Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Kilmer B-sides: Buying a one-way ticket to the Mountain of Purgatory

Pride has always been my favourite sin. That would have been much to the chagrin of the Knox Presbyterian minister who was my grandfather, but then again presumably so would have been my having had a favourite sin at all. In any case, I'm not even going to apologize for having published my own poem in the Kilmer Surgam, much less putting it online now. It was damn funny and you laughed your heads off at it. Plus Marcus Folch, one of our judges at this past contest, introduced me in December to a Classics graduate student by pointing out that damn could I ever write a bad poem. And so I can.

“Philosophy Contemp’rary”

Or, “The Catalogue of Shits”

for Roland Theodore Smith III—

by Gavin McGown, CC’13

I’m the luckiest lad on the planet, you know,

Since I’m leaving the bar with a new boy in tow.

He’s a philosophy major! I managed to peek—

And some parts are the length of the First Critique.

And I think—as this twink starts to take me about—

Aristotle and I have to fight this fight out

For he says there’s one ultimate goal that you find

But tonight there are two ends that I have in mind.

[But, you see, there’s a problem: I aspire t’write poetry

And not to divine a concept’s circuitry.

But surely by now has not philosophy

Given up its polemics ‘gainst poets? We’ll see.]

When we get to my place and walk in the Adoorno

We talk: a pure mix of New Yorker and porno.

“But sovereignty—deconstruction—Obama”—

Yeah, just like that, baby. Talk dirty to Mama.

But really quite fast something starts to go wrong

And the Muse begins singing quite different a song

It was fine in the bar—and when we were walking—

But I want to fuck, and this boy won’t stop talking.

A gross fear of mine—on the damnedest occasion,

Have I seduced one of a postmodern persuasion?

Does he think that ‘desire’s a function of Law?’

But, surely, e’en then, sex just isn’t bourgeois.

But he keeps muttering to me about Sartre and Lacan

While I’m trying to head for the enjambment

Yes, his speech is so fine, but his lips are so chewy—

And it’s just on my John I’d like him to get Dewey.

And then—worst of all—he manages to thwart

My analytics of a posterior sort:

“It’s not about you—your ass drives me mental;

It’s just that my interests tend more cunt-inental.

“If I did it for you, then I’d do it for all!”

I bit on the pillow and choked on my gall.

You’d have thought that the gin would have managed to kill

Inhibitions—but, nude, he’s a Kantian still!

“Bullshit!” I swear. While I hope I’m not nosy,

The delay’s just philosophers’ bias ‘gainst poesy.

And like Platonists when, contra poets, they battle,

The twink won’t give in, so now I start to prattle:

“I can see that of bawdy relations you’re skeptical

Preferring to chat in ways pure dialectical.

And I do eschew the Symbolic; poetical

Works are my job. Now, let’s get exegetical.

“I promise you now I’m no bullish Aiacides

Nor Athens’ demise, that slut Alcibiades.

Plato says, twixt our fields, there must be a dyad; he’s

Wrong; if you like, we can make a hendiadys!

"And if you’re inventive and feel like chiasmus

As did, I am told, both Baudelaire and Erasmus

Let me use my skills, find some friends who will lay

Beside us, A-B-B-C-D-C-B-B-A!

“Metonymically speaking, I beg you allow me

To of you ask your hand (no, wait, shit, that’s synecdoche)—

Your bed then—or, come now, you big Morgenbesser,

If the bed’s too passé, there’s always the dresser!

"But do you deliberate still on the praxis?

Oh, babe, let me show you a fine ataraxis

And lay us both down in our joy’s parataxis

With one on his knees and then one on his backses!

"I’ll be servant, your queen, and your beast—metaphorically—

If you’ll only start binding me up—categorically!

Let’s change places: I’ll be Logico-Philosophicus

While you get philological down my esophagus—

"Or where’er. This proof of compatibilism

Is that, betwixt us, true, there need be no schism

While I scream aloud hordes of neologisms

And call out the flood of your sweet syllogisms

"Right to their conclusion—oh, what blissful poiesis

When you’ve made me your goal of considered prohairesis

And acted to me on the good of my guise

(Babe, ain’t nothing look bad when it’s between those thighs).

"And when we’ve gone at it, and you’ve got your rooster on

Turn around, and then we’ll be proteron hysteron!

But for my submission I insist that you bend

Just a bit, and, like Solon, I’ll 'look to the end.'

"So help me end the war: you, my erastês,

Eromenos, me, for the rest of our days,

Unite Philo and Poesy who’ve been locked in a fray

For so many millenia—so, what do you say?”

The circumlocuter stared at me dumbfounded

As if he were a mortar I’d just pestle-pounded;

Then went back to the door and turned the (John) Locke

And turned back to me, and got out his—

And how’d it turn out?

