The full issue will be available soon. Find it here.
The full issue will be available soon. Find it here.
(Ed note: this message comes to me from my dear friend Paul Tracy Danison, an American who has lived and worked in Paris for decades. He offers this service, which I encourage you to try during your next trip abroad. sdh)
American, I am a management coach living and working in Paris, France.
When I am feeling up or down, I walk. When I need to think, I walk. When I need to walk, I think. A good walk irons out most small and big existential wrinkles.
Paris is the best place I've ever been for this. It enables food, drink, new ideas and entertainment between the pricklier points on the psychic map.
All this is why, all-American that I remain, I live in Paris. The walking is good and the city lends some of its elegance and beauty to conclusions, decisions & actions.
I would like to offer you the opportunity to try a coaching based on my personal practice.
Here's how to set it up. Send me a theme - a single word will do: 'Balzac' - and I'll send you a walking proposition (street corner to street corner) as well as whatever recommendations might come to mind, and coordinates, conditions and tariffs.
Contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org
We'll then do a short telephone interview to clarify needs & expectations.
Aller se promener à Paris
Américain de pure souche, je pratique le coaching professionnel à Paris où j'ai choisi depuis longtemps déjà de démarrer une nouvelle vie.
Quand le blues et/ou la joie, majuscules, me gagnent, j’aime marcher pour me remettre en mouvement, me donner une perspective.
Ainsi, quand j'ai besoin de réfléchir, je marche. Et quand j’ai besoin de marcher, je le mets à profit pour réfléchir. Une bonne balade me redonne du sens, de la cohérence, retisse le fil de la réflexion.
Paris est la meilleure ville au monde pour la marche, la mise en mouvement personnelle et historique. Cette ville laisse toujours l’empreinte de sa beauté et de son élégance aux décisions prises et aux actions engagées.
Je voudrais proposer à mes clients l'opportunité de se faire accompagner selon ma pratique personnelle: faire un bout du chemin ensemble – (belle phrase de la RATP).
Voici comment je vous propose de procéder. Envoyez moi une idée, un thème - un mot, 'mousquetaires', fera l'affaire - et je vous renvoie une proposition de balade, de déambulation, de réflexion (carrefour à carrefour) aussi bien que des recommandations, s'il en y a, et mes coordonnées, et mon tarif.
Contactez-moi par mail : email@example.com
Nous ferons un petit entretien téléphonique afin d'établir vos besoins et vos attentes avant de s'engager.
As we approach the end of the season, end of the series – game, set, and match -- I move that we keep in mind that a “terminal” is a noun as well as an adjective, a bus depot and therefore a place of origin as well as a destination and an end. It’s like the bus stop in the middle of no place where we see Don at episode’s end. You almost expect him to be ready to run across cornfield while a crop-duster attacks, like Cary Grant in North by Northwest, another handsome urban advertising man in a perfectly tailored suit.
Betty is, alas, terminal in the nasty sense of the word. There will be no new beginnings for her. Joan has lost her job and maybe her career in advertising. But Joan is nothing if not resourceful, and her talents, too good for the paleolithic types at McCann Erickson (ME for short), are such that she may re-launch herself spectacularly. But Betty is through. Lung cancer. Betty will die because of the product that Don’s firm used to service. And oddly enough, Betty – a tireless complainer and natural plaintiff – is OK with the dire forecast. Almost serene. Maybe it’s because of the Freud she’s been reading. Or maybe she is a belated convert to stoicism.
Pete is an apparent convert to Boy Scout ethics and he seems so boyishly earnest it looks like he’ll get the fabled American second-chance to make a go of it with Trudy. The pair and their toddler will uproot themselves to go where Pete’s new job takes them: Wichita, Kansas. The job comes with great perks – a company jet! – but still. For those of us who cannot forget the disgraceful, or conceited, or bullying, or malignant, or just clueless and gauche way he has behaved, Wichita may seem like punishment enough. The bars close early in Wichita, Pete, and they don’t measure up to the places you’re accustomed to, where you can close a deal over martinis and shrimp cocktails, moving your finger in a circle to signal to the tuxedo-clad waiter that it’s time for another round. “Wichita is beautiful – and wholesome.” Indeed. But this wholesome new life isn’t necessarily terminal. Would you bet on the marriage of Trudy and Pete in the heart of Kansas?
Henry, in denial over the death sentence Betty accepts, is not a convert to anything. He remains as sweetly loyal as a retriever and must have something going for him beyond his steadfast attachment to Betty, whom he sincerely worships. He remains an adviser on Rocky’s staff – that’s the governor of New York we’re talking about, and the most consequential man to hold the post in the last century. Henry has influence. He is not stupid. He can see right through Lindsay, who was able to walk through Harlem with his head held high and an amiable grin when other cities (Newark, Detroit) were hosting riots, because he, Lindsay, had had the foresight to bribe certain demagogues. Yet Henry has never had my sympathy, and I cringe a little when he is front and center. I think it’s because he is really so fundamentally different from Don, Sally, even Betty. I have read poems that lampoon Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid in Casablanca) because he is too virtuous. I feel that way about Henry and am not terribly curious about which bus he will board at the terminal when he enters his widower years.
Who else hasn’t changed?
Duck (whose real name is Herman) is still drunk, still scheming, still making pie-in-the-sky deals.
Trudy is still vulnerable to sweet talk and the illusion that Dartmouth-educated (class of ’56) rich-boy Pete can change.
Don is still the enigmatic, self-assured stranger who can’t keep his eyes off a likely lady but whose natural state is that of the loner. He is in Kansas, the very state of Pete’s second chance, but life is anything but idyllic. In his motel room waiting for his car to be repaired, he is reading the novel everyone read that year, The Godfather, two years before the movie. With a bunch of vets who drink too much and are as mean drunk as they appear friendly sober, Don makes the astonishing admission that he killed his C.O. (commanding officer) in Korea. That is not what happened. He may be guilty of impersonating an officer and, well, identity theft. But the real Don Draper died in the same enemy explosion that Dick Whitman survived. Does self-aggrandizement or guilt or some combination of the two stand behind Don’s lie? The Vets turn ugly, resentful, which seems to be middle America’s response to “Don Draper” in his custom-tailored Madison Avenue suit. Don is still as vulnerable to a sucker punch as he was when he was cruising his Ossining neighborhood in search of Suzanne Farrell – remember her? the idealistic teacher with the same name as the great Ballenchine ballerina -- and picked up a couple of hitchhikers who got him stoned unconscious in a motel room and stolen his cash.
Somebody did steal the cash that the Vets had raised – a theft that cost the wrongly accused Don dearly. Don apprehends the thief and makes him fess up. But he doesn’t take revenge, despite the beating he has endured. On the contrary: Don gives his car to the con artist. Could it be he recognizes something of himself in the younger man? I don’t think he is renouncing property and material values in line with the thirst for radical social change then becoming fashionable. Don never was and never will be an ideologue. If he knows anything it’s that he known nothing for sure. Aside from daughter Sally, whom he faithfully phones, he maintains his distance from everyone, keeps his options open. He is the embodiment of the great male invention of that period, to whom so many names and so much study were given. Dangling man. Irrational man. L’etranger. Alienated man, without direction or affiliation. The anti-type of the organization man, in rebellion against the codes of the one-dimensional man. He’s the guy at the bus depot who would buy a ticket to anywhere – or would if he had no car.
But Don is still behind the wheel, still the figure in his own dream who is pulled over by a state trooper.
“What were you doing?” The cop asks.
“Driving,” Don says.
The cop is unamused. “You knew we’d catch up with you eventually.”
Don’s rejoinder (“driving”) is not just a wisecrack. Driving is like drifting -- albeit with an apparent purpose. And “driving” is as good a word as any for what most of us are doing at any given time in our lives.
That’s my take as we prepare for the finale this coming Sunday.
One of the closing observations in your blog text this week is “Driving is like drifting...” Exactly so. Don has been on the road for weeks now, without a clear destination, propelled into some kind of pilgrimage of self-reinvention. This episode's title “The Milk and Honey Route” is apparently a phrase from hobo slang, dating perhaps from the teens, 1920s and ‘30s. According to the internet, “Often hobos speak of a railroad as a ‘milk and honey route’. . . Any railroad running through a valley of plenty may be called a milk and honey line.” Specifically, the phrase appears in writing by and about a guy named Nels Anderson (aka Dean Stiff, what a great nom de drift) who lived the “bummery” life for years before reinventing himself and attending the University of Chicago. He published a study of hobos, tramps, migratory workers, etc., based on his first-hand experience, entitled “The Hobo: The Sociology of the Homeless Man.” Hexagram 56 in the I Ching is called “The Wanderer.” The text says in part, “A wanderer has no fixed abode; his home is the road. Therefore he must take care to remain upright and steadfast, so that he sojourns only [in] the proper places, associating with good people. Then he has good fortune and can go his way unmolested.” I will try to beam this fine ancient advice to Don Draper, via time travel ESP, though I know, whatever his fate, it is already sealed, and will be broadcast, for good or ill, tomorrow night. He's not sitting at the deserted rural bus stop in the middle of nowheresville, grinning, any longer.
Lots of people are of course speculating about what the last episode will contain, what the final scenes will be, which characters we will get to glimpse again, what music will play under the last shot, sending us off into a Mad Men-bereft world. Will we see Betty’s funeral? Will Peggy be reunited with the child she gave away? Will more Sterling Cooper employees who were sucked up into the typhoon of the McCann Erikson merger extricate themselves? I was moved by Betty's instructions-to-be-read-after-my-death. Penned on blue monogrammed stationary, she handed them to Sally in the middle of night, slipping into Sally's room with her characteristic mix of grace and brusqueness, asking “Are you awake?” Of course Sally, who'd been told out of the blue that morning that her mother was ill and going to die, was wide awake. Electrified. Of course Sally doesn't wait, but opens the envelope almost immediately. Most of what Betty wrote had to do with how she wished to be buried, in what dress, with what hairdo, even including a color snapshot to indicate the gown and coiff. Exactly in character. Gorgeous Betty, always so perfectly dressed and made up, always so careful about her appearance, with a wide streak of complicated narcissism. She manages a lovely morsel of motherly wisdom for Sally, telling her at the end of the letter that while she'd always had a hard time with Sally’s fiery independence, she’d lately come to realize that it was a good thing. Betty sends her daughter off into her future with this blessing, “I know your life will be an adventure.” I loved Sally’s reaction to being told by Henry during his visit to her boarding school dorm room that her mother was dying. Her face crumpled and she covered her ears. I loved that Henry gave her permission to cry, and immediately began to weep himself, while Sally remained dry-eyed, her hand hovering for a moment above her stepfather’s slumped back, before she could bring herself to touch, to comfort him.
Other tiny details that stirred me this episode: Pete fingerpainting toothpaste on his little daughter Tammy’s knee as the go-to home remedy for her bee sting. The fucking doctor refusing to give Betty her diagosis, insisting on having her phone Henry so the diagnosis could be given to her husband. As though she were a child or a moron. As you note, David, Betty seems to make her peace with this stunning blow fairly quickly. Henry is panicking, wrecked, heartbroken, of course. I liked Don watching Red Foxx and Flip Wilson on the grainy TV in his crummy hotel room just before the TV went on the fritz. I cannot say that I enjoyed hearing the snippet of Merle Haggard's infamous Okie from Muskogee on Don's car radio, possibly one of the most hideous songs ever penned, but it was deeply appropriate in terms of plot and context. I just learned Haggard wrote it when he was newly out of prison! He said, of the inspiration for writing the song:
“When I was in prison, I knew what it was like to have freedom taken away. Freedom is everything. During Vietnam, there were all kinds of protests. Here were these [servicemen] going over there and dying for a cause — we don’t even know what it was really all about. And here are these young kids, that were free, b—-ing about it. There’s something wrong with that and with [disparaging] those poor guys. We were in a wonderful time in America and music was in a wonderful place. America was at its peak and what the hell did these kids have to complain about? These soldiers were giving up their freedom and lives to make sure others could stay free. I wrote the song to support those soldiers.” So it’s perfect for Don to hear, when he is sprung (whether temporarily or permanently, we don’t yet know) from his former job and life, and hits the road, seeking the holy grail of himself.
