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Aye, the Haggis Is In the Fire For Sure.

22 Sep

*shudders*

I totally betrayed my TNG blood oath with that title. But what can ye do when the haggis is…um…a-burnin’…?

My real live book is coming out in October (oh, I so hope!). Interestingly, the process is driving me completely insane.

Mainly I blame myself for being such a perfectionist. I also chose one of the most discerning, exacting poets I know to be my editor. I have four days to finish, and I will – not on some Mozart deathbed requiem shit, but engaged until I can feel almost every single molecule that makes me pulsate? Yes.

On the sweetest side, looking at the PDF of my theoretical book cover made me cry, it’s so goddamned pretty. Credit Angela Davis Fegan and the Write Bloody design staff for birthing gorgeous art. They inspire me to live up to the high standard they’ve set.

Content will get finished very soon. If you like to look and think, my book will engage you. If you can buy it once it’s done, please do (money = food). Buy it from me if you can (talk to me here or via FB or email), ’cause I make more that way, but if that’s too high maintenance, or if it makes you squirmy, for def get it off the Write Bloody website. I’ve gotta pay rent, and so does my press; we both work very hard for the money.

This book is going to bring you somewhere you’ve never been. I’ve been a closeted people-lover for a long time, and a loner for a long time: my voice is distinctive. At the least, you’ll arch and furrow your brows regularly. At the most, you’ll suddenly decide to fuck someone strange for an unexpected reason, or disappear into the desert for all time.

Speaking of change, Chicago’s proved to be a great place for my writing to thrive. Yes, I’m growing and bearing fruit. It’s extremely uncomfortable! 🙂 A small part of me feels I’m resisting that as much as I’m cultivating it. Demons and angels stay battling, right? And it’s hard to know which is which some days; sometimes demons are the greatest agents of change.

My housemates and I are relocating to a new place in Logan Square at the end of the month, which is where the next Real Talk Live will be held, if all goes well. I’ll keep you posted.

My next update will probably be a condensed review of/homage to Chicago as a poetry town. As I’ve mentioned, I could give a million different reasons why I moved here, but at this point I can mostly answer that with an online round of applause for the poets and organizers of the place itself.

I love you guys. Thanks for loving me back. Extra special thanks to all y’all who’ve cheered me on throughout this process, and thanks to those who’ve chided me for dallying online, &c. – although that actually doesn’t help very often. The brain has to scatter and breathe, and I allow that. I allow it. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here. ❤

You Can’t Go Home Again.

28 Jul

Bathroom graffiti from a bar in DC.

The other night at the Green Mill slam, I was sitting at the bar with Adam Smith (not the economist) and a couple of older gentlemen from Chi. After a little preliminary chat, Adam offered up this gem: “This whole city’s not as bad as it used to be. It’s a pussy city now… It was all junkies, and whores.”

DC made me. I was born there, and my nuclear family lives there. I went to DCPS for eleven years. I remember my hometown as it raised me. I remember:

wandering around the Smithsonian boiling hot days as a kid

smashing Atlantic Blue crabs with hammers to get at the sweet meat inside

prettyboys in dukes rollerblading down P Street

the passing scent of Drakkar and Coolwater from not-quite-men in my junior high

walking down 14th Street in the middle of the night in a hoodie and steel-toed Docs and never feeling afraid.

Many of my most painful memories live there, too.

DC as I knew it at sixteen or so wasn’t all junkies and whores. It was rastas, musicians, poets, couriers, hardcore kids, corner boys, gutter punks… But yeah, I knew addicts and people who sold themselves, too. Altogether, it made for quite the symphony, dangerous, ecstatic and strange.

My hometown used to always be pretty invisible to people who don’t know folks there. People think of it as the place where the monuments and the government are, a place where maybe they went once on a school trip, but would never go again without a reason.

Some still think of it as the murder capital of the world, although it lost that title many years ago. Some still remember Marion Barry, who held the dubious honor of being our crackhead mayor.

Fairly few seem to know or care that DC has never had a vote in the House or the Senate. Very few know that DC’s HIV infection rate is currently at epidemic status. But I wouldn’t be surprised if all that changed very soon.

As an artist with a firmly middle-class background, I’ve been a part of the amorphous, often nasty phenomenon of gentrification, both in Oakland and Chicago. It’s uncomfortable feeling you’re invading someone else’s neighborhood, but, well, I go where other artists are, and where I can afford the rent.

It’s another feeling altogether watching my own city transform.