Well, I wake up in the morning feeling like Socratidion

Here actually should have listened to his … epipsychidion;

Next time I’ll find a good philosopher to waste my pity on;

Bright side: unlike Symposium, least I was no small kiddy-on.

Kilmer B-sides: relive Valentine's Day!

I for one found this poem, whose author shan't be named given the field he's planning to go into and some illusion of demureness he's hoping to maintain there, particularly fitting: for whom does bad poetry not immediately conjure up thoughts of Valentine's Day? Alas, we shan't be able to recreate the very fine slideshow with which he enhanced our viewing pleasure—more's the pity. Without further adieu:

11 Valentine's Day Cards:

Or, “Romantic Messages for that 'Special' Someone”

Or, “Nothing Says ‘I Love You’ Like a Restraining Order”

by F. J.

Prologue: Surprises

Surprise surprise!

It's Valentine's Day!


Good thing you've got

your pepper spray.

1: Alive

Bill Cosby is black,

and this taxi is yellow


You make me quiver

like horse-ghosts in Jell-O.

2: The Atomic Woman

Brave men raised the flag

over old Iwo Jima.


Girl, you da bomb,

that flattened Hiroshima.

3: Early Grey, Stalker.

Badminton's weird,

but tea is delicious.


I see you in the bushes,

doing something suspicious.

4: Sapiosexual.

Bullets are lead,

and that glow is uranium.


Your brain is so fine

I want my dick in your cranium.

5: Cards for all occasions, eschatons included.

How fragile are we

in this sprawling metropolis.


I'll have your back

in the zombie apocalypse.

6: Hedonism

The train, it has left,

and the pie, it is baked.


I know this doesn't rhyme,

but let's all get naked.

7: Paging Doctor Blood Fetish

Septicemia's tragic,

and Swine Flu's upsetting.


Won't you come back to my place

for some old-time bloodletting?

8: Cleanse Your Soul.

Blasphemy is a sin,

and Babel was a tower.


I want to know you,

biblically, in the shower.

9: The Importance of Language

I wasn't mugged or hit by a car,

despite what you probably heard.


It's just that I forgot

the safeword.

10: The Classic.

Roses are red,

Violets are blue,


Close your eyes and bend over,

Let's try something new!

Kilmer 2010 B-sides: "The Hungry Sonnet"

More Kilmer B-sides! Moderator emeritus Christopher Travis delivered the following, if you recall, while we were waiting for some fellows to repair the sound. Side-note: I've been in the Held Auditorium for maybe seven different events over the past two years, and every single time the sound's been shot to bits. The last time was at this past Woodbridge Lecture series with Onora O'Neill—Kantian, Cantabrigian, and British Parliamentarian—who somehow despite the microphone's having broken could not bring herself to speak above a whisper. Praise be to her Queen's English accent and consequent impeccable diction.

Chris Travis's God also has impeccable diction, although perhaps not in that way. Still, somehow I think Donne would have been proud.

The Hungry Sonnet;

Or, “If John Donne’s Problem was Gluttony, not Lechery”;

Or, “The Safe Word is ‘Moist’”

Chris Travis

Batter my heart, three-person’d God;

And set the burner to medium, medium-high,

For you as yet but boil, bake, and sauté; not fry!

That I may be eaten, tenderize me, God,

With your mallet—of love.

(Before you batter me, of course: I’d hate for you to make a mess all over your divine kitchen, O Lord, O big, strong, manly Lord with rippling…anyway…)

O, plunge me deep into your good stuff, your boiling oil—of love;

But once you have cooked me all the way,

Leave me not to burn and die—

Into new skillet, complete with top,

O heavenly chef, there let me plop;

And smother in God’s other good stuff, God’s gravy generously applied.

Yet, even still, I’m not fit food for thee.

Please don’t taste, unless you garnish me!

Kilmer 2010 B-sides: "Tick, Tick"

Hey-o, Philos. So I went a little crazy with the Kilmer Surgam and included several fabulous pieces in addition to those picked by our judges. I'm sure you recall how the ever brilliant Michal Richardson delivered the following, and while we can't recreate her singing—which doubtless would have put to shame even the shameless Ke$ha—we can let you take another gander at the bad poetry.

Tick, Tick

Michal Richardson

Wake up in the morning feelin’ rather shitty.

(Hey, what up, girl?)

Got a rash shaped like a bull’s-eye; baby, it ain’t pretty

Before I leave, check my knees, and my elbows in back

‘Cause when these bastards get you, your system goes slack.

