I actually bought TAMPAX in TAMPA — a thrilliing experience. I remember thinking, throughout my childhood, wouldn’t it be embarassing to live in a place whose name evoked the most famous feminine hygiene brand?

The coexistence of horrible modern architecture with natural beauty (bottlebrush and bouganvailleas) — warring with each other for affect.

Friendly conference attendees, dutiful and somehow abject with name-badge and bag that read “Daring to Lead.” One woman from Birmingham, Alabama, who sat next to me on the shuttle bus, had lived in Cairo for two years. She wore tiny pyramid earrings; we discussed belly dance. You see, what a great profession ESL is! You can get out of Alabama if you want to! Now she’s back home, doing good,working on literacy projects. She told me about a very cool-sounding film festival there.

Caught a cold from the air-conditioning — brr — ironic — I had got through the whole winter in NYC without getting sick.

The bad fashion of schoolteachers: short sleeved no-iron suits, calico sundresses, sensible shoes, poly poly poly. Not much color.

A cocktail party on the 42nd floor of the Bank of America building. Piano player, little dance floor, h’ors d’oeuvres: bacon-wrapped scallops, stuffed mushrooms. I felt like I was at the White House.

I learned a little about teaching academic writing. Swooped through the room of textbooks, schmoozed and chit-chatted.

You can’t get rich teaching ESL, but it is a lovely profession… many odd, dedicated, sweet people…


Back in New York, aware of people talking ostentatiously on the train. One young woman talking about how her agent wanted her to submit her jokes and sketches to SNL. She was large, wearing khakis. She held a man about two-thirds her size on her lap.

No sooner had she gotten off when a couple of young women sit next to me and start talking LOUDLY: “Oh yeah, he’s like, a really, like, great writer. His stories are like really weird though. I knew him when I was at Columbia.” “Wow that’s like totally AWESOME.” Blahblah. What’s the deal? They were supposed to be writers. Why did they talk like VALLEY GIRLS? With that rising intonation? When they went to Columbia?

I shivered profoundly at hearing the language so inanely mangled. By “writers.”

I’ve been known to count the number of “likes” emitted by teenage girls in conversation — then, just when I’m about to get off the train I tell them: “Did you know that you just said ‘like’ 43 times in 6 minutes?”


St Mark’s Poetry Project Writing Workshop Report Fall 2005

VERSions: Writing Our Enthusiasms

As an alternative to following a sequential or thematic approach, I aimed, in this workshop, for each activity to be a kind of spoke in a wheel, at the center of which was the morpheme, “vers-“. Each class meeting had a word containing “vers-“ as its watchword: versions/ reversions, animadversions, subversions, perversions, introversions, diversity, vertigo, quauaquaversion, conversation, and extroversion. Thus, the structure of the class more resembled the sort of poems we were reading and writing – not, for the most part, narrative pieces that foregrounded content, but attentive dances with and around terms and tropes.

We began by reading a poem of Nick Piombino’s “With Open Arms,” which paradoxically defines poetry’s indefinability. Every line of the poem begins with “poetry”; I followed up by having participants write their own statements beginning with the word “poetry.” For the next class, participants read two very different poetics statements, one by Louis Zukofsky and one by Tristan Tzara, which we discussed and compared. We also read a number of contemporary poems by, among others, John McNally, Susan Howe, and Jen Bervin, that had been written using archaic language or text sources. Each participant had brought to class their own sample of archaic language and set about making a poem with it – a “reversion”.

For the next class, I asked them to bring a recent tabloid newspaper and to read an essay by Sianne Ngai, “The Poetics of Disgust,” in order to prepare them to write their “animadversions” (strong criticisms of the prevailing order). In class, we read poems by Gregory Corso, Ted Joans, and Carol Mirakove. We discussed our varying points of view about the role of political themes in poetry. Their assignment was to write a poem using only the language contained within the tabloid. In the following class, to prepare participants to write subversions/controversy/ and perversions I introduced them to the “flarf” group of poets, and we read poems by Gary Sullivan and Drew Gardner. The flarf poets commonly use Google to seek out vocabulary and phrases for poems, but since we didn’t have computer access in class, I decided instead to bring in a list of “spam” language that I had found online. I gave each participant a different page of these very random and exotic words, and had them write a piece using them.

