(Ed note: This month, Coldfront will publish a wide range of writing in an attempt to capture the spirit of Paul Violi and his writing. Here is part 2.)
by Michael Quattrone
Tuesday morning in Putnam Valley, New York:
Paul Violi is standing at his desk in a navy blue, flannel bathrobe and brown, Ecco walking shoes. He has just returned from a driveway jaunt to retrieve the Times, which his wife, Ann, had run over on her way to work. He tosses the paper aside, removes a deerstalker cap and unwinds a wool scarf from his neck.
“It’s windy out,” he reports. He reaches for his coffee, but the mug has vanished. “By the time I find it, it’ll be cold.” Violi has the stoic squint of a movie star. The corners of his mouth draw in when he smirks, or laughs, or grimaces. Disappointed but not flummoxed—or perhaps flummoxed but not truly disappointed—Violi surveys the familiar territory of his workspace.
The poet’s desk is long and narrow, more sideboard than escritoire. Its antique varnished oak bows beneath the weight of books stacked high on either side of Violi’s circa-1985 Wizard™ word processor. Histories on the left side, everything else on the right. Atop a moldering volume of Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria sits a bouquet of cigarette butts in a restaurant-style, glass ashtray, and a red plastic lighter on a half-empty soft-pack of Tareyton cigarettes. He proffers one to his guest before lighting up himself, and then leans over the precarious stacks to peer outside. The second-story window reveals a trapezoid of lawn below, badly in need of raking. Violi has decided to wait for all the maple leaves to fall before addressing them, at which point they will likely be covered in snow, and he will have to chop firewood instead. In the distance, a dog barks at the passing of a neighbor’s invisible car; Violi sits.
This week we welcome Karen Schiff as our guest author. Karen is a visual artist, a sometime songwriter, & a former -- & still occasional -- English professor. Her artwork is currently on view in “Art=Text=Art: Private Languages / Public Systems,” at SUNY/Buffalo, where she will speak on "Articulate Anti-Articulations" at the exhibition's symposium in November. This year, her artist's project Counter to Type appeared in the College Art Association's Art Journal, along with her essay "Connecting the Dots / Hijacking Typography." Her drawings showed this summer at Hverfisgallerí in Reykjavik, Iceland, & last year she published a review of Agnes Martin: Paintings, Writings, Remembrances in Art in America. You are warmly invited to visit her Brooklyn studio (112 2nd Ave., #22), during Gowanus Open Studios (October 18-19, noon-6 p.m.). Poetry fans are also invited to the Gowanus Loft (61 9th St., #C8), where October 16-19 she is also showing a book-page collage-painting, "One Woman / Three Lives / (Gertrude Stein)." Find details & follow her on Facebook (/karen.l.schiff) & more rarely on Twitter (@KLSchiff).
It Was Art
Abstract and alcohol fueled.
Liquid paint splattered,
graffiti covered and dangerous.
Savage Beauty of
spray paint guns
aimed at a white dress.
An evening gown
made of peonies and roses,
You say don’t write about life,
write about art.
Was it not art?
The finger painting of my hair,
the pigment of your eyes,
the sculpture of my thigh.
You say don’t write about life,
write about art.
Was it not art?
My solo performance
when you left me nude
in the gallery
covered in snow?
AW: Well, to put it bluntly, Les Figues is dedicated to creating conversations between readers, writers, and artists, in particular those engaged in and interested in innovative works. We do this through publishing books as well as curating live performance and other non-print creations. I honestly think our audience would be the best at describing what exactly makes us and our books unique, but I’ll give it a shot from my perspective as an editor. One of the things that I think makes us unique is what I might be pressed to call a conceptual approach to editing and publishing. We see the book-as-object as inherently wedded to (and undifferentiated from) the book-as-text. So each and every aspect of our handling of the book is dedicated to seeing how our choices affect the text, beyond simply what might ‘look good’: what does choosing this font do and mean? what does choosing this trim size do and mean? what does this introduction and description do and mean? This process, which is quite intensive, helps us make books that I believe our authors are proud of and that encourage an active, productive engagement with our readers.
NA: How did Les Figues Press begin, and how long has it been in existence?
AW: In April, we will be celebrating our 10th anniversary. When I tell people this, they don’t really believe it. I think a lot of people still think of us as the new kids on the block, or something along those lines. But it’s true! It’s been a decade (almost). The press began out of a series of conversations between Teresa Carmody (the current executive director), Vanessa Place (the current editorial director), Pam Ore (a current board member), and Sara La Borde that resulted in the founding of the press and the launch of our initial series of books, the TrenchArt series. Since the founding, we’ve published over fifty books of poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, anthologies, works in translation, drama, and art. I was lucky enough to be offered the opportunity to join the press in March of 2013.
NA: I love the sense of humor I see in some of your book titles such as The Ants, which looks like a book written from the ants’ perspective? And another book called Cunt Norton. I’d love to see a short excerpt from these books.
AW: Here’s an excerpt from Sawako Nakayasu’s The Ants:
WE THE HEATHENS
We go to have Chinese for dinner and my friend who is visiting from another planet is horrified (and perhaps a little excited also), until I explain to her that we are having Chinese food, not Chinese people. We go to a place that serves not dumpling soup, which I love, but soup dumpling, with which I am unfamiliar. The soup is actually inside of each dumpling, and everyone develops their own system of eating it. As we poke our chopsticks voraciously into the folds of the Crispy Fried Whole Exploded Fish, which is delicious, it becomes clear to me that we would have no right to be shocked or mortified or outraged or even surprised or upset, should some creature from another planet descend upon the earth, pluck our people off the ground and fry us up, tearing away at our flesh with relish.
My friend Morton, a sweet and gentle man, is sitting quietly beside me with his uneaten hamburger. I don’t know how he managed to get himself a hamburger in a Chinese restaurant, but there he sits, and there sits his hamburger, with the top bun off. Morton says he wants live ants on his burger but does not want to go hunting for ants himself, so he is waiting for the ants to come to the burger, at which point he will replace the top bun and eat. I tell him that he will probably have better luck with that outside, and he says that’s a good idea, thanks, and goes outside with his hamburger, and that’s the last I ever see of him.
