Collectiveness Through Experience
An Interview with Lupe Méndez, Contributing Editor for DB18’s Librotraficante folio
This interview took place on April 3, 2014. We’ve posted a further update at the end of the transcript to bring our readers up to date on the latest developments.
DB: I’m Erin Wilcox with Drunken Boat, and I’m here with Lupe Méndez, my coeditor for the Librotraficante portfolio in Drunken Boat 18. Hello, Lupe.
MÉNDEZ: Hey how are you?
DB: I’m well, thank you for joining me. I wondered if you could start out by giving us a little bit of an update on the movement. How are things going right now, and what do you have on your plate currently?
MÉNDEZ: So far, things have kind of branched out in a lot of different arenas and areas. We just spent the last two days visiting and touching base with one of the originators of the Mexican American Studies program in Tucson. Curtis Acosta was brought down to Houston by the University of Houston to do a presentation for their students, which allowed us the opportunity to touch base with him and have a charla, a full talk at our underground library at MECA here in Houston. Last night actually, and so it gave us a really good breath of fresh air in that right now, on the Texas side of the border we’re looking at supporting and pushing forward with the State Board of Education to see if they will add an endorsement for Mexican American Studies as a possibility for high school elective endorsements on high school career tracks. So we’re taking a newer stance with what Mexican American Studies can look like here in Texas as opposed to what we were fighting against in Arizona with it being taken out, and so visiting with Curtis was good.
DB: Curtis Acosta, being one of the teachers who developed the MAS curriculum in Tucson that ended up being banned. What kind of things did he have to say at this point?
MÉNDEZ: A lot of us were kind of worried about what’s actually going to come out of the board when we go on Tuesday, and Curtis actually kind of flipped the script on us just a little and said, You guys are fighting a battle where you’re actually hitting tens as you’re garnering support and getting all the pieces lined up to get that through the State Board of Ed. He’s like, You guys are hitting it at a full range and at a full load and actually being able to check things off rapidly, like it’s beautiful to see. He mentioned that when they were putting everything together when they first started the program, that if they were hitting any of the markers they were hitting fives and sevens and eights and things were not as stable getting the program through, and it still got through. So he sees nothing but yeses across the board and getting it passed here in Texas, and even if it doesn’t pass, the fact that we’re actually getting school districts to endorse it and say that yes, they would agree to have a Mexican American Studies program, speaks to the willingness and the understanding that the population demographic in the state is changing and that school districts need to address that. So it was really good hearing that from him and it was such a good vote of confidence, so we’re just making sure that we take that energy and move forward for Tuesday and Wednesday.
DB: That sounds really gratifying. So you’ve got unanimous support from some districts?
MÉNDEZ: Right now we have unanimous support from the school board and the school district. First and foremost from the Ysleta Independent school district in El Paso. They were the first school district and the entire school board that unanimously wanted to have Mexican American Studies on the high school level and under the assistance of Sergio Troncoso, Georgina Perez, and a few others there in El Paso they are actually going to be organizing and figuring out what that curriculum can look like there. The school district here in Baytown, Texas, didn’t have their meeting so they couldn’t have the full press release attention for it, but Dr. Cavazos in Baytown has put their weight in and made phone calls already to the state board. Arlington here in Texas has done the same thing as well, and now as of this morning the Houston Independent School District, which is the largest in the state, has thrown their shoe in and said yes, you need to have a Mexican American Studies program.
DB: Have you encountered any resistance?
