Making Love in Public: Part One of Poets & Writers ((LIVE)) San Francisco

Always good to hear about existential angst and fear of writing conferences from another poet.

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

A guest blog post (and nifty sketches) from Rebecca Fish Ewan reviewing the recent Poets & Writers ((LIVE)) event in San Francisco:

David Shields David Shields

Why go to a writer’s conference? Isn’t writing an occupation of isolation? Of loneliness? David Shields often quotes David Foster Wallace’s wisdom on loneliness. He did so in Melbourne in 2012 (see Is Writing Better Than Sex?) and again this past weekend in San Francisco at Poets & Writers ((LIVE)), while his friend Caleb Powell joined him on stage looking agitated (This is their collaborative art form … arguing in public).

Wallace had said: “We’re existentially alone on the planet. I can’t know what you’re thinking and feeling and you can’t know what I’m thinking and feeling. And the very best works construct a bridge across that abyss of human loneliness.”

Right. The work constructs a bridge, not the actual writer, so why fly from…

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Garden of Images – Distressed Mermaid Mandala

I drew this mandala during a particularly difficult morning, when I was feeling extra sensitive and had lots of noise and hubbub happening all around me. When I’m in a regular state of mind, leaf blowers are an annoyance. When I’m feeling like I have no skin, they’re an assault to the senses. In the text that (very imperfectly) folds into the curves of this mandala, I try to reconcile the gift of my senses with the challenging things they sense. I never did finish the thought in the drawing, but I do in the caption below.

Image of a mandala with a distressed-looking stick figure mermaid surrounded by stormy water
To see the world and still stand in it is the challenge
I must walk the line between protection and sensitivity
The world will always be there with all its slings and arrows
Leaf blowers, car heaters, trees make me cough.
Sun burns. People say callous things
I persevere

#IndictBoston and more Ferguson links.

I’m so proud of my city for the impassioned, nonviolent protest that took place last night in the wake of the Ferguson ruling. If I were the fearless 19-year-old I used to be (and not in the
midst of moving house), I would have been on the streets with the rest of the crowd. Here’s a report from a friend who was there.

Tutus And Tiny Hats

Marching to shut down the I-93 connector. Marching to shut down the I-93 connector.

Last night, I joined over a thousand Bostonians calling for justice for Mike Brown. It was heartening to see so much of my city turn out, and when I got home and went on Twitter, the protest was still going strong. You can see some great pictures from the evening here and here.

One of the most powerful moments was when we marched to the South Bay House of Corrections and chanted to the incarcerated men, “We see you.” They stood at the windows waving, flipping their lights on and off, banging on the windows. One man used small pieces of paper to write “Mike” on his window.

indict boston protest outside of south bay jail Outside the South Bay jail.

This is what I’ve been reading:

-“If we were talking about the murder of my child, I would not be dignified. I would be naked and hideous with my grief. I would rage…

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Weekly gratitude practice: lush and blooming; a/c in the living room; temperate heat; supported perseverance; Dyke March Boston

  1. It’s June and Massachusetts is lush and in bloom — past bloom, actually, and into that green place between spring’s first blossoms and the second wave of flowers that comes with July. I took a walk through the meadow next to the Fresh Pond Reservoir this week at dusk, and the air was alive with the sounds of birds singing and small animals rustling in the grass. The blue lupine punctuated the green with its hand-like leaves and its sentinel flowers, the yarrow had its lacy stories, and the clover was up to my shoulder.
  2. I didn’t even have to carry the air conditioner upstairs by myself this year — Army Guy did it for me with very little grumbling. I’ve got it in the living room window, which comes in handy on hot afternoons when I am working from home.
  3. While we’ve had some hot, close days, the evenings have been cool enough to sleep with fans.
  4. The beginning of this week was very difficult, but the love and support of my closest friends gave me the strength I needed to persevere in spite of those difficulties. On Wednesday morning I was feeling hopeless and useless, but by the end of the day I was almost back to my old self.
  5. Tonight I’m meeting up with two dear Circle Sisters for a picnic dinner before the Dyke March. While I have fond memories of Pride from years past, I’m still on the fence about marching at all this year. The crowds, the sun, the heat, the anticlimactic ending… it makes me feel old and un-hip. But the Dyke March, on a Friday evening, is always an event I enjoy attending. It feels more intimate and somehow more inclusive — for me, anyway. Plus, there’s an aerialist performing at one of the afterparties — I might actually set foot inside a club!