And here’s an excerpt from Dodie Bellamy’s Cunt Norton:
That thing which everybody feels, when their ravenous ghosts stream out disturbing meals or love, saying fuck me, thy cunt is so huge—we all know that—yet here thou art, begging for “security” from my body, my glassy brooks, thinking unutterable things. Whene’er thou art leafy we nook where the wild branch of the corn waits. Thou speak’st to me in books, and every now and then with the length of thy middle finger. Our prosody is eligible, unless, like Wordsworth, we warm up too quickly. Thou fillest my soil with not-words worthy of thy root, which has two balls behind it. My mighty heart is in a great mood, mitigating an earthy terrain full of disease. I do the best I can when thy thing is hard, a kind of itchy without perceiving. Thy condition, like Coleridge’s, is haunted; the base of thy cock itself is the whole earth of man, a ball of energy bouncing from my clit to thy deuce, a birth. Thy thorn has brains, with a tip more round than most. How many miles the moon might pull from there to my pants, my perfect knowledge boundless as the skies waiting forever for thee, the diffuse feeling in my cunt expanding. Oh she is perfect past parallel—of any groin, bouncing above the cunning powers of Hell, her guardian. Ravenous, she can suck the energy she needs, her minutest motions welling. Touch me. It would be easy for thee to do so. My cunt has virtues nothing earthly could surpass. Involved, I’m wet—give me all thy strength. Thou art perfect but not insipid, the way thou tonguest my understanding—kiss me till it’s soft but thicker, till all is peace and innocence and bliss, broken to black softness. Thy cock, Don José, like a lineal son of Eve, is never lost, his balls in a shriveled bag. He is a mortal of the careless kind, with rivulets and crags seen from the sky, who chooses to go where’er he has a mind, with a readiness I read as desire. My cunt, the center of the world, as usual, is wickedly inclined to send starts in the center of thy chest. Whene’er thou dost o’erturn and whisper “my mistress,” thy heart fibrillates and thou suckest in thy breath. My cunt, Donna Inez, with all the cocks she’s seen, is a little stodgy, but has good qualities. Neglect, indeed, requires thou meetest my brass teeth zipper. My cunt has her moralities; but then she’s a devil.
NA: How does one become a Les Figues Press author?
AW: We read manuscripts through our NOS (not otherwise specified) Contest, which is open every year from June 1 to September 15. The contest, as the name implies, is open to all forms of writing, from fiction to poetry to everything in between and anything else not otherwise specified. We select two manuscripts through the contest, one by the guest judge (Fanny Howe this year) and one by the editors.
NA: You also run an intern program for the press. What does that entail?
AW: We call our internship program the Small Press Plus internship. This kind of vague title reflects the experience we offer our interns: they get involved in all aspects of running a small press, from book production to marketing to release to fulfillment to events and everything else in between. Within that breadth and overview of what it means to run a small press, we try to make sure each intern gets involved in a project that allows for a deeper engagement with a single aspect of the press.
NA: Could you talk about the new books coming out this fall and winter?
AW: We have some really exciting books coming in this fall. We just received copies of derek beaulieu’s Kern, a book of visual poetry that derek handmade using letraset. It’s a really beautiful, remarkable book. I’m also really excited about Colin Winnette’s new novella Coyote, last year’s NOS selection by Aimee Bender, which is currently on a truck headed our way. And then right now, I’m doing production on Sandra Doller’s book of performative poetry, Leave Your Body Behind. I am really excited about all three of these books. Sometimes I have trouble describing our books or “slinging” them (in the parlance of my former days working in a bookstore) because I just genuinely love them so much. Too much, almost. But these three books, I think, represent the breadth of our interests as a publisher, the risks we take, and the innovative and stunning writers we want to support. Over and over at AWP and other book fairs, I end up saying some form of “this book is just wonderful.” And, so, here again: these books are just wonderful. Trust me.
NA: Do you have any new projects or plans for the press?
AW: This year, we launched a new book series, the Global Poetics Series. This series is dedicated to exploring new constructions and theories of literature through the publication of innovative poetry and prose from around the world. The first books in this series are Frank Smith’s Guantanamo, Sawako Nakayasu’s The Ants (excerpted above), and derek beaulieu’s Kern. The next book in the series, forthcoming in 2015, is Amanda Ackerman’s The Book of Feral Flora. We are also working on a new anthology, also forthcoming in 2015, which will be a capstone to our TrenchArt series. We have two new book series in the works, too, which we expect to launch in 2016, so keep your eyes out for those announcements!
NA: You are an accomplished poet and translator yourself. How do you balance your editing and writing interests?
AW: That’s always the difficulty, I think, for all of us who work as editors, teachers, or in non-literary fields. Very few of us ever get the chance, outside of limited grants and fellowships, to have extended time to devote to our writing. So, finding the time and energy for my own work is certainly piecemeal—waking up early, staying up late, giving up weekends, etc. Having an understanding and encouraging partner certainly helps. On top of that, in addition to Les Figues, I’m also a founding editor for the journal The Offending Adam. But I don’t see my editorial and creative interests as being two separate pursuits. One bleeds into the next. The more I read and the more I edit, the more I’m thinking about my own writing. And the more I’m writing, the more I’m thinking about the kind of work I want to edit, promote, and publish. I consider myself lucky that every day I get to devote myself to thinking about and working on literature, whether it’s my own work or one of the remarkable works I get to edit.
NA: Could you say a few words about the transaltions Les Figues Press publishes?
AW: We have published a number of translations, including Myriam Moscona’s Negro Marfil/Ivory Black, translated by Jen Hofer and the recipient of the 2012 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, and we continue to seek out and publish translations. It’s a vitally important part of our catalog. Our most recent translation is Frank Smith’s Guantanamo. We also publish writers writing in English who are not based in the United States, including writers based in Canada, Japan, England, and elsewhere.
NA: I’d like to close with a poem from one of your authors.
AW: Let’s end with an excerpt from Divya Victor’s Things To Do With Your Mouth, which we published earlier this year. In his afterword, CA Conrad described Divya’s book as being “not where monsters live but all possible friends in motion, at rest, in the middle of, and even between the middle parts”, and I think this excerpt is exactly that:
As I watched, the tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them, and as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones, then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them, and as I looked on there were sinews on them, and flesh had come over them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. As I looked, I saw that ligaments were on them, muscles were on them, and skin covered them, yet there was no breath in them, but as I looked I saw on them sinews, and flesh that had come up and covered them as skin does and they began to look like men, in the shape of men, and were a body of them.
Andrew Wessels has lived in Houston, Cambridge, and Las Vegas. Currently, he splits his time between Los Angeles and Istanbul. He has held fellowships from Poets & Writers and the Black Mountain Institute. His poems, translations, and collaborations can be found in VOLT, Witness, Fence, Eleven Eleven, and Colorado Review, among others. He is the managing editor of Les Figues Press and edits the poetry and poetics journal The Offending Adam.
Nin Andrews received her BA from Hamilton College and her MFA from Vermont College. The recipient of two Ohio Arts Council grants, she is the author of several books including The Book of Orgasms, Spontaneous Breasts, Why They Grow Wings, Midlife Crisis with Dick and Jane, Sleeping with Houdini, and Dear Professor, Do You Live in a Vacuum. She also edited Someone Wants to Steal My Name, a book of translations of the French poet, Henri Michaux. Her book, Southern Comfort was published by CavanKerry Press in 2010. Follow Nin's blog here. Follow Nin on Twitter here.
We recently learned that Wallace Stevens's Hartford, Connecticut, home has been sold and its new owners plan to use it as a private residence. While we're pleased that the home won't fall into disrepair, we're sad that the property will not be available as a historic site for lovers of Stevens's poetry to enjoy.
