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Erica Doyle
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BRACE YOURSELVES AWP IS COMING Luckily for you, Lillian Bertram, a wonderful poet and someone who genuinely cares about you, has created this website: You can add your two cents or get some advice here. Lillian's also an amazing photographer and poet, and her first book, But a Storm is Blowing from Paradise won the Benjamin Saltman Award, and was published by Red Hen in 2012. You should get it at AWP, on account of poems like "Account of the Apparitions": --the end of billion dollar days came. It was like old times again, those old times everyone knew had occurred but no one alive had lived them— my old man, he held a lamp by his head & peered into the darker corners of our house where dust mixed its potions of small & infinite clouds. We would know to call it the Summer of Sorrow. The Fall of Painted Statues with Paint Worn Off, when every girl & friend needed an abortion. Even me. We all had one. Two. Hundreds. It was all so hip. All so cruel. It was a hip kind of cruel. It was a club. We took blankets sewn with thinning economic plans and called them shawls. When we wore them, we looked like movie stills, stretching to fit the screen. We looked like faded slide film, tattooed symbols behind our ears: the $ and Eye of Horus— Lillian will be at AWP, too. Personally, for me AWP is a giant playground. All these books, all these people I like, imported. sometimes on someone else's dime, to one place, just to see me -- what more could I ask for? I dash around, and then when I am too tired I stand in one place, and inevitably someone fascinating walks by. If I don't know them, I make things up about them, and if I do know them, well, then I am off on my next adventure! Who knows where I'll end up (though truth to tell, it is rarely a panel). Speaking of panels, as an educator and someone whose brain personally needs lots of variety for intellectual stimulation, I wish panels would be less talking-too-long-in-turn and more like a Black Took Collective Intervention, involving multimedia, breakdancing, yoga, sound design and perhaps running in place for everyone after writing in Coon Journals. Barring that, it could at least be a tad bit more interactive, with a "turn and talk" or some other kind of structured conversation protocol for both panel and audience. Anyhoo, in case you haven't noticed this weeks' theme has been "OFF and OFF OFF and OFF OFF OFF SITE LITERARY INTERVENTIONS." The past three were in the world, and these next three will be AWP related. Brace yourselves. Continue reading
Posted Mar 3, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
I guest-taught a creative writing workshop at the College of Staten Island last night. I was early and went to the cafeteria for a bottle of water and got to see what looked like lots of really big high schoolers hanging out in there and let my eyes get used to their slower movements, deeper voices and more adult clothes. I love to imagine my high school students in college. I am sad when I see the evidence of the lack of committment to our public education system, though. I was in the bookstore, and I distinctly heard a young man ask for Scantrons, and be really bummed when the clerk told him they were out. Huh? I thought. Scantrons are those bubble sheets you fill in for multiple choice tests. Why would a student ask for that? Maybe he was a really really young professor? I asked the clerk about it as I was purchasing goodies for the class, and she said, "Oh yeah, here we're required to provide our own Scantrons for tests." This reminded me, sadly, of a Department of Education business meeting I had been in just that morning, where the facilitator informed us if we went to the bathroom that there would be no paper towels because "we just don't have enough money." Drones much? Sigh. Then I went in to class. We had a really great time. We set norms first, and talked about what they hoped to get out of the night, and what they really hoped didn't happen, and why. They shared their thoughts about reading crappy, just-written work out loud, the pros and cons of writing in class and out of class, and the pressure and shame they sometimes feel about their work. They said a lot about wondering whether things were good or bad, how to keep being inspired, how to stay committed to a plot, and discussed what might be good about peers eyes on your work and why you might want an expert. I was charmed by their energy and their diverse New York accents. They also said they wanted to do a Q and A with me at the end about whatever, and asked me questions about careers for English majors, getting published, being a woman in my field and lots of other fun stuff. I told them hey, this is what I do: make shit up, go crazy with everything and not follow instructions that feel asphyxiating. We talked a LOT a LOT A LOT about being published and I told them I had an amaze-balls idea: I would publish whoever wanted to be published, today, on my blog! I told them to text or email me their favorite line from the the night, and I would put it up right here, right now, for more Off Off Site Awesomeness. So here they are, in no particular order, collected from their freewrites, interview stories, and writing prompts from "Texts from Last Night" and "1000 Places to... Continue reading
