Author Archives: David Feinstein

“Dark Side of a Natural Gas Boom”

from "They Called Her Styrene"

Friends, a title is a funny animal. On one hand, it defines the piece, gives it an identity. On the other hand, it steers the meaning of the piece perhaps as much as the piece itself does. And that can be problematic. If the the two or four or eight words that comprise the title end up being as meaningful as the several hundred or thousand that follow, then perhaps the title is not just representing the story—perhaps it is eating the story. And we must be wary of having our stories eaten by themselves.

We can escape this by giving titles randomly. A random title may still draw attention in the same way. It is, after all, the first thing we see, and therefore is not initially capable of producing dissonance. It may still give an identity to the piece. But it may avoid outlining simplistic elements of the story: themes, morals, theses. (By way of example, I will mention “Life as a House,” a Kevin Kline film in which the building of a house is used to represent the rebuilding of a family. In other words, the film’s title is also its central metaphor.)
Allow me to offer you some sources of random titles.

Ed Ruscha, from "They Called Her Styrene"

1) Begin typing phrases into a google search bar. The suggested completions often make great titles.

2) This website, which in only seconds of effort provided me with the excellent phrase “Dirt Hospital,” which will almost certainly be a poem by the end of the week. Also, “Nothing Today,” “Tooth Sic,” and “Terminology Mornings.” Notice that in the sidebar there are random word, sentence, and even paragraph generators. Chances are those tools make better poems than I do. (My first try yielded this gem: “Within the war pro, consents an unexplained laughter.” Then this: “The crude girlfriend stalls under the microcomputer.” Sigh.)

3) Ed Ruscha prints. Particularly from a book called “They Called Her Styrene,” which is available online and ought to be owned by everyone.

4) Phrases that you like from everyday life.

5) Things that you read on signs.

I’d like to write a whole book of poems with titles from a restaurant menu. Each poem would be given the title of one dish: “Croque Madame,” “Eggs Benedict,” “String Beans,” etc. The title of the book would be the name of the restaurant.

Ed Ruscha, from "They Called Her Styrene"


Guest Google poet: “Why is the”

Google poem by Maayan Pearl


Why is the sky blue

Why is there a dead pakistani on my couch

Why is the ocean salty

Why is the sky blue short answer

Why is there fuzz on a tennis ball

Why is the ocean blue

Why is the world going to end in 2012

Why is there a barcode on google

Why is there a worm in tequila.

Poem (DF): “What happens when”

This poem by Google:

What happens when you die

What happens when you lose your virginity

What happens when you quit smoking

What happens when we die.


What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object

What happens when you crack your knuckles

What happens when you swallow gum

What happens when you have a miscarriage

What happens when you file bankruptcy


What happens when you sneeze.

The Difficulty of Writing Smells

Serena Sutcliffe, on Penfolds Grange (a famous Australian wine):

The 1960 showed the great drive of peppery Shiraz, with orange, coffee and peppermint, all of which are Grange signatures. We had the usual discussion as to whether the 1962 or 1963 was ‘better’, but it is a pointless exercise as they are both show-stoppers. I found the melting aniseed of the 1965 seductive, the liquorice-filled 1966 a mite drier, the plumy 1967 redolent of candied tomatoes, the stellar 1971 all black truffles, the 1975 reminiscent of peaty tobacco, the 1976 full of mint and bitter chocolate and the 1978 evocative of Cuban tobacco and log fire.

Ordinarily I don’t pay much attention to wine writing, but I think what Sutcliffe writes here is kind of wonderful (even though, to readers who don’t encounter much “wine writing,” it may appear stuffy in quite the ordinary way).

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I got fired so I went to the park

There are times when I look at this city from within itself and see nothing but a ghostly empire—luminescent, haunted, already fading. The views of grand palaces that dwarf Versailles; the limpid ponds and vigorous squirrels; the dancing sunlight; the autumn coolness in the air; the lethargic tourist families, collapsed on each other, eating hot dogs and ice cream, nestled under subway maps.

And something in me leaps a hundred years ahead, or back, and I become a traveller from a different time—some kind of cosmic voyeur. And to see leaves turn red from the tips as though dipped in blood, to hold chestnuts, smooth and fragrant, in the cool cup of my palm. And to watch an endless procession of persons marching past, all missing the view; I am alone here, hidden in the dappled shade, hidden in the notebook on my lap, hidden from the day and the night in this middle kingdom of evening.

Wu-Tang Clan and Thomas Pynchon

These are the lyrics to “Triumph,” from disc 2 of the Wu-Tang Clan album “Forever.” I was listening to the song and saying as many of the lyrics aloud as I could, and I got to wondering about the ones I didn’t know. I looked up the lyrics on Internet and here’s what I found. What’s surprising is how much it reads like Thomas Pynchon. I’ve included a couple haphazardly-selected sample passages at the bottom for purposes of comparison, and noted some of my observations.

I included the entire song because I didn’t get around to editing out the parts I was thinking of in particular, but feel free to skip to the end if you’d rather get to the point.


[skipping ODB’s intro]

[Inspectah Deck]
I bomb atomically, Socrates’ philosophies
and hypothesis can’t define how I be droppin these
mockeries, lyrically perform armed robbery
Flee with the lottery, possibly they spotted me
Battle-scarred shogun, explosion when my pen hits
tremendous, ultra-violet shine blind forensics
I inspect you, through the future see millenium
Killa B’s sold fifty gold sixty platinum
Shacklin the masses with drastic rap tactics
Graphic displays melt the steel like blacksmiths
Black Wu jackets queen B’s ease the guns in
Rumble with patrolmen, tear gas laced the function
Heads by the score take flight incite a war
Chicks hit the floor, diehard fans demand more
Behold the bold soldier, control the globe slowly
Proceeds to blow swingin swords like Shinobi
Stomp grounds and pound footprints in solid rock
Wu got it locked, performin live on your hottest block
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Trauma as a Force of Liberation (DF)

I noticed that in my favorite movies and TV show, the main character is often a person leading a double life—”The Family Man,” “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men,” any of the Bourne thrillers…

The internal life and external life–or secret life and public life–intersect, or collide, to create drama. But as a trope, why is it so effective at creating drama? 

Option: Because I identify with those characters. And why would I do that? Because I feel like I’m leading a secret life? That could make sense: there is the ever present internal life that everybody struggles to express, with or without knowing, through personality. But I don’t think so. It’s because I don’t feel like I’m leading a secret life. I love, as all audiences love, watching a timid character find strength in the traumas of his secret life (his alternate identity has allowed him to assume a different personality without appearing schizoid). It’s even more thrilling to watch the character apply his new strength to his public life–watching him be liberated from his old timidity, as though the real fantasy was not of secrecy, but of exposure. Not that the secret be exposed, but that the hidden personality be exposed. Anger, frustration, violence, profanity–all suppressed according to a gentler, social code of conduct. It signifies the emergence of the Id, I guess. 

The fantasy is that trauma leads to liberation, Continue reading