Ridiculously meta fanfiction: Barsetshire and Madame Koska

In the last few weeks in my way of consuming books relentlessly when I can’t sleep and am feeling stressed, I’ve been reading all possible Angela Thirkell books that I could find in e-book format. They’re a ridiculous series written and set after World War I in England in Trollope’s fictional Barsetshire. The class politics are terrible and interesting and they’re a bit like reading a more complex Agatha Christie novel without the mystery solving. It’s always interesting to see how a novelist treats writing about the same group of people over time – these books would be perfect for the long intersecting arcs of a long-running tv series.

I finally hit the book “Peace Breaks Out” and felt surfeited of fancy-ass people with vaguely Trollopean names bemoaning the nastiness of their rationed food and the fact that sometimes they have to clean up after themselves. Definitely found myself muttering and cussing them all out, and hating the obvious arcs of the mawkish love stories past a certain point.

But then in the suggested next books, I noticed some mystery books starring Madame Koska – who was the detective in the books written by a fictional novelist, one of the nicest characters in Thirkell’s series, Laura Morland. Mrs. Morland writes trashy detective novels to support herself and her four sons and their household (ie their servants). It’s a running joke how while she is self-deprecating, everyone she meets gushes about how much they love Madame Koska’s exciting world of fashion design.

Perfect…. completely meta-trashy…. the meta has gone 2 levels deep as Thirkell was more or less writing Trollope fanfiction and then the Koska author is writing fanfic of the fanfic. I have just started Madame Koska and the Imperial Brooch – it’s extremely fun and silly.

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London and The Story

It’s amazing how only two suitcases can explode over a hotel room in stratigraphic layers of gadgets, papers, cords, chargers, cookies, postcards, tshirts, teacups, leg braces, books, and handkerchiefs-and-underwear washed in the sink hung out to dry. I have a fabulous view out the window of beautiful brick rooftops and the dome of the British Museum, which is lucky since I’m spending a lot of this trip to London lying in bed with my feet up on pillows!

I really enjoyed The Story. Eighteen of us told 20-minute stories one after the other, and it was never boring! It was like being inside a real-life anthology carefully edited by Matt Locke. As the day went on the bigger and somewhat inchoate Story began to emerge from the selection of individual stories told. I’m not sure what that big story is. It had the feeling of a thing that’s too new to be named, something diffuse that’s popping up rhizomatically in many different gardens, or something invisible and huge that we’re all trying to harness and ride. It felt like a story about the possible future.

I’m sure it’s unfashionable to be earnest about something so pomo. But that’s how I respond to anthologies. They’re about an unnameable shape and their pleasure for me is in trying to wrap my mind around that emerging shape.

My talk, “Fake Lesbians All the Way Down” was on last year’s blogging hoaxes (Gay Girl in Damascus and Paula Brooks/LezGetReal) and while I tried to make it a personal story about the process of doubting and then investigating particular identities, being lost in a labyrinth of identities and sources and histories, what I wanted to convey was not my personal experience or drama or a homily about Syrian activists in danger (which does trump the rest of the story). I wanted to convey an instance of what it means to read a story actively, to engage with a “difficult text”. Whatever people got out of it, the gossipy pleasure of Internet Drama and so on, I think I represented a good piece of the puzzle, one with swirly doubts, complexities and difficulty, that you can’t read without being drawn in to be part of it.

Other stories: Jeremy Deller‘s historical re-enactment of The Battle of Orgreave, part of the miners’ strike in 1984; Matthew Herbert‘s experiments with sound as story (I was overcome with sudden nostalgic desire to hear the sounds of a city street in 1982); Ellie Harrison‘s playful, scarily and wonderfully OCD manifestations of enormous personal and political data sets; Tom Chatfield and Phil Stuart on the narrative tricks of their video game for children on philosophy and death; Tom Watson and Emily Bell on the story of sticking with the unfolding phone hacking scandal; and Danny‘s wrap-up story about Anarchy, the Universe, Occupy, Hackerspaces, Open Source, the Internet, and Everything — and too many other talks to go into in one blog post.

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I loved how interested the audience was, how everyone was listening very hard, and talking about it all on the breaks and afterwards, with more than idle curiosity — a bit more like being at a science fiction convention where you know you are among other people who really love Whatever It Is, than like being at a tech conference where half of it is necessarily about networking and pushing your startup or getting a job. Maybe that view is because as an outsider to this scene, the networking bit was invisible to me. Still, it felt like most of the people there were story-lovers and creators who had the capacity to listen with complexity.

Also, how awesome was it that the conference schedule was printed IN CHOCOLATE?

The Story program in chocolate

The night before the conference there was a dinner for the speakers, and for me the highlight was talking with Matt Sheret not just about our own upcoming talks but also in depth about zines, anthologies, books, stories and games including role playing games and MUDs. We had something of a shared experience of the ways role playing games, especially as collaborative stories extended over months or years, pull people together socially and the depth of community & friendships they can create.