MÉNDEZ: The funny part is the resistance we’ve encountered has actually been from members of the State Board of Education . The membership has actually tried to dig its heels in. Our representative here in Texas, Donna Bahorich is a Republican here, and when we first addressed the idea of just put it as a suggestion, leave it on the list, put it on the table so you have a topic to vote on—that was last month—Donna actually asked Tony and a few others, “Is Mexican American literature as rigorous as British literature?” (DB: Oh wow) was the exact question, yeah, and so already if that’s the question that comes out from one of our school board of education representatives from this area, you can see the apprehension that’s there. I believe the State Board of Ed chair is going to put on the table and recommend that instead of Mexican American Studies there should be a Multicultural Education Program put in place. Which kind of in a roundabout way becomes the actual response that was given in Arizona now that the Mexican American Studies program was dismantled there. They created a program that they quote now as more reflective of diversity, but it’s a very lukewarm, very watered-down version. The books that are being given to the students aren’t written by anyone of color, so honestly it’s laughable, but that’s what the response is, and so if they’ve taken a note out of that playbook that they want to have that be part of the conversation, our stance has to be that no we’d like an actual ethnic studies program that’s reflective of the majority of the students in the state. So that’s what we’ll be pushing for.
DB: Sure, and of those who want to learn about that tradition. It’s one of the I think often-overlooked aspects of what you’re doing that it’s not just for a certain ethnicity of students. Everybody benefits from learning about more cultures.
MÉNDEZ: Everybody benefits. The interesting piece is that we’re getting support, which is a very good feeling. We gave a presentation a couple of weeks ago at Sam Houston State University at a diversity conference, and the students that came up to us and the faculty advisors and student leaders that came up to us after the session was done were members of campus NAACP, fraternities and sororities of color, Asian students, Anglo students that were there that wanted to find out about what they could do to help this process along. One of the students there was the vice president of the NAACP from Texas Southern University, which is a predominantly African American university, who said if this becomes the thing that gets the foot in the door to have diversity and to have an ethnic studies program on the high school level, that will open the door for everybody else to have those kinds of programs put in place. He’s said, It’s a bold move and we would love to help that become a reality. So it’s good to know that across the line we have others that are there to help and back up and continue.
DB: Getting back to that idea of quantum demographics (MENDEZ: Yes, very much so), or all of us being connected on this issue. So what can our readers do to support your efforts at this point?
MÉNDEZ: If you’re paying attention to any of the memes or any of the info that’s going out on Facebook, spread the word out as much as possible. One of the key points that we always want to highlight in regards to that is books written by authors of color: buy them, suggest them, critique them. A lot of the books are also going up online where folks can actually buy them off of amazon.com or something similar. Go and put a critique of the book, a review. It helps up-and-coming authors of color out there, and that gets actual attention from school districts that are looking to find books by authors of color. On the Texas side, if you live here in the state, call your State Board of Education representative before next Tuesday and let them know your opinion, that you would like to have them vote yes to having Mexican American Studies as an endorsement for high school graduation. Any of those pieces help tremendously. The more they know that that interest is there, the more they have to face the fact that it has to become a reality.
DB: Okay, and you have a Facebook page for the Librotraficante movement, correct?
DB: So put it on Facebook and all those other places, and then could you mention your URL for your website as well?
MÉNDEZ: So there are several, if you go to Facebook there’s “Mas Texas” and the “Librotraficante” page as well, www.facebook.com/mastexas or /librotraficante. There are also websites for both of those. Mastexas.org, librotraficante.com, and then my own where I keep up a blog, www.thepoetmendez.org. We do a really good job at putting up all the press releases, any of the info, the phone call list of all the school board members, contact information is up there as well. So we put up as much info as we can, and if you want to get in contact or want to find out more you can hit any one of those access points. We’re also on Twitter so if you tweet, find any of the tweets, retweet them @mastexas, @librotraficante, and @thepoetmendez, so that’s a lot of ways of getting in contact.
DB: That is, that’s perfect. So getting to a little more about Drunken Boat 18 and the Librotraficante portfolio, thank you so much for being part of that and being my coeditor on that portfolio. I wanted to just get into the idea of an underground library; how did this come up in the first place and how do you see it contributing to your efforts to mitigate and turn the tide against the pattern of cultural erasure that writers of color and women and all minorities have to endure, or have had to endure in the past, and how do you see the online issue that we’ve contributed playing into that whole picture?
