What a wonderful time with Petra and the poet Stephanie Heit and Megan Levad the undergraduate and grad students and the subzero weather and video in the snow: Planetside Zero Degrees.
you think of me)
all in the body, inside my body
cured by falling snow
or by rain dropping through a door
friendly, like old world flamingoes
flowers in a primitive landscape
goodness is invisible
making use of fate to find your face
outstretched arms a steady lake
clear mind already unselfish
neutral eye of heaven
enable us to see both poise and energy
we are ourselves, our own virginity
sensuous, washable, a casual nexus
to love more this life
I think of you
CHOOSING HERE: A PERFORMANCE/ART MUSEUM
JANUARY 16-25, 2015
Choosing Here: A Performance/Art Museum invites the audience to explore an immersive environment featuring visual art, performances and film collaborations derived from community interviews, historical research of downtown Oakland and personal experiences. Choosing Here asks viewers and participants to delve into the experiences, choices, memories and mistakes related to this mighty yet humble thing we call HOME. What is involved with staying put? What responsibilities, feelings, actions, patterns, expectations and compromises emerge when we decide to really be (and invest in) where we are? The installations are very short experiences that repeat throughout the duration of the event. Choosing Here will run Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00 pm, Sundays at 2:00 pm, January 16-25. Tickets are $10-25 sliding scale and available now through Eventbrite.
DESTINATION HOME: AN EVENING OF SHORT WORKS
MARCH 20TH-APRIL 4TH, 2015
In March Ragged Wing Ensemble presents four new short plays written and directed by members of the Ensemble. By turns wistful, comic, incisive, and mythic, playwrights Anthony Clarvoe, Cecilia Palmtag, Addie Ulrey, and Windy Wynazz address fundamental questions about how we create and find home on an elegant set designed by Erik LaDue. All four plays will be performed each night; running time is approximately two hours with one intermission. The series will run Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm, Tickets are $20-40 sliding scale and available now.
HOMING: A GALLERY EXHIBITION
OPENS JUNE 5, 2015
The Homing season will culminate in a group show featuring the work of an ensemble of visual artists. Homing: A Gallery Exhibition will partner and enhance our end-of-the-year Gala Fundraiser on June 13.
The Poetics of Disability
“We have not yet determined what a body can do.”—Baruch Spinoza
“My body is the problem.”—Amber DiPietra
Course Description The 17th Century Dutch Philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, wrote that “we have not yet determined what a body can do,” thus foreshadowing many of the problems of modern scientific and medical discourse. I would like to take his comment in an affirmative sense, in the spirit of the philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari whom often quoted this very phrase—that specific bodies contain capacities unbeknownst to us which may advance our knowledge about the world, but that they may also challenge definitions of “the human” which have worked against a more inclusive and just society. In the first weeks of this course we will consider how modernist aesthetics are forged through thinking about disability. Particularly important will be Viktor Shklovsky’s notion of “enstrangement,” which he recognizes in his essay “Art as Device” as a defining effect of poetic language, and Martin Heidegger’s idea of “conspicuousness,” which facilitates knowledge of a thing’s essence. To what extent may these texts allow us to explore disability as an aesthetic problematic echoing modernist preoccupations with a discourse of the senses, formal innovation, difficulty, estrangement, and constraint? Do the tropes of alienation and sensual derangement so fundamental to modernist aesthetic practices anticipate a generative principal embodied by certain disabilities? To what extent, perhaps most importantly, do the bodies of specific modernist practitioners necessitate innovation as a result of their embodiment? Following this we will encounter a series of texts that may help us to problematize “ableism”—any thinking or practice that essentializes human capability, often in the service of the oppression of a particular group—and explore how discourse about disability undergirds our most fundamental social, political, ethical, and aesthetic practices. From these theoretical premises, we will move to a robust discourse from the past 60 years regarding poetics and disability, and encompassing a range of practices, communities, and cultures. Beauty is a Verb, a recently published anthology edited by Jennifer Bartlett, Sheila Black, and Michael Northern, will help us to historicize how discourse of and about disability has evolved, from early practitioners such as Larry Eigner and Josephine Miles, to contemporary poets identified as disabled, including Bartlett, Jordan Scott, David Wolach, Denise Leto, Amber DiPietra, and others. To what extent does disability radicalize poetry as a field, especially claims for innovation traditionally made by an “avant-garde” and its critical proponents? To what extent, as well, may a poetics of disability help us to interrogate the ableist unconscious of modernity?
