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John Findura
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So here it is, the last day of my week as guest blogger. I’d like to think that I have somehow, in some small way, made the world a better place. Or at the very least, that I haven’t embarrassed my very gracious hosts, Stacey Harwood and David Lehman, who I thank very, very much for giving me the opportunity to talk about weird things. I was nervous at first that I wouldn’t have enough to write about, but I now realize that I have greatly underestimated my vast stores of useless knowledge and could have continued writing for months on end. Some of the things that I didn’t get around to: The Gaslight Anthem: What a great band. They’re from New Jersey and feel to me like a cross between Springsteen and Social Distortion, but better. That’s right, I said “better.” I had the chance to see them live and it was one of the best shows I’ve ever been to. Make sure you check them out (I recommend their 2nd album, The ’59 Sound). Hunting for Bigfoot: We didn’t want to “hunt” him, just find him. My friend Steve called me in the middle of the night once and talked to me for 2 hours about this great plan he had to head out to Washington State and find the elusive Sasquatch. The next day I was greatly dismayed to learn that he had a 105° fever and had been hallucinating the night before. He remembered none of the conversation and, in fact, possessed none of the Bigfoot hunting tools we required. The Screenplay I’m Writing With My Brother Rick About Bigfoot: Totally unrelated to the above. So far, we’ve written three scenes and picked out the music for the opening credits. UFOs: I have read every book ever written on UFOs. I have read hundreds of reports of sightings. I am fully prepared, mentally and physically, to witness such an event as occurred at the Bentwaters Air Force Base in Rendlesham Forest, Suffolk, England during late December, 1980. I even live in the middle of the woods. And yet I have never seen a UFO. This infuriates me to no end. The Alien Taking Soil Samples On a Golf Course in Lincoln Park, NJ: After we drove of the road and across the golf course in the middle of the night, it turned out not to be an alien taking soil samples, just a Coke machine, in the middle of the course, that was left on. I bought a Sprite. But honestly, it did look like an alien taking soil samples from far away. The Time I Befriended a Professional Pickpocket and Con-Man in New Orleans Who Was Traveling with Two 18-Year-Old Strippers He Used as a Distraction and How He Taught Me To Do Coin Tricks That Would Get Me Free Drinks in Bars and Didn’t Steal Any of My Money Even When I Passed Out in That Alley: This one’s kind of self-explanatory. Robert Shaw... Continue reading
Posted Sep 25, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
So the first thing my wife Lauren asked me when I told her I’d be blogging on this site was “You’re not going to write about the time I fell asleep on that guy’s shoulder, are you?” And I told her that no, of course I wasn’t. But then I decided it was a pretty funny story, so now I’m going to write about the time she fell asleep on that guys shoulder. First of all you have to understand the history between my wife, myself, and poetry. And remember, that this was in the 90s. We met at a diner (me and my wife, not me and poetry, although there could be an argument made for that as well) and I pretty much decided that first night that I was going to marry her. She booked bands for the University that she was going to (and the one that I went to, then left, then went back to) and hung out with Bob Dylan and Henry Rollins. I was unemployed, broke, and told her she should book my band (which I did not have) and that we were really good (which we ended up almost being once I put a band together) and that she should give me her phone number (which she didn’t). After months of pestering, she finally gave in to my sparkling personality and rugged good-looks. One night I was talking about poetry (which I was known to do) and how when I was 18 and my friends were sneaking into bars to drink, I was sneaking into a bar to hear poetry night readers and open mics. Unbelievable, but true. So Lauren says “You should come to my Art History class. You’d really like the professor – he’s published a bunch of books and always talks about poetry.” Hmm, interesting, I thought. “What’s his name?” I asked. “David Shapiro,” she said. “Holy shit!” I said. Of course I was aware of the works of David Shapiro, and I was totally going to sneak into his Art History class. So I did. I sat in the back of the classroom as he was talking about Delacroix’s use of red in a painting I was unfamiliar with. If you’ve never had the chance to hear David Shapiro talk about anything, I highly suggest that you do. It’s an experience. So, he starts asking questions of the class and no one was really answering. Then he started calling on people. And then he called on me. “I’m not, technically, actually in this class,” I said. “Well that doesn’t mean you can’t have an opinion on Delacroix,” he answered. After class Lauren introduced us and he invited us back to his office and gave me copies of books and then signed them for me, looked around for more stuff to give to me, then handed me a pile of literary journals. He asked for some of my poems and then started giving me a list of what I needed... Continue reading
