- Privacy Is My Middle Name, My Last Name Is Control, October 17, 2017: When I was little, my mother told me that in Chinese tradition, someone celebrating a birthday doesn’t receive gifts–they give presents to others. Perhaps there’s some element of truth to that concept; perhaps it was just something my mother told me to help me get over the fact that I wasn’t being fêted with wrapped packages every October. (We were Jehovah’s Witnesses, and watching the rounds of cards and cupcakes on my classmates’ birthdays left me wide-eyed and wanting.) Although I’ve never found any evidence of this supposed practice in the cursory internet searches I’ve conducted, the idea of gift-giving as a way to show gratitude for one more year on this planet has always felt like the right thing to do. Usually I find something shiny and/or delicious to offer to a close friend or to my partner, but this year, I tried something different. I became a book fairy.
I love the idea of finding books in unexpected spots, and in honor of the tenth anniversary of Goodreads, the Book Fairies invited people around the world to hide books in public places. Since it’s also been ten years since I joined that bookish online community, I chose ten books–five of my favorites, five of my partner’s favorites–to share with unsuspecting passersby. I spent my birthday walking around the greater Portland area, leaving books in my wake. Here, you can see a few in their not-at-all-natural habitat:
I was also celebrating something else that day. After a hundred days of intense writing, followed by another hundred and sixty days of hemming and hawing, rearranging and revising, I put the finishing touches on a new poetry manuscript! “Again” began as the Inauguries project–my attempt at coming to terms with the Trump presidency and at stealing the language back from his mouth. While I was in Vermont, other writers encouraged me to see if there might be a book in that project, and as it turns out, there is. (Well, a manuscript, anyway. It’ll be up to the fine folks who read for poetry presses to figure out if there’s actually a book there.) In any case, I felt relieved and triumphant to see all those poems stacked together, to read them out loud over and over and feel the heft of the words in my mouth. Sometimes it’s the mere making of the thing that matters.
And finally, one last celebration: Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse is in print! It arrived at my house a few days ago, and I spent hours absorbed in it. It’s been quite some time since an anthology has caught me up like that. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it includes some of my favorite poets (too many to name), but there were also many poets whose names I didn’t recognize, and their work floored me, too. Grace Bauer and Julie Kane did a marvelously nasty job of putting the anthology together, and their section titles’ nods to singers and songwriters take after my own heart. Thanks to all the nasty poets out there for the song and swagger, the rhythm and resistance. You’re a gift, too.
- Tomorrow’s Chances Feel Like a Singing God, July 30, 2017: Last Sunday, I went for a hike, as I do most weekends, and when I came back from my trek in the mountains, a message was waiting on my phone. Jenine Gordon Bockman, editor of Literal Latte , had called to let me know that my short story, “Out of Order,” had won the magazine’s fiction prize! I did a little dance right there at the trailhead, although the dance didn’t last too long, as I was pretty wobbly-legged by then.
This was (is!) big news for me. I’ve been writing fiction for a while, but I’ve only been sending it out to magazines for the last year or so. In that year, a few editors have written back some kind notes, but all of them passed on publishing my stories. I was beginning to think I ought to throw in the towel, especially with stories like “Out of Order.” It’s science fiction and nearly 8,000 words long, both of which put it outside the scope of most literary journals. So, it was a surprise, a delight, and a confidence-boost to hear not only that Literal Latte was interested in publishing “Out of Order” but also that they’d chosen it for their fiction award. The story is due to come out in their Fall issue, when I’m sure I will babble about it on the blog all over again.
In other news… Rattle posted my poem, “I Tell Death, Eventually“, as their poem of the day back on June 23. Although I’ve been reading Rattle for years, it wasn’t until this last month that I realized what a supportive and extensive poetry community editor Tim Green has built, especially through the digital components of the journal. In the days following my poem’s posting, I received more kind emails from readers than I had in the previous ten years. People were generous with their own stories about loss and grief and mortality, and I appreciated their candor and vulnerability. Beyond that, it was also heartening just to know that so many people were out there reading poetry on any given day. At a time when literary and arts programs are so often disparaged and subject to budget cuts, knowing there are so many other poetry-lovers out there gives me hope.
