Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Unnatural Acts: Events at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions

I'll be participating in the Friday and Saturday events for Unnatural Acts, part of the Les Figues Press Not Content project (http://www.notcontent.lesfigues.com), which is described by its curators as "A series of text projects curated by Les Figues Press as part of Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions year-long initiative Public Interest."

Here's the full list of events and participants for Unnatural Acts:

July 21-August 11
Los Angeles, California

Taking its name from the historic collaborative writing marathons led by Bernadette Mayer and others in NYC during 1972-73, Unnatural Acts will explore the themes of hunger, war, and desire through public acts of collaboration.

Beginning with two days of installation and performance by Amina Cain and Jennifer Karmin, a group of eleven writers/artists will gather on the third day to write together over the course of eight hours.  In a daily ritual inaugurated on the fourth day, the outline of a new person’s body will be traced onto the bodies of text until the exhibit closes on August 11th.


July 21: Amina Cain
Installation (12-5)
Hunger Texts Read in the Dark performance (5-5:30pm)

July 22: Jennifer Karmin
Installation (12-5)
4000 Words 4000 Dead street performance (5-6pm)

July 23: Unnatural Acts
8 hours of collaborative writing (12-8pm)
Collaborators include: Harold Abramowitz, Tisa Bryant, Amina Cain, Teresa Carmody, Saehee Cho, Kate Durbin, K. Lorraine Graham, Jennifer Karmin, Laida Lertxundi, India Radfar, and Mark Wallace.

July 24: Presentations
Artists’ Talk (2-3pm)
Collaborative Reading (4-6pm)
Readers include: Harold Abramowitz, Tisa Bryant, Amina Cain, Teresa Carmody, Kate Durbin, K. Lorraine Graham, Jennifer Karmin, India Radfar, and Mark Wallace.

AMINA CAIN is the author of the short story collection I Go To Some Hollow (Les Figues Press, 2009), and a forthcoming chapbook, Tramps Everywhere (Insert Press/PARROT SERIES).  A recording of her story “Attached to a Self” was included in the group show A Diamond in the Mud at Literaturhaus Basel in Switzerland in 2008; other work has appeared in publications such as 3rd Bed, Action Yes, Denver Quarterly, onedit, Sidebrow, and Wreckage of Reason: Xxperimental Prose by Women Writers.  She lives in Los Angeles.

JENNIFER KARMIN's text-sound epic, Aaaaaaaaaaalice, was published by Flim Forum Press in 2010. She curates the Red Rover Series and is co-founder of the public art group Anti Gravity Surprise.  Her multidisciplinary projects have been presented across the U.S., Japan, and Kenya. A proud member of the Dusie Kollektiv, she is the author of the Dusie chapbook Evacuated: Disembodying Katrina. Walking Poem, a collaborative street project, is featured online at How2. In Chicago, Jennifer teaches creative writing to immigrants at Truman College and works as a Poet-in-Residence for the public schools.  http://aaaaaaaaaaalice.blogspot.com


Harold Abramowitz's recent publications include Not Blessed (Les Figues Press) and A House on a Hill {A House on a Hill, Part One} (Insert Press). Harold writes collaboratively as part of SAM OR SAMANTHA YAMS and UNFO, and co-edits the short-form literary press eohippus labs.  http://www.eohippuslabs.com

Tisa Bryant is author of Unexplained Presence (Leon Works, 2007), co-editor, with Ernest Hardy, of the anthology War Diaries (AIDS Project Los Angeles, 2010), co-editor of The Encyclopedia Project's Encyclopedia Vol. 2 F-K, due out Fall 2010, and has work forthcoming in Animal Shelter 2 and Mixed Blood.  Her creative process demands she write longhand, one of her favorite words is 'autochthonous,' and she teaches in the MFA Writing Program at CalArts.  http://www.encyclopediaproject.org