I have to add a few ill mannered words though, because it is part of my role as an imported American to stomp around, braying gracelessly. And it’s not like, when I see the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen and the most ripe for mockery, I can keep my mouth shut about it! One talk made my head explode with rage so much that I was glad it was there as a bad example, as the utterly wrong kind of story and story telling. So while I don’t want to be mean to the perfectly nice person exemplifying this, I must slam the subject of her talk. /end disclaimer

Fiona Raby gave a sort of “multimedia presentation” (and I mean that in all the ways one might itch all over at a badly “interactive” museum exhibit) of a vision of the future in 2050 of humans as “Foragers“. Without any apparent knowledge of the enormous amount of science fiction and futurist thought of actually creative and visionary people on this subject, some design consultancy in South Africa poured out buttloads of money to come up with the Art Concept of how in 2050 the Earth’s 9 billion people will need to be fed. Oh, no one has ever pushed the boundaries of thought about THAT before, for fuck’s sake! Anyway, the Foragers will be genetically engineered with handwavium to have external stomachs around their necks like inner tubes and will have prosthetic arm extensions to vacuum up and digest common weeds and the leaves of trees (in order to preserve biodiversity rather than having nothing but soy crops) whilst wearing Nikes and fashionable track suits because globally industrialized consumer capitalism is still going strong and nothing else about the world has changed other than “9 billion people” and “we still have brand name sneakers”. This, presented as radical conceptualization of the future rather than as just freaking lazy. Swoopy drawings of the foragers and then some people cosplaying foragers with long green sleeves, masks, and inner tubes around their necks in a skanky vacant lot under some pylons (with the people playing frisbee in the background hailed as more radical conceptualization of the normal human activity taking place as foragers forage, and the snapshot-level quality of the photos lauded as brilliant camera work. Interspersed with “science” bits about how (news flash!) Scientists have discovered (recently!) that there are certain plants… (peas… fancy that!) that “put Nitrate” into the soil and useful crops could be genetically engineered to splice that capability in.

orly-owl

THEN… as if that were not enough crime… they hired a hack writer to drivel on about the last butterfly being accidentally Foraged off an oak leaf, and then printed a few paragraphs of that drivel in 5 inch high plastic three dimensional letters (in a special font) which were artily placed on an art gallery floor so that they (radical concept!) were only readable in a linear fashion from a particular perspective. There is also a video or three and some computer animation. I could almost forgive the whole Foragers thing as a clumsy, naive, beginner’s attempt at science fiction, if not for the obviously obscene amount of money an enormous amount of useless people sucked off some governmental/NGO tit to produce this 5th-rate bullshit. I have to be harsh, because to me this is exactly the most horrifying process of producing and telling a story, as well as being a bad story.

Anyway!

On Sunday I went to the London Hackspace to have a tour. It was amazingly like Noisebridge in San Francisco, but somewhat quieter and with less people trooping in and out.

hackspace

I loved how familiar it was, I loved the clutter and mess (which to me is richness and depth), the 3D printers, computer equipment and half-finished projects everywhere, cables hanging down from the walls and ceiling, murals of robots, enormous wood shop full of tools and scraps, and most of all the little flyers and bits of tape everywhere exhorting people to clean up, put your stuff away, put tea cups here, how to use this particular machine without cutting your hands off, organizational systems carefully created for the screwdrivers, and NO SLEEPING signs, because they are common to co-ops and collectives everywhere and their evident frustration is so touching an attempt to believe in human virtue.

screwdrivers big

Did you clean up?

With amusing naivete I had made the mistake of, while crippled and in theory “resting”, trying to keep up with Coryand Alice for an entire day. I have been in bed ever since. I really enjoyed Shoreditch House, the office with all those fascinating things and the astroturf balcony and back issues of Punch and the Whole Earth Catalog and lots of great science fiction, the hackspace, that awesome Vietnamese restaurant, both levels of Forbidden Planet, and that one store with the fancy leather coats.

Meanwhile — my beautiful view of rooftops from the hotel window led me to a small ridiculous epiphany. As I grew up reading everything including a ridiculous amount of British literature the word “chimneypots” meant something completely abstract to me. An architectureal feature of some sort that is part of a chimney or maybe just a weird old word for chimneys themselves. Of course looking out this window there are actual pottery things that look like flowerpots sitting on top of brick chimneys. Mindblowing! And they’re so lovely! I wish I could convey how smug I feel at this realization of how imaginary these objects were to me and how mundane they obviously must be to people here. Now I have a thing to the name, have read the Wikipedia entry for chimney pots (theory and history of) and have found 52 page pdf parody history of the fine old sport of Chimney Pot Spotting; I believe I’m looking at a Tadcaster Stoat and a Manly Bovington right now!

out the window

Oh! And! Two people (at least) drew cartoons of the speakers at The Story: sketch by Francois Jordan and another by Drawnalism. And… I wanted to mention that it was all a fundraiser for the Ministry of Stories which runs writing workshops for kids and has a storefront — The Monster Shop — run on the same sort of model as 826 Valencia and The Pirate Store.

