Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Richard Rhodes on the Cold War

This is a fabulous profile of Richard Rhodes, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, from the Washington Post. He is one of the writers that I idolize and want to emulate. I’d like to write such thoughtful, informed, and precise books. His new book, Arsenals of Folly, sounds fantastic.

Will Davis is a Gay Writer

Over at the Guardian Blogs, Will Davis reveals after rumination that he is a gay writer.

Am I a gay writer?

I usually recoil from having my writing defined by my sexuality. But a recent blog post here has given me pause for thought.

Yeah, me too, without the hemming and hawing.

Monday, October 29, 2007

One More Poem by Jane Cooper

I think that this is my favorite poem by Jane Cooper. I wrote about it in an essay here.

The Recorder of Suicides

With a pocketful of stones
one walked toward the water,
propped her head in the oven,
broke his body on the beach.

And did they discern
something important
before the soft impact of
nothing at all?

Your words, Shirley,
who just as succinctly
left us in September
for a reserve unsought,

Left me here doodling
on a secondhand typewriter.
Composure wears the heart out. Child—
where he stopped the car, the stones.

Jane Cooper

Cooper’s book, The Flashboat, is how I first encountered her work and where I cherish it most.

Three Poems by Jane Cooper

Rock climbing

by Jane Cooper

Higher than gulls' nests, higher than children go,
Scrambling and dangling to survey the sea,
We crest the last outcropping strewn
East of this island.

Now pell-mell, now stopping to pinch a finger
In an open fissure down which no sun glints,
Where water gnaws and subsides, we comb
As the tide rises

Each rock that locks us in a partial vision
Of the expanding, curved and eye-reflecting blue
Which liberates but still hangs over
Our minds' breathing.

As yet the gleams are steep and unexpected:
We study lichens like a dying scale.
Silver as fishes; here crisp moss
Moist in a crevice;

Then even lichens powder, and the rocks
Give way to sunny tables, dry escarpments,
Each with its different texture, pocked
Or smoothly sloping

Down to the pitch where barnacles or stain
Dark as a rust line show the heaving power
Of water's shoulders, raised at night,
Then wrested over.

And now the last rock! piled hugely up
And shoved to end a sprinkle like a jetty
Of little boulders in the green-brown
Irregular surface

Where seaweed shaped like coral swimming, kelp,
Pebbles and broken shells of clam or crab
All shine or flicker up as down-watching
We kneel and wonder.

Now balancing, laughing, brisk as children who
Spread out their arms and toe along a pole
We skip from top to top, lift knees.
Come out at angles

Until we have scaled it! stand aloft at last
With all the ocean for our freedom and
Our meditation, all the swing
Of limbs for glitter.

Warmed by the sun, tingling, with tired calves
And eyes of exultation we address
The father of our knowledge, shrouded
Faintly beyond us

At the lost line where wind is turned to water
And all is turned to light, dissolved or rinsed
To silver where our eyes fish (gulls
Sailing and falling

Out, out. . . .) And now the seabirds call
Far off, recalled by memories like hunger,
Screech and return, flying the tides
Of pure air inwards

To where their nests are, intimate and cold;
While standing on those cliffs we slowly rest
And looking back to hillsides build
Imaginary houses.


The above hits a note of hope and happiness in achievement (any
achievement you want to make the climbing a metaphor for, plus
sheerly loving the world of nature) that sings to me.

I took the poem from Florence Howe and Ellen Bass's _No More
Masks_. It was published in 1973 and at the back we read

        Jane Cooper, 1924

        "Jane Cooper writes, 'In my twenties I wrote a book of poems --
perfectly serious work -- but was sufficiently torn between my concepts of 'poet' and 'woman' that I
never tried to publish. Teaching brought me back to poetry through a different door.'

        Her first published book of poems was _The Weather of Six Mornings_;
it was "the Lamont selection of American Poets;" she had grants from Ingram Merrill and
Guggenheim Foundation; taught at Sarah Lawrence [I wonder what the pay scale was] and was
said at the time to be working on collection of poems that will include 'both new poems
and some of those old, early, angry pieces.'

