Shuwen Song on feminist art

My student, Shuwen Song, writes in her journal:

I just remember when I was in college, there was a class we discussed about the feminist art work. My professor mention that:” There are a lot of thing we never pay attention to but them still exist. As the difference between man and women. For example, if a man want buy a pen, he will ride his bike along to the nearest shopping mall. Then as quickly as he can to finish his work and come back. The whole process can not over run 30 minutes. If you talked about women, it may be totally different. At first, women always want to take her friends ( at least one) to come with her. On their way, they may find something interesting, like a cat. Ok, after teased the cat, they just enter the mall. Then they look around every conner, and buy some stuff which never be necessary. Finally, they spend all their money then decide to go back. Now they just remember the purpose of their trip: a pen. The whole process is more than 2 hours. You see, that’s difference. Man is straight, but women is vacillating.”

Well, I just love this.

Adfempo report part 3

The Closing Plenary & Feedback Session

Before I begin this section, I would like to emphasize what most of you have probably already noticed, that I make no claims to objectivity in my reportage here, and these posts are no more then my blind and partial elephantine gropings. If you’ll remember, I was kvetching in parts 1 and 2 about my physical state, and by the end of the day, everything was exacerbated: fatigue, blood, general social overwhelm… and these factors very much influenced how I perceived the proceedings.

The onstage moderators were Gail Scott, Tonya Foster, Rachel Levitsky, and Erica Kaufman, all people whom I admire and with whom I have some rapport, so I hope that any criticisms that follow will be taken as constructive. Rachel began by apologizing for replicating inequalities in power dynamics by them being up on the stage with microphones while we were down in the audience, and pointed to microphones set up in the aisles for our use. Then each of the moderators spoke a little about their experiences of the conference, and each one (except Erica, who is relatively taciturn) spoke maybe a little too much. I wasn’t taking notes, and I don’t remember precisely who said what, but I think Gail and Tonya did seem to dwell a bit on the desire not to be pinned down or categorized, and brought up some resistance to “feminist” as a label. There was also some discussion of the notion of “the commons,” and although I understand the usual usage of the word, I wasn’t at the panel where the term was fleshed out, so I wasn’t entirely sure what they meant by it. There was also something about “exteriorization,” but again I don’t really remember what was being said about it: Tonya? When it came time to elicit comments from the audience, there were so many concepts on the table that it was hard to know what to address, and the moderators seemed to sort of nervously be pressing them all at once in layers of questions, surely out of a desire to make the discussion lively, but honestly I found it a little confusing.

One thing I have learned as an ESL teacher is not to layer questions, but to ask one question at a time. That might have helped me to focus better on finding something to say, but the topics seemed to lurch about from this to that, and besides I was afraid if I stood up I would gush blood, so I kept mum pretty much the whole time, even when Jen Scappettone tried to call me out (more on this in a bit).

I wonder sometimes about the function of speaking up in fora (is that the plural of forum? Word just auto-corrected it) like that. I mentioned the same thing earlier writing about the Q and A sessions after panels. Is the function really mainly to speak one’s mind and to listen to other people speak their minds? Or is it to sort of establish a social position? It reminds me an awful lot of testifying in church. If I really know what I want to say I am not afraid of speaking in public, but I can’t just open my mouth and speak. It doesn’t work that way for me. For one thing, I have a kind of microphone-induced Tourette’s syndrome. Whenever I’m in front of a mic and asked to say something extemporaneously, my id seems to take over and I say the worst possible thing I could say under the circumstances. Since I have a lot of conflicted feelings about groups, and about groups of women, and especially about groups of women writers, I really thought, even though my brain was roiling with possibilities, that I had better sit this one out.

Several people spoke, and here are some that I remember: Eileen Myles, Jen Scappettone, Jen Hofer, Evelyn Reilly, Lila Zemborain, Rachel Blau du Plessis, C.A. Conrad, Caroline Bergvall (I think), and Laura Elrick. I don’t remember who said what, or even what they said, exactly. Laura said something about how scary it can be to take the risk of “jumping into speech,” out of the “refuge of writing,” and I could relate to that, given my metaphorical Tourette’s. I think maybe a lot of people feel that way.
As an ESL teacher, here’s one of the ways I get around that with my students: I get them to write first, then speak. The feedback session could have started with writing, say, with a sentence completion exercise, or a questionnaire. Or people could have submitted anonymous comments to be randomly pulled from a box. I am sure this sounds juvenile, but it would have certainly changed the dynamic in the room from the parade of strong personalities that approached the mic to something a little more inclusive.

Let’s see what else I remember. I think someone suggested that we think of feminism as a verb rather than a static noun. I liked that suggestion. Someone else asked how many 17-year-olds consider themselves feminists. (Here I wanted to suggest that we look at “Girldrive” for our answer, but I was keeping mum.) Evelyn said something very cogent that I agreed with but I can’t remember what it was. Always have a pen at the ready, ladies! Write everything down! C.A. Conrad I think said that the most insidious force infecting our youth was capitalism, or something to that effect. Jen S. said that what is in urgent need of our attention now is not bourgeois white feminist issues, but international feminisms, and referred to Juliana Spahr and Stephanie Young’s project of collecting information and responses from feminists around the world. There was, as there always is, some talk of the efficacy of poetry in fomenting political action.

I know that if I had stood up to speak on the last point I would have ended up sounding like Baudelaire or something, and I really didn’t want to be pegged as “the amoral hedonist aesthete” again in that crowd especially even if there is something to the accusation (that last sounds too apologetic, but I mean it good-humoredly).

You remember I said in an earlier post that the truffles I had brought would be important? Well, Jen S. began another comment with an anecdote, saying that she had finally got around to eating one of my truffles and had found that it was moldy inside. She wasn’t sure whether that had been an accident or some kind of conceptualist prank. [I protested vociferously that it had not been intentional!] [I would never do anything malicious like that, and actually was a little hurt that she thought I might.] She used the metaphor of the truffle to say that actually she had looked forward to a little more performative mischief at the conference, and to reiterate what apparently (someone told me this later) had been her question in the opening plenary: why are women so polite with each other and reluctant to critique other women, at least publicly? This is a paraphrase of a second-hand question, so if I got it wrong, Jen, please correct me.

Of course, one knows the answer to this. One wants to have some sort of solidarity with the other members of one’s oppressed group, and one wants not to undermine that. It’s not always healthy to repress one’s critique, though, and I reckon it finds its way out in other ways, maybe in opinions expressed in dyads and triads and in other forms of social behavior. I know that I feel a marked chilliness from some women writers, and I can only project the reasons for that. They maybe think I have bad politics, or that I am insufficiently “activist,” or just too absurd, or too male-identified, or too femme-y, or too much of a provocateuse, or that my mother dresses me funny. Maybe they don’t like that I am so much in contact with my inner buffoon, that it might rub off on them. Or you know, maybe they just don’t like me. There’s nothing wrong with that, even though it makes me a little sad. I certainly can’t allow myself to be stifled by their disapproval or dislike. I remember a friend in the punk days (which were heavily western-inflected) in SF saying something to the effect of “well, you don’t have to like someone just because they wear cowboy boots,” and you know, it’s true.

