edly the sun turns green and huge and blows up like a giant gas cloud, singeing all of us off the planet like tiny hairs. Well it is a giant gas cloud, so why should that be a surprise? Without warning on your way to a party you trip and fall face-first into mud, leaving you with a bloody broken tooth and a mouthful of grit. You rage at your stupid body when in fact it was a simple act of gravity and happenstance. Not without precedent (though we’d like to think it were), an idiot sociopath comes into power, his ego blows up like a giant gas cloud and, well, the rest is history. Why we don’t see these rhythms is very odd. We think we can, and often do, but less so those which affect us. Then we flail and rail, part of another rhythm.
~ ~ ~
UR NONCE :: VERY excited to be participating in two events as part of the Dada World Fair, which runs from November 1-13 around San Francisco and the Bay Area in general. The festival offers at least 29 events, which you can check out on their calendar page. Note that it scrolls only and there are no links for individual events. First on Tuesday, November 1, I’ll be reading a brand new Dada Manifesto along with (no kidds) Balitronica, Andrei Codrescu, Roger Conover, Gillian Connoly with Dominic Stansberry, Tongo Eisen-Martin, Daphne Gottlieb, Chinaka Hodge, Andrew Joron, Kevin Killian, John O’Keefe & Leonard Pitt in a duet, a special guest appearance by the Phantom Mariachi, and a benediction by Guillermo Gomez-Pena. I better be fuckin good is all I can say. Then on Tuesday, November 8, yes that’s ELECTION NIGHT, I’ll be performing with Victor Smith at what very well might be the wildest event that I perform at all year (no kidds on that either). As described on the website, it’ll be “a fully enclosed environment that immerses the participant’s senses and short-circuits consensus reality. Dada House exists both inside and outside the maddening spectre of American electoral politics. Three stories of art, sound, and performance are sure to madden and delight the thronging crowds. Featuring performances by Hazy Loper, Kingdom of Not, Peter Whitehead, MOM, Ted Nugget and the Shamboy Pukes, Jenny B Shady Lady, and more tba. Art and non-art works by the Secret Alley, Jesse Roadkill, Chris Love, Mason Jairo Olaya-Smith, Davenzane Hayes, Zach Von Joo, and many to come.” Victor and I are currently listed as “tba”, which will never be the same after this. Here’s the catch: admission is $15-50 sliding scale, with invitations available only at the front counter of City Lights Bookstore. The location is revealed via phone number on invitation. But it runs for four hours (8-midnight), and for $15 it’ll be insanely worth it. Even more deets about both of these on the Events page.
ANNOUNCE :: And yes, it’s time again for the annual West Coast great weather for MEDIA tour. Yippee! This year we’re releasing their new anthology, The Careless Embrace of the Boneshaker, which features over 70 new pieces by writers internationally. We kick off in the Bay Area with readings in Oakland on Nov 10 and San Francisco on Nov 11, then shoot down to L.A. for readings at Chevalier Books and Beyond Baroque on the 12th and 13th respectively. Then right up to Seattle for a reading at The Den at Chop Suey on Nov 14 (this is really a whirlwind, kids), and finally to dear old Portland at Another Read Through on the 18th. Then home to lie on the floor and make noises. PLEASE JOIN US IF YOU’RE IN THE AREA, or any of those areas at any rate. We would be most honored. As ushe, you can find details on every read on the Events page.
~ ~ ~
edly in eye-rolling love, whatever the fuck that is, and more to the point, whatever the fuck it has to do with fucking. More like tripping into warm vast Caribbean sea, to find yourself berid of clothes and past and worry, drifting and writing with a mammal in rut. With pounding chest. And beyond, the future opens up like a thousand gorgeous islands, pinpoint clear, like busy kitchens with soft towels and thrumming pots of stew and fresh everythings, like new rooms waiting for desks and couches and books and bowls of flowers, like windows opening on prospects of hills unexplored, full of paths opening and disappearing to leaf beds and underbrush worlds and hidden bowers, shifting month by month toward the next season, opening again and again to a glimpse of distant, beckoning peaks. Thank you for that, Victor.
~ ~ ~
REVIEW :: Triptych Caliform by Natasha Dennerstein (Norfolk Press, 2016)
Natasha Dennerstein is a watcher, or so her poetry in Triptych Caliform would have us believe, an observer of minute detail that we can’t help but crowd in to see. Her second collection takes us into the heart of California through several windows: the movies, the kink, and its land and people. In each we are drawn in to filmbytes, portraits, vignettes that leave us feeling alternately like a theaterhopper, a people watcher, a voyeur, and sometimes all at once.
