“Helluva Effort” (poem) (mine).

Helluva Effort

 

I don’t truss my chicks

before they’ve watched

the world spin by

for ninety days. I’m

all mussed up

with warnings wrought

by bigblack birds

with swollen beaks

that spout the speech

of ancestry. They eat

what I won’t bite &

squawk in tongues I can’t

commemorate except

to say: I came, I laid

my smallass down

upon the grass;

I did my goddamn

best to leave

a mark & then

I up & left.

in the grasses

Comedy & college & Sam Cooke & be your own fairy godmother (Amy Schumer).

Amy Schumer is a comedian. I value comedy; making people laugh seems to me a useful and smooth way to move through the world. Humor helps me get to know people, become closer to people, tell people the truth, show people how much I love them, and so on. My dream thirtieth birthday party would be all my friends at a long wooden table, each standing up on by one to tell a story where they make fun of me. When someone makes fun of you the right way, you know it’s because they love you. But here I am at love (again), when the speech below is not so much about love, well, maybe it is, maybe it’s about loving yourself enough to get the fuck out of bad situations. It’s Amy Schumer’s speech from The Gloria Awards and Gala (no idea what this is) and I value it. Enjoy. (Source.)

 

Here I go, and if it doesn’t go well, please just don’t blog about it.

Right before I left for college, I was running my high school. Feel it. I knew where to park, I knew where to get the best chicken-cutlet sandwich, I knew which custodians had pot. People knew me. They liked me. I was an athlete and a good friend. I felt pretty, I felt funny, I felt sane. Then I got to college in Maryland. My school was voted number one … for the hottest freshman girls in Playboy that year. And not because of me. All of a sudden, being witty and charismatic didn’t mean shit. Day after day, I could feel the confidence drain from my body. I was not what these guys wanted. They wanted thinner, blonder, dumber … My sassy one-liners were only working on the cafeteria employees, who I was visiting all too frequently, tacking on not the Freshman 15, but the 30, in record-breaking time, which led my mother to make comments over winter break like, “You look healthy!” I was getting no male attention, and I’m embarrassed to say, it was killing me.

But one guy paid me some attention — Matt. Matt was six feet tall, he looked like a grown-up von Trapp child, and he was five years older than me. What?! An older boy, paying attention to me? I must be okay. Uff. I made him laugh in our bio lab, and I could tell a couple times that we had a vibe. He was a super senior, which is a sexy way of saying “should have graduated, but needed an extra year.” He barely spoke, which was perfect for all the projecting I had planned for him. We grew up in the same town, and getting attention from him felt like success. When I would see him on campus, my heart would race, and I would smile as he passed. I’d look in the mirror and see all the blood rise to my face. I’d spend time analyzing the interaction, and planning my outfit for the next time I saw him. I wanted him to call. He never called. But then finally, he called.

It was 8 a.m., my dorm room phone rang. “Amy, wassup? It’s Matt. Come over.” Holy shit! This is it, I thought. He woke up thinking about me! He realized we’re meant to start a life together! Let’s just stop all this pretending that we weren’t free just to love one another! I wondered, would we raise our kids in the town we both grew up in, or has he taken a liking to Baltimore? I don’t care. I’ll settle wherever he’s most comfortable. Will he want to raise our kids Jewish? Who cares? I shaved my legs in the sink, I splashed some water under my armpits, and my randomly assigned Albanian roommate stared at me from under her sheets as I rushed around our shitty dorm room. I ran right over to his place, ready for our day together. What would we do? It’s still early enough, maybe we’re going fishing? Or maybe his mom’s in town, and he wanted me to join them for breakfast. Knock-knock. Is he going to carry me over the threshold? I bet he’s fixing his hair and telling his mom, “Be cool, this may be the one!” I’ll be very sweet with her, but assert myself, so she doesn’t think she’s completely in charge of all the holiday dinners we’re going to plan together. I’ll call her by her first name, too, so she knows she can’t mess with me. “Rita! I’m going to make the green bean casserole this year, and that’s that!” Knock-knock. Ring ring. Where is he?

Finally, the door opens. It’s Matt, but not really. He’s there, but not really. His face is kind of distorted, and his eyes seem like he can’t focus on me. He’s actually trying to see me from the side, like a shark. “Hey!” he yells, too loud, and gives me a hug, too hard. He’s fucking wasted. I’m not the first person he thought of that morning. I’m the last person he called that night. I wonder, how many girls didn’t answer before he got to fat freshman me? Am I in his phone as Schumer? Probably. But I was here, and I wanted to be held and touched and felt desired, despite everything. I wanted to be with him. I imagined us on campus together, holding hands, proving, “Look! I am lovable! And this cool older guy likes me!” I can’t be the troll doll I’m afraid I’ve become.