Beauty is a Verb
Hannah Weiner’s Open House
Jennifer Bartlett’s Autobiography/Anti-autobiography
Amber DiPietra’s and Denise Leto’s Waveform
Jordan Scott’s Blert
Michael Davidson’s Concerto for the Left Hand
Alison Kafer’s Feminist Queer Crip
Petra Kuppers’ The Scar of Visibility
Tobin Siebers’ Disability Theory
Signing the Body Poetic
The Disability Studies Reader (4th Edition)
Check out this new anthology out from Nightboat Books!
So many incredible writers and poets and thinkers….
I’m beyond excited and feel so fortunate to have the honor of being a part of this anthology in a collaborative essay written with Jen Hofer and Amber DiPietra.
Thank you Joshua and Lily!
Dan Beachy-Quick | As In the Green Trees |
Brian Blanchfield | Freely Espousing: or Subject, to the Avant-Garde |
Jaswinder Bolina | A View from the Factory Floor |
Amaranth Borsuk | Towards an Auto-Destructive Poetics |
Jenny Boully | Innerworkings, In Meadows |
Susan Briante | Towards a Poetics of the Dow |
Laynie Browne | Rendering the Invisible: A Translucent Imperative of Poetry |
Blake Butler | Mirror-Maze-Child-More |
Amina Cain | Slowness |
Mary Caponegro | Success in Circuit Lies (Redux) |
Julie Carr | In Defense of My Experience (Or, The Body and the Avant-Garde) |
Ken Chen | From The Excerpts: Poetics or or Politics |
Jeremy M. Davies | The Pleasure of Perversity |
Jeffrey DeShell | Notes Toward a Defense of Experimental Writing |
LaTasha Nevada Diggs | no te entiendo
Amber DiPietra, Jen Hofer, & Denise Leto | as rigorous as a mathematical demonstration, as surprising as
an ambush in the night, and as elevated as a star: Some Thoughts on Access, Difficulty, Limestone, and Empire
Rikki Ducornet | Eros Breathing
Nicolle Elizabeth | Take The Story
Clayton Eshleman | Genesis and Praxis
Brian Evenson | The Crazy Party Guy, or, A Disruption of Smooth Surfaces
Johannes Göransson | IT’S STILL TOO MUCH: Conceptual Poetry, The Poetry Foundation,
The Plague Ground and the Anti-Kitsch Rhetoric of Contemporary Poetry Discussions
Noah Eli Gordon | Five Allegories to Turn the Fingers of the Right Hand into a Fist
Rachel Eliza Griffiths | Iambic Passage: How Identity and Access Trouble American Imaginations
Duriel Harris | “As Sound Creates Forms on Water”
Carla Harryman | Avant-Garde Unconscious
Yona Harvey | The Poetics of Self-Education
Lyn Hejinian | Sun on the Avant-Garde
Brent Hendricks | My Alternative Pop Song
Christopher Higgs | A Manifesto Needs Who?
Harmony Holiday | That’s the Way it’s Gonna Be
B.J. Hollars | Not Trash
Paul Hoover | The Question of the Avant-Garde
Gregory Howard | Always the Next Machine
Laird Hunt | Some Notes on the Tyrannical Prehension
Alta Ifland | I am My Own Status Quo
Jac Jemc | Notes on Trying to Say
Stephen Graham Jones | In Defense of Non-Mandates
Pierre Joris | 15 Non-Theses Towards an Un-Manifesto of Poetry Un-Randomly Culled from Recent Notebooks
Bhanu Kapil | Elemental Notes
Kevin Killian | “I Can’t See You Any More, Baby”: Accessibility, the Avant-Garde and My Flick Knife
Amy King | Gestural Poetics
Ann Lauterbach | In Praise of The Various
Hank Lazer | Why I Write and What’s at Stake
Sueyeun Juliette Lee | Actual, Real, and True
Juliana Leslie | Passive Voice
Stacey Levine | Writing Properly?
