painting by Etel Adnan
I wake up in the morning and I check the internet for news. I wake up reading. If it were twenty, or even ten, years ago, I’d be reading the paper. Instead, it’s Facebook.
I wake up and I read about another rape.
I go to work, where I have a situation ongoing that I can’t discuss here. It is a source of anxiety.
Earlier this month, an internet friend posted a student course evaluation that said: “Baby girl I would fuck you in the ass so hard.”
Another rape, another unhappy reveal of who exactly, and at what date and time, will blame the victim: why was she even there? why didn’t she leave?
Another crime, another injury porn or corpse porn image to share virally for a day. Another accused criminal, another mug shot porn image to share virally for a day, with black banners and white text telling the viewer in one sentence how to channel their rage.
The woman implicated in the Philly beating of two gay men, it turns out, is the daughter of the police chief. Apparently, allegedly, she brags on social media about calling in favors to her father.
Comments on Cop Block’s image of her chugging from a bottle of Fireball (something at least one person I love has done) suggest she be given “the Ray Rice treatment.” Now a celebrity is metonymic for cold-cocking a woman (consider that verb, if you will). Ah, the mutability of language! The shortcuts through critical thinking it makes possible!
I’m reading Etel Adnan right now, To look at the sea… from Nightboat. Yesterday on the train I read a scene in which a woman is drawn and quartered in front of her classroom of deaf and mute children.
Ok, hi, so this is the world. What can a person do? Lots of options. Some artistic people turn to various mediums and genres of fine art to express their inner turmoil or joy, as the case may be. I’ll tell you what I do: I operate Belladonna Series, Inc. a 501c3 literary non-profit based in Brooklyn.
I do this because I believe that publishing work by underrepresented women writers changes the world. I believe doing good work to benefit other people feeds me.
From my contribution to a publication by Acts + Encounters in 2013, co-authored by three Belladonnae. Though the full work was a collaboration, I feel a need to account for the “I” here:
We enter into institutional time, and we exit. In 2010, Belladonna* was a non-profit at the state level, and secured grant funding through the fiscal sponsorship of our friends at Litmus Press. This worked well, but after gathering together ten women to form the new iteration, the Belladonna* Collaborative, we decided to move forward independently. Acquiring federal non-profit status would enable us to apply directly to a wider variety of funding sources, and so I worked with the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (VLA) to make this happen, meeting several times with our assigned attorney high in the Condé Nast Building, overlooking Times Square. Now thanks to a piece of paper (the IRS Determination Letter), the thing officially called Belladonna Series, Inc. is able to apply directly to foundations and government agencies whose missions include funding the arts. I took on this task because it seemed important to me. I had the desire to see it done, and I secretly love paperwork.
We enter into Belladonna* time, which is so very non-institutional, and we bring with us the facts of the institution, which we then manipulate. I take pleasure in describing us as “intentionally anarchic.” This state of being allows for the spontaneity that hierarchy seeks to eliminate. It is also why I frequently cry at our board meetings, and the women around me pause the conversation to take care of me. Then, later, everyone follows up with me—because we have individual relationships in addition to our community ones, are always allowed to continue being people in bodies at Belladonna*. Admitting that one is overwhelmed isn’t a problem among us. Belladonna* is a body too.
We travel as Belladonna*, each of us with a portion of the agenda internalized, like a spy ring. The archive of the future is the knowledge each of us carries, which we combine and recombine in whatever fraction/fragment of our group is present in a given situation.
– 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.
Slip into a cozy sweater, sit down with something pumpkin-spice-flavored and enjoy the first vintage post of fall. This week, the poem “Macau” by Kathryn Rantala takes the throwback stage, having appeared originally in DB 5, Winter 2002-2003.
“Neither diseased nor young,
we were awkward;
too old to marry, too tired to court,
a couple of stone monkeys
bartered to half in the market
then left in a bag on the bench.”
Kathryn Rantala is a writer of both poetry and prose who has put out multiple chapbooks and has been publishing her work for more than 40 years. Aside from writing, she is also a world traveler and a co-founder and editor for Ravenna Press. You can find out more about Kathryn on her website: ravennapress.com.
Before I begin on what is called the ‘westbound’ (i.e. final) 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.’
A few days ago, as I sat with my friend and road dog Amanda in a particularly sunny area of the jungle where one waits on trains going south from Dunsmuir, I began to think about how train cars resemble poems; that is, certain cars’ characteristics can be utilized to describe poems, read poems, even write poems. As my mind meandered upon entwining the possibilities of freight and poetry, the clattering of a southbound train broke my reverie, and we ran up onto the ballast to see whether any good rides were available. The train consisted principally of loaded lumber racks and oil tankers, both reviled for their ecosystem-destroying cargo and inability to be ridden safely, and after a quick jog alongside, we retreated back to the jungle to wait. As noted before, patience is a necessary virtue when dwelling in the cuts.
