Thursday, February 02, 2023

moving objects


A sneak peek of a video project on tap for February....

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

what poets want | part 3

(read parts 1 and 2 here)

When it comes to those ethereal factors of being a poet, beyond the external validations and desires to communicate, to make connections, to find an audience for what you write, is dark little space .  A tiny attic at the top of the stairs. A why poetry? Or maybe just a why?

That is, of all the things, of all the means of expression, or ways of interpreting the world. Versus fiction, or visual art, or film. Versus making arty Instagram videos or tiktoks. Versus essays and songs and journal entries. Why this?

I've also been thinking about "content." Mainly how I bristle at this word, especially since I make my living writing it now. But it feels like art shares a border with content, as creative content anyway. I write a poem, I share it, wherever that is, web or page or in-person, and its out there, being consumed, much as content is. I was reading something a while back about content is different from art in that art isn't trying to sell you or get you to do something--to buy something, subscribe for more, support the artist.  But then that's where things get fuzzy. Or maybe a painting or a poem is less like content and more like a gift. A scream into the universe, meant to be heard or not, with no clear aim.

Either way, what is this thing and what do you want it do?  I've written often of my desire to carve out stories, but also to build worlds that don't exist. In this way, I am more akin to most fiction writers I suppose, to novelists or screenwriters. And yet, poetry is the genre I chose.  Sometimes it feels like I do many of the same things as a fiction writer, creating a reality and something of a plot. Building a world, even if it's a fragmented one, and creating characters that move around disjointedly within in it.

If a novel or a story is like a room with a window, the woman who just left the room or will be entering, the poem is the fly on the windowsill.  The cracked perfume bottle on the dresser. The scent of jasmine that could be the leaking bottle or could be wafting in from the windows.  The poem is all these things at once. The moment that is happening yet doesn't really have a beginning or an ending. And the larger projects are really just collections of those moments that form a fragmented whole. 

Or that's how I write anyway, toward building that broken world and then flinging it out onto the page, the internet, the stage during readings. Of building a world which is also sometimes building the self or an interpretation of the self. Or looking at its reflection, but not getting too Narcissus-like about it (because that happens.) Because, really, it could be anything but poetry and be much easier going. 

And because its poetry, formed so long ago as a storification of song mostly, sound plays a role. Rhyme, rhythm, meter. Less important in free verse than they once were, but still guiding that musicality. You can pay attention to these things or not. Master them and wield them or leave them behind. I do more now than I once did, letting the music of the poem drive its little machine. 

So all these I suppose are what the poets want, or at least this poet wants in a general sense, That's of course complicated by visual art, by video these days, which I want to do similar things, but are less beholden to words, to language, which is a trickier beast than image. 

So maybe the poet wants the room with the window, but also the bottle and the jasmine vines climbing the trellis. The woman and the fly.  The house and its silence. 

Saturday, January 28, 2023

new collages


notes & things | 1/28/2023

Because its January,  I sleep like the dead no matter what time I tumble into bed. As such, I wake up groggy and achy in the arms from wrapping them around the pillows and not moving them all night.  I've read two articles lately that good news, sunset is happening after 5pm now and the speed of the summer solstice is slowly inching up--by the end of February, the days are easily two hours longer than they are in December. Still, another rash of cloudy days, and quite often snow, which has actually managed to accumulate this week just when we thought after a terrible end of December, we were going to get off light. It's better now that I don't have to really go anywhere, still, I eye it warily since later, I need to take out some trash and Amazon boxes to the dumpster in the alley, which is rarely plowed or adequately salted. 

I finished the week off yesterday with a couple lessons devoted to Indian temple architecture, the Golden Temple and The Lotus Temple. I always love the architecture ones and grab them when I can from the queue..though lately there has been more mythology which I also love.  I also have, on the heels of the fortune-telling one, a history of tarot I'll be working on Monday. The literature offerings come and go, depending on how quickly the outline editors in various subjects are working, but I haven't seen much there that has caught my eye, nor has there been much in the visual art vein the past couple months coming through, so architecture and myth are keeping me occupied these days with a smattering of history. These are also new lessons entirely, not rewrites, so they are a little freer to write without matching up to existing quizzes and lesson plans.

In other writing things, I have been pitching quite a bit more at HD, which has resulted in some fun articles on whimsical woodland cabins and vintage dishware (on my mind amid my recent scoping of Ebay for green and brown antique transferware which you may have spotted over on my Insta.) I have a lot of mid-century floral stuff and some pyrex, most of which was just thrifted, and my ever-growing collection of dripware, but these pieces are rarer and more expensive and usually not as readily available.  I am also terrified of breaking them though, being over a hundred years old (that is, until they met me and my They are one of a number of strange little obsessions of late, including new art (yes, more) and finding the perfect dark olive green velvet chair. 

