Saturday, February 17, 2018

writing and fact vs. truth


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This week, I released into the wild the love poems project, the one that started as a valentine and, over time, developed into something else entirely, about love and violence and women and men and all the inherent complications thereof.  It was a weird things to be working on, given mostly when I write about romantic relationships, they are firmly in the past (or at least MOSTLY in the past).  And while I've had some good relationships that just didn't work out with good people, I've also had some with bad people and predictably bad outcomes, and somehow those are the ones that turn up in the poems. Not always the exact truth or details, but sometimes an amalgamation of relationships or men mixed in with fiction.  It is the same with family, the mothers and sisters and fathers in my poems are not always my mother and sister and father, but sometimes, there are shared experiences and traits.  Fictionalizations to prove a point and strike a certain chord.

Sometimes, I am writing entirely fictional people into being--like in girl show or the shared properties of water and stars. Like the three sisters in beautiful, sinister.  Books like major characters in minor films or salvage are more about me and my experiences.  In the past, I haven't  always shared these books with people I am involved with romantically..some are interested, some less so (depending on whether they are, in fact artists or creators or into poetry at all.)  Art is easy for me to share with anyone, but handing someone a poem and saying, "yeah, this is about that jerk I used to date" not so much (I imagine this is a perennial hazard for someone like Taylor Swift..lol..).  It's like you wear your exes on your sleeve sometimes (and worse, sometimes the line between fact/fiction blurs in an unflattering way.)  I can change names to protect the innocent, details even, like how the physicist in shipwrecks of lake michigan was not a physicist but a mechanical engineer. Like how the married man in major characters...was not a singular span of time, but something that spanned over a decade of us weaving in and out of each other's lives disastrously.

Initially, I had written the love poem project as a gift to my boyfriend of almost three years.    Last February, I bound the poems in a small carefully handmade volume and intended to gift them when we met up a couple days after the holiday, but then my mother had a heart attack that started the downhill slope of her decline and the holiday was skipped entirely.   I held onto the poems and wrote more through the spring.  I also managed to spill coffee on the handmade book and threw it away after a couple months.   Then, over the summer, the project took a turn away from just being a personal valentine and more toward addressing broader themes of the difficulties of love in a time when men keep doing horrible things to women on a global scale.  While the poems became a central part of my most recent full-length manuscript SEX & VIOLENCE finished in the fall, I decided to wait and issue the project as a zine for the zine series, incorporating some valentine collages I did last year.  In the meantime, while some pieces have been published and shared  (in Hobart and Rag Queen Periodical), And while the series is technically dedicated to him, I hesitated over giving it to it's original recipient.  Is it too political now? Too angry or barbed to be considered a proper love poem, or is that the point?  Is it a Valentine or a feminist manifesto?  I am still undecided...(the danger of writing about relationships you are actually still in the midst of.)

I've been having similar feelings about the hunger palace series I've been blogging bits of here.  On one hand, these are set in the reality of my own life, but things are changed for thematic effect.  For example in this piece, the timelines are off, the trees on my block not cut down until about a month after my mother's death.  The mouse under the stove and the chipmunks under the stove happened over a decade ago, but they were details that seemed to fit the poem.  (The skunk and the stinkbugs though are true.)  I also was not present for my mother's speech/occupational therapy sessions, but she recanted them later when I visited.

I imagine the details will continue treading that line.  When I went to my first AWP in 2004, I sat in on a panel about poets reading fiction and fiction-writers reading poetry, and one of the fiction people said he always assumed that that the poets words were true--fact--autobiographical and of course all  the poets laughed nervously. Over a decade ago, I wrote a poem with the line

"There are three sides to every story.  Yours, mine, and the one we make up for the sake of art."

