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Archive for August, 2013

Nash’s Words Trash the Bird

image by Brent Eades

image by Brent Eades

Regular Grub Street Grackle contributor Ogden “Not Bogdan” Nash has a few choice words for our patron avian:

The grackle’s voice is less than mellow,
His heart is black, his eye is yellow,
He bullies more attractive birds
With hoodlum deeds and vulgar words,
And should a human interfere,
Attacks that human in the rear.
I cannot help but deem the grackle
An ornithological debacle.

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Kickstarter Ending

If you’ve been waiting for the last day to contribute to the Grub Street Grackle Kickstarter Campaign,

pulls out adding machine, clacks furiously

let’s see now

mutters and clacks more furiously

that would be…

adding machine starts smoking, fire spits from the sides


This is your last chance to get the 6 dollar price for the new issue. Not to mention the One Spot Cheap Shot: get insulted on Twitter for only a dollar.

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Another Way to Listen to People

The first time I read Eudora Welty’s “Why I Live at the P.O.,” (you know, the story you read in high school to learn about unreliable narrators), I took everything the narrator said for gospel. I followed carefully along, point by point, as she mounted her case against her family and justified her every move, completely unaware of the irony, obvious to everyone with any literary sensitivity or a copy of the Sparknotes, that with every piece of evidence Sister recites, she is exposing herself as a vindictive, score-keeping bitch. I only knew one way to listen to someone, and that was to gather the facts as she laid them down.

So for me, “Why I Live at the P.O.” read like a slam dunk prosecutor’s case in a courtroom drama, and as a fan of “Law and Order” I wanted more. Imagine my confusion when I sat down to read “Keela the Outcast Indian Maiden,” the tale of a retired chicken-head-eating carnival geek who receives a visit from a feckless former colleague, accompanied by a local shopkeeper who wants to have nothing to do with either of them.

In this story, too, there is something like a trial, only here, the prosecution rested its case ages ago, and the verdict passed not guilty, but the defense continues pleading in the most inept style. Nobody seems to be listening to anyone and there are always at least two conversations going on at once. In short, the first time I read “Keela” I felt disoriented and confused and did not want to read any more Welty.

image by Victoria Reay

image by Victoria Reay

This week I read the story again, but this time I paid attention to the physical details, instead of rushing past them to get to the action and dialog (as TV has trained me to do). Now here is another way to listen to someone, that you have to learn if you’re going to understand Eudora Welty. When people talk about body language, usually they mean that the position of a person’s body expresses a feeling the person has. But whose feelings are expressed in a tableau like this: “The little man at the head of the steps where the chickens sat, one on each step, and the two men facing each other below made a pyramid.” Here, “body language” would mean that bodies in the physical world speak by way of their relations to each other, and that human beings take responsibility for the saying of things when they step in among these relations. And in some way the saying is the thing itself. Here, three unimportant men are responsible for justice. A higher justice, in which the defendant pays homage to the plaintiff, and the witness for the prosecution faces judgment together with the defendant as his brother.

Yes, I am still talking about a short story about a sideshow barker, a geek, and some other third guy who just wants to go home. Read it if you don’t believe me.

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The Jomes Rag and Bone Shop, Limited

If you wanted to listen to Rictor Jomes bare his heart and reveal his secrets, this is not your lucky day. But if you want to hear him dodge questions and prevaricate, you have come to the right place. Last year I had the sad fate of interviewing Mr. Jomes over the telephone, and I am sorry to say that I am now sharing the first 10 minutes of that conversation with you.


And if for some insupportable reason you want to suffer through more of this kind of thing, then all you need do to further explore Rictor Jomes’s factory of lies is to click this attractive button and relinquish $9 from your bank account:

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dread[UPDATE: You can now hear grubby’s interview with Rictor Jomes here]

My desk is the place where I sit and dread. I dread it all, I am a dreading machine: I can feel the parts of myself churning like gears and pistons made of dirty steel. The gears drip soil and oil. It’s bigger than a room, that machine, bigger than a factory. How did I get that big, how can I fit so much dread? I am a vasty space, filled with parts that churn and clatter.

