Background reading for poeting

Leisurely reading in progress of Rilke’s book about Rodin, to fill my mind with good context for some poems I’m writing about Alice Sheppard and Laurel Lawson’s dance piece, Descent from Beauty. Also in the works: Ovid (for Andromeda’s story), the Homeric Hymns to Aphrodite, and a visit to Stanford’s Rodin sculpture garden. I haven’t been there for years and always seem to be sick when the peninsula poets go at midsummer for a reading at the Gates of Hell in that garden.

I have much more to say about the version that I saw of this performance (work in progress seen earlier this year in San Francisco)!
Rilke’s glorious bullshit on Rodin’s use of gesture,

Movement has cast off sleep and is gathering force; right on the top, on th eapex of the brain where there is solitude, it prepares for its task, the task of centuries, limitless and without end. And in the right foot the first step waits.

One might describe this movement by saying that it rests enclosed in a tight bud. Let thought be set on fire, let the will be swept by tempest, and it will open.

This reminds me of two things immediately, one, my poem “The Envoy” about the envoy taking her first step from the spaceship (vaguely rewriting/regendering Genly Ai). Trying to capture the infinities in the first step’s motion as I think about the motion of walking, which I’m very familiar with from years of on and off bouts of rehab where you re-learn to do your gait correctly after limping, the step for mankind on the Moon, and the step that is still to come (for those of us who are not quite included in “mankind”).

The second thing is the irreverent “science fiction tai chi/qi gong” moves I was making up the other night as I explained to Danny how much nicer the senior tai chi class is when the moves have some imaginative language to go with them. Blue dragon, green dragon, picking a pepper, eat the pepper, oh it’s hot, dragon shakes its tail. I don’t have any clue whether this is something people make up on the spot or whether it is an age old tradition but in the privacy of one’s bedroom it is fun to open the pod bay doors, launch, extend your solar panels and turn them to the sun, enter geosynchronous orbit, the spice must flow, and so on. I recommend this practice for your amusement.

 

(Background reading for poeting
originally Posted on March 21, 2017 by Liz Henry – pics lost but restoring slowly from backup)

 

 

Rebecca West kick, and some poetry

In the last week or so I’ve read a lot of novels by Rebecca West. I tried to read her nonfiction about Mexico but couldn’t stomach her archness. Maybe later. But I loved The Birds Fall Down, and The Saga of the Century, enjoyed bits of Return of the Soldier (seeing the promise of Saga of the Century in it, thought it made me angry) and The Judge. There must be good biographies of Rebecca West, surely!? Her work ought to keep me going through the holidays, or lead me somewhere else just as good.

rebecca west

This morning I read a little zine or booklet from my poetry shelves called New Work by Corrina Bain. It might have come from a zine library, or from the poet if we met at a reading, or from the free box at a bookstore like the excellent poetry bookstore near Harvard with the steps and the very kind lady who brought out some boxes from the back of beautiful old “chapbooks” (a word I loathe because it sounds like chapstick, greasy and cheap, and trivializing) The poems are a little prosy for my taste (like a memoir told in verses) And there are some poems of the style of bald statements pounding one after the other to form a sort of holograph. Bain has a good sense of line breaks, so that even when I am protesting internally about the prose bits (which most people like and which speak well at poetry slams; it is only me who bridles at them…) I see her mastery of art and am pleased. The stories are of gender(queerness) and the City; the densest one is called “Uterine”. I would read more!

Nixon in China: That is your cue!

Last night I saw the opera Nixon in China and was blown away completely by its complexity and beauty and most especially for how it spoke to me as a feminist. I adore Alice Goodman‘s libretto and like to picture her fervent research and immersion process! I took notes in my lap. Her poetry is fucking awesome. It’s subtle even when she’s basically punching you in the face. Also… in general, the staging from the San Francisco Opera was gorgeous! I could go see it again and be very happy! Read on for a synopsis. Buried somewhere in there will be my reaction to Jiang Qing’s part!

The opera opens with a group of grey-coated cadres waiting for Nixon’s plane to arrive. The plane is projected on screen through mist. As the group sings The Three Main Rules of Discipline and The Eight Points of Attention, gauzy curtains lift and the mist blows away; the people become more clear, strongly declaiming “The people are the heroes now”. It was very moving. A staircase rolls up, Nixon emerges, and there is a scene of rather dull greetings and handshakes prolonged for the crew of a giant old fashioned TV camera which is wheeled around during many scene (and which I loved as a reminder of the events’ conscious political theater). Everyone goes away. Pat Nixon is doing an awesome job of faculty-wifing in her bright red dress. (Her outfits were to die for the whole time…) Did she really wear red? I want to know! It is so significant! Nixon, in “News! News!” imagines his ideal audience, his patriotic vision of small town wholesome America doing stuff while the TV shows his actions on all channels and the blue glow pours out from the curtains to the lawns and streets beyond. He recaps his important handshakes, singing passionately about history and mystery.

News has a kind of mystery;
When I shook hands with Chou En-lai
On this bare field outside Peking
Just now, the whole world was listening.

