Thursday, October 31, 2019

talking to the dead

As we near up on the second anniversary of my mother's death, I still feel a need to circle around it carefully.  To test the wind, the barometric pressure of the first couple week's of November, unsure of how I will fare.  The other day, I was discussing every mother's tendency to over worry about threats in any proximity to their child, ie, my own mother, whenever she heard that something happened in Chicago, would assume I was in some danger, even if it was literally the very opposite end of a pretty large urban area.  When I said the words "my mother used to.." the tenses seemed weird, and I have a general tendency to begin every story in presence tense, as if she were still alive. Or maybe it felt weird that it feels less weird as time goes on.Not that it gets less strange, less painful, only that maybe I avoid tripping in the hole of it better. 

And in fact, it always feels less than real here in my general daily if I could easily pick up the phone and call her.  More real when I'm in Rockford, where the tangibility of her absence is something I've grown much more used to.  And yet, I find myself thinking of every good story in the way I would tell her.  Stupid things like stuff I saw on facebook, or things the cats did. What I bought, or movies I watched that she would like.   Saturday, I made her ghoulash recipe, as close as I could get it. But it's never exactly right, and I know, in years past, when I tried I would have to ask her next phone call how much of this or that.   I use too many tomatoes or not enough.  Too much pepper or not enough.

Or whether or not a memory or a story I remember actually happened the way I remember it.  Without a mother, you sometimes lose a good part of your own history if you haven't written it down somewhere. Mother's remember everything, even from the years before you remember anything.   Sometimes I picture scenes from that period, before I was 4 or 5, and they are not so much memories as they are her stories that I visualized in my mind as memories.

And what of now, when sometimes the only person a given story or experience is good for would be her ears.  Who do you tell it to, and if you never tell it, is it lost forever?

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

ghost stories

I've been working over the past few days on a series of pieces that will accompany the  eleanor and the tiny machines collages I made months back, which have been waiting patiently until I could get to them.  Maybe it's the season, maybe it's just my general penchant for the gothic, but it seemed like they called for a ghost story, in the same way the summer house series did somehow--the changeling story of that project.  They are actually going into different longer book projects at this point with different focuses, but they both have in common that they started visually then moved to written (as opposed to the other way around, which is more how I work in general.)

If you haven't watched the Haunting of Hill House on Netflix, I more than recommend it, it straddling so well the border between the truly supernatural and the emotional reality of family. I think I best described it as the sensation of watching someonething with your heart in your throat, then something spooky happens and it jumps into your lap.  I love it so much. Because it is not just a haunted house story, but a family in crisis story.  On the surface, a group of sibling's reeling from the earlier suicide of their mother, and the current suicide of their younger sister.  But it's so much more.

And so beholden to the ghosts that walk among us--addiction, madness, loss--the real things that haunt.  Stephen King has always been a master at this, though sometimes he gets too into character development and loosens the wire too much on his horror, which then gets dragged along. (i started watching Castle Rock last night, which is probably why I am thinking of King so much this morning.) But I am most interested where our own ghosts and the supernatural ghosts inhabit and rub up against each other and cause static--the best horror comes from that place.

writing & art bits | october edition

*In pure Halloween fashion, there are a few pieces from EXQUISITE DAMAGE:  A MIDWEST GOTHIC appearing in Midway Journal and the previous issue of Elsewhere.

*Also in spooky fun I made an e-version of /slash/ available for your reading pleasure, as well as a brand spanking new series songs for dead girls (these are part of the apocalypse manuscript, but haven't seen much daylight on their own.)   For even more spooky goodness, don't forget the archer avenue poems, my ode to Resurrection Mary and vanishing hitchhiker lore.

*Our Lethal Ladies exhibit will be up through January, and you can still catch an installation of the visual/text pieces from {licorce, laudanum} on the Columbia College Library's first floor.  You can also get a sampling in the last Tupelo Quarterly.

*The very first pieces from the ARTIST STATEMENT project dropped in the latest issue of Typehouse.  You can read online or order a copy here. 

