31 January 2005
- - Word of the Week - -


Pronounced: “fee ASS co”

Fiasco comes from the Italian word for “flask” or “bottle,” because that’s where so many fiascoes begin.


29 January 2005

The Museum of Insomnia

Thursday night I had a gig at Central Missouri State University. On the drive back to the Kansas City airport yesterday I pulled the rental car off on Route 24 and explored Independence, mostly because I liked the sound of it.

It’s said around those parts that if you draw an east-west line across the USA right through Independence, and then another line north-south, you will effectively cut the nation into quadrants. Straddling the intersection of these two imaginary lines is the Museum of Insomnia, opening soon.

This is the guardhouse for the Museum of Insomnia. When completed, the tin roof will amplify rainfall and additional windows will admit light. The guardhouse floorplan was designed to measure exactly one foot short of a standard cot, lengthwise.
The is the Museum of Insomnia and Visitors Center. When it opens on Dec. 21, 2005, the Museum will boast an extensive library as well as static and interactive displays from cultures around the globe. Museum hours will be Dusk to Dawn, and the facility will be staffed entirely by volunteers. Internships are also available.

strata are sexy.

The Visitors Center

The Museum has already garnered a considerable amount of international attention, as much for its ground-breaking architecture as for the remarkable terrazzo floors of the Visitors Center. I showed up at sunset, obviously during a shift change, because I waltzed right through a door marked “Day Watchman” and essentially had the run of the place, Polaroid in hand, for about twenty minutes. The electricity is not yet on in all parts of the building, so the light was very low—pardon my flash.

The foyer is dominated by a huge mosaic of an Angel Fleeing Sunlight. Further along is a traditional Moonlight Schematic, but with modern, Homeland Security-style color coding: “red” for full and new moons; “orange” for the phases just preceding them; and then “yellow,” “green,” “blue” and “gray” for the waxing and waning phases. Most surprising to me was a small mosaic depicting Wind near the giftshop entrance—surprising because it is an obvious reference to the controversial Cloud Factory.

cumulonimbuses unite.

The Cloud Factory

The sky-high construction costs for the Museum of Insomnia were covered entirely by revenue from the adjacent Cloud Factory. At its peak during the 1990’s, the Central Cloud Factory was responsible for 17.5% of the nation’s cloud (and fog) production. It still maintains 24-hour output although, due to recent events and security concerns, it no longer provides factory tours or free samples.
This photograph shows an unfortunate by-product of cloud (and fog) production. On the one hand: the nation as a whole needs clouds (and fog). On the other hand: homes and structures located near the Cloud Factory’s wind generators occasionally become damaged during peak hours. This picture was taken on the 28th, two days after the January full moon.

26 January 2005

I know Daphne Gottlieb only from her writing, so I was wowwed when she sent me this.

