Kit Frick, the Chapbook Editor/Sapling Editor of Black Lawrence Press, interviewed me a few weeks back for the Sapling newsletter, which goes out to people who sign up for it. She’s allowed me to post the contents here: For this week’s feature, Sapling talked to Joe Pan, Managing Editor/Publisher of Brooklyn Arts Press Sapling: Brooklyn Arts Press publishes full-length books and chapbooks (in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction), as well as art monographs. Tell us a bit of your story—how did the press come to be, and what should people know about you? Joe Pan: People should know we’re open to publishing anything, pretty much, if the work is strong & we admire it. Our bread & butter is poetry, with some fiction & art mixed in there, but that’s slowly changing. Right now I’m interested in opening BAP up to novels, hybrid & weirdo texts, nonfiction chapbooks, lyrical short fiction, art collaborations that involve various media (like print books with web-based counterparts), & the like. We will always be a press that publishes the first or second poetry books of emerging writers because that’s what we mostly receive during our submissions season. As for how we came to be, BAP grew out of a need for small presses with open submission policies that charge no contest or reading fees. It also grew out of my own sense of adventure & egotism, since the first book I published was my debut collection of poetry. S: As the Publisher and Managing Editor of BAP, what is the hardest part of your job? The best part? JP: I think you’ll get different responses from various publishers, but the difficulty of dealing with printers tends to be high on everybody’s list. The first book a new printer creates for you is always nearly flawless—they thrive on new business. The second book will arrive with the cover image printed at a lower dpi than your submission, or it will have pages falling out because of problems with the glue, or the final interior paper will be of cheaper quality or lesser weight than the paper used for the proof. I’ve experienced each of these problems & am much more involved in quality control checks at each stage of the process than when I first started out. Another major difficulty the small press faces at times is an adherence to strict deadlines (blurbs by this date, cover art by this date). Life happens, & when you depend on so many people to finish their respective jobs in order to move forward, you must be prepared to either handle the stressful complexities that arise from managing inflexible timetables or create situations where work can’t pile up. The best part about running a small press is sitting in the audience while one of your writers reads from her first book of poetry at her first book party. The emotion present in these moments will blow you away. You get to enjoy the pride they take in their accomplishment, the subdued ecstasy of it being finished, when they kind of let go of the thing, finally, when the book becomes real, in effect, as it is first shared in this way with these listeners & future readers. There arrives a personal satisfaction, at some point during the evening, in having helped make this thing happen, a satisfaction that arrives in a fluster & then dissipates quickly, for some reason. But it was there & you felt good about it & everyone claps & gets up to socialize & you sit for a little bit longer & watch it happen & drink your wine. S: BAP will be holding an its annual open reading period this coming June. When you bring a new author on board, what does the ideal author bring to you? JP: Well, the ideal emerging author brings a sense of urgency & humility to a project, along with a desire to make his book the best it can be; he realizes his work is good but probably needs a healthy dose of editing; that what he wrote is not a precious object but a still-developing system, alive, & therefore growing, malleable, until it is finally not; he is an avid proactive self-promoter (ie, he’s willing to set up a reading at his local bookstore, or if he teaches, his university/college/school; he uses social media; he has videos on YouTube of him reading; etc); he has a complex understanding of where his work stands in relation to the work of other authors (or if really special, different camps, cultures, languages, & eras), & is confident in his ability to express these relationships from the perspective of a student, though he is humble & self-mocking of his own work & in no way self-congratulatory; he is generous with the time he gives to other authors & quick to make friends; he is above all curious—this is the ideal emerging author, from a publishing perspective. A smart, kind, efficient workhorse who loves literature the way literature deserves to be loved, & who will continue writing books with this goal in mind. This will make you proud while also growing your catalog, with the hope that his future readers will find their way back to earlier publications, one of which you own the rights to. The ideal accomplished author, for lack of a better term, from a publisher’s perspective, would be someone already famous for his talents who has sent you his latest surefire hit of a novel because he wishes to help launch your small press into the stratosphere by building a cult around it. Half of his book’s proceeds have been earmarked for dissemination to worthwhile charities. Also, he is a chef & loves cooking for you. S: Where do you imagine Brooklyn Arts Press to be headed over the next couple years? Are there any changes you foresee taking place in the near future? JP: Like I said, more long-form fiction & projects of interesting performance. In 2015 we will be publishing our first academic book with the Norwegian Theatre Academy, with support from MIT, the University of Kiel, & other renown international universities. After I took that project on, I realized the press had to change to meet my broader vision, devotions, & tastes. I really just want to publish work that excites me. None of us are here for very long. S: What one or two small presses deserve serious recognition in the eyes of BAP, and why should more people be checking them out? JP: Last summer I brought some small presses up for a residency at Mount Tremper Arts Festival in New York. Those presses were: Argos Books, Birds LLC, Epiphany Chapbooks, & Fewer and Further Press. These are run by people who love poetry, plain & simple, & they spend an enormous effort making sure good work sees the light of day. I also continue to be impressed by Wave Books, H_ngm_n, Black Ocean…I wish there was more small-scale fiction collectives out there, doing the kind of work Foxhead Books is trying to do. I understand that this is more than two small presses & I feel bad about it but I’m a talker & these are good presses. S: What’s at the top of your list to read this summer? JP: Manuscript queries & then full-length manuscripts, approximately 300-600 of them. I’m always weirded out by having to list the titles of books I’m reading for an interview, knowing they’ll end up in print, & if they turn out to suck, I can’t erase them. I have about 20 chapbooks I purchased or traded for at the CUNY Chapbook Festival that I’m eager to pace through, a few big old school novels from the turn of the century (this turn, this century), & some work by friends. That’ll do, I think. S: Just for fun (because we like fun), if Brooklyn Arts Press had a brain, what three things would it be thinking about obsessively? JP: It would obsess over its strange, newly developed cover art fonts, its burgeoning marketing initiatives, & the overwhelming anxiety it often feels early in the morning & late at night, stemming from a juvenile sense of predestination & doom. You’re gonna be fine little fella. —– To check out Brooklyn Arts Press online, visit: http://www.brooklynartspress.com/ —– Joe Pan’s debut collection of poetry, Autobiomythography & Gallery, was named Best First Book of the Year by Coldfront Magazine. His poem “Ode to the MQ-9 Reaper,” a piece about drones, recently made the front page of The New York Times. He grew up along the Space Coast of Florida, attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, & serves as the poetry editor for the art magazine Hyperallergic. His poetry has appeared in such journals as Boston Review, Denver Quarterly, Epiphany, H_ngm_n, & Phoebe, his fiction in Glimmer Train &Cimarron Review, & his nonfiction in The New York Times. Joe is the founder & publisher of Brooklyn Arts Press, an independent publishing house.
This month I chose a poem by Shane Book for Hyperallergic. Shane & I attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop together, & I’ve always been impressed by his work in both the poetry & the human rights spheres. He’s also a filmmaker, so be on the lookout for his work in that medium in the future.
Helen Diffenderfer, my grandmother, died today. She was 85 years old. She was a badass. She worked at Cape Canaveral. She wasn’t much afraid to die, & had a pretty good last few days, from what I can tell. She ate like a trucker: two Christmases ago she berated me for not giving her a gift certificate to Cracker Barrel. This year she got one, & used it to eat what she wasn’t supposed to, again. She laughed a great deal, rather boisterously, which I used to think a lot of old ladies did but actually a lot of old ladies don’t. She loved Wendy. She loved movies & her family. She loved church. I could describe her a thousand ways that would only help to describe a thousand grandmothers, but she was mine & I’ll miss her dearly. Helen Diff-en-der-fer. I’ll miss saying that last name.
Blue Safari by Josh Bell continues to show why he should be considered one of our great poets. In other news, I threw open the windows to the whole apartment & cleaned for two days straight. I could live there, I thought, looking in the room I live in.
I’ve been neglecting my own website for the Brooklyn Arts Press website, which is brand new (praise be to Martin Rock) and seriously pleasurable to look at. I’ve also neglected writing about AWP, which was a wonderful experience, given how I was finally introduced to some of the authors I’ve published. Our reading at the LIR bar in Boston really cemented the idea, for me & for others there, that BAP is a family. My thanks to everyone involved.