And speaking of budget cuts, I wanted to give a shout out to the editors at Crab Orchard Review , which is in the process of converting from a print to an online-only journal in the wake of spending restrictions and staffing reductions. Allison Joseph, Jon Tribble, and Carolyn Alessio have been putting together one of the best journals out there for years, and I’m honored to have my poem, “The Gauntlet,” included in one of the final print issues. “The Gauntlet” is one of the few poems I’ve written where I directly address race–in particular, the unease I felt at being one of the few people of color in my old neighborhood in Iowa–and I’m grateful to the folks at Crab Orchard Review for publishing it. (I’m also grateful that now, for the first time in my life, I live in a racially and culturally diverse neighborhood. I still think a lot about race, and it would be foolish in the current political environment to say I feel unworried and entirely safe, but I don’t feel the same kind of fear I did in places where I was the only person of color around. There’s power–and peace–in numbers.)
- The Girl I Used To Love Lives In This Yellow House, May 17, 2017: And then it was May. The last few months have been quite the marathon, in no small part due to the Inauguries. After the leisurely wonderland of Vermont, I came back to Oregon and dizzied myself trying to squeeze a poem a day around the obligations of humdrum, ordinary life. I woke up in the wee hours to write before work, stayed up bleary-eyed in hotel rooms trying to compose poems after traveling all day, and faced more than a few occasions where I thought it might be best to throw in the towel altogether. If nothing else, the project reminded me that I am, at heart, a stubborn fool.
I still have a list of words I wanted to use–and Trump is picking up new favorite terms every day–but I’m happy that the 100 days are over. (If only the administration were as short-lived as this project was.) Maybe I’ll revisit some of those other words at a later date, but for now I’m taking a much needed rest from poem-writing and turning instead to seeing whether the Inauguries have the making of a manuscript in them. It feels strange to try to split up and rearrange the poems into a book, but folks keep encouraging me to get these babies out beyond the blog, so I’m giving it a shot.
In the months since my last post, I’ve amassed quite the list of shout-outs that have remained shut-in while I was engrossed with writing the Inauguries. So, at long last…
Cheers to Peter Kahn, Ravi Shankar, and Patricia Smith, for editing The Golden Shovel Anthology: New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks. The anthology riffs on the Golden Shovel form created by Terrance Hayes, which borrows a line from one of Brooks’ poems to form the final words in the lines of a new poem. The anthology is a great way to get acquainted with a wide range of contemporary poets or to revisit your favorite Gwendolyn Brooks poem. My poem in the anthology draws on a line from “Riders to the Blood-Red Wrath,” which is not my favorite Brooks poem, but how I could I resist the lure of a line like “the national anthem vampires at the blood”? (And what is my favorite Brooks poem, you ask? Depends on the day, but “The Mother” and “Beverly Hills, Chicago” are probably the top two contenders.)
Hurrah for Laura Madeline Wiseman for editing Bared: Contemporary Poetry and Art on Bras and Breasts. The anthology includes some of my favorite poets: Sarah A Chavez, Susanna Childress, Denise Duhamel, Leslie Adrienne Miller, Stacey Waite… Too many brilliant folks to name them all. I’ve got two poems in the anthology–about breasts, not bras. One’s an oldie but goodie from The Body Is No Machine, and the other, “No Jeremiad,” is brand new to the world.
Hosannas to Mary Ann Miller, editor of the new journal, Presence: A Journal of Catholic Poetry , and Jeremy Schraffenberger, who interviewed me for the journal. Mary Ann was the force behind St. Peter’s B-List: Contemporary Poems Inspired by the Saints, and she was kind enough to think of me for this first issue of Presence. Jeremy’s questions helped me to revisit the process of writing and revising No Confession, No Mass, and I suspect some of his questions about the efficacy of poetry as protest led me in the direction of the Inauguries.
And bravi to Mary Vermillion and all the folks at Mount Mercy University, who gave me such a warm welcome when I visited in April. Mary live-tweeted the Q&A, during which I read the first drafts of a couple of poems from No Confession, No Mass. The drafts were awful, but that was the point, and it was the first time I’ve ever read a shaggy early draft aloud to a room full of strangers. (I highly recommend it for its humbling properties.) Mary’s colleague, Joe Sheller, wrote a generous blog post about the reading, as well as its aftermath, when I mistook Joe for a ghost. (It was a long day, and the students and I had been talking about paranormal investigators. Yes, let’s blame it on that.) I also got to chat with Mary a bit about the memoir she co-wrote with her husband, Ben, about his gender transition, and I am eagerly awaiting its publication. Best of all, the students at Mount Mercy were thoughtful and inquisitive and bold–it was a true pleasure to talk with them. A few asked questions that prompted me to reveal my fears and qualms about writing non-fiction. (It turns out I’m fond of the veil, however thin, that fiction and poetry allow me to draw over my life.) But because I find it hard to refuse a challenge, especially a self-issued one, while I’m on my post-Inauguries mini-hiatus from poetry, I’m trying my hand at some essays on race. Time will tell whether I can get over my unease enough to send these out into the world, but for now, at least, the writing feels necessary and surprising, so I’ll follow it where it takes me.
