Monday, December 31, 2007

Joan Larkin Video

A great video is available at the Tyger Burning blog of Joan Larkin reading her crown of sonnets titled, Blackout. What I love about this video, besides hearing Larkin read, is how the camer moves around. It feels like a technologically old video and that for me makes the pleasure that much greater that it has been captured and made available on the internet. I’m appreciative of that as I don’t want our words and images to be lost.

Joan Larkin with Elly Bulkin edited Amazon Poetry and Lesbian Poetry, two books I continue to be obsessed with because of how they represent a particular moment in lesbian poetry and publishing. Larkin was, as she mentions at the beginning of the video, the publisher of Out & Out Books for about five years. The reading of the sonnet is fabulous, though the end is cut off. Larkin’s newest collection of poetry is My Body: New and Selected Poems. I reviewed it in the Lambda Book Report in the summer 2007 issue. It’s a good book and well worth your time to read.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Are you part of the VULVAlution?

Find out on January 1st!

The Complete CIVILesbianIZATION

Shortly the full series of articles in my CIVILesbianIZATION series will be available online at my CIVILesbianIZATION blog over at WOW Women’s World. Beginning in January 2008, I’ll post the bi-weekly updates there, so please add the site to your blog reader or make a note to check in there. I’ll post occasional updates about the series on this blog as well.

I’d love to hear what you think about CIVILesbianIZATION either here or over at the WOW Blog!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Grace Paley on Sisters

A terrible thing happened this year. Well, a good and a terrible thing, as the two seem to be often wound together. From December 1st until December 15th, I was in the end of the semester, paper-writing, holiday preparations mode. It was intense and one of the things I limited is what I was doing on my computer. (You’ll notice - no blog entries from late November until December 25th). In the process of limiting my email time and my calendar time (I will play for hours with organizational tools, like ical, as a way to avoid doing actual work), I realized that I forgot, yes, FORGOT, my sister’s yartzeit. It was a day that was dedicated entirely to writing the paper. It’s the first year I’ve completely forgotten it. Usually, I have some sense of dread and then find solace in the candle burning. I bought the yartzeit candle in October, but it wasn’t burned this year. So while I’m horrified because this seems like a terrible oversight of my sister’s life, in some ways, it is also a good thing. This year was twelve years. I’ll remember her always, but the remembering gets easier (and now I see how remembering becomes forgetting).

Grace Paley has a new book coming out in March of 2008. The Writer’s Almanac, from which this poem is taken, is featuring some of the poems. This one I especially like and so I’ve been reading it today, remembering my sister. I’ve lit a candle for her, not a yartzeit candle, a small votive. I think she’ll appreciate it.

Poem: "I needed to talk to my sister..." by Grace Paley, from Fidelity. © Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. Reprinted with permission.(buy now)

I needed to talk to my sister...


I needed to talk to my sister
talk to her on the telephone I mean
just as I used to every morning
in the evening too whenever the
grandchildren said a sentence that
clasped both our hearts

I called her phone rang four times
you can imagine my breath stopped then
there was a terrible telephonic noise
a voice said this number is no
longer in use how wonderful I
thought I can
call again they have not yet assigned
her number to another person despite
two years of absence due to death

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Quiet Mountain Essays

On the Solstice, I received a lovely email from Suzanne Sunshower, the administrator over at Quiet Mountain Essays. This website publishes a quarterly journal of new feminist voices. It’s a great site that is always a good and interesting read on radical feminist material. I encourage you to check it out.

New Poem in Junctures

Yesterday I received my copy of Junctures: The Journal for Thematic Dialogue in the mail. Issue #9 is on the theme of Voice. This fine, perfect-bound journal from New Zealand is a great read - and in addition to being published as a print journal, the whole journal is also available online as a PDF. You can download it at It’s quite lovely. I’m especially pleased by it because a poem of mine is included in the journal. The poem is titled, “The Former Prime Minister.”

Here is what the editor wrote about the journal: 
Now in its third year of publication, Junctures seeks to establish conversations and collaborations between people who don't necessarily already interact, by articles focusing on specific themes, rather than on specific disciplines.  Issue #9 features scholars, writers and artists from areas as diverse as general practice, ethics, art history, poetry and indigenous studies; and from geographic regions ranging from New Zealand and Norway to Alaska!  Contributors to this issue include Grant Gillett, Kirsti Malterud, Pat Hoffie, and Lina Sunseri, to name only a few.
We hope you will visit the free full-text, on-line issue of the journal and that you will pass this information on to your colleagues, associates and students.  We welcome submissions for our up-coming issues, and hope you will consider choosing Junctures as a place to submit your work.
Please visit there and read the journal if you are interested!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Lambda Literary Award Nominations in Poetry

These are the nominations for the Lambda Literary Award in Poetry. This year the poetry is combined for men and women whereas last year it was gender segregated. There are so many great books on this year’s list (both books that I have read and want to read!) that I have no idea how they will ever whittle it to finalists and then choose a winner.


* Walking in Sappho's Garden, Ayin Adams
* Blissful Times, Sandra Alland (Book Thug)
* New Jersey, Betsy Andrews (University of Winsconsin Press)
* Seminal, John Barton and Billeh Nickerson (Arsenal Pulp Press)
* The Human Line, Ellen Bass (Copper Canyon Press)+
* Notebook of Roses and Civilization, Nicole Brossard (Coach House Books
* All: A James Broughton Reader, James Broughton, edited by Jack Foley (White Crane Wisdom/Lethe Press)
* Sister, Nickole Brown (Red Hen Press)+
* The Marrow's Telling, Eli Clare (Homofactus Press)
* The Natural Law of Water, Kathleen Cluver (Burning Bush)
* Blackbird and Wolf, Henri Cole (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux)
* Catching Tigers in Red Weather, Andrew Demcak (Three Candles Press)
* A Question of Gravity and Light, Blas Falconer (University of Arizona Press)
* Blind Date with Cavafy, Steve Fellner (Marsh Hawk Press)
* After the Fall, Edward Field (University of Pittsburgh)
* Scarlet E, Lois Glenn (Regal Crest Enterprises)
* Underwater Lengths in a Single Breath, Benjamin Grossberg (Ashland Poetry Series)
* Under Sleep, Daniel Hall (University of Chicago Press)
* Rift, Forrest Hamer (Four Way Books)
* The Islands Project, Eloise Klein Healy (Red Hen Press)+
* Hejira, Reginald T. Jackson (Outskirts Press)
* I'm the Man Who Loves You, Amy King (Blazevox Books)
* More Than Anything, Hiram Larew (Vrzhu Press)
* My Body, Joan Larkin (Hanging Loose Press)+
* Imago, Joseph Legaspi (CavanKerry Press)
* A Gathering of Matter/A Matter of Gathering, Dawn Lundy Martin (University of Georgia Press)
* Sorry, Tree, Eileen Myles (Wave Books)
* What's Written on the Body, Peter Pereira (Copper Canyon Press)
* The Body is No Machine, Jennifer Perrine (New Issues)
* Torch River, Elizabeth Philips (Brick Books)
* Quiver of Arrows, Carl Phillips (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux)+
* Wonder, Nicole Pollifrone (P.D. Publishing)
* The Brightness, William Reichard (Mid-List Press)
* Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth, Adrienne Rich (W.W. Norton)+
* Breezeway, Jason Roush (Windstorm Creative)
* Rhythms, Leo Shelton (Tugson Press)
* Fata Morgana, Reginald Shepherd (University of Pittsburgh)
* Theory of Orange, Rachel M. Simon (Pavement Saw Press)
* The Screw and the Fast of It, Nathalie Stephens (Nightboat Books)
* Purple Hats and Pink Tutus, Betty Nadine Thomas (Spruce Head Island Press)
* Going Around with Bachelors, Agnes Walsh (Brick Books)
* The Second Person, C. Dale Young (Four Way Books)
* Human Resources, Rachel Zolf (Coach House Books)

