The Function of Writing (part 2)

I look around my room and identify dozens, hundreds of objects that I’ve accumulated here like an ant dragging crumbs. Like a stray force of nature. Books of all sorts, all kinds of music and media, magazines, movies, video games, art, my beloved plants, piles of notebooks, a few pieces of cheap electronics, a scattering of decrepit furniture and shelves, old clothing strewn about, trinkets and keepsakes and oddities, my drum, and I wonder how to read them, how to read all of this. After all these years, do they tell a story, or are they just a jumble? It’s no different than asking whether light is a wave or a particle. The answer is yes. And if that’s the case, what kind of story is it, and what kind of jumble? It’s the jumble of a middle-aged man who occasionally parts with things, but not often, and it’s the story of a middle-aged man asking himself what kind of story his life is. Which is a tautology at best, a breathing, eating, thinking moebius strip. But it’s also the breeze coming through that window, and the scent of rain it carries, a pebble crumbling in the hills, geese taking flight, an ant digging out a home.

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UPCOMING EVENTS  ::  Still a few readings coming up. Catch me while you can, as I don’t expect much more reading to occur this year.  ::  Saturday, September 2 (that’s today, as of this posting) – Reading at Oakland’s one and only Beast Crawl, a three-legged mutation of fine literature, under the auspice of Skinless: New and Raw Writing at the Uptown Nightclub. Gonna raw things up for you just this once with Keith Mark Gaboury, Daryl Llamas, Indiana Pehlivanova, Matthew Sherling, and SB Stokes. You can rock the boat all you like, but do not rock the Stokes.  ::  Wednesday, September 27 – I’ll be hosting this month’s East Bay Edition of the Perfectly Queer reading series at the Nomadic Press Uptown space in Oakland, with readers Nazelah Jamison, Tim Donnelly, and Julian Mithra. Come on down!  ::  Saturday, September 30 – Reading with 100 Thousand Poets for Change at the Beat Museum in SF, and honored to be there.  ::  XO to all.

~ ~ ~

A wind blows upon you. A great wind blows. All the grass is lowered. Buildings bend. You are taken by it. You sail and soar past trees full of flowers, past hawks and terns, past the hills where you used to live. You fill with the sounds of a crowded market below, a baseball game, waves crashing on the shore. There’s a sailboat headed out to sea, an island off the coast dotted with shrubs, another shore with meadows full of wheat. You blow down to them, skim the tops, feel the tight grain tickling beneath you, and try to land amongst them as you fly apart like chaff.

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REFLECT  ::  I remembered suddenly this week something that was fundamental to me early on as a writer – especially as a poet – which had somehow wandered from the center of my thoughts. It occurred to me probably around age 20 (that would be 1980, y’all), when I’d been writing seriously for a few years and had read and heard enough poetry, ranging from “canon” (at the time) to progressive to fresh off the streets, to have an initial sense at least for what works (worked) for me and what didn’t. Maybe it was a result of so many years of schooling (like it or not), or maybe from having come to age in a conservative, patriarchal, hierarchy-focused society, but I found myself pushed away by work that tried to give me a specific way to think about things, to impart a prescribed perspective, and found myself drawn to work that invited interpretation, that allowed me to develop my own perspective. So somewhere way back when, I decided that with my own writing I would try to avoid creating a system of thought in which the reader must dwell (if such a thing is even possible), and would instead attempt to create work which might assist the reader in developing their own system, or perspective, or flexibility thereof. That was at least the type of my own work that I found most satisfying. There are all kinds of ways that a piece can accomplish that, or have potential to: seeking to undermine learned preconceptions, writing in a voice with a very different perspective than mine or that challenges mine, setting up a system then breaking it, providing very loose parameters for reading, to name a few. But most importantly, I often enjoyed my new pieces best when they just came out on their own that way, without plan or deliberation, and they often did. So now I’m left to wonder, do they still? When did this mode or maxim leave my purview, and did I continue with it afterward nonetheless? And do I still? Looking back over the last couple of decades, I’d have to say yes, for the most part, I do. In the early 00’s I starting producing blinklists again (see Visual & Text Art if you’re not sure what they are), which definitely allow the reader to construct a perspective, even their own way to read them, in fact they pretty much require it. The whole structure and much of the content of Poems for Teeth does that at well. A more recent poem, “The Oakland Sky”, written some time last year, starts out with a snarky (and hopefully funny) diatribe against gentrification in Oakland, California, and ends up concluding that anyone who has ever take up residence in the Oakland area, back to the first human settlers, has infringed upon those who have been there before them, with even the first settlers doing so to the indigenous flora and fauna. And that poem, like most of those I still compose, or which compose themselves, leaving me to edit them, just came out on its own, unbidden and necessary. So what I’m wondering now is this: is this a common or an uncommon approach to writing, all this outlined above, the idea of presenting content without providing or forcing the reader into a specific way, or system, or perspective, or ideology for thinking about it? And which might even encourage flexibility of perspective? I’m very curious about this and would love it if some writers respond, so feel free to do so. And as a final and possibly related point, there is a Venn diagram in my head which contains one set of people who say they like my work (thank you for letting me know), and another set of people who say that my work at least sometimes confuses them, with a fair amount of overlap between these two sets, and now, having re-called this fundamental aspect of my writing, I have to wonder whether that is in fact the source of their confusion.

