These Old Poems #57:
Sarah Fox’s Imagining Girls & John Colburn’s brainwash the skyline
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 5/30/03  

Marie Strikes Back- & Out!

  Another TOP 1st- this time I topple a husband & wife doggerelist duo: John Colburn & Sarah Fox are noted Twin Cities denizens of the open-palmed grant-receiving queue. He’s an ex-standup comic-cum-poetaster & she’s an MFA-soaked concubine of the horrid literary orgs The Loft & SASE: The Write Place. In truth, so is JC- except he slunk in to that world via wifey-pooh. I 1st met JC back in the mid-90s as he bounced around the then-ubiquitous open mic scene. In 1995 he started hosting 1 of the better reading series at The Front Bar at the Ground Zero night club. The series lasted about a year & ½ before the show was booted. The most memorable night was when I nearly, singlehandedly started a riot when the Nuyorican dregs Steve Cannon & Bob Holman showed up. I read a poem ripping Amiri Baraka & the ‘Tell the Truth’ BS of the Nuyoricans came crashing down around their heads.
  JC’s cohost was lesbian short story writer Margaret Miles- a fairly talented fictionist. The 2 were major pals. This fact is important for what later transpired. After the series ended JC started slagging around the orgs, desperate to get some $ to pay for his ill-conceived magazine & press named Spout- no, not the shit journal from the U.K., but an American mag that is arguably worse. Filled with fellow hacks & cronies of JC (& his co-conspiring literary losers who opened a book store called 6th Chamber) the mag is routinely panned by even the more dedicated asskissing reviews like Rain Taxi- an atrocious magalog JC would eventually write for, along with his future wife Sarah Fox- go ahead & Google’em!
  Over the years this duo grew closer as they paraded around on the award-winning carousel of pals & cronies of Loft & SASE bigwigs. Every year both would be nominated for 1 crap award or another, along with the same 10 or 12 names, over & over. Occasionally they’d win a prize or 3- go ahead & Google their cv’s. Still, her verse is generic, banal, & stilted. If there is an individuated person under Sarah Fox, Award-Winning Poet, she has yet to let her loose. As for JC- think Star Search reject meets Richard Brautigan, the Lesser. But, just this past year I got a letter from 1 of the 2 dastardly orgs (does it matter which 1?) stating JC had just won $2k for some BS award. Guess who was a member of the judging committee? Old Margaret Miles, his pal. Now, not that I’d ever sit on 1 of these panels, but if I did, & an Uptown Poetry Group participant came up for nomination the 1st thing I would do would be to abstain & explain that even though I could be objective, the very fact that the process would LOOK tainted, is enough for me to abstain. But, such ethos is missing in the world of poetry fellatrics. In fact, SF has been the judge of a contest or 2 in the past, & I’m sure JC is trained in that field too. & how qualified they are. Look at their overwhelming qualifications: 

  Sarah Fox lives in Minneapolis with her daughter Nora and her husband, the poet John Colburn. is a Bush Artist's Fellow, a teacher of poetry and creative writing, and the editor of Fuori Editions.  She is a regular contributor to Rain Taxi Review of Books, and her poems have appeared in many magazines such as Verse, Conduit, Spout, Luna, Spinning Jenny, and others. Her first book, Assembly of the Shades, is forthcoming in fall 2002 from Salmon Publishing in County Clare, Ireland.

  ‘The poet John Colburn’? My oh my! As if you NEVER heard of THE POET JOHN COLBURN? Well, now you have:  


John Colburn, Part-time Faculty

John Colburn has an M.F.A. from the University of Minnesota and is co-editor/publisher of Spout Press. He has also taught at The University of Minnesota, The Loft and SASE: The Write Place. He is editor, with Margaret Miles, of blink: sudden fiction by Minnesota writers, and has been published in magazines such as South Dakota Review, Mudfish, Spinning Jenny, Columbia Poetry Review, Fine Madness, and Black Warrior Review. His awards include a Minnesota State Arts Board fellowship for poetry and an Academy of American Poets prize. He has taught at the Arts High School for six years. John Colburn sits around in Minneapolis. His wife cuts his hair. He is wondering if you would help him re-shingle his garage. He is working on a new poem now.  