DC’s always been among the cities outsiders felt entitled to claim. DC doesn’t belong to a state; it was meant to be a city that represented the Union as a whole. That well-intentioned fuckery has led to unfortunate abuses on all levels, from folks who work for the government commuting in, taking jobs but not paying taxes, to the suburban kids who’ve claimed DC for years (to the point of coining the ugly, but more-accurate-than-ever term “DMV” for the District/Maryland/Virginia region).

I love the folks who are from DC. We have a nice balance of Southern mellowness and East Coast fang. And I verymuch love some of the folks who’ve moved to DC from other places. But most of these fuckers can swallow my knuckles.

The White Return Flight that’s happening in so many cities has simply engulfed my hometown; the population’s projected to be mostly white in the next fifteen years or so. DC invaders typically originate in places deemed smaller or less important, but DC is tiny itself. It’s less than seventy square miles, with dramatic height restrictions (not actually having to do with the Washington Monument). There isn’t a lot of room.

DC’s also not a terribly cosmopolitan place, let’s face it. The food is generally terrible, and best believe you’ll get funny looks if you try to wear anything but very conservative clothes. But starry-eyed twenty-somethings swarm into the city from little towns all over the South and the Midwest with the misguided impression that reaching DC makes them big fish, that they’re suddenly very wise and urbane simply by virtue of their being there.

I know I sound bitter. Maybe I am. The last few times I hung out in DC I had to deal with some ignoramus shit every time I left the house. It made me angry, with a reflexive feeling of, goddamnit, that’s my town, colonizers.

But the demographics of the place have totally changed. And really, just because property values have skyrocketed in the last ten years and I can’t afford to live there, is that really the worst-case scenario? Recently I posted this map to my Facebook profile, and my friend Jamaal, who lives in Detroit, said, “Detroit looks like it’s bleeding.” I’ve been to places that felt like ghost towns, and DC is very far from that. Maybe I don’t personally like the way the city’s changed, but does that matter? I guess I should be grateful she’s being taken care of at all, like an ex-lover who marries an asshole with a good job.

And maybe it’s just the passing of time that makes me sad. Even though there’s a part of me that still feels like that toddler or adolescent who pattered around Independence Avenue and Chestnut Street when I was growing up, the world’s stayed moving, and so have I.

When You Come Undone.

1 Mar

I had a lot of lovely chance encounters in the Bay. Hung out at Denise “Merry Sunshine” Jolly’s beautiful apartment, dinner with Mona and Denise when I first arrived in town, fresh-squeezed grapefruit drinks at Van Cleef’s, recorded tracks and ate a fabulous potluck dinner at Jamile’s place,

Jamile's potluck.

hit Mona’s elegant Ladies’ Night with Kim and Leigh Ann, drank and bullshitted with 2/3 Proletariat and Lauren, ate Bakesale Betty’s and hit the East Bay Depot with my old friend Diana,

Diana

walked around Lake Merritt with Chas, had a lovely conversation and a couple of glasses of wine with the marvelous Ekabhumi,

Ekabhumi

ran into Stephen at Whole Foods, ran into Eka and Felicia while playing pool in Berkeley, &c…

How can you NOT be good at pool when you're this tall?

I spent most of my time in the Bay with two duos, however, and I’d like to talk about them now – partly because I’m so grateful to them for their love and care, partly because I think they really illustrate the two crucial non-business friendship types essential to well-being on the road.

EXTENDED FAMILY

Kat & Jack flirting...

I stayed with Kat and Jack Thompson, to whom I affectionately refer as “Mom & Dad”. I’m their wayward daughter, which means I get my own key, and I try to let them know when I’ll be home ridiculously late, or not at all. These two don’t judge or try to control me, but they care about my well-being, who I’m with, and what’s going on in my life. They feed me sometimes. Notably, Kat fattened my ass up with BACON CHOCOLATE CHIP PANCAKES.

Yumm...

Kat and Jack also invite me to important shit, like their wedding, and Jack’s birthday dinner at his mom’s house.

Jack's birthday.

Our relationship is excellent and abiding, and though I met Kat through poetry, what we do together covers a lot of who I am that isn’t a poet. I watch anime with Jack and play his video games. I hang out in the kitchen when Kat cooks and go patracking with her. The Thompsons let me stay on their couch, like, forever, without demanding anything of me.

My road folks.