Still, without wanting to sound too generous or virtuous, I really try personally not to be chilly to anyone, even if I disagree with them, or even, maybe, in some way, dislike them. I am thinking in particular of someone (not a woman, BTW) who tried to tell me, when I said that I felt his Marxism bordered on the evangelical, that Marxism was “not an ideology.” What? It’s not? In this, I guess I feel like my politics are profoundly interpersonal: I want to assume amongst my fellow [sic] artists a common ground of affection that is meta-moralistic. (And I also, if you haven’t noticed, like to practice a kind of radical honesty.) Not everyone, clearly, shares this view, and sometimes I feel a bit like, well, not a pariah, but someone whose point of view and aesthetic affiliations are not really thought of by some people who are very wedded to their convictions as being worthy of consideration. It may be that I am projecting a kind of “scary mommy” or “judgmental teacher” persona onto them, and of course I have no idea what really goes on in their minds at all; I am only interpreting behaviors. Well, what sensitive person doesn’t enjoy a little social paranoia, I wonder?

The fact is, though, that I really do privilege “the aesthetic,” although I’m not so sure that I would say that the aesthetic realm is separable from the social and the political. Art is how I engage with the world. I don’t really know any other way to do that that satisfies me, although certainly there are other ways. That said, though, I don’t really understand why people want to write or read or listen to poetry about political convictions they already have. Is it that it shovels coal in the boiler for their impulse to activism? Or that they feel educated by it?

I love Stephen Rodefer’s, “It is not the business of poetry to do anything.” It really isn’t. For me, it is the space of liberation, and if that’s not some form of cultural activism (if not, in Charles Weigl’s terms, actually revolution), well then, I don’t know what it is. “Efficacy,” it seems to me, comes out of a paradigm of bean-counting. It’s almost I dunno Fordist [later edit: Taylorist. I meant Taylorist. I guess I just needed to Fletcherize]. When I make stuff I’m stepping out of that paradigm into a field of energies. Who agrees with me?

Adfempo Report Part 2

continued from Adfempo Report Part 1, here

I remember something else about the Q and A session. In response to the person who asked, if we cannot define precisely what conceptual writing is, could we define what it is not, or what we do not want to do with it? (I thought this question was interesting, given this.) Kim Rosenfield’s response was that she doesn’t write “to make meaning,” or at least, she said, not some predetermined sort of meaning.

I’ve been thinking about this, because while I agree with the second half of her statement, I feel quite opposite regarding the first: I absolutely unqualifiedly write (or make videos, or sew, or teach) to make meaning, and not just to make it, but to make it fructify and divide and morph and sing, and a ton of other verbs I could search down the path of this sentence if I didn’t feel I have so much to say about so many other things right now. And it seems to me that her work also is rife with meanings, so… hmm… I’m wondering about this… what is it writers do exactly if not dive into a sea of potential significations?

I’m sure I’m oversimplifying her statement or not quite understanding what she wanted to say. Certainly I am not interested in creating closed structures with “messages” or pat little “organic wholes”: perhaps that is what she wanted to say. Kim?


After our panel, I ducked out with Laynie Browne for a quick lunch down the street, and we ran into Joanna Fuhrman at the café. Joanna talked a bit about the keynote speeches (I had missed them), and mentioned that Eileen had dissed Language Poetry in hers, as well as, what was it?, group formation around what everyone is already doing anyway. I said I thought that Eileen had spoken out of a desire to preserve her rock star status against the combined forces of groups. That sounds as if I have something against Eileen, but I don’t at all, I think she’s amazing and brilliant and totally compelling, really genuinely a rock star, and I wouldn’t say that if I didn’t mean it, because I don’t flatter people. It’s just that I am getting a little weary of people who identify as solo artists criticizing people who are in bands (as if bands can’t be formations of individual rock stars!) as if the bands are “merely” some kind of market label instead of indications of actual solidarity, affiliation, and identification.

I agreed with Joanna that individual differences of people in groups can be overlooked or glossed over, but I believe that anyone who reads avidly and respectfully will see and notice and maybe even love those differences; it is only those who are eager to dismiss the entire group categorically that will not appreciate them, and who will suffer the greatest loss, I believe. It is also true that unaffiliated or relatively unaffiliated individuals will often be overlooked, and this can be terribly unjust, but surely that is no reason to dismiss group formation out of hand. Anyway, it does seem to me that to bring up Language Poetry as a Big Baddie strikes me as silly now in 2009 (even sillier than it did in, say, 1984) when we have so many other things to think about.

After lunch I thought to go to the film panel, whose description sounded right up my alley. I reproduce it here:

The Event in the Image: Poetry and Cinema
Curated by: Angela Joosse
Films and poetry by: Peggy Ahwesh, Lise Beaudry, Abigail Child, Margaret Christakos, Moyra Davey, Kelly Egan, Laura Elrick, Su Friedrich, Amy Greenfield, Shana MacDonald, Bridget Meeds, Izabella Pruska-Oldenhof, Selene Savarie, Joel Schlemowitz, Nathalie Stephens, Souvankham Thammavongsa,Gariné Torossian, Cat Tyc

Description: This program of recent experimental film and video examines the productive impact to be found at the intersection of feminism, poetry, and the moving image. Sharing common concerns with rhythm, duration, and the slippage and condensation of meaning, experimental cinema and poetry have had rich relations since cinema’s inception. Yet the avant-garde edge of these art forms does not rest with medium-specific concerns, but rather with the capacity to install the audience in a situation that enables a potent shift in one’s very perceptions of embodied, social, geographical, gendered, political, and cultural locatedness in the world. Through poetic approaches to cinema and cinematic approaches to poetry, this program explores varying possibilities of the image as an event situation.

