Wednesday, February 24, 2021

wingless, legless


"For months, I couldn’t write. It was the loveliest vertigo, sort of like drinking tequila but without the hysterical blindness. My blackbirds were wingless, legless. They sputtered on the ground like firecrackers while you played flare gun, fire engine.

~havoc


I've been sharing some bits from older projects over on twitter and tumblr and thinking about fallow periods and what grows both within them and after them.  What develops when nothing seems to be developing at all. How we're sometimes writing even when we aren't writing at all.  Or at least it doesn't seem like it.  I've spoken before about the couple years after my MFA degree when it felt like there were too many fingers in my poems, too many cooks in the kitchen.  Having written under observation for the previous four years, it was suddenly strange to be free to make choices..to not have to produce and show up, red pen in hand to defend those choices.  Some folks love workshops, and I actually liked them for getting to see other writer's work in progress and how poems became poems.  But they were less useful for me--at least most of them.  Craft classes I loved..since most of it was reading things and developing projects and then presenting bits of those projects, not with an eye toward vivisection of every little bit, but with an open-ended discussion on the project as a whole. I think so much is lost in critique-based workshops that could be so much better.  Also, the bad tendency of writers to try to change another author's poems into what they themselves would write and not through a reader's eye.   Also, just assholes. 

So in that early party of 2007--a lot of things were happening in terms of new project releases (feign, the Cornell project, my first little Dusie E-Kollectiv chap.)  But in the fall, when I moved into the studio space, most of my time was spent growing the press now that I was free of grad school and setting up the etsy shop.  It continued much this way for the next 3-4 years.  I was just really busy. Not that I wasn't writing at all.  Poems would fly out if me at intervals.  I was loosely working on what would become my narrative chap, beautiful, sinister, but very slowly.  I'd go a few month without putting anything down on paper.  It was a good time for visual and design projects, but not so much for words.  My second book, which had been accepted my last year of the program came out in 2008, but the bulk of in the bird museum had been written between 2005-2007. My third manuscript, girl show, (also my thesis) had been accepted by the press that published book #1, but they folded in 2010 and it landed back in my lap.  I was waffling on whether or not "being a poet" was something I even wanted. And editor and publisher, yes.  An artist , maybe. But writing was hard and thankless at times.  So why keep at it?  But then again, also why not?

What was happening in those years behind the scenes, in more personal things,  offered a lot of subject matter, however, and maybe I needed to take a step back to go forward. I've mentioned before how the james franco poems loosened some gears in its silliness. At around the same time, Black Lawrence accepted girl show, so I felt like maybe not all was lost. Maybe I was still a writer after all. In some ways, the windows and doors open, I could breathe inside the space and things began to grow there.  In late 2011, I put together a chapbook, havoc, of the poems that had been busting up through the concrete anyway, mostly about poor romantic choices. A couple years later, they would make up a good chunk of my 5th book, major characters in minor films. 2012 bought a burst of productivity and it was settled.  I kept going.  

Poems got easier, of course, the more I was back to doing them.  Since then, I've been trying to channel and summon the excitement I felt when I first started publishing and sharing work in the early aughts. Not what I learned in MFA school, which is strange system of secret knocks and code words and arbitrary rules to the outside. I've seen some of the best poets in my program go on to never write (at least publicly) another word and it makes me tremendously sad.  I get it, I totally do.  But I wish it weren't.  Nevertheless, something did rise from the floorboards in those years.  havoc is testament to that.  Are they a little overwrought?  Sometimes I think so.  (I had a way of digging in on something that can get annoying to my more mature eye, but they're still good poems.) But more importantly, they exist. 

 


Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Saturday, February 20, 2021

houses we haunt


Last week, I was combing through some link changes and stumbled back into my tumblr, which for awhile was where my domain led and served as my website (its feed being an easy thing to follow and separate pages enough to hold other stuff with easy updateabiliy)  It was that way for a few years until Tumblr tried to  cast out all the porn, but kept flagging any collages that had nudes in it as such, Thus I spent an ungodly amount of time clicking through to challenge what their bots were flagging as adult content. I don't even have nudes in a lot of work, but it was still annoying and not how I liked to spend time.  So since I had grown used to modifying blogger templates for other sites, I moved back here and set up a similar system of pages.  While you can follow blogspots vial rss, what I lost in terms of functionality was that easy ability to  follow. 

Fast forward a few years and reading through tumblr, I kind of missed all the engagement there, the people who still live in that space, so thought I might reopen the doors, dust off the furniture, and use it to post snippets and drafts of things.  Old projects, new projects.  Things that don't get picked up my journals after a couple submission rounds(which are sometimes the best pieces.) Granted most people have similarly fled tumblr in the intervening yeats, but we'll see how it goes. it doesn't hurt and while I usually post just snippets here and on other socials, there I will be posting full poems there, some of which aren't published elsewhere, so it's a good thing to follow if you are Tumblr minded.

In many ways, it feels like haunting an old home in a city where I'm not sure anyone actually even lives any more.  Facebook feels like this sometimes..compared to what it used to be like. So many have moved onto twitter or instagram or left social media entirely. I do like it, since I feel like that is sort of the nexus of my online social world, largely since it not only serves as a connection to writers and creative folks, but also family and old friends, people from college and high school who would be lost otherwise to distance. I spend more time there, or at least did until the last month or so (my biggest beef is that I can't control the bad news machine there and what I see in my feed, so it was making me anxious, so now I only go on there later in the day and direct those scrolling impulses to instagram in the morning.)

I imagine, the numbers will wane further.  I really like instagram, but twitter still feels like throwing a dime in the ocean. I like it for work, and tweeting programming stuff for the library, and use it for the press a little in less crazy times,  but I don't quite know what to do with my personal account.  Lately I've been posting news, cool little gifs, and snippets of published or work-in-progress, so we'll see. The blog-world also feels deserted sometimes for shorter content platforms, but I imagine I will never leave this space, since I've been in this house for over 15 years now.  The Poetry Blogger network gives me some hope that others are still living in their spaces and regularly updating. 