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Belladonna readings in NYC

The Belladonna collective has some kick ass poetry events and I really wish I could go to their upcoming one:

Our Material Lives: Feminism and Poetry at Various Ages

Our 2011-2012 season will call to attention the material life of the artist, as person, who, in addition to being creator/conspirator to a body of work, possesses a physical body, and real financial, medical and social needs. To inaugurate this season, we’ll begin with an unique event focusing on feminism and writing in the many stages of our poetic lives.

The evening will include an exclusive screening of The Poetry Deal, Melanie La Rosa’s film about legendary poet Diane di Prima, readings by internationally acclaimed poets Ana Bozicević and Caroline Crumpacker, with Hannah Zeavin and an opportunity for conversation among presenters and audience.

If I could I would also subscribe to their entire series of printed books and go to their readings which all sound great.

While it is the people I haven’t heard of who I really want to hear…. still it would be kickass to be there for Anne Waldman‘s performance. She’s so weird and screechy, uncomfortable in a good way.

I’m going to listen to some of the Belladonna reading series mp3 archive today while I work. 20 minutes of Maureen Owen, fuck yeah! I’m downloading them now and making a playlist. Will blog anything particularly great.

It’s been too long since I’ve gone to readings regularly! I need a little poet community feeling! There’s so many readings in SF and regular open mics every day of the week. I’m thinking of trying to go to Word Party at Viracocha, or Smack Dab. I love to go to an open mic and take notes… and blog about it!

belladonna logo

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Diane di Prima reading for DivaFest

Diane di Prima does one long solo reading per year in San Francisco and for the last 7 years that’s been at DivaFest at the Exit Theater. The little theater was packed with wistful and wild-eyed poets and hardcore di Prima fans as Diane led off just talking about stuff and asking us all for any spare kleenexes before she started out reading. She talked a bit about being the poet laureate of San Francisco saying that she loves the poetry folks of this town and it honors them and it honors poetry. But the parts that are political or B.S. and that it doesn’t have very much money to support her going in to teach poetry writing to kids and so on, that part isn’t so great. It’s nice but the greatest honor she has ever received was knowing someone typed out her first book on carbon paper to pass it around Leavenworth prison.

Diane then said that she is thinking of what’s new, poems as news, poets as antennae and is reading a bunch of unpublished work and the new things that may go into Loba or the next Revolutionary Letters. “A lot of things that are news are very old. They’re new and old at the same time.” I really love poet talk and Diane can’t even help doing it and at the same time is just plain not full of shit. (Reminding me of my friend Greg who died… should be on his grave stone, “He wasn’t full of shit.”) I respect the ability some people have to just talk and then to read their writing in a way that isn’t bullshitty or different than their usual self. Just write it! And then when you’re talking, saying something! That’s so good.

I kept imagining wishfully that Diane would come to WisCon where she would be strangely happy among fantastic strong writer matriarchs in lavender quilted vests and iron grey hair and wild imaginations that range through all time and space!

Diane di Prima reading at DIVAfest.jpg

Notes on the poems!

The first poem was “My Andalusia” which was written as an exploration of writing about things as you imagined them when you were younger. What you thought about Egypt or New York when you were 6. Diane’s Anadalusia was an alternate history coming up to the present and future where sufi and kabalah and christian and scientific communities flourished uninterrupted by war. “to make light brighter, distance more vast.” Maybe it was “vastness more vast.” “And About Obama” “and if you were living in the enemy’s house wife and kids there too guarded by assassins … for what *were* after all dreams …” I slipped in and out of knowing what she was talking about and then felt quite unsure that other people in the room knew either though they “Hmmmmmmmm!”ed as if they did. “At least the Bay Bridge snapped… somebody had to say something”. And then some old news – “a deer and her young hesitate” which I think then had some radioactive waste. It worked even past my reservations. LOTS of hmmmm-ing on that one which reaction made me wince. (Though, I love people who love poetry so should not criticize. )

“Don’t turn away” (with brief explanation of Kurosawa biography and earthquake story and his brother saying, “Don’t turn away – You want to make films, don’t look away – LOOK!” If you are working on something, don’t turn away. Hyena -vulture – guardians – the race of forbidden – where we keep the dead – warm mud – Look, tears magnify what you can see – Don’t look it up don’t study it’s all before your eyes. (Well and yes I suppose Earth is a mass grave, really. ) Diane read this long prose poem so well and powerfully, forceful, the words building up and poem tumbling over itself. Well done and never maudlin / self righteous / guilt ridden-yet-self-absolving which is the trap so many middle class poets fall into automatically.

“The daughter” – couldn’t wait till she died, pulling weeds, “didn’t I think it looked a whole lot better.” Oh my.