- Swingin’ on the Front Porch, Swingin’ on the Lawn, February 27, 2017: This is my last week in Johnson, Vermont, where the kind folks at the Vermont Studio Center have given me space to write and to be among other artists for the month of February. There’s been much furious scribbling, broadening of horizons, and exchanging of ideas. (Also, a wee bit of carousing, a lot of laughter, heaps of good food, and a mid-winter bonfire. This place is luscious.)
The residency has given me encouragement to be braver and less polished with my poems, including the Inauguries, which have definitely begun to absorb the influence of this place and the people I’ve met here. Being away from home has also offered some necessary distance from stories and poems that I should have abandoned long ago. Darlings have been murdered! Drafts have been trashed! Let the new language come flooding in!
While I’ve been here, Unsplendid put out a new double issue, which includes a villanelle and a sonnet I wrote. Editor Doug Basford’s preface is worth checking out for its thoughtful articulation of some of the relationships between politics and poetry.
Also, speaking of politics and poetry, the new issue of Rattle is out, and it features poems by civil servants–folks who’ve worked for the CIA, FDA, EPA, the Census Bureau–which just goes to show we poets are everywhere. I’ve got a poem in there, too, in the poets-not-affiliated-with-the-government section. I’ll have to wait until I’m home to read the rest of the issue, but I can tell you my poem was inspired by a dream in which Death tried to serve me a pie. No lie.
- The Friday Night Charades of Youth, February 7, 2017: I’m holed up at the Vermont Studio Center for a month, where I’m working on new poems, fiddling with some half-formed short stories, and marveling at the snow. (Much easier to marvel when I’ve got nowhere to go, when I’m just strolling through its glitter and waking to find how deep it’s grown overnight.) I’m still writing Inauguries, too, and have discovered that those poems might be less about reclaiming language than about documenting the emotional terrain of this strange moment in our history. The poems have often taken a surreal turn, which feels apt–if fact and truth are questionable, I suppose reality is, too. And, especially in recent poems, I can’t seem to get away from speaking from a collective voice. Who is this “we” that keeps appearing? As the Magic 8 Ball says, “Cannot predict now; Ask again later.”
This moment feels unpredictable, but as Sarah Einstein and Sandra Gail Lambert point out in the editorial note to their online anthology, Older Queer Voices: The Intimacy of Survival, this isn’t so much an unfamiliar world as “one we remembered well and had hoped was gone for good.” Einstein and Lambert assembled the collection of writing by older queerfolk “to recreate the edifices of care and activism that we once constructed for ourselves and then perhaps abandoned because they were no longer needed.” I’m grateful to have poems in the anthology; grateful to have made it to the age where I may be an “older” queer; grateful to have had friends, teachers, artists, and authors who gave me the strategies I needed to survive.
And speaking of survival, speaking of age: the folks at Silver Birch Press are running a poetry and prose series on their blog called “Me, At 17,” that precarious time on the cusp of adulthood when so many of us learn what it means to outlive our childhood selves. I’ve got a poem there, too, and I’m excited that the series represents such a wide variety of experiences of that particular time in life. (Happy, too, to see so many LGBTQ authors in the series. Represent!) If you decide to check out the poem, you’ll have the extra treat of getting to see what I looked like back in the ’90s: Long hair. Penciled eyebrows. Impish glint in the eyes.
- A Little More Before He Knows His Own, January 20, 2017: Today I began writing my way through the first 100 days of the Trump administration. For some time now, I’ve been collecting words that Trump uses too often, words that I once loved but now can hear only through his mouth, his voice. I want to feel the rich history of those words again. I want to remember what they used to mean. Today I began stealing that language back.
