April 27, 2015 § Leave a comment
If you have a blog, you get a lot of spam comments–sometimes, more than actual comments. You’ll write post of deep intellectual honesty and emotional bravery (or at least some of the finest dick jokes known to man) and someone (some robot?) going by the name of drebeatsdiscount will post a comment of barely intelligible gibberish, seemingly cut and pasted from some dark corner of the internet. The goal, I think, is just to have their name up as a link to their sales and/or malware based website.
I guess the part I don’t get is who would ever click on one of these links? “Oh, here’s someone with nothing apropos to say about anything… Maybe I should see what their personal website is all about… And now that you mention it, I do need a good discount on generic viagra!” How many people need to be naive enough to click on these things to make it a worthwhile use of a grifter’s time?
Up until this morning, I was also unsure of who would even approve one of these comments to appear on their website. Is there anyone out there desperate enough for internet attention to treat each and every comment as a badge, no matter how obviously it doesn’t engage with your content? Or is there something else at work that gets these comments to stick?
I found MY answer this morning, when I received, as a comment to a post I wrote a few years ago about Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy, this message from “gold jewelry hallmarks”:
“We find that talking to our son helps enormously but the pain of never seeing his physical presence is
too hard to bear right now.”
One glorious sentence, complete with artful line-breaks, exploring the relationship between hope and pain, I found that this spam was just too beautiful, too haunting to delete. I had to approve it because to do otherwise felt like silencing something that needed to be said. Even if it was some bot created by some con-artist that needed to say it.
But then I couldn’t just leave it hanging there, so I did a little writing exercise to warm up for my other work of the day, trying to come up with a little “poem” that matched the tone of a lot of these spam comments while saying something that might speak to what gold jewelry hallmarks was trying to convey. You can see the results below, or over at the original post.
Just don’t click on the link, no matter how much it breaks your heart.
April 22, 2015 § Leave a comment
That’s right, y’all. It is once again time for the Cracked Walnut Reading Festival to take over the Twin Cities. After hosting writers from around the world for AWP in April, it will be great to refocus on our own literary scene, as Satish Jayaraj and his crew put on 29 themed readings throughout May and into June, featuring over a hundred local writers, all at unique locations around Minnesota. You can check out the full schedule of events here to pick and choose your whatever fits your interest, schedule, and home area.
That said, I obviously feel that the one reading you absolutely shouldn’t miss is number 3: Divinity and Humor, at the Richfield Community Center (7000 Nicollet Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55423) at 7:00 pm on Tuesday, May 5th. Featuring myself, Hawona Sullivan Janzen, Catherine Dehdashti, Jeanne Lutz, Ron Palmer, Amy Salloway, and James Bohem, it should deliver the thoughtful yuk-em-ups that readers of this blog are by now familiar with.
But why not check out number 7, For the Game, as well. At the East Lake Craft Brewery (South East corner of the Midtown Global Market) on Monday May 11th, it will feature Andrew Blissenbach of MANDREW’S BLISSENBLOG and David Stein of AutoAnatta, both great friends of The Oldest Jokes of the World. Furthermore, the great writers Kate Shuknecht and Jordan Wiklund, will also be reading.
And don’t forget about number 15, Fractured Fairy Tales, at The Lift Garage on Thursday, May 21st. My lovely wife, Jenny Mcdougal, will be reading, along with the very awesome Lewis Mundt and Thomas Rohde.
But really, any event is worth checking out. It is a great way to connect with the vibrant writing community in the Twin Cities, and the perfect way to meet Satish so you can read in next year’s festival yourself!
April 16, 2015 § Leave a comment
We’ve got a very special Jokealong today: the #AWP15 edition. Last week, the Twin Cities were lucky enough to host writers, editors, publisher, and professors from across the globe for the 49th annual Association of Writers & Writers & Writing Programs Conference. If you’ve never been, it is a blast, and you can get a feel for the general atmosphere in this New Yorker Recap.
With it in my hometown, this was the first year I wasn’t overly distracted by the tourist sights and culinary delights of the host city, and I managed to stay on task for most of the conference, spending lots of time in the book fair selling chapbooks and meeting authors while working the Red Bird table, as well as taking daily laps of the other tables were I gained a ton of cool books, journals, and new acquaintances.
That said, I didn’t really hit the panels like I used to. While I feel there is always a lot more to learn about craft for a writer at any point in their career, I am not convinced you can learn much about writing from a fifteen minute speech followed by a Q&A. Reading, writing, and reading again feels like a better use of time to me. Worse still are the panels about the secret to this or that aspect of the business. If there is a secret, no one is going to tell it to a room full of a hundred twittering writers, but the confused and contradictory accounts of success only make it clear that no one really knows what they are doing. If there is a joke to be found in these sorts of panels, it is that the only secret to success is pretending that there is one and you know it.
So I went in search of panels that would instead entertain and inspire me—and that’s where I found the bets jokes, too!
One of the funniest moments came as part of Keri Miller’s interview of Charles Baxter and Louise Erdrich for a special Talking Volumes. I love both of these authors, and it was great to hear their wisdom and insights on everything ranging from craft to the midwestern landscape, but the real laughs came when they tried a few different recitations from memory: despite the fact that they both listed the Bible as an early education in the importance of story, both had an easier time remembering bad reviews, word for word, than any psalm.
The biggest laughs of the conference, for me at least, came in the awesome panel Rain Taxi put on about hip-hop and poetry, making good use of our local luminaries POS, Dessa, and Kevin Beacham, along with poet Adrian Matejka. Highlights included Eric Lorberer quizing the panels on whether certain lines came from rap or page based poetry, but POS was responsible for most of the big laughs (which I never would have guessed, listening to his mostly punchline-free music). It was great to know that he shares an affinity for another one of MN’s most famous word-smiths, F. Scott Fitzgerald, especially once he revealed the secret to overcoming his early distaste for the author: a friend told him to read it again and imagine Gatsby was black.
My favorite moments came, though, as he looked through the rapgenius.com exegeses for several of his lyrics. One of the best was his line “Who really listens? Precision with a verse draws a crowd,” from “Let It Rattle”. A commenter wrote that the line is, “A commentary on the fact that most people don’t understand the meaning behind the words, they are only interested in the rhymes and whether or not it sounds good,” which POS explained he was flattered by, though all he’d actually meant by the line was that he was great at rapping so lots of people came to his concerts. In a conference dedicated to dissecting every little aspect of a business that really just comes down to whether you are actually writing or not, it was the perfect bit of levity.
That said, I know I didn’t hear a hundredth of the jokes that were told by and about writers at the conference, so please relive the fun and post your favorites below—jokes about Minnesota and Minnesotans are especially welcome.
April 6, 2015 § Leave a comment
Just a quick note to let it be known that I’ll be attending The Associated Writing Programs Conference and Book Fair ( #AWP15 ) this week in big-time Minneapolis. I’ve been to five conferences, and they’re always an inspiring and educating experience, so after having to miss last year’s, I’m excited to have it in my own back yard this year.
I’ll be resurrecting our #jokealong series for the week, too, tracking down all the best humor in the keynotes, panels, and hallway banter before nominating a best joke of the conference. If you’ve never been to an AWP before, check out the #jokealong from AWP Boston for sense of how much fun shooting the shit with a bunch of other writers can be.
I’ll be working the Red Bird Chapbooks booth on Saturday from 1-5, closing down the book fair, so stop by to look at some gorgeous hand-made books, get info about submitting to us, or just to say hi and give me your best literary joke. I’ll also have some copies of Slash in my backpack to sell—but honestly, if you go through the trouble of tracking me down, I’ll probably be flattered into giving them to you for free!