Killer Poetry

We’ve had killer fiction on our radar screen for a while. Now here comes the tragic tale of… killer poetry!

A former teacher was detained in Russia’s Urals after being accused of stabbing an acquaintance to death in a dispute about literary genres, investigators said Wednesday.

The 67-year-old victim insisted that “the only real literature is prose,” the Sverdlovsk Region’s branch of the Investigative Committee said.

The victim’s assertion outraged the 53-year-old suspect, who favored poetry, and the dispute ended with the ex-teacher stabbing his friend to death, investigators said.

Ridiculous! I cannot imagine any circumstance in which arguing over the world of ideas can possibly be… wait, what?

This is not the first time high-brow disputes have led to bloodshed in Russia. In September, a man was shot in a line for beer in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don after enraging a fellow beer drinker with his views about the work of Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant.

I stand corrected. Kant – that’s different! Fellow beer drinkers be warned: Don’t mess with my views of Immanuel Kant!

Who’s Cheating America: Lonesome Highway Edition

Ah, the joys of interstate travel! Europe may have trains, but we Americans have the I-system. The open road! Freedom! Purple mountains! Amber waves!

And for those of us who love the wide-open feeling of hitting the road, there are all the little wayside restaurants and truck stops and lonely old gas stations. Selling Cokes and coffee and all that good road food.

Okay, some are disgusting. Some have bathrooms that feel almost sub-human. But the clean, well-run places – like the Flying J Travel Centers – are welcome oases.

I love the Flying J! Second only to Sheetz on my list of welcome sights at the bottom of Interstate offramps.

It turns out that the Flying J Travel Centers are run by Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam. We’ve had some issues with NFL owners in the past, as well as the NFL itself… but here’s a good story. The Flying J! Clean, well-lighted joints where Americans need them most! Thank you, Jimmy Haslam!

Except for one problem… America is being cheated. And the Flying J is at the heart of itContinue reading

Small Press Shout-Out: Akashic Books!

Here we go! Back to Brooklyn for another small press shout-out. This week, we look at Akashic Books, which describes itself as

a Brooklyn-based independent company dedicated to publishing urban literary fiction and political nonfiction by authors who are either ignored by the mainstream, or who have no interest in working within the ever-consolidating ranks of the major corporate publishers.

They have at least one blockbuster you no doubt have heard of – the megahit Go the F*** to Sleep and the G-rated version Seriously, Just Go to Sleep.

Detective and crime aficionados will want to take a look at their Noir series, which is edited by luminaries like George Pelecanos and Joyce Carol Oates, and which includes titles like Brooklyn Noir and Cape Cod Noir (and D.C. and Detroit and Dallas and Dublin and Delhi and London and New Jersey and the Midwest and Mumbai and New Orleans and Moscow and… oh, just go look at the whole page, they all look great.

And oh, good lord: Ziggy Marley wrote a children’s book!? Apparently so, and apparently it’s called I Love You TooWell, of course it is. Those of us who spent much of the late-80s blasting Tomorrow People from the boombox will be smiling along with me, I’m sure.

Did I hallucinate this, or did I see Ziggy Marley twice in concert? I seem to recall going to see Ziggy Marley, Cheap Trick, and INXS – and also seeing Ziggy Marley opening for Stevie Nicks on another tour. Could that be? And were the Sugarcubes part of the latter? Ah, the 80s. Tripping on Mountain Dew… it’s all such a bright, colorful blur…

Final note: if you’re like me and you tend to see a good book listed somewhere, then you wander over to Amazon to save a few bucks, fear not! Akashic Books offers 25% off every book, every day. So you can buy from their website. Good luck, Akashic Books! I love you too!

Previous Small Press Shout-Outs:

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love CreateSpace (Okay, Okay, I’m Still Worried)

Readers, you have been extremely patient. I know not everyone is on board with the Kindle or other e-device. Curiously, I’ve heard from a lot of people who once had a Kindle and have stopped using it. One wonders what the future will bring. In the meantime, I’m trying to make my books available to as many readers as possible. And with that…I am unveiling…


Yes, the print version has been formatted both inside and out. I’m still awaiting the proofs, which should take another week or so, depending on shipping times. And soon after that, if all goes well, you too can own a copy of your very own for the low low price of $4.99.