He put on some music, and we got in bed. As that sexy maneuver where the guy pushes you on the bed, you know, like, “I’m taking the wheel on this one. Now I’m going to blow your mind,” which is almost never followed up with anything. He smelled like skunk microwaved with cheeseburgers, which I planned on finding and eating in the bathroom, as soon as he was asleep. We tried kissing. His 9 a.m. shadow was scratching my face — I knew it’d look like I had fruit-punch mouth for days after. His alcohol-swollen mouth, I felt like I was being tongued by someone who had just been given Novocain. I felt faceless, and nameless. I was just a warm body, and I was freezing cold. His fingers poked inside me like they had lost their keys in there. And then came the sex, and I use that word very loosely. His penis was so soft, it felt like one of those de-stress things that slips from your hand? So he was pushing aggressively into my thigh, and during this failed penetration, I looked around the room to try and distract myself or God willing, disassociate. What’s on the wall? A Scarface poster, of course. Mandatory. Anything else? That’s it? This Irish-Catholic son of bank teller who played JV soccer and did Mathletes feels the most connection with a Cuban refugee drug lord. The place looked like it was decorated by an overeager set designer who took the note “temporary and without substance” too far.

He started to go down on me. That’s ambitious, I think. Is it still considered getting head if the guy falls asleep every three seconds and moves his tongue like an elderly person eating their last oatmeal? Chelsea? Is it? Yes? It is. I want to scream for myself, “Get out of here, Amy. You are beautiful, you are smart, and worth more than this. This is not where you stay.” I feel like Fantine and Cosette and every fucking sad French woman from Les Miz. And whoever that cat was who sang “Memories,” what was that musical? Suze Orman just goes, “Cats.” The only wetness between my legs is from his drool, because he’s now sleeping and snoring into me. I sigh, I hear my own heartbreak, I fight back my own tears, and then I notice a change in the music. Is this just a bagpipe solo? I shake him awake. “Matt, what is this? The Braveheartsoundtrack? Can you put something else on, please?” He wakes up grumpily, falls to the floor, and crawls. I look at his exposed butt crack, a dark, unkempt abyss that I was falling into. I felt paralyzed. His asshole is a canyon, and this was my 127 Hours. I might chew my arm off.

I could feel I was losing myself to this girl in this bed. He stood up and put a new CD on. “Darling, you send me, I know you send me, honest, you do …” I’m thinking, “What is this?” He crawled back into bed, and tried to mash at this point his third ball into my vagina. On his fourth thrust, he gave up and fell asleep on my breast. His head was heavy and his breath was so sour, I had to turn my head so my eyes didn’t water. But they were watering anyway, because of this song. Who is this? This is so beautiful. I’ve never heard these songs before. They’re gutting me. The score attached to our morning couldn’t have been more off. His sloppy, tentative lovemaking was certainly not in the spirit of William Wallace. And now the most beautiful love songs I’ve ever heard play out as this man-boy laid in my arms, after diminishing me to a last-minute booty call. I listened to the songs and I cried. I was looking down at myself from the ceiling fan. What happened to this girl? How did she get here? I felt the fan on my skin and I went, “Oh, wait! I am this girl! We got to get me out of here!” I became my own fairy godmother. I waited until the last perfect note floated out, and escaped from under him and out the door. I never heard from Matt again, but felt only grateful for being introduced to my new self, a girl who got her value from within her. I’m also grateful to Matt for introducing me to my love Sam Cooke, who I’m still with today.

Now I feel strong and beautiful. I walk proudly down the streets of Manhattan. The people I love, love me. I make the funniest people in the country laugh, and they are my friends. I am a great friend and an even better sister. I have fought my way through harsh criticism and death threats for speaking my mind. I am alive, like the strong women in this room before me. I am a hot-blooded fighter and I am fearless. But I did morning radio last week, and a DJ asked, “Have you gained weight? You seem chunkier to me. You should strike while the iron is hot, Amy.” And it’s all gone. In an instant, it’s all stripped away. I wrote an article forMen’s Health and was so proud, until I saw instead of using my photo, they used one of a 16-year-old model wearing a clown nose, to show that she’s hilarious. But those are my words. What about who I am, and what I have to say? I can be reduced to that lost college freshman so quickly sometimes, I want to quit. Not performing, but being a woman altogether. I want to throw my hands in the air, after reading a mean Twitter comment, and say, “All right! You got it. You figured me out. I’m not pretty. I’m not thin. I do not deserve to use my voice. I’ll start wearing a burqa and start waiting tables at a pancake house. All my self-worth is based on what you can see.” But then I think, Fuck that. I am not laying in that freshman year bed anymore ever again. I am a woman with thoughts and questions and shit to say. I say if I’m beautiful. I say if I’m strong. You will not determine my story — I will. I will speak and share and fuck and love and I will never apologize to the frightened millions who resent that they had it in them to do it. I stand here and I am amazing, for you. Not because of you. I am not who I sleep with. I am not my weight. I am not my mother. I am myself. And I am all of you, and I thank you.

