on boundaries

Hey, you. Here’s what I have for you:

  • Housekeeping

  • What I read today

  • Quotations from texts I read

  • Questions to ask yourself about your work

  • On boundaries

  • Further reading

  • Tweets


As always, you can buy some art on my website.

Also some zines.

Also some lightly-used books.

And, again:

Friendly reminder that I’m slowly transitioning to Medium because of Substack’s ickiness. I’ll keep publishing here for a while, but long-term I hope you’ll subscribe to my Medium newsletter!

What I read today:


Maybe closure is something from fiction, like fresh starts.

-Lee Thomas

I once heard Joy Harjo speak on a panel about history and poetry. She sat quietly for much of it. The other panelists said a lot of things. Harjo remained the only quiet one. Her quiet had a straight back. And then she interrupted one of the panelists and said something like, “That reminds me of the time…” and she spoke of a fellow Native American professor who committed suicide near the end of one of the years, and how he must have been hurting and isolated, but not many people spoke about that, or spoke about his death or their loss when he died. And she said she was at home one day and she noticed a black thread or string floating in the window, and she observed it for a while until she realized that that black string was grief. The grief of the professor, the grief of the students, her own grief, the grief of silence, a historical grief, and that she knew that it was her job to take that thread and put it somewhere, weave it into the larger tapestry (she made a gesture, then, as if that tapestry were just above her head). She said it was her job to put that grief in its place, or else someone else would be out walking and just walk right into it, without knowing what it was they’d walked into and inherited. The danger of that. And that is all I remember from all of the things that were said that entire day.

-Aracelis Girmay

I wanted to be seen, and now I am visible, but only as something wild and loose and unlovable, a flame thrown up in the dark.

-Larissa Pham

It's ALL Collaboration. Anyone who ever fed you, loved you, anyone who ever made you feel unworthy, stupid, ugly, anyone who made you express doubt or assuredness, every one of these helped make you. Those who learn to speak with authority to mask their own self-loathing, those may be the deepest influences on us. But they are part of us. And we have each fit together uniquely as a result, and so there are no misshapen forms as all are misshapen forms, from tyrants to wallflowers. Every poem written is filtered through the circumstances of the poet, through the diet of the poet. Just as unique is every reader of poems, for a thousand different readers of a poem equals a thousand diferent poems. We are here relying on one another wheter or not we wish it. There are no poets writing in quiet caves because every poet is a human being as misshapen as any other human being. The room can be as quiet as possible, earplugs can be administered, but the poet still has a parade of influence running inside from one ear to the other. The quiet room cannot blot them out; it can however help the poet listen closer to this music for their own creation. We are not alone in our particular stew of molecules and the sooner we admit, even admire the influence of this world, the freer we will be to construct new chords of throught without fear.


Questions to ask yourself about your work,

courtesy of Aracelis Girmay.

  1. Who or what does this work care for? Love?

  2. How do you talk about/look at white supremacy and patriarchy or (…) without further brutalizing the black or female (…) body in the work?

  3. Make a list of the bodies in your work and the verbs attributed to each. When we are writing/filming/painting, what verbs do we attribute to each body (according to race, class, gender, etc.)? What does this tell us about our eye(s)?

  4. What are our tendencies? And where might we need to make critical space for joy and tenderness in the remembering, so that our own imaginations (gesture by gesture, line by line) aren’t rendered by the values of white supremacy or violence as we resist it?

On boundaries:

bound·a·ry /ˈbound(ə)rē/ (noun): a line that marks the limits of an area; a dividing line.

Indeed, “having boundaries” means having limits—whether that be not wanting your boyfriend’s mother to constantly touch you (I’ve been on a Modern Family kick), not sending work emails over the weekend, or not detailing your sex life to your children.

Social media boundaries, though, might be less clear—and not everyone can intuit what is appropriate behavior.

The trouble with social media is that, sometimes, people conflate accessibility with availability. That is: people think that—because you are accessible to contact—that thus gives them the right to engage with you in any way they like. And although, technically, a writer might be accessible—that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to info dump, ask for favors, or demand services free of charge.

What does this mean?

One example would be: If you’re an editor and a writer didn’t respond to your initial email, so you tracked down their Instagram and messaged them again there. (It’s happened before!)

Another: Randomly sending a writer your poems. If you don’t have that rapport, or weren’t given explicit permission to send your work, this behavior is inappropriate.

Another: Asking for free labor.

Another: Asking for free labor again after the writer sent you their rates.

Another: Sending a writer some fan-mail via email or message, and then sending the exact same message again when the writer doesn’t respond. Emails are exhausting! Though it’s nice when it happens, writers you admire do not owe you a response.

Another: Asking for special treatment because of your connection with a writer involved with a journal/organization/etc. It puts that writer in a very uncomfortable position.

If you want to build relationships with writers you admire, there are many more appropriate ways to do so.

You could:

  • Send a nice email!

  • Solicit their work for your journal!

  • Buy their book and tell all your friends to read it!

  • Review their book!

  • Invite them to participate in your reading series!

  • Subscribe to their newsletter!

  • Tweet about their work!

  • Retweet them!

  • Send a nice message!

  • Take their workshops!

  • Look into their paid services!

  • Encourage your local library to stock their book!

  • Share their poems with your students!

There are myriad ways to get to know writers. There are so many people whose writing I admired who have since become dear friends. And although, now, we might text each other day and night, we didn’t become friends by ignoring boundaries or demanding labor from one another. Any friendship should be based on mutual respect—and it shouldn’t be one-sided—so asking for a writer’s time and attention across media (unpaid!) is not really productive. More likely, it will make the writer resentful of you—or, at the very least, it will make the writer think you’re unprofessional and/or inappropriate.

In conclusion, if you think you might have broken a boundary with me, I am accepting reparations at this time. And if you’ve sent me an email that requires a response, I’m sorry and please bug me again—things get lost in there.

If you’re interested in more how-to-behave-in-the-literary-community articles, you might check out:

beauty and terror (on poetry & being human)
being a good literary citizen
Alrighty, folks. The time has come. I am going to talk about appropriate conduct and comportment if you want to find success (or at least be liked!) in the writing world. I talk about some of this stuff in more detail in my e-book, Publishing Poems: An Easy Guide…
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on reading (& articulating your poetics)
If you want to be a good writer, you have to be a good reader. In undergrad, I forced myself to read 1+ book a day—whether that be poetry, fiction, or nonfiction. Now, with a full-time job and several part-time jobs, I don’t always have the time. Still, I’ve managed to read fifty books in 2021, and there’s still time to read a few more…
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re: accessibility, summer reading, and journals open for submissions
Hello & happy one-month-til-Leo-season to all who celebrate! Today’s post contains a smattering of different topics regarding recent reflections re: gatekeeping/accessibility, what I’ve been reading, and journals I recommend submitting to…
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some handy links // guys, what the f*ck?
Hi all & happy Monday! I don’t have much to share today—just some handy links and a callout. A few quick reminders: here is my Twitter. And here is my website. Here is my silly Instagram. Here is where you can get a book in the mail for $10/month. Onward…
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beauty and terror (on poetry & being human)
on leading workshops
In the newest issue of Poets & Writers, Felicia Rose Chavez, Namrata Poddar, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Matthew Salesses have a great discussion about the writing workshop’s roots in white supremacy and how to resist replicating that historical (and enduring) harm…
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That’s all for today. Thanks for being here.