Friday, August 29, 2014


For this challenge, I asked Jamie Sharp, a writer and editor who once published a couple of my poems in his journal, The Associative Press, and whose work I love. He has an amazing book of poems that stretch your logic-skin the way a jawbreaker stretches out your cheek. And it's hilarious. It's called Animal Husbandry Today:
So his challenge for me is, in his words:

Given that not all gibberish is equal, why do we form preferences for one kind of nonsense over another? Can nothing be conveyed; is every word/note/brushstroke a mirror?

He directed me to this music video by an Italian entertainer, Adriano Celentano, who wrote a song meant to mimic the sound of English, but where the words (as you can hear) are meaningless:

So this is a question I'll be thinking about for a long time. With or without the help of Wittgenstein, I can't say.

But I can say for the present that poetry is most interesting to me when it does function as mirror, at least in some ways...when it gives me space to imagine...when it acts as a spark for meaning-making.

I thought about Jabberwocky here, too, the most famous nonsense poem. One technique there is the portmanteau. Similarly, I decided to try a poem that looks like it's written in a different language, but which is a series of combined English words that can (usually) be pulled apart and translated. This is especially apparent by the last stanza. But once you translate the words out of their combinations...there's still some meaning-making left for the reader to do. 


O moodim offall orich fishearer
rubyells areating gleamstill
o goldoor.
Dontake damnos
dontell theater goldoor

Heartear comesoft overwhelmy bellights.
Tastevening, teaseven,
believe o droppedeal.
tone saidove, tother nominalion.


Illeave beforeverest
toverwhelm tovercome
toffer mysteryous
foreaching goldoor.

Here's Jamie's review, which parodies certain approaches to the interpretation of poetry and raises some deep questions in the process:

Another Ivy Grimes poem, printed long ago in The Associative Press, asked “How could they wrap their minds around it,/ like foil around a piece of red candy?”

Take a single golden idea and wrap it around: the Italian music video; Ivy’s poem; the world. Everything contained in the wrapper is now digestible: is sense. Everything outside the wrapper is nonsense.

What is the golden idea that can envelop Ivy’s poem, “Goldoor”? Psychoanalysis!

Notice the toffee in this piece and the red candy in her previous poem. The world—its sweetness—is primarily to be explored with the mouth. An oral fixation is strongly at play. The poet was probably switched to bottle feeding, at around six months, and now feels disconnected from: the real, the mother, the world.

But what if the golden wrapper is actually Efficient Market Theory? Clearly the poem’s “nominal lion” is…

This is too hard. But existing without the wrapper is hard too. I am overwhelmed! I can’t embrace “toffer mysteryous.” And one thought frightens me most: if the gold door doesn’t exist, is the reaching for it real?

Great poem, Ivy. Now I’ll go cry myself to sleep.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Skyrim: Elder Scrolls

My next challenge is from a colleague who chooses to remain anonymous. Why anonymous? Because he doesn't want anyone in his professional life (the guys who belong to the nice country clubs in town) to know he is into a game called Skyrim: Elder Scrolls.

As always, the Elder Scrolls Wiki was quite useful in my poem composition.

The Game of Quests

A dragon's always poised
to wreck everything,
and as I speak into your hagiography,
I choose to describe you
finagling a spear into the monster's wing
like a fork into dry meat.

When you begin your quest, you choose
what kind of creature to be,
for the sake of redeeming those
like and unlike you.

But you don't choose your soul.
You are finite, a seabird
who can't eat all the fish in the ocean.

Whatever language you learn,
the devil learned it first.
Every game has an author.

Don't bruise your tongue
with spells.
The dragon will terrorize itself.
The world it haunts can only rob you
of your hero's hat.
Let the snow eat your enemies.
Give the snow your meat.

Anon's review:

Interestingly, there is some gameplay truth in this poem. Sometimes you don't have to fight the dragons but wait for them to be killed by others. Also, the dragon shouts you learn is really just rediscovering an old dragon language. There does always seem to be a dragon about to wreck everything--in life and otherwise.

Though, of course, there aren't any spears in Skyrim.



This challenge involves an unwieldy economic theory!  It's a challenge from my friend Harry David, who is not to be confused with Harry & David, a gourmet fruit basket company. 
Harry has studied economics extensively and written much on the subject (he blogs at, and he also does an excellent job of making writing publish-able, as you can see here:  
He also recently accepted a challenge from me to write from an economic perspective about the 613 mitzvoth in Jewish law, and the result was informative and deep: His challenge to me was to write about rent-seeking.  As he explained to me briefly and quickly:
"Rent-seeking is the pursuit of income in excess of that which is necessary to induce a factor of production to put itself on the market (a "rent" in the technical meaning), where the means by which this income is created destroys social value. It erodes the rule of law, it wastes resources as producers compete to gain the rents, it contributes to the ossification of the political economy." I Wikipediaed it of course, but even Wikipedia failed to explain the concept simply to me, and in short, the poem was in fact a good challenge for me.  I thought about a variety of potential (surreal) situations involving using resources to eliminate barriers to profit (such as spending money to lobby for tariffs or restrictions on your competitors).  But of course, I brought it around to the mythic and didn't deal with the concept as it exists in the world of fact and logic it was invented in.  Is this cheating?  I don't know!  Probably!  Let's find out.