Tuesday, February 16, 2021

writing history and myth


 I've always considered myself a poet whose work relies tremendously on research, whether it's more serious (the Chicago World's Fair, the Italian Reniassance) or less serious (tabloid headlines and slenderman lore.) In the early 2000's my errata project, which cobbled together both orginal and found texts was one of the first things I'd written that involved external sources directly, but I'd touched on bits obliquely before.  Many of my first, better poems were steeped in history, mythology/folklore, and literature. (I always say I din't have much to write about myself, so I plumbed these to exhaustion.) Thus I have a lot of mermaid poems, even from the beginning. Fairy tale poems --my favorites being Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Hansel & Gretel--all things that I've written more than one poem about.  My entire project, the shared properties of water and stars is basially a take on Goldilocks that's expanded into story problem logic.  

Later, I devoted an entire chapbook length series to Resurrection Mary, Chicago's own vanishing hitchhiker legend, a project that not only had me deep in chicago history, but doing fun things like ghost tours. girl show involved a lot of searching into sideshow and carnival performers of the 30s and 40's (and the discovery of the Hilton sisters, after which my two siamese are named.) There was the summer I spent reading Slenderman stories and books about the legend, as well as digging into true crime about the stabbing in Waukesha. There was research into pin-ups and nuclear america for strange machine and terrestrial animal. Extinction and evolution for my series written for the Field Museum. Ekphrastic subject matter for the Cornell Project, my Dali series, the Shining poems.

When I was an English major in college, and into my grad school days at DePaul, I was really enthusiastic about the research part of a project.  The scoping and gathering of sources.  The learning and processing of new things.  What I hated was actually assembling them into a paper form. This seemed like an afterthought, that the fun--the discover--was already over. While writing poems and creative projects is certainly more interesting than a five paragraph essay, I have to be careful even now to not load myself down with details and then fail to actually write the finished project. This nearly happened with the HH Holmes subject matter, mostly because I was disappointed with what I had dug up, facts that painted him not a diabolical serial killer and more just a tabloid sensationalized opportunistic dude who happened to murder people on the verge of uncovering his crimes. There was no maze-like murder castle--and any dark undercurrent in the White City was no more than just the usual sort of Chicago lawlessness. 

I wasn't exactly  sure what to do with my research and wanted to abandon ship, but stuck it out, instead focusing on the women around Holmes, victims and co-conspirators, which was much more rewarding. Occasionally, in normal summers, I will  pass the guided ghost tours outside the Congress Hotel and they are always talking about Holmes somehow, though his relationship with that particular hotel is thin at best  (and the Congress' ghost stories interesting enough on their own.). I always want to correct the tour guide spouting the tabloid misinformation like it's fact.  But then, how is this different from the world? 

With our urban legend topic on tap this semester in the library, I've been thinking about how thin the wall between folklore and fact is. How often one is taken for the other. How they build upon each other.  How one mistelling or mistep can take 100's of years ti unravel. How 100 years from now, our own history could be murky enough to be mistaken for legend, legend for history...or do they somehow eventually become he same...


Monday, February 15, 2021

notes & things | snow day & post- valentines edition


When I was in the fifth grade, we had, on Valentines Day, what they called a blue route day...,mostly meaning that school would be open, but that those of us who lived further out on the bus routes, where the roads could be impassable, could stay home.  There were at least a couple of these every year, and it beat the treacherousness of watching a huge yellow school bus try to turn around at the end of the dead end road, a feat that even in good weather was a precise, mechanical, series of steps in order to not plummet into a ditch or get stuck in mud.  On a normal day, we would have relished this--maybe spent some time clad in puffy coats and moon boots in the yard, which at the time, still had a good hill where the house was built that had not settled to the slight slop it has now. We would find a steep spot and plummet down the hill on metal discs.  Or we'd built forts in the snowplow drifts near the driveway, complete with tunnels and rooms in the snow and then play there til the sun started to set.  

This particular day was a tragedy, due to it being Valentines Day, and therefore, the day of room parties full of red frostinged cupcakes and carefully decorated boxes waiting to receive valentines from classmates, which was always it's own weird system.  The people you actually liked or had crushes on would get the cutest cards, others less favored, whatever was left.  I had carefully planned out my cards & recipients, but then was thwarted by mother nature. My mom, who was not yet working again, managed to pull together a party at home for us--complete with boloney sandwiches cut into hearts, sugar cookies,  candy from my neighboring aunt's basement stash in her salon, and whatever else was lying around--tinfoil heart stickers, tiny redhots, slight stale conversation hearts. We probably watched movies and played with the stickers and outside of these snippets, I don't know much of what the party entailed. 

The next day, back at school, when I collected my stuffed box of valentines that had accrued in my absence, there was a sense that the party was already over.  In a couple years, Valentines parties would be a thing of the past--junior high giving way to candy grams and carnations gifted by friends As someone who didn't date in highschool, V-Day was always more about girl friends than boys. I'd collect my carnations (that had their own color-coded langauge) and the Hershey bars adorned with construction paper hearts. In 8th grade, tormented the first boy who ever broke my heart with mysterious ones every class period that hinted at a secret admirer that would never materialize just to dissappoint him. By spring, we were one again on speaking terms, but I don't think he every knew it was me.  In the fall, he went to a different high school and I never saw him again. 

