Showing posts with label Teaching Creative Writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Teaching Creative Writing. Show all posts

Bicycle Commute (Bim Angst)

Photo mash up:
Author Bim Angst with her bicycle

It was the first day. Not the first day of the bike commute, but the first day of that year’s bike commute. It was the first day of a renewed but not a new commitment.
Top ten reasons she liked the bike commute. But today it was a fat tire, not the sleek little Pinarello she so loved. The asphalt was wet. It has been a month since she was on a bike. She has been taking care of the man. He is laid up with both legs in immovable casts and he needs taking care of, which he knows and allows — not that he has a choice. But which he is seeming quite to like. Somebody else is doing the taking care of today. When she began the taking care of him, it mattered to her greatly — surprise surprise — that she be the one to do all the most very important of the taking care. It mattered to her that he like she was the main one taking/giving the care.
But today. So, it didn’t really matter which bike on which she did the commute. Editing will be needed. Wet asphalt, time away, strength in her legs diminished, who knew what loss in lung capacity. She made the sensible choice.
Order them ten to one. Whatever is at the bottom of a ten reasons list everybody will assume is number one anyway. Why is it usually ten? Top ten. Ok. That sounds nice. Two syllables both starting with hard Ts. Alliteration. Double, equal accent. Remember to harvest the sage. Not a dactyl. Not a trochee. That was three. Not an iamb. Something. Doesn’t matter. Look it up anyway.
Ten. Containment. Things aren’t getting out of hand. It will not go on forever, it will end, maybe shortly. That’s a splice. What was it they said, she read in some journal, about even very bright people being able to remember/handle a maximum of seven things at once? She doesn’t let them use the slash words. But they’re useful. Except when you read out loud. You have to make that chopping gesture in thin air. Point of view shift.
So why ten? Why not seven? Top seven reasons. Slow ones can’t cope with even seven. Three. Sometimes two.
Maybe don’t number the list. Just start in. By the third (numbering again), everybody will just get it’s a countdown. They always seem to confuse it’s and its. Who is this everybody? Not everybody reads. Especially those young people. Does texting count as reading? Sexting?
Number 7. Can’t help the numbering. Need order. Need structure. Even if it is imposed and does not organically take shape. Number 7: Because I live in a beautiful place. Every place is beautiful. Everywhere has its beauties. It’s a frame of mind. It’s a bike frame of mind! Bike frame, get it? Road surface doesn’t have to count, unless it’s good. They always ask her not to count the bad stuff. We live in a beautiful place.
Grit, potholes, washout, lots of broken glass. Beer bottles. Always beer bottles. Passing traffic, some bleeping horns right when they come up behind and scare her the way somebody can make you jump saying boo loud right in your ear when you don’t know they’re back there. They’re their there. They’re there in your hair.
Be fair. 100 pass. Maybe two honk. 98 is a good percentage. 200 pass, maybe one yells nice ass. Hot old bike chicks agree, honking means you have a nice ass. Flipping the bird means you have a nice ass. Yelling nice ass means you have a nice ass. Throwing a can means you have a nice ass. Getting out there on the bike means. No matter how slow you go. You’re out there. The kingfisher is out hunting today!
5000 pass maybe 1, if that, pulls up revving fast in a white sedan with a license plate you cannot read with your single distance no bi/trifocal goggles. Zooming revving up behind, laying hard hard hard on the horn, cruising alongside 30 yards still hard on the horn and then pulls off the horn and yanks hard to the right right in front to slam on the brakes and see if you smash into his back bumper and then he can complain you hit him or do you drop and burn sliding on the side of the road. Peels out. Waves goodbye. Flips the bird. Can you really hear him laughing? Why is it always a guy?
Maybe drivers think tooting the horn is a nice way to let you know they’re back there. Think that. Be generous. It is a beautiful place. One in maybe 5000, maybe not even. A lot more assholes when you drive the car. Road rage. Every stinking day rage. Especially on 422. It makes headlines. Often. People get arrested waving guns out there. Cara carries a gun on the bike. Yo, as Pat says, what’s that about?
The mountains. Never again move out of the mountains even though they’re harder when you’re on the bike. That which does not kill….Nietzsche. Pretty sure. There seems to be some capricious shifting going on.
Number 6: Because it makes me feel virtuous. This will not make the list, at least not this way, but such is what revision is for. One can revise one’s self into something like intelligence. Vonnegut, right? Credit. And a good heart. Clean thoughts. Burning calories not fossil fuels: Number 6. Why oh why do I keep forgetting to bring a snot rag?