Now, news come to us that Alison Johnson (Wallace Stevens: A Dual Life as Poet and Insurance Executive) is making a documentary about Stevens, one that, in addition to the basic biographical information, will include footage of his home at 118 Westerly Terrace and his office at The Hartford (formerly the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company), and footage of his furniture and paintings. Johnson is working with Richard Startzman of Santa Fe, who films the Santa Fe Opera and with whom she has worked on other projects.
Their plan is to place the finished film on YouTube so that people all over the world will have a chance to learn more about Stevens, take a virtual tour of his house and office, and view the paintings that gave him such pleasure.
Finishing this documentary will require additional funds. If you click on the link here, you can easily make a contribution toward this worthy project.
You can watch a trailer here or follow this link:
Alison Johnson has enlisted prominent Stevens's scholars and poets to contribute commentary on Stevens' life and poetry and to read poems and excerpts from letters. Paul Mariani, an award-winning poet and author of several important biographies (and whose biography of Stevens will be published by Simon & Schuster in the summer of 2015), will read several Stevens poems and will also read passages from letters in which Stevens discusses the paintings he has received from Paris. Glen MacLeod, author of two important books about the relationship between Wallace Stevens and the world of art, will discuss this important aspect of Stevens's creativity. John Serio, who edited The Wallace Stevens Journal for almost three decades and has edited Wallace Stevens: Selected Letters and The Cambridge Companion to Wallace Stevens, will also appear in the film.
Thank you Alison Johnson for spearheading this important initiative!
If you’ve been a passenger of Boston’s T (our subway system) during the past six months, then you’ve probably seen a poem poster in the spots where advertising should be. Mass Poetry (the organization I work for) has provided Boston commuters with poems by local poets to replace the glut of ads on the T.
And they are lovely.
Why put poetry on the T?
The trains are a point of connection. Riders are there for a short time, but they are continuously transitioning from one environment to the next. Rarely do we speak to one another. What better place is there to introduce something lovely for a few moments? What better way to introduce an element of surprise and wonder in an otherwise ordinary commute?
Since the first posters were created this past April for National Poetry Month, the response has been overwhelmingly, amazingly positive. A poem on subways is nothing new. New York City, Chicago, and London are just a few cities that have been the beneficiaries of verse on public transportation. Inn Boston, there have been prior efforts to put poetry on the T system and commuter rails. But there seems to be groundswell of local efforts to put art in creative public spaces in the Commonwealth in recent years. My hope is that the government and the private sector come together to come up with resources to support more efforts such as like this nationwide.
The poster design is simple yet eye-catching, with more emphasis placed on the words.
Some of the feedback we’ve heard has come from folks who discover a poem that spoke to them at the right moment. Those poems provide a lift or a simple moment of connection, giving the reader something they didn’t know they needed until that moment. The poem posters remind us all about the power of words and the value of community. It also creates visibility for poetry at a time when people are hungry for it.
That’s what it felt like when we featured Nick Flynn’s poem “Marathon” this past April, one year after the Boston Marathon bombings. We wanted to show our support for the city and its people, and that poem seems to be a touchstone for many in the greater Boston area.
After our Indiegogo campaign launched in May, we raised the needed funds to keep the program going through the summer. UMass Boston picked up the costs for September to support their faculty poets, Joyce Peseroff, Jill McDonough, and Lloyd Schwartz. And while we are still trying to raise funds, poems are running on the Red line through Boston, Cambridge, and Dorchester. Like many organizations, we rely on individual donations for the program, but the hope is to find corporate sponsors to keep the program going.
We know that efforts like this broaden the audience of poetry readers, bring poetry to readers of all ages, and have the ability to transform people’s lives. Sometimes all we need is that moment of connection to get us to wherever it is we’re meant to be.
(Special thanks to the beautiful and talented Laurin Macios, Program Director for Mass Poetry.)
David Lehman is the author of several collections of poems and criticism, including “The Last Avant-Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets” (Doubleday, 1998). His most recent work is “New and Selected Poems” (Scribner, 2013).
Leah Umansky is the author of the Mad-Men inspired chapbook, “Don Dreams and I Dream” (Kattywompus Press, 2014) and the full length collection, “Domestic Uncertainties,” (BlazeVOX, 2013).
This event is free. Find more information here.
When I try to explain to my 9-year old daughter what it means to be a poet, I stumble over my words every time. It’s hard explaining what staying open means. I spend my days mishearing phrases that other people say, watching how a particular leaf falls to the ground. I try to explain what it means to be supported by words, sometimes buoyed, sometimes enveloped. So I conjure a picture for her and my 11-year-old son that is all-encompassing and nearly impossible.
I love being a mom but sometimes I love writing more, which makes me vulnerable and self-conscious. I feel selfish. But this is my truth, and standing in it feels as if I’m standing in pure light.
How do you explain this to a 9-year-old?
A typical day for me includes getting the kids off to school, either teaching classes or planning the next Massachusetts Poetry Festival—sometimes both, rushing back to school to get my son to band practice while and my daughter to her Tae Kwondo class, which ends at the same time as band practice. Then dinner, emails, grading, etc. It’s no wonder the writing is the first thing to go.
Then I think about Lucille Clifton, how she published her first book with six young children at home. Six!
One of my next projects is to explore slavery in my current hometown of Beverly, Massachusetts. In 1751, the area had relatively few slaves, about 24 in a population of 1,800. But Beverly’s Historical Society houses detailed records on a few, one of whom is Juno Larcom. In 1756, the Larcom family bought Juno (Juno was given the family name). Incidentally, the Larcom's daughter, Lucy Larcom, was a poet and activist. Juno gave birth to 11 children (10 survived), eventually suing her owner for her freedom. The owner died while the court case was pending. Nevertheless the family freed her, yet she continued to work for the family until she died.
Every time I start writing, I don't know how to being. And I know I’m standing in my own way. This project is bigger than me. It is one of those risky, life affirming challenges that terrifies me. That’s a good thing.
In an attempt to quiet my fears, I went to a local coffee shop to write. I used to call it balance I was seeking. Now I think I’m just trying to integrate the desperate parts of my life and making them play nice. I told my fears to have a seat, sit in the chair across from me and let me work. It helped a bit, and I wrote a Juno poem.
It’s really hard to explain all of this to a 9-year old.
Listen, I tell myself, to the world that keeps me creative, nourished, and inspired. Stay open to possibility. Look for “the details in the details,” as James Dickey would say. And, most important, cut yourself some slack. The papers will get graded, the laundry will be done, the kids will eat, and you will write, as always.
Live in a space of gratitude. That’s how I’ll explain it to my daughter.
Readings and words of praise will be offered by poets Jonathan Aaron, John Beer, Peg Boyers, Timothy Donnelly, Jorie Graham, Ed Hirsch, John Koethe, David Lehman, Honor Moore, Jacqueline Osherow, Mary Jo Salter, Alan Shapiro, Vijay Sheshadri, Charles Simic, Tom Sleigh, Susan Stewart, Rosanna Warren, Charles Wright, and Andrew Zawacki.
