Friday, December 30, 2011

Goodbye 2011

Nothing in particular but rather things in general bring about this little post.

What can a society that takes creativity for granted and undervalues its artists show for itself, other than a slew of mediocrity? A landfill of abandoned projects. Many talented people will successfully extinguish the urge to create and those who persist will not be necessarily the best ones, but merely the most tenacious or obsessed ones.

No matter how bad things get, artists should support one another, and also help each other rise above that mediocrity, not compete for scraps of attention.

These are interesting times, but I don't know anyone who feels that we live in a time of the great output of creative energy and exuberance. Still, I'm trying to work as if we do.

And I still have a lot of unfounded hope for 2012!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Feet (A Body Memory)

Rubber soles stay intact, leather exterior holds together, but my shoes tear from the inside. The skin on the back of my heels feels it first: torn pieces of fabric lining the shoe rub against the socks, socks against skin. November 2, 2011, 4 pm, I retire the red Mary-Jane flats after six months of heavy use. I slip into new ankle boots, take the train to Jackson Blue line stop, and soon I test the new boots for three full hours of standing and walking, standing, and walking, Board of Exchange, Daley Plaza, Grant Park.

Happy feet, straight back, voice I self-trained in dingy rehearsal spaces holds up to the crowd’s chants and human mic duties.

Another November, only fifteen years ago, in the middle of another continent, I do this every day. I stand with the crowd every noon on the plaza by the Philosophical Faculty, Belgrade University. And then we walk, each time a different route, closing traffic, making noise. A truck with a sound system blasts Prodigy’s “Fire Starter” and other aggressive techno tunes, drummers drum along. No classes since early October. Instead of getting a Master’s in Literature, I’m a part of praxis in popular uprising. Every day there’s dozens of us. Until one day arrests and beatings begin. Then there’s hundreds of us. The cops rape a male student with a baton up his ass while torturing him at the station. Then there’s thousands of us. One day the organizers decide we’re walking from Old Belgrade, crossing the bridge over the Sava to New Belgrade, and on to Zemun, the western end of the city. The only traffic that day will be our feet.

My feet begin to lose grip of the asphalt somewhere in the middle of the bridge. I hold on to a friend next to me, thinking, I’m just a little hungry and thirsty, this dizziness will go away. But it’s not that temporary dizziness that accompanies hunger (aka being high on skip-a-meal), it’s as if the bridge is swaying under me. My friends around me feel the same. Then word comes: we gotta march across. Drummers drum a marching beat, and we all begin walking in the exact same rhythm. It turns out, people aren’t supposed to walk across a bridge any which way: if each person’s gait is in a different rhythm, the bridge begins to sway as if a giant hypnotist is dangling it over the river. Then the walkers on the bridge begin to stagger, and the bridge sways even more. That’s why any protest needs mathematicians and engineers. They quickly figure out what is happening and spread the word. We have to go in groups, and we have to march at a set rhythm: the same way infantries have been crossing bridges ever since the first military was formed. The bridge calms down and we make it to Zemun. At some point, a math student tries to compose a chant in English about how his feet hurt, but he’s gonna keep marching for freedom.

“How do you say ‘hodam’ in English,” he asks.

“I walk.”

His chant comes out as: “My feet hurt me, but I walk for free.”

Feet (poem from spring 2006)

The bus lugs west from the six-legged intersection
of North/Damen/Milwaukee and this land my land your land
starts to unpeel. That’s what spring is for,
land is just skin, a face, and some kinds of hunger
suspended along the north/south axis can’t be satisfied
easily. I’m a bad mother and my bratty bastards claw

at each piece of exposed earth with their fingers
stained and sticky with melted popsicle.
There can’t be a regime they and I can’t topple,
with or without “[favorite deity] is my homeboy”
earnestness printed on T-shirts,
as the Currency Exchange neon sign conspires
with the solar wind to reverse Humboldt Park’s

magnetic field flow. “Don’t walk” blinks, so I know it’s
Kimball and Homan. The stick figure man turns from
red to green. So it’s a traffic light in Novi Beograd,
North Avenue parallels the Danube,
the bus may take us to Narragansett, might take us to Zemun

either way passengers melt together
with their books, bags, tickets,
ground beef, glasses, infections, odors,
vegetarianism, massages, voices, legs,
feet, feet, feet everywhere!

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Snežana Žabić and Tasha Marren via Vítĕzslav Nezval and Karel Teige

Pneumoniatism or Parrot on the Motorcycle or About the Craft of Poetry

My beautiful little sisters, my hospital quiets, my past century boulevards, do not let the fireworks of their arms go to your heads.

There is no ruling ism today. Art has lost direction and has become extremely individualized.

And still a new style is arising, and with it a new art that is no longer art; ignorant of the traditional prejudices, it allows for every promising hypothesis, it’s open to experimentation and its ways are so cozy, its resources rich and inexhaustible like the life itself.

It was our rapid strokes used to inflict the assault. It was all very efficient.

Theirs is the old way of writing bound by constant contact with their digestion. Their image, a secondary association, their love, an illusion of control and form and construction.

