Friday, January 22, 2021

open door series


Tues. February 9th, 2021
Open Door Reading
The Poetry Foundation
details here:

Join us for a live virtual reading with Kristy Bowen, laaura goldstein, Dominique Dusek, and Damon Locks. The Open Door series presents work from new and emerging poets and highlights writing instruction and poetic partnerships. Each event features readings by two Chicagoland writers and two of their current or recent students or writing partners. 

video poem | swallow #9

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

notes on inauguration day

"We did not feel prepared to be the heirs

of such a terrifying hour
but within it we found the power
to author a new chapter."
-Amanda Gorman, "The Hill We Climb"

As a child that grew up in the late 70's/ early 80's, I always felt like history, more than just by definition, was something that would always be in former tense--that the country and its struggles, its wars, its battles were something that were firmly in the past.  We had fought for independence, fought to abolish slavery, to establish things like labor laws and social programs that now made our lives better as we knew them.  Maybe more like history was a done deal--that all that had been done had been done in service to being a better country, and if you believed the hype, the best country in the world (which as a kid who knew nothing about the world outside its borders, you'd readily believe.) We would stand every day and recite the pledge of allegiance, by rote, not one of us really thinking about the actual words or our place as Americans.  

During those years, our wars were in the past for the most part ,despite minor skirmishes that were typically interventions that, in theory and propaganda,  were to help make other countries as great as ours. When war came, with Gulf War No. 1, it was a fast success.  My mother brought home buttons a co-worker was selling emblazoned with "Operation Desert Storm", and outline of Iraq, and a flag. I wore it proudly on my jean jacket all that year and into the next. In the 90's, things happened, but they seemed like footnotes between "history" and "everydayness"--Clinton blowjobs, domestic terror, school shootings.  Not until 9/11 did something strike with any sort flame at being an important moment.  After that, much of the 2000's would have been only slight highs & lows in the history books-our first Black President, welcome progressive legislation, a number of natural and manmade disasters. the rise of the extreme right in the dank corners of the internet.

Democracy, all along,  seemed like a given. Like the only way a society could function, would function, barring a few autocratic holdovers on further shores. The world seemed just, or at least to be getting there, any remaining rough spots just left to be smoothed over. Of course, this was inaccurate-- the teeming history of civil unrest, racism, sexism, violence--was all still there, just glossed over in the shiny history textbooks. It was not the great country we'd been told it was. 

Even worse, that democracy itself was fragile like a doll, could be unwound and unraveled to the barest bone. That a few people in the right paces could make holes that made us vulnerable to evil (which at this point seems the best way to describe it.) To lies and hatred. To violence and collapse. Worse that some people were actually working for this to happen. That where there are men who abuse power, there will always be conflict.  Someone actively trying to destroy what we had created over the past 250 odd years, But more importantly, that American democracy it would ultimately withstand lies and hatred, violence and potential collapse. That it would re-emerge intact and with our eyes forward. 

Tonight, watching the recording of today's inauguration, it seemed quite a miraculous thing. The Capitol, still there and intact, rising behind the speaker when only two weeks ago, it was violence and murder and chaos. That in November, all that uncertain  span of days, I kept hearing the echo of "trust the system," but it was hard after so many systems so often failed. But yet, miraculous that here we are, on the other side of the terrible river of the past four years, and that we made it. 

Monday, January 18, 2021

writing toward

Sometimes I am a bit envious of other poets--maybe not for the things you'd expect. There is probably some good humored envy in seeing other poets get awesome things like money and prizes and coveted baubles. And maybe always far too much of the comparisons of self to others  that make the poetry world, with it's scarcity--tiny things that seems so important when inside (the journals, the fellowships, the accolades)--all things inconsequential when you're not swimming in it,  And of course the envy of talent--the poets that can swim circles in their poems around me in their talent and maybe I love them, but probably hate them just a little

But in this case, I am mostly envious of poets who can write one perfect poem about something--an experience, a subject matter, whathaveyou and be done with it. One perfect utterance that says all it needs to say in the moment. Many poets work like this, and when you read their work, you're like yes, this poem is wholly perfect, like a shiny apple. A perfect pear.  It's all it needs to be and it's wonderful. I was thinking this morning how different my writing is from this.  I do not have a shiny piece of fruit, but maybe things are messier.  You have a sliver of apple on the plate, but there is also a scattering of seeds, a core, possibly something that is maybe a worm, maybe a leaf. Or maybe not even of apple origins at all. A doll's arm.  A tiny mechanical car.  Together, on the plate, the form a whole that makes sense, but each part is not completely readable on it's own--whether it's a prose fragment, a visual element, a couple stanza's of verse.  And yet, as poems, they fulfill their function.  I always try to come to some sort of ending, some sort of logic to each piece that forms the greater whole. But really, they are strongest when placed alongside the others.