the use of recent world events considered

Of course it’s survivable, it must be survivable, but feelings lie and this is a big lie, the feeling you get walking under the windows of the apartment you used to live in that you no longer have the keys to—the lights are on, the drapes are closed, she’s inside and you don’t have a key anymore and it feels like you’ll die any second but it’s survivable, it must be survivable, people survive worse things all the time—they lose fingers, they lose limbs, they lose children, they lose spouses, and here you are, quoting Elizabeth Bishop, so how bad can it be, really? The art of losing isn’t hard to master, even though it may feel like (say it) you lost your spouse, but at least she’s not dead; she’s still alive, and if she doesn’t see you or talk to you, at least she’s breathing somewhere—so this isn’t the apocalypse, this isn’t World War 2, it’s not even Granada, for god’s sake, but how dare you compare your pain from the end of a relationship with the carnage wrought by warfare or the end of the world? How insensitive—how could you—you—with a stable job and a roof over your head, you don’t even have real problems—here you are, going on about the light in her windows when you have your own damned doors and windows, you just want to be inside hers, but you’re not welcome. Get over it. You want problems? Here’s a real problem: In the paper today, there was a story about a little girl who was born unable to sense pain. She can feel things, she just can’t sense pain, so as a baby, she scratched her cornea terribly and didn’t know it, bit clear through her tongue as a toddler, came up to mommy with a mouthful of blood and a tongue stub, scratched her arm till it was bloody, stuck her hand against a furnace until it was puffy with mushroom-sized blisters, so you see there’s a problem, be grateful for your pain as you walk down the street, that pain, it shows you you’re alive—and you’re most certainly alive so be grateful for what the pain is telling you, ripping through you like a chainsaw and making you wish you were dead instead. Sooner or later, seeing her windows lit from the inside, knowing she’s home, you’ll feel dead about it, meaning you’ll feel nothing, honest, it’ll feel better, it will. And I know you don’t want to hear this right now, but someday, all this will feel better and you’ll wake up one day and hear the birds singing again and you’ll notice the sunshine and there will be small animals frolicking on the grass ha ha ha and don’t tell me to shut up I realize it’s still too soon for all this but maybe even though it’s not right now you can hold out for the promises of the spring flowers like crocus and those little tiny daisies next April or May even though right now inside you it’s October, that season not for flowers but for gourds, lying like desperate organs on the ground then rotting as the earth hardens and frosts and the leaves fall to their deaths one after the other, that season of despairing, and it’s dark almost all the time, October, and the dark closes in at you from either end of the day and here you are in early November, a white girl at the Dia de Los Muertos, black dress and marigolds, photos and liquor. This isn’t for you at all, but you’ve got nowhere else to go and you’re walking through the streets, turning your back that place that used to be your home, surrounded by skeletons, you’re all walking together, you’re turning your back to the place that was home. The lighted glass is staring at you through the night. You turn away and one instant later, from somewhere inside, someone you loved flips a switch and the light in the windows is gone.

Daphne Gottlieb, your October is my favorite. –Rives

—Daphne Gottlieb

25 January 2005

Hey—thanks for the condolence e-mails. Most of them were as triflingly sincere as I am trifingly bummed, but:

I often get asked who my influences are. I usually answer with my big three:

  • Catullus (for his words).
  • Johnny Carson (for his style).
  • Iggy Pop (for his middle finger).

official website of Rives…poet…poetry…slam…damn…bamn.
The King is dead.

Long live Iggy Pop.

…and this just in from Bassey (www.basseyworld.com):

Poetri’s post was funny [Jan. 21, below]. The number one search for my site is “Paris Hilton Adam Levine". I mentioned them together one time and now every 14 year old girl around the world is clicking on my site. I got an email the other day from a woman who did a search on “Venus disposal shaver review". About a year and a half ago, I happened to do a small personal review of the shaver. She said she forgot what she was looking for once she started reading the journals and the poems. Turns out her daughter is bipolar…
why am I telling you this? Because it’s nearly 2 in the morning and I can’t sleep. And I’m feeling a little sad. And I don’t want to call anyone.
Be good. Or as good as you can be.

PS. Blame any wonkiness on the Ambien I just took.

24 January 2005

Okay…a few readers wrote in wanting to know where I got the word “skilligalee,” or if I made it up. I didn’t. I got it old-school style: I read it.

In Edinburgh I lived around the corner from Robert Louis Stevenson’s childhood home, and I took walks in his park by the pond. That summer I started reading his books on-line, a chapter every fortnight or so. Mostly for the pirate action. Browse Treasure Island at www.bibliomania.com and you won’t get three paragraphs in before hitting your first “Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum.” For real. I mean—that’s where we get that shit. And it happens in “a pleasant sittyated grog-shop.” Oh, and an all-time spectacular exit at the very end of Chapter III:

…he reeled, put his hand to his throat, stood swaying for a moment and then, with a peculiar sound, fell from his whole height face foremost to the floor. I ran to him at once, calling to my mother. But haste was in vain. The captain had been struck dead by thundering apoplexy.

I checked for thunderingapoplexy.com but…

22 January 2005
- - Word of the Week - -


Pronounced: “SKIL a guh LEE

Skilligalee is a general term for the smallest unit a currency can be broken up into. The U.S. skilligalee is the penny, the British skilligalee is the pence, the Mexican skilligalee is the centavo, etc. (Excellent 19th Century expression: “Why, it’s not worth a skilligalee!")

So “skilligalee,” besides being fun to say, also means something obscure as a bonus. Unlike “cockernony,” which is fun to say but just means: “ponytail.”