Timothy Liu | Why We Do That Thing That We Do
Robert Lopez | The Good Thing about Today is I Slept through Most of It, or the Illusion of Urgency
Sean Lovelace | Turnips
Jill Magi | “Nothing Is Wrong: Thirteen Thoughts on Poets and Poetry in the Year 2013”
Ravi Mangla | On the Merits of Moderation
Farid Matuk | Poems of the Near Mind
Mark McMorris | Where This Thing Is Going
Joyelle McSweeney | The Golden Age of Obliteration, or Staphylococcus aureus, or,
How the Artist Must be Accessible to Art
Miranda Mellis | Sub Traction
Megan Milks | Avant Slash Pop
Lydia Millet | Self Again
Kyle Minor | Once Upon a Time (or, The Trouble with Avant-Garde Ought-Nots)
Ander Monson | Another Project for the Heart
Laura Mullen | Accidental Cliques? (Or, uhm, which status quo I was supposed to defy, again?)
Kristine Ong Muslim | On Writing, Accessibility, and the Avant-Garde
Eileen Myles | Painted Clear, Painted Black
Alissa Nutting | Our Wrong Parts
Lance Olsen | a flash poetics of illegibility
Ted Pelton | Oscar vs. George
Craig Santos Perez | from Unincorporated Poetic Territories
Vanessa Place | Refusal: The Confession of a Real Pervert
Khadijah Queen | Navigating the Body, Revealing the Audience: On Sonic Integrity,
Contrast, Movement, and Endurance
Wendy Rawlings | Strange & Enormous & Terrible & Absurd
Elizabeth Robinson | Constellation and Dilemma
Joanna Ruocco | Living with Language: Our Body of Need
Aurelie Sheehan | Walk Through
David Shields | Negotiating against Myself
Anis Shivani | Empires of Consciousness
Cedar Sigo | Sensation
Eleni Sikelianos | What Pursuit
Carmen Gimenez Smith | Drone Poetics
Ken Sparling | A Bunch of People Paper Thin Their Butts of Mud
Cole Swensen | On the Brink of a Response
Briane Teare | My grandmother’s name was Lorine.
Roberto Tejada | Imperatives
Melanie Rae Thon | The Ethics of Perception
Lynne Tillman | Breaking What is Broken
TC Tolbert | Red, left. Light blue, right. Or, So many ways to say yes.
Steve Tomasula | I Only / Never I
Jackie Wang | We Epistolary Aliens
Kellie Wells | Fourteen Ways of Looking at Rat
Tyrone Williams | Reginald and Me
L. Lamar Wilson | Queer Black Avant-Garde Poetics: On Being Guilty of Excessive Darkness
in the First Degree
Ronaldo V. WIlson | Living Being: After the Avant-Garde
Timothy Yu | “You’re Not Avant-Garde, Are You?”
Lidia Yuknavitch | Why Do you Write it All Weird?
Andrew Zawacki | Encounter
From “Thinking of a”
scarf “azurro” misspelled, so not of the language
it purports to depict, but it is blue and should
be called “young love” for a way to name what
is lost. You can’t hang on to all that past, fireplace,
a smell of piñon. We’ve made our culture,
walking late at night very late, three or four voices
drunk or not accustomed to accommodation.
Can’t hear crickets yet, the ground too cold even
for small plastic pots.
Bookmarked: Sheila Black’s Six Poets with Disabilities
When I was a kid with what is usually called “a visible disability,” braces on my legs, the only books people ever gave me about disability were biographies of Helen Keller (in which Keller always appeared to be some kind of saint) and a book called Karen by Maria Killea about her daughter who had cerebral palsy. Karen was always kind even though everyone was mean to her, excluded her, made fun of her. “Not for me,” I thought. I wanted to be more Patti Smith or Rimbaud. I wanted to be a badass disabled writer. And to practice I dressed all in black, bought a pair of silver combat boots, and wrote all my poems in purple ink. Which did not make me a badass writer—not really. Badassery in writing is something else altogether: a willingness to be unprotected, thoughtful, inventive, open—but also in control.
