Saturday, January 27, 2018

swimming deeper

Yesterday I was trying to explain to a non-poet friend the difference as I see it between my writing and more traditional, I-based lyrical work and probably failing horrible, maybe only in that my "I" is never stable or reliable or even there.  That things are messier, less cut and dried than a lot of more traditional poetry--even when you do not stray into the kind of poetry I find most annoying of all--the I came, I saw, I had an epiphany about it variety.  Maybe there's an analogy in the visual arts that would have worked, the difference between an abstract landscape and a perfectly rendered realistic one.  In the realist one, you always know where it is and where you are, but who knows in the that a tree?  A ghost?  Is it both?

I was thinking of this again as I perused this article in The Guardian over coffee this morning:

"Poetry is most definitely not a broad church, but nor does it consist of 40 mutually exclusive sects, like the Plymouth Brethren. One can worship at more than one altar. You don’t have to like them all (personally, the strange hymns of the experimental school still remind me too much of my time as a flame-tongued evangelical, even if I enjoy the sermons), but your allegiance to one alone can turn you into a poetic sectarian."

Also thinking that these arguments are all too familiar and I swear we've had this conversation before--in the late 90's and early 00's?  Maybe it's a Chicago thing, this being the birthplace of slam (well, "slam" as a label for something that was probably already happening and needed a label, a movement, a way to distinguish it from something else.)   As far as I know, one of the most famous competitions still happening at the Green Mill just a dozen or so blocks south of me weekly.   

I remember theses same conversations happening in the early 2000's when I was still new to the city.  You also had the weird hybrid of a lot of open mic nights that sometimes brought more page oriented poets and some more performance oriented ones , and I read at so many of these, everyone peacefully co-existing.  In 2005, I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of the contenders in the Guild Complex's annual Gwendolyn Brook's Open Mic Contest--also a strange hybrid of these two different modes. (and truthfully, one of the largest, most energetic, and enthusiastic audiences I've ever read for.) There were far better poets on the page than me there, and far better performers, enough to leave me in the dust in terms of the competition, but it was still an awesome event.

Over the years, my time is less available for readings, my obligations much more complicated than they were in those early days, but I imagine they are all still happening all over the city, in every neighborhood--in bars, and coffeeshops, and bookstores.  Wherever you can put a mic and a few chairs.  I still do readings, but usually only when invited and even then, it takes a bit of schedule jenga to make them happen.  But the audiences are usually smaller for these things, quieter, more academic, less rambunctious and I always wish there was the same sort of fervor for more page oriented work as there is for performance, but then maybe a certain amount of accessibility comes into play.

Nevertheless, I've always thought that page poetry and performance poetry are two similar, but distinct beasts with their rules and science.  Sometimes they overlap (I can think of a handful of Chicago poets who do both very well.)  And sometimes slam can be good writing, and sometimes good writing can be manifested in slam, but that they don't always have to be. 

And truthfully, if you swap out "instagram" for "slam" you can say the same things in this new modern world, where poets like Kaur are selling a gazillion books and tapping into audiences that probably had no idea poetry was something they could get into.  I always think of these authors as gateway drugs.  If I were a 15 year old girl who loved Rupi Kaur, I might turn into a 20 year old who loves Sylvia Plath, a 23 year old who loves Louise Gluck, a 30 year old who loves Anne Carson.   My own poetic journey probably started in loving Tori Amos, and then moved further into more complicated work.  And this is the way it no doubt moves in ways similar to other arts--a love of blockbusters moves toward a love of obscure, exprimental films.  Pop turns into a love of classic jazz.  Broadway musicals turn into a love of Samuel Beckett. Not everyone goes that deep. Most non-creatives hover near the surface of the pool forever and the water is fine there.  But artists are always looking to swim deeper. 

Even if you look at more "literary" work, there are those who are content to love Mary Oliver or Billy Collins (ie that realist landscape), but then others for whom that seems entirely to facile who are always on the lookout for the stranger more complicated work of poetry--where what you see there on the horizon that may be a tree, may be a ghost.  But may be both. 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

on routine

Today, I slept late and dreamed of house sitting a house full of kittens I couldn't find homes for. Maybe this is subconsciously about books or writing or art, but then my mother made an appearance, as she often does since the fall, so maybe it was about her and none of those things.  The problem with sleeping into the mid-afternoon is a lack of daylight left in the day this time of year.  Most days I am deep in the library with no windows by the time the sun goes down, so no matter how bright it is when I go in, I emerge into darkness, whether it's 5pm or 10.  But here at home, I notice it.  I let the apartment get as dark as I can stand it before I turn on a lamp, so I find myself squinting to see the keyboard and take slight underlit, fuzzy instagram pics of the cats in fading light.