I’m talkin’ ‘bout sudden shooting pains, pains

Slowin’ down of yo’ brains, brains

Joints hurt when it rains, rains

Gettin’ weak around the knees, knees
Fallin’ down at the parties

Startin’ to get a little bit woo…zy…

Eyes pop, make it stop

Now my body’s heatin’ up

What a sight, what a plight

When I see the tick bite

Tick glommed to my arm,

And I’m callin’ up my mom. Oh, whoa-whoa, oh. Oh, whoa-whoa, oh.

Make it stop, get it off

Can we blow the bastard up?

It’s on tight; better fight

So I don’t get encephalitis

Tick, tick, unstick!

Somebody fetch my tweezers, quick! Oh, whoa-whoa, oh. Oh, whoa-whoa, oh.

Now, the party in my head has gone supersonic

But if I go in for my treatment, symptoms won’t be chronic.

Pain in my nerves and my joints is simultaneous

And on my body’s surface, for a disease that’s cutaneous.

I’m talkin’ ‘bout neurons that don’t fire, fire

Memories I don’t acquire, quire

Situation’s gettin’ dire, dire

I’m talkin’ ‘bout cognitive impairment

But I’ll dance until I hit the pavement

Go until I hit the pavement…


Head pops; make it stop

Gonna party ‘till I drop

Tonight, I’mma fight

This disease that’s called Lyme

Tick, tick, I won’t be licked

It was just a little nick! Oh, whoa-whoa, oh. Oh, whoa-whoa, oh.

Head pops; make it stop

Gonna party ‘till I drop

Tonight, I’mma fight

This disease that’s called Lyme

Tick, tick, I won’t be licked

By a buggin’ little prick; no! Oh, whoa-whoa, oh. Oh, whoa-whoa, oh.

Got my hands up

My brain breaks down

My heart, it sounds

Like a dance beat

I’m all washed up

Body’s besieged

By this fatigue

Yeah, you got me. [YAWN.]

Got my hands up

Put your hands up

Put your hands up…

Do you think it might be lupus?

Head pops; make it stop

Gonna party ‘till I drop

Tonight, I’mma fight

This disease that’s called Lyme

Tick, tick, I won’t be licked

It was just a little nick.

Oh, whoa-whoa, oh. Oh, whoa-whoa, oh.

Head pops; make it stop

Gonna party ‘till I drop

Tonight, I’mma fight

This disease that’s called Lyme

Tick, tick, I won’t be licked

By a buggin’ little prick, no!

Oh, whoa-whoa, oh. Oh, whoa-whoa, oh.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Happy birthday, Philolexia...

Gee, Philo. You're 209! That's an awful lot of candles to burn out. Or to light—with the rays of your rising sun—something like that. You've certainly let the years do what they may, but you're still here—and looking very fine for your age, if you don't mind my noting.

Oh, you do. Fine, then. I'll keep my thoughts to myself.

Well, find yourself a party or something, and celebrate in the style that only you know how:

Hold fast, Philo. Hold fast.

Monday, May 16, 2011

David Sedaris comes to the Satow room

Metaphorically, that is. Frank Redner presented the following sometime in March or early April. None of us was sure whether to laugh or cry, although a combination of the two was probably fitting. Directly the meeting ended I approached him and demanded he send it to me so I could publish it in the spring issue of Surgam, where indeed we have the story prominently featured (p.22). Without further adieu...


Franklin Hepi Redner

The problem with the world is that people do not think things through. More often than not, they fail to assess even the most important dilemmas, such as “Should I turn now?”, “We don’t have any condoms; should we use a candy wrapper?”, or “Shall I dump the body here?” A wise person would consider these important decisions further, but people are hasty and stupid—qualities that, in these instances, would result respectively in a messy highway, a not-so-mysterious pregnancy, and the most awkward lap dance in the world.

But try as we may to steer our lives, sometimes we just mess up, and sometimes we crash. My brother made that abundantly clear last summer on Father’s Day. In the living room with screwdrivers and wrenches scattered about, my mom and I were assembling a wheelbarrow purchased at Wal-Mart earlier that day.

“Fucking shit,” my mother muttered as we were standing up, realizing that she and I had attached the barrow part on backwards. “Balls,” I replied. The result was actually sort of funny: at the slightest nudge, our mishap would have vomited its contents onto the ground, rendering the damn thing useless. As we gamely prepared to reassemble the wheelbarrow, the phone rang.

An unfamiliar, timid voice was on the line. “Hello,” she started. “Is this Kaske’s house?” Hearing that she mispronounced my brother’s name, I guessed she was no relation of ours. “Yes….?” I stalled, waiting for her to go on and for my mother to stop cursing our little project. “Well, I’m just calling to tell you guys that Kaske’s in jail,” she said offhandedly. I looked over at mom, who was excitedly grimacing at the scattered pieces of the wheelbarrow. “Is that Caske?”[1]

After hanging up the phone, she sat down with me again, resigned but not surprised. We put the wheelbarrow back together, this time with less profanity. It was pathetically modest and had a slight wobble, but it was nothing that my Dad would complain about—or really notice, given the news that would accompany it. Mom wheeled it through the dining room and into the office.

