ÂŠ MANIFESTO. Issue design by Matthew C. Mackey Cover & issue photography by Jeffrey R. Stroup
The Portrait Project
I AM MANIFESTO. I AM HERE. I AM NOW. IN THIS BODY I DECLARE. IN THIS SPACE, IN THIS TIME, I ANNOUNCE THE FUTURE. I INTEND. I AM MOVING I REVEAL. I CLAIM. I AM LIVING MANIFESTO.
put in the ground and covered with earth or put into a vault, or into the sea; cause to sink; covered in order to conceal from sight.
a written or printed communication; a symbol or character that is conventionally used in writing and printing to convey meaning; piece of printing type bearing character; a formal document granting a right or privilege; actual and official terms or wording; learning; knowledge.
to act upon; to move by weight or force; to weigh heavily upon; to hold closely; to preserve; to extract, squeeze out, or express; to urge or entreat strongly; to plead with insistence; to urge onward or to push forward; publications for the broadcasting, gathering, and transmission of ideas.
BURIED LETTER PRESS
is an attempt to resurrect the art of conversation, to find the lost voices of society, and bring to light a new consciousness. We believe letters illuminate the lives of those who speak through them, and that, too often, these letters get buried, silenced, forgotten. We want to dig up the buried letter and sing it out. We believe conversation is a means for real change, and we think that both art and criticism give us opportunity for dialogue. We believe that art is criticism and vice-versa. We believe art shouldnâ€™t be kept in the penitentiary of the institution, the machine of consumerism. No, art and criticism belong to the people. This is one voice among the vox populi. We believe in a multitude of minds, speaking in a myriad of voices, and we believe everyone should be allowed to speak up. We believe that open discussion is the beginning of freedom, and we want to lift latches, turn keys, and open doors. Our mission is to deliver news, commentary, criticism, art, experimentations, expressions, meaningful work from all over the world for people all over the world. The magazine is free, alive, and human.
BURIED LETTER PRESS WRITE YOUR OWN MANIFESTO
BELIEVE? WHO ARE YOU? WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? WHAT DO YOU RESIST? WHAT CHANGES WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE IN THE WORLD IN YOUR LIFE? HOW CAN YOU ACCOMPLISH THOSE CHANGES? WHAT MOVES YOU? HOW WHAT DO YOU
WILL YOU CARVE OUT YOUR OWN PATH? WHAT
WANT OUT OF LIFE? PURPOSE? WHAT ARE YOU
YOUR GOING TO DO? WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO DO IT?
WRITE, FILM, SING, PAINT, SCULPT, BUILD, PHOTOGRAH, ACTUALIZE YOUR MANIFESTO AND POST TO OUR FACEBOOK PAGE. SEE HOW OTHERS ARE MANIFESTING THEIR MANIFESTOS AND SHARE YOUR MANIFESTO WITH THE WORLD! BURIED LETTER PRESS facebook
â€œThen the world will be for the common people, and the sounds of happiness will reach the deepest springs. Ah! Come! People of every land, how can you not be roused.â€?
I Must See If I knew where she was I would tell you. She no longer resides in a room of pale cream, facing peonies she planted last spring. The neighborâ€™s hound lurks. Finches jump like shards of yellow glass. But this view no longer holds her, backdrop to words uttered so many months below breath.
Whispers we bring to beat at her skin like moths. This morning she gave me a pure moment, reached for my hand, beyond words,
a slow framing of what I must see.
See what Cathy is up to at www.cathleencohenart.com & www.theartwell.org
What does she care for a window view-she, who radiates a fine glow of eyes and burnished cheeks that turn to stone?
â€œEverything ten believe that ther tain point of th life and death, t imagined, past communicable and cable, high and l perceived as cont MANIFESTOES OF SURREALISM
nds to make us re exists a cerhe mind at which the real and the and future, the d the incommunilow, cease to be tradictions.â€?