Visions of Drones Swarming U.S. Skies Hit Bipartisan Nerve By SCOTT SHANE and MICHAEL D. SHEAR ___________________________________ Last Friday I was in Boston attending the AWP conference when Wendy & I finished up dinner & drinks with some Boston friends & headed back to our hotel room. I figured I’d jump on Facebook before hitting the sack (a long day full of book selling & catching up with old writer friends & beating the blizzard) when I noticed a friend of mine had posted a link with my name attached to it. I opened the link & found my poem “Ode to the MQ-9 Reaper” had been quoted in the New York Times. Wendy hopped out of bed & jumped around. I reposted the link immediately & since then my website has blown up, the poem has been disseminated by a great deal of people on the major social media platforms, & the emails have poured in congratulating me for what would the next day appear on the front page of the NY Times print edition. I did not expect in my life to appear in an article concerning the actions of Rand Paul. Although our ideas diverge greatly at times on many issues, part of the reasoning behind his filibuster, which brought attention to the question of the President’s & our military’s possible authority to track & kill Americans on American soil using drones, was just & appropriate. People can decide whether or not it’s a question worthy of protest & arrest, though I must say that though the weapon we would now use is new, state killing of Americans on American soil happens all the time in prisons around the country. We have a distinct history of killing our own & the legality of the action, though it has been questioned & fought against, remains as it had before. My point is, this is no new thing, & to object it one must realize what one is rejecting in full, in broader scope. All I can do is thank everyone who read the poem & felt the need to send me their thoughts, it means the world to me. Thank you. Cheers.
A new poem, in comic format, by Božičević up on Hyperallergic.
I would like to thank the editors of Epiphany, in particular Brian Turner & Martin Rock, for their help in publishing “Ode to the MQ-9 Reaper” in print & partially online in their Winter/Spring 2013 War issue, as well as allowing me to talk a bit about the process of writing the poem (which is only available in the print edition). Beyond this, they have also allowed me to post the whole of the Reaper poem here on my blog, in hopes that we can generate a larger readership for the work, & also drive readers to Epiphany, a great literary journal. Two & a half years ago I started working on “Ode to the MQ-9 Reaper,” finishing it during the late spring of 2011 in Brooklyn, & revising it up through fall 2012. My hope is that it adds to the larger conversation, now that drones are beginning to take shape in the public consciousness. To download a PDF of the poem, click HERE. ________________________________________________________________ Ode to the MQ-9 Reaper I. (I dreamt you up in third grade.) Ultra-cool & promo slick, a predatory dart zip-lining threads of nimbi, unmanned, over darkling continents, your bot-brain is a paragon of focus & yet mechanizedly desireless, as self-aware as silverware, & thus incapable of cruelty when delivering laser-guided missiles calibrated to fountain a small bus full of explosives into a contained puff above a crowded marketplace, or slip eel-like through a cave’s oculate within the Hindu Kush. Your blurry, thermal aerial view beset with squared crosshairs a rookie war director’s owlet dream: oblivious vermin swept up with gestural efficiency from heights that confer the necessary filmic distance of omniscience, as if each strike were a warrant fulfilled by reason abiding divine instruction: Michelangelo’s God fist-bumping Adam. Edited & packaged, a select few videoed assaults ship to media outlets as evidence, an impressive staging intent to show a public what humdrum work war’s become—locate, track, eviscerate. Replicate. From these spare scenes of bombed & reconfigured wreckages of cars & buildings ghosting though a dusty plume arrives a satisfying vengeance for the loss of Sgt. Elias from Platoon, those spry young Wolverines in Red Dawn, & my uncle’s waking battle dreams (of the Vietnam variety) that go unmentioned in advertisements peddling the mastery of thumb-numbing single-shooter POV games for Xbox & PlayStation as a skill set, with once implausible credits transferable to active military duty. O to be gamers & destroyers, with each ethereal tick a countdown aria to roadside decimation or the anticipated readiness of microwaved pizza— I’m on YouTube again watching a task force seize a desert outpost, the offal opulence of awful ordinance as witnessed by a documentarian’s hand-held, an eye unsteady in its capturing, but never insecure. By firefight an anecdotal oral history begins developing its authors, these servicemen & -women who user-posted comments identify as members of Generation Kill. Soldiers passing soccer balls to poor kids an errant attempt to dupe a viewer into moral alliance & engage the heart’s surrender, but as the camera goes downrange, still settings shiver with heat & the sudden dubstep beat drops its discharge of epinephrine, pumps us for the possibility of a shootout & invasive human plumage: gut-shots, headshots, Hajji hematomas (& never a dead American), the BBC-style coverage devolving into Bang-Bang Club badassery, moments spliced for detachment via destabilizing rapidity. The first tank shot a Globe theatric to begin the operatic picaresque: Pafghaniraq: the Musical. Ubi sunt & heretofore? Let the bodies hit the floor. Dulce et decorum est? You wanted in and now you’re here. / Driven by hate, consumed by fear. The tanks roll in, the tanks roll out. But Reaper, where they cannot go, you can—& suddenly we’re Superman! Eye in the sky, womb with a view. You whizz to the rescue, my childhood A.I. dream‘s apotheosis as M.Q. Joe, as a voice narrating the hunt regurgitates post-Towers ideologies— the kind of stuff we get from news sources instead of news—& a superstructure emerges, with themes equating learnedness with subversive otherness & might with right, which Heaven atones, advocating our patriotic, righteous will-to-power. & I get why we heart the hype. Your sleek iBomb design is haute Apple adorable: the extended wingspan, the ball turret cam. Viewed full-frontal, Hellfire missiles hang loosely clamped to the horizon of your asterisk body, itself a fusion of X-Wing Fighter & Lambda-class Imperial Shuttle from Star Wars, a sexy sort of curvilinear Geek Goddess whose forehead slope recalls the stately dolphin fish, rear propeller the whirr of a rubber-banded planophore. Behold our Indian Springs Sphinx, riddled with weapons. But your work is deadly serious: to split atmospheres & genealogies alike, & do to human beings what bunker busters do to basements. In my child’s mind you were precise, able to de-install a dictator as effortlessly as any computer virus, a typed command & poof, *democracy*. But the reality is always trickier: while pursuing the enemy you also catch civilians, & often, a fact that crass reporters reduce to food metaphor (in order to make an omelet) & zealots to allegory (God makes his omelets with American cheese), but a truth remains: when targeting al-Qaeda, jihadists, & the Taliban, you snatch the heads off schoolchildren. Actual little kids, with families smothered in radii of blast circles & a bloody sampling of bystanders. The Brookings Institution puts your civilian-to- militant kill ratio in Pakistan at 10:1. Possibly. New America Foundation says 1:6. Maybe. Actual numbers unavailable. I click from collateral damage to Google Maps, satellite zoom to downtown, & comb rooftops for the faintest fraction of your form hovering Ground Zero because I’ve read you minnow those twin blue columns of memorial light as New York’s newest National Guard. I can’t help but imagine what future recon missions Cuomo might commission. Will you one day sweep & clear meth labs? Will you whistle just above our neighborhoods, a goodly beat cop who when alerted turns bag snatchers into smatterings of gore a blogged cartoon Giuliani might welcome as graffiti? Or would you just zap terrorists? & could we as Americans stomach accidents? A collapsed school gym, a Park Slope bar, the IFC, NYU, or BAM? In my dream you spiral slowly overhead in a droning corona of mechanized security, attentive as any parent. Are you the border patrol or the border? In your harmonious hum I hear George Carlin proselytizing on flamethrowers, a confluence of human ingenuity (How do I throw fire from here—) & what our culture embraces as a necessary wickedness (—on people over there?), as if the bargain struck with sentience was having to fulfill its darker innovations. Will the ramifications of your exploits serve as a parable, or dictate foreign policy? Do robot assassins outstrip the honor of our enemy, or us? This is not, I think, an academic question, unless we really wish to own the role of a global hobgoblin, dining expansively at the expense of others, crematoriums stirring in our cocktails. II. As a boy sweating it out in the swampy Florida ruins of the Space Coast, I conceived also the Extreme Frisbee, which when tossed onto a lawn levels a concentric blast horizontally, mowing the yard & thus finishing my chore, an easy circumvention of a nagging task I found torturous in humidity. Would the Air Force be interested in my toy version of the “daisy cutter”? It’s unnerving, two decades in the rearview, my easy fascination with destruction. I can’t say if it was fed by video games, toons, the assumptive natural tendencies of boys, or incidental fallout from grandparents that worked for NASA at the Cape, where I once met Ronald Reagan during an era of Cold War initiatives—rockets, satellites, weaponry, plutonium payloads; beach protestors’ signs reading: We Want to Grow Not Glow! At ten I watched the shuttle Challenger craze a curious Y overhead as we paused in playing duck-duck-goose on the school’s soccer field, our harmless game made instantly ridiculous, sickening perhaps, to our teachers, though I’d rather imagine our sport as analgesic to abrupt cracks forming in their logic, a hopeful premonition (even as they instantly foresaw a future of layoffs & foreclosures, ransacked tourism & a raised crime rate, an anti- Oz ushered in by faulty O-rings) of enduring life—which touches me now, resting on this bench in McCarren Park & watching a group of latino kids batting around a diamond, a few of whom might one day serve overseas. In this Spring of uprisings & genocide & war—baseball. A juxtaposition one may enjoy like an itch on the back of the throat. But what we call living is loving what we have, & have lost, when we can afford to love having it. Some say we fight for this opportunity alone. Others say to fight at all perverts the having. I see the boy pitching catching the HEAT end of an RPG-7 in a few years, & think, Play