More than 25 Million Poems about the Midwest

Now part of my bio can say “He has published more than 25 million poems …”

Verse Wisconsin  launched its final issue over the weekend with the theme of “Midwest Remix.”  This seemed like the perfect time to dust off an old project and polish it up.  I’m very pleased with the results, in terms of the writing but also in terms of the online presentation–the piece functions in a way such that it demands interactivity without being overbearing.  So, why not write one of the poems yourself:  More than 25 Million Poems about the Midwest.

Here’s one of the 25 million:

daffodils invade wisconsin
(poem #17104646)

fargo has signs, but merely mathematical ones, seeking to
explain something. an arithmetic can’t be based on inequalities.
the eggshell moon had cracked over a blanket woven
of crows. cawing to the bone. scratching.
anything else that’s roughly comparable. a lutheran cross hangs where
the power lines in rapid city trace inextricable knots of thought.

But Our Princess reviewed in Pleiades

But Our Princess has been out for almost a year, and I’m grateful for every person who’s chosen to review the book or interview me to see whatever semi-thoughtful things I have to say about the intersection of video games, poetry, and/or art.  I remain grateful for the most recent review in Pleiades by Kay Cosgrove:

The move between ages, between worlds, is as seam­less as it is in our lives and because of this the collection comes across as sincere. So much about this collection has the texture of a real life lived, but ironically, a real life lived through video games. … It is surprising how deftly Best manages to weave the particular human world into the popular video games of days gone by.

Pleiades also first published “Ms. and Super Pac-Man,” which was then picked up by Verse Daily here.

Roundup: Review, breathing, catchy doors, postcards, and more

I’ve been a little lax with the posting recently, but I’m happy to share a few new things that have popped up around the web:

  • Daniel Shapiro wrote a thoughtful review of But Our Princess in Arsenic Lobster. (Scroll to the bottom of the page.)  “He continually reinforces an important notion, that the finest poems are not about what they seem to be, that telling readers how they’re supposed to feel is far less valuable than guiding them through their own game.”
  • An interview I did a while back with KMSU, out of Minnesota State – Mankato, about But Our Princess, which also fetaures the real-life story about how I beat Super Mario Bros. on a pontoon boat, is now available for your listening delight in handy MP3 form.
  • everything about breathing,” a summery poem amidst all this wintery bluster, was published at Gulf Stream.
  • catchy door and sticky drawer,” a poem about weather, thinking about having kids, and a song from 1949, is up at Ascent and subsequently got a little NewPages love.
  • I had a whole series of postcards about weather and thinking about having kids published in Verse Wisconsin.  It includes the word zugzwang.
  • And this person who clearly has abundant time gives “Ms. and Super Pac-Man” a thorough academic dissection.

Looking forward to 2014.  My chapbook, Yes, is forthcoming from Parallel Press in May, and my next full-length book, I got off the train at Ash Lake is also due out from sunnyoutside.

Poe, Dickinson, Neruda, Plath, Yeats, and … “Frogger,” by me

The Internet is a strange place.

I semi-routinely search for myself and But Our Princess to see if anyone’s talking about it.  But recently, I noticed a sudden spike of people searching for a particular poem:  “Frogger.”  So I Googled that myself, and found myself in surprisingly good company right here.  (I’m presuming Yeats got tired of people mispronouncing his last name so instead switched it to something much more common.)

As best as I can tell, this is an academic-decathalon-esque competition, which means a bunch of high school students will be analyzing my poem competitively.  (A delicious thought.)  I’m tempted to post some red herring analysis about the poem here, such as how it rebalances our concepts of masculinity in a twenty-first-century America driven largely by capitalist blah blah blah, but really I feel much more certain about two aspects of the poem:

1.)  It is about imagining a journey that was not actually taken.  (This is evident from the opening sentence:  “… I imagine the journey we didn’t take.”)

2.)  This poem was inspired by the video game Frogger(This is evident from the title.)