+ Books I have read
I think it’s accurate to say I have some degree of interest in reading ALL of the books.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

"Gertrude Stein" by Mina Loy

Gertrude Stein

        a poem by Mina Loy


of the laboratory

of vocabulary

she crushed

the tonnage

of consciousness

congealed to phrases

to extract

a radium of the word.

Menstrual/Lunar Calendars

Looking for something to give the feminist in your life? Look no further than the new 2008 Menstrual / Lunar Calendar.

The images in these are fantastic and varied. I love the graphics and this whole project. Order soon - the woman who creates these is based in Spain and so shipping will take a little extra time.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Moon and the Yew Tree by Sylvia Plath

Tuesday morning - and I needed on of those gorgeous poems that reminds me, oh, yes, this is what I want to do. Write.

This poem by Sylvia Plath courtesy of Ellen Moody on the Women Writers Through the Ages online discussion group.

The Moon and the Yew Tree

by Sylvia Plath

This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary.
The trees of the mind are black. The light is blue.
The grasses unload their griefs on my feet as if I were God,
Prickling my ankles and murmuring of their humility.
Fumy, spiritous mists inhabit this place
Separated from my house by a row of headstones.
I simply cannot see where there is to get to.

The moon is no door. It is a face in its own right,
White as a knuckle and terribly upset.
It drags the sea after it like a dark crime; it is quiet
With the O-gape of complete despair. I live here.
Twice on Sunday, the bells startle the sky
Eight great tongues affirming the Resurrection.
At the end, they soberly bong out their names.

The yew tree points up. It has a Gothic shape.
The eyes lift after it and find the moon.
The moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary.
Her blue garments unloose small bats and owls.
How I would like to believe in tenderness
The face of the effigy, gentled by candles,
Bending, on me in particular, its mild eyes.

I have fallen a long way. Clouds are flowering
Blue and mystical over the face of the stars.
Inside the church, the saints will be all blue,
Floating on their delicate feet over the cold pews,
Their hands and faces stiff with holiness.
The moon sees nothing of this. She is bald and wild.
And the message of the yew tree is blackness-blackness and silence.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Poetry by Marcia Nardi


I have joined you, my love,
In abandoning me

In love that is not love
I have set myself free
But not from you
Only from me

I have let myself be proved
In love without love
Neither rib nor tree

Do you feel me near?
Or have I below
Left with my limbs under the snow
That contact of earth with the sky
The heart forgoes?

Do you feel me close
As a star to a star?
Do you feel me as near, Love,

And as far?

I have joined you
In abandoning me.

By Marcia Nardi

As I’ve written earlier, Marcia Nardi was a correspondent of William Carlos Williams from 1942 until 1956 – with sporadic correspondence between the two of them. The extant correspondence are gathered by Elizabeth Murrie O’Neil in The Last Word: Letters between Marcia Nardi & William Carlos Williams, published by the University of Iowa Press in 1994.

Marcia Nardi was born in Boston, MA on August 6, 1901 with the name Lillian Massell. She attended Wellesley College from 1919 through 1921 and left during her junior year before graduating. She then moved to Greenwich Village and lived at one time in the same rooming house as Allen Tate and Hart Crane. Nardi seems to be writing regularly and publishing between 1924 and 1929. She works for the Modern Quarterly in Baltimore for a short time and has three poems published in the journal. She also has poems published in Measure, Bookman, the Nation, and the New York Times. She writes reviews including a review of H.D. Heliodora. Her son, Paul, is born on October 23, 1926. She never divulges the name of her son’s father. Throughout the entire Great Depression, Nardi works a variety of jobs in New York City to support herself and her son.

As a result of a medical issue with Paul, Nardi meets William Carlos Williams through a connection established by Nardi’s neighbor, Harvey Breit. This commences their correspondence and friendship. Williams provided professional assistance for Paul and also corresponded with Nardi and tried to aid her in making literary connections. As a result of Williams, seventeen of Nardi’s poems were published in New Directions Number Seven anthology. Shortly after their initial meeting – and Nardi granting Williams permission to use one of her earlier letters in Paterson, the two lost contact.

Nardi writes to Williams next in 1949 after seeing Paterson I and II at a local bookstore near Woodstock, New York, where she is living with her husband, Charles John Lang, a writer and painter. Nardi and Williams correspond sporadically between 1949 and 1956. At various times, Williams sends Nardi money and provides some assistance to her in making literary connections. One of the final things he does is serve as a reference for her for a Guggenheim fellowship, which is awarded to her in the spring of 1957. Nardi lives near Woodstock with Lang until 1950 when she leaves him and goes New York. For the next two decades, Nardi publishes her poems in a variety of places – and using different names – including Ladies Home Journal, Poetry, American Scholar, and The New Yorker. Her full-length collection is published in 1956.

In her letters to Willliams, Nardi wrote extensively about both her social and literary isolation – and even beyond the excerpts of her letters included in Paterson wrote eloquently about her plight as a woman artist. She lived often in abject poverty, for many years struggling to support herself and her son. She died on March 13, 1990 in Watertown, MA.