Hotel de Dream
Justice-keepers! justice-keepers!
for Muriel Rukeyser and James Wright
Suppose we could telephone the dead.
Muriel, I'd say, can you hear me?
Jim, can you talk again?
And I'd begin to tell them the stories they loved to hear:
how my father, as a young boy, watched Cora Crane
parade through the streets of Jacksonville with her girls
in an open barouche with silver fittings;
how the bay haunches gleamed as they twitched off flies,
polished hooves fetched down smartly into the dust,
ostrich feathers tickled the palates of passers-by.
Muriel, I'd say, shall we swing along Hudson Street
underneath the highway and walk out together on the docks?
.the river would be glittering, my grandmother
would be bargaining
with a black man on a dock in Jacksonville;
grapefruit and oranges would be piled up like cannonballs
at the fort in Old St. Augustine. . . .
I'll never put you in a nursing home, you said early that year,
I promise, Jane, I'll never put you in a nursing home.
Later Cora Crane showed her dogs right next to my aunt's.
They had a good conversation about bloodlines
amidst the clean smells of kennel shavings and well-brushed dog
but never, of  course, met socially
although she had dined with Henry James.
Jim, I'd say, remember that old poem "The Faithful"
you helped me by caring for? How what we owe to the dead
is to go on living? More than ever
I want to go on living.
But now you have become part of it, friends of my choosing years,
friends who magnificent voices
will reverberate always, if only through machines,
tell me how to redress the past,
how to relish yet redress
my sensuous, precious, upper-class,
unjust white child's past.
Being Southern
It's like being German.
Either you remember that yours was the defeated country
(The South breeds the finest soldiers, my uncle said,
himself a general in one of his incarnations)
or you acknowledge the guilt, not even your own guilt, but
Can any white person write this, whose ancestors once kept slaves?
Of course there were "good" Germans.
My father was still under 30, a passionate Wilsonian, when he was named a delegate to the 1916 Democratic Convention. By the end of the first evening he had discovered that eleven of the other Florida delegates were members of the Klan, he couldn't answer for the twelfth, he was number 13.
Only a few years later he argued for, and won, token black representation on the Jacksonville school board.
And my aunt as a girl went into the sweatshops to interview Cuban cigar workers, all women. She found the first Girl Scout troop in the South for, as she put it, colored children. True, it was segregated. But it was the first.
Take your guilt to school. Read your guilt in your diplomas or the lines of the marriage ceremony. Face your guilt head-on in the eyes of lover, neighbor, child. Ask to be buried in your guilt.
Of course they were paternalistic. I honor their accomplishments. What more have I ever done?
When is memory transforming? when, a form of real estate?
Transplanted "north" in 1934 I never questioned
a town that received its distinguished refugees
with a mix of pride and condescension: the specialist in Christian iconography
in her man-tailored suits, Einstein like a disembodied spirit
pacing our leafy sidewalks. Only because my best friend lived next door
would I glimpse him, sometimes at twilight, tuning his violin
as his back yard filled up with tents
But why can't I remember the actual men and women who slept in those tents, among patches of ragged tigerlilies? the children with skinny arms, who would soon be passed along. . . ?
All he could vouch for. Not famous. At their backs
the six million.

Obituary: Jane M. Cooper, Poet, 1924-2007

Jane Marvel Cooper, poet, Professor and Poet-in-Residence Emerita at
Sarah Lawrence College, died peacefully at Pennswood Village, Newtown,
PA, on October 26th from complications due to Parkinson's Disease.
Family were with her at the end.

She was the daughter of the late John C. Cooper Jr. and Martha Marvel
Cooper, and sister of the late Rachel C. Baker, all formerly of Armour
Road, Princeton. Jane Cooper was born in Atlantic City, N.J. in 1924.
She spent her early childhood in Jacksonville, Florida and then moved
with her family to Princeton in the mid-1930s. There she went to Miss
Fine's School where, in her senior year, she won the Leslie Shear Poetry
Prize for two works: "We are the Generation of War" and "I have Sung
Solitary Various Worlds", early signs of future acclaim.

She attended Vassar College 1942 to 1944 and earned a B.A. from the
University of Wisconsin in 1946. She joined the faculty of Sarah
Lawrence College in 1950, where she remained as a teacher and poet in
residence until her retirement in 1987. Over that period, together with
Grace Paley, Jean Valentine, Muriel Rukeyser and others, she helped
develop and enhance a writing program that became one of the most
distinguished in the country.