*`My upcoming full-length, sex & violence, which is due out in April 202, is officially available for pre-order at Black Lawrence!

*There are some of my collages in the latest Radar Poetry, accompanying some amazing work from Quinn Lewis

Monday, October 28, 2019

on new routines

I realized now that I have the freedom to make books at all hours of the day (ie. lately around  midnight), it requires an adjustment of my morning routine, which can start a little later if I desire, and which will be less about dashing out of the house at full speed and downtown to squeeze in time there.  Since I don't have to be to work til 2pm, the morning so far has been a more leisurely breakfast, coffee , and writing--the start of a new series that I'm not sure what will come of it.  I fell out of my habit of writing first thing at the studio, mostly since my mind has been in chaos since late summer.  The extinction poems were written haphazardly and in spurts on weekends, but it;s been months since I've engaged in any sort of daily writing ritual.

I want to get back to that and poem tending.  Maybe even submitting--while my rejection endeavors stalled out midsummer, it did yield some fruit in terms of publications--including recent works in Typehouse, Midway Journal, elsewhere, decomP, and The Journal. There are also some edits to be done on the extinction poems, and some proofing on sex & violence galleys I am behind schedule on, all of which has fallen by the wayside during the recent shuffle.  Also, one book mss. that is finished and ready to send out, another two that just need to be compiled.   Also, several little book projects I want to make happen and may actually have some time and energy to devote to.

Here is to a productive fall and a freer, kinder schedule.  Already I appreciated being able to work on press stuff at my own pace throughout the weekend, as well as the ability to multi-task (ie. cleaning while the printer runs, watching movies while I fold & assemble) all things I couldn't really do in the studio, so I am already feeling my stress starting to loosen, and I haven't even fully moved everything back here yet (the shelves and some necessities are arriving Friday from storage, and I'll be bringing the rest as I need it and make room.  The apartment is a chaos of boxes, but the siameses are having a grand ole time playing in them.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

some thoughts about day jobs*

It occurred to me this week that it has been approximately 20 years since I started working in libraries, which seems fitting given that this past week bought a couple library-related wins and endeavors, including presenting at not one, but two professional conferences. I was laughing the entire time because every time I needed a business card amongst other librarians, I never had one, and a couple times just gave out my writing/art one with the press e-mail address. I actually do have a stash of CC cards, the bland orange backed standard that has "Access Services Assistant / Course Reserves Coordinator" that I mostly give to faculty when they need to contact me about putting materials on reserve. They don't get much use, since most faculty just fill out the online form just fine and never have to get in touch.  And there is a lot of unofficial things that card doesn't capture. Interlibrary loan duties, which I've been overseeing temporarily the past year.  Our A of R initiative and the programming and exhibits we do there.  My new heading of the Programming and Events Committee, my increasing involvement in social media stuff.  We've talked and daydreamed about new job titles and pay increases, but not just yet (and subject to the sort of red tape that plagues all of academia) 

While I have always had rather nice writing/art/press related cards, I never gave much thought to my professional print collateral when it came to libraries, since I was never sure I wanted to see it as a profession.  For one, my efforts & endeavors have always been elsewhere--the library was a fine, bookish place, to make money when the other things I wanted to do did not.  For about the first 15 years or so--I showed up, did what I was supposed to do to collect my paycheck, hung out with some cool people, then went about my creative work on the side.  Two, there is always that arbitrary divide between degreed librarians and those of us without (my grad degrees are in lit and writing, not an MLS.)  Even if I'd wanted to feel like a professional, everything in how some MLS'd librarians treated those of us without indicated I would never get there unless I was willing to get that particular degree (which just seemed like a technicality and not something I felt I'd like to study in depth--also that over 20 years had probably granted me more than a classroom every could.)  The eventual gains actually weren't all that promising either, all that jumping through grad school academic hoops for a third time and even degreed positions (both public and academic)  were not particularly raking in the bucks. Nor were they guaranteed--esp. as more libraries were shrinking their degreed staff for people they could pay much less in theory. 

