Monday, April 29, 2013

8/50: Bluebeard

Bluebeard, by Kurt Vonnegut
5/5 stars
This is my 8th book in Rex & Jake's 50-Book Reading Challenge,
which Rex leads 10-8. Full list can be found here.

I've always thought of The Great Gatsby as "The Great American Novel" because it moves and shakes like America. It has the sunsets of dreams in the background, with the hopes and aspirations in the foreground, all meandering like specters among big parties and small conversations.

However, if it were up to me, I'd deem Kurt Vonnegut "The Great American Author" because he's always been able to explain Americans in a profound and understandable lecture while still making jokes. He's sincere and heartbreaking and funny and philosophical all in one paragraph, which is why his books are almost stupefying. They floor me every single time. He's always right. He's right about how America should be. He's right about how people should be. He's right about how everything should be.

And yet he can observe the mistakes, articulate the wrongdoing of mankind, and point out what mattered and why in the great messy history of modern humans. He's what all writers strive to be without any of the ego problems or the stuffy choice of words. He is what people desperately need: a moral compass that is astute and accessible.

There's a sense of beauty and importance to what he says, and he writes like it'll count and make a difference, though it has the humility and silliness of a dinner party comment. He's grateful for what he has and can do, not just for himself, but for humanity, and it shines through in his writing. His words glow when they finally settle somewhere behind your eyes.

Bluebeard is a flawless book. It takes on so much while keeping the narrative short in scope. It never goes astray, as it calmly delivers the scattered breadth of a great artist's life. It gives you the gold along with the gags, and you can't believe how much fun it is, observing the long life of a man who's never existed. It's the fictional autobiography of Rabo Karabekian, now in the sparkling twilight of life, all with his greatest work out in the potato barn that he won't let anyone see. A wild female writer many decades his junior crashes with him and stirs up memories and portraits of reflection come to be his book.

It was goddamn supreme.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


written early in the morning by jake kilroy.

i woke up with thoughts of copenhagen,
breathing in light and exhaling romance.
beyond the seas i've faired and land i've crossed,
there's a city of color with pubs full of mermaids.
at night, the sky glistens as a smashed chandelier.
in the day, the world rounds endless in its airy frontier.
one gorgeous woman charms one generous man.
"you had my attention, but now you have my heart."
bicycles, statues, cafes, operas, affairs - truly,
the summer never dies. it just sleeps through.
and here i am on the west coast of america,
waiting to do absolutely nothing about it.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

"bulletin board"

"bulletin board"
written with the windows open by jake kilroy.

with severed nerves pinned to a bulletin board,
these arms flashed and reached out for the bookcase
to learn a thing or two, to take the knowledge in,
to feed the mouth words, to dine on the truth,
to swallow the pride, to bask in the glory.

and so it was that the streets of the mind flooded with women
borne from the sea of a calendar year shoot
carried by the waves of sweaty concert hands
taken to the church of the metaphor-saken holy
all to let this heart pop like a coo-coo clock
with the last sip of rye on the tip of the tongue
as these carousel pupils found the damsel in this dress
waiting for a man to finally read her gone with the wind
in the middle of the night by memory and swagger alone.

then what good were the hot showers so many years ago,
when we were burning off the sunshine that stuck to us?
i'll say it, just like every lover's said it before me, goddamnit;
i traced constellations in the freckles of your back while you slept.
oh, what a future i told myself before i cleaned the sheets and moved.
what a dream i had seen between the second and third glass of wine.

this year, i'm a bounty.
that year, i was wreckage.

oh, then, then!
then there was a drug-riddled assassin at play in my throat
and a sharpshooter drinking himself thin in my eyes.
i waited for you to come home to take you out
to show you the world, to beg for it back,
to carve up the earth, to dig at the past.

oh, how i was a loose cannon firing on all cylinders then,
and you were a beauty.
no wordplay,
no styling,
no joke.
you were goddamn gorgeous.

Monday, April 22, 2013

7/50: Nobody Move

Nobody Move, by Denis Johnson
3/5 stars
This is my 7th book in Rex & Jake's 50-Book Reading Challenge,
which Rex leads 10-7. Full list can be found here.

I think I was just hoping for a Coen Brothers movie. I mean, I was expecting to laugh out loud one moment and then squirm the next. I was looking for noir at its zaniest, with accidental gunshots and confused anti-hreoes who aren't totally sure why they're doing what they're doing or who they're doing it for. I didn't necessarily get that here. Instead, I got a partially noir story that jived and joked, sure, but never really lit up or glowed. But it also didn't waste my time. It got right into the wild (a bit without the wit though).