Then he utterly freaks out, bad-tripping with the brilliant “The rats begin to chew the sheets!” bit where surly, scruffy reporters give him bad press. Oh noes! Nixon! Don’t get all paranoid now! The rats song is extremely catchy.

The scene changes to Mao’s living room where he is attended by a bunch of people, three secretaries who take notes on (& echo) his every word, and Zhou En-Lai. Kissinger and Nixon come in. Nixon totally fails to understand any of the cryptic things Mao says but tries to clumsily work in some references to Chinese culture and history. There is a brief interlude where Pat and Dick are in maybe her dressing room getting ready for the upcoming banquet. She gets in a lot of “yes, dear” but also her theme of “more snow before the spring” begins to develop. Then a fabulous operatic drinking song sequence set at a dull state banquet. There is a good interplay between Nixon and Pat as he sings “I was wrong” and she does a smug little 50’s wifely chortle. I loved the waiters coming in and out (and often stopping to listen to the speeches) and the use of the airplane jetway (modified) for the ridiculously tall podium. The scene and act end with people dancing on the tables. Gambei!! Cheers!!! I love a jolly drinking scene! I wished my son were there to see the choreography of the crowd!

In Act II Pat Nixon gets a lot of further development. She tours Beijing — gets a glass elephant, pets a pig, admires children at play. “It’s Christmas every day!”, she sings, and I thought “A lot of women got ECT trying to achieve your ideal womanhood, and failed”. Pat then happily suggests a picnic in a beautiful park. That last bit was one of my favorite moments of the opera as Pat admires the park (maybe meant to be the Summer Palace?) and the cadres with her fall silent. They react quite badly to her burbling; they describe the oppression that created that beauty. When they see this aesthetic landscape they see graves, starvation, torment. “It’s almost like you knew them” Pat falters. She doesn’t get it. She is sincere but terribly innocent & clueless. She doesn’t understand why they want to dwell on negative things, why they are harsh, upset, angry; why they are so steely. She doesn’t understand why their revolution needs defending, and that they are still in a war and for many good reasons. This scene had me wanting to stand up and cheer.

Pat Nixon sings a long solo aria about how this visit is prophetic. Or maybe it was the snow falling and then clearing. I loved this solo and thought the singer was amazing. A projection of her face was superimposed on a backdrop of waving U.S. flags; I was so grateful to be able to see the details of her perfect acting & emotion. I felt inspired with real respect for the real-world Pat Nixon and her wisdom, insight, delicacy.

Then we cut to a staged performance of Jiang Qing’s version of The Red Detachment of Women. I love that this opera shows her as fierce and uncompromising, shows her attraction rather than simplifying her as a villain. Anyway, we get this completely amazing Hating Tyranny ballet interlude in which a young beautiful peasant girl is being raped and beaten to death by tyrants and foreign oppressors. Very movingly danced. Suddenly Kissinger leaps up from the on-stage audience of diplomats and becomes one of the characters who is raping and whipping the girl (Ching-hua). Now while I am not sure what is going on there I liked that it was blurring the line of art and spectacle with participation in oppression and that the lines of real and play broke down. (Meanwhile I was having other meta-ish thoughts about how many stories I have read in which the real action took place during an opera but in the boxes of the important people… above our heads.) I thought during the first part of the ballet, of the ways in which revolutions including mine want to make art about the experience of oppression from the oppressed’s point of view. And how that is sneered at aesthetically by the dominant culture.

Then, from the stage-audience, Pat Nixon freaks out and tries to save Ching-hua, held back by Nixon. Oh, tender white woman’s tears! Then there was a point where the soldier guy ballet-marches up all sprightly and fresh to save her. I kept thinking, and then fiercely muttering, “Give her the gun. GIVE HER THE GUN. He’s NOT GOING TO GIVE HER THE GUN. Oh my god. FUCK. TAKE THE GUN” knowing that in these things I always mutter that — and she never gets the gun! Instead they dance a romantic little duet which made me want to spit in frustration! Oh! Take the gun, sister! Though I do love the happy-wheelbarrows-rah-rah elements in this bit and others.

Then this, Ching-hua’s song though i think it was sung by a chorus. I scribbled down the bit about the silent gun warms in my hand salving the wound made by man, and looked it up, so here:

It seems so strange
To take revenge
After so long
To find the wrong
Can be undone.
The silent gun
Warms in my hand
Salving the wound
Made by the men
It will gun down
All in good time
I shall kill them
Yes, every one
Revenge is mine.

Yeah!!! You can imagine that gave me shivers.