Poem for every person (Derek Walcott).

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

-Derek Walcott

***

 

No more snark, let’s all be kind (I agree with George Saunders).

How sick of snark are you? Are you as sick of it as I am? And I’m sick if irony, too. I’m hoping we’re in a post-ironic era by now, though perhaps we’re not quite there yet. Irony, to me, is a non-loving posture, a protection, a dangerous fortress. There’s this speech that author George Saunders gave at Syracuse University this past May that has been popping up all over my internet life, and I finally just read it tonight. It’s one of those pieces of writing that makes me feel like people are perhaps moving past this terror of the genuine that seems to be rampant in our society right now; past this anti-confessional moment we’re in, past the too-coolness, the mean, jokey distanced stance that keeps one at a safe distance from one’s own feelings and from others. George Saunders talks about kindness in this essay, and how kindness is what we should focus on, here and now, the sooner the better. And that’s something I can totally get behind.

 

Excerpt below, full speech here.

 

Do all the other things, the ambitious things – travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness.  Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial.  That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will – is as bright and shining as any that has ever been.  Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Theresa’s.  Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place.  Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.

 

A literary recap and also some beautiful things.

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I went to AWP last week, for what felt like a week. For you nonwriters, AWP is the biggest literary conference of the year. Workshops, lectures, readings, a bookfair big enough to kill any sane person’s love of books, famous writers all around, lots of glasses, lots of beards, lots of notebook scribbling, lots of beers. I schlepped apricots, trail mix, water, my phone, notebooks, and about ten pounds of books around the city of Boston for three days straight. Other things that occurred: lattes, reunions, inspiration, Anne Carson, free chocolate, free pens, free buttons, literary journals, poet swoons (see: Anne Carson), and I met my pen pal for the first time, with whom I have been corresponding for a year. Magic! Below are some tidbits from the weekend too good (read: weird &/or awesome) not to share.

 

“I believe that the future of poetry belongs to dead poets.” -Valzhyna Mort (poet)

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“I prefer myself to Charles Simic.” -James Meetze (poet)

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“You’re some kind of something and I like it.” -Dara Wier (poet)

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“They will try to make you choose between the things you love but you do not have to choose.” Muriel Rukeyser, as quoted by another passionate woman

THEY WILL TRY TO MAKE YOU CHOOSE BETWEEN THE THINGS YOU LOVE BUT YOU DO NOT HAVE TO CHOOSE. 

*

“For nonconformity, the world whips you with displeasure.” -Emerson, as quoted by a college professor dude

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“I am just another person in all normal regards except for my love of lemurs.” -James Tate (poet), as quoted by another poet

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“Lanyards are a great way to humble people.” -Jacob Otting (poet & comedian)

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“This wig is terrific.” -Terrance Hayes, reading one of his poems (SWOON)

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And here are some patterns I am loving this week, by Phoebe Wahl.

smallperiwinkleswatch

 

 

smallchickenswatch

 

And that is all for now. Besides for the joy of another friend engaged, the speed of a new (old) car, the sound of the rain (rain! not snow! woah!), the crunch of breadcrust littered with seeds, and the feel of a hot mug in my hands.

 

February collage (illustration; photography; Frank Ocean).

Some people feel negatively about February, including, possibly, Maira Kalman. Or maybe she just picks up on everybody’s February blues. It’s hard to love February in the city, this I understand.

Maira Kallman's Feburary

 

 

This February, I’m all about Patti Smith (again). Maybe I’ll make February my Patti Smith month. Why not?

 

patti smith 7

 

 

But guys….remember those other times, those other seasons? Remember flowers?

tumblr_mi2ledXnhM1rbezd2o1_500

 

 

Remember how it’s going to be Valentine’s day soon? Let’s not bring up our consumer culture rants again, we do that every year & even the truth gets stale. This year, lets just do some good lovin’. Let’s share what we got, or give ourselves a little bit more. I mean, Phoebe Wahl is doing it! And why not.

 

beyourownvalentine

 

 

ILoveYouvalentine

 

If you’re still not feeling good about February yet, then, here! Have this gift! It’s a free Frank Ocean mixtape! Also did you know he has a tumblr?! Fuck yeah, America! You know?