I am working on contracts for dgp today, and responding to some more submissions after a solid week of getting more stuff out the door and into the mail, which usually involves me donning a coat and my giant canvas totebag and shuffling to the end of the block's little blue mailbox while careful avoiding snow and ice. I am still paused on what to move onto creative-wise next, though I have been enjoying some daily (or almost) collage work in lieu of poems and making some final promo video content for automagic.  There are still a couple more days to get a free set of the bird artist postcards in with your book order if you take advantage now

Friday, January 27, 2023

film notes: men

It's incredibly rare that a horror movie will invoke the feeling of "what the fuck did I just watch?" but I started watching The Men a couple weeks back, and I actually paused it about 20 minutes in. Mostly since I was looking for a bit lighter fare as I was eating my dinner that night (the opening scene begins with a high-rise suicide of the protagonist's estranged husband, so it seemed a little more than I was looking for). I knew it might be an odd one, it was an A24 release after all, who has brought us the strangeness of movies like Climax and Midsommar, and, in fact, I had seen the preview in the theater last spring before the genius Everything Everywhere All At Once, itself a strange little movie. But I returned to it a couple nights ago to find this one far weirder and disorienting than I expected and yet somehow also really good.

The plot follows the widowed woman, released from an abusive marriage and seeking respite in a rural cottage. There, she encounters several men, pretty much all threatening (and portrayed by one actor) which grow steadily more disturbing and bloody, leading to one of the most surreal and strange finales I have ever seen in a horror film.  While I was left thinking "what?" on further reading and thinking I shook off my confusion and began to understand what the movie was trying to do.

There has been much discussion of folk horror of late, not exactly a new subgenre, but one that has been proliferating in recent years, particularly feminist folk horror. Folk horror is that which draws its terrors from the natural world and the human place within it. Think shadowy forests and churning oceans. Think rot seeping through idyllic rural or wooded landscapes, cults, witches, and legends.  The Witch, of course, is a great example, as is the sun-drenched world of Midsommar. Or older movies like the Wicker Man, Phenomena, or The Woods. Or of course, Picnic at Hanging Rock.

Men begins with Garden of Eden metaphors and a joyous walk through the woods that becomes terror-filled after a naked man, who slowly turns into a wrathful pagan Pan-like figure begins to stalk the main character. She is also terrorized by an angry young boy (super freaky through CGI), a priest who blames her for her husband's suicide, and a "nice" landlord who proves to be anything but.  The slow creep dread of the first half descends to a quickly paced and steadily bloody and horrific. There were moments that made me angry, moments that kind of made me nauseous. Others that elicited an "ew!"  Moments that made me cheer as the main character fought back with knives and axes and eventually, as it all kept coming, gave in to resignation. Because, of course, it all keeps coming, a fact as women, we all know. 

Thursday, January 26, 2023

what poets want : part 2

In part one of my thinking out loud about what poets want, I mentioned that my biggest want as a writer was a larger audience, or maybe not even a large one, but just knowing that there is an audience at all for what I write.  Every once in a while, I encounter poets who stress that we should not be thinking about what happens to work once its out in the world, that it's all about process and enjoyment and delving into the soup of your brain to make ART  Mostly I think this depends on your goals for yourself as a writer--why you write, what you do.  Do you write to be therapeutic? To ponder big questions?  To tell stories? All three?  (and maybe this points to another entry altogether.)

But ultimately, writing is about communication.  Which implies that there is a communicator and an audience. When I was moving in more academic crowds, I realized there was a huge difference between them and the poets I knew on the internet and in the open-mic communities. There, you certainly did not write with an audience in mind (which is strange since they emphasize workshops so much) but were supposed to be focusing on your CRAFT (pronounced with a long ahhhhhhhh).  It was declasse to talk about submissions, that is unless it was to certain high-profile journals and contests (likely judged and managed by their friends and teachers). Definitely uncouth to talk about having a website or (later) using social media to build an audience.) I once had a fellow MFA student fill me in on a supposedly informational coffee that was supposed to be about writerly biz things, only to find the poets involved, both professors, only said to focus on your work-- not publication at all. At an art school whose supposed goal was to help make artists career-ready, which I saw happening in other departments, this seemed incredibly remiss. 

I was an oddball, at least at first.  I had a website from the first year I was steadily on the internets and began publishing in online journals.  I came to creative writing as an academic subject rather late, almost 30, having majored in literature in college and grad school.   I took easily to social media things like myspace and blogs and tumblr and later platforms like FB and Instagram (though maybe not Twitter). I could build a crude website and manage a blog and this was not true of many of the poets around me. The promotion of work was how you got readers. How you formed community with other poets. Why wouldn't I immerse myself in that in the interest of doing that all-important half of creating art? Communication.