THE WRITING LIFE, SERVICE AT 10 AM, BURIAL FOLLOWS He says books are dead they're like rocks, bricks, cement. May as well pave the sidewalk
with them, or stack them up, one atop the other, and you have yourself a chimney. Life's too fast these days. Take time out to read and there's no catching up. And it's so globalIndia and America, China and the UK they're a fingertip away. Who wants to get solitary
in this new interconnected age and is it even possible? And here's me trying to write one, staying up late at night when I figure time's asleep and the rest of the world's not watching. And then he says,
as for novelists... I don't want to hear any more. So here we are, chatting away, so at least conversation's still alive. True, with the speed of life, and the ubiquitous nature of communication, it's not what it was. But as long as there are wakes and funerals...
THE SUBTITLED LIFE We're viewing a French film with English subtitles. My date complains that she was expecting to watch and listen not read, that the subtitles are more like an ESPN sports update than anything that relates to what's on the screen. Meanwhile, my brain assimilates words and pictures to the point where there is no separation. I'm surprised that, when my date speaks, there's nothing written on her chin. It's obvious this relationship can never work. The gap between image and meaning is too wide for her. With me, they align perfectly. She says next time, let's go see something we both can understand. There won't be a next time. And it goes without saying, she has no use for poetry. A film with subtitles is bad enough. But subtitles without a film - no way.
From the Outside Looking In I raise the paper to my face. The words blur together as my hands tremble. Denise, sitting in the front row, stares at me, her head leaning on her hand, pushing her glasses askew. Stephanie sits next to her, with her hair in a perfect braid running down her back. They always talk to each other during class, but I don’t know if they’re friends. Friendships are so strange in college. And the tall, quiet dude in the back, who I borrowed a pen from that one time. I never did learn his name. But how many people in here know my name? The room changes colors and my palms grow clammy. My mind races, as the room spins, and I can’t settle on one thought. It’s all in my mind. I’ve thought a lot about the power of the mind recently. If I could push past the fear, I could shut this all off, live outside myself for the duration of this speech. But I haven’t been able to do it all semester. Not once. Not even to get a good grade. Now it’s the final, most important grade of the semester. It’s now or never. I peer over at my empty seat, a few desks’ distance from the other quiet guy. It looks so different from the outside, looking in. I sat all semester in that chair, content in my own fear. I wanted to grow out and be able to speak. But it’s like they just expected me to forget that person who sits in that desk, come up here and be a new person. It’s hard to do it from the outside in. And I just can’t find the courage from the inside out. I cough once… twice to get ready. The room falls silent. The professor stares a hole in the back of my head, while sitting at his desk behind me. Everyone’s eyes turn into black polka dots on the canvas of the room. They wait for my shaky voice to fall out of my mouth. “Privilege.” The room absorbs the word and my eyes retreat into my speech before me. “We’ve heard the word so many times this semester. It’s impos-
sible to talk about social justice without talking about…” I take a forced, deep breath. “Privilege.” Someone in the back coughs over the flatness of my voice. I adjust the paper in my hand, hold it firmly, try to stop the trembling. Stop letting my voice shake. Another deep breath. I need to put more into my voice. Show them how much I’ve thought about what I’m about to say. “We said a lot of shit…” I spit the word out with probably a little too much force. It’s enough to jolt the graduate student auditing this class right out of his daydream. “This semester about how some people have privilege – white people, straight people, cis gender… the list goes on. But we conveniently forgot the privilege we have just by being here. We sit here on a throne of higher education. We analyze the system we live in as if we’re somehow separate from it, from the outside looking in.” I think back on one of the first speeches Denise ever gave. She leaned over, drew the audience in with a smile, leaning back occasionally to read her notes and fix her hipster glasses. The speech was about how society holds black America down. She kept repeating the word they. They hold black America down. They, they, they. All I wanted to know was who they are, because I look around and see one black person in this classroom. It seems like we could be doing something more. My vision is locked into the quaking, handwritten words in front of me. I can’t stand to look up at the vacant faces. I continue, “How can we analyze the system? How can we distance ourselves from it? We are the system. And we decided to invest our money in this in order to separate ourselves from everyone else.” When I decided to come here my parents told me, “College is an investment.” I was fretting spending thousands of dollars on something that didn’t mean anything to me. But somehow telling me that it’d pay off in the future was supposed to make me feel better. Sacrificing my present happiness for future success, to make myself look better on a resume – that was supposed to make myself feel better. I know there has to be more beyond this. But the alternative is so terrifying. Straying from this path that had been set out before me by my parents, my high school teachers, even my friends – I just don’t know what’s out there. But this college world is a fantasy.