I’m extremely excited. So why am I concerned? What’s the fly in my bonnet? Continue reading

What They Knew #27

“A wise reader reads the book of genius not with his heart, not so much with his brain, but with his spine. It is there that occurs the telltale tingle…”

– Vladimir Nabokov

Who’s Cheating America: The Overzealous Recyclers

We take care of the elderly in America! These are our beloved grandparents and great-grandparents. We want them to be healthy. We make sure they’re getting their medications. And they often need it! Thanks to miracles of modern science, different medications keep those brains sharp and those hearts beating.

If you’ve ever been to a nursing home, you know what the cupboards look like. Prescription bottle after prescription bottle, all sitting there, waiting to be used.

And what if prescriptions change or the resident passes away? What happens to those unused pills? They can’t just be thrown out, can they? Don’t they seep into the water supply? Of course they do. They need to be disposed of properly!

You can probably guess where I’m headed with this. The recycling never happened! Or it did and someone got stuck with the bill who wasn’t supposed to. Grieving relatives? Underresourced nursing homes?

Oh no. That would be a story in and of itself. But that’s not this story.

This story is so much worseContinue reading

Popova on Lightman

Just when I get beyond my fear of falling into a black hole, along comes Maria Popova to throw me back into a cosmic tailspin.

In the title essay of his excellent The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew, which also gave us this beautiful meditation on science and spirituality, Alan Lightman points to fine-tuning — the notion that the basic forces propelling our universe appear to be fine-tuned in such a way as to make the existence of life possible — as a centerpiece of how modern scientists have attempted to answer these age-old question [of why our world exists and what nothing is].

So far so good. Here’s where I start to get uneasy:

The most compelling example of fine-tuning is dark energy — an invisible and unexpected cosmological force that hides in empty space and works against the universe’s slowing expansion, a sort of “cosmic accelerator pedal” that is speeding up its expansion and causing galaxies to drift away from one another.

Don’t… like… dark… energy… (takes deep breath). Too much is unexplained! And having its foot on the accelerator pedal… well, that just seems malicious to me. Things fall apart! The center does not hold! And the universe is stuffed with something we don’t understand!

Popova quotes Lightman:

On one thing most physicists agree. If the amount of dark energy in our universe were only a little bit different than what it actually is, then life could never have emerged. A little larger, and the universe would have accelerated so rapidly that matter in the young universe could never have pulled itself together to form stars and hence complex atoms made in stars. And, going into negative values of dark energy, a little smaller and the universe would have decelerated so rapidly that it would have recollapsed before there was time to form even the simplest atoms.

Huh. Maybe I’ll read the Lightman book, which Popova praises to the, ahem, skies:

[E]xquisitely mind-bending read in its entirety, the kind that will leave you at once educated and disoriented, but above all able to embrace and celebrate the profound uncertainty that propels rather than hinders human knowledge.

Certainly a ringing endorsement from one of my favorite ringing endorsementers.

Then again, just look at that title. The accidental universe? The world I thought I knew? No thanks!

Certainty is hard to come by in this world, Mr. Lightman. I’ll take my share and get out.

Fantastic Poem Breakdown: “In Memory of W. B. Yeats” by W.H. Auden

Taking a break from the Terrible Poem Breakdown series this week. Instead, we’re focused on Nina Martyris’s wonderful look at a classic poem by the great W.H. Auden. More than just a close read, Martyris’s essay provides what amounts to a biography of the poem in the hands of multiple poets:

The poem was W. H. Auden’s “In Memory of W. B. Yeats,” and this is the story of its astonishing afterlife — how three separate elegies in three different countries were modeled on it; how Auden’s words were quite literally, in Auden’s line from the poem, “modified in the guts of the living,” and how, in a feat that even someone as reputedly self-anointing as Auden could not possibly have foreseen, it went on to link a multicultural pantheon of greats: Yeats, Auden, T. S. Eliot, Joseph Brodsky, Derek Walcott, and Seamus Heaney.

I’ve been hard on terrible poets for their overreliance on Death. But in the hands of the able, the results can be stunning. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say I prefer poems that are focused on the dead rather than death itself (elegiac vs. thanatopic).


No, I think it’s just the difference between a great poet and a terrible one.

Now go read the essay – it’s worth your precious limited time!

Who’s Cheating America: The Opera Lover

It’s a great American success story. A Cuban immigrant flees Castro, makes a friend in the U.S., and the two of them promptly invest in some little-known tech companies that make them indescribably rich. AOL? Yep. Ebay? Yep. Microsoft in 1979? Yep. Not a bad track record!

What do they do with the money?

