Tuesday, June 30, 2015
A poem is a blank sheet that has made decisions
Sat folded in a notebook
Like the crisp sheet of another's bed
On which first-time lovers fatally fall
And scrawl their lines for next day's perusal
Sweeter than the morning papers by far
Changing the course of events
Check my new book Idiocy, Ltd. at Amazon.
Saturday, June 20, 2015
It is a rare privilege to recognize just how one is idiotic, how idiotic one is, the howness of this state and how it’s interwoven with anything one might call one’s intelligence.
Idiocy, Ltd. is now available. You do need a copy.
Whether its smoking giraffes, Florida-style rehabilitation, or the oddities of a whole cast of characters in Taipei, Eric Mader shows a sure hand in balancing satire, spoof, and twilight-zone weird, revealing hints of Kafka, Borges, and other worthies, but with a spirit all his own. With its riotous absurdity, its jarring changes of register, and its underlying critical but humane tone, Idiocy, Ltd. will make you laugh and, more important, make you think.
National Taiwan University
Unpredictability is Mader’s stock in trade . . . an endlessly fascinating eccentric.
The best of these poems surprise us not with a flashy detail, but an image or an abstraction we somehow knew was right around the corner. In the most imaginative moments, where the poems are surprised by translation across language and culture, we are playfully and seriously moved to open our eyes wider and our ears to hear the delight of words.
of the 2014 New Criterion Poetry Prize
BOOKISH ASIA has posted a review by Prof. Hugh Hochman of Reed College. A scholar of 20th-century literature, Hochman raises some of the questions that most interest me, especially that of genre.
Idiocy, Ltd. is now available in a Chinese edition published by Comma Books. See: 白痴有限公司 Launch Party.
Also of interest may be Letter to a Young Prose Poet, on the roles Max Jacob and Daniil Kharms played in getting me into this fix. See also: Idiocy, Ltd. / 白痴有限公司 and Why I Love the Prose Poem.
Check out Idiocy, Ltd. Dryest damn prose in the West.
Friday, June 19, 2015
A few weeks ago I taught one of my classes of Taipei teens a deliciously idiotic text by American prose poet Russell Edson, “The Automobile”. The piece opens like this:
A man had just married an automobile.
But I mean to say, said his father, that the automobile is not a person because it is something different.
For instance, compare it to your mother. Do you see how it is different from your mother? Somehow it seems wider, doesn’t it? And besides, your mother wears her hair differently.
You ought to try to find something in the world that looks like mother.
I have mother, isn’t that enough of a thing that looks like mother? Do I have to gather more mothers?
. . .
Then after we’d finished the reading, I gave them a half hour to come up with their own short text about either a man or woman marrying some inanimate object. Predictably, some of their tales were obscene. Flora and Angel wrote the best of them, below.
(As for Russell Edson, whose work is precious to me, the best collection available is The Tunnel: Selected Poems. For those of you who may be curious.)
But here are Flora and Angel.
The Dangers of Marriage
by Flora Zheng 鄭佳峰
A man decided to marry the sun.
He liked to sunbathe in his yard, and was fascinated by the beauty of sunrise and sunset.
In order not to have to share his wife with others, he broadcast through the media that nobody could be shone on by her. They were not to go outside, but just do indoor activities.
The announcement spread quickly. Everyone had a different opinion.
Mr. Smith: “That’s crazy! The sun belongs to nobody. It’s nature’s creation.”
His parents: “OK! We must all respect our son’s decision. He has many challenges ahead and we should help him. It isn’t easy keeping such a marriage together.”
Of course, opposed by most, the marriage was finally not allowed. But the man was determined. He even began researching how to make an environment on the sun in which a human could live.
As global warming got worse, the man began to argue that it was his wife, she was angry, she wanted to be alone with him.
“Once the earth is finished, you will have to find a new planet for yourselves!”
The Dangers of Marriage
by Angel Zheng 鄭安婕
There was a young Taipei woman who loved shopping even more than most women. She shopped every day. One day she told her parents that she wanted to get married to a department store.
“Are you crazy?” said her father.
“No, I’m not,” she said. “I think he is strong and tall. And besides, he is rich. You should be happy.”
“What’s his name?” asked her mother.
“His name is Taipei 101.”
“But how can I get a grandchild?” asked her father.
“Don’t worry, Dad,” the woman said. “You’ll have new grandchildren all the time: the new bags, shoes and clothes I’ll bring home!”
