8.16.2015

Tanya Hollis's Parch and Dee Dee Kramer on Hollis


PARCH 2015 (Acrylic paint, plaster, pigment and rust on wood)


During July and early August, Tanya Hollis's PARCH, was on exhibit at the Right Window Gallery (curated by Kevin Killian), on Valencia Street in San Francisco.

The opening for Tanya's show--which sadly I missed because I was out of town--included poetry readings by Norma Cole, Dee Dee Kramer, and Kevin Killian, with the premiere of a new film by Jason Michael Leggiere, Wall of Early Morning Light (2015).


Looking at PARCH, I am reminded of an aerial view of the salt ponds as you fly into the Bay Area. You can't get enough of them. Tanya's work is beautiful and it registers catastrophe. Cracked earth residue in a time of drought. Parch. Your throat tightens. Extremity's rasp. 


Here's what Rob Halpern has to say about this work:

Tanya Hollis’s stunning PARCH offers a horizon from which we can see beyond the perils of our anthropocene. Like homeopathic medicine for the eye, the work’s elemental vision and geologic scale inform a feeling of drought as if transfigured from space, allowing us to see our own condition as if for the first time. Hollis’s sculptural canvases—exquisitely rendered with plaster, acrylic paint, pigment, iron, and salt—are parchments from an archive of the present. You cannot not see this work without risking oblivion (Halpern).




Dee Dee Kramer, poet, artist, archivist, and dear friend of Tanya's wrote a beautiful introduction for Tanya's opening. It traces the entanglements of friendship, art-making, work life, life-making. She's generously shared it with us here:



July 2015
Dee Dee Kramer


It’s funny to be here today, reading with Norma Cole, because a few months ago, when I read Laura Moriarty’s essay on the Poetry Foundation blog about Norma’s group show, I had been thinking about how I might write about Tanya’s work, and now here we are at Tanya’s show, maybe sort of in a similar situation.


How is the situation similar? Mostly, it’s similar because like Norma and Laura, Tanya and I have been friends for a long time, 20 years now. The situation is personal. I knew her before she was a San Franciscan and before she was an archivist. We were collage and garbage artists together in Buffalo. We were going into poetry-debt and wondering what to do for jobs. We decided to go to  library school while working in the Poetry Collection at UB with Michael Basinski. He helped each of us learn to work a job and make art at the same time; in other words, how to play the life game we are given.
















I’ve watched Tanya make art all this time, over the course of most of her adult life. I’ve seen her with burlap, and paste, and  massive plastic jars of acrylic gel medium (matte, gloss), rope, rust (we were in the Rust Belt, after all), cellophane tape, sewing patterns, industrial product catalogs, encyclopedias, teeth, and pieces of machinery. A lot of words and newsprint. Canvas, fabric, yarn. Oil paint for awhile-- she got sick from that--the attic apartment (it was a beautiful attic apartment on Baker Street) didn’t have enough ventilation.


So the situation is personal, even to the point of our studios sometimes being in our bedrooms. And not just until we “make it” and move out.


One of the things that comes to my mind when I look at these slabs is Robert Rauschenberg’s “Bed,” but just the mattress-- no pillow or blanket or sheets. No bedding. This makes me think about care and neglect.



Right now, Tanya rents from Rob [Halpern] and Lee [Azus] and lives in their upstairs apartment, four blocks away from me. Last winter, she moved her bed to the smaller room. It had been in the front room, the bigger room with the better light. She talked to me when she was considering that shift, about what it had meant to have the bed in the central living area. What it would mean to move it.


Now that front, light room is her art area, and I’m assuming that’s where she made these pieces. But honestly, she made them so quickly I never saw. Somehow, during a workweek. I mean, it’s always a workweek. You take a couple of days off and then work like hell to finish.