21 January 2005

The following post was guest-written by Poetri.

Hello beautiful people! This is Poetri!

Rives asked me to list the Top Three Strangest Phrases that people type into search engines when they’re looking for me on-line and wind up at www.poetri.com. My site lets me see all that stuff. (Aha! I bet you didn’t know that!) Well, here they are:

#3: “Krispy Kreme” (I get that a lot.)

#2: “funny def jam” and…

#1: “fat poet!”

My name is Poetri, and I approved this message.

20 January 2005

The Poets of Def Poetry Jam gig last night with Poetri and Bassey was a road trip, most of the time. We flew into Kansas City, which of course is in…Missouri (there’s a tornado shelter in the United Airlines terminal). Then we got our rental car and pointed it towards Manhattan, which of course is in…Kansas. Along the way we discovered that I-77—no matter how much it reads like 177 on the Hertz map, in a darkening car, with deer disappearing backwards in the rearview mirror—isn’t 177.

The “evil” road, 77, takes you into flatlands and the rising moon. Your cell phone will go mental. Your dumb, lost ass may get abducted by aliens. You will curse and put the Taurus through multiple U-turns, booking back to Junction City purely because it sounds promising. You will pull into a Conoco for directions at 6:55, five minutes before your gig is scheduled to start somewhere else. You might very well be fucked.

The “good” road, 177, takes you to…"a left turn after Chili’s.”
A little past Chili’s is Kansas State University, where everyone is as warm as good soup. (They told us Taylor Mali is an alum, but I didn’t sense a disturbance in the Force, so who knows. Plus, I heard he was tutored on a yacht or something. By Aristotle.)

I’ve changed shirts in a parking lot plenty of times, but never 90 seconds before curtain. Poetri (www.poetri.com) took the hero role, ripping a couple poems to lead off. Then we hit ‘em with Bassey (www.basseyworld.com), who had opted to change in the green room, wherever that was. I spent the little grace period rolling my sleeves up and pretending that I never forget my poems—like a track record matters to Kansas, or anyone.

Gauging by the reaction afterwards, I’d say we rocked the crowd three different ways; a perfect split.

After the show I tried to log on to the computers in the 24-hour study center, but you needed a KSU e-mail to access. Luckily, I remembered the name of the Student Body Treasurer from his picture in the student union and I figured it out from there. So thank you Chet Chester, and your parents.

At midnight I took a walk and heard that 16-note “Big Ben” chime, and then an on-campus carillon tolled twelve. I was thinking “Who composed that tune, anyway?” and looking around for the bell tower when I realized that I was standing at the intersection of Butterfly and Lovers Lanes. The street signs looked like they were moving, because ice was drifting me downhill slowly. I know the Kansas state flower is the sunflower, but I didn’t see any. Leftover snow was slumped across the lawns, and I spotted a couple of grazing rabbits. Gray burlap bags were cinched over the heads of the parking meters for some reason. I would’ve stayed longer but my palms were freezing.

18 January 2005

Of all the times when I’ve:

1. Played a Buster Keaton DVD on a color television
2. Turned down the Contrast
3. Jacked up the Saturation
4. Shot Polaroids with the camera so close to the screen the flash showed up like a golden window in the background and
5. Traced over the ghosts with a Sharpie

this is the picture I would probably give away last:

17 January 2005

Patricia Smith sent this poem to me a few months back, and she has graciously offered to let me run it today.


