Voyd of Course

"It's like the Onion, only skinnier!" --Milton Swift "Still worth the price of the paper it's not printed on." --Felicia DuBois "The unspeakable, spoken." --Malin Wuptke "More interesting than computer solitaire, though perhaps not so effective a distraction from the void." --Harlan J. Rippington "Satire today, history tomorrow." --Steven Wallace

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Location: Santa Fe, NM, United States

In 1966, I wrote a fake newspaper article under the headline "JACK CASS SETS WORLD SHOWERING RECORD." Mr. Yohans, my 9th grade English teacher, liked it so well that he read it aloud--to much not-quite-suppressed giggling, at the sound of which, Mr Yohans said, "What? What? Did I miss something here?" I spent the rest of the afternoon in Principal Leon Duff's outer office. When Mr. Duff, who was a busy man, decided he didn't have time to see me, his secretary sent me back to the classroom, where I was greeted like McMurphy returning from solitary. Emboldened by my de facto exoneration, my friends began work on their own fake news stories. I remember a spate of Russian names in the stories, including "Ivan Kutchikokoff" and "Ivan Jerkinov." Needless to say, our newly suspicious teacher sent both of my friends to Mr. Duff's office, where they were not as bureaucratically blessed as I had been. They sat detention for a week. This I took as a lesson in subtlety--and in how to start a commotion and slip from the room before the law comes down.

Sunday, February 08, 2015


            “Aargh,” says Joseph “Pegleg” Stewart, President of The Southeast Chapter of the International Pirates’ Association. “Johnny Depp. He’s a swine, I tell ya. And I tell ya true. Ain’t never fired a black powder pistol. Never swung, boots first, onto the deck of a rich man’s vessel. Not an ounce a pirate in that lad.”
            “Here, here,” shout the eight members of the IPA, clanking their flagons of ale loudly in assent.
            “Being a pirate’s a manly occupation,” chimes in Black Bart, the organization’s secretary and a champion climber and swinger of ropes. “Someone should tell Depp that it’s swashbuckling, not swishbuckling.” A roar of derisive laughter erupts from the small crowd gathered on the deck of the schooner anchored off Big Pine Key for the annual gathering of the IPA’s Southeest Chapter.
            On the deck, two young pirates grapple briefly until one tosses his adversary overboard. Pegleg Stewart eyes the water until the young pirate’s hat appears on the surface, followed by the air-gulping young man. “Let the sharks have ‘im,” he shouts and another round of cheers and flagon-bashing erupts.
            “We’re deeper and more complex than Depp’s portrayal would indicate,” the pirate they call “The Philosopher” says. He sits on a treasure chest and tugs lightly at his hoop earring with his right hand as he speaks. The Philosopher has been pirating for forty years, though lately he’s been relegated to spyglass duties and the occasional fuse-lighting.  “Frankly, we pirates are victims of a history of stereotypical portrayal by Hollywood. I mean, look. The eye patch, the wooden leg, aargh this and aargh that, the parrot thing—that one really gets me. Do ya see any parrots aboard here today? And then Depp comes along and, sure, he’s pretty to look at. But suddenly he, Johnny Depp, is the iconic pirate. This skinny runt of a man, this rock star pirate. Now, if you say you’re a pirate, people say, Oh, like Johnny Depp! To which I say, No, no, a thousand times no.” Cheers erupt once again among the dozen pirates who have been listening closely, ears cocked, unpatched eyes bulging, to the Philosopher.
            “We’d ‘ave ‘im walk the plank, we would,” says Pegleg Stewart. “See what the sharks think of his “performance.”
            Overcome with joy at the image of Depp among the sharks, James “Fatboy” Jones sprays a mouthful of beer on his comrades, upon which three fellow pirates jump him and wrestle him to the deck.
            The Philosopher pulls out a knife and begins whittling, then pauses. “What Hollywood misses,” he begins, “is our depth. Fatboy, for example, has an abiding interest in Latin American literature, magical realism and that sort of thing. He’s written quite eloquently about the Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez for a number of critical journals. And Pegleg himself has recently penned a scientific paper on the effects of climate change on the pirate’s profession. These subtleties were missed entirely by Mr. Depp.”
            The Philosopher completes his thought and leaps onto a nearby wooden keg. “Ain’t that right, boys!” he shouts to wild cheering.           
            “He’ll be singing a different tune when we get a hold of ‘im,” shouts Pegleg. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” he spits. “We ain’t no Rollin’ Stones rock star pirates. We’re hard workin’ seamen.”
           “Bring ‘im aboard,” shouts the pirate they call Scalded Dog. “We’ll slice that pretty’s throat from ear to ear.”

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Devil's New Dictionary

Activist/Poet, n. Activist.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Poezak: A Manifesto, by Alice Van de Wettering

 Poetry has been afflicted with meaning for too long. 