Williams used a portion of a letter from Nardi early in the first book of Paterson. Here it is in its entirety:

In regard to the poems I left with you; will you be so kind as to return them to me at my new address? And without bothering to comment upon them if you should find that embarrassing—for it was the human situation and not the literary one that motivated my phone call and visit.
Besides, I know myself to be more the woman than the poet; and to concern myself less with the publishers of poetry than with . . . living . . .
But they set up an investigation . . . and my doors are bolted forever (I hope forever) against all public welfare workers, professional do-gooders and the like.

This letter was heavily edited by Williams, as was his practice in the early parts of Paterson.

As Nardi’s correspondence with Williams continued, however, and the sequence of Paterson continued, Williams used longer passages from letters as a part of the text. The conclusion of the second book of William Carlos Williams’ Paterson is a five-page letter from Marcia Nardi to Williams. This is the beginning of the letter:

My attitude toward woman’s wretched position in society and my ideas about all the changes necessary there, were interesting to you, weren’t they, in so far as they made for literature? That my particular emotional orientation, in wrenching myself free from patterened standardized feminine feelings, enabled me to do some passably good work with poetry—all that was fine, wasn’t it—something for you to sit up and take notice of! And you saw in one of my first letters to you (the one you had wanted to make use of, then, in the Introduction to your Paterson) an indication that my thoughts were to be taken seriously because they too could be turned by you into literature, as something disconnected from life.
        But when my actual personal life crept in, stamped all over with the very same attitudes and sensibilities and preoccupations that you found quite admirable as literature—that was an entirely different matter, wasn’t it? No longer admirable, but, on the contrary, deplorable, annoying, stupid, or in some other way unpardonable; because those very ideas and feelings which make one a writer with some kind of vision, are often the very same ones which, in living itself, make one clumsy, awkward, absurd, ungrateful, confidential where most people are reticient and reticent where one should be confidential, and which cause one, all too often, to step on the toes of other people’s sensitive egos as a result of one’s stumbling earnestness or honesty carried too far. And that they are the very same ones—that’s important, something to be remembered at all times, especially by writers like yourself who are so sheltered from life in the raw by the glass-walled conditions of their own safe lives.
        Only my writing (when I write) is myself: only that is the real me in any essential way. Not because I bring to literature and to life two different inconsistent sets of values, as you do. No, I don’t do that; and I feel that when anyone does do it, literatures is into just so much intellectual excrement fit for the same stinking hole as any other kind.

After reading the sections of Nardi’s letters in Paterson and then the complete letters in O’Neill’s books, I was eager to read Nardi’s poems. There are twenty-two poems published in her collection from 1956. They are powerful poems individually and as a collection. The book does not include all of her published poems prior to 1956. Most notably, her long poem In the Asylum, which first was published in Botteghe Oscure in 1950, is absent with only two parts reprinted in the book.

Nardi writes powerfully about class in ways congruent with other women writers I’ve read, particularly in the Nekola and Rabinowitz anthology, Writing Red: An anthology of American Women Writers, 1930-1940. Her poetry also reminded me thematically of Tess Slesinger’s The Unpossessed – and there is another novel from the 1930s that I can’t recall, but has a fierce scene where the protagonist cuts off all of her pubic hair and mails it to her ex-lover in anger and then goes, I think, to Cuba to work for the revolution. I think Nardi’s anger in her poems is expressed in profoundly beautiful and constructive ways. I wasn’t anticipating that from reading the letters, which are simply more angry and direct and not as processed as her poems. In these ways, I think of Nardi’s book, even though it was published in the 1950s as more rooted in work from the 30s. This may simply be that I have more in my knowledge reference bank in that era however than in the 1950s.

I’ve included four additional poems below from her book. I was delighted by these ones in particular for both her content choices and the way that she uses images and metaphor.

Poems by Marcia Nardi
From Nardi, Marcia. Poems. Denver: Alan Swallow (New Poetry Series), 1956.


And now you are all going abroad
You to Saint Jean de Luz
And to Fontainebleau you and Menton,
And you with the numerous friends there
To Italy’s many suns
Now the autumn has come
While I here at home
Must go down with the chipmunk to the hole
That is there again this year
In the native land of my flesh-and-bone.

You will send me postcards
Of the Louvre and Coloseum
If I should send you one
You would say “Come,
My cousins can put you up
My aunt has extra rooms—
You are not Tom Thumb.”

But the place where I shall winter
Here at home
Is not so small at all
When you consider how small my soul has become
Measured beside this new grief
This little low moan just born

Which is only little
And only low
When I think of the Prado’s ceilings
As St. Peter’s over you,
But very big really. . . .too spacious really for keeping warm,

When you think of the size of the chipmunk
And the size of my soul
And also
Of the size of the mole
Who could do with a tinier niche than the one
That will house me again this year, the mind’s paths gone,
Here in that dark country where the same thrust
Makes no different burrow
Whether love’s or lust’s.


I write to you from the country—
Though the pavements have followed me here
And the florists stand by for the rose
If the winds of a few weeks ago
Had slipped through these hills
Had cut straight through
Them sideways
Slicing them off slicing away
My breasts like their ache you
I could come home to myself at least
To my sister grief
To the arms of Dido alive again
In the mirror of my pain
If not to you, my love, if not to you.

But faith, I know,
My faith of a year ago
When you absence not yet was real to my veins
Saw this land through
Those days when the March winds blew
The last armor away of the heart’s protective snow
And these valleys now
Gray still and leafless
Even toda in April—these
Are the vowels . . . the vowel sounds
In the words with the deep soft “u,”
The words with the vulva—deep as it—
And the feminine armpits shaved and smooth
Like “love,” my Love,
And the word tabooed
And waiting—as only women wait—
For God, in creating the world, to use.

In their prayer for greenness
I’d say that Heloise and her letters were here
And she who died in Portugal,
But too hopeful for prayer
These valleys and these hills.

I write to you from this country
But when I touch—in exile from your touch—
A shrub or tree
And sink my naked feet into the thawed-out fields
My hand to my hand is China far away
And to my heart my heart an ice-locked sea
And always the prison matron’s watchful eye
Goes with us to the bathing rooms
And haunts the darkness as we climb
Into our separate beds at night to sleep.

Not only my life is lost and betrayed
But my death also
Like that of mummies
Or those who in cities see
From a hospital window
Even their Potter’s Field filled in with bricks—
The pavements have followed me here
But I write to you from the country.


