Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems, by Gary Snyder
I am happy to finally read these poems as a collection (which include Snyder’s vibrant translations of 24 poems by Han-shan, or Cold Mountain) and especially to see the ways Snyder’s work was so enriched by the poems he was translating at the time. Han-shan, described by Snyder as “a mountain madman in an old Chinese line of ragged hermits,” composing his poems on stones and cliffs, wrote with a surface clearness that reveals beneath it, a dropping down to greater holds of depth. My favorite poems of Snyder’s in this collection are the ones that are also working in this way, of simplicity and clarity of description and experience, that resonate beneath their surfaces, whether they describe his work as a trail crew laborer in Yosemite, his time in Japan, or at sea on a tanker.
The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain, translated by Red Pine
About 300 of Han-shan’s poems have survived, and as Snyder only translated a handful of these, I am now reading Red Pine’s versions. Not much is known about Cold Mountain, perhaps born around 730 AD, and eventually living as a hermit in a cave, a two-day’s walk from the East China Sea. He is often described as wearing a birch-bark hat, wearing wooden shoes, carrying a staff and an air of wildness, poking fun at the monks living in a nearby temple, who apparently didn’t get it, thinking he was simply a clown. He writes, “Who takes the Cold Mountain Road/ takes a road that never ends/ the rivers are long and piled with rocks/ the streams are wide and choked with grass/ it’s not the rain that makes the moss slick/ and it’s not the wind that makes the pines moan/ who can get past the tangles of the world/ and sit with me in the clouds”
A Search for Solitude: The Journals of Thomas Merton, Vol. 3, 1952-1960
Of all the books of Thomas Merton that I’ve read, I am most drawn to the journals, which harbor an intense rawness, vulnerability, and humanness that I haven’t felt as strongly in his more polished work. Writing from Gethsemani, the Trappist monastery where he lived for the last 27 years of his life, Merton documents his social, political, and spiritual concerns and elucidations. I was initially surprised by his restlessness and judgments (of self and others), his sharp humor and also how very contemporary the journals read. Especially compelling are his short but piercing moments of observation of the natural world. These, for me, are the moments to rest in. March 19, 1958: “How fantastic. A red shouldered hawk wheels slowly over Newton’s farm as if making his own special silence in the air—as if tracing out a circle of silence in the air.”
Italian Folktales: Selected and retold by Italo Calvino
The daughter of the king is kidnapped by an octopus that turns into a fish everyday for only three hours. In order to release the daughter, one must kill the fish, but if it is not killed immediately after it is caught, it will quickly change into a seagull and fly away unharmed. One after another these stories march, twisting and dark and strange. What beautiful mind/s could create these worlds? I’d like to invite this mind to my dinner table, give it a bottle of wine, and lay down my ears for a few hours to listen. The Man Wreathed in Seaweed; The Little Girl Sold with the Pears; The Count’s Beard; Silver Nose.
Contemplative Practices in Higher Education, by Daniel Barbezat and Mirabai Bush
As a complement to the analytical thinking we often find/teach in college classrooms, contemplative practices offer students a chance to cultivate greater focus, attention, self-inquiry, and introspection to enhance their learning of course content but also to help them find greater personal meaning in their lives. As the authors state, “Without a context to develop the awareness of the implications of our actions and a clear idea of what is most deeply meaningful to us, we will continue to act in ways that force us into short-term, myopic responses to a world increasing out of control.” The book covers theory, current research, challenges, and introduces some practices for the classroom (such as mindfulness, approaches to writing and reading, deep listening, and compassion).
In sex, physical self-consciousness is abandoned in favor of intensified sensual pleasure. In sleep, everyday consciousness is abandoned in favor of the unconscious, the world of dreams. In sigils, the two states meet in a single act, and so is released a special and potent energy. A fertile power of harmony, transcending the barriers of the conscious/unconscious divide. And so it is that the sigil lets forth an energy that cuts through like a flaming sword, overcoming all that stands in its path. – Genesis Breyer P-Orridge
The best friend I had growing up was a copycat, Harry, who I loved. I never knew what he looked like. He was always given an empty plate at dinner. He collected Masters of the Universe stickers with me, and I’d buckle him up in the car when we went anywhere. Some would imply I wanted a brother, others would propose I was lonely.
My grandmother had told me that God was the best version of yourself you could imagine. I guess I couldn’t imagine that at such a young age. So, here came Harry. My imaginary best friend. Monotheism was the only import from the spiritual lives of the adults around me. I didn’t know any good and proper occultists. I don’t think I could fathom the idea of all-knowing, all-powerful very well. My friends at school said that I would be eaten by the monsters underneath my bed or inside my closet. I didn’t get scared, I just got underneath my bed, praying to God to meet them, to find their friendship.