Before we could really settle into our jungle flop, though, another southbound came roaring down the tracks, this one consisting primarily of grainers and boxcars. Though none of the latter were open on our side of the tracks, a Canadian grainer is a lovely and safe ride approachable from either side of a given set of tracks, and so Amanda and I ran to a barn red train car with the “CN” logo blaring whitely on its sides, hoisted ourselves up, shoved our belongings and bodies into the grainer’s holes, and soon enough, we were off. As the train moved south along the banks of the Sacramento, we sat out on the porch and watched the scenery go by in the orange-pink shades of the crepuscule.
Of course, much of this is somewhat meaningless jargon to those uninitiated to the world and language of freight trains. And what the hell does a Canadian grainer have to do with poetry?
A complete explanation of the various cars that make up the freight system would take up the rest of this blog post and leave no room for poetry, but if you are so inclined, a relatively exhaustive article can be found here: “Rail cars that hoboes ride.” For our purposes, I’m going to focus on two of my favorite rides, which also happen to be two of the more evocative rail car types: the boxcar and the grainer.
The image of the hobo standing in an open boxcar’s doorway is a poem in and of itself. As a signifier, it is steeped in a potent mixture of signifieds ranging from abstractions of America and freedom to utmost poverty and deprivation. It is the most capacious of rail cars: its openness and echoic boom are among the primary qualities the transient being will notice the first time a pack is thrown onto the slick metal floor and the body hoists itself up into the cavernous space.
What is also unique about the boxcar is that it allows for a reception to the ineffable (like Mt. Shasta in colder, more snow-capped times) that remains mediated by the limits imposed by its doors’ dimensions. The transient being can see more from a boxcar that from other rail cars, but unless it is open on both sides, there is only one constantly shifting view available from a static rectangle. In this way, the boxcar resembles the poem that is full of possibility and reflexively so, but can only approach a multitude of visions— indeed, a stacked array of constantly shifting visions— through a singular focus in tone. The boxcar door provides for a tonal limitation in the limitless world, and thus, Dana Ward’s “My Diamond”:
What’s weird is that the nihilistic posture is the farthest thing from me
day to day my mind changes on heaven
canned tuna, Tapatio, Parmesan cheese
when I stopped watching Jersey Shore I thought it was a moral failing
everyone knows about high/low collapse
some poets won’t really go too low in the end
they won’t, on Two and a Half Men, spend prestige they could bend
all the way out to the Verizon. I wish poets were as good
at poetry as they are at resentment no I don’t
buy me back from this ebb with a large margarita at the end of the boardwalk by the wheel
It isn’t the obvious “high/low collapse” that makes the poem a perfect example of a boxcar, but the collapse is part of it. Rather, Ward’s poem is boxcar-like because its tone is conversational, even colloquial, while relating the intricacies of that “high/low collapse.” In the stanza above, the reader is regaled with a smattering of pop culture references, but in the next stanza, Ward’s diamond “bruises the heart to exaggerate its caustic obsolescence.” The tone remains, but there has been a shift in focus from the semiotics of low pop to a distinct emotionality, the complexity of which remains with Ward, to some degree. The boxcar door is open, but its wide screen is only so wide, and this limit is not a diminishing, but instead allows for a contained intricacy.
Our next rail car is formally known as the Covered Hopper car, but is usually referred to as a grainer, given that most are carrying grain, feed, coke ash, and any number of other small particulates. Grainers are a study in contradictions: from an open, airy porch at either side, the transient being must place possessions and then themselves through a small hole which leads to a space that is large enough to sit up and lay down in, but in which it is nigh-impossible to stand. Though exquisitely safe and undetectable in these tiny spaces, the transient being is caught between a metallic cocoon and a promise of wind whipping across the face, the deeply fraying density of compression and the jolt of open light hitting the iris.
