Celebrating the return of Vintage Drunken Boat posts to the internet today is none other than “Hell is for Children,” a piece of short fiction by Elizabeth Colen. This insightful glimpse into the life of a nameless narrator’s experience of his or her daughter, published first in DB 12, Summer 2010, is filled with captivating depictions of life, as well as death. “We got out of the car, book pages whispering. The heat had a personality of its own, like someone who stands too close when they talk. Someone who can’t get enough of themselves.” Elizabeth J. Colen is the author of two poetry collections, Money for Sunsets (2010) and Waiting Up for the End of the World: Conspiracies (2012), as well as flash fiction collection Dear Mother Monster, Dear Daughter Mistake (2011). She currently resides in Seattle and can be found writing about writing on her blog at http://elizabethjcolen.blogspot.com/ Click to read “Hell is for Children”
First thing you learn is you always gotta wait.
- The Velvet Underground, “I’m Waiting for the Man”
Like it says in the Bible: To be absent from the body is to be present with God, to be absent from society is to be on a higher plain.
- Robert, hobo interviewed in Bill Daniel’s Who is Bozo Texino? film, riffing on 2 Corinthians 5:8
Before I begin on the second leg of our journey into the ways a poetics can be formed and transformed by riding freight trains and hitch-hiking, it is worth mentioning again that hopping trains and hitching carry significant risk to life and limb, and should only be undertaken by experienced individuals or with an experienced individual as a sort of ‘mentor.’ More about the roughness of such modes of transport to come. For now, live free and ride hard!
If you recall the first of these posts, you’ll remember that it dealt with transitory states, with movement, and how such states inform a poetics by leading the transient being out of him or herself, towards ineffability that becomes the material of poetry. What that first post left out is that traveling by freight also requires periods of stasis and rest, as one is always at the mercy of logistics— trains arrive or do not arrive based on innumerable factors both mundane and extraordinary, and even when they do arrive, there are not always rideable cars in which to stow away. Some amount of predictability is a given— certain trains with certain destinations leave from certain yards like clockwork— but oftentimes, there is some temporal mutability embedded in the massive infrastructure of arrivals and departures. Where that leaves the transient being is in a zone where movement is desired but cannot be undertaken, a space outside of typical temporal realities yet ultimately dependent on them. This Beckettian soil, with its awesome variety of constitutive elements, can fall under a number of different terms depending on its proximity to where trains stop, how the space is maintained, and whether it is an appropriate spot to bed down for a wink.
But what happens to the transient being when within these spaces, these idylls or nightmares or commingled oddnesses? How does this strange static territory inform a poetics?
Among the most fascinating aspects of the liminal spaces associated with the transitory state is that they can often be approached only through a weirdly rarefied reading of signs and symbols. For example, much has been made of the old hobo sign language, an abbreviated version of which is reproduced below:
Sadly, the use of such codes is rare in today’s world, but the transient being’s precise reading of space can still be rewarded— the rail spike by the side of a road will point to a path that leads to a secluded spot under a bridge, a bent-up fence signifies what can often be a good entry point to a train yard, and a smattering of loose cardboard, soup and beer cans, and charred wood can show one a back trail to a friendly store where one can pick up water and other necessary supplies. What happens as one travels is that a new way of connecting signifiers to signifieds emerges, and thus, liminal territories that are usually overlooked are opened up, and a shrouded language is brought out of the shadows to be stored within the transient being’s argot cache.
Once arrived in these transitional spaces, however, the traveler is caught within their circumstances. Thus, for every leafed woody perch beside a gurgling brook, there is the underside of a highway overpass where dirty rigs and broken glass clutter choking dust, and for every tranquil oak-studded rural country trail, there is a mess of barbed wire with sirens and gunshots clattering on nearby streets. Yet despite these obvious contrasts, many such spaces share at least one similarity, and that is their remoteness— whether tucked into valleys ringed by mountains or crammed into the density of industrial plants and urban power centers, they are not locales that most people notice, let alone attempt to venture into. As such, the spaces yield the transient being a sort of shaky freedom, where the yoke of the job squad and the droning of the capitalist teletechnological matrix are not altogether present, though such unfortunate beasts might be mere footsteps away.