As an adult, the go-to for V-day was a visit from my parents.  This started in grad school and continued up until maybe a few years ago. We would usually go to the Lincoln Park zoo, which even in freezing weather, still had quite a few people and offered respite in the indoor habitats.  There were years in which it was actually lovely weather.  Years in which it was like 10-15 degrees and we spent most of our time quickly shuffling between buildings to get inside asap.  We'd follow it up with lunch, first at a near-by diner, later at a italian restaurant up in the neighborhood with a parking lot. As for romance, I've never been one much for romantic sentiment in a day when it seems expected.  In truth, spent most valentines days spent partnerless for whatever reason, even in and out of relationships. The relationship that went on for years that would self-destruct in winter and rekindle every spring. or the married one who, of course, had other plans. 

I was thinking about that 5th grade party that was not a party in light of lockdowns and stay-at-homes that this year landed us at home for Valentines--a late start due to working, but entailed flowers and chocolates of a more adult-variety (and other similar treats). About traditions and remaking them. Last year, we saw our very last movie in a theatre pre-covid (Parasite) on Valentines night. Since my relationship history is spotty, I was around 40 before I actually spent an entire holiday with a partner, who brought me gifts no less. This is nice, but also strange, like a language I don't quite speak but am getting used to. 

Today, a snow day home from work and the campus closing early since it's supposed to get crazier tonight.  It seems like it's been snowing for weeks and I think it has. Alternating snow and cold, annoying, but I have now kind of gotten used to this being the way it is now until it's not, which could also be said about covid and the death toll I am trying not to check every day obsessively since it just freaks me out, but does no actual good. So at least I am safe inside for a bit longer with bacon and coffee and a warm shower (even though my bath gel in the bottom is pretty much frozen on the ledge and my sponge was adhered to the metal window frame and I had to pry it away) But this part of winter seems always this way, so we endure...

Friday, February 12, 2021

voice and the spaces between

 All day before my Poetry Foundation reading Tuesday night, I kept thinking how strange it was that I had not read poems in public, outside of recordings, in more than a year and a half.  I've had stretches like this, but usually due to my schedule and workloads and just the happenstance of no one inviting me (b/c I usually say yes.) My last public reading had been the Field Museum one, tucked in a corner of the bird exhibits and a slew of sort of depressing climate change poems with extinction event. Fast forward to this week, and I'd decided to share the tabloid poems, some unseen, some just beginning to make their way into journals. Initially, they seemed a perfect choice, since so much of what I've written recently has been a little dark and glum (which is saying a lot given my whole body of work..lol..) As I reading them, I realized I was a fibber and actually parts of them are as dark as anything I was writing last year, just framed in a funny context. The audience seemed to enjoy them, thank god, nevertheless. 

Zoom readings are strange. I liked the ease of doing it. I found a  cozy corner in a private study room, read and listened to poems, and went right back to work til closing the library, which is the impediment to many readings I'd like to attend.  I didn't have to make a long, cross city trip on public transportation or be awkward socially and  headed for the door.  You also can't really see your audience, which is kinda freeing but also frustrating. When I came to the city, my first reading ever was after I placed in a juried contest which entailed first a finalist reading at the Evanston Public Library, which actually drew a pretty good crowd and was therefore more terrifying. I progressed, in the next few years through tiny bookstore readings with a tiny (and once regretfully  NO) audience and many raucous open mic-style nights, where I began to feel more comfortable on the stage (though no less awkward off it.)  One of my favorites included the Gwendolyn Brooks open mic at the Chopin theatre (that I had no chance of winning, but so much great energy in the performers and audience. )  So many readings at Womanmade and DVA Gallery. So many bookstores and bars and coffeeshops. Not just in Chicago, but a couple offsites at AWPs--Atlanta, Seattle. Woodland Pattern up in Milwaukee. Classroom visits with students. Nearly 20 years of sharing work in various spaces. 

Somewhere in my drawers is a tape I made circa 1995.  I was coming off my first poetry workshop in the spring and was writing and submitting work at a rate I hadn't been in a while. .  I would take my small black boombox out to the dining room table of my parent's house where I would write in the afternoons and record myself reading the poems.  Mostly, to see if the sounded good when read aloud, since so much of poetry depends on the auditory. I saved the tape and traveled with me from apartment to apartment since , though I don't even have a tape deck to play it these days.  Besides I am not sure I could handle hearing 21 year old Kristy and her terrible poems from this distance.  I do like the fact that it exists, along with cd recordings of several other radio readings preceding the rise of digital files. I also have a taped version of a reading we wound up recording in a bustling diner near Northeastern U. complete with dishes clattering and secret slot machine noise from the back. 

I have a strange relationship with the sound of my own voice, which of course does not sound anything like it does in my head when I hear it played back. Too childlike, too formal  I sometimes struggle with this when it comes to the video poems.  I remarked to a friend recently about the delight and surrealness of hearing other people's voices read your work. Hearing your words in other people's mouths and I remember the shock of the first time. Someone once told me at AWP that she had had her students read all the poems in a chapbook of mine, one poem per student, all in a circle and this felt like a ritual.  I wanted to see it and hear it all. This along with a local poet who once told me my work reminded her of a hybrid between Plath and a Davis Lynch film is one of the coolest things and highest compliments anyone has ever said about my writing. .  I want to put his on my tombstone. 


Sunday, February 07, 2021

swallow # 11




hunting beauty



I've been thinking quite a bit about my moods and what makes me happy. What saves me from the doldrums of winter and rights the ship when it seems the darkest and most treacherous.  Today, I suddenly felt like I maybe needed a  greenhouse or conservatory visit--a remedy that had worked before, perhaps in the darkest of times, but then of course, discovered, as suspected, the two options are closed completely due to covid. On Valentines Day in 1998, on a LP zoo visit with my parents, I wandered into a room filled to the ceiling with pink and red blooms and snapped picture, taken with a disposable camera, I still have tucked away somewhere. Something cleared in my head that had been underwater for a couple months.   I kept the photo as a reminder. That as dark as things were, something like beauty could somehow save me. I suddenly thought maybe I need to visit a home garden center with a nice big greenhouse for the same effect, but it seems a little ridiculous. 