I look at these pieces and I think of the archives (we each work in one now): the mess, the mold, the backlog, the markup language. The reference desk. Mold can be black, reddish, blue-green. If it smears, you’re in trouble because it’s active and will spread to other manuscripts and documents. For this problem, and for innumerable others--flood, dirty data, not enough room--Tanya’s the one who gives me advice on what to do: freeze it, hire someone, buy a shop-vac, use a Magic Rub eraser, use this style-sheet or software, and if you can’t download anything because you don’t have admin privileges, here’s how you do it by hand. Here’s how you talk to your manager. Here’s how you become one so you can get these things done.





We try not to “talk shop” much when we’re not on-the-clock, but it all seeps through.
These slabs show mold and rust, and are also or might be topographical maps that won’t fit into the flat file drawer. I don’t know where she will put them.


So, as I said, the situation is personal, but it’s also professional. Mike taught us how to put on the monkey suit. It’s a suit we break in and own. When I graduated from library school (a semester before she did), Tanya made me a Librarian’s bun and put it in a box with a label. It tied around my head with a blue satin ribbon. It was shellacked. The box was labeled “Librarian’s bun. Kaiser. Everyday wear.”


But I shouldn’t give the impression that we have too much in common, or that we’re together all the time. We’re not. We’ve lived most of these 20 years locally to one another, so we could come over. But often, we don’t see each other for weeks. Maybe that’s part of our intimacy--I know she’s still there even if I don’t see her. And there’s so much I don’t know or understand about her work.


I do understand loving the stuff while at the same time wanting to throw it all away. I understand being tired and wanting to sleep. I am her witness. I understand the threat of exposure. I’ve said that the situation is personal, but it’s also public. That’s how art and poetry are. How painful that can be. Because people can see. And it hurts if they do and it hurts if they don’t. The mortification of “Don’t look!” but also the despair of “No one sees!” As her witness, I see, at least some of it. And so do you. And sometimes, walking by the window, so do strangers.


How can I talk about a friend’s artwork publicly and for her benefit? I’m not sure.
















I see the the gunk and adhesives that look like wounds and scabs and bandaids. I see her scratching, ripping, renovating, tearing, repairing, pasting, peeling, painting, knitting, chipping, sewing, brushing, covering, collecting and discarding. Decollage, one of Tanya’s modes, includes the connotations of becoming unglued, or unstuck, also of taking off in flight. This new work gives an aerial view from the ground, which is technically impossible. But here it is.


I read in this book about writer’s block that cynicism is when you don’t like the game as it is played, so you spoil it. It made me think about neglect again. Neglect would be not playing. That’s tempting, and I’m pretty sure we’ve both tried it. But not playing doesn’t work for very long without deadening us internally. So, and maybe this is pat, we come back to play with the spoils. This is how to work a job and make art at the same time (Kramer).

















6.13.2015

Notes: Fences, Stop Signs, Shifters, or, the Conditions of Community



June 2015

Recently in a workshop at Bard College with this year's  Language and Thinking faculty, we did some reading and writing around selections from several texts: Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, James Gleick’s Chaos: The Making of a New Science, Fanny Howe’s “Bewilderment,” and in the group I was in, Verlyn Klinkenborg’s Several Short Sentences About Writing, among other things. At the same time, I was thinking about all the ongoing crises here and around the globe, including those in the poetry world around Kenny Goldsmith’s performance of a reworking of Michael Brown’s autopsy report at the Interrupt 3 Conference at Brown and even more immediately Vanessa Place’s tweeting in Blackface of Gone With the Wind. All of this was reaching a crescendo on Facebook and elsewhere in social media in the experimental poetry scene in the U.S., just as I was leaving California. In New York before bed, I had begun reading Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts. The question hovering over our thinking and writing in the workshop at Bard was what needs to be the case for things to be otherwise.
____________

Last year watching the British crime drama Broadchurch, I found myself pleasured by the cinematic fetish of West Bay’s cliffs in Dorset—straw- colored and sheared to the sea, up against a panoramic sky, the sort of visual pageant infrequently found on American TV. The diegetic sound offered a counterpoint. Words were spoken, conversations occurred between characters; what did he say?  We understood none of it. What was it? Rewind. Listen. Hit play. Rewind. Listening. Disciplining ourselves, learning to hear English spoken otherwise.   “Otherwise” implicates a perspective. 
____________