How the rich move softly
Through their injustices,
Softly as the uncut grasses on summer noons they move—
That tinkle? It’s their cocktail glasses,
That sound of hatchet blows?
I do not know,
For all is interstices
And open meadowland and willow laces
To their very gentle wickednesses
That knuckleless as summer breezes go.

So softly move the rich through their injustices,
Not softer is the breathing of a rose—
That tinkle’s not the sound of glasses?
It’s the bells then that the poor
Must sprout like antlers when too near
They venture to a rich man’s loaves.
Those other sounds? That thump and clatter
As of a crutch on rugless stairs, and wooden shoes?
Those are the sins of the poor
Against the poorer still—
The rich’s treat on moss with velvet soles,

And when the rich stretch out their arms
To grab and stab and kill,
You need not leave the tenement walls
Nor the asphalt walks to know
How easefully the purple hounds
That the delicate cream-puff clouds unloose
Do their dark hunting of the hillside’s green—
So softly move
The rich through their injustices,
From Cairo to Tuckahoe
The jostling of daisies they carry
And the drift, on the white fields, of snow
That cover up and make so beautiful the cruelty
Of life from destruction deep below.


It does not stay in the heart
It does not stay in the mind
(Ah, if it did, though. . . if . . . )
And when, the doors open and chafing against
Its narrow confines, forth it sets.
Oh what on those oceans where the clamorous flesh
Knows not the captain from the ship,
A lord still shall keep it. . .
The love untold and denied?
And what in the jungle of the thighs,
To the tiger, still a prince?
Love I make it because I write it
And as I say my darling again from the skies
Athena alights at Odysseus’s side.

Back on my book-shelves a hundred books of poems
Tell how the telling more than the knowing
Helpless as roses left the monsters
And all the enchanters dismayed
And quelled the waves, and saved,
While the glances thrown me
Down on the streets of my lonely roving
Change the story
To how on the tongues with a relish only
For the wine and honey a dollar buys
The word has died
That leaves with no crown and no shield and homeless and throneless
The trapped Ulysses-cry.

These lines I recall now:
“I am a woman, tell me lies,”
But where the caves are and those treacherous isles
And the cord of the gathered winds is untied,
The thrust is the same . . . . snatch the name,
And love I make it because I write it—
To find, as I say my darling,
The wax for the oarsmen again supplied
And the burning stick for the Cyclops-eye.

"Reference Man" article picked up online

Two Nice Mentions. . . .

On the Utne Reader Science and Technology Blog.

On the blog of Our Bodies, Our Selves.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Happy Birthday Sharon Olds!

From The Writer’s Almanac:
It's the birthday of the poet Sharon Olds, (books by this author) born in San Francisco (1942), who didn't publish her first book of poems, Satan Says (1980), until she was 37 years old. She said, "I was a late bloomer. But anyone who blooms at all, ever, is very lucky. ...Many lives don't allow that, the good fortune of being able to work at it, and try, and keep trying."
Olds one of the few modern poets who actually sells thousands of copies of her books, in part because she writes about the family lives and love lives of ordinary women in her collections The Dead and the Living (1984), The Father (1992), and Blood, Tin, Straw (1999). Most readers assume she is writing about her own life, but early in her career, Olds made a vow that she would never talk about her personal life in public, and she refuses to say whether or not her poems are autobiographical.
She also tries not to watch any television or read any newspapers, because she just doesn't have time. To stay informed about the world, she looks at the front page of newspapers when she walks past newsstands, and she asks her friends to brief her on world affairs. She said, "It might be a bad thing, not to know what's going on in the world. I can't say I really approve of it ...[I just don't like] learning about so many things that we can't do anything about." Her collection Strike Sparks came out in 2004.

Addition on Thursday, 22 November 2007:
I read The Writer’s Almanac every day in my email box (if you want to subscribe you can do so here) and I try to get up every morning and be in the kitchen by 6:50 a.m. to hear Garrison Keillor read it on my local NPR station, WAMU. As a result of all of this, I am a big fan of The Writer’s Almanac and often include squibs from it on the blog. This one was not credited properly initially and for that I am deeply sorry.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Essex Hemphill's Ceremonies and Muriel Rukeyser's The Life of Poetry

The pairing of these two books for me feels heavily ironical. I have read Rukeyser’s book at least three times; it’s a book I return to because I want to remember and reengage with it. I’ve only read Ceremonies once before and that was when I first bought it, in 1992 or 1993, when it first was published. I haven’t returned to it and have actually recoiled from it. Ceremonies represents, for me, a particular time in life when many people were dying. These were people that I knew and was close to and this book, Ceremonies, and two others Beam’s In the Life, and the Hemphill anthology, Brother to Brother, were important, vitally important, with all of the vita that the root of the word suggests, to a group of black gay men that I knew. Many of them have now passed on like Hemphill and Beam. The others I’ve lost touch with because I moved, now many times. So there are all of these levels of grief associated with Ceremonies for me. As I’ve read it for the past week, the grief hasn’t lessened. In fact, it is almost unbearable, such that I’ve only read about 20 pages at a time - in the mornings, until I cry, and then I set it aside and proceed with the day. The tears are primarily about grief and though I can see elements of the book that are gorgeous (as well as things that I think are weak about some of the poems), I can barely muster the passion for writing critically about this book.

This is why I left English for the first time. Sometimes language has everything to offer in mourning, in grief. Sometimes it has nothing. Sometimes what we must give to sadness and anger is action and work, not words. I often thought that my life and my mind were split between the “k” and the “d”. The wor, the war, the whor were constant beginnings, but what you put at the end made a difference. Sitting at a computer, writing words or talking on the telephone, moving about, meeting new people, making more connections, doing work. Words or works. I want to not have to chose between the two, but am often caught in the faux choice with the two warring, each demanding exclusive time and attention.

The Life of Poetry makes no such demands. Perhaps because it is an older text, it makes no imminent demands on my time and attention. It makes me feel things, certainly, but it doesn’t taunt me. I made no commitments to Rukeyser about how I should life my life. She makes no demands of me. To the people who read Hemphill and loved him, I made promises. Some that I’ve kept, some, I fear, I’ve compromised, and some I’ve forgotten. This book reminds me. That reminder is not some faded picture with happy memories of salt water taffy by a board walk. It is a reminder of what poetry is, when Rukeyser says that she “cannot say what poetry is.”