MÉNDEZ: The other night on Tuesday was the Nuestra Palabra radio show on KPFT 90.1 FM here in Houston. They just interviewed Juan Zahara, who is one of the organizers, first on Los Mas, which is one of the other university groups that’s organizing the challenge to have MAS here in high school courses. He made the best comment about what we do moving forward. That we have to be community-based, and that it has to be within our neighborhoods and with our comadres and compadres that put the word out there so that we can have this support. So I think this idea of the underground library is, first and foremost, it was the response after the caravan, like what are we going to do afterwards to support the books, the kids the communities, so that these words don’t get lost? And so we considered that the context of putting together the lists of the banned books and anyone who wanted to have a library, community-based, so not run by any municipality and not run by a school district, and having that access in the community and reflective of what their needs are as well. So in that, there’s the community vibe right there. Here in Texas, it’s at the Multicultural Education and Counseling for the Arts Center, MECCA. In El Paso, it’s at the YWCA. In Arizona, there in Tucson, it’s at the Valenzuela Youth Center. In different cities it’s in different locales. In San Antonio, it’s at the Southwest Workers Union and it’s completely run by volunteers, people that care about the books. They add their own additions to the libraries themselves, so not every library looks the same, based on the diversity and the culture of the community that’s there. They add the books that they want to put in there, and the more we can get these books into people’s hands, the quicker we build that support so that the words don’t get lost.
DB: We framed the Drunken Boat issue a couple times as a digital underground library, but I’m wondering, I mean, is it a underground library at all? Or is it something else? Is it an aboveground library? How do you see it fitting in?
MÉNDEZ: I’ve thought about that before and I see the work we did with the portfolio and the issue as a beautiful work, and I see it as very much a like a stance and a flag that’s very metatextual in a sense. It’s giving rise and more words in a virtual way, it’s its own stance, its own library, its own format, that people who might not have known about the issue at hand—with what happened in Tucson and with what’s happening in Texas, what’s happening nationwide—now can actually appreciate the work for what it is. For all the writers that are included in that portion of the magazine as well become more aware of what the issue is, as well and for those that already know what’s going on they’re even twice as appreciative of the work and have that context and that frame of reference for it. So I think it stands as a form like a virtual library itself with pieces reflective of the writers that put forth that effort, and so I think it makes perfect sense for it to be considered a part of the underground library cause it’s something that still runs under the same data: it’s not run by a municipality, it’s not run by a school district, it’s very much something that’s built up. All the writers that are included have completely different backgrounds in writing and different levels of writing themselves, so it’s a very diverse issue and a very important issue to have out there. And the fact that it’s online completely, it’s not going anywhere, you can print it out, you can get it together, you can watch the pages, you go through it, and it makes the most sense that way. It’s that next step. When we start looking at putting some of these works online later we can actually say that the Drunken Boat issue was the precursor to that virtuality that comes later. So I think it fits in perfectly.
DB: You mentioned what’s going on locally. Could you speak a little bit about what’s going on at a state level and what’s going on nationally? Do you see this as more of a local endeavor? Or to what extent do you see it as a national endeavor, and could you speak to that a little bit? What is going on nationally?
