It is with sadness that I learned today of the death of Francesca Rosa, writer, activist, and publisher. I met Francesca in Bob Glück's Saturday house writing workshop in the mid-1990s where she worked tirelessly on her book The Divine Comedy of Carlo Tresca, a book she finished and published with Ithuriel's Spear in 2012. Francesca was instrumental in bringing my book Dear Reader into the world.
In honor of Francesca, I am reprising an interview I did with her in January of 2009--how swiftly time escapes us.
Francesca Rosa: From The Angels of Light to New Narrative and Labor Activism
Back in mid-May I read in the Local Poets Series at the San Francisco Public Library in the Civic Center with Barbara Jane Reyes and Eleni Stecopoulos.
A portion of the event was recorded. Eleni elected not to be recorded, but here is an an excerpt of Barbara reading and one from me.
Hosted by the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Colorado at Denver
Organized by Julie Carr and Sarah Tyson March 9-12, 2016
What a pleasure it was to be part of this conference bringing together scholars and writers from the worlds of philosophy, poetry, feminist theory, and literature. The conference offered a rich set of readings, talks, panels, workshops and a closing dance party.
S P A C E/
S P A C I A L
S P A C E S O F D I S C O M F O R T
|Public Lynching |
August 30, 1930.
From the Hulton Archives.
Courtesy Getty Images (Image alteration with permission: John Lucas)from Citizen: An American Lyric
On not just any Sunday, but yesterday, the 6th of December, California College of the Art's Timken Hall was filled beyond capacity. Oversold.
After being introduced by CCA MFA student Rachel Kass, Karen Green, whose recent book Bough Down has garnered many accolades, including winner of The Believer Poetry Award 2013, sat cross-legged on a plastic chair on stage and read, beginning with this:
The doctor wears his pink shirt with the sleeves rolled up. I see his flaws clearly before he gives me the shot which will put me to sleep until after the holidays. He is making a mercy call, and the needle is part of my invention. Pink is a new color I am seeing.
The Googled pills are all different colors.
I don’t know how not to imagine submission, even after all this. Someone says I need to be contained but I think he means constrained. I let him take away my sight and my hearing while he applies pressure in another language. He is very kind about assessing my needs, but there is a strident protestor type inside who recoils and starts assembling contempt and mirrors.
What dreams the support guys have:
Their sensible shoes wear out, they have the code blues, patients eat their own fingers down to the first knuckle; there are contraptions to keep hands down, mouths shut. They dream of consequences. They have their McSanctuaries to dream in, and yet. Faux-science is replaced with newer, quieter faux-science. The machines chirp like fledglings, they don’t beep. Some souls are so lost they make their own privacy, they don’t need walls. The support guys are trained to say, Why do you ask? They are trained to know when to train a patient to say, Why do you ask. In their dreams they forget how to treat people, they forget how to work the machinery, how to deflect, manipulate and regurgitate accidents, they kiss their patients on the gurney while it rolls away, they run in slow motion to catch up, there is nudity under the lab coat, they beg for forgiveness in tongues. They remove the wrong eye, the one that sees.
The movers say it is fire season, they’re used to it. Acres are burning and the concierge comments on the beauty of the sunset, the eye shadow palette of the apocalypse. I took ashes to the hotel in a hatbox. I left the murder of crows rotating from the studio ceiling, I left too many holes in the wall. The support guys have replaced the cells in my brother. I’m coming, wait for me. I’m sorry I missed your call. I have to make a stop to drop off paperwork. I cut my hand and the papers are bloody. I tell the life insurance guy, It’s not what you think.
Green's text is punctuated by her collages like the one above. She didn't include images of these at the reading, but I wish she would have, particularly since both Green and Rankine's books--though in different fashions--are engaged with text and images. You can see more of Green's poem here at BOMB magazine. About Green's book in the Los Angeles Review of Books Maggie Nelson has written:
Karen Green’s new — and incredibly, her first — book Bough Down, from Siglio Press, is an astonishment. It is one of the most moving, strange, original, harrowing, and beautiful documents of grief and reckoning I’ve read. The book consists of a series of prose poems, or individuated chunks of poetic prose, interspersed with postage-stamp-sized collages made by Green, who is also a visual artist. Collectively the text bears witness to the 2008 suicide of her husband . . . and its harrowing aftermath for Green. The book feels like an instant classic, but without any of the aggrandizement that can attend such a thing. Instead it is suffused throughout with the dissonant, private richness of the minor, while also managing to be a major achievement.