So I wait. At the bus stop, even though the sidewalk is piled with snow and frozen over, the japanese magnolia I wait for every year has noticeable buds.  They appear far earlier than they should, and the wait is its own kind of agony. (and sadly one of the things I most missed seeing last year during lockdown, along with the blooming trees and lilac bushes in Grant Park. ) It'll be at least another two months, early April, before any real green rears itself up from the gray brown landscape. I think whatever happens with lockdowns and pandemics, I need to spend more time in nature.  I feel it, like a mineral deficiency, but in my spirit rather than my body. With the beaches closed, outside of seeing the lakefront passing by on the bus, I didn't even really have that. I also didn't get to spend much time out at my dad's since I didn't want to risk infecting him in the beginning and especially once i was back to working on-site.  As it was, summer slipped past so fast I barely felt it. 

There are of course, other places for beauty.  As of this week, the museums are slowly beginning to open up, but even though I could wander most wings of the Institute and the Field Museum, it still seems risky in the more congested areas and not at all necessary in any functional way.   So I wait. 

Saturday, February 06, 2021

notes & things | 2/5/2021


The weather, as promised, is a special kind of suck. While I can deal with snow and I can deal with sub-zero cold, I hate when they pack a one-two punch that leaves the sidewalks ice-ridden and wind that, when catching you on the cross streets, nearly knocks you over into snowbanks. No less, that it persist for days until any sort of thaw. Thankfully, I've actually lucked out and the very worst of it seems to be hitting on or near the weekends, so I get a bit of a relief from actually having to navigate in the worst of it. I shouldn't be bitching, since actually all this started much later than usual in the season and December and most of January was mild-isg, but it still seems endless. So while it is snowing (again) and I don't have to go anywhere,  I am taking advantage of my free time  to make some blueberry bread, and later more soup (it's a go-to since I can just let it simmer on the stove and not be that attentive to besides dumping things in every once in a while.  Ditto on tomorrow's chili plans.) I've been slowly reluctantly doing some housecleaning while working my way through some writing questions for a forthcoming interview, that has me thinking about how my writing processes have changed in the past 20 years. How the poems themselves have changed. 

The past two weeks at the library have been a flurry of activity that the dawn of every semester brings in terms of ILL and reserves, so there seems to be less time for creative things. The percentage of classes on campus is still the same, but we seem busier, which may just be that people are finally acclimating to covid-world after a disorienting year and getting on with the business of education. I hope so.  But I also worry about variants and outbreaks and the bars/restaurants opening up again. How all of it can go so bad so fast.  We were barely paying attention (my own attention was so fixed on the election I had stopped obsessing over covid counts.) That second wave hit us and kept us down for awhile. I am more comfortable that the current administration is based in science and reality instead of conspiracy and denial, but there is a limit to even how much good they can do if people just continue to be selfish and stupid on the individual level.  

So I wear my masks and do my best and good god, will it ever end? A year ago, I was also bitching about the weather and lack of sunlight.  Was planning the Future Tense exhibit and going to movies and stressing over my full planner, but I did not even mention the virus until the very end of February here as it began to loom on my radar. I did not regularly worry that I might get sick and could possibly die just by breathing air. It's strange after a year to realize that, barring the months I was locked down home and anxious from more of a distance, this has been my whole reality for the better part of a year. That we ever congregated with people around a table. hugged friends or family, or made out drunkenly with near strangers seems a long ago dream.  That we ever sat in packed theatres or less-packed poetry readings.   I taught two sessions of a zine workshop in person to about 30 students the final week before lockdown.  We hosted an LGBTQ career event in the library that was decently attended and well-catered.  Had a socially distanced staff meeting the Friday before the campus closed.  Outside of public transportation, these are the last time I was around more than  1-3 people at a time in a room where we talked to each other.  I don't even like people or socializing all that much..lol..but it's strange to think what's missing from the last year of our lives, especially if you've lost someone. Especially then, and yet, my neighbors still party and my cousins still hang out in groups in bars maskless (and of course, in doing so, make all of this go on longer and more body-ridden than it has in other places.). I suppose their reality is different than mine., but I'd prefer not to have that sort of blood on my hands. 

Thursday, February 04, 2021

pelt

 



About a year ago, in that weird before time, I was finishing up a short series of prose poems devoted to Renaissance "dog-girl" Antoinetta Gonzalez and her portraitist Lavinia Fontana.   When lockdown struck in March, it sat un-edited for several months as I toiled to get writing again and ultimately moved onto other things.  It was a fun little series, even harboring the title of my animal. vegetable, monster manuscript and is rather central to that book, which deals so much in considering the artist as monster and monster-maker.  When I finished the first draft of the larger book, I set most of pelt aside, intending to maybe create a zine eventually after I was able to place some poems in journals.  I sent them out in a round of subs, but only Rogue Agent was kind enough to bite, so mostly they've been gathering dust since mid last year. I finally had some time to get them in order and into bookish form.  Consider them in their fur lined, paint smeared glory as a little valentine to fend off the cold. 

Part of a family of court performers known for their talents, humor, and  the fine covering of hair that enveloped her, her father,  and her siblings. Antoinetta captured the fancy of a princess and became, according to history, her dearest friend, though it sounds like she treated her more like her pet.  I first caught wind of Gonzalez in The Monstorum Historia and decided to dig a little deeper, thus the seed was planted but it took a few years to materialize.  In that research,  I made another interesting parallel discovery.  Her likeness was recorded several times by Lavinia Fontana, the royal  portraitist, who is regaled as the first-ever female painter to produce nudes.  The series sort of goes back and for between them..the artist and the subject, the watcher and the watched. 

