Yesterday Lisa Russ Spaar made an appearance on Living Writers Radio to discuss “The Hide-and Seek Muse,” London, Dickinson, ineffability and experience. All the good stuff, obviously.
Check out her reading tonight!
This Throwback Thursday, get ready for a pick that will warm you from the inside out. Susan Lilley’s “Aging Bride Considers Her Checkered Past” is a beautiful poem that is all at once humorous, poignant, and hopeful; a great example of how something as simple as a list can be the basis for a moving piece of poetry. Lilley’s poem originally appeared in DB 13, Winter 2010-2011.
“The one who stole my underwear
for his collection. The one who taught
me to make cornbread. The one who left me
for the hula dancer…”
Susan Lilley’s work has been published in numerous literary journals and her collection of poems, “Satellite Beach,” is available for purchase through Finishing Line Press. She is the recipient of the 2009 Rita Dove Poetry Award and the Florida Individual Artist fellowship. She currently teaches literature and writing at Trinity Preparatory School, and is an adjunct professor at Rollins College. To view Lilley reading some of her work, including “Aging Bride Considers Her Checkered Past” (6:28), check out the video above or click here.
So you want to be part of a poetry community; you know poets exist, you’ve even seen them around town, maybe you moved to be near them, and you desperately want to be a part, to be “in”. Or maybe you wanted to be part of a poetry community at one time and now you’re wondering whether this scene doesn’t have it’s limitations for you, for your work, even looking for a way out, pacing the edges, knowing there must be an outside to this circle, because you once were on the outer edge, but now you can’t find your way out of your insider status. Maybe you’re in, or on your way in, and you’re glad. The poets finally recognize you, know your name, ask you what you’re working on or that daunting question, “What are you reading?”, but you haven’t figured out yet how to play the game, how to get the readings, get the chapbooks, get the books. There seems to be a system in place , but it’s not a transparent one. You wonder if you might be cast out if you mentioned the word, “competition”. But no matter your position in regards to the circle (if a circle is really the right metaphor), you’re probably wondering, what can this community do for me, really? Can care extend beyond the publishing of work and invitations to read or perform? If it can or does, is that desirable? Would it be better if poets treated each other more as colleagues or business associates? There seems to be a lot of work these poets do besides the writing and reading of poems. So what? Why? What is this sense of responsibility that seems to hover around the heads and shoulders of poets? Do poets care about me? Do I care about them? Once you have begun to take care of yourself to recognize what self-care means for you, how then might that care extend outwards to others? How far can or does that care extend? What does care look like at a community level? Let’s talk about it.
To help think through with this question, I asked my friend, Poet, Spoken Word Artist, and Teaching Artist, D’dra White
to talk with me about community and how artistic communities care for their members. D’dra and I first met as Teaching Artists, working for a non-profit arts organization in San Francisco called Performing Arts Workshop. A grant from the Department of Education funded us to teach Spoken Word Poetry in middle school language arts classrooms in San Francisco. I had been teaching poetry for a few years but knew hardly anything about Spoken Word and came with all kinds of misconceptions about it as an art form. D’dra had been teaching and performing Spoken Word for many years at and her enthusiasm for her art form and willingness to share her knowledge transformed my understanding of Spoken Word, my teaching and my own writing as a result. Though we rarely attend the same poetry events, know only a few of the same poets, and while our work may look very different on the surface, I consider her a close poetic ally in the fight for writing and writers who exhibit true integrity. I have questions about why our particular continents in Poetry Land overlap so rarely, questions that have to do with how the invocation of aesthetics can often be a cover that Power uses to prop up and justify the values of White Supremacist, Imperialist, Capitalist Patriarchy (as Lynice Pinkard likes to say…more on her later).
Here’s D’dra White & I discussing some of the dynamics functioning in her Spoken Word & Slam scenes:
Lindsey Boldt: There has been a lot of talk about sexual violence within literary scenes lately, with a lot of writers coming forward to tell stories of abuse by members of their own artistic communities, often naming abusers publicly. How have you seen Spoken Word artists address issues of abuse or other forms of oppression either within your own local Spoken Word community or nationally?