AHWOSG and McSweeney’s

I finally made the connection between that interesting (note I didn’t say completely genius, just interesting) memoir of Dave Eggers’s from the 1990s called A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (AHWOSG for short) and McSweeney’s. Eggers started McSweeney’s. As with his memoir, I’m not 100% sold but it’s definitely worth reading from time to time. I find some of the pessimistic satire of the McSweeney’s articles a bit too heavy fare, but this one was priceless:

From ERNEST HEMINGWAY
BLOGS ABOUT THE TOP
TEAMS IN COLLEGE
BASKETBALL.

Roy Williams is soft. His hands look manicured. They have never pulled tobacco from the dirt. He has never gutted a fish fresh from the sea. Soldiers shoot soft men in the back rather than follow them into battle. Williams should look out. He should watch his back. But junior forward Tyler Hansbrough is a 2-ton bull in baby-blue shorts. When he broke his nose last year, he saw red. He charged. His horns went down and gored opposing players. I would fight with this man. I would die for him.

See, that’s clever because it’s using the voice of a famous writer to describe something current. I answered GRE questions along these lines.

Unfortunately, the further you get into the piece the more the actual author’s voice comes through. Still, McSweeneys: a fun addition to any RSS feed.

DIY Poetry, Micropresses, Kristy Bowen

In the past couple of months, I finally got hip to a phenomenon that’s been blooming in the poetry world: micropresses. While I was busy doing things like developing my own small business, filing quarterly taxes, and shivering in my shared flat in Cambridge, a whole new flock of poets were flipping a big middle finger at the poetry establishment and publishing their own damn books.

Some folks are publishing in print, some are publishing in electronic form. It’s bizarre: the very thing that first motivated me to learn web development, back in the dark ages of Textpad + FTP + $150 domain names and annual webhosting fees, has apparently caught the attention of a whole slew of indy poets. I can’t help but feel simultaneously like a dinosaur and an early pioneer.

My own career as a poet has been full of twists and turns. I suppose I’m not unique in this way. Most writers–and poets in particular–are solitary creatures. I’m no exception. There’s a part of me that’s very comfortable with being on the edge of things. But in the past decade or so, that alienation turned to bitterness. I never found my niche in the Boston writers’ community. I never stopped writing, but I did stop reading; my own work and others’.

Just in case you think I’ve always had my head up my butt, I would like to point out that I used to run the circuit of open mics. I must have read at every venue in the mid-Hudson Valley and made some great friends that way. I was a featured reader at the sketchy poetry night at the Cosmic Bean in Hartford, until I realized that the guy running the series just wanted to get into my pants. Oh, and the owner’s sleazy comments about how great it was to hear my poem about a girl sleeping between my breasts: priceless. I’ve read in queer settings and straight settings. I’ve read in private homes, in bars, in the basements of churches, in bookstores. I was on the editorial board of my college’s first student-run literary magazine and later served as the managing editor. I sat in a candle-lit attic room with a bunch of beatniks. I was responsible for the creation of the literary section of Chronogram, based in New Paltz, NY. I’ve worked professionally as a writer and copy editor. I’ve designed shit in Quark and Pagemaker and Photoshop and Illustrator. I’ve shopped around for printers and chosen Pantone colors. I know the pros and cons of digital versus offset versus letterpress printing. I know how to do this. I just got tired of it.

A confluence of events has led to a renaissance of my interest in poetry. There’s a cycle of percussion that happens with creativity; someone else’s creative expression inspires your own. And something like that has been happening for me since January. I’ve been sort of lurking around the edges of these micropresses and the online communities that surround them. I’m a bit afraid of making myself known to others, afraid that I’ll make some faux pas that will alienate me from this new community (or these new communities) I’ve just discovered. I’m easing into it, commenting on blogs, posting a lot more poetry on my own. I attended an open mic in February. I’m mulling over how to start my own press, what I want to call it, how I want to design the books, how to print them. I’ve realized I have enough material for at least three chapbooks of my own. And I’m also acutely aware of something else: that poetry is a gift economy.

