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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. ❤

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. ❤

Tremors.

13 Aug

The strangest day came upon me yesterday. An enormous storm rolled into DC, including flash floods, lots of falling trees, and a day-long power outage in our neighborhood (other neighborhoods, mainly in the suburbs, have longer outages in store).

The good news is I had time left on my laptop battery, so I actually worked on my manuscript for four hours or so. It’s due Sunday, so that needed to happen.

The interesting news? I stumbled over an emotional rift I hadn’t expected. A rift, I managed to suss out, totally exposed – and potentially worsened – by the process of compiling and editing my manuscript definitively.

Why, I don’t quite know. Storms do bring out, yeah, elemental emotions in me, so it isn’t really a shock. But I had no idea working on a book would be internally difficult in this way. Let’s talk about some of the reasons this might be that I’ve come up with so far. The list:

1. The intensity of revisiting potent emotional landscapes, be they fiction or fact.

2. The pressure of having, for the first time, truly finished poems.

3. The inability to carry success with grace and forward looking – as opposed to guilt, self-sabotage and an overwhelming feeling of unworthiness.

4. The stress of the most serious deadline of my life to date.

5. My not having an entirely grounded space of my own.

Now let’s talk through each one (excuse me, therapy definitely affected my brainscape).

1. Those moments are potentially static. I can choose to visit someone’s grave, to tell someone I still love him, to perpetuate a difficult mystique of myself I harbor in my own mind, or to put off, or to let go. It doesn’t make my situation simple, but I don’t have to tackle every aspect of my life challenges right now.

2. Most writers hate their first books. This will probably happen to me, in some fashion. Poems rarely feel totally finished, but that doesn’t mean other people can’t gain a lot from reading them, or that I can’t gain a lot from sharing.

3. I know I’ve earned this. The year has been fucking overwhelming; a lot of great things came to me in a very short period of time. But I’ve been writing and performing since I was a child. So what if I see where I could still grow? That’s a good thing. That means I’m not finished. That’s what living people do.

4. I will get it done. It’s done enough right now. But I will get it finished.

5. I’ve decided I want to fight for the Chicago space I see in my head, the one I want. I’m not going to be bitter if it isn’t exactly right, or if it doesn’t happen. If it doesn’t happen, I’d like to try to stay in Chi anyway, and see a full year through. There’s potential in me and my housemates that I don’t think we’ve truly grasped as a whole, and I want to see that through. I chose to live with these poets for good reason. I also haven’t addressed the city itself as fully as I mean to, although knowing the extent of my introversion, I likely won’t ever be satisfied in this regard.

Yesterday was literally a dark day. But you know the adage. I’m glad I came to DC, for my sister’s birthday, yes, to see my family, yes, but also to be somewhere familiar, to take enough space from the questions in my head so I could get a moment to answer them. To give me a buffer between a few of the demons. This must be one of the main reasons I’m compelled to travel so much, and to love so many people.

*shrugs* I’m ready, y’all. My draft is due on Sunday. It’s going to be a book worth reading. And rereading. This much I can promise. ❤

Love, Love, Love.

13 May

A Short Note About Love

I say fuck love all over the place. If you have a chance to ream Cupid, or, better, to scalp him while you’re reaming him, please do so in my name.

[Um…theoretically. Please don’t rape and murder any actual human being to make me feel good, because (I promise) that won’t help. Me at least. And it probably won’t help you.]

Maintaining a relationship on the road is difficult at best. Some folks make it work for a while, but most who continue to make it work get settled together fairly quickly. There are exceptions. A few in our community have transitioned well from long-distance relationships or committed polyamory to traditional coupling, or some permutation involving openness and talk and genuine expression. They’re few. The long-distance stats are hindered by the general openness of poets to flux and all the romance and sex that goes along with it, I’d guess. The poly stats? Hmmm… Being responsibly poly (imho) takes a lot of maturity and clarity, excellent communication and self-awareness from all parties. Which is, as you must know, my dears, rare. Gorgeous when you can find it. And I’m happy to say it exists! But it is, unfortunately, rare.

So: given your livelihood asks you hop from place to place regularly, who waits for you at home? Your blood, hopefully. The friends you know from way back when, hopefully. Your man/woman? Well. For many of us, that’s where hope stretches thin. We’re not a school that waits for ‘Dear John’ letters, and certainly not ‘Dear John’ emails. As performers, we’re accustomed to being makers and destroyers; even simply as purveyors of this new interwebz thing, we’re accustomed to creating and destroying on a whim – and relationships are no different. Better to negate than to wait for the hammer to fall.