I stayed for five of the films. My notes:

(Kelly Egan) crazy Yoko-ish singing, bodies, films of film strips, filed scratched words, like a parody of an art film, guns, clutched breasts, wailing, jumping bodies, more scratches, hands on bodies, masturbation

(Amy Greenfield) “Men Must have dreams but they should never be asleep”, skinny stripper against brick wall, thigh-high vinyl boots, skin, oh ugh, “there’s violence breeding inside this tube of lipstick”

(Izabella Pruska-Oldenhof) solarized, gels, effect, hexagonal light forms, crunchy scratchy sounds, giant bees flapping, breathing noises, underwater, OK got it, amniotic, “avant-garde” screeching, little sexy panting noises, I suppose this is beaut

(Shana MacDonald & Margaret Christakos) My Girlish Feast, seems a little Sesame Street (Stein?) … cutout paper dolls in natural settings, “your bust is guilt and hair of it,” OK, I like this poem, onto portraits, renaissance, I think of Berger, some kind of feathery net with orchids and maybe milkweed seeds? “thirsty cinema”

(Nathalie Stephens) “Entre J’entre a tender film of a lesbian couple riding a train

(Joel Schlemowitz)

I left at this point, although there were many others I wanted to see, especially Laura Elrick’s and Peggy Ahwesh’s (of course I had seen Abby’s Mirror World, which she had collaborated on with Gary). There were moments in these films I liked or thought beautiful, but for the most part they seemed to me to be enactments of some of the worst clichés of experimental film by women: the screechy vocalizings, the tenderness (I just can’t deal with tenderness in art at all), the forced “sensuality”… I don’t know. Pruska-Oldenhof’s was technically interesting, and I loved the bees, especially, but overall none of these were working for me. This just reflects my own prejudices, I realize, and I am happy to hear your arguments for these films and why you love them. The comment box is just below.

It turned out Rob and Kim and David Buuck left exactly when I did, and we found our way in to the end of this panel:

Body as Discourse
Chair: Kate Eichhorn
Panelists: Joan Retallack, Trish Salah, Laura Smith, Nathalie Stephens (Nathanaël), Ronaldo V. Wilson
Description: This panel explores questions of the body, referentiality, remapping bodies and borders, intertextuality, narrativity, aesthetics, and the challenges of de-essentialization as we scrutinize “female,” “queer,” “raced” and “othered” bodies.

We got in just in time to hear Ronaldo Wilson, the last presenter, who was totally urbane and fabulous and switching codes all over the place. I was totally intrigued but since it was the end of the panel, just before the Q and A, I had no idea what he was talking about. The Q and A was really ramped up, with all the grad students batting around the word “alterity” like there was no tomorrow. I was sitting on the floor in my lace and boots, and very uncomfortable, so I didn’t manage to get my notebook out until a bit later, when someone left and I got a seat, and I wrote down this great quote from Joan Retallack:

“If you’re in a relationship of reciprocal alterity, it doesn’t mean everything is hunky-dory.”

There were many interesting things said about trans bodies and cruising and vulnerability and rapture vs. rupture and the Christian problematics of the word rapture, but you know once again I had the feeling that I have just not been trained to discourse on this level, and I was a little stunned and amused by everyone’s facility. For me, you know, the road not taken, and that’s why I speak to you now rather straightforwardly.

Upon arrival, I thought to pass around a box of truffles that had been given to me by a student and were sitting around in my kitchen uneaten so as not to find their way straight to my hips. They were quite expensive, I know this because my student had left the receipt in the bag, they were $42.46. Later on in my narrative these truffles will emerge as being quite important, so I will ask you to hold them in mind.


Next, in the same room, was this panel, which I had already marked in my program:

Feminist Utopias
Chair: Margaret Carson
Panelists: Justin Parks, Divya Victor, danielle vogel, Steve Zultanski
Description: This panel will be exploring the possibility of a Utopian promise in contemporary poetry. We will be looking at the work of Renee Gladman, Lisa Robertson, Melissa Buzzeo, and Jewel in an effort to explore these authors’ formal and political relationships to urban space, and to their readers. We don’t assume these writers share a vision, but rather that their poetics and poetry are in some ways at odds — suggesting that any recognizable Utopian impulse is not a fully-realized imaginative portrait of a better world, but a fractured and incomplete projection of a time yet to come.

I wanted to see this because I have recently become aware of Steve Zultanski as a wonderfully energetic poet, and I’m always delighted by Divya Victor’s erudite and mischievous witticisms on facebook. Plus, I was intrigued by the fact that Jewel was on the agenda. What would they find to say about Jewel, I wondered.

Steve started with his Jewel paper, which was really a sort of cultural studies-type of examination of the reception of poetry as well as a critique of celebrity. Divya then spoke on Renee Gladman’s The Activist, giving a critique of the failure of Jameson’s cognitive mapping. Justin Parks spoke on Lisa Robertson, focusing on The Weather. At this point the two ibuprophen that Kim had given me pretty much knocked me out, and I could barely attend to what danielle vogel was saying about Melissa Buzzeo’s work, something about the ductility of metal, in a very soft voice….

It’s a good thing (I guess) then, that the Q and A was so spirited, because it woke me up… or really I should say, it was vicious, with a couple of women in the audience, one in particular who had been a women’s studies major, slamming Steve for having chosen Jewel as the focus of his academic rigor and accusing him of condescension. He countered with a few points: 1) that his paper had opened with an anecdote about a male journalists who had mocked Jewel for using the word “casualty” when she meant something like “casualness,” 2) that he actually was interested in the poetry because it did have features of literariness such as tropes, and as such it was more than just “diary poems,” and 3) he said that in fact there is no such person as Jewel, as she was really a manufactured persona…. Finally one astute woman in the audience recapped his rhetorical strategy and framed the paper as coming from a cultural studies perspective, and everything was relatively peaceful thenceforth, but goodness, what a hullabaloo.


OK, still to come later: part 3, Closing Plenary and Performances.

Adfempo Report Part 1

Mounds of purple and black clothing, papers, bangles, feminine care product boxes, hair elastics, books. These I was compelled to sort through this morning as an attempt at recovery from a killer (and I mean this in at least two senses of the word, if not the literal one) week. Finally now the bras are in the bra drawer, the papers in a pile (if unsorted), the little suitcase finally unpacked from last week’s speed tour of D.C. I’m both totally wiped and also in a happy afterglow from the week’s events, feeling that I chose, I believe, the right life path, to the extent (fatalism warning ahead) that I may have actually chosen it.

I’ll begin with an anecdote. Last week, I bought a box of super plus tampons at the little pharmacy on DeKalb to deal with my second period this month (everything is haywire, you see). The man behind the counter marked down the price on the box, saying it was labeled incorrectly. It was still expensive for some little pieces of cotton. I said, “It’s expensive to be a woman.” The man said, “Seventy or eighty percent of everything in stores is for women. Women spend much more money than men.” “So they should pay us more,” I said. Everyone in line laughed. I felt this was a fairly beautiful feminist activist moment that was also entertaining.

So on the train home late-ish last night from the Adfempo conference, reading Christine Wertheim’s introductory essay in the wonderful Feminaissance anthology (which she kindly gave me!), I felt particular resonance with this passage, in which she discusses the “problem” of essentialism:

However much signifiers lack essence, however much most meanings may be said to be unhinged from a referent, some meanings are not so unhinged. For instance, however much the traits of a gender may be viewed as cultural constructs, not essential qualities of biology, the fact that some bodies don’t bleed unless they’re in pain, while others shed blood for the sake of the species, means (!) that the subjects of these bodies live the signifiers of gender differently. The cultural attribution of instability to a body that smells and swells and leaks and gushes out blood, and which may host other smaller bodies, dead or alive, is lived by its “subject,” however “structurally neutral,” quite differently from the subject of a body that does not do these things.”