In the course of explaining how scientific revolution shifts the "historical perspective of the community that experiences it," Thomas Kuhn describes a psychological experiment. Subjects were shown a series of cards, including anomalous versions—a black four of hearts for example. Many people “without any awareness of trouble” articulated what they saw according to existing conceptual categories, for example, identifying the card as either a four of hearts or spades. Over time, some subjects experienced hesitation and an “awareness of anomaly,” eventually registering the discrepancy in the card while others “were never able to make the requisite adjustment of their categories" (Preface, 63-4).
____________

Describe [something] you couldn’t recognize for what it was as it was happening… (Longabucco)

The first time I read at Small Press Traffic (SPT) back in the late 80s or early 1990s, I was in my mid-to-late 20s and SPT was in a white building on the corner of 24th and Guerrero.  C was there, though he would come to hate and stop going to these events. As soon as someone discovered that he was not a poet or artist, that person would begin to drift, eventually turning away.

Wearing a ribbed long-sleeved shirt in tawny yellow, I nervously perused books for sale.  The shirt fit like a cliché. In my memory, Kevin Killian found me in stacks, like the library, though SPT had, I think, nothing of the sort, the books displayed on ledges hip high, facing out at you. I remember he said something kind, made me feel welcomed. Strangely, I don’t recall what I read, but that I read with Jean Day whose work I was unfamiliar with, whose language is chilled marble. Now having excavated some of the history of that present (of which I knew nothing then), I realize, the audience, there to hear Jean, would have disliked, frankly, disparaged whatever I had read. Too embodied. The subject had not been cut-out. Poor subject. She didn’t even know it. Double b(l)ind.
____________
                               

You must have something to give in the economy of the field.

You must make yourself vulnerable.

You must espouse a recognizably radical politics.

You will attend many readings and say something positive to the author afterwards.

You must be fortified.

You should appear to be comfortable.

You will recognize that you are deeply uncomfortable.

We will not always say hello or be sociable.

We will feel our power and superiority over others.

We will feel brutalized by our disempowerment, so many silent cuts.

We will feel inside this community, held.

We will always feel outside this community.

We will be pleased to be included.

We will feel the sting of our exclusion.

We will try to be inclusive.

We will not discuss our feeling.

They will commit violence in the name of overturning it.

They will take up more time and space because they can.

They will disagree.

I will still need fellowship.

I will experience moments of startling depth and connection.

I will be sick to my stomach.

I sometimes wonder about the healthiness of participating in this community.

I am on the edge
_________

 given the histories of you and you— (Rankine 140)

Look at the subjects. Look at who is refusing the subjects. The individual who is at the center of an author function can only stutter I I I I I I.  On the periphery are those whose mouths should be shut. Who should not have opened their mouths he said he knew where her mouth had been and it had been all over. “Who do you think you are, saying I to me?” (140). She called out a fact. And because this fact had a story—that the avant-garde in poetry has a history of white supremacy—and because he has been trying to keep the facts in order in line in his line of vision this speaker who is she was called a mouth.  Look at the pronouns.  He deleted his post.  But there were witnesses.
___________

“Every scientist [poet] who turned to chaos [language, or contrarily, marked experience, the body] early had a story to tell of discouragement or open hostility” (Gleick).

Every scientist/poet who turned over the rock of white gendered supremacy anytime had stories of virulent hostility.  Threats. Words and their histories. Let us conduct autopsies on the practices and languages that are being used and by whom. Who describes my death? Calls for a mouth to be shut, uses a body.  In other words,  

Who------------
__________

Look at the street sign Jim Crow Rd.



 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
[Photo: Jim Crow Rd. by Michael David Murphy
printed in Citizen]

Look at a world collapsing inside.