It makes it tricky when submitting work to journals.  Do I send things from different projects to give a wider swathe of selections? Does three pieces from a longer series out of context work? For the editors? For the average reader who will not be able to see the rest of the project most likely in that moment? I always try to explain the greater series in the cover letter, but I think I usually fail to be able to sum it it up distinctly without going on way too long. In many cases recently, whether I've managed to place some pieces on their own, I've been issuing things as zines and e-zines for the full effect, but these usually come later.  

And really, you need the whole series to form the entire apple. I think this was true even before I became a predominantly project oriented writer. Themes and speakers and situations that appear and reappear in earlier work, almost as if each poem is an attempt at something.  A reaching toward. Most certainly the sisters in the first section of the fever almanac are the same, or at least close siblings, to the sisters in girl show.  There are perhaps poems I've been writing for years, the same poem, just in a different form--a different angle or approach. Characters and voices that are echoed in other characters, in other stories that work a similar web of themes. I mentioned before that I more intentionally started doing this as I worked visually in sets and series..collages and paintings, each one that striving toward a whole--not in a single painting or poem, but in a variety of approaches. 

Sunday, January 17, 2021

the wolf at the door

Depression is a tricky business.  It's not something I am particularly prone to..anxiety being my dysfunction drug  of choice, and can only name a couple of times where that flipped into something else.  And ultimately, I am usually a pretty happy and content person, even with a lot of anxiety at times, so when I start to notice certain tilts on the horizon I can autocorrect a bit and steer myself to less rocky shores. Bad patches have appeared, but in between, a lot of good.  In some cases the external factors exascerbate internal ones, though not always. But I feel it now..sort of like a caterpillar chewing at the edges of a leaf until suddenly, there is no leaf left. 

When I wrote my last entry, I lumped it in with all the other things I miss in pandemic world--surface things that lockdowns and safety protocols prevent, but the worst is perhaps the one thing I can't really do that no one at all is stopping me from at all.  Namely, sitting in a house and a library full of books and not really having the concentration or bandwidth to read a single one.  And don't think it's for a lack of trying.  I've started many books, new ones and old faves I thought would snap me out of it,  Sometimes I get in a few pages, but I don't last for long with so much in the world competing for my attention. This is true at home where I take a book to bed and wind up doomscrolling instead.  Or on my commute, where I used to get the bulk of my enjoyment reading done, which is now instead spent fretting over proximity of bodies and maskwearing, and whether of not that person just has allergies or is trying to kill us. 

At first I worried I'd lost interest and enjoyment in so much, and it's true, even writing, which, thank god, still happens and is perhaps my only rudder. I think because I'm writing poems in the morning, in an unpolluted state of mind.  Blog entries are still possible (obviously.)  Even art, which at this point seems to be possible again. But reading for enjoyment..I'm not so sure.  Even my manuscript reading this fall and my proofing now is something more rote and mechanical than it ever was before.  It's not the books fault surely, but some door that needs to be closed in my brain.  Or maybe a door that needs to be opened again. It's strange to think I've barely opened a book (touched books, yes, many, chapbooks and library books and textbooks) but read so very little.  And in fact, have been hoarding things again at my desk in the library for some magical day it will come back. 