Posted Sep 24, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
Growing up I was never what one might call a “decision maker.” The whole process of deciding between two things was often more than I could bear. Weighing the merits of one thing against another was not just painstaking, but left me riddled with doubt as to whether I made the right choice. Fortunately, for myself and for those who I have to make decisions for, I no longer seem to have this problem. I owe it all to four simple letters: WWJD. Yes, that does indeed stand for “What Would Janice Do.” My mom, Janice, is what one might call a “decision maker.” It’s not so much that she makes decisions, but the fact that she never doubts the decisions that she’s made. When I was 15, my mother picked me up from high school on the Friday before winter break and told me to get ready because we were driving to Disney World. “What?” I asked. Yes indeed, that morning she had decided that we were taking a family vacation during the week off, called the Polynesian Resort at Disney, booked rooms, called my aunt and told her to take some vacation days, rented a 30-foot camper for the drive and then notified my father. She then drove 20 of the 22 hours it took us to get there (my father claimed he couldn’t drive because he saw “giant heads” on the side of the road – if you doubt this, please see my previous post) without a map. One of her favorite things to say is “So what’s the question?” as in “If you want to do something, and you have the means to do it, then do it – what’s the question?” She doesn’t mean doing things simply for the sake of doing them. When I decided I wanted to try my hand at getting into an MFA program, I was a bit hesitant at first. Of course I was nervous about rejection, but almost more so, I was nervous about getting accepted into one and then finding out that I didn’t have the chops to hang with everyone else. My mother’s response: “Is this what you really want to do? So then what’s the question? Do it.” I tried to squeeze in a “But what if…” when I was cut off “No. You just do it.” So I just did it. There was no question. There’s also the feeling, as a poet, that you’re being judged – mainly because you are. You’re judged by the editors of the journals you submit to, you’re judged by the readers of the journals you get into, and sometimes you’re even judged by Amy Gerstler and find yourself in the new issue of The Best American Poetry, which just happens to be having its 2010 launch tonight at The New School. My mother cares little about being judged by others. She’s the first one on the dance floor at a wedding and the last one to leave. She’s the... Continue reading
Posted Sep 23, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
My father is the kind of guy who sees Bill Cosby do a stand-up routine and comes home absolutely positive that he could do that just as well. He is also the kind of guy that gets asked to leave the White House tour by the Secret Service because he tries to sneak a picture out the window by the Rose Garden. That was an exciting trip. “Hey John, what’d you do over summer vacation?” “Eh, nothing. Oh, wait, yeah, except for watching my dad get interrogated by the FBI over camera usage in the White House.” He was a middle school teacher for 36 years before he retired and decided to focus on photography, which he’s been doing professionally for years. He also likes to quote things like “When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence” (Ansel Adams) and “One photograph out of focus is a mistake, ten photos out of focus are an experimentation, one hundred photos out of focus are a style” (Unknown). Poetry was a completely new thing to him, and when I stated I was going to be a poet he was very confused. It appears the last book he read was in college, a text on speed-reading that he never finished, so what I was doing was waaay outside of anything he had encountered. The first time he went to a reading I did he went with my mother and one of my brothers. Luckily, I was in a separate car on the way home so I didn’t have to hear him ask question after question about what he had just experienced. “Nothing made sense!” “It was like they were trying to confuse us on purpose!” Now let’s keep in mind this fact: my father cannot recount the