I am looking forward to reading more of Karen's book.
|"In the Hood"|
After Karen, CCA MFA student Melissa Josephine Ramos introduced Claudia Rankine. On-screen, Rankine projected images from her book Citizen: An American Lyric, beginning with David Hammons' "In the Hood," made in 1993 after the LAPD beating of Rodney King; this image graces the cover of Citizen.
She also showed us a photograph of Hammons in New York City as he sold snowballs, which you cold hold and then "feel whiteness melt in your hands."
Opening her reading with the statement that "Citizen came to me through community," Rankine explained how she asked numerous friends to recount an experience when each was doing something ordinary and suddenly something was said that reduced the person to his/her/their race, and racism entered the discourse.
Reading from the first part of Citizen, comprised of some 12 separate sections and anecdotes, Rankine began with:
On Sunday November 1st, I spent the afternoon sitting in a stone circle in the Arboretum basking in the pleasure of hearing Diana Block read from her new novel Clandestine Occupations, a book built around 6 female narrators, all involved in social justice advocacy, and Emily Abendroth and Miranda Mellis read from their ongoing exchange or correspondence project--The Instead--due out from Carville Annex Press in the spring. They've described it below.
But first, I can tell you that their constraints and considerable intellectual and creative powers/prowess have produced a beautiful, whip-smart piece that traces thought's and advocacy's engagement in the daily; the piece explores, among many other things, the overlap of sod and fracking and prison sites, Kendrick Lamar's "Alright," workout boot camp, Brian Massumi, and Gregory Bateson on play, authority and discomfort in pedagogies, shifts/splices/changes.
Miranda's close-reading of Lamar's video and Emily's reading of boot camp pedagogy through the bridge of Lamar's song blasting in the studio was particularly pleasing and densely layered. These close-readings reminded me of the many communal readings performed by the band in the novels comprising the ongoing series From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate by Nate Mackey. In Bedouin Hornbook, for example, the band is in San Francisco when they come across some graffiti on a boarded-up storefront. It reads: “‘Mr. Slick and Mister Brother are one of the two most baddest dude in town, and Sutter Street’” (26). Each band member interprets the message differently. Their conversation, a performative debate or critical dozens if you will, occurs before a crowd, one that participates with laughter and critique of their own.
To the pleasures of reading--on our own and with others, in humor and horror, criticality and hope--as provided to us by Emily and Miranda!
A late October afternoon, students thronging the campus walkways, parking challenging! I'm at San Francisco State for Tonya Foster and David Buuck's reading at the Poetry Center.
In the audience, students, Steve Dickison, Emily Abendroth, CA Conrad, and others. David, equipped with visuals, began the afternoon. His was a somewhat improvisational talking through some of his BARGE (Bay Area Research Group Enviro-aesthetics) project, with sustained attention to his "Buried Treasure Island: a detour of the future," punctuated by readings from Site Cite City and a sung rendition of "Dead Men Don't Bite."
You can hear David read/sing "Dead Men Don't Bite" here at the Poetry Center's Vimeo channel.
I don't know why I missed David's Treasure Island work when it was happening in real time, but I wish I hadn't. It strikes me that his project might also be called, in the parlance of the Composition and Rhetoric world, truly multimodal; it is comprised of tours that are performative "detours" on Treasure Island with people in hazmat suits as "ghosts of the future," framing ignored "views" of the island and city beyond it as tourists and others gaze at the military industrial complex in the form of the Blue Angels streaking across the sky.
- the event of the tour itself,
- and all the research and work that went into developing it, (the project drawing attention to the toxic dumping ground the island became courtesy of the US Navy),
- the text, podcasts, guidebook,
- and the photos that accompany them, or are produced around and after the events.
- Then there is David's reading and singing and talking about the piece.
I loved how he detournéd panels once bearing graffiti which were then painted-over; he labeled them as in a gallery or museum--"untitled municipal painting."