It’s the endless war, people are exhausted, disturbed, bitterly disillusioned, incapable of desiring, loving and leading a new, better life. The world around us is ruled by capitalism, by money.

Slits of drool and dank, mold of pressed grooves, of grime, of penny holes and screws.

This is the trumpeter’s mouth piece: metal tonguing skin.

Their gratification, a world of image, their muse, ask the parrot. One must always bide by their law.

This needs to be said directly. I was waiting in vain for a clear-sighted web designer, when fever, having liberated itself from the medical database, took pyrotechnics in its arms and began dancing. My beautiful little sister, my satellite dove. Those who came from the unexpected hospital quiet or from the boulevards of the past century and who put their ears close to my head, are going to hear the ringing of thirty cell phone alarms.

Through knock and knock and unknock and burn. Reburn.

This needs to be said directly: all of my senses are functioning.

Mental health of the 21st century is the premise of the future poetry, which multiplies fast association and free imagery.

I am partial to my own way.

This is why even burdens break.

Poets of the previous era used to pay tribute to the voice.

O, wide furrow of loss. My mouth's been made implicate, defective apparatus lathed in process and thought. Will the body too suffer the tongue's confusion of noise.

To its sudden gradation. Deduction, induction, subject matter elaboration, conclusion in a festive robe. What a deed! – Sullenness from the moldy workshops. Thinkers.

You darling fire eaters. It’s the ears that awake you to life. Nothing but happiness, love, and the tune of a glorious fun house.

I am in continuous contact with my digestion. All of my senses are functioning.

What need, then, for the turtle?

36 wireless routers and the instincts pass through eternally. All of them run to the only point of the chess board. The totality of the shivers and their blinking lights – there’s your sensibility.

Look, it’s you who will create me. Sense of hearing that takes me to the eternal rest. Constant noise of highways. Dull roaring that kills me. We must look up at the flying airplane and listen to the skylark’s song. The state of sensitivity and delirium.

The mouth loves the crack of whip.

Oh, constant penetration. Let the fall of a curtain break the continuity of the heartbeat. Let the hummingbird open the sonic harmony.

Look, it’s you. Eyes that awake me to life. We must see the electric flowers and smell the disgusting throng. Magic mirrors, eyes, we see virgin forests and fat verse on the corner. Look, it’s you. (Your sound is so furious). Blue colors of workers’ uniforms, those vertical skies, cabmen’s caps. And the constant presence of new gardens and grape-picking, my birds. Unforgettable fairy tales.

The squirrel’s frantic-frantic prayer hands know.

Art: To catch art and ride that runner. The art of equilibristics. Look, maximum performance, that’s the thing.

Work: what precedes. Ask the dancers and fire eaters. Ask the parrot on the motorcycle.

Poem: Magical bird, parrot on a motorcycle. Squirrel, squirrel’s hands. Funny, artful and magical. A thing like soap, mother-of-pearl knife or an airplane.

October 13, 2011, San Diego, CA

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rivet That

This is how I approach my art/work. If it was good enough for Tamla/Motown, it's damn good enough for me.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Back to Basics?

In Belgrade, in the early-to-mid nineties, I wrote my first book of poetry by hand (most poems in multiple drafts first on scraps of paper and later in special notebooks), and then typed it up on a manual typewriter I borrowed from a coworker of my mom's. After that, it's always been a combo of by hand and computer. I believe that my first submission to a journal was also a bunch of handwritten poems and they got published.

One thing I realized, I've never stopped writing song lyrics by hand, in fact most of my lyrics have yet to be typed into a computer. I have them all memorized anyway, so I feel no pressing need to actually type them up.

A possible experiment: I could write my next poetry book by hand, and then type it up on a typewriter. I could then make PDFs out of the handwritten drafts and the typewritten pages and publish the book electronically. It would be like clothing with all the hand-stitching proudly displayed. Like I told my students the other day: "I'm from the twentieth century. Paper is not dead, and neither is punk rock."

Sunday, September 18, 2011

La Dulce Vida

Mexican bakeries in Pilsen and my sweet tooth are matched to perfection. Today I walked in the rain two blocks to the bakery called Nuevo Leon. (Not to be confused with the nearby restaurant of the same name.) I was tired in a good way, from staying up too late partying with Nick and the siblings. The rain was soft and lazy too. I knew what I would get: a couple of bolillos filled with cream cheese and jalapenos, a choco doughnut, a couple of pineapple upside-downs, and the sweet cheese pastry. I don't know what the latter is actually called, but it's a soft (not flaky) little pocket with a smooth cheesy-vanilla filling. It used to be my favorite, then the pineapple upside-down muffins became the biggest hit, but now it's a tie between the two, and it will likely remain a tie. At home, I had a morsel of each thing a bought, beginning with the only savory treat, the cheese-jalapeno bolillo. Fresh coffee that Nick had just brewed was waiting for me. Sweet baked goods might be the perfect food: a meal and a dessert rolled (filled, folded, baked) into one.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

On the One!

