Archive | January, 2011

An Editor’s Bane.

31 Jan

Wow, decomP magazine just published one of my favorite poems from my book in their February issue! *tiny giddy dance*

One of the reasons I’m so proud of the book (which you can buy here, ahem), is because the manuscript was so thoroughly vetted and edited, by myself, Roger Bonair-Agard, Rachel McKibbens, Derrick Brown, and about ten other hardcore poets and readers.

On my travels, I still, bizarrely, encounter the occasional poet who totally disavows editing. These poets generally explain this phenomenon by claiming to be God’s mouthpiece, implying that tampering with the words as they gushed out would be blasphemous.

Okaaaay. If a carpenter were going to build you a house, how would you feel if he told you he didn’t believe it were possible to make mistakes? That wherever the hammer fell was God’s will? How would you feel if he told you he’d never read any books about carpentry or actually practiced it himself – he’d just watched a lot of people build stuff before? What if he told you he didn’t believe in measuring tools?

I try to instill in folks the notion that poetry is a craft, first and foremost, and most of us who practice poetry are craftspeople. If we’re lucky, we’re also artists, or we become artists with a lot of work – but learning how to use the tools comes first.

A few months ago, I started working as an assistant editor at Muzzle Magazine, an online literary journal started by my friend Stevie Edwards. It’s fun, rewarding, and occasionally frustrating. After a while, you begin to see a lot of the same mistakes over and over. These are often flaws I have to work through in my own poems. A few can be used very well indeed, but not constantly. Here are a few recurrences that drive me a little batty:

Overuse of the noun-to-verb paradigm. You know what I mean. Saying something like: “I airplaned over the fault lines of my past…” It’s kind of a cool phenomenon in the English language (I’m a big fan of cupcaking, for example), but seems pretentious and lazy when overused.

Meaningless capitalization. If the beginning of every line of a poem is capitalized, it should be capitalized for a reason – not just because Microsoft Word has that setting on default. Poems written in traditional forms often have the first letter of each line capitalized. If you’re rocking free verse, don’t lean on that default without a reason.

Inconsistent punctuation. If you don’t give enough of a damn to care about where your commas go, I don’t give a damn about your poem.

Flat worlds. Every poem has the potential to surprise, astonish, overwhelm, shock, amaze. Pretty much every poem should have a turn, or something unexpected, even if it’s quiet.

Cliches. I’ve talked about this one a lot already. If your metaphor comes too readily or you’ve heard other people say your phrase over and over, it isn’t fresh. You’re working from default instead of crafting your own ideas.

Overuse of the verb “to be” in any form. Use other verbs. It’ll strengthen your poem tremendously.

Fragments for days. Tiring. Hard eye-read. Editor brain combustion.

Above all, remember that you should be able to justify your own choices. If you’re thinking about submitting your poems to a journal or contest, have friends look over your work before you send it in, if only to copyedit.

Good luck, darlings! ❤


Moving On Up.

24 Jan

White boys keep informing me that, contrary to the title of my collection, it takes, at the most, two steps to seduce them. I counter by saying I’m very thorough. If you’d like to truly master this art, get your own copy of How to Seduce a White Boy in Ten Easy Steps. 😉

Touring the West Coast is always a treat for me (especially in the winter, ha). I’m having a great time, loves, and I’m really looking forward to the rest of my features, from Santa Cruz to Bellingham and everywhere in between. Coming out here gives me a great opportunity to see my extended family and visit shows that are dear to my heart.

That said, I think this will be my last venue tour.

Just a year ago, venue touring was perfect for me. It helped me to get my name out, it connected me with poets and organizers around the country, it gave me so much confidence and completely amped my performance. I still highly recommend poets take this route when starting out, and I still think more women should tour venues.

One of my major professional goals for 2011 is, well, to be more professional. I want to move to the next level with my work, which means being more organized, having a cleaner image, and booking gigs that pay more and connect me to artists and audiences I haven’t reached yet.

There’s a lot more to it than just that, but for now I know I want to focus my time and energy on making a real, sustainable career out of poetry. ❤

I Wish They All Could Be California Gigs… ;)

16 Jan

I’m on the West Coast for the next few weeks doing a bunch of shows in the Bay Area, plus a few in the Pacific Northwest. The first show, San Jose’s WONDERFUL The Oversocial Mofo Review, went over gangbusters. and I intend to keep my game very high indeed.

Naturally, I’ll be hawking copies of my book, How to Seduce a White Boy in Ten Easy Steps, which you can also purchase from my press, Write Bloody Publishing. Come out and see me, my loves! 🙂


16. The City Slam, San Francisco, CA
19. Berkeley Poetry Slam, Berkeley, CA
23. afterWords, 440 Grand Ave., Oakland, CA
24. Santa Cruz Slam, CA
27. Oakland Poetry Slam & Open Mic, Oakland, CA
31. Poetry Night, Bellingham, WA


3. Tourettes w/o Regrets, Oakland, CA
8. Seattle Poetry Slam, Seattle, WA
10. Chico Poetry Slam, Chico, CA
13.Portland Poetry Slam, Portland, OR

Labia Versus the Machine: Round Four.

5 Jan

Marcellus is teaching me how to hack robots. It’s incredibly fun and empowering, and not something I ever thought I’d do. It’s also helping me to view the framework of these posts in a brighter light.

I grew up in the 80s, an era when popular culture was actively grappling with the implications of all kinds of new, accessible technologies: video games, robots, and PCs. We watched shows like “Small Wonder”, where the title character’s mechanized antics reliably opened the way to chaos. Lots of infantilized Asian boys and men appeared as clowns in movies like “The Goonies” and “Sixteen Candles”, linking technology and geekiness with the wacky. We were awestruck and horrified at the Terminator’s destructive potential. Movies like “The Wizard” showed us tech could be cool and useful – but still beyond the grasp of average people.