She told my dad. Just as I predicted, he put on his flak jacket from his Vietnam tour, came into the living room and barked, “Get your boots on: we’re going up there.” He acted as if a battle had broken out up north and only we could rescue my brother, awash in the sea of chaos and looting. Though not easily provoked emotionally, my dad frequently dusted off his Vietnam gear. Whatever the occasion—a tornado warning, a funeral (he brought his helmet to both of his parents’ funerals), or just shovelling snow in November—he was always eager to break out his musty fatigues. But I guess I can’t blame him for being so excitable: there are bullet holes in his vest.

But standing in the living room, with his 80’s sunglasses and his ragged daisy-dukes topped off with his bulletproof jacket, I knew he wasn’t serious. Caske lived four hours up north and Dad wasn’t properly suited up. No, we stayed there for the remainder of Father’s Day, eating dinner with few words. The wheelbarrow in the office adjacent, with a red bow haphazardly duck taped to the handle, waiting to be brought back into the dining room, went neglected that evening. The surprise was ruined and unwanted; my dad had already got enough of one in any case.

My brother was arrested that weekend for a DUI that happened in the early hours before Father’s Day. He was driving on the bridge from the nearby town of Superior, Wisconsin (the liquor stores close earlier in Duluth). Realizing that he was about to get off on the wrong exit—one that might have added a whole ten minutes to his drunken commute home—he swerved back to his left and hit the dividing rail head-on. The Police found his car about fifteen minutes later, totalled, smashed in. They were surprised to find a perky, if woozy and trashed, twenty-something in the front seat where they had expected a bloodied body.

The next day my parents drove up and left me and my sister at home. As my mom handed me the keys she said (almost) jokingly, “If that weirdo from next door comes knocking, just give him a quick jab in the eyes with these and lock the door.” She smiled and added, “Just make sure you don’t stab Johnny, he stops by occasionally. I wonder if you guys would even recognize each other now.” Two summers ago, Johnny was charged with possession and intent to sell marijuana grown in his mother’s greenhouse; needless to say, his mother didn’t react very well. She was the kind of woman, after all, who more than once recommended prayer over Novocain during root canals. My mom said that our neighbor couldn’t bear to look at her son when they were removing the plants from her greenhouse. I wondered if my mom felt the same way about my brother, or if all mothers felt that way about their sons eventually. They do have a strong relationship now, but I like to think that she and my brother got off on the wrong foot. While she was giving birth, my brother decided it would be hilarious if he went the opposite direction. Instead of leaping forward into the light, he moved backwards up into her ribcage, almost killing them both. That story always cracks me up.

After the levity passed, I took the keys and they were off.

I got a call later that night. It was my brother, and he sounded hung-over—still—despite the fact that it was 10:00 p.m. He said hello, and I responded as quietly as possible, making sure not to cause him any more pain: though I was tempted to, my sister was asleep on the recliner. I clamped onto the phone.

He said he was back in his apartment now, and that our mom was feeling marginally better. My parents had arrived at the dingy police station in about five hours. They had rushed over to the holding cell, where my brother was still practically passed out.

“It was so awkward,” he said. “Almost as awkward as last night when the cops strip searched me. If that would’ve happened at my apartment instead of at a police station, I’d be great now. Good thing I was so smashed, or else it would’ve been actually embarrassing.” He chuckled into the phone, and I responded in kind, although we weren’t laughing for the same reason.

“Well, all you have to do is total another car and you can get that cop’s number.” My sister stirred.

A few days later my parents returned with my brother in tow. I was hoping that they would’ve put him in the backseat, demean him a bit—but of course he got out of the front passenger seat. After an uneventful and oddly still take-out dinner, my mom and I sat in the living room, looking at the TV but not really watching it. “Well,” she sighed, “he’s learned fucking his lesson, that’s for sure.”

After she went to bed, my brother came down with some slasher-movies. We were mostly silent as we watched some desperate teen try to hide the bloody corpse he had on his hands, having “accidentally” stabbed his father to death with a screwdriver. On a normal evening we would’ve been making fun of the fake looking blood, but we were mostly quiet. Then we talked for a while about nothing in particular. After a long silence, he asked, “Is there anything to drink around here?”

[1] Pronounced, “CHASS-kay.” – Ed.


Surgam is funded in part by the Arts Initiative of Columbia University. This funding is made possible through a generous gift from the Gatsby Charitable Foundation.