Of course, communication happens in a lot of ways. In journals. At readings. On social media. There was a resistance by many, especially poets older than me.  So many people I talked to acted like the business of their work, getting out there, happened through no effort of their horrible self-promotion.  That awards and publications and readings just landed miraculously in their laps while they kept their eyes down on their work.  I suppose this could work if you were well-connected, and many were. Or if you were publishing with giant publishers and had promotional teams and agents close at hand.  But if you're not, if you don't, you spend a lot of time reminding people that yes, in fact, you do exist. In fact, you may spend far more time doing this than writing.    

There was an interview I once read with an academic poet who talked about avoiding the internet. Like all the time, and writing by hand, and only checking e-mail at the public library. And yet somehow, this poets work was still being published and given awards and I wondered how it was possible. Especially since this person's work wasn't really to my taste and so many better writers struggle with finding these things even being more connected to the world.  I still don't have an answer, but only know that has never been my reality, or the reality of anyone I know.

Maybe it means that, yes,  the writing has to happen in solitude.  Recovering from the workshop system from my MFA taught me this more than anything--all those fingers in my poems and it took me years to unfreeze the gears. To loosen the hinges back to regain the enthusiasm I had going in. But once the work is done, the second half, if you 're going to fulfill the communication part, begins to happen. It may in fact be more challenging than writing a good poem. It may make you frustrated, or jealous, or unable to tolerate it for very long. Of course, you don't have to. Many people write poems for themselves or their own enjoyment or therapy. For friends or lovers or their cat. Or write to enjoy the process and want nothing else. I am not one of these poets, though sometimes I am one of those visual artists (as evidenced by the art I make just to hang in my kitchen) 

But writing for me is inherently about communication. I write to be read. Therefore, my task, as I see it, is both creating the work and finding someone to read it.  

And maybe there is an art to be found in both.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

what poets want : part 1

I've been loosely following a discussion over at Jeanine's facebook page about goals for our poetry. Or maybe more specifically not the work in and of itself, which is a separate conversation that is going to get a whole lot of wildly different answers, but perhaps maybe more what we want the poems to do once they are out in the world. Or what we want them to make happens in "careers," whatever that means to you, be it readership, validation of prizes, tenure, reviews, or that shifty little beast--income--that us poets only spot through the trees every once in a while like Bigfoot. Ie, it's out there maybe (like Rupi Kaur's massive royalties and touring fees), but most of us will never get a really good photo let alone capture it.

My first thought was merely audience, which feels like a tough enough nut to crack. I've talked about ideal readers and feeling like you're shouting into an abyss you're not even sure has a bottom. I think what I've wanted of this thing called poetry or writing has changed as much as my work has over the past two decades I've been writing seriously. In the beginning, I really needed validation, or some indication that I wasn't kidding myself and that I didn't suck (which admittedly at first, like all young poets, I did somewhat.)  This may vary according to what being a poet, or a writer, or even a creative at all means in your world.  If you grow up in a world where those things are familiar and common, there is less of a leap and less of a need to prove yourself in this strangeness.  I was literally the third person to go to college on both sides of my sprawling extended family.  (I have an uncle, my dad's youngest brother,  who studied biology at a state college and later learned that my paternal grandmother was briefly enrolled in a teacher's college in the late 1930s before she left to marry my grandfather and have like six children.)  My dad worked in payroll until computers took over his job in the mid-80s.  Then he was a janitor at the airport, then a postal worker. My mom was a phone operator/mail clerk at a manufacturing company, a job she left to have me, then returned to when my dad was briefly out of work. In the intervening years, she made some money by babysitting kids in the family and the neighborhood. Both of them only graduated high school (and my mother barely, at that.)  My dad was  a big reader.  My mom, not so much, but she did paint,  mostly bisque figurines for decor purposes, in her spare time for many years. For both of them, these were leisurely and encumbered by jobs and bills and family. It is always amusing that two rather practical not particularly artsy people birthed an eldedst who studied writing and theater and a youngest who studied art and classics. 

I was ambitious from the minute college even seemed like an option but was expected to go on to study something sensible like teaching or science or maybe law in more in my more ambitious moments.  Not writing, and certainly not poetry. To dedicate a life to writing seemed frivolous and ridiculous in the regular world.  My younger cousins followed to colleges and universities, but definitely studied more sensible practical things like elementary teaching and banking and medical trade school programs. So of course, proving that poetry, that a life in pursuit of it, was something that needed to be validated. to be proven like a complicated equation. So how to do that?  Publications. Programs. Awards. And I got them, nothing major, but something. I went after some things rather ferociously, including pursuing an MFA I probably didn't need and publishing that first book. Doing readings and teaching workshops and doing all the things poets do to earn some sense of belonging. This, of course, is ridiculous since already I felt I was becoming part of a writing community, both in Chicago open-mic circles and online, but it didn't seem like it would be enough. 

