be what solders them (need, desire) to us, like a grocery list to a neon sign.

Brad said that the next part of the hike, beside (and umpteen times across) the stream, was “less scenic" than the valley's steep sides.  But the sound!  Direct your attention away from the “image” and toward the “babbling.” (These are my directions.) One friend had a spiritual experience when he heard a brook talking before he could see it. The musicians assured us that percussion is also melody. He tuned his drums well.

Pitched past pitch. Dark tar or third inning of a game already past salvage. Pitch it out! she'd say. Poets these days have pitches. Where the work circulates in markets we want to imagine, until we're told they hardly exist. Her best-selling book sold fewer than 300 copies. Shocked? An invitation to sea-sickness. My publishing ethics will sport a shiny sticker. Grieving is 30% off this week only.

I felt sad at the beach. I pissed in the sea.

Monday, September 5, 2011

On BlazeVox, and other publishing kerfuffles

Facebook has lit up like the 4th of July over BlazeVox's policy of asking authors for $250 toward publication of their books. The first wave involved a blog post (or 5) and some facebook comments accusing Geoffrey Gatza of running a literary scam; the second wave, of BlazeVox admirers and fellow small press publishers, has crashed dialectically on the first. The impression is of a lot of foam. But what lurks beneath the foam is important, very important.

There are a series of needs addressed by small press publishing; these needs often come in conflict. Authors want their work out, increasingly because their professional lives depend upon it. Publishers want the work out, too, but are faced with issues the author doesn't have to deal with, or even know about. How to edit the book, how to fund the book, how to get the book designed, how to distribute the book, how to market the book, how to create and maintain a webpage, how to pay for postage, how to find the time--or the help--to do all of these things--all of these are immediate, practical concerns for the publisher. Time and money.

There is also a terrific impasse at the point books get published. When I think of this problem I see in my mind's eye the AWP book fair (which takes money to get to and stay at), where hundreds upon hundreds of small press publishers sit behind tables under the klieg lights covered with their goods, and try to sell to . . . other small press publishers and writers with a vested interest (if they're lucky) with another press. At the same time, they come under the eye of writers looking for a publisher, eyes that wander quickly past if your press's mission statement does not meet their manuscript. This is not the little magazine scene of Modernism. This is a market-place where writers come because they need work. Poets need publications so that they can work as teachers. Hence a kind of frenzy around publishing. For the publisher, it's the problem not of late capitalism but of a very rudimentary form of it, one where making money is not an option (the guys in the booths sometimes do that), but where scraping by is the point. Well, scraping by and loving the fact of making things, two activities that find themselves at logger-heads.

When I started Tinfish Press in 1995, I had no idea. Over the years, I've poured thousands of my own dollars into the enterprise. That would have accomplished nearly nothing were it not for several titles that have kept us going because they sell. Let me name these titles: Sista Tongue, by Lisa Kanae; Living Pidgin, by Lee Tonouchi; Poeta en San Francisco, by Barbara Jane Reyes; from unincorporated territory, by Craig Santos Perez; Remember to Wave, by Kaia Sand. That's about it. These books have helped to pay for others, including the very worthy Erotics of Geography, by Hazel Smith, a book that seems to wear a heavy raincoat against purchase. So it's not only quality that sells a book; we've published as many good books that don't sell as good books that do. Enter market forces! The way to sell books is to publish at least some (which ones?) that will be taken up by teachers and professors; you need to create a captive audience for them. Selling books toward knowledge--but via coercion. That's the rub, I guess.

And yet students (and sometimes poets) are unaware of this mechanism. Students tell me that books cost too much (which elicits quite an accounting from me--take 40-60% off the top for distribution, add shipping costs from the mainland, etc.), and they probably do. Authors have, on occasion (usually when I screwed up) accused me of making money. I have taken not one cent from the enterprise, nor have I paid any royalties or paid any designers. When I pay people to work for us, I pay out of my pocket so that the books can keep coming.

Our current Retro Chapbook Series has been an effort, among other things, to step outside this series of market forces, to make it simple (again), to create a buzz without overhead. I've had more fun with this project than I've had in years with Tinfish. But the real need for authors is that book with a spine, the book with an aura around it, the book you might just might possibly get a job for having written. And those books, if a publisher is to make them, cost money. Yes, there is the DIY/POD model, and that's been important in bringing down costs. But that model does not open up the work to designers, who have been nearly as important to Tinfish's process as the authors. Not that spending $2,000-$3,000 dollars (plus nearly half that in shipping) is really a ton of money, compared to most consumables. It's just that with grant funding drying up, with people spending more on groceries and gas than on books . . . there are very few resources with which to make these books, especially if you don't have a good job.

Which brings me back to BlazeVox. Their catalogue is impressive. Whatever the problems with Gatza's model of funding his books or distributing them, he's gotten out a lot of books that would otherwise not be published, including a few I sent his way, including work by Goro Takano and Janna Plant. He publishes many books that simply will not sell. That is not to say they are not worth reading, however. That's another rub. Anyone who publishes books that don't sell is either a damn fool or a saint. Geoffrey may be a bit of both, but bless him for it. I'm glad to see just now that he will maintain his enterprise.