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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Programming languages and science fiction!

Cat Valente, Tiptree-winning author of The Orphan’s Tales, wrote up a brilliant comparison of programming languages to literary genres. She covers a lot of ground here as a cultural and critic, and she’s witty as hell. If the bits I’m quoting make you laugh, go read the whole thing!

Smalltalk is mythpunk, Python is speculative fiction, Java is…

Divorce in the suburbs, cancer of the miscarriage, and how God will punish you for having sex. That’s right, it’s the big, predictable Literary Fiction Gorilla, coming to destroy a gated community near you. Java is the mainstream of the mainstream, it gets all the critical hand jobs, they teach it at universities, and the support base is vast…

PHP is journalism, Perl is poetry, Ruby is steampunk, ASP is given a snarky kick to the head that keeps making me laugh!

It mixes all the worst parts of the other genres/languages. Hey! Serial killers are awesome! What about a vampire serial killer? What about a vampire werewolf serial killer with a heart of gold? What about a vampire werewolf serial killer with a heart of gold who mixes row result processing, business logic, and layout code ALL ON ONE PAGE??!

Sold, to your corporate overlords. After all, if you put the strength of an entire company behind it, it’ll be a success, even if it leaks memory and ends with and then I woke up.

The feel and culture (and reputation) of each programming language are well described and it takes some complicated snark to link them all to equally well described literary genres and subgenres. Geek culture is AWESOME.

I can’t imagine a more perfect post for this blog to link to! Thanks, Catherynne!

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Sonnet, twittered

Drum roll… a moment in Twitter history…

twittersonnet

Twittered by allaboutgeorge aka George Kelly, for Sarah Dopp.

The poem is better for having been twittered. I like it backwards, and getting the punchline first and then cycling back through it. The poetics of Twitter force circularity and rereading, disorder and reversal. Which goes perfectly with this poem’s theme!

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Code that isn’t at all poetry, but that is structure & patterns

Happy Poetry Month! Rather than poeting, for the past few days I’ve been twiddling with code. It is much the same state of mind as translating, or basic composition, but for me at least, not quite poetry. It does require moving a bunch of words around, arranging them, and imagining their interpretation, organizing words in order to have an effect. For poetry or composition, an effect on a listener/reader, so you are imagining a logical and emotional state and the interpretation and effect of a person. For code obviously you are writing so that a machine will follow your orders perfectly; but less obviously you are writing for yourself in the future and for other future, human readers of your procedural pattern of thought. You are writing for your future (self or other) human, so they can modify and extend that code and put it to other uses. In other words, it has a bit in common with an oral or folk tradition. Repetition and patterns are good in poetry if you want to create structure for extension and improvisation.

So, just now I was doing some of my baby-Perl for some contract work. And the deal is, there are a bunch of users, and their accounts go through various bureaucratic steps, and through various work people and departments, some steps requiring others to happen first, for the account to become fully active. This is a fairly common situation for any institution. So, I had a Perl script that would take some command line options and then would do various things with the user and account data. As more people started realizing I could manipulate account stuff, and could generate reports, etc, they started asking me for new tasks. So, the hacky little script grew very quickly to a giant horrible tangly mess full of regular expressions that I did not understand anymore, 30 minutes after I wrote and tested them. A reg exp is a thing of beauty but it is not a joy forever. Instead, it makes my head hurt.

So I started about 4 times over this last month to rewrite that mess to make it easily understandable and extensible. I scribbled and thought on post-it notes so I could try to break down what needed to happen into chunks that I could move around & visualize, easier than in a 200 line text file.

It went kind of like this: use GetOpt::Long to tell from the command line what kind of report or change is required. Log in to several systems. Iterate over a range of account IDs in a big loop. Then do some http page getting and parsing. Then a lot of if else statements to see what command line option is turned on. Mixed in with some more tests and if elsing. Then again depending on command line option, do some other junk, write to some other web pages and outfiles. At the end of all that looping, write some more outfiles.

Ugh! You can see that any new capability meant that I had to do more page parsing and more reg exping, as well as thinking through all the logic of the whole if-else mess.

Today I suddenly realized several things. Speed doesn’t matter for this. I can set it going and let it chug away.