A spatula-wielding Betty pulling cookies out of the oven just as Sally arrives home (after having been enlisted by Henry to try to talk her mother into getting treatment) was a nice touch. Pete’s man-to-man chat with his brother at the fancy restaurant about infidelity, opportunity, risk-taking, what wives do and don't know was interesting. Vincent Kartheiser rocks. Betty's strength and quiet dignity when Henry confronts her the morning after her diagnosis, as she’s setting off for school, moved me. “Why are you doing this?” he asks incredulously (or some such expostulation.) He is amazed she’s toting her books, ready to attend class as though nothing has happened. “Why was I ever doing it?” She asks softly, continuing on her way. She seems both matter of fact and wistful, resigned and determined. I take her remark to mean that she was always just going back to school for herself, it was something she'd personally longed for, an end in itself. Maybe she felt a little foolish doing it initially. Maybe when she learned she likely had a few months to live at most, she felt even more sheepish. And yet...what else is she supposed to do? Her plan seems to be to maintain a facade of normalcy for her two younger children for as long as that's possible. Is this a good plan? Unfair? Is she perpetuating a falsehood that will ultimately rob her two small sons of the opportunity to say goodbye? These are unanswerable questions. That's all for me this week.
Till the final, dear David!
The day hostess at the Washington, DC Smith & Wollensky was a former Playboy Playmate named Elaine. Well into her 60s, her waist still curved in suggestively. Her breasts were high-set and firm (whether by push-up bra or genetics, I don’t know, though I’m guessing a mixture of both). When I was hired as the evening hostess, she eyed me with a look of both contempt and intimacy - she hated me, she hated herself, etc.
“How long have you been working here?” I asked.
“Since my last husband,” she said. There was no indication of how much time had elapsed within the word “since”, no clue as to whether he was dead or simply no longer her husband.
I took the job at Smith & Wollensky the summer I graduated as a stop-gap between college and my “dream job.” I stayed well into winter, even after I procured the 9-to-5 at a small publishing house on Capitol Hill. Having not worked in food service since I was 16, adult restaurant life was an ongoing sitcom of sex and late nights and making fun of people who made more in a day than most of us made in a year.
Though I never consciously entertained the thought, I know I believed I’d find a rich husband working there. It was one of the fanciest, most storied steakhouses in Washington, DC - just off the main drag of powerful law firms and NGOs on K Street. Evenings saw a regular patronage of attorneys, chiefs-of-staff, senators. A German prince dined there every time he was stateside, wearing a floor-length fur coat even in warm weather. Once, Governor Mitt Romney came in with his detail, a cast of muscled young Boston men straight out of Good Will Hunting. There was also a glut of pharmaceutical executives, newly wealthy and almost always slimy, hosting over-the-top parties in our event rooms. I was regularly tipped for no reason or given a bottle of expensive champagne with a wink from some some sweaty, tie-loosened bro on his way out the door.
My powerfully feminist ideals were dulled by the starched glamour of the Smith & Wollensky clientele. This, coupled with the reality of being on my own for the first time. I had just moved in with my boyfriend, who was still an undergraduate, and felt that sudden rush of post-grad loneliness. He still had the structure of school, the promise of a future that academics offers. I was angry with him, regularly, for living a reasonable life.
I also developed a crush on one of the waiters. His name was Joshua - not Josh, but Joshua. He was a struggling writer (of course), working there only until he finished his novel. He had a dog named Sundown. Unlike most of the other waiters, who were gassy and brash and had accepted a life of high-end servitude, Joshua and I were still young and bright. We were in on the joke, not the butt of it.
“Did you hear Elaine used to be a Playboy Playmate?” he asked me one night.
“I know ,” I whispered, flashing him my brightest eyes. “I’d love to write her story.”
“I also heard she poisoned her last husband!” he added.
“What?” I said.
Soon enough, I started to become a little slimy myself. Drinking all night, leaning into the attention of men who saw me as nothing more than what I was - there to serve them. What did I think I had to look down on from my drunken perch, treating champagne like a reasonable meal? Champagne I procured by chance, no less?
The men I worked with also stopped treating me like a lady. They shared their bathroom exploits with me, tales of cheating on their wives, and all manner of repulsive blonde jokes. Joshua quit for an editing job. The German prince stopped coming by. My life became late, and later than that. I was dragging myself out of bed at 9:30, squeaking into the office at 10am. (I’m lying to you even now - I was sleeping until 11 or later. It was not the ugliest, laziest thing in the world, but it was close.) My job at the publishing house - not to mention my relationship with my boyfriend - was in jeopardy. I was slowly, deliberately giving up a great job and a great love for a nothing job and the shady promise of a millionaire husband. A husband I didn’t even want.
One afternoon, during our shift change, I got up the nerve to ask Elaine about all the rumors. I was too hungover to be hesitant.
“Yes, I was a Playmate,” she answered without looking at me. “And I worked at the first Playboy Club in Chicago.”
“Wow,” I said. “That must have been fascinating.”
She shook her blonde head.
“It was the same as here. Just a big game of grab-ass.”
“No,” I said. “This is a steakhouse...it’s so...different….”
“Okay, honey,” she laughed. “Just because the outfit’s different doesn’t mean the job is.”
“Well did you poison your husband?” I blurted.
“Which one?” she smiled, pulling on her coat to go.
I’d like to say I quit that very same day, but that would’ve been too smart of me. I stayed for a few more months, weaning myself off the late nights and trying to do a better job at my better job. As far as I know, Elaine is still the day hostess there, foxy as hell at 75 and teaching foolish younger blondes how to move on with their lives.
Originally from Georgia, Jess Smith now lives and works in New York City. Her work can be found in Sixth Finch, Phantom Limb, Ghost Town, The Best American Poetry Blog, Lumina, and other journals. She received her MFA from The New School in 2013.
Today's comic is from the last line of Shelley's "Epipsychidion," of which David Lehman writes in The State of the Art: "Just as Shelley's outburst of self pity can blunt the wondrous force of his enjambed couplets, so the unsavory facts of his personal life (he abandoned the young bride, who committed suicide) have acted as a check on a young poet's enthusiasm for the author of 'Ode to the West Wind,' 'Ozymandias,' and 'The Triumph of Life.'" NA
In 1978, after dinner with my parents, my mother drives me to the poetry workshop I am teaching in a neighboring town library. I am surprised when she asks if I’d mind if she sat in. The only books my mother reads are romance novels, and I am a little concerned about how she will fit in. She sits off to the side and writes on one of the yellow legal pads I’ve distributed. She doesn’t share her poem with the group, but I read it as she drives me to the train station.
I sit in my chair
It is quiet late
They are asleep and they
Smile at me from the walls
“Did you get that I’m referring to the family pictures?” she wants to know.
“Yes,” I reply, though in fact I hadn’t until she said it.
"I meant to write 'quite' but didn't have a chance to change it."
"'Quiet late' is lovely. Quite lovely!"
She smiles like in her high school class photograph.
I can’t resist opening with Jenny Factor, who met “Mad Men” show-runner Matt Weiner at a Harvard symposium last week. Jenny was armed with a planted question: “Given that Don's real name is Whitman, and that Michael Ginsberg has the same name as Allen, was Matt thinking of Harold Hart Crane when giving a name to media maven Harry Crane?” Matt shook his head no; he wasn’t thinking of poets’ names. He said, “Whitman was quite simply “White Man.” He added: “Don’s fundamental questions are ‘Is this it?’ and ‘What’s wrong with me?’”
Meanwhile, Don Draper’s latest love hails from Racine, Wisconsin – Racine (French for “root”) being the name of one of France’s most honored dramatists. But no doubt this is entirely a coincidence.
To this observer, the abhorrent treatment of Joan at the hands of the McCann Ericson creeps was the dominant note in episode #5. First there’s Dennis, who fails to read the briefs Joan has prepared, interrupts her phone conversation with her client, and offends him, the Atlanta-based Avon man confined to a wheelchair, by suggesting that they play a few rounds of golf at Augusta. Dennis has ruined the telephonic encounter —and then he has the gall to be testy when Joan calls him on it.
So Joan brings her problem to Ferg Donnelly. Bad choice. Ferg is only too happy to get Dennis off the case, but he nominated himself instead and leeringly proposes that the and Joan fly to Atlanta together – to apologize to Avon but also to have a good time and get to know each other better. He doesn’t have to spell it out, the fucker; Joan knows exactly what he means, but is disinclined to play the fuckee.
So now she goes to Jim Hobart, the head of McCann, who cannot be said to be sympathetic and whose most memorable line, in the context of McCann’s clout, is that the New York Times would print Mein Kampf on its front page if McCann ordered it – an interesting figure of speech not only because of what it says about McCann (Hitler Lite!) but because of what it says about the venerable newspaper of record (“comme ils sont putains”). Jim makes it clear that Joan’s accounts are too small for him to care about; that if she expects to succeed at McCann, she had better learn to play ball; and that he’d be happy to be rid of her, and her half a million dollar contract, on a fifty-cent a dollar buyout.
However repugnant, it’s deal she will have to take, although there’s a part of her that would like to fight it out in a court of law, perhaps with a class action lawsuit.
The diaspora of Sterling Cooper personnel is at hand. Goodbye, Joan. Goodbye, Shirley, the second African-American secretary to be employed at Sterling Cooper, who is taking a job in insurance and thanks Roger for being so “amusing.” Of the old standbys, the two who might fit right in at McCann are a beaming Pete (a vice–president) and self-congratulating Harry. Stan is making the transition, but what are his options? Ted -- who now projects defeat and resignation, in stark contrast to the go-get-‘em young man who used to compete so fiercely with Don -- may be able to see the silver lining. At McCann he may be able to relax. Or so he thinks. But the futures of Peggy and Roger and Don are unresolved.
Peggy and Roger are the two of our regulars who are arguably the most deeply affected by the turbulent 60s. The idea of Roger at the player piano (“Hi-Lily, Ho Lo”) while Peggy glides on roller skates in a deserted office with a half-empty bottle of sweet vermouth on the desk makes for a delightfully surreal scene that no one would have imagined back in 1960 or ’62. Things are flying apart; the center cannot hold! It is even more surreal than the sight of Betty reading a Collier paperback edition of Freud’s writings.
And Don, god bless him, pulls an unexpected – and, dare I say it, existential -- stunt in line with going to French movies on company time, reading Frank O’Hara, imprisoning his mistress in a Sherry Netherland hotel suite, etc. At a meeting for a new “diet beer,” a “low-calorie beer” – what we would come to know as Lite Beer from Miller (which occasioned the “Tastes great” versus “Less filling” TV ad campaign of note) – Don looks out the window, sees the Empire State Building, hears a few sentence of the market research about Milwaukee, and decides to check out. We next see him driving west, thinking of Kerouac’s On the Road, listening to the car radio in downtown Cleveland (“Sealed with a Kiss”), and having a conversation with the ghost of Bert Cooper. Longtime admirer of Robert Morse that I am, I welcome his apparition and his wisdom. “You like to play the stranger,” he tells Don – the stranger in the conventional sense and in that favored by Camus (“L’Etranger” the novel) and Baudelaire (“L’Etranger” the prose poem a century before Camus).