Number 5: Half the day’s exercise is done before work. The other half is pretty much a given and you can’t crap out without embarrassing yourself now that you’ve announced you’re commuting by bike. So there. Stronger, better half sticks childish tongue out at weak, lazy, evil half. This is what is meant, partly, by commitment. Once you’re in so far, there’s no turning back. Except if you don’t proclaim intent, ain’t nobody know you didn’t ’ceptns you. Do you like you? Sometimes. Maybe a little bit most days. Most days. Not all. On the bike always.
Four miles, maybe five. Kicking in. Cooking cooking cooking. Booking booking booking. Number 4: It feels good! Number 1? Good chemical stew. Bathing in endorphins. Simmering in the marinade. Mixing metaphors. Synapses snapping. Burning off the toxins. Clarifying the butter. Does clarifying butter get rid of any of the cholesterol? Something about the brain. Which is connected to the heart. Real. Figurative. Metaphoric. Metaphysic. Is that a word? Think it and you alter capabilities.
Number 3: Get rid of cholesterol. Or some such stuff about health. It’s good for you. Me. Her. The cyclist. Cyclists in general. Anybody. Everybody. The general public. At least that which reads. Are people who read less obese?
Number 2. Don’t go there. What will be number 1? Stop those juvenile thoughts. You can’t skip number 2 and number 1 (even if you leave off the numbering) if you’re doing a top 10/7 list. What’s Number 3? Jiz? Giz? Comes/cums from gism? Jism? How is that spelled? Eat a good/better breakfast before you get on the bike. Everybody loves jiz. But. Butt. Here we go again. If they only knew. Don’t even think about Top Ten. Two Ts. T.T. Titties. I used titties in a story! Tits and ass. T&A T&A T&A.
Number 1: It’s good. It’s all good. Can you say that? Will anybody anywhere have any idea at all what all you mean? Good is relative. (Even if you don’t have good relatives, or what you think are good relatives. But that’s relative to. Too.) Come back. Stop circling. Cut through the mall/plaza parking lot and completely bypass the bottleneck. Right turns. That’s how FedEx does it. It is FedEx, right? UPS? Look that up. They won that award. For right turns. Get it right, right/correct, if you’re going to use it. Your going to use it. Feel free to make mistakes in a draft.
Number 2. Going back behind the Giant where the trucks unload is kind of like looking at the bowels of the American retail industry. Not deep into the bowels because then you’d have to get into the packing houses and sweat shops, the places where they wear white plastic suits and rubber gloves, condoms, where they wear galoshes because they’re slopping around in blood and guts, ear plugs so they don’t have to hear the screams, face masks so they don’t sneeze on the meat you eat. That rhymes. Does rhyme kill it? This is why you eat vegetables. (Evil twin inside, we know you so dearly love a good grilled steak, but we forgive you, you’re/your only human.) Try to be humane. Try harder.
Don’t think on this too deep. Deeply. The language is alive. Adjective. Adverb. Either okay now depending on how you look at it. No lumpers here. Do they have big hooks? (Did you read that as boobs or books?) Who unloads the trucks? The drivers? The stockboys? They’re not all boys anymore. But they are, aren’t they, still boys in that sense/way. It’s a different culture back here. Culture. Apply to everything. Like it. But that’s number three. Or number four. I like it. It makes me feel good. Same thing? Give up what makes you feel bad. Even if for a very short time it makes you think you feel good. Remember butter.
Number 1: You get to wear fluorescent green and shocking pink. Petty but true. Important. That sweet daughter who as a little girl got so very very angry/indignant when someone else picked out clothes and made her wear them. Minor but first first first. Even if you don’t put it there. Everybody should get on a bike. Pedal off this fat. There is no such thing anymore as a prosperous gut. Nobody under the age of 40 even knows what that means. Sweat. Smile. Get lean. Smile some more. Do it. Just do it (Nike ad). When you smile, you change the chemistry in your brain. Say hello. Change the world. Ha. Smell the neighborhood. Smell your own sweat. Sweet. They confuse that too. Sweet sweat. Sweat sweet. That’s a command. Listen to the voices. Make conversation. Cut pollution. Give up cars, have a little fun. Change the world one pedal stroke at a time. Really. It’s true. It’s all true.
Number 1: It takes more time. Maybe that’s the point. Press the button for the automatic door.
In the intervening time, she talked to very young people about commas, something she did that no longer seemed important in the same way it had seemed important when she first started talking to young people about things like commas, though now that it didn’t really matter if she did it well it was said she really did do it pretty well. How many words can you take to say something? But now the main point was not the commas but the way it pays the bills that pay for the rest.
And so today, not yesterday, as she sat down to the computer, she thought she should have written it yesterday, when it was all there in her head whole and perfect.