Writing history is a strange thing, and that's perhaps a subject for another blog post,  Until then, you can check out the e-zine version here



roots


When I was child, in that weird time when memory is just beginning to form, i was obsessed with a black and white checkered volume of illustrated Mother Goose tales.  I carried it from room to room until it fell apart, staring at the pictures, imagining each story based only on the visuals. It would be a hot minute before I could read it.  Before I learned the alphabet, which my dad would have me recite in exchange for a pack of Rolos.  (thus my long trajectory of bribing myself to write with chocolate.)  I'm sure the bribing only happened once, but I remember the feeling of accomplishment as he handed over the candy.  I landed in kindegarten knowing the letters, but it'd be a year or so til they started making sense as words, as patterns, as something familiar. Waiting alone  in the car while my mom was in the store (becuase yo, it was the late 70's), I remember the exact moment the orange-lit words on the Jewel-Osco sign made sense and suddenly the code was broken.  I spent the next couple years writing out letters on those lined newsprint tablets, perfecting a neatness I never exhibit in my scrawling. While I had spent years before obsessed with pens & notebooks,  drawing squiggled lines and making up stories, now I could do it for real.  

On the phone last night, my dad tells me the story of how he kept getting in trouble in elementary school for not paying attention to lessons and instead writing ghost stories surreptitiously at his desk. Suddenly, a secret question was long-answered.  Where this all comes from.  The need to tell stories.  My mother would, when alive, regularly to others say about my writing or my smarts, we don't know where she gets it. My mother was less of a reader, her enthusiasms tending toward True Romance magazines, but then only on vacation when she could unwind. . Words, however,  were always in the house, but the kind varied. Hunting & fishing manuals.  National Geographics. Horror novels passed off from my aunt. Later, overloaded trips home from the library. I had always known my dad was a big reader, even now when a lot of that reading happens online. But I'd never know about the stories. Those similar tendencies that show up, even without having made themselves known. 

My mother spent years painting ceramic & bisque figurines, while she babysat batches of kids, while she watched television every night.  The paint in their jewel-colored jars were strangely fascinating and something we were not allowed to touch lest we dry them out or make a mess.  This fact something both I and my sister could blame for our visual tendencies, but the words, beyond a desire built out of being a reader, were always kind of mystery--something I did not see in my parents or anyone in my extended family (especially in my extended family.).  I occasionally find hilarious that in all of our family, my sister and I seemed the only two who were stupid enough to be artists and writers (even though we both have other jobs to pay the bills.).  How two rather sensible and non-artsy (though if you look closer they were) parented children who lived most of their life in creative head space--who instead of practical things like health care, education, and business like our cousins--we instead locked down hard in the arts and humanties (and of course in doing so, ruined our chances are ever making more money than our parents..lol..)

But more like flowers growing suddenly and inexplicably out of concrete, really, the roots were there and richly thriving all along. 

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

snow and static

There is just a lot of snow. On the ground, in the streets, muddying up my head.  And cold, colder than I like--a state that makes everything so absolutely hard-traveling to work, taking out the trash, running any kind of errand. I bought a giant bundle of faux sakura blossoms for the vase on the worktable to brighten my mood, as well as about $50 worth of fancy tea to replace the lipton I ran out of. I have a list on Amazon I have labeled "treats" to get me through winter (or whatever horrible comes after winter. More teas.  Sunglasses. Luxuriously scented bath products.  All things I have plenty of, but buying more gives me a little lift (unlike clothes, which I always want more of, but am a on a shopping moratorium due to closet space.)  This list is separate from "home" and "supplies", which also have treats, but usually cost more than $20. I need to get more exercise--I feel fragile and rickety and plagued with odd random aches. . I need to drink more water. More sleep (though arguably no matter how much I get it's never enough.) I've been avoiding doomscrolling and limiting my facebook visits to late at night if at all.  Hopping in and out of Twitter and Instagram as needed for writing stuff and library stuff, but not staying too long.  Limiting how many times I can look at the news or coronavirus stats, and it's helping a little. 

Other winters, left to my SAD deivices, I knew it was my own particular bit of lowness, but the world seems heavy and low--all of us not in great shape. You would think that normalcy and routine would help, but I am stressed by continuing the routines amidst so much uncertainty--processing books and hosting meetings and getting ready for my reading next week, putting on my human face while really I just want to hide or run off into the woods and never come back.  As I passed the Congress hotel last night, I was so mentally exhausted I thought that, if I had money, I could just disappear there for a few days to get my head screwed back on straight.  I've heard of women doing this...usually just to get a moment's peace from husband and kids.  I have nothing to hide from at home, really, so it seems especially useless endeavor.  Mostly I was just winter achy and tired and didn't want to ride the bus back to the north side and through the cold. It seemed like the most insurmountable thing in that moment. On the bus, I forgot to switch to my heartier mask, and even that late, there were too many people despite limits, and I almost screamed at the man standing in the aisle to please stop breathing over me. I did not, but if I get sick, that may be the culprit. 

I am still hanging onto that slightly later sunset, even though it's supposed to get arctic this weekend. Once we hit February, there are usually about a two-week window for nonsense and then things are milder (less cold, small bits of snow that melt pretty fast). I still have whiplash for the past year, which seems to have passed insanely slow and insanely fast at the same time. But it will be March again, and then we're back to April and a much kinder season, no matter what Eliot says..

