Wednesday, February 24, 2021

wingless, legless

"For months, I couldn’t write. It was the loveliest vertigo, sort of like drinking tequila but without the hysterical blindness. My blackbirds were wingless, legless. They sputtered on the ground like firecrackers while you played flare gun, fire engine.


I've been sharing some bits from older projects over on twitter and tumblr and thinking about fallow periods and what grows both within them and after them.  What develops when nothing seems to be developing at all. How we're sometimes writing even when we aren't writing at all.  Or at least it doesn't seem like it.  I've spoken before about the couple years after my MFA degree when it felt like there were too many fingers in my poems, too many cooks in the kitchen.  Having written under observation for the previous four years, it was suddenly strange to be free to make not have to produce and show up, red pen in hand to defend those choices.  Some folks love workshops, and I actually liked them for getting to see other writer's work in progress and how poems became poems.  But they were less useful for me--at least most of them.  Craft classes I loved..since most of it was reading things and developing projects and then presenting bits of those projects, not with an eye toward vivisection of every little bit, but with an open-ended discussion on the project as a whole. I think so much is lost in critique-based workshops that could be so much better.  Also, the bad tendency of writers to try to change another author's poems into what they themselves would write and not through a reader's eye.   Also, just assholes. 

So in that early party of 2007--a lot of things were happening in terms of new project releases (feign, the Cornell project, my first little Dusie E-Kollectiv chap.)  But in the fall, when I moved into the studio space, most of my time was spent growing the press now that I was free of grad school and setting up the etsy shop.  It continued much this way for the next 3-4 years.  I was just really busy. Not that I wasn't writing at all.  Poems would fly out if me at intervals.  I was loosely working on what would become my narrative chap, beautiful, sinister, but very slowly.  I'd go a few month without putting anything down on paper.  It was a good time for visual and design projects, but not so much for words.  My second book, which had been accepted my last year of the program came out in 2008, but the bulk of in the bird museum had been written between 2005-2007. My third manuscript, girl show, (also my thesis) had been accepted by the press that published book #1, but they folded in 2010 and it landed back in my lap.  I was waffling on whether or not "being a poet" was something I even wanted. And editor and publisher, yes.  An artist , maybe. But writing was hard and thankless at times.  So why keep at it?  But then again, also why not?

What was happening in those years behind the scenes, in more personal things,  offered a lot of subject matter, however, and maybe I needed to take a step back to go forward. I've mentioned before how the james franco poems loosened some gears in its silliness. At around the same time, Black Lawrence accepted girl show, so I felt like maybe not all was lost. Maybe I was still a writer after all. In some ways, the windows and doors open, I could breathe inside the space and things began to grow there.  In late 2011, I put together a chapbook, havoc, of the poems that had been busting up through the concrete anyway, mostly about poor romantic choices. A couple years later, they would make up a good chunk of my 5th book, major characters in minor films. 2012 bought a burst of productivity and it was settled.  I kept going.  

Poems got easier, of course, the more I was back to doing them.  Since then, I've been trying to channel and summon the excitement I felt when I first started publishing and sharing work in the early aughts. Not what I learned in MFA school, which is strange system of secret knocks and code words and arbitrary rules to the outside. I've seen some of the best poets in my program go on to never write (at least publicly) another word and it makes me tremendously sad.  I get it, I totally do.  But I wish it weren't.  Nevertheless, something did rise from the floorboards in those years.  havoc is testament to that.  Are they a little overwrought?  Sometimes I think so.  (I had a way of digging in on something that can get annoying to my more mature eye, but they're still good poems.) But more importantly, they exist. 


Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Saturday, February 20, 2021

houses we haunt

Last week, I was combing through some link changes and stumbled back into my tumblr, which for awhile was where my domain led and served as my website (its feed being an easy thing to follow and separate pages enough to hold other stuff with easy updateabiliy)  It was that way for a few years until Tumblr tried to  cast out all the porn, but kept flagging any collages that had nudes in it as such, Thus I spent an ungodly amount of time clicking through to challenge what their bots were flagging as adult content. I don't even have nudes in a lot of work, but it was still annoying and not how I liked to spend time.  So since I had grown used to modifying blogger templates for other sites, I moved back here and set up a similar system of pages.  While you can follow blogspots vial rss, what I lost in terms of functionality was that easy ability to  follow. 

Fast forward a few years and reading through tumblr, I kind of missed all the engagement there, the people who still live in that space, so thought I might reopen the doors, dust off the furniture, and use it to post snippets and drafts of things.  Old projects, new projects.  Things that don't get picked up my journals after a couple submission rounds(which are sometimes the best pieces.) Granted most people have similarly fled tumblr in the intervening yeats, but we'll see how it goes. it doesn't hurt and while I usually post just snippets here and on other socials, there I will be posting full poems there, some of which aren't published elsewhere, so it's a good thing to follow if you are Tumblr minded.