Posted Feb 27, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
Trayvon Martin died this day a year ago. Thousands across the nation expressed their horror and grief, many through poetry. It is remarkable, in fact, just how many poems surface if you search "Trayvon Martin poems" on the internet. Below is one, by poet JP Howard. She is also an attorney, a co-founder of the Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Series, a Cave Cavem Fellow, and a mother to a black, teenaged boy. Once, I heard Molly Peacock talk about why she wrote in form. She said while writing about terrible things that there was safety at the end of the line. I am reminded of that here, where Howard combines two usually separate cinquain variations: the reverse and the garland. The cinquain is usually a stanza of five lines with 2,4,6,8, and 2 syllables respectively. The reverse cinquain is 2,8,6,4, and 2. The garland cinquain is a series of 6 cinquains in which the last stanza is formed by a line from each of the stanzas that came before. Garlands are worn in celebration, yes, but also, sometimes, for the dead. Reverse Garland Cinquain for Trayvon Trayvon I wish I didn’t have to write about you in past tense once again, so unfair Trayvon your story is too familiar we keep returning here this pain should not recur Trayvon Today you should be in your school Your parents’ next visit should not be your gravestone Trayvon Until there is justice I will wrap you in my stanzas cradle your name Trayvon Trayvon we will not forget your trip home beautiful son man-child let us repeat your name Trayvon Your story is so familiar When your parents’ visit let them cradle your name. -- JP Howard, 2013 Related articles Grief Still Very Real For Trayvon's Mom Continue reading
Posted Feb 26, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
This May 16-19, 2013, the Yari Yari conference will take place in Accra, Ghana. Yari Yari is a conference that gathers women writers from all corners of the African diaspora, and was created by the Organization of Women Writers of Africa, founded by Jayne Cortez and Ama Ata Aidoo. "Yari" means the future and each year the conference chooses a different word to modify this word; in the past it was "Pamberi," meaning "Forward" in Shona. This year it is "Ntoaso" which means "understanding and agreement" in Akan. This year's conference is bittersweet, due the passing this January of the fire at its heart, OWWA President Jayne Cortez. Here is Jayne Cortez and her son, Denardo Coleman, performing my favorite piece of hers, "Find Your Own Voice": The torch has passed to the rest of the committee, and the wonderful writers who will be making their way to West Africa this spring to cross-pollinate, demonstrate and celebrate. Poets, scholars, playwrights, novelists, storytellers, and journalists will be coming from Europe, the Americas, and Africa for this amazing event. Featured writers include: Angela Davis, US Kadija (George) Sesay, Veronique Tadjo, author and scholar UK publisher and writer Cote d'Ivorien writer and scholar Interested in going to Yari Yari this year? It's FREE! How awesome is that? You do need a visa to enter Ghana from the US, so make sure you get started on the process now. For more info, go to the conference site, here, on the Africana Studies website at NYU. And if you can't go, but would like to support and share the word, the organizers have a great site set up here, which features videos of the 2004 conference and updates about participants. In memory of Jayne, a true firespitter, Find your own voice -- and use it! Continue reading
Posted Feb 25, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
On this, the last day of my blogging here, I close at the open (hats off for recognizing my paraphrase): You have enabled yourself to prove of incalculable aid to many, many women—not just today’s women, but women down the ages. You have always been a most important, most significant person, Audre. I am, have been, and always will be proud of you. – Gwendolyn Brooks to Audre Lorde (Audre Lorde Papers, Spelman College Archives) Eating my hybrid breakfast of mangu with Finney, I open Lorde’s The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance and throw the pages like the Ifa, the I Ching. What is she saying to this morning’s news? About the proposed eviction of Mrs. Mason, an 82 year old victim of predatory lending from her Brooklyn home: I shall build a house that will stand forever --“Constructions” (Lorde-like, a coalition of over 100 people stood around the house yesterday and blockaded it from