ball. Live & love this having. I worry Reaper you’re nothing but the latest incarnation of defensive bulwark designed to keep our leaders from having any skin in the game, a flying watchtower for One-Percenters. But that’s my irreverence speaking, as it’s obvious you were designed primarily as punctuation, a stop-gap for sentences like, “I’m going to plant an atomic bomb (Reaper) in (Reaper) your (Reaper) city.” & to keep young adults from shipping out & having to bear the brutal brunt of difficult decisions. But I find the remoteness of your remote control indicative of certain policies of opacity, the reticence toward disclosure adopted by governments & gatekeepers, fretful as circus flea-handlers, who decide some truths are too harsh/heady/hairy for a public. Your lofty hands- off approach feeds into that, & I imagine a subsequent generation envisioning war as raining droplets onto water beetles: bloodless because we do not see the blood, effortless because we do not see the effort, & so a simpler thing than the arduous recurring task of engaging in diplomacy. A not-so-futuristic, not-irregular Tuesday: coffee, WiFi iTunes, Netflix South Park reruns in an open tab, your successor drone narrowing on its target, requests a confirmation & is approved by the same sugared finger that seconds ago tested the relative squishiness of two types of jelly donut. III. Here’s a line announcing a strong desire to reference Blue Oyster Cult in this poem, or pepper in a bit more humor for digestion, but the shitstorm in my head’s pushing my levity button sublingual as my mammalian cortex indexes lines for a Codex (disseminating tips on how to better agitate an ulcer) entitled Driving a Blunt Point Down a Dark Road, With a Wandering Eye for Wildlife & a Certain Recurring Fear. Dear Reaper, I interrogate to better know aspects of myself, it seems. My inquiry into the meaning of your presence has made for incessant consternation, ineffective sleep, a line by Karl Krauss my rare dreaming’s epigraph, “In case of doubt, choose in favor of what is correct.” & around me the world becoming a sudden dustbin for metaphors, e.g., these El Beit coffee cups stacked into one another lip-to-lip like largemouth bass of similar size attempting to swallow whole their counterparts perhaps the symbolic error of my arrogance, choking on a subject more immense than my wheedling could wend; a caricature; enigmatic reach beyond my grasping. Outside June ferments its special brand of Brooklyn light, summoning dog-walkers & buskers & strollers to the park overlooking the motley chopper barges of the East River & Manhattan’s bric-a-brac skyline, & all the styled lines I’ve erased in pursuit of you are monumental failings I can’t shake, & share with friends over café beers & small plates of chorizo & applesauce, speaking of guilt for having not reached an ethical conclusion of you, as my internal editor broods & kicks, distrustful of poems that approach polemic, & rightly so. I could bend like the palm tree, ruffled by opposing winds, yet breaking neither way; or play the twin-faced Janus who, given variations on a score, sings a garbled contrapuntal tune. But still each night I return to you, clouded with resentment, the questions I pose echoing as personal indictments: If I accept you as a net positive, must I then accept the death penalty, for which the cohesive moral arguments by either side I find by turns compelling & absurd? When if anytime is absolutism, in law or life, viable? & what of fallibility, stamped on every birth certificate? Is human error error’s most humane defense? If war (as the poor) will always be with us (or us), should preemptive forgiveness accompany any loyalty we bestow upon our government, however begrudgingly? Is skepticism our better patriotism? Resuming, marching, ever in darkness marching. IV. The case made for your creation was utilitarian, with a catch. As an instrument sacrificing nothing of itself, you are a tool, Reaper—a dumb bucket of brimstone & nothing more. But in your work there’s sacrifice, to be sure. Not the mundane daily forfeits made by people carving out their own identities with virtues like humility & patience—a guile amounting to a certain manufacturing of spirit— but with swift certitude in servitude, sacrificing the lives of others in our name. To deprive war of warfare’s casualties (on our side, of course)—its main malignant property (to paraphrase Zizek)—is reiterated as your goal, & yet civilian casualties excluded from military updates discount the lives of victims whose freedom we’re told is in part the reason why we fight, no? Surely liberation doesn’t mean from life. Or are we expected to believe their desire for democracy (if indeed this is desired) denotes a predilection, an implicit willingness, for self-sacrifice in service of greater goods, this devotion somehow empirically antithetical to that of suicide bombers? ಠ_ಠ. #OverheardInDC. To usurp a suffering voice with ventriloquism or shush it with cover-up is the handiwork of dictators, dickheads, & directors of propaganda. A modicum of respect is paid by invoking a revoked life when reporting a victory, losses both targeted & untargeted. Shame is America’s great barometer: it lets us know when we’ve crossed a line. Recall LBJ’s reaction to Cronkite’s condemnation. We know sacrifice well enough to know when it’s not worth it, & even find within ourselves forms diametrically opposed: the soldier who sacrifices herself for us might sacrifice another for herself. We’ve seen our own countrymen take batons & lashes to the back, suffer the lunacy of crowds, or the indignity of being unjustly jailed & even killed in the fierce nonviolent battles of giving of oneself. But what do you relinquish, Reaper? What do we lose by using you? Your advocates serve up spin like dervishes, hors d’oeuvres buttery as Rumi but bitter, as detractors clamor eagerly for central space on aggregate news sites, Op-Ed columns marginalized & funneled through the foreign press. Each time you slip across an international border illegally to snuff a serial killer, the debates erupt, each side tending garden with the unimpeachable words of our forefathers, proven pesticides for fighting any weed or rhizome of rebuke. On the airwaves Senators, Representatives, & talking heads unite to enact a dance of prefabricated sound bites & slogans a Fifties adman might concoct to ameliorate “the befuddled masses,” teaching us where to focus our newly engaged feelings: on the nationalistic Pride for our military’s Ingenuity; the Bravery in making these difficult Choices; the Talent & Teamwork; the restored Honor in having doled out Justice. Phrases that imbued with righteous overtones subdue & collapse their subject, trivialize with jargon the power of authentic expression, & with the pompous authority of the politico attribute a successful campaign to our fighting spirit, heaven-forged & exclusively American. Well firstly, Senator, nice tie. Lieberman called & wants his smirk back. & so we’re clear, I find it slightly fucking irksome to be addressed as a collaborator in some monumental decision in which I had no say, & livid because I have a stake. In your speech against the enemy, was I meant to be the juror, or the injured seeking justice? Looking out into the cameras, do you imagine the solemn, braided faces of a million confessors staring back, each troubled by a grief only your full pardon could relieve, being as we share in this responsibility? Do you stick to boilerplate clichés because language is a terminal for vagary & connotation, & our polling preferences remain a known unknown? Even if I shared your plan of action, the rhetoric smacks of self-glorifying punditry, as if you’d commandeered the bomb yourself & rode the goddamn thing to earth like Major Kong. This aint you vs the hippie-dippies, so stop trying to out- man-handle gravitas. One dead Head doesn’t curtail much less abolish a terrorist movement, so let’s talk turkey: the drone tactic of picking off bad guys one by one is feasible but expensive ($3k/hr); they’re prone to crashes, slip-ups, have a flight hang time of Jordan on two days’ rest & methamphetamine, & are practical merely as an application for hunting higher-ups who’ve had their covers blown by errant errand boys—a strategy that relies on runs walked in on balks to win. If it boils down to body count, Senator, let’s discuss the flimsy bags of foulness— the body as person, conflux of ideas, protein chains in congregation, a thin material: not the kind we halyard up a pole or drape over a coffin, but a living instance we either value or devalue with our actions. To keep the number of combatants-to- civilians killed out of your podium romp & rhapsody amounts to whitewashing in the name of foreign relations, does it not? (No need to wake the far right Czar- side of Karzai.) If ever our leaders & .gov devalue bodies, undermining each our own mind’s dominion, we’ll lend our heart’s ears & eyes elsewhere, to be clued in by the new vanguard, e.g. the tag team comic smackdown of Stewart & Colbert, the nebulous panopticon of WikiLeaks, or the ambitious wave of Anonymous grey- hat hackers who post their findings online mere ticks after your talk. Transparency is a form of objectivity, & truth a noumenon: by this I mean, we know bias exists, so share your bias, & allow us to judge its worth. We need to know those running our machines are functioning well, as well, & in good service. We need to know that even if wars find us unavoidably involved, as with an attack on our harbors, or a match scratched across Europe, though there may never be consensus, clarity at least will guide our certainty in how we will advance & why & at what cost. Make no mistake, your exploits (grave music) attract songbirds & whistle-blowers: smart phone photojournalists, bloggers on crusade, a child’s text arriving instantaneously on our devices. To stubbornly refuse to share with your constituents the hard facts & steer clear from implementing policies marshaling forthrightness, you lose a not- negligible portion of public trust; & find it worthwhile, as popular feedback during election cycles could consign a $10 million Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) deemed ineffective to the scrap heap. Phrases meant to assuage us, detailing the perils of compromised National Security, would be fair if we’d requested preliminary attack coordinates, communication logs, data that endangers operatives, etc., but what we’re after is POTUS’ justifications (heavily footnoted) & an honest casualty count. Bear in mind, what roosts in darkness awakens in darkness also, but is rejuvenated. Some folks, unable to parse fact from fiction, feeling resentful, duped & mishandled, will invest attention, energy, & money in commiserating charlatans who entertain conspiracy & preach a radical, bigoted, insular fascism that fetishizes your failures, Senator. It’s sad to watch such distrust flourish. It frustrates me, upends my mental furniture. When