Film buffs will wriggle with delight in the first section, “Cinema”, with twenty-five glimpses at Hollywood through the decades. Some deftly encapsulate specific films and genres. We see “secretaries turn wild, toss their curtains of hair and look up, seductive,/ under fringes of lashes” (“Noir”), and are unable to avert our gaze as “Elizabeth Taylor shines the spotlight of her 1000/ watt sexuality onto various, hapless men, dripping her/ ripe, peach juices from barroom to motel to penthouse” (“BUtterfield 8”). Peppered throughout we get glimpses of the people who shape and are shaped by the industry as well, as in “Peroxide Hitchcock Ice Queen”: “Who was she, that starlet pinup that/ used to be me? She looks like my granddaughter.” Each page a different screen, each page a different drama or tragedy, recreated in language and tone and fleeting images, like movie trailers with real human viscera. I’d love to see another whole book of these.
In the second section “Kink”, we a treated to very much that. Dennerstein brings us into the realm of the voyeur with vivid and often elegant enactments of sexual fetishes. In these scenarios, the speaker takes an active role and leaves us lurking in the shadows. I don’t want to give too much away, because these fifteen pieces are really quite fun, whether they take you to places with which you’re familiar or ones you’re just hankering to see, but dig this electric language as the speaker in “High Arches” demands, “Give that foot/ a good tongue bath, boy, nibble and suck it,/ get your tongue right in that toe-cleavage,/ that’s a good slave.” And there are gorgeous moments of language as well, as when the bondage sub requests, “Winch me up by ratcheted degrees,/ suspend me in the eye of the room––dust motes dancing in a ray of sun––/ a side of beef, slowly revolving in your power” (“Rope”). Do you like to watch?
The final section, “California”, broadens out the portraits a bit with cityscapes, quirky individuals, and details unique to this part of the planet that make the text both more expansive and focused. We move from sharp glimpses of a sidewalk flower lady and semi-delusional spiritualists to a sudden moment of humans in nature as
Sun sets slowly over Venice Beach,
sugar-coating every body with a toffee light:
outdoor weight-lifters; the ghosts of The Doors;
the tie-dyed, fringe-flipping,
hippies of the seventies… (“August, Venice, California”)
But for all her clarity, Dennerstein also leaves us moments of mystery and intimacy, even at the end. The last poem in the book “The House on the Hill”, begins thus:
Same waves lapping at the Seal Rocks’ feet are
the same waves eddying Alcatraz, Pacific,
same waves heart-beating systole/diastole
as the same waves of the blood of beating hearts.
Wow. I’ll save what that one’s really about for you to read.
What struck me as I wound down with that final piece was how sharply it juxtaposed to a poem in the first part, “Love Me; I’m Fake”, which proclaims, “This is California, motherfuckers:/ appearance is everything and/ good lighting the Higher Power.” This book might begin with appearances, as so much in our culture, but it lifts veils, lifts skirts, lifts fog, and peers into windows, leaving you in a world of its specific vision, but also one which you see all around you every day.
~ ~ ~
ed boiling tar rains from the sky if you don’t vote in this election.
And maybe if you do.
~ ~ ~
REFLECT :: As usual there’ve been gigillions of fantastic events, literary and otherwise, over the past six weeks since I’ve last posted. That’s way way too many to mention. But I will just briefly say what a beautiful time I had at the last Poetea, my monthly tea and discussion for four writers, which kicked off October energetically with The Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal’s César Love, San Francisco Writing Institute’s Yvonne Campbell, The Scribbler’s Kayla Sussell, and special guest The Entire Universe’s Jennifer Blowdryer. Thank you all soooo much for stopping by to continue this very interesting series of discussions and literary interconnects. Yous alls rock. *** Had a super fun time performing a new, well, performance piece titled “Life by the Teeth” (at least in this version) at the Flight Deck Gallery on First Friday in October, where I was given free reign to take out my partials and rant lisping for fifteen minutes or so about monsters, human machines, teeth, and Late Capitalism, followed by a long session of doing auguries for the audience members by throwing either my teeth (meaning yes my real teeth that have been pulled or fallen out, about a dozen or so at least, see pic below), or a jar of old keys. Thanks so much to Harriet Poznansky and Rohan DaCosta for asking me to perform at Attached to Machines, their show of paintings and photos. *** Finally, I made the extremely smart choice to attend a piano recital of works by Mozart, Shubert, and Chopin performed by Steve Arntson, poet and pianist extraordinaire, at the Northbrae Community Church in Berkeley. It’s rare that Steve does a concert, and oh so worth it, at least if you want to leave your body for a while and drift in melodic bliss. Never miss a chance to hear him play, especially at length.