BIM ANGST lives with a small pack of big dogs and bicycles from Saint Clair, PA.

“Bicycle Commute” was originally published in Pennsylvania English, issues 33/34, Spring 2012.


“Bicycle Commute,” © 2012 by Bim Angst, has been posted on with permission from the author and may not be reposted or republished without permission.

Guest Writer: Matt Koeske Responds to Dawn

Dear Dawn,

My memory is a little foggy at this time, but as you mention you posted on Foetry occasionally, let me be forthcoming and say that I was the admin for its last year of existence after Alan Cordle retired. That was where I first met Christopher.

As to your comment about my "blanket dismissal" of "poetz" . . . first, I believe I actually referred to them as "PoBizzers", i.e., poets who seek indoctrination, allegiance, and status through the official PoBiz channels, primarily academe and the contest system . . . publication in poetry journals is more complex. I am not quite sanctimonious enough to declare all poets who seek the fruits of the PoBiz "fakes", which is what I, at least, feel a neologism like "poetz" would imply. A semantic quibble, but an important one to me, as the mistake you made in evaluating my rhetoric, though tiny on the outside, carries major subtextual and rhetorical implications. For instance, if I was actually dismissing all poets who have gone to school, won contests, or obtained college and university teaching positions, my argument would easily be dismissible as that of a total crank.

I accept that this misunderstanding was purely accidental, but I would like you (and others) to know that we who are, for lack of a better term, "PoBiz dissidents", are commonly having our arguments "unintentionally" misread so that the readers don't have to more deeply consider their validity. The reason I joined and became an active member and eventually an admin there was not that I thought attacking individual poets who were involved in contest and publication impropriety was the right thing to do. I did not then and do not now agree with this tactic. I joined Foetry because I saw that there was, despite some vitriol and obvious (justified) outrage, a very valid argument to the main gripes of Namely, the corruption in the contest system (and perhaps the contest system itself) was, logically, destructive to the quality of the poetry publish through it. I saw many critics of come on the site to chastise and issue "blanket dismissals" at the members simply because these members were pissed off and wanted change. Such chastisement was the easiest way to both ignore and seemingly discredit the Foetry members' arguments. As Foetry's admin, I was constantly encouraging the members to pull back from personal attacks on poets and focus on logical arguments and evidence . . . in the hope that PoBiz devotees (and more importantly, those riding the fence) would be less capable of ignoring the validity of the arguments that were being made.

In general, I decided to do what I could do to bring stronger argumentation and intellectual credibility to the arguments that were already being made on

Secondly, as to a blanket dismissal of poets who seek support, fellowship, audience, and status through the PoBiz, I issue no such thing. That would be a dangerously simplistic argument. What I am saying is that the PoBiz as an institution (and, notably, an institution that not all of its members even recognize as a whole interconnected system) promotes beliefs, laws, and indoctrination rituals that are the main cause behind the decay of contemporary American poetry. We who seek or have sought to enter into this system of indoctrination and conformity have been asked in various ways to make choices between an inner creative vision or drive (which requires an ethical commitment, not just "selfishness") and being accepted and credential by the PoBiz system.

The PoBiz makes it exceedingly difficult to survive as an individual or innovator. The chamber of conditioning is the university, of course. But the real conforming gallows (in my opinion) of the PoBiz is the poetry contest. The contest is the gatekeeper of PoBiz credentialing. If it is dysfunctional, the poetry and poets that are credentialed will also tend to be dysfunctional. The more these dysfunctional poets, poems, and poetics are credentialed by this gatekeeper system, the greater the power of the system to conform and limit poetry to not merely dysfunction, but also a sanctified dogma of dysfunction. That is, I think, a logical conclusion. What Foetry illuminated was that the contest system was indeed dysfunctional.