folks demand what lecherous voices demand they demand of you, it will be in equal measure to what they feel you’ve withheld. On all sides, animosity for government grows, the perception being it conceals only to illustrate its power. Evidence itself must be evidenced. Clamoring for graphic images of our own war dead are the people who sought out pics of bin Laden’s corpse (& Saddam’s gallows plunge, captured by a grainy camera phone; who watched Qaddafi sodomized & hood-strapped like a deer & driven through the angry streets), if not to placate their own disbelief, momentarily, then to finalize another draft of current history. Perhaps it’s fair to push past tastefulness & ask for images of our fighting dead; those who suggest it could prompt fewer military actions are probably correct, but then expect a surge in websites devoted primarily to gruesome battle porn, with faces recognizable—an unfiltered horror show no PBS documentary by Burns could fully mitigate for mass consumption, nor a le Carré novel stew in its juices, feeding out the pearls. Some things can be engaged but not encapsulated; slip our definitions; shift their natural structures when being observed, making it difficult to weigh the potential outcomes of any approach. Shock weds us to understanding & mothers empathy (or trauma), & empathy activism or a paralyzing awe at how little we can help. Shock enjoys the lifespan of a fruit fly, empathy the fig wasp, yet pitted within each, abuzz, a plot for ultimate change. If nourished too frequently by either, however, we numb to them. But if left unfed in intervals, we risk fostering conditions for bleak distortions of the soul, the rank solipsism of corruption, fear- mongering, isolationism, genocide. Best I think to arm ourselves with compassion, a word for love’s morality, & an activity to be pursued to a point of effortlessness. To share in the suffering of another (our enemy (our idea of our enemy)) gives us a stake in their welfare & survival, our shared breaths & burials. This isn’t breaking news. History is a coroner’s cold slab / the rise & fall of nations on display / & though the body is a bloody mess / its examination brings clarity. So what does it matter what wrapping we box our rationalizations in, or the fingered reason we ribbon our bows about, if peace is the desired end result & we cannot have peace without understanding? If the other suffers, we must suffer knowing. If it’s wrong, we stop. V. The soldier relinquishes his body for the greater body. The conscientious objector relinquishes her body for the greater body. The terrorist relinquishes his body for the greater body. The martyr relinquishes her body for the greater body. Reaper, you relinquish nothing but another’s body & our name. You respect not & want for nothing, & if by terrible error you misfire, you have no hands for blood to be on. VI. When Abraham took his only son Isaac to carry wood up Mount Moriah, which Samaritans (of the good ilk) believe was Mount Gerizim, in the West Bank, to do what his god had commanded, which was to bind his son & slit his throat, for proof of loyalty, it was always easy to imagine the scene as developed for Hollywood, a Warner Brothers production, where the complexities of devotion, split between familial love & a higher purpose, could be played out by actors we liked, whom we knew the studio would never allow to die onscreen, under a purpling sky & thunder & broad orchestral strokes that signaled a grave decision & torment of the spirit. What’s more difficult to imagine is how a country father could make that climb up a path of white rock, fig & olive trees arriving in clumps & the air smelling of herbs of his own childhood, perhaps—oregano, thyme—& brambles at his feet, as his son asked, repeatedly, what it was they were planning to sacrifice using all this wood, & having to hold that secret in, which must have felt like an infestation of the brain, for the whole duration, knowing the hot knife at his thigh would soon be under his son’s chin, the smooth skin found there, & that he would have to puncture or slit or in some way force this tool into this boy in a manner that would bleed him out like a goat, not yet knowing some force would stop him, knowing only that to do this he must prepare himself, empty himself of feeling & so become that tool of his lord, given to the invisible hand, & sacrifice himself in order to sacrifice his son. & what child, tucked under the covers, listening as his own father reads this bedtime story to him from a book opened many times before, doesn’t imagine himself Isaac? VII. Recently, among the industrial vestiges of Bushwick, I found myself in a white box some entrepreneurial do-it-yourselfers had carved into an art gallery, & found mixed in with post-grad’s work informed by the subtle forms of Lin & Beuys, the hard-wrought whimsicalness of Anderson & Baldessari, two flat screen TVs hanging side by side on the wall, where I watched a fluttering arthropod buzz onlookers in McCarren Park as the other screen detailed its aerial imaging as layered onto a satellite view of Google Maps. As chance would have it, the artist was there & gave me a rundown of his work. I saw this in a dream, I said, feeling slightly ridiculous. Me too, he said. I’m intrigued by drones, I said. It’s all that I can think of, he said. The drone was strung above us, its articulated exoskeleton & elbow cameras not quite so menacing in repose. Onscreen we watched it wobble along a swarming path remotely set by iPhone. It won’t need you soon, I said. That’s the point, he replied. How long did it take to design? I asked. It’s a kit, he said. You can buy your own online. I told him of this poem, how in using a received form, an irregular ode, which I’ve wrecked, to receive your form, I’d moved beyond a place of comfort & the sonic permutations of lyric wanderlust I usually trust to gather what it grows, & into a mode of formal speculation. These things will do that to you, he said, as if I were hard-wired to follow tension to intention. Why just last week a company approached me asking if I could outfit this thing with a thermal cam. IX. The line “(Ghastly went the twerp)” was first conceived as “(Petty wrath, this length of West),” among other improbable incarnations, plus or minus a few switched-out letters; ultimately I chose the former to fit an evolving characterization of you as a bird of prey. Treating the historical list of drones as a layered anagram was just another attempt to chip you from the stone, a time-intensive experiment to hone (home) in on the idea of you using a formal device of creative constraint not unlike meter or a Matthew Barney bungee chord. & if by certain measures it fails I’ll accept that. But let it be a failure with some transparency: in my word choices, using a soliloquy trope which allows for this presence of mind, the delights & false turns I’ve made, the frictions & fractious phrasing & varying musics. & this stanza of Kora in Hell-ish afterthoughts is part of that. Relationships need their breathers, their steps back, in order to assess what has been achieved, what is still at stake; it’s exhausting, this swarm technique I’ve employed to both encapsulate & out you. I’ve heard Moby Dick described as Melville’s own attempt to capture in language the whale’s essential thingness—fleeting form, elusive essence—by framing events preceding & surrounding its hunt, its hunters’ histories, & the industry relying upon its animal fats & oils. We get a minor telling of its impact, & sense the authorial hand creeping in at the sides. He divulges the secrets of its anatomy, charts its behavior in an attempt to elucidate a nature, collects salty anecdotes & myths to better keep it buoyed about a surface of referential symbolism. & still the whale evades totality; the trap is tripped but nothing caught. Where in a whale exists a whale? What core among detritus? If not a sum of facts & traits & qualia, if irreducible to cross-section, if un-pin-down-able by narrative, imagistic or lexical triangulation, then how does one account for it? It is a phantom object: the closer you look, the less there is to see. Melville must have enjoyed the slip of it, grabbing still, & so often. Gospel of Ishmael, Book of Second Job, a testament concerning a depleted man conspiring to kill what he cannot capture nor contain: not a physical Leviathan, but a bitter logic of injustice & vengeance trafficking within. Had Ahab early on harpooned his psyche’s cachalot, wrenched the jaw from it, flensed & minced it & laid it bare before maritime birds who’d take it in their gullets & disperse, his crew & himself might have lived longer, but then we’d be left with no lesson by which to mark our moral lives, which shows the truer whale for which Melville used Ahab as the bait, & for which I use Melville, so that a discussion might surround the impossibility of possessing you holistically. & I say it aloud to myself, & say it another way, that language is mere iron fillings betraying a magnetic field, exposing one aspect of a thing, a force, by its properties. I desire but will never hold the atomic fact of you in my brain. You are too quick & I lack the stamina; lack the knowledge, the tools, the knowhow. In the end I have just words & images. But images & words are what I have, & hope of their effectiveness. *** To begin with this: Writ into its programming a complex theory of the heavens & the earth, & a mystical treatise on the art of attaining truth; so that the Reaper in its own self was