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

the bottomless sea


Sometimes, being a writer is rougher than others. In a weird, terrible time for the world in general, perhaps my only respite is my petty (self) centeredness .  The same centeredness that saves me is also the same centeredness that occasionally knocks me off course and leaves me feeling blue for no good reason. This usually happens particularly when I am writing a lot, when the flow is good and the words come regularly and better than I expected. When I'm really excited about a given piece of work or series or project. In "the zone," or the flow as many people describe it. It's a great state to be in, but it also feels like the loneliest state. I often liken it to dropping a stone down a well or into the ocean  and waiting to hear it hit the water or the bottom but it never does.  This very blog has felt like that sometimes. You post things, put words out into the world and really have no idea if anyone is reading.  There are page hits, and occasional likes and hearts, but you wander if people are just being polite or if all those stats are just lonely bots trolling the internet.  Yet still, you throw stones down the well and sometimes those stones are poems, which feel even heavier than just blog ramblings.  You keep waiting for the splash, the certainty, but it rarely comes.

This feels even stupider a thing to be worrying about when thousands die every day.  When people are struggling. I sometimes have to go offline and quell the chatter of writers doing the exact same thing that I am of course--worrying about rejections, about word counts, about success and writerly drama. The chatter is only an echo of what happens in my own mind, of course, and while I don't always say much of it aloud, it's there and I kind of hate myself for it.  Worse, the tantrum of the poet who is screaming "Look at me!  Look at me!" and arranging deck chairs and playing in the orchestra while the ship lists and rolls and may very well end up at the bottom of the sea.  

At the same time, the act of writing is a raft, a life preserver.  Or maybe the violinist can only save themselves by playing hymns as the water takes them--ankles, knees, the bottom of his coat. It's maddening to know how ultimately frivolous it is, but then also be disappointed by the fact that everyone is too busy saving themselves or dying to listen to you play. For every great piece or project I write, there is this feeling of disappointment that it too will be another stone dropped into the ocean with no splash. Lately that feeling sometimes comes within seconds of writing something, even before any feeling of accomplishment settles in.  "this is great, but does anyone care? "  Or more importantly, SHOULD they? 

It also makes me consider the difference in creating visual art.  If I make a collage or a painting or a print, it exists, and if only for me, makes the world a lovelier place.  Some of my best work (hell, my only work in this dry spell) from the past year is hanging in my apartment or tucked away until I can properly hook up my scanner at home.  It's existence, even if only I've seen it, is justified by it's decorative purpose. The boat itself is enough.  The sea.  The stars.  If someone sees it and likes it, that's just icing on the cake. Words, though, are a communication.  A point of meeting and intersection. Do they even exist without readers?

So I find myself on a raft in the wild sea, dropping poems like stones in the waters that churn and get darker at turns and I dare complain no one is listening. Or is listening enough.  It sounds foolish, but I can't be the only one.. 


Sunday, January 31, 2021

doing the thing

Yesterday, I was eating some cadbury chocolate and drinking tea  and suddenly flashed back to January of my final year as an undergrad, when I recall sitting on my mattress in my room in my parent's house doing the exact same thing  (in those years,  a single mattress draped with tapestries, very 90's boho of me.  Only when you're in your early 20's would that be comfortable.)  But I remember getting a copy of an anthology in the mail--it was definitely a sort of vanity thing--not terribly expensive, but absolutely one of the ones that you were accepted into only if you agreed to buy a copy, which was around $20.  The poem was awful and probably end rhymed, a habit I was only getting out of,  but it sparked something.

The back of Writer's Digest, which I read religiously in those years, were filled with such anthologies.  And I actually published in a couple during those years.  They weren't exactly filled with genius, but neither was I, and usually the poems were several to a page. While not wowing, that first little publication, for someone who at that point, had only appeared in a couple of college lit mag issues, felt affirming, even if the stakes were pretty low.  I knew nothing of po-biz or good writing.  What I was doing or where I was going, but it felt exhilarating and like I was on my way to becoming a writer..though probably less far along than I felt at that moment. 

Much gets made fun of and scoffed when people talk about "vanity" endeavors--their quality, or lack thereof, of the bad poets who fill such anthologies.  But then again, there is bad poetry everywhere, just as much as there is good, and who's to say what any of it is worth in the grand scope of things.  I occasionally look at the sort of markets people are dying to get into (ahem..The New Yorker) and find that bad, maybe just in a different way. (maybe not all bad, but terribly boring.) Some folks never progress beyond such anthologies, but I guarantee you, the feeling that they are a writer is just as strong as others publishing in "legitimate" places. Especially if you feel the more academic circles of poetry are closed to you, or even if you, like I did in  early 1997, don't really even know that they exist. 

So much of being an artist or a writer is about permission--not from an external source--but our own permissions--to create, to feel like we have talent or a voice.  Two years later, in my tiny grad school studio apartment here in Chicago, I was again eating chocolate and drinking tea (this may be one of the things I do most often) and marveling over my first "for reals" acceptance letter from a journal.  I carefully opened the SASE and probably squealed loud enough to startle my neighbors.  It was a tiny, local, feminist journal, but for me, it was one of the biggest triumphs. By then, I was realizing that some opportunities were more curated than others, but I don't feel like the second could have happened without the other. The permission I gave myself after that first publication got me to the place to begin sending work out elsewhere.  The more acceptances for work, the more I was inspired to create and send it out into the world. This was particularly true when I first started placing work in online journals after a couple years. I wrote so much between 2001 and 2003 because I felt like I finally had an audience, whether that was in journals or in doing readings locally.   And I got better (because I really couldn't get worse..lol..).

I've been thinking about how art takes that permission--I feel this more acutely with visual art, which I have little to no formal training in so am therefore less certain about my skills. Or with the permission we take when we start journals or presses, that our editorial eye is valid and that we have something to offer.  When dgp was young, so many people were amazed that I'd had the (what?  bravery? audacity?) to start a press, especially when I was in my MFA program myself (though I was older and further along in the journey than people took me for).  So much is just a matter of saying "Yes, I can do this."  and then doing it. 