Don't get me wrong. It was fun. It just wasn't enough.

I like my noir one of two ways, either dedicated old school or whole-heartedly new wave. One has less humor, but it's got the dedication, as it's playing by the rules. The other is strictly meta, observing the genre while moving its characters along, as it's playing with the rules. This was somewhere between, and I don't think that really works as a formula, if it's going to sneak up my alley. I want Touch Of Evil or Fargo, really. Otherwise, it never reads true, because it's existing as two different things. And that's not genre-bending. That's just blurry, which makes the narrative slightly wonky. Also, I understand that it was going for anarchy and action, but with so few characters, so little direction, and so small of a drive to the plot, there needs to be history (or at least an ending of any kind). Why is anyone doing anything? Who knows? Everybody's just floatin' or jivin' or who-the-fuck-knows-whatin'.

Ah well. I bought the book solely because the cover was a hot pop-art girl in her underwear holding a smoking gun. What'd I expect?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Bomb Control

"Bomb Control"
a quick thought by jake kilroy.

Before I see more Facebook posts of "Bombers were blamed, not the bombs, but guns are still blamed - double standard," I want to point out why this isn't a double standard.

The difference here is that bombs can't be purchased ready made at a Big 5 Sporting Goods or a publicly advertised bomb show, and background checks are therefore not an option in the process.

I absolutely, totally agree that perpetrators should be held accountable and responsible for any horrifying action, no matter the weapon, first and foremost.

However, there is an opportunity to potentially (not definitely) curb future gun violence (as guns are often legally sold in these instances), not bomb violence (as bombs are often homemade in these instances). Not everyone with a gun is crazy or reckless. Obviously. But there's a chance to lessen the ease of availability to unstable individuals, and I say take it, as I support gun control, not a gun ban. If bombs were sold next to soccer balls or tactical turtlenecks (h/t Archer), do you truly believe there wouldn't be a national push for "bomb control" with people saying, "But I just like to blow up bombs in the desert" or "It's an honored tradition to blow up animals with bombs?"

The bombers were blamed because there isn't an immediate answer (as there is with guns). Americans absolutely have the right to guns, and there shouldn't be a situation where the government has all the guns and the citizens don't, but we shouldn't act as helpless with gun violence as we do with bomb violence.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


written with an empty head by jake kilroy.

young men see themselves straightening their ties in the mirror,
digging out the buried treasure of their dilated pupils,
lashing their own breaths with hints of blood mary mix,
stirring up trouble in the great big ferris wheel world.
but slow motion doesn't make any night easier.

so a nostalgic film drains your heart like a dirty pool,
with sinking memories cluttering up the luxury of purity;
yeah, that's the hum of an american engine you hear dying
somewhere in a back-house garage, spitting black fumes;
yeah, your paperback life reads like a denim commercial
and all of your great loves were cocky quips that sparkled.

yeah, everyone read fitzgerald.
it was assigned reading,
back when your heart
first broke over your spine,
and every woman
was another chance
to wreck and ruin
and build and rebuild
until this empire
was just a garden of
muse statue tributes.

so whatever godlike poetry you wrote into the backyard ash,
you should claw for it until your nails are clogged with soot
and you can go back to bed to wait out another saturday
lounging in a bar, laughing, cheering, hoping, and conquering
the greatest challenge you ever mistook for love, freedom, art, and soul.

alas, it'll be truth and boredom that come for you late one evening,
slumped against each other like wayward drunks with antique pistols,
each with a pocket of bullets and a box of matches with your name
shimmering in the moonlight like a disposable tombstone,
and the final sound you'll hear is a click and the last laugh.

