A Fire Was In My Head

(A Freshwater Body)
26 November 2008, 2:37 pm
Filed under: New Poetry | Tags: , , ,

Americans give thanks tomorrow, apparently.  Here is a poem.

(A Freshwater Body)

They say the Sea of Galilee would falter
If sailors never blessed it with the name.
The name is just the knotting on the halter.
I say the sea would hold Him just the same.

What use lay in the Latin lust for calling
A thing a thing till nothing lay remote?
If I recall, for instance: we went trawling
for ancient fish who slipped behind our boat.

We stowed the ship’s log in a drawer, unstarted,
and prayed to no fixed person in the air.
The waters that our prow pristinely parted
kissed shores of which our maps were unaware.

Our standard flew the colors of no nation.
We left our last astronomers at port
that heaven be bereft of constellation,
that destiny become ours to distort.

“May boundless latitudelessness inform us,”
we sputtered, all in half-coherent speech
while nosing through the unknown and enormous
and vital seas as lawless as a leech.

The fish we drew aboard performed a gentle
obscure impromptu soundless dying song.
“Be mindful that the swim anoriental
was good. The stars are bright. The sea is strong.”



Call (draft)
18 November 2008, 10:41 am
Filed under: Draft

“Call” is only the wisp of a beginning, the first draft of an introduction to a much larger project.  I aim to catalog the great American jazz master Charles Mingus in a series of poems.  I draw on the composer’s personal history, his musical ambitions, and my own experience as a listener.  The series may amount only to the gilding of a legend, but Mingus lit up his nook of the world.  It follows that someone ought to versify his genius.

I am not yet happy with sections of “Call.”   However, the basic thrust of the poem, which imagines a speaker standing in the Ganges River, presumably near the spot where Mingus’ ashes were scattered after his death, and venturing a grotesque communion, seems presentable enough.  If it reads too obscurely, that is partly because it is certainly too obscure, but also because it will depend on the network of other poems to form a more coherent history.

Please let me know what you think of the “Call” draft in my comments section.


Mingus, I am summoned
to the Ganges, a carving knife
beside my head. You may
take my ragged ear.
Let me speak your voices.

Let me dig at you
tucked in the deep
clef. Call, and here we unlock
a sound from enchanted shallows.
Hear my knees wet
like rats above you,
these timid vibrations: we
(the common bathers at my flank
cannot sense it, are blind
even to the sheen of my blade)
form one chord
in harmony. What a sly magic:
vertical arrangement.
So you are three. But
rest now, Mingus; stay low;
sequester in these words;
it is come the hour of possession;
regard your lively treble; I swear
each shall prove the other true.

Sing in me your razor backbone
pulse. I will hiss
your old desires and thunder
with the fury of a whale
and the capsized ship.
Let us wail,
the fated crew
murmuring down our murmurs
burbling up.

Here, inhabit this
slender open vessel
and speak, once more, these waters
bright with life.


Anna Anthropy
11 November 2008, 4:10 pm
Filed under: Influence | Tags: , , , , , ,

As I mentioned in the original post here, I plan to write short pieces profiling some of my influences.  This practice affords me the opportunity to delve into my inspiration from a more critical and less intuitive perspective.  Additionally, I am primed to flatter at will, recklessly if necessary.  I begin with the focused and ferocious Anna Anthropy.

Anthropy occupies a unique space, both in metaphor and web-literally.  She maintains a blog called Auntie Pixelante, where she advertises herself as “a freelance scratchware game creator and critic and an all-purpose pervert.” Certainly, her work testifies to that modest but confident (and humorous) introduction. Reading the Auntie Pixelante blog is rather like gawking at some expanding kaleidoscopic portfolio, as keen as it is diverse, and somehow concrete in its mutability. (For example, the introduction above has undergone many revisions without notice; most recently Anthropy amended the phrase “freeware game designer” to the current “freelance scratchware game creator.” But who could claim that the current form has ever been anything less than absolute? Or that its semantic ancestry does not still teem in the depths?) In fact, I admire her structural approach to the blog–it is at once workshop, distribution center, and reception hall–so much that I have styled this one after it.

Perhaps because she treats the task as a given in the context of her other work, or because she prefers to operate under a veil of subtlety, Anthropy fails to promote (and many readers remain ignorant of) her most heroic and necessary–let those two adjectives intermingle infinitely, so dear is each to the other–role to the infant art of game design, that of historian.  With significant cunning and commendable diligence, she constantly tells a history of gaming that counters the received versions propagated by more mainstream sources, especially the big-business game proponents who insist on a chronicle that centers on big-business game making.