So, number one, for each user ID, just read in all the possible pages that have info on that account. It is only 5 web pages on 3 different systems. Read them in and parse out all their fields.

Number two, think of each account as having a state. There are 8 different bits of information that change account state, out of the 50+ possible bits of info. So, after parsing all the pages, look at the 8 pieces of information I care about, to determine the account’s state.

For things I then want to do, they fall into two categories. Reporting and state change. Reporting is easy. For changing account state, I can define for each case of one state to another; what actions it takes to change the account state. There are objects, and states, and transactions.

I have never really understood object-orientedness no matter how many times I think about it, and use and write code that is in theory, sort of object-oriented. It’s not like I get it now, but I get it more than I did.

Suddenly everything clicked into place and I understood how to write the code in a way that would be useful and elegant. I understood the root of the problem. It all fell together in a system. It looked like a pattern, like information that was beautiful. I know, it is a bunch of account data in a bureaucratic procedure. After years of being “programmer analyst” doing back end tools for university departments, I had to find beauty where I could. The “click” feeling means I look back on my month of sporadic attempts to write this program, and it looks like I was brain-deadishly trying to make something out of legos by gluing their corners together, when all the while I could have been snapping them together how they are supposed to go. But, before, I could not see the intersections.

So, just now I had the exhilarating (yet slightly shame-faced) feeling that I had just reinvented the wheel, or some basic principle of computer science that if I had any sense, I would have known from taking some classes. On the other hand, taking computer science classes doesn’t guarantee you know what you are doing or can build something that other people find useful & usable.

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Carmen Berenguer wins Ibero-American Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize

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Happy Poetry Month! Congratulations to Carmen Berenguer who has won the 2008 Premio Iberoamericana de Poesía Pablo Neruda.

I am very happy for her!

And for everyone who will now read her marvelous poems!

It makes me extremely happy that work so radical, experimental, feminist, and wild, has been recognized and honored.

carmen berenguer

“Es una sorpresa por la poesía que yo hago, que de pronto puede ponerle trabas al entendimiento y al sentimiento. Mi poesía es sonora, interna, musical, digo cosas increíbles”, comenta. “Soy una mujer combativa, vengo de los conventillos, de la pensión y esos argumentos hicieron que me fijara en las injusticias”, agrega.

*
It’s a surprise because of the poetry I write, that can suddenly put up blocks to understanding and feeling. My poetry is echoing, internal, musical, I say unbelievable things. I’m a fighting woman, I come from the projects, from poor neighborhoods, and that background fixed my thoughts on injustice.

Berenguer often breaks words and form, with poem titles at the bottom of pages or strangely broken across two pages, like this:

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and she ranges into concrete poems in her early work such as Bobby Sand desfallece en el muro as well as in later work such as the poem typeset to look like the Chilean flag. You can see a glimpse of that poem above.

I have translated some of her work over the last few years.

So far, I have spent the most time reading A media asta and La gran hablada. While I love her short poems, I am most fond of her longer work which sprawls and rants and sobs and screams across the page, long poems that build me up to a peak of understanding. It is not “leaping poetry” in the way that Bly meant, with graceful elisions. It is broken, unclear, obstructive, difficult, obstreporous. And, that is suitable, that is what is right, when you write about political violence, about gendered violence, about bodies, oppression, about Chile under Pinochet, as Berenguer does.

Carmen Berenguer

That is what I love best in poetry. I love when it has physicality, when it fights with sense, when it has elbows that stick out, when it feels like wading through mud or struggling to make my own broken body act and endure. It is poetry that rewards effort just as bodies do. Really kick ass poetry, seriously ass-kicking, rejects easy understanding, the facile Hmmmm and nod of agreement. It is perturbing! Bothersome! Berenguer’s work is all that. I think of her work as mixing up the neobaroque/neobarroso with écriture féminine.

I want to quote some of her poems and post my translations, but I am trying to get them published in journals at the moment. So here are a few excerpts. This is from “Bala humanitaria”, “Humanitarian bullet”.