It is more of the winter sameness. I've been watching WESTWORLD, and thinking about loops, the robots and their loops, me and my loops.  There is something sad about this, but also reassuring. I know that daily, I will take the same route to work, will stop at the same place to get coffee and breakfast. The same breakfast pretty much without variation. I will go to the library and have many of the same interactions.  I will spend my day doing much of the same things in various configurations.  I will close the library and go to the studio and fall into my usual routines of printing and binding and trimming.  I will catch the same bus home and spend my time there eating dinner, maybe listening to some music, maybe writing a little bit.  Then I'll go to bed and maybe watch something on Netflix until I start to drift off.   There are minor variations depending on what day it is of course, date nights thrown in on occasion, errands to run, social outings that are tempting enough to lure me away.  According to the time of year and my library work schedule, things get flipped--studio hours in the morning and work in the evening. But mostly, I have a loop, a groove, and while some more adventurous types might find it horrible I actually adore my routines and dailyness and find it very soothing.  Sure, I can vary off loop, but actually sometimes get really anxious when I have to. It is a loop, and I guess unlike the robots, it's  one I've wilfully chosen rather than one that's been forced upon me.  When I vary from it, due to being away from home or traveling or whatnot, I crave it's familiarity.

And this is not to say amazing things can't happen in that loop--new art projects and poems and stumbling upon things that are far more adventurous on a small scale. Maybe one can live very small but very big at the same time (ask Emily Dickinson).  As a kid, I used to watch my parents, in their own groove of routines, and wanted something so much more than exhausted  9-5ing and nights in front of a television, but now realize that to an outsider, you never know how deep or glorious someone else's experience goes. I do not travel the world, or go on exotic odysseys, but I would say there is definitely something rich and sustaining in the dailyness.

Maybe, again, it's the Taurus in me and her love of comfort and groundedness.  The pleasures of life, rather than grand or sweeping, are small and exquisite--yummy bath accoutrments, that daily raspberry iced latte.  Pretty dresses, books and cats and art supplies.     A really good peanut butter sandwich when I'm really hungry but don't want to go through the bother of cooking. A bit of tequila in some limeade for a faux margarita. The way my bed feels when I crawl into it every evening--the sheets cool and smooth (barring the warm spots of the cats I just had to make move out of the way. )  In winter, the pleasures are mostly indoor pursuits, but come summer and even the air right when it starts to rain becomes one of them--the smell that rises up from the lake when the wind is right.  Of ambling slowly to bus stops and down sidestreets instead of rushing to get out of the cold as quickly as possible. This longing for wide open windows (why I never really want A/C no matter how hot summers get.)

Change and upheaval makes me anxious, and crazy, and unable to function fully most of the time. I get itchy when I  watch other people change apartments, whole cities, several times in a year. Change jobs, change lovers, change entire identities.  I've been talking a lot about moving to New Orleans, but I probably won't, perhaps because no matter how desireable she is as a city, familiarity would only make her common, and perhaps more fitting as a place to visit on occasion, but to return home to my routines and loop.   Plus every time I've left Chicago, even for a bit, I've wanted badly to come back.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Occasionally I feel like I somehow slipped into some horrible altered reality in the past year in which our president is horrible, the news is horrible, people keep doing awful violent things  and the planet and everyone is dying. (these things related and completely unrelated but  still all happening at the same time. )  In a sci-fi show, this would be the alternate timeline that the heroine/hero has to go back in time to avoid.  The cautionary tale.  Saved at the final moment by some swerve in fate.

I've been thinking a lot, given the 20 year anniversary of the worst bout of depression I was every afflicted with, about mental states and saving graces, the dark and the light.  Twenty years ago, to the day, I was very likely sitting in my apartment in the dark and crying as I would be for about a month straight. ---a mix of factors--uncertainly about the teaching career trajectory I was about to abandon, terrible, debilitating anxiety about that and other things, a particulalry uninspiring semester if grad school. general loneliness of moving to an entirely new place the previous summer, the usual dose of seasonal affective yuckiness.  All of them combined in a cocktail that I hope never to experience again.  Around Valentines Day in 1998 with my parents, I stood in the Lincoln Park conservatory, snapping pictures of of flowers, so many flowers,  and realized I was going to be okay.  It would all  work out (and of course it truly did, better than I even imagined.)  Maybe it was purely cured by those flowers, pink and red and all that lushness.  Maybe it was just hormonal or chemical and it went away as quickly as it had come on.