As time goes on, it has always seemed less important for the details of poems to be based on fact, but always important that they be based on truth, and that sometimes, poems are truer for their fictions. X, Y, or Z may not have actually happened, but in the world of the poem, they go a long way toward chipping away at the truth of any given thing.  When I  met the married man,  but before I knew he was married, I gave him a copy of my first book, the fever almanac, which  was in the process of coming out that fall. . (I also gave him a ridiculously expensive 1st UK edition of a Henry Miller novel for Christmas, one of his favorites, which should have been a warning sign)  After he read my book, his response was to ask me, half-joking, if I was really as depressed and dark as the book (my response was both yes and no.)  Later, he was aware there were poems about him, but I did not ask or want him to read them.

As someone who is mostly non-monogamous and dated steadily through my 20s and 30's , there have been a number of men for whom there are no entire poems, but only a line or an image.  Like a flash of a swimmer in the ocean as the waves bob him into and out of view.  The college trysts and random make outs. The older man, who wrote long love letters to me via e-mail,  who told me he loved me way too early on a date at the top of the stairs in the Art Institute.    The work crush I spent over a year trying unsuccessfully to drunkenly seduce in bars. The years long poly relationship that fell into a more platonic friendship because I could not handle my jealousy.  The mechanical engineer himself, on an off again for years, who finally moved back to Detroit.  All of them disassembled and reassembled in various ways.  Facts used here and there along with some fiction for desired effect.

And maybe the truths are always more interesting than the actual facts anyway. The possibilities of thematic arcs and resonance far vaster when you finesse the details a bit.  Maybe not write what you know, but write what's true.

(edited to add a link that proves I am not the only one thinking these things of late..)



Friday, February 16, 2018

notes & things


While the end of last week bought mountains of snow, the milder temperatures this week have mostly abated it except in the shadiest, darkest spots on the landscape.  Spring feels close enough that I can taste it, but I know that is still somewhat of a delusion at this point in February.

Its been a bear of week that began with general studio mad-fast bookmaking and Tuesday's printmaking workshop , which involved a little bit of Valentines-eve fun (that continued with some flower and pink champagne celebrations later on.) Also,  the good news of the release of Tupelo Quarterly's  latest issue, featuring a good size selection of some past book art projects and samples of both art and poems. The latter half of the week has been attending to some upcoming chapbook business, reading wicked alice submissions,   and prepping for Monday's Breton's Birthday event, which features a book display, some games and activities, and a reading Monday night by some CCC grad students.  I still have some promo and final materials to finish up, but will be pulling a Saturday shift tomorrow, which should give me some quieter, less interrupted time to attend to it.

I will be working, but what I would rather be doing is hiding in my apartment watching Game of Thrones episodes one after the other and hiding under a blacket, but somehow I seem to have an upcoming spate of at least day of the weekend being eaten by work. But by the time I'm done with the next couple weejs, we'll be into march and AWP plans and spring weather and it will be heavenly.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

in praise of the strange


The past week or so, I've been watching LORE, a podcast based Amazon original that details all sorts of interesting folkloric type things--vampires, lobotamies, changelings, victorian spiritualism.  While I had heard of the Fox sisters, some of the most famous faces of that last topic,  in passing, I wasn't aware that their entire career as mediums had later been revealed to be a big ole hoax.  Suddenly, they seemed ripe as  inspiration for a possible new series of poems and I set to doing more research, (like I need more topics for poems I never seem to have enough time to write) but I dived in.

I had a recent conversation with a friend about weird, oddball  interests and their potential to draw strange and sometimes frustrating responses from the world at large..ie the "basics"--mostly uncreative people who do things like worship Crate & Barrel and Whole Foods and wear a lot of khaki and those ugly scarves from Burberry that cost like $300.  In Chicago, in other decades, we may have called the female version of this "Trixies" and maybe now they are "Pumpkin Spices" but nevertheless, in my daily life, my contact with that sort of world is minimal.     To most appearances, I am definitely not really "edgy" in any way,--preferring rather "normal" girly clothes and rather "normal" hair colors, and sort of blending in with the masses until I open my mouth and start talking about weird stuff.  To all appearances, despite my hatred for the highway robbery of Whole Foods, you may have spotted me at least twice in a Crate and Barrel (though they were too spendy for me to buy anything).  But really, "basic' has much less to do with trappings and clothes and retailers and more to do with mindset. This friend had previously dated a woman who forced her to edit her house, filled with amazing taxidermy and certain oddities down to a "respectable" home,  to one outfitted in C& B and West Elm and suited for guests or children that never came or would eventually never happen. That sort of basic.