…..Ese dardo
Penetra rompiendo la piel disparado a cien metros
Rompe la piel en sugundos el dedo gatillado
Rompe el silencio y lo dispara
Ondas sonoras irradian el campo comprometiendo el sonido
Interlocutor del suave murmullo El dardo penetrando
Los ojos abiertos y un ojo semicerrado afinando la puntería
El hombre acaricia el gatillo con deseos
…..
*
….. This shaft
Penetrates breaking the skin shot at a hundred meters
Breaks the skin in seconds the trigger finger
Breaks the silence and shatters it
Sonorous waves irradiate the compromised field of sound
Interlocutor of the smooth whisper The shaft penetrates
Open eyes and a half-closed eye sharpened the aim
The man caresses the trigger with desires
……

Here I thought for a long time about how to translate “dardo” and though “dart” or arrow would be more literal, I think “shaft” gets the phallic imagery properly into the poem. It is important because it is a poem that links rape and violence, that takes a gendered view of the sort of violence that can consider it right to make international law about the correct way to kill people with proper bullets. The lines on penetration and holes are not an accident… Further, I would say that it is good to note how Berenguer speaks about sound, about echoes and fracturing; this comes up elsewhere in her work and I think it is right to think of it as the Howl, as the song of the poet, the fundamental sound, poetry, art, creation — broken deliberately in order to reveal multiple truths. So, this is a poem about international politics and humanitarian bullets, violence; but it is also about gender, violence, rape; there is an industrial note, recalling thoughts of metals and mining, global industry; and it is also about words, poetry, logic, speaking, art, creation. That is the kind of poem I can get behind, 100%.

I feel inspired to go work on my translation of “Mala piel” now… and will post some excerpts from it later this month.

a media asta

It is maybe just a particular pleasure for me that poems like this have been honored in the name of Neruda. While I love Neruda’s poetry very much and honor him, I have some difficulties as a feminist with the way he writes about women’s bodies and how they become his male dominated metaphor of art and life and love, his landscape to traverse and discover and see. In fact, Neruda-worshiper Robert Bly is just the same for me sometimes with his graceful, easy “leaping”. For me as a poet, having spent years thinking about this in the way that poets do: I say fuck the leap. It is like cheating. Get your feet on the ground, dudes! Stay in your body! Go fast, but stay dirty! Thus it is particularly sweet to me, for a fantastic strong political woman who writes from and of the body, who makes words really embody, to win a prize named after Neruda.

Links:

* YouTube: el ojo no es un territorio, a video-poema.

* Palabra Virtual: The text of selected poems including a small fragment of one of my favorites, “Mala piel”, and a recording of “Desconocido”.

* YouTube: Berenguer en Chile Poesía

* Chilean wins Neruda Prize for poetry

* Carmen Berenguer, Ibero American Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize – with brief intervew.

* Pablo Neruda Prize 2008 to Chilean poet

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April: National Poetry Month. Post 1: Nestor Perlongher in translation


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Originally uploaded by Liz Henry

I’m going to try to post every day in April on poetry and poetics. This blog has got some poetry in it, if you dig deep underneath the feminist eyerolling and disability rights and tech stuff.

In the last month, I’ve been going through my translations and poems from the last 10 years. My work schedule has been light – I am contracting, half-time. And there’s a huge backlog of writing which I just never bothered to send anywhere, and didn’t blog, figuring I’d send it out later. So, while I send these translations out to journals and publishers, I’ll be focusing here on describing work I like, or going through some of my own work.

That sounds boring I’m sure, but let’s start with a bang and talk about something super dirty. Let’s descend into the mire!

Today I thought about my translations of Nestor Perlongher’s poems. Nestor was an Argentinian gay rights activist, sociologist, and poet who died in the mid-90s. He lived in São Paulo for much of the 80s and 90s, and wrote in a mixture of Spanish, Portuguese, and Portuñol, with a little bit of gay street French thrown in. I have read a fair bit about the Argentinian Dirty War. A few years ago, I heard an mp3 of his long poem about the the disappeared, “Cadaveres”. It blew my mind. I translated that poem and looked further on the net for his work. Not much was available, but what I found blew me away even more. It was weird, radically messed up, dirty, and queer as hell. It was difficult, disturbing, and beautiful.

Someone said the word “untranslatable” in my hearing. You know what happens next!