I had some kind of social confusion. I named all my stuffed animals and talked to them endlessly, but didn’t like the kids at school. Too irrational, unfocused. I talked to myself, I was always trying to answer my own questions. I didn’t know what inspiration was. I knew the dark shapes I could make at night, that when I touched my chest very lightly, with just my fingertips, it felt like I could lift through the air somewhere else. Grandma Rusty did the whole bit about gold roads and seeing all the people you loved in Heaven, but no one was really dead yet for me. I’d have her for another 7 yrs.
I tried everything to get to God’s voice. It never came, but at night I would feel things in the air, in the darkness of Hammond, Indiana. I would see figures in white hanging by the neck in the corners of my bedroom and mouthing words that I couldn’t make out. Dreams and reality collapsed into one another a lot. I lived on a residential road, Madison Ave, 7147, next to a gravel alley way, a couple blocks from interstate 80-94. An old acid-freak couple across the street, where the male elder would where summer clothes in the winter and winter clothes in the summer. Down the block was a weird kind of castle space with an old German couple in it.
There was something out there and my senses always cued me into it. I had lucid dreams where red eyes would follow me from window to window in the house. I would go into the basement to play and I could feel the pressure. I wasn’t scared of the things I was told I should be, I was scared of something bigger. Something that would pour into the house and destroy us, something pushing in all around me.
This is before I knew what the Spectacle was, before my television consumption jumped the shark, in regards to what was allowable. Imagination is such a stupid, reductive way to see wherever you’re at. It’s more than that, it’s not just my mind, it’s my whole body, it’s the deep spaces that can lower you down past the concrete, past the piping and geology of this place. It’s that positive void that rolls into my heart and chest when I feel love.
My parents enrolled me in Sunday School sessions and eventually I would go to catechism classes, but it never really stuck. I sort of understood the intention, but it wasn’t until my actions were being deemed mortal sins that I started getting afraid. A kid named Tom, had made that male masturbatory gesture during my Freshman year of high school. Of course, I investigated it. Two days later, I was told it was a mortal sin. Two days after that, during the Ides of March in 1997, my father had a major heart attack. A three-pack a day man. I was 14. Was it my fault? Did I somehow cause it? I remember the doctors pulling my father’s body from the car, that smack of skin against the sidewalk. I remember sitting in the emergency room, my mother’s pale complexion and hand against her face, holding back infinite screams. My brother turning his attention to a priest, asking about the environment of heaven. I sat there, praying as hard as I could, not to let my father die because of my indiscretion. I took all that responsibility into myself.
The doctors told us he had a 3% chance of surviving the night and when he did, making a full recovery in the end, I thought that my promise to believe had something to do with it. I became a Roman Catholic. I made new friends, began going every Sunday at 1230pm, singing, watching each word that appeared in the missalette, following the sermon as though it were the only words ever spoken. At that point, I saw God as my grandmother, who had died the previous summer. I pushed and pushed to the front of the line in questions, trying to summon all the powers I had felt as a kid and aim through God. Later on, after my third year, I started going to youth retreats. There was one in particular where I was anointed as Christ and asked to field questions from other youth, in a small-group session. There were six of us who were anointed. The intensity and dedication to the belief was so real that when we met up afterwards, the other five told me that the Holy Ghost had truly entered them and they had no recollection of the session. I was a true believer and they were lying. I had felt the way God’s hand had touched my shoulder as we guided a small candle out to the campground. Why didn’t they remember? I saw the falsehood litter around me and I left. I started asking more intense questions of the clergy. I wanted to know the intentions, the reasons, the origins and nothing was satisfactory. I remember a close church friend, Bob, who told me when I was leaving, that he got a 1600 on his SAT’s and that I shouldn’t think I’m smarter then him since I was getting out. I remember looking over at him, I was done.
10 yrs I spent as an atheist, angry, perturbed at how dumb I had been. My father’s heart attack was something he owned, not me. But, the moments of clarity as a kid and later, as an adolescence still gave off this deeper reality. Moments where I would see things that didn’t make any sense, where I would enter a room and feel pressure or have visuals pool into the back of my eyes.
Religion invades the child’s world. A child without guilt is thus given guilt. A child without fear is thus given fear. The only salvation offered is through faith. Faith, it is suggested, ends death. The price of cheating death through faith is, of course, submission. – Genesis Breyer P-Orridge
At some point, I started making an altar in the spaces I called home. It was always a touch make-shift, dirty, stones from my third grade rock collection, or the box of feathers from around the neighborhood. I had been living in Philadelphia, maybe a year in or so, when my friend John and Amanda Courie asked me if I wanted to join a Chaos Magick organization in line with the Temple of Psychick Youth (TOPY). I wanted to describe to you how I got involved, but the answer is, ‘I don’t know.’ I just kind of walked into it. As a kid, I wanted to believe in everything weird, anything that my friends didn’t believe in. I’m 32 now. I believe in everything, in nothing, in various trip-wired dimensions. When asked, I just said yes.
