Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Poems: Tao Lin

I keep seeing this poet's name in online and print journals and in emails: Tao Lin (at right, PEELSeriesNYC). I know the brilliant Tan Lin, and Tan's work, pretty well, but not Tao. Then I see his book in the book store, and I ask myself, am I misreading or hallucinating that there's a Tao Lin? I pick it up ad it's clearly not Tan's book.

Then my friend and colleague Dorothy W. tells me I should read Tao Lin's book of stories, Bed, which is really good. So I decide to buy Bed, and almost buy the novel Eee Eee Eee, but hold off because I want to get out of Bed first. The Dorothy tells me that Tao Lin's also a poet, and she describes his work in such a way that I want to go out and read it right away. (That's called excellent description/criticism.) So I'm trolling the web and what do I find but his blog sites, which include You Are a Bit Happier Than I Am (the title of his first collection) and Reader of Depressing Books, which is the up-to-date one.

Here are, then, two poems by Tao Lin. I chose the first selected because it's wry and was filed under "jersey city guidebook" on his site. They both make me want to read a lot more of his poetry. And soon.

walking home in cold weather

i give money to a homeless man
there is another homeless man
i give him money
there are two homeless people and i give them money
the street has snow
i cannot play; or build an igloo
there are enough homeless men to have a snowfight
i am not charismatic enough to organize a snowfight
it is january
it is raining not snowing
i am not a little boy afraid of sharks when gurgling salt water
i am detached from whatever i am about to think
inside my room i walk to my bed
i should have cartwheeled to it
i dream that people who get speeding tickets are irresponsible
i am detaching the cop's arm from his body
he was punching me in the face
i will kill anyone who hurts my emotions
'i will kill you!' i scream at a scared little boy
i will monitor his email for the rest of his life

And here is "a stoic philosophy based on the scientific fact that our thoughts cause our feelings and behaviors," which is such a good title I had to post it as today's poem. It originally appeared in coconut nine.

a stoic philosophy based on the scientific fact
that our thoughts cause our feelings and behaviors

we have our undesirable situations whether we are upset about them or not

if we are upset about our problems we have two problems: the problem

and our being upset about it; with thoughts as the cause of emotions

rather than the outcome the causal order is reversed

the benefit of this is that we can change our thoughts

to feel or act differently regardless of the situation

i need to win a major prize to shove in people's faces

note the similarities with buddhism

a buddhist who has achieved nirvana is not sad

primarily because it does not know the concept

of sad; the sole problem of an undesirable situation

is the absence of a philosophy allowing it to be desirable

the cessation of desire in western civilizations

often coincides with the onset of severe depression

a cessation or increase of suffering in relationships

often effects increased focus on work or art

let's compare the person shot with a rifle

who worries about who manufactured the bullets

rather than staunching the wound

with the person shot with a rifle

who distances himself from the situation

until the focus is on the distance itself

turn to page forty-eight of your workbook and read it aloud in a quiet monotone

focusing intensely on the meaning of each word, phrase, sentence, and paragraph

based on the historical fact that after i express anger, frustration, or disappointment

you treat me more considerately, then gradually less considerately

until again i am 'triggered' to express anger, frustration

or disappointment i think we may have achieved something

like the buddhist concept of the cycle of birth and rebirth

let me conceive a temporary philosophy to justify

my behavior involving the dissemination of literature

while maintaining and strengthening our identities

we should be aware that identity is a preconception

the purpose of that is yet unknown at this point

i felt a little sad this morning but was able to block it out

and now i feel better; implicitly we trust that once we discover what it is we are doing

we will return to let ourselves know; the realization of what we are actually achieving

will manifest from an as yet unoccupied perspective, a perspective with no metaphysical

temporal, or physical connection to our current situation

with the understanding that thoughts are the cause

of emotions, pain, and the experience of time

and that thoughts can be extinguished

with other thoughts or states of thoughtlessness

we become wholly irrelevant to what already exists in the universe

all of which can be valuable tools in recovery
Copyright © Tao Lin, 2006, 2007, 2008, All rights reserved.


  1. Hi, John. I just did an interview with Tao Lin here:

    He's pretty funny. And informative.