Poem for Sheppard, healer & beloved. Treebark rule (an herb tea he makes her) Touch the crown of their heads as they have not been touched since newborn / they are worth all care / they are gold of gold ” Now here I cried at the poem a bit not knowing Shep but knowing he is sick and that she is not perhaps in the pink of health either and knowing what it means to be in pain and cared for (vs. not cared for) and the other way round And that it is one of the best things. Mia Mingus said it very well in Access Intimacy

Access intimacy is also the intimacy I feel with many other disabled and sick people who have an automatic understanding of access needs out of our shared similar lived experience of the many different ways ableism manifests in our lives. Together, we share a kind of access intimacy that is ground-level, with no need for explanations. Instantly, we can hold the weight, emotion, logistics, isolation, trauma, fear, anxiety and pain of access. I don’t have to justify and we are able to start from a place of steel vulnerability.

Interdependence is worth fighting for and certainly good to write about. I liked the poem.

Then a long poem for a benefit for Haiti for which the organizers kept adding on new countries so it is called Haiti Chile Tibet. I cheered mightily at the bit at the end with the list of Just a Few Suggestions. 1) All hands on deck means just that. It’s a really small boat. 2. Anyone bringing help is welcome – OBVIOUSLY. Don’t ask where they’re from. (HHAHAAH so true – thinking bitterly of the red cross during katrina! lord!) 3) All borders disappear in catastrophe. They are stupid and irrelevant anyway. 4) There is no such thing as looting in a disaster. 5 on the police 6) on guests 7) Give up confusing your property with your life. This will save a lot of problems! I like a poem that describes the world with a little lyrical perspective and humility and then ends with practical wisdom!

“Homeland Security to T’ang Dynasty Princess” – short & sweet. take off your dew covered slippers, step away from the window. Funny then not then funny again, indeed

Lot’s wife doesn’t have a name Who was she how did he greet her when she came in from the field?

“Why money makes me feel bad.” I feel bad when I get some . Then feeling bad when not having any. Yup.

War haiku – July 2006. Lebanon. Even an hour of this / would be too long /White phosophorus. Great lords of the sea /it is Tyre they are burning. Don’t ask if I have bad dreams…

Millenium poem. Revolutionary letters # 83. In the wink of an eye. If Iliad Odyssey… harmony.. and Blake says Fuck all this! & Baudelaire & Rimbaud comes back from outer space he’d rather die a sleazebutt human! American cats et in on it (Melville) They don’t know from order! (laughter uncontrollable there!) Brightness fell from the air. magical will…

I like that poem and want to read it on the page! It was tremendous!

June 3 1966 To the unnamed Buddhist Nun who burned herself to death (she called the NY Times and then called the reporter who told her that buddhist nuns don’t have names.) (not) O monk is it hot in there? (koan about it being a stupid question)

Diane noted that part of her wants to apologize for being so dark. She has this bit of Loba *(unpublished) about the painter who painted Mary out of elephant dung (Chris Ofili) (Turmoil!) And thinking all the other things people might not realize are also sacred. Litany – Our lady of the elephants. Our lady of the armadillos. Our lady of subways… Lady of largest heart. (Yes- Inanna reference!!!!! Right on)

Freaking awesome poem called Fire sale – everything must go. I long to publish this one.
Well, we can’t build the new society from the shell of the old” “I love those old Wobbly songs” Let’s stop looking over our shoulders! Let’s stop copying Scandinavian socialism, it’s too sad! You all talk too much!” Oh, man, I love it.

We then had some questions and conversation. Conversation hard though in Authority/Audience format (alas) I asked what Diane is reading and she said lots of Ursula Le Guin (YEAH…. instantly I go back to my WisCon imaginings and pictured them both at the Mad Scientist Otaku Tea Party Cafe laughing over tea with robots and mad scientists serving little cakes) And all of Shakespeare in little Arden editions because you can hold one at a time and they don’t hurt your hands to hold them up. someone asked about plays and Diane said she has some plays one called Whale Hunting about the death of Shelley just before he drowns with Mary Byron and Shelley. Oh man! I’d like to see that play. And another one which I did’t hear about because I was imagining the Shelley one. A very dear woman stood up in the back and said her name is Grace HArwood and she has been witness to Diane’s aweseomness since 1970 and is so happy she is poet laureate and it’s about fucking time! (cheers and applause) Another question , what do you think is possible? Are you writing more memoir? (Yes but slowly and don’t tell anyone, she does not want her agent to know so there is no pressure) It has a lot about the shape of life and the demands of old age and is around 200 pages now. Diane asked us what we are writing and doing and where we published and after what was perhaps not a long enough pause I said I am making tiny books and held up my Burn This Press stuff. (Then wished I hadn’t and that i had explained my whole earth catalogue poem and my difficulties with it ) Another guy talked about a small press cooperative he is in up near Yosemite with 35 authors, Poetic Matric Press and he named a poet who does something interesting with Damascus I think (then I was remembering the excellent Damashq story from the Lesbian Steampunk book.) Someone up in the back asked about Denise Levertov and whether they knew each other. Diane said they were at readings together and she was very proper and without meaning to or knowing it she often upset Denise just by having some 4 letter words in a poem. also “she could have gone further”. I got excited and wondered what she meant there b/c I am fond of Levertov but get very frustrated by her and want to give her a shove and go “okay… now go further”. She wraps it up too fast and doesn’t get out of a certain comfort zone (though that is arrogant of me to say) What poetry would she recommend for kids? What poetry would be NOT for kids? (maybe Kaddish… i dunno…. lol) They’re just people! Just give them poetry! They come with all the equipment. (I agree) She said when she was little people read her shakespeare quite young and she read all the robert louis stevenson and poe things that kids usually read.