In 1953-54 she took a year off to get a M.A. at the University of Iowa,
where she studied with Robert Lowell and John Berryman. She received
much recognition in her lifetime including awards from the Guggenheim
Foundation, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, the National Endowment for
the Arts, the Bunting Institute and the American Academy of Arts and

Jane Cooper maintained her links with Princeton over the years, but she
lived most of her adult life in New York City. She also spent several
summers at Yaddo and the McDowell Colony, working on her own poetry. Her
first book, The Weather of Six Mornings, appeared in 1969 and was
followed at intervals by four others: Maps and Windows (1974),
Scaffolding: Selected Poems (1984), Green Notebook, Winter Road (1994)
and The Flashboat: Poems Collected and Reclaimed (2000). She was named
State Poet of New York for 1995-97.

She is survived by her brother, John C. Cooper III, of Tucson, AZ, five
nephews, two nieces and three grandnieces. There will be a service at
All Saints Church, Princeton on Saturday, November 3, at 1:00 p.m.  All
are welcome. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Immune
Deficiency Foundation, 40 W. Chesapeake Avenue, Suite 308, Towson, MD 21204.

(Prepared by the family of Jane M. Cooper, October 2007)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

"I" brows - low and high

While I didn't completely embrace Folsom's notion that database is a new genre, I was really engaged by the ideas that he outlines and the dialogue that ensued. Two things in particular captured my imagination.

First, I think that database and poems have different levels of dimensionality. Poems have (and I hate to be reductive here) two dimensions on the page and a third dimension when read aloud. On the page, poems have only the x and y axis. The exist in time, but time really enters the equation when the poem is spoken. Certainly, it takes time to read a poem - even if it is read silently - but the dimensions of poems printed on the page seem to me to only be moving left to right across the page and from the top to the bottom. The relationship of words within a poem, while dynamic in the mind of the reader, only have a sequential relationship to one another on the page - again, left to right and then top to bottom. While some poets make moves to undo this, still by and large, these are the relationships of language in poems, bound by tradition and language conventions and apprehension. Databases, on the other hand, are designed to not have these sorts of constraints and to have a exponentially greater dimensionality. Words, or numbers, or characters, in a database are not only related to the item next to it, but are supposed to be in relationship with every other bit within the database. Folsom makes, I think, a compelling argument that Whitman's poems function as database prior to computers. He posits that the lines of Whitman can be put into a database and reshuffled and that in fact is what Whitman was doing to some degree. I'm convinced by this in part. Where I'm not convinced is that Folsom seems to suggest that still a line has integrity and I wonder why. The power of a database is in the distillation into the smallest, discrete part, which would be the word, or even perhaps the letter. Beyond this, however, there is one thing that I think is even more compelling and disturbing about Folsom's notion of the database as genre and what it might do to Whitman. That is this: writers write bound by time. Poems, lines, novels, books, works are organized by time sequentially across the lifetime of a writer. Calamus could not have been written until after Song of Myself. Something happened for Whitman in writing Song of Myself that enabled Calamus to be written later. Our sense of time as human being is only progressive. We cannot move backward in time. Database, however, are not timebound in this way unless we program them to be. So while Whitman may have reorganized his own lines, that reorganization only became possible through the progression of time. To do it otherwise, to suggest that all of Whitman's lines could be fed in and moved around is to deny that fundamental girding of time with which all of us humans must comply.

The other thing that mulls around my mind after this reading is how the "I" in Whitman poems is informed by database compilers and editors. Archives carry the ephemera of writers and the mitigation of libraries and catalogers are made visible through established behaviors and practices, but as electronic archives - or database - are now emerging, how do we establish behaviors and practices that make the mitigation of database editors visible to readers? Is that still important? I think that it is, but that it also is in a medium where identity and visibility around identity is changing and evolving. So is the "I" of Walt Whitman different in the WW archive than it is in Moon's edited volume of Leaves of Grass? How would the "I" of Walt Whitman be different if his work were reorganized, line by line, by a database? Would his "I" still exist or would it be effaced by the database programmer? Who would want to take that job of effacing that "I"? Will contemporary writers in thinking about preserving their archives include directions for electronic storage? Will they try to control their "I" on the screen?