What I don't know is cause and effect.  Am I not reading because I am low-key depressed and nothing has quite the shine it used to?  Or am I depressed because I am incapable of doing one of my favorite things since like the moment the letters started arranging themselves on the page so I could understand them .  (And probably, even before that.) It might just be a casualty of the real world intruding so incessantly on my inner life--my attentions so much elsewhere. The outer world leaking into the inner life and poisoning it. Maybe I need to take a reading vacation, ie several days with nothing but books and I can turn things around.  Or maybe at least fake it til I make it, which is all I can hope for for now.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

notes & things | 01/16/2021

Though today I woke up to dreary gray, last night as I was leaving the library at 5pm ,there was a sliver of twilight in the sky that signals, even though it is cold and snowed on an off in wet drippy flakes all day long, we are on the steady climb out from the deep well of  the solstice.  This morning I dreamed about taking a trip and missing my train and being caught up in the middle of a street riot all at once.  Also buying stale peach rings (which I don't even really like) in a gift shop and trying to mail out packages in the middle of civil unrest.  Various exes, my sister, and yes, even my mother populate these dreams or drift in an out, but they get weird this time of year. I am usually less anxious in January than I am in December, but the world is not helping me out this year in any way as there is much to be anxious about. 

I have these moments throughout the day that feel normal, but then am taken aback by absurdity of doing things like planning committee meetings and doing faculty presentations while the equivalent, I read in an article the other day, of several 747 jets of people are dying every day. Not in crashes, but in hospital beds in every corner of the country (let alone what is happening in the world outside the US.) Also, you know, the attempted overthrowing of the government and a sullen mad man at the helm for at least a few more days. I'm tired.  Tired of doing covid math and doomscrolling and tired of planning for worse case scenarios in every breath and just tired. 

It's not good for my health (mental or physical) and also for my creativity.  I read a lot, but sadly it's not fun stiff like poetry and novels and just endless NYT, CNN, and Atlantic Monthly articles on the putsch (a word I previously would not have had occasion to know), on hospitalization numbers, on the new strain concerns, on which mask is better, on mental health crises that will flourish in lockdown (which will, of course, never end, because people refuse to do it the right way or at all.)  I am okay with taking a step down, a step back from ordinary life to fight the virus and have been all along (I say this know that it's harder for extroverts I suppose.) but the thing that makes me feel angry and crazy is watching everyone ruining our chances of even making a dent in infections long enough to get the vaccines happening enough.  Becuase you're a selfish fuck,  because you can't stay away from restaurants and bars, or stop jetting off on vacations or throwing parties.  As all the memes say, it's like I'm a member of the worst group project ever with no end in sight.  

And really, my own sacrifices are small, but wear on me more as time goes on The things I miss mostly  inconsequential little things--wearing lipstick, thrifting, museum trips, going on movie dates slightly high. (or even sitting in a movie theatre alone where I can mix my junior mints in my popcorn like the freak I am.)  Or maybe more just being able to be freely and obliviously  in the world without listening for someone coughing or making sure they are not too close or don't have a mask on.  It eats up mental energy I used to use for daydreaming and project planning.  Why am I so tired all day when I've barely done much at all?

Thursday, January 14, 2021

confessions of a project poet


Years ago, I was not a project poet. I wrote poems like many poets, on capricious whims or under cover of dark.  Wrote poems, at first about sirens and witches and the history women were stuck in like flies in a web. Then later wrote poems about growing up in a tangle of corn silk and  strange divinations. Floods and fires. Faulty relationships and loneliness.  They were decent, solid poems, if occasionally overwrought and overthought, and these poems eventually made a couple chapbooks and a book (the fever almanac) when collected together and put in an order that made sense., the alchemy of which I am not sure I could work now.  It was like a sprawling mass of words that needed to be compartmentalized and ordered and it took a while to get it right.  And then a little longer to come into the world.  This was one way to make a book and it was the sort of book I probably (though never say never) will not compile again. 

By the time it came round to book #2, I was a different sort of poet, and I'm pretty sure the development stemmed from my forging a parallel path in working visually--at that point mostly collages and some installation work. Like with a painting or assemblage, I tend to write or work in series.  Sometimes smaller or sometimes larger, but each dependent on the others for context, and for the past decade or so, a whole that includes both text and image. I wrote more, waited for inspiration a lot less, each project a working toward something (even if not always getting there).  There were poems about my obsession with Joseph Cornell.  With vanishing hitchiker legends and victorian stereotypes. Later, an entire manuscript about sideshows and circus women.  A strange little suburban fairytale.  Rather than the cover of night, these were by-day poems and a sort of work, much like running drills or experiments. I would show up and produce a new piece in the series, a new fragment of a puzzle. Eventually those individual projects might start to speak to and within each other, and then there would be a book.