I know that our sufferings and our concentrated joy, our states of plunging far and dark and turning to come back to the world -- so that the moment of intense turning seems still and universal -- all are here, in a music like the music of our time, like the hero and like the anonymous forgotten; and there is an exchange here in which our lives are met, and created. (The Life of Poetry, p. 172.)

For me, there is an exchange in Ceremonies in which my life is created. Hemphill is a narrative poet of spare, direct lines. Ceremonies is published just before Audre Lorde’s death and while he was writing while she was, it has her influence, as well as the influence of Gwendolyn Brooks and June Jordan.* What I find fascinating about this collection is the interplay of poems and prose. Much of the prose is a blending of memoir and personal essays. I think of this type of writing - working across genres and pressing each of the genres to extremes - as characteristic of political writers. I think that Hemphill’s poems couldn’t contain everything that he wanted to say. They couldn’t contain the anger, the analysis, the truth that he needed to say. Similarly, the prose couldn’t contain everything either. The two bled into one another and come together in this book.

Reading Ceremonies alongside of Rukeyser’s The Life of Poetry highlights the similar tension in The Life of Poetry. There are passages of the book that are a poem; they press the language so hard and so far that though it appears like prose, it isn’t. And, of course, Rukeyser ends The Life of Poetry by writing a poetic autobiography. By poetic, I mean not the autobiography of her poetry, although it does function that way, rather I mean an autobiography that is poetic, informed by the world of poetry. The entire narrative of The Life of Poetry drives to the life story of Muriel Rukeyser which is then transformed into the meaning of peace and how we will create peace. That narrative trajectory which is compelled through autobiography seems a similar trajectory through Ceremonies. Although Hemphill’s material concerns may be different than Rukeyser’s, I think that the fundamental question that both are grappling with in these books is, how shall we live our lives in a way that is honest to our very beings and that makes a difference in the world.

*I’m interested in what black, gay male poets today might identify Hemphill and Assoto Saint as forefathers. I think of Carl Phillips or Reginald Shepherd and see their work certainly enabled by the work of Hemphill and Saint, but I wouldn’t directly map their writing as closely.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Another Article at Women's eNews

Legislation to protect gay and lesbian Americans that passed the House last week fell short for transgender people and their advocates, Julie R. Enszer reports today. They wanted "gender identity" protections that got cut from the original version.

FEATURE: Washington Lookout
Legislative Bargain Frays Some in LGBT Community
By Julie R. Enszer - WeNews correspondent

Legislation to protect gay and lesbian Americans that passed the House last week fell short for transgender people and their advocates, who wanted "gender identity" protections that got cut from the original version.

Full Story:

Please help Women's eNews grow and get your own free subscription today at

Thursday, November 15, 2007

New Website: WOW Women on Women

There’s a new website in town, WOW! Women on Women. Donna Mete is the founder and organizer of it and it looks great. Donna is producing an interesting webcast and aggregating lots of great blogs, podcasts, and video content over there. Go check out Wow! Women on Women.

Wow! Women on Women will be running my CIVILesbianIZATION columns on a regular basis. The first one is posted. It’s titled, Marking our Time Together: Reflections on Lesbian Anniversaries. Go and check it out!

Wow! Women on Women is also podcasting the fabulous Woman-Stirred Radio program, which airs every Thursday from 4-6 p.m. EST on WGDR. While it’s available for streaming live during the show, for many it may be more convenient to listen to the podcasts over at WOW! I encourage you to check it out - not only because I do occasional commentaries there, but mainly because Merry Gangemi is so brilliant.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Lesbian Author of Mysteries for Teenagers up for a National Book Award Tonight

A Writer's Lust for Life -- And Death
Up for a Literary Prize, M. Sindy Felin's First Novel Is a Brutally Honest Portrait

By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 13, 2007; Page C01

"I always thought I was destined to be either a serial killer or a mystery writer," says M. Sindy Felin.

Pregnant with triplets, she doesn't look like a serial killer.

The Kensington author's "Touching Snow" was influenced by her life in an abusive family. (By Lois Raimondo -- The Washington Post)
Felin, who lives in Kensington, is the author of "Touching Snow," a young-adult novel of suffering and survival that has been nominated for a 2007 National Book Award. The winners will be announced tomorrow night at a black-tie to-do in New York.

In the cafeteria of the National Geographic Society, where she works as a paralegal, Felin -- tall and bookish in cream blouse, black slacks, silver-rimmed glasses -- talks about the similarities and differences between the life of her main character, Karina Lamond, and her own life. "Nobody was killed," she says of her upbringing.

The same cannot be said for Karina's story.

"Touching Snow" is a cringe-inducing novel about domestic abuse within a Haitian American family in the suburbs of New York. Here is the first line: "The best way to avoid being picked on by high school bullies is to kill someone."

Read the rest of the story.

Article at Women's eNews

Safe levels of ionizing radiation from products such as smoke detectors and mammograms are based on a male health subject, Julie R. Enszer reports today. Health advocates want statistics based more on fetuses, girls and women to take over as the model.

FEATURE: Science & Tech
'Reference Man' May Lose Radiation Modeling Job
By Julie R. Enszer - WeNews correspondent

Safe levels of ionizing radiation from products such as smoke detectors and mammograms are based on a male health subject. Health advocates want statistics based more on fetuses, girls and women to take over as the model.

Full Story:

Please help Women’s eNews grow and get your own free subscription today at

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel - Second Floor

I’m thrilled to have a poem in The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel - Second Floor.

Edited by the great poets and poet advocates and activists, Reb Livingston and Molly Arden, The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel should be a fabulous read. Get your copy now!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

H.D.'s Helen in Egypt

This weekend I’ve been reading Helen in Egypt. Let me first take a moment to just say, Wow. Helen in Egypt is an extraordinary epic poem. After reading Crane’s The Bridge and Williams’ Paterson, I don’t know whether to be pleased to reach this as it feels like a precipice or to feel somewhat resentful for the time I spent with Crane and Williams. I know, there is enough time for all but still I am just delighted and happy about reading Helen in Egypt. I finish sections and go back and read them again.

The things that I admire about this poem are many. First, the incredible use of form. The entire poem is in tercets with ample use of meter and rhyme such that it sings on the page. Seriously, I have to close the book and not just set it down otherwise there is this beautiful music come from the book. It seems to be silenced when the book is closed, though there is a small voice singing from it even then. Second, this is a book that both has a powerful narrative and that resists narrative in fascinating ways. H.D. really uses notes effectively to talk about the text throughout it, and not in the ways that create distraction as Crane and Williams did. The entire text is well-conceived and controlled in its execution. At the same time, the voices are many in the book and the perspective changes. It doesn’t comply with a master narrative but weaves itself together wholly and organically. I know that something will be made at the end, but not from a pattern, not form fitting, but useful. And meaningful.