 

frankocean_promo-592-e1345427965722

 

Alright February!! Allllllllright!

“There has to be a libidinous delight in finding things and stuffing them in your pockets” (writing advice from W.G. Sebald).

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Since W.G. Sebald’s death, there has been much talk of W.G. Sebald. I have heard this talk and pondered through it, though I’ve never set foot into one of his books. This happens to me a lot: I hear about and read about and sometimes even discuss a piece of art without having actually seen or read or watched it. Because sometimes the discussion is more interesting than the art itself. Because I can’t get to everything. Because knowledge can be gleaned off the peripheral as well as the focal.

 

Below is part of a list of writing tips from W.G. Sebald, compiled by a couple of his students after his death. There are many more where these came from, but they’re more about fiction, and if you haven’t noticed, I’m allllll about poems. I like the list below because it’s a little wry, and because it emphasizes thievery. And also because it encourages me to do some things that I’m already doing, and a little positive reinforcement never hurts.

 

On Reading & Intertextuality

 

  • Read books that have nothing to do with literature.
  • Get off the main thoroughfares; you’ll see nothing there. For example, Kant’s Critique is a yawn but his incidental writings are fascinating.
  • There has to be a libidinous delight in finding things and stuffing them in your pockets.
  • You must get the servants to work for you. You mustn’t do all the work yourself. That is, you should ask other people for information, and steal ruthlessly from what they provide.
  • None of the things you make up will be as hair-raising as the things people tell you.
  • I can only encourage you to steal as much as you can. No one will ever notice. You should keep a notebook of tidbits, but don’t write down the attributions, and then after a couple of years you can come back to the notebook and treat the stuff as your own without guilt.
  • Don’t be afraid to bring in strange, eloquent quotations and graft them into your story. It enriches the prose. Quotations are like yeast or some ingredient one adds.
  • Look in older encyclopaedias. They have a different eye. They attempt to be complete and structured but in fact are completely random collected things that are supposed to represent our world.
  • It’s very good that you write through another text, a foil, so that you write out of it and make your work a palimpsest. You don’t have to declare it or tell where it’s from.
  • A tight structural form opens possibilities. Take a pattern, an established model or sub-genre, and write to it. In writing, limitation gives freedom.
  • If you look carefully you can find problems in all writers. And that should give you great hope. And the better you get at identifying these problems, the better you will be at avoiding them.

***

 

Photo from here. Read the full list here. 

Broadsides are important; poems are important (broadside; poem).

I believe that literature is important, and I believe that beauty is important, too. I believe in aesthetics, not for the sake of aesthetics, but for the sake of adding curation to the world. I believe in beautiful books of poems and I believe in broadsides, poems letter-pressed (letter-punched) into thick paper. One day, I will own a small letterpress, and I will make small books, beautiful books, books that have forests in their peripheral vision. They will be for sale, and they will be available for barter, too, because I believe less in money than I believe in beautiful items, a jar of brightpurple kimchi, a set of photographs with thick white borders, a hand-sanded cutting board. I believe in love and I believe in matrimony if you want it and I believe in admitting fault and in feeding oneself and one’s loved ones. In essence, I believe. As a result, I share this stanza that I love (by someone I know), and this whole poem, which I understand completely (by someone I do not know).

 

In a movie we see a young family live through
a tsunami. Sheltering in trees. I think of the man I might expect
to find unhurt in a tree above any awful thing. This man who
on Christmas I said I would marry. When I met him I dreamt
we went cheek-to-cheek to the peak of the dome of my room to speak
privately. When something comes true it is like a wreath in your body.

and

 

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(via BLACK LEMON)

Joe Brainard & White River Junction (writings & photos).

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White River Junction is where I live, and work, and eat. It is also where I yoga and latte and gossip and discover treasures. It is where I mail letters & where I show off my extensive hat collection. Joe Brainard passed through here on a bus once (probably more than once), and he wrote about it, and these days I’m reading Joe Brainard again because I think of him as a pick-me-up, even though he was mostly sad and worried about being too skinny and anxious about the concept of being a “painter” and the concept of love lasting. Then how does he make me so happy? Because he enjoyed being alive and wrote a lot just to do it and he drew pictures of things on tables and hung out with James Schuyler, one of my gay dead loves. And he had a good attitude, he did his exercises and illustrated books and drove places with friends. He was one of those charmers, I think. Here’s some of him.

 

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*top image is from The Best American Poetry blog and the bottom image is from my phone’s camera, taken while drinking black tea with milk & honey.