When Jennifer Bartlett, Michael Northen, and I began working on Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability, one of our goals was to turn upside down the common perception of disability poetry as sentimental, apologetic, dutiful, tame, institutionalized. We had a wild surmise that if we got the right writers, we could express a non-tragic view of disability, one which did not stress disability as being lesser or untenable; was honest about the difficulties faced by people with disabilities; but also presented non-normative embodiment as a site of unique knowledge, flux, invention, and radical transformation.
In a world increasingly pearled with machines and technical accoutrements of all kinds, questions of embodiment have never been so urgent, complex, or richly layered. A strength of disability poetics is that it forces a questioning of many of the values that seem so much an uninterrogated part of our thinking today—the emphasis on “beauty” and “belonging,” and the emphasis on certain sorts of production, even in our habits of thought. The badassery of the disability perspective is that it forces a destabilization of the status quo in ways that—while similar to those of other disenfranchised groups—are uniquely rooted in somatic experience, how the body is connected to our thinking and feeling in the world. The women below all express this in their work. They are, in a word, badass.
Full disclosure: Jennifer Bartlett was my co-editor on Beauty is a Verb and is a dear friend, but that is not why you should read her. She writes a mean muscular lyric—deeply informed by the Black Mountain and Open Field poets but made extraordinary by her almost childlike openness. I think of Bartlett as a kind of Mary Wollstonecraft figure: with tremendous tenderness and clarity, her poems always express what you think or wonder, but never dare say or ask. A few lines from her recent collection Autobiography/Anti-Autobiography:
This is my body
I am its light
a mere shadow remains
so that, the body is erased
I am all motion and
this motion is neither weak nor hideous
this motion is simply my own.
Bartlett, who has cerebral palsy, is currently at work on a biography of poet Larry Eigner that is sure to be groundbreaking. Beg, borrow buy or steal her books if you can. You won’t be sorry.
Laurie Clements Lambeth’s first book Veil and Burn won the National Poetry Series prize in 2008. It is a luminous collection—remarkable for its lyric intensity and formal acuity. I think of Lambeth the way I think of poets like Christina Rossetti or Emily Dickinson—or more recently Lynda Hull. Her words always have about them a whiff of eternity alongside a vivid sensuality that suggests somehow she is experiencing life at a slightly higher pitch than most people. Diagnosed in high school with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, she maps the body’s interchange with the external world with ferocity and love. Her work—like a perfect little black dress—is drop dead gorgeous. From a recent poem “Chronic Care: ‘Broken Leg’ by Keith Carter, Photograph” (which recently won the Marica & Jan Vilcek Prize for Poetry from Bellevue Literary Review):
The girl in black dress and tights stands behind the fawn,
hands clasped, their white blur forming almost
a heart. Her head’s nothing more than faceless smudge,
but she wants something. Her non-eyes plead through glass.
3. Denise Leto
Last year, Denise Leto lost her mother and sister in a single six month period; out of this devastation she created a body of work that comprises an extraordinary meditation on the somatic experience of grief—reconfiguring grief as allied to disability or perceptions of disability. Brilliant, philosophical, and passionately engaged, Leto’s work sinks into my brain and won’t let go. While performing all the chores of my ordinary life in Texas (buying gas, purchasing groceries) I often find myself repeating this clutch of lines from “Interlude,” in her most recent collection, Your Body is Not a Shark:
Your hands, your lips, your aural torso
bring a quiet down upon us
with her fingers on the strings that tell you;
the body of your body is not a shark.
I have mulled over these lines for a long time, the meaning of “not a shark,” and I have enlarged my grasp of flux, the body, and grief in the process. Leto, who has a form of vocal dyskinesia which makes it impossible for her to control the production of her voice, is fascinated by presence and performance. Her poetry evokes body as motion and peril, memory and trace. Collaboration is integral to her writing practice—she joins so often with other writers and artists that her work puts forth a communal model as a vital part of feminist and disability poetics.