And we fail, of course...because such permission also gives you the permission to fail.  I have a lot of orphan drafts and mediocre, messy collages, failed paintings & prints that go into the trash.  Sometimes things don't work out like you intended them to.  But keep trying. What's important is doing the thing.  So do the thing.

(thus ends your snowy Sunday pep-talk.)




Saturday, January 30, 2021

swallow #10



notes & things | 1/30/2021



It's currently snowing and they are daring to call it a blizzard, but it at least worked out to be happening over the weekend, when I am tucked inside safely until Monday afternoon.  I've been cleaning a little, drafting the latest Paper Boat, drinking tea, and making chicken soup. All very relaxing after a long week, that began with the cats trying to kill us by turning on the stove last Sunday morning (just a lot of smoke and a very badly damaged stir-fry pan that happened to be on the burner), and ended with a Friday that felt like I was chasing my tail at work and not getting all that much accomplished besides answering and sending faculty e-mails and lib answer queries in the hours I was there.  It was also just cold and snowed a lot.  I slept really late this morning covered in cats (who cannot kill me now that I have child protectors on the stove knobs) and buried beneath the covers to escape the chill. Lately, with everything else going on, it being winter feels like a personal affront that is not really personal at all. 

Thursday, I spent some time choosing work for reading in a week or so for the Poetry Foundation, and decided to go with a batch of the tabloid poems, mostly because they are humorous and a lot less dark than most of what I've been writing lately and since last year.  I haven't done any kind of reading (in person or virtual since my Feild Museum reading in 2019, so I am looking forward to it.  I also have a couple other virtual readings coming up, one a release reading for the latest Pretty Owl Poetry, and another, the Poor Mouth Poetry series in the spring. Videoconferencing, while it does present it's own toils and troubles, makes me a little less anxious than going to unfamiliar physical places, so it's good during this time to have at least that. it also gives people not in Chicago a chance to attend, which is great, since I know more poets not in Chicago than in it.

In covid developements, the city is doing well, but the death toll mounts and news swirls with bad outbreaks and variants and political nonsense.   I've been controlling my access to social media and media in general the past few days--enough to stay informed, but not enough to be constantly doomscrolling through facebook on my phone as soon as I wake up. Instagram is a better alternative.  And twitter is good for getting in, posting what I need to, and getting out. I find myself in the bad position of having to spend time there professionally, both for my own work and the library, but also trying not to drown there. It makes me anxious.  It occasionally makes me angry, especially re: covid. This anger spills into real life as I watch the people in my building have giant parties. Someone said that when you're 19, you are carelesss that way--selfish and all id.  While I was a lot of things at 19, I was not that careless, so it's a bullshit excuse. 

Last week, I rearranged some art in the kitchen to make room for a dreamy green new hanging fisherman's float above my sink , so I needed a smaller frame, so painted some woodsy landscapes/ lakescapes that I don't hate. Outside of a couple library graphics, t's the first art endeavors of the new year, so let's hope they lead to more. 



Thursday, January 28, 2021

the home stretch




This past weekend, my concentration a bit better after the inauguration, I wrapped up a fine-toothed combing over my proof copy of FEED.  Making sure, in addition to the margin issues I want to fix, that I'd banished any pesky typos, misspellings, or weird punctuation. While I rarely do wholescale renovations on poems once they've solidified into finished form.  I have been know to do minor adjustments--like breaking up long and unweildy sentences into shorter bits.  Cutting redundancies or deleting things to help the flow. Sometimes a piece will seem fine when published in a journal, but I'll make minor tweaks before I publish it in zine or book form. The best example being "nebraska,"  a poem in my first book that had multiple revisions from when it first appeared in a lit mag, when I put in in chaps (the archaeologist's daughter and bloody mary.), then a final version in the fever almanac.  In this case, the entire final stanza was eventually retooled and rewritten.

My relationship to revision is a strange one.  In the process of drafting a poem, I usually make a lot of efforts then deletions.  Steps forward and back.   While I initially began as the sort of poet who writes out by hand, there was a shift at some point that led me to composing electronically, if only for saving myself a lot of confusing cross-outs and paper versions.  I don't remember when the shift happened and it was gradual. but it happened.   Once a piece has formed into being, there may be some cosmetic things I'll change as I'm getting ready to submit or make public, but I don't really revise in any organized manner. It's less of an intentional thing I sit down and do than something that just happens here and there.  This may be why I always found workshops rather tiresome.  Once a poem was done, I too was sort of done with it, so telling me to change things like structure or tone would just annoy me and wasn't very helpful  The poem existed, I could no more change it than I could unbuild a house.  I was polite and seemed willing to take suggestions, even nodded my head and wrote them down., but probably wasn't taking them seriously beyond minor adjustments..  Like changing the color of a wall or adding an ottoman.  Hanging a painting here instead of there.  A visiting writer at Columbia told me to watch the number of articles in my poems and if I cut a lot of them, it would be a lot smoother.  This was something I could use. 

So I found myself this weekend, pen in hand, reading carefully through the proof to make sure everything is perfect and in its place. If I can make those changes in the file this week, I can place the order for final copies before the end of January, which have them in hand and in the shop before February is done. Keep an eye out for more sneak peaks and snippets on social media as we get closer. 