Look at the stop sign whose face that never reads Stop! has been turned away.

Look at the back of the stop sign all grey, or is that white?

Look at the shadow of the stop sign. It looks like a lollipop or the sign of a hanged man.

Look at the white houses with their black roofs.

Look at the white car in the driveway.

Look at how the white houses stand out against a blue sky.

Look at the white space against the black type.

Look at how the trees are dark against the glare of whiteness.

Look at the stain on the edge between the blue-black road and the yellowing grass.

Look at how you can’t see what the name of the crossroads is.

Look at the fence deep in the background.
__________


In her latest book, The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson describes how during a book tour for The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning, a well-known playwright comments on her pregnancy asking her “how did you handle working on all this dark material [sadism, masochism, cruelty, violence, and so on] in your condition?” Nelson explains “the old patrician white guy …call[s] the lady speaker back to her body, so that no one misses the spectacle of that wild oxymoron, the pregnant woman who thinks. Which is really just a pumped-up version of that more general oxymoron, a woman who thinks” (91).

 
____________

 
Writers, Verlyn Klinkenborg says, must authorize themselves. “No matter who you are” (37).  This is a claim that provides permission; in fact, is an imperative. I wonder about imperatives. I wonder about I’s who authorize themselves. Yet permissions are powerful. I know the necessity of authorizing oneself.  One needs a commons.  Step out onto the stage of this blog.

 
I’s and their authority cut all kinds of ways.  My I’s too. Foucault reminds us an author is subject to punishment. The author function provides a means for controlling the bewildering energy of a text. It puts up fences. An obsolete definition of the word authorize, the Oxford English Dictionary, says is “to vouch for the truth or reality” and yet, Rankine also cautions, “all our fevered history won’t instill insight” (142); however, "that man who is forced each day to snatch his manhood, his identity, out of the fire of human cruelty that rages to destroy it….achieves his own authority, and that is unshakable” (Rankine 126).

What is the space between I and I and you and we and they. What’d he say? What’d I just say? Say it again so I can hear we can hear       between

in  world of differences
           
                   who's there?

collective life              alive in the gaps

powers of departure

processes of becoming

otherwise

 

Sources:
Longabucco, Matt. Workshop at Bard College June 6, 2015
Gleik, James. “Revolution.” Chaos: Making a New Science. New York: Penguin, 2008.
Kuhn, Thomas. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.
Klinkenborg, Verlyn. Several Short Sentences About Writing. New York: Vintage, 2013.
Nelson, Maggie. The Argonauts. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press. 2015.
Rankine, Claudia. Citizen: an American Lyric. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2014.
Thanks to Matt Longabucco for the writing prompts that generated much of the work in this piece.

4.17.2015

Up From the Archives: Talking with Roberto Bedoya




The dominant US ideology of Whiteness had policies that made me invisible which I challenged, still do.
                                          -- Roberto Bedoya















In September and October of 2008, I had the pleasure of interviewing Roberto Bedoya, writer, activist, arts administrator, curator for the reading series at Intersection for the Arts in the 1980s, and so much more!

You can find the interview here:

Outside is the Side I Take: Part One
http://xpoetics.blogspot.com/2008/10/outside-is-side-i-take-interview-with.html


Doing Civic: Part Two
http://xpoetics.blogspot.com/2008/10/doing-civic-part-2-interview-with.html


Roberto Bedoya is the Executive Director of the Tucson Pima Arts Council. He is also a writer and arts consultant who works in the area of support systems for artists. As an arts consultant he has worked on projects for the Creative Capital Foundation and the Arizona Commission on the Arts (Creative Capital№s State Research Project); The Ford Foundation (Mapping Native American Cultural Policy); The Ford and Rockefeller Foundations (Creative Practice in the 21st Century); and The Urban Institute (Investing in Creativity: A Study of the Support Structure for US Artists and the Arts and Culture Indicators in Community Building Project). He is the author of the monograph U.S. Cultural Policy: Its Politics of Participation, Its Creative Potential (www.npnweb.org <http://www.npnweb.org/> ). He is the former Executive Director of the National Association of Artists№ Organizations (NAAO) a national arts service organization for individual artists and artist-centered organizations, primarily visual and interdisciplinary organizations. NAAO was a co-plaintiff in the Finley vs. NEA lawsuit. Bedoya has been a Rockefeller Fellow at New York University and a Visiting Scholar at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles.

