I Am Big. It's the Pictures That Got Small

for those wonderful people out there in the dark

31 October 2005

Current News

Sorry, a little reprieve from all things Bronco and poetry.

Strange couple of weeks in the news world, everything from Rosa Park's death and improbable tribute of her Capitol Rotunda "lying in state," to Helmsman Sulu of Star Trek finally coming out of the closet. Of course, the entire Libby affair and the continued Bush mastery over the Press (the story is one of "relief" that no more indictments were discharged--not over the fact that this aide is indeed a liar to his boss and his other subordinates, not over the fact that this debacle has everything to do with how the war was advertised--but all of that would take a Press capable of genuine self-reflection. Funny how Judy Miller is still employed by the The New York Times, as if her departure would free her to become a Fox News Analyst, letting her spit venom at her former employee; the Times and Miller deserve each other).

Of course, there's the whole Miers/Alioti switcheroo. I don't think, as some bloggers do, that Miers was a red herring; I believe Bush sincerely nominated her simply based on his familiarity with her and their common adult/Evangelical conversions. What I find curious in all the commentary so far regarding the new nominee is the absence of pointing out that if Alioti is confirmed, it would mean that all five of the conservative wing of the Supreme Court are Roman Catholic males. I realize that Kennedy is not as orthodox in being either an "originalist" or "constructionalist," but it is very scarey the uniformity of this block. In any event, that Scalia, Thomas, and Alioti apparently like to read the Constitution the way they read the Bible, as literalists, essentialists, and foundationalists, unnerves me.

I'm not talking about the overtuning of Roe v. Wade here (though that seems certain now--which might finally re-invigorate the Democrats, and you'll see plenty of evangelicals making trips to Blue states to have their abortions, too). Their ferver and zeal will cool and constrict our freedoms; it will be a chill that even some of my libertarian friends will sense.

15 October 2005

National Book Award Finalists

Before I go into the poetry nominees, I must first say that if Joan Didion doesn't win for nonfiction with her magnificient The Year of Magical Thinking, there's something irrevocably wrong with the entire literary scene in the United States. She's pound for pound the best writer we have.

Okay. This year's nominees:

W.S. Merwin for Migration: New and Selected Poems
Frank Bidart for Star Dust
Brendan Galvin for Habitat: New and Selected Poems
John Ashbery for Where I Shall Wonder
Vern Rutsala for The Moment's Equation

First, I think Mark Doty's School of the Arts and Denise Duhamel's Two and Two were two books, just to name two, worthy of being an NBA finalist.

Here, you have two heavyweights in Merwin and Ashbery, and three finely establish poets, with Rutsala being probably the least known (outside of the Pacific Northwest). Then you have two books that are "new and selected" editions, which is often the easy choice to make. About my own biases, first would be for Rutsala, since he is also a native Idahoan; second for Galvin, since he has written the most positive review of any of my books of poetry; third for Merwin, since he was an early influence and since he once complimented me on how well I rolled a joint for him (this was way back in 1982); fourth for Bidart, since I think he's been one of our least appreciated and most ambitious of poets.

I would vote for Merwin. His latest poetry, as I have been following in the New Yorker (which has been terrible in selecting poetry beyond the established poets), has been supremely lyrical and meditative. Sentimentally, though, I would opt for Rutsala, but honestly I find much of his work, well, flat in a William Stafford kind of way (and I know that that's an unfair and obvious comparison, since both have taught at Lewis and Clark). I would not be upset, though, if Galvin got it.

As for Ashbery, I'm a little tired of the enthrallment for his work (Helen Vendler's main man), which I know has nothing to do with his poetry--my real problem with his work is that it makes an argument for poetry's own inadequacy, that painting or music are really higher art forms (they may be), as his poetry strains for that kind of opaqueness (at its worse) or whimsy (at its best).

06 October 2005


Boise State is back on track, riding a two-game win streak, after tearing it up against Bowling Green and then an exciting win at Hawai'i. They will now go through the soft spot of their schedule, with the next (and last) big match with Fresno State in November. Will write more on their progress soon enough.

The poetry scene, well, there's more to discuss on that one, too--perhaps a piece on the difficulty of building a really good community of poets, etc.

But the real immediate news for me is that I am in the Jeopardy! pool, having passed the audition process. No doubt, all of this will see itself in a poem, but here's what I went through.

Jeopardy! periodically hosts tryouts across the nation, and about a year ago they had one in Tampa. I submitted pretty late in the process, and so my name didn't get into the pool. However, about four weeks ago, out of the blue, I got a notice that I was invited for tryouts this year in Tampa. They were held in the Don Cesar Beach Resort on St. Pete Beach, about a two hour drive from Fort Myers. They carefully outlined the process: a 50 question test, and if I "passed" it, I would go on to an interview session and mock game, just to see how I would be as a potential Jeopardy! guest.