I never thought of it quite like this before: women take a hit for the team. Reparations for menstruation now!

Truly, my experience of the entire conference was ironically colored deep red by the fact that I had to run at every possible break time to the bathroom to change my tampon to avert a possible bleedthrough, which, given the context, may actually have been more a proud badge of differance (interestingly, Word just corrected the spelling on this; I had to uncorrect it) than an embarrassment. Even so, it would have been an awful mess, and would have spoiled my pretty lace skirt I picked out special for the occasion (and this I will take up presently), not to mention the clothing of the next person to occupy the various chairs upon which I sat at the conference.

I said to Kim Rosenfield later that next to being in love, there is nothing that makes one feel more abject than menstruation… even more than shitting. She opined that shitting is not abject, and when I mentioned the expressions on dogs’ faces when they shit she said she thought they were just concentrating, and that abjection I perceived was just a projection. Point taken.

Some of my encounters in the bathroom were pretty interesting, like seeing a lovely apparition in a long green dress and only later realizing she was Kaia Sand, or saving Cecilia Wu from the long tail of toilet paper that had adhered to her shoe, or seeing Rachel Levitsky and Ann Lauterbach and telling Ann from inside the stall, “Ann, I still haven’t forgotten the ‘Mozart following Elvis’ comment you made when we read together,” and when she said that comment was out of envy (?!) I said, still inside the stall, “well, Elvis didn’t bleed.” Once out, I told Ann and Rachel that I had been only the day before to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame annex, where I saw Elvis’ magnificent jumpsuit, entirely embroidered with a giant PEACOCK, and I had asked myself how it was that I had managed to live this long without owning a jumpsuit like it?

I missed most of Thursday’s activity so someone else will have to be girl reporter on that. As I mentioned, I had earlier that day been to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with my students. I have been teaching them about the sixties, since they know so little about it, with a special focus on The Beatles, because I think the hook of Beatles music is one of the best ways to insert the English language into the indelible parts of one’s consciousness. The Hall of Fame has an exhibit curated by Yoko of “John Lennon in New York”, and I’ll be damned if the experience of being there, on top of my already exhausted and excitable condition, didn’t put me in a state near to tears. “Love is the answer,” and “God is concept/ by which we measure/ our pain”: you know, nothing tops that. The induction room at the museum is a wonderfully manipulative (and this I mean to take up later as well as part of a general critique of “anti-manipulative” poetics) experience of SEVEN SIMULTANEOUS PROJECTIONS that make Bruce Nauman look, sorry, like a lame poseur. I mean, what would you rather do, watch and wait for shadows or a mouse to run across a studio floor or see FREDDIE MERCURY in white shorts singing We Will Rock You or TINA TURNER doing an earth-shaking practically Egyptian SHIMMY (and I know my shimmies, believe me: I study them, and can do at least seven variations on them that I can think of offhand). Poetry really should aspire to the condition of rock and roll.

At any rate, to move from there, with that poignant lumpy-throated feeling of seeing the paper bag with John’s clothes that Yoko received after his killing, and his bloodstained, shattered spectacles, to the differently fevered kind of energy at the conference was a little challenging. I only saw part of the first plenary, moderated by Tonya Foster: someone presenting on Tracie Morris’ work, I believe (can’t tell from the program, and I was both late and in the back of the room), then Julie Patton reporting on her visionary project in Cleveland where she created an artists’ community in a building she inherited from her father: “What does one do with a building? Turn it into a book.” She showed images of alphabet sculptures: “the alphabet, which modifies our daily life anyway, is always hitting our ears,” as contested letters when people drive by arguing over which letters the sculptures represent. They were made of repurposed materials bound with sisal that called forth the artists’ “braiding skills” and also evoked “bound bodies.” She also spoke of paper as “soft material” and showed images that were a bit hard to take in in PPT format of detailed paper collages enhanced by spidery “gendered shorthand” that were (I think) created by her mother. Well, I love Julie and her beautiful excursions into all artistic disciplines. Then Evie Shockley spoke on Sonia Sanchez rather discursively and I tuned out a little, distracted suddenly by people’s fashion: Erica Kaufman in these cute black flats with criss-crosses; a fantastically tall woman with very short hair in a polka-dot mini-dress and navy silk fitted jacket; Eileen Myles in a shirt I can only describe as a kind of “batik fresco” in two shades of dove blue, warm beige and rose, and leaf shapes. John Keen spoke next on Kamau Braithwaite, and opened with a funny disclaimer about what does this have to do with feminism, and I enjoyed that, but you know, I was totally overcome with fatigue and knew that I could not stay for the events that followed and needed to get home instead in time to take a dance class at the new yoga studio that miraculously opened recently in my neighborhood.

I needed that more than anything, and was regenerated enough to actually get through most of yesterday without collapsing. Gary helped me pick out my outfit Thursday evening. I’m afraid I don’t have a good picture of it, but it involved a full, above-the-knee raspberry taffeta skirt with layers of mulberry, olive, and periwinkle lace, black tights and boots, a black top with fitted waist, a bit of a peplum and a wild portrait collar, this fastened with a polychrome rhinestone brooch, a rhinestone necklace, also multicolored, and a green emerald rhinestone “slave bracelet” (please see the irony here, people) that interestingly broke upon my arrival at the conference hall the next morning. What does that mean, exactly?

I ran into Brenda Iijima. She looked fantastic in black trousers, black jacket and white shirt with Rimbauldian “poet” string tie. We commiserated on matters gynecological then went off to our respective panels.

Here, once again, for the benefit of the home audience, is our panel description:

Room 4 [Panel 4]:
Conceptual Writings
Chair: Mónica de la Torre
Panelists: Nada Gordon, Vanessa Place, Sina Queyras, Kim Rosenfield, Christine Wertheim
Description: Conceptual writing, still under construction as a 21st century literary form, includes various kinds of work and techniques, such as appropriation, documentation, constraint, process, performance, polyvocality, collapsing search engines and the baroque. Panelists Mónica de la Torre, Nada Gordon, Sina Queyras, Kim Rosenfield, Christine Wertheim, and Vanessa Place will present/perform/comment on critical/creative work on conceptualism.

We were in a little, intimate room. Sina told me she wanted to sit on the end because she is intensely claustrophobic. I thought that was interesting given her talk, which I’ll discuss in a bit. I was extremely impressed by the Conceptualistas fashion choices: Kim in a white dress with swirly, stylized black hearts, Vanessa in olive-green Fluevog pumps, Sina’s Prada glasses, Christine’s entire Comme des Garcons-ish elaborate black ensemble and totally desirable ruby sandals, Mónica’s gray blouse with white polka-dots. Marvelous.