This week for writing about this text, I am given these instructions:

H.D. was preoccupied with the myth of Helen, the face that launched a thousand ships, and with its grip on the Western imagination for her entire career. Susan Stanford Friedman argued that "Helen in Egypt, written from 1952 to 1956 and published just before H.D. died in 1961, epitomizes the impact of Freud's ideas on her development of aesthetic form." In the epic, Friedman argues, "the aesthetic image has become psychological hieroglyph, the visual script 'that concealed yet revealed' the enigma of the buried self" (see, for example, HE, p. 44).

For discussion board this week, please choose any passage you wish from Helen in Egypt, or any sequence of events or character, and muse upon the "aesthetic image" as "psychological hieroglyph," the buried self and its revelation or masking in mythological personae.

To respond to that, I’m going to look at the fourth poem in the second book of “Pallinode.” Here it is in its entirety.

This is the spread of wings,
whether the Straits claimed them
or the Cyclades,

whether they floundered on the Pontic seas
or ran aground before the Hellespont,
whether they shouted Victory at the gate,

whether the bowmen shot them from the Walls,
whether they crowded surging through the breach,
or died of fever on the smitten plain,

whether they rallied and came home again,
in the worn hulks, half-rotted from the salt
or sun-warped on the beach,

whether they scattered or in companies
or three or two sought the old ways of home,
whether they wandered as Odysseus did,

encountering new adventures, they are one;
no, I was not instructed, but I “read” the script,
I read the writing when he seized my throat,

this was his anger,
they were mine, not his,
the unnumbered host;

mine, all the ships,
mine all the thousand petals of the rose,
mine, all the lily-petals,

mine the great spread of wings,
the thousand sails,
the thousand feathered darts

that sped them home,
mine, the one dart in the Achilles-heel,
the thousand-and-one, mine.

It was Helen’s face that launched a thousand ships and brought about the war. In this poem, H.D. meditates as Helen on the ships that carry her face. In the first five stanzas of this poem, Helen thinks about from where the ships came. The Straits or the Cyclades both near the Greek islands, the Pontic seas, near Turkey, and then about what the conditions were for the men on the boats. Some declared Victory as they were leaving, others died of fever, while others came home. H. D. describes life on the boats and the raves of the sea in the stanza with worn hulks, half-rotted and sun-warped. She realizes that some of the sailors on these boats wandered as Odysseus, but all she asserts are one. She knows this not because she was instructed but because, “I ”read“ the script.” Here is where the poem turns and gathers its power driving to it’s conclusion.

Up until this point, the ship has been the aesthetic image that H. D. is working with as a psychological hieroglyph. The flattening of Helen as the face on the ships that launch the war is first used by H.D. in the description that launches this poem, but then the poetic ‘I’ enters with the knowledge of having read the script and then in an imbroglio with whom? - Osiris? the host of Spirits? Achilles? the men on the ships? He seizes her by her throat, but she grapples the anger back from him. Helen, once the voiceless face is not speaking and declaring that all of the ships are hers, all the thousand petals of the rose, all the lily-petals. Using anaphora from the beginning of the third from the end stanza to the final word, Helen declares definitively her agency and ownership of both her image and her psychological state of being.

This power and strength is emblematic of much of the book. H.D. has both a strong sense of imagery and psyche as well as a rhetorical power that is at the top of its form. If you haven’t read Helen in Egypt. Do so now. Don’t delay.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

See My Poem: Shopping in Bangkok in the Salt River Review

The Salt River Review, Volume 10, Number 2, Fall 2007, is now online
with Poetry by Carlos Barbarito, Mario Benedetti, Pablo Antonio
Cuadra, Julie R. Enszer, Jerry Mirskin, Lee Passarella, Jami
Macarty,Doug Ramspeck, Tad Richards, Matt Sadler, Elizabeth Laborde,
Steve Trebellas & Lisa Steinman. Fiction by Denis Emorine, Tsipi
Keller, Norman Lock & Andrea Fitzpatrick. Poetry editor for this
issue was Greg Simon, fiction editor was Carol Novack.

Visit at

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

CIVILesbianIZATION: Celebrate, Don't Stigmatize Public Sex

CIVILesbianIZATION :: Celebrate, Don’t Stigmatize, Public Sex
by Julie R. Enszer
EDGE Provincetown Contributor
Wednesday Nov 7, 2007

Julie R. Enszer

Public sex has a long and proud tradition and I, for one, am pleased to see that one of our Senators is engaging in it. Instead of decrying Senator Craig’s actions or speculating about his sexuality or "alleged homosexuality," I think the more rational response is to affirm and celebrate public sex. The truth is people - all kinds of people including senators - engage in public sex as a part of their sexual expression and fulfillment at different times in their lives.

There’s nothing wrong with public sex; in fact, it can be a positive and healthy component of adult sexuality.

Read more here.

Split This Rock Poetry Festival

Split This Rock Poetry Festival
*Call for Panel Proposals*
Deadline December 1

Split This Rock Poetry Festival:
Poems of Provocation & Witness
March 20-23, 2008  Washington, DC   

Split this Rock invites  proposals for panel discussions and workshops on a range of topics at the intersection of poetry and social change. The possibilities are endless.  Let's talk about craft, let's talk about mentoring young poets, let's talk about working in prisons, connecting with the activist community, sustaining ourselves in dark times and the role of poetry in wartime. Let's remember great poet activists and discover new ones.  We are looking for panels that are  international, visual, and collaborative.


Split This Rock calls poets to a greater role in public life and fosters a national community of activist poets. Building the audience for poetry of provocation and witness from our home in the nation's capital, we celebrate poetic diversity and the transformative power of the imagination.

Split This Rock Poetry Festival will bring poets and writers to Washington DC on the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq , in the midst of the presidential election. The festival will feature readings, workshops, panel discussions, youth programming, film, activism, and walking tours - opportunities to build community, hone our activist skills, and celebrate the many ways that poetry can act as an agent for social change.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Nadia Anjuman

Today marks the second yartzeit of Nadia Anjuman’s death.

Here is a story from an Afghani paper about her.