the city marshals) and this: Eleanor Bumpers, grandmother shotgunned against her kitchen wall by rent marshalls in the Bronx moves among us humming her breath is sweet acacia -- “Party Time” About the The Help: Shell-smells on the morning wind. You are younger than my daughter the boy you hold is blond the moon is new. My sloping land brings our eyes level “Welcome neighbor,” I begin. Were we enemies in another life Or do your eyes always turn to flint When meeting a Black woman face to face? Your child speaks first. “I don’t like you,” he cries. “Are you coming to babysit me?” --“Judith’s Fancy” (This has actually happened to me several times. Please see Association of Black Women Historians for details.) In October 1980, in a phone conversation with Barbara Smith, Audre Lorde said, “We really need to do something about publishing.” As a result, Smith, Lorde, Cherríe Moraga, Hattie Gossett, Helena Byard, Susan Yung, Ana Oliveira, Rosie Alvarez, Alma Gomez and Leota Lone Dog founded Kitchen Table Women of Color Press, which arguably changed forever national conversations on racism, sexism and homophobia. The Honorable Barbara Smith, who ran the press for many years, is now a councilmember in the city of Albany, NY. Kitchen Table Giving Circle was recently started by Kim Ford and Karen Sebastian to fund community activist projects by queer women and trans people of African descent. In Trinidad, we call this a “susu,” mirroring the tradition found amongst women around the world. KTGC awarded their first grant to Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs, one of Utne’s 50 Visionaries Who Are Changing the World. Gumbs and Julia Wallace of Queer Renaissance committed themselves to living in an environmentally sustainable mobile home and “collecting and amplifying the social organizing herstories of black women, trans men, and gender queer visionaries who have been refusing the limits of heteronormativity and opening the world up by being themselves in the second half of the 20th century.” Their "School of Our Lorde" provides "transformative community based learning based on ... Lorde’s approach to Poetics, Pedagogy,... Continue reading
Posted Aug 20, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Tamiko Beyer is one of those poets I like to stalk. And she is highly stalkable, appearing here and there, now in an anthology I’m judging, now at a conference, now participating in, organizing, or attending a reading, now in a link from a link of a link. The plethora of journals in which she has appeared defy easy categorization. Prolific and spread hydra-like about the poetasphere she floats, and I like to surf about, casting my net for her latest adventures, preferably while listening to Susana Baca. Is it terribly vain to say that I first began to google her most regularly after once googling myself? She’d done an analysis of a poem of mine at her Kenyon Review blog and was much smarter about it than I’d been in the actual making of it. Before then, I knew who she was, didn’t everybody? She was everywhere, listening, making work, running workshops, and now I began her track her more closely. She left Brooklyn for St Louis, but came back soon, thank goodness, not that her work let up while she was away. Not that location much matters for someone who clearly lives in multiple dimensions. How else to explain how she writes so much and pops up in so many places? And works with so many different people, teaching workshops, students of different ages, collaborating with other artists, and writing about other writers. I think there is more than one Tamiko, like right now I am looking for my favorite poem from bough breaks, her chapbook published earlier this year, and I can’t find it. I think it might have been written in another dimension and left there. It is a poem in multiple choice, smart and vulnerable and touching and I am really mad I can’t find it (but then again, my progressive lenses haven't come in yet). Her poems are prose-y, and in case you haven’t noticed I have a prose-y preference. In her statement about her poems for Poets for Living Waters, she writes: “I want to know if/how my poetry can blur the boundaries between inside and outside (waters), enact the fluidity across the earth and between bodies. And always, I want to dissolve the separation of poet/citizen/activist. Can ((sub)alter(n)ed) language spur a rush, a flow to action? Claudia Rankine, paraphrasing Myung Mi Kim, says “what alerts, alters.” Alert alert alert.” A: quoting Claudia Rankine paraphrasing Myung Mi Kim. Swoon. Her new book, bough breaks, interrogates gender, motherhood, conception and circumscription (yes, I do mean the limits of a taxonomic group of organisms) across terrains and cities (New York, Honolulu, Tokyo), creating a diaspora of maternity, the inside-out of an always present code: dear malarial mosquito-bitten arm dear burned dear earthquake rubble-crushed, I have no steady answers I wake up every single morning dear corner drug deal, I have been around dear hunger after ten days dear shredded dear child soldier dear drive-by stray, you are the stuff of voices and I keep waking... Continue reading