I confess to maximum puzzlement over Don’s obsession with Diana, the waitress from Racine, Wisconsin, who ditched him and disappeared. Her ex-husband calls her “a tornado,” who had left “a trail of broken bodies” behind her. I don’t see it. But she is at least a pretext for his driving off into the westward night, and when he picks up a scraggly hitchhiker n his way to St. Paul, that is where Don heads, though it is in the opposite direction from Mad Ave.
What do you make of these developments – and, come to think of it, of Meredith, Don’s secretary, who, having been an army brat, has hidden talents (for interior design), defends the absent Don with a beautiful hilarious ingenuousness when confronted by an exasperated Jim Hobart, and still gets written off as a “moron”?
I'm glad you brought up Meredith, Don's sunny dispositioned secretary, who likes to dress in buttercup colors. Perky, efficient Meredith, with the voice of a kindergarten teacher, is running Don's life now, it seems, at least organizationally: which includes decorating his new apartment for him. While Don is simply running away. AWOL and headed vaguely west. Is Meredith on a trajectory out of the advertising business (too?) Ready to jump ship so she doesn't have to endure the work environment at the misogynist, high stakes torture machine known as McCann Erickson? If there's a villain in this show, it's McCann Erickson. Is there a soul working there who doesn't have the ethics of piranha? Will Meredith reinvent herself as a zany, eccentric Manhattan interior decorator, wearing crazy paisley pant suits, elephant bell bottoms, mod print dresses and knee high lace up boots? She jokes with Don about his having to brave "the hardships of the Plaza" (hotel) while he waits for his new digs to be ready.
But will he ever actually live in this apartment now that he's hit the road with no apparent destination? Has he become the proverbial wanderer, albeit one who makes Cary Grant look scruffy and is traveling not in some funky, breakdown prone jalopy but an expensive, elegant set of wheels? Any bets? I wondered briefly if the title of this episode, "Lost Horizon," referencing the utopian novel by James Hilton and movie based upon it, could be a hint that Don will end up renouncing the world and becoming a dropout /devotee of some sort...1970s style. Maybe he'll end up at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, or at its satellite location in San Francisco (which didn't last.) He could hang out with Alan Watts, Carl Rogers, Timothy Leary, BF Skinner. I can see him holding his own with that crowd of cutting edge thinkers, philosophers, life style experimenters, psychologists; Advertising is pure projective psychology, isn't it? And though he looks like a poster dude for "straight square man/establishment guy" he is anything but. What do you think of Don as groovy, 1970s itinerant monk? At least until the wandering bug bites him again and he performs another self-reinvention. Will he become some version of the hitchhiking uber hippie he picks up at the end of the show? How would he look with super long hair? Oh, Photoshop, you must help me envision Don with hair down to his shoulders, arrayed in talismanic necklaces.
I love the Hokusai print that Peggy "inherits" from Bert Cooper, via Roger, as the old office is emptied and possessions are boxed up or thrown away, and Roger unearths it from a closet. My brilliant friend Brian Tucker knew the title of the print: (though it seems to have several names, actually, just like Don Draper himself) "The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife." This piece of Japanese erotic art, which Peggy initially recoils from when Roger urges it on her as a gift, is eventually accepted. It travels with her to her new office, when the goons at McCann Erickson finally figure out that she's not a secretary and rustle her up an office. The shot of Peggy sauntering at last into McCann Erickson, walking sassily down the corridor with some of her office belongings, ready to move in, drunk on Vermouth (that being the only imbibe-able left in the cleaned out Sterling Cooper offices in the previous scene with Roger), dark glasses having just slightly slipped down her nose, cigarette dangling louche/sexy from her mouth, octopus-sex print tucked under her arm, is delightful. That femme bravado will last, how long do you think, David? Maybe 6 minutes at most at McCann Erickson? Hokusai lived from 1760-1849, the ever-wise Internet tells me. The print depicts, as Roger neatly puts it "an octopus pleasuring a woman." It prefigures a category of porn erotica in Japan that's currently classified as "tentacle sex" or "tentacle erotica." I leave it up to your imagination what that entails. (I learned the term "tentacle sex" a few weeks ago, listening to a radio show on the erotic manga industry in Japan.) Actually, Roger probably hasn't had time to properly study the print, or he would have said "two octopi pleasuring a woman." The print features not only a huge octopus paying attention to a certain part of the woman's anatomy, but also a much smaller octopus lurking up by her head, (one text I skimmed on the subject said this little guy was the larger octopus' son!!??*&%$!) tentacle tip neatly wrapped around her nipple.
A little hard to watch Joan get pushed around and treated like trash by every man she tries to work with in good faith, going up and up the ladder of command, trying to get a modicum of respect or redress from SOMEONE in charge. When she finally arrives at the top of the sleaze ball food chain with her simple request to be treated like a human being and allowed to do her work properly, she has the dignified, controlled fury of a wounded warrior queen in her stand-off with the evil Jim Hobart in his office. She is an AMAZON! In getting her to accept a 50 cents on the dollar buyout and leave the bubbling cauldron of oppression that is McCann Erickson, is Roger, her old flame, a savior or a betrayer?
Speaking of old flames, there's a tender scene between Don and Betty, I liked, when he comes to pick up the already departed Sally. Betty is reading Freud's An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria, a bit nervous about being back in school. Her figure is a bit softer, more matronly now. They tease each other a little about getting older. A sort of easy, nostalgic, wistful intimacy filled the room like a mist, a feeling I'd not seen between them. I can't remember a scene between the two when one of them wasn't angry or desperate or humiliated. So are we to get the message Don has made his peace with Betty? She has a new family, a new direction, stability, and seems content. Sally "found a ride" to wherever Don was supposed to drive her. So she doesn't seem to need him anymore, either. And we fans (sniff! sob!) are going to have to learn to do without him too, soon enough.
I am so sad that Mad Men is ending!!! Guess I'll have to drown my sorrow in a Lite beer. (McCann Erikson creep "When we talk about a low calorie beer, we become feminine.") I didn't know that low calorie beer was full of estrogen, but now I do!
Thanks to Best American Poetry for inviting me to be this week’s guest blogger and my apologies if what I present does not satisfy the expectations of their readership. My expertise is limited to a discipline I resurrected from the closets of disuse. Performance poetry, a.k.a. slam. Some say it has changed the game for anyone pursuing a vocation in poetry. Others scoff at it. From inside and outside the slam community prejudices and misconceptions have twisted the principles that fueled what I and those who followed my lead spawned over thirty years ago. Even Poetry Slam Inc. (PSI) the national non-profit organization sends a skewed message:
Simply put, poetry slam is the competitive art of performance poetry. It puts a dual emphasis on writing and performance, encouraging poets to focus on what they're saying and how they're saying it.
No. The principle definition of slam poetry, the practice started in Chicago in I984, is performance poetry -- the remarriage of the art of performing verse with the art of writing it. Two art forms entangled into one offering more choices for effective poetic communication than exists on the unspoken written page.
But yes, there is a very popular competitive element embedded in most performance poetry communities. Competition has fueled much of what is known worldwide as slam. But without passionate and professionally crafted performances no competitive format, however well conceived, could have kept (and continue to keep) people engaged and eager to be engaged again and again at poetry slams.
The Uptown Poetry Slam at the Chicago’s Green Mill Tavern, the first performance poetry show to be called a slam, is the longest running night club show in the city, maybe in the country. Anyone who has attended it will testify to the fact that the slam competition is game, a dramatic device for focusing an audience’s attention on a platform of performance poetry presented by poets daring enough to be vulnerable as both writers and performers. Two art forms melded into one.
This was the starting point for what has now spread across the globe. It is what I and others dared to partake in back thirty years ago. We performed our stanzas. We brought the emotions and images, the attitudes and conviction, the music of the words we wrote to life with our bodies, voices, and minds. And it pissed off the old guard who claimed that “acting” poetry defiled it. But so what, we had a growing audience and they didn’t.
Time has proven that what was once dismissed as a barroom fade has staying power and importance equal to any other school of poetry in the history of literature. Tomorrow I will describe some of the root principles essential slam’s initial and ongoing success in gathering and expanding an audience for poetry never thought possible.
Before coming to the MFA program at UMASS Amherst, I worked at a rural public library. One of my tasks was to periodically weed through books in the children's room that no longer circulated. In one afternoon, I looked up the meager statistics of the presidential biography series, swept each and every one off the shelf, deleted their records from the catalog, aggressively stamped "DISCARD" on their endpages, and stacked them in no order on a book sale cart in the basement, to be sold for a dime. This is standard procedure for every book we deleted, but the thrill of this act has stuck with me and now when I am feeling so tired of this mess we’re in I try to remember The Day I Deleted The Presidents.
Another cure for feeling hopeless in the face of patriarchy is reading defiant/revolutionary writings and knowing that they are being read and shared by others. “Native of Heaven” by Emily Hunt appears in the first pages of jubilat 26 and is that kind of poem you want broadcasted everywhere.
At the request of Emily Pettit, jubilat's incredible and very wise Publisher, Hunt went on to make a video of "Native of Heaven" in which a recording of the poem plays over a procession of presidential portraits, much like the ones found on the covers of those dusty, unread biographies I was so ready to be done with.
Being glared at by these textbook portraits of men while listening to Hunt's poem is amazing.
It’s a challenge to divide our attention away from what we accept to see everyday, and to instead listen and engage with the unseen voices that chip away at dismantling the messed up systems in our brains and in our daily lives and in the rotten, groping powers that lust for even more control. I feel such gratitude for this poem's ability to place the reader right here in our complicated, disastrous reality and to simultaneously incite reconceptions of the future. I feel it all— protest against the patriarchy, inexhaustible sorrow and dismay at what has happened and what has failed to happen, awe and respect for Hunt's ability to voice this looming reality alongside the particularities of daily experience. All while wielding lyrical lines and direct political address with great agility.
"Native of Heaven" as understated poetic manifesto dismantles and subverts historically exclusive, presidential speech. It is the kind of poem we need, and I'm so glad to share it here.
NATIVE OF HEAVEN
by Emily Hunt
What if we had
a female president
right here on the ground
Would they make jokes about her blood on SNL?
Or compare her shocking term
to the spacious cycle of a lily?
Would hate or pity win?
I guess I don't want to do it
but I would like
I care about my skull.
What if when I got my check
it was a decent portion
of a full year's salary
marking with the strength of math
every hour I'd spent
teaching children how to read.
Every winter in our world
I could use that money
to pay for my heat.
raised by the dead
and dying men
I might step into
high hot water
and wait for spring.
Even once it drained
there wouldn't be much
space for someone else.
Opaque in my periphery
might stand steadily
the shapes of houses, settled sky,
ice crystals, concrete
grains and flowers,
clean April wind,
and my leaders, so good
at shutting doors.
What if my kid grew up in this
a little dead between the categories?
Is it not strange that man –
with the pages of history spread out before him –
is so slow to admit
the intellectual power,
the moral heroism of woman,
and her identity with himself.
If we could first know where we are
we could then better judge
what to do, and how to do it.
It will become all one thing
or all the other.
Where is the broad and generous confidence
in the efficiency of true
You cannot deny one class
the full measure of their natural rights
without imposing restraints
upon your own liberty.
These things were said by
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Abraham Lincoln,
and Carl something a century and a half ago.
Ten years later
Lincoln's long gone clamor
went wandering to claim that
the mystic chords of memory
stretching from every battlefield
and patriot grave, to every living heart
and hearthstone, all over this
broad land will yet swell
the chorus of the Union
when again touched, as surely they will be
by the better angels of our nature,
but I don't think it happened.
