This past February, at this year’s AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference in Chicago, many of the overheard conversations did not involve the usual topics—Where’s the best place in the city to score a discount bottle of Booker’s bourbon?Do you know anyone who brought a bag of weed?Let’s get drunk/stoned, sit in a circle in someone’s hotel room and read some poetry/fiction/creative nonfiction, then seduce our former Russian Lit/Forms/Creative Writing Pedagogy professor.

Sadly, this year, much of the drink, smoke, and sex served not as celebration or reunion, but as salve.So many of my friends and former colleagues, and so many of their friends and former colleagues have either been laid-off or will be laid-off, many unemployed and disillusioned, many having returned to waiting tables or bartending.And many of these are writers who have toiled to achieve the improbable—they have books out; some of them have a few books out, in multiple genres, and are left to recite a list of daily specials to a series of restaurant diners who may, soon, not be able to afford to eat out anymore, thus causing the author/server to once again seek another alternative to even this alternative employment.

In 2008, Arizona State University laid-off over 200 faculty members with plans to lay-off even more in 2009.As a result, according to U.S News and World Report, some of their lecture courses increased in size from 300 to 1,000 students.At least, according to ASU’s Human Resources website, there is a small severance-style benefit these folks can hang their hats on: “You may retain your e-mail account while you are in layoff status.”Partyyyyyyyy!

The University of California at San Francisco suspended their job search this year due to budget cuts; Flying Island Literary Journal, among many others, suspended its publication; the conversations among small presses at the AWP Conference Book Fair dealt with decreased sales and possible dissolution, allowing even fewer outlets for us creative laborers.

A laid-off friend of mine from Arizona—a published fiction writer—is considering taking further coursework so she can teach high school, though, she admits, “I really fear high schoolers.I mean, seriously.Just thinking about it makes me so nervous I want to throw up, but I don’t know what else to do.”Thankfully, some guy bought her a tequila shot.

Presently, on the AWP Job List, one of the foremost sources for job-seeking creative writers, there are only three tenure-track teaching positions available in the US: one in Alabama (for a fiction writer), one in Arkansas (for someone who writes both fiction and creative nonfiction), and one in Minnesota (also for a fiction writer).Nothing for poets.Not a single tenure-track position open in the US for a poet right now.With over 300 MFA programs in the States alone, and over 20,000 hopefuls applying to get in each year, these numbers are just this side of encouraging.Sure, there are a handful of highly-competitive adjunct positions out there, but at an average salary of about $8,000/semester without benefits or security, even those lucky few who attain this hollow grail will likely have to look for night jobs.

What would be an equivalent bailout package for the nation’s creative writers? One giant contributor’s copy of the planet Earth—this thing to which we are desperately trying to contribute?

If in times of crisis, we used to turn to the arts, what do we do now that the arts are becoming increasingly more difficult to find?What will (or has already) replace the arts, and what does that mean for artists and writers?When to write?And now, with a shrinking number of outlets, and the slashing of arts council budgets (the NEA faced a $16.3 million-dollar cut in 2008; the Illinois Arts Council suffered a 40% cut that same year), the question arises: where to publish?

Strangely, one outlet some creative writers have found is a website that stands as a bastion of our broken capitalism, the virtual smelling salts we pray can revive our economy: Amazon.Amazon.com.To drown our sorrows, subvert expectation, survive in a larger corner than we’re used to, and simply for fun, some of us have found solace in becoming creative product reviewers for Amazon.com.

Check out some of these Amazon reviews of the Godinger Crystal Gavel:

Be careful!, March 4, 2009

By Megan Campbell “virgin-queene” (Tucson, AZ)

I thought this gavel would be a useful addition to my burgeoning low-budget dental practice. However, the night after it arrived I woke up to find the gavel trying to have sex with me. I explained to it that I wasn’t interested in that type of relationship, and it was really sullen about the whole thing. Now it just sits on the couch watching “Home Improvement” with the sound turned down and listening to that one Dramarama song. It’s incredibly tiresome. Thanks a lot, Godinger.

