May 03, 2006

The Embedded Poet

Justin emailed me with a suggestion for the implementing a "star" system for literary journals to augment the Difficulty Rating.  The number of stars would reflect whether the journal was organized, professional, true to their guidelines, dutiful with their publication schedule, and otherwise good to work with.  It would all be based upon poets' rating inputs, just as the current ratings are, but a good deal more subjective.

ACM (which stands for the increasingly quaint Association for Computing Machinery), the venerable professional organization for the computer sciences, produces a small journal called Queue, a publication more topical than the professional flagship Communications.  This month's issue is The Purpose-Built World, which addresses computing in the embedded world.  Microprocessors lurk everywhere nowadays (up to 100 in the typical automobile) and somebody has to design and program them.  My company does a fair amount of that.  Though we tend to engage more clients with large telecommunications products, we also work with products as small the Playaway, for which we provided the software system.  There's an interesting article in Queue by a co-founder of TiVo, who spend considerable page space describing the TiVo philosophy, which includes that fact that the computer has to get out of the way and the system has to "just work".  In some ways, perhaps, the same could be said for effective poetry — the "machine made out of words" should sit beneath the experiential surface.  Not that everyone would agree with me.  Books like Heidi's Guess Can Gallop or Harryette Mullen's Sleeping with the Dictionary use overt wordplay to achieve their artistic ends.

I've been reading slowly through Poetry's "Translation Issue", disinclined as I am to read translations.  It's a silly quirk of mine, as poetry is poetry and I may be as enchanted by a translation as an "original".  Not that this distinction means much in the hundreds of other "translations" I've read over the years (Sartre, Cervantes, Proust, Garcia Marquez, Simenon,  ...), in fact, I have seldom given any thought to the translator at all.  My ex-wife and friend of 25 years is an outstanding professional interpreter and translator, so it's not as if I haven't had numerous discussions about this whole business (the difficulty of expressing culture, the problems of false cognates, ...).  Poetry is odd in that the translator is often afforded as much status as the translatee in the publication process, perhaps because he/she has overcome Frost's dictum that poetry is what gets left out.  The translations in Poetry are each accompanied by a "translator's note", in all cases longer than the original piece.  By and large, the poems struck me as odd and amateurish, a not uncommon reaction I have to translations.  Merwin's translation of a short poem by the Emperor Hadrian was quirky.  David Ferry's translation of a Rilke poem sounded like a mediocre country-western ballad, and it's probably not due to any fault of Ferry's.  I liked George Seferis' "Upon a Line of Foreign Verse", translated by A.E. Stallings, whose own work I love.  That's a common experience, and perhaps points out the relatively larger contribution a translator makes to a poem vis a vis a novel.

Posted by jbahr at 07:24 AM | Comments (2)

May 01, 2006


Well, yes, that is scary.  But, then, he's the kind of guy who falls out of palm trees, gets up with a headache, jumps on a Jet Ski and has another accident.   John Kenneth Galbraith, arguably one of the most distinguished economists of the 20th century and famous for arguing that American is "rich in consumer goods but poor in social services" died at the age of 97.  Time's 100 People Who Shape Our World includes Reese Witherspoon, Matt Drudge, Oprah Winfrey, and Bono.  God help us.  Colin Powell grows cojones in his early dotage.   Condoleeza "Rice left the impression that the president is not going to take action against oil-producing nations for high prices", failing to mention that a) gas prices aren't ACTUALLY the job of the Secretary of State, and b) her boss used to run an oil company, staffs his administration with Big Oilers, and c) developed an energy policy with oil industry CEOs in meetings whose minutes have been sealed by executive order.  OK, she earned her PhD and plays the piano and works out every day.  That doesn't mean she can't be a starry-eyed suck-up.  Nobody seems to know how many gardeners, day-laborers, short-order cooks, hotel maids and others who work without documentation will show up for work today.  In a shocking and tragic study of college-age males, a researcher found that "25 percent said they lost an erection while putting on a condom" and are prime candidates for the ED market.  The Iraq War's cost has just exceeded the total of the Vietnam War.  Yes, adjusted for inflation.  Yes, the Vietnam War lasted 8 years and was the nightmare of my entire generation.  Here's the deal:  nowaday, we got a problem somewhere in the Gulf, we launch a 25-million jet that burns $50,000 worth of fuel and drops a $20,000 payload.  And that's just on an average day faced with a minor problem.  The Iraqi insurgents start using roadside bombs and one year later we're spending billions on body armor and reinforced Humvees.  In the good old days of Vietnam, things got worse and we just let more guys die.  We're currently at $320 billion with monthly costs exceeding $10 billion a month and no end in sight.  That's about $12,000 per Iraqi man-woman-and-child, or 4 years average income.  One idea would be to take one large bomber and drop money every day. 