Christine Sina Kim Vanessa

Somehow, I went first. Here is the complete text of my presentation.

I can tolerate the ornaments of the Kaffir, the Persian, the Slovak peasant woman, my shoemaker’s ornament, for they all have no other way of attaining the high point of their existence. We have art, which has taken the place of “ornament.”

Adolf Loos, Ornament and Crime

(What follows is my retort.)

Wear your costumes with conviction — by which
we mean decide what picture you will make of yourself,
make it and then enjoy it! It is only by letting
your personality animate your costume
that you make yourself superior to the lay figure
or the sawdust doll. Swathe it in clouds of fake smoke,
snake oil, blue taupe silk, a tangle of vines.
I hover as a fever, I serve as a hot welt. The magma’s
gruesome: its cardinal fierceness rumbles in
the public spaces of my prattling verse. Personality
carries great responsibilities, because we expect it to represent us
as individuals. We should therefore clothe our personality
with ballooning finery and papery ruffled taffeta interrogations;
how else to perform the burgeoning imperatives of my (our)
pandoral catachreses? A large placenta emerges
smelling of maple and bluejays. Poetry is junk.
I ache out the law of soaring, my human brain dividing
the spoils, describing a lacy arabesque on ice until
something just breaks. The ear of a woman is usually
clear pink, not ill-shaped, and there is a note of
individuality about it, the attractiveness of which
one should emphasize, not conceal. I want all of you
here with me. Hi! Hi everybody! Femmage.
I’m here as a passionate dunce, still skating the well-
worn arabesque, sincere as butter but twice as musical.
Look, this is a zither of affect: its octaves are multiplied
by the vocabulary of others, and if I feel it more intensely
then so will you. The beautiful girl inserts the dildo
and turns it around, shivering in pleasure. It gets covered
with her secretions: primal cream. The writing is the dildo,
and the girl, and the secretions. It’s like learning other languages.
Vocabularies expand infinitely, tourmaline glitters in a damp cave.
Rob Fitterman writes, “I am interested
in the inclusion of subjectivity and personal
experience; I just prefer if it isn’t my own.”Own?
Expression irrigates expression. Me and the multitudes
form a lacy network: no containment, just connections: me
and the multitudes weave into each other. Drew
Gardner: “Your own handwriting is collective.”
Who’s containable? I’m all apertures.
Dana Ward: “Correlated ooh la las between us.”
No one’s not a sieve: desire leaks: we drool
when screen lovers kiss. It’s all language, antic
and lascivious. Susana Gardner posts an update
quoting Mina Loy: “LOVE of others is
the appreciation of one’s self. MAY your egotism
be so gigantic that you comprise mankind
in your self-sympathy.” I steal with love and
out of sympathy. Both love and poetry are
alien visitations here in the breathable
room of lazy heresies, and I am writing this for you
(the primordial you) (the resonating body)
with my weeping heart and ornamental personality.
Aesthetic intimacy, not distance, but not for “authenticity.”
Behold the fruits de mer of this torrid cornucopia: the sea belt,
the furbelows, the dabberlocks, the sea lace. Proper regard
for the “intimate little feminine things”— that is the secret
of charming individuality. Gathered rosebuds, re-strewn.
Gaudy miasma of decoration. If decorative woman
makes up her mind to retain a line or limit, she does it,
but only because she wants to, and not because you told her to.
This can be demonstrated by the use of silver stockings
or magenta slippers with magenta stockings.
Licking the wounds of love in four-inch platforms.
Since all words are already concepts, I’m giddy with concepts.
Let’s call instead, with Lippard and Chandler, this thing we do,
ultra-conceptual. That sounds better, like dish soap.
Here I am wandering in lupine, and Queen Anne’s
lace, and mariposa lilies, and wild irises, and because
they are beautiful (and grotesque, like all flowers)
they compel me and I steal them and arrange them,
Flowers are nature’s readymades. The words of “others”
are warm salt blossoms. I run a mermaid ranch in my
eerie birth canal, and this aeronautic palaver is a saucy pose.
Listen. Some people hold the mistaken idea that ornament
is all very well perhaps for those who like it, but that what
they want is something practical. A pot roast of unicorn,
perhaps? Or braised mermaids? The works of Nature
gently rebuke this cold utilitarian spirit, and afford us countless
illustrations of beauty wedded to use. The painting of the petals
of the commonest wayside weed, the exquisite markings
on shells so minute that only the microscope enables us
to appreciate their beauty, the gorgeous colouring of the peacock’s
feathers, the rich markings on the wings of the butterfly,
the splendour of colour of the ruby and topaz, the graceful forms
of the evanescent snow crystals, are but a few instances
that at once rise to our minds. This is the horn section
of my cavernous malady, its logical loops and mathematic
baobobs. Baobobs. Under the baobobs and mooning.
A woman is prettier when she is sensitive. She must be taught
not to throw away her honey. Honey and salt soak into
the shuddering lace. One who has never made lace –
that is – the bobbin variety – cannot imagine the charm
of the softly clinking, tinkling bobbins, like the singing of
a simmering teakettle, or like a lullaby gently hummed
in the twilight. I see Guy and Kathy and Yoko and Lucy
in the spermy sky with fighter planes, hanabi, a zillion
idiolects, and legions of anonymous females. Their DNA sings.
Their merry little jingle is very soothing, and some physicians
claim that the rhythmic effect is most beneficial to the nerves.
Doubtless, the regular shifting of the bobbins – keeping the mind,
eyes and fingers busy, proves a means of working
off overwrought feelings and serves the same quieting purpose
that piano-playing does for some tensely strung nerves.
Our nerves preserve us from isolation: I skate on my nervous
arabesque. The bad surplus smiles at the lonely preeners,
and stinky sculptures spring up where there were none
before, and that’s kinda cool in the prosodic tinniness
of this cranial bhangra, you know, I love
my dog I don’t have a dog, I love the paper clock
that threatens sudden endings, I love the conversations
that play air guitar in my genetic memories.
One well-known sanitarium has, with such an end in view,
introduced bobbin-lace making, and whether or not it is directly
calming the patients’ jangled nerves, it is doing so indirectly,
by taking their thoughts off themselves and absorbing
their interest in seeing grow under their very fingers
so pixy a product. Woman, the instrument of reproduction,
pours into life’s cauldron the best of herself, unstinted,
unmeasured, singing: “Boys, eat a plastic peach for me
in the flawed wisdom of your stretchy
genitalia, and I will sing a hurting song for you
while the peevish she-crabs wail.” Lace-making
is one of those pursuits which, seeming tedious
to the onlooker, have an undeniable
fascination for the maker; and it seems as though
almost no one who really enters upon its enticing
pathway ever cares to turn back. That’s because
every molecule remembers a time before time,
and if I open up to receive all emotional messages (for example,
in my food), it’s because that’s the kind of maladroit
I am: preponed, animated, reticular, birdish. Mawkish.
freakish pinkish ticklish girlish.
Girlish! All conceptuality in writing is feminine because it is
aware of itself being looked at. One may follow
Woman Decorative in the Orient on vase, fan, screen
and kakemono; as she struts in the stiff manner of Egyptian
bas reliefs, across walls of ancient ruins, or sits in angular serenity,
gazing into the future through the narrow slits of Egyptian eyes,
oblivious of time; woman, beautiful in the European sense,
and decorative to the superlative degree, on Greek vase
and sculptured wall. All writing is crafty, rhetorical, sited,
intertextual, posed. Here in rhythmic curves,
she dandles lovely Cupid on her toe; serves as vestal virgin
at a woodland shrine; wears the bronze helmet of Minerva; makes laws,
or as Penelope, the wife, wearily awaits her roving lord.
I feed off everything, especially my own haunted breasts.
My thoughts, my verse, my size, my clothes.
She moves in august majesty, a sore-tried queen,
and leaps in merry laughter as a care-free slave; pipes,
sings and plies the distaff. Can one possibly escape
our theme — Woman as Decoration? This milky force
of cerebration? No, for she is carved in wood and stone;
as Mother of Gawd and Queen of Electric Ladyland
she gleams in the jeweled windows of the monitor, looks down
in placid serenity on lighted altar; is woven into Gracie Allen,
in fact dominates all art, panting, slinky or marvelous,
throughout the gleaming monstrosity of the ages.
Knowing all there is to know of my subjectivity,
which is also yours, and everyone’s, [WHAT?]I have had the genius
to weave the innumerable and perplexing threads
into a tapestry of words, where the main ideas
take their places in the foreground, standing
in futile contradistinction to the deftly woven,
unintelligible and obtruding background.
My underpants have their own ideas.
The meaning shifts pleasurably.
I always confuse “midrash” and “midriff.”
One sets out gaily to study costumes, full
of the courage of ignorance, the joyous optimism
of an enthusiast, because it is amusing and looks
so simple with all the material, old and new,
lying about one. My fingers summon it with little clicks,
caressing information. Hollow noise pools up in my candy
head. Frenetic clutch. Noxious erudite
suggestiveness. I babble and I am sticky with live cultures.
Women whose throats are getting lined should
take to jeweled dog-collars, and skirts of black tulle
or net, caught up with great rhinestone swans,
An artist’s instinct could trim a gown with emerald pastes
and hang real gems of the same in the ears. Who cares?
Artists strut their oily coats of “sick Spaniard” color, trimmed
with lace, but nobody ever clothes a “dying monkey”
with a hat of questions. On all the clothes
were yards and yards of lace, painted like a tapeworm’s
soliloquy. The whole world had sometimes diamonds
and pearls sewed on: it went lace-mad. It has been suggested
that the accidental intertwining of these threads,
as they hung downwards, gave the first idea
of that network which is the underlying principle
of lace-making machines. Whether this be the case or not,
it will be of interest to pay a visit, in imagination,
to a modern lace factory. I remind you: Woman is the instrument of
reproduction. When the nuns in the fifteenth century made
lace, they designed the patterns as they went along; their patterns
were the carrying out of artistic thought, asymmetric as love
and singular like fetishes. Put any woman into a Marie Antoinette
costume and see how, during an evening she will gradually take on
the mannerisms of that time. Binge thinking. The pastel honorifics
of glide stupor. Whatsa matter, cat’s got your brain?