They send us all here, when we’re the most lost, and feed us what we need to know to make it in their world. But I wanted to learn. Actually learn. Not for this world, but for myself. I make the mistake of looking up from my paper. A horde of eyes peers back at me. It’s like they’re only eyes and nothing else – shining cat’s eyes peering out through a bush. I choke down the air, trying not to dry heave. This is why I’ve avoided giving speeches all semester. I can’t force myself to speak, but something else is compelling me. The momentum of my words carries me. “We call that paper we get at the end of this a ‘degree,’ but it’s really a pedigree. It tells future employers where we come from. We’re of a privileged class and so we’re special. We’re worth their money. Did you know people with college degrees earn 98 percent more than those without it? That blows any gender and race statistic on pay gap we learned about out of the water.” I cough again and wipe my mouth with the back of my hand. I probably just got a point or two off my grade for that. Look at your audience. I wrote that down in my notes one day as the professor lectured on good form while speaking. He always sat, slouched over, behind his desk. I guess he spoke well, but I wouldn’t say he’s any Barrack Obama. So I don’t know why I’m supposed to take his word that looking at my audience will make them want to listen. “I know what you’re thinking…” I drop the paper to my side. “ ‘We value education… I worked hard to get here… College and learning isn’t easy…’ That’s great and I believe you. But other people value education, who can’t be here. Other people work hard, who can’t be here. Other people can’t or won’t play into a system that crushes others.” I remember sitting in my dorm room on my first night as a freshman. My life was about to change. Home was a memory; my future was turning into reality. I was going to have four years of growth, self-discovery, and mental awakenings. That’s what I needed at a time when my world seemed to be shifting below my feet. I rolled my posters out and pinned them to the walls – a little piece of home that I carried with me. “I came to this school two years ago…” I lick my cracking lips. Nobody wants to hear about my personal life. “I… I wanted to make a difference in this world. That’s why I chose this class. But did we learn how to change the world? Or make any sort of difference at all?” I
hold my head in front of me, trying to ignore the penetrating glare of the professor. I thought he was cool, smart, and down to earth the first few weeks. When he handed out the syllabus, my eyes grazed over all the topics. Racism, sexism, over-population, the environment. All the things I never learned about in high school. They were things that actually mattered and I was hopeful my college career would start to matter. The night before the first test, a group of us gathered in the library. Molly was popping Adderall, trying to push it for a profit on the rest of us. We made up pointless rhymes to try to get those names to stick in our heads. I’d only recall them if I dug through my flashcards. We were learning about the problems with the environment, all the while spending three dollars a pack on index cards to use once, which came wrapped in plastic wrap. “The only thing I learned while here is how much we’re all caught up in the system. How much I’m caught up in the system and how much I hate that about myself. I want to grow. I want to get away from this.” My paper wrinkles in my hand. I don’t even remember what I wrote on it. I know it was more academic than what I’m spewing, but I guess the time has come that I just need to spew. “And I can’t grow here. This institution doesn’t let us grow. It only shapes us into successful… I mean successful by everyone else’s standards... And people wear school attire with pride?” I point to a kid in the front row wearing a hoodie with our school’s name on it. “You’re just wearing a shrine to your brainwashing.” I take a step back and sink into my hip. “I’m sorry I didn’t mean that.” My voice lowers. I realize the shakiness is gone. It’s just me talking. I guess maybe because I said fuck it to getting a good grade on this assignment. I’m saying yes to speaking about something I actually care about. I continue, “Imagine a world where education is free… not in the sense of money, well, yeah, in the sense of money. But also in the sense that it could mean anything to anyone. We would all be free to explore our minds and the world around us without such strict curriculums. We would make our own curriculum. No need to impress teachers, no need to meet pointless standards and deadlines. Education wouldn’t mean a degree; it would mean a journey. Our world won’t be free until education is free.” I end, standing still in front of the silent classroom. A few people reluctantly clap. Denise slowly raises her hand. Her bangles from her volunteer trip overseas slide down her arm. The professor stands up from behind his desk. “Denise?”