For the next meeting, I asked participants to bring a poem or passage of language that they wanted to transform in order to write “versions” or “conversions.” Gary Sullivan was the guest poet; he read from his translations/versions of the German naïf poet Ernst Herbeck. Then I gave everyone a copy of a poem by Ted Berrigan, “Red Shift,” and asked them to write their own version of it.

The focus of the next meeting was “introversion.” Commenting that we had so far focused on ways to find language for poetry from “outside” us, I told participants that we were now going to explore inner “pondwater” [my term] language. I led them on a deep relaxation (I am a certified hypnotherapist) and visualization, then asked them to write from that experience.

We moved from there to focus on “diversity.” Students brought in texts and artifacts from “other” cultures to use as prompts for writing. I showed some scenes from Indian films that had particularly inspired me, and read some poems I had composed from utterances of my ESL students. We also read some statements (which I had found extremely germane to what we were looking at in the workshop) by visual artists (since visual art is, in a way, another “culture”) Carolee Schneemann and Robert Rauschenberg.

I asked participants to write collaboratively in the next class meeting, whose theme was “conversation.” First they determined what the constraints of the collaboration would be, and then wrote according to those constraints. Some of the constraints were thematic, others lexical, and others formal. One of these collaborative pieces developed into a wonderful play that three participants performed at the workshop reading.

We spent much of the next class talking about “extroversions” or approaches to performing a poem. Participants continued to work on their collaborative pieces as well.

There was one final class meeting in January that we had had to reschedule due to the transit strike – only a very few (the “core” of the class) showed up. We discussed structure and repetition; I said that very obvious pattern repetition was becoming less and less interesting to me, and brought in a poem by Clark Coolidge that demonstrated a more complex weaving-in of a lexical item. I also told them about a song that has been obsessing me by the Lebanese singer Mayada el-Hennawy; it’s 39 minutes long (and so I didn’t play it in class, but only described it!), and wanders into all different kinds of musical moods and territories, but is always brought back to a particular phrase, and every time the phrase appears, relieving the suspense caused by its absence, it gathers resonance. So I asked participants to choose a key term and construct a poem around it as complexly as they could.

On the whole, I was thrilled by how open the participants were to new techniques and concepts, and how well most of them responded to the unusual structure of the class. The rapport that developed among us was, I felt, exceptional. I should point out, though, that of the twenty or so people who signed up initially, only about eight or nine remained to really ride out the whole experience.

If I were to teach this workshop again, I’m sure I would narrow its focus. This workshop was intended as a survey of sideways approaches to verse (whose root actually does mean “to turn”) and I think worked fairly well as such, but there was certainly not enough time to really explore such important projects as collaboration or performance, or to look at any historical movement in depth. Still, the workshop was a wonderful experience, and I thank the Poetry Project for giving me the space to conduct it.

where the action is

I know I’m supposed to be “where the action is” — New York City OOO WOOO — and well-connected and… I mean I even have a creative writing DEGREE but… I had no idea AWP was even happening and that so many of my friends and acquaintances would be going and that it was even in any way a desirable destination. I feel totally out of the loop. Anyway, thanks to Anne Boyer for her report, even though it makes me feel so oddly clueless. It’s nice to know where the parties are, even if they’re in Texas.

Well, Thursday I’m going off to my own conference, the probably-even-dorkier-than-AWP TESOL conference in Tampa, Florida. I’m actually very proud of my profession, even if it is dorky!

The really fun thing was going down to the basement to look in my storage locker for warm-weather clothes and discovering that the bag in which I had kept my prettiest spring and summer shoes had been COMPLETELY INFESTED WITH RATS. The rats had gnawed through the leather and left a nasty layer of filth. I had to throw away the whole bag with maybe fifteen pairs of lovingly selected quality footwear. It’s OK, of course. I thought of Katrina and of how intact and copious my remaining possessions are…

and how I seem to be continually generating more…. Working on the rose skirt with the coordinating double layer of ruffles at the border. Laughingly thinking back to whoever wrote in one of Ron’s comment boxes that sewing one’s own clothes is the most radical thing you can possibly do. Radical?!? Most radical?!?* Self-immolation, for example, strikes me as being rather more radical. But whatever.