The Temple asks, “What do you really want out of life?” Those shapes in the dark can be anything. Seven billion people. We can do anything, anything at all. The Temple asks, “Will you be forever addicted to self-restriction?” Maybe that was the key, located on the second page of Thee Grey Book (1980) that pushed me out into my first sigil. At first, I felt that the directives were just self-help guru shit, but then it started to occur to me that the weird lines from the universe in my childhood weren’t gone. They were maturing into something else. I had, by this time, been involved with the Spectacle for a few years. The depression had just started to sting below the surface, into the makings of a dark heart and this felt like a fight, an antidote.
The British Occultist Austin Osman Spare‘s methodology included that, “sigils are used to enable two things to occur. Effective communion with unconscious levels and the lodging of a desire or wish at unconscious levels without the conscious mind being involved or aware.” So, I said yes to chaos. Hail Eris. At first glean, I was worried about the blood. I have an intense fear of blood, like a spigot you can’t stop. I followed the directions. I wrote down on a piece of paper a wish. Through Spare’s method, ‘the alphabet of desire’, I removed all the duplicate letters and created a secondary artistic rendering of what was left. A glyph. I put the paper on the ground, next to my altar. I picked up some diabetic needles and broke into my skin, letting a drop or two out. I added a lock of hair from my head and pubis. I spit onto the page. The idea now is to charge the glyph.
You communicate, through your most intense sexual fantasy, the last element, an orgasm and the fluids associated. It was hard to achieve at first, as the internet had been part of my private habit for so many years that my imagination felt held back, or stifled. The Spectacle had invaded my own sexual appetite. Bricks of grease down the pipe. I had to make my brain break out, calling deep inside to create a desire outside of the image. I kept falling in and out of moments of closure, of complete loss of arousal and then my animal instincts kicked in and it happened. The images dissolved and I collapsed, spreading out through the entirety of my body, into the floorboards and the dirt below the house. I could feel the melt, this shift. I laid on the ground for nearly an hour, feeling so tired, as though a thousand years had passed through me. Was it a flaming sword? I don’t know if I was there yet.
The Spectacle says that what appears is good and what is good appears. The cyclical prison, one that is in me and everyone I know. I made a choice to do something and the shift occurred. At that very moment, I had found something. The next morning, I burned the glyph, green flames spitting out and I let go of my desire, of the wish. Peter Carroll writes in Liber Null, that, “the sigil is charged at moments when the mind has achieved quiescence through magickal trance, or when high emotionality paralyzes its normal functioning.”
The sigil represents a person’s true will. Carroll goes on to define magick as, “the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will.” It’s about discipline. It’s about keeping a diary of one’s experiments and how they turn out. To truly fight the Spectacle, one must find a way to bring autonomous space to their bodies. The body between worlds. It’s through one’s genetic material that a link can be established with yourself, or as Genesis puts it as, “a perfect holographic splinter, containing everything necessary to create yourself anew.” At this point, one builds their practice.
It’s important to point out that a strong habit can be established through this methodology. Carroll points out that there are two ways to follow through on the objective. The first is laughter/laughter, a kind of antidote to the possible insanity of the magickal trance and the second is non-attachment/non-disinterest, a kind of mental teaching to not foreground one’s experiments in obsession, or ‘acting without lust of result.’
Laughter is the highest emotion, binding, holding all the other emotions inside. There is nothing that stands in opposition to laughter. Carroll states that, “laughter is the only tenable attitude in a universe which is a joke played upon itself. The trick is to see that joke played out even in the neutral and ghastly events which surround one.” Our limited life span, the age of the universe, the difficulty of sustaining life on a planet with these ideas of consumption and social currency… This is Monty Python’s, ‘The Funniest Joke in the World,’ where the translation has to be word by word, syllable by etc. or death stakes its claim. It’s where the madness edges the razor blade while shaving.
These are the conditions, seek out laughter, it can change you.
The birth of Chaos Magick came about in the late 70s, at about the time that punk rock was spitting out at the music industry and Chaos Science was beginning to be taken seriously by mathematicians, economists and physicists… The basic message of Chaos Magick is that, what is fundamental to magick is the actual doing of it – that like sex, no amount of theorizing and intellectualization can substitute for actual experience. – Phil Hine
What I love about Chaos Magick is that it borrows, steals, plagiarizes from all kinds of different sources. Whether it’s the latest scientific declarations that we live inside a 2-D hologram, or the dimensions spaced out in Philip K Dick’s Valis, the system is built on what the practitioner chooses. One is encouraged to devise what works best for you. If the fit sucks, do something else.