Perlongher was a sociologist who studied gay and transsexual street hookers in São Paulo. Wow, did he ever study them.

I am somewhat aware of the activism and politics around global human rights for queer and transgendered people. For example I have read plenty about human trafficking from Brazil to Europe and the U.S. and about the questionable safety of some of the more risky surgeries you can get done in Brazil (and elsewhere in the world). And I am somewhat aware as well of the cultures and communities of trans and queer, transvestite, drag queen, cross dresser, intersex, genderqueer, transsexual, and all that sort of thing in the U.S. There are some interesting differences between how trans people are viewed here vs. how they are viewed in much of Latin America. I set out to learn a bit about that, and did some reading in libraries and on the net as a background to translating Perlongher’s poems. It seems to me in many ways that queer urban culture is more global than I knew or expected. Like house music, like the transcendence of Frankie Knuckles, Perlongher’s genderqueer hookers would be at home in San Francisco or Chicago, Paris or Bangkok, as much as in São Paulo. And you have only to be even vaguely queer, to listen to Perlongher’s voice reading “Cadaveres” in that mp3, to go pretty much instantly, “Okay, that is a gay man talking.” If you think about gaydar, going across languages, it is pretty interesting.

Meanwhile, I was reading a bit more about the neobaroque (neobarroco) and neobarroso movements in South America and Cuba.

The poems themselves. What do I mean when I marvel at their spectacular dirtiness? It is hard to describe. They are slippery and pornographic. If you are my mom or something, just stop reading now, because I am going to describe the poetics of cocksucking. There is a pervasive sense of shifting ground, of a moving frame. A phrase will link to the phrase above it and mean one thing, and mean something else on its own when your reading-frame hits it and isolates, and means something else when linked with the phrase that follows; and again in the context of the whole poem, as a flickering impression or kinematoscope, layers up to create a general atmosphere, so that without actually having said the word “cocksucking” or “cum shot”, you realize that is what you are reading about. Everything is sort of glistening and sticky. You think of glitter, flouncing, dive bars and back alleys and strip clubs. Celebratory sleaze. It’s all blowjobs in the rain with smoky eyeshadow, in some over-romanticized Frenchified movie.

Perlongher’s poetics go into the gutter and find amazing beauty – and often, beauty that ties sexuality to resistance to political oppression.

As perhaps you can imagine, the human rights of trans hookers on the streets are not a priority, say, to the police and government. If you are politically active in other areas as well, and you are gay in that context, there is not a lot of recourse for you legally and you are an easy target. But also, as a gay person in a straight world, you have particular survival skills and ways of acting collectively that come in handy during times of particular political repression. I think that is a good angle to keep in mind while reading Perlongher’s work. Perlongher was an openly gay activist in Buenos Aires and in Brazil for gay and transgender rights. He also was around in the 80s and early 90s to watch everyone die. He is writes in a way that shows me he is aware of the violence and power imbalances in pornography and in the sex trade.

You see why I have come to love him dearly in the way that translators can love their poets who they have never known.

In the mean time his poetry is also wankery in the other, academic sense of the word, as in Baudrillard wankery, of spectacle and illusion and semiotics, the elusive and illusive web of meaning that surrounds absence & signs.

So, onwards to a snippet of poetry.

My disclaimer here is that I am super aware that in places I might just be dead wrong. And, the nonlinearity of the poem means that even if you understand every word in Spanish, you will be staring at the page wondering what the hell it means. (And, I considered every word’s meaning in Portuguese as well, because he did double-triple meanings on purpose, or wanted words to evoke other words.) If you tell me I’m wrong and argue it and back it up, I will listen and be grateful for the help.