Let me say something about contemporary poetry. It believes itself progressive. That is, when we write, as poets, we think of ourselves as creating something new in the world, that our thoughts & feelings & word choices are not replications of the past, though they are built of things from the past, the way a new home is built of brick & brick is made of sand & sand was around for a long long time. The sand, however, could not have hoped to become a house. Nor the brick, which was intended for construction, might never have been, in the brickmaker’s mind, intended for a specific house, shaped as it is from the mind of an architect. & yet I read the poetry of Philippe Soupault from three quarters of a century ago & it reads as if could be presented at Pete’s Candy Store or Studio AIR tomorrow night by one of my friends. Here’s an excerpt from a poem by the old Dadaist/Surrealist: I. Wednesday on a barge and you Saturday like a flag the days have crowns like kings and dead men lissome as a kiss my hand rests on chained foreheads A child cries for her doll and we’ll have to start over again Monday and Tuesday cold-blooded four Thursdays off from work II. a thread unravels a shadow falls a butterfly exploded chrysalis or glow worm … [translation by Paulette Schmidt] Progress lies in the thinking behind a thing, in the intelligence that incorporates the teachings of the past (in as much at it can in one lifetime), but this does not prevent the intelligence from covering the same territory as the minds preceding it–on its own terms, in its own way, in its own time–nor does the newer intelligence find itself mired in absolute fallibility when discovering that its insight into an experience or phenomena matches up with what came before. What may seem derivative may also just be that certain like modes of inquiry & experimentation yield similar results, even when the minds doing the inquiring are separated by a century or more. A poem written by a young poet today might share certain values, sounds, verbal play, word choices, even an underlying aesthetic with those developed by the co-founder of the Surrealist movement years ago, but that does not necessarily mean the poet has not progressed, or that poetry has not. Millenia separate Plato from his adherents. It’s not that the world hasn’t changed, it’s that the world & human emotion & human reasoning hasn’t changed so much that the past has little to no direct bearing on the present. It does. & poetry, for all its impressive strives, still maintains a primary interest in humanity & the human condition, & for this reason will continue to entertain & employ elements of its forbearers’ work for centuries to come. Readers have a penchent for the unexpected; poets are expected to deliver the old news in new wrappings, or the new news in raw form, but sometimes the old news, in its primal form, which was new for the time, is the best news for the new time. & some poems, as we know, reach from behind you to grab hold of the future you are just now imagining. & that can be a fun sort of tickle. When I read this Philippe Soupault poem a certain delicious shiver runs through me. I can’t just read it once. It becomes a sort of deep incantation. I find myself speaking it aloud while reading without even knowing I am: Georgia I’m not sleeping Georgia I shoot arrows into the darkness Georgia I’m waiting Georgia The fire is like snow Georgia The night is my neighbor Georgia I hear every single noise Georgia I see the smoke climbing and escaping Georgia I walk stealthily along in the shadows Georgia I run–here is the street to the suburbs Georgia Here is a town which is the same And which I don’t recognize Georgia I hurry–here is the wind Georgia And the cold and silence and fear Georgia I run away Georgia I run Georgia The clouds are low and they’re going to fall Georgia I have to be in your arms Georgia I’m not closing my eyes Georgia I call ‘Georgia’ I call you Georgia Will you come Georgia soon Georgia Georgia Georgia Georgia Georgia I’m not sleeping Georgia I’m waiting for you Georgia [translation Julia Murkin] ___________________ There are also times in my writing life where I discover something of the past with a determined mode of expression that speaks directly to me in such a way that I cannot learn from it, or overcome it, or work against it with subversion. It feels like a perfect example of a thing, even if I find certain word choices to be too easy or just slightly off in one direction or another–all the better for its human flaws. So what I end up doing is singing with it, a kind of spiritual translation into the newer time of ever-occurring now, though I don’t believe much in the soul or in translation. I think it’s common to experience reading a good book at the right time, & perhaps picking it up later & feeling it childish. But for that time it was a great book, & it delighted. This love of a great book inspires people to write. Not because they wish to outdo the creator of the great book, or outdo the great book itself, but because that book makes the writer wish to sing along. To contribute. To add. But of course, when you sing, it can never be quite the same song. Florida I’m waiting Anna. I’m not sleeping Heather. Amy. Mildred. Mildred. Mildred. Don’t be long Michael. Won’t you come Bethany. I’m calling you Lucy. I’m calling Stella. I’m crying Billy. I’m calling Amelia. I don’t close my eyes anymore Dawn. I open my arms like a goalie Lenin. The sky is already falling Lauren. I’m running Julian. I scatter like nickels Damien. All this cold silence & fear Cordelia. I hurried but here’s the wind Libby. & it’s all very strange to me. Here’s another fucking causeway Sister. I’m running down a suburban street Hermione. I’m a wolf to your shadow Adam. I see the smoke rising in shapes Brandon. I hear all noises no exceptions Janice. Night is the hot girl next-door Joanna. Fire is a kind of quick snow Matthew. I’m thinking of you Julia. I’m waiting Emily. I send flares into the night Cynthia. I don’t sleep Georgia. I don’t ever sleep Georgia.
Green Dance from Joe Pan on Vimeo. “Green” is a surreal work influenced by video games, the sonic permutations of language, competition, spring, the green of astro-turf, sex, & memory, featuring the poetry of Joe Pan. Green Impetuous Impetus The crassly fashioned. The crudely uttered. The caped crusader as a crêpe crew saber. Consciousness is interruption. Even a hollow gesture informs. Movement as text without shelf-life, with a poplife provenance in kinetic pleasures, whose half-life is performing whole notes of rote consistency & strength. & joy. There’s always enough laughter to go around, so unlike gruel— there’s never enough gruel. Consider yourself. Consider yourself at home. The kireji of a haiku is a word representing the moment the poem is cut, where consciousness is severed in its telling & heralds a new thought; the wound is an act of creation. The closest English equivalent might be the caesura, the drum thump, aid to memorization. Then there’s the non sequitur, which seeks for its own sake, emblematic of movement in that it must cut itself or be cut to continue, as any green-thumbed gardener will explain. Fwomp, the dance instructs, meaning slow but whiplash-y. Fwomp fwomp. The child in me claps & stomps about, green as a comic Seuss egg, her magic handbag a music & a means of perilous adventure & Atari possibility. The Force & the Green Fuse In certain circles, dance is a sport. In certain circles, a deadly one. From certain angles. For some, a circular sprint. Or sacrifice. Like sand iguanas, the dancers breathe-in green. What is green? What is the Green Agenda? Apolitical as a popsicle, parsimonious as a president seeking re-election, it cannot be encapsulated by the entwined trunks of three miniature trees. Or these translucent peacock feathers. This candle. This fuel. The envious. The dollar. The decibel. A copper invested in raw weather. Jack Burton’s lime-eyed noir-fried gal pals in Big Trouble in Little China. Tatiana is gone. Violetta is here. Neither have a green card. Sir Gawain & the Green Knight, Emerald Isle symbolism & vegetation myths, where folklore is again made green as the grunt. As the unpopped cherry. The new renewable. The unpoppable cherry. The news, graphic as a gringo novel. Novel as a ginkgo gecko focusing its filmy green eye. Young outlaw love is the new inbred. There, I said it. I feel your clean ruining my green slate. Your tattoo-able taboos. The best part of green tea are the dead leaves that nag one’s sense of fate. They lie & lie about & laze & laissez–faire our fears like unfazed lasers. Don’t worry, there’s always enough new loss to go around, enough competition to break our able bodies like an oboe. Lost, in a Sense; Found in Another Dear deciduous dryad, I aim to process your private syrups, would settle as a simple window sill wildflower a happy accident opening its amino palominos to the bee’s dripping knees. I’d ravage you like horseradish, swell your tongue & curve the slick of each incisor. I miss you like the moment misses a maker of moments. You make me feel so Jungian. Make me spring like sprung’s a scrum. The lung-like mint-scented split of your center is a favor I hope to favorite, to enter airy as birch, your body as bendy-flex as my hung desire to see you slung astride my switch. Contrapuntal as celluloid & score are core & stomach muscles gone wrong but O so right, like the impetus towards empire, or a bee slathered in its own sweet scent. Choice is paralyzing. I ease into the act of watching you become something unobtainable. If I ease too quickly, I obtain, but what I get is not you. If I ease too slowly, you get elsewhere & I get nothing. You move again, a bullet of brevity I’m anxious to acquire, but acquire by acquiescing. The Offal & the Feral: a Fall We go after the ineffable. We go after what we see as inevitable. We go after each other’s throats. The Ballet Russes enters the Grand Guignol & is entertained. The body enters the world & intertwines. Both capture flailing until death. Go ask the wasp tail; go ask the green leaf why it balances the trembling dewdrop on its kitten paw. There’s no bottom to our greed for life. Bathos is its own heaven. O Helios, you power the leaf’s circulation but cannot stem the algal upchuck of an ocean bloom. The leatherback sea turtle fills a shallow pit with ping pong ball-shaped eggs & when they hatch the maritime birds will gorge themselves to gluttony; come night the survivors paddle sand toward the light of either moon or highway. Are you going my way? Have we gone? The new Pacific landmass is constructed entirely of plastic— mountains of dew, forests of sprites— the condition of mankind reflected in a hundred trillion plankton nuclei. It is a perfect metaphor for itself, green as the day is long, deep as our willingness to forget it. An Unscrolling, a Principle of Pleasure These aren’t, in one respect, the first dancers to do this. The opposite is also true. You work at play until you’re tired. My memory breads into instances, renditions of us in this position, How the body fits into wedges, tucks into itself at energizing angles. The tense blue vein wrapped about an engaged Achilles is what I know of love. Muscle memory is a mechanical constable, rigid constraints snapping body to form, hi-ho. Hum. Sometimes we blow a gasket. Sometimes a gymnast. Our muscles, by definition, define us. Memory is muscular. A stronger one I keep is of the soles of her feet, a crenulated shoreline. Her voice terse as a clothesline. Facing away. The corrugated heat sleeve on my coffee cup is patent pending. One day movement will be made proprietary—imagine these breaths expirated in intriguing couplets as a buy one, get one free. Imagine the new market of lovemaking. The bear & the bull. The vertical & horizontal markets. The way cloth hangs from a body can add or detract from presence. Divide orgasm from organism & what you get is a way in. Getting out is easier. It seems the world’s job is to inflate people so nature can peer back at itself. & then it helps everyone stop breathing. I envy the immediacy of her art— how quickly one gesture in nature erases the next. One body erases the next. She closes her eyes & I’m gone. Postscript Dance is the apparatus of body in ecstatic curiosity. The emphatic spin cycle of desire & a release like resurrection. No one is a totality, & none are autonomous. We are left with nothing & more.