Monday, April 15, 2013

"every shade of blue"

"every shade of blue"
written on a strange day by jake kilroy.

while the past looks like shelves of books and bones,
resting dusty in a basement cavern of old wood and brick,
the future is a long road through the willowy south,
sweating hearts out beneath a moon that sighs
and groans and whispers truth to wanderers
that trudge ahead, aware of the glory and hope.

but these pockets were filled with stars when i started,
and they're polished stones in these moments of doubt,
as my grandfather's wristwatch spins like a nervous breakdown
and my mouth grits against itself,
plucking words from the gums
and letting the tongue rest for once.

speechless and starved, this is every shade of blue before me,
with glistening spots of gold and tarnished greens to boot.
every watery reflection is another direction, another death,
another rebirth, another memory, another thing to consider.
and when the grim reaper approaches me at the end of the road,
i hope he doesn't anticipate me running in a feverish panic
or bitching about the time it took or pointing out other travelers.
he should expect me to nod and set my belongings down
in the wet earth, remove my articles of clothing, one by one,
and swim in the moonlight, humming a song i could never forget.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

How To Record Music

"I'd been living in Los Angeles for about a year and a half, just being a drunk, getting fucked up every night and doing horrible shit, and I'd finally gotten sick of that new car smell. So I bought this great house in Virginia and told everyone I was building a studio in the basement. It was literally a basement with sleeping bags on the walls!

It was all about just settling into the next phase of your life, that place where you can sit back and relax, because there had been so much crazy shit in the past three years. At that point, it was me, Taylor, and Nate, and we were best friends. It was one of the most relaxing times of my whole life. All we did was eat chili, drink beer and whiskey, and record whenever we felt like it. 

We'd have a barbeque every day after recording.

When I listen to that record, it totally brings me back to that basement. I remember how it smelled and how it was in the spring, so the windows were open, and we'd do vocals until you could hear the birds through the microphone. And more than any other record I've ever done, that album does that to me." 

- Dave Grohl, on There Is Nothing Left To Lose

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

6/50: Barrel Fever

Barrel Fever, by David Sedaris
5/5 stars
This is my 6th book in Rex & Jake's 50-Book Reading Challenge,
which Rex leads 10-6. Full list can be found here.

I had a soft spot for this short story and essay collection from the get-go, as it was one of those rare instances where I thought to myself, "I tried this!"

When I was a teenager realizing that I wanted to write for a living, I wasn't sure what the hell I was trying to do when I finally sat down to do it. I hadn't written much outside of school, and it certainly wasn't enough to make it obvious that writing was a serious interest to myself. I wrote essays, stories, and poems then, but I didn't have a range of good or bad, proper or improper, sensible or senseless.

So, along the way, I'd write these absurd stories of things going wrong for people, and it made me laugh. They were quirky and random. I think the power of being able to play god over your own characters went to my head almost immediately. I recall one story about a delusional high school girl that was obsessed with the popular jock, and one day she really dolled herself up to catch his attention. When he finally turns around, she thinks it's going to be a confession of love, but all he says is, "Stop kicking my chair, you stupid bitch."

To me, I thought it was hilarious. I really did (and I kind of still do). It wasn't based off of anything or anyone. I just liked that the story had an abrupt twist at the end.

Short stories have that power. With a novel, it's hard to keep up the strangeness and a reader will really feel heavily for a character or a plot, so it's a weird tight rope to walk. But a short story offers a reader just enough information and time to understand (and potentially empathize with) characters, so you can really exploit that. Sure, short stories can be a powerful, moving, extraordinary medium...but they can also be for nonsense.

Most of Barrel Fever is made up of funny and absurd yet cynical and realistic first-person accounts of life as one insane thing after another. They're endearing with ridiculous premises (one actor's several-page-long Oscar speech, a mother/wife falling apart in a holiday newsletter, etc). But they're articulate and well-crafted, so the silliness shines through as a glorious fiction. There were parts where I laughed out loud because he delivered a punchline amidst compassionate and peculiar observation.

I've been familiar with Sedaris's essay work for years. He's superb, and I love his non-fiction, as many of them read like short stories anyway. I'm glad that he didn't stray too far, while still steering away, when it came to his fiction. The essays in this collection were outstanding as well, but I figured that'd be the case. Seeing as how this was his first collection, it's pretty interesting to see how goofy he was at the start of his career while also being just as talented and steady as he is now.

Fuck yeah, David Sedaris.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

"brandy throat"

"brandy throat"
written with a sly grin by jake kilroy.

oh god,
the brass tones of the saxophone
slid down her throat with the brandy
and she remembered in an instant
how an education had come to her
through a sparkling photo lens 
to reach her paintbrush fingers
that used to drag across my window
when she would see starlight rage
harmoniously in the sky beyond
the streetlight that laughed gold
into my bedroom for two years.
but this was before we were here
in the bar of a piano player drunk
scrambling madness across keys
unlocking the door of every heart
with no intention of stomping through
and it was all a dream that got me
when i remembered making love
out of the country out of my mind
waiting for the great train station
to fill with women and bring me home.