Posted Aug 19, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
I spent much of my early years in a neo-colonial, proto-feminist interior world, managing my various traumas by pretending I was a plucky, white British girl in a secret garden or boarding school lorded over by an evil school mistress or mean housekeeper, or, alternatively, an Elf, because who, really, wanted to be a Hobbit? This is all, apparently, quite normal. John Caughey is an ethnographer whose seminal work, Imaginary Social Worlds, explains how the imaginary, internal experiences in which we spend most of our lives, both asleep and awake, enable us to negotiate culture and construct identities either in opposition to or in concert with external experiences. This was all explained to me in my almost 20 years ago by history professor Eva George, who not only taught me about her mentor’s work, but about viewership, and um, how to drive (I’m a New Yorker, people). Caughey is “particularly interested in how contemporary individuals handle multiple cultural traditions including how they simultaneously or alternatively construct senses of self out of diverse cultural models of race, gender, ethnicity, and personality.” In Monica Hand’s book forthcoming from Alice James Press, me and Nina, we find this de/construction: Eunice Waymon my name an omen my name sin my name my name a moan Nina Nina Simone Disidentification, disembodiment and subsequent embodiment; the slipping into and out of the self that became the cultural icon; reconstitution in the poetic form itself as each word of the poem is an anagram of “Eunice Waymon” (substituting “s” for the soft “c”), a nod to the anagrams in Terrance Hayes’ Hip Logic. (cover art above by the talented Krista Franklin) Hand writes, “I have always felt sameness with Nina Simone – her sadness, her anger, her restlessness, her alienation, and her super sensitivity, her refusing to be named. I saw her first as a woman, a lonely woman. I also felt her rage. It was only later after I was well into the project that I realized her activism and that she – her music and her life – represented so much more. "My biography as revealed in my poems is really just one story told over and over. It is a story of loss and of redemption. It is a universal story. That I am a woman, an African American and queer writer is more than circumstantial but that I am a mother, fat, 57, educated, traveled internationally, lived in major cities (east and west) and a host of other particulars may form the lens from which I experience the world but they do not make my story any less universal than that written by someone of different particulars. I am not saying these “markers” have not influenced or even determined my experiences but that I do not have to identify them in the work for them to be at play in the work or that if I chose to identify them in the work that they somehow now narrow the story and make it... Continue reading
Posted Aug 18, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Today I will share with you the sky, because I can. In case you haven't noticed, I've got what someone in one of the many random books I've read called "lighthouse" focus. I am constantly scanning back and forth. Some people have a laser focus. That is not me. I do have a laser focused appetite, however. Once I ate only tortellini and ham for a month. The sky has been doing some amazing things lately. I can't think about these rain clouds without thinking about the drought that Kimberly Alidio has been talking about in Texas, as well as their rolling blackouts.I can't think about the drought without thinking about the water crisis in the Southwest. The Southwest makes me think of the Rio Grande Valley where some of my friends are teaching, and the Rio Grande Valley makes me think most of all of Gloria Anzaldua, editor with Cherrie Moraga of This Bridge Called My Back, a book that changed my life. Anzaldua died in 2004: Living in the Borderlands means you fight hard to resist the gold elixir beckoning from the bottle, the pull of the gun barrel, the rope crushing the hollow of your throat; In the Borderlands you are the battleground where enemies are kin to each other; you are at home, a stranger, the border disputes have been settled the volley of shots have shattered the truce you are wounded, lost in action dead, fighting back; To live in the Borderlands means the mill with the razor white teeth wants to shred off your olive-red skin, crush out the kernel, your heart pound you pinch you roll you out smelling like white bread but dead; To survive in the Borderlands you must live sin fronteras be a crossroads. --from Borderlands/La Frontera This in turn reminds me of J. Michael Martinez, a poet of whom I am currently enamored. I love his book Heredities. He does things like