Friday, September 30, 2005

The open mic at The Bookworm, with the addition of a real microphone this week, came off quite well. Many people were inquiring about how to make the event a little longer, as the show is generally only about 45 minutes, and we talked of featuring particular writers. I need to build the following a little more, but then hope to pursue that suggestion more fully. After almost two months, the interest and excitement is still high and we're drawing between 25 and 30 people each week, which is a great turnout! Considering that it's the only event like it in China, I expect it to continue to grow.

As I finished work on Wednesday this week, getting an early start on the National Day holiday, I didn't have to go to work on Thursday or Friday. As a result, I drank more beer than I would normally drink at the open mic and then the majority of the hangers-on left and made our way to The Bus Bar. As the name indicates, it's a bar inside a bus and there is plenty of seating outside. Needless to say, I drank even more beer while talking to a group of Nigerians and Liberians, one who actually informed us that he was a hustler, and finally ended up getting home by 2AM. I generally try to get home before 12:30AM as the elevator in our building stops operating at that time and residents have to use the stairs to reach their apartments. It's not wonderful to climb 16 flights of stairs, especially after a night of merry-making.

Monday, September 26, 2005

"Do you like to write poetry?"
"Yes," I answer.
"Have you published anything?"
"Oh, yes," I say with a partial grin. "Many."
"You want to be a poet?"
"I am a poet!"
When I meet people who have been lucky enough to discover that I'm a writer, this kind of conversation or something close to it has been fairly typical. I don't mind telling people this about myself and, even though I don't have a substantial book of poems to my name, which seems to be the measuring stick especially among those who are less familiar with the tender world of poetry, have always considered myself a poet, at least, since I was a green high school student dabbling rhymes in my spiral notebooks. Wouldn't you like to get your hands on those!

Recently, I've been reconsidering this label, poet. I teach English in an elementary school and, since you insist, teacher would be my current profession, which pays the bills well enough. It's much more satisfying than simply providing me with a living, but I'm not writing poems for a living and, perhaps, never will. Now, while reconsidering this title, this poet, I was reminded of something a friend of mine, Frank, insisted once: "Poetry is dead, dude." He was certainly not the first person to make that statement, and I remember being highly offended by it at the time. Maybe he's right.

I tried to argue about it, but there was no changing Frank. I still don't know if I feel comfortable around that statement, after all, I write poems, but I'm less ill at ease about it. I guess I wouldn't be the first one to practice a dead form, but I suppose, romantically, I'd like to consider myself a practitioner of some living, evolving, wonderful art, and it feels that way when I work at it. Perhaps, it's just something else. It's changing and evolving.

Writing. I write this blog. It's not poetry. Sometimes, it may be poetic, but it's just writing. Expressing myself with words. I also, almost entirely, work in this electronic world, exchanging e-mail with faceless handles and names I've come to know. Often, we exchange writing, which takes the form of poetry or other things. Pictures. Those things without names. E-poetry? No, that sounds like something you have to plug in and, well, in one way, if you're not plugged in you're just not getting it. How about some new jazzy term like Neo-Modern or Neo-Experimental Poetry. Hmm, sounds too derivative and those names probably have already been used in some context. Sometimes, I write poems in those old styles (villanelles, sonnets, etc.) so how about Post-Traditional? Whatever it is, it's a project for the critics who need those terms and I'll continue along, lapping them up and then spitting them back out again.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Rank of Poker HandsResumed Beijing poker night yesterday evening after an almost three-month hiatus. I love playing cards and was happy to finally have enough players to host another game.

Six of us got together in my apartment to throw down. We bought a crate of Yanjing and kicked things off around 8:30PM and played until around midnight, not an excessively long game. Four of the players had never actually played in a card game, so they were learning the ropes. I won a few games early and then was shut out for the rest of the night. The last time I had played, I had cleaned up so was expecting a bad night. We planned to reconvene on the last Friday of every month and make it a regular game.

Monday, September 19, 2005

LotoA few weeks ago, a couple of Angela's Italian friends, Ursula and Loto (this is Loto pictured here), who we'd met in Japan, stopped in Beijing for a few days on their way to a twelve-day adventure in Mongolia. They crashed in our apartment and, as both Angela and I were working, easily took care of themselves during the day. We met them somewhere every evening, though, to eat and have a little fun together.