Ann Liv Young as Sherry Vignon from Joe Pan on Vimeo. This video was shot in December, 2011 at the Louis B. James gallery in the LES of New York City, during what was deemed a retrospective slash holiday special by performance artist Ann Liv Young’s infamously in-your-face character, Sherry. (Why write about this performance a year later? Because I’m a pretty busy person, & because I needed to let this piece, however light it may read, stew a bit. I’m not setting out to make a grand statement about the work of Ann Liv Young; these are a few observations on a performance that stuck with me, which I think speaks to its resilience as a work of art. Also, it interests me in the way real world events might carry themselves into fiction, as Sherry is a true character.) The event was entitled “Sherry is Present,” a slanted homage it seems to Marina Abramović. But where Abramović sat quiet & still across from her participators, Sherry gets up in your grill, belligerent & unavoidable. The audience reaction, though, strangely mirrored how audience-participants react to the work of Abramović. Some people leave feeling like they’ve just experienced something profound & authentic. Some are moved to tears. Some find the whole thing ridiculous. But everyone, you can be sure, will have an opinion. In the video above you will see Sherry do several things of note, for which I’d like to provide some context. 1) Sherry will sing the song “Dead and Gone” (T.I., featuring Justin Timberlake). 2) While face-humping a fan, Sherry will bring down a ledge above him. Resting on that ledge was, along with various other Sherry artifacts, a large stoppered jar full of her urine. 3) Sherry will, at one point, refill the jar with urine in front of her audience. 4) Sherry will call onlookers passing by the large gallery window “a bunch of cheap-ass niggers” for not paying to watch the show. Audience members will cringe & laugh. The video will end. Context: Sherry was singing “Dead and Gone” for a man whose father had recently died. The entire holiday performance was centered around the idea that brutally honest discussion can set you free. Sherry is a character that will say or do anything to provoke a viewer into action. Most wilt under her scrutiny. At first, she reaches out to her participants with a delicate urging, mic in hand, a few feet from your face, in front of everyone. At times, she’s a real sweet talker with genuine southern charm, exuding warmth & strength. But what keeps the average viewer/participant at bay, & nervous at first about sharing with this woman anything of value (to be used against them perhaps), is Sherry’s overwrought style & appearance, her heavy makeup & what feels like a latent, explosive violence waiting in the wings—evidenced by manic bursts of karaoke, manic speeches, & a seemingly crazed, impetuous need to involve her captives in the discussion of capital H honesty. It’s no wonder then that Sherry has a history of angering people with her antics. On this particular night, near the beginning of the performance, Sherry engaged a pissed off woman who believed Sherry had singled her out for slow torture. Sherry continued to ask the woman why she was being so defensive, pointing out that her body was curled in a defensive position, that her tone was defensive (as I remember it), wondering aloud why such a person would continue to attend the show, or show up in the first place? Sherry urged the woman to speak her mind, refusing to drop the subject. The woman eventually rose & left, taking her friend with her, but not before giving Sherry what she demanded, which was her honest take on the experience. It was not a flattering take, but it was honest. & so Sherry was satisfied. A Sherry there is that does not love a wall. Conversely, as the night went on, attendees (what were we, exactly? witnesses? viewers? participants? actors? enablers? We sat in a gallery that became a stage with us on it) grew more comfortable with Sherry & began sharing their own experiences, real life stories of pain & pleasure that reduced other listeners to giggles & yes, genuine tears, executing what I believe was Sherry’s ultimate goal: a holiday catharsis. This was, after all, Sherapy. Something about us needed fixin’, & right quick. Sherry wasn’t interested in song & dance, she wanted purging. Thus the gentleman who told Sherry about his father’s passing & was rewarded with a soulful karaoke attempt at an empathetic eulogy. The strange pairing of words in a phrase like “soulful karaoke” is indicative of my theory of the performer’s intent, which was to create (& moderate, & modify) dualities. To set up an obstacle to reckon with, & reckon with it. Be it real, imagined, or the politician’s straw man, It was being dealt with. & because Sherry’s dual roles as profligate performer & homespun psychologist amused & terrified us by turns, our moods becoming more dependent on her shifting. Oscillating between repulsion & attraction, we took sides when we needed to. Nobody wanted to be an I, not in this space. We needed to be part of the Us, or risk embarrassment by Sherry, who we knew would not banish us but make an example of us, turn us into a Them, & needle us until we gave in or gave up. When one walks into a gallery, does crossing the threshold automatically sign you up for whatever will transpire in that space? Artists sometimes speak of this as if it were a natural law or universal known, & not a formula for arranging one’s preclusive sensitivities: “Know what you’re getting into.” If the stage suddenly becomes the floor you’re standing on, too bad, participate or beat it. But then what is to be done with nonparticipants who refuse to leave? The rebels? The ones that shy away? Some of these folks, in moments of dread, create a performance within the performance, lashing out at the provocateur in hopes to be left alone, confirming their feelings with the audience, or joking their way into ultimate withdrawal. Sherry does not seem to allow for this. (Perhaps once, out of distraction.) The question remains, though: what are we to these performers if not simple resources? Does our sharing mean we were having a more authentic experience, or were we just feeding Sherry’s own desire to watch us squirm? The man who’d lost his father, it should be noted, seemed genuinely pleased & thankful for, albeit a little embarrassed by, Sherry’s tribute. His smile never faltered throughout the rest of the performance. Despite the abnormality of the situation, people were displaying sincere emotions & purporting to be genuinely touched. I certainly was. Despite being shadowed by a creepy Santa & various male minions in old-lady drag, Sherry had a way of focusing all attention on her, until she wanted that attention focused elsewhere. When Sherry asks you for your honest opinion, it actually means “you honest opinion with a microphone shoved in your face, before a crowd of raw & sensitive individuals (being kept this way by an energized prison guard) who are poised to either relent or become confrontational. But, really, say what you sincerely feel.” Sherry is easiest on those who acquiesce. The confrontational are asked to explain themselves, undergoing a barrage of questions until they give her something she feels is authentic & real. Even if it’s nasty, or attacks her, Sherry respects “the real.” Not the actual. Not necessarily the truth, but the “real” of the moment—which is more or less a confessional sort of response that lies somewhere between “the unfiltered genuinely expressed” & “the case.” The first words we hear from Sherry comes from the song she’s singing: “Lemme kick it to you right quick, man. Not on some gangsta shit, man, on some real shit.” A question Sherry is always posing is: “Where is the real shit?” It’s a good question. A second unavoidable question during the performance is: “Who here has the power?” And one’s response is always: “You do, Sherry.” & in most cases, this is true. If Ann Liv didn’t excel in fully embodying her character, Sherry would not be able to hold you. The single most powerful act any viewer is ever capable of is walking out on a performance. (I would urge you not to; the show sustains itself.) The unseen performance artist is a word stripped of its speaker. The audience brings the real. & so we shared. & perhaps because telling a story about yourself helps you share in the feeling of having power, or because Sherry’s eyes & those of your peers tell you that you have done right, you are relieved. The mic is taken from your face & you feel better. Happy holidays. During our sharing, people wandered in off the street. They were actually being coaxed in by a woman standing near the door. The gallery space had crept out onto the sidewalk, & into the lives of people on their way to dinner & drinks. At one point, several men wandered in (I believe one admitted to being on Ativan or Adderall & drunk on beer—we’ll call him Adderall Guy) & began interrupting Sherry mid-performance for laughs. After Adderall Guy made a rude comment directed toward a participating audience member, who immediately broke down crying, Sherry interrogated the abuser until he began revealing details of his own life. He spoke of his own insecurities & failures, which led to an apology. But that wasn’t enough for Sherry. She asked the man to take off his pants. One question that remained with me following the show was whether Sherry is a hardass with a keen sense of persuasion, systematically breaking down the boundaries of her audience, or whether she’s an outright bully, demanding our full participation in this ritual of art (one couldn’t imagine Sherry in any sort of non-engaging meditative space). When we opened up to her, she made us believe we were part of the discourse, that what each of us said carried equal weight, & that what we were engaging in was a traumatic, public version of group therapy. Of course, this was never the case. Sherry controlled the space. The audience was participating on an unfair playing field. But so what? We took for granted that Sherapy was designed to help us, because it rhymes with therapy, & therapy is supposed to help us. Sherry never promised us anything. We began trusting her, & each other, with our feelings, which was perhaps a mistake. Or maybe that’s just what being a socializing human entails—sharing, with no promises. Sometimes