MÉNDEZ: Nationally there are three different fronts happening across the board, so the actual lawsuits of some of the students from the program after it was dismantled, their lawsuit is still up and running and so they’re going to see something happen with their lawsuit in the 9th Circuit Court, in I believe California. Something should be happening in the next six months with it, and so we’re still sitting and crossing fingers and lighting velas and trying to figure what’s coming through that, because that actually sets the precedent. What it will do is, the law the way it’s written in the books, by the time is hits 9th Circuit Court it’s one step away from the Supreme Court, and it sets the precedent. Whatever judgment or ruling happens with that suit pretty much sets out whether this law is legal or totally unjust. Which it is. And then at the same time you’ve got states like California right now, they’re fighting and looking at the vitality of the Mexican American Studies programs that were already in existence, the forefathers for the beginning of the program there in Tucson. They’re fighting to keep their programs on campus and keep them vital and keep them put together and not dismantled as well. So we’re working across a bunch of different boards to make sure that’s happening. And then you take it to the Northeast and the University of Illinois is putting together their ethnic studies program. They’re getting their okays on the university side to make sure that those programs can stay in place. So you’ve got all sorts of smaller events happening nationwide and it’s very much a play-by-play as to how they’re going. They are working at different levels and at different paces, but the answer is still the same, that we need some sort of acknowledgement that ethnicity and culture do matter in the classroom for the student to get ahead.
DB: And bringing it back to the Drunken Boat issue, we have writers in this issue from all over the country, and I know that you were making some very difficult decisions when screening and making the final cuts essentially on what would be represented here, and at a certain point that becomes the art of the editor. In my experience certain connections start to present themselves and it’s about following those, recognizing those, so I just wondered if you had anything that you noticed about how the aesthetic emerged as you were making these decisions and how the aesthetic of the issue fit together for the fiction and poetry?
MÉNDEZ: The one thing that I was able to pull together when reading through the pieces, it was a difficult process, it was; it was hard going through each of the pieces ’cause they were very rich reads, I think the one thing that I was able to take away and kind of use as the rope to string everything together was a sense of voice in each of the selections. There was very much this sense of identity, this sense of individuality, but yet a cohesion to collectiveness through experience, through seeing or through understanding or through plight, that voice kept on coming forth in some of the pieces and so I think that’s what pulled it together for me in editing and looking at what made the most sense.
DB: That sense of individual voice and also collective consciousness?
MÉNDEZ: Yes, very much so that universality of, you had a prime example of David Tomas Martinez’s piece about his father, and so it was a particular experience about his growing up and his identity. It’s a cultural piece, but it also speaks volumes about what relationships are with family members and what that can look like, and that’s the universal part that came through. So that voice connected with the other writers that I was looking at as well, and you have really, really, really good connections if you look at say Steven Alvarez’s piece, “Y Ahora Chamacos,” it’s about connecting through not just the line of what is patriotism and what does symbolism mean for an American identity, but also what that means as a Mexican American: so where do I fit in where am I at, how does this apply to me? All those pieces came through with his poem, and then figuring out how that relates back. I think that’s that connection across all lines.
DB: Okay, well wrapping it up here I just wondered if you could give a little snapshot from the caravan, like any kind of unexpected moment that you had that inspired you or took you off guard and that was memorable for you?
MÉNDEZ: Oh wow, so caravan-wise it must have been, as we were on the road from Mesilla to Albuquerque, I actually got a phone call during the time on the caravan from one of the universities I had applied to for an MFA. And they congratulated me with an offer that I could go to the university, but not only that, they actually offered me a scholarship. And it was a very very meta…like I don’t know if it was metatextual..meta-something, but the fact that they were actually keeping up with us and the caravan and what was happening though our Facebook posts and through my blog online, they were keeping up with what was happening and they were very impressed with that work. They said that we really wanted to have you here on campus to do that MFA work. I was not expecting all my replies for grad school—half of them actually came through while we were on the road, and so with all the commotion, I was happy that it was happening but at the same time I was like ah, oh my God!…so for me that was the most memorable piece, you know at the same time that I’m trying to make things personal and the selfish act of wanting to be a writer and going and doing an MFA, but at the same time doing something for a cause and for something that important and then just getting the rewards while we were on the road was a very emotional, like acceptance and approval of something’s actually working, so that one for me was really memorable.
DB: Yeah I bet that’s a moment that etched into your memory.
MÉNDEZ: Very much so.