*Attempted this morning while riding the train to characterize the arts in terms of their levels of intimacy, since I had posited in the comments fracas that fashion was the most intimate art form because it is right up against the body, to which someone replied, “bullshit” — I’m paraphrasing — and while I don’t really think it is a bullshit assertion, the more I thought about it, the more I realized how difficult it is to talk about the proximity of an art form in terms of intimacy. Perhaps it’s better to talk in terms of invasiveness, or that which is impossible to resist? In that case, arts of fragrance and odor would be the most “intimate” (e.g. Heian incense competitions]– as we can block our other facial orifices for extended lengths of time without being vulgar, but we really need our nostrils; no one can happily breathe only through their mouth. Music and other sonic arts would come next, I guess… but then I started thinking, does the degree of “conceptualization” make an artwork more or less intimate? Does a highly conceptual piece of music, for example, trade intimacy for ideation? Or… does that work enable a greater intimacy with the brain? And am i buying into the old boring binary about “heart=close” vs. “mind=distant” even thinking in these terms? So… I gave up my little thought-experiment, thinking finally that it was sort of Victorian, like something I’d expect to read in John Ruskin.

p.s. I’m really wishing there’s something I could do to encourage SY and AB not to smoke… all of those toxins polluting such lovelinesses… so sad…

I don’t believe in reincarnation, and I am in doubt as to the effectiveness of curses — but let’s just imagine otherwise for a moment:

May all the South Dakotan legislators who voted to ban abortion be reincarnated as either abused, unwanted children or exhausted, overburdened mothers living in dire poverty.

May the senators who voted to allow wiretapping be under surveillance for not just this life but for any other life they may experience.

Thank you, Jack, for your kind inquiries about my reading. In my inevitable postperformance descent into feeling alone and palely loit’ring, I admit to getting a little mopey, as no detailed responses or reviews had appeared in the cyber-register– I’d compare my feeling to those I imagine of the cliopsidae or sea angel, unmoored but still stubbornly bioluminescent, lacking a shell, my small lateral winglike flaps used in a slow swimming mode, my body somewhat flabby and gelatinous, with a bluish aspect, off adrift and alone in a cold sea. . .

Like me, sea angels are small pteropod mollusks of the suborder Gymnosomata. Our feet have developed into wing-like appendages (parapodia) and our shells have been lost, both adaptations made to suit our free-swimming(if vulnerable) oceanic lives. These adaptations also explain the common name sea angel and the New Latin name of the order; from gymnos meaning “naked” and soma meaning “body.”

Also known as gymnosomes, sea angels (and their jewess cousins) belong to the Orthogastropoda a subclass of Gastropoda (snails and slugs) which includes nudibranchs.They are mostly transparent and very small. Some species of sea angel feed exclusively on sea butterflies

The angels have terminal mouths – rather like mine — with the radula common to mollusks, and tentacles to grasp their prey, sometimes with suckers similar to cephalopods.

Slowly beating our parapodia, the sea angels and I gracefully fly through the upper 20 metres of the water column. Although usually slow-moving, we are capable of surprising bursts of speed. We are simultaneous hermaphrodites, fertilization occurring internally. A gelatinous egg mass is released during spawning, the eggs floating freely until hatching. Our embryonic shells are lost within the first few days after hatching.

Nick! Thank you for your kind observations! You are a mensch! A couple of minor corrections, for the record; It was a salwar kameez (but I substituted a skirt for the salwar, so I guess it was just the kameez – c.f. chemise), not a sari; it was an oud, not a balalaika (played masterfully by Dick Barsamian); Bagelman, I think, is the correct spelling. Here are the opening lyrics to their tune A Vaybele a Tsnie

(as sung by the Bagelman Sisters)

Lomdom, birim bay, lomdom birim bay,
Laybl-udl-idl-aydl – vyokh, tshyokh, tshyokh
Lomdom, birim bay, lomdom birim bay,

I think you can listen to at least a clip from the song here!