Best question from audience especially since asked by very young dude, or best response I guess, Do you ever get embarrassed by things you wrote when you were younger, you wrote it 40 years ago? “No. That’s who I was. I love those who-I-wases. (swoooon) I worked on it till I was pleased with it. It still stands. (reads a poem). I liked that person. She thought she was a lot tougher than she was, but she got along somehow. Take your own side. That’s the hardest job of a writer. ”

“Things are different because, I’m not sure about the because. There were very few of us writing. in 61… the newsletter me and Leroi Jones put out had 114 names across the country, poets, painters, dancers, choreographers. Lots of indie bookstores and they all wanted 5 copies. Libraries doing special collections of American Lit. Now it’s harder. Why? I don’t understand the use of cyberspace as a publishing medium. I don’t get the shape of it and how the poem is with it. You have a book, that’s the poem in space. You have a reading, that’s the poem in time. I don’t understand what shape I am working with when I’m in there and in what shape things are cut. ”

Afterwards I gave some books away and Diane was so mobbed it was hard to talk with her but I will write her a letter. I did hang about to say thank you and to give her a tiny blank book (made from scraps of Burn This Press books). A guy came up and told me about Exit Press and someone else told me about the Brown U. bookstore and who to write to to send books for their small press section. Someone else invited me to the Lunada readings at Galeria de la Raza, which sound great… All the Divafest plays and shows look fantastic – it is a celebration of women writers. There is a pirate play and one about Eleanor of Acquitaine and it’s going on all this month – take a look. Also Diane runs weekend workshops periodically – I went to one in around 2002 and heartily recommend it – “hanging out and writing” was exactly what we did.

I unfolded my bike and rode the 5 blocks back to my car which was down 6th across Market – legs shaking and my right foot unable to really do its thing correctly and my hip aching fit to bust – But feeling very free and scared in the good way & as if I were cloaked in secrets.Taking my overcaffeinated self and sinus infection back to bed now for utter collapse as the sudafed wears off.

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Cranky Lightning

I’m at the Quiet Lightning reading in a VERY CRANKY mood ready to liveblog. It smells like pot in here and I’ve had a gin and tonic and about 100 hipsters with scarves on are blocking my way to the bathroom so get ready for me to bitch like hell and become even more unpopular. So far halfway in I’ve wanted to slap everyone except Bucky Sinister. The format is a nice idea, rapid fire switching readers with no introductions and MC-ing or writerly apologias for work to come. The writers hop up on stage and read in order as declared on the event’s handy postcard flyer. At least in theory. The organizers make a tiny perfect-bound anthology every month and as we all know, the perfect-bound book published by someone who isn’t actually yourself is the Holy Grail, and regular readings are good, so I guess this is a literary scene now.

two handfuls of baby owls

Alia V. read a very annoying memoirish “fiction” about being the Spanish-English interpreter in a doctor’s office while a mom explained that her physically and developmentally disabled 9 year old son has a huge penis and is hitting puberty early. Alia intermittently rambles about her own teenage son and how they don’t talk about anything, then goes back to obsessing on and sniggering about the 9 year old’s huge penis and laments with “irony” that Pablo will never have a lover so his gift is wasted. The audience actually “hmmmmed” as if she had said something profound instead of bigoted and ignorant. Whatever, heinous ableist HIPAA-violating wench, even if it’s “fiction” you can blow me and I see why your teenager doesn’t talk to you. What a waste of ink.

Bucky Sinister read a sweet amusing well structured piece of prose, Grey Side of the Moon, about leaving arkansas on the tornado and saying Fuck You Dorothy for going back to your grey land while meth girls with homemade tattoos and dudes with cat whiskers die for technicolor. He did not quite say that but close to it. “Dorothy walks into Rainbow Grocery wearing ruby red Doc Martens. I’m looking for the good witch. Everyone raises their hand.” Oh Bucky you are so punk rock and I’m sorry your friends fucking died from ODing and AIDS. The audience laughed in all the wrong places. I even liked the Fake Tits Haikus in the middle. You know how some people can write about their lives like “Oh, I did so many drugs. Body fluids. The end.” and it’s so pretentious because the bit past “the end” is probably “and now I am a Ruby developer and complain loudly if my pumpkin latte is not quite right”? Bucky’s stories don’t do that. Instead they make me feel the world right here is simultaneous with the rest of the world. Bucky is good. You should go to his Wednesday night comedy show at 8pm at the Darkroom.