These liminal spaces, then, provide for an absence from society that is clarifying, for not only do they allow the transient being an unusual view of landscape sans much of the bemoaned visual clutter of our times, but they also allow for a receptiveness to possibilities concrete and cosmic. It seemed a joke, almost, that I first came upon Gary Snyder’s “What You Should Know to Be A Poet” in an Olympia bookstore mere hours after I had hopped off a moving train in Tacoma. I sat, rapt, and let Snyder break down what we should know to be poets:
all you can know about animals as persons.
the names of trees and flowers and weeds.
the names of stars and the movements of planets
and the moon.
your own six senses, with a watchful elegant mind.
at least one kind of traditional magic:
divination, astrology, the book of changes, the tarot;
the illusory demons and the illusory shining gods;
kiss the ass of the devil and eat shit;
fuck his horny barbed cock,
fuck the hag,
and all the celestial angels
and maidens perfum’d and golden—
& then love the human: wives husbands and friends.
children’s games, comic books, bubble-gum,
the weirdness of television and advertising.
work, long dry hours of dull work swallowed and accepted
and livd with and finally lovd. exhaustion,
the wild freedom of the dance, extasy
silent solitary illumination, enstasy
real danger. gambles. and the edge of death.
Having just eaten shit after half-falling off a slow-moving train, the last line of Snyder’s poem struck me hardest as I read; after all, many too many freight-riders are missing digits or limbs from unfortunate (or idiotic) encounters with train cars, wheels, and tracks. But as I read the poem again (and again), I began to realize that Snyder’s words portray the state of being transient in liminal spaces almost perfectly. Time spent in wooded or rural liminalities teaches “the names of trees and flowers and weeds/ the names of stars and the movements of planets,” and this knowledge is both practical and slightly esoteric. Such knowledge is in contrast with “the weirdness of television and advertising,” cognizance of which is necessary, but only insofar as one knows how to avoid its Mammon-like tentacles, a goal that is integral to the transient being’s impulse in the first place.
Then there is the “extasy” and “enstasy.” The former is inextricably tangled with the reception of the ineffable, the “real danger” that the transitory state breathes. But the latter, the enstatic, is what interests me most about the transient being’s experience in liminal spaces. The aforementioned remoteness of such spaces can allow for withdrawal from the world, its jarring violence and teletechnology, and in the lack that sometimes results from such withdrawal, poetry can fruit. I often think of such emptying of the self as a washing-over, a tide of overwhelm that leaves little in its wake besides air entering and exiting the lungs, along with a sort of bare consciousness. It is akin to what St. John of the Cross writes of when he ends his Dark Night of the Soul with “I went out from myself, and all things ceased.” While I claim no closeness to any deities, I find myself drawn to the liminal spaces, the enstatic spaces, not only because I feel the emptying affirms being at its most naked, but also because it eventually offers space for new ideas of creation to run without inhibitions of territory
“Coping Prana,” the final poem of Will Alexander‘s Compression & Purity, can be read as working in tandem with the idea of a life force existing in the margins, in the liminal spaces, in enstasis, and how this is a form of power. The poem details a putting-upon, an oppression that comes from the jive world of “dominance and capital,” to quote another Alexander poem. He writes that such forces are “always seeking to have me neutered beneath my derma/ so as to talk to myself/ so as to cancel my structureless scrutiny.” Their existence depends upon destruction of life, of neutering one’s being so as to subsume one into a structure. He continues:
they speak of me as lawless
as a typhoon in a sea well
as to morals
as to fixed & accelerated combination
they fix me
as a fragment from a starving lion’s compendium
I am considered
as pointless positron without image
being leakage from a barbarous index province
To be “deserted/ bereft,” to be “pointless positron without image,” this is to inhabit an emptiness, a remoteness that has an analog in the transient being’s dwelling in the liminal. The “barbarous index province,” this is the monolith that has no room for energy and life power other than its own. Those who refuse to kowtow are squeezed out. You’ll find us in the cuts, lawless and filthy and wild-eyed and in trance, letting our poems write themselves as they should.