Poet Nadia Anjuman remembered two years on

By Beatrice Khadige
[Printer Friendly Version]

KABUL - Two years ago police discovered the battered body of Nadia Anjuman, a young Afghan poet already known in literary circles for her poignant poems about the misery of being a woman in Afghanistan.

Police arrested her husband on charges of beating her to death in their home in the western city of Herat; he confessed to the assault but not to murder. Today the case is classified by the courts as "suicide."

The death of the 25-year-old thrust her work into the spotlight and today her poems -- written in the Dari language, which is close to Persian -- have been translated into several languages.

They speak of the pain of Afghan women, trapped in a conservative culture torn apart by nearly three decades of war that were followed by the 1996-2001 rule of the extremist Taliban -- known for their harsh treatment of women.

Read more here.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Poem: "Absolutely No Car Repairs in the Parking Lot" in So to Speak

I just received my copy of the journal So to Speak, published at George Mason University. I’m thrilled to have a poem in it titled, “Absolutely No Car Repairs in the Parking Lot.” I have been submitting to So to Speak for at least seven years. They are one of the first journals that I read and decided I wanted to be published in. Seven years isn’t so long, eh? Ironically, the poem that they accepted is the first poem which Stan Plumly gave me feedback. Or not ironically. I just write better poems when I think of him as the reader.

So pick up a copy today and read the poem!

WCW Paterson and Gender as a Studio Where Poetry Happens

It’s almost a forbidden delight the syllabus for the Dickinson and Media class. We’re reading all of the long poems that people talk about and reference, but often have not read in their entirety. Last week, The Bridge by Hart Crane. This week, Paterson by William Carlos Williams. Next week, H.D.’s Helen in Egypt.

Paterson is a long poem in five parts published by Williams from 1946 through 1958. He had notes for a sixth installment at the time of his death in 1961. This is not the Williams that I am used to encountering: controlled, restrained, in charge of each word and each line with what seems like complete precision. That is the Williams of anthologies, and, to some degree, I think, his Collected Poems. Paterson is less crafted, I think; it reflects more of the workings of Williams’ mind as a poet.

I’m drawn to the letters that intersperse this text of Paterson. In particular the letters from Marcia Nardi to WCW. He includes a long letter from her at the conclusion of the second book. The letter is vitriolic. Nardi begins, “My attitude toward woman’s wretched position in society and my ideas about all the changes necessary there, were interesting to you, weren’t they, in so far as they made for literature?” And continues at great length. The inclusion of this letter from Nardi to WCW fascinates me because of the other dynamics of male/female relations that WCW explores throughout the text.

Prior to the final Nardi letter, WCW writes, “Love is no comforter, rather a nail in the / skull // reversed in the mirror of its / own squalor” (p. 81). The next pages are a dialogue between He (presumably Paterson, the man) and a woman (possibly Nardi, though perhaps everywoman) and it concludes “He all but falls” and then quickly moves to the woman “Marry us! Marry us!/Or! be dragged down, dragged/under and lost”. Williams view on relationships between the sexes is dark at best.

In the third book, Williams dialogue with the woman in the poem leads to this line, “You smell/like a whore. I ask you to bathe in my/opinions, the astonishing virtue of your/lost body (I said).” The contrast of telling the woman that she smells like a whore with asking her to bathe not in water to remove the smell, but in his opinions is shocking and powerful, leading me to a pretty derisive view of Paterson, and possibly by extension Williams. This passage continues with a dialogue about marriage. “--and marry only to destroy, in private, in/their privacy only to destroy, to hide”; “Death will be too late to bring us aid,” and then, “The riddle of a man and a woman // For what is there but love, that stares death/in the eye, love, begetting marriage --/not infamy, not death.” The union between a man and a woman is a vexed state for Williams in Paterson, not something to be celebrated, but something to be flogged and angrily examined.

Nardi’s letter is, I think, a screed against Williams’ sexism. She recounts his interest in her for his purposes and not to help her; she expresses disappointment and anger about him not recommending her for jobs. I wonder what WCW thought was in including it - to expose her as a harpy? to illuminate why he wouldn’t help her? Did they have a long correspondence and a productive relationship? What was Nardi’s response to her letters in Paterson?

All of this was mulling through my mind until I reached the fifth book of Paterson which is perhaps more bizarre and perplexing from a feminist perspective in trying the read the male/female relationships. Unicorns and satyrs make playful and punning appearances, but so does the “mythic, mannish lesbian.” Williams writes on p. 216,

There is a woman in our town
walks rapidly, flat bellied

in worn slacks upon the street
where I saw her

and continues

An inconspicuous decoration
made of sombre cloth, meant
I think to be a flower, was
pinned flat to her

breast--any woman might have
done the same to
say she was a woman and warn
us of her mood. Otherwise

she was dressed in male attire,
as much as to say to hell

with you.

Williams says she disappears and he regrets that he couldn’t ask her what she was doing in Paterson (as though Paterson was somehow free of the fairer sex fondling her kind?) and was she married and did she have children, “and, most important,/your NAME!” WCW finally notes, “I cannot conceive it/in such a lonely and//intelligent woman.

So it seems there is a lot to unpack here in Paterson. I am not surprised at all that DuPlessis didn’t pursue her writing about WCW - even as he remains significant to her.

The other thing that I’ve been mulling from reading Paterson and Blue Studios together is what brings a poet to the scope of ambition, prowess, and possibly bravado to conceive, write, revise and publish a poem of the proportion of Paterson and The Bridge? (Though I will confess, I think I can see The Bridge because it reads more as a book of poetry as I understand it today whereas Paterson just feels so large and ambitious and exciting in a similar way to DuPlessis’ project, Drafts.) Is Paterson an epic poem? I think not in the traditional way that we think of epics, but what do we call such a large and ambitious project? And how does one mobilize the resources (mental, verbal, emotional) and sustain them to write such a thing?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Why Waldo Frank Matters

I admit that my initial fascination with Waldo Frank, the person who wrote the, at times, overwrought introduction to Hart Crane’s The Bridge, is partially prurient. In that soap opera way, I like knowing about what was going on with significant homosexuals of years past. Frank’s introduction to Crane’s book is written with some much reverence and affection that I found my self wondering, was he in love with him? This question is, of course, somewhat outside of the bounds of significant scholarly inquiry, or at least the professor asked, How does Waldo Frank relate to the poetry of Hart Crane? Well, it seems obvious to me, but a twenty word answer didn’t fall off my lips (they never seem to), so I’ve been thinking about it all week, and here it is.