In many ways, it feels like haunting an old home in a city where I'm not sure anyone actually even lives any more.  Facebook feels like this sometimes..compared to what it used to be like. So many have moved onto twitter or instagram or left social media entirely. I do like it, since I feel like that is sort of the nexus of my online social world, largely since it not only serves as a connection to writers and creative folks, but also family and old friends, people from college and high school who would be lost otherwise to distance. I spend more time there, or at least did until the last month or so (my biggest beef is that I can't control the bad news machine there and what I see in my feed, so it was making me anxious, so now I only go on there later in the day and direct those scrolling impulses to instagram in the morning.)

I imagine, the numbers will wane further.  I really like instagram, but twitter still feels like throwing a dime in the ocean. I like it for work, and tweeting programming stuff for the library, and use it for the press a little in less crazy times,  but I don't quite know what to do with my personal account.  Lately I've been posting news, cool little gifs, and snippets of published or work-in-progress, so we'll see. The blog-world also feels deserted sometimes for shorter content platforms, but I imagine I will never leave this space, since I've been in this house for over 15 years now.  The Poetry Blogger network gives me some hope that others are still living in their spaces and regularly updating. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

writing history and myth

 I've always considered myself a poet whose work relies tremendously on research, whether it's more serious (the Chicago World's Fair, the Italian Reniassance) or less serious (tabloid headlines and slenderman lore.) In the early 2000's my errata project, which cobbled together both orginal and found texts was one of the first things I'd written that involved external sources directly, but I'd touched on bits obliquely before.  Many of my first, better poems were steeped in history, mythology/folklore, and literature. (I always say I din't have much to write about myself, so I plumbed these to exhaustion.) Thus I have a lot of mermaid poems, even from the beginning. Fairy tale poems --my favorites being Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Hansel & Gretel--all things that I've written more than one poem about.  My entire project, the shared properties of water and stars is basially a take on Goldilocks that's expanded into story problem logic.  

Later, I devoted an entire chapbook length series to Resurrection Mary, Chicago's own vanishing hitchhiker legend, a project that not only had me deep in chicago history, but doing fun things like ghost tours. girl show involved a lot of searching into sideshow and carnival performers of the 30s and 40's (and the discovery of the Hilton sisters, after which my two siamese are named.) There was the summer I spent reading Slenderman stories and books about the legend, as well as digging into true crime about the stabbing in Waukesha. There was research into pin-ups and nuclear america for strange machine and terrestrial animal. Extinction and evolution for my series written for the Field Museum. Ekphrastic subject matter for the Cornell Project, my Dali series, the Shining poems.

When I was an English major in college, and into my grad school days at DePaul, I was really enthusiastic about the research part of a project.  The scoping and gathering of sources.  The learning and processing of new things.  What I hated was actually assembling them into a paper form. This seemed like an afterthought, that the fun--the discover--was already over. While writing poems and creative projects is certainly more interesting than a five paragraph essay, I have to be careful even now to not load myself down with details and then fail to actually write the finished project. This nearly happened with the HH Holmes subject matter, mostly because I was disappointed with what I had dug up, facts that painted him not a diabolical serial killer and more just a tabloid sensationalized opportunistic dude who happened to murder people on the verge of uncovering his crimes. There was no maze-like murder castle--and any dark undercurrent in the White City was no more than just the usual sort of Chicago lawlessness. 

I wasn't exactly  sure what to do with my research and wanted to abandon ship, but stuck it out, instead focusing on the women around Holmes, victims and co-conspirators, which was much more rewarding. Occasionally, in normal summers, I will  pass the guided ghost tours outside the Congress Hotel and they are always talking about Holmes somehow, though his relationship with that particular hotel is thin at best  (and the Congress' ghost stories interesting enough on their own.). I always want to correct the tour guide spouting the tabloid misinformation like it's fact.  But then, how is this different from the world? 

With our urban legend topic on tap this semester in the library, I've been thinking about how thin the wall between folklore and fact is. How often one is taken for the other. How they build upon each other.  How one mistelling or mistep can take 100's of years ti unravel. How 100 years from now, our own history could be murky enough to be mistaken for legend, legend for history...or do they somehow eventually become he same...

