Some weeks all I want to read is fiction, and the idea of poetry is like food from a foreign country I haven't visited in years, that I learned to like slowly as my tastebuds adapted. After so long without it, my longing for it is more a comfort than than the food itself. Which is to say that some weeks I give up before the end of even a short poem, and turn my tastes back to novels. Other weeks, and this is one--here in Hong Kong, with the haze of an impending typhoon thickening the air of the harbor--my tastebuds are all poem:
- "Summer" by Joanna Fuhrman;
- An excerpt from "Michiyuki," from Hiromi Ito's "Wild Grass On the Riverbank, which this article (on Vice?!) likens to The Descent of Alette crossed with My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, a comparison so apt that I would've made it myself if I'd found Ito's work some other way;
- From "Tripas" by Brandon Som, whose work I could read and reread in absolute wonderment at its layers of multilingual meaning and sonic echoing and delicious smartness;
- "Upon Reading That Eric Dolphy Transcribed Even the Calls of Certain Species of Birds," by John Murillo;
- This essay by poet Gabrielle Rivera ("On a regular day, a day where I’ve got my 'brown butch thing' down, I’m a fly ghost in the world of men") ain't poetry, but it's somewhere nearby, even if the news-y title is lousy: "Fat-Booty Butch Wears Leggings — Confuses World, Confronts Self."
I write only to report that my poem "After I Die"--which is basically autobiographical if you could write the autobiography of a psyche minus its ego, with the id and superego still kicking around--is in the summertime issue of The Baffler, which I have loved and wanted to be in the pages of for an entire decade. You can read it online, right here.
While you're at it, go read about, or read an interview with, Helen DeWitt, whose completely masterful, wry book The Last Samurai is about to be reissued by New Directions: Publishing Can Break Your Heart & The Trouble of Rational Thought. I agree, even just conceptually, with the title of that last one, yes.
My brilliant friend Sara Peters has been writing the strangest, most eerie and powerful prose poems since her book 1996 came out a couple years ago. Go read this poem, "Third State," and shiver; it's springtime in America, where there's never a moment when a school shooting or violence against women poem isn't appropriate: "When the gunman ordered all the males to leave the room, we crouched behind desks and tables with wet, wheeling eyes, before being caught up by our hair and shot through our throats. Years later, we still had bodies, but our skins were loosening, our bones were disintegrating, our organs were growing cold within us, we were moving toward the third state."
I've been rereading this poem by Gabrielle Calvocoressi all month, in absolute glee. Here's the first stanza, below:
“I was popular in certain circles”
Among the river rats and the leaves.
For example. I was huge among the lichen,
and the waterfall couldn’t get enough
of me. And the gravestones?
I was hugely popular with the gravestones.
Also with the meat liquefying
beneath. I’d say to the carrion birds,
I’d say, “Are you an eagle? I can’t see
so well.” That made them laugh until we
were screaming. Eagle. Imagine.
I went to my favorite thrift store yesterday in search of that mythical Red Conference Blazer worn to AWP, MLA, etc by the children of Thanatos and said to telegraph the perfect blend of premature professionalization of one's creative practice and despair all at once--but no dice. I've gained weight over the past couple years on account of no longer being subjected to my own erratic cooking, and it confuses my own aesthetic: not just that I don't fit in my old clothes (thus I will not be wearing my chic Argus Panoptes sweater, covered in eyes, this year--even if it is the ultimate in Foucauldian fashion statements), but that my body image--scrawny, androgynous--is out of sync with my actual self. The end result is that I have no idea what looks good on me anymore. I'm Rubenesque, I kept exclaiming to my sweetheart yesterday. I should just wear Russian dressing and a sauerkraut scarf! Which reminds me of that Cat & Girl cartoon I ran across in an issue of, I forget, maybe Smartish Pace, about a decade ago.
I put a couple eggs in the Kazakhstan-and-then-Tulsa basket, and if those ducklings hatch I'll raise them to teenagerdom and then eat them with orange blossoms.
Edited to add: one decidedly did not hatch. The other did, but I put it in the neighbor's mailbox.
For months now, I've been keeping secret that I'd won the 2015 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press--and so it is with insurmountable glee and elation that I can finally crow about it. What an honor it is to be in the company of so many poets whose work, new and old, I've been reading for nearly twenty years. The city and the press both hold such an important, foundational place in my heart that I can hardly believe my luck.
Out in the desert when you have an application deadline to meet, sometimes you find yourself doing office work--collating, stapling, the usual--on a stack of soda cartons in front of the meat counter at the little store in town while you wait for your Niland Express with jalapeños and extra pickles. My timing's off: I hitched a ride in, but it took a while so I have an hour to laze in the shade while the trains howl by until the post office reopens after lunch. It's a good life these past few weeks, tale-telling with retired hitchhikers and rubbertramps, soaking up life advice from an honest-to-gods wizard, and I'll probably stop by the hotsprings on my way back.
