Bad Man Forward Bad Man Pull Up, and Other News


On the Shelf

From Serious Things A Go Happen, a book of Jamaican dancehall flyers. Image via The New Yorker


  • A standardized test creates its own ineluctable logic. The test is the ultimate authority—the test has all the answers—that’s why it’s the test, and you’re merely the test taker. But there are limits to these strong-arm tactics. Asking multiple-choice questions about poetry, for instance, can be like trying to wash your car with a power sander. The poet Sara Holbrook has learned that a standardized test in Texas is asking seventh and eighth graders questions about her work that not even she knew the answers to. Ian Birnbaum writes, “Holbrook started paying attention after a Texas teacher e-mailed her looking for guidance on why she had inserted a line break in one of her poems. The questions asked about the writer’s motivations, but no test writer had ever asked Holbrook why she made her choices. ‘I just put that stanza break in there because when I read it aloud (I’m a performance poet), I pause there,’ she wrote in a Huffington Post editorial. ‘Note: That is not an option among the answers because no one ever asked me why I did it … Any test that questions the motivations of the author without asking the author is a big baloney sandwich.’ ”
  • Everyone remembers Casanova as the ultimate hustler—the historical record indicates he once charmed the pants off the pope, or, you know … something like that … but a new biography tells of a time when the hunter became the hunted: “In 1763, Casanova was himself fleeced in a convoluted scam by a young French-Swiss courtesan, Marie Ann Charpillon, and her mother, in London’s Soho. He was deeply shaken by the episode, and apparently on the verge of drowning himself in the Thames, when he bumped into a playboy friend, Sir Wellbore Agar, who lured him away with the promise of drink, a woman, beef and Yorkshire pudding. For revenge, Casanova had to satisfy himself with the modest prank of training a parrot to repeat, in French, ‘Miss Charpillon is more of a whore than her mother.’ ”

  • Serious Things A Go Happen is a collection of Jamaican dancehall signs whose appealing tawdriness has no analog in any American nightclubs. Jamaicans are self-actualizing, the signs suggest, and the rest of us can only hope to be invited. Amanda Petrusich writes, “All the best dancehall songs are deeply lustful, and the genre routinely inspires the creation of new dance moves with evocative names: Wine and Dip, Tek Weh Yuhself, Whine Up, Boosie Bounce, Drive By, Shovel It, To Di World, Nuh Behavior, Skip to My Lou, Gully Creepa, Bad Man Forward Bad Man Pull Up, Pon Di River, Willie Bounce, Screetchie, and Daggering, to name but a handful. The combinations suggest, in literal ways, the various pleasures of the flesh … The pleasure these signs promise—and what is an advertisement if not a suggestion of self-betterment? Why does anyone go to a party or a concert if not to maybe be changed completely?—is both undeniable and spiritually edifying.”