- TED REES
Ted Rees is a poet and essayist who spends most of his time in West Oakland, California, but travels around the western US on a regular basis. His current work focuses on environmental degradation and the struggles of wage labor. Previous writings can be found in the Double Burst featurette with Jared Stanley (Supersuperette 2014), Michael Cross’ Disinhibitor blog, Small Press Traffic’s website, Eleven Eleven, Ragtag, and a number of other publications both online and off. His two chapbooks include Outlaws Drift in Every Vehicle of Thought (Trafficker Press 2013) and Like Air (BentBoyBooks 2012). Forthcoming are chapbooks from Mondo Bummer and BentBoyBooks.
After a brief absence due to technical difficulties… Vintage Drunken Boat is back!
A collection of images out of DB 13 is the vintage pick on this sunny Throwback Thursday afternoon. Tanyth Berkely’s “The Field” is a series of seemingly-candid portraits of city dwellers in Atlanta and NYC combined with intriguing shots of the cities themselves.
Tanyth Berkely’s work has been collected by the Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art and was featured in the 2010 exhibition, “Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography.” She has taught at NYU, Columbia University and SVA. In 2009, her work was showcased in a film about young American photographers entitled PEOPLE * LOVE * PHOTOS.
Samantha Giles’s brilliant, scary Deadfalls and Snares (Futurepoem) maps military detention from various inside-outs, constructing registers of alien phenomenology through exacting, deformative forms. The grammar of self-violence and self-mutilation she invents in the first section to re-present torture at Abu Ghraib (and its internal drive to spectacle) is riveting, as are the creepy truncations of appropriated discourse on hunting and skinning animals in the second section, shot through with sinisterly contentless redacted phone conversations. The book’s final section syncopates grids of curiously blanked photograph descriptions with critique of the Western subject-perpetrator’s crushingly de-ethicized gaze. Each of these parts is prefaced by recombinant, revelatory writing-through of Moby-Dick’s “The Whiteness of the Whale” chapter: these pieces discordantly jam together phrases containing “white” for an oversaturated white-out, activating the contradictions immanent to Melville’s commentary on the many angled symbolic violence of whiteness, particularly its capacity to void. This book is right on time as Iraq re-enters cataclysm (if ever it left).
What a pleasure is Rodney Koeneke’s Etruria (Wave)… In an era of content frenzy, this book’s restrained, personal range of reference is refreshing and real. Koeneke’s expert command of certain prose and poetic styles – and his unabashed literary flourish in a number of different registers – is set off by his own hallmark tendency to elongate sentences, phrase for luscious phrase, into labyrinths whose every corridor brims with wit and forbearing. The resulting parallel Etruscan universe is learned, wise, and obliquely melancholy while also light and funny, its idiom from the precisely historical to the precisely contemporary by turns natural, savvy, and camp. Here is a preternatural social sensibility that remains poignant even as it confronts what today passes for the sentimental; here is an elegant figural technique that never disappoints. In the opening bravura poem, Koeneke notes sidelong, “I am no O’Hara” – but to tell the truth, I’m not so sure.
Holly Melgard’s Friends & Family (bon aire projects) archives Joey Yearous-Algozin’s verbatim transcription of three years of voicemail addressed to his partner Holly Melgard. Catching hold of the ultimate ephemera, this compulsively readable act of medium translation is also a virtuosic performance of genre-bending that runs the gamut of conceptualism, confessional lyric, documentary, life-writing, novella… HMFF not only flaunts its intimacy, but tenderly weaponizes it, the reader entrapped as solicited eavesdropper in an all-too-familiar contemporary circuit of oversharing as the text movingly exhibits white, working class precarity, bringing Melgard’s own complex class affinities and more especially her affective labor as daughter into relief. The book knows itself inserted into that economy of affect: the flipside of its macho propriety over Melgard’s messages, its gendered debasement of the love object in abject disclosure, is Yearous-Algozin’s over-identification with his lover. One can’t help but imagine that such a listening to and (word-) processing of her messages enacts a therapeutic commoning and lessening of their burdens.
