A Few Good Book Recs

I was asked for a few book recs in an email yesterday, and I realized that I should probably share my response since I love it so much when people tell me about books they’ve enjoyed. Here’s what I wrote:
“This year, I loved The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (National Book Award), Claudia Rankine’s Citizen (National Book Critic’s Circle Award for Poetry – although it reads more like essays), James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird (National Book Award), Kevin Barry’s short story collection Dark Lies The Island, and Welch’s The Death Of Jim Loney (which felt eerily close to my current mental state with a brain injury).
Bryn Greenwood’s All The Ugly And Wonderful Things was DISTURBING but she wrote it beautifully.
Also, I’ve read ten of the Best American Short Stories collections.
Girl In Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow was hard but good as well.
In the last few years…I loved all three Patrick deWitt novels + Lean On Pete & The Motel Life by Willy Vlautin.”
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Word Play – Check Out This Rap

Check out “Rainbow In The Dark” – Das Racist – if you like wordplay and odd allusions. It doesn’t start off well (or it’s a really weird start, depending on your point of view), but the song is short, and the group is amazing.

Click here for the Youtube music video (to watch and listen) – trust me, it’s worth it.

Lyrics below:

I’m at the White Castle
(I don’t see you here, dog)
Tiny-ass hamburgers, tiny-ass cheeseburgers
Tiny-ass chicken sandwiches
It’s outlandish, kid
Ma trying to speak to the kid
In Spanish, kid
Like “¿Que tu quieres?”
I’m like “where is the bathroom?
I hella gotta piss, where’s the bathroom?”
Ask whom the bell tolls for
Hey, yo, where you get this place from, the hellhole store?

I’m in the building
Building will Belding
Ask for whom the bell rings (DR)
Something like a neo-rap Zach attack
Finna spark an L and have myself a Big Mac attack
Known to rock the flyest shit and eat the best pizza
Charge that shit to Mastercard, already owe Visa
Catch me drinkin’ lean in Italy like I was Pisa
We could eat the flyest cave-aged cheese for sheez, ma

Yeah, we could eat Gruyere
As if we care
We could eat Roquefort
Or we could just kick it like Rockports
In the periphery of Little Sicily little did she know I’m tickling boo she so giggly
Catch me solving mysteries like Wikipedia Brown
It’s the future get down
We make a sound even if nobody’s around

Like a tree or the tears of a clown
Yo, I’m afraid of clowns, I’m afraid of small towns
Positive energy is something like I’m afraid of all frowns
Catch me at the crib getting light to Jeff Mangum
It’s fun to do bad things like rhyme about handguns
If any problem pop off
I’ll Joe Pesci any fool while drinking that Popov
That’s cause I’m a Goodfella
Stay up out the hood hella much now
But punch clowns if they touch down
While I’m eating lunch now
While I’m eating a burger
Metaphysical spiritual lyrical murder

The ill ’96 manifestible third eye
Abstract vegan backpack skateboard et cetera
Rap hella much in a busted ass Jetta with Coretta Scott King
Rap bridge
On a duet with T-Pain and Stephen Hawking
I’m not joking, stop jocking, stop talking
Shut up, hush up
Please, shut the fuck up
Shut up, dude, shut up
Das Racist is the new Kool G Rap
Peep us at the Grammys
We’d like to thank G-chat
We’d like to thank weed rap
The best rapper’s B Real
Jokes, it’s us, come on, be real
Second Latin rapper to like the Beatles
But on the real they swear I’m blacker than Cheadle
Like Don King playing Donkey Kong Country at his cousin’s house
You don’t even know what it’s about

This is panic attack rap
Eating four flapjacks
Trap raps, let em free, they always come back to me
The Internet told me that that’s called love
I’m on the Internet cause I’m an Internet thug

Himanshu, yes I’m in control man
Pos Vibe Emanator
Yes I got my soul tan
Soul shine, soul glow, so so Po-Mo
Catch me on the South Side
Kicking it with Shlomo

Kicking it with Gary Soto
All the cholos saying “Mira el joto”
Just because I rock the secondhand Versace
Wash me, watch me
The second hand couldn’t even clock me
You couldn’t see me like a Cuban playing hockey
Cracker in the chocolate, that’s human Pocky
Papa look stocky, Mama look chalky
Me I look a little something like a young Shock G
Words come through me like I was a walkie talkie
All I do is open up my mouth and just rock, see
You, you are not me
Me I am possibly everything plus everything that is not me
Jokes, that is not T-R-U-E
Are you understanding everything, do you got me?
Catch me in the trees where it’s shady like Lockheed Martin
Sparking in the shade of the trees in the park, B
Hark the angels stay singing in the dark
Like the rainbow in the Ronnie James Dio joint
Hit it from the back court
Like it was a three point
I don’t give a fuck, I’m a duck to a decoy
No trustem white-face man like Geronimo
Tried to go to Amsterdam they threw us in Guantanamo

On Writing?

The Argentine poet Alejandra Pizarnik wrote this in the middle of one of her poems in 1965 (when she was 29) and it made me think of the writing process:

“And there is, in this waiting,

a rumor of breaking lilac.

And there is, when the day arrives,

a division of the sun into smaller black suns.