After a lengthy excursion last year that ended in a 29-hour stint in a grainer hole, I found myself reading Aimé Césaire’s Solar Throat Slashed (trans. A. James Arnold & Clayton Eshleman). Enthralled by the lushness of language compacted, I like to think of his work as a grainer— a place where possible trance is available in a crowd of images, but where such exuberance must be shuttled into a shudderingly small space as a matter of necessity. The intensity of such an operation can be found in the poem “Turn of Events”:
Truly the stockjobbing of the birds of paradise no longer makes the rose of
the winds fade and when I open the cage of my eyelids when I unglove my
nested sparrowhawks and release them in a relaxing of eyeballs where the
pollen of hunger noiselessly carries out the lofty miracle of fecundating the
sterile flower of despair
(froth of the word tossed thoughtlessly amidst the flames of a silence
just concretion perceived by my excessively vivacious left breast
excrescence of the most uncivilized habits of my big toes
to my will dragging the scraps of the world
to my will silting up with more and more feeble gasps that I array quite nicely
as wisely defunct worlds)
Inside the grainer, only “scraps of the world” are seen, the fullness of “the birds of paradise” and prevailing winds unable to be fully grasped. Césaire later writes of “the nothingness of eyes,” and this is perhaps the most potent way of thinking of a poem-cum-grainer: the blankness of the inner world entombed in industrial efficiency, the impossibility of efflorescence despite its possibility and proximity just outside the grainer hole. Thus a grainer poem is images and thoughts compressed and “fecundating the sterile flower of despair,” a sort of impossibility that the poet wrangles with at every turn.
This wrestling with what Césaire calls “the nothingness of the city” that is not a nothingness at all, or the revolt “against the order of the road system” that can only be enacted on a different yet similar system: these are integral aspects of the life of the transient being, but also of the poet writing in and through a climate of teletechnological prowess in the ever-widening web of capital. Though hopping freight trains is not for everyone, the activity’s ability to inform a poetics is palpable to me, and I hope this sequence of blog posts has made it so for you, too, dear readers of Drunken Boat. Perhaps it is best to end on the thought that freight-hopping can be thought of as “an outward manifestation of an inner escape,” a phrase utilized often by legendary hobo graffiti writer buZ blurr. That poetry can be thought of in the same way, in its search for the ineffable and its dwelling in the interstices, is not a coincidence.
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), Armed Cell, Elderly, 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 in December is chapbook of travel and train poems from Mondo Bummer.
Happy Throwback Thursday! In celebration, photographer Benny Doutsh offers some truly inspiring photography gathered in the midst of his world travels for this week’s Vintage DB. These photos originally appeared in DB 11, Winter 2010.
Benny Doutsh was born in Israel and currently lives in Tel Aviv. Recently he spent time in the Himalayas, documenting the journey of Indian motorcyclists as they crossed some of the world’s highest mountains. He currently works as a photographer for YNet News, the English language website for Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s most-read newspaper, and FullGaz, a motor sports news website. Check out what’s up next for Benny on facebook.
Besides reading the predictably, addictively, and incessantly superfluous—email, social media, the BBC news website—I somehow find myself today, as if trying anxiously to make up for lost time, flipping among five books.
When in New York last spring I caught Caryl Churchill’s new play, Love and Information, and now I’m enjoying how stage manifests on page stunningly: 57 playlets (each only seconds long) that can be, within certain parameters, randomized for each performance, sans tags for or descriptions about who is speaking and where—the whole investigating how networked culture has turned each of us into data torrents.
For mindbreaks, it’s Sam Lipsyte’s collection The Fun Parts. Turns out Lipsyte was raised in Closter, New Jersey, which lies 7.8 miles from where I was raised, and so one of the joys of his prose for me is swimming among the voices and venues in which I grew up. Everybody talks about how funny Lipsyte’s fictions about urban/suburban lost boys and girls are, but in the end those fictions are about just the opposite: the abrupt erosion of searing humor into breakage and loss.
David Shields recently sent me a mockup of his next nonfiction, War is Beautiful, due out late in 2015. It announces itself as a large, thin coffee-table book with luscious layout, but immediately dissolves into a cloud of irony created by the discrepancy between found quotes about war and journalism and the gorgeously rendered nightmare images from the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Like Love and Information, it’s all collage, 24/7.
The last two things I’m reading feed my novel-in-progress, a retelling of the Minotaur myth, whose guiding metaphor is the labyrinth. And so: the chapter in musicologist Veit Erlmann’s Reason and Resonance: A History of Modern Aurality about muscial labyrinths and German physicist and physician Hermann von Helmholtz’s monograph on resonance theory, which subverts Descartes’ mind/body duality by asking us to think about how we hear music, thereby complicating inside/outside and suggesting the former is always-already the latter, the latter always-already the former.
Part of my Minotaur novel-in-progress takes the form of erasures of earlier texts (by Ovid, Borges, et al.) concerning labyrinths. And so: Jen Bervin’s Nets, her amazing (a word, naturally, that holds within itself maze, a form that complicates the unicursal structure of the labyrinth) erasures of Shakespeare’s sonnets. In each case, the gray ghost of the original haunts the bold black residue, reminding us by suggestive indirection that every body, physical or linguistic, is a haunted house.