Tuesday, December 16, 2008

From the Paris of the Piedmont

The West End Poets Weekend, sponsored by the Town of Carrboro, was a lot of fun. There was a big turnout with readings by about dozen poets, including several kids from local middle schools and high schools who wrote some amazing material. After much nervous preparation, my ten minutes of fame went well. People laughed in the right places and didn't laugh in any wrong places.

The event is covered in the two most recent issues of the West End Poets Newsletter. The November/December 2008 issue is online here and the January/February issue should soon be posted on that same link. The January/February issue includes two of my poems, including a revision to my Carrboro poem (and a new title.) More poetry from the event is included here, including another poem by me.


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

West End Poets Weekend

Carrboro is sponsoring the West End Poets Weekend this Saturday, October 11. I've been given a 10-minute spot in the NC Poets block. The schedule is included at the link. Carrboro has been promoting local literary efforts through the Parks and Recreation Department and this is their biggest annual event. I'm excited to participate.

And for the occasion, a poem about Carrboro.

Daydream Window

The daydream window
plops raspberry sorbet scoops
atop crape myrtle cones
by the organic dairy store,
frames the orange bricks
of the hosiery mill
framing bistros,
co-op, and galleries.

In the purview of the daydream window
Parisians of the Piedmont
open laptops on picnic tables,
eat quinoa salad with fair-trade tea,
people-watch the passersby
with the elan
of the Jardin des Tuileries.

Through the daydream window
the quotidian flows, boundless
as the bottomless refills
and broken bits of nacho chips
she sweeps from aged oak floors
in the slow of the afternoon.


Saturday, May 31, 2008


The Week in Haiku

Like three out of five
with three lost, Clinton goes on,
says I win because!

Won't let relief in,
won't let Aung San Suu Kyi out,
chase storm victims "home."


Friday, May 30, 2008

L'Émétique de l'Amour

The Emetic of Love

c’est un art of performance,
c’est un act of pain,
c’est un state of the mind
that one must grieve
to prove one’s love,
to cry for love,
to be consumed by love,
to suffer a French film of love,
one more tormented nausea of love,
just give me the emetic of love
and eject that Guantánamo
of a DVD.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Confessions of a statistics teacher

I have a confession. I've taught statistics to master's students in public administration and planning and given them, in a one-semester course, just enough to make them dangerous. (I've also seen far too many papers at professional conferences where college faculty didn't seem to understand what I'd expect master's students to know from a year-long stats sequence.)

Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) regression is a statistical technique for estimating a relationship between two variables. For example, it can be used to estimate how varying doses of a particular drug relate to reductions in blood pressure, or how hours of tutoring relate to a subsequent increase in SAT scores.

Here is an explanation of OLS with a presentation using calculus and matrix algebra. Here is an explanation for the non quant jock. The title of the poem below is taken from the matrix algebra formula (Wikipedia uses a T superscript where I use a prime (')). The first two lines of the poem restate the title in words if you're baffled about the pronunciation of the title. Only a statistics major or a doctoral student in a good social science program would get into the rigor of the matrix algebra model. When I teach master's students, there's no calculus and no matrix notation. When I teach the one-semester course, the goal is to teach the students to be discriminating consumers of statistical studies that they may see in future public sector employment. In a doctoral course or a year-long master's course, the goal is to teach students how to do their own studies. I've only taught the introductory classes in which I don't have time to give students sufficient experience and depth to develop good studies of their own after they leave. I hope I haven't sent students along armed with a weapon they can't fire properly.


X prime X inverse
X prime Y
relates phenomenon X
to phenomenon Y.
Umbrella counts on the street
relate to likelihood of rain,
but does rain cause umbrellas,
or do umbrellas cause rain?
Most users of the tool
wouldn’t know the source,
wouldn’t know how their theories
could stray miles off course.
All they know is software
regresses a line,
from that they conclude
that X causes Y:
put X more umbrellas
out on the street,
you’ll get BX more rain,
measured in feet.