- People I Know, Places I Go, Make Me Feel Tongue-Tied, January 2, 2017: As I wave adieu to a year that was both terrible and colorful, the books that I read are, as always, the little souvenirs that I’m happy to be carrying with me into 2017. (Well, books and a mental soundtrack that includes The Sundays, apparently.) I read a little less than usual this year, but most of the books that I did read wowed me. My favorite discoveries of 2016 include:
For Love of Common Words: Poems, Steve Scafidi
Late Wife, Claudia Emerson
Seam, Tarfia Faizullah
Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, Ross Gay
Dear Leader, Damian Rogers
Lost Alphabet, Lisa Olstein
lore, Davis McCombs
Look, Solmaz Sharif
M Train, Patti Smith
Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, Carrie Brownstein
H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald
On the Move: A Life, Oliver Sacks
The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction, Neil Gaiman
Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, Mary Roach
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, Ann Patchett
When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi
The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality, Julie Sondra Decker
In the Darkroom, Susan Faludi
The Joy of Swimming: A Celebration of Our Love for Getting in the Water, Lisa Congdon
Journal of a Solitude, May Sarton
The Gap of Time, Jeanette Winterson
The Brides of Rollrock Island, Margo Lanagan
I Sailed with Magellan, Stuart Dybek
LaRose, Louise Erdrich
A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara
Native Son, Richard Wright
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
When Are You Coming Home?, Bryn Chancellor
Hag-Seed, Margaret Atwood
The Intuitionist, Colson Whitehead
The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
…And those were just the highlights of my year in books.
I’ve got to thank Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge for pushing me to read outside of my usual boundaries. I only heard about it in September, so didn’t quite complete all the challenges, but it’s a new year, and they’ve announced the 2017 challenge. I am, of course, digging all the encouragement to read more books by and about LGBTQ+ people and people of color, but for me, the biggest challenge on the list is the first one: Read a book about sports. (I just picked up Forward: A Memoir, though, so maybe not so tough after all…)
As for the writing in 2016, most of my attention was focused on fiction, and I just started sending out short stories. One of them, “Grief Sequence,” was an honorable mention for Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers, which is encouraging, although it feels strange to be a “new writer” all over again. But in truth, when it comes to fiction, that’s what I am.
I’m happy to say that as the year came to a close, the poetry bug bit me again–or, more accurately, poetry started kicking me in the ass and reminding me to get back to where my real work is. I’ve embarked on a long sonnet sequence that I’m hoping to finish in February, thanks to a residency at the Vermont Studio Center.
But before that wraps up, I’ll be starting another writing project. Like so many other writers, I’ve been trying to find ever more ways to respond to and resist white supremacy and sexism, especially as they’ve manifested themselves in Trump’s campaign and election. As we head into these next four years, I want to make sure not to lose hope, to remember the power that rests in the reclamation of language that’s been used to oppress. So, each day for the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency, I’ll be writing an “Inaugury,” a poem or essay that attempts to scry the signs of the times, to reinterpret language that’s been misused, and to remember that this period is a new beginning for all of us. I’ll be posting the poems on my website starting on January 20th.
Until then: Here’s to the end of the story that was 2016 and to cracking the spine on 2017.
- Please Excuse These Rags I’m In, November 2, 2016: The folks over at Rogue Agent have put together an amazing issue of work by queer people and people of color. The poems and art in Don’t Erase Us resist violence against queer, black, and brown bodies. Thanks to Jill Khoury and Jen Stein for putting together such a necessary collection and for including my work in it. And if you are a poet or artist who explores race, gender, sexuality, body image, dis/ability, or any other subject matter that deals with the body, please consider sending your work to Rogue Agent. They’re good people.
And, on another note: This weekend is Wordstock, Portland’s Book Festival. Chances are, if you’re in the area, you’ve probably heard about all the phenomenal authors who will be on-stage. I’m particularly looking forward to Colson Whitehead‘s discussion with Yaa Gyasi about the legacy of slavery in the U.S., as well as a panel on poetry and the personal with Brenda Shaughnessy, Melissa Broder, and Jennifer Grotz. And, of course, Carrie Brownstein, because Sleater-Kinney will always occupy a little nook in my punk-rock heart. If you’ll be at Wordstock and want a break from the big events, I’ll be performing a pop-up reading as part of the festival at 10:15am. You can find me in the European Art gallery of the Portland Art Museum, next to the painting of Saint Mary Magdalene by Giampietrino. Wander through the gallery, stop to listen, and stick around to talk and ask questions about ointment jars and female saints. (I can promise great stories about the latter… Perhaps not so much about the former.)