She adjusts her big, round, hipster glasses. “I’m sure we’d all love to do without grades and tests, but that’s not very realistic.” Yeah, thanks. I didn’t realize we could only talk about solutions to social injustice through a lens of realism. Fuck Martin Luther King Jr., right? “Good point,” He says to Denise before turning to me. You have some interesting thoughts. So, your argument is free education equals free people?” I shrug. “Yeah. Essentially.” “So, how do we get there? What’s your solution?” I look down at my crumpled piece of paper. Did I write a reallife solution somewhere in here? Maybe I shouldn’t have abandoned what I prepared for. Screw it. I think for a moment. “Well… Education is pretty much at our fingertips with the Internet. I mean almost anyone can get access – “ “Not everyone,” Denise says like she’s completely blown my egalitarian ideals out of the water. “Well, there’s libraries and everything. It’s the most widely accessible resource right now.” I respond. The professor nods his head. “How are you going to promote people to learn through the Internet?” “Well… I guess the problem right now is that we have so much information out there; it’s hard to sort through it all. And it takes a lot of time, and maybe people don’t even know where to look.” I peer over at the professor again who’s nodding along, his mustache wiggling across his face. I don’t think he appreciates my thinking out loud. I continue, “Maybe if there was some sort of website… it collected learning resources – free online classes, articles, study materials, free ebooks – and then categorized them, made it easy to use. Maybe there could be a tool to craft your own syllabus, to organize everything. I don’t know. That’s a start. Maybe people would begin freeing their minds, spreading knowledge, learning for the sake of learning. Who knows what could change then?” “Sounds like an interesting plan. You just need people to join your movement.” I walk down the street, staring at my feet that graze over the concrete. My mind races, going over that mess of a speech that I gave. Surely I’m going to fail that class. I’d be a hypocrite if I cared,
though. My own words play over and over. Free your mind. Spread knowledge. Learn for the sake of learning. I lift my eyes to the people I pass. A homeless man, his face matted with the grime of the streets, his crusted fingers holding a cardboard sign. What education does he have? What does he know? What mind power does he have hidden from us all? We just let his knowledge waste away in the streets. I pass a businesswoman talking on her cellphone, trying to catch a taxi – another servant to our society. But, what does she know? What wisdom does she have that she can’t utter, for fear she wouldn’t be where she is. Maybe her knowledge wastes away behind a desk. Our world ushered these two people apart, trapped their minds. But we are all just people, craving connection and something meaningful to entertain our minds. I need to do it. I need to free my mind. I throw the idea of going to classes, being stuck in that rut out as I throw out the crumpled up pages of my speech in the trash. I need to spread knowledge. If I just get people to join this movement to free our minds. I could actually change things. I need to learn for the sake of learning. I’m going to forge my own educational journey.