For Matthew Ziegler (1920-2001)
Take One: How he teaches me what’s funny
My father shows me a comic strip he keeps folded up in his wallet. As I scan the four captionless panels, he grins with anticipation:In the first panel, a portly schlub wearing a bowler hat catches his dog peeing on the couch. In the second panel, the schlub scolds the dog. In the third panel, the schlub and the dog are outside and the schlub is peeing against a tree while the dog watches. In the fourth panel, the dog is once again peeing against the couch, but now he is standing on his hind legs, holding his penis with his front paws.My father is immensely relieved when I can’t stop laughing.
Take Two: Alone amidst a crowd
At the racetrack, my father stands with his Racing Form and pencil as the clock ticks down to post-time, handicapping the next race on past performances while following the “smart money” as the odds change on the electronic board. Even though he is standing still, occasionally someone will swerve off course and brush him, breaking his concentration. “Why does this keep happening?” he asks me, and I reply that it’s his magnetic charm.
Take Three: How he does every single time he goes to the track or a casino
“I broke even.”
Take Four: Always flush
My father has never made much money, but he always has a roll in his pocket, and he peels off the cash—bills neatly fronted—as if he is putting money into a pot knowing he has the winning hand.
Take Five: How he likes his coffee
Dark, very dark. He opens the wrong side of the milk container and lets a few drops dribble into the coffee—a technique he learned from his mother (who didn’t realize it was the wrong side).
Take Six: What annoys him about Tony Bennett and Band Leaders
The way Tony points at someone offstage and smiles.The way band leaders drown out the vocalist. He tells me he shared this complaint with a band leader sitting next to him on a flight back from Vegas. The band leader shook his head and replied, “I know.”
Take Seven: What annoys him about restaurants
When you can only order a la carte, or they require you to make your own salad. I once sent my parents to a place called “From Soup to Nuts,” which is what the dinner included. He loved it.
Take Eight: Here to serve
My father often wears various shades of blue—pants, jacket, shirt. In stores, people assume he works there and approach him with questions. He usually knows the answer.
Take Nine: On his deathbed he invokes John Pizzarelli and Stan Laurel
As I shuffle through his CDs, planning on keeping the volume down so as not to wake him, I hear him call: “Play John Pizzarelli.” A few minutes later, my sister asks me about some mix-up, and I respond as Oliver Hardy: “This is a fine mess you’ve got us into, Stanley.” In a faint voice, from the couch, my father says, “Do the sigh.” “The sigh?” “Yeah.” I don’t know what he’s talking about, but I sigh. “No,” he says, “that’s not it.” The next night I rent a Laurel and Hardy movie—it’s been a long time since I’ve actually seen one—and sure enough, in response to “fine mess,” Stan Laurel sighs, so sweetly. As I do now.
Take Ten: How he says good night
“See you on the next shift.”
(from the working draft of Based on a True Life: A Memoir in Pieces)
This month, Coldfront, one of our favorite on-line journals, is celebrating the life and work of Paul Violi. Here's a taste of the first post. Click over to Coldfront to read the entire piece and bookmark the page so you can be up-to-date on the appreciation of this marvelous, life-affirming poet.
Shortly after Paul Violi’s death (04/02/2011), the Best American Poetry blog posted the moving feature “Remembering Paul Violi.” With the recent release of The Tame Magpie ( published posthumously) and the forthcoming Selected (1970-2007), Coldfront decided it was time to once again honor and celebrate the memory of Paul. Or to put it another way, in Barry Schwabsky’s excellent review of Paul’s posthumous book, he writes, “Paul Violi’s poetry has rarely been taken as seriously as it should be. Probably that’s because he never took the spirit of seriousness as seriously as many people do, especially when it comes to poetry.” Coldfront will attempt to be both serious and not-so-serious in our celebration of our dearly missed friend.
(Ed note: David Lehman's poem was yesterday's feature over at the Academy of American Poets. Read the full post over at the Academy's website.)
Since our grad school days at NYU, no one has inspired or supported me more than Joseph O. Legaspi.
He’s the author of Imago (CavanKerry Press) and two chapbooks: Aviary, Bestiary (Organic Weapon Arts), winner of the David Blair Memorial Prize, and Subways (Thrush Press). These days, he inspires me as a co-founder of Kundiman, a non-profit organization serving Asian American literature. This month, Kundiman will celebrate 10 years as an organization.
Kundiman is the classic form of Filipino love song—or so it seemed to colonialist forces in the Philippines. In fact, in Kundiman, the singer who expresses undying love for his beloved is actually singing for love of country. For an organization dedicated to providing a nurturing space for Asian American writers, the name is an inspiration to create and support artistic expression.
JGO: Congratulations on celebrating 10 years of poetry with Kundiman. How are you commemorating this milestone?
JOL: Thank you. Where has the time gone? It has flown by, yet so much has happened, often leaving myself and Sarah Gambito (Kundiman's co-founder) dizzy with amazement. I'm tremendously proud of Kundiman, how we endured for this long through sheer passion, hard work, volunteerism, partnerships, and determination. To commemorate we are throwing a party: our 10th Anniversary Kundiman Gala on Oct. 15 in New York City. It'll be an elegant, fun evening with open bar, chocolates, and dessert tasting. Moreover, we are honoring Vijay Seshadri, the first Asian American to win the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. Come join us and support Asian American literature. Tickets are available at http://kundiman.org/gala.
JGO: What has been your biggest joy with Kundiman?
JOL: Hands down, the Kundiman fellows. They are the most talented, generous, kind-hearted, intelligent and courageous souls I've ever encountered. They have taught me so much.
JGO: What's the value of an organization such as yours in today's current poetry climate?
JOL: I view Kundiman's initial value in assisting and supporting its primary constituents: Asian American writers. We serve and build this community, which, in turn, branches out to other communities and into the general sphere. By empowering writers, they give voice to our Asian American stories, cataloging our cultural significance, signifying and validating our presence, chronicling our histories. By providing mentorship, workshops and other resources, Kundiman fellows are better at navigating the literary landscape. They are publishing books (35 by the end of 2014, with more slated for publication in the next two years), chapbooks (33 and counting), and in journals; winning awards; doing activist and grassroots work; pursuing graduate degrees; and holding academic posts.
JGO: What's Kundiman's biggest challenge?
JOL: As with most nonprofits, literary and otherwise, Kundiman's biggest challenge is funding, and with that, sustainability. It angers and frustrates me when celebrities pay thousands of dollars for a pair of shoes, while that amount of money can fund a Kundiman summer retreat and nurture twenty-four emerging writers. So, yes, funding and tied in with that is manpower/personnel, and organizational bandwidth and resources. We know our programs work, our mission is strong. But we're often trying to figure out ways to sustain the organization--beyond grants and fundraising events.
JGO: Flip side of the same question. What's in store for the future of Kundiman?
JOL: Kundiman hopes to implement a summer fiction retreat for emerging Asian American writers. Proceeds from the 10th Anniversary Gala would go toward that goal. Of course, we will continue with our usual programming: the poetry retreat, the book prize, national readings, and the KAVAD oral history project. We hope to be around serving and championing Asian American literature in the next decade. And the next.