D’dra White: There was this closed Facebook group and people were talking about these traumatic experiences that they had with poets, nationally known poets, ranked poets. I’m a survivor of childhood molestation and even with that, my attitude and mentality is a lot different than some. I think statistics say that one in four women will be sexually assaulted. That’s a troubling statistic, but in addition to it being a troubling statistic for women, it’s a troubling statistic for men as well. You know what I mean? And in addition to it being a troubling statistic for men, it’s a very telling statistic. At some point in your life you are going to love a sexual assaulter.
LB: As a woman, you will probably love a person who either assaults you or has assaulted someone else?
DW: Right, because there’s not that much wiggle room, for lack of a better word. So, because of that, I’ve always been mindful about how these conversations start. There was this dude who’s name was mentioned several times on the list and so he had been blacklisted by the poetry scene in New York. New York wasn’t really F-ing with him. He went and started his own team and got his team to Nationals. His team ended up making final stage. I don’t know if they were one of the teams that made it to final stage or were one of the teams that got selected by their peers but in either case, he made it on to final stage and he got booed and hissed at and a whole bunch of other things…and on one hand you’re like, “Yes, don’t stand for it,” but on the other hand he wasn’t on stage by himself.
LB: He was up there with his team.
DW: So, his whole team was booed and hissed and that right there was a huge debate in our community for a while because some people were like, “You knew what you were getting into when you walked on stage with him.”
LB: You’re implicated.
DW: Guilt by association type stuff. Some people even called them “casualties of war” or like, “collateral damage” and one of my poetry friends, was like, “I’m from South Central, I know what collateral damage looks like. That wasn’t collateral damage, that was some bully shit. Like, y’all got issues with him but…and his team had rookies on it. Your first experience and you make final stage and you’re hissed and booed. And then there’s the whole, no one filed official report, so it’s like you’re being “judged by a jury of your peers blah blah blah.” I feel like our community is flawed too, the national one, like we don’t know what we’re doing either in terms of dealing with people. And in terms of self-care. We definitely, as a community, rallied around the women in his situation. Some of the other situations, like within the group (Facebook group) people’s characters were being questioned, people were like, “I know for a fact that you’re this type a person and I don’t really believe you when you say something.” type of thing.
LB: Like putting the victim on trial.
DW: Yeah, victim shaming. Just because you’ve had this experience with him doesn’t mean I’ve had the same experience. People can change or whatever, whatever. It was a women’s group so men were trying to figure out how to see the list and who was on the list and why is this list private and what were the standards for making the list, like, did you have to actually assault somebody or did you make someone feel uncomfortable? Because those are completely, totally different things. Our community tends to take care of its own by adopting a mob mentality, I guess? Mobs have the tendency sometimes to bully, so that’s kind of how that came across, but by the same token on a happier note, there’s a poet in Texas by the name of Giselle Robinson and Giselle Robinson has stage 4 cancer and the hosting committee for the National Poetry Slam was really adamant that she got to come to Nationals, because if doctors are correct, this is supposed to be her last Nationals. Watching people give money and resources to make that happen was cool to be a part of because I was part of the hosting committee.
LB: That was The Nationals in Oakland this summer?
DW: Yeah. And then, for finals there are certain performances that are given, there’s an Underground Indies Finals, a group piece finals, and crowd favorites. So, final stage is the final night of competition and Giselle wasn’t part of anybody’s competition, we just had her there but she was still a crowd favorite so she performed on final stage and the last line of her poem was, “I’ll see you next year.” and we were like, “Yes you will!” Which like, destroyed everyone in the audience. So, being able to take care of our community in that way…
LB: So, the National scene is really tight, it sounds like.
DW: It tries to be.