A few days ago
one of my students
argued against equal pay
while I stood in front of him.
The girl to his right
apologized after class
for being such an airhead.
When I was 14, this girl my age
was raped at school
and in the morning
they announced it.
She was called a liar and a dumb slut.
She transferred and I ran into her.
Maybe she'll be president.
It might be sort of like
how it is now
except we'd have a woman show the way
while we listened to her speak.
Emily Hunt is a poet and artist living in San Francisco. Her first book, Dark Green, is just out from SONG CAVE.
This series is curated by Halie Theoharides, managing editor of jubilat.
NA: Tell me about Broadstone Books.
LM: Broadstone Books is a small (microscopic) publishing company based in Frankfort, Kentucky. We’ve been in business since 2003, specializing in poetry though we have dabbled in other genres.
NA: How and why did you decide to start the press?
NA: The press is an imprint of a parent entity, Broadstone Media LLC, which was established as a “cultural promotion” company in partnership with my long-time friend Stephen Taylor, who first suggested the idea. We both became interested in culture, in a broad sense embracing literature, music, visual arts, theatre &c while we were in college. Though we both went on to careers outside of arts and letters (law in Steve’s case, public service in mine), we knew we wanted to do something to support and to participate in the arts. Thus the somewhat vague charter of our company, which allows us to pursue a variety of cultural activities. Book publishing turned out to be the first of these, though we are also engaged in gallery management and have sponsored theatrical productions.
I have no clear memory of exactly when and how I decided to take up publishing. As a sometimes poet myself I realized the challenge of getting work into print, and I wanted to be part of the solution. At some point I started researching it on-line and decided it didn’t look that hard. Which was the first of many things I got wrong along the way!
NA: What inspired the name?
LM: The name was my partner Steve’s idea. It’s an homage to our college experience of culture I alluded to before. We attended different schools in Lexington, Kentucky, Steve at the University of Kentucky (officially addressed on Limestone Street) and I at Transylvania University (on Broadway). Combining Broadway and Limestone resulted in Broadstone (so much better than Limeway!). Which turned out to be a great name, suggesting as it does both an expansive and a supportive foundation for the arts.
NA: Tell me about the first book you published and why you chose it.
LM: Our first book was Home Place and Other Poems by Sheila Bucy Potter, a Kentucky author whom I met as a co-worker before we retired from government service. As I described before, at some point I began researching the process of getting into publishing, and during this time quite by coincidence Sheila asked if I knew anything about getting poetry into print. I read her work, loved it, and told her if she would agree to be our guinea pig we would publish her collection as our first title. Of course we got a lot of things wrong along the way, but nevertheless it was a great learning experience and we’re still at it all these years later. And Sheila later joined us as an associate editor and our principle reader, so obviously she was also pleased with the result.
NA: What kind of book do you want to publish? What makes a manuscript stand out for you?
LM: In one word, language. Our publishing mantra is “Tell us something interesting, or tell it in an interesting way – or better yet, do both.” Which is a brief way of saying that we’re interested in fresh themes and imagery expressed through language that is original, engaging and stimulating. This especially applies to poetry, which is my first love, but it’s something I look for in prose as well. Dickinson’s famous adage about “feeling as if the top of my head were taken off” definitely applies.
NA: If you had one line of advice to someone submitting a book to Broadstone Press, what would it be?
LM: In a single line, see the mantra I cited above: interesting theme, interesting language. With the emphasis on language.
Of course, the conventional advice about familiarizing yourself with our previous titles and our editorial tastes is always valid. We can only publish so many books, and being human we tend to choose what we like. Submitting work blindly without researching our press first wastes our time and the author’s.
And one other thing: I’m suspicious of first-person pronouns. Telling me how you feel about something doesn’t usually interest me. Make me feel it.
NA: How many books do you publish in a year?
LM: The average right now is about four full-length books a year, with perhaps a chapbook or other smaller project thrown in from time to time. We started out doing just one or two titles a year, and I think the most we’ve done is six. I don’t see it growing much beyond the current level.
I should mention that we can receive fifty-plus submissions in a typical year, so the odds of being accepted are slender. We’re currently reading for publication about two years out from the date of acceptance.
NA: When you select a book of poetry for publication, do you worry more about its marketability or its sheer quality?
LM: Quality, absolutely. Marketability is a distant second. Since we primarily publish poetry, we know the audience is limited at the outset. We’ve had a few of our titles break even, but not most. We’re very honest with our authors that our resources for marketing and our visibility in the marketplace are quite limited. Publishing is the easy part; selling, not so much. All that said, we do have to sell a few copies along the way to keep going, so we expect our authors to be willing and able to do what they can to promote their work. Given that we have to be very selective about the new titles that we take on, the choice between two very strong submissions may be determined in part by the author’s willingness to assume much of the heavy lifting of promotion. But we never, ever, ask an author to make any direct financial commitment or to take a pre-determined number of copies.
LM: Unique is certainly the right word! Anything I could say in “a few words” would be quite inadequate to prepare the reader for the sprawling ride this book has in store.
Hmm, it’s a memoir presented through poetry transposed into myth. A “scrivener” recovering from heart surgery and near death reflects on his long-ago first encounter with the Iliad while at summer camp, where he realized that the Trojan War was being waged on a smaller scale right there, by counselors and campers at the New York Police Athletic League. This intersection of worlds opens the door for Homer to enter, and a rollicking tale ensues. Audacious, wildly inventive, hilarious, genre-defying. Joycean in the scope of its conception and the grandeur of its language. That’s more than a few words, but maybe enough to tempt the reader into picking it up.
NA: What was it about To Banquet with the Ethiopians that made you select it for publication?
LM: All the things I just said! This was simply the most exciting manuscript to come our way in a long while, and absolutely the most original. It elevated our “tell us something interesting in an interesting way” rubric to an entirely new level – on steroids. And Philip’s use of language is just breathtaking – just what you’d expect from an Irishman by lineage. We weren’t sure what it was, but we knew we had to publish it.
And to Philip’s credit, he had done his homework before submitting. He knew about our press and our editorial slant from previous titles and thought we’d make a good fit for his unconventional approach. Turns out he was right.
NA: And you are publishing it in hardback?
LM: We’re bringing it out in both hardback and perfectbound paperback simultaneously, which we almost never do with a poetry title. We thought this book deserved marquee treatment. We have the cloth version in mind for libraries, though I suspect more than a few individual readers will opt for it. The paperback will offer a high quality alternative at an attractive price.
NA: Can you give us an excerpt from To Banquet with the Ethiopians?
LM: Gladly. I’ve chosen a passage in which Homer’s manuscript of the Iliad is picked apart by a number of his fellow authors during a rather unconventional writing symposium. It’s a hilarious scene, though one that many aspiring authors and participants in workshops and MFA programs may recognize with a shudder! I think it well illustrates Philip’s sly wit and mastery of language, along with his joyously playful blending of myth and history into a heady cocktail of imagination
The symposium’s upstairs. Eight sharp.
When Homer’s profile breaches the threshold
The milling ebbs. All take seats
At the long table in conference room 2A—
Priam’s Throne—featuring authentic
Memorabilia: Treasure chest murals
And boar tusk helmet wall lamps.
Beneath the sword-blade ceiling fan,
Homer finds a tuffet at the foot.
“Tonight’s symposium subject is called—”
Professor Alighieri checks the page,
“The Iliad, I believe. A Memoir.”
Fred Nietzsche’s walrus stash pouts. His fingers
Furiously collate, staple, deal.
The symposiasts lean forward, chins in palms,
An instant’s silence stretching for eons.
“Promising. Shows promise,” chirps Al Pope,
“But such infelicitous expression.”
His purpled finger taps the mimeo.
“Bowels. Black blood. Goat cheese. Knife. A tent.”
Dick Lattimore mutters “Inconsistencies.
Here the ships are black, here tawny.
Did you ever actually see a ship?”
“The would-be laureate,” chimes Tom Eliot,
“Evinces a weak grasp of prosody.”
Simone Weil quells her strabismus
To level a fierce gaze at Tomcat.
“These women are simply forced to come and go.”
“It seems,” says Pub Virgilius,
From under his Red Sox batting helmet,
“The author ever favors the losing side.
Does he perhaps harbor a secret grudge?”
The victim bites his tongue. Shifts his gaze
From Chaucer’s eye tic to Chris Logue’s
Bronze ear wax. He’s been chided.
Don’t speak until the symposium is closed.
Ezra pounds the table, insists
“Kulchur is the work of literature.
Look how I’ve saxonified Divas here.”
Andreas Divas pretends to disappear.
“Ezraaa,” Dante drawls, “Don’t hijack.”
Pound slumps. The ceiling swords whir
But the heat climbs. “Dactylic hexameter
As heroic measure.” “Derivative
Rhythms.” “Hypotaxis.” “Verasimilitude.”
The workshop noses letters from the page.
“In privileging the moon and cup motif,”
Pipes in Mick Foucault, “the text subverts
Structuralist dialectic by juxtaposing
Materialist and psycho-sexual paradigms.”
“Who’s he when he’s at home?” asks Jimmy J.
He winks at Dante. “Carissimo Professore,
I feel a cloacal urge. Might we break?”
Chairs squeak, furtive glances dart,
And with a sigh the symposium adjourns.
Homer’s hands tremble. His brimming eyes
Follow a finger beckoning down the stairs.
He knows now after all he’s not a scrivener.
NA: Tell us about some of your happiest moments of being an editor of the press.
LM: It’s wonderful to see the excitement on the faces of my authors when they hold their books for the first time, especially when it’s a first book. At those moments I’m in the wish-fulfillment business, like a genie with a press instead of a lamp.
But oddly enough, some of my best moments have come from the opposite experience, from notes I’ve received from authors whose work I’ve had to decline. I always try to give a personal, constructive and encouraging response, and most authors are grateful that someone took their work seriously and took the time to write more than a stock rejection. Having been on the receiving end of more than a few of those typical rejection forms myself, I feel it’s the least I can do.
Otherwise, I’m happiest when I’m editing a new work, enjoying a dialogue with an author and seeing a book take shape through the collaborative process. Finding an exciting new author, like Philip Brady, in a stack of submissions is also pretty cool!
NA: Is there anything else you would like to talk about?
LM: I’d like to say just a few words about the role of a small press like Broadstone versus self-publishing. And I say versus very intentionally, because I have encountered some very adversarial “authors” who feel that they have no need of a traditional publisher. Who am I to judge their work and to stand in the way of their words reaching a world just waiting to read them?! (Okay, I’m a little cynical.)
I think that self-publishing is a completely valid and useful process for authors to get niche books with limited audiences into print, and of course there are the occasional cases of great books that get their start that way and go on to reach a mass audience. Good for them.
I’ve also encountered far too many self-published books that are marred by poor (or no) editing and inferior design. That’s what I think I bring to the table as an editor and publisher, that is, the tools to make a book as good as it can be.
Some are also just badly written. Writing is a craft that requires practice and discipline to master, and acceptance of work for publication has served traditionally as a measure of success in attaining that mastery. If your work is consistently rejected by the presses that are publishing the kind and quality of work to which you aspire, that might be a sign that you’re not there yet. Opting to self-publish strikes me as bypassing that apprenticeship, and at worst can be narcissistic.
As for publishers “preying” on authors and profiting off of their work, there are very few small presses that are in it for money. Most are “non-profit” regardless of how they are chartered! We do what we do because we love books and we love the people who write them.
NA: I’d love to close with a poem from another Broadstone poet.
LM: That’s like choosing a favorite from among my children! But here’s one from the most recent book we’ve published (preceding Philip’s), The Butterfly’s Choice by Joanna Kurowska.