Actually, that's not the amazing thing.  The amazing thing is that the "normal" defense budget is about $600 billion a year, and that's not throwing in the Department of Veteran Affairs or Homeland Security.  $600 billion is more than the rest of the world spends, and amounts to almost 50% of the world's defense spending.  What does the military do with $600 billion?  Apparently, they get ready to fight a war, not actually fight one.  For that, they need more money.  I wish I had a consulting contract like that.

Posted by jbahr at 07:51 AM | Comments (2)

April 30, 2006

Cows and Convex Sets

At least once a week I get an email titled something like "Enrollment Information", that generally includes a paragraph such as this:  Bachelors, Masters, MBA, and Doctorate (PhD) available in the field of your choice - 100% Verifiable Documents will be shipped to you within 2 weeks.  I finished my Masters in Computer Science while in the PhD program in (of all things) the Business School.  I really liked Computer Science better, but there was no higher degree offered at the time, and the B School had a major in Operations Research and Statistics with some excellent profs, so there I remained.  One thing that always tickled and perplexed me was the fact that, though OR and Computer Science were about the same age as disciplines, they had developed side by side with little interaction among the researchers and mathematicians.  Computer science greats such as Edsger W. Dijkstra were dreaming up ways to characterize synchronization in parallel computing, using metaphors such as the semaphore switches used on train tracks to avoid wrecks.  Operations research specialists were inventing The Traveling Salesman problem and procedures (most of them based upon linear programming) to optimize assembly lines.  Back in those days, large firms had whole departments of OR people to figure out the optimal placement of natural gas networks or minimum amount of dough necessary to make a giant batch of Fig Newtons.  At some point in my sales job to get dissertation proposal accepted (between the Blackjack strategy proposal and the one my committee finally accepted), I was working on a formal strategy to compare the algorithms between CompSci and OR, since I knew there existed many commonalities, but no grammar with which to discuss them.  My last effort, prior to abandoning the project, was a comparison of the optimal CompSci algorithm to computer the elements of a closed convex set and an OR routine similar to the Traveling Salesman Problem, in which you design a route for which a salesman visits every city on his list in the shortest number of miles.  Surprisingly, the TSP is an NP Complete combinatorial problem, meaning that for a large enough number of cities, there will never be a computer large enough to solve the problem.  Which leads me to blog-walking, a traversal of the graph of blog nodes, for which it would be interesting to map the convex set.  It's probably easier to just web-hop and report (you decide):