By the Eye of Agamotto! What a great gavel!, March 4, 2009

By TKO (Grand Rapids, MI USA)

This Godinger Crystal Gavel totally evokes authority and spirituality. Although it isn’t really usable for hammering with any force, it looks great in the hand when posing in front of the mirror, or for the neighbors through the living room picture window. I like to hold it over my head with both hands like I’m about to leap off the coffee table and spark an earthquake or a housefire with one swipe of my tiny mallet–or hold it at arm’s length in front of me while my other hand flaps my cape out behind me like it’s fluttering in the maelstrom. I used to feel kind of ridiculous using my dad’s ball peen, but the delicate feel of this Crystal Gavel adds a sense of authenticity to my costume. It’s like half mystical talisman, half quality faceted fashion accessory, and half paperweight.

Yes, we all know that this little hammer is made of something that causes cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm in the State of California, but I live in Michigan where we are hardened by winter, where it’s nothing at all like California.

As other reviewers have pointed out, it does refract the light quite well, but I like to think of it as being especially good for blinding the Mindless Ones as they cross into our realm from the Dark Dimension. And for burning ants in the sun.

keeps the past alive!, March 5, 2009

By Caitlin (Michigan, USA)

This gavel is a great way to relive all those law-related memories. Like I did mock trial in high school. I could have gone out for debate or Model UN, but I knew that the mock trial kids ruled the school. BIG RESPECT. Back then I knew all the exceptions to the hearsay rule, like “forfeiture by wrongdoing,” or “excited utterance.” Well, this Godinger gavel caused some pretty excited utterances when I opened the box. My husband gave it to me to kind of say he was sorry about the way the bar exam thing didn’t really work out. I told him not to worry about it. I keep the gavel in my cubicle now, where it looks really nice and I don’t have to worry about outside light refracting through the crystal and blinding me, like I’d heard can be an issue with this product. I also really appreciate that this gavel *doesn’t* come with a sounding board, like some competitor gavels. It’s much easier to use quietly and unobtrusively. Like when my boss comes over and tells me to do something, I wait for him to leave and then tap the gavel gently, ever so gently, against the edge of my filing cabinet, and whisper “Overruled!” This gavel is the “proximate cause” of awesomeness.

The Ultimate Surrealist Object, March 9, 2009

By Katie (Tallahassee)

So I’m waiting in line for Watchmen, and I’m squinting at my friend since he’s a little hard to see through the blue glow of his neon body suit, and my friend goes, “I know you’re into justice,” and I’m like, “Yeah, who isn’t?” and he tells me I should look up this guy Godinger.

It took me awhile actually, to work through all of Godinger’s masterpieces. I mean, there’s a crystal boat that does not sail, a crystal sunflower that will not grow, a crystal Ferris wheel that will never spin a happy child in a dizzy circle. So I already had some idea about this Godinger, that he was probably the most important crystal artist of our day.

But then I saw it, what my wannabe-blue friend had dangled before me like the blue light bulb he had arranged beneath his man-diaper. The gavel. The crystal gavel. The Godinger crystal gavel.

A gavel that can not slam menacingly against a worn oak surface. One with as much legal weight as that standard cross-examination deferment, “I’m sorry Your Honor, I cannot recall.” Imagine! A gavel that wields no judiciary power. Not since Duchamp’s Mona Lisa moustache has such bold and confusing artistic commentary alerted us to one of society’s most disturbing truths. Despair, for there is no justice, people! No justice. Not even a little.

Godinger must know, as we all do, deep down in our merely-mortal souls, that to the real blue man we are so many meaningless prisms trapped inside a cosmic crystal gavel. And not even a very nice one, at that. Godinger, Godinger: you’ve gone and done it again.

This Is One Wizard-Tamin’ Slow-Motion And Handfuls of Awesome Gavel!, March 3, 2009

By A. Monson (Grand Rapids, MI USA)

It’s true that this turns out not to be a usable gavel, or usable only in slow-motion, which is what I’ve taken to doing. It’s great for slow-mo, and you can make the sound of slowed-down speech with your mouth while you do it. The more you do it the better you get at it. And the better you get at doing it the more usable this awesome gavel actually becomes. And each time you actually use it you want to hit it harder, to sound its thunder across the desk, which is kind of like a plain with a massing army of wizards and skeletons striding towards you, or floating on their creepy little winged familiars in the case of the wizards, who don’t have gavels, nor do the skeletons, and when they hear the thwack in slow-motion of your gavel on the desk you can imagine just how hardcore it makes them feel and how freaked out they are and so they disperse before attacking or attaching themselves to the inside of your wrist on the charm bracelet you’ve made of bits of their remains, which is the whole point of a gavel anyhow. It commands respect. This gavel commands an excellent amount of respect. If you hold it up to a powerful light source when doing this you might blind yourself so I don’t recommend that. But otherwise, five stars. It doesn’t taste like anything at all.