Teresa Carmody is the author of Requiem (Les Figues Press, 2005), and two chapbooks:  Eye Hole Adore (PS Books, 2008), and Your Spiritual Suit of Armor by Katherine Anne (Woodland Editions, 2009). She lives in Los Angeles and is co-director of Les Figues Press.  http://www.lesfigues.com/lfp/24/requiem

Saehee Cho holds a BA in Literature/Writing from The University of California, San Diego and an MFA in Writing from Calarts.  She has just completed her first collection of short stories tentatively titled Form, Composite.  Her work has been featured in Shrapnel and Ex Nihilo. http://www.thesproutandthebean.com

Kate Durbin is a writer & fashion artist. Her full-length collection of poetry, The Ravenous Audience, is available from Akashic Books.   http://www.katedurbin.blogspot.com

K. Lorraine Graham is the author of Terminal Humming (Edge Books). Visual work appeared in the 2008 Zaoem International Poetry Exhibition at the Minardschouwburg, Gent, Belgium and the Infusoria visual poetry exhibition in Brussels and Ghent, 2009.  http://www.spooksbyme.org

Laida Lertxundi, (Bilbao, Spain) works on film making non-stories with non-actors that play with diegetic space and a particular sound and image syntax to create moments of downtime, of a time between events. Her work has been shown at MoMa, Lacma, Viennale and the New York Film Festival views of the Avant Garde among other places.  http://www.laidalertxundi.net

India Radfar is the author of four books of poetry: India Poem (Pir Press), the desire to meet with the beautiful (Tender Buttons Press), Breathe (Shivastan Publications) and most recently, Position & Relation (Station Hill/Barrytown Books) and one chapbook, 12 Poems That Were Never Written (Mind Made Books). She has lived in Los Angeles for the past 6 years.  http://www.stationhill.org/authors/profile/230-India_Hixon_Radfar

Mark Wallace is the author and editor of more than fifteen books and chapbooks of poetry, fiction, and essays. Most recently he has published a collection of tales, Walking Dreams, and a book of poems, Felonies of Illusionhttp://wallacethinksagain.blogspot.com

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Portuguese Silence

Because I'm trying to finish a novel, and several reviews, and am also planning a fall trip to Portugal, I don't have much to say on this blog right now, and I don't have time to say it.

Silence has long been a key idea in Portugese literature and culture, and is one of the most commonly used concepts and images in Portugese poetry. Given the current silence on this blog, I thought I'd offer the above photo, not my own, as a case in point on the political and cultural complexities of silence.

I'm going to try to put up some short reviews here when I can find the time.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Gurlesque: the new grrly, grotesque, burlesque poetics

There has already been a lot of discussion–and more than a bit of heated debate–about this anthology. Much of it has focused on the identity of the writers in the book: are they too white, too straight, too suburban, too American, too physically abled? The term “Gurlesque” has caused concern also: does its focus on girlhood subtly disempower women? Having read, and witnessed in person, many discussions about the Gurlesque long before the anthology itself was even in print, I was pleased to finally have a chance to read the book and take a look at the specifics of the poems.

The introductions by Arielle Greenberg and Lara Glenum seemed credible regarding both the creation of the term and the fact of the emergence of some suddenly common, but until then undescribed, features in contemporary women’s writing. The Gurlesque involves “writing about and through femininity in a new and exciting way,” according to Greenberg, a way that “brashfully, playfully, provocatively, indulgently” moves away from the “earnestness, sensitivity, and self-seriousness that marked many such poems stemming from Second Wave feminism.”

A great deal of work in the anthology hinges on the idea of self and identity and language as performance rather than essence. Through what Glenum describes as “hyperbole,” much of it seeks to break out of notions of proper behavior and language through which American women’s lives and writing still often remain closely guarded. While the degree of newness that the anthology represents may be an open question, a point that Greenberg herself acknowledges, both essays also find many historical and literary sources for the development of the Gurlesque approach, suggesting not so much an absolute break with the past as an intensification of some key concerns that more widely asserted themselves in the 1990s.

