Archive | December, 2012

Deadman Walking

31 Dec

Mr. Deadman takes a walk, a stroll, his morning constitutional.  It’s the crack of dawn, and most of the city is still asleep.  Mr. Deadman prefers the city this way, asleep and still.  Mr. Deadman wanders the desolate streets, taking in the sights, surveying his city, all alone, mayor of his solitude.

[Another “Mr. Deadman” outtake.  I actually like this quite a lot, but it just didn’t seem to fit with the rest.]


Mr. Deadman, Standup Corpse

30 Dec

Mr. Deadman decides to try his hand at standup comedy.  He tries out his act on amateur night at the local comedy club. “Last week I went to the doctor,” Mr. Deadman says, beginning a joke.  “I said, ‘Doctor, Doctor, my heart’s stopped beating and I’ve stopped breathing.’  The doctor said, ‘You don’t need a doctor.  You need an undertaker!’”  Nobody laughs at this or any other of his jokes, but Mr. Deadman doesn’t mind.  In fact, he’s pleased.  “I’ve died onstage!” Mr. Deadman congratulates himself.

Note: This is an outtake from “Mr. Deadman,” one of the five sequences in Lift Your Right Arm.  When I’m working on a short prose sequence, I normally write many more sections than I end up using.  This one didn’t quite cut the mustard.

A Christmas Bagatelle

25 Dec

We exchanged Christmas gifts.

Open yours first, I said.

All right, she said, and opened it.  Inside the box were the three things I had bought her: an alpaca scarf from Peru, an embroidered purse from Thailand, and silver earrings from India.  I love them all, she said.  Now it’s your turn to open your gift.

All right, I said.  I removed the gift wrap and was left with a plain white box, an enormous white box.  What could be inside a box of this magnitude, I wondered.  I opened it.  It was empty.

I held up the box and pointed the open end toward her.  What’s this for, I asked her, miffed.

She smiled and said, anything you want.

My Favorite “Lift Your Right Arm” Video

23 Dec

There are a number of readings of the title piece on YouTube, but this reenactment is my favorite of the “Lift” videos.  Thanks, Veronica & Maggie!

Free Samples!

18 Dec

Who doesn’t like free samples? The official web page of Lift Your Right Arm now has a meaty selection of excerpts available as a PDF. Have a taste now, work up an appetite, and then gorge yourself in the spring.

So, Why Is this Book Called “Lift Your Right Arm”?

15 Dec

Having put the finishing touches on “Mr. Deadman,” the newest work in the collection, I was now ready to give the book a name.  My original inclination was to call it Five Sequences, but when I ran this title by some trusted friends I was told that it made the prospect of reading the book sound about as exciting as watching paint dry or water boil.  Not a good recipe for selling books, I realized, so I decided to look for another title.  Freed from the shackles of my original choice, I quickly settled on Lift Your Right Arm.  Why?  “Lift Your Right Arm” is, without a doubt, my best known piece of writing, it appears the collection, and once chosen it just felt right.  It’s the opening section of “Bagatelles,” one of the book’s five short prose sequences.  About ten years ago, when he was U.S. Poet Laureate, Billy Collins selected it for his Poetry 180 website, aimed at introducing high school students to contemporary poetry one school day at a time.  Over those ten years, hundreds of thousands of young people (and a bunch of older ones) have read “Lift Your Right Arm” on the site;  quite a few have blogged about it and several have even made YouTube videos of it.

“Bagatelles,” which was written in 1980 and ’81, is the earliest work in the book, and it was a breakthrough for me.  For several years I had been writing short stories and “flash fictions” (though that term didn’t yet exist), but with the extended short prose sequence I felt I had really found my metier.  This book collects what I consider the strongest work I’ve done in this mode over a thirty-year period.  Is it fiction?  Is it poetry?  Perhaps, with work like this, genre is in the eye of the be-reader.


First Reading

14 Dec

First Reading

Reading from advance copy of Lift Your Right Arm at Somethin’ Jazz Club, New York City, November 18, 2012. Photo by Derek Berg.