  Wow. Folk with resumés like this MUST be good poets. You’d think? If the maxim about those who can’t, teach, is buzzing around about now, relax. Check this out. Here is an unsigned review of SF’s book. Perhaps this former teacher/student/lover felt a pang of decency & relented on letting their name be attached to such banality:

  ‘Throughout, the book is haunted by the hound of death which it battles with jazz riffs of language, tough memory, and a liberating vernacular. And if nothing else, it's a novel experience to read an American poet's verse published first as an Italian volume, with the English on the left side--an effect that Hirschman surely couldn't help but appreciate.’

  Even better, here is a snippet from an SF article in The Loft’s magazine A View from the Loft. It’s called- & please keep snickering to a minimum- Writing Poetry is a Basic Need. Yes, right behind breathing & shitting, I suppose. Here, SF tells us how poetry can ‘change lives’, blahblahblah….

  ….the Loft’s Basic Needs program was a transformative experience for me, both as a teacher and as a poet. These strong, motivated women—all mothers of at least one child, some of them of as many as three children—live with very different daily parameters and risk issues than most of us are accustomed to, and have had to overcome extreme cultural, familial, and personal obstacles in order to think of themselves as students and as people with the potential to succeed as parents and wage earners.
  Their approach to poetry, therefore, does not necessarily involve grammatical, syntactic, or formal literary technique so much as the passion to explore themselves, their stories, their loves, their griefs, their fears, their strengths. They chose to call the anthology we created from the poems we wrote during the workshop Poems from the Heart, and that’s exactly what they are—raw, honest, emotional testimonies of the experiences of being mothers, daughters, lovers, and women who wish for great things.

  You know what all the underlined are, right? SF is basically telling you that she helped illiterate morons feel good about themselves, as well as she about herself. Wonderful. Is there a thing literary about this? No. Give her the Nobel for Niceness, but please euthanize this woman. But before she gasps her last let’s gander at her ‘poem’:

Imagining Girls

A difficult display waiting in that very***
small room I don’t remember. Movement, like***
bodies of a wide field closing vacantly into water.
Blinding down her charming hands
my skin rolled nearly as music.
           As if my eyes would like to be dead.

We woke liberally, different.  
I won’t hum. For dreams the long night opened a sadness.
Merely a kiss? My belly warming by then.
And the difficult prophet stooping
                                                                  (Prepare ye),

trapped herself            myself
a discontinuous creature, a duplicate of:***
silver people, of pity, of merely opposite girls
who minister, reverse loneliness. Merely.
Wild victim!  Collusions!

A great vocation imagines the hectic in a presence.
Cold girls, their wild honey membranes.
Wore white, untie, a gift.
Perching, perching, I’m a flower.
Very sort of wedgelike.

Some currency of mercy stationed politely
along the Jordan River. Jordan. Imaginable daughter —

absent marrow, unquenched. Sheer, it’s impossible to glimpse her!
How translate what’s left in the space of what leaves?
My own daughter: a golden stalk here on the veranda.  
Touch her, she’s precisely here. So many girls!
Deck of cards on fire!
Girls gone missing!  

Look: a spongy wafer breaks its life.
This inarticulate prayer skittering about my chest, my womb.
Our hats were nothing frivolous and despite my sparkle I am also a basket.
Things can grow in me.
Things can grow on me.
There are too many girls here?
Finding my lips but not my beloved.
I can’t swallow a thing!
We will have a garage sale and display our love.
Now the girls are forgotten

the daughters swell in their own safety.
We are sheer but precisely here, touch us.
I imagine voices in great numbers
and sins clothed in gold, in blue frocks.
I imagine, my love, but you happen to be.
Heaven was made for them.
The low earth finds me again. The low earth.
The low and present belly of the earth.

