Archive for August 20th, 2012

by lizard

A commenter today called me bitter, and there’s some validity to that observation. I have a confession: though I’ve written posts like this—echoing the criticism of the specialized poetry industry fed by the proliferation of MFA programs—I would love to spend a few dedicated years focused on writing.

An MFA increases the chance you’ll get the velvet rope unhooked. In defense of this process, I found this post by Julie Schumacher.

MFA programs are proliferating. Currently there are 71 MFA programs in the U.S., as well as another 112 programs that offer an MA in English with a concentration or emphasis in Creative Writing. A conservative estimate would suppose that more than 800 MFAs are conferred each year.

This fact is bemoaned on a tiresome and regular basis in book reviews, essays, and cultural commentary. The universities are churning out similar approaches and similar minds; workshops are producing writers cloned like Dolly the sheep. The ultimate fear seems to be that (god forbid) we will have too many writers. A poet surplus. An excess of essayists.

I find myself unintimidated by this scenario. Imagine the worst: having finished your MFA, you continue to revise your manuscript, slipping pieces of it like slivers of your heart into the mail for publication, and in the meantime you land a job as a technical writer. Your cube-mate reveals himself to be a poet, posting snippets of Akhmatova by the coffee urn. Your supervisor is a lover of metaphor. Each of them harbors an inner life, and together all of you hope for larger things. Is this so bad?

Put that way, sure, sounds great. But then there’s the cost. If you read Julie’s whole defense, it’s promoting a specific program that offers 3 year fellowships. Not every MFA program works that way. The price tags can be steep.

Time like that for writing is a privilege, one I’d like to experience some day.

And crashing at an anarchist collective for cheap would also be a blast, though from what I hear, that chance is on its way out.

So with that personal context in mind, I pulled an anthology of American Poets of the New Century from the shelves, edited by Michael Dumanis and Cate Marvin (Sarabande Books, 2006) and found this poem by Suzanne Wise, titled simply Confession. Enjoy!

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Gimme A Break!

by lizard

In what I think was her first featured piece at the Indy, Molly Laich outed herself as a weed-addicted slacker. The article personal essay (thanks, Erika ;), titled Forgetting Mary Jane, read like confessional journal writing.

I remember thinking it was strange that this stoner confessional was run as a feature piece. It must have been around this time (September, 2011) when the new editor, Robert Meyerowitz, was getting familiar with his new terrain.

I also remember thinking how unfortunate the timing of the “article” was with all the medical marijuana wrangling going down among fear-mongering legislators who would rather drive drunk than craft sane legislation.

Anyway, Robert Meyerowitz has once again subjected readers of the Missoula Independent to Molly Laich’s failure-to-launch journaling project, featured front and center in this week’s issue. I’m beginning to wonder if Meyerowitz is part of a grand conspiracy to make my generation look like whining, perpetually entitled adolescents incapable of growing up.

The title of the piece is “Gimme Shelter”. No, not this article about the Poverello Center written in April of 2007. This is an altogether different story about being without a home.

For many college graduates, home after college is often a parents home. Molly is no exception, enduring a crappy job that took 6 months to find.

I did a lot of cringing reading this story. Molly writes about her mother, who works long hours as a paralegal (who is providing her shelter), saying “Here’s what life looks like when you make all the wrong choices”. Then, a few paragraphs later, she writes about taking $500 in birthday gifted cash from her mother, and spending it all at REI in anticipation of her tenuous housing situation when she returns to Missoula:

A voice inside me says I should go to the REI in Troy, Mich., and spend all $500 of the birthday money my mom gave me on backpacking equipment. “How much for a hiking backpack, a sleeping bag and a tent?” I ask.

The floor salesman tells me he can get me into a pack, gladly. The people at REI are always trying to get you into a pack. Also, goose down sleeping bags.

“What’s the vegan position on goose down?” I ask. “Oh, they’re against it,” he says, so I go with synthetic.

There are all these questions:

“What kind of a trip are you planning on taking?”

“I don’t know.”

“How long will you be out?”

“I don’t know.”

“For your tent, are you looking to sleep one or two people?”