Certainly, there have been stabs at meaninglessness—dada, language poetry, flarf—but without a sustaining podium, without a venue, these movements have flared and died like matches struck and cupped in the general dark of meaningfulness. But the podium has been awaiting us, brightly lit and stark. The elevators, supermarkets, and telephones-on-hold have been longing for our words to soothe and cajole just beneath the consciousness--and then evaporate like hand disinfectant. The venues have been lonely without us. They are calling out for a muttered voice, a semblance of speech that is not speech, an overheard tonal flow of language that does not chomp down on a story or theme and hold on, but one that drifts, that touches wordly things lightly and moves on, that hints at emotion but does not deliver it kicking and squirming, that employs the language of ideas but does not insist on a full induction into the detailed argument. It is time American poets answered the call. It is time American poets produced sonic texts, well-voiced, well-sounded, but without the dynamics of plot and theme, poems that can deliver a tone in a one floor hop from copier to office or a long, smooth ride of 50 floors from Lexus to penthouse. 

What is required is a stream of image and sound that can accompany a shopper from the cereal aisle to dairy to household products without interfering with his thoughts. Only one American poet has come close to producing such poetry, and that is Nash Johnsbury. Johnbsury’s A Flume is the single monument of Poezac or Elevator Poetry extant. Younger poets should study this work not for what it accomplishes, but for its brilliant refusals.  Johnsbury’s avoidance of theme and story is, of course, well established. After flirting briefly with philosophical argument in Portrait of Eve in a Boutique Window, Johnsbury has pursued a vaguely troubled superficiality that suits the elevator perfectly. His avoidance of conclusion and closure, his natterings and digressions, his use of “the syntax of meaning” without any actual meaning, all provide a ground upon which a new generation can build a fully-realized Poezac. 

Much has been made lately of Federico Garcia Lorca’s notion of “duende.” American poets have clamored like pigs to the slop, trying to claim duende for their own work. Lorca, in his compelling, but ultimately misguided “Theory and Play of Duende,” claims that “The duende won’t appear if [the poet] can’t see the possibility of death, if he doesn’t know he can haunt death’s house.” Lorca’s continual pointing deathward is the opposite of Poezac, which seeks to deflect us from death and suffering and send us wholly into the distractions and episodes of shopping that constitute real life. In this passage from A Flume, Johnsbury masterfully counters duende with a vague nostalgia:

To have been kissed once by someone—certainly
There is some comfort in that,
Even if we don’t know what led up to it,
Or it happened too long ago to matter now.
Like almost too much light and warmth or a surfeit of powdered,
sugary things—who can complain?

The syntax is vaguely Rilkean—thus giving it the frisson of serious poetry—but the attitude is insouciance, the ease with which loss can be borne if one recognizes that lovers are like products, and the next one promises to be more brilliantly packaged, new and improved, carrying perhaps a few more ounces for the same price—all in all, an equal or superior value. Played softly through a public address system, such work can be heartening, such work can serve society, can heal and distract and promote an immersion in life that can counter the deathward plod of much contemporary American poetry.

Death to death! The time has come for Poezac, for Elevator Poetry. 

Friday, February 03, 2012

The Conservative View

Friday, December 16, 2011

Local News

Only One Animate Object on Man’s List of “Things He’s Thankful For”

Wife, Daughters Express Disappointment

The Williams family’s Thanksgiving dinner was marred when Karl Williams, husband and father of two lovely daughters, ticked off the things he was thankful for and listed only one animate object, Charlie, his golden retriever, at number 7.

After his lovely and eloquent wife Giselle spoke movingly about how thankful she was for her husband’s warmth and understanding and for their two beautiful and intelligent daughters, Mr. Williams eagerly addressed the theme. After listing the new iPhone 4S, his iPad, his new cashmere metallic Lexis LS, his half-empty bottle of Laphroaig, his new calfskin driving gloves, and the 1951 Fender Stratocaster that he recently purchased on e-Bay, he turned to the smiling, expectant faces of his family, saying he was also thankful “for the love and affection of his best friend in the world, Charlie.”

In a brief statement to the press, Giselle and daughters, Fawn, 12, and Carly, 9, said only that “while they, too, appreciated Charlie’s presence in their family, they thought it appropriate to also be thankful for the sentient, two-legged members of the family, at least some of whom occasionally appear among the accoutrements and largely wireless electronics that occupy most of Mr. Williams’ time.”

In response, Mr. Williams asked Siri to text the family that he loved them.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

After the Poetry Workshop

Creative Writhing


Narcotraficantes by Chuck Calabreze


Sunday, March 06, 2011

U.S. News

Dr. Curtis Sauer (right) discusses revisions with senior Texas Tech Creative Writing major Aaron Verlag


by Staff Writer Charles Calabreze

Lubbock, Texas--It’s a Tuesday afternoon in March, and Dr. Curtis Sauer is leading his level one Poetry Writing Workshop on the third floor of the English / Philosophy building. Sunlight washes over the clutter of backpacks, books, and notebooks. He’s gathered the students into a semi circle. The class is working through a poem by junior English major Arlen Kammerer. The students have pointed out lines and images that work, others that don’t, and made some suggestions on word choices and line breaks. Now it’s Dr. Sauer’s turn to summarize the class’s work and add some comments of his own.

