WHEN I WAS A COWARD AT THE POETRY PROJECT, W/ ANNOTATIONS

(a) SEE ANNOTATIONS BELOW. 

*performed  Wednesday, January 7th for "My Kind of Happening: Short Texts on the Future Nature of the Reading" (1)

 

WHAT IS A READING; IN THE DARK MIRROR

when i read, i’m trying

to over throw yr governments

i’m trying to overthrow

myself  I'm trying to throw myself

overboard

 

it’s not that at 31 I don’t know myself

it’s that I want to keep not knowing myself

in the reading I can not know myself

over and over again

 

WHEN I READ I'M TRYING TO OVER/THROW 

yr governments and throw you over with it

both of us tied and tangled by our ankles 

mirroring each other

the reading as dark mirror 

 

WHEN I READ I'M THE GATES OF HEAVEN & HELL

adjacent and unmarked (2)

(WHAT IS A READING: things change slowly)

humans are a major catastrophe

(WHAT IS A READING: what is an unnatural event)

(WHAT IS A READING chunk of antimatter 

from space creating a fire crater in the ground)

(outside my window the words FIGHT!) (3) 

(FIGHT!) 

(FIGHT!)

(outside my window as I write this (FIGHT!) for a reading the protesters shout FIGHT!)

(The protest is the best reading)

 

THE HEAVENS ARE NOT SERENE OR UNCHANGING

the heavens won’t warn us

about what the readings will be

even craters are erased by human activity

the heavens were supposed to be changeless

& record the evidence faithfully for future generations

(WHAT IS A READING: let there be fire on earth!)

(WHAT IS A READING: we want to forget ourselves!)

not even the markings on the moon will be remembered

WHAT IS A READING

 

A READING IS A SELF-CORRECTING PROCESS

is a process of telling a thing without touching the thing

nothing wants to inhabit us

in the cosmos there is refuge for change

if you wait long enough everything changes

i’ll be happy to see this place burn

WHAT IS A READING, Simone, hi:

 

Sorry about my late reply and to be dense about this but as I re-read your email about the event I'm having a hard time navigating the question(s) here. (4) I'm guessing it's because of the word "controversy."  What is 'the controversy'? Is there a controversy? (5) And how does this relate to ideas of "a reading"?  Perhaps a reading is a controversy in itself-- at least, the good ones. Maybe the question is: can readings, please, be a controversy. How do we get readings to be controversial-- because there’s lots to disagree upon. and one thing i’m having a hard time with is living with disagreement. living in disagreement with friends. with some of you here. (5.5)

Simone, prior to this email, my plan for this event was to talk about performativity--  and my understanding of the reading space as an opportunity to charge an environment, to create a a zone of 'safe* un-safety' (6) for myself as a writ-----  what is “safe-un-safety.” Oh I don’t know. that just sounded like what I do. what I would like to do. what I try to do when i get up here. because i want to terrify and surprise myself. Because I want to politicize myself more than anyone else. because i want to-- well, here: this is what it has looked like:

(JT PICK AN ITEM AND PERFORM SAFE UN SAFETY) (7)

 

THETOXICGRLYCLOWN

THETOXICGRLYCLOWN

so, yes, I work to create a zone of “safe-un-safety” for myself as a writer, for all of you, for the space itself--and indulge in the complications of that given the racial and gender dynamics inherent to my writing, my performances and the context of obliterating whiteness in many of the NYC poetry communities I often read to/with.  reading is the safest space for me to be... unsafe, given the literal unsafety of so many other spaces of which I'm a part. 

Simone, for the last year now, since I vowed to stop attending readings that didn't make space for people of color, I find myself doing this dumb thing you have probably done too. In fact I know you have (7). At my last reading: 32 people total, 6 people of color, 7 with me included. At the Claudia Rankine and Lisa Jarnot Poetry Project reading I counted 24 people of color in a crowd of what felt like a million (8). A million mostly white faces moved by poetry but moved to action? Moved to what beyond a reading? Moved to challenging political realities in addition to leaning in? But will you help me with this now: Raise your hands if you identify as a latina (9). Raise your hands if you identify as a person of color (10). Raise your hands if you feel like a major catastrophe. What beyond this mindless counting is the real work, I know (or don't know, really), but I do this numb counting thing to torture myself. to torture you too. readings are sometimes a type of torture we need to engage in. 

Simone, I want to catalog these tortured artifacts I’ve use in my readings, and how they have made my readings turn: on me and on the audience. Or, turned me on! Made object of me. Politicized me and my body in obnoxious ways that work for attention. Yes, I WANT ATTENTION. Yes, I WANT ATTENTION. Yes, I WANT ATTENTION. Yes, I WANT ATTENTION. A couple of years ago during the q&a at a reading a poet (11) suggested that I stop clowning around and just get to the poetry. What am I and my poetry hiding behind?  Why can't I just let the poetry speak for itself? And this to me-- this animation to critique, to respond, or to feel, is perhaps what a reading is. Animation not from me the reader but from you an audience. (12)

But this direction, Simone,  now feels underdeveloped and misguided in light of what seems to be an event to talk about... something else. What am I talking about Simone? What am I even doing up here?  Who am I? Who are you?  Is this a reading? Did I give a reading. I am in fact reading.

I realize I may be sounding naive  but it's in all sincerity. I also don't want to give a talk that is not in keeping with the rest because I don’t want to be an unnatural event. I don’t want to be a chunk of antimatter from space creating a fire crater. Does this make sense?


Thanks in advance for taking the time to walk me through this, Simone. 