include his own beautiful drawings from Gray's Anatomy ("Articulations of Quetzalcoatl's Spine"), marginalia from instructions on the Spanish Inquisition by Torquemada (who was of Jewish heritage) and write: [4] The Word is The Gaze Between the Body and Its Listening Margin is the whiteness in our silence. I said, Difference is already spread between the body and the gaze. You said, We lament the name we give; we give word to find respite from the shallows between. Your irises close, black flowers folding toward the silence of their beginning. I place a cup of coffee before you. I said, The name never sutures to the named body. In "The Poetics of Suspicion: Chicana/o Poetry and the New," by Martinez and Jordan Windholz, which addresses exclusionary ideologies in the U.S. avant-garde, the authors assert: "... identity and representation themselves are highly problematic given their tendency to push toward an essentialist ontology. Post-structuralist theories, and history itself, have taught us that any affirmation of an “essential” Chicana/o identity erases particular Chicana and Chicano subjectivities, and that such essentialization excludes... Continue reading
Posted Aug 17, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
"I don’t know if I’m yet awake, as you say," writes Dawn. "Awakened to what? Awakened, perhaps, to distrust? Maybe I’m anxious from pumping my system with chemicals and caffeine (Red Bull). Maybe, I’m predisposed toward distrust because when I was 12 or 13, adult men speaking with accents I couldn’t understand would try to coax me into their cars while I tried to make it safely home from the bus stop in late afternoon. I could tell you other stories, darker stories, of being a girl but this would be irresponsible for the skeptic—to feign a faith in transparency that way. If I am awake it is a state in which I accept my own skepticism, a lack of confidence in the enterprise within which I am constantly engaged—what we broadly call poetry and its languages, perhaps, a designation of speech or speaking to an audience or to myself or to language itself as there is, too, an attention to what wants to be said, what compels one to reach out and attempt to grasp what’s dangling seemingly too far away on the flimsy tree branch so enticingly. What I don’t trust is the generally accepted connection between the experience, the person, the interrogation, the trauma, the site, the emotion, the sentiment (“It is passivity that dulls feeling,” says Susan Sontag), and the representational element. It’s a trick. Magritte’s Treachery of Images. I don’t trust its enactments, its rundown tropes, its linguistic means and edge softeners. I don’t trust anything anyone says about The Bible. On the phone my mother wants to tell me the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. I don’t trust politicians. And, I don’t trust the past. Caught here in the terse meat of afterwards, unanchored. Drift around in muck as if to scream desperately into measure and cacophony. I prefer accidents." This reminds me of Index of the Disappeared, a collaboration between artists Chitra Ganesh and Mariam Ghani, "a physical archive of post-9/11 disappearances - detentions, deportations, renditions, redactions - and a platform for public dialogue around related issues. The Index also produces visual and poetic interventions that circulate fragments of the archive in the wider world." The Index is an internet presence, an archive, an installation, artists books and journals. Within, the language of erasure and the language of resistance coll[u][i]de. "Time was my messenger, my coroner, and my muse," from The Exquisite Cruelty of Time, Chitra Ganesh (2010) DLM: "That’s not entirely true about the past. The past interests me only as a blueprint for my own personal elusive psyche. The past is a diagram of punctuating events. Of perverse tendencies and the like. I enter lots of dark rooms, foreign spaces, there are sofas of worn cloth and leather, carpets, scents I don’t agree with, other bodies, all elegies for a dampened loss. An originary loss. And there is the body clawing amongst the worn objects. It’s OK to be inappropriately embodied. It’s OK to be disparaged, denigrated, humiliated. You’re fucking human.... Continue reading
Posted Aug 16, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