plot of any Broadway show he’s ever seen because he spends the entire production watching the stage hands walk across the catwalks above the stage and wondering what the hell they’re doing up there. But during the ride home he decides that he, too, can write poetry. He decides that he will write a poem called “Fork On Broken Twig” after a series of photos he wanted to do consisting of pictures of a fork on various broken twigs. He insists that those are the only types on photos that ever win any contests: pictures of things where they’re not supposed to be, such as an old shoe in a stream, or a dog wearing a watch. So he wrote up “Fork On Broken Twig.” It contains lines like Gained through the knowledge of soulful partners Acting troubled and searching over again, but not often alone Dancing, around and around and around again In control once again, in control, like a fork on a broken twig “What the hell does that mean?” I asked. “It’s a poem.” “I know, but I don’t know what you’re going for in it.” “It makes as much sense as... Continue reading
Posted Sep 22, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
On 12 November, 1944 my grandfather, Alister MacMaster, was Wounded in Action during the Lorraine campaign near the small town of Nancy, France during a push by the 80th Infantry Division of Patton’s 3rd Army. My grandfather was born in Greenock, Scotland, in 1913 and immigrated to the United States alone at age 13. During the Second World War he saw how many of the young men on his street in Paterson were either being drafted into the Armed Forces or joining of their own accord. Although he was past the draft age, and older than all of the other young men on his block, he joined the Army because he felt it was his duty and an obligation. A German potato masher filled him with shrapnel and a 7.92mm round, probably from a Kar98k bolt-action rifle, passed through his right arm, severing nerves that would leave him with permanent numbness in his right hand. The shrapnel would still be working their way out of him well into his 70’s. The rest of his unit KIA, he was assumed dead and left by the Wehrmacht. Somehow he kept himself alive until the rest of the 3rd Army was able to catch up with him. He then spent a year in a British hospital recovering from injuries both physical and psychological. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder didn’t exist as a real condition then, and his jumping at loud noises or the nightmares he had every night for the remainder of his life were things no one was prepared to deal with. When he returned home to Paterson, he was one of the few men to make it back from the European theater. He would sit on his front porch, still in bandages, and smoke his Lucky Strikes. The young Italian girl, Emelia, who lived across the street felt sorry for him – a strong man who still needed help doing the simple things around the house. So she would go over with dinner, help him tie his shoes, sit and talk. They married not long after and soon gave birth to their only child, my mother. On Thursday, November 8th, 1962 my father headed over to Srob’s Dairy Farm on Outwater Lane, in Garfield, New Jersey. He was 14 and playing in a pick-up football game. Being the fastest kid in his school, he naturally was the running back. On one running play, my dad was tackled by a kid named Craig De Vore, a legal tackle, and everyone heard a loud crack. At first my dad assumed it was the nearby wooden fence. He thought that maybe someone ran into it. Of course it wasn’t the fence: it was his leg. My father spent months in the hospital and had multiple operations putting in screws and cleaning up infections. His athletic career, for all intents and purposes was over. Instead he would spend his time learning to use his leg again. A few years later my father received his draft notification... Continue reading
Posted Sep 21, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
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So after my first post yesterday I went grocery shopping. No one recognized me or asked for an autograph. I found this highly disconcerting. Instead of getting depressed, I wrote another blog entry for your perusal/enjoyment. Cheers! Before landing my sweet Community College gig, I was a public school teacher in New Jersey for six years. For four of them, I taught in an urban middle school. I won’t name the city, but I was born there, along with Allen Ginsberg, and WCW may have written a 300-page poem about it, and the school may have been located next to The Great Falls. Anyway, I had the kids write a lot of poetry, mostly because it was easy for me to teach and I didn’t have to read 120 essays about why public school students shouldn’t have to wear uniforms (my students didn’t have to wear them, but the idea still pissed them off). Oh, and also because I think poetry is important. On