Eating ScorpionsWe had a great time with both of them while they were with us. Loto is quite a surprising individual, even willing to make an improvisational appearance at The Bookworm's open mic, and I never quite know what to expect from him. I would have written about their visit sooner, and may have mentioned them once among the onslaught of visitors we received this summer, but was actually waiting for this wonderful picture of me enjoying a few deep-fried scorpions. Loto actually convinced me to try these wonderful critters with him one evening after dinner. Thanks, Loto! They were quite tasty and I would recommend them to anyone. It's particularly interesting to watch the vendor skewer the live ones before dropping them in the fryer. Just another one of the many unusual things to do and see in Beijing!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Beijing Pop FestivalWent to the Beijing Pop Music Festival on Saturday with some friends and coworkers. It was an all-day affair beginning at 11AM and running until 10PM. The weather was beautiful and clear on the eve of Moon Day, which is a kind of holiday in China to celebrate the Autumnal Equinox, and our group of excited party-goers arrived around 3PM to pick up the action. Tickets for the show were 150 RMB.

As with the last music festival I'd attended, there was a heavy security presence seated on folding chairs throughout the mostly Chinese audience. The music wasn't that good, none of the artists performing were that well-known to any of us, although we still enjoyed ourselves making the best of a mediocre lineup. Numerous cans of beer were consumed and we enjoyed playing frisbee or dancing in the twilight. We caught two Chinese bands, a rapper named Lex, DJ Derrick May, ex-frontman of The Stone Roses, Ian Brown, and rapper Common. I think the highlight of the show was DJ Derrick May who mixed a heavy dose of techno grooves and really got the crowd ready for the rest of the evening's performers.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Autumn has finally come on a little stronger this past week as the temperature dipped significantly a few days ago. It's actually a little chilly in the evenings, now.

Went to a kindergarten in the North of Beijing last night to give a presentation about the Carden Method®. The school was a beautiful, huge, new Montessori school adorned in warm pastels and neon at the entrance of a nearly completed residential area. My colleagues and I arrived at about 5:30 PM after a nearly two-hour drive during rush hour on a rainy evening. We waited until 7:00 PM, and then moved to the third floor where the show would be staged. I say "show" because there was a runway in the center of the room and we had heard that some children would be modeling the latest in pre-primary school attire.

As the Carden entourage marched up the stairs to the third floor, we were greeted at every turn by a number of young women in pink sweaters and black polks-dot skirts. I thought they were just the exceedingly cute catering staff, but we learned later that they had a greater role in the evening. We entered the hall and there were, perhaps, twenty tables well-set with paper plates, plastic cutlery, an assortment of room temperature drinks and cellophane-wrapped snacks. A massive, sparklingly new collection of stage lights was hanging from the ceiling all spinning and flashing and just plain heating the already hot room. Nearly every table was full with the semester's new students and their parents. The technicians were still working on the lights and checking the sound and we seated ourselves in the already warm room, amid the smell of glue and new wood, awaiting the already late start of the event.

Carden China Director Bob MarcacciThe lights dimmed and the speaker system played a few songs by Patsy Cline. Things finally got underway and the hostess, wearing a bright pink Chinese silk dress trimmed with gold, took the small stage next to the runway. After some preliminary comments, she introduced the owner of the school who addressed everyone for about fifteen minutes. Then the hostess returned and introduced my colleagues and me and it was our turn to take the stage. Speaking to an audience of people who can't understand the presentation was difficult, and I'm not a very good pitch-man, but things went well despite being cooked by the stage lights. I could feel the sweat running down my back as if the beads were running races under my silk shirt. After my presentation, my associate, Estee Lynn, recapped my speech and gave a short presentation about our teaching materials in Chinese. We were on stage for about twenty hot minutes, but reached the end and returned to our seats.

The hostess, once again, took the stage, and introduced an elderly woman who, I was told, was a local official. She made some remarks and, while she was speaking, the girls which I thought were merely the catering staff, lined either side of the runway. The elderly woman finished speaking and, while "Lady of the Night" was playing, the young ladies made their way, one-by-one, to the end of the runway. There were about sixteen or eighteen of them, and they all introduced themselves: the kindergarten's teachers. After all of the teachers introduced themselves, the school's nurse and cook introduced themselves. Following all of this hoopla, a brief talent show was held, highlighting the talents of the young teaching staff, basically a dolled-up karaoke show. After this display of talent, some of the teachers, who had changed into street-clothes, escorted some of the little ones onto the runway to cap the evening with the fashion show. The event concluded with the cook returning, bearing the delights of his kitchen, which were distributed among those in attendance.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Just wanted to say happy birthday to my brother, who's teaching his teach at Sullivan Middle School back home in California. Check out his science page here.