I hope you can make it.
You can find Joseph’s fine, fine poetry at Poets.org, jubilat, The Journal, Painted Bride Quarterly, BLOOM, and the anthology Coming Close (Prairie Lights/University of Iowa Press), among other publications.
Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths
According to today's Wall Street Journal, page one (below the fold), veteran bandleader Tommy Dorsey has come out strongly in favor of the Indonesian stock market. His top pick: PT Perusahaan Perkebunan London Sumatra Indonesia Tbk. "I can't pronounce it, and I have no friggin' idea what they do. But I know it's number one -- do I need to know anything else?"
Dorsey explained his unconventional technique. "I'm not the guy who cared about love and I'm not the guy who cared about fortunes and such, never cared much," he admitted. But after listening to "Yes, Indeed" (as arranged by Sy Oliver) and "East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)," he had a change of heart.
The rationale for buying only the best-performing investments in any given sector is that of momentum investing on steroids. Has it worked? Dorsey's experience has emboldened him. He and associates have gone from $1.6 billion to $5.1 billion in the last three years. It should be noted that dart-throwing would have produced a similar return in blue chips, with a lot less risk than Indonesia, since 2011, but let's not be killljoys. Dorsey is enjoying his moment in the sun and he has, despite maninfold pressures, maintained eighteen instrumentalists, including Bunny Berigan on trumpet, plus vocalists such as Sinatra and Dick Haymes, always, come rain or come shine.
Should people be tempted to throw caution to the winds, the trombonist quickly reminded them that you should not make an important decision within twelve months of anything major happening in your life. He exemplified his legato approach with a sweet rendering of "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You." With the bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2000 still a painful memory, he reminded people that prudence remains wise when the outlook is gloomy. "I'll never smile again," he remembered thinking. He would discourage anyone who might be tempted to go into hock to buy Asian shares on margin. "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread," Dorsey said.
Thank you, Tommy. I'll be seeing you.
-- David Lehman
Where were you when televisions
Multiplied in American homes
And pastel-colored cars had fins
On which at least once a boy
Chasing a ball stabbed himself
and the fins, like kings, died out?
I lived when Eisenhower’s golfing
And mumbled press conferences
Affronted the intelligentsia whose
Worship of Stevenson blossomed
Into the miracle of Jack Kennedy’s
Televised White House cello recitals.
In the doghouse was an expression
Extremely common in those days.
You might hear a man who forgot
The anniversary of his marriage
Forty years ago refer to himself
As in the doghouse, for example.
People said, On the warpath.
They said, You’re cooking with gas.
They said, Fish out of water --
Jump on the bandwagon – A fly in
The ointment – The jury is still out --
He’s always blowing his own horn --
Or how about this? Eke lullaby,
My loving boy, thy lusts relent --
Four hundred and fifty years ago
A man wrote that poem to his penis.
Can you imagine it happening today?
I can. I’m a board certified urologist.
Afaa is the author of 14 collections, including the Plum Flower trilogy (The Plum Flower Dance, The Government of Nature, and City of Eternal Spring), and a chapbook, A Hard Summation. At Simmons College, he is the Alumnae Professor of English and director of the Zora Neale Hurston Literary Center. Also, he teaches in the MFA program at Drew University. And, in case you hadn’t heard, Afaa is the 2014 recipient of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, among many other honors and accolades. A true renaissance man, he’s an award-winning playwright, fluent in Chinese, a devout practitioner of Tai Chi, and one of the kindest people I know. We meet every few months for lunch at Legal Seafood in Boston (the only place that makes crab cakes almost as good as me). Afaa graciously agreed to answer a few questions.
JGO: I am asked about my name, January, quite frequently. Why did you take Afaa as your name?
AMW: It was to mark the end of a long period of mourning for my first child, whom my wife and I lost in my first marriage. He was Michael Schan Weaver, Jr. We called him Schan, so I released his spirit by releasing that part of my name and made Michael the middle of my name. The “Afaa” means oracle or priest, and family members said it is fitting. However, my father never recognized the new name, and my mother had passed away fifteen years earlier. I took the name in 1997, when it was given to me by Tess Onwueme. The name is Ibo, and my gesture in taking it is one that I was inspired to do after the novel Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, where the spirit who takes children, the abiku, has to be appeased. The name is Ibo, but genetic research I’ve had done shows that my African heritage is Yoruba. I am mostly West African ancestrally, and that part of me is Yoruba, as the research indicates at this point. It’s all good.
JGO: Why do you write poetry?
AMW: I believe we are all given gifts at birth. My central gift is poetry. I can cook, but as a cook I won’t win any chef contests.
JGO: Your latest poetry collection, City of Eternal Spring, is part of the Plum Flower Trilogy, which consists of The Government of Nature and The Plum Flower Dance. When did you conceive of these poems as sequence of three books?
AMW: As I was working on The Government of Nature, I realized it was a trilogy. At the Brattleboro Literary Festival this weekend I read from all three books in the way of a trilogy, to show the links, and I was told it worked nicely. It felt good as I read. Each time I publish a book I get to know it in deeper, more intimate ways when I give readings from it. I am seeing the connections and contours in my work in new ways as I begin to read the trilogy. The first book, The Plum Flower Dance, is a U Pitt “reader” or “best of" covering 20 years of my book publishing, from 1985 to 2005, so the trilogy is representative of my body of work in ways that I am proud of now. Anyone interested in it should go to plumflowertriogy.org and see the plum blossoms floating down the page. As I finished The Government of Nature, I knew I would have to write more about my actual experience in Chinese culture in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Mainland China.
JGO: You also write nonfiction and are a playwright. How does poetry inform the other genres and vice versa?
AMW: My plays are a poet’s plays, and my nonfiction is a poet’s nonfiction. People who have a central base in prose and fiction have more of an inclination to a narrative line, a forward, linear motion. That’s hard for me. My celestial muse software is written in metaphor and language as sound such that I compose out of a fascination with words as opposed to sentences. Now plays are part of theater. The other big part is acting. Actors and poets have things in common, especially the lyric articulation of emotion. For me there is that natural move into playwriting and theater. It brings energy back into the poetry that makes me focus more on finer articulation of feeling. Nonfiction for me, as for many poets, is about exploring what I do as a poet and why. I try not to do too much of it because it can lead to embarrassing self-justification. Everyone does it, however. “The unacknowledged legislators of the universe…” etc.
JGO: While you live in Somerville, MA, you go back home to Baltimore quite frequently. I sense that Baltimore grounds you in a way. Why does Baltimore have such a pull on you?