Please, please! Who are you, swanky others under cool black
nomenclature? With your mule gait, your quirky haircuts, your
swear words, your personal devices? Your constraints and pretty
formulae? And if I abandon myself to friable sound? What then?
Heavy with terms like a cop’s belt, we melt into our styles. Love
is all around, a minty concept on a pendunculate sphere. Let’s say
we understand things only by analogy: breath, breadth, bread:
where does that leave us – my darlings – in the ocean of original things?


I don’t know what people thought about it, although Kenny wrote me later with some kind words. I replied to him, I feel like such a freak. I’m not entirely sure, honestly, what constitutes my alliance with the conceptualists, although I’m happy for it, but I really wanted to stress my commitment to the LYRIC here in my contrarian way. Also, what occurred to me in terms of delivery was this, and this has something to do with my notion that poetry should aspire to the condition of rock and roll. We should perform as if we are making our case to or giving ourselves to a lover or making some kind of extremely high-stakes persuasive speech. The rhetoric must be urgent (and Gail Scott, later in the closing plenary, addressed this necessary condition of urgency).

Again, a passage from Feminaissance resonated with me: this time from Chris Kraus, on female writing (her translation of ecriture feminine):

The schizophrenia of female writing is more pervasive. It doesn’t stop. It’s sense-surround. And because the schizophrenic state remains a CONSTANT within the condition of being female in this culture (as any woman writing hard enough soon comes to recognize) female writing (re)presents a more generous nimble state of schizophrenia. It’s devious, and also more inclusive. If schizophrenia is the state you’re consigned to live in – if you are fated to remain within a universe that’s ALL FEELING ALL THE TIME, you have to make it large. Therefore, female writing is extremely intellectual. It is conceptual, but not programmatic….Female writing can spazz out in a million directions, but it isn’t formalist writing because all these directions lead back to the self….There is always way too much feeling in female writing, but feeling itself isn’t the point. Female writing is compositional. It is intellectual vaudeville. It arrives at the moment of feeling, then leaves. It demonstrates something: itself.


OK, enough about me, then, for the moment. From my sketchy notes, let me try to reconstruct what I heard from the other panelists. Panelists or others, please write in with clarifications or corrections.

In contrast, Mónica followed by saying that she wasn’t going to talk about her own poems or poetics, but instead with the statement “I am only interested in what is not mine.” I was in a little bit of a post-performance daze here, and I think this may have been a quote from Juan Luis (? someone please correct if wrong) Martínez, an avant-garde post-Nicanor Parra Chilean poet whose works and circle she went on to describe as being concerned with a “communism of language,” less obsessed than U.S. conceptualists with “coining a style.” This was extremely interesting historical material, and I want very much to see Mónica’s translations… but at the same time I do wish she had talked a bit about her own work, which I have written enthusiastically about in this space before.

Christine went next with a heady series of statements on conceptual art from Peter (?) Middleton and Clement Greenberg taking off (I think) from Kant, addressing the “moment where mind falls away from the objective world and meets itself.” Mmm, this was complex, I’m sure I haven’t summarized that properly. Christine went on to “actively explore concepts and how they relate to each other through letter combinations” in the folk etymology tradition she traced back to Lucretius. She then performed on the blackboard a series of these feminist folk etymologies which I couldn’t note down without painfully twisting my neck around, although my general impression was that they were quite ingenious. She was the only other one of our panel who, I think, approached the task somewhat performatively.

