Saturday, August 20, 2011

Scott Wannberg: A Captain Spaulding for Our Times

Poet and satirical roustabout Scott Wannberg died today. The world got a little sadder.

Spaulding Auditions

For Scott Wannberg

The endangered list was initiated
when Acme cornered the market
on dynamite, bad cigars,
and boxing gloves on extendo arms.
Monopolists of the damned
insured a continuous run of triumphant roadrunner
leaving each trickster flattened.

The joyful curriculum vitae is toughest,
“looking for people who like to laugh”
a pitiful understatement
in the search for Groucho eyebrows,
Kathy Griffin cornhusk,
Peter Bergman squeak of Porgie Tirebiter,
and the ceaseless Captain Spaulding push to another frontier.
Living lightly on the earth is always the heaviest option.

That Foster Wallace applicant captured the rhythm,
but proved a great disappointment.
How could he sleep through Jonny 5’s fist-slam demand
that defeat is not an option?
How could he keep talking in the back of the class
as zen-master said,
“I love my cigar, but at least I take it out once in a while.”

Your laugh seems subversive enough.
You can start on Monday.
Here is your squirting flower,
your itching powder,
your peanut brittle can of jumping snakes.
Hooray for Captain Spaulding.
Hooray hooray hooray.

Loring Wirbel
August 20, 2011

Copyright Loring Wirbel 2011


I'm frankly at a loss as to how to summarize or even talk about the trip to Galapagos, which we took Aug. 3-16 in honor of our 25th anniversary and Abby's 21st birthday. There are some who might say no humans should visit the Galapagos, in order to protect its pristine status, but I'm pretty impressed about how well the Ecuadorean government is limiting access to the island chain, which bears some resemblance to Hawaii, both in volcanic origin over a plate hotspot, and in the NW-SE diagonal of the chain (Galapagos, though, is a mirror image of Hawaii, in that its youngest island is in the northwest, vs. Hawaii in the southeast). Visitors to the islands must have a guide at all times, even hikers planning an overnight camping trip or sport fishers who do not plan on landing on the islands at all.

Iguanas, penguins, blue-footed boobies, land tortoises, frigate birds, and sea lions all are fearless of humans, and even allow hikers to come relatively close to nesting areas - the government is more strict about keeping tourists away from turtle nests, albatross mating areas, and the like, than the animals are on their own. It's a lot easier than you might imagine to see a boobie mating dance, a mass boobie flight, etc. We explored the islands on zodiac boats that were launched from a midsized Xplorer ship.

The people of Galapagos (a few tens of thousands of citizens that live on one of four populated islands) worship Charles Darwin for his work with the HMS Beagle that led to Origin of the Species, and there's even a statue to him on San Cristobal Island. Plenty of caps and T-shirts said "EVOLVE!" and "Join the Evolution Revolution." Since the islanders have to be concerned about rising water levels, there is no questioning about the reality of global warming. In short, Republican candidates for the U.S. presidency would be ill-advised to visit Galapagos, they'd be laughed off the islands.

Visiting Quito was an adventure as well. The city is in a bowl of Andean peaks at 9000 feet, and has plenty of mountain attractions nearby and Spanish colonial architecture within the city limits. Had a particularly good time seeing the modern art museum for Oswaldo Guaysamin.

I was a little worried that President Rafael Correa might be creating a personality cult of the Chavez/Morales variety, but no such worries. Most Ecuadoreans appreciate his efforts to maintain social safety nets at a time when global economies are collapsing, but few citizens will hesitate to tell you that Correa is long-winded and full of himself, too. The president doesn't seem to be too interested in self-aggrandizing in the manner of Hugo Chavez. And he looks like Stephen Segal with a crew cut, which brings to mind more of an Ah-nold jock bravado than anything else.

Indigenous artisans are given a lot of space in Quito to set up market shops and hold protests when appropriate. It was interesting to discover that Quito was one of the few large cities in South America without a true shantytown on its outskirts, though there are certainly poorer sections of town.

I'm posting two poems from the trip, one on the sleeptalking and dream sequences on discovering palo santo trees, the other on coping with the women of Pachamama Alliance, who sort of monopolized the Cafe Cultura hotel with lofty talk about "teaching" Amazon indigenous groups on spiritual practices. Gag me with a spoon. Below the poems, I've embedded one of six videos of Galapagos (also one of Quito) which are on YouTube. I embeded #1, you can check the others in order....