Consider this section from “Miché”,


la travesti
echada en la ballesta, en los cojines
crispa el puño aureolado de becerros: en ese
vencimiento, o esa doblegación:
de lo crispado:
muelle, acrisolando en miasmas mañaneras la vehemencia del potro:
acrisolando:
la carroña del parque, los buracos de luz, lulú,
luzbel: el crispo: la crispación del pinto:
como esa mano homónima se cierne
sobre el florero que florece, o flora: sobre lo que
florea:
el miché, candoroso, arrebolado
de azahar, de azaleas, monta, como mondando, la
prístina ondulación del agua:
crueldad del firmamento,
del fermento:
atareado en molduras microscópicas, filamentosos mambos:
tensas curvas

the trannygirl
sprawled on the springs, in her cushions
jerks the fist gilded with leather: in that
conquering, or this submission:
of that which jerks
elastic, refiningfined in earlymorning miasmas the vehemence of the colt:
refined:
meatmarket of the park, holes of light, lulu,
lucifer: the jerk: the shuddering of the pinto:
like how that hand homonym purifies itself
on the flowery florist that flowers, or blooms: over that which
flourishes:
the hustler, straightforward, blushing
with orangeblossom, with azalea, like stripping bare, the
pristine undulation of water:
cruelty of the firmament,
of ferment:
busybusy in microscopic moldings, filamentous mambos:
curves tense

Okay, so, just consider that for a bit. I would love to publish the rest but I’ll just wait on that for a while. But, if you were going to write a poem about handjobs without ever saying anything directly dirty, here is your model. If you read Spanish you may go and read the rest in the original. It is full of lube, pushing blunt heads, grease, drool, perturbing firmness, throats and petioles, oysters and curves, and shining above the grime and flesh, the sparkle and “authenticity” of gold lamé.

I’d love to talk some time about his poem about Camila O’Gorman. It seems to me to be a perfect encapsulation of a way that gay men see cinematic and tragic femininity. It is all melodrama and heroine and actress, mist and gauze, mixed with sex, death, and of course flesh and dirt. I read it and just can’t believe how evocative and weird it is. It makes me think of the scene in Bataille’s Blue of Noon where Dirty and the narrator are having sex and fall off a cliff in the muddy rain, or when they are messing with that priest’s eyeball. But actually, sort of, the poem is about a 19th century pregnant teenager facing a firing squad. Where the rats and candle wax and worms come into this, I can’t say, but they fit just fine.

I love reading Perlongher’s poetry. Translating it is like being in poetic free fall. It is outrageously free and wild. It is maddening in its elisions. I could go on and on about it for a very long time, burbling.

Happy Poetry Month!

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Long poems last for a long time

Lately, poetry is all coming in floaty long phrases. It’s all endless stretching introductions full of commas. I think it’s because I’m in a beginning, and don’t have the clarity to send down a full stop sort of root into where I’m going with the language and ideas. I need a whole day to travel and think very thinkily, to figure that out. The ocean is often too distracting. I write poetry best when I’m pulled over by the side of the road, after having thought out phrases and rhythm and a holistic vision in my head to the sound of the highway.

I worked more on the very long Homeric Hymn that has been around for a couple of years. Its first part is good, and I can see the 2nd and 3rd bits aren’t going to match it no matter how long I wait for lightning to strike 3 times. That’s okay. I can detach from the desire for it to all be as good as the best bit. There, the long unhinging of the first section rambles into personal memory. I can’t match Steve Arntsen’s sustained visions, often 20 minutes of digression and glory.

That might be true for the new long poems, that they will be a little bit about personal memory. There is one about the moon landing and another about spaceflight and mistakes; another called Information Manifesto that makes me especially happy. The other thing holding me back is that I can’t quite figure out where they go in relation to others; are they part of Mother Frankenstein or are they something else and something new? That can be such an illusion, as so many people’s careful arrangement of poems into books is pointless. It’s only worth it to care if there is driving unity behind it and not just “the poems that i wrote sort of together in time.” Meanwhile, the manuscript of artless is just sitting around. At this point, fuck it, I thought I’d put out a tiny book at a time, like Woodbird Jazzophone, keep Tollbooth Press alive, and fuck the idea of books. Of all of it, artless is the only one important to keep together bookishly, because it is a deliberate series and I thought it out as one thing with structure.