Though she rarely states it, her dissatisfaction with the current  accepted mythos of gaming’s past and future pervades every pixel of her work.  Reading her blog often feels like that college history or anthropology class that made you question most of your educational foundation.  Whether profiling unheralded games (past and present), writing more substantial essays, creating her own playable games and interactive fiction pieces, or simply sharing aspects of her design process such as font design, Anthropy strives to situate herself, her outlook, and her audience (which is, happily, growing) within her own preferred gaming context.  Her process performs the double feat of anchoring her work in a rich past, as well as lifting precious precedents into an otherwise oblivious present.  Singing a new narrative to rival the powerful extant one is a daring and admirable political act for the young art-form.

Of course, telling a story is also an inherently literary act, and this facet of her work concerns me most as a poet.  Anthropy’s daunting docket of responsibilities in her turn as historian includes the translation of game design and play concepts into a functional critical language.  She has worked (often visibly) to nail down concepts like “setpiece,” “verb,” and “narrative” as they apply to games.  Recently, as can be observed in the endnotes to her essay, “From Darkness,” she has sought to divorce the often confused notions of “player” and “protagonist.”  To be more general, I appreciate the way she is honing a vocabulary.

Due to the proliferation of writers in the world and literature’s entrenched status both within and without various institutions, its historical conspicuousness from so many angles, it would be ridiculous for me to attempt a trailblazing in the vain of Anthropy.  However, I do struggle to attain her obvious care with the origins and effects of words, which, if post-structuralism and linguistic cataloging have taught us anything, make for slippery tools.

If it suits you, you may refer to a conversation between Anna and me about public access to playing independent games (“Why We Need an Overmars Engine“) that she posted on her blog. I clearly dote on her, playing Plato to her Socrates, a conscious position of mine that was at the same time completely natural. (I like to think of it as a little nudge in Heisenberg’s ribs.) In any case, it’s an enjoyable read, and useful if you have any interest in the politics or sustainability of games.

Edit: Somehow, right under my nose, I failed to notice before publishing this piece that Anthropy has topped herself with the essay “The Princess is in Another Castle,” about Orbient, Super Mario Bros., and the strength of unrequited love.

Three More
7 November 2008, 2:46 pm
Filed under: New Poetry | Tags: , , ,

These will make more sense on their own once I have chained them all together (a project that will debut here) as a transcription of our route. It will be a poetic chronological roadmap. As I post them discretely in threes, however, the context of place often would be less than murky if I didn’t offer some indication. Hence, indication.


Owen’s fine camera
seems a canny tool among
the old giants lazily
sucking light from the sky.

[Joshua Tree]

Some magic in my half-nude romp,
I think, across shadowless
boulder-drifts turned me
nut-brown as a lizard.

[St. Louis]

Basilica, thought Dave;
he may have meant God.
Basilica, I thought,
staring at the organ pipes.


Across the East River
3 November 2008, 9:58 am
Filed under: New Poetry | Tags: , , , ,

Here is a short poem I wrote last October, then played with. There is a narrative, if you want to look for it, but I tried to bury it underneath the sound–the unambivalent, specific story plays out in a few moments, too tacky to act as more than a foundation. B’s, R’s, and K’s dominate instead.

The worried mood (and my flagrant attempt at chiaroscuro) strikes a subversive chord against the light sing-song rhythm. I am curious to know whether a reader can hold both ideas at once. What resonates at first and what affects the reading residually? Or is there a difference?

Across the East River

Do you remember, very well,
how your hold on me tightened
when I beheld what might be hell
and tried not to be frightened?

The buildings blazed; I shut my eyes
to all beyond your shoulder:
the brokered lines, the bridled skies
that looked, from Brooklyn, bolder.

Our heavens hang in memory.
Manhattan’s massive heights blend
despicably. The devil’s beacons:
lit; the black night: brightened.


The From-Here-On-Out Piece
3 November 2008, 12:06 am
Filed under: Announcement | Tags: , , , , , ,

Expect to see three posts per week.  The week begins on Sunday.  It ends on Saturday.  Let me be your steady.  Blogs are not human beings and should be updated regularly, or face extinction.