The longer I am involved with poetry—and specifically with disability poetry—the more I am interested in the interstices where words dissolve or radiate against each other to create new meanings, where poetry slides into other things—performance, action, fresh ways of thinking. DiPietra’s work, like this quote from Waveform, a collaborative chapbook she wrote with Denise Leto, always gives me a feeling of fresh air:
Unarticulated at the junctures. Where words come out. Peripatetic. In natation. I only really articulate in water. Dream myself on the sidewalk and the bus in a fish tank on wheels. Rolling briefcase sloshing across Market Street. Fear and desire, a crashing back. Like the airliner into the Everglades. Impacted into limestone. Smooth and rich, coming up again, moving with new carbons, flowing to a third coast, intercoastal.
Recently I went to a conference at the Naropa School of Disembodied Poetics where I watched DiPietra rivet an entire room with a combination of a massage demonstration, pieces of poems, and an off-the-cuff meditation about why she had left “Poetry World type work” to become a sexologist. She describes herself as “a performance artist whose performance straddles the line between sex work, radical disability image advocacy, intimacy coaching, poetics and holistic health.” This for me is a kind of primer about why DiPietra’s poetry matters to me— its focus on our need for touch, the tactile, the particular, the embodied and how so often this need is not answered.
5. Lisa Gill
A New Mexico poet, who has struggled with severe multiple sclerosis for some years now, Lisa Gill is a prodigy. There is nothing—no form, or not as far as I can tell—that she does not write with diamond-like brilliance and uncommon grace. Plays, stories, poems, graphic novels; they all flow from her pen with equal authority. Among her must-read works are The Relenting: A Play of Sorts, the poetry collections Red as a Lotus, Mortar & Pestle, and Dark Enough and her recent graphic memoir Caput Nili: How I Won the War & Lost My Taste for Oranges. Emotionally alert and formally ambitious, hers is the work of a truly original mind. Gill is a spiritual poet and a philosophical one—not in any facile way but in terms that are rigorous, expansive, and utterly fearless. The body in extremis becomes in her poems a way of glimpsing the patterns of spirit beneath:
When I placed a stone on my tongue, a friend told me
not to be too hard on myself, as if the stone were in my hand
and I was using it to bash my head. But my mouth is not gored,
wind and sand have worn the stone’s edges smooth, so I did not
try to explain, and the rock in my mouth didn’t even whimper.
I have been talking for decades now, and maybe my voice
is nothing in the sea of words, just one more small abrasion
but my friends’ ears must be ringing and what have I said?
If silence is more awkward than speech, it is because finally
we feel the weight that is always on our tongues. So I am
a slow learner and need a reminder to become quiet and
even then, my thoughts run like a deep spring. If I cannot go
into the desert to become a hermit, I will take the desert
into my mouth and begin to practice with friends.
(Excerpt from Red as a Lotus: Letters to a Dead Trappist Dedicated to Thomas Merton)
6. Violet Juno
Violet Juno is a performance artist—dancer, visual artist, musician—who also happens to be an extraordinary writer. Her performances, which build from prose poems juxtaposed together, spring from a highly original practice, one she describes as follows: “I create performance using what I call a ‘Campo style’ of development…the Spanish word ‘campo’ means literally ‘field’ or ‘countryside’ and can also reference a migrant camp or outpost. I like this very much–that a ‘campo’ could be a natural field, a field of operations, a moving camp, and also—in the case of artists moving from place to place—a field of inquiry.” I feel that Juno’s focus on this notion of a “field” or a “collective space” speaks to a key part of the way in which disability poetics frames and considers the body. Her performances often use fabric and wire and other appendages to create indelible images of the body’s fragility and also often super-charged capacities. Her work is hopeful and revolutionary.
Additions to the List:
To paraphrase one of my all-time favorite heroines of literature, Anne Eliot of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, we are living through a great age of disability poetry, I think. The poets below also deserve attention; they are all in different ways extraordinary.
Ellen McGrath Smith