Education should be available to everyone. No matter who they are, their skills, or the money in their pockets. Education isn’t a one -way road that leads to a degree, a piece of paper that represents how much we know. Education has many forks, turns, stop offs, exits. And for some people, they choose to take “the [ road] less traveled.”* By gathering resources from across the web and consolidating them into our easy-to-use website, Indiegree gives you the tools necessary to forge your own educational path. You’ll be able to make your own lesson plans to learn exactly the things you want to learn, at exactly your own pace. We’re building a community here at Indiegree of like-minded people, who want to learn, but don’t want to be a part of a system that capitalizes on something that should be free to us all: education. Join Indiegree and forge your own educational journey. *The Road Not Taken
Aesthetics, Perceptual and Conceptual There is no magic line that cleanly divides the aesthetic from the non-aesthetic. Nor is there any way to define with accuracy the term aesthetic. The best we can do is dance around the subject and hope to stimulate your thoughts on the matter. The one thing that can be said with certainty is that aesthetics involves the inter-relationships of the constituent elements of the work of art. Many years ago there was a Star Kist commercial in which Charley the Tuna plays on the harp to demonstrate his good taste. When his companion remarks that he is playing only the same note over and over again, he replies, “It’s a great note. Beethoven used it all the time.” The point is that no musical note or, for that matter, no line or no color is beautiful in and of itself, but only as it relates to others in its immediate environment. It may even be argued, though I don’t intend to do so here, that we can perceive no single note, no single line, no single color, except in relation to its environment. Aesthetics then, or art if you please, is a mysterious something that either occurs or does not occur in a work as a consequence of the interrelating of the constituent elements – be they musical notes, lines, textures, colors or even ideas – of the work in question. No one, not the greatest philosophers, not the greatest artists, not the greatest musicians can tell why some aesthetic relationships in a composition constitute great art while others create mediocrities. And this is as it should be. Once things become fully understood they hold no interest for us. If there were no mystery to art then no artist would want to paint. The making of art is the process of creation, and one cannot create that with which one is already familiar. Now, on the assumption that you have understood the gist of what I have said, I should like to carry you further afield to discuss the different, though still intimately related, types of aesthetics. It
would all be very neat and convenient if we could cleanly divide conceptual art from perceptual, or pre-conceptual, art. Unfortunately, with no exception that comes to mind, every art medium has elements of both conceptual and perceptual relationships. Perceptual aesthetics or (emphatically) pre-conceptual aesthetics is best illustrated by reference to music. When we hear a succession of musical notes that fall pleasingly on the ear, pleasure is immediate. It is immediate, not only in a temporal sense, but also in a physiological sense. It is immediate in that it is pre-conceptually pleasing. We experience pleasure before we can formulate the thought, “Well now, that is just the sort of song Aunt Sophia would have liked to sing if she had known how to sing.” or, “That music sounds so much like an apple I can almost taste it.” In other words, perceptual appreciation occurs at a point in the psychological and neurological circuitry somewhere between the initial perception and the arousal of associational concepts that have been stimulated by our perception. As we are endowed at birth with five senses, so are there five categories of perceptual aesthetics. Of course, visual art and music, corresponding to sight and hearing, come immediately to mind. But might we not also include the culinary arts, which rely on the senses of taste and smell? Though I am not, myself, an aficionado, I am assured by those self-proclaimed gourmands among my acquaintances, that a competent chef is, indeed, an artist. Tactile aesthetics must also be included here. The blind, are able to appreciate the aesthetic quality of sculpture simply by feeling it. And the deaf may, to some degree, appreciate music by feeling the vibrations they cannot hear. But I promised you five categories of perceptual aesthetics, and so far I have offered only four, though all five senses have been spoken for. The fifth category, which I shall call kinesic aesthetics – to my knowledge no one else has given it a name, or recognized it at all for that matter – may involve to some extent the sense of touch, but also a sixth sense not usually acknowledged as such: the sense of self, the innate knowledge of our place and presence in space. Kinesic aesthetics is typified by dance – not the performance as seen by the spectator – but as experienced by the performer in the execution of the dance. The dancer feels, though she cannot see them, every expression and gesture of her body during the performance. And she feels aesthetic gratification in proportion to the quality of her