you get a positive experience, sometimes a negative. When the Adderall guy refused to take his pants off, though we could sense he was close, Sherry attempted a new line of persuasion by showing the man that nudity was accepted in the space. She asked two of her collaborators, Michael Guerrero & another man, dressed in holiday drag, to take their pants down, which they immediately did. The collaborators were part of the show, & thus quite familiar with what Sherry expected of them. But though Adderall Guy was aware of the momentary ridicule he’d experience undressing before the crowd, he might not have been aware, given his state of mind, of its lasting effects. For instance, there were many cameras present. Most of Sherry’s collaborators had cameras in their hands & were digitally recording the event, & one must assume that at some point the videos will pop up online or be sold to a viewing public. The Adderall Guy, as any witness would attest, would have disrobed of his own free will, in a gallery space, which as a venue could have had him arrested, & that choosing to participate in this way was not the responsibility of the gallery or that of Sherry but only of himself, & that his naked error (or drunken, drugged antics) could be broadcast at any time without his given permission. But it is also important to realize that Sherry wanted this to be the case, was trying to talk him into this possibility, thereby extending the duration of his shame. This particular moment seemed an act of humiliation. This man had hurt one of the people Sherry had worked so hard all evening to manipulate into a place of true vulnerability, & he was going to pay for it. & that’s what we wanted, too, as the audience. We wanted to see the drugged asshole drop his drawers. If the bully wasn’t bullying us, what did we care who she was bullying? Was it so bad that she was bullying a bully? Footage of the Adderall Guy naked will never see the light of day, because it didn’t happen. The dramatic apology following the public shaming, sans nudity, was still an impressive win. Sherry was a lawyer, a caretaker, a lounge singer, a deviant, a therapist, a friend, a hound dog, a psychopath, & an ex-wife all rolled into one. A chimeric being with love in her heart, & perhaps more than a little sexual animosity. A person with a deeply fucked-up sense of convention, with an instinct to punish always simmering just below the surface of her desire to lend a hand. & whether they were enjoying themselves or laughing through the weirdness, everyone was enjoying the spectacle. The gallery had an upstairs & a downstairs. Each floor showcased a variety of objects—shoes, fingernails, paintings, purses, dresses—artifacts of a cultural icon; the apotheosis of Sherry into a star of trash & camp: the Queen Tramp. The objects appeared framed in glass, kept in bottles, displayed behind velvet ropes. There was living room furniture, as if we were in a house within a gallery. Videos showed past performances. All of it was highly self-referential. Downstairs stood pink Christmas trees & a table set up for Sherry merch. I can’t recall what was for sale, but some part of me believes everything was for sale. The urine that fell on the fan (I call him “fan” because I heard him expressing his love for Ann Liv’s work; he might even have been a friend) was several weeks old. It was, as Sherry hinted, putrid, an assault on the senses. Which made it all the more funny. It was only one of only two times during the performance that Sherry was caught a bit off-guard, & where Ann Liv Young possibly broke character. Sherry made up for the shift in power by refilling the container with her piss, as you can see, much to the moaning delight & laughter of the audience. In the video, the woman sitting next to the fan drenched by the urine is my wife. Wendy received a little bit of Sherry herself, some droplets on the sleeve of her coat, free of charge. Barring that not so wonderful moment, Wendy thoroughly enjoyed the performance, & saw Sherapy as a means of honest discourse. Urinating in public is an act which Ann Liv Young’s become known for, best recalled by Art Fag City (in regards to Ann Liv’s now infamous PS1 show) & by Ann Liv herself in this interview with Idiom. She peed to retake control of the situation, & to ask us to follow her back into the magic space of our shared performance, which we did. During the crazier moments of performances like this one, people sometimes leave, & I’ve never understood why; I’m always excited by the prospect of what might come next: will the artist try to outdo herself, or reel the strangeness in a bit & give us all a breather? Sherry, filled with power & the excitement of the night, thrown off balance by the unforeseen collapse of the ledge, managed one more massive shift of perspective by calling gawkers at the gallery window “a bunch of cheap-ass niggers.” In the video, watch the young black man do that thing with his glasses, the thing one does when somebody you enjoy suddenly says something way out of line. Beside him, a woman who I believe is a professor at Columbia University creates a mask of her smiling face & retreats inward. It’s a tough one to swallow, this person you’ve trusted to unite everyone in embarrassment & march them through a desert of honesty & deliver them to…not salvation, exactly, but perhaps to a place where one feels like one belongs to a community of survivors…has suddenly betrayed that trust & sent everyone off to their personal corners. For some, I’d imagine, the off-hand statement killed the fictional dream we were experiencing as a group: it broke the spell. Racism is a line toed by few performers regularly save perhaps comics & even they can lose careers over it, when the line between performer & performance breaks down into actual hate speech. (Michael Richards comes to mind.) But more people make their careers in its cringeworthy parody (Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Daniel Tosh), upsetting the conceptual space between perceived & actual, which leads to a slew of obvious questions: Can Sherry get away with this? Does her parody of a crass, off-balance, trailer-park raised Southern healer hold up? It certainly wouldn’t be beyond the realm of her character to say such a thing. & yet later, after the performance, the young black man asked Sherry why she felt comfortable using such language (Bear in mind, it has been a year since this happened, so I’m not sure if the young man asked Sherry about the word outright, or if Sherry asked people what they liked/disliked about the show, & he responded). Sherry’s response was that she shouted the common but still jostling go-around word “nigga,” a word ushering from the general vernacular of the songs she’d been singing (again, this is paraphrasing), at which point both the gallery owner & Michael Guerrero (Ann Liv’s co-producer/husband/bullshit detector) pointed out that no, Sherry had pronounced it distinctly as nigger, not nigga. At which point Sherry apologized. Or Ann Liv did. Certainly one of them was present. Her argument amounted to being in a headspace where people wouldn’t bat an eyelash at the use of the word “nigga,” & that any slip of the tongue was just that. Which I believe was the case; she seemed uniquely vulnerable at that moment, & Sherry was so open to everything & everyone that any attack of racism would seem to me unfounded. One could argue that Sherry is a secret racist, or that she has a subconscious or latent racism, but then who are we talking about now, Sherry or Ann Liv? Can there be a subconscious racism within a character that doesn’t exist for the artist? (If you’re a behavioral analytic studies PhD candidate looking for a thesis project, you’re welcome.) & why would Sherry apologize for this & not for pulling up her skirt & rubbing her vaginal juices all over the gallery window, much to the disgust of gawkers & winter-night passersby? Was it a mistake in the heat of the moment? Was Sherry just a fucking nightmare of a human being? Was she a delusional woman regressing at times to a violent childhood? Was she yanking our chain? Could any part of the experience be described as genuine, the real deal? After sitting through a performance, its natural to wonder just how far removed Ann Liv is from her testy, inviolable character. Quite a lot, I’d imagine, as I don’t suspect Sherry’s personality would keep her on the streets for long before she was institutionalized. Ann Liv has talked a bit about the real her peeking through her characters, though, & if you’re up for a fascinating meta-interview, I’d suggest watching the video of Ann Liv interviewing Sherry. It also bears mentioning that the very person one might expect to defend Sherry’s actions or come to her aid, Michael Guerrero, patently refused to, because that’s not what the show is about. It’s not what Sherry is about. Sherry is about peeling apart the reality of a situation. Sherry is about honesty. After confronting her, the young black man in the glasses laughed it off, saying he knew she wasn’t racist, but that it had jarred him, if only briefly. Earlier on, it should be said, Sherry had grown visibly excited & proclaimed her happiness to see people of color in her audience. (She also gave a shout out to any lesbians in attendance & sang a song for them.) This does not absolve her of anything, though it does speak to her wishing to make everyone aware that her desire to help is all-encompassing. People will come to their own conclusions, but by the end of the show, those waiting to speak to Sherry seemed unfazed by the incident. So many boundaries, so little time. As the magical truth-telling time faded, folks spent the final minutes praising the performance for what it was—a truly unique, nerve-wracking experience with implications for larger social change. I’m not saying one should seek out enlightenment in group therapy sessions led by a sociopath, but it is remarkable how some of our more basic core values are now being expressed by characters residing at the fringe. Think Dexter from the self-titled TV series, or Tony Soprano, or Rorschach from The Watchmen, or Jack Bauer from 24. We see who we are through their view of us, because they are us, exploded. We say we want brutal honesty, until it hurts, but when we get it, the way that Sherry gives it, we may not want it ever