Luckily, thank god, most of the people I surround myself with are of the weird variety.  If you told a basic, "hey, I'm going to go home and sit at a computer and make up imaginary people saying imaginary things in an imaginary world" they would probably give you that look. But then all writers do this to some degree.  All artists with their pet passions and quirky obsessions. I once left a library art opening peeved when someone had said to me, in a kind of disparaging tone (or maybe I read it that way) "I could just never be creative.  I don't know how you do it"  And maybe it was a compliment, or maybe it was a jab, but it felt like the latter.  The tone was definitely less awe and more "I don't know why you choose to smear yourself in feces, I could never do that." I left feeling more like a circus freak, a weird position for an artist who works in a library at an art school.

Last summer, I was in an Uber having a conversation with my bf (an actor, who obviously is used to entirely made up worlds.) and talking about Mothman sightings and how we had been trying to set up hoaxes related to the rash of sightings and explaining Mothman lore in general and then conversationally hopped, as we passed Calvary Cemetary on the lake, to the ghost of the WWII airman who apparently is known for stumbling across Sheridan Road during storms, and was about to launch into the story of Inez Clark in Graceland Cemetery and her wanderings during summer storms and stopped myself as I caught the eye of the driver in the mirror, who had that same look on his face that my co-worker did.  I stopped talking and changed the subject to skyrocketing Rogers Park apartment rents, but I shouldn't have.

And not that basic is always bad.  I'm not a fan of pumpkin things in general, but I enjoy an an occasional hazelnut latte from Starbucks.  I even occasionally like Taylor Swift (well, earlier Red era TS).  I laugh occasionally over my being drawn to pretty trendy fashion trends like cropped denim jackets and tulle skirts. I am super basic in my t.v watching--my Sex & the City binge recently a perfect example--even in my more fringe tastes toward horror and supernaturally focused shows that are loved my the general populace. I am not probably a poster child for edgy or subversive or even, really alternative. Enjoy many kinds of music, from country to pop to hair band rock to old bossa nova records.

But I do know quite a bit about weird things like ghost stories and fringe science and urban legends.  About mermaids and circuses and horror movies. A new friend was once delighted by my deep knowledge of  spontaneous combustion and I was shocked (didn't everyone know this?  I guess not)   A pissy comment from a former boss irked me once--that I would explain (whatever random library situation was at hand) by aliens (duh, aliens aren't really my jam, ghosts are. Get your facts straight if you're going to insult me proprerly!)

Maybe it's about finding your tribe of like-minded people, mine mostly artists or writers, but even some not even creatives, just geeks for sci-fi or horror or whatever..May I spend more time in their world than in the other.
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Tuesday, February 06, 2018

notes & things

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Earlier today, I was queuing up dgp social media posts for the coming week  (I usually like to schedule a few snippets of older titles)  and decided this week to spotlight 2008 books , books celebrating their 10th birthday this year.  I was struck how that seemed to be a sort of pivotal year for the press, in terms of logistics and what we were publishing. I had just moved into the studio space.  I finally had a decent paper trimmer and the room to spread the whole operation out--a place to store paper and envelopes and supplies. I also had, after a few years in which we just published a handful of books, the opportunity to bump things up in terms of accepted titles from 10 to nearly 20.  Of course, right around then was when things got crazy with etsy shop and selling vintage as well (and one could argue that I may very well have never been able to catch my breath since 2008).  But it was a good year, even so, one in which I struggled to make sure I could pay the rent on the new space and not have to move everything back home.