On the list, the links to the other poems are from the Poetry Foundation, Writer’s Almanac, Bartleby, etc.  And mine … is from a blog.  (And I was grateful to Jeffery Berg for posting it here.  Perhaps he’s wondering about what I presume is a spike in traffic to that post.)

For better or worse, when you put work on the Internet, you never know where it’s going to wind up.  I’m also posting the poem below.  Partially because clicks on my blog help validate my existence as a person, partially for all of you desperate high-schoolers eager to analyze my deconstruction of the classist politics inherent in the Eisenhower interstate system and U.S.-Canada relations so warm you’d think they were bathwater.

Remember:  It’s all in the wrist, kids, it’s all in the wrist.

* * *

Frogger

Sometimes, in the closet of 3 a.m., I imagine the journey we didn’t take. The go-kart track in Fargo where we slammed around corners as easily as swinging a stopwatch on its lanyard. The clouds slinking like submarines through the ocean of an Oklahoma sky. Otters in the Snake River. The girl in the sporting goods store in Cranbrook, British Columbia—purple dress, pink hair, a skull-and-crossbones tattoo on her ankle—standing between us and the fishing poles, saying, “It’s all in the wrist, boys, it’s all in the wrist.”

Then I get out of bed, stand on the deck, look at the stars. The bullfrogs glunk their love songs to the moon. The grass blades gather beads for their morning tiaras of dew. Even the highway is done with driving for now.

I go back to bed, try dipping my toes in the river of sleep. I can almost picture the sunset over the Platte River we didn’t see, ripe as a nectarine, or hear water churning like an engine in a ravine below while I straddle a fallen log.

Some things are too dangerous to cross.

But Our Princess reviewed in Verse Wisconsin

I’m thankful for this review of But Our Princess in Verse Wisconsin.  In it, reviewer Lisa Vihos addresses an issue that was always present in my mind as I revised the manuscript:

I must state here and now that I know very little about this particular realm of cultural subtext. I did not spend hours on Saturday afternoons playing Donkey Kong, or shut out the world on the drive to the grocery store glued to my Gameboy with Mario’s fate in my hands. I have never been up until 2 a.m. eating cold pizza and playing Grand Theft Auto.

And yet. And yet. These things seep into consciousness. There is something that resonates here.

I had always intended for the book to make sense, to resonate for people who had never played any of the games in it.  I imagine people who know the games very well might enjoy the Easter egg-like references I’ve sprinkled throughout the book.  But those served as points of departure for me, rather than merely offering in-jokes to the implied readership.  The book, ultimately, is about much bigger questions than the intricacies of Pac-Man, et al., and I’m grateful that the review addresses those issues.

My opinions are “essential reading,” but you already knew that, or else why would be here? Or: the approximate difference between a film and a movie.

In this case, it’s my opinions about video games as art, but of course I intend to take that quote out of context and apply to anything I care to opine on.

I’m grateful for this post on the Utne Reader blog about But Our Princess and my recent interview in Wisconsin People & Ideas.  There, editor in chief Christian Williams says:

It’s that magical weaving of technology with childhood reminiscence that makes B.J. Best’s prose poetry book, But Our Princess Is In Another Castle (Rose Metal Press, 2013), so engaging. I first caught wind of Best’s new book through a Q&A piece in the Spring/Summer 2013 issue of Wisconsin People & Ideas. For anyone who questions the validity of categorizing video games as a contemporary art form, Best’s opinions are essential reading. He identifies the abstract and surrealist underpinnings of classic video games, and points out that he’s not the only one who considers them modern art; in late 2012, New York’s Museum of Modern Art announced a new initiative to collect and exhibit classic video games that it considered significant in terms of art and design.