In some ways, all of it had nothing at all to do with the work itself. And it actually doesn't ever go completely away, or maybe it's just validation's close sibling, imposter syndrome wreaking havoc because some things, some moments, can trigger those needs again. For some people, they're still striving, even several books and awards, and accolades in. Maybe they like that part of the game, though I never really never felt at home there, or that it was getting me where I wanted to go personally. In some ways, these things can be good for developing and growing audiences in a world where it seems in short supply. In many ways, these things make it easier to find audiences and keep them. Add in the extra kicker that these things are often required to get some of the things aligned with making an actual living possible for many writers--prime teaching jobs, grants/residencies/fellowships, and paid speaking/workshop gigs.  But then again, what experience has taught me, is they are not the only way to do this thing called po-biz. 

And of course, the longer I was at it, the more I felt comfortable in the waters. While books certainly don't make you any more a poet than those without, those collections, combined with publications, some tiny awards, some good reviews, a writing degree, readings, etc went a long way at the time toward making me feel like I belonged.  Also, maybe just getting older in general and definitely in seeing some of the cracks in the system.  Also, maybe just knowing that I am a better, stronger writer than I was two decades.  But things changed for me when I started to think about what was serving me best in what I actually wanted, mostly sharing work and connecting with audiences. I think the past 5 or 6 years, that's what I've been navigating. Am still navigating all the time and making choices about how I want to publish and promote my work and where time is best spent in the pursuit of those things. 

Monday, January 23, 2023

dancing girl press notes | january 2023

I had intended to make an overdue run downtown today to pick up an order of covers, but woke to persistent drizzly snow that had me postponing until tomorrow. Even still, it was intended to be a day fully focused on press things, which I am still slowly treading back into after several months of pause--at first for logistical reasons and a lot of back and forth, then for mental health reasons that had my life pared down to the minimum I needed to make a living. 

Which means backlogged orders, and in process books to get out, and yes, the final round of submissions reading and responding, which with still a couple hundred completely untouched and another 50 at least set aside for further reading. It's made the response time lengthier, but it's looking to be a great schedule of chaps that have already been accepted, with probably another 15-20 I'd like to add to the list (though which ones is still up in the air.) Also, sending publishing agreements and more schedule info on what I have accepted for late 2023 /early 2024.

It occurred to me suddenly last week that next year, we are coming up on the 20th anniversary of the first dancing girl press chapbook. There is no way this could be at all possible, and yet, there it is. It also means that 20 years ago this fall, I was just starting my MFA program. While wicked alice existed prior to those years, the press is somewhat tied to that program, not really the poetry classes, where they all seemed slightly horrified I had the audacity to start a press (or at my audacity in general,) but a brief dip into the Fiction Writing programs Small Press Publishing class where I created first a print annual of WA, then my own little chapbook project as a test runner for bigger things that fall. Granted, that class imagined far larger goals for starting a press than a tiny chapbook operation.  I remember my classmates coming in with grand schemes and even grander budgets, none of which quite lifted off the ground. My tiny little print annual flew..mostly because my expectations were small..a saddle stapler, some cardstock, some paper, a word file. I did it all for less than a $100 for both the annual and my little chap. This was proper to social media, prior even to this blog (I was still on xanga at the time.) And yet, people found their way to the website, the crude little initial version I had built on Angelfire  for like 10 bucks a month where I hosted other early sites (where it still lives, more or less, at least the landing page, which then gives way to the shop hosted elsewhere.) 

The success of course, depended on the smallness. Keeping things manageable financially, with each book paying for the next. This is still the model that works, with other funds coming through from the shop goods in general. It's a lot more solvent and in the red than when I rented the studio space, but its still very much a micropress. Occasionally, I entertain the idea of full-length offerings, which are do-able as my own self-publishing endeavors attest, but I still love the handmade factor, the smallness factor, of publishing chapbooks. It's still a low-overhead endeavor, which makes it possible to continue even in times when many other presses and publishers went under. (Ie even if traffic is low and the economy shit, books can still make their way into the world, even if I am paying out of pocket myself.)

I also like that not much investment means that I can afford to take chances on authors who might be publishing their first work but aren't going to be big sellers, at least not right away. Or strange little weird books no one but me may love. Or books by authors who release a lot of work, but because their fans are split across so many new projects, they might not sell well initially (I sometimes am this author, I know what its like)  There is a pleasure in being small, but also really free.