- A Slip of the Tongue Is Gonna Keep Me Civilian, September 26, 2016: Last week, I got to hear Ann Patchett read from her new book, Commonwealth. More importantly–since I would have read a new Ann Patchett novel no matter what–I got to hear her thoughts about how she’s been writing the same story over and over for twenty-odd years, her advice on writing what you’re afraid to write, and her recommendations of must-read books.
Many of her suggestions came from the list that she compiled as she completed the 2016 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. Because I’m forever hopelessly behind the times, I hadn’t heard of the challenge, but I love the idea of encouraging folks to read not just more but also more broadly.
So, challenge accepted, Book Riot! I combed through the list and discovered that my eclectic reading habits have already taken me through most of the challenge, with a few gaps yet to be filled in by books that are awaiting me on my to-read shelf.
However, in some categories, I came up empty and would love some help to up my game! If you’ve read something amazing that was: a) set in the Middle East; b) historical fiction set before 1900; c) a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years; d) a book that was adapted into an equally amazing movie; or e) a food memoir, please let me know!
- Never Was a Cloudy Day, September 19, 2016: Autumn is rolling in, heralded here by a string of overcast days, the slightest hint of yellow in the maples, and swifts roosting in chimneys. It only seems appropriate that I’ve been writing about transformations and cycles, about new beginnings and the endings they sometimes entail. One of those poems is out now in Nepantla: A Journal Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color. It cheers me that the poem, “We Have Come to the End of the Oyster Months,” found its way into the world just as September returns us to oyster season, the delicious lushness that only comes with cold weather. It also cheers me to be counted among other poets I adore: June Jordan, whose “Poem about Police Violence” is just as relevant today as when she wrote it; Tatiana De LA Tierra, who sings the praises of “unsavory lesbians”; Julian Randall, writing of how origin is bound up with trauma; Ocean Vuong, in an interview on pop culture, colloquialisms, and common ground; and Brenda Shaughnessy, eloquent as always, talking about embarrassment and fear and music and desire. “Poets can’t beat time,” Shaughnessy says, so as we all hustle toward the equinox, may there be dancing in your September, and only blue talk and love.
- We Are Billion-Year-Old Carbon, September 12, 2016: I’ve been living in Portland all of two weeks now and am still learning how to navigate the city, figuring out how to make my new apartment feel like home, and exclaiming at every unfamiliar flower I find on my evening walks. (Truly. I’m sure the neighbors find it obnoxious, but I can’t help it.) Especially since I’m such a newbie, I was excited to be invited to take part in Wordstock, Portland’s Book Festival. I’ll be giving a pop-up reading among the paintings and sculptures in the Portland Art Museum on November 5th. If you’ll be in the area, please stop by and say hello!
Also, I’ve got new poems out in the world! Shinjini Bhattacharjee, editor of Hermeneutic Chaos, was kind enough to publish two of my poems–both, I suppose, about family–in the September issue. You can check them out on the journal’s website, and while you’re there, if you’ve got poems of your own, consider entering the Jane Lumley Prize. (It’s free, so why not?)
- I’m Wearing Fur Pajamas, August 18, 2016: Michelle Tudor and Peter Barnfather have put together a beautiful new issue of Wildness , including powerful work by writers like Jess X Chen and Claudia D. Hernández, as well as a cover photograph by Anfal Shamsudeen that left me dreaming of galaxies. (My dreams don’t tend to get cosmic very often. They’re usually of the navigating-an-unfamiliar-city variety, or else involve being at school and discovering that I’ve forgotten the location of a classroom, the materials I need to teach, or my locker combination. Some anxieties die hard.)
And yes, I’ve got a poem in the new issue, too. It’s the first in a series of poems, all called “Absence Makes.” Jeanette Winterson writes about “the nearness of the wound to the gift.” For me, the wound is always about absence, and I keep examining its ragged edges, looking for (and trying to make) the gift.
- Nothing Is Wasted, Only Reproduced, July 16, 2016: The fourth annual Bisexual Book Awards were announced earlier this week–yes, there is such a thing–and No Confession, No Mass was named the winner in the poetry category! Although I’ve taught classes on how books or other texts represent sexuality, it’s still sometimes strangely a surprise when my own work does that. It’s rare that I’ve gone into a poem or a story overtly thinking, “Aha! Now it’s time to write something really queer!” And yet, queer politics and experience inform everything I do, and it’s delightful when other people recognize that.