I tell him I’m planning for a moment in my future that I’ve seen in my dreams, when I won’t have a home. Luckily, he thinks I’m kidding and we’re spared the heaviness.

The night before I set out to leave Michigan forever, I have a breakdown. I have a few couches in Missoula to sleep on, but the housing situation is tentative at best. There’s the money I saved. Still, it will never be enough. I got blonde highlights in April, but who will love me in June when my roots start showing? Every morning I spit blood in the sink from my gums. It’s troubling. What if I fall off a mountain or get my foot caught in a trap?

The cringe factor here is at about an 8 for me. Then Molly returns to Missoula, and it hits 10.

Before getting to that, I should mention this is the first post I’ve ever been asked to write. I was asked to write about Molly’s story because in writing this story Molly has made some people pretty upset, and with just cause, which is this:

There’s a house on Missoula’s south side filled with radicals and secrets. A beautiful, frightening girl with strong arms and a septum piercing says I can rent the laundry room for $100 a month, under the condition that I never write about the house. It stings, but I agree.

Molly then proceeds to violate that one condition of her stay at this secret, radical place, seemingly without shame.

Shameless entitlement is too often a generational characteristic I see in my peers. With Molly, it reaches an almost comic level, like when she uses Facebook to beg for stuff:

In a gift economy, we work for the sake of work and we gain status the more we’re able to give away. I use Facebook to take the gift economy out for a spin. My status updates become a list of demands. I try to couch them in charming rhetoric, but I’m just a beggar: I need a yoga mat. I need a bike. I need a ride to and from the drop-off point to go tubing. I need a ride to the movies to see a terrible movie so I can write a review for the paper.

People are happy to help when they can, and I begin to think of myself as a good person for affording my friends the opportunity to be so generous. I have nothing to offer in return but my company. I can workshop your poem? I can write you a news article? I can wait here with the tubes while the car you put gas into powers you back to the drop-off point?


At least Molly is honest when she finally admits she has never known want. But then she goes on to describe how she uses her food stamps, and I have to wonder if this is some kind of sick, twisted performance art:

To be clear: I don’t know anything about real want. If I run out of money, I can call my mother and she’ll deposit double whatever I ask for into my bank account. She still pays my cellphone bill, based on the shared lie that she needs to in order to keep in contact with me, like if I didn’t use my iPhone to call my mother I would have no need for such a device. She tells me that 30 is the new 19. She refers to this time in my life as an “adventure,” which I consider only a little condescending.

I apply for food stamps and they arrive in my post office box a week later. On the application, you can either put down a home address or just describe where you live. You’re supposed to feel bad about buying junk food with food stamps, but it’s the decadent salads and green smoothies I purchase every day at Good Food Store that rack me with guilt. Like, people on welfare don’t deserve to get a jump-start on the day? Before too long it flips and I start thinking, “Why can’t I pay my late fees at Hastings with my food stamps? This is bullshit.”


Read the whole piece if you can stand it. It’s the cringe-iest example of entitlement I think I’ve ever read. Thanks Meyerowitz!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go buy a copy of today’s Missoulian so I can read me some George Ochenski.



if sour is upon these words
by the air-flicking tongue of lizard
if some anonymous esophagus belches bitter breath
over food stamp smoothies
and exploiting anarchist housing
it is only because a hypocrite’s cartilage
bends his bones—
so what if demands for shelter echo from educated hallways
to be from there, maybe that carries
no responsibility at all
maybe trafficking words for a shady editor
is what it’s all about
competing in the shout arena
where we all sing the same song called
looking deeper you tried to put away the revelry, to abstain
and it is not easy
as you fashion for your readers a convenient spear
gleaming in the neon glow of the Golden Rose
among sad souls doing whatever to get by before sunrise
when the assholes of blogland rise to rant
pant-less with mushroom peckers in repose
carpal tunneling scrolls of blog upon small screens
and it is not easy
floating life’s shifting winds
call these trends of weather man-made or just heart-sick
who am I to say?
call every moment a sentence pretends to hold
the bursting of a star
like a car and its passengers the moment before
the moment everything changes in an instant
and words fall like complex filaments
to an unreceptive

—William Skink

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