Night Reading

Last night I read at the author reception for Kris Sanford’s photo show at The Kitchenette, a downtown Phoenix art collective of which she is a member. Kris and I have been collaborating on a found-photo/text project, and during the month of June she showed a few pieces from that series as well as related works. Prior to working with me, Kris worked with the fabulous poet Matt Heil on the same project as she and I, and so last night, Matt and I regaled her crowd of guests with our poems.

Collaborating with Kris (as well as Tracy, another photographer with whom I collaborated in the fall) has been an amazingly generative experience. I credit working with Kris and Tracy as the spurs that set in motion the writing of my entire last manuscript, which occurred quickly over a few months. I learned to see through them, or, rather, a new way to see.

Matt’s poems are beautiful always, but his poems in collaboration with Kris’s photos are especially beautiful and powerful.

And I love reading. Never joke about inviting me to read somewhere because I will show up in my favorite shirt with a sheaf of poems ready. I believe reading is intrinsically a part of the writing process—I hear things differently when I read them to a crowd. I notice things about my work. And, in practicing the poems at home before the reading, I figure out where the problems I hadn’t recognized wait in each little poem.

On the way home, I talked with my boyfriend about my poems. He’s become especially insightful about my work, and his opinion is invaluable. He said he noticed that, for a while, my poems were more about their form than what they were actually “about.” And now the form is more invisible, more embedded. This, I think, bodes well. And it’s a nice compliment, too, I think.

An Echo

In the mailbox:

Hi –

We liked the writing on your blog so much we included it in
“Blogsday,” a series of blog posts read by actors over the radio. You
can hear the entire hour here.

We’re a public radio show, based in Boston and nationally broadcast,
trying to capture the sound of the web.

Thanks for the beautiful writing —

Brendan Greeley
Producer, Open Source

Tony was also included, about fifteen minutes in. My post comes at the 27 and a half minute mark. Uncanny.

And for the record, they used a female actor to read my post.

Urgent Forms / You Crush Me / Sleeping With the Dic

A friend of mine from work who reads my blog but, I think, prefers to remain anonymous, left me a verbal comment on my post about how my prose poems tend to be intense little love poems. She said (and “she” doesn’t give anything away, since my office is full of women, and yeah, a few guys too) prose poems have a built in urgency to them because the speed with which they progress somehow relates to intense emotion. I thought it was a brilliant idea and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

To contrast, though, I’ve experimented with writing around some of the recent grief I’ve felt and I’ve had the opposite response:

my poems are filled with

wide open spaces and

broken phrasings.

I want to say here, again, publically, that I really enjoyed Richard Siken’s Crush. It had that sort of horrific reality that Brian Teare cultivated in The Room In Which I Was Born coupled with a dense, filmic eroticism and a palpable neurosis. I loved the way many of the poems appeared on the page. I feel like I always say this when I read a book that revolutionizes me, but: it’s been a long time since I’ve been so affected by a book of poems.

I recently finished reading Harryette Mullen’s Sleeping With the Dictionary, which I generally enjoyed. Some of the long list poems got tedious to me, but I sense that hearing them read out loud would make them more manageable. While reading the Mullen I was concurrently reading Matthea Harvey’s Sad Little Breathing Machine.

Both books employ a sort of linguistic playfulness, but Mullen’s to me seems more successful. I enjoy Harvey’s poems, but I feel like they don’t necessarily speak to me. Harvey’s poems seem to be more about what they veil rather than what they reveal, while Mullen is employing language in a way that reveals what is cloaked. I don’t mean to diametrically oppose them, but I don’t think they’re “opposites” (whatever that means), but there does seem to be both a great affinity and a wide divide between them.

Harvey’s poems have a sort of childlike innocence about them, a misreading of the world. Mullen’s work is informed by politics, justice, and the sense that language is not our escape but our chain-link fence.

Regularly Scheduled Programming: Listing

For Deborah: Things You Didn’t Know About Me

>In the past four years, I have gained 45 pounds.

>I’ve never stolen anything from a retail store, but in high school I once outsourced the theft of Allen Ginsberg’s Cosmopolitan Greetings from a suburban Milwaukee bookseller.

>I never wanted to be a poet. Growing up, I wanted to be a filmmaker. Secretly, I wanted to front a rock band.

>I play three instruments: trumpet (7 years), piano (1 year of lessons), and guitar (self taught).

>In college I marched in a homecoming parade dressed as a human condom. I distributed condoms to the crowd.

>In the float that lined up across from us: Jesse Ventura and his gubernatorial campaign staff.

>I lived in residence halls for seven years.

>In high school, I was elected my class’s Prom King.

>I wore black Reeboks to prom.

>I smoked for seven years/quit three years ago. I bit my nails for 20 years/quit two years ago.

>The religion most compatible with my spiritual beliefs is Quakerism (in a liberal form, naturally).

>I had my eyebrow pierced three different times in my life: twice during college and once during grad school. I also pierced my left ear and my bellybutton in college.

>After I pierced my belly button, I gained 20 pounds and couldn’t show it to anyone.

>The only non-literary celebrity I’ve met in real life is Chris Isaak. I drooled and nearly passed out.

>I don’t like New York at all, but I am obsessed with San Francisco and Los Angeles.

>I have been photographed naked.

Breaking Silence

Thanks to everyone who emailed/checked in with me over the past week+. I wasn’t sure if I would post anything about this, but I think I will make short mention of what occurred. Last Monday morning I was told my ex-boyfriend committed suicide. It was an intense, life-rattling shock to say the least. Although we haven’t been together for several years, he was my first real relationship and the man who moved with me to Arizona. I was not able to stay on good terms with him until recently, when we had a very nice phone conversation on my birthday. He was 31.

It was the first time I ever felt palpably, physically, another person’s absence. Compounding the guilt was a long poem from my manuscript in which—you guessed it—an ex-lover takes his own life, written about 8 or 9 months ago. I used details of that break-up in the poem. It felt uncomfortably prophetic in retrospect.

For several days I wasn’t capable of functioning on a level of language. I’m coming back to the world now. But it’s a different place than when it left me.