This realization is like a light bulb going off. I finally get it. I was never destined to win the nobel prize or live in the groves of academe. I was supposed to live my life, and to write. I was supposed to make a contribution to a different sort of world. A world of people who live outside the rarefied atmosphere of the literary establishment, but who still care about words. Hells, if William Carlos Williams could be a doctor and Wallace Stevens could be an insurance executive and still kick ass with their poetry, why the hell can’t I be a web developer and do the same?

A lot of things that annoyed me about the literary establishment appear to exist in this other DIY community of poets, but I’ll get into that later. I feel like I need to create actual relationships and enter the community itself before I start trashing it. I need to do more research. And perhaps instead of bitching about things, I should just roll up my sleeves and pitch in. After 24 years of writing poetry, I finally get that it’s about making a contribution, not waiting for applause and a laurel wreath. You really do write because you have no other option. You write because of the fire in the belly. You write because the muse grabs you by the scruff of the neck and shakes you if you don’t.

One book that really blew me away recently was Brief History of Girl as Match, by Kristy Bowen. Brief history of how I found this book:

1. Aaron Tieger sends me the link to the DIY Poetry Publishing Cooperative. I add it to my RSS aggregator.

2. DIY Poetry Publishing Cooperative posts an announcement about the Dusie Kolletiv chapbook exchange

3. I click randomly and find this.

Bowen’s work really speaks to me, as a woman, a sexual being, in a world that gives us conflicting messages about what constitutes a good girl, a powerful woman, a feminist.

notes to self on the female body:

1. girls who like to be tied up make terrible feminists. Also Mailer.

2. When dancing, do an awkward shuffle to the left, then vague hand
movements resembling the mating sway of swans. When he dips you,
meet the eyes of other men indifferently. Hold, then release.

3. dishabille: adjective. 1.a. archaic : negligee. b: the state of being
dressed
in a casual or careless style 2: a deliberately careless or casual manner.

4. French doors do not, under most circumstances, induce the female
orgasm.

5. ligature: noun. 1 a: something that is used to bind; specifically : a
filament (as a thread) used in surgery b: something that unites or connects
: 2: the action of binding or tying

6. Also thigh highs. Soap operas.

With a light touch, Bowen manages to convey the simultaneous desire to be an empowered feminist and a sexual being, both a subject and an object of sexual desire. She evokes this dichotomy through random association, through choosing words that associate and elide with each other on various levels: the level of meaning, the level of sound, and the level of connotation. That do thigh highs and soap operas have to do with the female body? Or Normal Mailer’s work? Nothing. Everything.

I greatly admire this ability to evoke meaning — to say something without saying everything. As Aaron Tieger put it, “work that invites some kind of participation from the reader in order to complete the experience of the poem.” It’s something I strive for in my own work, which I do not consider minimalist. It’s a constant tension: saying enough to make my meaning clear, but not so much that I’m banging the reader over the head with it.

Bowen always has an ability to slide her language into surprising directions, to the same sort of disorienting effect as Sexton’s work. For instance, from autobiography:

In which I am carnelian, carnal. All carnage all the time.
In which I am curator to a museum of clarinets.
[…]
In which I am Anne Boleyn or a B-movie bride.
In which my hands are like a box with two birds.

Bowen runs Dancing Girl Press, founded in 2004 to publish and promote the work of women poets through chapbooks, journals, and anthologies. Atelier Women Writers’ Studio in Chicago is the home of Dancing Girl Press.

You can take your BMI, fold it until it’s all sharp corners…

This flickr set is one of the best things I’ve seen in a long time. It does a good job of illustrating the amazing, beautiful variation of the human form. And, in my opinion, also illustrating why the BMI is just a marketing tool for gastric bypass programs. Which can kill you a lot quicker than diabetes and a heart condition can.

Illustrated BMI categories