I hauled out my Alta booklets lately and went looking online for another that I had seen in the New York Poetry House library – and found it. I have always liked the stolid bulldozer of her in Burn This Memorize Yourself. And I got a new Maureen Owen book and again pulled out old ones (as I have rearranged my library and excavated through piles and piles of books, weeding and shelving and shedding an entire piano’s worth of worthlessness, to make room for Oblomovka). Lucky find, and lucky remembrance, also from my trip to New York last year with its unsatisfactory visit to the Bowery Poetry Club — but there, in a lonely shelf of used books that were utter crap that I laughed at with qatipay by my side, I found Untapped Maps and was riveted to the spot till I had finished the book (with some sort of Erotic Poetry Happening happening all around me). Reading Owen was horrifying because until then I felt pleasantly maverick. I read AE later and realized so many things in common, leaps of thought and language in parallel, similar tracks. The relationship built across time and unreality! So that’s horrifying, understand, yet beautiful and made me cry with happiness because I feel less alone (as a poet). The beautiful similarities to the long and short airy eddies from Elvira Hernandez — I would like to send Owen my translations — and then spinning off into curls of density — and then her moments of solidness ringing true as, say, Piercy’s don’t for me. The thought that I might be thought to copy her upsets me. At least it is better than people drivelling about “the female Ginsberg” not that I don’t love it but WTF… as if.

But that moment holding the battered 20 year old copy of Untapped Maps in my hands was beautiful also if you think of all the small books that are to some extent neglected and you might think what’s the point, or where do they go, or are they dead. No! They might be lighthouses in the fog, and a distant in time person will hold them and cry a little with relief that not all poetry is damned boringly all the same as all the other poetry of its time. As I felt with some of the issues of Alcatraz and especially Wanda Coleman’s stuff in there. Think of the mountain, the dead weight, of awfully dull magazines! Think how nice it will be when some future poet-eating woman cradles your quite unexpectedly excellent little book in her hands. Send out those time travellers!

I do think of Greg Hall and how much he would (and might already) dig this crazy chick, certain phrases in particular are very Dirty Greggie, and I want to call him up and get back in touch and send him a xeroxed sheaf with coffee cup stains added accidentally on purpose.

Meanwhile! I’m very excited that a friend introduced me to Maureen Alsop, another translator of Juana de Ibarbourou! I have around 100 poems of Ibarbourou’s, translated in varying degrees of done-ness. Maureen and I had both tackled the Diaria de una isleña, a long prose poem in umpteen sections; one of Ibarbourou’s later works, I think from 1968 or 1969. The arc of Ibarbourou’s writing over her lifetime went from those pantheic exultations, almost-sonnety droplets published in 1919, to her sonnets on Biblical characters, and prayers of the 30s as if to atone; to forays into the surreal in the 40s and 50s, and then grey complex elegies, mad-eyed and Norn-like, in the 1960s and 1970s. Maureen’s and my separate translations of Diary of an Islander felt complementary, and I hope we carry out our collaboration by the sea, and merge versions over endless cups of strong tea and the solace of knowing someone else has loved and inhabited the words we’ve loved by the act of translation.

That’s what’s going on with my poetry and translations; it’s been a while since I’ve said. The translations of some of Carmen Berenguer’s poems from A media asta aren’t out yet; publishing is always slow; maybe the magazine‘s in difficulty? Maybe the difficult typography of that flag poem broke their souls! I hope it comes out soon. No one took my translations of Nestor Perlongher; so again, screw it, I’ll publish them myself in little booklets; I know they’re good and compelling and there is no magic validation needed of some other half-assed clique to rubberstamp it good. Get it out into the world and move on.

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A bit of a poem by Adrienne Rich

I’ve been looking in my books for a particular poem that I remembered copying into a notebook about 20 years ago, and found it finally tonight:

The world tells me I am its creature
I am raked by eyes    brushed by hands
I want to crawl into her for refuge    lay my head
in the space    between her breast and shoulder
abnegating power for love
as women have done    or hiding
from power in her love    like a man
I refuse these givens    the splitting
between love and action    I am choosing
not to suffer uselessly and not to use her
I choose to love    this time    for once
with all my intelligence

It’s from “Splittings” by Adrienne Rich – from The Dream of a Common Language. I love the way that “choosing not to suffer uselessly” is repeated throughout – and the way the lines are split – caesura – and the two lines that are not split, “abnegating power for love” and “with all my intelligence”. It would have been cheap and easy and wrong to split the first, and it obviously makes sense for the last line to come together rhythmically, in a rush, for the sake of wholeness & synthesis.

