Archive | December, 2010

Labia Versus the Machine: Round Two.

19 Dec

Today I’d like to talk about want. We performers are sometimes merchants of desire. Part of our power lies in the fact that we outwardly embody what others secretly seek. The stage is a kind of rounded glass for whatever we say and are in its purview: desire is magnified.

This poses an interesting problem. I’m not going to speculate or moralize about the responsibility of performers to admirers, who often see our offstage selves through this same distorted lens. The main point is, since we’re onstage, we get a little extra glow to many outside eyes.

Women are susceptible to particular hazards when it comes to this phenomenon. Can’t say why in all instances. I was thinking about this today, on the bus ride from Charlotte to Richmond, and the bus ride from Richmond to DC. Quiet, quiet rides. Almost empty buses, small snow and, other than the cows, hibernating life in the world beyond. The sudden glut of new books of mine kinda messed with my last-minute packing scheme, so I didn’t bother disturbing the stacks ISO iPod, &c. I mostly sat and let my brain traipse.

Here’s something fun to talk about: When you’re a woman performing onstage, you’re not only taking on general glamour. You’re also embodying the history of women who’ve taken the stage before you, and the remnants and mutations in yourself and your contemporary audience.

For much of human history, in much of the world, a woman who performed (especially one who toured from place to place) was seen as available. Actresses, women who worked in the circus, comedians, singers and musicians… Regardless of their subject matter, they were all seen as being one small step away from prostitutes. Why wouldn’t women of this nature be available? In most cultures, it’s normal for women to be static, and overseen by some authority. When a woman isn’t – especially when she puts herself on display in public – she is open.

It might seen contradictory that a woman who takes agency, one who attempts to own her own voice, winds up being sexualized in a different way than her male counterparts. It can be overwhelming when folks read different meanings into your work and self onstage. It can also be tremendously flattering, for women and for men. All of us seem to like and need that, much of the time.

Main thing to know is where you stand. If you have a clear idea of what your heart and body and all else want from interaction with folks offstage, you’re less likely to be taken off-guard after you disembark once you’ve done that vulnerable poem about your family member dying, that euphoric poem empowering nerdiness, &c. Let’s be real. We come offstage, we’re vulnerable. Whether we feel like superheroes or tiny worms.

Know where you stand, and say it. Be clear on what you want before you get up there. Learn to recognize trends in fans’ and peers’ behavior so you can go with what you actually want, and who you actually want to trust, when you need someone.

Please don’t let fear own you. It’s natural to be aware of folks who are trying to prey on you, but I promise most of this is conditioning. If you find folks approaching you aggressively, you have a number of different responses that might be effective. Sister/brotherhood, wit, physical training, mental and emotional control, common sense… While these methods aren’t failsafe, they tend to work. Do what you need to take care of yourself, but please don’t feed fear haphazardly.

It’s also okay to want to kiss and grope and sex people.

For women especially, although this has definitely been the case for some men: be cautious when dealing with fellow poets. Some men get pushed out of the poetry scene by peers, but it happens to women more often. Most folks who’ve been around for a long time would argue, I think, that women who are new to the scene should consider their options very carefully. If you don’t have a solid professional rep and connections of your own when you get involved with someone else who does have those contacts, you risk losing all that work should y’all break up.

A lot of women get waylaid by sex and romance in this and every profession, it seems. I’m a big believer in the potential of the genitals and heart to bring joy. But I guess a part of me thinks there are things I do that matter outside of all that. ❤

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Labia Versus the Machine: Round One.

16 Dec

In a recent post, my friend Karen made some interesting comments and observations about women in slam. It’s a topic I’ve thought a lot about and written a lot about, and still endlessly fascinating. I’m going to write a few posts reflecting on what it means to live this profession with this here vagina.

While at iWPS this year, I noticed (on FB) that an ex of mine was very noticeably, openly supporting a few competing poets. Although I was in solid contention after the first night, and made a point to let him know, his silence towards and about me saddened and overwhelmed me. This is a man who I’ve worked very hard to support and promote professionally from the very beginning. This is also a man who, even when we were together, displayed occasional jealousy and ambivalence when I began to be successful in this field.

This relationship didn’t end well, and it’s clear he’s still carrying a lot of sadness which seems to exacerbate the aforementioned behaviors. He’s also incredibly competitive, which explains part of the reason why he didn’t always support me while we were together. Karen’s take on it was simply that it’s impossible to be friends with some exes. Fair. I don’t blame him for that. And this is, in some ways, just one particular love story gone wrong. But this incident inspired me to talk about something I’ve had on my mind for a while.

For a woman poet, particularly one who almost exclusively dates straight men, it’s extremely important to be involved with someone who supports her art. I CANNOT emphasize this enough, and I can not say this too often. If your partner tries to prevent your writing, performing, competing, or touring, overtly or otherwise, I’d recommend you get out of that situation immediately.

If your partner is another poet, I’d highly recommend being involved with one who respects and enjoys your art. If your partner is a civilian, I don’t think it’s crucial that he/she understand your work, be a fan, or/and come to your shows, because poetry really isn’t everyone’s thing. But if this is what you do, make sure you’re involved with someone who gives you space and time to pursue your craft, and who, at the least, can be happy with and for you when you do well.

I love my ex very, very much, but this is an issue we’ve discussed and argued over too many times. And I know too many women artists (most of us, it seems) who have struggled hard for validation in our own homes – as though the weight of the world outside weren’t enough.

Be excellent. Be safe. ❤

M’F.