Now at this point my memory is jumbled as there was a scene of Jiang pressing the gun on Ching-hua (who is hanging out with the new crop of foreign oppressors now) and screaming THAT IS YOUR CUE, looking disappointed Ching-hua does not shoot. She is singing “THAT IS YOUR CUE!” to Ching-hua in frustration. I can’t remember if Jiang or Ching-hua finally shot the cringing rapist foreign oppressor (Kissinger in Mandarin costume). As I looked it up from previous stagings, they seemed quite different from what I remember! I think the San Francisco director did something very interesting! I’d like to see it again or in video. But for me it was amazing either way. Jiang stomping and strutting around so bravely and fiercely! Popping up in her handsome tailored suit like a projection from my own News! News! images of myself that I carry! I raise the weak above the strong! Okay, so, someone shot the rapist and then the Cultural Revolution was ballet danced while Jiang shakes her fist at the world and screams THE BOOK THE BOOK THE BOOK and I thought grim terrible self criticisms of my love of texts and the pitfalls of vengeance and power. (Muttering meanwhile, “Goddammit… fuck this… fuck The Book… Write my own fucking book…. “) Let me be a grain of sand! Every girl is a riot grrrl! Kill rock stars! Either way, it is a criticism of personal vengeance, which is so relevant to criticisms of Jiang… I would also like to say that when Jiang gave her the gun, I noticed a woman in front of me a few rows who had funny colored hair and was with someone my age with dreadlocks, cheered out loud and Danny says I did too. At the opera’s end the singer who played Jiang got a huge cheer from the women in the audience – it was very markedly us cheering her… Which was interesting.

I am the wife of Mao Tse-tung Who raised the weak above the strong When I appear the people hang
Upon my words, and for his sake
Whose wreaths are heavy round my neck
I speak according to the book.
When did the Chinese people last
Expose its daughters? At the breast
Of history I sucked and pissed,
Thoughtless and heartless, red and blind,
I cut my teeth upon the land
And when I walked my feet were bound
On revolution. Let me be
A grain of sand in heaven’s eye
and I shall taste eternal joy.

Food for thought there. I will continue thinking about what Alice Goodman meant in Jiang’s aria. I get that Jiang’s defense of herself at trial was that she was Mao’s dog executing his orders (or his book) But I think Goodman means more in a sort of simulteneity of ways Jiang may have seen herself and her works. As the opera is about a brief event, but stretches backwards and forwards in time and history and the future over an holistic geography; and also how its characters speak about particular things but with the librettist’s knowledge that the audience is listening in a particular way with their own knowledge — I think that much of this is about gender and women as well as Vietnam. That is to say that is what Goodman projects to be in the mind of the audience’s viewing. We don’t have to hear “Vietnam” (though we do, once) to know it is simmering in the audience’s mind as the characters sing about war and peace, as Nixon reminisces about his wartime near-death experiences and ecstasies. Best time of his life, war, but not the best time of the war right then or the war scarred listeners when the opera was written (and not in our minds either today.) Similiarly, Goodman is speaking through Pat Nixon and Jiang to the women in the audience in a way I rarely experience in any performed artwork. It was as if the opera passed the Bechdel test on some meta level. I found that satisfying yet tantalizing. Obviously the Bechdel-test-passing fanfic scene between Pat and Jiang with the secretaries in chorus still needs to be written.

I cannot remember where in the sequence of the opera there was the “burn the books” scene but it was when Nixon says (so awkwardly! so embarrassing!) “Confucius!” and Mao is like “NO!!!” and giant scrolls come down from the ceiling. We get a Koyanisqatsii sort of projectsion of bustling cityscape with neon and traffic projected onto those now-veiled scrolls which become skyscrapers as Mao speaks. I wished he (Mao) could see the present. I have also left out how much I enjoyed Nixon’s singing loudly and jovially about telecommunications satellites! That was beautiful.

About the music, I’m not the world’s biggest music critic, but I like it. A lot of bits remind me of Phillip Glass. Some of the songs are melodic and singable and catchy, while some wander around in the way opera dialogue often does. I had many moments of awe and wonder, thinking not only “this is what poetry is *for*” but also being in awe that what I was hearing was made of human voices. Truly amazing. I love the long contemplative arc of opera and the long thoughts I have during it.

During the third act the two couples reminisce about the trip and their lives in general. Pat gets in a lot more wifely Stepford agreements to Nixon’s rambling about the war with barbed intelligence behind it but some ambiguous bits on how when she read his letters she was doing her hair or cooking some chicken. I interpreted that as part commentary on her bougie-ness but partly her own frustration or criticism of being relegated to that realm of life, the domestic “trivialities” she rejects in Act Two, reading Dick’s letters from the Pacific Theatre. She seems touchingly aware of his PTSD, his being damaged by the war, in a way he isn’t able to know or articulate. Mao and Jiang talk over their lives interspersed with Pat and Dick, with the stage a pastiche of the events and scenes of the opera and their Chinese and U.S. landscapes, memory and present — present as in 1972 but I am pretty sure some of the projected scenes were of times afterward. Mao is tired. Jiang is still jumping around fiercely full of energy and sureness. He thinks the revolution is over and was for boys. (Boys!!) Jiang is like, “No! The revolution will not end!” Or maybe “must not end”. Both the Nixons’ and Mao and JIang’s interchanges are of failed communication. They completely fail to hear each other across gender, just as Mao and Nixon missed communication — and yet in both those situations, something happened and some relationship is possible.