The world presents itself as lovingly incoherent
Clothed in today’s architecture that is yours,
all yours.

The garden variety of sleeptalk
is the slurred syllabic
born of anger or fear
from deepest pontine dream.

Today’s architecture is that rarest of subspecies.
The conversation of prefect diction
devoid of semantics, dancing in syntax.

Is the luggage in wet storage?
Couscous kesskess keeskees kohskohs
The dodo, the bellringer went to town

Embrace each syllable, leap to fricative stop.

Today’s architecture of the waking is the hill that bristles
with palo santo tree.
Rub the region of damaged bark,
breathe vigorously the remembered liquors
as you learn the common parentage of palo santo
and frankincense tree.
Intoxicating vapors bring forth epiphanies
of Balthazar, Melchior.
The momentary slurred syllabic allows the briefest memory
of the statement that consciousness enfolds,
“The traders also called it sandalwood.”
Perfect diction awaits.

The world presents itself as lovingly incoherent.
Clothed in today’s architecture that is ours,
all ours.

Loring Wirbel
August 13, 2011
Copyright Loring Wirbel 2011

Cafe Cultura lobby, sans Pachama

Pachamama Annoyance

With, at best, partial apologies to Pachamama Alliance

And who am I to choke on womanfire power,
awakening the dreamer,
monopolizing the lobby,
declaring that one more Amazon venture
will convince the Kichua to unlock the simple
spirituality that is theirs to share,
while the passel of white women head north
to fill dozens of social science journals.

Kill me, my snark makes me evil,
I tell Fernando,
who agrees he'd rather suffer untold male-dominant lunkheads
than this coven of faux-feminist pomegranates
burning Café Cultura in sage,
swelling in syrup of sincerity.
"And the karaoke," Fernando adds,
"well, you don't want to know."

Loring Wirbel
August 18, 2011
Copyright Loring Wirbel 2011

Here's the first of the six Galapagos videos:

Friday, August 19, 2011

Catching Up, Round 2

I'll have Galapagos goodies soon, but in the meantime, here are two poems from July lamenting about many deaths, and griping about the devout and their discontents:


Corrine could fist a bicep to take down Rosie the Riveter,
Defiant nose ring chimes
I take this world in love,
I take this world by storm.
The pigtail declaration that promised decades
of standing akimbo astride the world crinkled ugly
from the Valley of the Jolly ho ho ho.
But one small blade can slice two arms.
Giant topples three days before Amy,
while villagers not crushed by flailing limbs
are reminded that the gentlest women leading pedestal lives
leave embossed eddies of dust like a falling Saddam,
a Lenin laid fallow.

In the photograph, he stood between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie,
one arm around each Smith.
He was not the dream investor he appeared to be.
He was an arms dealer.

Summer camp is optimal for upper-arm development.
Breast stroke, slipknot tie, slow crawl, secret tryst,
ring around the rosie.
But on the weekend of Amy pedestals,
some arms prove bigger than others.
Beach coagulation is guaranteed
unless your stroke can pull you from shore,
no coming up for air,
no sex on the beach,
no freeze-frame of a city center in shattered glass.

He would have been Japan’s greatest slugger,
but for George chiding “Fat toad, fat toad.”
He hadn’t held a bat in ten years.
He could hold a weapon of arm destruction.

Balasubramanian has studied such things. If each neuron is dense-packed in pyramids of orange, the brain burns hotter, a sacred fire. If the neuron gets bigger, the myelin sheath thicker, we become stupid before our time. The thinner, smaller neuron would seem to be optimal, but the ion channel opens more frequently, the synapse fire gets leakier, schizophrenia predominates.
We’re stuck.
Unless a dozen gooey brains can chant as one.
Join hands.

This is the bench press for Amy.
This is the arm curl for Corrine.
This is the lateral roll for Utoya names I will never know.
I’ve tapped out the book of brain teasers,
the bottle of lecithin is empty,
two good arms are all that’s left.

Loring Wirbel
July 30, 2011
Copyright Loring Wirbel 2011

No, God Must Bend
(Use of the comma in the title is optional)

Warren Jeffs and Kher Mohammed
were skipping class the day they covered
that which is Caesar’s.

I transcend cyclically in next-plane chimes,
but am mired to shit and blood,
the particular instantiation
of the long arm of which law,
which law indeed.

When the next strident radio jock declares
every knee must bend,
I’ll say “You first, God.
You first.”