Two more weeks of work before I get to go on the lam, become a vagrant again. Meanwhile reading Lucia Berlin's A Manual for Cleaning Women, almost an analog to Jesus' Son minus the subdued violence, and thinking about all the places in the world without a near-daily mass murder problem, without the background radiation of casual misogyny too, if I'm having a particularly utopian fantasy. Every day I try to wander my way back to poems (it's a slow autumn), or to the top of Grizzly Peak on my bike and back, but the innerer schweinhund is well-fed this time of year: ambition gone to the dogs unless one could name as their primary ambition collecting black-and-white panels of Ernie Bushmiller-era Nancy comics. For a time, every year around the holidays, I do.
Thunder and lightning last night. Tonight I discover the Etruscan Brontoscopic Calendar. "The original author [or oral narrator; the Etruscans didn't adopt a writing system until the following century] might have been a mysterious godlike child. Tages, aka the Puer Senex ('old man boy') was a strange grey-haired child of great wisdom and bad teeth who sprang up from a ploughed furrow. [...] The Etruscan Brontoscopic Calendar is a kind of almanac. It assumes that for every day of the year in Etruria, thunder has a different meaning. All the entries begin with the same phrase ει βροντηση - 'If it thunders...'."
Back in the Bay Area: I biked down Telegraph Avenue past a head shop with windows full of multicolored glass bongs and a younger Latin@ couple admiring them while nearby, too, two older white men with the characteristic genial slouchiness of aging hippies spoke gravely of their merits. Past Caffe Med where Rosie the illustrator stood distractedly holding his coffee cup on the sidewalk outside, his hair grown shaggy over the past year; then past the usual tangle of crusty travelers; past the contentiously long-empty lot on the following corner now improved with a grumpy billboard condemning the City of Berkeley for its inefficiency in the permitting process ("Mothers don't let your babies grow up to be developers," it read); and finally past Rasputin Records, where one section of the March on Washington display that took up twelve feet of windows asked "Who is Albert Woodfox?" I picked up a newish issue of Granta from the curb, then a few blocks later saw a small guinea hen feather in the street and circled back to pick it up. I ate a hamburger. In a moment of profligacy, I bought a fancy (yet relatively inexpensive) water filter for this weekend's wilderness travails--the Sawyer PointOne Squeeze, if anyone cares. Berkeley and Oakland are the same as ever--troublesome, mostly, but wonderful. Outside of Pegasus on my way home a man gave me a copy of the Street Spirit and prayed for me. Usually this feels like the religious equivalent of telling a woman to smile, but today it felt perfect, and the man placed his hand gently on the handlebars of my bike as if blessing it, too, and prayed for us both, he and I, to reach the kingdom of heaven. Amen, he said, and I said too. I went in to Pegasus to buy a $2 calendar for this waning year, and the man behind the counter said he'd be remiss to charge me for it, and so out into dusk I went, the sun just setting behind a building whose facade, somehow, from a distance seemed to read JACKET.
I'm up late dillydallying on the internet and skimming this Cancer Butch article by Lochlann Jain, a Stanford anthropologist [who my friend is starting her PhD work with this fall] who studies storytelling about disease and injury, and how it varies in individuals and across cultures.
At just about the very beginning, I ran across these brilliant two paragraphs:
When diagnosed with breast cancer, literary theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's first thought was, "Shit, now I guess I really must be a woman." Crucially, Sedgwick's recalled reaction to diagnosis was that the cancer, not the breast (which she already had), offered the defining trauma that constituted her as a woman. (Perhaps just as HIV/AIDS constituted her friend Michael Lynch as a gay man.)
Moving between self-elegy after her diagnosis and elegy of Michael, Sedgewick examines the contexts and identities of illness within the gender performances of the two friends through the prop of a pair of white glasses. Her article tells the tale of her effort to adopt the white glasses worn by Michael in her own attempt to be recognized as a gay man. But after a cross-country search for the same glasses, she finds on wearing them that "the pastel sinks banally and invisibly into the camouflage of feminity, on a woman, a white woman. In a place where it doesn't belong, on Michael, the same pastel remains a flaming signifier." Not hip at all--and certainly not an expression of the fag identity she desires to communicate--the glasses merely supplement the codes of her own femininity.
And thought, Fuuuuuuuck, that explains so much about why my fashion choices never work! Ah, nothing like a good anthropologist to explain why, worn in the real world, my aesthetic is so dissonant from how I envision it.
Yes, I know I'm missing the broader point (made less concisely over the following pages) for flighty infatuation with the smaller point. What of it? ;)