Inter Arma (Fence), Lauren Shufran’s neo-Ovidian masterpiece (this term used advisedly), ingeniously retrofits Amores’s tropology and metrics for the twenty-first century, reinventing the stress position to bear on neoliberalism’s brutal muting of the law. Through the metaphoric vortices that swirl around the duck-cum-detainee-cum-soldier she conscripts as lyric subject, Shufran piteously and wickedly compresses the cruel cages of factory farming, indefinite detention, and military masculinity – her audacity and wit convincingly moving her speaker beyond bathos. Here burns an homological alchemy of desire, hate, fear, and murderous aggression that reveals the complex intersections of homophobic, genocidal, and carnivorous urges: Shufran’s an anti-Aesop of geese on hunger strike, of a Private macho to get fucked in barracks in his Gaga-drag, of sheep fallen so far past pastoral they’re water-boarded in a wishing well, knitting Afghans of their own wool. A superplus tour de force that rigorously reconceives all border zones, the human/animal to the proper/figural to the Western/Arab.
Lastly, I make note of Hervé Guibert’s The Mausoleum of Lovers: Journals 1976 – 1991, trans. Nathanaël (Nightboat). I have just begun this long book (its length hardly the reason one would note the unobtrusive heroism of Nathanaël’s gorgeous, vigilant translation) and am completely hooked, turning the pages slowly as though that could make it last longer. What stands out already is Guibert’s extreme fluidity as a writer – capture of nuances of thought and feeling – his sense of relation, his compassionate interest in himself and his self-knowledge (especially his sense of his younger selves), his care for the flesh of the world, his constant awareness of the mortality of all bodies…
So, you want to travel between worlds. You want to go, but you’re not sure how and maybe psychedelics aren’t for you, and maybe you’re concerned that if you go, you won’t be able to come back. Not to worry, let’s talk about it.
You think maybe you’ve already been, maybe just for a moment in the space of a day dream or one of your nightly ventures, maybe a nap jolted you out of your body and suddenly back in again and you wouldn’t have known you were out but for the strange rushing sensation, the sound of a jet engine revving in your ears the shuddering and shaking of your body on the couch.
You’re a poet and you find yourself in various states of reverie. How stereotypical of you. Perhaps you find yourself feeling floaty and wonky a little more than you’d like and want to know how to return to solid form. You’d like to know how to go, wherever it is you go, and come back safely to your own sweet little physical body. Don’t worry; you don’t have to explain yourself. Not to me. Not to anyone.
You listen to “Dopesmoker” by Sleep or “Metamorphosis” by Philip Glass or whatever it is you listen to and you have an experience. You nod out or nod along until you are soothed and with eyes closed you watch the light, or whatever it is, play across your eyelids and the dark gets darker and while you can tell you’re still breathing, maybe you forget about it, or maybe it’s your breath that takes you to this dark, quiet place, somewhere inside your chest or back behind your eyes. This place is both comforting in its closeness and bewildering in its expansiveness, like the interior of a vast cathedral with all the lights turned out. A thrum reverberates through it and through you. Maybe you hear it as soft static or a single tone. Maybe you see the darkness shift around you as if in waves. Maybe those waves have hints of color. Maybe bursts of blue light appear and fade, letting you know the spirits, or whatever they are, have arrived.
What happens here? What is this place for? If you can go here, there must be a use for it, but use can be a bit of a burden. Still, you wonder what you might DO here.
What have you already tried? What potential do you feel pulsing at your temples, in the palms of your hands? What questions do you have?
Maybe you feel drawn to borders, margins and crossroads. As a poet, you’ve found ways to use words to travel backwards and forwards in time, to disrupt the seemingly solid meanings of words and show their mutable natures, so maybe words can help you here too. Maybe you want to call someone for help. Hecate, Goddess of the crossroads, Persephone’s guide through the underworld.
Maybe Persephone herself could be your guide. She has plenty of experience going down and coming back up.
In the Vodou tradition, at the beginning of every ritual, the priestess or priest calls Legba, the Haitian loa who acts as intermediary between the loa and humanity. He opens and closes the door and decides if you are ready to cross the threshold.