About five years ago, it started to change a little as I found a vein in the rock I really wanted to follow. A of R has not only been really fun to work on, but I think it's important work in connecting resources and libraries to art students in a way that has always seemed more tenuous at a place like Columbia, where everyone is less concerned with traditional scholarship and more with making things. I want to do more things there, to write about our experiences, to be a resource for other libraries.  (thus the conferences and writing projects). It definitely makes the time I spend in the library collecting that paycheck more enjoyable and integrated to my interests & abilities. We've been short-staffed this year, down by 50 percent (and of course,  dreadfully underpaid, especially given all doubling up)  but at least the work feels important, enough that I'm willing to hang in and hope things get better in the coming year. 

Also, it melds well with my outside pursuits--running things like zine programs, hosting readings, discussion panels on topics that interest me creatively.One of the reasons I originally eschewed teaching was that I hated the idea of having to struggle to get college students to care about writing and literature when it's a hard sell sometimes--esp. since I'd likely be teaching a whole lotta composition courses as do most writers I know. A noble and far underappreciated endeavor, but a terrible hell for me and my impatient nature (I totally chalk this up to being a Taurus). This scratches a similar itch and yet the audience is totally self-selecting and engaged every single time. 

Nevertheless, I always think back to my panicked 24 year old self, when I decided I didn't want an academic career, didn't want to pursue that Ph.D I was midway into applying to,  and if not, what the hell was I going to do?  Or a couple years later when I took that job in an elementary school library after months of searching --not just libraries, but bookstores, newspapers, museums. I think she'd be happy to know that it actually worked out pretty well in the end, day job-wise.

* technically, my day job is actually a night job..I write and make books in the morning/early afternoon and do the evening shift at Columbia.  This also appeals to my sleep-loving Taurus nature, since you will rarely find me outta bed before 10am. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

curated learning and the library

Today, we took the A of R show on the road again out to Tinley Park for the Illinois Library Association conference, where we were hosting a poster session in the exhibit hall titled "Curated Learning in the Library".  In the summer of 2018, we were doggedly in search of a phrasing for what we were doing in our pursuit of tying library resources to creative practice. We found the phrase above occasionally used to describe the act of setting up circumstances in which learning happens--like the arrangement of a classroom, or the layout of a museum exhibit.  Also, in a curated online content context, where content is chosen to be educational rather than for entertainment or recreation.  Since so much of what we do in the library is setting up learning opportunities in relation to resources, we thought it a fitting terminology that covers the endeavors that bridge programming in libraries, particularly academic libraries,  and learning beyond the usual bibliographic instruction model.

It is sort of an umbrella term for what we do with the initiative, as well as some other library programming endeavors that fit under it in collaboration with other campus units and with faculty. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

middle class horror & american anxiety

As we close in on the height of spooky season, it seems appropriate that some of the exquisite damage series is getting a little bit of airplay (see some of it here, here, and here.) It being devoted most singularly to a certain kind of middle class fear and anxiety as glimpsed through horror movies. In some ways, it was a project I was mostly just futzing around with spring before last, that is, until we went to the slasher convention at DePaul and something started take shape during the keynote speech--a comment about how, as people became more and more securely middle class, they started to seek out ways to get an adrenaline rush from the sensation of being unsafe.  I imagine, if you were starving, at war, or much less comfortable, further scaring yourself wouldn't be at the top of the list.   You see it in the golden age of gothic novels--in the audience of predominantly women, predominantly secure in their homes. In the late 70's, surely that middle class comfort level spawned slasher movies.  You, there, in your house, while outside, any number of killers could be watching you from the bushes outside. Growing up in the 80's was both a time of immense freedom and immense fear.  Yes, we could disappear for hours from our parents and come back at dusk, but everyone warned us of stranger danger, of the man in the creepy white van. When I was a pre-teen, there was a very high profile case of a teenager who'd gone missing from a park, her face plastered on billboards all over the area. A year or so later, they found her body in a forest preserve.