Here's a section from "Buried Treasure":
Notes On Method: Paranoid Landscapes (2008)
The sick/ of magic/ lining up --CA Conrad
Throughout the work on this project, BARGE has had to re-adjust its methods to fit the 'facts on the ground,' even as those facts filter themselves through ever-more paranoiac scrims. By listening to the materials instead of imposing one's narratives upon them, and letting the symptoms proliferate into new forms of understanding--the telling itch, the site-specific discharge, the rash judgments, and above all, the 'black spot' where the no-go zones meet flesh--one could open up the terrain for uncanny encounters with the site and its hauntings. For instance, when the window opened behind me and the voice hailed me with her version of events, to be narrated in a kind of speculative poetics that the guidebook had yet to accommodate, the feeling was not of surprise as much as the recognition that this encounter was meant to happen at exactly this juncture in the field work. Thus the strange white car that would often be waiting at off-limit sites right as I was approaching would turn up in the rear view mirror at exactly the moment I was wondering aloud where it had been hiding. Of course one would turn a corner and suddenly come across a three-legged dog trotting down an empty street. Of course there as a Naval "Ghost Blimp" that disappeared from the island years ago, only to show up in Daly City, its engines running and its pilots missing. Psychogeographic research became a kind of landscape-fugue, a cognitive napping, where somnambulatory dériveations chart the ground-scores by which the island improvises song within that seeming null state between past and future. No map could hope to chart such fever-dreams, what with the open containers full of poisoned land from other sites, the fenced-off littoral zones, the underground petrol tanks bellowing beneath the fault lines--all real time objects of a land-based dream-work that has yet to be fully translated into the new cartography. In the converging crises, when the contradictions work themselves out through the post-disaster, post-oil ecologies to come, the survivors will have had to make use of every site for spectral nourishment, every nook for plant life, producing oxygen for the new lungs, fever and ferment for the new species-dreaming (53).
I am looking forward to reading David's book!
Tonya began her reading by noting that "poetry doesn't happen without community," and then she read a portion of something she said is old though she is still very much "mired" in it. This piece with its lovely alternative titles aimed at different contexts and perhaps audiences: "Pay Attention To Where You At: A Mathematics of Chaos," a.k.a. "Its Difficult Subjects: Jamming Between Misery and Majesty," a.k.a. "Its Difficult Subjects. Talking Shit. At the Crossroads."* This work is engaged with a deep love for place--whether that place is Harlem or New Orleans, while it is also a powerful meditation on disaster and catastrophe and grief. She quoted Blanchot, "the disaster takes care of everything." Tonya's take is complex and surprising. She notes that as a kid, the possibility of a deluge created a kind of innocent excitement. A day of rain might mean a day out of school. That was then, and momentary. I am looking forward to seeing this piece published.
She then read from her new amazing book, A Swarm of Bees in High Court. I love this book; its pleasure in plying language; its sharp observation and critique. There's so much attention to prosody. It is rife with anaphora, alliteration, and a kind of staccato rhythm a/mi/d/st words rendered multiple. Here's a few sections from various poems.
Beside her, he lies
--possession and "O!
Again to t/his sweat. Now sleep.
But not for her--sleep
less eyes like stagnant
city pools. Saltiness, then
this thirst for ice.
Knots of a woman
who ain't numb with want. Who's not
effaced by shut eyes?
Nots form this woman
who sugars her mustards, who'll
want but never ask.
In her body swarms
swarms of cells, of tissue, of
sounds--"achoo," blood, "shush."
In her body, swarms
womb, "little cash," years.
Her self is a sleep,
is snake-eyes, knothole, whistle,
skull, gristle, and nerve.
Her self is a sleep
from which t/his voice might wake her.
To what? To what?
To be--the water
that bandies a body, the
body of a once
young wo/man n
a bayou of sound & words in
the pre/ab/sense of sleep.
To be--a boat as
in raft or pontoon. Each word,
a boat in which s/he
is, in which s/he is
sentenced and bandied about.
To be about to...
To be about...
To be bandied about by water,
to be busted and broke,
to be bored, grief-bore, work-bore.
to be backache, bone of nightshifts,
to be barren as salt lick, to bear bellyached and bloat,
to be news and less.
To be--tethered between seer and (un)see.
To see and to be
seen?--what it is to live on
Her voice, no matter how loud or clear, is rendered silence, his do--
shadow projected across a page, across a street, an age, across
two bodies in bed (59-60).
You can listen to a brief bit of Tonya's reading on the Poetry Center's Vimeo channel here.
Oakland-based writer David Buuck is the founder of BARGE, the Bay Area Research Group in Enviro-aesthetics and co-founder and editor of poetics journal Tripwire. Recent books include SITE CITE CITY (Futurepoem, 2015) and An Army of Lovers, written with Juliana Spahr (City Lights, 2013).
Tonya M. Foster is the author of A Swarm of Bees in High Court and coeditor of Third Mind: Creative Writing through Visual Art. Her writing and research focus on ideas of place and emplacement, and on intersections between the visual and the written. Her next collections are a cross-genre collection on New Orleans, and Monkey Talk, an intergenre composition about race, paranoia and surveillance. Her poetry, prose and essays have appeared in Callaloo, Tripwire, boundary2, MiPOESIAS, NYFA Arts Quarterly, the Poetry Project Newsletter and elsewhere. She is an assistant professor at California College of the Arts.
* Thank you to Steve Dickison for assistance with these titles!