Still, whether we are granted permission or not, we don’t leap across the threshold, we create a tether and we reach across. We create a protective circle, and we learn to reach across its boundary. What we find outside the circle, some might find frightening, monstrous, corrupting, dangerous, and that’s why when we go outside the circle (past the castle gates, leaving our body, our community behind) we become monstrous, corrupted, infected, a little dangerous and ultimately transformed. A professor of mine at The Evergreen State College, Marianne Bailey, described this process and called the person who travels between worlds, who crosses boundaries, a “Monstre Sacre” Sacred Monster. When the Sacred Monster returns to the circle, they share what they’ve learned and infect others with new information, transforming the group as a whole. This is big talk, maybe, but real too, I think. What else are we (poets) here to do if not to bend and shape consciousness, starting with our own, according to a desired effect (will) aka to do MAGIC?
We (poets) tend to push our own boundaries, sometimes to the point of masochism (right?) so it is necessary to learn how to do cross our boundaries with care. There’s no need to bully your self. Really. Stop that.
One way to play with your own boundaries in a safe way is to trance. Everyone has the ability to trance and chances are you already do it. When you “space-out”, you’re entering a light meditative state or trance. When you find yourself twenty miles down the road and don’t remember driving that distance (highway hypnosis) that’s a form of trance. I’m sure you can think of tons of other examples.
Everyone will experience a trance differently, all depending on which of your senses you’re most tuned into and which sense you use most when communicating with your intuition. For example, you get goose bumps when a friend tells you about an uncanny experience or vivid mental images appear when you sense danger. Some people are very visual and will experience their whole trance as if inside a movie, but you may also hear sounds, feel physical sensations or strong emotions with or without any visual content. If you’re very language orientated, like many of us poets, you may find that your trance manifests more like overdubbed narration (James Earl Jones, maybe?). There is no wrong or better way to experience a trance. Honestly.
If you’re like me and fall asleep easily, you might try pre-recording the trance induction to play for yourself or have a buddy lead you down and back up. It’s totally fine to fall asleep, but you just might not want to do it every time. Important subconscious work goes on while we’re asleep, but if you’re hoping to write about your experience you’ll have a tough time remembering much if you doze off. Try sitting up if you think you might fall asleep. It turns out that I like sleeping so much that I can fall asleep sitting up while trancing, but, again, that’s not so bad, just something to be aware of.
Here’s an easy trance induction I learned recently called “The Rainbow Induction”. You can use it for any trance and adapt it to your own purposes. Set aside 20 minutes to half an hour to do this. Take your time with it. Usually when someone leads you in a trance, they take time to pause between prompts so you can let images or sensations come to you. Be patient with yourself.
1. Before you begin, try setting an intention for the trance. What is the purpose of the trance? What do you want to learn or understand? What do you want to see or find? Setting an intention will help focus your trance and give you something to do while you’re there. Trancing without an intention tends to feel pretty aimless and a little bewildering, but it can be a good way just to get to know your own inner landscape. There are a lot of reasons you might want to trance; you might want to revisit a recent dream that you want to know more about or meet a guide or ally who could help you with a question. You might look for a tool that could help you with a problem you’re dealing with in your regular waking life. If you’re feeling stuck with a creative project, you might set out with a question about your project. For this trance though, I think we should look for your Place of Power, somewhere you can visit when you need to recharge, ask questions or just play around in your own head. This was the first trance I did and I think it’s a good place to start.
2. To begin, get comfortable sitting or laying down. You probably want to wear something comfortable, but yoga gear is not required. It’s good to be cozy, but not so cozy that you’ll fall asleep, and it’s best to trance inside to avoid being disturbed. If you like, you can play some droney, music to help get you in the mood. I don’t have any recommendations, but I bet you know someone who does.
3. Take a few breaths. Notice how your body feels, sitting or laying where you are. Feel what it feels like to be in your particular body, in this room, in this city, exactly right where you are. Notice if you have any aches or pains. With each breath relax a little more, as if you are melting into the floor beneath you. Feel yourself connect with the ground, with the earth under the floor. You are grounded and perfectly safe in this room. Your body will be completely safe while you go on your trance journey.