Hart Crane's Sexual Bridge

I want to start out with the text of Hart Crane’s The Bridge. The Bridge was published in 1930 and was Crane’s most widely read and praised work. It was also his last as he committed suicide in 1932 at the age of 33. The Bridge is seen by Crane as a singular long poem that is broken into eight parts. All of the parts have strong formal elements at play and all are reaching to defining and participating in an “American” poetic aesthetic. Most of this I knew before picking up The Bridge to read last week. I didn’t know how homoerotic this text was. That’s where I’ll begin thinking about it now.

The middle two parts of this poem, “Cutty Sark” and “Cape Hatteras,” are in different ways as sexual as much of Whitman’s work. The narrative of “Cutty Sark” is meeting a man at the docks in New York City. Crane begins, “I met a man in South Street, tall--/a nervous shark tooth swung on his chain.” He then describes the man’s green eyes “forgot to look at you/or left you several blocks away--”. The next parts of this poem, Crane captures the drunken impressions of the experience in brief and fleeting song lyrics and overheard snippets of conversation. This montage is orgiastic in both it’s conception and poetic execution. Lines like, “O life’s a geyser--beautiful--my lungs--/No--I can’t live on land--!”, lead to this orgasmic conclusion,

I saw the frontiers gleaming of his mind;
or are there frontiers--running sands sometimes
running sands--somewhere--sands running. . .
Or they may start some white machine that sings.

The poets continues on through this experience at the docks leading to this final four lines

--he lunged up Bowery way while the dawn
was putting the Statue of Liberty out -- that
torch of hers you know--

I started walking home across the Bridge. . .

I am struck reading these passages how the language of the experience of public gay male sexuality from the 1920s as captured her in the poetic artifice is not so different from the language and imagery of public gay male sexuality from my own coming out in the 1980s and 1990s. The docks in New York and the Bowery both spaces where white machines continued to sing and the geyser of life sang beautifully until we walked home to Brooklyn or Jersey.

While “Cutty Sark” is a meditation on public sex (and concludes I think with the loneliness of these encounters as the sailors “turned and left us on the lee”), “Cape Hatteras” is a love poem to Walt Whitman. I read it as a sonnet sequence of sixteen sonnets, the classic cycle for love poems. Crane, however, assumes immediately an intimacy with Whitman at the end of the fir sonnet, writing, “Or to read you, Walt,--knowing us in thrall//to that deep wonderment”. The direct address of Whitman by his first name, with the easy intimacy, an intimacy that is not previously assumed in the poetic cycle, but that seems to suit both Crane and the addressee. This emotional intimacy only intensifies over the length of the poem. By the fourth sonnet, Crane writes,

Walt, tell me, Walt Whitman, if infinity
Be still the same as when you walked the beach
Near Paumanok -- your long patrol -- and heard the wraith
Through surf, its bird note there a long time falling. . .

This love poem to Whitman is counterpointed with the location to which Crane has transported us. Cape Hatteras is the site of the Wright brothers’ first experimentation with flight. Thus in the center of the poem about The Bridge, a both real and mythic object that provides movement and stability, Crane recounts another real and mythic object of movement and industrialization. The poem ends with a paean to both the airplane and to Walt, “A foot again, and onward without halt,--/not soon, nor suddenly,--no, never to let go/ My hand/ in yours, Walt Whitman --/ so--”.

After reading this, I encountered Yingling with a degree of ambivalence when one of his central questions is, “What would constitute the study of homosexuality as a textual system in the current climate of theoretical concerns? How may homosexuality be organized as a system of inquiry that moves beyond the question of thematics to the problem of representation?” Part of my response to both questions is, did you read the text? I don’t read Crane as as Yingling suggest “less a matter of self-expression and more a matter of coding.” Crane - and Whitman - might have done better if they were more encoded. Though this may just be me as a reader - always looking for the sex. Beyond the flippancy, I actually found Yingling quite useful and having just read Martin’s book The Homosexual Tradition in American Poetry it is interesting to think about the leaps in writing and thinking about “homosexual”/gay & lesbian/queer poetics from Martin (1979) to Yingling (1990) to this moment. Yingling goes to semiotics to examine Crane’s homosexuality in his poetics, a move that I wouldn’t make at this particular moment, he excavates the connections between Crane and Whitman in interesting ways and I was interested in how he talked about Crane’s mimesis in the opening lines. How do we read silence and heterosexual mimicry in Crane’s work?