LB: Right, but there are systems in place that facilitate that, which relates to another question I wanted to ask about how competition creates community, because I think there are some misconceptions or attitudes about what the aspect of competition in Spoken Word does, but I’ve seen it used as a community building tool. Can you say something about that in terms of what you’ve seen in your own community?
DW: A lot of the people on the 2009 San Francisco Slam Team [that D’dra was a part of] jokingly say, “I’m not slammin’ unless I can pick my team.” Which is next to impossible in slam, just the nature of it, so, I think as with anything, there’s beautiful, beautiful aspects of competition, like I met Chas Jackson through competition, and anybody who knows me knows that he’s one of my favorite people and a huge part of my life and we met through competition, you know?
LB: When you compete, you’re meeting all kinds of people.
DW: Yeah and if you open yourself up to it, you can walk away with life-long friends. Even with that, it looks different for different people. I know that if I need Chas, I have Chas, just like Chas knows that if he needs me, he has me. I feel like care in our community can look a lot like cliques, almost, but the positive parts of cliques.
In addition to your team, your region will try to have your back. Chas and I were in Atlanta and we were listening to a poem being done by a North Carolina team that sounded eerily like a group piece by a Bay Area team and Chas was pissed, like, “They stole our poem!” We filmed it and sent it back to California. We had a conversation with the poets from North Carolina about it.
LB: So having people’s backs can look like care, but also confrontation if necessary?
DW: Right. Speaking up on behalf of people who didn’t even know they needed to be spoken up for.
LB: This all sounds very familiar. A lot of the dynamics you’re describing are the same in my scene, but in my scene, the competition isn’t transparent and that’s kind of what I’m interested in. How when competition is presented transparently, you know who’s competing against who. In my scene there’s competition, but you don’t talk about it. It’s not visible. Do you feel like there is visible competition and invisible competition or does that mostly get worked out through slams.
DW: For me, I would say that it mostly gets worked out through the slam, but I know for some people that’s not the case. For some people, slamming is just another platform and an opportunity to share work. For some people, slam is a game, it’s a performance art sport. For some people it is only a competition. So they make decisions based on what would do well in this competition. Because of that, I have friends that laugh and joke, “This is gonna be great, we’re gonna go out there and share work and some people are gonna give us scores, but you know what, it’s cool.” and then I have other friends are like, “I need to get in my zone. I can’t interact with you. It’s 2:12. At 2:13 you become the enemy cuz the show starts at 2:14.” It depends on what type of person you are, as to what it becomes. The fact that you go into slam knowing it’s a competition helps with that, but it’s all competition. Every time you perform it’s a competition. Even on an open mic or for a feature, you’re still competing with whatever else they’re gonna hear that night. Especially if you have merchandise. (laughter). If they’ve got $5 and your book is $5 and their book is $5, somebody’s book isn’t being bought. So, it’s a lot!
LB: Yes! I feel that because I’m always competing for the hearts and minds of my audience!
LB: I want to be the one they think about when they go home.
DW: Right. I need you to want to take me home with you. I need your money. (laughter) I need to be memorable in case you need a poet for something later on.
LB: I think of performers as a community but the audience is definitely part of that community. You’re not just performing for poets. In Spoken Word, it feels like there’s a real effort to include the audience, even in direct ways like having audience members be judges or just the call and response interactive way that shows go. How does the tight knit scene of artists then interact with the larger community?
DW: An audience is important to any show, but with our shows the audience becomes extremely important, not just for judging but in terms of the energy, because performance poetry tends to be high energy and if you’re performing for a library of books it has the potential to take you out of your performance. In terms of slam, shows aren’t one-offs, they’re weekly or bi-weekly or monthly, so it’s important that you honor your audience in the choice that they make to come out to support you because you’re going to need them to do it again really, really soon.
LB: You’re building a following.
