mimi smartypants
Seriously, though: what's with the penguins?

kings of misuse


Recently I was instant-messaging with a friend about our most hated things in literature. These had to be things that you think just flat-out suck. Things that are “not my bag, but I can see how it is very technically proficient and I understand why someone else likes it” don’t count. We also agreed to excuse obvious schlocky things like DaVinci Code or whatever: it had to be stuff that would get reviewed as a Serious Book.

We agreed that Elizabeth Wurtzel sucks (not controversial). We both hated that Snow Falling on Cedars book, but gave the dude a one-time pass since we couldn’t remember anything else he wrote. She thought Cormac McCarthy sucks; I disagreed. (I don’t exactly read him with a great deal of enthusiasm, but I don’t think he sucks.) We agreed that Dennis Johnson sucks.

Then I said, “I think Galway Kinnell kind of sucks, but that’s only because of one particular part of one particular poem that drives me apeshit.”

Literary Friend: Who is Galway Kinnell? Wasn’t he a flautist for the masses in the 1980s? Some PBS special/Celtic crap?

Me: No, that’s James Galway.

Me: Galway Kinnell seems like a nice enough dude.  But oh my god, this one poem, arrggggh. Let me find it.

Me: Here.


LF: That bugs you? It wasn’t THAT bad.

Me: Are you kidding? The mooing? The hearing nothing…oh wait except actually I do hear a COW? The line break of “Is that a/rooster”? The italics-for-emphasis in the last bit? Ptooey.

Me: And I know, the world is a broken bedraggled wasteland etc, but a cow! I find the cow very jarring.

Anyway, we agreed to disagree and started talking about grinding up fish for the garden and why all the members of Digable Planets had insect-related nicknames. But I was still troubled by a big mystery surrounding the hateful Kinnell poem, which is that I had a clear memory of the lines being “the cow/of nothingness, mooing/down the bones.” In fact, you get lots of results from Googling “cow of nothingness,” including ones from actual books like this one, so it seems unlikely that Kinnell is being widely misquoted. I guess at some point he changed it? In favor of “the cow, the cow of such/hollowness”? Not better, if you ask me. (You didn’t. No one did.)

Galway Kinnell is 86 years old, but he is a living writer and he probably wants to kick my ass right now. Mr. Kinnell, I am sorry for my dumb opinions and for not being more familiar with your work beyond that one poem. I just don’t like your empty, negative cow.


I have commented before on how my new walk/El commute is not quite as colorful or as urine-rich as my old bus/El commute, but I do often ride the train with one very weird dude. He is somewhat elderly, and shows up in full bike gear (helmet, rain pants, etc), presumably after riding his bike to the train and locking it at the station. Unless he’s even weirder than he seems and just likes bike gear. He has a routine, and one strange part of it happens when he gets on the train at the station. Lots of people get on the train at the last car, and then walk through the cars to get to other cars, which reduces your chances of missing the train while also maximizing your seating options, I guess. This practice makes this guy very, very angry. He usually stands and glares at the between-train-car door, giving it murderous smoldering looks while it slowly closes. Then he shakes his head, makes explosive sighing sounds, and not-quietly mutters something like “fucking ASSHOLES!” One time the between-car-door did not close all the way, and he went over and gave it an amazingly violent kick/shove with the sole of his foot.

Traveling between moving train cars is against CTA rules and not a great idea safety-wise, but this all happens before we even get moving. Nearly every day! Then the Angry Bike Guy sits down, takes off his bike helmet and ski hat, pulls out a large hairbrush, and sets about tidying his bald-on-top-but-long-in-the-back gray hair. Maybe admitting that he’s bald and getting a haircut would help the train anger? I do not know.

—mimi smartypants of nothingness.