Jordan has an unbelievable number of videos hyperlinked to the recent Flarf Festival.  The man's a blogging machine.  He also notes that we're all obsessed with CDY's marriage, successfully executed and reported on today.  Also a nice review of Jeannine and Gina's recent work.  Gina sent me over to Josh's  review of DB-Q's Spell, which I keep forgetting to order, as I'm the only person I know who's actually read Moby Dick three times and would love to see how Dan's riffing.  Kasey sent me to Both Both thanks to Hot Whiskey Press, which is (for god's sake) in Boulder (though the owners profess to be moving back to Austin at some point) and not on my radar, much less my bloglist.  Sounds like a good investment of $7, as you'll be reading Linh Dinh, Dale Smith, Hoa Nguyen, and Lisa Jarnot among others.  Speaking of whom, Lisa notes that Belmont is open (favorite horse names include Mass Media, Sir Greeley, Little Thunder, Vicarage and Noble Causeway) and talks up Matt Hart and Amanda Nadelberg reading at Pierogi Gallery in Williamsburg, and I'm thinking tri-cornered hats and your kids posing for pictures in the stocks, but I guess it's in Brooklyn.  Speaking of Brooklyn, I think that's where Jimmy lives, rabbit ears and all.  Finding where Jim is hanging out has become this year's Where's Waldo.

Posted by jbahr at 07:11 PM | Comments (0)

April 28, 2006

Spooky Shanna

I have received the most recent American Poet:  The Journal of the Academy of American Poets and I like what I find inside.  Louis Begley writes An Appreciation of Donald Hall which entertains me because it confirms his genius in writing what many people value and what I find to be emotionally parasitic.  As is par for the course with this journal, a few poems of his and the contributing author trail after the article, including a line from The Painted Bed that I found appropriate:  "grisly, foul, and terrific".  The odd thing about Matthea Harvey is that the poems of hers that I like the most are not those that have won prizes or served as stand-ins for her short list of popular books.  Ms. Harvey waxes upon the history and recent deployment of the abecedarius by such poets as Harryette Mullen, Carolyn Forché, and Karl Elder — followed by four poems titled alternatively Terror of the Future and The Future of Terror, all of which proceed in a leisurely abecedarian manner, sounding a bit like channelling Mary Jo Bang alphabetically (that's a compliment) : "We wore gasmasks to cross the gap. / Goodnight, said the gravediggers, goodnight. / We looked heavenward but kept our hands / down when they asked for volunteers / so they simply helped themselves."  Next up is an article by Robert Pinsky on Anne Winters (about whom I knew nothing), winner of the Lenore Marshall Prize for The Displaced of Capital (which sounds rather Cloverian), verse about "the glamorous monster of New York City", pieces of which I found diverting, if prosey.  Louise Glück discusses the work of Jamaica-born Clauda Rankine, including her most recent Don't Let Me Be Lonely, which is subtitled An American Lyric but which Ms. Rankine dubs "prose fiction".  You can't get through a litmag without a Classical reference, so there's Louise's A Myth of Innocence starring an ambivalent Persephone.  Hey, there's Gerald Stern's smiling mug (and why not, he's won the Wallace Stevens Award) and a few poems:  "Never went to Birdland, so what, went to the Y / danced all night for a quarter, girls sat down / on bridge chairs, can't remember if they were smoking,".  The Golden Age of Radio contains excerpts from letters exchange between Dean Young and Mark Halliday.  Young writes prose as delightful as his poetry, and Halliday's parts are filled with interesting metaphors ("Sometimes the canoes must be turned over and painted").  Richard Wilbur suggests Stevenson, Frost and Dickinson for young audiences.  Legitimate Dangers gets a boost with a two-page article excerpted from the book by Dumanis and Marvin, followed by poems by some of those anthologized:  Robyn Schiff, Joshua Beckman, Terrance Hayes, Dan Chiasson, and Paisley Rekdal.  New Academy chancellors (selected by current chancellors for a six-year term) include Rita Dove, Kay Ryan, and Gerald Stern (poems follow by each).  Re: Print offers up "Poems from Nine Remarkable Recent Books", including work by Brian Turner, Naomi Shihab Nye, Camille Norton, David Romtvedt, Adrienne Rich, W.S. Merwin, Simone Muench, Robert Creeley, and Bob Hicok.  The Books Noted section contain micro-reviews including one of Shanna's Down Spooky.

OK, that's six days in a row. You happy now?

Posted by jbahr at 07:33 AM | Comments (1)