Finally, I’m very interested in Waldo Frank’s introduction to The Bridge. I have to admit, I was laughing out loud while reading it. It is tonally different than most introductions I’m used to reading and his hagiography of both Crane and himself fascinated me.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

New Issue of the Lambda Book Report

The new issue of the Lambda Book Report must be wending its way through the world. I reviewed Nickole Brown’s first book, Sister, and she has a quotation from the review on her webpage here. The University of Nebraska Press added a blog mention of my review of Hilda and Aaron Raz’s fine memoir, What Becomes Her.

I can’t wait to see my copy!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Thomas Sayers Ellis at the University of Maryland

Thomas Sayers Ellis, the poet behind the most excellent book The Maverick Room, came to read at the University of Maryland this year and I had the high honor and privilege of introducing him. Here’s what I said:

We are in for a treat this evening. Thomas Sayers Ellis is a poet with language that sparkles as much as it cuts. His words “are parts of speech/with beats and breaths of their own.” Ellis uses “interjections like flams. Wham! Bam!” The vibrant world of the English language in its daily use is captured and transmogrified by Ellis in his poems. He combines language with structural elements that bow to the formalism of the poetic past but also bust out with the rhythms of funk, hip-hop, and jazz.

Ellis is a poet of place, this place, Washington, DC, and the African-American people of the District as well as the broader African Diaspora. In his poem, “View of the Library of Congress from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School,” he synthesizes many of these disparate strands of his knowledge and identity, and on the occasion of Robert Hayden’s death, tells us,

I was beginning to think
Like a poet, so in my mind
Hayden’s dying and my loafers
Were connected, but years apart.

I first heard Ellis read at Karibu Books in the Prince George’s Plaza a few years back. Having only read a few disparate poems of his prior to attending the reading, I didn’t know what to expect and was mesmerized by his performance, and indeed that is what it was. Ellis proved his linguistic mastery, both on the page and with his electric presentation. Ellis’ images are vivid and his language is both familiar and unusual. Consider these lines from A psycho-alpha-disco-beta-bio-aqua-do-loop,”

The strings attached
To our thangs were
Reeled into The Deep
And rhythmic as fins,
Schools of P signs
Flapped and waved
Like flags.
One nation
Under a groove.

Ellis co-founded the Dark Room Collective, a community of established and emerging writers, in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1988. Of the Collective, co-founder Sharan Strange wrote, "It was the sustaining practice of writing in community just as much as the activism of building a community-based reading series for writers of color that kept us engaged in collectivity."

Ellis attended and was graduated from Brown University with a Master’s of Fine Arts in 1995. He has been published in numerous journals and anthologies including Poetry, Tin House, and Ploughshares. He has received fellowships and grants from The Fine Arts Work Center, the Ohio Arts Council, Yaddo and The MacDowell Colony.

His first full collection, The Maverick Room, was awarded The 2006 John C. Zacharis First Book Award. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Sarah Lawrence University and a faculty member of the Lesley University low-residency MFA program in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His book, Breakfast and Blackfist: Notes for Black Poets is forthcoming from the University of Michigan Press, Poets on Poetry Series.

I leave you with a few lines from Ellis’ poem “All Their Stanzas Look Alike,” an anaphoric litany which includes this,

All their metaphors
All their bookstores
All their plantations
All their assassinations
All their stanzas look alike

He reads it much better than I, which is why, I’ll stop, and ask you all to give a warm welcome to the electrifying, mesmerizing maverick, Thomas Sayers Ellis.

Salut au Monde! Writing Race in Poetry

In the current issue of the American Poetry Review, Major Jackson wrote about race. Titled, From a Mystifying Silence: Black and Big, Jackson takes on race as an issue in American Poetry ending with a call for more white writers to write about race. I thought about this essay again when reading Whitman’s “Salut au Monde!” There are so many wonderful things about Whitman: those huge lines that fill your lungs and bump the outer edges of your mind. The pure ambition of the poems which leave nothing as subjects that do not exist in the world of poetry. The naked sexuality of Whitman, or to say it plain, I cannot imagine a person for whom Whitman is not a hot writer - the writer who makes you race to the bedroom and drop the book for a minute or more alone. All of these things I love about Whitman, but this read I was reminded how I loved him for writing race in a meaningful and interesting way.