Those of us who regularly experience the euphoria and crash that comes with performance, plus the stress and time-warp of travel, often look for love affairs to soothe us, or simply to put us back in time and place. To know that, by touching the back of a Midwestern woman who has to wake for work by noon, we actually exist in this place and time…that alone can be such a comfort…

Ha, I’ve talked to Kim Johnson about this, and the phenomenon is surely different for women, because we generally just don’t get groupies like that. But for men, the opportunity to find assurance in a lovely fan’s arms each night is very real.

*shrugs*

I don’t fuck groupies. I understand the impulse, but fucking for fucking’s sake is not where my joy lies. Idolatry makes me extremely uncomfortable, as well. The men and women I’ve loved best have been those with whom the god/goddess complex is less of an issue.

But I know men’s experience in the game is very different, and I think women who identify as mostly lesbian have a different story as well. I can’t speak to either, really. As a woman who’s mostly straight and almost absolutely committed to her work, when I need to be kissed, I try to seek out lovers who truly understand and support that, and all it comes with. They’re few.

So regardless of my self-imposed hype, I stay pretty single. The work is that important. Shit, so am I. My track record with men ain’t half bad (I have good taste), but nobody can love me well unless I can. Women (especially), please read A Room of Her Own, if you haven’t, and seriously feel Woolf on all of that.

This post was supposed to be about love. My heart got broken again, recently, just when I thought that was impossible. Miracle 1? I still really do know what love means, probably better than ever. Miracle 2? I’m still IN love. Miracle 3? I really wanted to tell you all about this. Now I have.

Heart, Lungs, Legs (with apologies to Daemond Arrindell): WoWPS Post 4 and Final.

10 May

As an artist, I find it very easy to slip between the extremes of narcissism and self-negation, isolation and codependency. For a moment in that Green Room in Columbus, I felt really alone. A lot of poets had coaches or buddies to hold their hands: Megan brought Ayinde along for comfort, Tristan chose Baz to advise her, Eboni had Falu and Mo, Sierra had Colin,

Sierra & Colin.

and a lot of the women who’d made some kind of Finals in the past (rightfully) seemed to have a kind of preexisting sisterhood. Since I wasn’t repping a venue, and hadn’t for a good couple of years, I didn’t feel like I had folks in my corner rooting for me in the same way.

Of course, I hadn’t been alone at any point, and I wasn’t then.

Celebrating making the list.

Since I started slamming, I’ve had people holding my hand, pushing me to stay in the game and get better. Too many, far too many to name everyone, but going into this particular competition, Tony Brown gave me excellent, thorough critique on the three new poems I brought into prelims, Khary Jackson told me, as early as WoWPS the year previous, that I could definitely do it, and constantly pushed and inspired me to write more, my SF women (Mona Webb, Kim Johnson, and Lucky 7) gave me a quiet room to rest in the night before Finals,

Mona Webb, my first coach.

Copperhead Red and Andi Kauth agreed to be my posse in those restless moments when I was waiting for the final list to go up,

Copperhead Red.

Panama Soweto reminded me throughout the competition to trust my own instincts and told me wonderful jokes when my nerves were getting the best of me, and Sean McGarragle was my on-site hand-holder, meeting me outside between poems to advise me and tell me how things felt from the crowd.

Backstage proper, Megan and I gravitated to each other.

Megan's legs, two of innumerable gorgeous parts of her.

Rickman and I met in Richmond about a year ago, through Survivor, my brother and her coach. We supported each other through prelims, and as two of the dark horses in the race, coming from the same region of the country, the bond felt natural and welcome. Rachel McKibbens, who performed the sacrificial poems for the first two rounds, was a great help to me and everyone else. At one point, she comforted each of us individually, telling us all that no one could do exactly what each of us could do.

Rachel, also being fucking hilarious.