Tuesday, January 26, 2021

pretty owl poetry

 



"everything’s a catastrophe when you’re knee deep in machinery.
Everything monstrous when you’re a monster"

-"Dick Cheney is A Robot"


One of the tabloid poems have hatched in the new issue of Pretty Owl poetry...

book birthdays | girl show

Scrolling through some older blog posts this weekend, it occurred to me that this little oddling turns seven this month.  My book of sideshow women set in the 30's/40's, it was initially my MFA thesis in 2007, but then bounced from it's initial press acceptance to Black Lawrence in 2011 and was published in 2014, which made the gestation a little longer than usual. It was the only book I've published that had a lot of hands in it from the beginning--my own, my thesis classmates and advisors. Many of the adjustments made to get it approved for the degree were ditched when I actually started sending it out, actually, so outside of maybe the ordering, the poems are probably a bit different than the version that exists in the Columbia archives (and it's a weird thing to know it's over there.)  Maybe some day if I am ever a fancy famous poet people will write theses on the changes I made merely to please an advisor and get the damned degree, and the ridiculousness of 32 year old me actually  feeling like I  had to do that becuase I just wanted it done (which is a whole other blog entry in and of itself.). But really, this is the better version and I love it so, even though it took 7 years to come to fruition. I also love that people are still, according to my royalty statements, actually buying this weird little book on the regular. You can get your very own copy here: https://blacklawrencepress.com/books/girl-show/


Saturday, January 23, 2021

on monsters and mirrors

 

In the aftermath of chaos and the great lifted weight of a screaming, terrible toddler on our collective chests, now so much of the news calls for unity.  Biden himself, classy dude that he is, says much of the same.  It would be easier if the Rebublican foes were of the old, Reaganish sort.  Nice to your face while secretly harboring their racism, their sexism,  their privilege, moral conditioning when it comes to sexuality, their fucked up priorities of money and big businesss over citizens. Such were the Republican days of yore---toxic, but much more politely toxic. Trumpkins were a particulary loud version of this, not even content to hide their awfulness in handshakes and policy, but screaming, running angrily through the capital building. twisted faces, full of violence. 

In the beginning, in late 2016. not seeing the impending damage and body count something like the pandemic would bring, I feared this most.  That Trumpf's win would make it okay to hate again.  To be awful and terrible.  That those guys--the truck driving, flag waving bigots, the snithering fwapping incels, the rabid maskless Karens--- would think it was okay to slither out of their homes (where they'd been hiding like roaches during the Obama administration)  and into the light.  That they mattered, that what they thought was okay somehow--something to be doubled down on and not shamed away. And over the years, they got more comfortable and ultimately, the result was what has been happening the last few months. On one journalists footage, a man in an orange hoodie, outside the capital yelling "This is not who we are!"  Sorry sir, but look around, but it kind of is...

But where is common ground to even be found with these people.  They are not okay.  Their opinions are not okay. Do you allow one sibling to bully and berate the other and write it off as differing sides? One child to pick up a stick and beat the other senseless in the name of free speech?  One is good, full of empathy and humanity.  The other is monstrous. There is a meme that says as much, how we will never find common ground with people who wear "6 million was not enough" on t-shirts. The kind of people who instead of protesting with signs and chants outside the capital, break in through windows with fists full of zip ties and bludgeon a cop with a fire extinguisher. Who are ready to hang a vice-president, who admittedly  gross and slippery in his own way, then toes the (mostly) party line, and shrugs it off. This is not okay.  These people, not okay.  I think the sooner we admit that and give up the illusion of unity, the better. 

Perhaps the only way toward progress is to hold a mirror up to the monsters so they can see their own monstrousness, and very much I think the events of January 6th were a start. There were very certainly people, watching from home and listening to the news who were horrified  and began to shift at least their allegiances, if not their nature. It's a start...

Friday, January 22, 2021

open door series

 


Tues. February 9th, 2021
Open Door Reading
The Poetry Foundation
7pm-8pm
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 bit..lol..

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.






Saturday, January 09, 2021

notes & things | 1/09/2021


It's been a long year, and it's only January 9th. It's taken a couple days to process what actually happened on Wednesday enough to write about it coherently--mostly I was taking in memes (thank god for humor, or we'd all be crying 24/7) and articles and collecting information the remainder of this week. On Wednesday, I was mid-way into a post-break catch-up week and humming along with work, my eye on the troubling covid deaths. That morning, I'd had my first test myself as a campus requirement, and despite it being a bit uncomfortable, nothing too traumatizing. It was a good, sunny day in Chicago, and that afternoon, watching the live coverage from DC it seemed alarming, but also sort of silly.  I'd suspected there might be violent protests happening, but not that they'd actually get inside and vandalize the Capitol. And if they did, it seemed kind of ridiculous, since they'd surely eventually be forced out and the count would continue (which is pretty much what happened on the surface.)  In the past couple days, far more insidious things have been revealed..zip tie toting para-military, violent threats on social media, hanging gallows and the police that moved a barrier aside to allow the rioters to pass right through. The deaths and injuries to other police. 

On the surface, a lot of yahoos treated far more generously than the BLM protests this summer, which points again to the core values of the right extremists--a problem with people who do not look or act like them. And who does act like that? I mean I am no fan of Mitch or Pence or even Drumpf himself, and while I may have wished they karmically died of covid or someone dropped a house on them. I wouldn't say my first impulse would be to string them up on the gallows (or anyone else with that kind of bloodlust). Fitter punishment would be rotting in a federal prison for decades and the besmirching of their name for all of history.  Is it toxic masculinity and cultural programming that leads men to fight and rape and murder those they don't agree with? Um yeah..  It's all connected...

The rest of the week was a wash at trying to continue on with working and routines and going about while frantically scrolling the news and socials for bits and pieces of the unfolding. I did get my proof copy in the mail of FEED, so we are getting closer.  Despite not knowing what I was doing, the only corrections are a couple pesky typos and some margin adjustments, but it's a lovely little thing to look at, and the book's exterior is looking better than ever. Next week, I'll prepare the final version and order the first batch of copies to make available in the shop.  I ultimately decided to not use Amazon since I plan on including some prints and other paper goodies with orders, so want to fulfill orders myself.  Down the road, I have the option of making it available as an e-book, so will probably do that after some time has passed. (Instead of Amazon, I used B&N, which was a little slower, but cheaper overall and apparently about the same print quality on their POD. Look for that coming in February if all goes well.