  The poem opens with horrible enjambment (***) & then an utter frenzy of clichés comes from nowhere & bores 1 to sleep. This is atrocious writing- yet an MFA workshop apparatchik probably creamed over this typical crap of hers, using praise of her ‘feminine strength’ & ‘startling imagery’ to shag a piece of her before old JC came bopping along. I could go on about the clichés in detail & in the whole poem’s arc- but need I? Not to mention the silly use of exclamation points which only heightens the banalities. Anyone who’s read more than 10 poems by non-name female poets recognizes there is not a scintilla that says, ‘Hi, my name is Sarah Fox, what’s your name?’ & is not the repetition of Things can grow in me. cruel & unusual punishment in most states? The rewrite:

As If My Eyes Would Like To Be Dead
Silver people, of pity, opposite
a great vocation, some currency of mercy
absent marrow. Sheer, a spongy wafer breaks life
but you happen to be. The low and present earth.

  4 lines, with an excised line as title. Instead of another dull woman as creator poem we have an interesting title suggesting weariness- what will it see? Lines 1-3 suggest a rejection of materialism in both its main definitions. Then a definitive statement, & a nice enjambment to end the quatrain- the addressed can be (if line 4 is read as a line) soil, the diurnal do, etc., or grammatically we get an image of soil/the earth juxtaposed against the speaker’s infecundity. Either interpretation makes this small poem worlds better than the bloated original.
  On to hubby. Note the old William Carlos Williams lower case title- this means JC is a ‘rebel’. Got it? You will, & you’ll reel! 

brainwash the skyline

In the long trash-blown evenings we watch the blue
in the wrists of the television families for signs of***
a blossoming cruelty, and summer drones like hair
that grows during a solitaire game.  Someone is***
having breakfast in Kansas City, in a different life,
and all that spotted sky in between, locusts quivering
in a thin stream of dusk; how will we know each other
when we meet?  Our mothers’ ears fill with rain or***
telephone static.  The body waits like a vase for the
flowers that say we’re going to suffer.  A train passes
a fruit tree and the wind’s lash flutters.  Do you think
we could travel the untroubled miles into sleep like***
snowdrifts, easing toward the disappointment of
?  Do you think we could do it with less
furniture?  Our bodies glow like tourists on a vigil,
caught in the migratory pathway of light’s gossip.
I promise you a river, I promise you a city, I promise
you a swing set on fire in the blue of cocktail hour and***
a kiss on the wrist that says don’t wake up, sweetheart,
but keep thinking of me.  In gracious naps our steam
dangling recital rolls on, and for the airlift into the***
installment plan we build a brochure of childhood that***
says:   from an insurance point of view, I’m a snow angel.


  Clichés & bad enjambment (***) ruin this poem- but it’s got better potential than SF’s & a few good images & phrases. The redo: 

brainwash the skyline

In the long trash-blown evenings we watch the blue
in the wrists of the television families for signs
someone is having breakfast in Kansas City,
and all that spotted sky in between, locusts quivering
flowers that say Do you think we could travel

the untroubled miles easing toward the disappointment

of morning? Caught in the migratory pathway

of light’s gossip you keep thinking of me: I’m a snow angel.


  Nothing really jumps out as a better title but the whole flow of the poem rises by axing the triteness, but the ‘love poem’ aspect of the poem is heightened in the shorter address to the beloved. The real q is- what the hell could this guy, or his wife, teach any aspiring poet- since they so patently are bereft of poetic skills themselves?
  Alas, even this level of revision is utterly beyond this hitched duo. But, as long as the awards from friends keep rolling in you can count on SF & JC to keep their readers easing toward the disappointment at poem’s end. Ain’t that special? 