Poetry is often useful to talk about things that it’s impossible to talk about otherwise. I love how this poem throws gender and queerness right in to the list of impossible things – things that impossiblify love.
Pushed even further in “Cartographies of Silence”, so beautifully at the end.

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Gender and genre in blogs

In her paper on Gender and genre variation in weblogs Susan Herring and her team hypothesized differences between male- and female-authored blogs. I haven’t read the paper closely enough to get the detail, but the gist of it is they expected women to say “I” more and refer to women more, and men to write more impersonally and refer to “he” and “you”. Instead they found that personal blogs, male or female, show the characteristics that had been predicted for women’s writing, according to, I think, other studies and sources like the Gender Genie, based on grammatical analysis by Argomon & Koppel. (I have to say, when I messed with the Gender Genie I thought it was just annoying…) While filter blogs, meant to give information on a topic, have the characteristics associated by the Gender Genie with men — whether they are written by men or women. Herring et al.’s findings contradict Argomon & Koppel. She suggests that genre itself is gendered.

I agree with this, which matches what I found in reading women’s poetry from 100 years ago and in reading the criticism about that poetry. The gendering of genre appears to me to happen over time as a way of valuing or devaluing the quality of the writing. Entire genres would become (simultaneously) “feminized” in order to devalue them, or as they became devalued they were described as feminine, or as women succeeded in the genre, it was considered less important.

Many factors contribute to this and one of them is that women at times do the less important things or write in the less important genres because there is less backlash for doing so. And when they do enter the male-dominated genres where power is considered to be located then there is a strong backlash and the entire genre is at risk of being devalued.

When women in the 19th century succeeded at Romanticist poetry, for example, they were hailed as being unusual exceptions, virile, oddly masculine, at the same time perhaps kind of slutty or of questionable and abnormal sexuality. And when women began to dominate the genre to the extent that they could not be ignored and tokenized, then the entire genre was disempowered over a period of years – it became girly, uncool, dumb, awkward, not cutting edge, old-fashioned. When it was clear that women had mastered it, it didn’t matter anymore.

In short, there is a pattern of the “pink collar ghetto” in literary genres as in other professions. (I just looked online for something to link to, to explain pink collar ghetto and did not find an adequate explanation. Yes, it refers to jobs with a high concentration of women. But it further refers to a process: as women enter a high status profession, the pay for that job goes down, and there is a tipping point where the profession itself becomes devalued because women have entered it and succeeded. I remember going in around 1991 as a fledgling tech writer to a meeting of the Society for Technical Communication, and hearing a lot of incredibly depressing but realistic talk about the pink collar ghettoization of tech writing.

Anyway, back to literary genres; the same pattern becomes clear as I do further feminist research; If you have read much Dale Spender as well as Joanna Russ then you can see a lot of good evidence.

I point to this as something that bloggers should be aware of & consider.

(I am using the word “genre” here but may be talking about some more vague category, literary movements or styles or subgenres, like “Romanticist Poetry” or “Western novels” or “science fiction” for example. )

In fact – a short digression – consider science fiction and how as women write in the genre, there is a scramble to define the part of the genre that only men do, or mostly only men do, or only men do well. Why is it so important to prove that, for example, “hard sf” or “cyberpunk” is so masculine? (Of course in the face of any evidence to the contrary.) Hmmm! Could it be a backlash to preserve the perceived literary value of a formerly male-dominated genre?

Back to Herring. From about page 15 onwards Herring & co get into the nitty gritty of some excellent questions:

Diary writing has traditionally been associated with females, and politics and external events, the mainstays of filter blogs, have traditionally been masculine topics. Furthermore, previous research shows that females write more diary blogs, and males write a disproportionate number of filter blogs (Herring, Kouper et al. 2004; Kennedy, Robinson and Trammell 2005). But what is the direction of causality, and where does gendered language fit in?

In conclusion Herring points out that the gender differences are in which genre a male or female author writes in, much more than any essential difference in grammar or writing style, and that:

Social and political consequences also follow from this
distribution: Men’s blogs are more likely to appear on ‘A-lists’ of most popular weblogs (Kennedy, Robinson and Trammell 2005), and to be reported in the mainstream media, in part because filters are considered more informative and newsworthy than personal journals (Herring, Kouper et al. 2004). This recalls the traditional stigma associated with ‘gossip’ and women’s writing (Spender 1989), and reminds us that genres are socially constructed, in part through association with the gender of their producers.