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A dry well is nothing more than a hole in the earth full of strata and bats. Someone put the hole there with their hands and tools. Maybe they had a good long drink. Maybe not. And there it sits, if a hole can sit, sprouting roots and worms and beetles and darkness. What good is it? Well, it’s good as a farm for roots and worms and beetles and darkness. It’s a darkness farm, squishing out that lovely stuff with every passing day, and specially at night. But rarely does anyone come by to scoop it up. Is it therefore still a farm? Of course! There are many farms that don’t get used.

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REFLECT  ::  Did a few readings last month – Sparring with Beatnik Ghosts #74 in Santa Cruz, Pandemonium Press‘ Annual Hiroshima/Nagasaki Remembrance, the release party for the new Jack Micheline collection Cockymoon by Zeitgeist Press – along with hosting a Babar in Exile and giving a talk about my text art, and enjoyed them all well, but didn’t really go to any other events, as I’ve been in a space for some months now where I’m anxious and uncomfortable being in public, even in the poetry community, and occasionally lapse into just plain feeling unsafe, so I often simply stay at home. Even had to leave a reading early at the East Bay Media Center, having become overwhelmed with anxiety, even though for the most part the poets were quite good – bf Victor James Smith spoke some particularly beautiful words (see pic below) – and ran off without reading myself. I’m not going to try to explain this here, nor do I feel the need to, and it’s no cause for alarm, but I’ll likely be spending the rest of this year, and some time thereafter, as long as I need, in self-care mode. Because, goddamn it, somebody’s gotta do it. I do have a few more readings lined up (see above), and look forward to them, but in general I’m needing to stick to the sidelines for a while. I was honored recently to be offered the position of Events Coordinator at the Beat Museum in SF, as well as a rotating curatorship for the long-running Poetry Express reading series in Berkeley, great thanks to those who asked, and had to say no to both, because though I’m often up and ready to take on tasks like that, and have often in the past, I just don’t think I’m fit for duty at the moment. It’ll pass, it always does, but in the meantime you can expect a socially quieter Richard, for at least the near future. We all occasionally need some calm before the storm.

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I wake and I am still alive. WTF. Restless love, twined around a keep. Who’d have thought a billion years ago, and who’d imagine all this thought? No, I’m not going theolog, in any traditional sense, but when light hits my retina for the first time each day, I can’t help but wonder at the sentience of every single wisp. I could be lifted or sad upon waking, angry or intense, but whichever way I wake, when my eyes open I am rife with the thoughts of particles, my room, of objects and light, I am in those thoughts and I know it, I am certain.

Sincerely,
Richard

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