Cultural Sensitivity with Zach Buscher

Zach in 2009

Cultural Sensitivity with Zach Buscher is Zach's blog.  Here you will find random and fairly frequent writings, ramblings, and rants.  And maybe the occasional new poem.  Go ahead, and comment and share.

some other people

Leah Meisterlin architect extraordinaire
Phillip Marotta  friend-o
Quinsigamond Community College employer
A Cappella Zoo  journal for which i read
Sonora Review journal for which i used to edit/read
Absent Magazine i like to read 
Diagram Magazine ditto
Fence Magazine ditto
Fou ditto 
Glitterpony ditto
H_NGM_N ditto
Juked ditto
notnostrums ditto
Noö Journal ditto
Spork ditto
wheelhouse magazine ditto
Peter Jay Shippy poet
Silliman's Blog blog


Book Learnin' (Part 1 of ?)

I have never considered myself a particularly well read person. I would say that I am well watched. I would say that I am well listened. Well played, perhaps. Yet the well read tag has always eluded me.

A professor of mine once said that Samuel Taylor Coleridge was the last person to have read every book he could, quite literally, get his hands on.  I am not sure whether that statement has any grounding in reality. Like the old "there are more people alive right now than have ever died" myth, I'm not going to dispute it but it's still hard to accept (perhaps because the latter isn't true at all, not even close).

Anyway, none of this would matter if not for the fact that I am a writer of things and an instructor of the writing of things. In just a little over a month I will be back in the classroom teaching four (!) sections of English Composition. As is only natural for a poorly read (?) chap such as myself, sometimes I feel a bit ill-equipped for the position. This insecurity, stemming from the amount of shoddy grammar you might see peppered throughout these blog posts, is only amplified by a lack of literary latitude (now if only an overly alliterative mind could offset things!). This summer, however incrementally, I am aiming to change that fact.

Which brings me to Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy's 1985 saga of a whelp and some scalps. Blood Meridian is one of those books, like Infinite Jest or the Bible (which may have further unlocked certain scenes within), that I was embarrassed for not having read. I'm not sure I had ever heard of the book (though I had heard of its author, certainly) until attending an MFA program in the heart of the southwestern United States. The fiction folks were all Cormac McCarthy (writes about the Southwest) this, David Foster Wallace (our most famous alum) that. It was a loaded situation, to be sure. As a poetry dude, I preferred to immerse myself in the University of Arizona Poetry Center's collection of small-press, 21st Century works, the one area where I do feel fairly erudite. But today I must say that I am a happy little novitiate in the cult of McCarthy, because I think this book pretty much rules.

Since I just finished the novel this afternoon, I can't begin to address it in a more global sense. Instead I'd like to mention my most immediate takeaway, my admiration for McCarthy's craft and, more specifically, his diction. Though esoteric language is not a prerequisite for my enjoyment of a particular text, I do appreciate writing that poses some degree of lexical difficulty. To put it another way, I like being driven to the dictionary. I relish it. The fact that I don't know the meaning of "manciple" or can't begin to translate the Spanish dialogue (and I admire McCarthy for this refusal, certainly putting some of his readers in the Kid's boots) makes me want to learn more and thus become a better reader for this book and others.

In the summer of 2007 I was reading Ange Mlinko's second collection of poetry, Starred Wire. I thought the book was great and all but I was having trouble "getting it." I should note that this was before I realized that "getting it" isn't what poetry (especially poetry that is lyric) is really about. The difficulty was, in part, a lexical one: so many words that were foreign to me. Incunabula? Faience? Volute? Rather than skip over them, I decided to consult the dictionary whenever I encountered a word that I did not know. Novel, right? Now this method does not suit all reading styles. It leads to a lot of stop and start reading, and I have since tweaked my own process so as to manage such choppiness. But in this way my "New Words" list was conceived, the kind of file I imagine most writers without the benefit of photographic memory must have stashed away somewhere.

As I finished my 337th page of Blood Meridian, my "New Words" list finally hit a full 100 pages. At roughly 20 words per page depending on the length of the definition (I copy definitions down, too), that's about 2,000 words I can add to my vocabulary. Sort of. Of those 100 pages, I would say that words learned from Blood Meridian count for about 15. Most of those words relate to the vernacular of the 19th century Southwest, geography, and horses. There's also some legalese and poetic/biblical language in there, as well as words from some surprising registers. Here are my ten favorite as of right now. In alphabetical order, of course:

1. Banderilla: A decorated dart thrust into a bull’s neck or shoulders during a bullfight.

2. Catafalque: A decorated wooden framework supporting the coffin of a distinguished person during a funeral or while lying in state.