Fear changes though, and the fears we had as kids seems very different--almost hypothetical--from the sort of fear that teens have now--the world of mass shootings and social media bullying.  Barring that one girl, most of us were not abducted.  Most of us did not end up shoved in the trunk of our car. Or stalked while babysitting. But women are killed by men every day--not in the sinister serial killer way, but in their own homes.  It seems far more likely now that you may be shot just going about your day--at school, at the movie theater.

It seems that that net of safety has a whole lot of tears in it and I wonder how that transforms our horror--the sort of horror we seek out.  Does it skew us toward the supernatural as opposed to the human? What does horror do now?  How does it work differently?

Sunday, October 20, 2019

notes & things | 10/20/2019

Today has been spent setting up the new printer at home and battling drivers (a little trickier with wireless set-up and laptops without disc drives, but I seem to have succeeded and am printing off the last of a big order for new chaps and will be assembling them tonight.)  The nice thing is the printer has been running while I am doing some cleaning, so I feel extra productive.  Tonight, I can make books and watch horror movies.  All of this very good.

Yesterday's Indie Press Fest was fun, but rather sparse on attendees. We've usually made it happen on Friday during the art crawl, but our presentation at North Park on Friday pushed it back a day. I did manage to sell some crypto zines and a mothman print. The presentation on zines, however, was well attended AND the audience seemed enthusiastic, so there's that.  This week brings the Illinois Library Assoc. conference and our poster session on Curated Learning, as well as horror movie trivia at the end of the week, with the workshop-oriented things happening the following week.

The storage people come Tuesday morning, but there is still much packing and disassembling left to do in the studio that can hopefully be finished up tomorrow, including the shelves and tables. And much to throw out that I won't be storing, including about a half dozen old machines.  It's bittersweet--on one hand I am excited to get everything home and set up and in one place. On the other, it's kind of like I'm breaking up with something I wanted badly to work for over a decade, but was so very bad for me financially.  I do already feel calmer and able to work on things more when I want to. And this month hasn't been as bare bones in terms of money already. Over the next couple of months as I make room, everything will slowly return to one place and this is a comforting thought. 

Monday, October 14, 2019

songs for dead girls

"Zombie Girl writes down her name.  Writes a letter to her congressman. A classified ad.  Dead Girl seeking.  Dead Girl seeping through her days.  Zombie Girl makes a chalk drawing of her former lovers on the floor beside the bed.  Decides sex is beside the point when you are all body, all hunger. All meat moving through the world."

In honor of Halloween, I've been exploring some past spooky poems via social media the past couple weeks, but I have a whole new treat on hand today, an as yet unreleased as a complete series, songs for dead girls.  Originally part of my little apocalypse manuscript, these poems fit in well with it's end of the world ways, but only a couple of the poems have seen light of day on their own.

read the entire series here:

Thursday, October 10, 2019

nature, writing, & the ecogothic imagination

Yesterday, at the end of the reading at the Field Museum, someone in the audience asked if I consider myself a nature poet.  I realized I'd just spent a good  half hour or so talking about how I can't stop writing about birds.  About how a project that was supposed to be about dinosaurs and extinction would up also being largely bird-laden.  About the Cornell Boxes and my second book, in the bird museum. About how I'd made a bee-line on my first visit, not to the Evolving Planet exhibit, but to the Hall of Birds, the very same hall where I was giving that very reading.  And yet, I faltered and wasn't sure what to say.

When I think nature, I often think of Mary Oliver, whose poems, while I find a lot of them sort of facile, usually use nature as a means to teach us something about humanity. The nature is the tool by which we come to understand something more about ourselves.  I know many poets who write similar observances and explorations of the natural world, and in fact, have published a good many (much better than Oliver) with dgp.  But as for me, it's strange to claim it.  I would definitely say that I am endeared to the natural world in my visual  art.  Today, I was messing with the text/image pieces of the summer house, with it's plentiful bees and trees.  The poems themselves are about changelings and bee-children. I've  used bees as machinery in many series (the honey machine, how to write a love poem in a time of war.) I regularly use nature imagery in projects, old botanical illustrations, graphs and charts and diagrams.  Even my paintings, usually waterolor, are abstract flowers and landscapes.