Jonathan S. earned my instant tired loathing for some kind of fake-ass audrey hepburn Bostonian theatre class accent mixed with other accents all horribly dominated by jim morrison-like doggerel recited in the portentious tones of the Slam Poet as the audience Hmmmmmmmed. Humdrum poets! Quit that! go start a band or something! Fuck! People Hmmming all over like something deep was expressed. OMG someone just shit out a little rabbit pellet of emoto-philosophy in rhyme! Quick! Everyone hmmmm!

Ian Tuttle. A sweet poem to the road, like a route 66 paean, too young and earnest to be annoying. I liked his Death Valley poem and think he has a nice line break once in a while. Suddenly I worry that some MFA program will ruin his soul. He could stand to go listen to my friend Arntsen’s bursts of geographical brilliance. And either pack more density of ideas into a long poem or take it somewhere; ie think of it as a narrative.

Ali Liebegott did the forbidden intro about being a paleontologist or something. The sweetest dinosaur that ever lived. I pretend he was a cardigan wearing painter, an effeminate dinosaur, a friend. When people weren’t assholes, because there weren’t any people. Okay this is fucking great. Hahahhahahah. Got me. Then an excerpt from a novel called “Cha-ching”. About her boss that called everything “you fucking faggot”. The faxed prices of semiconductors entered on a prehistoric computer. Reminds me of zines about “unworking” from 1992. “I pretended to be Nawal El-Saadawi….” Ahahaha . I just snorted out loud. That was pleasing. Insane bookkeepers and swishy nylon sweatsuits with a booger-eyed white terrier and the desperation of scarfing breakroom donuts. Dude I’m flashing back to my 80s and 90s temping days. “My life was sad in Yonkers.” Not like fake-edgy, but actually reality-bending! Someone remarks that Leibegott is the poor man’s Michelle Tea, which seems a bit unfair. Anyone who pretends to be Nawal El-Saadawi while being oppressed by data entry is good enough not to be compared all the time to Michelle Tea.

Kim A. gets a lot of frat boy cheers from the crowd. Her poem is called Blues for Robert Johnson. That inspired dreamy voice. I swear i will never fucking do that… shoot me if so. It’s an okay poem. With harmonica. Why does everyone read in that VOICE? Shooooot me. What if people just went around always talking like that? It’s like I imagine the elocutionist sounded from Anne of Green Gables. I could read this paragraph like a slam poet elocutionist and people would applaud it. She plays the harmonica charmingly! I applaud the harmonica part. Then a poem about the great penis famine of 2008 and a dick-tater joke. Penis blues. I feel impatient for this audience. This poem would get an A in a creative writing class. I feel fairly certain she’s grownup enough to have written something much better than crowd pleasing BS. Now a train song on the harmonica, very good! Awesome! Robert Johnson would approve.

Intermission. Starved-for-pussy 60 year old silver foxes in black turtlenecks with 20 years out of date pickup artist techniques consider me and back slowly away. Correctly spotted, old dudes! I do not get invited to any tantric zen sex poetry workshops by any of the facelift set. They found other prey. Instead I talked with Monica Storss my new neighbor & a poet who just moved into a boat called Bohemia and who was sporting an epic tiny velvet hat with peacock feathers and jewels on it, and her awesome cleavage; talked with Sara Moore who is also a literary translator, and Charlie Jane. I gave them all inside-out books. Saw Stephen Elliot but did not manage to get across the room to say hi. People were talking vigorously and having a nice time! Books were for sale at a table near the bar.

Baby owls in a little hutch animated gif

2nd half

Andrew D. A chapter from his novel about a homeless man on ecstasy. Written in 2nd person. “You can feel the ocean. This is the moment. This is home. Not where you grew up in Montana.” If you go back to Montana, turn to page 37. If you stay here by the ocean, turn to page 129. The elocutionists’ intonation. I wonder what this would sound like if I just read it out loud as I do books at bedtime to my son. That might improve it. The intonation stretches out vowels and weirdly de-emphasizes the ends of sentences. It’s half an octave higher than people’s normal voices. It has a little sing-song to it as if an echo effect is about to repeat each line for a disco chorus. Anyone who writes about “The Homeless Man” as a sort of metaphor character should be fucking slapped. It’s like the magical negro. But metaphorical homeless guy. When did “homeless man” become this particular placeholder rather than “hobo” which had something a lot different to it while perhaps over-romanticizing the jumping on boxcars aspect of poverty at least you could make a good blues song out of it yourself, rather than hanging out on the sidewalk waiting for some haight street aspiring novelist to dehumanize you in immortal, boring prose.

Lauren B. “First, do not be beautiful.” Trauma! Drama! Dating! Do not be a nice young writer lady who dates married guys while you both pretend not to be damaged and maybe sort of don’t have an Affair. We are not all Anais Nin. We mostly regret this. It’s fine to try. I will never understand heterosexual women.