As a brief aside, I’ve been thinking about white writers writing race in other material in the course. It is one of the things that fascinated me about Swenson’s work as well. I felt like the absolutely most effective poem of hers in Iconographs was Black Tuesday. I was interested in her poem “The Power House” because at the end she writes, “I thought he’d be a Negro but he wasn’t. He didn’t see me. Didn’t need to see anything. He had a red face and a blue uniform.” The assumption there that he was Negro and that she wasn’t seen interests me.

Returning to Whitman and his salute to the world, I love the scope of this poem and how race and ethnicity in Whitman’s world are so different than how they are circumscribed in our world. I’m aware that Whitman writes it prior to the doctrine of manifest destiny in the United States and at the height of the British Empire. I am aware of the imperialism of Whitman’s vision, but I think that the imperialism is tempered by humanity and profound humanity. He writes,

I hear of the Italian boat-sculler the musical recitative of old poems,
I hear the locusts in Syria as they strike the grain and grass with the showers of their terrible clouds,
I hear the Coptic refrain toward sundown, pensively falling on the breast of the black venerable vast mother of the Nile,
I hear the chirp of the Mexican muleteer, and the bells of the mule,
I hear the Arab muezzin calling from the top of the mosque,
I hear the Christian priests at the altars of their churches, I hear the responsive base and soprano,

Whitman hears more in the world than I ever have. The things he hears are complicated as well. This is not just poetry of adulation. A few lines later he tells us, “I hear the wheeze of the slave-coffle as the slaves march on, as the husky gangs pass on by twos and threes, fastens together with wrist-chains and ankle-chains.” Later he writes, “I see all of the menials of the earth, laboring,/I see all the prisoners in the prisons,/I see the defective human bodies of the earth.” Whitman is intent on seeing it all.

The final strophe of the tenth part of the poem is this:

I see male and female everywhere,
I see the serene brotherhoods of philosophs,
I see the constructiveness of my race,
I see the results of the perseverance and industry of my race,
I see ranks, colors, barbarisms, civilizations, I go among them, I mix indiscriminately,
And I salute all the inhabitants of the earth.

I read this as Whitman speaking of a human race in the third and fourth lines but then realizing that there are differences and moving among them. This strophe leads into the directive of the next two sections where Whitman calls upon the people of the world through hist direct address. The eleventh section ends with this:

Each of us inevitable,
Each of us limitless--each of us with his or her right upon the earth,
Each of us allow’d the eternal purports of the earth,
Each of us here as divinely as any is here.

(Now Whitman wrote this in 1881 and so it seems pretty astounding that over 100 years later there are still people unable to use gender inclusive language as easily as he.)

I first read Whitman as a young child. I have in a journal from 1976, “I, six years old, the bicentennial of the States,” which I have to believe is not from reading Calamus, but rather from the Unitarian Universalist “celebration” of the troubled country; still it seems an odd Whitmanesque mark.

Yet, I digress from Whitman and race. I’m weary of reading him as having a vision of race that is not informed by the racism ripping at the soul of the United States while he is writing or by the imperialism that is shaping the world, but I’m inspired by how consistently and unabashedly Whitman writes race in his work. He has no concern of being seen in a particular way or another. I find that inspiring and I find it what Jackson was calling us to do when he wrote for APR. It also functioned to shape another generation of writers such as Langston Hughes and his poem, “I, too, Sing America.”

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Do any of you write primarily for the web?

Do any of you write primarily for the web?

This approximates a query of Professor Smith to our section. The answer was, I think, confused. I’ve been returning to the question though. I write, not primarily for the web, but for an audience because to have an audience means to be less alone and I think the web, overall, is a tool that makes us less alone in the world.