Rachel and Gypsee Yo were also two women who took me aside once I’d qualified for Finals and told me, “It’s about time,” which was totally unexpected, and brought me to tears…

But yes, we did the draw, and lo, I pulled a ten out of twelve. That’s a fantastic draw, for all of you keeping track at home. It was especially good for me given the way the round played out. One poet after another brought the dramatic, the tragic, beautiful but consistently solemn and heavy work. As the first round wore on, I got more and more restless, because I wanted to flip that energy soooo badly, and I began to worry someone else would catch on and beat me to it. Rachel saw the same trend. She kept saying aloud, to the room, “If I were a coach in this bout, I know exactly what I’d do right now. I know exactly who I’d send up,” and I knew we were thinking the same thing, and I hoped she wouldn’t offer that information up to the room. If someone had asked her, I’m sure she would have shared – but no one did. So we had a run of nine serious poems leading into mine.

And oh, it felt so fucking good to bring a funny poem onstage at that point. Stepping out into that spotlight, looking out at the full and eager house, how lovely and buzzing was that moment, especially knowing that the audience and I were on the express train to Joyville. Spot on, y’all. I felt like the Love Doctor. To me, nothing feels better than doing the right poem at the right moment, especially when it’s a funny poem – I can never get enough of that palpable relief and happiness that radiates from the audience. The judges felt me too, and I walked away with the high score of the first round.

Crazy eyes are my specialty.

***

INTERLUDE: How to Be a Funny Poet


WoWPS was one of a long list of competitions I’ve attended that made it apparent that lot of poets are afraid to perform funny work, especially when the stakes are high. This is justified only insofar as we as a culture tend not to give humor the respect it deserves. I talked to Mike McGee about winning his title using two funny poems out of three, and the kind of latent disrespect he felt from some of the community – as though winning with humorous work was somehow less valid. When Sonya Renee won her title, I imagine some of the same judgment was passed on her (although there were quite obviously other elements at play as well).

But laughter is as essential as tears. As a competitor, you really ought to have at least a few funny poems in your repertoire. Take my advice, darlings, and diversify the tone of your offerings. Or else I promise: if I think I can beat you and make the audience laugh in the process, I will do it every chance I get.

I was pleased, however, that a couple of different poets asked me, after competition was over, how to write a satirical poem. That’s a good look! It means I actually did get props for bringing the funny, and more poets are thinking about doing the same. It’s especially exciting, for me, to think of more women bringing funny poems, as we are generally so fucking eager to be taken seriously. These thoughts are especially for those women who want to get laughs.

1. “Funny” comes in many forms. Think about the voice you’re going for. Wry, sarcastic, deadpan, cheesy? Who/what makes you laugh? Study comedians who you like and think about why what they do works for you. If you don’t know many comedians, ask folks for recommendations. Think about your body: can you pull off physical or slapstick humor? Bringing a high-energy funny poem is often the best means of using the entire stage – and if you can do that well, you’ll reap the rewards.

2. Timing is everything. I was just talking to Baz about this. Some people have a natural sense of comedic timing. Others have to work a lot harder to make their jokes carry. Most folks mess up their timing a lot when they first begin to write funny poems, stepping on the audience’s laughter and rushing through jokes. Then there’s also the issue of keeping the momentum up and keeping the poem moving, so letting the laughs go on too long can be a danger too. It takes a fair amount of practice to learn how to play a funny poem to a room (and the laughs often come at different moments in different rooms, so some measure of flexibility is key).

3. Write your poems short. Most of my comedic poems clock in at about 2:30 if I read them straight through. That gives me a full 30+ seconds to allow the crowd to laugh.

4. Seriousness as foundation. Very few poets I know can pull off poems that are just plain silly in real competition (again, Sonya and Mike come to mind). That takes a pretty real mastery of comedy, I think. The audience generally wants to feel like you have something important to say, even if you say it with a wink and a nod. My two most reliable comedic poems (The Body Beautiful and The Miscegenator) both have an element of gravitas: the former poem flips in tone at the end and goes sincere, and the latter stays big and ridiculous but talks about a topic that people take very seriously.

5. Seriousness as spice. Ekabhumi told me that every serious poem should have a funny moment, and every funny poem should have a serious moment. This moment is what he refers to as a “release valve”, a chance for the audience to breathe. Generally I think this is very sage advice: when you give your crowd a little moment off, they tend to come back to you refreshed and ready for more.