Monday, February 15, 2021

notes & things | snow day & post- valentines edition

When I was in the fifth grade, we had, on Valentines Day, what they called a blue route day...,mostly meaning that school would be open, but that those of us who lived further out on the bus routes, where the roads could be impassable, could stay home.  There were at least a couple of these every year, and it beat the treacherousness of watching a huge yellow school bus try to turn around at the end of the dead end road, a feat that even in good weather was a precise, mechanical, series of steps in order to not plummet into a ditch or get stuck in mud.  On a normal day, we would have relished this--maybe spent some time clad in puffy coats and moon boots in the yard, which at the time, still had a good hill where the house was built that had not settled to the slight slop it has now. We would find a steep spot and plummet down the hill on metal discs.  Or we'd built forts in the snowplow drifts near the driveway, complete with tunnels and rooms in the snow and then play there til the sun started to set.  

This particular day was a tragedy, due to it being Valentines Day, and therefore, the day of room parties full of red frostinged cupcakes and carefully decorated boxes waiting to receive valentines from classmates, which was always it's own weird system.  The people you actually liked or had crushes on would get the cutest cards, others less favored, whatever was left.  I had carefully planned out my cards & recipients, but then was thwarted by mother nature. My mom, who was not yet working again, managed to pull together a party at home for us--complete with boloney sandwiches cut into hearts, sugar cookies,  candy from my neighboring aunt's basement stash in her salon, and whatever else was lying around--tinfoil heart stickers, tiny redhots, slight stale conversation hearts. We probably watched movies and played with the stickers and outside of these snippets, I don't know much of what the party entailed. 

The next day, back at school, when I collected my stuffed box of valentines that had accrued in my absence, there was a sense that the party was already over.  In a couple years, Valentines parties would be a thing of the past--junior high giving way to candy grams and carnations gifted by friends As someone who didn't date in highschool, V-Day was always more about girl friends than boys. I'd collect my carnations (that had their own color-coded langauge) and the Hershey bars adorned with construction paper hearts. In 8th grade, tormented the first boy who ever broke my heart with mysterious ones every class period that hinted at a secret admirer that would never materialize just to dissappoint him. By spring, we were one again on speaking terms, but I don't think he every knew it was me.  In the fall, he went to a different high school and I never saw him again. 

As an adult, the go-to for V-day was a visit from my parents.  This started in grad school and continued up until maybe a few years ago. We would usually go to the Lincoln Park zoo, which even in freezing weather, still had quite a few people and offered respite in the indoor habitats.  There were years in which it was actually lovely weather.  Years in which it was like 10-15 degrees and we spent most of our time quickly shuffling between buildings to get inside asap.  We'd follow it up with lunch, first at a near-by diner, later at a italian restaurant up in the neighborhood with a parking lot. As for romance, I've never been one much for romantic sentiment in a day when it seems expected.  In truth, spent most valentines days spent partnerless for whatever reason, even in and out of relationships. The relationship that went on for years that would self-destruct in winter and rekindle every spring. or the married one who, of course, had other plans. 

I was thinking about that 5th grade party that was not a party in light of lockdowns and stay-at-homes that this year landed us at home for Valentines--a late start due to working, but entailed flowers and chocolates of a more adult-variety (and other similar treats). About traditions and remaking them. Last year, we saw our very last movie in a theatre pre-covid (Parasite) on Valentines night. Since my relationship history is spotty, I was around 40 before I actually spent an entire holiday with a partner, who brought me gifts no less. This is nice, but also strange, like a language I don't quite speak but am getting used to. 

Today, a snow day home from work and the campus closing early since it's supposed to get crazier tonight.  It seems like it's been snowing for weeks and I think it has. Alternating snow and cold, annoying, but I have now kind of gotten used to this being the way it is now until it's not, which could also be said about covid and the death toll I am trying not to check every day obsessively since it just freaks me out, but does no actual good. So at least I am safe inside for a bit longer with bacon and coffee and a warm shower (even though my bath gel in the bottom is pretty much frozen on the ledge and my sponge was adhered to the metal window frame and I had to pry it away) But this part of winter seems always this way, so we endure...

Friday, February 12, 2021

voice and the spaces between

 All day before my Poetry Foundation reading Tuesday night, I kept thinking how strange it was that I had not read poems in public, outside of recordings, in more than a year and a half.  I've had stretches like this, but usually due to my schedule and workloads and just the happenstance of no one inviting me (b/c I usually say yes.) My last public reading had been the Field Museum one, tucked in a corner of the bird exhibits and a slew of sort of depressing climate change poems with extinction event. Fast forward to this week, and I'd decided to share the tabloid poems, some unseen, some just beginning to make their way into journals. Initially, they seemed a perfect choice, since so much of what I've written recently has been a little dark and glum (which is saying a lot given my whole body of As I reading them, I realized I was a fibber and actually parts of them are as dark as anything I was writing last year, just framed in a funny context. The audience seemed to enjoy them, thank god, nevertheless. 