Fell asleep and woke up to James Brown via Thomas Sayers Ellis (poetry/photography in the evening) and via Bootsy Collins (radio in the morning). Who cares that I slept for 11 hours!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Wartime Letters

I've been reading old letters, dated 1991 to 1997. They're from my best high school friend, who was in the western parts of our native Croatia while I was a refugee east of the border, in Belgrade. In the first letters, she's a senior in high school, in the last ones she's an English teacher. I don't have copies of the letters I was sending her, but her responses remind me of certain details I'd forgotten. Here's an excerpt (in my hasty translation) from her letter from the fall of 1995, commenting on my letter from the summer of that year, when my brother was hiding in order not to get drafted and sent to the battlefields:

"Kudos to him for enduring and resisting all this time, I respect him so much because of that, and I admire his stance, but I know how much it cost. People like him give me strength to hope that things can improve. The shitty thing is that people like him have to hide, just like the little black creature sneaking around your building. Imagine that scenario: a man eligible for the draft wears a black mouse disguise and hides in the shelter of the night from Arkan's forces of darkness. A real Twilight Zone all around us."

Reading these letters after all these years bolsters my memory: I'd forgotten about the mouse that I saw scurrying past me one night when my grandma was visiting and I was sleeping on the floor. At times, when I read the letters, I feel transported to that time. My friend's handwriting helps. Even as I'm reading off the screen (the real letters are in my parents' apartment, I'm here reading the scans my dad made and sent me via the Internet), the lines of her pen capture the movements of her hand and I can picture us both as young chicks chronicling our lives in letters to each other, as a private act of civil disobedience against the nationalism and war.

Her last letter, from March 1997, ends with an announcement that she's about to sign up for an e-mail account at her university, and an optimistic thought about "a new media, a new era in our communication." Since 1997, I've had at least five e-mail accounts, and I have absolutely no access to any e-mails from the first three or more of those accounts (expired, nothing saved, hacked). Lately, no one has been writing any long e-mails. There's no need. Even if people live too far away from each other to call, Skyping or IM-ing is the medium of choice. And even if those "chats" don't disappear, they have no substance. When we gave up writing letters with pen and paper, we gave up more than we realized.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fun With Idioms

I overheard an old and colorful idiom today: "When you met me, you didn't know me from the man in the moon." Here's a cool thing I like to do: go to Google Books and type in any idiom and then see how far back it goes. This particular one appears in a book from 1866, Hugh Bryan: The Autobiography of an Irish Rebel, by Hugh Bryan. A slight variation, with "you" instead of "me" takes us to 1851 and a periodical named The United States Magazine and Democratic Review. And the idiom still appears on the streets of Chicago in 2011. At the same time, the reason it caught my attention is because I don't hear it often and I feel like the phrase is on its way out. Who knows, I may have witnessed the last time this idiom was spoken colloquially. I mean, there is always that final, unrecorded time an idiom is uttered.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Snack of the Month

Nutella spread on whole-grain sliced Turano bread which has sunflower seeds in it (genius), washed down with organic ultra-pasteurized whole milk (chilled). The brands are not important, in fact there are healthier and more fairly traded choco-hazelnut spreads out there. As far as milk goes, I go for ultra-pasteurized so it doesn't go bad too quickly, organic and whole because I think it tastes better.

"Falling" by Mission of Burma

I don't think this song is supposed to be about the WTO Towers attack victims, but that's what I always think of when I hear it.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Feeling Kaufmanesque

I sing music that is quite American and I don't have a very noticeable accent when I sing. It's not on purpose and it's not that unusual. But when I speak, the accent comes back in a split second. I wonder if Andy Kaufman as Foreign Man/Latka doing Elvis comes to anyone else's mind.

Fun With Etymology

I never say PJs, primarily because I really like the word pajamas. Always have. It's the same word in both of my languages: pidzama/pajamas.

Oxford English Dictionary:
pyjamas | pajamas, n.
Etymology: < Urdu pāy-jāma, pā-jāma and its etymon Persian pāy-jāma, pā-jāma, singular noun < Persian pāy, pā foot, leg + jāma clothing, garment (see jama n.1)
Originally: loose trousers, usually of silk or cotton, tied round the waist, and worn by both sexes in some Asian and Middle Eastern countries. Subsequently also: nightclothes consisting of loose trousers or shorts and a jacket or other top (now the principal use). The loose trousers were adopted by Europeans living in Eastern countries, esp. for night wear, and the word came to be applied outside Asia (originally in trade use) to a sleeping suit of loose trousers and jacket.

So, to be technical, I usually sleep in pajama bottoms and a t-shirt.

My dream job would be to test pajamas, bed linen, and mattresses/bed for the manufacturers. I excel at sleeping.

Mexican Independence Parade

I couldn't see it, because I live in a building hidden behind a building and I had just woken up (really late), was in my pajamas. But I heard the sounds, like a ribbon of brass, bass, voices fluttering by.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Double Door 01/10/11

We opened, D-Nick and the Microphone Misfitz followed, Powers headlined, and in the midst of it all, Bob Rok stole the show. But he gave us these pics and this video!