***

I had a similarly lucky draw for the second round, and similarly good fortune in having style and content that contrasted strongly with my competitors’. The green room was suddenly almost empty going into the last round. My Rickman was gone, Rachel was gone, I was going first, and I was out of poems I really, really wanted to perform. I did the poem I thought was the cleanest and strongest out of what I had left, but for the first time that night I knew I wasn’t hitting it. It was the wrong poem for that moment, and I felt that the instant I started performing. I talked to Chauncey about this later, and she said that folks don’t really seem to understand just how many poems you need to get up there and stay up there, and I think she’s right. But taking fourth was a great honor for me. I’m proud of myself, and I’m super thankful to everyone who helped me get that far. I proved something to myself that night, and I walked away very happy indeed.

The End.

Abraxas

8 May

I’m bothered, I’m really bothered, because I don’t know what to say. I met someone online, pretty much, who’s actually close to folks I hug whenever I’m near them. Jeff and I weren’t close, but we definitely could have been. Fuck. He was just sweet to me. Just sweet. I never thought about it. He was a good man. I really hoped to know more of him. I’m sorry Scott, Vernell, and anyone who knew him. I’m sorry he’s gone. From what I saw, he was a really great man. I’m so, so sorry for the loss of him.

Fear & Loving In Little Washington.

28 Mar

I promised my next post would be about the Women of the World Slam, but it ain’t. Sue me.

I spent today walking around downtown looking at the cherry blossoms with my mom and dad.

Cute, yeah?

Spring is my favorite season in DC. It really showcases the beauty of my hometown. The cherry trees that Japan gave the city almost a hundred years ago, pink and white and pale and sweet against those dark, ornate trunks…

Are you moved? I'm moved.

To experience these beauties against the breadth of the Tidal Basin, well, that’s among my favorite sights in the world.

On this early spring day, the air crisp, the sky bright and clear, tourists were out in force. Kids flew kites around the Washington Monument, couples kissed under the blossoms, folks frolicked in paddle boats. It was a good setting for love. A good day to feel sentimental.

See the kites?

It’s my last weekend here before moving to Chicago, into the next phase of my life. I’m excited, scared and excited. I’m moving into a house and a community full of poets I really respect, and I’m hoping hard I don’t make an ass of myself. Chicago is new and strange to me. I’ll be paying rent for the first time since I left Maui more than a year ago, and while I have some money, I don’t have a job, and certainly not enough well-paying gigs to sustain myself on poetry (yet). The notion of having a home of my own is also pretty nuts for a chickadee who’s barely stayed still for the last year, to the point where she’s skittish sleeping in a bed.

Ha! When I go fear of commitment, I take it to a whole ‘nother level, punchbuggies. (This is not even to talk about men! Shall we not mention men! They are pretty and make me break things!) The only commitment I’ve been able to fully make over the past year is to poetry. Got that bit right enough for where I’m at, even though I have loads to learn. But if I want to do more for my body and words right now, I need to hold still, to perform new work regularly, to write and read and listen and learn, to train my strength and grace and eloquence. Amusing. I’ve trained myself so well to be mobile and adaptable, the notion of a day job and a home of my own kinda makes me quake. But yeah, I’m poetry’s bitch, pretty much, so I do as she says. I am so yes ma’am with this, it isn’t even a game.

***

Best Day Jobs I’ve Ever Had

As a lifelong misfit, a restless ladycakes, someone who hates taking orders (even from poetry, sometimes), and a bad liar, I’ve had a lot of different jobs over the years. Most of ’em I liked okay, actually. It’s just the having to be there, and having to be there early, that usually fucks me up. Call me princess, serve me papers, we’re good. Some jobs I really, really liked, though, and even get midnight cravings for sometimes. Poetry aside, here are my all-time favorites, based on the job itself, not perks or coworkers:

bookbinder
shampoo assistant
writing tutor
editor for online comics reviews
music librarian

Did I mention I’m a misfit?

***

So babies my babies, I fly to Chicago on Thursday. I have resumes out, and intend, at some point in the next little while, to *gasp* sleep in a bed of my own, with art of my own choosing on the walls. What’s next, my friends? Tiny Laura clones? Animals to greet me? Bennies and a 401k? Or will your heroine accept the straitjacket for a few months, only to toss it all to the wind at summer’s end (yes, straitjacket is spelled correctly, bitches)? Stay tuned. And if you get the chance to kiss DC on the mouth for me, do it. Feel her up while you’re at it. Tell her to wear pale pink sometimes, for me. ❤