again. When we find wrong in others, the same wrong that may exist in ourselves, we shame them anyhow. Because who doesn’t deserve it. These creepy little dualities that exist within us, how they itch so. So there’s some context. I asked both the gallery owner & Mr. Guerrero if I could use my iPhone footage for a blog post & they said it was fine. I hope one day to see the entire performance again online. It might just show that how I remember it is not how it happened at all, & I’ll accept that. Things change after a year. We further privatize experience until it becomes a trigger for nostalgia or something useful, & this experience falls into the latter category for me. Maybe I’ll use my idea of Sherry as a character in a short story or something. Only time will tell. If you’d like to see Sherry live, she’s been traveling around in her Sherry Truck, billed as “a mobile Sherapy office, a sculptural coffee shop, and a boutique filled with memorabilia from Sherry’s world” by MoMA: PS1. Or would you Skype with Sherry? Or experience Sherapy in your living room? Check out Ann Liv’s website here for more details. If you, dear reader, actually book a Sherry therapy session, please drop me a note & let me know what it’s like. I’d very much be interested to hear about it. End matter: Disclosure: I’ve met Ann Liv at various times in my life. Before New York, I knew her as a modern dancer attending the North Carolina School of the Arts; I lived across the street from NCSA with a former girlfriend & they took a lot of the same dance classes. Ann Liv & I were often at the same parties & spoke on occasion, but I never really got to know her well. I’ve seen her perform here in New York several times, once with live bunnies. When her & the two other women on stage began singing, the rabbits began shitting. Ann Liv dropped a finger under her skirt, played with herself a second, & took a whiff. Even as the audience in the warehouse roared, she appeared unshaken, nonplussed, & as I watched her watching the audience, I was struck by the idea that this performance wasn’t being done for us. We were performing for her. If I remember correctly, the day of the NCSA graduation, Ann Liv, wearing a tutu or a skirt, I can’t recall, walked across the stage to receive her diploma. Just before she reached her spot, she leapt up in the air & mooned the entire audience. There were a good many people laughing, but there were just as many people around me saying “Jesus Christ why.” All I remember wondering was whether or not she got away with it, or if she was reprimanded.
Last year, up through November, more active-duty soldiers killed themselves than were killed in battle: 177 to 176, respectively. One of the great difficulties of war is the post-service operation of reintegrating soldiers. Most return home to families that can’t fully grasp what they been through. The loneliness & the horrors of war stay with them, & for some, the emotions & memories never dissipate to a point that can be reconciled, & lived with. I’ve known people with PTSD, & each would say it’s a horrible thing to wake up with each morning. We cannot forget these people. If we turn away they will disappear down the rabbit holes of their own misery. It’s our responsibility to help them acclimate to the culture that is theirs, to find the mental & medical help they need, & to prevent any service person from taking from themselves what they put on the line in the name of duty. I am a big believer in personal freedom, which includes the right to die, but I also understand that certain pain, though it may not be remedied completely, can be controlled & cared for, & that one’s mental health might often depend on the willingness of those around to help. Sometimes people are embarrassed by the idea of needing help. I know because I’m one of them. It’s never a good lesson to learn the hard way. Sometimes it takes another person to take the first step & start the process. I’d encourage anyone who knows a soldier having difficulty adjusting to contact the Defense Center of Excellence (for Psychological Health & TBI Issues) at: http://www.dcoe.health.mil/Families/Help.aspx. They’re available 24/7, & have information ready for anyone who calls, from family members to educators. There is also of course our military’s suicide prevention hotline (1-800-273-TALK) who may be of assistance. I hope 2013 is a better year for all of us.
Be sure to check out the latest two poems I’ve chosen for publication at Hyperallergic. “The Last Day” by Debora Kuan from “Corsica Inside the Daughterhouse” by Paige Taggart
For the past month I’ve been collaborating with choreographer Stephanie Sleeper on a piece that infuses modern dance with contemporary poetry. The work is entitled Green, and we will be performing the piece (yes, I am in it) on Friday & Saturday, October 26 & 27th, at the Triskelion Arts Center, located at 118 N. 11th St. 3rd Fl, Brooklyn, New York 11249. Tickets are $15. Performance time is 7:30. “GREEN is a surreal work influenced by video games, the green of astro-turf, the sonics of language, competition and memory, and features the poetry of Joe Pan.” Green will be performed after Black as part of a two-piece performance. In terms of movement, there was a great deal of back & forth collaboration between Stephanie & her dancers in piecing the work together. Each dancer was invited to keep a running journal, & even at various times during the creation use a marker to write words or phrases that rose out of themselves & the movement onto a scroll, so they could express & feed off one another’s ideas. Originally, I was going to be performing alongside 2 other males, but circumstances changed & I became the lone male in the piece. The dance quickly grew around my words & my presence on the stage. The piece is more or less a meta creation a la the film Adaptation. You see me engaged in the process of creating the very dance you’re watching, which is also a rumination on the color green, its connotations & various meanings, with a nod to vegetation myths & Stravinsky, etc, of course. So here’s the rub: words & dance don’t fuse very well. I’ve seen plenty of dance pieces over the years that attempt to incorporate text/words, & the text/words more often than not come off as combative, meaning they seek the spotlight. Where music often amplifies a dance’s movement/tension, text vies to commandeer the piece & the viewer’s attention. At worst, text becomes a distraction. Usually it just sounds like an older brother yelling over a younger one to make his point heard. So how does one get around this? We chose to allow the words their own space in the piece; the dance, then, becomes an accentual background visual, or better: a visual music to the reading’s tonal/inflected music. When the words stop, the air is filled with the dancer’s stomps, scattered foot beats, silence, & the dance again becomes the viewer’s emotional & visual focal point. I hope we have a good crowd. I have no expectations, & no real fear of failure, yet. & may not, as failure, in small ways, has been worked into the creation of the piece, so that it becomes almost a demand of the piece to screw something up, or (to be more accurate) taken over by another force. In the natural world we associate greenness with life-giving qualities, but it is also the color of jealousy, youthful competitiveness, the soft slow strangulation of a tree by kudzu. A natural thing must live by taking the life of another living thing. The piece is about struggle, & was a delight to create. The poem itself will be part of a larger poem later. I fully intend to include it in my next book, though with added-on stanzas. I’ve been toying with the idea of calling the form of this new poem a Divorce, since it was intended as a collaborative piece at first, then must divorce the idea of its former self & make itself anew. We’ll see. Cheers.
A few months ago, Hrag Vartanian, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Hyperallergic, approached me about serving as Poetry Editor of the online arts magazine/blog. Today marks my editorial debut, & I couldn’t be more thrilled. The inaugural poem is by Joanna Fuhrman, entitled “Poem for My 39th Birthday.” One of the great things about Hyperallergic is that it seems to be everywhere at once, with a stable of great freelance writers & peripatetic bloggers attending various exhibits & art happenings throughout the city, & more often, as it grows, around the globe. The writing does not shy from political or cultural discourse, in fact invites reader engagement – some of the best reading moments occur within the comments sections, where people actively sort out their opinions & criticism, & where writers can & do interact with their readers. Hyperallergic always feels like it’s bringing you the news of what JUST happened right NOW. It feels current & alive & takes full advantage of the format in which it operates. In thanking Hrag again by email earlier today, I noted something I’ll share here, regarding art in praxis & the reason I took the job: “My hope is that the work I choose, in congress with the literary criticism of John Yau & Morten Høi Jensen, two writers whose opinions I often share & whose writing I admire, will broaden your readership & ultimately the community of artists cognizant of each other’s works.” This last part is quite important to me: that artists seek out & maintain awareness of other forms of art – their practice, their histories, their criticisms. As various arts move within each other’s orbits, dialogues & tensions occur, ultimately growing community, not to mention creating more opportunity to share, borrow, & steal – the genetic dispersal responsible for art’s ability to adapt to ever-changing environments. As I choose poems for the website, some will no doubt be works of ekphrasis, given the artistic nature of the magazine. But I will also choose poems representative of poetics as they’re being exercised today, concerned with language & experimentation & the theories of their own manufacturing & playful logic, so that readers possibly unfamiliar with what’s happening in poetry now can get a sense of it & possibly even develop a taste for it. This is my hope. I’ll post links here as the poems go live on the site. In the meantime, enjoy Joanna’s poem. I absolutely adore the music that arrives in the ending. Cheers, J