performance. Conceptual aesthetics, on the other hand, involves the relationships of the ensuing concepts and ideas that have been stimulated by perceptual awareness. Whereas, in a painting, we derive aesthetic pleasure from the relationship of colors as we perceive them, in a novel we may derive a similar measure of aesthetic pleasure from the relationship of ideas, characters and situations as we conceive them. We have, then, two discernibly different types of aesthetic relationships, the conceptual and the pre-conceptual, or perceptual. But, merely because there is a discernible and describable difference, we cannot conclude that one exists independently of the other, or even that one does not crucially affect the other. First, let us establish that a work of art does indeed involve both perceptual and conceptual relationships. The presence of both forms of relationships is perhaps most evident in poetry: the perceptual relationship being typified by the rhythms and the rhymes, and the conceptual relationship by the ideas and images conveyed by the poem. In prose, although both types of relationship are still present, the conceptual relationships are more complex and assume greater importance, while perceptual relationships play a lesser -- but still important – role. Conversely, as one might well expect, in the so called perceptual arts, typified by the visual and musical arts, it is the perceptual or pre -conceptual relationship that dominates. In the visual arts more so than the musical arts, conceptual relationships are apparent. Many paintings of course have definite subject matter and moralistic or religious themes. And even in the modern, non-objective art, there is still a hint of subject matter, whether or not the artist intended it or was even aware of it. However – and this may well be the single most misunderstood point of all in art appreciation – merely because conceptual relationships exist in perceptual art, these conceptual relationships do not necessarily have aesthetic value. They do not necessarily serve any higher function than as a tool to order the perspective, as a stepping stone into the visual realm of the painting. Visual aesthetics must always predominate in aesthetic judgments rendered by the visual artist, as well as in critical judgments rendered by the viewer. Art historians and critics often speak of twentieth century aes-
thetics as opposed to the aesthetics of an earlier age. In this, they betray a fundamental misunderstanding of the term. What they really mean when they speak of the new aesthetics is the changing styles and gimmickry that enjoy transient popularity with art-biz participants. Artistic styles and gimmicks come and go in response to changing social and technological conditions. But aesthetic values are constant; they remain as they have been these countless centuries since that first receptive troglodyte crept out of his cave to marvel at the colors of the setting sun. Most people can appreciate a sunset. Why then are they unable to appreciate the aesthetic value of non-objective art? Actually their confusion stems in large part from the pseudo-sophisticated bullshit that enjoys such current popularity. We have all been taught in elementary school and beyond that art is the representation of some physical reality. A picture is a picture only when it is a picture of something. When confronted with non-objective art, most people try from force of habit to see some tangible object in the painting. Failing this, they willingly accept the word of any self-appointed guru who steps forward with an explanation, no matter how ludicrous that explanation may be. And so we have had dada and pop-art and countless varieties of â€œreally cool stuffâ€? as though anyone with a neat idea could just grab a brush and create art. Real artists, as also do scientists, operate on the ragged edge of understanding â€“ groping through gray uncertainty. They are to the pop artist and the illustrator what Albert Einstein was to the parlor magician.
Discover more from Harley Staggars at http://earlcarlson.com
[Still-]Life Exhaled Portrait. Essence captured. Stroking bristles project life across a canvassed spectrum, grant depth.
Without Sliver of moonlight slipping through shutters,
I am without hope of guidance inside midnightâ€™s menagerie of mind games. Each shadowâ€™s corner holds landmine possibilities. I trip every one with insomniac rage and frustration of confinement. Monotonous walls hold no mysterious wonder. I force myself to dip deeper into puddles of potential, pull strings of pearlescent prose, screaming all the way to page, sometimes longer.