The Fear Parable
The African buffalos pasture
on the savanna, next to
a pair of lions.
The buffalos see the lions
but remain calm,
chewing their grass.
When one of the lions feels
hungry, and begins her
only then, the buffalo
nearest to her runs
in sudden fright.
If the buffalo could speak,
he might say, my life
was not driven
by fear—except just before
the last, culminating
moment of death.
And even as I am dying,
I can say I’ve walked
with the lions.
Larry W. Moore is a fifth-generation Kentuckian who resides in his home town of Frankfort. A magna cum laude graduate of Transylvania University with a double major in humanities and psychology, he has also done graduate work in the history of science and technology at the University of Kentucky, and received a grant from the German government supporting a year abroad researching the life and work of Hermann Hesse. He is retired from a 33-year career in Kentucky state government in management, training and policy analysis, and now devotes his time to publishing and art gallery curating as a co-founder and managing member of Broadstone Media LLC. He is a published poet, photographer and translator, and a long-time book reviewer for Choice.
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, most recently Why God Is a Woman (Boa). Others include 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.
Posted by Chauncey Mabe in special arrangement with Best American Poetry, April 2015
As all but the most delusional poets know, originality doesn’t really exist. Every writer is beholden to the books he or she has read or the writers whose work he or she admires. That’s the idea behind the “Under the Influence” reading sponsored by The Betsy-South Beach and O, Miami each year during National Poetry Month.
The program originated four years ago. FIU poet Campbell McGrath, O, Miami (and former McGrath student) P. Scott Cunningham, and Daniel Halpern, poet and Ecco Press editor were on hand. Also present via video was Stanley Kunitz, Halpern’s teacher. Kunitz read a poem by Hyam Plutzik, the father of Betsy owner Jonathan Plutzik. Kuniz and Plutzik were contemporaries who knew each other’s work well.
“I love this event,” McGrath told the capacity audience at The Betsy’s BBar one recent evening. “It never fails to enhance our understanding of the poets who have influenced us.” He opened with another poem by Plutzik, the humorous Drinking Song.
And, because McGrath and the two poets reading with him are also writing professors, the evening demonstrated how influence is received, transmuted, and passed to the next generation of poets. Julie Marie Wade, also an FIU poet, read “A Jazz Fan Looks Back,” by the late African American poet Jayne Cortez. “We’re told to write what you know,” Wade said in connection to the poem, “but it’s better to write about what you love.” She added, “This poem makes me want to learn more about jazz.”
Daisy Fried opened with Frank O’Hara. A visiting writer-in-residence in The Betsy’s Writer's Room (The Betsy is host hotel for O, Miami during Poetry Month), Fried identified O’Hara for younger members of the audience as “a midcentury New York poet.” She lauded him for always “going for the emotion.” She promised that all three of her influence poems -- the poets also read two of their own -- would be about motherhood, though, she cautioned, “not in the way you might expect.”
McGrath lamented the past year as a bad one for poets. Tomas Transtromer, the Nobel Prize-winning Swedish poet died in late March, he noted, He read a poem titled “The Man Splitting Wood in the Daybreak,” by GalwayKinnell, who died last October. It was a vivid poem of aging and loss, beautifully rendered. McGrath told a story about playing softball against Kinnell when he was a graduate student at Columbia.
Homage was paid to foreign poets, with Fried reading from the works of Cesare Pavese, an Italian writer of the first half of the 20th century, while McGrath read a poem by the Chilean poet Nicanor Parra(who turned 100 last September) in a translation by William Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. “In translation a poem is not exactly what was intended,” Fried said. “But influence comes from a variety of directions.”
Late in the evening the poets turned to their own work with an appropriate modesty. “It’s strange to make claims abut your own poetry when you’ve been reading from such great poets,” McGrath said. But he went on to read a long, terrifically visual poem called “Elvis Presley 1957.” Wade, a leading younger lesbian poet, read a charming work, part of a series, in fact, called “Portrait of Jodi Foster As the First of the Movie Girlfriends.”
Wade, a leading younger lesbian poet, read a charming work, part of a series, in fact, called “Portrait of Jodi Foster As the First of the Movie Girlfriends.”
Guest Blogger, Chauncey Mabe is a seasoned journalist with a 20-year legacy of exemplary literary criticism for South Florida’s Sun Sentinel. This Spring, with funding from The John S. and James L Knight Foundation, The Betsy-South Beach has engaged Mabe in a project to document literary programs from the inside out– sharing the creative viewpoints of wide-ranging writers who connect with Miami’s literary community through residencies in The Betsy’s Writers Room (betsywritersroom.com ) during March, April, and May, 2015.
O, Miami is a poetry festival, with a mission to reach every single person in Miami-Dade County with a poem during the month of April (National Poetry Month). Under The Influence is one of O, Miami’s annual events, held each year at The Betsy Hotel, hosted by MacArthur genius award winner, and Florida poet, Campbell McGrath. (Omiami.org)
Every few years or so, we are told by someone new that poetry is dead. I’ve been writing poetry seriously for about twenty years now, and I can recall at least five such elegies during that time. I’m sure they came before as well. I’m sure they will come again. Indeed, when my friend, Silvana, sent me a link to the latest such death knell (this week by Christopher Ingraham, in The Washington Post) I told her I had no intention of responding to it, because, well… I had poems to write. But then I remembered I was gifted this great platform this week and figured it was probably as good a time as any to address it.
In deciding how I’d enter this discussion, I wanted to begin straight off with a screed on how whiteness in the form of ‘evidence’ and ‘empiricism’ is always interested in reducing to cold, hard numbers, ideas and beauties that were never meant to be thus confined. I wanted to analogize Mr. Ingraham’s data, with the dismantling of public school education through the turning of our children’s educational lives into an argument of profit vs loss. I thought to talk about hip hop’s ubiquitous influence on the world as evidence that poetry is alive and well, sure as I am that rap is the most important (and rigorous) poetic form of the 20th Century, but I needn’t have searched so far to find my evidence. I walked into a South Side Chicago Elementary this morning, where I teach a theatre residency to second and third graders. One of my third-graders, in the bi-lingual class (they have been almost painfully shy this entire time) got up to share this response to the weekend poetry exercise I gave them:
I hear the voices of the dogs, the bears the snakes / I see the refuge in the eyes of cows. / My dreams are about fire and flesh. / Nobody knows about one graveyard under the stars in the skies in our world…
I’d introduced them to Federico Garcia Lorca on Friday past. This morning they introduced Lorca back to me. They invented and re-mixed. They found the break in Lorca’s music, looped it and re-imagined it. I could go on and on and share five or six of the more prodigious efforts from these young people (who are still struggling with expression in this, their second language), but it dawned on me that I have the good fortune every day to be part of the narrative evidence that states definitively that poetry is now, has been and always will be, alive and on the rise. Let me be clear; my instinct was to be dismissive of Mr. Ingraham, but I am betting that Mr. Ingraham does not get the gift that I got this morning, and get so often because I teach theatre and Creative Writing to young people.
Of course Mr. Ingraham’s article has graphs, has ‘irrefutable’ numbers, which suggest that less people read poetry now than ever. While I found some of his choices of reading the data to be flawed, I’m not interested in entering that struggle. Toni Morrison, one of the most lyric and lyrical poets of our time reminded us recently that some conversations are just designed to take us away from our work, and so we must remember our work and not indulge those conversations. Instead here is my work:
My mother introduced me to poems; the first of those being the poems of Linton Kwesi Johnson and Edward Kamau Braithwaite. Later she drove home the message of the significance of my being a black boy in the world with the poems of Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez, Derek Walcott and others that I then found on my own. I migrated to the U.S. from Trinidad and Tobago when I was 19, and all my attempts at art and verse ceased. It was another seven years before a friend dragged me late one winter night into a pre-gentrification abandoned building in Greenpoint, Brooklyn to hear poets do their thing. I was watching ESPN. I almost didn’t go. I left there that night, went home and immediately began writing again. That night (drumroll for the saccharin cliché), poetry saved my life, though it was many more years before I understood my desperate leap and grab at it. It was (and still is) a way for me to understand my world and make sense of its madness by bearing witness, by asking improbable questions, by remembering and re-mixing so that I can consistently draw lines between one aspect of myself and another, one aspect of my reality and another – and often when those realities seem so implausible as to appear surreal.
Put another way; for many of us it is impossible to go to anything but poetry in the world that has given us Trayvon Martin, Rekia Boyd, Michael Brown, Acai Gurley, Oscar Grant, Kimani Gray, Katrina, Gentrification, the West Bank, the GOP, 2 million incarcerated, private prisons, and the myriad other violences visited on us, and so we know that poetry isn’t ever dead. The question of course, is why the haste to bury it every few years or so. What does poetry do that someone is so often ready to declare it obsolete? The sadness of course is that often these prognosticators come from within our gates, but it is perhaps instructive that when they do, they are often on the waning side of their lives, careers and influence.
I know this blog entry will not be enough to stave off the next set of trumpet blowers marching around poetry’s citadel, but for those of us who need the comfort of being reminded that it’s all good, I want to let you know that in America this week, on the South Side of Chicago, a nine year old who speaks English as a second language, wrote this:
In the sky there’s nobody asleep./ I live in Earth./ a man finding a door to exist./ And my voices make fire or find refuge in one…
Let’s talk about some poetry for the next few days, shall we? It appears there is so much of it to consider.
The fifth annual Paul Violi Prize in Poetry has been awarded to New School MFA in Creative Writing student Mariam Zafar. The second-place winner is Timothy Baker, and honorable mention goes to Zachary Lutz. Each will receive a cash prize and be recognized at the MFA in Creative Writing commencement ceremony.
Mariam Zafar is a Pakistani-American writer pursuing her MFA in Poetry at The New School. A desert dweller at heart, she writes between Miami, Dubai, and New York City. Her poetry is forthcoming in Bird's Thumb and The Ink & Code. When she's not working on her collection of poems, you will find her scavenging for the best cup of chai in town.
Tim Baker is an MFA candidate in Poetry at The New School based in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in the Coachella Review and A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, and his prose work has appeared in articles for Newsweek Special Editions, TV Guide, and CBS Watch!, among other publications. He is a graduate of Hunter College of the City University of New York.
Zachary Lutz is a writer in Brooklyn. He is an MFA candidate at The New School and an ex-Ohioan.
(Ed note: This is the final post about poets and poetry in Scotland. You can find all posts in the series here. We thank Robyn Marsack, director of the Scottish Poetry Library (in Edinburgh), for so generously introducing us to these fine poets.)
The Australian publisher Ivor Indyk recently wrote a short essay for the Sydney Review of Books on the very different economies of poetry and prose. Along the way he had this to say about the experiences of poets at literary festivals:
Poets are treated as the poor cousins of the book world at writers’ festivals, put on first thing in the morning or later in the evening, when they can be processed in bulk.
Increasingly the answer to this problem – at least in the UK – is the festival dedicated solely to poetry. Sometimes this can be a one-off, as in London’s Poetry Parnassus, attached to the 2012 Olympics, but usually poetry festivals work best as annual events: in England, think Aldeburgh and Ledbury; in Scotland, think StAnza .
That capital A in StAnza gestures towards the festival’s location, St Andrews, a township on the coast about 50 miles north of Edinburgh. St Andrews is an ancient settlement – its cathedral, now a splendid ruin, was built in 1160 – and the modern town is a small town, not a mall town. The permanent population is about 17,000 residents, but this swells considerably with university students, golfers and tourists (“almost 1,000 years of looking after visitors” notes the town’s tourist portal).
St Andrews boasts Scotland’s oldest university, founded in 1413. The English Department there is well supplied with poets – John Burnside, Robert Crawford, Don Paterson, Jacob Polley and, until recently, Douglas Dunn – who make a fine complement to the annual festival. But the university is probably best known as the place where Kate and Wills first met. Royals trump golfers and poets every time.
