on showing your work, etc.
Happy Monday, all!
Here’s what I have for you today:
On showing your work
What I read last week
I will send you a big box of art / clothes / books / accessories / notebooks / whatever you want for $50. Just let me know what you’re looking for in the order comments.
On showing your work:
So I’ve talked about this before and probably will again, because it’s important. It’s true: I am a believer in showing your work, in showing readers who you’re in conversation with and who influences you. CAConrad says it well: “No one inspires me more, and spurs me into writing more, than my peers.”
That’s why this newsletter always includes a section on what I read last week, or quotations that spoke to me—even though I know this likely means little to most readers. But, for those few who are interested, I like to point to my own inspirations and models and writers with whom my work hopes to be in dialogue. As a reader, I am attracted to texts and writers that offer ample citations and acknowledgements—so I try to model something similar in my own life.
Here are a few writers I love, expressing the power of showing one’s work far more articulately than I ever could:
I suppose what I’m saying is that I don’t imagine myself as operating in a vacuum and I like the feeling of exposure—of one’s emotionality, one’s intellectual cache, one’s sense of the dialogue one is engaging with. I’ve said this before but someone who I think currently does this with incredible facility is Kate Zambreno, another great mind—her work turns me on to endless texts, which is the best thing in the world—the sense that you’re being let in on a secret, and the secret is someone’s idea of their library, their sense of a conversation. This sort of writing refuses objectivity, which is always a fiction, and presents all writing for what it is—the product of a singular intellect, which brushes up against endless other minds. I find Dodie Bellamy’s recent essays or the work of C. D. Wright provocative on this level as well. I find most writers don’t like to show their cards. It’s a point of pride I suppose, but pride isn’t something I find especially useful for my own work. My investments are in vulnerability, humility, and openness.
I […] strongly believe that citation is a form of love, so I try to build it into my work, whether in the book or online, where if you ever are curious about the structure of something or how I got there, I try to make it easy to find my references. And take it forward on your own terms. because at the end of the day, I grew up on tumblr, you know? I grew up creating my own library of references. Any of the work that I do, I'm always going to try to build in that library, because none of this knowledge is mine. I didn't pull it from the air, but I worked to discover these things and find access so I could share them with other people and use them together. It's never about hoarding knowledge, I want us to survive the world together.
I always thought of the “Notes” as love notes to the people, places, texts, and conditions essential to the writing. Foremost, they were places to proclaim love.
I recently led a graduate class called The Critical Imagination. My colleague Rachel Feder visited and spoke about “expanding the citation” – ways that as writers we might invite, include, and acknowledge collaborative energies vital to our processes.
Her ideas moved me and gave me a framework to think about generosity and reciprocity as sacred technologies that belongs in books. And I’d add, in classrooms, faculty meeting rooms, and in every space. In death spaces. In throw away spaces. And I want to think of spaces and books as zones (that can be) wired for this generosity/reciprocity so that we might increase the possibility for discernment and revelation to have places at our tables.
The paratextual choices are invitations into this text-process. This is how reading often works for me (cards and books) and I wanted that to be a transparent aspect of how this book worked.
I am also always thinking about this quotation by CAConrad:
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.
What I read last week:
Notes on Accessibility, Brent Cunningham
Notes toward a defense of experimental writing, Jeffrey DeShell
A bunch of interviews in The Paris Review (see highlights below)
If a Body, Katharine Coles
Feeling Upon Arrival, Saretta Morgan
How best to love? How to know anything, for certain, in another’s heart? Such a serious thing we are doing, and no one really knows how to do it.
My sense is that beauty makes life worth living. For me it’s really the beauty of nature—light and shadow, leaves and trees—that gives joy. And then some poems, some paintings, some music.
When I write about climate change, I tend to write about the ways we try to escape from it in fantasy, the ways we fool ourselves. I write from a complied position because I know I’m part of the problem. O f course, we need governments to act, to restrain coal production and find alternative fuels. But I’m not totally innocent, always getting on airplanes and flying to conferences and readings, putting jet fuel into the atmosphere. And I do use a lot of paper.
I tell people, especially if I’m giving a reading, it’s okay to let the words wash over them, the way one experiences abstract art. I’m not trained in visual art. I often see things in a museum and don’t know what to make of them, but I still have an experience, a response to what I can see. Likewise, I don’t think poems have to have easy translation. I believe strongly in emotional and psychological narratives. I think of many of my poems as emotional gestures. Context isn’t always essential—or maybe it’s that I resist context as an absolute. I like what happens when context begins to wobble a bit.