Yesterday, I went to work early to take part in our school's flag raising ceremony. I was invited because some of our department's students had recently passed the GESE oral English exam and were going to be awarded certificates, and I had been asked to present the certificates during this ceremony. I was happy to do it as I was partly responsible for the success of our students (more than half of the students were children from the classes I taught last year), but also because I would get to witness this ceremony which usually occurred before I even get out of bed.

Mr. Marcacci's Post-Award StuporI wore my finest tie and such. The ceremony was held on our recently completed sports field sporting all-weather turf and surrounded by a nice track. The majority of the primary school students lined up on the field with their classes while the students who were to receive awards waited patiently near the stage, which was a cement pavilion underneath a covered area along the west side of the field. A gentleman on the stage shouted commands into the microphone he was holding and the students reacted by performing various movements under the watchful gaze of their Chinese teachers. Everything was very orderly and well-spaced. A color guard, consisting of a troop of students holding something that looked like a flag, waited on the track.

There were a few speakers who made speeches in both English and Chinese followed by a song. While this song was playing, the troop of students who were waiting on the track began marching toward the flag at the end of the field. Then the students were commanded to turn and face the flag, hold their arms up above their heads in a way that looked like they were shielding their eyes from the sun. The students were also commanded to sing the national anthem after which it was commanded to begin playing that song. The music began and the flag was raised. Following the completion of that activity, we were ushered onto the stage to do our thing with the certificates.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

What do I see when I pull my own curtain open to let in some light? Look into the morning glare out the dirty window at the building across from me. Feel tired this early with a soft, oppressive heaviness in the air. Look for signs of life. Look into the windows like mine, into those enclosed balconies with hanging laundry, stacks of books, storage boxes, some obscured by curtains. One balcony has been turned into a pigeon coop and there is a white pigeon sitting on the sill. I can hear a bird calling from somewhere, waiting for the answer of other birds. There is another, a different bird, whistling.

Look more closely into the darkened living rooms where no people can be seen. No signs of life, only the arrangements of their living. The small ledges beneath each living room window where air-conditioners sit, cans of paint, disregarded flower pots, fire extinguishers, shoes and buckets. Orangish blackish streaks mar the stuccoed surface. White pipes run the length of the exterior of the building and grey tubes, taped hoses and black wires stretch from their holes in the wall toward their machines. I can hear my next-door neighbors talking and clacking around in the kitchen as they mix the tiles for another round of Mah Jong. The rattling, sputtering, squeaking, vibrating, honking motorized sounds of vehicles, buses and motorcycles and cars and trucks, passing 16 floors below. The sound of a child repeating a name, calling out for someone.

Feel the building tremble as a truck rumbles past. I lean over in my chair to look further. Beyond the apartment building, a mirror image of my own, Beijing whiteout clouds everything. Electrical wire skeletons stand in the distance, thinly discernible in the fog or haze, rising up above the darkened spaces where there may be trees and small buildings and people roaming about. I sit here and wait for the phone to ring.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

JRFL IX LogoAnother season of American football begins in a few days as does another season of fantasy football. This is my ninth year running the Junior Robert Football League (JRFL), a fantasy football league (here's a picture of my logo for this season), and I'll easily admit to being addicted. I say American football because, after living abroad and often running into confusion with Europeans and the other football, known as soccer in the states, I thought I would begin to distinguish for the ease of my audience.

Before fantasy football, I was only a 49ers fan, rooting for my local team every week, but relatively disinterested in the rest of the game. Now, I follow all of the teams and players. Fantasy football has increased my enjoyment and appreciation of American football. Back in the states, once I began playing fantasy football, Sundays were reserved for watching football from dawn to dusk, with all the attendant pre-game previews and post-game highlights, but now I can't watch any games. The only game I watched last season (and the past three seasons) was the Superbowl, and that in Italy the day after on a video cassette. Now, aside from the fact that most of the games are being played while I'm asleep, I don't have cable or satellite television. I can't watch any games and it has become purely a fantastic statistical pursuit. I guess I love statistics.Tuesday Morning Quarterback Logo

I've become a football news junkie as a result. I use the computer too much to glean sports news daily, follow injury reports, sort statistics and monitor as many angles and sideshows as I can swallow. And, as most of you already know, there are plenty of sideshows with professional athletes. There are also great sports writers, as there are great writers in any field, and one of my favorites is Brian Easterbrook who writes his Tuesday Morning Quarterback column on NFL.com and has a column today with his haiku predictions for the upcoming season. If you have any kind of sports bone in your body, take a look. You might even be interested if you have a haiku bone in your body!

Monday, September 05, 2005

Busy, busy. One more round of travelers arrives on Friday and will stay here with us for one week, which will cap nearly two months of almost uninterrupted visits from friends and family. I'm feeling grouchy and exhausted, but I think I'll make it.