I've never been seriously suicidal, not even then. And never probably would be barring some horrible illness that would eventually kill me anyway.  A friend and I joke occasionally  about bowing out before age has a chance to ravage us, but these are mostly nervous conversations spawned by watching older people, like my mother, dwindle away slowly and horribly and who would want to do that when you can just bow out gracefully at around 65?  But then I also imagine myself final girling it all the way til the end..or getting to 65, even 70,  and not feeling ready at all  to end things.  I mean, even though it's 27 years away, 27 years ago, I was 16, and that seems like barely a blink in time .  Surely not enough.

In her last weeks, my mother, almost maddeningly so at 70 , insisted she had lived a good long life, and that she was done.  I would assure that she was fine, and getting better, and nothing was really going to take her out yet.  I even believed it at first. Ultimately,  I was wrong.  In those last weeks, as my own certainty of that faltered,  I wanted very badly to run away. Though of getting on trains to New Orleans and California and even planes (it had to be bad if I considered getting on planes, which mostly terrify me).  But even the crash that surely would happen as soon as I stepped on a flight would be preferable to how I was feeling at the moment I considered it.  It's lessened over the months since, but even now it occasionally resurfaces--that need to flee, though I'm not sure what there is to flee from. But what scares me sometimes is the tenuousness of how I felt in those months--sometimes it was not merely leaving, but of throwing myself over the side of the Michigan Ave bridge, over the railings of the Fine Arts stairwells, down an open elevator shaft.   Not suicidal ideation, really, because I don't really want to die.   But an escape from something.  Gone as quickly as it occurred to me, like a sudden whim to die my hair blue, but disturbing nonetheless.

And all kind of ridiculous and  because mostly I deeply enjoy my life and do not want to run away from it.  I occasionally fancy moving to a warmer climate, but only if I could take everything and everyone with me.  I love my apartment, the people in my life, even my day job mostly.  My studio and the press and writing and art and all that jazz.  Sometimes, I wish I were more financially stable, but I do alot to undermine that stability in the form of takeout and pretty dresses, so I've no one to blame but me.   There have been eddies and pools of badness in the past 20 years but mostly whenever I start to circle the drain, I can pull myself out of it with a little centering. I can deal with or at least sidestep, the anxiety issues before they spiral into other, darker things. And maybe we are all just  doing that, final girl-ing it til the end.

But this past year has felt rougher than usual, and I sit here reading about shithole presidents and ballistic missle drills in Hawaii it appears to stay steady in it's my heroine missing a couple fingers and dragging her broken leg behind her, but still keeps going..

Monday, January 08, 2018

notes & things

The icy hold on the midwest is just starting to ease and thngs are mild and melty today and for the next few thankfully. I spent the weekend in Rockford for a belated holiday gathering for my Dad's side, which of course brings all the ick to the forefront again.  I mostly spent the evening stress eating lasagna and peppermint bark and silently begging that no one would mention my mother at all, but it's impossible, of course, and not anyone's issue but my own.  It's not like you can just erase someone, but when I cry or even when I try not to, I get really shitty cry headaches, so those aren't really very much fun in supposed holiday festivities.

Otherwise, I am plugging along through new chapbooks and orders and getting ready for a big online shop update in early February--new prints and paper goods, as well as some original things (watercolors, nature prints) that have been piling up in the studio for over a year. I have a brand new sketchbook/planner coming tomorrow in a an order from Staples, so I plan to spend some time this week transfering things between the old one and the new.

I did manage to get up the page for this year's zine subscription, which is out of the gate with the horror poems & collages of /SLASH/ , for which I was going for a high school girl's notebook with the cover (each one will vary slightly in the design.) February's offering will be the little book of love poem pieces and I'm still deciding whether or not to incorporate some artwork or whether the pieces should just stand as themselves.

Friday, January 05, 2018

2018 books & objects series

Get an entire 2018 series of bookish lovelies delivered directly to your mailbox–including limited edition artist books, chapbooks, zines, & other objects. . Some projects are more text based, some more visual-based, and encompass passions ranging from  old roadside motels, alice in wonderland erasures, gothic family tales, Hollywood ghost stories, Renaissance dog girls, and mythical creatures.  The subscription also includes bonus zines not available elsewhere, including the latest Chicago Cryptozoological Society publications.     See photos for projects from past years.  Subscribe now and you will get a copy of my newest full-length collection, SALVAGE, to  to be followed periodically throughout the year with projects that incorporate both image and text (both verse and prose and usually a little of both.) the perfect gift for yourself or your favorite writing or art lover. You will also get a bonus copy of my forthcoming collection, LITTLE APOCALYPSE, due out later this year from Noctuary Press after it is released.