DB: I think that what I’m hearing is the sense of the institutions surprising you. Contrary to sometimes popular belief, your application was being looked at very carefully, and the political side of what you were doing was being appreciated, defying notions about creating art within a void and new criticism and all that stuff that MFA programs are sometimes connected to, historically connected to and yet there are counter currents within this institutional…
MÉNDEZ: I think that’s the part that caught me off guard. I was like, oh, you really did look through my stuff and you’re actually following what we’re doing. I was flattered and very humbled by that.
MÉNDEZ: I wasn’t expecting that at all. They were very human about it, and they were like let us know how things are going, please keep us in mind and it was very…
DB: Sounds hopeful.
MÉNDEZ: Yeah very much so, very much so.
DB: So there’s this legislative attack and efforts being made to gut some of the advances that have been made with ethnic studies, gender studies, that’s happening; but at the same time, the other thing is happening. The New Latino Renaissance is happening, and you’re part of it, and we both are. So it’s an exciting time and I want to thank you so much for creating the opportunity, for being a cofounder of the Librotraficante movement that took the flag and led the charge on the New Latino Renaissance, and I feel very humbled to be a part of it. So thank you very and much, keep up the good work.
MÉNDEZ: And thank you for the opportunity to edit for the journal. I will, thank you I will most definitely.
Thanks to Alexandra Besket, who transcribed this interview.
UPDATE as of June 1, 2014: So now, the latest steps have taken shape. We not only got the vote for Mexican American Studies courses in the form of an elective in special topics in Social Studies, but a unilateral move; the state is looking to foster support of all ethnicities—Mexican American, African American, Asian American, and Native American studies courses. The funny part is that when you think of the word protest or activism you think of people marching in the streets and rallies and the like, but it’s the behind-the-scenes organizing and the mechanics that make it all work. An activist is a keen creature who uses the system and voices the issues well. Activists protest, but they write, they march and they speak in front of committees and boards. Activists work out loud and in the shadows. So now we work in the shadows. We research. We wait. We network. We build coalition. We speak, we write, we share, we share ideas. We work. Next stop, advising and creating a list of the books and documents that can be used to teach about our shared ethnic history. July should be full of fire. Just you wait.
Lupe “Librotraficante Lips” Méndez
Originally from Galveston,Texas, Lupe Mendez has lived in Houston for more than a decade, where he works with Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say, the Word Around Poetry Tour, and the Brazilian Arts Foundation to promote poetry events, advocate for literacy/literature, and organize creative writing workshops that are open to the public. Lupe’s recent work is now part of Revista Síncope, Flash (University of Chester, England)—the international forum for flash fiction, Huizache: The Magazine of Latino Literature , and La Noria Literary Journal. He is a Librotraficante, a CantoMundo Fellow and an MFA Candidate in poetry at the University of Texas at El Paso. thepoetmendez.org
By simply telling the truth, this week’s Throwback Thursday tribute is sure to leave you breathless. Filled with feeling and courageous sincerity, Laura Hershey’s “Nights” tells a story that is both incredibly different and exactly the same as the average person’s experiences. Dust off DB 14, Summer 2011, and sink into this beautifully rendered piece.
“It took all week to arrange it: You phoned Dial-A-Ride twice, first scheduling a one-way wheelchair van trip from your flat in London to his (they knew the way, of course, he’s a regular customer too) and then hanging up and calling back to schedule another one-way trip, the next day, from his to yours. As if they wouldn’t figure out that it’s an overnight stay. And who cared if they did. Dial-A-Ride customers need sex too.”
Laura Hershey was a writer, speaker, feminist, and disability rights activist out of Colorado. Her work both poetic and journalistic has been published in numerous anthologies, journals, magazines and websites. She passed away in November, 2010. You can find out more about the unique and colorful life she led at www.laurahershey.com.