Now that the new school year has begun, and we've came into a whole new group of people in the form of my coworkers to pal around with, I'm discovering how little time I have left over for myself. Teaching Monday through Friday at Haidian Foreign Language Experimental School (where there are some action shots of me teaching, although the English version of the site seems to be malfunctioning so you'll have to finagle some navigational guesswork to see them), tutoring a Korean girl, Susan (who lives in my building), on Monday and Thursday evenings, tutoring a Chinese elementary school student, Pete, on Tuesdays and Fridays and hosting my little open mic show at The Bookworm on Wednesday evenings doesn't leave me with much time for other stuff, like writing and submitting my wonderful poems. Another student is waiting for me to arrange a good time to meet and study English. Angela's in there somewhere and, at least, I still have my weekends free.

I like it. It's a nice distraction from the terrible hurricane mess known as the U.S. Angela's like a walking encyclopedia of horrible stories and I can't get her to stop telling me about them. We're helpless, trapped in our apartment on the 16th floor, wading through the news and e-mail that just keeps flooding us. I think I'll go drown myself in a poem before hitting the sack...

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Poetic Community, pt. 4: Going International

This is the final installment in this series which began last month. Dig into my archive if you missed the previous parts.

As my readership continues to expand, I find myself writing more in this space. The online community can't help but accept me. I want to continue to give you, my audience, something new. But I don't only want to write something new, I want to continue to cull a wider audience among the cyber-masses and appeal to far-reaching folk. Why? I'm not sure, really. Is it possible? Am I so interesting? I simply like doing it, writing. This is where I live. I'm part of this cyber-community and beginning to take a larger role among the poets in this sphere. Maybe I'm being too generous with my assessment of myself. I may not be contributing as much as I think. Nonetheless, I will continue to work in this space: the blog and e-zine spheres. As better, larger and more in-depth responses continue to arrive and prompt my own further responses, I try to do more. I feel like I am being asked to do more. Will I gain fame writing my blog? Perhaps. I suppose stranger things have happened and there are those success stories out there. It hasn't made me any money, yet, though. Let's just call it an experiment for now.

I had an interesting e-mail exchange recently with a fine poet from New York or New Jersey (I'm not sure which) named Amy King who touched on some ideas that I had been tossing around, particularly the idea of living abroad and that community which has resulted. Her comments really inspired me to begin this poetic community series, and for that I'm grateful. She was telling me about how she felt that you must go elsewhere to see your own country. In my response, I mentioned that I didn't begin traveling until I was into my 30s and, as a result, felt like I got a later start on traveling than most people who generally seemed to travel when they were in their early 20s. I was a long time champion of place, by default, having stayed in one for more than three decades, although it still didn't seem as exciting as eating bread and cheese on a train in France or backpacking across China. There's something nice too about sticking it out in one place for a long time. I'd like to think it taught me patience or helped foster a finer eye for detail...

When I was a student, I could see something different in the work of my classmates who had been abroad. Although they were mostly silly college-y travel poems, the good stuff had something more. Something that my own work was lacking. It may still be lacking those things, whatever they are, but I no longer have that missing piece feeling and I feel like I have more breadth or whatever. That's about the best way for me to describe it. Perspective.

So I went to Japan and immersed myself in the online community. It was enough with a demanding job and a burgeoning new social life. Now that seems to be rolling along at a steady clip, I can begin to work on the real rather than the virtual community around me. The transient, ex-pat, international community. When you leave a place, you give up your community to some degree and all those familiar acceptances. It can be much easier to start something new, though, as often they may not already exist, which is the case with me right now. I live in China, as many of you know. I can't speak with most of the people in this country (in my neighborhood!) and, through my reading series at The Bookworm, and as my cyber-relations develop in other ways, I have only just begun to touch base with some of the ex-pat writers and artists in this massive community which is starving for release.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Wow! Fifteen posts last month. A record month for me in both hits and posts. You already know it's good, but it will only get better, so continue to tune in when you're looking for something worth clicking. Last night's literary open mic at The Bookworm was our biggest splash yet with thirteen performers and a packed house. Jam on it!

Just a quick post today to mention my new e-book! The first e-book released by an entity outside of myself. This one, entitled Wish List, released at BlazeVOX Books, and you can check it out be going to their website or by clicking on the handy link in the menu at your left. Thanks to Geoffrey Gatza for his fantastic enthusiasm about my work!

I also have a new poem in Fireweed if you want to check that out. I should have another e-book out within a month, as well as a few more poems in other publications, but I'll let you know...