3.24.2015

Celebration of Kathleen Fraser's 80th Birthday!

On Sunday March 22nd, Kathleen Fraser turned 80

Claim through and through,
breathe me now window.

Lift. Oh turn your back.
Turn will do.
                                
                          --"Claim" from Notes preceding trust



photo by Steve Dickison





and a crowd of people from far and wide


a small portion of the audience
photo by John Sakkis




















gathered at the California College of the Arts Writers' Studio on De Haro in San Francisco to fête Kathleen.

The event was organized by Stephen Motika and Susan Gevirtz, and co-sponsored by The Poetry Center and Small Press Traffic


The Writers' Studio was jammed with countless writers, book printers and artists, former students, colleagues, friends, family, and admirers. A group of about 15 writers each read for some 6 minutes, offering selections from Kathleen's work and their own responses, some in the form of poems or mini essays in various styles; some spoke extemporaneously about their encounters with Kathleen's work and with Kathleen herself. Opting to give myself entirely to the event, I didn't take notes, but here's a bit about what I remember people presenting.


photo by John Sakkis




















Frances Richard talked about Kathleen's work and poetic matrilineage, Brian Teare beautifully re-encountered Wing via Mel Bochner's work, one of the original inspirations for the piece, John Sakkis elaborated a kind of litany inspired by Fraser, Jeanne Heuving told the humorous story of her move from an admirer of Donald Barthelme as a model for what she might be aiming for in her own writing to an encounter with Kathleen's New Shoes and its playful erotic energy, and then later with when new time folds up, in which Jeanne found pleasure in the graphic elements of "Etruscan Pages."
Eléna Rivera, Norma Cole, Beverly Dahlen, and Brenda Hillman addressed Kathleen's work in poems and experimental mini essays. Kazim Ali recounted an experience of taking Kathleen's workshop in New York City and his excitement about the promise of working with scissors and glue although the workshop never got around to actually using these materials since their discussions were so vibrant; nevertheless, cutting and pasting are integral facets of Kazim's process. After working through the lunch break, the whole group walked down the street for the Robert Creeley memorial.

Linda Russo recounted her experience of meeting Kathleen at a reading and Fraser's impact on Linda's own writing and book work. Lauren Shufran discussed moving to San Francisco from Buffalo and completing an interview with Kathleen started by Linda Russo. In Washington Square park Kathleen and Lauren talked for some 6 hours. Listening to these recordings later, Lauren was struck by how much of the time Kathleen was engaging her. Lauren and a number of other readers noted Kathleen's generous correspondence and the beauty of her letters. I read from "Notes re echo," briefly contextualizing Kathleen's use of the epistolary in poetry and literature's long and ongoing interest in the letter, from Ovid and Horace to Spicer, Mackey, Bellamy and Adnan, suggesting that the letter provides a formal and rhetorical zone in which the personal and the lyric can be remade, enabling poetry to work the lyric, record and remake the social, poetic and political landscape of our presents, or what will become our histories.

Kathleen closed the evening first by reading "little joy poem," published in The New Yorker. The New Yorker asked Fraser to change the title of the poem, but Kathleen refused. They published it.

little joy poem

Like a shiny bus in the snow,
I feel good this morning--
new upholstery, green and tough,
I'll never wear out!
The snowplow came at 2 a.m.
last night on its lonely task
and I looked from the window
waving my toothbrush.
(At night, the snow
changes color.)
Here I am--two legs
a new morning
and joy,
like the whiteness of cold milk,
filling me up.