Through my window I can see a telephone wire that the ice storm last February slackened. It hangs like a belly. While I watch, a robin perches on it, but the robin is a sick thing, pale red and draggled, a harbinger of something slow and dark that is moving towards me, not spring at all.

My dread is bigger now: I’ve forgotten the difference between myself and the world, so that the bird isn’t an omen at all any more, but just a small player in the play of myself, and of course he would look like that. The neighbor’s cat slinks across the lawn like a guilty thought, because he is my guilty thought; there is after all no cat

because I am the world. And there is no world.


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The Consensus is In

After years of debate, we’ve finally reached a point where intelligent people no longer disagree about global warming. Anyone with half a brain will tell you the same thing. You know what I’m talking about. I mean whatever your position is on this issue.

In Grub Street Grackle, vol. 1, no. 4, Dan Dickhaus had the prescience to write:

I was watching a PBS show the other night on the subject of global warming. I know that this is not the best use of my time since I am missing out on the true value of TV, which is of course the commercials, but like most people, I cannot always resist the allure of informative programming. I am sorry to admit that I even learned something. Apparently, if global warming heats things up enough, south Florida will cease to exist. I do have bad news though: I could have saved a bunch of money on my car insurance by switching to Geico, but I was watching PBS and missed the commercial.

Educate yourself further at Misinformation Dissemination 4.


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The Hand That Mocked Them

If like me, you have been listening to Bryan Cranston recite Ozymandias over and over all week long (if you haven’t, now’s your chance!), the following thoughts have probably crossed your mind:

  • August 11 can’t come soon enough.
  • Percy “Bitch” Shelley is the most badass of poets.
  • Wait, what? “The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed?” What does that mean? Whose hand? What heart?

If you listen to the way Cranston reads that line, he doesn’t seem too sure himself what do with it, other than “mocked” is a nice emotional word so let’s break it extra bad on that one.

But fear not, dear readers. Amos Johannes Hunt, Ph.D.c., is on the scene. I won’t allow this excellent poem not to make sense.

The problem actually starts a few lines back, with the word “survive.” Cranston, like everyone else I’ve ever heard reading the poem, seems to take it as the end of the thought. (For the grammatically initiated, he’s reading it as an intransitive verb, with no object). It just means “live on.” Which is fine, if you ignore the line we’re trying to explain. It doesn’t attach to anything else in the sentence, which really ended at “survive.”

No, I won’t permit that. Let’s reconsider. What if the word “survive” is transitive, meaning “live longer than,” the way you read it in obituaries? John Q. Corpse is survived by his two sons. Now we’re waiting to hear what the passions outlived. We don’t get it right away, because Shelley throws in another thought first (a participial phrase): “stamped on these lifeless things.” Let’s bracket that out and see where it leaves us. The passions of Ozymandias “yet survive [outlive] the hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.”

Now which hand do Ozymandias’s passions survive, and which heart? “The hand that mocked them” is the sculptor’s. Sorry, “mocked” just means “represented” here. Not every line has to be a bitter, ironic take-down okay? “The heart that fed” isn’t so obvious, because Shelley is indulging in a little Latinate syntax here. Again, it looks like the thought is over. The heart fed. Like it was eating something. But we’re supposed to understand that it fed (“gave sustenance to,” not “ate”) the same passions that the sculptor’s hand mocked. So it’s Ozymandias’s heart.

All right now get ready for this poem to get even a little more awesome. It’s not just about the fall of empires. It’s about the fall of the poet, too. The hand of the sculptor gets linked with the heart of the emperor. It’s as though Shelley were saying: an empire won’t save you; a sculpture won’t save you; even writing “Ozymandias” won’t save you. It’s as though he knew his poem was going to be repeated around the world forever, and he just wanted to remind us that he still had to die anyway.

When artists represent the futility of ambition, we sometimes forget that poetic ambition has the same limitations as any other.

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The Grackle is a production of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Imagine Dallas Literary Arts, Inc.