In reading the collected pieces, I noticed myself deciding which ones interested me more along several lines: level of energy (often intense); sense of rhythm and line; and description of the world with which the performed self is interacting. This last one was crucial, and surprised me a bit: I was most interested in those pieces that described others intriguingly as opposed to those that dwelt more absolutely on performance of self. Brenda Coultas, for instance, was represented by some of my favorite work in the whole anthology, and highlighted self as a performance within a dizzying array of social and family concerns (“I remember our pigs without the aid of hypnosis or memory drugs”). The more thoroughly interactive the self was with the world, and the more complexly that world was explored and exposed, the more I seemed to care how the self was performed. I suppose I could try here to assert some mainly specious distinction about social art vs. confessional art, as if discussing the self didn’t always also require involvement with things beyond the self. But my reasoning was probably simpler: in literature, as in life, I’m more interested in people who talk about things other than themselves.

I often especially enjoyed those poems that had more twist and surprise and kick in the lines. It’s difficult to think of someone doing more with rhythm than Catherine Wagner (“shudder out the little-girl/legs with a little/girl head mostly eyes, no ears,/bug brain, aimless/Send her to school”), and the tremendous movement in Dorothea Laskey’s work (“Instead no one is so weird/They have muscles/I write these poems instead of sitting in a bed/Sweaty all day/With men who are truly fuckable”) makes her pieces practically jump off the page. While some of her poems were a little rhythmically safer, Danielle Pafunda (“Slow me and fence it. I hock shop I gold play I leaking/valuables. There is a window, a roll call, a vile plastic stack.”) also worked in some pieces with an especially unique set of rhythms for which I can’t think of any immediate predecessors. Cathy Park Hong’s poems, not really possible to recreate well in blogger, had a precisely clipped sense of phrasing and spacing.  And Nada Gordon was represented well by some typically ragged, watch-this-fall-apart-but-not-quite flarf (“Sweet Kitty kiss my ghosts Kitty doesn’t like/the soup, Mama, but she sure likes the cream.")

Gurlesque is without doubt a hybrid anthology, making no significant distinctions between those writers whose work draws more on the history of avant garde poetics, or confessionalism, or from backgrounds in narrative prose. Much of the work also collapses distinctions between high, low and pop culture and art, while other pieces undermine distinctions between poetry and prose, or poetry and drama. Stacy Doris (“An ember falls from the chandelier onto the marquise’s (MARQIUSE “A”) bouffant and—poof—she’s burnt to a crisp”) and Kim Rosenfield “Miss Wiggles is a sensitive/large quantity of limpid urine”) had particularly unique approaches. There were also some very effective, primarily prose works: I loved the keen, psychologically disturbing descriptions of family and intimate others in the work of Geraldine Kim (“My parents were going to name me after the patron saint of fertility. Then when I came out they saw that I didn’t have a dick”) as well as the medieval carnival gone wild in some of Elizabeth Treadwell’s prose pieces (“dedication to giant grotto recreation of ussong the camera xo.”). The anthology also features a collection of Gurlesque visual art, which highlighted the range of cultural contexts in which Gurlesque work has appeared.

Overall, the energy level in the book was remarkable. The work of Ariana Reines (“Being a night inside of the mouth of a loved boy. Red black and shiny teeth with a tongue. The world of a loved boy has sense.”), less intriguing to me in terms of the world around the self that it describes, nonetheless has the power of a very high speed something or other whose path it would be dangerous to be in. Yet much of the rest of the writing here was only barely less intense. Some other pieces that I liked less, poetry or prose, felt a bit more wordy or leaden. Still, if one of the things that has haunted pretty much all anthologies promoting so-called hybrid work (a term which for me means something else than it may for others, which you can read about here) is a distaste for overly crude imagery and energy, there’s no shortage of that in this anthology.

Despite the debates about identity that surround the anthology, as crucial as they are (debates about which I’m not nearly as capable as others will be of offering a well-informed perspective), what readers will find in Gurlesque is a very impressive, often powerful collection of literature. It’s a much more impressive collection, in fact, than other recent anthologies of contemporary work that include poetry, from whatever place in the always contested world of literature they have come.