(13)

(14) 

(15)

(16)

(17)

(18)

 

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ANNOTATIONS & THINGS I WANTED TO SAY BUT DIDN'T BECUZ OF FEAR OF DOING IT BADLY

(a) I realize the last time I was in this space was for the "Enough is Enough" meeting held November 6th--this was a community gathering to share and discuss concerns about sexism, sexual harassment, abuse, intimidation and assault-- and a culture of permissibility many w-identified poets experience. The space, the Poetry Project, like much of the NYC-poetry landscape, feels different for me now. I feel smaller. & in many ways, Iike I don't belong. or, possibly worse, don't want to belong.  it's not lost on me that The Poetry Project was my first paid reading ever. MacGregor Card invited me to read the first year I moved to New York, shortly after [RED MISSED ACHES] was published. there were maybe 12 people in the audience. & reading there, receiving a check,  made me feel like, i made it!  lately, i've felt that by critiquing some of the practices in this and other spaces, spaces i do very much care for (for both emotional and material reasons), i've bitten the hands that have fed me and my work. and those whose work is vital to so many of us.  i consider that i'm doing this the bad way. in fact, i'm sure i'm doing this the bad way, because i don't know what i'm doing. 

(1) "Questions have arisen about the nature and intention of what we at The Poetry Project have circled around and made a place for nearly fifty years. There should always be questions. Answering a call for poetry, prose, performances or other unnameable forms of meditation, poets give and take on the questions WHAT IS A READING? What should it be? What is read there? And to whom? These are questions about space, place, text and community. Starting fresh for 2015."  from The Poetry Project website.

(2) Italics indicate injected notes from a failed piece of writing. 

(3) Dec. 6, 2014 

(4) Addendum to original call for work (sent to participants):  "Given what has transpired since November 6 – including rumor of a call for a boycott of Project events based on reports of harassment by a well-known writer associated with The Project – I think it’s important to revisit the purpose of this event and confirm the willingness of confirmed participants to go forward in what promises to be a charged environment...

 ...How can we use this public time and space most productively to address one another respectfully about not only the present controversy, but about the poetics that emerge from controversy? What about the poetics of the reading space itself? Is it meaningful to talk about this -- a poetics of the reading space?" 

(5) The alleged controversy is, I presume, Enough is Enough's public reporting "of harassment by a well-known writer associated with The Project." This writer is poet David Henderson, currently a mentor in the Project's Emerge Surface Be program. He is never named during any of the readings or my reading. I don't name him.  He isn't named in the emails. I feel nervous even writing his name here because there are so many additional names to name. But just because i don't know all the names does't mean i should keep silent about even one name.  I don't know David Henderson-- this is a problem. And yet I do know of the harassment accounts against him and how it feels like they've been forgotten--this is also a problem. but, what appears as a familiar institutional amnesia (and if not amnesia, then what is it...) is one of the main concerns for me.  

(5.5) There are people's faces I can't look at because of my confusion & because of my disappointment. & because of love too. this one is the hardest. 

(6) I have to codify "safe" "unsafety" here because women have been raped; have been drugged, sometimes many in the same evening (example: March 2014's Copula event hosted by Wendy's Subway); women have been the objects of rape jokes in lauded lit-mags, women's bodies have been animalized, heckled, and sexualized in poetry spaces (example: The Claudius App- issue 6, read it here) --  and there has been, in my opinion little  to no satisfactory action... not yet. And, this type of "unsafety" is not what I'm proposing or condoning. i say no to real unsafety.  

(7) See Simone White's essay "Flibbertigibbet in a White Room" HERE. 

(8) How does whiteness make itself obliterating in one's/my imagination? I realize this number is off-- there were more people of color at this reading who aren't as a visible as others-- and this nuance is important, a part of anti-racist work, in that it recognizes the ways in which white supremacy attempts to manipulate, reduce and simplify heritage by its own racist standards. 

(9) I count 3 hands.

(10) I count more hands than I expect. 

(11) Poet Ben Mirov @ Ben Fama's IRL Serires 

(12)  See Sianne Ngai's chapter on "Animatedness" in Ugly Feelings. 

(13) what will I say during the Q/A. what will come out of me so angry and dark and terrible? what will come of out me that is so tender and wanting forgiveness for how i will continue to fuck up?

(14) i sit next to Eric Conroe, curator of the former Copula reading series-- and there's a strangeness in my heart. What space am I in? 

(15) There's lipstick  on Eileen Myles's sweatshirt. 

(16) Ariel asks Krystal about "her rock"-- and whether she's coming out from under. I want to tell Krystal her I miss her and that her writing is important to me. this impulse feels paternalistic and gross. 

(17) an older, black woman audience member compares the re-appropriation of the word "lady" and Natalie's discussion of it in the complicated context of BLT (The Brooklyn Ladies Text-based salon, which she co-runs) with the n-word, I shake my head vigorously and want to say NO. NO. NO. but i don't because it doesn't matter what the fuck i think at this moment. now, i think about how my response is at the heart of  tensions i'm having about intersectionality. one of these words was used to systemically oppress individuals. one of these words is a word i don't and wouldn't want to use-- though i have in the past. and the other word has class and gender oppression at its roots. but where does this impulse to compare come from- even if comparison could be useful?  

(18) I DON'T ask Eileen about separating individuals from institutions-- and why this feels important to her or why she, as she did in her talk, highlights this as something she does. I DON'T call for a public discussion about this, like I want.  i'm afraid. later, I'll tell myself it wasn't the right time. and that it was right to not further "the controversy." but these are lies. i was a coward. I was nervous to say what I thought because I'm afraid of the fundamental divisions or realities these issues are illuminating for so many of us. this is terrible but not so terrible.