And perhaps much of it has to do with the midwest landscape that pervades every book I've ever written (except maybe major characters in minor films, which seems more routed in urban life, but has it's share of critters).  In the shared property of water and stars, you had a natural landscape that was always intruding on the suburban one.  girl show is defined by it's fixing the carnival and it's women amidst a flat midwestern landscape (both actual and metaphorical). And maybe this is where things get weird.   The sideshow women.  The mermaids of salvage. The women as monsters in pretty much every other project. My love of amateur cryptozoology that filters into artwork and zines.

As I worked on extinction event, I've been reading idly a few pieces on the eco-gothic, whose gist is largely that nature is not just a background for human activity to occur in, but a force itself.  The menacing forest.  The haunted garden. The terrible sea. That nature (including plants, animals, landscape, weather) is just as much a character in any story as the ones with speaking parts. I like this sort of nature, the kind that is dangerous and may just kill you.  Much of that is where extinction event comes from with it's mutations and droughts. My answer to the question, in the moment, was that I tended to write a lot about horror and the supernatural lately--scary movies, serial killers, stabby adolescents urged on by Slenderman. But that nature is always present in them--weird or twisted as it may be.

Monday, October 07, 2019

@ the field museum

I've spent a good chunk of the weekend working on some final touches for Wednesday's reading at the Field Museum, the extinction event series, which has turned out a little darker.  But then, how else do your write a series of poems about climate change and extinction without them being just a little dark.  It's apocalyptic, but a different kind of apocalypse than my previous book--which was definitely imagining the end of the world in a more nuclear, or in some cases, zombified, way.  This is definitely more about humans, and our tendencies to try to love the landscape by destroying it.  To try to catalog and preserve the endings of other species and our own.  The very last segments that were written take place, like my series apocalypse theory: a reader, in a post-everything world, but these are more animal, and definitely bleaker.  They, and other reappearing threads are braided through, poems on dioramas, on taxonomy on the idea of museums as a place to preserve artifacts. The seeds were sewn as I walked around the museum that first time, and have come together much more smoothly than I imagined they would.  I'll be sharing them and a discussion of their conception on Wednesday @ noon (I'm reading in the Hall of Birds, but we'll start in the main hall and then walk to the reading space. ) 

Poets in the Field: Kristy Bowen
Field Museum of Natural History
Weds. October 9th, 12pm
co-sponsored by the Poetry Foundation
(meet in Stanley Field Hall)

Friday, October 04, 2019

notes & things | 10/4/2019

October is a beast--maybe a bear or a lion, and nothing to be messed with.  We have no less than 6 upcoming events in the library, some of which invoves lots of planning on my part, as well as two library conference things happening mid-month  (a presentation at the Chicago Research Summit and a poster session at the ILA conference.)  And then the studio move, and trying to make books around the chaos of that.  I may not make it out alive,  But by November, I hope to be settled back in to my new outfitted dining room and have everything in one place and at the ready.

Neverthless, it's a good crazy.  Last night, we had our kick-off for Lethal Ladies:  The Women of True Crime--an artist panel with some of the best discussion ever about women and violence.(both as victims and perpetrators.)  The art looks amazing, and I'm thrilled to have some fragments from [licorice, laudanum] amongst them.  Despite October madness, I am trying to slow down and, you know, actually enjoy the things I am doing, rather than rushing through them and then on to the next thing.   Suddenly a year passes and I feel like I've done a whole lot of stuff, none of which I have actually been in the moment for.

I am also gearing up and putting the final edits on the Field Museum poems for Wednesday.  They are dark and weird and filled with scales and feathers.  I'll probably eventually make some sort of chapbook out of them, but might try submitting some of them first.  I've gotten really bad about submissions, despite my 100 rejections plan, which went out the window in the summer. I did however, get some good acceptances from what I did send out, so it worked as much as I put into it.