DW: Right. So, I know a host who talks to the audience on stage, or makes it a point to thank people for coming or talk to people individually, learn their names. The show that I used to host for our anniversary show, we used to give thank you gifts who went above and beyond. We had 12 shows and they’ve been at 9. We appreciate you, we notice you. Give them a hard time about missing show number 10! We do that. Our audience is like the 6th man in basketball or the 12th man for Seattle, in football. They’re important.
LB: Tell me if I’m off base, but it seems to come out of a long tradition of how you interact with the audience in Spoken Word.
DW: With Slam, it’s a long tradition. Slam was started to involve the audience and I guess that trickles over to Spoken Word that’s not slam, because again, no one wants to perform to blank faces.
LB: I need to make that distinction between Slam and Spoken Word. I keep conflating the two.
I feel like one of the ways that we define communities is through the positive, and what we have in common, but we can also define communities by what we’re not. Do you feel like there are spoken or unspoken rules or things your community will not tolerate? How does what you’re not, define what you are?
DW: Our scene…is made of people who always want to give people the benefit of the doubt. I think we’re empathetic to a fault. Yeah, this person’s been accused that they may not have done so let’s make sure they’ve done it before we pass judgement, which is an extremely wonderful way to live except for the fact that a lot of times in our effort to prove or disprove something we end up hurting the other person that it happened to. In order to prove person A was lying, you have to prove that person B was telling the truth. That has the potential to be a time consuming process in which nothing really gets done and by that I mean that person A and person B are still part of the same community; they’re both included. You don’t want to alienate person B because person A may have hurt them, but you don’t want to alienate person A because person B could have a completely different motive than wanting the truth to be told or could be not telling the truth. So, you’re so inclusive, that there’s no exclusivity like…”Everyone can be a part of it!”
When we were planning NATS, sometimes our chair would just be like, “This is the decision.” Because everyone can make a strong case for why this should be X, Y and Z. While we’re having these conversations and going round and round in circles, nothing is being decided. Our community tends towards a lot of talk, not necessarily a lot of action because you can’t undo the action and sometimes an apology is not enough…It’s too much!
LB: How else have you seen your community care for its members?
DW: As with any community, I think our community cares for people the best way it knows how. Even though it turned into a huge mess, the idea of the list came from a place of caring for people in our community.
I think there was another Giselle who had cancer, who passed away. She used to come to NATS with bunny ears. The next NATS, after she passed away, there were hella people with bunny ears and some people edited photos and put bunny ears on them, so you could change your profile pic to one with bunny ears in solidarity.
LB: My next question was going to be, “How have you seen your community heal itself after a traumatic events like a death or violence or sexual assault or incidents of racism.” That seems like a good example. After the big mess of the list, were there any attempts to try to heal some of that.
DW: There were definitely people who were having conversations and they were open to dialog and they were making it known that they were open to dialog. Trying to use affirmative language and really taking ownership of what they were saying.
LB: That’s the hard thing sometimes. How willing are you to be in dialog with people.
DW: Right, and to commit yourself to having the conversation no matter how ugly it’s going to get. Like, I’m going to tell the truth in love and establish what love looks like in terms of this conversation and what does a resolution look like and really being open to have conversations about doing things. Because there are people who are like, “I’m open to dialog!” and that’s it. Doesn’t mean I want to do shit about it, doesn’t mean I want to hear how we can change things, but we can talk about it.
LB: Is there anything going on in your community that you’re excited about right now or anything that you’re working on?
[D’dra makes an amazing face that I wish I could record — laughter]
LB: What are you working on?
DW: Every time I touch the stage in November it’ll be a new poem. I haven’t decided how many times I’m going to touch the stage in November. (laughter)
LB: Thank you, D’d!
One thing this interview illustrates for me is that in so many ways the edges of my community and D’dra’s community are both there and not there, incredibly porous and hard edged. We’ve been struggling with eerily similar issues regarding sexual assault, and the strategies around confrontation, conflict and dialog in our communities responses to it feel like echoes of one another. We’ve been doing this work alongside each other without knowing it. So, then what does keep us from seeing and recognizing each other? Is there something useful about defining one community as separate from another? How does this benefit us? I wonder if we might use the other to justify our own existence. By calling one community of poets “experimental” what does that say about another?