3. Charivari: A cacophonous mock serenade, typically performed by a group of people in derision of an     unpopular person or in celebration of a marriage.

4. Enfilade: A volley of gunfire directed along a line from end to end; A suite of rooms with doorways in line   with each other.

5. Knacker: A person whose business is the disposal of dead or unwanted animals, esp. those whose flesh is not fit for human consumption.

6. Leechcraft: The art of healing.

7. Mollycoddle: Treat (someone) very indulgently or protectively; An effeminate or ineffectual man or boy.

8. Suttee: The former Hindu practice of a widow immolating herself on her husband’s funeral pyre.

9. Suzerain: A sovereign or state having some control over another state that is internally autonomous.

10. Whang: Make or produce a resonant noise.

I think these are my top ten on account of a perceived physicality, be it of the sonic or denotative (hell, or connotative) variety. They seem to fit with one of the manuscripts I am fiddling with under its current working title of Carrion Luggage. Now how to fit them in? It has to be organic, right? Not word porn? And what happened to my initial discussion of what it means to be or not to be well read? Will there be a "Book Learnin' (Part 2 of ?)?" Will I ever stop ranting? Will I ever place a nice bow on one of these posts or will I continue to devolve into questions as a way to prevent finger sprain?






New Poem (6/25/10)

Amassed Romantic

If I hugged you on heroin it would be hard.

To say where I stopped and you began.

We met on board such a cuddle puddle.

A thousand eyes locked in Little Big Planet.

While your boyfriend was outta town.

On business of mushrooms.


We met on drugs online.

That is one of those things I expect you to lie about.

On Chatroulette a revolver bugging your mouth.

My window hangs open before you.

His dangles in a mostly minimized capacity.

The danger in firing aimlessly cannot be overstated.

Now hit next.

On the one who so won't love in spite of growing social networks.

Let her tend her defragged pachysandra plot.

In peace.

Our monitors hoe dandelion wine and snow.

Long in the two bit rate face of future employers.

For benefits we crop the few high-wire images had.

The special K with which she snared me.

The bump of her numinous necks.



I Myself Google... Myself

If you've ever visited the front page of this site you might have noticed that I keep a modest (not to mention scantily updated) Twitter account under the name PoetryTwit.

For the past year or so I've been trying to muck about with the site's 140 character constraints to decidedly mixed results. I am thrilled to have published a few of these in a previous issue of Otoliths, under the working title "from Tweet Tweet." I am even more happy to have turned some of these fragments into more fleshed out poems in progress. Still, I have found it difficult to keep up with the project, one I feel could be worthy of every day attention. As so often happens with writing that is solitary, whether the project "fails" or "succeeds"-- I should mention that I am not sure what these words imply in such a context, but I suppose that increased "readership" would constitute "success"-- will surely be commensurate with my own investment. It is an investment that, like this website, I would like to push further.

As a lapsed Luddite, I have some questions about Twitter: How do I foster readership? How do I "win" new followers? Is it one of those (forgive the poor lit-biz analogy that follows) you publish me, I publish you kind of things?  I follow you, you follow me, yeah? More regular updates would certainly helps matters! My ex-girlfriend has, like, 4,000 followers. Then again, social media is her realm. I'm not nearly as good at the whole networking thing... 

Anyway, I digress. The question that concerns me right now concerns access. I am trying to figure out how to get a hold of my older tweets. Let's say older than a year. I was shocked when I logged in today to find that I had four previous tweets rather than twenty-four or something. Can we blame the dreaded "fail whale" (...) as pictured above? I've tried a few sites that claim to archive old tweets. No luck. The social links feed through SquareSpace takes me back about twelve months, yet I'm trying to get them all from the beginning. Any recommendations? You see, I would love to parlay this [Twitter] project into some sort of tome. A "Collected Tweets" as it were. This could be a terrible idea, but I haven't seen much contemporary poetry in poem/tweet land (is there any to be recommended?). There are Twitter novels being spun and the concept of the Japanese cell phone novel, sure. But wouldn't poetry seem a more logical pairing?

A funny thing happened on the way to today's dead end. I found out that I am listed as one of the "Top 100 Twitterers in the Book World," sitting at number 32 (it's not a countdown, instead categorically grouped). I'm not sure how the blog-arm of came up with this, but it seems they are very fond of making lists. Thanks, guys! I do appreciate it! Even if they did identify me as Zach Busher, a typo not quite so hilarious to me as My Name is Mud contributor Zach Buschler, I love it. I am curious how that came to pass, though. I am just a poor boy from the Masshole of the earth, with only 140 followers (140 followers, 140 characters... I'm quite content with such symmetry) to my credit and only a few tweets under my belt. I think it's the name. It's gotta be the name.