Why This Matters When You’re Touring

You need to be around people who will love you unconditionally. A lot of the affection you get on the road can feel very performance-based (literally), sometimes very artificial, so to stay grounded, it’s important to have great friends who are either uninvolved, or only peripherally involved, in the poetry scene. It’s also important to remember that, no matter how many hours you spend absorbed in your craft, you will always be more than a poet. You need this element, people, so you don’t take yourself too seriously, and so you can take your (often) small but inevitable professional failures in stride.

EXPERTS IN ADVENTURE

Dre

The other duo I spent most of my time with was Dre and Patrick.

Patrick.

I call these two my Holy Fools, because they pursue all kinds of mischief and paths that shouldn’t work out, but somehow do – they emerge from dangerous and bizarre situations without a scratch, and there’s an inexplicable rightness to their direction. The three of us composed a half-insane poem that somehow turned out magic, hit numerous taco trucks throughout the Bay, and generally got wild. On Dre’s urging, we wandered around an abandoned estate the night after my SF feature, talking about ghosts. On a whim, Patrick took me to an amazing soul food restaurant where I had the most luxurious meal of my tour.

o heavenly pork belly

Generally, strange and wonderful things happen when these guys are around.

Why This Matters When You’re Touring

It’s important to stay grounded, as I said, but it’s hugely important to take risks and see the unexpected as well. Hopefully every show where you perform involves some of that from you and others, but again, you must remember the world outside the stage. You need to stay in love with life, to stay excited and keep your mind moving. Traveling with guides like these is the best way to get back into your body, and back into the world.

I promised I’d talk about chaos again, and here we are. The Holy Fools invite this, and I must say they’ve helped me to embrace it. I’m kind of in love with it right now. The joys of flux, of not-knowing. Chaos keeps me honest. And it keeps my temperament sweeter, for real. When I expect to not-know, and I expect to not-control, a lot of anxiety dissolves from life on the regular. It also keeps me excited. Joyful. Anything can happen.

This is a good note on which to end my PNW/Bay Area tour blog, I think. Let me leave you with a Rumi poem I absolutely love. I’ll start blogging about the leg I’m on in soon. Thanks for reading, my loves. It means a lot to me. ❤

Zero Circle

Be helpless, dumbfounded,
Unable to say yes or no.
Then a stretcher will come from grace
to gather us up.
We are too dull-eyed to see that beauty.
If we say we can, we’re lying.
If we say No, we don’t see it,
That No will behead us
And shut tight our window onto spirit.

So let us rather not be sure of anything,
Beside ourselves, and only that, so
Miraculous beings come running to help.
Crazed, lying in a zero circle, mute,
We shall be saying finally,
With tremendous eloquence, Lead us.
When we have totally surrendered to that beauty,
We shall be a mighty kindness.

Agent of Chaos.

25 Feb

some Boise robots.

I’m beginning to think about getting settled again, much more so, yeah. Trolling cragslist tonight. Never ever my favorite thing, even less so when I’m not sure how my existence will look in the upcoming months. But for now I’m putting out feelers. I love this transient existence, but, paradoxically, the better I get at it, the more I fantasize about having a gym or a dojo where I regularly spar, my own kitchen, my own key, and a shelf where books and anime live.

There are times when my lifestyle contrasts starkly with those of the people I visit. Visiting Boise afforded me a great example of what can happen when worlds collide. I was staying with the incomparable Cheryl Maddalena, a fierce, honest poet and organizer.

Cheryl.

Cheryl and I have much in common: we have similar worldviews, we often use the same content and techniques in our poetry, we both rock quirky femmey feminism on the regular, and we both developed our performance styles in the Bay. The trappings of our lives are very different, though. Cheryl has several degrees, a slam scene she founded and for which she’s responsible, a husband with a Real Job, two gorgeous little boys, two cats, and a big house in Boise to encompass them all.

Cheryl & sons.

Nice quiet neighborhood.

What would I do if I had people to take care of and big pretty things? I’m not even great at taking care of the assorted people and things already connected to me. All trappings have to be super streamlined. Anything high maintenance either gets left at home, or has to make do with getting ironed once a month/a whole bunch of text messages.

So what happens when these two worlds collide? Let’s draw a Venn diagram:

Small, cacophonous boys shock the weary traveler awake. The debaucherous visitor coerces the mild-mannered housewife into staying up til 4 AM writing and drinking beer. Cheryl makes Laura a grilled cheese sandwich with pickles and a glass of milk,

It was so delicious.

Laura stubs her cigarette butts out in Cheryl’s pretty porcelain bowl. /diagram

The other creature I spent lots of time with was Janelle.