Loring Wirbel
July 31, 2011
Copyright Loring Wirbel 2011

Catching Up, Round 1

Since the late 1970s, I've worked on a random series of poems called 'Parables of Famous Economists'. Pondered at one point publishing them as a series of Garbage Pail Kid-style trading cards. It's been a little while since a new parable emerged, but in early July, #38 suddenly appeared from nowhere. I have appended the poem itself with a brief history and geography of The Scapa Flow:

The Scapa Flow

Parables of Famous Economists - #38 in the occasional series

”Complex systems that have artificially suppressed volatility tend to become extremely fragile, even while exhibiting no visible risks. In fact, they tend to be too calm and exhibit minimal variability as silent risks accumulate … Such environments eventually experience massive blowups, … ending up far worse than they were in their initial volatile state.”

-- Nassim Nicholas Taler, The Black Swan of Cairo

Becalmed in anti-horse latitudes
He paces aft deck,
confusing the frostbite of debt ceiling
with the bo’sun’s all clear,
and shivers at the deafening absence
of magpie song in Orkney pre-dawn.

Great-great grandfather’s flapper season
was punctuated by sparse hello’s in the Scapa Flow.
Only the littoral ships where invisibility was intended,
drifted in sweeping arcs around a barrier of Graemsay.

Now, the dissolution of polar ice
brings daily petrogreetings
from Archangelsk to Alert Bay,
and still the bridge is enveloped in a cone of antisound.

She tried to speak clearly amidst the Delphic columns,
explaining to him that land sharks in Athens,
salty flotilla dogs in Piraeus,
vibrated at a frequency accomplishing nothing,
save a generous gaseous escape of beer foam,
dissolving representatives of the European Central Bank,
who were waiting for their chance to whimper
“Even anarchists can be wrong half the time.”
He offered the oracle a backpropagation lesson,
her opiated heavy lids failing to register his insistence
that the imperceptible wake of ships within the Arctic Circle
generated the slow delta waves more likely to go critical
as flotilla becomes Flotta.
Perhaps they whispered to each other the same sweet nothings
in mutually unintelligible dialects.

Ship’s whistle resonates in tooth and testament alike.
Call to neither reveille nor seven-bell prayer,
but a fitting remembrance of a Von Reuter call to scuttle,
a June 21 hymn of sinking below a featureless Scottish horizon,
where even a storm-petrel is wrong half the time.

One dozen renegotiations of a national limit,
spanning months or years of indeterminate length.
It is calm.
Unaffected bond markets, Dow stuck at 12k.
It is calm.
Ship lists subtly to port.
It is calm.
Spray-spattered deck at 21 degrees
as list becomes coffin to be.
It is calm.
The trembling is laughter and laughter alone.
The economist to first identify the point of kinase cascade
goes down with the ship.
Yo ho.
It is calm.
Please notify my next of kin.
It is calm.
This wheel shall explode.
The surface of the Scapa Flow is always calm,
as he notes with no little irony
that admirals of the current era
must expand their definitions of scuttle.

Loring Wirbel
July 16, 2011
Copyright Loring Wirbel 2011

Scapa Flow (Old Norse: Skalpaflói - "bay of the long isthmus" [1]) is a body of water in the Orkney Islands, Scotland, United Kingdom, sheltered by the islands of Mainland, Graemsay, Burray,[2] South Ronaldsay and Hoy. It is about 312 square kilometres (120 sq mi). It has a shallow sandy bottom not deeper than 60 metres (200 ft) and most of it about 30 metres (98 ft) deep, and is one of the great natural harbours/anchorages of the world, with sufficient space to hold a number of navies. Viking ships anchored in Scapa Flow more than 1000 years ago, but it is best known as the site of the United Kingdom's chief naval base during World War I and World War II. The base was closed in 1956.

The scuttling of the German fleet took place at the Royal Navy's base at Scapa Flow, in Scotland, after the end of the First World War. The High Seas Fleet had been interned there under the terms of the Armistice whilst negotiations took place over the fate of the ships. Fearing that all of the ships would be seized and divided amongst the allied powers, the German commander, Admiral Ludwig von Reuter, decided to scuttle the fleet.

The scuttling was carried out on 21 June 1919. Intervening British guard ships were able to beach a number of the ships, but 52 of the 74 interned vessels sank. Many of the wrecks were salvaged over the next few years and were towed away for scrapping. The few that remain are popular diving sites.