4. Close your eyes and continue to take relaxing breaths. You are fully relaxed now. Begin to visualize a red mist swirling around you. You reach out your hands and notice that it is cool to the touch. You breathe in the red mist and breathe it out. What does the mist taste like? Does it have a smell? It is your favorite color of red. The red mist begins to fade and is replaced by bright orange. What does this mist feel like? Does it have a taste or smell? You breathe the orange mist in and breathe it out. The orange lightens to a yellow and you feel it brush past you, against your cheeks and hands, breathing the yellow mist in and breathing it back out. Now the yellow darkens to a rich green, your favorite shade of green. How does this green feel? Does it make a sound as it swirls around you? How does it make you feel? You breathe it in and breathe it back out. And the green shifts again to blue. Take a moment to notice the way the blue is different from the green and breathe in the blue and breathe it back out. Now the blue darkens to a rich indigo that swirls around your feet and up your legs. Notice how this indigo feels against your skin. Is it cool or warm? Is it a gentle breeze or a more forceful one? You breathe in the indigo and breathe it out. Now the indigo shifts to violet. Notice the gradation of color, how it moves in waves around you, blanketing your shoulders, swirling around your neck like a scarf. Breathe in the violet and breathe it back out. And now the violet begins to lighten and lighten to a bright and gleaming silvery white fog, almost too bright to look at and as this silvery mist begins to part, you begin to make out a landscape in front of you. You are now in your Place of Power.
5. Now that you’re here, have a look around. What do you sense? What do you hear? Are there any smells in the air? Can you reach out and touch anything? How does it feel to be here?
6. Take a few steps forward in your place of power. and begin to explore.
7. Turn to face East. When you travel East, what do you find? Take a few breaths and notice what the air feels like, smells like, tastes like as you breathe it in and breathe it back out. Think about what you might be able to cut away, to let go of, to make yourself lighter, clearer, more focused. Are you alone or are there are other people or animals? You may want to stop and talk with them. Do they have a message for you? Is there something there that you want to take with you? Say thank you and goodbye to the East.
8. Now turn to the South. When you travel South, what do you find? Who or what lives in the South? How do you feel here? Is there something that you want? Feel that desire inside your body as if it is a flame that you can feed until it fills you with warmth. Does someone or something have a message for you? Look around for something to bring back with you. Say thank you and goodbye to the South.
9. Turn to the West. When you travel to the West, what do you find? How do you feel in the West? Notice how your emotions shift and change, moving through you like water. Notice how your emotions effect how you feel in your body. Notice how your emotions effect your breath. Is there a message for you here in the West? Is there something here that you want to take with you? Say thank you and goodbye to the West.
10. Now turn to the North. As you travel North, what do you find? What does the ground feel like beneath your feet? How does your body feel here? Try sitting down on the ground and noticing how it feels. What plants or animals live in the North? Is there a message for you here? What do you want to bring back with you? Say thank you and goodbye to the North.
11. Now go back to where you started, to your original Place of Power. Take a few breaths here and remember the messages you gathered. Notice the things that you’re bringing back with you. Notice how it feels to be here in this place that is specifically for you. You can come here anytime. Make a note to yourself to come back. Say thank you and goodbye to your Place of Power.
12. Now you notice that a fog is rolling in, a bright white silvery fog. (Repeat the rainbow induction, this time in reverse: Violet, Indigo, Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange, Red).
13. As the red mist parts, notice that you are back in your room in your city, in your very own particular body. Feel how the ground feels beneath you. Notice how your arms and legs and back feel. Begin to move your fingers and toes. Begin to open your eyes. You have arrived safely back where you started.
14. If you’re still feeling a bit groggy, or a little reluctant to fully return to human form, pat yourself on your arms and legs, scratch your scalp and stamp your feet. Say your name out loud to yourself 3 times. Remember what you had for breakfast today. You are back in the physical world and it’s good to be here!
15. Take some notes in a notebook. Describe your Place of Power in as much detail as you can muster. Record the messages you were given and the tools or objects you brought back with you from each of the 4 directions. How do you think you might use these in your waking life?
16. Eat something. Seriously. It’s always a good idea to ground your self by having a snack. Otherwise, you might feel floaty and wonky the rest of your day. Honestly. I tend to like that floaty wonky feeling a little too much, so I have to remind myself to eat and get grounded.
17. You’re done! Way to go. Okay, Sacred Monster. How was that? Now take what you’ve learned and use it for the good of all harming none!
- LINDSEY BOLDT
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.