Click to read “Nights”
(Brooklyn Rescue Mission / Just food Chicken Coop- 2011)
Before I do anything else, I implore you, reader, if you are not doing so already, to pay attention to what’s going on in the wider world beyond blogs and social media. If you are a Facebook user, I suggest you seek out Artists Against Police Brutality / Cultures of Violence and Artists for Ferguson. In New York City, Morgan Parker and JP Howard are leading AAPB. As of today, a big email thread is in progress with the seeds of plans for fall events: meetings, meetups, performances, more. By the time this blog post goes up, much more brilliance will have been shared and set into motion. You can get on the email thread by posting on the FB page. Or visit this link to a Google Doc survey to express your interest. Also, consider with me the texts and ideas recommended by Dr. Marcia Chatelain (@drmchatelain on Twitter) and others at Ferguson Syllabus if you are building your fall semester courses.
This is as much as I feel sure I can usefully say on this matter. I could make the same mistake that Nate Silver (and so many others) did and describe my privileges in response to the oppression and murder of others, but to do so is unproductive not to mention narcissistic. The horrors continue to stack up, but so does the positive response from groups like AAPB and more. What I have to offer you in the following text is a tour of my neighborhood. I love where I live. It’s my home.
the woman who caught us with our cameras out said, “our light’s been out a long time.”
I said, “we know!”
another smaller light four blocks north on Bedford Ave is also out, and I wish it would light up soon unexpectedly too. it could remind me of how someone described Seoul to me ten years ago: a wet city full of red neon crosses. but I don’t know that it would light up red. I don’t know anything about what color it would be.
Washington Temple is named after a person; only by coincidence four blocks west is Washington Ave. This is what happens when the novel starts: the sign lights up white, blinks off, lights up blue and red, blinks off. repeats.
Sad goes dark and dirty. He jumps away, the oncoming. Wednesday is my day with the noise. unhearing or sliding beneath it. a smoke detector’s slow increasing beep unheard but other mechanical shriek ongoing. what pulley clanks into place. falls off or bangs down stairwell, buzzes for emergency but I don’t get up. let it grow dark and grit until, like I said would, that new language ties up the track until it’s a true second circuit cutting across.
the eyes are the same as another I’ve seen before at a variety of distances. knew them never to be blank except for dying. bright doesn’t last. something does but bright unfolding. it holds against a doorjamb. made the longest drive to the hospital. I promised I’d respect safety of vomit to grocery bag out of motion. pulled into a nub of lot, just curbs and sand. one side persuasion, one side begging.
I said to friend, “that’s the problem. if it didn’t last forever, we’d have no conflict.” he considered the point strong.
right up close is the destination. always others. learn death came to another place today as walking through well-dressed small families, unclear what the date truly is. doubt even though I am mindful. find I had known. small churches with loving shouts, large shelter with leafblower. when simple person describes so surely. we walk past churches marked by no parking signs. on church business.
“I don’t want that sadness in my heart,” said the man who lives across from the big brown church with sloping roof, asymmetry. when asked if it was a funeral gathering. still, he stood watching from the iron gate. loose adidas sandals with socks. no clear agenda besides avoiding sad feelings. since the main farmer backed out of the market, it’s just baked goods and hummus flavors. a party tent and a hose hooked up to a hydrant. they took the port-a-potty away, they put a new one in the same spot. we called them joy johns growing up after the regional company. a misstatement of a possessive. thing called for what it does, like fire escape.
a sight has to inspire the decision to turn into the plot. I find a banana peel on my car’s front bumper and I’m not going anywhere but I remove it to the dirt around a skinny tree. see the kids playing across the street. maybe them, maybe not. very tidy peel laid out in repose. a body turning colors.
the car is blue. kurt did repairs so it drives with no rattles. some issues but safe for the highway, which I will later. expected, so announce and reply assents. one pre-complains. structure must emerge but does it? structure must be imposed. imposition the blind cat saves the date. swat the fly, one block down men hide a bottle under a pylon. a man working outside the café where I’ve been typing tells me I look like a tall drink of water. the car screeches when I brake, just before the complete stop.
next to the café was a bagel shop with a bumblebee on the sign but it closed months ago. now it’s nearly a tapas bar, not quite done. men are always working on a bench or a planter. their sidewalk is always wet and the resale shop next door spills their display all the way to the corner, selling the broken stools from the bar two blocks west for $20 each. important parts got lucky. what do you do best with a gift?
the highway to family coming up. not sure maybe christmas was the last one. does the problem of it have to be one the protagonist is fully capable of solving? another damaged family drama does nothing. A wants B, B is not sure, waits too long. A and B have another chance later, meanwhile other letters intermingle. in the end she must find him or not find him. learn he is alive or dead. no reliving plot style. friend’s book is a search for a missing person. stranger comes to town, man goes on a journey, enemies engage in a conflict, man wants something he can’t have and tries many ways to acquire it. friendship and what. several hundred pages to prove friends are real or friends are flawed. everybody’s flawed, nobody’s a genius. so what is the goal of writing a book? will you end war? stranger comes to town and teaches us not to bomb homes and schools? not the meaning of novel.
“bring the sick,” says the church sign. “all are welcome.”
at the garden performing duties. a rat runs across the gateway. no one around to care, free to speak to animals and selves. collect four warm eggs: three white, one green. one bird henpecked cyclops. a motley crew. little one with ankle feathers runs fast, a prize in her beak. a rat’s snout with whiskers she hides from the others. later I describe this to my crush awkwardly. history of the block says two brownstones burned down. sometimes a sock unearths in the coop yard. a brick, a twist of metal. the repurpose kills time between construction budgets.
sidewalk buddy says his hip is bothering him. he is small, 5’5” with a snappy hat, jacket with vest, a spring in his lurch. the cane may be new. once we crossed and he had a plastic bag on the end of his cane, walking toward the garbage can.
“we need a new mayor!” he said.
I said, “I think we’re about to get one.”
“you may be right about that.”
(The City Chickens Project at work. Photo courtesy Just Food.)
came and did not recognize past self. thinking shortcut, could have been Gettysburg for seven years. intent counts so partial for ability to plan. not aptly framing the question.
when you are a woman who feels a glob or a bubble, not allowed to adjust it. the sacred quality in the car. I prepare constantly.
I knew I would be okay. blower motor all dried up. under the dash a lost art. thirteen looks like one. follow along the text, each word many words, basic runes. at least. my everyday is luxury, it’s my distant future certainly unclear.
walk to corner. left past funeral home peopled by hot men. certain early morning times catch sight of casket loading: hearse, delivery truck marked Casket Division. the truck on Pratt campus repairing Main Building. after a fire, parked for months on the brick walkway: a company called BMS Catastrophe. no matter the disaster. turn right across four lanes. Rogers and Bedford merge. tree stump from Hurricane Sandy; dented fence same. one windshield shattered. ready to respond to the disaster at hand. new sign says “NO DIGGING OR SCAVENGING IN OUR DUMPSTER.” to the garden gate. a woman from Just Food waits there to see soil treatment.
she asks what I do. she says, “do you sell the eggs?”
I say, “I eat them.”
she says, “good.”
I then realize I have been policed. (it is illegal to sell these eggs.) in the sense of supervised by a stranger. in the sense of bait. in the sense of a pop quiz of course I passed I excel at passing tests. back on tree giveaway day, we learned we both know Patton, who I called by her first name. fifteen volunteers to hand out 100 trees and we did not touch one tree. we ate a donut. we ran an errand and did not return.
find a variable to blame for aberrant behavior. looks like the same kid. vigilant volunteer coordinator. someone dug a hole in the garden and we all got an email. vomit in front of the new bar not even open yet, lined with new bike racks. studio artists still locking up on scaffold. nice idea the long walk. walk alone for digestion, spotting the curb alerts. roll of bubble wrap. Brooklyn Industries dress we pass around. trashpicking called in Indiana. “a bag lady,” friend names. so is she.