Today, I contently spent some hours there proofing and finalizing some chaps from December and laying out some books due out in the next month and thinking about process..  Some books take longer, some shorter, depending on the formatting demands inherent in the manuscript.  Some covers are easy (or really easy when someone else designs it or we use another artist/designer (see that beauty above)) but some take a little wiggling to get just right..fonts and placements and such.    Thursday, I will start work on designing the covers for the books I began to layout today, (mostly March book--a couple of them due to release before AWP. )    I also need to begin assembling my stash of books for Whale Prom and deciding what I can possibly bring with and fit on a half table. (also finagling how to actually afford the trip and not strand myself penniless in Florida.)

Again I am continually delighted by the work I get to do, by the books I get to help bring into the world.  Probably more than I ever imagined I would be.  As I mentioned in a previous entry, I've been thinking alot about twenty years ago. Early 1998 was a rough patch, so much confusion over what I wanted to do with this life, what I was capable of doing.  By that fall, I was beginning to write with a more serious bent, but even then, as I sort of dedicated myself to writing, I never imagined the other sort of work I would do in the future  after I founded dgp.   It wasn't even something that would have occured to me as a possibility (that came later, after running a litzine for awhile, after uncovering all the chapbook presses springing up.)  The way it seemed very much the thing I should be doing with my life.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

notes & things




The weekend has been cold and snowy and I have been tucked firmly inside,  mostly winding down old binge-watch addictions and starting new ones.(this latter one is based on a podcast and full of morbid details and lovely animations.)  I am making chicken soup weekly and writing (poems and blogs) and drinking way too much of the New Orleans coffee my dad secured for me for Christmas. I really don't want to leave my apartment again until spring, but this week is full of good things like zine night (we're doing scrap zines) and a Book to Art club meeting with more Grimm-inspired action. So I suppose it'll be worth it to venture out.

In writerly news, I had some poems this week in the latest Tinderbox  from the Plath centos, the last of what were picked up last year and the last to be published before I issue it with it's attendant collages this spring for the subscription series. (either in March or April depending on how other projects fare in the next month).  February's issue is the love poems series, HOW TO WRITE A LOVE POEM IN A TIME OF WAR (ie. the Valentine that turned feminist manifesto). I am still transcribing the handwritten stuff from UNUSUAL CREATURES and working on another, lighter, epistolary project.
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I'm continuing work on THE HUNGER PALACE, which I'll be posting fragments of weekly in this space.    I've been torn on sending them out to journals, at least the bulk of them, mostly becuase I am sending out pieces from other projects that I feel are more publication friendly.  Like many more prose oriented projects, the segments don't seem to be as strong individually as they are as a whole  I kind if  don't think they would actually get picked up.  There is also something too raw and vulnerable about them to risk rejection. Like wandering out into a snowstorm naked rather than fully clothed.

In the studio,  I am assembling the first copies of the books that were released in early-mid December.  I wanted to get everything ready and on schedule in December, but it means I created a bear for January in terms of author copies, that I am still struggling to get through and out the door, but I am gaining ground. Also, orders I got behind on in December and am still struggling to catch up on (I apologize if you are waiting on something, but it will be on it's way soon.) There are also some new additions in the shop coming down the pipeline (prints, postcards), and already this new mug, which I created in a moment of pure lady rage last week. At first I was just going to make one for me, but then thought it might be cool to sell them and donate some proceeds to something that Republican neanderthal hates--Planned Parenthood.  I've been thinking of doing mugs for some simple artwork and they turned out nicely, so keep an eye out for more.

In the library, I am also planning for our Breton's Birthday event, which will have speakers and readers and surrealist fun.  Also the Apocalypse programming coming in March --the exhibit and the artist panel that kicks off the whole shebang.  We managed to get a huge number of submissions and will begin parsing through them this week and making selections for what will be included. Otherwise, I am slogging through reserve stuff--faculty requests and pulling books and such, but that will no doubt be dying down soon. 

Until next week...