15 Dec

The book is here. Done. In hand!!!

In Defense of Winter.

14 Dec

It seems like it’s wonky cold in all kinds of cities right now. Last night in Atlanta, Karen and I were too bone-chilled to stay outside for a whole cigarette at a time; we came home and she started a fire for extra comfort. Snow in Seattle and Portland? Heavy jacket weather in Charlotte? And of course the snowday mindfuck in Minnesota! Who’s warm these days? I haven’t heard a peep out of you, California! X-(

I love the cold for a lot of reasons, though. When you do tuck into your warm bed, being under those covers feels miraculous. That hot cup of coffee or cocoa’s a revelation. Even smoking during the winter, which a lot of nonsmokers regard with bewilderment, has an added touch of cameraderie as you huddle against gales with your fellow smokers, and a certain ethereality as billows of carbons monoxide and dioxide glide off your tongue.

I also like winter because it motivates me to work. Friends are often curious as to why I decided, two years ago, not to stay in Hawai’i forever and ever. A simple answer to that? I got shit to do. There’s a lot I want to accomplish, for whatever reason, and I don’t have the most disciplined mind. Someone like Kealoha might be able to organize the biggest slam in the country while living on an island paradise, but someone like me would spend a lot more time floating in the ocean. It’s not a bad way to live, of course not, but the electricity on winter’s tongue shocks my lazy brain awake.

Maybe I’m channeling those seven years I spent in Massachusetts, and maybe I’m being a little disingenuous. After all, I had a lot of fun feeling smug about booking shows in the Southeast and Pacific Northwest when Chicagoans warned me of rapacious winters. And glory, I sometimes miss living in Oakland, where the weather is simply perfect for human habitation 90% of the time. But cold winters get a lot of bad press, and I so enjoy being contrarian.

Right now I’m working on the next stage of publishing this book: marketing, promotion, booking, merchandise and website development, branding, and seeking quotes/prizes/reviews. Feeling very zen. This kind of work is a refreshing change from the high-scrutiny, high-stress process of preparing for competition, or the angsty, navel-gazing process of assembling a manuscript.

Hm, my plan was to write a post about the latter, to give you curious folks some idea of how my book came into existence, but winter won, as it often does. Maybe next time. For now, keep working, indulge in hot drink and warm blankets, and don’t get too SADD, my loves. ❤

When It Snows In the South.

12 Dec

Back in Atlanta. Karen did an awesome job driving through gales and light snowfall. Now the night is clear and enjoyably cold, a sliver of luminous moon high in the night.

Got a little more perspective on the iWPS situation. The PMS passed (hooray, no babies in my belly!) and I got some rest. It’s a given that I’ll hit a point of low energy and mild exhaustion at the end of any of these big competitions, especially since I feel compelled to sleep as little as possible, drink as much as possible, and eat as badly as possible. The end of a competition’s always sad, too, because you have to say goodbye to all your family. I caught myself crying a little on one of my last goodbye hugs.

What was great about this iWPS? The quality of work I saw was incredibly, consistently high. It’s been a few years since I left a competition feeling this inspired to write. Beating myself up for not making finals stage is par for the course, but in truth, I was really excited about both my bouts, and thrilled that, if I had to lose, it was to excellent poets.

It’s a truism, but change is difficult. Folks I love getting less connected to the scene hurts a bit when I’m still so in it. New poets stepping into the spotlight can be disconcerting when I’m still so crazy about the OGs. The realization that I’m no longer satisfied with my overall body of performance poems feels uncomfortable, but as long as I don’t beat myself up too much, it motivates me to grow.

The obviously good changes? I made a bunch of new friends this weekend (which makes up for not-sexing). I heard lots of really brilliant work for the first time. It isn’t even possible to name-drop all the poets who impressed me this weekend.

Charlotte’s a beautiful poetry town. It’s always a pleasure being in a city that supports its artists so well. And seriously, Inkera and the other organizers did an amazing job putting together such a tight event so quickly. Don’t forget to thank them, if you haven’t.

Happy and at peace tonight. Karen made pasta, and she and Gabe and I are quietly eating while Billie Jean naps on the couch. Grateful for art, glad to be in a safe, warm space with friends. ❤

12 Dec

I can no longer blame my not getting laid (on command) on my devastatingly sexy wasband, nor my sudden appreciation for women’s slams and readings. I solidly did not get laid this iWPS. I’m fairly sure I tried, a little. Fairly sure.

In general, the slam scene makes me feel some kind of melancholy these days. Not because the poetry or people are “worse”. Most of the people who got me into this game seem to be on hiatus, though. A few probably won’t ever come back. A few seem to be waiting for return to be worthwhile – but I’ll take the liberty of saying it probably costs a lot.

Competitively, I watched two of my poetry idols do great work and not get truly noticed for it. I did some small stuff. I felt a little heartbroken. I came into this competition expecting newness, for some reason… I had no new work. I came thinking I had nothing. I got hopeful, but I’m still green. Truthfully, I am sad. But I can stomach this.

I thought this was Rudy’s year. I’m very glad for him. Please take a moment to tell him he’s beautiful. I mean that, seriously.

More talk soon.

Quick Newses.

8 Dec

The first run of my first book, How to Seduce a White Boy in Ten Easy Steps, has been printed. I’ll have books in hand in a week. You can buy them from me, or from my press, Write Bloody.

I’m competing in the 2010 Individual World Poetry Slam in Charlotte, NC, starting tomorrow evening. Wish me luck!

Love. ❤