Chou En-lai gets a great pensive monologue at the end. He has been stalking gravely about the stage during all the more florid action of the opera, thoughtful and alert. Now he emerges and steps forward as the future. He is the one who now will frame events. He frets and is a bit neurotic in a good way. How much of what we did was good? (A good companion question to the classic one of “What is to be done?” By having Chou ask this question for this visit as well as for all the events before and after it — we meaning all the characters in the play — Goodman is carefully asserting that SOME of what was done was good, is not buying into a total rejection of either the U.S.’s actions, China’s in general, or the Cultural Revolution. I appreciate that complexity.

Unruly Islands will blow your mind, so buy it

If you don’t really like poetry because it usually sucks and is embarrassing, buy my latest book of poems, Unruly Islands. Buy some extra copies for your friends and one for your giant robot. It goes well in hackerspaces! Poems about the moon landing, modem noises, the dotcom crash, seasteading, surly teenage embezzlers, San Francisco alternate future geographies, and the history of utopianism from the Whole Earth Catalog through Riot Grrrl to Burning Man.

Also fits perfectly into your #Occupy library tent! Or — donate one to your local library for mega subversive pleasure!

Buy Unruly Islands from Aqueduct Press directly if you like supporting small, incredibly intellectual feminist science fiction publishers. Or buy Unruly Islands Amazon.com. it’s $12.00 and 96 pages of a weird trip through my brain.

The book has a gorgeous cover by an artist and hacker I met at Noisebridge, Meredith Scheff aka ladycartoonist.

Book cover for Unruly Islands

Here’s the book description and fabulous blurbs.

Unruly Islands collects 36 poems suffused with science fiction, revolution, and digital life on the edge.

Annalee Newitz, editor of i09, says of the collection: ”Liz Henry’s poetry is always moving, funny, and weird, regardless of whether she’s flying us on a rocketship through a science-fictional social revolution or telling us a wry story about being an adolescent embezzler. This collection is like a monster cyborg mashup of Walt Whitman, Joanna Russ, and the internet. Which is to say: Fuck yeah!”

Daphne Gottlieb, author of 15 Ways to Stay Alive, Why Things Burn, and Final Girl, writes: ”With all the awe and shiny of Barbarella, the breathless curiosity of Robert Hayden’s American Journal, and the dismal, too-real fluorescent sheen of the corner store, Liz Henry takes the world (and the otherword) and makes it ours in all of its signal and noise, its glorious classwar and cussmouth. She takes the unknowable along with the familiar and shows us how, incontrovertibly, the future is here, and the future is us.”

And Maureen Owen, author of Imaginary Income and Zombie Notes, observes, ”Liz Henry’s protean, phantasmagorical images slingshot us out and boomerang us back simultaneously over multiple plains in all directions. Immediate, futuristic, subliminal. An intimate, wild ride through a surrealistic mind field.”

Photo of Liz Henry

I’ll be reading this month in San Francisco at Writers With Drinks on May 12, Red Hill Books in Bernal Heights May 18, and at the feminist science fiction convention in Madiscon, Wisconsin, WisCon later in May.

Poems about Francesca Woodman

I was at the SF MOMA last night for a party and noticed that an exhibit is running of Francesca Woodman‘s photos. Woodman was a fantastic photographer. Her photos often make me feel startled — caught — as if someone had been able to see into my head and had violently extracted several ghosts, or xrayed a thought, a dream or a fear. Her photos are usually of female figures, usually naked, in landscapes of houses and rooms, full of light and shadow.

woodman-scarves-photo

They aren’t just houses – they’re like non-cartographical mappings of inner geographies of House, of Room, and of embodiment and gender. I see them and have the sense of being simultaneously trapped and freed, of being shudderingly aware of the trap of gender and patriarchy and of, somehow, escaping.

woodman-door-photo

A few years ago I translated a book by Zulema Moret written about Francesca Woodman’s photos, Un ángel al borde del volcán ardiendo. I really enjoyed the project. Honestly, they aren’t the deepest poems in the world, but I liked the way they interacted with the photos & my memories of the photos, and they were fun and challenging to translate. They’re evocative and delicate. I have a copy somewhere — it was published in Buenos Aires — and am thinking of taking it to the exhibit to read while I look at the photos.

woodman-house-photo

At the party we couldn’t wander through the museum, so I’m going to have to go back to see the exhibit! It’s very exciting! I had a weird feeling just being in the building with them . . . haunted by Francesca . . . as I ate my sushi canapes and chocolate cayenne cream puffs and played with legos, a little tipsy and very exhausted since I WALKED into this party. Yes, you heard me! Walked! . . . The lights and projections of lights, and flowers, and all the food, was very beautiful. We hung out with Jon Callas a lot (restfully nerdy and culturally similar to us) and Helena (dearhelenab?) who was very amusing in her role as Manic Pixie Dream Girl. And Ryan from Wired and several more people from Long Now who I know I’ve met at conferences. I was saying to someone I hoped they would put the constructed feminist language Láadan from 1982 onto their disk thingie of all languages (along with Klingon). Talked also to an Awkward AnarchoLibertarian whose name I forgot but who is an internet pundit. I have started explaining myself at parties either as a hacker poet, or as an Internet Pundit, or both. Neither are good explanations, so I have no elevator pitch for myself… Someone asked me, Web 2.0ishly at this party, “Poetry! So how do you market, I mean, CELEBRATE, your poetry and your work?” I thought over the last 20 years of my life and poeting along and publishing tiny zines and books in very small editions and shrugged… A celebration of obscurity?

