Roundup: Goodwill and dimes and air mattresses and more

I’m happy to share a few pieces that have appeared online in the last few months.

r.kv.r.y is a great journal whose sole theme is recovery–broadly construed, in a host of contexts.  Naturally, it seemed like the perfect place for some of the cancer sonnets I’ve been writing.  They published a brief moment of our family going to Goodwill.  Then, I was grateful to be interviewed for r.kv.r.y by Sarah Sadie about the experience of writing an accumulation of sonnets which all circle around the same cancerous subject.  At one point I use the phrase “inchoate vitriol,” which seemed apt for certain days of treatment, especially in the beginning.

Speaking of sonnets about cancer, The Maynard published two of them, along with recordings of me reading them mellifluously.  Both are about seemingly small things:  how I slept on an air mattress immediately following my wife’s first surgery, and about the calendar she used to compartmentalize the number of days remaining of radiation.

And finally, I continue to explore and publish surreal little works of flash fiction.  I’m grateful to have two new pieces up at The Cossack Review: one about a widow who leaves behind an inheritance of seven million dollars entirely in dimes, the other about someone who claims to be an agent who represents the stars–actual stars that are giant balls of fiery gas, not non-combustible Hollywood ones.



Playing music, finding light

In a case of life imitating art imitating life imitating art imitating life (or something like that), Fox Adoption has published the virtually true story (in sonnet form) of “the band that i’m in.”  I am indeed in a band (I play banjo, mandolin, dulcimer, accordion, and whatever else they tell me to play), and we indeed have a song about William Henry Harrison.  In fact, you can listen to a live version of the song right here!  We’ll throw in a kazoo solo for free.

Also, Roanoke Review was kind to interview me on the basis of one sonnet I wrote about Legos (and, to be fair, growing up and cancer and my son and healing and stuff).  I say, “I get tired very quickly of poetry that’s all broken. I want poetry about being whole,” and I think that accurately reflects my feelings about a lot of poetry today.

Roundup: Legos and Homecoming Queens and apps and Yes and everything

Well, the blog has fallen into a bit of disrepair lately, but I’m happy to have had an active online presence recently, with a variety of cool projects.

  • I published a chapbook, Yes, through Parallel Press.  It’s a collection of poems about family life and/or the weather, and, as the title suggests, is perhaps more optimistic than a lot of today’s glum verse.
  • I made a video of a “code poem” for Alaska Quarterly Review.  The code itself was published in a special genre-bending section of the hard-copy issue.  But it was cool to show how the program, written in BASIC, actually looks on a screen, with an awesome soundtrack by Steev Baker.
  • I made an app!  It’s called More Than 25 Million Poems about the Midwest, based on the project that appeared in Verse Wisconsin a few years back.  Again, the soundtrack was done by Steev and you can listen to much of it (and Steev’s other awesome music) here.  The app is free to download to your iDevice.  There are at least 23 million poems left to be written!

I’ve also published my first flash fictions over the past several months.  They’re all driven by the same concept:  I’m writing about jobs that don’t exist.  A few of them are online:

And of course, I’m happy to continue to publish poetry.

I’ve chosen to abandon my clunky, circa-2005 website, so I’ll be updating this more frequently in the future.  My novella-in-verse I got off the train at Ash Lake is forthcoming soon from sunnyoutside!

Roundup: Splinters, picnic tables, and ninja turtles

Happy to have a few new things online:

  • Clarion published a short little poem I’ve always liked about splinters.
  • Stoneboat published a longer but still wood-themed poem about picnic tables (scroll toward the bottom of the page).
  • And I’m grateful for a review of But Our Princess up at Alternating Current, where Eric Shonkwiler says:

While it’s impressive to have this collection structured as it is around video games, its greatest victory, its highest score, lies in Best’s ability to make the reader positioned as the player, the poems the games, and to convey still the fullness of life in that 2D format.

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.

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.

Today I published 46,656 poems, but you need to help write them

Edit, April 2014:  The below post refers to 46,656 Poems, something I put on my own website because I had no idea what to do with it.  But I revised it, gave it direction, and it was published as More than 25 Million Poems about the Midwest in the final issue of Verse Wisconsin.  I’m pleased with how the project ultimately cohered.  The below describes its genesis and refinement.

* * *

That’s a lot of poems, so if you’re eager to start, you can do so right here.

Recently, I’ve been exploring Twine, “a tool for creating interactive stories.”  In its most basic form, Twine is an intuitive, extremely easy-to-use program to build hypertext stories–à la Choose Your Own Adventure books.  But there’s also some possibility of including basic code under the hood, which made it perfect for resurrecting this project.

I originally wrote 46,656 Poems back in grad school.  I had done some research in the library (remember those?) about Oulipo.  Oulipo generates literature through constraints and aleatory practices, and their techniques were something that spoke very strongly to my actuarial background.  Specifically, I was fascinated by Raymond Queneau’s Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes (A Hundred Thousand Billion Poems)–a collection of ten sonnets whose lines (and rhymes) were all interchangeable, resulting in 10^14 possible poems.  (An interactive version is here.)

46,656 Poems is a much more modest example, obviously, and dispenses with both meter and rhyme.  There are only six lines, with six choices each, resulting in 6^6 possible combinations.  Since it’s impossible to account for all of the iterations, I mostly focused on making sure each possible first line would feed into each possible second, then each second into each third, etc.  Of course, some work better than others–due to the nature of the concept, the poems swing dramatically from specific imagery to broad assertions.  And just because there are more than forty thousand poems doesn’t mean they’re all good; in fact, it’s pretty easy to come up with a clunker.  But there is something surprising, if not magical, by reading lines that come together in unforeseen ways.

Originally, I had envisioned the project to require minimal user interaction:  just click a button and it will generate a random poem.  I have a spreadsheet that does just that.  Twine could do that too, but I realized that its default structure of asking the reader to make choices was more beneficial, more natural.  As you click through the links, you’re undertaking a process similar to writing a “real” poem:  only half-remembering what came before your chosen line, and with no idea of what might come next.  This project also starts to destabilize some of the terms we frequently use, presuming we know what we mean by them.  Is 46,656 Poems a poem?  Given there are only thirty-six lines total, are there genuinely 46,656 poems?  Are some of them poems, while others aren’t?  There is also the question of authorship:  Who wrote Poem #16,904–me, or the person who clicked through the links to generate that particular poem?  Can one write a poem that requires a reader to finish, to exist?

So, have at it:  46,656 Poems.  You’re only six choices away from your first one.