And at night, always,

a tribe of mutilated words

looks for refuge in my throat…”

In Spanish, it’s a little different, but the same idea (for example, “espera” could mean “waiting” or “hoping” in this context, etc.):

“Hay, en la espera,
un rumor a lila rompiéndose.
Y hay, cuando viene el día,
una partición del sol en pequeños soles negros.
Y cuando es de noche, siempre,
una tribu de palabras mutiladas
busca asilo en mi garganta…”

Write What You Don’t Know.

Teachers and professors tell young writers, “Write what you know.” And there’s a certain truth to that idea. If I try to write about a cricket match, but I don’t know anything about the game, have never played it, have never watched it, don’t know the rules, and am not sure I can name 5 countries where the sport is played, I’m not going to write an excellent scene that includes the sport.

In the same way, being a high school teacher and having a teenager myself, I recognize when “young adult” authors clearly don’t know much about teenagers and are too far removed from the personal experience to do the subject justice. Their “teenagers” – for example – never swear or only think & act in culturally competent ways.

So writing what you know is a good piece of advice. Or maybe it’s not…

Recently, an editor told me that I couldn’t have a Latino narrator in one of my stories because I wasn’t “Mexican enough.” That’s a strange thing to say in any context, but especially odd since my grandmother is Mexican and I do speak and read Spanish. But apparently – in that editor’s eyes – this piece of fiction was an example of me trying to write what I didn’t know.

I recognize that politically correct mores have permeated everything in our culture – and I’m sure that this particular editor is simply a politically correct conservative – but her command (her imperative?) made me think of the idea on a larger scale.

Should Margaret Atwood not have written the science fiction novel within The Blind Assassin?

Should Cormac McCarthy not have written John Grady’s Mexican prison scenes simply because McCarthy had never been incarcerated?

Should Toni Morrison not have any Caucasian characters or narrators in any of her novels or stories?

Again, I could go on and on.

And where would this idea stop? What would be its limit? Why would we allow for this type of censorship of creative possibilities?

So – to keep this piece short – I’d say that instead of the old “write what you know” adage, I’d say it’s fine (and good) to write what you don’t know as long as you’re willing to learn about it.

With encyclopedias, empathy, books, neighbors, friends, coffee shops, Youtube, relatives, films, traveling, and curiosity as basic starting points, what can we not learn? What can we not write about?

A Found Poem From The Book “The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People”

The seven habits.jpg

I pulled four-word phrases from Stephen R. Covey’s The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People, and found this amazing poem hidden inside the self-help guide:

Maneuvers in heavy weather

the next new pleasure has to be bigger,

better, deep,

lasting satisfaction or cries for

more, and more.

Last too long? Too…most significant and seductive

up and down in it,

like Satan,

what Pascal called licking,

going to and fro,

more exciting, with a bigger…

quietly, slowly, imperceptibly expanding

circle of influence

with a ground-swell of magnificent

emotional strength.

How he worked on the inner circle.

“Love her,” I replied. “Love is a verb.”

Love – the feeling – is a fruit of love.

So love her. Serve her a greater

longer-lasting experience.

You just can’t imagine the ability

to subordinate.

Live like animals, out, this map

doesn’t describe the territory.

Rats, monkeys, pigeons, dogs,

to use a computer metaphor

the egg is pure gold, tremendous

gravity, pull, the lunar voyage

of Apollo 11, superlatives such as “fantastic”

and “incredible”

I know they can be broken.

It’s sometimes a painful process.

My New Poem Of Resistance

The Resistance Racoon.jpg

I have a new poem out with Writers Resist.

In English:

When Our Culture Is Los Angeles Instead of Joshua Tree, This Is How We Elect a President

And it was just translated into German today (In this scenario, I’m the resistance racoon):

Wenn unsere kulturelle Heimat Los Angeles heißt statt Joshua Tree, wählen wir so einen Präsidenten

Paddling North Five Days On The River – Day One

Mary_S_Young_Park_3633_Swart_ODFW

Plate-glass morning water with fish shatters. A hummingbird drops over the tent and hangs in the space created by the rain.

I read a Carol Shields novel and the daylight sneaks through the leaves of the cottonwood, white and green.

It rained steady all evening, and starting a fire was like baking without sugar or flour. But now the sky is striped by blue between clouds, and I think, “How many people in history have tried to write about clouds?”

Nubes como las olas…

Nubes sin mala intención…

Drifting thoughts of clouds…

Or some other cliché…

Better ideas waiting that I’ve never had…

It would be easy to steal. To Thomas Edison. To feed an image of greatness. “Look at me, a worker, a brilliant mind.”

But I am not brilliant. My mind is not a rare jewel. I only observe what is around me. Seeing the green grasshoppers collecting on my legs at the river’s edge. The blue heron shushing across to the other side. The osprey sitting sentinel on the fence-post above the cutbank. Flipping my spinner under the branch in four feet of water and the rainbow trout hitting the Rooster Tail in the first rotation of the reel.

We use two rocks as a plate and eat the fish with our fingers. Skin salted with Johnny’s, MSG, meat blackened over a stick-fire. Hot Tang and Folgers from boiled river water.

These are no proverbs.

These are no parables.

This is only the first day. How it is. How it was.