Also at the party I nerved myself to go and (interrupting his endless conversation with Edward James Olmos the Battlestar Galactica guy) to fangirl all over Stewart Brand. Hiiiiiiii, um!!!!! I live on a houseboat toooooo and by the way my book coming out soon has an enormous long poem called Whole Earth Catalog that is homage and criticism of the last 45 years of your life’s work and our intertwined cultural histories of the Internet and communes and stuff! That’s all! I just wanted to say it! Have another canapé! BLUSH. He did a polite little double take and gave me his card and seemed quite kind. I wanted to ask Kevin Kelly if he liked my moon landing poem I gave him at foo camp, but I felt like it would be awkwardly putting him on the spot if he had never looked at it, so I just said hello and chatted to the other people as we stood around.

sfmoma-party

I survived the fancy Walking Party At a Museum by sitting down a lot and trying to lure people to sit with me to make things out of legos in the big bowls by the couches. Then would pop back up for a 5 or 10 minute Ordeal of Painful Verticality. Back at home, Danny gently massaged my calves and ankles till I fell asleep.

Kandila – bilingual poetry book

My friend ephemere is taking pre-orders for a calligraphy poembook. Here’s her description of the project:

calligraphy poembook

Kandila will be a little book rendered completely, from the title page to the very last leaf, in calligraphy. It will feature three of my (rather long!) bilingual love poems to my country, the Philippines, rendered in different calligraphic styles, as well as a few pages of baybayin calligraphy and “playing around with letters” calligraphy art. I estimate the approximate length at fifty to sixty calligraphed pages. Each book will be signed.

A .pdf of the entire book will be available for free online. Please note that there will be parts of this book rendered in Filipino, but the translation will not be calligraphed; instead it will be available as a printed sheet accompanying the book, and will also be freely viewable online.

Kandila will be sent out by mid-November. All funds raised will go toward supporting me in the wake of my being terminated from my job, which I lost due to my unwillingness to remain silent about my marginalized identity and beliefs.Details here.

ink and pen drawing of a woman in a lace head scarf
Please support her, buy the book, order her beautiful art, and pass this on if you can!

Belladonna readings in NYC

The Belladonna collective has some kick ass poetry events and I really wish I could go to their upcoming one:

Our Material Lives: Feminism and Poetry at Various Ages

Our 2011-2012 season will call to attention the material life of the artist, as person, who, in addition to being creator/conspirator to a body of work, possesses a physical body, and real financial, medical and social needs. To inaugurate this season, we’ll begin with an unique event focusing on feminism and writing in the many stages of our poetic lives.

The evening will include an exclusive screening of The Poetry Deal, Melanie La Rosa’s film about legendary poet Diane di Prima, readings by internationally acclaimed poets Ana Bozicević and Caroline Crumpacker, with Hannah Zeavin and an opportunity for conversation among presenters and audience.

If I could I would also subscribe to their entire series of printed books and go to their readings which all sound great.

While it is the people I haven’t heard of who I really want to hear…. still it would be kickass to be there for Anne Waldman‘s performance. She’s so weird and screechy, uncomfortable in a good way.

I’m going to listen to some of the Belladonna reading series mp3 archive today while I work. 20 minutes of Maureen Owen, fuck yeah! I’m downloading them now and making a playlist. Will blog anything particularly great.

It’s been too long since I’ve gone to readings regularly! I need a little poet community feeling! There’s so many readings in SF and regular open mics every day of the week. I’m thinking of trying to go to Word Party at Viracocha, or Smack Dab. I love to go to an open mic and take notes… and blog about it!

belladonna logo

No Place Fast

This morning I was reading an F. A. Nettelbeck book and thinking about his little books and his poems. Half the time I roll my eyes at what, when I was editing a magazine, I used to call Body Fluid Poetry, but he rescues it over and over either in the poem itself or by juxtaposition with stuff that doesn’t seem like a gratuitous “outpouring”. My friend Greg Hall did this too and I suspect I do too; hopefully with some skill. I admire a poet that can talk dirty with delicacy.

book cover for No Place Fast

The thing with Nettelbeck is that his units of stuff have an impact, whether books or tiny THIS IS IMPORTANT pamphlets. I read them all at once and am left with the impression of having walked through a hologram of a poet’s state of mind, of how their perceptions intertwine with language. The poems might be tiny units themselves but it’s the whole book that sticks with me and the poem doesn’t even *try* to wind up reality and stick a hypocritical christmas bow of finality on it. Fine, instead I am on a rusting lawn chair on a dirty porch hearing a train go by but at least we’re kicked back together with some Thoughts. Fred is always doing something but is always someplace else at the same time. We are in history. I get a little sentimental about some ink on a page from 1976 talking to ME RIGHT NOW DAMMIT. And into the future. Just a moment. You would never know what’s in another person’s brain as they sit next to you on that porch looking across the street but you just never know because anyone, anyone could be thinking on any level.