So in conclusion, I feel inspired to continue with the project at hand! Whatever that project may be.


And What Would a "20 Under 40" for Poets Look Like?


So the newest New Yorker features a list titled "20 Under 40," AKA 20 prose practitioners worth watching. I have yet to procure a hard copy of the issue (which came out on Monday, June 7), but some incarnation of the article does appear online.  You get to click on their faces to see who they are and what they're all about. In not one instance did I know whom I was looking at, yet I did mistake Joshua Ferris for Jonathan Safran Foer. My bad.  After all, 5 of the 10 male authors are wearing glasses, a surprisingly low number (why are so many authors stricken with poor vision? Why are so many authors so short?).  You'll notice that, by contrast, none of the female authors are bespectacled. What, as they say, is up with that?

Rather than gripe about the list itself (though it did bring some questions to mind about whether age matters at all, which I'll try to address later), I wondered what a list of "20 Under 40 (Poets)" would look like. It's tough to imagine such a list. Here's my shoddy attempt:

Lara Glenum
Johannes Göransson
Matthea Harvey
Dorothea Laskey
Ben Lerner
Chelsey Minnis
Ben Mirov
Zachary Schomburg 
Brenda Shaughnessy
Joshua Marie Wilkinson 

As you'll see, I had trouble coming up with more than ten "heavy hitters" who did not in some way offend my
sensibilities. In fact, I really like all these poets! Still, the list is quite flawed. Due to the relatively low profile of many poets and my relatively low reach when compared to The New Yorker research team, some of the poets I have listed (I could not find the ages of Ms. Glenum nor Mr. Görranson) might be more than 40. Some (Chelsey Minnis and Brenda Shaughnessy) might have just turned 40. Others (including Jennifer L. Knox, an awesome poet whose "Pimp My Ride" actually appears in the current issue of The New Yorker) I did not include because they are very likely just over 40.

If my list were to include poets under 50, I would find the whole process much easier. As they say, there are very few prodigies in poetry. There was Rimbaud, yes. I suppose you could count James Tate, one of my favorite poets of all time, but can great accomplishment in your early 20s cast you as a prodigy? Probably not. I used to be obsessed with the whole idea of publishing very young. I'm talking young as in 20; I am 25 right now. It took me until very recently to realize that good writing is oftentimes hard won. Other times it's not, but you still have to keep pushing yourself. That said, I still obsess over the ages and accomplishments of my contemporaries: Who's publishing what and where and how much? How can I publish there too? But I just got rejected from there, does that mean their work is better than mine?

My rational mind understands that it's not a competition at all, aside from the one between myself and my potential and all the daily "wrestling with the blank page." That these lists (mine, NY, etc.) have a tendency to rank is certainly counterproductive. Yet there is another struggle, the struggle of reaching an audience. Insofar as The New Yorker list got me to check out 15 new authors, they have done a service for a certain niche consumer like myself while simultaneously supporting the authors who have popped up on my radar.

Let me return to a comparison with The New Yorker list, the 50/50 gender ratio of my own creation being a function of pure coincidence. Ok, so why do I feel the need to say it? For some reason the diversity of The New Yorker list (and now I'm griping...) feels sort of (I'm going to bust out the fiction workshop parlance here) forced. God bless young Teá Obreht, a fantastic author in her own right I'm sure, but I can just imagine the Eds desperately trying to find a worthy writer under the age of 25. These words from The New York Times "making of" story don't much help matters:

“If they had too much in common, it would be really boring,” he [David Remnick] said in an interview. “This is not an aesthetic grouping. The group is a group of promise, enormous promise. There are people in there that are very conventional in their narrative approach, and there are people who have a big emphasis on voice. There are people who are in some way bringing you the news from another culture.”

I wonder if this is even as problematic as I am making it out to be. Still, I have to feel sorry for any fiction-eers cut from consideration because they were born in Delaware rather than the former USSR. But I guess that's ok, right?  If it's in service of a greater push towards diversity, right?  Right, right?


A Picture Worthy of 77 Words

I knew those Shrek glasses were a bad choice from the day my mother walked in the door with 'em.  Little did I know that such a benign purchase went beyond a momentary lapse in taste.

So now, aside from hazards posed by the rum & Newman's Limeade concoction with which I filled them (not to mention the Marlboro Reds I was puffing with my free hand), I also have had the pleasure of cadmium consumption!

Nice work, McDonald's!