Zoom readings are strange. I liked the ease of doing it. I found a  cozy corner in a private study room, read and listened to poems, and went right back to work til closing the library, which is the impediment to many readings I'd like to attend.  I didn't have to make a long, cross city trip on public transportation or be awkward socially and  headed for the door.  You also can't really see your audience, which is kinda freeing but also frustrating. When I came to the city, my first reading ever was after I placed in a juried contest which entailed first a finalist reading at the Evanston Public Library, which actually drew a pretty good crowd and was therefore more terrifying. I progressed, in the next few years through tiny bookstore readings with a tiny (and once regretfully  NO) audience and many raucous open mic-style nights, where I began to feel more comfortable on the stage (though no less awkward off it.)  One of my favorites included the Gwendolyn Brooks open mic at the Chopin theatre (that I had no chance of winning, but so much great energy in the performers and audience. )  So many readings at Womanmade and DVA Gallery. So many bookstores and bars and coffeeshops. Not just in Chicago, but a couple offsites at AWPs--Atlanta, Seattle. Woodland Pattern up in Milwaukee. Classroom visits with students. Nearly 20 years of sharing work in various spaces. 

Somewhere in my drawers is a tape I made circa 1995.  I was coming off my first poetry workshop in the spring and was writing and submitting work at a rate I hadn't been in a while. .  I would take my small black boombox out to the dining room table of my parent's house where I would write in the afternoons and record myself reading the poems.  Mostly, to see if the sounded good when read aloud, since so much of poetry depends on the auditory. I saved the tape and traveled with me from apartment to apartment since , though I don't even have a tape deck to play it these days.  Besides I am not sure I could handle hearing 21 year old Kristy and her terrible poems from this distance.  I do like the fact that it exists, along with cd recordings of several other radio readings preceding the rise of digital files. I also have a taped version of a reading we wound up recording in a bustling diner near Northeastern U. complete with dishes clattering and secret slot machine noise from the back. 

I have a strange relationship with the sound of my own voice, which of course does not sound anything like it does in my head when I hear it played back. Too childlike, too formal  I sometimes struggle with this when it comes to the video poems.  I remarked to a friend recently about the delight and surrealness of hearing other people's voices read your work. Hearing your words in other people's mouths and I remember the shock of the first time. Someone once told me at AWP that she had had her students read all the poems in a chapbook of mine, one poem per student, all in a circle and this felt like a ritual.  I wanted to see it and hear it all. This along with a local poet who once told me my work reminded her of a hybrid between Plath and a Davis Lynch film is one of the coolest things and highest compliments anyone has ever said about my writing. .  I want to put his on my tombstone. 

Sunday, February 07, 2021

swallow # 11

hunting beauty

I've been thinking quite a bit about my moods and what makes me happy. What saves me from the doldrums of winter and rights the ship when it seems the darkest and most treacherous.  Today, I suddenly felt like I maybe needed a  greenhouse or conservatory visit--a remedy that had worked before, perhaps in the darkest of times, but then of course, discovered, as suspected, the two options are closed completely due to covid. On Valentines Day in 1998, on a LP zoo visit with my parents, I wandered into a room filled to the ceiling with pink and red blooms and snapped picture, taken with a disposable camera, I still have tucked away somewhere. Something cleared in my head that had been underwater for a couple months.   I kept the photo as a reminder. That as dark as things were, something like beauty could somehow save me. I suddenly thought maybe I need to visit a home garden center with a nice big greenhouse for the same effect, but it seems a little ridiculous. 

So I wait. At the bus stop, even though the sidewalk is piled with snow and frozen over, the japanese magnolia I wait for every year has noticeable buds.  They appear far earlier than they should, and the wait is its own kind of agony. (and sadly one of the things I most missed seeing last year during lockdown, along with the blooming trees and lilac bushes in Grant Park. ) It'll be at least another two months, early April, before any real green rears itself up from the gray brown landscape. I think whatever happens with lockdowns and pandemics, I need to spend more time in nature.  I feel it, like a mineral deficiency, but in my spirit rather than my body. With the beaches closed, outside of seeing the lakefront passing by on the bus, I didn't even really have that. I also didn't get to spend much time out at my dad's since I didn't want to risk infecting him in the beginning and especially once i was back to working on-site.  As it was, summer slipped past so fast I barely felt it. 

There are of course, other places for beauty.  As of this week, the museums are slowly beginning to open up, but even though I could wander most wings of the Institute and the Field Museum, it still seems risky in the more congested areas and not at all necessary in any functional way.   So I wait.