poetry, prose, etc

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vertical interrogation (plenum prompt #1)

Plenum prompt #1

Join in!

My post, from comments:

The Mixtape: a Field Guide to (Wilderness) Interrogation & (Feral) Appropriation

Please submit responses to the following 14-question vertical interrogation:

1. I breathe now through bands around my chest and lungs already half full of feelings; I came to this through blood, and DNA.

2. My heart swims in the ocean of best intentions and statistical mood fluctuations. Spike graphs. It got here by happy accident, and stays in half-sorrow.

3. Opening my hands.

4. Drawing water into my nostrils feels cold, smells like dirt, seaweed, chlorine, nitrate contamination, algae, warmth, drought.

5. Not enough.

6. A fractured piece of glass chucked far from its home.

7. Inside (unfortunately).

8. Stalking.

9. The possibility. Frankly: the fear.

10. Oceans.

11. The what if, on death.

12. No one, and I have a feeling that no one ever will.

13. Good question.

14. By fingertips and gritted teeth.


bad dream last night

i had a dream that i was in my car, i was me this time and not just the me where you know you’re you but you might look entirely different, like someone you met once or someone you’ve never seen, even.  i was definitely me.

i was in my car and there were people, and a child screaming.  they were standing on the edge of a cliff overlooking a bay and they were playing with the child.  the child was screaming. it was night.  they were playing with the child and smashing his face into the ground over and over again, tossing him up by one limb and down by another, flipping.  they were playing, and the child was screaming help me, help me, somebody help me.

there was one woman.  she wore a black hoodie and her hair pulled back into a bun.  she had half inch brown roots bleeding into red that was probably pink once but had turned brassy.  the child was screaming.  the two men had jackets, one was green and puckered.  the child was screaming.

i was in my car, and i didn’t do anything, and i woke up with that kid screaming in my head.

i fell back asleep, and revisited the same place after some time had passed and other tortures and boundaries and stalking men had come by.

i drove back there and they were abusing the child again, and the child was screaming the same thing.  the child’s voice was raw from the screaming.  he never said anything else.  i don’t know what he was wearing.

i wanted to get out of the car – i saw myself get out of the car and run to help the child and them turning to me, reaching for my arms and legs, and starting with me.  i don’t know what happened to the child when i saw myself doing that.

i also saw myself drive away, and woke up again hoping that they hadn’t seen my license plate.

i guess i can’t be a real critic

i guess i can’t be a real critic because i don’t use fancy words like hermeneutics or poetics or dialectic.  i don’t like engaging with gatekeepers, nor do i enjoy using words that are so complex and narrow as to completely obscure all meaning.

say what you mean.  stop being an elitist.

if i, with two degrees, feel excluded by this language, i wonder what other people feel like?

(this is not saying i’m better or more educated, more like i’ve been exposed to and should have learned how to speak this language, but didn’t)

do we think about this when we continue to parrot the ivory tower, or complicate our “new literature”?

it’s so exhausting.

say what you mean.


no one ever taught me how to be a girl
i only know how to be a set of thoughts
attached to eyes
that take in just a little bit of the world.

no one ever taught me how to do this stuff – i had to figure it out from tv, from clothing on hangers
headless department store bodies with cocked hands on hips
i used to hold their other, dangling fingers in mine
pretending they were my mother

i read books but they never had girls in them that i could relate to
they had women
or mothers
or older ladies, unsexualized, magical
with all the answers.
i used to think i would wake up at some point and have adult thoughts, eat adult food, wear adult things.
somehow that switch never got flipped,
and i missed the boat (if there is one).


some women wear dresses like they’re made for them

like they grew a second skin overnight

floating in and out of everyone’s vision

strings attached to the balls of their feet, just a little flick of the wrist and up

onto the toes they go.

me, i look at myself in the dim mirrored bart window

and see flesh leaking out of the arm holes, not quite cinched in by an ill-fitting bra

digging into my sternum.

i see a waistline hidden, lying.

i see a color that looked better in my bedroom two hours ago

maybe through sleep-bleary eyes

maybe through a good dose of hope.

i don’t bounce, or flit.

i try not to plod or stomp, and i have to remind myself that i have heels on

that generations of women before me learned to walk in them

shop in them

please everyone in them.

the least i can do, i think, is try not to walk like godzilla

or a girl playing dress-up in her mother’s pointed 70s nightmares.

i tell myself there are certain colors i can’t wear, but really

what it means is there are colors that don’t fully cover the depressed space in my heart

where the love for what i look like (who i am)

should go.

i don’t mean to be melodramatic, but it’s easy to get caught up in the lace that doesn’t sit right, or the particular pink that makes me feel 5, chocolate-smeared or grass-stained and forever tugging the skirt down like i’m told.

conceptual poetry (thoughts)

Was linked to this today by a brilliant writer I follow on FB:


There’s an amazing conversation continuing around this, and Vanessa Place’s Twitter “art project”, that I’m not going to reproduce. I’m there to listen and learn, because it’s really important.