Thursday, May 8, 2008

You will be assimilated


Is that
my command to you,
to read my request,
to translate to ones and zeroes,
obediently perform
all I that have asked
before humbly returning,
ready to be commanded again?

Or is that
your pronouncement to me,
that you will be back
with further instruction,
that I will be assimilated
into machine-convenient
syntax and thought,
that I will dance
while you fire
error messages at my feet,
until I scream uncle or worse
and surrender?


Friday, April 25, 2008

I win because!

When I was little, my family and three others would rent a beach house together in the summer. The parents and the older kids would play a complicated rummy game together, and my cousin (let's call him B) would watch from the sidelines because he was too young. Every hand in the grown-up game had a different contract, and B invented his own game which must have been based on his impression of our game. After the big people's game was done, an aunt or older kid in a generous moment would play B's game with him. B would deal out a hand, give some instructions, and then explain why he was the winner of that hand. B won every hand, and for every hand he came up with a different rule for why he won. We older kids came to call B's game I Win Because.

I've thought about writing a poem based on I Win Because for a long time, but it just wouldn't come together. Then yesterday something in the news made think of I Win Because and I came up with this poem in about an hour. Let's call it inspired by B's game, but it goes way beyond where B ever went.


I win because
I have four cards
and you have three,
because I have
the seven and eight of hearts.
I win because
I’m a cute five-year-old
who can barely count.

I win because
all your good cards
came early,
my cards are bigger,
because your
king of spades
all your other cards.
I win because
you will patronize me,
you see the tantrum
start to rise
when you challenge me.

I win because
my cards
have more spots than yours,
because I dealt you
all the cards in your hand
and you will be grateful
to let me win.
I win because
my cards are blue
and your cards are red,
because none
of your cards matter.

I win because
I will throw
all the cards on the floor
and set them on fire
if you don’t let me win.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

No white smoke yet

The Week in Haiku

The Pope came to town,
wore ornate medieval gowns
and really tall hats.

The Keystone State’s done,
but the Democratic race
will go on and on.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Happiness on the side

I do most of my work from home. It's nice to get a change of venue once in a while, and my favorite places to do that are restaurants or coffee shops. I like to go mid to late afternoon when there are few if any customers and the operators don't mind my occupying a table for two hours. I like a table by a window with an interesting street view, something that facilitates pondering while I write. I liked a Qdoba burrito place while I did time in Illinois. Here in North Carolina I have another burrito place, Armadillo Grill, that I can walk to. The Qdoba people came to know me from weekly visits. All were friendly, but one motherly Mexican-American woman had such a radiant smile that a two-minute interaction at the burrito counter could make my day.

Burrito Lady

She serves up a side
of happiness that tickles
my insides before
I even taste my lunch.
With selfish motivations
I write this ode —
that she might serve up
a second helping.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Of four thousand: one

The American death toll in Iraq is likely to pass 4000 soldiers in the next week. (Associated Press already estimates 4000 fatalities, including civilian employees.) It is sometimes easy to forget that these statistics are more than just numbers, easy to forget that each of those numbers represents a person, easy to lose sight of the individual lives lost and the grief of the families and friends who knew these individuals not as statistics, but as living, breathing people. After five years of war and so many deaths it is easy to tune out the individual sacrifice until something reminds us.


Steven Freund of Pittsburgh, twenty. Dead.
Another of the names and faces
that hover silently, briefly, daily, after the news.
Of two thousand four hundred fifty-five,
his name stands out.
Pittsburgh. I once lived there.
He was born while I studied for my dissertation.
He was three when I moved away.
Did he play army in the sandbox then?
When his parents looked to his future,
did they see him going to the desert to war,
could they have found Iraq on a map?
Steven Freund, twenty, of Pittsburgh.
His name is German for “friend.”
He dropped out of high school,
got a G.E.D.,
hoped the Marine Corps
would straighten him out
and pay for college.
Two thousand four hundred fifty-four
before him crossed my TV screen.
I notice one.
Steven Freund of Pittsburgh.