Then, reading from WING, gorgeously produced by Dale Going who was in the audience from the east coast, Kathleen left us with her words and resonant voice vibrating in the air.

photo by Dale Going















The good news is you don't have to rely on my memory. Night Boat Books is going to publish a limited edition collection of the essays and encounters with Kathleen's work. This is forthcoming in the Fall. Keep an eye out for it.

All of the presenters offered rich and engaging encounters with Kathleen's work, but of course, even this diversity barely scratches the surface of Kathleen's contributions to the poetry world. There are indeed her more than 15 books, but there is also her work as a teacher, her feminist poetics seminars, workshops, and other classes at San Francisco State, her mentoring, her work as the founder and editor of the groundbreaking HOW(ever) and HOW2, her role as the Director of the Poetry Center at San Francisco State (1973-1976), her dumpster diving there to rescue NET Outtakes footage (a fact John Sakkis noted in his talk as "legendary"), and more.

I first met Kathleen at SFSU where I was an MA student beginning in the fall of 1985. I remember being in Kathleen's seminar and working with classmate Mira Pasikov on our presentation of Barbara Guest's Seeking Air. I was in my early 20s. It was daunting and exhilarating. During the years I spent at State, Kathleen suggested I interview various writers, write reviews of books or performances. She prodded me to do this and to submit these pieces to Poetry Flash. And I did. I'm still doing it!

WITH GRATITUDE--

H A P P Y   B I  R  T   H  D  A  Y  KATHLEEN!

Some more pictures of the event:

Arthur Bierman, Kevin Killian and Kazim Ali








Beverly Dahlen and Norma Cole
photo by Kevin Killian


Elena Rivera
photo by Kevin Killian

3.07.2015

House-Scrub, or After Porn by Rob Halpern at Margaret Tedesco's [2nd floor projects]





Sunday March 1, 2015--at Margaret Tedesco's [ 2nd floor projects]
projects2ndfloor.blogspot.com  
Sundays 12–5pm, Wednesdays 1–8pm, and by appointment


 
 
Left: Nancy White, Untitled; Center: Courtney Johnson, I am Living My Fantasy;
Right: Gregory Kaplowitz, Untitled (Shroud)Photos from M. Tedesco's blog
 

We celebrated the artwork by Courtney Johnson, Gregory Kaplowitz and Nancy White along with the publication of Rob Halpern's chapbook HOUSE-SCRUB, or AFTER PORN. 

Tedesco's light-filled and airy room accommodated some 35 or so people eager to hear Rob read. Many of these same people later headed over to Small Press Traffic's 5pm event, a Field Report with Jennifer Tamayo, Amy De'Ath and Cassandra Troyan. For a report on that event, click HERE.
photo courtesy of Margaret Tedesco





 

Here's a brief excerpt from Rob's compelling and beautiful work:

There are so many things I want to tell you, things that embarrass me most, though it's hard to voice any one of them, even for you whom I've come to trust. So far, all my writing amounts to these strategies of evasion. That's what I was telling Dana & Lee, sitting outside in the late August heat as we tried to grasp where it all might be going. Casting idols on my brain, the sun produces these false appearances, the dahlias burning under gunmetal skies, so I've yet to discover what real life feels like. At least that's what I tell them. But what I want to tell you is, well, take my body, for example, a place where incommensurables collide rhetoric & blood, price & value, datum & event the bad equivalent of a hole in a soldier's bladder before he's given the form to join the donor's club. The dialectic, having come to such dumb arrest, yields this taxonomy of wounds pasted to a straw man I'll never fuck, a cheap shot at militarization, its so-called human face. What figure do combatants cut against a company that earns the bulk of its twelve billion in annual revenue from army contracts, and whose product tracks my car as it moves thru any one of eight hundred Oakland intersections. This is why my book amounts to a simple X without the algebra to resolve its value in the world where the word 'decorative' modifies unintelligible things, thereby assisting sales. As in every cash-starved city, the promise of federal dollars makes military surveillance an easy cow. See what I mean, in the absence of incident, structure eludes, the poem being but the gesture of a body groping its own withdrawn architecture. Whether bound or bundled, all my usable parts compress to the volume of a prosthetic device shoved inside a foreign orifice. This is how capital explodes in song, usurping the air you might be privately singing, the way the very idea of the flood dries up after the deluge. That's so dutifully Rimbaud, but what would the equivalent be? After the idea of collapse recedes, my use of disjunction will bear no relation to a break in the chain of title, a detainee's autopsy report, or any old forensic audit robo-signed& withdrawn in hazy spells of law. But nothing appears to accumulate inside the hole my organ makes when, mortally wounded in grenade attack, his blown genitals get contracted to a public utility, a city square or park, this being but an asset to securitize, a convention by whose rhyme scheme 'scars' and 'cars' seem to be of common scale, a sound to sing no polis.