“New bags?” said her mother. “Alright, you can marry him. But he has to get me what I want too!”
“No problem, Mom!” the young woman said.
Her father thought the two women were crazy.
The marriage happened and the young woman and her mother were very happy.
But three months later they were no longer so happy, and the father was yelling all the time, because there was no more room in the house for all the “grandchildren”.
And not only that, but the young woman’s new husband, Taipei 101, was discovered to be having an affair with a famous Taipei actress. The wife knew nothing about it until her husband was photographed by paparazzi one night in a pub with the actress. The photos showed up in Next Magazine. And there were other photos of the actress out biking with a tall building--her husband!
When she saw the news, she cried and was very angry. She slapped her husband and yelled at him. In the end, she divorced him and had to bring up the children by herself.
But her mother helps her a lot.
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
As my English students here in Taipei loved Daniil Kharms’ zany narrative of how he was born three times, I set them a challenge. Write a short tale about their own birth, but in some fantastic register: in short, a myth or legend of how they came into the world. The following are some of the better ones--or at least those I had time to type up.
How I was born
If you are one of the dummies like me, you may have wondered why I have the incredible Indian accent which Indians can’t even imitate. I often tell that it is just a horrible joke, but it’s actually a terrific joke. Let me tell you about it.
As some of you know, my father’s pet cat loves Indian food. So my parents and their cat went on a trip to India. After filling a whole suitcase with cans of Indian curry beef cat food, they were ready for the way back home. They had their lunch in the airport, but the food in the airport McDonald’s was terrible, especially the curry-flavored smoothie. It was so disgusting that they threw it away after trying it. But just as my father tossed the nasty cup into the trash bin, he saw a cute infant dancing in it. The infant looked Taiwanese.
“Holy shit!” he said. “Why is there a cute boy smashing my dear smoothie?”
“Shit? I love shit! I want one of those spicy ones!” I’m told I said in perfect Taiwanese.
My parents thought I was so dumb, so they took me home.
Two months later I was jogging on Xin-Yi Road when I saw a strange Indian obasan who loves Taiwanese culture. She asked me if I could teach her my famous Indian accent that even people in India can’t imitate.
“What will you give me?” I said.
She said she would give me a curry-like object she found on the street.
To get more shit, I said: “Fair trade!”
My Indian accent is very good to use. When I see a ghost, a vampire or some other grim specter, they’ll think I’m an Indian math professor, which makes them scared and run away.
If you dummies want this benefit, I can share some of my Indian accent with you. But remember: Bring something to exchange!
How I was born
In 1999, tensions were roused between Taiwan and China owing to Taiwan’s first presidential election. Many people were afraid we would be attacked by China. My father was one of them, so he decided to try to hack into Chinese government computers to find out what the Chinese plans were. If he found some possible plan for attacking Taiwan, he would do his utmost to stop it.
One day he discovered a message that said a Chinese official was going to send a “surprise” to Taiwan, and it would arrive at Taoyuan airport the following Sunday.
My father hurried to Taoyuan that day. He carefully seized all packages people carried out from the airport and inspected everything. People protested, but my father insisted he was doing it for national security.
Suddenly someone screamed inside the airport and chaos broke out. He rushed toward the commotion and grabbed the object around which a crowd had formed.
“It’s alright! Everything is in my control,” he declared, quickly weaving through the crowd toward the exit.
“Sir! Is that baby yours?” a police officer asked as he tried to get through the exit.
He looked at the object he held. It was actually a baby.
My father was stunned, but with the police officer glaring sternly at him, he saw he had no choice but to take the baby home.
This is the story of my birth. Actually, it was not so much a birth as an incident. On the other hand, my father still doesn’t know what the “surprise” was that China sent to Taiwan that day.
How I was born
by Claire Fan-Chiang
If you’ve listened to the gossiping of the women in the local market, you might have caught a few rumors about my birth. And since it’s become quite a taxing thing to explain the truth seven times a day, I’ve decided to write it down, explaining my birth once and for all.
Storks are real. The scientists and biology textbooks might tell you that babies are born after nine months of pregnancy, but actually my mother knew what I was going to be like before she gave birth to me.
The STORKS is a worldwide organization that delivers children to mothers. It used to be a wealthy baby-delivering organization, but as medical technology has gotten better and better, and the amount of hospitals has increased yearly, people now get their babies through birth rather than stork delivery. This has led people to forget about the STORKS, and it’s caused a lot of storks to lose their jobs.