REFLECT :: In my previous post (September), I included a reflection on the East Bay Literary Scene, as I have frequently over the past few years, since it’s one of the most energized scenes I’ve come across or have been part of in more than a dozen U.S. cities over the course of thirty-five years. One of the facets that has raised this scene to its current momentum is the level of discourse that it has generated, from interpersonal conversation to dialogue on broader issues of race, gender, religion, politics, abuse, and methods of communication, among other issues, which has often provided, at least in my mind, an open and much more egalitarian forum than I’ve seen in other places and times. In this post, unlike previous reflections, I went beyond laudation to bring notice to “a bit of factionalization, a bit of drift between the natural formations of scribblers,” and went on to provide what I thought to be a somewhat insistent pep talk to my peers in the literary milieu to fight factionalization, to attend to each other, to exchange and listen. It struck a strong enough chord in one writer friend to repost it on Facebook, where 50+ people liked it rather quickly. Apparently it struck another chord elsewhere, though, as much to my surprise (unexpectedly, one might say) two writers let me know that they found the post to be quite offensive. This is something I always want to hear about, and welcome criticism along with alternate readings and perspectives, which I consider to be an essential act of dialogue, not to mention often a learning point for myself. One of these comments was in a private message from a close friend of mine who has put more than a lion’s share of work into building and maintaining this community, and I was sad to hear that they took my reflection as a personal comment on their work, or the failure of their work, which it was by no means meant to be. The fact that I made an observation about schisming, which is a natural human process and which the purpose of my comments was to help avoid, was not meant in any way to negate the enormous effort that this person and many others have put in to shaping such an open and integrated space. I’ve lauded those individuals and many others in the scene time and time again for this great work, and continue to do so. The other negative response, from a younger writer whom I know slightly on Facebook and in person, was in regard to a specific rhetoric that I employed in the course of the “pep talk”, that being a series of imperative sentences meant to urge folks to attend readings/listen to local writers who are both outside their identification circle and comfort zone. (Again, if you’d like to check out the post, click here and scroll down to the REFLECT – there’s only one.) Her initial criticism, posted as a comment below the text, was that she was uncomfortable with a man telling women what to do, who to read and listen to, etc. I took this as a valid point, or at least a valid reading, and apologized for that, noting that I’d meant it as a friendly urging to folks who might find it a useful suggestion. I’m aware that many writers focus beyond their immediate circle of gender, race, perspective, etc., as do I as often as I can, but as I also welcome an occasional nudge, about this and many other issues, to keep myself on track, I thought others might appreciate that as well. Rather than respond to my apology, though, my critic went on a lengthy tirade picking out individual words and phrases to criticize, with unfortunately no regard to the context in which they were used, and in several instances changing my phrasing to fit her criticism. My few attempts to bring these points to discussion were only met with increasing vitriol that became a lecture on white male privilege and power structure, straight privilege, safe spaces, ignorance of rhetoric, and the harm done by men speaking out who shouldn’t. I was quite taken aback, not by those topics of discussion, but by the fact that there was no discussion, just a one-way highly emotional and condescending outpouring which presumed that I know nothing about these issues (which I’ve been aware of for decades, longer in fact than this person has been alive), presumed that I was straight, presumed that I am unfamiliar with rhetoric and rhetorical choices (which I taught at college level for eight years), and presumed, among other things, that I was of a generation to which these concepts are foreign (I’ve noted that ageism is not one of the topics that is generally raised within this community). I wondered at the time whether she noted the irony of criticizing my use of imperatives by telling me how to shape my rhetoric and what I could and could not say. This ruffled my feathers for a few days, admittedly, especially since it utilized the common calling-out technique which attempts to stir up antipathy against the individual from the community in a public forum (frequently Facebook), at the same time demonstrating the acumen of the critic to bring someone down. But eventually I took the critique to consideration, and did my best to disregard the vitriol, at least on a personal level. I also put out an apology on Fbook, in case anyone else had arrived at that particular reading, and requested as respectfully as I could for anyone else who was offended to let me know, so that I could apologize in person. (I extend that offer here as well, in case anyone wanted to speak up before but did not.) I also kept watch over the calling-out, to see if anyone else jumped on board, which as many know is often the case, and is the place at which the antipathy begins to build. As it turned out, I got no responses to my offer of apologies, no additions to the critique, and quite a few more likes to the passage itself. And I got something unexpected as well. Especially during the week after, but also on a few occasions since, quite a few people approached me about that interaction to express their disapproval for the calling-out culture, which some are referring to as “witch hunts”, and for other forms of silencing that folks are finding increasingly prevalent in