Monthly Archives: May 2016

Once Again The Wire Explains My Life to Me


Yes, once again The Wire has helped me figure out my life. WHY WHY WHY have I seen an uptick in essays that have a gorgeous structure—intro/thesis, clear transitions, academic style, good introductions of sources, clear citations AND YET almost entirely random quotes that DO NOT MATCH the general statements that precede them?

I’m just guessing on account of teaching to the test.


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The Wire Season 4, Episode 9, “Know Your Place”

In this episode of The Wire (NO SPOILERS! I’m only on Season 4 for chrissakes) Pryzbylewski is lamenting having to teach students to begin and end each answer in a formulaic way, and somehow KAZAAM! everything was clear to me.

I have clever students who are (as Ken Bain would point out) strategic enough to do what they need to do to get the grade they want, so they learn the format, and the tone, and YET:

It looks something like this (totally made up, not based on a particular student paper):

General statement: Even though girls are thought of as being cleaner and neater than boys, that’s not always true.

Quote used: “RQ1: How do male college students’ self-reported hand washing behaviors compare to perceptions of hand washing prevalence in the population of male students on campus?”

Or, even, “In a scholarly, peer-reviewed article called ‘Testing the Effects of Social Norms and Behavioral Privacy on Hand Washing: A Field Experiment,’ Lapinski et al. ask “how do male college students’ self-reported hand washing behaviors compare to perceptions of hand washing prevalence in the population of male students on campus?”‘(Lapinski et al. 341)*,

p.s. I’ve lost track of the whole single quote/double quote thing.

p.p.s. *I totally made up that page number

THE POINT IS, if you’re just skimming, the way I’m sure I would if I were an AP exam reader (and the way in which I’m sure actual AP readers don’t skim, right?), it sounds fine. But if you actually read for content, for substance, for MEANING, Jaysus, it don’t work at all. I mean, Jeebus.

Which reminds me of a Bible verse: 2 Timothy Chapter3, verses  (written, as we like to say, by the Apostle Paul to the lovely young Timothy):

“3 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will [all kinds of stuff Paul is bothered by, some of which I am bothered by, some not so much] having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.”

A form of godliness, but denying its power. That so much applies to churches, and “godly” folks, but also language, to quote scripture: “The word of god is seldom, and  tremblingly partook.”

Did Paul get exhausted? This exhausts me. Have nothing to do with such  people.



Somewhere in Eastern Montana on a Train

The rocks rise up just like Jehovah scat,
vast droppings from the great mad God above.
The train won’t stop. I don’t know where I’m at.

I might be lost. I might have been kidnapped.
The train’s so cold I’m wearing gloves.
The rocks rise up just like Jehovah scat,

but they’re not visible on my little map.
The lounge car is the only home I have
because the train won’t stop. Where I’m at

is a deeply pleasing dizzy place, perhaps
because I’m reading The Sheltering Sky, which I love.
The rocks rise up just like Jehovah scat

on these Great Plains! Foothills! The snow, like sand,
obscures the tracks. How do we even move?
The train won’t stop. I don’t know where I am

with all my wonder wander wonder shit.
I’ll be home for Christmas soon enough.
The rocks rise up like Jehovah scat.
The train won’t stop. I don’t know where I’m at.


Christmas 1989  I rode the Empire Builder train from Whitefish, Montana to Chicago and then the train they call the City of New Orleans on down into Southern Illinois. It was a miserable trip. There was a lot of snow and it was very cold (in North Dakota? Who could have expected that?) and the bathrooms kept freezing up. We stopped at every station, trashed the bathrooms, and by the time I got to St. Louis, the train was more than 24 hours late. You can keep your romantic train travel visions to yourself, thank you very much.

Unless you’re Laura Gibson, in which case I feel so lucky to have caught your show at The Shitty Barn.  (Sometimes I can’t stand how lucky I am to live in Spring Green.  The barn’s just a short walk from my house.)

Her new album is called Empire Builder, and as she sang the title track, I was reminded that I’d tried and tried to write a poem that captured the weirdness of that train trip.  Given my track record of poems about that trip (#27yearsoftrying), I may still not have done it.  But I got inspired whilst Laura was singing and wrote it all, there (almost all–revised some when I got home).

So thanks to the Shitty Barn & thanks to Laura Gibson for a great night and a little fit of inspiration. Have a listen to her song “The Cause”  and see if you get inspired your own self.


Oh, how I love thee, Shitty Barn.