There was a tender in them both, a place picked raw.
As Southern men do, the clasping of hands that know
weather. Eye linked to eye, unflinching, the flat-toned,
muttered how-do. How do you? And the scripted respect,
the pudge-cheeked preacher inquiring idly after the dying
man’s days. Whole wars in them, but just a single rupture.
Their halos florid, overglowing, some news reporter hissing
expectantly into a dead silver mic: Say it, say it. James Earl
liver-toned, wobbling on old bone, one lazy eye perked for
it. It. The King is rolling his Rs, throating elegant, sweating
bullets into his collar. Having shaved too closely, his beard
is peppered red, whispering blood. And still the pleasantries.
Exactly how does one go from commenting on the weather
(it’s hot: awfully humid: smells like rain: hope it lets up) to
asking did you frame my father’s head in your gun sight, did
you empty his dinner chair, lonely my nights, pull back on
that trigger? Jesus, he looks just like his nigga daddy, James Earl
thinks, hopefully not aloud this time. Bet he can call on God
and turn his other cheek with the best of them. Go on, get it out.
I’m dying heah.
Cameras whir. The men are like fools, silent,
damned respectful, exactly a yardstick between them.
And it’s the windup, the pitch: Sir I have to ask you, my sir,
my kind sir, excuse me, I hate to bother you sir, but I have to
ask for the record, Did you kill my father? And if the answer
is yes, will there be a throttling, an errant sob, a small silver
pistol slipped from an inside pocket? And if the answer
is no, will there be a throttling, an errant sob, a small silver
pistol slipped from an inside pocket? Time has a way of
growing things all huge. But, surprisingly, James Earl resists
spittle and the wide-eye. No, I didn’t. No. No. That settles it
then, that settles it. And we’re locked in on this limp drama
long after the credits have rolled and Hollywood Squares has
taken over, long after the network has signed off and clicked
into morning snow. Time for a Twinkie and a beer. Time to fall
asleep with a clear head. Time to celebrate the slow sweet
of Southern men. It’s time to rejoice in the fact that nobody killed
nobody, and high time to forget that somebody died anyway.

Patricia Smith, your poem is sublime. Love, Rives

—Patricia Smith

16 January 2005

Well, more on iPods.
This afternoon I saw a woman in a tight white cycling jersey pedaling uphill on her touring bike through a neighborhood. The headset cord of her iPod was running down her back, but inside the jersey, which I didn’t realize until after I thought it was her spine showing through. Which would’ve been a particularly skinny spine. And which would’ve been the most delicate sight of my day, except instead it wasn’t.

15 January 2005

Taylor Mali is the opposite of raised-by-wolves. Taylor Mali is what happens when “Say it like you mean it” takes on human form. Taylor Mali is a multiple National Poetry Slam champion, he’s one of the touringest poets around, and his savoir faire is some serious, like, next-level voodoo.

Find out more at: www.taylormali.com

- -The SW Poet Profile- -


1. Favorite line, right now, of yours:

TAYLOR: At the moment, my favorite line of my own is from a new poem I’m working on called “The New Ash on the Roof of our Building.” It goes like this:

We think of the dead as faded floating versions
of who they were in life—same grief, same need,
ghostly, doleful, disconsolate transparency,
except wearing sheets like gods, wraiths, or Romans—
maybe even Roman gods—revenants.

2. Favorite line, right now, of someone else:

TAYLOR: Galway Kinnell’s:

as when flamingoes
change feeding places on a marsh
and there is a moment, after the first to fly
puts its head into the water in the new place
and before in the old place the last to fly
lifts out its head to see the rest of flown,
when, scattered with pink bodies, the sky
is one vast remembering.

3. It’s been __________ since the last time you __________:

TAYLOR: It’s been two days since I last played SCRABBLE.

4. You knew it was a good/bad gig (pick one) when:

TAYLOR: I was once asked by a poetry promoter to arrive at the venue at 8 pm. Cool. No problem. Little did I know that what she really wanted was to insure that I would show up by 9 pm when the door opened. She herself didn’t get there until 10 pm. Show finally started at 11 pm. I went on at midnight. That’s when I knew that this was going to be the worst gig ever. Luckily (I guess), there were only a handful of people left in the room.

5. The proudest money you ever made was:

TAYLOR: The proudest money I ever made was the spare change I earned while teaching. The stupidest money I ever made was saying, “When you have it your way, it just tastes better.”

6. When I say “swingset,” you think (where?):

TAYLOR: Rusty, dangerous jungle gym made of iron tubing and lashed together with strips of razor sharp flashing in the middle of Central Park circa 1970.

7. When I say “covet,” you think (what?):

TAYLOR: A coven of Corvettes in a cove.

8. When I say “credit,” you think (who?):

TAYLOR: Marc Smith deserves all kinds of credit for inventing the poetry slam. Because of him and the bizarre practice of assigning numbers to poems, I get to do what I do.