For me, St Andrews has a personal dimension: it’s where my parents – New Zealand sailor and Scottish schoolteacher – honeymooned towards the end of the Second World War. For a while, I even believed I’d been conceived there.
StAnza itself is a magnificent creation. It started in a low-key way back in 1998, and now each year takes over the town for four or five days in the first week of March. The festival brings in major international figures – this year Caroline Forché, Alice Notley, Paul Durcan, Ilya Kaminsky – and schedules them alongside their UK equivalents: Simon Armitage, Ian Duhig, Glyn Maxwell, Kei Miller, Sinead Morrisey and others. In between there are a whole range of performers, participants and events: writers from Shetland and the Faroes, from Sardinia and New Zealand and Mallorca; poets showcasing journals such as Poetry London and The Wolf; slam poets; an annual lecture (this year from Glyn Maxwell); hands-on workshops with the festival poet in residence; a large public masterclass led by Simon Armitage, where emerging poets submit to being critiqued not only by Armitage but also both by members of a very large audience (the event, like most at StAnza, was sold out).
StAnza is a world of big names and big gestures, of centre-stage events, but also a world where amazing things take place in the nooks and crannies. There were panel sessions over breakfast: one on translations, one on poetry as unfinished business, one on poets and islands. I took part in this last one. It helps if you come from a country where one island is a waka (ocean-going canoe) and the other is a giant fish hauled to the surface by a trickster god who happens to be a passenger in the canoe. (I was born on the waka but live on the fish.)
Then there were small round-table sessions, where poets like Paul Durcan read and talked to a group of no more than 16 participants. (For obvious reasons – intimacy is on the table – these sold out faster than anything else.) There were “past and present” sessions, where for example Caroline Forché talked about Mark Strand and Ilya Kaminsky discussed Paul Celan. There was a busy poetry market – where small presses displayed and sold their wares: all the way from serious and significant publishers like the Mariscat Press to cottage-industry versions of Hallmark Cards. The amazing Scottish Poetry Library had a stall there, and was a presence throughout the festival.
The Emergency Poet was also on hand, ambulance and all, and happy to prescribe appropriate poems to festival-goers in need of therapy.
I suspect quite a few people might have needed the Emergency Poet’s services. StAnza is one of those festivals where the energy levels are high. The centre of town is buzzing with poets and poetry readers. Events are spread across a whole range of smaller venues, complementing the wonderful Byre Theatre where most of the poetry action takes place. In the Byre you can watch short poetry movies, check out installations and exhibitions, or find yourself accosted by strolling players.
You can also eat food or buy a drink in the Byre – hence these beer and coffee coasters.
It’s no wonder then that the plaudits roll in, from festival-goers and from the poets. Andrew Motion, ex UK poet laureate, calls StAnza “one of the most dynamic poetry festivals anywhere in the world”. Mark Strand described it as “a beautifully run festival. All those poets! All those good poems!” The late Alastair Reid used the phrase “generosity of spirit” when describing the festival, and that seems entirely just.
I’ve been to StAnza twice now (once in 2009, and again this year), and have had extraordinary pleasure from it both times. It’s a festival which has significant continuities, yet keeps coming up with surprises. I rather wish I’d been there in 2007 for the surprise that Alastair Reid sprang at the festival close. He read his famous poem “Scotland” to the assembled crowd, then declared that this would be the last time he would ever read it.
“Then,” notes the StAnza archive , “he set fire to it.”
New Zealand poet Bill Manhire was a participant at this year’s StAnza festival.
Hombres Locos [April 25, 2015]
I love your “best lines of the week” conceit for this week’s blog post.
This was my favorite episode of the (SOB!!!) final season so far, due in large part to generous helpings of Sally, Peggy, Joan, and Betty, all my favorite Mad Men femmes. With at least 3 of them involved in sex-related situations or conversations during the episode, life couldn't be better!
(GIANT ASIDE: Speaking of commercials-as-punishment, which you brought up in your opening paragraph: I sometimes end up re-watching Mad Men episodes on the computer. And while grateful that AMC makes them available this way for further study, the strategy for delivering commercials during these online viewings is heinous. Quartets of commercials abruptly interrupt the show, often at key moments (nothing new there). But unlike watching network TV as you described, where you usually get an array of different commercials each break, online you see the same one or two commercials EACH DAMN TIME. During some of the frequent commercial barrages, you see the same single commercial four times back to back. (I turn the sound off so at least I don't have to hear them.) Highly obnoxious. When this indignity occurs, I console myself by leaving the room, to pet dogs, secure snacks, pee, or take a close look at my eyebrows in the bathroom mirror (always edifying, I find. You can tell your future by scrutinizing your eyebrows.) And I keep a list of the products that are advertised in this mind-battering, abusive way, so I will remember NEVER to buy ANY of them. I feel Don Draper would rather be celibate for life than ever allow ads for any product Sterling Cooper represented, be it peanut butter cookies or pantyhose, to bludgeon a poor, lowly computer user in this abusive way. END OF CRANKY ASIDE.)
I love two pairings or doublings in this episode. ONE: we get to see both Joan and Don woken up as the show opens. Don's overslept and his realtor lets herself in to show his on-the-market house, and thus wakes him. On the opposite coast, Joan, on a business trip, is awakened in her hotel room by her annoying mother, who's babysitting her little boy back in New York, calling too early because she just can't keep it straight about the time difference. We get the fun of hearing what Joan orders for breakfast from room service, which is a perfect character description of Joan via food: “A glass of skim milk, a grapefruit, a pot of coffee..............(significant PAUSE) ..........and some French toast.”
The second pairing is a kind of image/dialogue rhyme. When Joan is having sex with Richard for the first time, there's a little jokey pillow talk about how avid he is. He teases, “I just got out of jail.” She smiles and sweetly replies, “And you're acting like it.” When Sally and Betty are dealing with travelers checks for Sally's impending school trip, Betty lamely tries to extract a promise from Sally that she won't launch into teen nymphomaniac mode on the trip: “There are going to be boys everywhere. So I hope you won't act like you were just let out of a cage.” This is an interesting remark on a number of levels, but the image of surging sexual appetite being analogous to being freed from a cage or jail is arresting (ha ha).
The mother/daughter scene with Sally and Betty was excellent. It made me realize that, in many ways, Sally is more sophisticated than Betty. Maybe this is true of most mothers and daughters, once the daughters reach young womanhood? Betty seemed suddenly hopelessly old-fashioned and out of touch trying primly to warn Sally about “boys.” As you noted, Sally used the opportunity to land a verbal sucker punch.
This episode contains one of Betty’s finest hours, in my view. She is often the beautiful woman fans love to hate, but in this episode, dealing with the distraught Glenn Bishop who's about to ship off to Vietnam, she actually treats him tenderly, with a mixture of maternal and sexual wisdom we rarely see from her. She is kind to him, and rebuffs his awkward advance (I thought) with real gentleness and concern, her vaunted haughtiness and narcissism nowhere in sight. She knows what he needs to hear at this crucial moment. “You're going to make it, I'm positive!” There has always been chemistry between Betty and this kid, ever since he was a small boy. (I also applaud Mad Men's writers, for being brave enough in early episodes to allow their story line to deal with the sexuality of children, and I admire the way they have pursued that plot thread now in this final season, rather than dropping it, though it is a hot potato topic.) It's been so amazing to watch Glenn and Sally grow up and come of age on this show!
I loved Don and Sally’s terse interchange as she was boarding the school trip bus. She may at times seem more sophisticated than Betty, but her relation to Don is a different story, and of course they are very alike. He's able to take on the chin her rather vicious adolescent attack on his parenting, and his reply is to tell her that while she's beautiful, she could be so much more. For all his Don Juan antics, he takes women seriously, and in some cases tries to get them to take themselves seriously as well.
There's online scuttlebutt about Joan's two divorces...claiming she was married to someone named Scottie prior to her tying the knot with the inept Army surgeon, but I'll have to do further research. Glenn has performed that miracle that adolescents do, turned from a lumpy, funny kid to a wonderful creature, a tall, good looking young man (yuk hairdo, facial hair scraggles and sideburns of the period notwithstanding.)
Since you were speculating, David, about what the closing scenes of Mad Men will be, I wonder if the show's last moments are going somehow to involve Don’s so-called “Gettysburg Address,” the speech about the company's vision and future direction that Roger has sloughed off onto our favorite Lothario? What thinkest thou?
Till the next installment,
Many of the early-career poets that I come across in MFA programs, major publications, conferences, readings are writing in a similar fashion— first person narrative poems, left aligned, less than one page in length, tight language, controlled temperament, image centric, high lyric… Sometimes, I read these poems and spin in their artistic splendor. Sometimes, I read them and feel cold (as if I’m hugging a dead body at the morgue, a lifeless body in its finest cloths). Sometimes, I pray to Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldua, June Jordan, Essex Hemphill, Amiri Baraka, Adrienne Rich, Tatiana de la Tierra, Akilah Oliver, Etheridge Knight and ask for their resurrection, strength.
In writing this post, I want to highlight the work of poets whose words BREATHE, rebel, are fiercely independent and politically centric. I am want to celebrate the (mostly) non-MFA poets who can give you an analysis of the relationship between poetic craft, class privilege, and white supremacy. I want to celebrate the poets who will laugh at me (for posting this article with an organization whose name perpetuates the concept of this settler-state). These are the poets who would more likely spend their money supporting social movement work then submission fees for poetry journals. These are the poets who have been and will be standing at the forefront of the next protests against police brutality. Let’s take a moment to celebrate their fearless independence (& listen to their calls).
*Also, please know that there is much overlap, nuance, amongst the two “camps” of poets that were just described. (It gets really complex when trying to distinguish collectives of poets from one another stylistically and politically). This post is not intended to be an analysis of poetic movements, rather I hope that it serves as a starting point for people interested in contemporary poets who also mobilize politically.
1. Alok Vaid-Menon is a transfeminine South Asian writer, performance artist, and community organizer based in NYC. For the past six years they have organized in solidarity with racial, economic, and gender justice movements in the US, South Africa, India, and Palestine. Their creative and political work grapples with questions of power, trauma, diaspora, race, and desire. Alok currently works at The Audre Lorde Project and is on tour with DarkMatter, a trans South Asian art collaboration with Janani Balasubramanian.
Excerpt from girls wear blue; boys wear pinkwashing
“how many words does it take to dismantle a bomb?
how many words does it take to erase a border?
how many words does it take bring back the dead?”
2. Juliana Huxtable was born and raised in College Station, Texas and currently lives in New York, NY. From 2010 to 2012, Huxtable worked as a legal assistant for the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program. She is a co-founder of a queer weekly party in New York City called SHOCK VALUE and she is a member of the House of Ladosha. In 2015 Huxtable had a sculpture of her, photographs of her, and poems of hers featured in the New Museum Triennial. Huxtable regularly includes her poetry into her DJ sets and has also has recorded poetry on the song "Blood Oranges" by Le1f. Her poetry was also included in the runway soundtrack for the Hood by Air in New York Fashion Week.