Saturday, February 03, 2018

from THE HUNGER PALACE

Last week, I read that a vast percentage of the body is entirely new at any given time--blood cells, tendon, epidermis.  That even our bones are breaking down slowly and replacing themselves every few years. The broken ring finger of my childhood no longer an indeterminate crack in the metacarpal.  The myth that every seven years or so, we are essentially a new person, the credit of our bodies wiped clean and spotless, but our parts still harboring holdouts.  Like the woman in the quaint Victorian as the skyline springs up around her.  Ova and  neurons and the lens of the eye.   At any given moment, most of my body has forgotten most every man I've ever slept with, but my tail bone still aches sometimes from a fall in the snow a decade ago.

Logic tells me that in 7 years, all of me will have grown use to this motherlessness.  Each element of my body swept clean and new.  But the holdouts, no doubt, grow shifty with their intentions. The synapses misfiring at unexpected moments.  The face in my mirror hers more than it ever was mine.  The sudden flood of panic like a cold wave sluicing the shore.  The dreams that flare all night-- her dead, then alive, then dead again. 

The morning it happens, I wake with unusual and untimely cramps, as if this body, torn from that body 40 odd years ago, felt the again tearing away even from a 100 miles away. Like a tremor in the subcortex remembered after the fact. That probably when she breathed her last, I was walking down Michigan Ave in the sun, stopping to snap a blurry picture of the last autumn leaves outside the museum deleted later that night.  Or the orange flowered dress I wore tossed in the trash, too summery for early November. Too scant and bright for a trip home to cremate one's mother. How I'd never be able to wear it again without thinking this is what you were wearing. 

Already, my skin has mostly forgotten the word mother, but in winter grows dry and flakes away imprecisely . My stomach flora already moved on with things. Only my neurons crying on the bus over lost  banana bread recipes.  So it goes, each particle replacing daughter bit by bit during the night, until eventually I wake without thinking about it. Sometimes, hours into the day before grief knocks me against doorjambs,  the back of my office chair.  Already, the body shedding what I remember of touch to the January landscape.

technology and witchery




I was thinking tonight about technology and generations and my rather novel position of being part of one whose existence is split right down the center--the before and after-- by the internet and all of it's possibilities--streaming music, movies, smartphones.  All the sort of things had you time traveled back 22 odd years and told me would everyday facts of life, I'd never believed you.  I spent the first 20 or so years of my life living sometimes in the real world , though more preferably, alone and in my own mind, or at the very least in the world of books.

When I was a teen, you'd most likely find me in my room sprawled on my bed reading trashy books or sitting on the floor near my stereo popping cassette tape after cassette tape into the deck.  On the rare occasion my parent's didn't have domain of the main t.v. you might find me watching 90210 or sitcoms there, though more likely I was in my room, trying to watch them fuzzily on a teeny b&w set given to my mother by a friend.  In books, I had a penchant for horror, or secondhand Harlequins passed on from a cousin.  In music, pop hits or hair metal.  I had friends, but we mostly would have occasional slumber parties and sleepovers, which I spent a lot of time trying to get everyone to watch MTV (which I didn't have access to at home.) Or we'd go to the movies at the mall and wonder the stores where we coveted things we could rarely afford. 

If you told my teen self that over 20 years later, she'd be able to order anything off the internet and have it delivered to her door, that she could stream any music video on youtube, any movie on Netflix or Amazon. What's more could do it on an object the size of her palm, she'd most likely accuse you of some strange witchery. And yet we're here, the world so much bigger and somehow so much smaller.  I spend most days half in the virtual world and half in the real, sometimes one more than the other depending on the day. Due to work and the press, I spend the majority of my day in front of a computer and toggling between the internet and other programs.  Even when I'm home, I am perusing pinterest or instagram and listening to music on my laptop or tablet or streaming movies/tv on my Roku.