I’m grateful to Sheela Lambert, who organizes the awards and, as such, gives greater visibility to bisexual writers and books with bisexual themes and characters. And I’m pleased to have my book counted in such good company. This year’s other winners are:
The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch
Bisexuality in Education: Erasure, Exclusion and the Absence of Intersectionality by Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli
Call It Wonder: an odyssey of love, sex, spirit, and travel by Kate Evans
Dead Ringer by Heidi Belleau and Sam Schooler
Ariah by B.R. Sanders
Peripheral People by Reesa Herberth and Michelle Moore
Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz
Bound with Honor by Megan Mulry
Congrats to everyone!
- She is Like a Cat in the Dark and Then She is the Darkness, June 19, 2016: The good folks at Pangyrus just published my poem, “Dear Rhiannon.” It’s part apology, part epistle; part outrageous lie, part true story; part wild imagination, part awful reality. Pangyrus includes a handy compositional note with most of their poems; check out mine if you want to try to sort out which part is which, or if you just want to peer into the writing process. All those parts and pieces aside, the poem’s all dancing, all music, all the time.
- No More Will My Green Sea Go Turn a Deeper Blue, June 13, 2016: On Thursday, June 23, as part of Art Week Des Moines, Nomadic Press is sponsoring A Thousand Words or More, an evening of poetry and song among the paintings and photographs at Moberg Gallery. If you’re in the area, stop by for music by Fernando Aveiga and readings by Michaela Mullin, Brian Spears, Maria Ximena Pineda, and yours truly. Or, if the aural isn’t as enticing, come for the visual–the current exhibit at Moberg features the work of Benjamin Gardner, John Hull, James Ochs, and Lindy Smith–or the gustatory, in the form of beer and wine. Doors open at 7:00–I hope to see you there!
- With Their Tanks and Their Bombs and Their Bombs and Their Guns, May 11, 2016: For all you fans of The Walking Dead, George Romero films, Thriller, World War Z, or–my personal favorite–Shaun of the Dead, Foiled Crown Books has an anthology for you! Dead Inside: Poems and Essays on Zombies is hitting the presses in June, and free shipping is available on all pre-orders through the FCB website. (Yes, I’ve got a poem in the book, and yes, it does use zombies as a metaphor for sex. Not gross at all. Nope.)
- You Are the Ghost Town, and I Am the Heartland, May 1, 2016: Maybe it’s the upcoming move, but I’ve been thinking a lot about place and how location does or doesn’t change my writing. Back before I was a writer, I was a visual artist–or at least, an art student. I drew huge portraits and figure studies, and as my teachers pointed out, the bodies were almost always floating in space. Occasionally, I would paint landscapes; these depicted the way the world looked in the dark of night, when many details that mark a particular geography become more difficult to discern. In art, as in life, I was unmoored–I never lived in one home for more than a few years, and that sense of transience showed up in my work.
I’ve been living in Iowa just shy of ten years now, and aspects of this place have found their way into poems and stories: the native birds, the rhythms of speech, the vulnerability of vast fields. As I make my peace with leaving for pastures that, if not greener, are certainly more likely to be sheltered by mountains, I am finally recognizing the places here that have mattered to me. In the midst of this, Chris Rice Cooper kindly invited me to represent Iowa in the Sacred Spaces, Sacred Places project, which features the places sacred to over 100 poets, including some of my favorites. (Ellen Bass, Sarah A. Chavez, and Wang Ping are just a few of the many poets who show and write about their sacred spaces.) It’s strange to know that I’ve been called upon to represent a state that still doesn’t feel like home, and yet, I’ve made a home here.
The last month, though, I’ve hardly been home, flittering from one place to another for different events and festivities. April began with this year’s AWP conference in Los Angeles, where I met amazing writers by day and accidentally roamed through Skid Row by night. Highlights of AWP included meeting fiction writer and quoll researcher Amanda Niehaus at the Writer to Writer booth; happily chanting the word queer at a panel on teaching LGBTQ literature; listening to literary all-stars Jennine Capo Crucet, Roxane Gay, Natalie Díaz, and Jess Walter read their beautiful and often astoundingly funny work; and being enthralled by a conversation among Maggie Nelson, Leslie Jamison, and Geoff Dyer. Only at AWP.