Final Score: (1-100):

Sarah Fox’s Imagining Girls & John Colburn’s brainwash the skyline: 25 & 50
TOP’s As If My Eyes Would Like To Be Dead & brainwash the skyline: 60 & 72

Return to TOP

Marie Vituperates!

Subject: Data posted to form 1 of
Date: 17 Aug 2003 10:51:10 -0400
T1:              Sarah Fox
B1:              Submit
Remote Name:   
HTTP User Agent: Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 5.0; Mac_PowerPC)
Date:            Sunday, August 17, 2003
Time:            10:51 AM -0400

  Hello Dan Schneider, my name is Sarah Fox and I was just alerted to
the fact that you wrote about me on your web site. So I read the
article, about myself (Marie) and my husband (THE POET Donnie). What
you write is fine, but I should let you know that some of your facts
are incorrect. First of all, I do not have an MFA, nor do I even have
a BA. I did not graduate from college. Secondly, I do not have a book
out. I reviewed a book by Jack Hirschman on Rain Taxi's web site,
from which you take that quote. I wrote the review, about someone
else's book. Thirdly, I have never judged a contest in which I have
awarded a friend. I was, in fact, a judge this year for the Minnesota
State Arts Board Fellowships, and out of the many finalists I had the
integrity to recuse myself from every individual who I have published
in my own magazine, FUORI, or who I know as a friend. That means I
did not sit in the room during the discussion, nor was I allowed to
vote for or against these people.

***#1- At least she admits she's Marie Osmond. 2- she does not recognize hyperbole. The fact that she's yet to degree herself does not mitigate her entrenchment in the system. 3- on several websites it mentions that SF does have a book out- & the quote was from 1 of those webs. If it was misattributed there I merely repeated the error. Mea culpa. 4- The definition of friend/acquaintance is very slippery & being a judge in an incestual town like the Twin Cities makes such a claim of non-bias untenable. NOTE- she has yet to address the actual point of the piece- her & JC's terrible writing. Hmmm....

  Otherwise, neither John nor myself spend much time judging other
people. The article in the Loft from which you quote was written by
me as a request to comment on my experience teaching creative writing
to pregnant and parent teens at Broadway High School, through the
Loft's Basic Needs Program. None of my students are or were
illiterate. Perhaps writing did make them feel better about
themselves, I hope so. I have never taught an adult Loft class, in
fact the one time I offered a curriclum for an adult class it was
rejected. I do not know anyone in the administration at the Loft, and
personally I don't much care for the Loft as an organization. It's
fine to state your opinions, but it seems that creating fantastical
parameters in order to pack your arguments really just mirrors the
kind of activity you claim to despise. I've never met you, we've
never once had a conversation. I am just a working class person with
a daughter and a foster daughter and a husband, scrambling to
  pay the bills like everybody else, who happens to have grown up wr

***Note that this 2nd paragraph starts off with her claim of being 'a good person'. Who cares when the matter is art? I've created no parameters nor do I despise anyone. This is a Freudian slip of SF's own views on art- where those who are not PC Elitists are (fill in the blank with an epithet of your own choosing). Actually, SF & I have had 2 or 3 conversations- mostly at the old Artist's Quarter reading series in the late 1990s. Hubby intro'd us, & SF actually- 1 time after I read a lamentation poem, at AQ, about an ex-girlfriend- came gushing up to me, eyes full of tears, & stated it was the most beautiful, heartfelt (etc.) poem she'd ever heard. She asked for a copy but I had none. In the other conversations she'd mentioned many of the things I earlier quoted about her in the essay, including personal views on SASE & other local dregs (ah, the truth serum of booze!)- which she now rejects. So, either she was padding her resume to sound impressive then, or trying to play reserved matron now. Selective memory is wonderful. Either way any misconstruals came from the mouth of the equus. Note how SF was so busy ranting she did not even realize she'd run out of room on the form. Oh well, at least I'll not hear any more on her Mama T-like do-gooding!  DAN


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