No Place Fast

Listen, you can hear
the blood drip quaintly
onto the sidewalk

children playing in it
draw pictures of
animals in bright
red fashion

everything seems to
be a feverish, frenzied,
half-acquitted history

then the bullets
turn into rain drops
and the animals are
washed away . . .

Another thing about Fred — I like his line breaks. You know how some people are trying too hard and are amateurish about how they turn a line? It’s good to know a poet knows what they’re doing but Nettelbeck also never stinks of academia which if you have ever sat through a Creative Writing Seminar sort of thing you should know what I mean.

Well, Son

they came down
from the academy in smocks

      paint the colors of jealousy

no one asked them        just like
ushers in church
soapy faced

         splattered us all with their
         paint

         broke our sculptures

         set fire to most of the drawings

         ripped up our canvases with knives

no one blamed them    they were
only doing their duty
showing a little gratitude

          we broke out the beer & relaxed

          applauded

I think that's when they started to call
it art

this is art they said

         you will learn

R.I.P. Fred. and Dirty Greggie. Hanging out with Rimbaud and Genet on my bookshelf having a beer and listening to Jimmie Rodgers.

Granted I feel weird about liking old poet dudes this much when however much they humanize their whorey angels they still got em but we are all in the framework of patriarchy so what the hell.

Diane di Prima reading for DivaFest

Diane di Prima does one long solo reading per year in San Francisco and for the last 7 years that’s been at DivaFest at the Exit Theater. The little theater was packed with wistful and wild-eyed poets and hardcore di Prima fans as Diane led off just talking about stuff and asking us all for any spare kleenexes before she started out reading. She talked a bit about being the poet laureate of San Francisco saying that she loves the poetry folks of this town and it honors them and it honors poetry. But the parts that are political or B.S. and that it doesn’t have very much money to support her going in to teach poetry writing to kids and so on, that part isn’t so great. It’s nice but the greatest honor she has ever received was knowing someone typed out her first book on carbon paper to pass it around Leavenworth prison.

Diane then said that she is thinking of what’s new, poems as news, poets as antennae and is reading a bunch of unpublished work and the new things that may go into Loba or the next Revolutionary Letters. “A lot of things that are news are very old. They’re new and old at the same time.” I really love poet talk and Diane can’t even help doing it and at the same time is just plain not full of shit. (Reminding me of my friend Greg who died… should be on his grave stone, “He wasn’t full of shit.”) I respect the ability some people have to just talk and then to read their writing in a way that isn’t bullshitty or different than their usual self. Just write it! And then when you’re talking, saying something! That’s so good.

I kept imagining wishfully that Diane would come to WisCon where she would be strangely happy among fantastic strong writer matriarchs in lavender quilted vests and iron grey hair and wild imaginations that range through all time and space!

Diane di Prima reading at DIVAfest.jpg

Notes on the poems!

The first poem was “My Andalusia” which was written as an exploration of writing about things as you imagined them when you were younger. What you thought about Egypt or New York when you were 6. Diane’s Anadalusia was an alternate history coming up to the present and future where sufi and kabalah and christian and scientific communities flourished uninterrupted by war. “to make light brighter, distance more vast.” Maybe it was “vastness more vast.” “And About Obama” “and if you were living in the enemy’s house wife and kids there too guarded by assassins … for what *were* after all dreams …” I slipped in and out of knowing what she was talking about and then felt quite unsure that other people in the room knew either though they “Hmmmmmmmm!”ed as if they did. “At least the Bay Bridge snapped… somebody had to say something”. And then some old news – “a deer and her young hesitate” which I think then had some radioactive waste. It worked even past my reservations. LOTS of hmmmm-ing on that one which reaction made me wince. (Though, I love people who love poetry so should not criticize. )

“Don’t turn away” (with brief explanation of Kurosawa biography and earthquake story and his brother saying, “Don’t turn away – You want to make films, don’t look away – LOOK!” If you are working on something, don’t turn away. Hyena -vulture – guardians – the race of forbidden – where we keep the dead – warm mud – Look, tears magnify what you can see – Don’t look it up don’t study it’s all before your eyes. (Well and yes I suppose Earth is a mass grave, really. ) Diane read this long prose poem so well and powerfully, forceful, the words building up and poem tumbling over itself. Well done and never maudlin / self righteous / guilt ridden-yet-self-absolving which is the trap so many middle class poets fall into automatically.

“The daughter” – couldn’t wait till she died, pulling weeds, “didn’t I think it looked a whole lot better.” Oh my.