Sina, the self-described claustrophobe, addressed the problem of hermeticism in “a room of one’s own” in 20th century feminist poetics. Instead, she said, she was interested in taking thinking into more civic realms, and also in considering walls as skins and in women inverting architectures. She wanted to emphasize “the vessel” as well as process: “a container, but not impermeable or rigid.” She quoted Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto, noting that the word “conceptual” does not appear anywhere in it. She then referred to Lisa Robertson’s writing as being exemplararily (?) “structural” (I should interject here that I heard Lisa Robertson’s name referred to at this conference so many times that I almost thought it should be the conference subtitle: Advancing Feminist Poetics: an Examination of the Works of Lisa Robertson). She mentioned that conceptual writing offers distance, and said that “architecture is the transformation of material.” To my great delight, she quoted Acconci as saying that “clothing is the first architecture” (a parallel I have also noted, in the act of constructing garments).

Kim opened with this great quote from Kara Walker: “The work began by thinking about my own body as it encountered the mythologies of the world: I was fed up with the expectations of what a black girl ought to be, but instead of rejecting them outright, I thought I would embrace every concept out there, sort of flouting the notions and taunting those who held them at the same time.” Kim asked how we can, in writing, mine insulated paradigms, and “stay pluripotent…able to turn into any kind.” Language, she said, is always already written. She then shifted into autobiography, and it seemed to me that the room then sort of pricked up its collective ears. She spoke of how as a young writer amongst the NY Language Poets, many of whom came out of what I think she called a 70s Marxist cultural critique, she sometimes felt that her embrace of, for example, the feminine pleasures of consumer culture were frowned upon, and that it was with female peers such as Stacy Doris, Yedda Morrison, Lisa Robertson, and others that she began to explore appropriation as writing technique. She also mentioned her readings in psychoanalytic theory and mentioned the Boston Change Process Study Group’s finding on the phenomenon wonderfully (to my mind) labeled “sloppiness”: that is, the fact that indeterminacy and surprise were key elements of intersubjective systems. Kim said that her methods of writing, which embrace a “fuzzy intentionality,” are a way of seeking “something more inward than [her] own inwardness.”

Vanessa was the last presenter, and she began with an examination of the fact that one can receive a huge number of Google hits (I don’t remember what she said, but I just tried it, and got 33,600) for “Madonna/whore,” but nothing for father/predator or padre/predator…my notes got sktchy here, as the astounding factoids were coming thick and fast, each more dazzling than the next… “woman as original multiple”… she referred to Courbet’s incomparable painting “L’Origine du monde” and its history, how it had been donated to the Orsay museum by Lacan and his wife Sylvia Bataille… as a tax shelter? … OK, both notes and memory are failing me now… I remember thinking at this point… “I will need to ask Vanessa for a copy of this as I am losing focus and this is something I need to read…” but I had to pee so desperately and was worried about bleeding… and still had to get through the Q and A.

There was a question for Mónica, something about Chilean “disappearing” and, uh, other questions, and I think another question for Sina about Robertson?, maybe something from Steve Zultansky about how politics fits into conceptual practices, and something else from I think Rachel Blau du Plessis maybe about what is and isn’t conceptual (I remember saying I wished I could answer that but I was wondering the same thing), and someone else how does conceptualism differ from modernist lyric, and someone else asked how can we teach this stuff to our students, and one of Rob Fitterman’s students spoke up, saying that he felt freed by these approaches, and I commented, “hallelujah, he’s been saved!” and Rob said something about how he aims to demythologize the self, and I said I’m not interested in that all, but in multiple infusions of mythologies, and Rob said that was tantamount to the same thing. But basically no one had a question specifically for me, which is good because those Q and A sessions are so brutal, you know? With two main purposes, I believe: one being a kind of inquisition and the other being to show off the intellectual prowess of the questioners. I always wonder to what extent people asking the Qs really genuinely want to know the answers to their burning questions? Often the questions are so layered and labyrinthine that they seem to me more like syntactical exercises than communicative transactions. But then, I’m not an academic, so that’s not my stock in trade.

OK, you know what? I think this is quite enough for one blog post, and my typing fingers, as well as all the rest of me, need a break. I will attempt to do a part two tomorrow. Whew!

Mark your programs, please

Advancing Feminist Poetics & Activism

All events will be held at
The CUNY Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue
(between 34th & 35th Streets)
New York, New York

Room 4 [Panel 4]:
Conceptual Writings
Chair: Mónica de la Torre
Panelists: Nada Gordon, Vanessa Place, Sina Queyras, Kim Rosenfield, Christine Wertheim
Description: Conceptual writing, still under construction as a 21st century literary form, includes various kinds of work and techniques, such as appropriation, documentation, constraint, process, performance, polyvocality, collapsing search engines and the baroque. Panelists Mónica de la Torre, Nada Gordon, Sina Queyras, Kim Rosenfield, Christine Wertheim, and Vanessa Place will present/perform/comment on critical/creative work on conceptualism.


(a birthday poem for Rod Smith by Rob Fitterman, Nada Gordon, and John Keats)

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness
This page doesn’t seem to have anything on it…
and it’s like shoved in here, it’s like blank… totally…
what’s up with that? Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
What’s the deal with all of this birth stuff? I got a frowsy slab on that…
perky smoke… dug blastocyte… happy, happy boughs.
Now you’re telling me that Baltimore is north of Washington.
And it’s not that the phenomenology of being doesn’t always
already posit the teleological construct of dialectic ratiocination WHILE-U-WAIT.
O Attic shape! Fair attitude! Passive-aggressive Sacagawea.
Dude, that is like so speech-based.
Frogs can do that! Look it up!
I don’t do rent. Mean-spirited leaf blower. Canary-shaped.
Lead’st thou that heifer blowing at the skies.
Dear Eyeware Manufacturer: How do you expect me
to remove these glasses from the plastic-tied packaging?
I get all my guilt by osmosis. More happy love!
more happy, happy love! It’s more Perdue than
the other way around. Meaningless, tireless, bunny-less.
Military-industrial breakfast special? A heart high-sorrowful
and cloy’d. These are the toxic waste containers lined
with Douglas Firs I was telling you about. My bong hurts.
Chicken parts in my long johns of marble men and maidens
overwrought. If you’re wearing mirror sunglasses and walking down
the street the other direction, do you still go through the same changes?
What’s the deal with having to pee?—there’s only one lederhosen
in that pastry basket, honey. Cold pastoral! Gonna line me
some toxic waste containers with processed cheese. That is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know, darlin’.
See ya Spring Semester.