Peg P. Nice boots. Yes… yes the protocol IS that you are supposed to launch into your reading. OMG, not kiss ass on the organizers. We already applauded them. Okay read something. We applaud the organizers for her again. Whatever. Shut uuuuuuup. Read it! Story about some young heterosexual college people in some town somewhere smoking weed. I think they are about to go bowling and have some trauma on a lacy bedspread or a backseat. The mic has screwed up and half the audience is rowdily unconcerned while the other half, who have produced their own readings and shows and music for untold ages, itch and sigh that it is not rocket science to run a mic. Uh oh! What will happen at the bowling alley! Check, check, one two. Check. Start over! Tony and Joey down by the schoolyard, redux. Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson. Exposition. Exposition. I expect someone will be named Vinnie next. Scenery description. Glass ashtrays. We are in a pizzeria’s back room smoking some weed. Rather than some kind of saturday night live gang rape scene in the back seat of a car we are suddenly in a conversation about Jane’s poetry. Existential moment. Sex is mentioned only obliquely. The mary sue insertion college student is still talking about her poems. Mary Sue Waspy Snotbag is now gawking at some working class italian lady’s house decor like she’s never seen a cut glass candy dish in all her born days. Maybe you had to be there. I’m glad I’m not a writing teacher. I have lost track of who Courtney and Zach are but I so don’t care. OMG Tony will not have sex with her right in the bedroom while his mom is calling from downstairs. I was right about the lacy bedspread. Write what you know I guess! The end!

Charlie Jane reads a story about Audrey and her unrentable donut-shaped apartment after her breakup with Mary. The chain of their broken promises. “We’ll only eat candy we make ourselves!” Not. Audrey sits down at the computer to search for new roommates and is addicted to internet porn. She finds “master doug and lady bee” who want a live in part time sex slave, french maid, and nanny. Her vanilla ex doesn’t understand. “Maybe you should go to a Munch!?” says Mary as they continue to codependently call each other, post-breakup. The suburban squalor of Master Doug and Lady Bee’s cul de sac house in Alameda. I didn’t think you’d have so much stuff! I hope you can fit it into your hutch! Sara and I are cracking up. The maid uniform is from the Halloween store. Audrey longs to be subsumed in lifestyle D/S and scoured clean of her doubts. But suburban slavery doesn’t transfigure her. At least not yet. Creepy and funny and sad!

Charlie Getter. He likes to yell. We’re radioactive! I prefer the yelling to sing-song daydream twee-land. He’s preaching it. Walls fall. A couple of people call & respond and go “Yeah” at the right points. Gravity! Why is this place so messy! Rant on! This man has been in church with some snakes. Or can fake it from watching it on TV. I don’t care if your stock options have risen to 300 dollars a share because we are on a mountain and gravity expands and contracts like the heaving chest of a sleeping puppy! And we might be its dreams. Yes you heard me. A puppy. You probably heard Mr. Yelly too. New poem. (recite-yelled.) The ocean. Landlocked places. The audience attends! Bolivia… well actually Bolivia is sort of not landlocked or it wasn’t and it does have that one patch of beach. He does not like Kansas either and is probably Bucky’s friend. At least this is not boring, and has an Idea. I like more density of ideas though, and something that is more of a new idea. Or at least one new idea slammed into an old idea. However, cannot help but clap for walls falling and the awesomeness of oceans. Unless you’re Bolivia.

Thus ends my critique.

I’m curious to go back to Quiet Lightning and see what new writers pop up! I wish for this event to take its own format more seriously. The publishing venture is impressive & a good thing. I enjoyed that many of the stories and poems were San Francisco-centric with recognizable Bay Area landmarks and culture at their heart.

Next reading of any sort that I go to, I’m going to record the “hmmmmm” noise so as to make fun of it better.

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Historical Hipster San Francisco Poetry

As I was reading up on the controversy about Blue Bottle Coffee putting a generator-drive truck with espresso machines into Dolores Park, I came across this mock documentary by “Kenita Burns” about the battle between Ritual Roasters and Blue Bottle coffee hipsters in San Francisco:

The quote at the end about Joan Baez and the song for the closing credits were the funniest parts to me, because while I love listening to boomer hippies tell stories about the olden days and I admire their many accomplishments, they’re really fun to parody.

I came into reading about Dolores Park and the coffee controversy from Chicken John’s giant rambling rants on his mailing list. A Blue Bottle employee wrote to him and he went into a full blast of rhetoric on the subject. You know who else promised us solar power? GEORGE BUSH. And probably Hitler. I liked Annalee’s suggestion that Blue Bottle power its espresso machines by bicycle. Earnest park-goers would pedal away helpfully and the company could also hire bikers to generate the power necessary for expensive coffee. This would turn the whole concern from a PR debacle into a total PR win and Blue Bottle would end up beloved of all (except for people who notice, like Chicken John, that it’s still an incredibly bad idea to sell off public park space to private businesses.)

Annalee and Claire Light and Charlie Jane and Annalee’s friend Lynn sat there for hours in Cafe Petra working quietly, reading, writing, and coding. I was messing around with some problems in Drupal for work, while I think everyone else was writing their novels or blogging for their day jobs. Later that night I read one of Charlie’s stories which blew me away completely. Timmi wrote me really nice email about my long essay about the connections between women writers and thinkers, which made me swoon with happiness.