Excerpt from Real Doll
“THEY HAD DEVELOPED THE MOST ADVANCED
SYSTEMS FOR MAPPING DESIRE KNOWN TO MEN
(LITERALLY). THEY ALL SEEMED SATISFIED TO
LIVE IN A WORLD OF TOPS/BOTTOMS MASC/
FEMMS DIVIDED INTO VARIOUS SIZE, SHAPE, HAIR
LEVEL, ETC AFFILIATIONS. IT WAS LESS A RESULT
OF SEXUAL EXPLORATION THAN A MARKET PLACE
THAT MIMICKED THE ARTIFICIAL VOLITION OF-
FERED BY A SHOPPING MALL. THE COMPLEXI-
TIES OF DESIRE WERE DENIED PRIMA FACIA, IN
LIEU OF THE EASY, GREASY, SLEAZY AND CHEAP
ALTERNATIVE. FUCKING OR GETTING FUCKED
FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY… POSSIBLY MORE IF YOU
COULD TOLERATE HIS BREATH…”
3. Jackie Wang is a writer, poet, musician, and academic whose writing has been published by Lies Journal, Semiotext(e), HTML Giant, BOMBlog, along with numerous zines. Her essay “Against Innocence” provides insightful analysis on penal systems and race theory. She’s currently writing a book for Semiotext(e). Originally from New Port Richey, Florida – “people call it New Port Nowhere” – Jackie moved to Cambridge, MA this fall to start a PhD program in African and African-American Studies and History at Harvard University.
Excerpt from LONELY WOLVES ON THE FLOOR OF THE WORLD
“In ‘Teinte Ban’ Bhanu Kapil writes, ‘I
wanted to write a novel but instead I wrote
this.’ She wanted to write the race riot
from the perspective of the brown girl on
the floor of the world but instead she writes
the luminous edges of the girl’s inverted
body. Ante-narrative told in color. A
delirious study of the body at the expense,
as she writes, of the event.”
4. Alan Pelaez Lopez is an AfroLatin@ that grew up in Boston via La Ciudad de Mexico, documenting his existence as an undocuqueer poet, jewelry designer, and bubble tea addict. Alan currently works at the Dream Resource Center in Los Angeles, which is a project of the UCLA Labor Center. He is a member of Familia: Trans*, Queer Liberation Movement.
Excerpt from Speak
“Open your mouth
Go ahead, I give you permission to call me a jota
And a faggot
Tell me I’ll never be like you
Call me ese negro pendejo
Teach me to beg my mom to get me contacts
But not clear contacts
You know, those that’ll keep me safe from harassment
The blue ones”
5. Stephen Boyer is the author of Parasite (2013), Ghosts (2010), and was a lead compiler of the Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology. Currently, they're diligently working on a series of nature-related poems. Their work can be found online, in many zines and an assortment of publications.
Excerpt from In my past lives I must have met everybody
“wandering around Strand Bookstore in a miniskirt flirting with staff
yes I’ll have sex for money
I thought for sure I had been a renegade 1960’s visionary gay pornstar
or Frank O’Hara or Sylvia Plath sans husband
but Ariel keeps suggesting my interpretations are self involved
that I was a girl, then a boy that died alone of AIDs”
6. Jos Charles is a white, genderqueer, femme, queer, dyadic, able bodied, neurodivergent, thin, natural born US citizen, native english speaker, lower middle class person, with access to education, piece of shit. Jos Charles is the founding / editor of THEM (a trans literary journal). Jos Charles has published poetry with BLOOM, Denver Quarterly, Feminist Wire, and more.
Excerpt from I INTERNALIZED UR MISOGYNY AND THEY CALL ME DYSPHORIC
“male flesh: a fiction we can’t afford
and yet i swallow.”
7. Lara Lorenzo is a poet and human services worker based in Brooklyn. In her writing and political work, she explores connections between misery, interpersonal violence, and systemic violence, with the aim of developing strategies for resisting and dismantling all three. Her writing has appeared in Nepantla, Toe Good Poetry, October, and Third Text, among other places. Follow her on Twitter @babaylanti.
Excerpt from WHAT CAN I DO TO DESTROY AMERIKA?
“a big god voice boomed false start!
& maybe it was but i wasn’t sorry
we had no other way to begin
under empire a person is always
choosing to be wrong
go to hell said the god voice
history chimed, its blue mind rhyming
across a field of wild energy & i prayed
let us not be deceived by what passes
for life in this place”
8. Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a queer black troublemaker, a black feminist love evangelist, a prayer poet priestess and has a PhD in English, African and African-American Studies, and Women and Gender Studies from Duke University. Alexis was the first scholar to research the Audre Lorde Papers at Spelman College, the June Jordan Papers at Harvard University, and the Lucille Clifton Papers at Emory University, and she is currently on tour with her interactive oracle project “The Lorde Concordance,” a series of ritual mobilizing the life and work of Audre Lorde as a dynamic sacred text. She has several books in progress including a book of poems, Good Hair Gone Forever. Alexis was named one of UTNE Reader’s 50 Visionaries Transforming the World in 2009, was awarded a Too Sexy for 501-C3 trophy in 2011, and is one of the Advocate’s top 40 under 40 features in 2012.
Excerpt from Prophecy Poem (impermanence after Phillis)*
“black bodies disappearing into death, state-sanctioned choke-holds.
it will not always be this way
the impossibility of breathing.
it will not always be this way.
I listen to my ancestors when they say
it will not always be this way
to steady my steps I have to pray
it will not always be this way
it cannot always be this way
it will not always be this way
it will not always be this way,
i will continue to say”
* Poem was written collectively at Bright Black Webinar Series for Brilliance Remastered.
9. Craig Santos Perez is a native Chamoru from the Pacific Island of Guåhan/Guam. He is the co-founder of Ala Press, co-star of the poetry album Undercurrent (Hawai’i Dub Machine, 2011), and author of three collections of poetry: from unincorporated territory [hacha] (Tinfish Press, 2008), from unincorporated territory [saina](Omnidawn Publishing, 2010), and from unincorporated territory [guma'] (Omnidawn Publishing, 2014). He is an Assistant Professor in the English Department at the University of Hawai’i, Manoa, where he teaches Pacific literature and creative writing. Perez’s poetry focuses on themes of Pacific life, immigration, ancestry, colonialism, and diaspora.
Excerpt from understory
10. Margaret Rhee is a feminist poet, new media artist, and scholar. Her research focuses on technology, and intersections with feminist, queer, and ethnic studies. She has a special interest on digital participatory action research and pedagogy. Her scholarship has been published at Amerasia Journal, Information Society, and Sexuality Research and Social Policy. As a digital activist and new media artist she is co-lead and conceptualist of From the Center a feminist HIV/AIDS digital storytelling education project implemented in San Francisco prisons. As a poet, her chapbook Yellow was published by Tinfish Press/University of Hawaii. She co-edited the collections Here is a Pen: An Anthology of West Coast Kundiman Poets (Achiote Press) and an online anthology Glitter Tongue: Queer and Trans Love Poems.
Excerpt from I love Juana
“Is there a queer of color Jesus? Is there a queer of color Queen?
And a queer of color Bible titled disidentifications?”
I always wanted to be a sad white girl. I wanted to be sad like Lana Del Rey. I wanted a sadness that could be so universal, that it’d move everyone to tears. A sadness that everyone could relate to. “I want a summertime, summertime sadness.” … Yes, I’ve experienced that before. I know where that’s coming from.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the contextualization of POC sadness. My sadness is viewed in terms of all that is surrounding it. My sadness is about domestic violence, homelessness, queerness, gender dysphoria, intergenerational trauma passed down from the Salvadorean civil war, etc., ETC…My sadness is something to observe, consume, sympathize with BUT NOT EMPATHIZE WITH (not to mobilize for). Most people do not know how to interact with my sadness. My sadness is so multifaceted, it speaks twenty languages.
This past year, Citizen by Claudia Rankine was released and white people all across the literary world discovered racism. The sadness in Claudia Rankine’s book was eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinnertime. Everyone was talking about Citizen and micro-agressions and feelings. But I didn’t see any of the white people in my MFA program marching next to me when Mike Brown was killed by the police in Ferguson, when Erica Garner was killed by NYPD. I didn’t see any of them working to dismantle the systems of oppression which created my sadness / my community’s sadness. Yet everyone raved about how revolutionary that book was. REVOLUTIONARY FOR WHOM???!!!
There was this article that I was reading a while ago (which I cannot currently find) which discussed sadness in terms of the medical industrial complex. The article was talking about the over-diagnosis of depression in the United States and ways that other parts of the world interact with deep sadness… Thinking about sadness in terms of regional / systematic pain faced by particular groups of people. For example, PTSD faced by the communities attacked by US imperialism… Okay, I don’t want to stray too far from topic.
Here’s what I want to say… I want people to act, I want people to mobilize around POC sadness. Don’t just feel bad about our stories, consume us, and spit us out… I don’t care if my stories make you feel bad about queer youth homelessness. I don’t care if you read my work and talk about it with your friends at brunch. That doesn’t matter. I want you to give your money to the Ali Forney Center and make the problems stop. I want you to donate your money to Black & Pink to support queer folks in prisons.
Right now, everyone knows that brown folks are killing it in the poetry scene. It feels like the mid 90’s when Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Ricky Martin, and Shakira were all on MTV. And white girls were getting spray tans all over the country. It was a moment of Latino pop splendor that had seldom been seen before… Felt like that moment was going to last forever (but it didn’t). This is what happened—white people got tired of publicizing us and found a newer trend. They got tired of consuming us.
This is what I’m scared about— Lately, I’ve been working on this UNDOCUPOETS CAMPAIGN (with Javier Zamora and Marcelo Hernandez Castillo). We were protesting first book discrimination against undocumented poets (who were not allowed to apply to contests without proof of US citizenship)… In mobilizing for this contest, we noticed one reoccurent theme— WHITENESS (11 out of the 12 publishers that we worked with were white). This says a lot about why the nationalistic guidelines were there in the first place. This also should be something to worry about, for the sake of POC poetry.
If all of the publishers are white, then it doesn’t matter how many brown judges get appointed / how many brown poets those judges choose to publish (because we are still operating under a white-supremacist system). Our stories and our lives are underneath a white hand, and white people get to decide when and how our sadness, our trauma, our narrative poetry comes into / out of fashion. White people get to decide how our sadness is treated. “The master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house” (Audre Lorde). If white people actually care about POC poetry then they need to do at least two things- one mobilize politically against the white supremacist power structures that are murdering our communities. Two, mobilize for our leadership in their publishing houses and support us throughout all realms of the poetry community.
A BROWN BOY GETS SHOT BY A WHITE COP. A BROWN BOY WRITES POEMS ABOUT HIS OWN DEATH. A WHITE MAN BUYS AND SELLS THE STORIES FROM THIS BROWN BOY. THE BROWN BOY SITS AT WHITE FEET AND WAITS FOR A PAYCHECK. (THE BROWN BOY GETS PAID FOR NARRATING HIS OWN DEATH TO WHITE PEOPLE). I will not write narrative poems for white people. I will not write narrative poems for white people. I will not write narrative poems for white people. I will not write narrative poems for white people. I will not write narrative poems for white people. I will not write narrative poems for white people. I WILL NOT ALLOW MY NARRATIVE / MY HURT / MY SADNESS / MY LIFE TO BE BOUGHT /SOLD /CONSUMED / SHAT OUT (& never actually addressed). I will not allow it!
(I’m such a hypocrite).
In my dream poetry-world there would be more POC leading poetry publishing houses. And there would be more support for the existing POC publishers (such as Noemi Press, Tia Chucha, and Cypher Books). There would also be no submission fees for anything. Oh, and artists would get paid for their work. Yes, artists would get paid for participating in conferences, and readings, and retreats, and everything… Damn, that’d be such a nice world… I’d be living like a KWEEN, glamorous like Lana Del Rey.