My friends are my "estate." Forgive me then the avarice to hoard them. --Emily Dickinson I met Ronaldo in 1998 at a monastery in upstate New York. Everyone still smoked then, and we spent hours under a huge tree outside swirling in a decadent vortex. I admired his fortitude as he played tennis in the heat and ran up and down to the Hudson River and back, past the fields of fireflies. I lived in DC then, and we sent each other letters, when one still did that sort of thing, and cards, and his were inevitably filled with wild musings and drawings that had been scratched out of some late night dementia or new tree obsession. When I visited him in Brooklyn, we watched old videos of Herman the German that reminded me of Maya Deren, which was the only way I could make sense of any of it. He is, to paraphrase Morrison, a friend of my mind. In relationship, one mind revises another; one heart changes its partner. The astounding legacy of our combined status as mammals and neural beings is limbic revisions: the power to remodel the emotional parts of the people we love...Who we are and who become depend, in part, on whom we love. --from A General Theory of Love, Lewis, Amini and Lannon Ronaldo was kind enough to submit to a psychic interview with me. Here is the result. RED: how did you awaken? RVW: Tonight, I awoke in a state of loss, totally attached to technology, my headphones, long cord to the iPhone I thought was on the small bed in a Hello Kitty bedroom painted by my ex-brother-in-law, where my niece used to sleep, then where a faux-nephew, also slept, but he stole money from his faux-grandfather, who has real dementia. This snake-eyed thief after my dad would go the the bank, over and over, would be stealing $50's at a time. I felt like suffering there in that bed this hot Sacramento night, no AC on, TV blaring the Tennis Channel, and worried my cell would hit the floor. I have a big bed, one room over in which I grew up, and on this bed I thought was my "travel" wallet, which contains the excess of my cards: emergency credit, health insurance, Panera, new campus ID (UC Santa Cruz in paper), stamps, but it is now lost. I've been up since 3AM searching, in a frantic state looking, thinking should I drive to my sister's, send out more emails, pack to travel back to NY. I'm glad I have my real wallet and Driver's license, since I'll be on a plane late tonight to JFK. All this to say, I awaken in these sorts of states quite a bit, and I know it's connected to moving, to how when one moves, one is fractured, new job, and my quest has been to stay organized in the chaos to capture my poetry work, which is about forcing myself to sit... Continue reading
Posted Aug 15, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
When I was a very small writer, I lived in a big house on a small street in Washington, DC. My grandmother came to that house one of the last times I saw her alive, as did my father as he was dying, so that house became a house of ancestor visits. To that house also came the poet Chrystos (Menominee), to my incredible delight, thanks to my housemate who had befriended her at a conference. For me, it was like being in the presence of light, someone whose poems I loved, whose voice I so respected, whose song I rang through my bones. Someone who restored me to myself when I felt very afraid of writing from my body. And SHE WAS ON MY COUCH. In the poem, “Tenderly Your” from In Her I Am, she writes: We’re in the grass of prairies our grandmothers rode Sweet smell of distant cookpots edges the blue Your kisses are a hundred years old & newly born. Chrystos is fierce and outspoken and sometimes people get mad at her for it, and she laughs at that, though she admits to all the times she was truly afraid for her life. At our house, long ago now, she sat on the couch and while she beaded, talked about butches, sobriety, gathering wild rice, being Indian, and the struggles of the Menominee Nation. Mostly, I remember talking about love and laughing. She was so funny, and kind. And serious. And unstoppable. It is a gift when a warrior artist sits with you and reminds you to live. In February 2011, she became the first Native American to give a plenary at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Creating Change Conference in Minneapolis, MN. She spoke for about half an hour, but I have excerpted some here: "I don’t fight for any of my identities, which are merely the bag of skin I was born in. I am a warrior for justice, for an end to famine, war and exploitation. I seek to be a good person who is kind and intelligent and literate…Our minds are the most important part of our existence. This is the place where our spirits reside. Where we grow and change and make mistakes. Cherish your mind, read real books…The mind has no gender, indeed the mind can take us to our ancestors as well as our futures. Don’t chain yourself up inside any label. Your spirit knows exactly where to go. Our difficulty is that we are assaulted constantly by trivia and noise. Silence, away from machines, is the sacred place. The earth, without cement, is the holy place. Everything you need to learn can be found for free -- in close observation of your relationships with the earth, with each other and with yourselves." Qwo-Li Driskill (Cherokee) writes in an amazing article in Studies in American Indian Literature entitled “Stolen from Our Bodies: First Nations Two Spirits/Queers and the Journey to a Sovereign Erotic” that: "[w]e were... Continue reading
Posted Aug 14, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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Aug 13, 2011