I’ve been attending a class at The Bay Area Public School called “Training Spiritual Warriros” led by Lynice Pinkard who is a radical Christian pastor, teacher and healer living in Oakland. We’ve been talking about the concept of “deep relationally”, the idea that promoting deep relationships with others is counter-cultural. If we (people who write poems and people who don’t write poems) value our communities, and want to treat them as subversive subcultures where real resistance to the dominant culture can happen, we need to start talking to each other about our own complicity in structures of Capitalism, White Supremacy, Imperialism and Patriarchy (more than we’re already doing). The edge of our ring around the rosy circle of protection does not in fact shelter us from responsibility. Being a poet does not excuse us from complicity with police brutality or bombings in Gaza. That is some of the responsibility you might see poets and people in activist scenes that inter-penetrate the poetic community attempting to shoulder.
Now that I have found a bit more of my own equilibrium, having stepped away a while to care for my own dear container, I want to know how I can come back to my community and to carry what integrity and authenticity I have found for myself into the work I do with others. to do what D’dra describes as , “Telling the truth in love.” and finding ways to support others to do the same.
Lindsey Boldt is a poet, performer, editor and educator living in Oakland. She is the author of the full-length book, “Overboard”, and the chapbooks, “Oh My, Hell Yes” and “Titties for Lindsey”. With her partner Steve Orth, she co-edits Summer BF Press and writes, directs and performs plays in the style of “Oakland Poetic Realism”. Recent productions include “Dating by Consensus” and “The Reading”. She is also an editor with The Post-Apollo Press.
If you’re looking for a damn good reason to visit Spain…
Barcelona, Spain has rich artistic and cultural tradition: from Antonio Gaudi’s unique architecture to the artwork of Joan Miro and Antoni Tàpies to Pablo Picasso, as well as having a thriving contemporary art scene. Each day will include a morning workshop at Jiwar with the entire group, followed by a 2-hour lunch break, and a late afternoon outing to a site or museum of artistic or cultural interest, time to explore a very walkable city, as well as time to write. The goal is to write new poetry in response to and in dialogue with the Catalan culture you will be encountering.
Workshop is limited to 8-10 people.
The schedule of outings will be shaped by the interests of the group and, along with such must-sees as Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia and the Picasso Museum, might include a tour of the recently excavated 14th century synagogue and of the Jewish quarter; a private tour of a bomb shelter from the Spanish Civil War; and a possible excursion to the nearby Salvador Dali museum. Possible evening activities: concerts, theatrical performances, and talks with local writers. Students will have the option of going on an outing or spending the day writing.
NEXT RESIDENCY: JAN. 3-13, 2015
SPRING RESIDENCY: (late May, early June tba)
Hey DB Readers,
We’re helping to spread the word for the folks over at anOther orifice. If it’s a good fit for you, please submit to help support this worthy journal.
Here’s their statement:
“there is copious work in photography, video, painting, performance, and on stage that queers the avant garde. and there have been many great authors whose work queers the hell out even the expectations of experimentalism — whether they (the authors) are “heterosexual” not really being the issue — Pound as much as Burroughs, Duchamp as much as Genet, Andrews as much as Acker, as much as Stein, as much as Cage, as much as Cahun, as much as Spicer, as much as Artaud…
but most often when a poet is marked as not straight, as not cis, as non-normative in whatever way… the work strikes an altogether normative pose. what’s that about? where is the truly queer writing and not just the 1st person predictable with low cal low carb “deviant” content?
an0ther orifice is for that shit, the unpalatable avant garde, for negativity and nihilism, for what gets you off and turns you on. poetry which queers the “form” as much as the “content” (these terms are expired).
avant garde… the words are dead — long live the words!”