In “A Hypermedia Archive of Dickinson’s Creative Work, Part II: Musings on The Screen and The Book,” Smith writes, “She [ED] emphatically declared that our standard medium of literary and intellectual exchange was not the field in which she cultivated poetic productions; in other words, our writing technology, print, was not hers (p. 19),” and later, “contemplating destabilization as an important part of Dickinson’s artistic project.” I’m very drawn to this about Dickinson and I find it so liberating to read her in a different way from the hymnal verse which was, for me, in the words of Thomas Sayers Ellis,

All their hollow haloed causes
        All their tone-deaf tercets
All their stanzas look alike
        All their tables of contents
All their Poet Laureates
        All their Ku Klux classics
All their Supreme Court justices
        Except one, except one
Exceptional one. Exceptional or not,
        One is not enough.

Encountering her as not the rhyming isolated maiden, but a whimsical and freakish woman engaging with a dear friend has been realizing that her stanzas do not look alike. She is engaged in destabilizing language - and I really like that. Even though the destabilization of language is not a primary project of the tradition of either the narrative or lyric poet, I feel the camaraderie of the destabilization with the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets.

This brings me, of course, to Hejinian, who was exciting and eye-opening to read. I especially want to talk about the “Who is Speaking?” essay and Hejinian’s assertion, “Invention is central to the private as well as public life of the writer.”

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Being Queer Isn't a Secret Any More

Read my guest post over at Bilerico.

October 11th is the twentieth anniversary of the second March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights. It’s an important anniversary to mark. The March was a significant organizing moment in the history of queer liberation—many grassroots organizations and much activism was spawned by it.

At the time of the March, there was a real and palpable fear that HIV/AIDS would decimate the gay male community forever. Lesbians, as well as gay men, were concerned that gains made by feminism were being eroded by courts and legislatures. After seven and a half years of the anti-gay, anti-woman Reagan administration, a quarter of a million (maybe even a half a million) people gathered on the mall in Washington, DC to demand queer rights. It was an incredible milestone – one worth remembering and honoring.

That said, National Coming Out Day as a celebration of the March falls flat. Coming out in 2007 just doesn’t meet the tone of courage or honesty that people who gathered on October 11, 1987 demonstrated.

Read more here.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

100 words on an Emily Dickinson poem


Susan knows
she is a Siren --
and that at a
word from her,
Emily would
forfeit Righteousness --
Please excuse
the grossness
of this Morning --
I was for a
disarmed --
This is the
World that opens
and shuts, like
the Eye of the
Wax Doll --

From Open Me Carefully edited by Ellen Louise Hart and Martha Nell Smith

Emily writes an apology to Susan who is a Siren. In her great beauty, Susan makes Emily abandon her rightness from the spat - the grossness - from this morning In her oblique apology “I was for a/moment/disarmed--”, Emily equates the argument to the world which opens and shut “like/the Eye of the/Wax Doll.” Does the world see the rightness that was Emily’s? Does the world see that if Susan would give Emily one word - a word of affection, of love - that Emily would abandon her anger? Are we the wax doll?

Friday, October 05, 2007

S as in Sam, Z as in Zebra: My Quarterly Newsletter

Dear Friends,

It's an exciting fall. I was called in August and assigned a class of undergraduate creative writers at the University of Maryland. It's my first college teaching experience, and I'm loving it. I developed my own syllabus for ARHU (the Maryland acronym for Arts and Humanities) 319 and am loving every minute of teaching it! We're reading all of the visiting poets to Maryland this fall - Martin Espada, Thomas Sayers Ellis, and Carl Phillipps. It will be a stimulating few months. I couldn't be more pleased. Or busy! Between working for The New Press, my own writing, and three graduate English classes, I have plenty on my plate.

Here's a quick update of my activities over the past few months.

Two Poems in Queer Collection

Gregory Kompes published a lovely anthology of contemporary queer writers called Queer Collection 2007. I was pleased to have two poems included in it - "Black Dress" and "First Kiss." In addition, I helped Gregory with some outreach and promotion of the book. As I've spent a lot of time studying the anthologies, Amazon Poetry and Lesbian Poetry, it is exciting to be engaged in a contemporary anthology. You can read more about Queer Collection 2007 here: http://www.queercollection.com/

And submit to next year's planned edition by following these guidelines: http://www.queercollection.com/index_files/Submissions.htm

Video and New Postcard

I spent a few days in Vermont this summer with my writing buddies, Merry Gangemi and Nicki Hastie. Nicki videotaped much of our time together including our readings. You can see video of me reading at Tea & Poetry, organized by Merry, here: http://youtube.com/watch?v=SYu8tOCB9fU

It was a glorious experience. One of the poems that I read, "At Birth," I also printed this summer as a postcard. If you'd like me to mail you one, just reply and I'll pop it in the mail as soon as possible.