I think, as a culture, we’re beginning to move past the question of whether video games can be art, especially now that Roger Ebert and his ill-informed post that everyone keeps bringing up in this debate are dead.  Sometimes comparing games to film is dangerous, but I think the intentions in making both are similar:  most films’ primary goals are to make money, thus enabling the studio to put out further films.  While there are certainly numerous arts and artists at work on any given film, most seek to entertain first, and proffer some artistic message or meaning second.  There are others, though, which emphasize art over entertainment, even at the expense of profitability.  Our culture has even adopted an informal classification for the two types:  things that entertain (comedies, action, horror, etc.) are movies, serious works (drama, independent, experimental) are films.

Video game publishing is very similar in terms of how games are made and what their purposes are, and gamers have tried to come up with similar terminology, but I find it wanting.  It seems most playable things are games, while certain “serious” pieces are art games.  The movie / film distinction isn’t as dichotomous as I suggest, but things seem even muddier when it comes to game / art game.  Because the medium of the video game is so malleable and myriad, achieving more specific definitions might be difficult.  But once a distinction like movie vs. film sufficiently establishes itself, I believe the issue of whether or not games can be art will finally be settled.  They can be, and we will have a specific name for them.

But Our Princess Is in Another Castle: The Lost Levels

In the final stages of making a book, you need to make some Solomon-like (Solomonian?) choices about which poems belong in the larger scheme of the book, and which don’t fit.  Of course, first you need to ensure each poem can survive on its own merits.  In this way, from manuscripts I’ve cut poems that were originally published in lit mags, as well as poems that were sentimental to me–thanks, Faulkner.  Below are three poems that didn’t make the final cut for But Our Princess but which I think hold up reasonably well on their own.  Some of the images were cannibalized for other poems, but mostly I find these a little weirder than the rest of the book, and therefore less coherent, less fitting.  So I’m releasing these as B-sides, as secret levels.  They’re the areas the programmers don’t necessarily want you to see.

* * *

Minesweeper

Shrunk to the size of a pencil point, I walk among the actuarial tables laid out like a graveyard at night.  At my feet a grid of multicolored numbers glows, as if I’m dancing on the disco floor of death.

Gray men with gray hands doing gray work!  The widows in Tulsa!  Mosquitoes drunk on malaria!  A hangnail cut down in its prime!

It’s easier to run in a field than climb through some cobwebbed crawlspace.  It’s easier yet to circle your subject.  But sometimes I prefer not knowing what’s revealed with my next step:  a train wreck, a bull charge, the secret desert where they keep missiles like charmed snakes, a childhood memory of snow, the day’s first kiss with you.

Like a zealot, I plant my flags only in the most beautiful and dangerous places.

* * *

Sonic the Hedgehog

In the beginning, there was Chaos.

It’s easy to forget this, now:  the way our cars so reliably run.  There are rings around Saturn and our fingers, a whole fleet of them packed into a cigar.  There are emeralds which become people’s eyes.  Then there is the way your high-school chemistry teacher slapped a periodic table in front of you and said, Everything! is made of only these, and some don’t make anything yet.  Saying ununtrium, ununquadium, ununpentium like a litany.

Listen.  Do you hear music?

It’s the whirring of robots, the turning of gears, a plinky pinball machine, a chorus of woodland creatures at dusk.  Run faster, if you can.  You hear the symphony of blood, wind, and rubber.

In the beginning, there was Sound, and it took almost forever until a man in a flight suit broke it.

* * *

Mappy

It was the week the computer crashed, its hard drive scrambled as an egg.  Occasionally, a mousetrap would snap for no reason, killing nothing but time.

No one thought to call the police or the houseplants by their given names.  No one remembered to turn on the radio.  I was watching paintings to see if their eyes moved; you were trampolining between jobs.  Those nights, the television only played sitcom reruns, the laugh tracks like a roll of quarters washed down a garbage disposal.  Silver shards.  When off, it was a gray mirror:  the light through the blinds like paper cuts, the orange dot of a streetlight giving its science lesson about sodium, vacuums, incandescence.

It was the season of reheating soup in the microwave.  It was the year of carelessly opening and closing doors.