Poem for Sheppard, healer & beloved. Treebark rule (an herb tea he makes her) Touch the crown of their heads as they have not been touched since newborn / they are worth all care / they are gold of gold ” Now here I cried at the poem a bit not knowing Shep but knowing he is sick and that she is not perhaps in the pink of health either and knowing what it means to be in pain and cared for (vs. not cared for) and the other way round And that it is one of the best things. Mia Mingus said it very well in Access Intimacy

Access intimacy is also the intimacy I feel with many other disabled and sick people who have an automatic understanding of access needs out of our shared similar lived experience of the many different ways ableism manifests in our lives. Together, we share a kind of access intimacy that is ground-level, with no need for explanations. Instantly, we can hold the weight, emotion, logistics, isolation, trauma, fear, anxiety and pain of access. I don’t have to justify and we are able to start from a place of steel vulnerability.

Interdependence is worth fighting for and certainly good to write about. I liked the poem.

Then a long poem for a benefit for Haiti for which the organizers kept adding on new countries so it is called Haiti Chile Tibet. I cheered mightily at the bit at the end with the list of Just a Few Suggestions. 1) All hands on deck means just that. It’s a really small boat. 2. Anyone bringing help is welcome – OBVIOUSLY. Don’t ask where they’re from. (HHAHAAH so true – thinking bitterly of the red cross during katrina! lord!) 3) All borders disappear in catastrophe. They are stupid and irrelevant anyway. 4) There is no such thing as looting in a disaster. 5 on the police 6) on guests 7) Give up confusing your property with your life. This will save a lot of problems! I like a poem that describes the world with a little lyrical perspective and humility and then ends with practical wisdom!

“Homeland Security to T’ang Dynasty Princess” – short & sweet. take off your dew covered slippers, step away from the window. Funny then not then funny again, indeed

Lot’s wife doesn’t have a name Who was she how did he greet her when she came in from the field?

“Why money makes me feel bad.” I feel bad when I get some . Then feeling bad when not having any. Yup.

War haiku – July 2006. Lebanon. Even an hour of this / would be too long /White phosophorus. Great lords of the sea /it is Tyre they are burning. Don’t ask if I have bad dreams…

Millenium poem. Revolutionary letters # 83. In the wink of an eye. If Iliad Odyssey… harmony.. and Blake says Fuck all this! & Baudelaire & Rimbaud comes back from outer space he’d rather die a sleazebutt human! American cats et in on it (Melville) They don’t know from order! (laughter uncontrollable there!) Brightness fell from the air. magical will…

I like that poem and want to read it on the page! It was tremendous!

June 3 1966 To the unnamed Buddhist Nun who burned herself to death (she called the NY Times and then called the reporter who told her that buddhist nuns don’t have names.) (not) O monk is it hot in there? (koan about it being a stupid question)

Diane noted that part of her wants to apologize for being so dark. She has this bit of Loba *(unpublished) about the painter who painted Mary out of elephant dung (Chris Ofili) (Turmoil!) And thinking all the other things people might not realize are also sacred. Litany – Our lady of the elephants. Our lady of the armadillos. Our lady of subways… Lady of largest heart. (Yes- Inanna reference!!!!! Right on)

Freaking awesome poem called Fire sale – everything must go. I long to publish this one.
Well, we can’t build the new society from the shell of the old” “I love those old Wobbly songs” Let’s stop looking over our shoulders! Let’s stop copying Scandinavian socialism, it’s too sad! You all talk too much!” Oh, man, I love it.

We then had some questions and conversation. Conversation hard though in Authority/Audience format (alas) I asked what Diane is reading and she said lots of Ursula Le Guin (YEAH…. instantly I go back to my WisCon imaginings and pictured them both at the Mad Scientist Otaku Tea Party Cafe laughing over tea with robots and mad scientists serving little cakes) And all of Shakespeare in little Arden editions because you can hold one at a time and they don’t hurt your hands to hold them up. someone asked about plays and Diane said she has some plays one called Whale Hunting about the death of Shelley just before he drowns with Mary Byron and Shelley. Oh man! I’d like to see that play. And another one which I did’t hear about because I was imagining the Shelley one. A very dear woman stood up in the back and said her name is Grace HArwood and she has been witness to Diane’s aweseomness since 1970 and is so happy she is poet laureate and it’s about fucking time! (cheers and applause) Another question , what do you think is possible? Are you writing more memoir? (Yes but slowly and don’t tell anyone, she does not want her agent to know so there is no pressure) It has a lot about the shape of life and the demands of old age and is around 200 pages now. Diane asked us what we are writing and doing and where we published and after what was perhaps not a long enough pause I said I am making tiny books and held up my Burn This Press stuff. (Then wished I hadn’t and that i had explained my whole earth catalogue poem and my difficulties with it ) Another guy talked about a small press cooperative he is in up near Yosemite with 35 authors, Poetic Matric Press and he named a poet who does something interesting with Damascus I think (then I was remembering the excellent Damashq story from the Lesbian Steampunk book.) Someone up in the back asked about Denise Levertov and whether they knew each other. Diane said they were at readings together and she was very proper and without meaning to or knowing it she often upset Denise just by having some 4 letter words in a poem. also “she could have gone further”. I got excited and wondered what she meant there b/c I am fond of Levertov but get very frustrated by her and want to give her a shove and go “okay… now go further”. She wraps it up too fast and doesn’t get out of a certain comfort zone (though that is arrogant of me to say) What poetry would she recommend for kids? What poetry would be NOT for kids? (maybe Kaddish… i dunno…. lol) They’re just people! Just give them poetry! They come with all the equipment. (I agree) She said when she was little people read her shakespeare quite young and she read all the robert louis stevenson and poe things that kids usually read.