In my opinion, the subtleties are very complex. There are no literal "puppet masters" conducting the PoBiz. Indoctrination and dogma are the real masters, and individual ambition and contemporary university administration practices provide the instinctual drive and resources. I think this all trickles down from ideological dogmas that became popularized in the universities in the 20th century (and were put into official practice with the rise of the university writing programs, which had a strong upsurge in the 70s, especially). At bare minimum, we have developed an ideological system with the writing programs that we have not adequately studied the impact and implications of (much as the "externalities" of modern industry went unchecked for ideological reasons until very recently . . . and even today, the battle for regulation and sustainability in industry is entirely uphill) . . . and we continue to live in an academic age in which university writing programs (as they now exist) are not very criticizable. Why? Because they are usually very profitable. Many people who would not attend college or would drop out (and take their tuition with them) will stay around for a creative writing education. There are even many MFA programs that take paying graduate students to help fund the program (in addition to undergraduate tuition fees). Essentially, the administration of the universities (which has grown increasingly business-like and less "educationally-oriented") doesn't really care if academic integrity is high in writing programs, just as long as they continue to be profitable.

I recommend the book The Elephants Teach: Creative Writing Since 1880 by David Gershom Myers, which gives a pretty even-handed account of the origins of writing programs (although it doesn't follow them into their more contemporary mode).

So, the core of what I'm saying is that we have to look more closely in the mirror and try to figure out if we have turned an art form into a commodity or market, and if so, what can we do to correct this?

Although I do think that going through the PoBiz indoctrination system is likely to limit the originality and perhaps also the depth of the poets who accomplish this, I by no means think that PoBiz-credentialed poets are untalented. But a close examination of the system of indoctrination suggests (in my opinion) that poets with very high degrees of potential talent are not likely to have that talent facilitated, developed, cultivated . . . and possibly even recognized in the PoBiz. The PoBiz system is not one that orients itself to the recognition and development of poetic talent. Rather, it is "designed" (really it's a byproduct of unconscious, tribalistic sociality, so we could more accurately say it "evolved") to capitalize on poetic ambition (which is like a potent natural resource) and turn this into an affordable status attainment market. It greatly resembles the New Age and Self Help markets in this way.

More importantly, I think we (even we who are strongly critical of the PoBiz) need to recognize and admit that we are part of the system. Detaching ourselves from it is like unplugging oneself from the Matrix. We don't want to do it, and if we manage (usually by some kind of accident), we find ourselves terribly weak and nearly useless. The "enemies" are within, not without. We all carry various degrees of this PoBiz indoctrination. And the truth is that, we are so symbiotically connected to these beliefs and conditionings that we don't know how to functionally conceive of poetry and poeting without them. What we have in front of us is first the "unplugging" or reconditioning or epiphany of PoBiz destructiveness (to both the art and to those who are driven to practice it), and then the long, hard scrabble to reinvent ourselves and our poetry and poetics (and perhaps, eventually, our publication system).

No one should be shamed for stumbling about in the dark in quest for this Holy Grail. That is the nature of all self-discovery . . . and of all art. Frightening? Hell, yes . . . and the PoBiz promises in its PR to limit this terror as much as possible. But without the full reality of this terror, this loneliness, there can be no genuine self to discover, and no bravery in the act of creation. Innovation must be met heroically, defiantly. We cannot both belong to the tribe unconditionally and create art for that tribe, art that tries to comprehend it.

For what it's worth, I would prescribe empathy for all of us who struggle with PoBiz indoctrination. Some have already "lost their souls", we might say, and are probably beyond redemption . . . but most of us are simply being human. A significant part of being human is being both ambitious and afraid, being unconscious, not knowing but wanting. This doesn't make us evil; it's merely what we are.

Poets and critics who work on the fringes of the PoBiz can remain relatively untainted by indoctrination . . . but at the same time, they might also remain forever ignorant of the way the system works. And so, many of these "fringe PoBizzers" are quite likely to assume that nothing is rotten in Denmark . . . and that those people who complain about the stench are cranks and embittered losers (as many of them clearly are . . . but they are not ONLY these things, that's the important distinction). Regrettably, the PoBiz as an organization feeds off of this collaborative ignorance and uses it to help prevent dissent from penetrating its walls. It all boils down to the old adage "Question Authority". So long as this is done, so long as we (as they say in left-wing politics) "follow the money" and see how the organs of the system interconnect, I think we will start to see many of the problems I and others have been noting for some time now.

Why then do so many remain ignorant and disparage people like Christopher Woodman and the members of Simply because the cost of knowledge or consciousness is dissatisfaction, a dissatisfaction that is likely to cut the umbilical cord to the larger body that sustains almost every poet in some manner or other. Consciousness is always this dangerous.


(Dawn, I would be happy to move your response to Matt here as well; if you wish this, simply give your permission, using the same Blogger ID, by responding in this comment section. You are also welcome to expand on your original comment. --Admin)

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