Writing about Marriage

I've written a lot about marriage lately and our hopes for the possibility of being married here in Maryland were dashed on Tuesday, 18 September 2007. It was heart-breaking, but still the work continues. You can see a variety of columns that I've written about marriage at the following links




Be forewarned, the ideas expressed are contradictory!


I'm writing a regular column, CIVILesbianIZATION, that will be regularly featured at Edge Publications. You can read the first installment here:


and check  back on the first and fifteenth of each month for the next installments.

Sinister Wisdom

The next issue of Sinister Wisdom, issue 72 on the topic of Utopia, is coming out this month and will contain an omnibus review of mine on new lesbian poetry. I write about new books by Robin Becker, Cheryl Clarke, Eloise Klein Healy, Joan Larkin, Juliet Patterson, Sina Queryas, vittoria repetto, Nathalie Stephens, and Stacey Waite. Please do check it out when it hits newsstands in your local feminist or independent bookstore - or order a subscription and support this great journal.

To order a subscription: http://www.sinisterwisdom.org/journal.html#order

Editorial Work

As I write this, I'm wrapping up my work with the special issue of off our backs. It's been a delight. We're all working hard to have it mail in early December - at the latest. I've been participating a bit in the off our backs collective which is great fun. Next I'm looking forward to editing a special issue of Sinister Wisdom. The topic is Lesbian Theories, Lesbian Controversies. I think it will be a wonderful journey. If you order a subscription today using the link above, you'll receive my special issue as a part of your regular subscription.

That's it until December when I'll write after all of my papers have been submitted!

All best,


Thursday, October 04, 2007

Feminist Studies

Feminist Studies began publishing in 1972. Since volume 2 (1974-1975) the journal has included poetry, in fact in the first poems published were by Rachel Blau DuPlessis. I’m going to examine volumes 2 through 5 of the journal which will be between 1974 and 1980. I’m interested in Feminist Studies in particular because of the history of the editorial board of the journal and their engagement in poetry as well as the history of poetry in the feminist movement during this time period. Some questions that I will be asking about the issues are: How is poetry included - both poems and poetry as a critical object of study for feminist studies? How are the feminist poetics that are at work at the time among women’s communities filtering in through these pages? What function does poetry play in the journal? What function does poetry have in relation to the theory developed in the journal? What is the relationship of poetry to the editors of the journal?

I am then going to compare those with two recent volumes 31 and 32 from 2005 and 2006. I will be thinking about questions regarding the changes over the thirty year period of the journal and poetry including, Has the role of poetry in the journal changed? Has the positioning of poetry in the journal changed?

The early years of the journal are important to me because of the work of scholars in thinking about feminism and poetry. I’m interested in looking at the artifacts from this time in light of work like Kim Whitehead in The Feminist Poetry Movement and Katie King in Theory in its Feminist Travels, but I’m also interested in looking at changes in how poetry is functioning in the scholarship today.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

CIVILesbianIZATION: Changing the Civil Rights Paradigm

Edge Publications, which has the greatest tagline ever (Your life. . . .with an edge), is running my new column, CIVILesbianIZATION. Their first installment started running this week. You can read it here.

I’ve always wanted my life to have an edge, and now it does!

Here’s the beginning of the column to whet your appetite:

CIVILesbianIZATION :: Changing the Civil Rights Paradigm
by Julie R. Enszer
EDGE New York City Contributor
Monday Oct 1, 2007

Sometimes there are moments of great tragedy when gay and lesbian inequality is all too visible. These moments are painful and profoundly disturbing. I think of the murder of Matthew Shepherd and the murder of Sargeant Allen Schindler; two brutal murders motivated by hatred for gay and lesbian people. There’s wide-spread agreement in the United States that murdering people because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is wrong. It is a public tragedy that diminishes all of us.

Read more.