Monday, April 8, 2013

"tequila bones"

"tequila bones"
written without condition by jake kilroy.

dried out like a vulture in the desert,
with barely a scratch to call my own,
this was the black eye winking truth
and the cross i bear in a backpack
i bought off a lounge lizard junkie.

we're heading straight to the coast,
my madness, my delusions, and me;
got a snake poised like brass knuckles
and a heat in my heart that'd cough
if it had the engine it did ages ago.

but now it's just a mouth of ivory rot
that feels like a goldmine collapsed,
as these legs burn and drag and cry out,
but it's blood the body forever wants.
whoever said water was a liar extraordinaire.

Thursday, April 4, 2013


written without aroma by jake kilroy.

her poetry would've reeked of lavender
if it didn't beg the scent of nostalgia,
bound with twine and old wood,
shelved against the jane austen
and the holy books from school,
long before this was a diorama,
scrapped together from letters
that glowed beneath the bed.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

"the girl on the coast"

"the girl on the coast"
written as a distraction by jake kilroy.

all the lights stirred in her glass of ice water on the coast,
and i did my best to not laugh at another new yorker poem
about soil, about leaves, about youth, about "my father's house."
her words didn't fly. they set sail, a breeze off wet lips,
telling me it was late, but not too late,
and that the moon would come to us tonight,
big and ethereal—the only chandelier of the west.
so the clouds left her mouth and drifted along the cliffs,
while i thumbed through advertisements
to the breaths she took in as a waltz,
both waiting for a sunset we'd try our best to swallow.
what i'd give to be, i thought,
unsure how to finish the sentence.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Five Questions with Jake Kilroy

Books! Croquet! Death! Work asked me some radical questions, and I answered 'em radically. Scope it: 5 Questions with a C5er: Jake Kilroy

Monday, April 1, 2013

Poetry, Over The Years

April is national poetry month.

Upon hearing this, I thought I'd challenge myself to write a poem each day. I decided against it, as, though it would be a fun challenge, it might force the power of poetry (and I'd rather just comment on poetry as a whole throughout the month). I also quickly realized I had done things like that in the past, but it was because I was always putting off poetry and it was a cheap way for me to rectify it.

When I was younger, I arrogantly told people I wrote poetry, but it wasn't ever more than one poem a month with a few napkins or scraps of paper with frantically scribbled phrases like "the moon crept through the branches like a garden" or "a lovely, lonely heart inside her somewhere" or "Dear Jake, Tell all the babes that you write poetry. You know they dig it the most. Love, Jake"

It'd be years before I learned what it took to be a poet. As a teenage romantic and a college student idiot, I bet on it being an unstable sleep pattern and a life bordering on a drinking problem. And I think we can all agree that I was shallow and borderline irresponsible with my lazy interpretation of the world.

Also, I was always tall. I think we can all agree on that too.

To be a poet, I believed the world wasn't supposed to be enough while simultaneously being downright overwhelming. All the while, I strutted around like I had a closet full of poems of great glory on high when, in truth, I really just wrote poems here and there between my schedule of riding bikes with friends and aimlessly channel surfing. Naturally, this sort of uninformed entitlement comes to any young man who's under the impression that black and white movies/photographs automatically means being "cultured."

There's a great deal of difference between a poet and someone who writes poetry, and it took me well over a decade to learn this.

A key example was years and years ago when my friend Brook was a poet and I was someone who wrote poetry (and mistakenly considered it the same thing). Brook was older, and probably sage-like because of it. She wrote everything all the time. She also went after poems, a notion I didn't understand back then. She tried out formats and themes. This was confusing to me, as I figured you wrote how you felt and the challenge was articulating it.


Poetry, like any medium, isn't just about emotion and message. It's about story, narrative, and range. It's also about practice. In the last few years, I've tried on various word placement strategies for size and I've purposefully gone after themes because writing a hundred shitty poems is what's necessary to write a grand one.

It's like a player practicing basketball. Sure, it's basketball, but what specifically? Free throws? Defense? Jump shots? Dribbling? It's practicing poetry, but there's heartache poems, romance poems, war poems, arrogant poems, figuring out poems, left a lover poems, traveling poems, leaving home poems, coming home poems, et cetera forever.