Nada goes to Washington

OK, so early Sunday morning woke up, grabbed my bag, and made it a little early to Penn Station, early enough to run into Sean Cole and his musical instrument en route to Boston: how lovely, to run into Sean Cole early on a Sunday morning in NYC! Then Rob showed up in a pink and purple tie and black lo-top converses and we got on the train, full of discoursing and gossips and opinions, and then we wrote a poem for Rod Smith, whose birthday it was. Both Rob and I decided to write in the voice of Rod, and Rob had the cool idea of snagging some lines from Ode to a Grecian Urn, which I was able to summon up with a few caresses of my iPhone. The poem’s great, I’ve asked Rob for his perm to post it here. In the meantime:

Upon arrival Buck Downs and Maureen Thorson met us and whisked us off to an Indian buffet where we amusedly watched the Keep Fucking That Chicken video, again, courtesy of my iPhone.

I was devoured by several vicious mosquitoes with more energy than hungry I even brought to my pakoras, which were not half bad, and now my calves are polka-dotted, oh dear. From the restaurant we jammed over to the DC Arts Center, one of my favorite places to read. In attendance so many wonderful poets: Cathy Eisenhower, Phyllis Rosenzweig, Lynne Dreyer, P. Inman, Tina Darragh, Chris Nealon, Mel Nichols, Rod Smith, M. Magnus and daughter Hero, Kareem Estefan and Isabel, and several others…

Tina, Peter, Rob
Tina Darragh, P. Inman, and Rob

Buck gave Rob a beautiful introduction trumpeting Rob’s joyful connoisseurship, mentioning a Portugese restaurant Rob had taken him to many years before on a trip to NYC. Rob read three pieces: an incisive and also very funny piece on failure that called up all of the pitfalls and problematics of conceptual work; his legendary “This Window Makes Me Feel”; and his Ben Kessler project, inspired by Vito Acconci’s stalker piece, in which he follows and corresponds with several Ben Kesslers (as well as friends of the Bens) online. He was enthusiastically applauded after each piece.

I was up next, cracking jokes about how it was so nice to be there, coming from a big city (hee hee), and putting “y’all” on the ends of sentences just like them, and saying I fancy myself a bit of a chameleon. I read several poems from my new Loquela as vigorously as I could, starting with the weird shorter poems, moving into the flarfy “Apex of the O” piece, then finishing with more extended passionate rushes. It was fun and kind of exhausting. I swigged water, saying it’s so tiring to be a romantic poet, all you proceduralists have it easy. That was kind of a joke.

We finished the evening’s entertainment by reading our poem to Rod off of Rob’s laptop. We winged the reading like total pros, not just alternating but sometimes echoing. sometimes doubling or emphasizing. This made me terrifically happy, and I reckon Rod was happy, too.

Then off to The Reef a few doors down where Hero drew me a wonderful portrait of me from the back (a bunch of hair). She was SO cool: her ambition, she said, since the age of two, has been to go to Mars. I’m guessing she’s maybe ten now? Eleven? I had lovely conversations with Maureen and Tina and Cathy and Lynne and many others.

Mel whisked us to our hotel, and dig this: THERE WAS A FOUR-PERSON HOT TUB IN MY ROOM! You KNOW I took advantage of it, and I’ll be darned if I didn’t feel like Hugh Hefner, aww yeah. Instantly thought to remodel my apartment with a FOUR-PERSON HOT TUB in my living room.

I watched the end of Kong on TV, admiring Naomi Watts, and spent a slumbery night free of galloping cats, freeway noise, spousal snores etc. Woke up to eat raisin bread and rubbery hard-boiled eggs at the breakfast buffet, then Rob and I rode the train to the Washington Mall. We looked at Phillip Guston pictures at the National Gallery, then met Buck at the Holocaust Museum. I had never been there. I thought the exhibits were amazing, but we had to rush through as time was getting short, and it was very strange indeed to rush through the Holocaust. As we left, the museum guard cheerily called out, “Come back again!” What was up with that?

Here’s Rob in front of the Washington Monument, which, since it is almost invisible in the photo, we were convinced was shielded by a hi-tech cloaking device!
Rob the Tourist

So, back to hotel and then onto George Mason University for our second gig: “Poetry Goes to the Movies.” Saw Cathy Cook’s lovely film, Immortal Cupboard: In Search of Lorine Niedecker. I was to perform my Navrang benshi… minutes before I went on, I looked at my script which I had hurriedly printed out and (arrgh) the lines were running into each other in several cases… different version of Word on my work computer? Anyway… I had to blur and fudge and make do a little, but the audience seemed pleased anyway: I had to release all perfectionism… I showed my Corndog Guy movie and oh, there was much laughter. Read three flarfy poems including “I WANT TO BE INFANTILIZED BY A BUNCH OF GOONS.”

Then Rob did a multifaceted PowerPoint presentation with sections from his “War, the Musical,” (his collaboration with Dirk Rountree, who also provided the images, eerie collages that made clever use of Macintosh icons as design elements). Standout themes from his presentation: Colin Powell, E.T., James Brown Duck (and a whole litany of other ducks), Sbarro. A marvelously orchestral piece.

The audience seemed stunned afterwards. There were no questions for our joint Q and A. Did they hate us? Or were they just too confused? Anyway we had to run to get our train back to New York. Wheeling our bags so fast we almost flew: our driver was waiting: later I told Rob, that was like being the Beatles escaping from Shea Stadium! A cheeseburger on the train home, and a serious nap. Big adventure! Today so zonked I could hardly function, or only just barely enough for this writeup.

In the interests of sleep, then, I’m signing off… with more reports to come of the Advancing Feminist Poetics conference this Thursday and Friday. Beware the Advancing Feminists!

Department of Energy

those horrid Bow-Street people (for Rodney)


I am a lady who, no matter whether from illness or age, have lost the flowing ringlets that once played in graceful negligence around my neck. I have lost them in reality, but only in reality – for, thanks to the perfection to which our peruke-makers have carried their delightful art, I can still in appearance, vie with the flaunting misses who have not yet met so unkind a fortune in this respect as myself. I intreat your permission to ask, through the medium of the Morning Chronicle, the advice of some of your correspondents, on the dilemma in which a late circumstance has placed us. You are to know, sir, that I am come to town but for a few days, and am dying to see the inside of Covent Garden Theatre; but, before I venture there, I must beg to be informed, in wigs of what colours, how many curls, &c. a lady may risk her presence at that place, without danger of being taken out by these horrid Bow-Street people. That I may not be in such jeopardy, from wearing an illegal wig, or be debarred the pleasure of giving my friends in the country a description of the splendid edifice, I intreat an early answer from some of your polite correspondents; and trust that you will excuse the intrusion, which proceeds from the extreme anxiety of

Your obedient servant,
Kate Caxon