 

3.02.2015

Field Report with Jennifer Tamayo, Amy De'Ath and Cassandra Troyan


Sunday March 1, 2015

Yesterday afternoon Small Press Traffic and Mills College collaboratively hosted a conversation/field report with Jennifer Tamayo, Amy De'Ath and Cassandra Troyan on the subject of gender and sexual violence in the writing scenes in New York, Vancouver and the UK, and Chicago.  The Bay Area writing scene has been grappling with these issues as well.  Artists Television Access (ATA), where the event was held, was packed with people standing, sitting on the floor, and spilling on to the stairs.

Each of the three presenters spoke for 10-15 minutes, informing attendees about recent events, the work they and others are doing, and articulated their own questions, doubts, and concerns about actual and potential possibilities for action, change.  After Jennifer (who went by JT), Amy, and Cassandra spoke, the audience was invited to ask questions while Samantha Giles and Stephanie Young recorded these questions on large sheets of paper. Each speaker then addressed some of these comments and concerns, the event culminating with all present invited to offer up  ideas for action.  Below I've tried to capture some of what I heard the participants saying. There have been a number of sexual assaults and gendered violence in writing communities and various public discourses around these events, many of those under discussion in the last year or so. Some of these I was hearing about for the first time. I've done my best to reflect a small portion of the content of this urgent discussion. For more info on this event and the discussants, please see Small Press Traffic's web site.


Jennifer Tamayo (JT) told us about her experience working with Enough is Enough, a group that came together after several sexual assaults against women in New York in August of 2014.  JT expressed frustration with

·         pervasive sanctioned sexism

·         unsafe poetry events

·         misogyny

·         the promotion of poets accused of sexual assault

·         a poetics of domination that operates under the guise of aesthetic gesture

·         the valuing of reputation over accountability

·         the lack of institutional and community memory (the aggressors are forgotten)

·         and  both the lack of resources and the continual refrain of "the lack of resources" as a   rationale for an absence of response.

JT spoke of various concerns and tactics--

·         considering who maintains a safe space

·         attending other events and meetings

·         supporting the shutting down of readings with men who are sexual assaulters

·         working on developing a site to maintain institutional memory.

JT closed with a list of "15 Things I've Learned."  There was no way for me to record all of these but I found this list powerful in its ethos of critical assessment, for example, when JT asked "What is preventing me from using these resources?" Other things on the list include:

·         "Organizing poets is hard and infuriating"

·         Demand what you want and be direct

·         Writing and thinking together is empowering

·         Shaming works

 

A number of these statements were interwoven into larger points and thus do not indicate discrete items, but as I was so engaged with listening, my pen couldn't keep up.

 
JT also noted "Ways I have Failed":

·         my efforts are too sectional

·         and are focused around cis women

·         Enough is Enough hasn't reached out to older generations

 
and argued that "there needs to be more destruction before building" since the problems are systemic.

This last claim I found particularly provocative and engaging; throughout the discussion, we returned to this a number of times.