And while trying out themes, I tried out people. It took me a long time to be comfortable with my ability to write poems entirely about/as other people, but I'd say it's necessary for a poet to be any voice (maybe not choose that, but at least have the empathy to fuel it). However, this is all just my opinion, and, just so you know, I don't teach poetry for a living and I stuck a fork into a toaster in my twenties, so take all of this with a grain/shaker of salt.

To be clear, I'm not saying there's a minimum number of poems or voices to write before you cross a threshold, but a poet writes poems almost at a constant. A poet is a person who sees the world as poetry, and that's not a douche observation of "seeing the real magic of life" or some shit. No, it means being regularly distracted by certain phrases in conversation and wondering how little moments that have no significance whatsoever could translate into words and then storing away tiny fragments of emotion or truth or just basic observation. As long as I've known Brook, she's had that. She could write a (tremendous) poem about anything (coffee mug, french fries, South Dakota) at the drop of a hat. 

My father's also been that way forever, though it was only last year that I finally saw him do it live to strangers. He and I went to a poetry reading in September down at The Ugly Mug in Old Town Orange. My father used to do it all the time after he self-published his book of poetry, Torque (back in 2002, when self-publishing a book was definitely a printed thing and certainly more of an ordeal). But, disappointed and distracted, he later moved on, though he kept writing poems all the time. I sat in the audience, and he read two poems ("Under A Cypress On The Bank" and "Jar"), and they were spectacular. He was the first reader of the evening, and I half-expected the crowd to call it a night after him. Seriously, the man who had told me when to go to bed and helped me with my homework as a kid was also one hell of a poet as it turned out, and he stupefied the mercy out of me as an adult. He goddamn floored me.

I read three poems that evening as well, but my only comment on it is that I felt a sensational calm when I did. I think it was because, in the weeks leading up to the Wednesday night in September reading, I wondered and worried what the poetry community was like, but I very immediately discovered that most poets are alike, despite some being better than others. They can get cocky in their own right, but poetry is such a profoundly personal art. It's so damn subjective. Now, to be fair, isn't all art subjective? Isn't that what makes art the fascinating, incredible beauty that it is?

Art is free-form, sure, but poetry is such a wildly open-ended category to me. There's structure to stories, essays, paintings, sculptures, songs, all of it. But it's almost like anything with words that can't technically be put into another category can be considered poetry. It's hard to define poetry, which is why it's easy to be bad at it and why it's almost debilitating to read a truly great poem.

We're getting off-base here, which I suppose is always a possibility when I talk or write for longer than a few minutes.

The thing is those strangers in the audience were all poets and poetry-writers, and they knew how hard it can be to read your mania and madness to a crowd. Even if others thought they were better than me, their focused attitude was still more, "Hey, good for you. You're on your way."

And that could be said to anyone writing poetry at any age. I mean, hell, it was only last year that I really felt like poetry clicked for me in a way it never did before. I just all of a sudden got it. See, I've been writing poems since I was a kid (and it was a real game-changer when I rhymed "well" with "bell"), and I'd like to believe that I've evolved from poetry-writer to poet (both are awesome, by the way).

In high school, I learned how to articulate myself in poems, even though I sounded like I was trying too hard to be a "poet" (which I absolutely was). But, to be fair, who the hell wasn't writing shitty poems as a teenager?

In college, I was beautifully stumbling with a voice that was mine and learning how to go abstract without the help of a thesaurus (which immediately made my poems sound dumb, so that took some rebuilding).

In my mid-to-late twenties, I refined the functionality of my poems and the speed that I wrote them. I discovered that I was dangerously close to what I'd always wanted to sound like. I just wasn't quite there yet, as I was often only writing poems when I was stoked or troubled.

And then, last year, all of a sudden, I had no trouble writing poems. They were easy, honest, and abstract. I liked what they said, and I liked how I said them.

Even when I was younger and thought I was good at writing poems (which is a world unto itself), I still struggled with consistency and process. That's not the case anymore. I can sit down to write a poem, and if it doesn't come, it'll come later, maybe tomorrow. I'm constantly thinking about writing poems, and I maintain a frequency of at least 5-10 poems a month (and that's in between work, fun, and other writing projects - which is a combination of work and fun, I suppose).

No art is easy, but in all of my self-education with writing, poetry has been the most haphazard. It's the wilderness of the written word for me. Even though I've written books and screenplays, finally being what I first wanted to be as a little kid checking out poetry books from the library is un-fucking-real.

Ah well.


Happy Poetry Month!