I guess if you’re into crystal…, March 9, 2009

By Beth (Arizona)

I have two gavels that kick this gavel’s end: one made of Turkish Delight, and one made of my own fingernail clippings bound together with clumps of hair. As you might imagine, they provide some sonic variety (when banging). It’s also fun to cover your husband or those you might be sentencing with confectioner’s sugar, like they’ve got a dandruff problem, or it’s raining cocaine. You can also say things like “You’ve been nailed!” or “What a hair-brained prank!” and then sentence the offender to household chores, like cleaning toothpaste blobs off of the sink or pulling burrs off of the cat, chores that are really just gavels-in-the-making.

If you’re into crystal, though, this one’s not bad.

Breathe, and smell the opulent blood., March 9, 2009

By Matthew G. Frank “MGF” (Grand Rapids, MI)

A single blow from this gavel will not knock a cow off its feet, let alone kill it. Though it’s modeled after the Greek, σφυρί σφαγείο, o sfyri apo sfageio (Ancient Hammer of the Abbatoir), as evidenced by the bulbous nubbin where mallet meets handle and flat, “mini-Frisbees” at the mallet’s ends, its ability to render a plateful of meat remains, in its iridescence, a misleading, if wistful, fever dream.

This gavel, despite its apparent inspiration, is better for more delicate, but no less essential tasks (See: finally destroying that plaster-of-Paris bust you made of Bronson Pinchot in 5th grade with a tool of matching elegance). One must not ignore, though, the Godinger Company’s decision to base the gavel’s design after a death hammer.

Various genealogical private investigations have reportedly produced documents connecting, by distant blood, company-founder Arnold Godinger to 17th century French abbatoir innovator Jacques Godeno (whose last name means “little ugly man, in the style of a puppet or jack-in-the-box”), who initially added walls to his “shambles” (or, “open-air slaughterhouse”) in order to provide a border between the carnage and the public thoroughfare. Such connective documents, sadly, were lost in a 1988 Manhattan apartment fire not six blocks from the Godinger showroom. The investigation turned up no evidence of foul play.

Further speculation, however unsubstantiated, remains open regarding the familial connection between Godeno, Godinger, and Dr. Temple Grandin, who, in the latter half of the 20th century, redesigned slaughterhouse holding pens in order to lessen animal anxiety.

The choice of crystal, while a sugarcoating of an ensanguined history, allows the gavel to accentuate a room–whether solarium or library–adding prismatic light like a plant does oxygen. Allow it to contain the ancient moos in its contemporary spectrum.


Never mind that the word “amazon” derives from the Greek, a mazos, or “without breast” (due to the legend of the mythical band of female warriors who reportedly amputated their own right breasts so as not to impede the drawing of their bows), the chest swells with pride, knowing that, despite financial woes, creativity will continue to spread, funded or not.Though it doesn’t necessarily pay the bills, or rescue us from the declining service industry, hope is alive!And that, at least, is a worthy salve.

To contribute your own gavel review and become part of this project, follow this link, with your fist in the air…


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Preparing the Ghost: An Essay Concerning the Giant Squid and Its First Photographer (W.W. Norton: Liveright), Pot Farm, and Barolo (both from the University of Nebraska Press), the poetry books, Warranty in Zulu (Barrow Street Press), The Morrow Plots, and Sagittarius Agitprop (both from Black Lawrence Press), and the chapbooks, Four Hours to Mpumalanga and Aardvark. Recent and forthcoming work appears in The New Republic, Field, Epoch, AGNI, The Iowa Review, Gulf Coast, The Kenyon Review, Seneca Review, Crazyhorse, The Normal School, DIAGRAM, Indiana Review, North American Review, Pleiades, Black Warrior Review, Quarterly West, Crab Orchard Review, The Best Food Writing, The Best Travel Writing, Creative Nonfiction, Prairie Schooner, Hotel Amerika, Gastronomica, and others. After spending over 17 years of his occupational life in restaurant kitchens—from fast-food chicken shacks to fine-dining temples of gastronomy—he now teaches creative writing in the MFA Program at Northern Michigan University, where he is the Nonfiction Editor of the literary journal, Passages North. This winter, he prepared his first batch of whitefish liver ice cream. It paired well with onion bagels.

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