Vilar donated $50 million to the Kennedy Center in Washington, $45 million to the Metropolitan Opera in New York, $25 million to Covent Garden in England, $20 million to Valery Gergiev’s Kirov Orchestra in Russia, $10 million to Placido Domingo’s Los Angeles Opera and millions in donations to smaller ventures.

Oh, boy!

So what’s the problem? Isn’t making money via stocks an honest way to make a living? And giving it to charity – nothing wrong with that, right?

Well, the problem comes when you start opening up your shop as an investment adviser. Investing other people’s money. And…if you’re not exactly honest about how you’re going to invest it:

[According to the SEC,] Vilar and Tanaka, as well as other Amerindo employees, solicited clients to invest funds in GFRDAs [Guaranteed Fixed Rate Deposit Accounts], a product in which Amerindo guaranteed that investors would earn a fixed rate of return per year on their investment, and would receive their principal at maturity. Amerindo represented to investors that it would invest the majority of their funds in short-term debt instruments and invest the remaining portion of their funds in equities. After individuals and entities invested funds in the GFRDAs, however, Vilar, Tanaka and Amerindo failed to invest the funds in accordance with the representations to investors.

Really? So what did they invest in?

Rather, Vilar and Tanaka largely invested in equity securities, such as emerging technology and biotechnology stocks.

Uh-oh. We know what happened. The tech stocks in the early 2000s did not perform as well as Microsoft in 1979…

But even so – can we really blame these guys? Are they worthy of our Cheating America series? After all, they just tried to help others succeed in the way they succeeded. They got rich off tech stocks, so they thought they could help others get rich the same way. The market è mobile!


Moreover, especially during the post-2000 bear market, these equity investments did not perform well and Amerindo was often unable to pay GFRDA investors their promised returns, or to return investors’ principal at maturity. Consequently, when investors sought to redeem their GFRDAs, Amerindo generally either refused to honor redemption requests, or redeemed the GFRDAs with other investors’ funds taken from unrelated brokerage accounts in, for example, the name of AMI, ATGF and/or ATGF II.

Starting to sound like a Ponzi scheme…

And then this:

Additionally, the amended complaint alleges that Vilar, Tanaka and Amerindo defrauded investors who invested in two offshore hedge funds, ATGF and ATGF II. According to offering circulars, ATGF and ATGF II planned to invest in emerging growth companies. Rather than using investor funds solely to invest in such companies’ securities, however, Tanaka directed ATGF and ATGF II to transfer investor funds from the funds’ brokerage accounts to other accounts for Vilar’s and Tanaka’s own business and personal benefit.

D’oh! That’s no good, Amerindo! That’s cheating America! You funneled Grandma’s retirement money to help keep the lights on at the opera house. And we weep the tears of a clown…

Previous entries in our Who’s Cheating America? series:

Small Press Shout-Out: Ugly Duckling Presse!

A presse! We’re obviously big fans of the extra e here at the Jacke blog. But there’s more than just creative spelling going on over at Ugly Duckling. There’s the logo (Toyota-like in its ability to combine the presse’s letters into a recognizable symbol).

But none of that matters as much as the catalog. And it’s here the presse’s eclectic devotion shines through. They put out more than 25 titles per year of poetry books and chapbooks, printing and binding many of them by hand at the “UDP workshop,” which sounds like a place I’d like to spend some time in. There’s also an Eastern European Poets Series, a “Lost Literature” series (dedicated to salvaging forgotten 20th-century gems), and a Dossier Series.

Could there be a more intriguing description of a small-press series than this?

UDP’s Dossier Series was founded in 2008 to expand the formal scope of the press. Dossier publications don’t share a single genre or form—poetry, essay, criticism, interview, artist book, polemical text—but rather an investigative impulse.

Before investigating further, I tried to guess what that might look like. Crime in America? The history of the don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy? Healthcare and mental illness? School lunch programs? Auto safety?

Hmm. Was I close? I’m not actually sure. I think I know what Ed Steck is going for with The Garden: Synthetic Environment for Analysis and Simulation, but what about Simone White’s Unrest? Or Vanessa Place’s Boycott? What’s the investigative impulse behind Arielle Greenberg’s Shake Her or Cecilia Vicuna’s Spit Temple?

In the end I’m not sure it matters. Something is going on here; the people running Ugly Duckling Presse are smart enough to trust that it’s worth digging into further. Let me know if you have any recommendations!

Previous Small Press Shoutouts: