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.
Since all society is organized in the interest of exploiting classes and since if men knew this they would cease to work and society would fall apart, it has always been necessary, at least since the urban revolutions, for societies to be governed ideologically by a system of fraud.
- Kenneth Rexroth, from an interview with Lawrence Lipton in The Holy Barbarians
Before I begin on the third 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.’
The last of these posts ended with an invocation of Will Alexander’s “Compound Hibernation,” expanding upon the idea that the transient being’s occupation of liminal spaces becomes a way of letting poetry fruit outside monolithic structures of “dominance and capital.” In other words, we concluded in the cuts, in a space of desertion. But how does the transient being get there?
Part of how one can move toward this sort of liminality is through the germination of a resistance to the prevailing social order. Without this sort of resistance, the transient being wouldn’t try to hop a train in the first place, as order demands a permanence within and obeisance to laws of boundary and property that are antithetical to the act of hopping freight. What the transient being recognizes is that a life outside of the civilized and arbitrary brutality of society exists, and that “one may honorably keep/ His distance/ If he can,” as George Oppen writes in the second section of “A Language of New York.”
The issue, of course, is that keeping one’s distance presents a plethora of other problems, stemming from the fact that the brutalities of the social order always emerge anew. Thus, deprivation remains, difficulty remains, but the methods by which one lives with and confronts such adversity are altered. They are more experimental, driven by a sense of improvisation mixed with a deep knowledge of the opportunities that often arise from chance, from the aleatoric foundation that is inimical to the social order because it thrashes the order’s strictures of possibility.
Perhaps it is illustrative to recount a 16-hour period around this time last year, which began in a burned-out shack between the Union Pacific worker area and the Sacramento River in Dunsmuir, California. (The space could most certainly be considered one of the liminal spaces discussed in my last post). Convinced that we weren’t going to catch a train out, we’d moved camp to the spot a few hours previous, and settled in with books, a half-pint of cheap blended whiskey, and some tall cans of malt liquor. Just as the quiet revelry of moments away from society had begun to take hold, a slow-moving junk train pulled up, and after slamming the already-open beers down our gullets, we picked up our heavy packs and water jugs and began running. About three quarters of a mile down the main line, with only a few minutes before the train began moving again, we found a good open boxcar, threw our packs on, and clambered up into the structure. Despite some fears that the train would side out (that is, stop) for a long time in the dreaded Klamath Falls yard, the engineer hauled ass and we fell asleep for much of the long ride through the Umpqua National Forest, a cold and remote region that makes for a night of one’s body shivering against frigid wind and steel.
The next morning, I awoke early with deep stomach pains, so I took my toothbrush out of its plastic bag after finding a new place for it, pulled down my almost leathery dirt-encrusted jeans, and let loose a stream of burning, blackberry-tinted shit into what had been my toothbrush’s home minutes prior. We eventually stopped moving, our boxcar in the midst of playing fields for the University of Oregon. Hopping off, we wandered through the verdant campus towards a cafe we knew about two miles away, where we sat for a while, drank coffee, and charged our cellphones. We then wandered towards a 7-11 across from the local Salvation Army drop-in center, opening a can of black bean soup and sharing it on the street. A man yelled out to us, “Hey, I think one of you dropped this,” pointing towards a ten-dollar bill on the ground. I said, “Oh…sure,” and picked it up tenderly, aware that he might accuse me of trying to steal, but he just waddled towards the Redbox outside the convenience mart and started picking out pablum to watch at home that evening. And so ended a trip from Dunsmuir, California, to Eugene, Oregon.
The telling of the story, in all its mundanity, gives some insight into the improvisational course the transient being takes in keeping distance from the social order. There is a repurposing of the detritus of capital (shitting in a plastic bag), and a meandering within liminal spaces (bedding down in a burnt-out shack and a boxcar, eating beans from a can outside of an emblem of late capital). The transient being is able to utilize an ugly proximity to the social order and its objects to an end that suits the transient being’s needs while simultaneously refusing the social order’s demands and standards of propriety.
There is also the chance aspect: the train arriving and slicing quickly through the mountains despite its slow-moving identifying marks, the open boxcar on said train, the man happening upon two dirty travelers and feeling generous in a city not known for its generous streak.
But how do these slips of luck and extemporaneous gestures against social order inform a poetics?
Arriving back again at Oppen, we can find a possible answer in Jeff Derksen’s post-Fordist reimagining of the former’s “Of Being Numerous.” In the twelfth section of “The Vestiges,” the title poem from his latest book, Derksen writes:
Another day of
Another day of
and management language
Another day of you and me
not of [our own] making”
Another day of
Another day of street
in the city, promising
another day of the idea
Another day behind
and of rubber hitting
another private day, another
making a day
Another day of
Another day of making
Another day of
“Can the government actually do anything about inequality?”
Another day of
the movement of goods
Another day, another
attempt to prorogue
Another day upon arrival.
The poem is an indictment of monotony, of the gears and fiberoptics cables and shipping routes that keep social order and capitalist hegemony in place, and of how the individual is caught, seemingly shackled in “Another day of you and me/ ‘under conditions/ not of [our own] making.’” What the transient being’s movements do is break this monotony by proposing an improvisational repurposing of the gears and fiberoptic cables and shipping routes, so that these structures of industrial society are taken advantage of and made liberatory. The shipping route becomes a route towards experiencing the ineffable, and the fiberoptic cable is utilized as a potential carrier of communications outside the bounds of expected and respected discourse. And just as these palpable and omnipresent tools of social order are upended, so can the language of social order be upended. I often think of Lisa Robertson saying to a workshop that “we must continue to write in order to resist the language of genocide,” and I believe that the traveler, existing in the marginal and liminal spaces, can be an inspiration to not simply write, but live in resistance to tools of genocide.
In a final return to Oppen, I also often think of the last lines of “Route”: “These things at the limits of reason, nothing at the limits of dream, the dream merely ends, by this we know it is the real// That we confront.” The nightmare in which we live, “the real // That we confront”— the transient being and the poet both know that there is a way outside of the nightmare, but that keeping one’s distance is not enough, as the nightmare follows and recurs. It must be confronted, in the spirit of improvisation and tumult, if we are to ever really awaken.
- 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.