Sauer eases into the critique. “I know you’re fond of the verb ‘squirm’ in line four,” he says, glancing over his glasses at Kammerer, “but that’s pretty average compared to the language of the rest of the poem. I’d suggest trying something else there.”

Kammerer suddenly straightens in his chair. “Wait a minute,” he says firmly. “I’m drawing the line on that one. I reckon I’ll be keeping ‘squirm.’”

In less time than it takes to recite “The Red Wheelbarrow,” Sauer reaches inside his jacket, rips his vintage Smith & Wesson .38 Special out of its shoulder holster, wraps one arm around the neck of Kammerer’s girlfriend Cassie Watson, and points the pistol at her temple. A startled Kammerer reaches for his own weapon, but it’s too late.

“Okay, I’ll change it,” he says, adding meekly, “any suggestions?”

Sauer’s voice is steady. “Change it to ‘writhes,’” he commands. And when Kammerer stares blankly, Sauer presses the barrel closer. “Now.”

Kammerer nervously scribbles the change on his manuscript, and Sauer sets the shaken Watson free. Sauer works his way through the rest of Kammerer’s poems without incident.

With the recent passage of a Texas law permitting concealed weapons in Texas university classrooms, professors in the Texas Tech Creative Writing Program are working to turn what might have seemed a crisis into an opportunity. Dr. Sauer, called “one of the best gunslinger poets in America,” by Sam Snead, Chairman of the Creative Writing Program, is a pioneer in that effort. “Nobody works harder at his craft than Dr. Sauer,” Dr. Snead says. “He’s down in the firing range every morning from seven to nine.” Time Sauer once spent poring over poems and preparing lectures on line breaks and image-making is now spent drawing and firing in the underground shooting range beneath the English / Philosophy building. On one recent morning Sauer worked on his quick draw from a seated position, whipping the pistol from his shoulder holster again and again until the movement was smooth, the shots accurate and consistent.

The National Rifle Association was correct, Sauer admits. Even with a roomful of concealed handguns, the wounds have been minor, most of them the result of warning shots ricocheting off classroom walls, and all but a few have been treatable using the classroom first aid kits. Though Sauer himself walks with a slight limp, the result of a disagreement over a line break that was resolved with an exchange involving small-caliber handguns, he remains a staunch advocate of violence, or at least the threat of violence, in the classroom.

“What’s been most gratifying,” Sauer says, “is how quickly and enthusiastically students adapt my revision suggestions. An outbreak like the one you witnessed today,” he continues, “is unusual. Most times if I say this poem should be in iambic pentameter, the student starts scanning immediately. If I say read a sonnet, they read a fucking sonnet. If I say Pound’s Cantos by Thursday they’re ‘setting keel to breakers’ by class’s end.”

Unlike some of his colleagues, Sauer embraced the change in classroom protocol. “I usually try to fire a few warning rounds when I’m introducing the syllabus. Then I’ll graze a particularly contentious student during the first workshop. Nothing serious. I just crease a little flesh—just enough to get my point across.”

It’s little wonder, given Sauer’s pedagogical prowess, that his students are winning prizes and publishing poems at an astonishing rate. Sauer’s teaching evaluations are similarly excellent. He wins accolades even from students he has maimed. Kurt Verlang, a second year student in the PhD in Creative Writing Program, is quick to credit Sauer. Speaking from his room in Memorial Hospital, he is effusive in his praise. “I remember,” he says, “the first time I brought a poem into workshop. Dr. Sauer wanted me to consider a change in form. I mean, he wanted me to recast my long line poem as a prose poem. I said, ‘Over my dead body.’ I was young and cocky. What did I know? In a second, he had his weapon out, pointed straight into my face. ‘That can be arranged,’ he said. I’ll never forget it. We haven’t had a disagreement since. Well, until this week, when I resisted turning a simile into a metaphor and he winged me. But it’s nothing, really.” He holds up his bandaged left arm. “I’ll be back in class on Thursday.”

Sauer readily admits his marksmanship left something to be desired at first. “In the first couple of weeks, I took out a couple of windows, a blackboard, grazed a T.A. But twelve hours a week in the firing range have done wonders.” Such diligence will, Sauer hopes, serve him well in his upcoming tenure review. “I haven’t actually published any poems in a while, but I’ve won several quick draw competitions both locally and nationally.” More telling—and more useful for his tenure prospects—Sauer has not been drawn on in the last four weeks. Sauer goes up for tenure in the fall. Asked about his prospects, he taps his concealed weapon. His lips curl into a thin smile. “Oh,” he says, his eyes shining, “I think we’ll do just fine.”

Sunday, May 30, 2010

U.S. Headlines