I swung back home for a couple of days to teach and to discover the pile of anthologies and journals mounting in my mailbox. (Now that this travel-heavy month is over, I’ll finally have time to read Political Punch: Contemporary Poems on the Politics of Identity, Veils, Halos & Shackles, The Doll Collection, and the new issue of Crazyhorse.) Then, it was off to a conference in Houston to talk about activism and writing with talented folks like Stacey Waite and Brandon Som.
There was a bit of rest for a week or so before I took off for NYC and a reading at Manhattan College. Sadly, I arrived in town just a bit too late to attend the Publishing Triangle’s awards ceremony, where No Confession, No Mass won the Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry. (I know, I’m burying the lede here, but when I started writing this post, I didn’t know that I’d won!)
So, as of today, I am back in Iowa, my travels done–at least, until it’s time to move. No doubt this month was hectic, but it was good to be reminded of that untethered feeling. There are no bodies floating in space showing up in my writing–not yet, anyway–but there are references to atlases and maps, to conversations overheard in airports, to flora and fauna that you just can’t find in the Midwest. It makes me look forward to the move this summer and to whatever perspectives my new home–my new sacred space–will bring.
- And If You Insist On Knowing My Bliss, March 18, 2016: The Publishing Triangle and the Bi Writers Association each announced their finalists for literary awards this week, and No Confession, No Mass made it onto the shortlists for both the Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry and the Bisexual Book Award for Poetry. It’s an honor to have my work recognized along so many other great books: Caprice: Collected, Uncollected, & New Collaborations by Denise Duhamel and Maureen Seaton; Life in a Box is a Pretty Life by Dawn Lundy Martin; Fanny Says by Nickole Brown; and Bodymap by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. As always, the shortlists remind me how much brilliant queer literature is out there, and I’m excited to explore the finalist books that I haven’t read yet.
And, while I’m on the subject of lists: Thanks to E. Ce Miller for naming No Confession, No Mass as one of the 13 Poetry Collections to Read for National Poetry Month. Anna Moschovakis‘ They and We Will Get into Trouble for This and Robyn Schiff‘s A Woman of Property are already on my April reading list, and Ladan Osman‘s The Kitchen-Dweller’s Testimony is one of the best books I’ve read recently. What are you looking forward to reading this National Poetry Month?
- Leave Your Things Behind ‘Cause It’s All Going Off Without You, March 6, 2016: In preparation for moving this summer, I’ve been paring and pruning my collection of books, trying to cull all those tomes I’ll never read again (or never read in the first place). I had to psych myself up for this process for weeks. My house–heck, my life–is pretty spartan, but books are the one thing in which I tend to overindulge, and I have a hard time parting with any book, no matter how unlikely I am to pick it up again.
Somehow, though, I managed to let go of about a third of my books, which I donated to the local public library. I didn’t have the heart–and the library staff didn’t have the energy–to keep track of the count as cart after cart was filled, but we guesstimated there were around five or six hundred books in total.
Among the gems now available to residents of Des Moines:
Reader’s Digest: Creative Cooking I have been carrying this book around with me since childhood, when I could sit for hours with it, fascinated by the color illustrations of all the different fish and cuts of meat. (Yes, I was a weird kid.) I have never once cooked anything from this cookbook.
Not one, but two copies of Dune Messiah. Why do I have two? No idea, though I was a huge fan of Dune–both the book and the David Lynch film–when I was a kid. (Fear is the mind-killer, y’all!)
How to Be a TV Quiz Show Millionaire Bought for me by a friend when they found out I was going to appear on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Did it help? Maybe. But no, I’m not a millionaire, from quiz show proceeds or otherwise.
Selections from my once complete Stephen King collection. Until the mid-90s, I religiously bought every book he wrote. I had an entire bookshelf in my house devoted to those books, but it’s time to free up some space and let the local library’s lending list grow just a little shorter for Gerald’s Game and Christine.
A battered copy of Beowulf from high school. It’s yellowed, the pages are falling out, and–twenty years after I acquired this version–I now have better translations. So, this one goes to the bindery and, I hope, someone who will share my fondness for that alliterative epic.
And in case you’d like to scrutinize my entire Smauglike hoard, photos:
- You’ve Got Style, That’s What All the Girls Say, February 21, 2016: The fine folks over at Sundress Publications featured some poems from No Confession, No Mass last week as part of their “Best Dressed” feature on their blog, The Wardrobe. This has been–and likely will always be–the only time anyone’s awarded me that particular superlative. Thanks, Sundress, for showcasing these poems!
- For older, archived blog posts, visit me at Goodreads!