AMW: I’m one of those people who sees the Boston area as a work base. Sometimes I feel like that is changing, but I am not sure. On a beautiful day in the fall when the colors are changing, there is nothing quite like the sun spilling through the trees in Boston or most any other place in Massachusetts. It is a beautiful state, as is Maryland, but I like the cool weather up here. My son lives up here now, and that helps a lot. It’s so good to have him near me. I go and watch the Ravens with him, and we keep our divided loyalties to ourselves. I made a public pledge to the Patriots on Facebook. Facebook is what “publicare” was in ancient Rome. My recovery community is also up here, and that is very important. I know lots of folks in the area, but I also feel like a member of a very small club, southern born black folk from pre-Civil War African American families. Most black folk in the Boston area are from Africa and the Caribbean. I lived and worked in Baltimore until I was thirty-three plus years old, more than half of my life to date. No other place where I have lived and worked is as much carved into the space of my spirit and consciousness. It’s the lens by which I navigate all my other experiences in life.
As a child I grew up in a black working class world, and that is the core of myself. Not everyone has such an experience, and I am reminded of that when I meet people who grew up in many places. But Baltimore is “home" for me, and it is not limiting. I have traveled quite a bit in Europe, Jamaica, and Asia. It’s not that everything is Baltimore, but rather Baltimore allows me to more fully experience the places where I visit. Somerville is a pretty good place to live, but being in Somerville as a black man is a singular experience. I turned around on the sidewalk one day to see a white woman trying to smell me. She stopped and eased back, as I knew her just a little. But to smell me? I was so upset and bewildered. Having said that, I mostly get along here, but “sometimes" when I put my thoughts, feelings, and opinions on the table, things do change. Liberalism up here is something some folks use to avoid more intimate confrontations with themselves. But that’s liable to happen in many places in the country.
As a black man with my particular experience in life there is a certain loneliness. I left fifteen years of factory work and went into the wide, wide world, like a science fiction movie, going where no black factory worker has dared go before. So in Baltimore I am in the Headquarters of the Star Trek Federation where no one tries to sneak up behind me to smell me or follows me out of a building trying to touch me. That has happened, too. In Baltimore weird things happen, too, but I go home and feel good things I can’t feel in other places, things that amount to the summation of an experiential love. It is where I was born with a gift that has required my exploration of other worlds in order to cultivate it. So maybe I am buying into Boston a little at a time, as my friend Reggie Gibson says in a poem of his I like very much and which is all about him moving here from Chicago, or Chitown. That’s a tough adjustment, too. I know Chicago enough to say that.
JGO: Thanks, Afaa, for taking the time to answer my questions.
KGB Monday Night Poetry is pleased to present...
Rusty Morrison + Camille Rankine + 2014 KGB Open-Mic Contest Winner, Spencer Everett
Monday, October 6th, 2014
Hosted by John Deming and Matthew Yeager
Series founded in 1997 by Star Black and David Lehman
Doors open at 7:00 pm
Reading starts at 7:30pm
Admission is FREE
85 East 4th Street * New York, NY
Camille Rankine is the author of the chapbook Slow Dance with Trip Wire, selected by Cornelius Eady for the Poetry Society of America's 2010New York Chapbook Fellowship. Her first full-length collection of poetry, Incorrect Merciful Impulses is forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press. The recipient of a 2010 "Discovery"/Boston Review Poetry Prize, she was featured as an emerging poet in the fall 2010 issue of American Poet and the April 2011 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine. Her poetry has appeared in numerous journals, including American Poet, The Baffler, Boston Review, Denver Quarterly, Indiana Review, Narrative, Paper Darts, A Public Space and Tin House, and was commissioned by the New York Botanical Garden for their Literary Audio Tour. Camille earned her BA from Harvard University, and her MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University. She was selected for a MacDowell Colony Fellowship in 2013, and was named an Honorary Cave Canem Fellow in 2012. She is Assistant Director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Manhattanville College, editorial director of The Manhattanville Review, and lives in New York City, where she sings with the band Miru Mir.
Rusty Morrison's new letterpress, limited edition chapbook from speCt! is Reclamation Project. Her books include Beyond the Chainlink (Ahsahta 2014), Book of the Given (Noemi Press 2012), After Urgency (Tupelo 2012), which won The Dorset Prize, the true keeps calm biding its story (Ahsahta 2008), which won The Sawtooth Prize, the Academy of American Poet’s James Laughlin Award, the Northern California Book Award, and the DiCastagnola Award from Poetry Society of America, and Whethering (The Center for Literary Publishing, 2004), which won the Colorado Prize for Poetry. She is the co-publisher of Omnidawn, www.omnidawn.com. Her website: www.rustymorrison.com.
Spencer Everett is the co-curator of COPULA, a Brooklyn-based reading series that features innovative poets and mixed media artists. Recent work has been published in iO and Critical Quarterly (UK). He was recently a resident at the Millay Colony and has been awarded a grant from the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation.
Upcoming, Fall 2014
About the Series:
Labeled New York's best poetry series by such publications as New York Magazine and Time Out New York, the KGB Bar Monday Night Poetry Reading Series has hosted over 550 poets in more than 300 readings since it was founded in 1997 by Star Black and David Lehman, and focuses on combining established writers with the most exciting young and upcoming poets. The list of past readers includes legendary American and international poets: John Ashbery, Robert Bly, Anne Carson, Billy Collins, Richard Howard, Fannie Howe, Yusef Komunyakaa, Philip Levine, Sharon Olds, Molly Peacock, Marie Ponsot, Tomaz Salamun, Charles Simic, Mark Strand, James Tate, Anne Waldman and Charles Wright. Currently, the series is curated and hosted by poets John Deming and Matthew Yeager.
About the Venue:
A former single-room speakeasy (one of Lucky Luciano's favorites) KGB Bar was transformed into a Ukrainian socialist social club in 1948. To this day, the bar retains original decoration from its former incarnations, including a red hammer-and-sickle flag hanging from the tin ceiling, plus stained-glass Beaux Arts cabinetry, red walls, Soviet triumph posters, photographs, paintings, and sculptures. KGBBar is located at 85 East 4th Street in New York's East Village (between Bowery and 2nd Avenue). Readings begin at 7:30 PM. There will be one ten-minute intermission. No cover charge for admission. All readings open to the public. Though it is smoke-free, the massive pervasive cigarette cloud that existed as little as twelve years ago (and contributed much to the venue's conspiratorial air) is still easily imagined.
Anyone who knows me knows I am all about community. We spend so much time alone working on projects that most of us crave the opportunity for connection. So last night, when the kids finally fell asleep, I popped onto Twitter to see what happening in my stream. Lo and behold, it was time for the Poet Party!
Every month, the Poet Party takes place on Sundays at 9 p.m. (ET). For one hour, poets have the opportunity to connect with fellow poets—in real time—about any topic. Collin Kelley moderates (hashtag #poetparty) and keep the conversation moving. The most active topic last night was which contests and lit mags were open for submissions. It was the first time I had been to the party in months (possibly a year?). But it was great fun connecting with my poet friends across the country and hearing about their latest projects. For some reason I thought the Poet Party had been around for just a year. Turns out, the party has been going on for four years!