(side note: AWP did a #sorrynotsorry this morning and removed VP from their committee)


What I am HERE for right now, to speak on, is to ponder the real effectiveness of re-contextualizing whole pieces of work in as much as it relates to our collective identity as white people.

Underneath my distaste and horror and mind-numbing anger, which does stem immediately from the impulse to distance myself from the Vanessa Places and Kenneth Goldsmiths of the world – I am genuinely curious about the need to do the work that these poets do, as I’ve had it, and continue to have it.  The drive to take a whole body of text/piece of art/moment in time and try to dislodge it from its context & present it as something “new”.

note: I’m gonna use “we” from here on out to refer specifically to white people, and by extension white artists.

I understand the hot flashes we get when we think we’re onto something, because I have them.  I understand the need and drive to consume work and visions that seem so much more “vibrant”, “cultural”, “deep” than my own, because we suffer from a distinct lack of acknowledged/codified passion in our own histories.

I am saying here that I understand what drives us to appropriate, to put ourselves on display as the mouthpiece for others’ pain.  That’s a scary thing to admit because it’s going to challenge my politics/work/identity, but it’s true.  I get why we do it.

There’s a creepy, subliminal (yet very painfully obvious need) as the self-imposed overlords of western civilization to legitimize our continued enslavement and institutionalized oppression of millions of “others” by demonstrating that we, too (we “more so”, even) have “FLAVOR”, “SPICE”, “DIVERSITY” and all those lovely fetishistic words the liberals among us use in place of overt racism.  We gotta demonstrate that we’re legitimate, because what if we’re not?  What if this really was a horror and a slaughter and wrong, for so many many years?

I think we’re coming to a place where we’re starting to worry, as a collective white cultural entity, that what we’re putting out is not in balance with what we’re absorbing from other cultures.  We worry that we can’t come up with a positive and soothing answer to the above question.  We are worried finally that it is real, that we are wrong.  We don’t know what to do with this worry or this question.

I think we’re starting to look at our history and our construction of whiteness as lacking in a specific way: how can a “norm” be anything but a contrast to an “other”?  Especially when the other is so “vibrant” and “tantalizing” to us.  The “norm”, the whiteness, is state-sanctioned, hierarchical and institutional (“timeless”, “classic”, “traditional” as we say), but what we’re asking ourselves, panicky and unsure, is WHAT IS IT REALLY?  WHO AM I?

I don’t think we know.  I don’t think we know how to define ourselves as anything other than an opposite, or an “antidote”, to all of this “scary” beautiful culture we’re trying actively to engulf or erase, and so much that we have effectively erased.  I don’t think we know who we are other than a vehicle or a lens (a “father who knows best”).  I think we’ve been oppressors for so long that we’re really anxious that we’ve stuck ourselves here, that we can’t be anything else other than the force that tries to “order” the world.

I think the drive to be a conceptual poet stems from this fear, and I think as we try to kidnap texts and images and works from history to regurgitate them now, what we’re really trying to do is take a step away from our ancestors and make ourselves new.  We’re trying to assert that we are a digital melting pot of lovely cultural mash-ups and nothing matters, anymore, and everything is available.

That we’re doing it in a way that continues the long legacy of silencing and further marginalizing poets/writers/artists/activists of color?

That we’re taking a urinal and putting it in a museum, and STILL calling it subversive?

That we’re positioning ourselves to somehow subvert a narrative that does nothing externally but benefit us in the world?

Well, we don’t want to talk about that.

Real subversion is an offering of an alternative, a flipping of a table so to speak.  A disruption, an uprising.  Taking something and canting it and showing it back to say ‘see, there is another way’.

Conceptual poetry in what Kenneth Goldsmith and Vanessa Place are doing is not subversive.  I don’t read these tweets or hear an autopsy report and think from experiencing this work that ‘there is another way for me to be’.  I feel the insurmountable tide of a specific artist’s ego, and my complicity in it, but i do not sense a direction for anything other than a simple acknowledgement of our white anxiety as a hollow echo of our bloodlines, and our choices.

(and to me, this is the work that i’m putting into their ‘art’, into interpreting it for them)

What would be useful to me, on some level, is a call out to a white audience to begin this work, to voice this question of who we are and start a dialogue with each other before we bring it to the table for anyone else to magically solve for us.

If someone walked into your house and said this is mine now, you go live in the backyard and come in and clean it, and let me study you and take all of your family rituals in as my own, and you do this for generations, and then the person’s great-grandchildren come outside and say hey, by the way, do you know who i am because i’m having a really hard time figuring it out, would your response be anything but “you’re an oppressive asshole?”