A part of the consideration of both Hart Crane and Walt Whitman is the question, is there a queer poetics? I think the answer is most certainly, yes. Then the question is, what is that queer poetics? There again, I do not yet have the twenty word or even three paragraph answer, but let me begin. I think a queer poetics emanates from the lived experience of gay and lesbian people*. I think the gay and lesbian poetics comes from the identity of being a gay or lesbian person, or a homosexual, or homophile, depending on the language in vogue at the time. I think that the gay and lesbian poetics is defined by the identity and the experiences of people and by their self-identity, at least to themselves and a small group of others and often, if not usually, on the page or other sites of their creation. These experiences and identities create a way of understanding and living in the world that gets expressed on the page. These are the conditions the lead to a gay and lesbian poetics.

In addition to the experiences and identity of the individual poets or writers, the gay and lesbian poetics only exists and emerges through reception by a community of readers, by an audience, that sees it as gay or lesbian or homosexual or queer. I think that creation and reception are intimately tied together and when both are in place, the development of the poetics accelerates and becomes more visual and vibrant. I’ll return to that.

It is in this mix where Waldo Frank is important - and is intimately tied to the poetry of Hart Crane, and The Bridge in particular. I was actually pretty angry when I reached “Cutty Sark” and “Cape Hatteras” in The Bridge. I shouldn’t have been angry - I should have just been erotically charged because that is what those two sections are. They are as I wrote last week incredibly sexy and infused with gay male sexuality. Why was I angry? Well, I’ve spent twenty years hearing about Hart Crane as the master of industrial realism. I’ve read “To Brooklyn Bridge“ and been told that it is emblematic of how Crane writes about the processes of industrialization and modernity in the United States in the 1920s. On its face, that is a true statement, but The Bridge is so much more than that. It is the inner workings of a gay man, looking for a guide in Walt Whitman for his life. No one told me that or bothered to say, ”Hey, keep reading until you get to the middle. Wow!” Arguably, I should have kept reading for myself, but realistically, I knew some lesbian poets and so I threw Crane down to get over to them. I missed something in that process.

Now I’m interested in what was Waldo Frank’s role in making me miss that. Did Waldo Frank have an investment in keeping Crane closeted? In what ways did the mysticism of Gurdjieff in which Waldo Frank was invested (which I learned from Different Daughters just this weekend was immensely popular in the 1950s and in Los Angeles, filled with “sexual variants” and homophiles) used as a cover for Crane’s homosexuality? Yingling writes about the significance of Crane’s lover in enabling him to write The Bridge. What was Waldo Frank’s role in it? Frank seems to be for a few decades one of the preeminent people writing about Crane’s work, was he closeting Crane to put him in the canon? Was he making selections of what should be included of Crane’s work? Of course, maybe it is not Waldo Frank who obscured Hart Crane as a gay poet to me. Perhaps it was only my ignorance. I will certainly own that, but it is in these questions of reception that Waldo Frank seems to figure prominently and that I think relates to the poetry of Hart Crane and to this question of a gay poetics.

What is a gay/lesbian poetics? I think about the lesbian poetics that I know from the lesbian-feminist poetry of Adrienne Rich forward. Poems that I can identify to define this poetics take on four general themes as their content. They address coming out, intimate relationships between women, discrimination, oppression, and exclusion from a heterosexist society, and finally, they celebrate the community and culture of women, or wimmin, if you please.

It is not just content though that defines a lesbian poetics - or by extension a gay poetics. It is not just sexuality and the body (though of course I delight in those elements) that creates a gay and lesbian poetics. It is not just the experience of being raised as an outsider, of people assuming things about your ideas and affections that are not true. It is not just the sexual behavior of sex between men and sex between women that creates the poetics. The gay and lesbian poetics comes from the combination of all of this: the experiences in the world - good and bad, the embrace of self, the quest for community, they come together to create a lesbian poetics that is characterized by the following elements:

1. Looking at the world from the experience of being an outsider - even though one’s insider status is often assumed.
2. Centering the experiences of women - even to the exclusion of men - and working to understand what happens when that is enacted.
3. Attention to that which is spoken and that which is silent.
4. Confronting the existing world to create the potential for a rupture or rebirth
5. Creating a world and a way of seeing the existing world anew - without sexism and without homophobia.

These elements are enacted in poetry by lesbians through their choice of content, through the frame of individual poems, through character and dramatic tension, through language and diction choice, and through imagery. These things create a lesbian poetics for lesbians writing and that poetics is reinforced and expanded further through the reception of the poems by an eager and interested audience.

The years from 1969 through 1989 are two fecund decades for lesbian poetics and the articulation and enactment of a lesbian poetics. I’ll examine examples of that in the future. For now, let me say, all of this is why Waldo Frank is important. Frank has in many ways slipped into some obscurity as a novelist himself. His work may be most visible in connection with his commentary on Crane’s The Bridge. That commentary affects how we understand Crane; fortunately, Martin and Yingling have rescued the gay poetics of Crane. How do we ensure that contemporary gay and lesbian poets are not lost in the future - either to the obscuring of their sexual orientation or to extension of a queer reading that obfuscates bodies and sexuality?

*I am making a strategic shift from queer to gay and lesbian here. In part because I want to define a poetics that is based on identity and behavior of gay and lesbian people over the past one hundred and twenty-five years. Queer is a newer word and is used to include bisexual people and transgender people as well as people who have embraced a queer theoretical stance. While I have no interest in excluding people, I am going to use the narrower language to ground myself in the material conditions of the poets that I’m writing about - poets who primarily understood themselves as homosexuals as an affectional, erotic, and sexual preference for people of the same sex.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

New CIVILesbianIZATION: Marriage in Maryland - Delayed or Denied

CIVILesbianIZATION :: Equal Rights for Gay and Lesbian Couples in Maryland - Delayed or Denied?
by Julie R. Enszer
EDGE Providence Contributor
Thursday Nov 1, 2007

On Tuesday, September 18, I woke up early, showered, and packed my bag for a day of travel. My partner dropped me off at the New Carrollton train station, and I headed to New York for meetings for work. She drove back to Riverdale for her dentist appointment, and was then off to work in Baltimore. It was a typical day.

I responded to all of my email on the train, took the subway to the office in New York, sat in meetings, ate the bagged lunch I had carried with me. Mid-morning an email arrived from Equality Maryland announcing the news that the Maryland Court of Appeals issued their decision in the Conaway v. Deane case- and it wasn’t in our favor.

Read the rest of the column here.

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.