Long ago, when blogs were the place to be—so we’re going back to about 2010—much of my community was virtual. My first book, Underlife, had just been published. But I was going through a divorce, starting to raise two young children as a single parent, and feeling burnt out at my job with a daily two-hour, roundtrip commute. By then I was a member of my local writers group, but there was no guarantee I would continue to go now that child care would be an issue. All this to say the virtual world allowed me to connect to poets and writers at a time when I needed it the most.
Also at this time, I started playing around Twitter. It took me about two months to get the hang of it. Honestly, I thought Twitter was pointless. However, I stuck with it long enough to have an Aha moment, and then it all made sense. I could connect with the people, news, organizations, and events that truly interested me.
Founded in 2010 by Deborah Ager, the Poet Party began to take off. By the October party, the online event was an overwhelming success. That first Poet Party included D.A. Powell, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Susan Rich, Oliver de la Paz, Kelli Russell Agodon, Deborah Ager, and me, among others. The tweets came fast and furious. You can read Collin’s post about it here. In the early days the party was weekly, and there were a few times, I believe, #poetparty trended on Twitter and Yahoo. I mean, when does poetry ever trend ANYWHERE?
Fast forward to last night. I entered the Poet Party on the whim, and found out that roughly four years ago the first Poet Party took place. (Where has the time gone?) Like me, Kelli Russell Agodon had dropped in unexpectedly. But I was reminded how cool it is to hang out with like-minded people—the people with whom I started my (virtual) writing career.
Roughly 20-30 people commented, but more people lurk (that's my gut feeling). And while some of the poet partiers come and go, the purpose remains the same: we're all trying to figure out how to shine a light on our art. Knowing this gives me great comfort. More than comfort, it's a reason to celebrate because— "poeting" is hard!
Here are a few tweets from last night's Poet Party.
If you have suggestions for contests or lit mags open for subs, post a link. #poetparty— Collin Kelley (@CollinKelley) October 6, 2014
When I hear #poetparty, I picture a room full of geniuses saying nothing but feeling all the feelings in the universe.— Julia Green (@juliafgreen) October 6, 2014
Collin was one of the first to keep a comprehensive list of poets on Twitter. (Collin, it may be time to update the list!) If you’re on Twitter, please connect with me (@januaryoneil) and the rest of these dynamic, talented poets doing their thang in all corners of the Twitterverse and beyond. I should mention that these party poets are as community-centric as I am. They host events; start, edit, and manage journals; and support fellow poets in more ways than I can describe here. They are the doers in your community, and you should get to know them.
The next Poet Party happens November 2 at 9 p.m. EST. You can read last night’s tweets by searching Twitter at #poetparty.
(What innovative ways do you foster community? Tell me in the comments section.)
This week we welcome January Gill O’Neil as our guest author. January is the author of Misery Islands (fall 2014) and Underlife (2009), both published by CavanKerry Press. She is the executive director of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival and an assistant professor of English at Salem State University. She blogs at Poet Mom. If you're attending the Dodge Poetry Festival, hear January read on Saturday, October 25, at 1:30 p.m. with Cathy Park Hong, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, and Donna Baier Stein. You can find her on Facebook at FB: /januaryoneil and follow her on Twitter @januaryoneil.
In other news . . .
NYU Creative Writing Presents:
Poetry reading by David Lehman and Leah Umansky
Friday, October 10 5:00pm: Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House, 58 West 10th Street.
Ach. What a week. Raced back from NYC, jumped off the plane, and made it barely in time to see my son’s city championship cross-country meet. Jude did great—and where he got the hummingbird bone structure —much less the stamina and discipline to run for miles and miles through the boiling heat—I do not know. But he’s glorious to watch. Like, so beautiful I get weepy just standing there on the sidelines. I’m such a dope.
But a lot of my poet friends have babies due around now and I wish I could bottle that feeling for them and give them a little sip ahead of time as they’re anxiously contemplating all the energy they’re about to give up to something other than themselves.
It makes sense that for poets particularly this is so nerve-wracking—paying detailed attention to our interiors is the bread and butter of what we do—and yet, at least in my case, having one of the little beings who compel you to complicate that exhausting state of self-absorption has been nothing but a gift. I mean, sometimes a weighty gift, but a gift nonetheless.
The other highlight of the evening happened when we parents crowding the edge of the running trail realized we were standing within a few feet of the GRANDADDY OF ALL WATER MOCCASINS coiled up at the trunk of a nearby tree. He was all like, “Hey, Girl. Just chillin’ here, figuring which one of you imunna eat.” Really, even by Florida standards, this snake was HUGE.
And what is it about iPhones that make people think they’ve got some special force field around them while they’re trying to take a picture? Adam refers to the iPhone as a tool for natural selection. You wouldn’t believe the number of idiots who kept scooching closer to frame a better shot. But this is actually one of the things I like best about where I live: you get the strong feeling that nature is always one second away from staging a well-deserved coup on our invasive asses. That seems fair to me.
A statement with which I know Dana Levin would agree (see how I did that there?). Just recently I passed a delightful half hour staring at a sea otter with Dana. This is because we spend a lot of time in Port Townsend together (where I am the artistic director for the most wonderful summer writers conference in the world), and you can’t walk a mile there without bumping into deer, coyotes, eagles, otters, porpoise, raccoons, orca, etc. etc. It’s truly one of the most beautiful places in the world. Dana and I met there years ago when we were both invited as faculty for the conference.
I already knew Dana’s poems and admired them immensely—these being three much praised and influential collections of poetry from Copper Canyon Press. The poems have such a cerebral, critical intensity, are filled with such profound feeling and shattering expressions of elegy—that I was nervous to meet her. I worried that my “I Love Lucy” state-of-being would seem frivolous to such a penetrating mind.
But it turned out there was the most pleasurable cognitive dissonance when meeting Dana in person--she of the huge, easy laugh and sneakily ribald sense of humor. Dana is always the first person to suggest that a little bit of chocolate would make the dinner that much better. And that we’ll need a good bottle of wine to go with it, of course.
Perhaps it’s because of her close encounters with grief that Dana makes extra certain to enjoy this life. She has a gift for friendship, for directness and connection. She lets the stupid stuff roll off her back, because, you know, people. And in her new poems since 2011’s mind- blowingly good Sky Burial, it seems Dana is urging us to gather our rosebuds post haste, as chances are shit’s about to get extremely real in this world we humans have made. Like me, I think Dana is not-so-secretly on the side of the water moccasins.
I was reading a new poem of yours in Poetry magazine the other day—the terrific, eerie “Banana Palace”—though, because I hadn’t had coffee yet, I thought the poem was called “Banana Hammock.”
This really changed what I thought the poem was about.
Have you considered writing a poem called “Banana Hammock”? Maybe a companion piece to the original?
Y'know, a banana kinda looks like a hammock. I want you to know / how it felt to lay on it / deep in the curve of its hopefully unripe skin / because if it's ripe, you don't want to lay on it
...wait, did you mean that to be sexual?
(A pause while Erin finds the Urban Dictionary definition of “banana hammock” for Dana.)
A man's speedo swimsuit.
Look at all of the banana hammocks in Fort Lauderdale.
But you go ahead and handle your banana hammock the way you see fit, Dana.