Yesterday I also spent some glorious hours reading about Drop City in Colorado, Zome which started as a dome construction thing and has morphed into alternate power systems and Zometool toy construction kits; the Hog Farm and Black Oak Ranch, the Whole Earth Catalog folks, and other utopian movements in Northern California, inspired by my visit to the geodesic domes of Oz Farm (former utopian commune home of SF State computer science professor Lawrence Kroll). Tim Miller seems to have written some interesting books on utopian communities. I ordered some of his books, the TC Boyle Drop City book, and Peter Rabbit’s book which sounds like a very DIY zine style “history”. It is difficult to find much mention of the women of these communes and they often go by pseudonyms and then change their names a couple of times anyway, as with much of my research into women doing — well, pretty much anything. I will be making a list though once I have some books to go on. The web sources suck for figuring out who the women were in these movements and what they might have been thinking. Certainly they were thinking some bitter things about dishwashing.

dishwashing in the domes

As I read and researched I thought over some of the poems I have cooking. I’m still on a long-poem kick after 10 years of thinking about long poems and what can be done in them with ideas. I still like short poems, but am not the sort of poet who sits down to look at a lake and writes a poem about a lake. How dreary!!! How middle class! I despise most poets’ aesthetics. They can take their gardens, their analysis of their relationships with their dead parents, their constipated little emotions they applaud as they’re finally pooped out, and their glurgy thoughts about bombs, and shove them.

Enough with the cranky poet. Here’s what I’m thinking about.

Anyway, it was pleasant to swim around in the shape of the unwritten poem, with words and phrases popping into my head and going onto the page. The big idea and combination or juxtaposition of ideas and images and things starts to take form. Oddly – this is almost a non-verbal process. The shape or form or echo or feel of the poem, as a poem, forms before there are words to go into the poem (or while there are only a few words or a phrase as the keystone or touchstone.) Poems begin to separate out from each other as it becomes clear what ideas go with which other ideas and how they all interrelate. So before I have much of anything, I know that I’m writing a long big poem about daylighting a San Francisco creek, with a hefty dose of wistful critique of eco-liberalism; or about the Whole Earth Catalog’s history, utopia, the Internet, broken skeletons of dreams and the homes they morph into, Alia and the God Emperor of Dune, and the torturer Autarch Severian and the way we treat (and eat) information and cultural memory.

The stuff I’m writing now and have been writing for the past couple of years is part of a slowly evolving book called “Unruly Islands” and while I know mostly no one else cares what a book of poetry is “about” or how its elements are related, I care deeply about the meta-narrative of a poetry book as a thing in itself.

The alchemical process of distilling language out of this inchoate stuff puts me into an ecstatic trance. I feel a little bit insane. It’s hard to turn off. It’s hard to switch gears back into real life, real language, and linear thinking. That switching gears is part of what I feel I’ve learned over the years to let me have a fairly comfortable life in society and still stay a poet. Of course the sleeping pills also help.

inside the domes

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Kayaking to the laundry room

We had a grand expedition yesterday for lunch. Moomin and I put in the laundry, then kayaked off around the point from our tiny harbor to a dock accessible only from a huge ladder. It leads to a locked gate on Middle Bair Island, which used to be “reclaimed salt ponds” and is now a wildlife reserve. It was low tide. We picked up trash from the kayaks with our nets, and swooped in to tie up to the barnacled, soggy lower rungs of the ladder. From the top we could see nesting Canada geese and the sparkly ponds on the islands, and across the slough to Highway 101.

Spring Break

We ate our snacks, carefully got back in the kayaks, avoiding disasters of mud & barnacle & escaped boats, paddled another half mile up the slough, then came back to the laundry room docks & put things in the dryer. Then, a quick trip around the point, the current at our backs.

Spring Break

It’s amazing to be able to move around so easily. For the first time I understand what people mean when they say exercise is calming and improves one’s mood. I feel glowing and powerful. My leg still hurts, but kayaking harder doesn’t make it worse, so I don’t worry about pushing myself too hard (unlike walking or swimming.) Though reading in bed with Moomin is good, I’m glad to be able to do something new — this is better than enduring a long drive and grueling wheelchair trips through crowded museums or the zoo (hills!!! ugh) things I can barely stand to do even though I want him to have fun experiences. So, boating! It doesn’t hurt!

Last night I went out again for 20 minutes or so and measured the current in the creek with the upcoming tide. It was 3 miles an hour – and I’ve felt it stronger.

The low tide trip with Moomin must have been nearing slack water because there was almost no current – no wind – almost effortless to paddle.

Moomin’s spring break is turning out great, with lots of reading and boating. Here’s the rhythm we’re getting into: I wake up at 7, work, he gets his own breakfast when he wakes up later, then we eat a quick lunch or pack “provisions” into the boats and take off for an hour or two. Then I work more. We’ve had some extra reading time together in the afternoons, and then he has hip hop classes till 5:30. I end up working late at night a bit, but as long as I get some good time with him that’s been okay.

Spring Break

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