It started one day when my mother saw a stork on our balcony, holding a package in its beak. My mother, although surprised by the fact that the stork had managed to squeeze through the iron bars of the windows, was more worried about the sanitary problems and told the stork to leave.
The stork, however, had set its mind on finishing the mission no matter what the cost. So it told my mother that she could buy the baby half price. My mother rejected. She already had my sister then, and needed no more babies.
After that day, however, the stork continued to come for nine months, when my mother finally agreed to take the baby. Half moved at the stork’s dedication and half exasperated, she offered the stork 1NT. Though the price was the lowest possible, the stork’s eyes filled with tears when it saw the coin. It left the balcony then, whistling, which my mother said sounded like a cat dying.
My father didn’t say anything when he saw me that night. He just nodded and went to bed. And this is the story of how I was bought for 1NT.
How I was born
by Jenny Xu 許嘉瑜
I’ll never forget the night I was born. It was a full-moon night. My father went home with his heavy steps as usual. When he got home, my three-year-old brother was playing on the floor.
“Daddy! Welcome back!” my brother said.
“Hey, my boy, did you behave well today?”
“Dinner is ready,” my mother said, stepping out of the kitchen. “How was your day?”
“Alright,” my father answered. “But on my way home, earlier, something strange happened.”
“Come here and I’ll show you.”
My parents stepped away from the table over to the balcony.
“Look at the moon,” my father said. “Don’t you think it’s somehow bigger today?”
“Yes . . . It seems that it’s getting bigger . . . and . . .”
My mother stared at the moon, didn’t say anything more. Suddenly a mysterious light flashed into her womb and something began growing there.
That’s right! It was me!
A few hours later, amazingly, I was born. Although my parents had no idea what was going on, and still don’t understand it today, they brought me up as a normal child.
People may doubt that I can remember clearly how I came into the world. But I can. And I will always remember my mission, which is secret for now, but which you will learn about some day.
How I was born
One day my mother was chatting with her friends. They were talking about babies and how hard it was to go through pregnancy. None of them wanted to have a baby by herself. They started talking about a post on the Internet: “Healthy babies available. Call 2368-5925.” My mom actually thought it might be a good idea. The others thought she was joking.
That night she discussed it with my father. After a few days, they decided to order one. The delivery date would be October 31, 1995.
When I got to my house, I remember how they all cried. They cried with joy because many people said manufactured babies were ugly, but I was adorable!
At first my parents had some trouble studying the information included about how to raise me. I had been manufactured in Korea, and the manual was in Korean.
I believe this is why I now love Korea so much.
How I was born
It was a sunny day, but my mother was in pain. I kept hitting and kicking her inside. So my father finally took her to the hospital to see the doctor. Together with the doctor they decided that they could induce birth a little early. My mother couldn’t bear the pain any more.
After many hours, I came into the new world successfully. My parents were so happy they couldn’t say anything. They wished me health forever.
How I was born
A handsome man that a woman meets after marriage is sometimes dangerous. For my mother, one such hot man gave her me as a gift.
It happened back in 1995, the year before I was born. Since my parents already had my brother, they didn’t think of having any more children. One day, when my mother was out window-shopping, suddenly she ran into a man more handsome than any she’d seen in her entire life. There were sparkles in both their eyes, and my mother tells me she even felt a kind of electricity running through her body.
The man came forward and said: “Hello, young lady. Free now?”
His voice was too charming. My mother fainted.
When she awoke, a week had passed. And soon she learned she was pregnant! She could only remember that soon after she’d fainted, as she was in a taxi with the man, that he had told her his name: Zeus.
Surprisingly, my father wasn’t angry and never even questioned my mother about her pregnancy. He was just thankful to God for bringing him this child.
Later, in July 1996, I was born. I grew up normally except for one thing. My first word was neither “Mama” nor “Dada”, but “Hey, young lady. Free now?”
Only my mother understood what it meant.
How I was born
It was a cold night in April, 1995. My parents and my brother were walking in a park near their house.
“Look! There’s a comet in the sky!” my brother said.
But my parents didn’t take it seriously because they knew my brother was a fan of Godzilla and Ultraman.
Minutes later, the comet slammed into the side of the building where their apartment was, then bounced down to the ground.
The next day, as my mother was cleaning the living room, she noticed a part of the comet stuck in the sofa. No matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t pull it out. So they gave up, sat next to the piece of comet and started watching TV.
A few minutes later, as the news was playing, a strange gas came out of the comet.
“Sorry. I had to fart.”