And look at yooou! Whipping off that poem revision all spontaneous-like. You’re as good as Wayne Brady on What’s My Line! Jude really loves that show.
And speaking of shows, what’s your "I hope no one catches me watching this” show? Or are you one of those poets who pretend not to own a TV and spend their time rehabilitating one-pawed raccoons, or staring pensively at invisible art installations in Berlin?
I *love* television -- we're in a golden age of television, yada yada yada. Okay: I watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer over and over. Currently I'm really into Hemlock Grove. Gimme as many vampire/werewolf/endangered teenagers as you can.
But don’t you find all the brain-melting machines—TVs, phones, computers-- disruptive to making poems? I mean, the world is exponentially nosier than it was even ten years ago. How do you stay focused? I feel like a hamster on Adderall most of the time with all my devices binging and whooping and making me feel guilty for not responding to someone within thirty seconds of contact.
I dunno, distraction really saves me. I can't sit with a poem for more than 20 minutes without having to get up and wash the dishes, pull bugs off plants, text you...
At AWP Boston I had this incredibly numinous experience of walking into the book fair and being *assailed* by pings and swooshes and tinkles and old telephone rings -- I just stood there listening to the cacophony of thousands of phones going off and it felt like "the now" or "the future" or a city of mechanical birds or the deeply human and the deeply technologized sautered together in some new way for humans to alert and alarm each other.
I didn't move for about five minutes (and got a lot of quizzical and dirty looks -- y'know, people were trying to *get in* to the book fair completely disrupting my numinous experience...)
Seriously. The AWP hotel acoustics get so intense that one year I found myself sprinting back to my room in order to to hide under the bathroom sink for about 15 minutes.
This really is the worst part of AWP for me. The din of 12,000 writers aerobically networking is deafening. Well this, and my complete inability to remember which faces and names go together. And why the hell do they give us nametags that require looking at someone's crotch to figure out who they are? Makes sneaking a peek very dicey. Christian Teresi, if you’re reading this, please stuff that in your suggestion box. Longer lanyards.
On a different subject, you seem a bit obsessed with morning glories. Lotta lotta pictures of morning glories on your FB page. Like, daily.
Given that morning glory is both my birth flower AND a noxious invasive weed, what symbolism are you trying to project with this monomania of yours?
It's all for you, Erin. I'm just trying to get your attention. You're so *busy* all the time.
But seriously: I've loved them forever. And I grew up in the desert, y'know, 110 degrees in the shade summer desert, so there weren't that many classic flowers that flourished there. Morning Glories are so ephemeral -- you have to catch 'em before Noon, when they fizzle, at least in Santa Fe. And they have this strange light that emits from their centers. Someone on Facebook asked me if they produce it or if it's reflected -- and I have *no idea*. I'd like to keep it, as with most phenomena, mysterious, so I won't look it up.
Plus everyone on FB who cares seems to like the morning glories best. I can't get no truck of likes with the less purple flowers. What is that? We're so "Oooh, purple, lemme give that a thumbs-up---"
I live for likes. Don't you?
I have a complicated relationship with likes. My vanity is certainly fluffed like a porn star when people feed me thumbs on Facebook. And yet, I get irritated that most of the content I actually care about—the political content, trying to get people to vote in mid-term elections, posting feminist articles that are VERY IMPORTANT TO THE FUTURE OF HUMANITY—these get a big “meh.” Or people feel sorry for me so I get a couple tepid, no comment likes. It’s as if I’ve just emitted a terrible noise in public and people politely look away until the smell passes. Then I put up a link to “Vegetables That Look Like LOL Cats That Look Like Hitler" and suddenly 250 people hit their buttons.
I’m at that point where I may try and get off Facebook. No doubt I’ll need a residential rehab program for empty-attention seekers.
Yeah, Twitter's like that too -- Patricia Lockwood tweeted something about eating Fozzie the Bear and got 675 favorites and 163 re-tweets (I just looked that up!) Brenda Hillman saying something serious about drone bombing in Iraq? 1 and 1. We're living at the decadent end of Empire, that's for sure.
Also, regarding AWP, don't you mean "shorter lanyards"? I mean, if we're trying to avoid crotch staring. How about AWP hats? Temporary tattoos displaying name and institutional affiliation across everyone's foreheads? The AWP Mark o' Cain...
Oh, right. I was seduced by the alliteration in “longer lanyards.” I meant shorter. Much shorter. Or maybe individual heralds to just follow writers around trumpeting their CVs and carrying their jousting poles. Sounds like a good MFA internship program in the making.
Here’s another thing I’ve been thinking about in relationship to you, Dana Levin: back in the day, there was a well-known posse of Hair Poets in the 90s and early two thousands. But it’s my impression that you—with your silver mane of Disney-princess-meets-Medusa curls--are one of the very last of the Great Hair Poets. I mean, Lucie Brock Broido is still rocking it with that hair she can wrap twice around her body, but the hair herd has sadly thinned.
Has the hair/poetry connection disappeared into myth? Have you ever had short hair? Would cutting it off have a Samson-like effect on your poetic output?
I *did* have short hair once: 1986, Junior year of college. I had one of those weird New Wave cuts: short in the back with two long tendrils on either side, bangs flopped over one eye. I must have looked like a Hasid with a bad haircut and gender issues.
The Samson effect...well, I had a bodyworker once tell me I should cut off all my hair to get rid of "old vibes" --- I looked at him with immense alarm...
A “bodyworker"? Wait, this is some kind of hippie Esperanto you’ve learned living in New Mexico, right?
Also, I challenge you to a competition for Worst New Wave Haircut. Mine was a crunchy-permed, asymmetrical mullet. I was transitioning from a Pat Benetar, trying to grow it into a Chrissie Hynde. It was so bad that I’m actually proud of it.
And no, I absolutely do NOT want to talk about drone bombings. Though, speaking of signs of the apocalypse, this brings me to the final question:
Your next book definitely has shadings of the apocalyptic in it. If you were to let five poets into your fall out shelter—NOT based on your personal affection for them—but based entirely on what survival/community skills they will bring to the Mad Max future--which contemporary poets would you choose and why?
Whoa! Survival/community skills? Okay: Derick Burleson, because he's burly and bearded and lives in Alaska and seems like he'd know how to do things like skin a radioactive deer for dinner; Gabrielle Calvocoressi, because she's so damned *nice* and can find the spiritual lesson in just about any trying experience and deliver it to the rest of us with charm and open-heartedness; Mark Bibbins *and* you, because between the two of you there'd be a secret cache of fine wine stowed somewhere, which seems like it would be *very necessary* in the fall-out shelter; then I'd save a spot for the first poet who finds him/herself dragging alone through the post-apocalyptic horror and happens to come upon the fall-out shelter and bangs and bangs and bangs to be let in -- I wouldn't be able to stop Gaby from opening the door.
Thank you, Dana Levin. This has been a very edifying conversation. I'll be happy to crawl inside the bunker with you and share my packest of dehydrated scrambled eggs.
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.