Oh look, she just referenced Spender. Right on… No wonder I like this paper.

Anyway it’s a good paper – go read it. I’ll read Herring’s other papers and I look forward to printing it out and giving it an hour or two of more close and serious reading and note-taking & reaction. Oh – and in good blogging and gossiping tradition I should mention that I came across this paper after reading Managing ‘Trolling’ in an Online Forum, which is amazing and excellent; I got to that from Wikichix, which I found because I was bitching about the lack of good feminist content on Wikipedia and a few weeks ago, some dude commented and told me to check out their talk page on Systemic Gender Bias. Since I am involved with some feminist wikis and ticked off whenever I try to engage with Wikipedia, Wikichix sounded great. If you are a wiki editing woman or would like to be, then sign up with Wikichix and add to the discussions there. There’s a mailing list and an irc channel as well as the wiki pages. & on alternet recently there was a brief article that talks about the Wikichix, Wikipedia vs. Women? with an interesting comments thread.

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Trivium, twittering, gregarious behavior


twittering
Originally uploaded by Liz Henry.

Some rambling thoughts on twitteration, or twitteritude:

Twitter is fun. It’s a microblogging site; your entries are strictly limited to just a couple of lines of text. You can friend people and get their twitters on a web page, on IM, or on your cell phone. Sign up, watch the public stream go by, friend people who strike you as interesting.

Now you have 10 imaginary friends, tamagotchi who need feeding, your loneliness is assuaged, and you feel important and hip and cool as you’re standing in line or sitting in a boring meeting and you get texted on your cell. Shallow me! And shallow you if you like it. You must not be very important. You must not be busy enough. Listen to the mean ol’ grinches who love to hate Twitter! Broadcasting the trivium of your day! It’s almost like social conversation, gossip, small talk. It’s almost like the glue that holds relationships and people together. It’s not important enough to blog. It asserts the importants of daily life. It forces the compression of your own evaluation of your life into two lines a day. Are you twittering too much, to people who already have too much of an information feed, and they’ll drop you?

The more in-the-corners and unimportant you are, the more fun and important a twitter or a myspace becomes.

Maybe it isn’t a productivity tool. Or, with more focus, with groups and channels, it could be made into one. Why slam it for being what it is? Why not take the idea and run with it, tinker with it?

I had a strange moment at Writers With Drinks, when I was introduced to a guy named Yoz and realized 10 minutes later why his name sounded familiar, the sort of thing that used to happen from orkut or friendster, a familiar moment to anyone on a social network. It was because he’s the last person on the friends-badge list of a bunch of people I “know” on Twitter.

I appreciate social media’s enabling of fun webstalking, of course.

But that’s not even the interesting part.

It’s the potential for literary forms to evolve with technology. I see particular people who have immense Twitter charisma, who are more interesting in that venue than they are on their blogs or in conversation. Shouldn’t that be okay? If we are abandoning objective standards for quality, then it’s good to look at what’s good in all media. It is pointless to bemoan the fact that people like to do stupid things. Instead, look at the mass of stupid things and pick out the best of, according to the standards of that community and not just according to the standards of dominant culture or dominant literary forms. It is possible that the great internettian novel is being written right now on Twitter, or will be written next year.

Or we’ll get a bunch of poets on there and do renga. No, wait, I forgot, that might interrupt my productivity! Chatting, fun, and art: bad for productivity… of course…

It isn’t useful for some people, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t something interesting going on under their radar.

If everyone in a nursing home right now had phones with Twitter, or something twitter-like and the knowhow to use it, think how cool that would be. Loneliness is not to be sneered at. I bet we all know several lonely people who would like some imaginary tamagotchi twitter-friends. Surely, soon, we will have better two-way social networking appliances than phones, laptops, or crackberries, easier to use, easier to type on, marketed towards the senior niche. And then the great internettian novel will be written by a 95 year old former kindergarten art teacher in Modesto.

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