occasion I was surprised by what I got out of them. The majority of them spoke English as a second language and a lot of them didn’t speak it at all at home. I had one girl, from Bangladesh, named Beauty (actually, almost half of my students were from Bangladesh). She spoke extremely limited English, and I’d often let her write her assignments in Bengali, then have an honor roll-type kid translate it into English as extra credit. I know enough Spanish that I could read assignments written in Spanish en español, but Bengali is well beyond me. Beauty wrote a poem titled “My Village” that she presented to me in immaculate writing, forming a perfect square of script on the page. One of the other students translated it for me as Beauty sat next to him, nodding at the few English words she knew. It was an absolutely beautiful poem, no pun intended, about leading the cows over the small bridge that connected the two sides of their river and how the memory of this small act kept her connected to her home. Immediately drawing from my vast knowledge of Bengali poetry, I asked if she ever heard of Rabindranath Tagore. Her eyes lit up at possibly the only two Bengali words I knew and started excitedly speaking, waving her hands, the first time I had ever heard her say anything in any language. “What did she say?” I asked my 12 year-old translator. “She says that he’s her grandfather” I looked at her, then back at him. “Really?” I had learned early on that anything was possible in that place. “No, I’m just fucking with you, Findura.” “Hey,” I said, “that’s how you talk to me? In front of this nice girl?” I had to make a show of it even if swearing was the last thing that worried me in that classroom. “No, sorry.” He put his hands in his pockets. “I’m just fucking with you, Mister Findura,” the kid said with his... Continue reading
Posted Sep 20, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
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Hello all! Thanks for checking in. My name is John and I’ll be your tour guide for the week. There are all sorts of things that we’ll explore together: UFOs, my father’s poetry about Amish cashiers in Ohio, the time I almost went searching for Bigfoot in Washington State, why the Honeymooners is the best television show of all time, and some reflections from my time spent as the “ball crawl” guy at Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza when I was 18. Oh, and poetry. For my first post, though, I wanted to talk about something important, something that doesn’t really get the attention it deserves. No, it’s not a post about the themes of supplication and resignation in the work of James and Franz Wright, but if you’d really like, I can post that as well or you can go searching for my Master’s thesis at The New School. What I’m talking about is perhaps the most beautiful, most perfect object in existence: the Wiffle Ball. Picture it: Fairfield, Connecticut, 1953. David N. Mullany was watching his son, David A. Mullany, play baseball in the backyard using a plastic golf ball and a broomstick, when he had an idea. A perfect idea. It was a simple white plastic ball with eight oblong holes in one side. It should be on display at the MoMA. On the side of its simple box are two words put together in a beautifully minimalist poetry: “It curves!” Now fast forward to the early 1990s and the creation of the only professional Wiffle Ball league in the history of Pequannock Township, New Jersey (birthplace of Derek Jeter). A motley group of 15 year-olds made their way to Greenview Park with a few gallon jugs of Mr. Thirsty brand Fruit Punch, a clipboard, a folding lawn chair (for the strike zone), a few brand new balls and a yellow plastic bat wrapped in black electrical tape nicknamed “The Maaster” after New York Yankee phenom Kevin Maas. The Wiffle Ball League of Pequannock was born (WiffBLoP for short). We used the same rules as found in baseball, except for only two outs an inning and a rallying cry of “The chair never lies.” That first year I led the league in homers, Ted “Crash” Rainey set the pace in RBI, and my brother Mike somehow won the batting title by reaching the minimum number of required at bats in the last game where he had five hits. Those were good times: Steve “Biscuits” Cannizzaro running into a telephone pole trying to snare a foul ball, John “The Commander” Hanek, who was a few years older than us, pulling up on a motorcycle and wearing a leather jacket on a 100° day, Ted’s younger brother Dan sort of getting hit by lighting because we dared him to run the bases during a thunderstorm. Yesterday I took my daughter for a walk through Greenview Park and passed the spot where we used to play wiffle ball. There was a... Continue reading
Posted Sep 19, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
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Sep 18, 2010