the literary milieu and in progressive culture in general. The term “witch hunt” has resonated with me, not because of my small experience with my aggressive young critic, but because of other call-outs that I have seen explode into a community shaming and pariahing of an individual based on very few details of behavior and none of personal history or character. It has seemed to me at times that the person who initiates a call-out may have a very appropriate reason for calling the other person into criticism, maybe even in a public forum (though I think that inappropriate more often than not), but once the responses get rolling, the individual is easily and often quickly objectified and cast as a symbol of oppression, rather than a multi-faceted human being, anger wells, and the thread or aggregation of voices comes to resemble a maddened, torched, and pitchforked throng. My issue is not with the anger, we all know why that’s there, but with the manner in which it comes to be directed and/or misdirected though a medium with so little intonation, nuance, and detail. I’m of the opinion at this point that calling out is a destructive social mechanism, allowing people to believe that it’s okay to ostracize without inquiry or inspection. You’ll find a thoughtful essay by Asam Ahmad, called “What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic“, that goes into more detail about the phenomenon, by clicking on the title. I’ve held that opinion, by the way, since before that little episode with my recent detractor; that just made me decide to speak out about it. The one commonality that I noticed in regard to both of my critics, of very different ilk and backgrounds, was that neither one stopped to ask me why I’d written what I did, or made the language choices that I had; they both seemed to assume that I had simply written thoughtlessly and uncritically, that the writing was offensive, and that was that. What dialogue there? Curiously, if my friend had asked me why I’d made a comment about factionalization, from the top of my list I would have named this very phenomenon of calling-out and silencing as an issue that I’d noticed to be growing within the community, that was stanching dialogue and driving some people from the discourse – not just people who had been an object thereof, but as well various folks who didn’t want to interact with those who enact it. And that was before this little incident, or disagreement, or whatever it was that I experienced on Facebook. After that, as I’ve suggested, I’ve heard from a good number of others along the same lines. And if my other vociferous critic had asked me why I had opted to use imperatives, I would have opened a discussion which would have suggested that it may have been an inappropriate choice, but it seemed to me at the time of writing that however unequal people’s pasts and social experiences have been, which we know to be vast and never out of sight, it might have become possible within this literary community, if not elsewhere, to speak with each other on an egalitarian level, as peers working toward a common understanding, and not as voices intractably isolated by social and cultural hierarchies and inequalities. Now I may be very wrong in that, that even the strength of this community can’t create equality within itself, and allow the use of rhetoric to reflect that, and it may have for that reason been a bad choice, or perhaps if it does, this may have been the wrong way to approach it, but at least I tried, and I know that a good number of people read the passage and had no problem with the rhetoric within the context of what I was saying. It’s so difficult to broach these topics, and if doing so is met again and again with silencing, then not much will be broached at all. It seems to me at times that we’re entering or have entered a period of cultural Jainism, in which it is expected that no person may by word or action cause harm of any type or any level, even harm that the person is not yet aware of, but in which only certain persons may determine what is harm and what is harmful, and others may not speak of it. It was all these forms of silencing that I was thinking of when I wrote about factionalization, a tendency which I fear is beginning, just beginning to cease dialogue and nurture diatribe, and was much of what I was thinking of when I further urged, “beacon that love to every point, keep that stupid mammalian isolationist tendency in check – share in the water and bread – read and hear writers you know little or nothing about, step out of your comfort zone a few times a month, look for the gorgeousness in every mind, have patience with each other, and give a hand when you can…” All that said, or ranted, or diatribed, I iterate how greatly I love this community, for its strength, its boldness, its openness, and its generosity of spirit. I also recognize the amount of work that it takes to form such a community and to keep it going, having done no small share of that myself, and nothing that I’ve written has been in criticism of that work, rather out of concern for keeping it moving forward and growing. But if those suggestions quoted above – not orders, not demands but suggestions – are viewed as a form of oppression by this community, then maybe I’m in the wrong community. I only hope that’s not the case.
COMMENTS ON THE ABOVE PASSAGE ARE COMPLETELY WELCOMED, BUT DO NOT RE-POST OR PUBLISH WITHOUT PERMISSION.
~ ~ ~
ing the grass to sing leaves you stunned when it does. Stunned and singing. A symphony drifting through a long green door in a field at which laps the sea of animal misery. Your breakfast chair breaks beneath you, leaving you with another task in your day. Your street tilts to a steep upward slope, unleashing a cascade of skateboarders howling and soaring. You turn down a road you never use and meet your next friend. The evening breeze comes in with a scent of rose and a tumult, crunching, cracking, crashing, cries, and through it all that singing, ringing on with chime after chime you’ve never heard before, you’ve never imagined to be so fine. How can you not turn the corner?