The principles that guided the early adherents still seems relevant. But it’s the bare bones of a system.
1) One must avoid dogma. Learn how to with change your mind, contradict yourself, listen to your gut. 2) You got to check it out for yourself, no more ‘armchair theorists’, make experiments, devise schemes, this is your life. 3) Don’t half-ass it, get technical. It’s only through self-assessment and a continued method of follow-up that you’ll be able to get the results you truly desire. 4) It’s time to decondition. This is the big time folks, you have to walk through socialized thought, take risks to better understand yourself and your surroundings. 5) Make the system diverse, stretch out into avenues of thought you never caught before, build out of vulnerability. 6) Perhaps the most important one, is Gnosis. The ability to enter altered states of consciousness at will.
This can be broken down into two phases. Inhibitory states and excitatory states. Hine points out that, “the former includes physically ‘passive’ techniques such as meditation, yoga, scrying, contemplation and sensory deprivation while the latter includes chanting, drumming, dance, emotional and sexual arousal.” These are the keys to changing your relationship with yourself and the world of the Spectacle. There is no elite practitioners of Chaos Magick, there is just us.
These are tools you could use. It’s how I started to work with my vulnerabilities. This is how we can see the possibilities of a Post-Spectacular World. As I’ve worked my way through some of the darker depressive states of Spectacular Time, (“Illusorily lived time of a constantly changing reality” – Guy Debord) I’ve also begun the process where I create autonomy around me, in the actual surrounding space. It’s my small, endless movement to stop the pervasive ditch-weed ideology of the Spectacle. It’s a choice.
Fear breeds faith. Faith uses fear. Reject faith, reject fear, reject religions and reject dogma. Learn to cherish yourself, appreciate intuition and instinct, learn to love your questions. Value your time. Use mortality to motivate action and a caring, compassionate and concentrated life. Genesis Breyer P-Orridge with Simon Dwyer
It’s important at this juncture to talk about some of the problems with Chaos Magick. First and most annoyingly, is the terminology. Not unlike philosophy, where a plethora of words between authors mean the same thing, or the variations on a theme works as a kind of arrogant signature, Chaos Magick can work and look like a system that eats itself. I’ve used Peter Carroll’s Liber Null, Psychonaut, The Apophenion, and Genesis Breyer P-Orridge’s The Psychick Bible as the core texts in both this essay and in my practice. These texts are pretty free of the language of alienation that one finds in the more esoteric texts. I would also suggest Oven-Ready Chaos by Phil Hine as a solid introduction. The systems are what you want to make, you are the power that decides that making.
I must also say, that some of the magickal texts that are out there, under the label of Chaos Magick, even some of the writer’s I’ve culled for this text will have gender-binary problems. There is also some misogyny, sometimes bad stuff. Obviously I don’t want to stand by these problematic texts, but the era in which some were written many other influential art works were often just as phallocentric and restrictive in their perspective. Ideas do have removable and switchable parts; rip it up and start again.
You just have to force the hand of chance. The childhood home where my grandmother raised me, while my father went to nursing school was torn down in early 2009. My grandfather had long vacated and remarried. We aren’t sure if he ever found out, advancing age and all that. The house that held a full generation of DeBoers had received tenants that destroyed the interior: defecation, animals, children, the whole works just let loose. Apparently the stairwell to the upstairs completely collapsed.
On the flip, I have more than a few eyewitnesses that my grandfather was a difficult, perhaps even mean man. He was a house painter. There’s a story where his neighbor is painting his house next door and loses control of his ladder. Grandpa was standing there with either my dad or his brother (neither could remember) as he ignored the man’s cries for help. He proceeded to go in and ask what’s for dinner. No flinch. I paint houses, don’t steal my money right in front of me. It was the 50s, the specialization bubble before the Spectacle.
Sometime, in 2012, I went back there. I sat on the gravel that was once the living room, the spot right in front of the TV, imagining that house, those memories, that seething energy, it flowed through me, calling up all the different worlds of a family’s genetic makeup. The garage was gone. The shed full of paint, tools, all left behind in weeds and saw dust. The peach tree leaned over towards the ground, heavy and willow-like. The gravel rough and chalky. I meditated there, scorched. A dark heart digging out, to be restarted.
– NICHOLAS DEBOER
Nicholas DeBoer is a poet, collagist, activist, and chaos magician living in NYC. He is the author of many chapbooks and broadsides, as well as a co-editor for Elderly with Jamie Townsend and Cheer + Hope Press with Geoffrey Olsen. He also is a member of the Potlatch Discordian Network, a magickal organization operating out of Ridgely, MD. Currently he is prepping “The Singes”, the first in his epic arc “The Slip”, for publication. He is also also most certainly alive.
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.