Now it’s pretty standard for folks above a certain income bracket to walk around with tiny computers in their pockets, and to have multiple smart machines at home and work. Tech is more accessible than ever in some ways, even if many of us still lack a basic grasp of how our tools and toys work.

As poets, we have tremendous potential at our disposal. Poetry has the capacity to transform communities and individuals. I’ve seen it happen over and over. But for all our rhetoric of change, many of us accept the standard operating system instead of questioning how we might benefit from reconsidering what’s possible.

I’ve come up with a few more tips for women who want to slam or/and perform spoken word. None of these tips merits its own post, I don’t think, but each warrants some mention:

*Modulate your voice. It sounds superficial, I know, but this is a tip Kim Johnson gave me when I was just beginning. No one wants to hear a shrill woman. People rarely want to hear a whiny woman. This is fucked-up, but I’ve heard many complaints from audience members to this effect. Pitch your voice lower for greater efficacy.

*Respect the mic. Respect the mic itself. Learn how to work with it, learn how to position it. Practice in your home venue on your own before the show starts, or ask around. This is the ultimate tool of your trade, and building a relationship with it is vital.

*Write and perform a wide range of work. I still think too many women are writing poems primarily for their own therapeutic purposes. This is fine. This can also be done very, very well. This might be your primary strength as a poet: finding catharsis through the stage and giving other people permission to feel their own pain through yours. I also think too many women write primarily page-oriented poems, never memorizing or learning basic performance techniques. This is fine, too. I adore the page, and I listen well. But if you want longevity – if you want to be doing this five or ten years from now – you need to respect your own range. Take risks. Write something frivolous if you tend to delve into darkness. Write something specifically designed to be performed if you hide behind the page.

I also have a few tips for those of us who want to see more women compete and conquer:

Encourage women who get on the mic. This is as simple as complimenting someone whose poem you like. She might not know she’s doing something good unless you say so.

Don’t sleep with rookies. Just wait a year. Please. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s got to be the number one reason most women don’t stay in the scene, no matter their sexual orientation. My first coach, Mona Webb, warned me about this early on, but not everyone has a Mona in her life.

Keep your eyes open for women to mentor. Rachel McKibbens suggested, on Karen’s original thread, that women need to be mentored by women, seeing as our journey is somewhat different. I guess I have to disagree on that point, as most of the folks who’ve guided me through poetry and slam have been men (and a few who you really wouldn’t expect). Maybe in a perfect world we’d have enough women who are focused enough on just this to mentor every new woman who comes up, but we aren’t there yet. I’ve also offered to mentor several people over the years, and on the whole, the men tend to follow through much more than the women do… If you’re a coach or a poet who sees someone whose work and demeanor speak to you, look for a good moment to approach them and offer your advice.

Support. Listen to women’s poetry. Read women’s poetry. Buy women’s books. Support presses run by women. Attend women’s readings. Attend the Women of the World Poetry Slam and volunteer, or just listen. If you don’t do any of these things, you’re an ally in name alone. This INCLUDES women.

DIY. If you identify as female, read your poems in the open mic. Better, host. Better, coach. Better, slam, even if it’s only now and then. Lead by example, and you’ll show others what’s truly possible.

That’s all I’ve got for now, folks. Thanks for reading, and commenting, b/c or otherwise. Just remember: the more complex and unwieldy the machine, the harder it is to hack. Godspeed.

Labia vs. the Machine: Round Three.

1 Jan

I sold out of the first shipment of my book really quickly. Thanks, folks! I ordered more, and hopefully they’ll arrive soon – but you can also order copies at Write Bloody. Um, I hear they’ve got it at Barnes & Noble and on Kindle, too??

Anyhow. I’m losing interest in this series, mainly because it’s too difficult, maybe too unproductive, maybe too depressing to think of specific topics in this vein. Cheryl Maddalena recently pointed out that one of my earlier points could as easily apply to men as women, and the more I consider that, the more I realize she’s correct. I don’t believe there’s much I could say that doesn’t actually apply across genders. The best I can do is try to generalize, to sketch a vague gendered portrait and throw some pedantry in that direction.

There’s a difference, I feel there must be. Some days, I think men might not actually listen to my poems, for the most part. A few more actually read them, I think. I’m under the impression that many more women hear me. I feel there’s a difference, but I’m losing confidence in my ability to delineate that disparity.

More women artists I know seem crippled by a lack of self-confidence. It’s old news. When women get on the mic, we apologize for ourselves more. It takes more for us to be loud and unapologetic. Why? Do we inherently need more confirmation? Do we receive more criticism as a whole? Are we raised to be quieter, more subtle?

It’s worth consideration. Hope your new year has been happy in the last few hours, and hope the year continues bearing selfsame fruit.


How To Build Self-Esteem

* Garner an appreciation of your own body without mirrors, including other people’s perception. Find out what it does well and how it’s pretty to you. Cherish.

* Garner an appreciation of your own poetry. Respect it enough to be hard on it. Respect it enough to share it.

* Cultivate your harmless weirdnesses. Even if no one else gets it, ever. It’s what makes you special.

* I’m at the point where I read all general praise and criticism once. Specific shit needs to be sorted through and weighed, but vague shit only needs one reading.

* Accept that mistakes will come. They might be wonderful.

* Practice unexpected loudness, especially unabashed joy. Share.

* Handstands.