I wanted to do a fun / campy post where some of my queer poet friends could celebrate the people who have helped them develop as writers and humans. (Where we could celebrate the people who let us imagine a world outside of corporate slumber and heteronormative family models). Quickly, I’d like to thank some of my mentors- Griselda Suarez, Eduardo C Corral, William Johnson. Love you so much! For letting me know that I could be brown, queer, a poet, and FIERCE and surrounded / affirmed by community. For guiding me and holding me and feeding me and laughing with/at me and creating opportunities for me. HOLY SHIT, Ive been a messy-gurl in this life. And y'all have supported me through all of it. Yayayyy!!! ... And now, the rest of the LOVE PARADE---
Dodie Bellamy came into my life at a critical time, I was straddling the worlds of university and night life, a day job and porn, yet still broke, barely surviving, depressed, and full of dreams. My advisor at USF, the poet D.A. Powell, knew I was miserable and after reading my work suggested I meet Dodie and apply to the weekly, private workshop she offered as a way of getting out of the trappings of the institution and enter the queer San Francisco I ran away, seeking. At the time, I wanted to be making art and writing but it seemed impossible to go from notes to actualized work, everyone seemed so cool and connected and then I met Dodie who showed me the shit covering all the “cool people’s” faces as she refocused my energies on craft, form, politics, experimentation, and most importantly–continually demonstrated the strength necessary to remain yourself in this apocalyptic world.
DARREL ALEJANDRO HOLNES
I cherish my semesters spent slipping poems under Mark Doty's door, picking up his comments on my poems in his mailbox, and meeting occasionally throughout the semesters when he was my undergraduate thesis advisor at the University of Houston. My getting feedback from the poet who wrote "Charlie Howard's Descent", the first poem to ever make me cry, a poem Jericho Brown introduced to me while we sat in the Gulf Coast Magazine office and talked about poetry and our crushes, made me fearless when confessing and questioning my queerness through poetry, an exercise that in many ways saved my life. I am eternally grateful. Mark Doty, I celebrate you.
Hello Loma thanks for asking me about this! At my age the mentors I could name are mostly passed on now. Allen Ginsberg, Thom Gunn, Robin Blaser, Harold Norse, James Schuyler, from each I learned something about how to proceed in the world. A trio of friends made me the writer I am today, the New Narrative group of Steve Abbott, Bob Gluck and Bruce Boone. The poets of my generation were shot down by AIDS, so we lost Essex Hemphill, Sam D'Allesandro, Reinaldo Arenas, Tim Dlugos, David Wojnarowicz; from each I took resolve to keep alive and to get out a message. And in recent years my queer mentors have become young, so bright and smart and able to see things more clearly than I ever could, my models in many senses: Andrew Durbin, Lucas de Lima, Evan Kennedy, Brian Teare, Stephen Boyer, dozens more. You, Loma, I've looked up to you, bizarre as that might seem to you :-) xxx Kevin K.
When I think of mentors and community-building, I think of Eduardo C. Corral. Eduardo makes it possible for so many of us. I think it’s important, even necessary, to see poem-making as something akin to person-making, an act where life and art not only informs each other, but are strengthened and enriched through a fluid and seamless dialogue. This is what Eduardo exemplifies for younger writers like myself: a way to move forward on the page—but also with our bodies, bodies that are so often under threat from a world bent on extinguishing its most vital voices. Eduardo teaches me that to be scared is never to be weak. That to love and care for something—and to express it freely and openly is the most radical act of self-preservation. For that, I am grateful.
Peppy thought of me as her protégé when I was 19. We called her Queen of the New Age Drag Queens and she taught me to read tarot through the zodiac, a template I still find to be one of the most reliable and vivid forms to harness. Other boys were in mechanic school but I was in tarot class spread naked on the bed where Peppy and I spent most of our time studying one card at a time. When I would visibly merge with a card, when I would finally GET IT, Peppy would lean over and start to kiss me. She would say, “Time to reward you for learning and time to reward myself for teaching.”
Adrienne Rich always read my poems and once, when I was having a sad life in Cambridge in the '90's and wondering if I should let poetry go, she told me to never give it up--to stay with it because she believed in what I was doing and had always believed in what I was doing--way more than I ever did, and way more than more people around me did. And she always told me the truth. About everything, and especially about my poems. Of course, we loved each other. I'd known her most of my life, but as it is with many great writers, she loved the writing more than she loved me, so she went to the heart of the poetry and saw where it was being too self-referential or--her most common criticism--being made with too many words. My second book, "then, we were still living" was dedicated to Adrienne, who e-mailed me, after reading it: "This is the only book that has ever been dedicated to me, and the only one I need."
I made a film-poem called "We Will Not Be Moved: a Story of Oakland Chinatown" in a workshop taught by Madeleine Lim, who runs the Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project (QWOCMAP), a community organization which provides free film workshops to queer women of color. It was an ambitious project to finish our films within the time of the workshop (16 weeks!), especially for most of us who came into the workshop with little to no film experience, but Mad expected it of us and I wanted to do it and prove her right. The last night of our workshop when we were showing our films to the class, my film crashed and would not load! Mad looked at me and said, you could either get back to work and re-create it while it's still fresh in your mind -- or you could wait (but when you get far from it, you might not get back to it) so why not just do it now? I heard her and committed to re-creating it for our showcase in the next week because Mad called me to be true to my best sense of myself and this is still a lesson I keep practicing and learning to this day.
James Schuyler being the big one because he always made it clear that life was the problem, poetry wasn't. He put things in the right order. Michelle Tea for her knock out generosity & reminding me that poetry was a place. It was still outside of me, like an explosion of queer brilliance meeting. Also Amiri Baraka who taught me how to fight back in public. His resistance to lesbian poetry being "revolutionary" struck me as really queer and provocative in a way that wound up being affirming and in the end friendly. He was a great poet that taught me that contradictions always belong.
Avery R Young thank you for teaching me to always been my trillest self to every piece of art, to bring in all things black & new and black & old and every bit of sugar or blunt or song necessary to make the work werk. The bravery, urgency, and ingenuity you create with has taught so many of us. I remember handing you my chapbook for some notes and you handed me back myself, better. Your work and your lessons teach us how to create art that is intelligent, of the heart, and transformative for artist and audience alike. And you know we be fixin’ ham sandwiches after we be doin it. Be Lean On Me get these kids to do the right thing blk!
Pamela Sneed taught me how to read. It sounds so simple, but knowing what yr saying and what you have to say can be frustratingly unclear. Especially if you've been raised to believe yr perspective and experience has no value. Through her guidance and by her example, Pamela showed me how to pay attention to myself, to the words that build the lines that build the stanzas that build the poems that guide the voice--and in that way to value not only my work but also myself. I have no freaking clue what I would have done without her, but thankfully I don't have to wonder!
Nikky Finney, Thank you for reflecting back to me that sometimes you feel like a write “with a stiff collar on.” I needed to hear that, to figure out why I yoked my voice, what was holding me back from getting into the natural groove of my own prosody. I was afraid to be too black, to be too woman, to reveal all those marginalized identities in my work, and as a result I gave up my “natural swimming style.” I can say, I’m not just dead-man floating, I’m breaststroking, I’m putting some butterfly in it, too. Getting my hair wet, I’m not afraid to do.
If it wasn't for Mark Bibbins I would be something other than myself. It's his fault. His poetry, kindness, and intelligence has shown many of us the way to survival in an unfriendly world. We can't help but be better for knowing him.
Kazim Ali, You were the first poet I ever read who dared to be both Muslim & Queer. Your book sat like a nightlight by my bed, a wandering I could sink my feet into. I have only met you once, but thank you for teaching me patience in your line breaks. Your words make me feel less lonely, strong enough to begin building my own home. May all us queer muslim poets leave our words as smoke signals to each other, a gentle way to find each other.
We owe letters to each other, poet Norma Elia Cantú and I; I'm writing this now while visiting my family in La Frontera, which is not unlike Norma's Frontera in Canícula, and remembering that somewhere back in my apartment in New York is an addressed envelope stuffed with paper awaiting. Norma is a poet you write to when off-season on the Gulf Coast, with the wind ripping at the wet-sand-stained pages, the seagulls chasing the shadows of your pen. This is the letter I should be beginning, one humid night, my head heavy with the blunt sun of overcast skies, but somewhere Norma is wrapped in her shawl, singing that we met, we've already begun, the tide, the tide rolling in, within the tide we speak the distances we both have crossed since.
JUSTIN PHILLIP REED
Gahd loves me so much that she lay down one long micro-braid the size of the Mississippi for me to follow and find the poet Phillip B. Williams, who has, in two short years, shown me the friendship, kinship, and unordinary love over which Homer’s Greeks dragged each other. Where would I be without Phillip? Not here, not with this coconut oil in my hair and these relentless endeavors on the pages at my right and these gender-queer friends in my inbox and all this Black love in my heart. He has guided me toward Ceremonies and “Crispy Business", Nina Simone and Sharaya J, the MetroLink and The Amen Corner, right through the terza rima sonnet, and even called my momma when I was in jail. Phillip—who insists that I read wider, write harder, dig deeper, and love (myself, even) bigger—is a blessing, and I can’t sit down and stop testifying.
Glenda Jackson's performance as Gudrun Brangwen in the film Women in Love, based on the D.H. Lawrence novel, taught me everything I know about poetry.
JOEY DE JESUS
I am always hesitant about contributing to a list of writers, especially a list of writers on other writers but I want to contribute to this to celebrate two writers who have been mentors to me in different capacities, not that I matter. And while I love my mentors, it is just as important to celebrate my unlearning their wisdoms in order to construct some sort of semblance of myself. The first is Kazim Ali, under whom I studied for years at Oberlin College. In the classroom Kazim measured my breath, he tempered my tude, he let me off the hook and off the leash. Outside, in the wild, he has seen me hurricane into madness, and was there when I found myself on the other side. I think his craft must have instructed him in some kind of patience--the utilities of silence, this what I've learned from him. The second mentor of mine is Doug Powell, who has taught me to celebrate my fortitude. He, too, has been there for me in doomy hours... Doug once told me about his long-time fear of the full-stop period, why he avoided writing in sentences; he viewed them as analogous with a death. I think of all my tiny deaths.
L. LAMAR WILSON
I am Nikki Giovanni's son. She called me this, first, a few months after she advocated for me to come to Virginia Tech, where I completed my MFA with her help & that of Erika Meitner, Lucinda Roy, Fred D'Aguiar, Ed Falco, Jeff Mann, & Bob Hicok. You see, Nikki is shockingly generous. I mean, after our first conversation, in which I was interviewing her for my employer at the time, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, she told me I was a poet, sounded like one, both in cadence & in tenor. At her behest, I sent poems to Tech, where she's been giving of her time & unabashed hope for nearly three decades. My first year there, I wrote poorly. I was hiding behind, not writing through, persona & then, in a meeting, she said to me advice I carry today: "If you don't start writing for yourself first & saying what you have to say, you're not going to be a very good writer, & you have what it takes to be one, Lamar. Just tell your stories." The next day, I wrote "Ars Poetica: Nov. 7, 2008." I shared it with her during our next independent study session on what has been canonized as the Black Arts Movement, which Nikki's work has helped define. Reading it, she beamed as only she can, & I felt like a poet. Finally. Weeks later, I found out she was going to publish this poem, one of my first private successes, in her anthology The 100 Best African American Poems, that she was placing it after "leroy," a powerhouse by my namesake Amiri Baraka. (He was born Everett Leroy Jones., I Leroy Lamar Wilson.) That's what mamas do. That's what mentors do. I am blessed to be one of the many, many Nikki Giovanni has claimed & catapulted. Just look at Kwame Alexander & Nikky Finney to see others doing wildly successful things. But I have to say it: I've been prodigal, too. I've been disobedient, made a mess of things, did it my way. & yet, after a bit of quiet repose, Nikki has always assured that I can come home. & I always, always will.
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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.