Honey Baron

Let's conspire, buy armies to depose the king,
and impose a leader who is friendly to monopolies
so I can be a honey baron.

I’ll sell zebra-flavored honey to lions,
seed-flavored honey to birds.
For women, amber and orange,
for men, sour and smoke,
for the heartbroken, honey with hints
of persimmon, meringue, tulip.

I’d sell everything
to have one kingdom.

To succeed, I only need tariffs
on sweets, and on invisible forests
that house wild bees
whose honey in this world is fire.

When all the bees know my heartbeat
and their bodies move like waves to my words,
they’ll make honey from anything—
past and future, the tree of knowledge
and the tree of life.

Protection for my business
will mean profit for everyone.
When I’m queen of my own kingdom,
the honey will be free.    

Harry's review:

This is beautiful, Ivy. Magical. 

First, the criticism: I don't see why a self-interested honey baron would want to provide honey for free. After all, the point of the tariff was to increase her profits. 

And I don't see how in her new kingdom there would be profit for everyone -- not, again, why she might want that. In a sense, though, it makes sense. Tariffs are usually dressed up as being in the public interest, even as they in fact only benefit the lobbying special interest. So that line may reflect a statement for public consumption. 

The rest of the poem captures the concept nicely. You are right about the effect of a tariff, for instance. And your point about hiring an army to depose the king is quite astute. Spending resources to supplant the king is indeed a form of rent-seeking, and one that is not often written about.

Beautiful, imaginative, astute. You beat the challenge. Good job!


I met Alana Baldwin ten years ago in college at Auburn.  We were on Auburn's student literary magazine together, and we bonded when we realized the same guy had invited each of us over (on different occasions, of course) to hang out at his place, where he spontaneously broke out his guitar to stare into our eyes and play us a song.  He played her a Pixies song, and he played me "Kiss Me" by Sixpence None the Richer, solidifying which of us he thought was cooler.  (And yes, I ran the heck out of there as soon as the song was over.)   

Her challenge for me to was to write about continuity.  She was inspired by the documentary Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?, a series of interviews with Noam Chomsky by Michel Gondry.  I came very close here to explaining Chomsky's idea of psychic continuity as he relates it in the film, but I was beginning to bore and confuse myself.  Suffice it to say -- he's interested in how we put together our observations (that to him often have no inherent meaning) and see them as whole.  One example he uses is that the Charles River could have many additions (pollution, tributaries), but remain the Charles River to us. Gondry uses the example that when he meets with an old friend he hasn't seen in a while, at first the man is like a stranger, but after he speaks with him for about 20 minutes, the man transforms into his friend again.
I put all this together and related it to something else Chomsky said about how many people have the need to believe that existence continues after this life ends, and that he doesn't need that, but he is sympathetic to people who do. 

A decade of friendship with someone necessarily means reconciling the new self with the old self I remember from ten years ago.  This also reminded me of friendship with God, and how this friendship causes you to change in ways that are difficult to reconcile with who you once were.   
At any rate, Alana is an incredibly creative person, an excellent graphic designer, and a good friend.  You can find some of her work here -, and you can also peruse some accidentally obscene logos she is in the process of collecting here -

The Beginning and The End

We were taught scripture, though
we misrememebered it--
in the beguilement, mouths corrupted the holy
and the born, and the born were without fortunes,
and dogwoods shadowed the nightmares of the sea.
And the sputter of ghosts marred the first weather.

And both of us said - let this be left.

When I met you, you collected odd shirts,
and as I follow the progression of human history
from Adam naming the animals to the moment
we became friends, I note
the shirt you wore the day we met was covered in animals
wearing braces, holding up mirrors for each other,
each one enraptured by his own caged smile.

You still have the shirt, ten years later,
but don't wear it anymore when making friends.

"I know Christians by looking
in their eyes at that unearthly kindness,"
you said, and you weren't sure
if you saw it in mine then.

When you graft an odd branch to a tree,
when does it begin to belong?
A man to the faith of men,
a friend to a friend.
It belongs in stages, and even
when it rises, seamless,
its fruit could be a different shape
than the fruit of the other branches.

We could choose
to see this world as whole.

As an act of friendship, you entertained
my worries, which you said were contagious,
that I'd bring with us like smallpox
into eternity.

I learned slowly that when we worry,
we lose hope, and when we lose hope,
we lose our friends.

After Christ ascended,
his friends thought they were living in the end.
I think we're living, and I know it ends.

This is all very touching. I appreciate your thoughtful words + wish I could reciprocate on the same level. Flexing my visual muscles all these years, instead of the verbal ones, has made my thoughts very muddled and strangely pictorial. So, I'll draw you something.

A shallow drawing for a deep + meaningful poem. Tradesies?