Janelle.

Janelle swims around in the center of our diagram. Sometimes she’s the lightning rod of raucous, sometimes she waves in the current like algal bloom. Janelle and I ate delicious gourmet pizza, played trivia, frequented bars, beguiled strange men, watched a row of drunken patrons stand on a bar, pull their pants down, and let the bartender stick snifters to their ass cheeks…

If only I’d had a camera with a flash, I would show you proof.

When Cheryl and Janelle and I hung out together, we did things that were both enriching and frivolous, but mostly harmless, such as making earrings, or watching The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

My earrings.

When Janelle and Tara and I hung out together, we drank a lot.

Told you.

*shrugs* That’s why Janelle’s in the middle of the diagram.

Anyway, I felt like the loudest creature in Idaho. My time in Boise inspired me to coin the term, “Agent of Chaos” to describe this manifestation of myself, a blaze of honor – but also a warning, I guess. My bouts of wildness suit me because I don’t have to worry about feeding other people or making it to class on time, and because my shadow and I are in constant rapport. I have more to say about chaos, and I will tell you later, I promise.

***

INTERLUDE: Sonnets, Son.

Boris Pasternak once wrote, “form is the key,” actually as part of a longer quotation, but it’s a thought I return to from time to time, especially when I consider poetic structure. A teacher of mine once taught me this, explaining that learning to write poems in form can be incredibly liberating. I like the seeming paradox of that, like walking towards the wall in the labyrinth and finding a passageway.

I’ve been reading a series of new poems by this Chris Gilpin fellow, and it’s got me excited about sonnets again. Long before I’d ever heard of this wonderful monster called slam poetry, I wrote and studied the “all balls, no cock” variety (of Q-Tip fame). Suffice it to say, I read a fair amount of sonnets over the years, and the form itself does get boring unless folks sometimes break convention in one way or another.

Sonnets are especially frustrating for me, for some reason, but Chris has got me wanting to try the form out again. Who’s with me? I’ll attempt to match anyone who wants to throw down. Classic formula here, stick to the rules or break ’em as you like. Below you’ll find the first of Chris’ series (x-posted with his permission), which got me thinking these crazy thoughts in the first place. If you like this one, ask to see his others. They’re awesome, too.

01

The rain beats down against my roof tonight,
a-rat-a-tat-tattering finger tapping,
insistent like a salesman’s trap-flapping
“Hey-hey, buddy, you want this one, right?”
I twist the foam earplugs into my skull.
What I want is a serious sleeping pill,
but all I’ve got is this weak-ass NyQuil
which does little to beat life’s edges dull.
I’m fucked. I’ll never get a wink of sleep.
I lay entombed in sounds of wind and rain,
while ex-girlfriends dance through my tired mind.
I count them (which is more fun than counting sheep)
and smile: if I could do it all again,
I’d choose the same ones, or at least, the same kind.

Note: the Blonde Sonnets are my experiments with the sonnet form. The rhyme schemes do not necessarily conform to the standard Shakespearean or Spenserian blueprints. But they are all 14 lines long, play with iambic pentameter and attempt a volta – a shift of perspective, or tone – after the eighth line. My goal is to write them in the plainest language, with lightness and naivety, the passing thoughts of a blonde, like me. –Chris Gilpin

***

The work element of Boise was fantastic. The workshop I ran was small, but I loved the challenge I set for myself and those in attendance: I brought in Rob Sturma’s “For Black Girls…” from his new book, and asked everyone to try to write a poem about blackness. Yes, in the middle of fucken Idaho. My stipulations were to try to be humorous, and to avoid white guilt as best they could. The results were excellent, enlightening, and cathartic, I think. I got a good seed out of it, the short poem I’m now calling “Black Humor”. Isaac had some really good stuff going, too; I hope he’s working on that seed.

My set was alright, lots of anthems. Found myself wishing I’d taken Cheryl’s advice and gone a bit more experimental. The best part was a poem about pomosexuality Cheryl and I cowrote (on the aforementioned 4 AM beer night) and performed together.

This was our first draft.

During the slam, Tara Brenner performed some really ornate, solid work, Janelle surprised me by going dark and vulnerable, Kristen blew my mind with her innovation, and goddamn Cheryl did that poem I love about glow-in-the-dark white boys! Boise steady takes risks and sticks the landing, all while wearing 4-inch heels. That’s the sign of a grown woman, handling shit in stilettos, if need be. For my part? These boots are made for walking. Bringing the chaos to a city near you.