There’s no work here around how our concept of whiteness can and does actually hurt white people, either. There’s no conversation to be had about how white guilt springs deep from the scary pain that we’re committing wrongs we feel (wrongly or otherwise) powerless to stop.  There is no extended hand to another white person to help begin the conversation so marginalized communities don’t have to. There is no generative thought around making any space to self-examine.

Is it the conceptual poet’s responsibility to provide this?  Not necessarily.

If you’re doing the work that Goldsmith and Place are, though – you bet your ass it is.

If you’re an artist you can make whatever you want.  Sure.  Go ahead.  But don’t be surprised when you get negative reactions.  Don’t be surprised when you’re challenged.

Don’t deliver this shit to the wide world of art and expect it to be received as a revolution.


good and bad days

on bad days i watch the monitor sway like a tree branch in wind
and try not to push out of my skin
on good ones i laugh
on bad ones i laugh too, but until i cry
and my heartbeat takes longer to slow in my chest

on bad days i’m afraid to go home
to try and sleep
to stay awake
on good days i don’t notice the passage of one state
from another
on bad days i wish i had before, when it was better
and i feel ungrateful

i describe this feeling as a big boiling monster drawn like a kid
scribbles for edges
that has tides
over everything else i feel
and the small part, the one that knows it will be okay, is often underneath
standing as tall as it can
reminding me in pauses between waves that it’s there
but that more waves are coming

let me tell you about the men that i like (2)

there was a boy in college

who played hockey

with hair shocked straight up from his skull

and mellow chocolate eyes

i thought they were deep, and kind

it might’ve been the weed.

surfacing (draft)

coming up for air for a moment at the new job (grant writer!) in the midst of learning all sorts of cool stuff about the environment


to post here.

my heartbeat is a visitor, mostly

i know it’s always there, pumping away

but i only check in once a month or so

like a call to a relative you’ve been trying to put off

hi there how’s the weather?

how are your hips in all this cold?

are you considering moving into a safer neighborhood?


it checks in more often with me, though,

reminding me when i turn over at night what it can do

how hard it has to work

to keep me going


it doesn’t seem like something that can hold

all of the work it does.

it shrinks in one place to bulge in another

taking in blood

spitting it out

an orchestrator during the worst rush hour traffic in the world


i’ve seen diagrams that paint it as elastic, something fluid and dynamic

but i know it’s a muscle

and you break those down to make them stronger.

mine does a lot of heavy lifting

it should be in the olympics

snatching fear

powerlifting ten mack truckloads of anxiety in



displays of prowess the likes of which the sleaziest carnival in history has never seen


it’s a trooper

to say the least.

but i still only call about once a month

to say oh hi hey how’s it going

you still down there?

that time

college, wandering after a party or maybe before you can’t remember in wide dusty arizona streets and we have to double back before i really get a good hit on the moon rising over the desert across the street.  okay it’s a vacant lot but it has what looks like a cactus in the low light and it’s dreamy and surreal and the kind of thing you came here to sink your fingers into but we have to go back, man, ashley dropped her hash somewhere and we gotta find it.

did you leave it at the dorm, no, i had it in my hand, well why the fuck didn’t you put it in your pocket.  hey mike don’t yell at her okay, we can go.  we can look.  you are the peacemaker, the mediator, not at ease among the pieced nipples and sullen pot-red eyes here, you are the one smoothing the way in express tank tops and shorts falling off your hips bought just a year ago, it seems like the freshman 15 also works backwards, you drop the weight like sloughing skin in the shower rubbed too raw after another frat party, trying to clean something off but wondering why you don’t feel worse about it.  down the drain.  it shouldn’t be this easy, maybe?

she finds the hash after we wander for two blocks and then we’re there, man, saggy porch and a ceiling inside that holds itself together almost until the far right corner where it sags and sighs into chocolate-edged water stains.  a boy with dirty blond hair and a ringer plays radiohead on guitar and we wrap the top of the pipe in foil and set the hash down all nice and tidy and pop beers and snuggle crunchily into beanbags and felt sofa cushions because we are having a moment, man, a real college moment, the one you write stories about until you smoke a little too much and fall asleep and wake up and the dumb motherfucker is still playing radiohead and all he wants to do is talk about radiohead even though you’re drunk enough now to think about maybe trying something on your end for once, maybe slip two fingers into the sleeve of his thrifted brown boxy jacket and whisper take me home or let’s get out of here or something that would make it even more of a moment.

or it’d be a moment if he said no thank you with sad moonlight in his eyes, radiant, and goes off to twirl one of ashley’s strawberry curls around his guitar calluses because yeah then you could be heartbroken and jealous wailing your way back to sleep along the highway you walk before you hit school again, orderly faux-adobe and cinderblock and fluorescent swirly carpet nightmares. scorpions got in on the first floor once, that’s about the only thing that ever happened there.  but the stupid fuck just goes on and on about radiohead and finally you say no i don’t like them i’m sorry, or maybe you just suck in your stomach still a little round with baby fat and try and look interested.

yeah probably that.


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