Archive for the VS. Category

Poison Pen Reading Series vs. Every Other Reading Series in the USofA [Hint: It’s the Best reading series west of the Mississippi (or east for that matter)]

Posted in poetry, Stuff I assume other people care about, Uncategorized, VS. with tags , , , , , , , on 2012/09/28 by jamiejthomas

I want to say Happy Birthday to the Poison Pen Reading Series in Houston TX. They turned 6yrs old yesterday, and I got to read at their birthday celebration, along with Miah Arnold and ZZ Packer.

Miah and ZZ brought the house down (which was to be expected). And I had an absolute blast reading between them . . . but what I really marvel at is a reading series like Poison Pen. No joke, it is my favorite place to read in all the world. The Poison Girl–the bar that hosts the series on the last Thursday of each month– has a bourbon selection to rival all others, and is cool in all the ways you want your bar to be: cool people, cool wall of pinball, cool garden patio.

The readings are what readings should be. There’s no cheese plates, there’s more Lone Star than Pinot Noir, there’s a giant Kool-Aid Man statue adorning the corner of the “stage.” And the crowd is full of people who honestly just like to read, and hear things read at them. Yes, many of the people at the readings are University of Houston Writing Program students, faculty, alumni, but that is a small part of the nearly 100 in attendance last night–the majority are locals who like literature and booze, more often than not at the same time.

So, thanks to David MacLean, Greg Oaks, Casey Fleming and Scott Repass for supporting good poems and good stories . . . here’s to another 6 years . . . and another.


“Bad People” vs. Bad Poetry

Posted in poetry, Stuff I assume other people care about, VS. with tags , , , , on 2010/10/22 by jamiejthomas

Oscar Wilde said, “All bad poetry is sincere.” Now that’s not to say that all sincere poetry is bad, but the danger is there, especially within our daily domestic lives.

One of the hardest things for a writer to do is to write about being a dad in a way that’s compelling and original. It is only slightly easier than writing about our cats or dogs in an interesting way. If there was never another poem, for instance, about how someone’s cat is uber-aware and human-esque in its mannerisms, and how when it died they wrote a long elegy for it in ottava rima, the world would be a much better place.

Too often “dad-poems” come in the form of “behold the little miracles of life” or “how different it all is now and how inconsequential pre-parent life was and I am humbled by the sheer gravity of it all.” These sincere feelings, feelings we all have from time to time, aren’t necessarily compelling in a literary way (or in any other way for that matter).

The following poem, “Bad People” by Mark Halliday, one of my first teachers and quite simply a damn good writer, is an example of what I am NOT talking about above. It is instead a benchmark for originality in that it takes a familiar situation to parents—the dialogue of questions we field daily—and approaches it from a compelling angle.

I’ll include the poem here, though I’m not sure if that’s technically legal under the copywrite statutes. That’s okay, though, poets tend toward narcisscism and the unsought attention/publicity may be welcomed anyway—

Mark, if you ever come across this and want it pulled from the blog, just drop me a line and .  .  .


Bad People

The guys who drank quarts of Busch last night
here by the backstop of this baseball diamond
had names given then by their mothers and fathers—
“Jack” and “Kenny” let us say.


Jack might be
a skinny guy in a black fake-leather jacket,
he’s twenty-five, his gray pants are too loose on his hips,
his jaws always have these little black extra hairs,
his mother won’t talk to him on the phone,
she lives on french fries and ketchup,
he hasn’t been able to send her any cash
in the last two years, ever since he lost
his job unloading produce trucks at Pathmark;
Jack’s father disappeared when he was ten.
“No big deal,” Jack says, “he was a bastard anyway,
he used to flatten beer cans on the top of my head.”
Kenny offers a laugh-noise. He’s heard all that before.
Kenny is forty-eight, a flabby man with reddened skin,
he is employed at the Italian Market selling fish
just four hours a day but his shirts hold the smell;
his female companion Deena left him a note last month:
“You owe me $12 chocolate $31 wine $55 cable TV plus
donuts—I have had it—taking the lamp and mirror
they are mine.” Kenny hasn’t seen her since.
He hangs with Jack because Jack talks loud
as if the world of cops and people with full-time jobs
could be kept at bay by talking, talking loud . . .


(I’m talking gently and imaginatively here
as if the world of bums and jerks could be kept far off—)


Jack and Kenny. (Or two other guys dark to me with wounds
oozing in Philadelphia ways less ready to narrate.)
Last night at midnight they got cheesesteaks at Casseloni’s
and bought four quarts at the Fireside Tavern
and wandered into this park. After one quart of Busch
Jack said he was Lenny Dykstra
and found a stick for a bat. “Pitch to me asshole” he said
so Kenny went to the mound and pitched his bottle
for want of anything better and Jack swung in the dark and missed;
Kenny’s bottle smashed on home plate and Jack heard in the sound
the absurdity of all his desiring since seventh grade,
absurdity of a skinny guy who blew everything since seventh
when he hit home runs and chased Joan Rundle around the gym
so Jack took his own empty bottle and smashed it down
amid the brown shards of Kenny’s bottle.
Then they leaned on the backstop to drink the other two quarts
and they both grew glum and silent
and when they smashed these bottles it was like
what else would they do? Next morning


Nick and I come to the park with a rubber ball
and a miniature bat. Nick is not quite three
but he knows the names of all the Phillies starters
and he knows the area around home plate is not supposed to be
covered with jagged pieces of brown glass. Like a good dad
I warn him not to touch it and we decide to establish
a new home plate closer to the mound (there’s no trash can
handy). “Who put that glass there?” Nick wants to know
and to make a long story short I say “Bad People.”
Nick says “Bad? How come?”

Post Where I Explain a Few Things

Posted in VS. with tags , , , on 2009/12/31 by jamiejthomas

So, when I originally wrote the intro/bio of myself (one of myselves) during blog-web-conception I was reminded of some self-flaws that I particularly like.

I like to try my thoughts out loud.

I like to use words meaning “never” / “forever” while trying out those thoughts, meaning I’m prone to making knee-jerk statements that are tough to rescind.

I like the conflict of opposites.

I tend to recoil (instinctively or not) from things I’m supposed to like (never liked to take
my medicine I guess).

To Explain:

Bones over Henry – this is a no-brainer, if you ask me. The second or third of the split personalities is always more interesting. Plus his name is Bones.

Coke over Pepsi – an age old demarcation line right up there with Mason/Dixon, Hatfield/McCoy, Cat/Dog, Catholic/Protestant. Everyone cares, everyone has an opinion. Those who say they don’t probably prefer RC.

Koch over Lowell – I’m not going to make tons of friends with this one. Not only is Kenneth Koch a superior poet to Cal, I’d much rather have hung with him at a cocktail party. He’s funnier, not outwardly psychotic, doesn’t take himself too seriously. Look, I know Robert Lowell is a Godfather, and he’s good medicine. I can appreciate that. Very important. Great poet, coined confessional, blah blah etc. I get it. But Koch wrote “A serious moment for the match / is when it burst into flame . . .” and the poem it comes from (all of Koch’s best poems really) is brilliant & funny & aware of its earnestness all at the same time.

Spicoli over Damone – This one was more for the sound—it’s always better to sacrifice truth for music—Spicoli echoes Coke AND Pepsi, and Damone helps keep that long “o” going. I mean, Spicoli is classic, but Damone gets a bad rap. It’s not his fault that Rattner can’t tell the difference between Zepplin IV and Physical Graffiti. Your Mama’s alright, your Daddy’s alright . . . (if it’s been awhile feel free to revisit Ridgemont High, it’ll be worth it, I promise)