Best question from audience especially since asked by very young dude, or best response I guess, Do you ever get embarrassed by things you wrote when you were younger, you wrote it 40 years ago? “No. That’s who I was. I love those who-I-wases. (swoooon) I worked on it till I was pleased with it. It still stands. (reads a poem). I liked that person. She thought she was a lot tougher than she was, but she got along somehow. Take your own side. That’s the hardest job of a writer. ”

“Things are different because, I’m not sure about the because. There were very few of us writing. in 61… the newsletter me and Leroi Jones put out had 114 names across the country, poets, painters, dancers, choreographers. Lots of indie bookstores and they all wanted 5 copies. Libraries doing special collections of American Lit. Now it’s harder. Why? I don’t understand the use of cyberspace as a publishing medium. I don’t get the shape of it and how the poem is with it. You have a book, that’s the poem in space. You have a reading, that’s the poem in time. I don’t understand what shape I am working with when I’m in there and in what shape things are cut. ”

Afterwards I gave some books away and Diane was so mobbed it was hard to talk with her but I will write her a letter. I did hang about to say thank you and to give her a tiny blank book (made from scraps of Burn This Press books). A guy came up and told me about Exit Press and someone else told me about the Brown U. bookstore and who to write to to send books for their small press section. Someone else invited me to the Lunada readings at Galeria de la Raza, which sound great… All the Divafest plays and shows look fantastic – it is a celebration of women writers. There is a pirate play and one about Eleanor of Acquitaine and it’s going on all this month – take a look. Also Diane runs weekend workshops periodically – I went to one in around 2002 and heartily recommend it – “hanging out and writing” was exactly what we did.

I unfolded my bike and rode the 5 blocks back to my car which was down 6th across Market – legs shaking and my right foot unable to really do its thing correctly and my hip aching fit to bust – But feeling very free and scared in the good way & as if I were cloaked in secrets.Taking my overcaffeinated self and sinus infection back to bed now for utter collapse as the sudafed wears off.

A new tiny book from Burn This Press

Thanks to Your Printer at Mission and Cesar Chavez and the folding-and-stapling efforts of my fabulous interns, the new tiny book from Burn This Press is done. It’s my translation of a poem called “Mala piel”, Bad skin, and is by Chilean poet Carmen Berenguer.

A few other poems of hers that I translated years ago were supposed to appear in Five Fingers Review, but after many delays, the journal folded before being able to print that issue. Some of them will be coming out soon in the next issue of Specs – including the awesome poem about the Chilean flag with difficult typography that makes the poem look like the flag. It’s a complicatedly gendered, visceral stance, or experience, of national identity under oppression.

I had to reprint the book and its covers, as I had a page order error in the first batch, and couldn’t stand the light green covers, and the first printer put the rough side of the cover facing inwards instead of putting the textured roughness on the outside. So I went back to Kelly Paper, a fantastic paper store, and got a supply of interesting cover stock for the next few books, going with a warm brown “Kraft” cardstock and paper with tiny random flecks.

Part of the point of my tiny book design was setting it up so I can print copies anytime at home from my laser printer. But once I realized I needed at least 250 copies, it seemed best to go with a copy shop, bringing my own paper.

So anyway, I went to pick up my fabulous Intern, Ellie, from high school and had to chase her down with text messages. She demanded to be taken to the drugstore to meet her “husband” who was going to mock-propose to her with Ring-Pops but I counter-proposed that we go immediately to my cafe haunt, The Grind, get some coffee and start working on assembling the books, and the Ring-Pop Bearer could meet us there. I had all my prints and supplies in two cardboard boxes — aside from the paper, I have a little kit with saddle stapler, bone folder, extra staples, tape, stickers, return address labels, pens, and scissors. I especially love bone folders because they feel so slippery and solid and strong, and it’s neat to think it’s a special tool. My mistake was in not having more than one bone folder. I wore out my thumbnail doing creases! Ellie’s friend then turned up with the ringpops and a half gallon of Rocky Road ice cream, wearing a Hello Kitty hat with built-in pigtails.

Ring pop proposal

After he proposed, I informed him that he was hired. We ate the ice cream and folded books for the next couple of hours and had a great time gossiping. I told them they might not want to read the poem because it was “inappropriate” which is what the kids say when they want to describe the generation over them being embarrassing.

It was an especially nice way for a book to come into the world. Thanks very much to Ellie and Ubaldo for the help and entertainment!