Amy De'Ath's talk began with outline of three topics: First Nations in Vancouver and here in San Francisco, class in the UK, and online organizing.  She explored how one might use gossip and conjecture as a feminist strategy. De'Ath contextualized her own position in Vancouver as a settler on unceded Coast Salish territories, reminding us of the more than 1,017 indigenous women and girls who have been murdered in Canada and how the Canadian government refuses to launch an investigation into these murders, considering them isolated criminal cases rather than sociological and racist.  Amy offered a critique of Rachel Zolf's Janey's Arcadia worrying that it risks implying catharsis, suggesting that white settlers can cathartically work through settler issues, but also noting that this might be part of the problematic that Zolf intends to present.

Amy used to live in London and was part of the UK poetry scene which she described as "macho and exclusionary along class lines.” De'Ath expressed frustration with the confidence and rhetoric of entitlement among the  dominant male writers and wanted to think about how this is linked to "the poetics of  difficulty” particularly associated with Cambridge poetry. She discussed the posting of Elizabeth Ellen's "An Open Letter to the Internet" to the UK poetics list-serve and the fallout of that discussion. A group of feminist poets collectively left the list as a result.  There might be a piece in the Chicago Review that is forthcoming on all of this. I'm not sure.  De'Ath also discussed her participation in a group and list-serve that excluded cis males but did have one male queer feminist artist. Amy noted that she (ambivalently and hesitantly) thought that he should not be in the group, for reasons not at all to do with his personal politics – a position he later confirmed when he thoughtfully volunteered to leave. She also recounted the fact that a woman of color left the group because she did not feel welcome there. There were only two direct immediate responses to this woman's email announcing her departure, and for De’Ath, this event raised several serious problems in relation to issues of race and the question of what kind of content gets the most attention, and who is most comfortable speaking up in a space. At a number of points throughout the evening the conversation turned to the ongoing problems of white supremacy and racism across numerous writing scenes.
 
Last but not least, Cassandra Troyan spoke about their experience in Chicago which, because of  geographic, racial, and class segregation, doesn't quite have a central writing "community." They noted that when it comes to gendered violence, "silencing is extreme," with few women willing to name the men involved since many of them run institutions, presses, etc.  Troyan spoke of their work with the Chicago Feminist Writers and Artists (CFWA)and Feminist Action Support Network (FASN), noting that there is a cross-cultural scene there, with people coming from punk, radical, art, and music communities.  Troyan expressed interest in an accountability process, in facilitating safe spaces, in collective goals, discussing ongoing Sunday workshops on a variety of topics, from mental health to self-care, healing justice, generational violence--that have been taking place.

 

Some of the Questions/Comments Proposed by Attendees:

 How do we surface unconscious bias?

How can people support individual work?

What can we learn from what others are doing?

Someone wanted to know why JT read off the list of names of the 72 attendees at the first Enough is Enough meeting.

How do we respond in the moment? How to call shit out!

Exclusion and transformative justice and how these are related to systems of incarceration

What are the limits of gossip?

How does information move?

How to differentiate between aesthetic preference and closed communities

What is the link between aesthetic difficulty and class, gender, race?

How to dismantle white supremacy in poetry circles?

The problem of indigenous issues not being able to be made present. An attendee mentioned someone who did not come to the Sunday event because of this concern. There is simply no space to address this issue, given the community.  Another participant underscored this claim noting that race cannot be addressed precisely because the community is largely white and cis.

 
Some of the comments under A Call to Action, generated by the entire group included (The discussion was out of time as ATA needed to close for the evening. Some of these were more notational or working propositions, rather than explicit calls):

An understanding that not everyone wants to take action in the same way. How can we make this possible?

Creating individual healing for those most affected.

Safe spaces.

Establishing Support Liaisons

Organizing Rage Liaisons

How to collectively lower inhibitions around booing and hissing

Gossip

Some people suggested that writers of color do not need white people or cis men. A brief discussion about who is needed or wanted ensued.

The atmosphere was alive at this event. Stay-tuned: there may be follow-up meetings.