Well, syntax is the thing that allows for manipulation in a sentence, in a way that grammar doesn’t. Syntax allows us to move blocks of text around, stall the delivery of information, establish hierarchies. Its ability to give only so much, then to switch directions, teasing the sentence out—that’s like foreplay. You decide when you’ll draw the readers in, and when you’ll release them, and for how long. And just when they think they’ve been released, you can bring them back in again. To me this is very erotic. It’s like seeing someone across the room and deciding you want him.
I think sometimes maybe home comes down to the few trustworthy souls of one’s life in a space over which one has some sort of sense of control.
And though it wasn’t conscious, the tragedies probably resonated with my experience as a biracial person. I’d spent much of my life being told I wasn’t really black or that I was trying to be white, when I was simply myself. Meanwhile, though I didn’t understand myself to be gay, I was aware that I had occasional sexual attractions to other men, but it had been so hammered into me that sex between a man and woman was what was normal—or more bluntly, that sex between two men was somehow disgusting at best, immoral or evil at worst. Which is to say, studying the tragedies was probably the beginning of what I would end up writing from and about, the restlessness of not being able to square the self with society’s expectations.
I understand now that the impulse to write again came from my finally beginning to understand that an attraction to men was not a phase. To be clear, I’d never have gotten married if I’d understood my queerness. It was such a different time... Let’s put it this way. Some people in my position would go to therapy, others might commit suicide. I sometimes think the poems of my first book were written as a rescuing force, a way to work out these seemingly insurmountable, irresolvable feelings.
I get frustrated with this idea that queerness can take place only in urban spaces—as I get frustrated with a general impatience, among the gay writers, and not just writers, I know, with people being closeted. It’s as if a lot of us have forgotten that there are places, the majority of the country, that are not urban, and with that there’s a forgetting that it’s not so easy for everyone to just come out and be accepted. For people in more rural places—but also right here in Saint Louis—queer experience happens more often someplace hidden, and has to. An overgrown field, the woods, these are perfect places for a sexual encounter, especially when there’s no gay bar for miles, or where an app is more likely to let you know the nearest guy is forty miles away. It may be the case that a lot of queer poets, once they understand their queerness, move to urban environments, thinking to find a more open-minded community, but I think living a while in a sophisticated city can make one forgetful of how hard it still is for so many people to be who they are.
A poem should provoke, however quietly. In provoking our thoughts, in challenging our assumptions, it can make us more reflective human beings.
Beauty is the best way I know to resist power.
Poetry is not the transcription of experience but the transformation of it.
-Ellen Bryant Voigt
I like going long periods without writing because when I return to it, I feel desperate. I think writing out of desperation can be a good thing; it gives the work a sense of urgency.
I accessed the enraptured state again, but I don’t like to analyze it too much. I prefer to leave it mysterious, because it is. So, how do you reach an enraptured state while writing? Honestly, I think an enraptured state is only possible when you burn everything in your life without leaving toxic traces. Then you can access your thoughts with clarity.
I mean, I’m always thinking about what it means to be a woman, especially since whether or not I’m a woman seems to be questioned at least once a week. My experience with harassment or being “constantly marauded” has less to do with unwanted advances by repulsive men, and more to do with a small percentage of strangers who are somehow unable to ascertain my gender, which is actually none of their business. I suppose a feeling of anger permeates the book and, at times, my life. And I wish I didn’t feel so angry or enraged, but occasionally these emotions can be productive. It’s sort of like the experience of being an obsessive person. Sometimes it’s not very useful in daily life, but every once in awhile it can be helpful, for example, in terms of writing a book or making art.
There are elements of my life in everything I write, whether it’s a fable or a story about a failed teacher who hates children. But what’s true or not—it doesn’t matter. It’s fiction. Everything is shaped and constructed deliberately. I went into my book with a mental tool, and I carved things and whittled away, and sometimes I added little flourishes. That’s why I would argue that this book is a work of imagination, regardless of what lines up with the events or elements of my life. I emptied my memories a long time ago in a therapist’s office. Writing for me is not therapeutic in any way.
Maybe “queer” has lost its subversive edge for me? Maybe that is a direct result of capacious uses of the term “queer” in literary circles, where “queer” signals aesthetic affinities rather than an embodied experience, resistance to a heteronormative way of life, or expression of affinity with certain subcultures and models of relationality.
Any journals open to regular columnists (paid)?
I want to talk about poetry but I also want money for it. Lmk if anyone has any leads. Would love to be a ~regular contributor~ to an online publication.
That’s it! Bye!