9. When I say “habit,” you think (…?):

TAYLOR: Of the one I just recently kicked. I won’t say what it was, but I am a clearer, more motivated, healthier person because of it.

10. What’s on God’s iPod?

TAYLOR: Lots of Simon & Garfunkel, REM’s “Losing My Religion” (just for fun), Handel’s “Messiah,” and a couple of demo cuts of Jesus’s cloud band called Chalice.

p.s. (anything else?)

TAYLOR: Terrorism is a Hydra, and George Bush has the sharpest knife in the drawer.


14 January 2005

Speaking of wisdom…

Cacophonous86 writes in to say:

Wisdom teeth should come with real wisdom in them, like a fortune cookie.

13 January 2005

I think my favorite thing I’ve read all week is this, from a label in my great-aunt’s basement (you gotta say it outloud):

If your HeatEasy Water Heater heats your water hotter than you need it, you need only untighten the pilot light ignition switch into a more upright position.

First off—that sounds like a poet trapped in a label-making factory. Good flow. But up-close it starts to sound like code or something, metaphor. Like wisdom.

12 January 2005

11 January 2005

Between divas and gunslingers, I’d pick: gunslingers.

10 January 2005
- - Word of the Week - -


Pronounced: “PYOO pul”

Pupil comes from the Latin word pupilla, meaning “doll,” “puppet,” or “little person,” which is why we call schoolchildren “pupils.”

But “pupil” the eye part? Same deal: when you look into someone’s eyes, you see a miniature reflection of yourself in their pupils.

And that’s the most romantic etymology in the whole wide world.


09 January 2005

What’s the next step after “Stop the presses!"…?

08 January 2005

07 January 2005

In a morning dream, my hands were remote controls, and I paused all the people falling from the opposite sky, just short of the water. One guy’s pant cuff touched.
…website of rives…slam poet…poet…poetry…rives kite poem…
I was in the shade against the wall of an adobe hotel. A girl came up and asked me if she could go go go for a swim swim and so I let her, because her friends were waiting.

05 January 2005
- - Word of the Week - -


Pronounced: “OM ful o SKEP sis”

The high-falutin definition for omphaloskepsis is: “meditation while staring fixedly at one’s navel practiced by Eastern mystics as an aid toward inducing a mystical trance.”

The low-falutin definition is more frank. Omphalos means “belly button” in Ancient Greek (it’s cousin to the Latin word umbilicus). And skepsis means “watching” or “considering” (which is where “skeptical” comes from).

So “omphaloskepsis” pretty literally just means: navel gazing.


04 January 2005

Ah, but my all-time favorite “fanmail” is still:

Thank you so much. The poem you sent was perfect. My teacher (Ms. Myers) had just given us a challenge to get some of your work in one form or another. If we did this successfully, we would be excused from the mid-term and get a free 100%. She is a big fan of yours. Thank you again, -Austin.

03 January 2005

PJ’s been sending me postcards again—I got two more over the holidays. Both of them are intricate.

I have no clue who PJ is, but he or she seems pretty familiar with at least one of my poems—there’s always a kite somewhere on the postcard. This latest one is a collage, and the message on the back reads: The Knight of Kites/Late at Night. I utterly like it. Thanks PJ, if you’re tuning in.

02 January 2005

I took a motorcycle ride yesterday.

I wound up in the hills somewhere and lost, mostly. So I stopped in a gravel driveway to get directions from a couple of kids who were messing around by the mailbox. Kid One did all the talking, Kid Two did all the not-talking.

I said: “Can you guys tell me how to get back to the main road?”

And Kid One answered: “I can draw you a map!”

So I said: “That’s cool. But I don’t have any paper on me. And anyway—I can’t really read a map while I’m on the motorcycle.”

And then Kid One pointed at the top of my gas tank and said: “I could draw it right there if you want. If you have a soft-point pen.” (Which is how Kid One says it, “a soft-point pen,” and I endorse that.)

But I declined and drove away, and then I thought: “That was wayward just now. I fucked up.” Because: I had my trusty Sharpie on me. And that would’ve been a kick-ass way to start the new year, have this kid and his quiet sidekick draw a map on the top of my gas tank with a soft-point pen.