– KRYSTAL LANGUELL
Krystal Languell was born in South Bend, Indiana. Two chapbooks and a full-length collection of poetry are forthcoming: LAST SONG (dancing girl press, 2014), BE A DEAD GIRL (Argos Books, 2014) and GRAY MARKET (Coconut, 2015). FASHION BLAST QUARTER was published as a poetry pamphlet by Flying Object in 2014. A core member of the Belladonna* Collaborative, she also edits the journal Bone Bouquet.
Considering that it has been around the longest, it’s probably about time that the very first issue of Drunken Boat makes its contribution to the Vintage Series int he form of a succinct, yet surprising bit of verse. Without further adieu, today’s post features “Death Valley Pupfish” (DB 1, Summer/Fall 2000), a poem by Jenny Factor.
how many eggs
lie waiting in places
the water never touches.”
Jenny Factor is the recipient of numerous awards and grants for her poetry. She currently teaches creative writing as one of the core faculty of Antioch University in Los Angeles. Her poem collection, Unraveling at the Name (Copper Canyon Press), won a Hayden Carruth Award and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. be sure to check out her Poetry Foundation page here.
So many books, so little time . . .
I’m amazed by just how many good books have been published in the past few years. But these five recent releases—through their formal dexterity, philosophizing, evocative imagery, or all of the above—have rendered me speechless . . .
Gregory Robinson’s All Movies Love the Moon: A magnificent collection of prose pieces about the birth of silent film, published by the one and only Rose Metal Press. In this beautifully produced (and beautifully crafted) debut collection, traditional scholarship meets prose poetry, flash fiction, witticisms, and the delightfully strange texts lurking in every university archive. Robinson’s captivating assemblage of ephemera and prose fragments presents the reader with poetry-as-scholarship, and the literary text becomes a space for critical engagement with the artifacts of culture.
Katie Farris’s Boygirls: This haunting and lushly illustrated hybrid collection examines all of the myriad ways that genre, and the various hierarchies and labels we impose upon language, are gendered. Divided into two sections, “Boys” and “Girls,” the style of these prose pieces shifts with the gender categories that are imposed upon the work. The “Girls” section is artfully fragmented, and these luminous fractures suggest the possibility of writing out of, away from, and beyond received forms, expanding what is possible within genre categories (and within conscious experience).
Emily Toder’s Beachy Head: I loved Emily Toder’s Science and was thrilled to see that she had a new collection. Well, let me just say there’s a reason that her second book, Beachy Head, was sold out when I first tried to order it. Toder definitely envisions poetry as a conversation with other literary artists (one can see Dickinson’s influence, as well as the great female Modernists: Marianne Moore, Nancy Cunard, Mina Loy…) but these poems are like no one else’s. Toder shows us the strangeness inherent in language, culture, and the self, restoring a sense of wonder to received literary forms (couplets, tercets, the lyric, etc.).
Carol Guess and Daniela Olszewska’s How to Feel Confident with Your Special Talents: This innovative and engaging collaboration, based on WikiHow, eschews traditional narrative modes, exploring alternative ways of creating tension and conflict within prose. Through their imaginative work and true technical virtuosity, Guess and Olszewska use sound to forge connections between ideas, images, and plot elements within the text. While addressing these larger questions about how we create meaning within a literary work, the poems work beautifully on a stylistic level, offering language that snaps, crackles, sparks, and hums.
Matt Bell’s In The House Upon The Dirt Between The Lake And The Woods: In addition to being one of the most innovative and hard working editors around, Matt Bell knows how to craft prose paragraphs that are just as stylistically compelling as a prose poem. The high register, and almost biblical syntax, of his first novel are ideally suited to the book’s mythical content (which presents readers with an impatient fisherman, a barren landscape, a wife who sings objects into being). Through this graceful matching of style and content, Bell’s first novel offers one of the few truly convincing examples of contemporary magical realism.