The other day, I was thinking about endurance for longer project, and why, since the shared properties, I don't seem to have it.  It may be an attention thing (though I did just realize that the longest single thing I've written recently is probably the poets zodiac at 48 pages, but it took a while to get them finished after I committed to the project.)  Otherwise, the series tend to top out around 20 pieces or less and I'm ready to move to the next thing.  There are a number of book projects in the mix, but all of them are made up of smaller parts, so it's been a  while since I committed to a long haul. Even things I imagined might be longer sometimes, after some taming, wind up shorter. (this happened recently with unusual creatures and a couple years back with the Plath centos (I went a little crazy, but no much was chaffe.). It kind of makes me want to attempt something a little longer (not like novel longer. but full length longer.)  It would have to be something with a lot of angles and greater depth and breadth, and among the projects on my radar, I'm not sure if any of them are right, but we'll see what happens. 


Sunday, January 10, 2021

absurdities and atrocities

One of my favorite seasons of AHS was of course, Cult, and probably the most frightening one, although it is still to date the only one that has no supernatural elements in it at all.  (I would say my favorite is probably Hotel, though Murder House and Coven are up there, and the others emjoyable (all except the travesty that is Roanoke.)  While there are so many elements at play in other series--ghosts, vampires, demons, the apocalypse, serial killers, and more--the story of Cult is a simple one. Spuured by Trumps win, a young creepy, charismatic man somehow instills enough fear and influence to arrange a string of murders, blackmail local officials, and plan a massacre.  He is ultimately foiled by smart women, and I won't give it away, the final scene is one I sometimes return to as a catharsis to rage-filled men. He begins by making people afraid, then preys on it. 

I've always been a little fascinated by conspiracy theories, by the stories that take shape to impose order on the world and make it feel like net of carefully placed happenings and facts and not a chaotic swirling mass of randomness and chance  Alien autopsies, for example. Explanations for strange phenomena.  Untimley deaths and crazy historical coincidences.  They are fun to look at, less because I am seeking a pattern of order or cause/effect, but more that they are a way of understanding things, or at least the obsessions behind them.  A couple semesters ago, our Strange Fevers  Mass Delusions, Illusions, and Obsessions programming delved into this a little bit. 

I often think about how they go wrong.  Obviously the events of this past Weds. are a perfect example.  In my own work, the necessary violence series and the girls who tried to stab their friend based on Slenderman lore.  I think about these girls a lot when I think about politics. The mental illness in one girl who influenced another, and it's not hard to make the jump to political conspiracies and the inevitable bad outcomes.  These are everywhere and inscribed in our history long before the current ones--McCartthyism, the Satanic Panic of the 80's. All usually fueled by someone's agenda--the goverments, men who wanted working women to stay home and keep an eye on their kids. .  A lot of the mythmaking of these was believable..communist infiltrations of Hollywood and the media, missing housepets,  the rise of latch key kids getting up to god knows what in the off hours. Most not things one had to stretch their imagination too far into the absurd to get to, which made things all the more believable.

At some point, contemporary conspiracies got crazier.  Even alien abduction lore is easier to believe than a lot of what is floating out there.  Satanic politicians, baby eaters, lizard people.  I've watched over the past year as these things filtered into social media of the more mainstream-oriented people I know.  (My circle is mostly writers, artists, and academics, so much of what I see i, obviously,, liberally slanted and far more sane.  Every once in a while, things would filter through from relatives feeds.  The antifa busses during the BLM protests, discussions of democratic pedophile  rings (yesh, ignoring the very obvious out in the open  Eptsein one I'm pretty sure is holding a lot of puppet strings right now.)  Sometimes, the person who was posting it had no clue where these phrases and hashtags were coming from.  The smarter ones eventually learned to check their sources more carefully.  The others, not so much. 

In those moments I could see how misinformation spreads before you even kind of know it's there.  Rumor becomes fact, wild claims become theories.  I think it takes a certain kind of brain to succumb to these so easily, but maybe everyone is looking for that net of cause and effect and that is what makes it so dangerous when it goes awry.