But sometimes I think about the things in my life that I am not sure would have been possible had those technological shifts not happened.  As someone with, at times, acute social anxiety, there is probably a lot of things I would have shied away from or avoided were it not for the communications possible in the virtual world. (especially if they involved phone calls, which, unless it's someone I'm close to still send me into blind panic.)  My poetry world in the late 90's was so small, and while I had started to submit, it was much more difficult--the typewriter/word processor, the SASE's, the waiting.  And only a few ways to learn about publishers and journals, much less connect with other writers.  There was P& W magazine of course, but I think that was about it.  I remember when I first had some sustained time on the internet in the labs at DePaul while getiing my MA and grew addicted to their discussion boards.  I could go in for a few minutes on my way to library and get sucked in for hours.

When I finished my degree I wound up back in Rockford for a year with no real access to the web outside of occasional surfing on my desk computer at the elementary school library (which there wasn't much time for.)  This was probably the last time I was living more in the real world than the virtual.   I remember I was sleeping a lot, but probably also reading and watching bad late night tv after my parents went to bed on the big TV in the living room,  By the time I moved back to the city, I was sitting in front of a computer all day and just beginning to read and submit to online journals on the regular, to build my own website, to found my own litzine.

Slowly, my hours in the virtual world probably surpassed my hours in the real world.  Or maybe they existed side by side.  The self that interacts on the web and also with their actual surroundings.  The self that goes out and does readings and interacts with other writers. The self that makes things with my hands, that paints or collages or writes things out longhand. The self that reads books you can hold in your hands. The self that cleans the apartment, that eats breakfast, that has sex.  But those hours seem to be substantially less than the hours I spend right here, my hands on the keys.  But somehow, I am okay with this, this virtual life just as real I suppose as the life I loved sprawled across the bed reading, or on the floor by the stereo.

But then, sometimes too much immersion, too much time in the virtual world seems sad.  A few weeks ago the waves on the lake were crazy, magnificently high and angry and I looked around at my fellow bus travelers and all of them were staring at their phones, not one looking out the churning lake almost sloshing onto the drive.  I spend a lot of time in front of a screen or a tablet and home and at work, but I do try to be in the world when I venture into it as much as I can, my phone staying pretty much out of sight unless i have to send a quick text (and limited to wi-fi only where it's available). Somehow I feel like I am missing too much out there in the world as it is, so need to pay attention. As writers, this is probably even more important.

As writer, we naturally live more in our heads than in our bodies, I suppose,  And the virtual world maybe is really just another way of living in our heads, only communally in someway with other people living inside their heads. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

from THE HUNGER PALACE


A  friend and I joke all along about euthanasia. 65? 70?  Our timelines stitched and sealed carefully like a wedding purse in a bag.  A done deal, a finishing flourish. A  sprig of lavender to keep the moths away. The point at which the body is too far too along in it's disintegration to go back.

Childless, we are exquisite. Unburdened by worries of reckless daughters or feckless sons.  We won't fret over no one coming to our deathbeds, because the point is no one is coming. No one running the length of hospital hallways in heels.  No one heavily climbing the stairs.  Our bodies smooth, undamaged, ravaged only by years. And who wouldn't want to die beautiful?  Beautifully
strewn across a bed in your best dress?  I's dotted, arms crossed. Suitcase packed carefully and waiting by the door.

For a while, I sleep with my bags unpacked.  I go fishing for hand lotion and find my mother's  hairbrush in the side pocket, accidentally purloined in the rush of one of those final visits.   For months, I keep losing things, keys, pens, batteries, pairs of plastic sunglasses.  All lost things falling to the bottom of me like a worn-out purse and making their way, hidden into the seams.

I make lists of suicide scenarios for my geriatric years--head in oven, car parked in the garage. Pills, rope, the quick step in front of an oncoming bus.  But everything sounds horrible and bloody, or at the very least unpleasant. My mother's final moments spent on a hospital gurney, mid-turn.  November with all it's knives in her.

For a while, I sleep dreaming of women in white gowns lining up to jump quietly off a cliff and into  the sea. This, and the location of every lost thing I've ever owned suddenly found alive and completely, perfectly intact.