When we got to the hotel (this was convenient, as we were on our way to a conference in Jacksonville), there were already scores of other invitees: about 2/3 male, and all but two were white. Gerri stayed in the lobby, while I went upstairs to the "tryout" room. Before that room were all the invitees, 71 of us, most dressed in their "Jeopardy!" clothes, suites, ties, dresses, etc. A few of us were more casually dressed, including me. A couple, well, they were trying to make a statement (one was this fellow who weighed all of 80 pounds, mostly nicotine, who wore a yellow-striped shirt, corduroy pants, a wacked-out green striped tie, and cowboy boots. Most of the men milled about, taking an eye-full of the competition--their preening was almost unbearable. An elderly man was "testing" his daughter, having her name the main bodies of water of Manitoba. It was creepy, and I had an impulse to bolt.

By that time, a way too cheery woman, about my age, in a loud, dinner-theater voice called us into the tryout room. She was joined by a technician, who operated the computer panel for the projection screen, and a contestant coordinator, who was equally loud, but in a stand-up comedy kind of way. They spent five minutes reassuring everyone, and we went through some warm up questions that were projected onto the screen, just as in the televised game itself. We went through a dvd of Alex Trebek welcoming us, and then a prepatory review of what the 50 question test would be like.

The test was also on a dvd, and the announcer for the program read the "answers," as they would appear on the game. After reading it, there would be an eight second delay before he would go onto the next "answer." We had that eight seconds to write down our answers, and then concentrate on the next question. The fellow next to me, who had come from Albany, Georgia, would just grunt everytime he couldn't get an answer--he was grunting continually through the last ten questions. In fact, I think that was the real challenge of the test, which was to stay focused on the question before you; I suspect many of the others experienced fatigue, couldn't keep up, or just couldn't let a question go.

They told us before the test that you would need to get about 70% correct in order to go on.

So the questions were like: The author of Prufrock and other poems. or The 1984 and 88 gold medalist in the 10 meter diving event. (T.S. Eliot and Greg Louganis). There were three questions I couldn't answer (one on the name of the Elizabethan collar), one I got half the answer, and I took educated guess on about two others. So after the test, I thought I had a good shot, as I figured I probably missed six in all. I wasn't too frustrated, but I was sure that there had to be a good number of people who did better than I did.

After they went through the tests, the coordinators again gave everyone a pep talk, thanked everyone for coming, and reminded them that this wasn't any kind of IQ test--a guy behind me said, "yeah, right." Then they read the names of the FOUR people who passed, and I was one of the four. What stunned me was that there were only four of us: a lawyer (but perhaps the only one who wasn't wearing a tie) from Tampa, an in-between jobs father from South Carolina, a vaguely creepy looking science fiction writer, and me. Four white guys.

After another pep talk from the female coordinator, about how the next part was to see how we would appear on the game, encouraging us to keep up our energy and show our enthusiasm, the other three finalists were set up for a mock game. They did well, on the whole, but the most impressive was the sci-fi guy--not for answering the questions, but having something of a genuinely pleasant personality. The other two guys were perfectly fine, nondescript, but attractive in that clean-cut kind of way, too. Afterwards, they did an "interview," merely asking the kinds of prompts Alex Trebek gives mid-way through the first round. Again, the sci-fi guy was personable, articulate, and I knew he was in. Then, they had me take the sci-fi guy's place, and I tore up the board, as I was beating the other guys to the buzzers and getting the answers correct. I was just focusing on the game, being loud, and enthusiastic. I then had my interview question, and I went on about how I would travel for rock climbing, sadly saying had hard it was to get that done in Florida. Not horribly funny, but cute enough.

Anyway, at the end of it, the coordinator said that we all would be thrown into the contestant pool (about 500 people each year are so considered, of which 400 play), and that we'd be in the pool for the next 14 months. When our turn comes up, they'll give us a call, about three weeks before the taping to fly out to L.A. We pay our own expenses, but the second and third place prizes of $2000 and $1000 should easily pay the costs.

So, it could be my time for the big time.

Actually, I took it all as a lark, as a really goofy indulgence. I will, though, have to tell my mom about this--she's a huge fan of Jeopardy! and Wheel--and no doubt, she'll give me lots of advice. I will have to do a little boning up on geography and some elements of world history, but I'm pretty strong otherwise (give me those dreaded ballet and poetry and football categories, and I'll kick butt).