Find more at https://www.facebook.com/amy.huffman.5
Let us not
s a t i s f y our thirst for
freedom by drinking from the cup
and hatred. â€œI Have a Dreamâ€? speech
In the press
Is worth a bird
on a hand
A Humanifesto Against Hierarchy: The Molly Fuller Interview
Can you talk a bit about your background as a writer? Where you studied or what you read that influenced you? I have my MA from Ohio University and my MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. I wrote fiction, long fiction actually—a novella for my MA, which I turned into a draft of a novel for my MFA, which is kind of ironic in light of my current work, which is so tiny. But this actually makes sense because some of my favorite writers are part of the minimalist movement: Anne Beattie, Amy Hempel, Raymond Carver. Some of my other favorite writers are John Hawkes, Jean Rhys, and Mary Robison. I love their stuff because it’s just a little weird; the worlds they create are unexpected, unconventional. Then I read Kim Chinqee’s Pretty; that book changed my writing life. I found I was writing less about myself after I read it. I began telling other women’s stories instead. I felt free to talk about more issues that were important to me. I was able to start addressing women’s/feminist issues through the specific lives of other women, told in very small stories.
How true that is. Your small stories remind me of those small, boxed collages and assemblages of found art that Joseph Cornell constructed from the 1930’s through the 1960’s. If I had to classify your work by genre, I’d call many of your works “hybrids” or “blurs,” pieces that can be read just as equally as a micro fiction & a narrative prose poem. Do you plan that or does that just happen? How do you know that a piece is a narrative prose poem and not micro fiction, and
vice-versa? What are the risks in blurring? The challenges and excitements? I started out not really planning for anything to happen. I had about a three year hiatus where I wasn’t writing at all and then when I started again, I was writing these short little fictions and they have just become shorter and shorter. Now that I have gotten my groove back (ha ha), I am more conscious of planning the work to straddle that line between prose and poetry. I know when a piece is micro fiction because it tells a clear story versus a prose poem that makes verbal or metaphorical leaps and is more about word play. The absolute excitement is when a piece clearly does both things—tells a story and is crafted with painstaking attention to language. The risk in blurring is that I’m not sure where I belong. Genre distinctions are now the most frustrating things to me! I have to constantly make a decision to say, well, this is a prose poem, I guess, or well, this is a micro fiction, I guess… I just…everyone please stop the genre tyranny!!! (Joking!) The biggest challenge I have is when I sit down to write and things aren’t going my way, I get so frustrated. I feel like a little kid sometimes— my blocks aren’t stacking the way I want— waaaah! But the excitement is so addictive. When I get to that closing line and I know I am on to something, that I have created a piece that is lyrical and lovely, maybe slightly disturbing, and it also tells a little story, or hints at a story, it is a beautiful thing.
What is your strongest focus in your writing: words, plots, characters? All of it! Just kidding. I think different pieces have different focuses. As I write a piece, I find the focus. Sometimes the character moves to the foreground and the piece becomes about a person who is revealed through the plot. I always go back and work the language aspect of the piece. This is probably what makes one of my pieces a micro fiction. I know it is a prose poem when the language play moves to the foreground. I heard recently, and this stuck with me, that prose is about phrases, action; prose poetry is about words and sounds—the language becomes the “action.”
What do you enjoy the most about writing, either as a process, as a product, as person growth, as epistemology for better understanding the world? Some of my pieces are about not very nice people, horrific events. I think much of it is my way of making sense of this terribly violent, yet still beautiful world that I live in. I mean, how do I reconcile all of the injustice and horror with all that is tender and loving? I think it is tempting to just shut out the “real world”, ignore it, even though I have an instinctive sense that there is something terribly wrong underneath this placid surface of Netflix, Pinterest, Facebook, paying bills, living a day to day life, etc. I think a lot of my writing is my way of understanding the things I don’t really want to think about. I love the process of discovery as I write. My work right now is like a tiny little puzzle. Lately, I have a bunch of sentences and then I have to figure out which order they belong in to make the most impact, but still make sense to a reader.
Much of your work is non-hierarchical—all the sentences seem nearly simultaneously equally important or not. How do you work to make that happen in your writing? What do you think it brings to your writing? As I said earlier, sometimes I just have these sentences on my computer screen and then I arrange them. A standard story is plot—exposition, rising action, conflict, resolution, the usual stuff. But what if the reader gets all those parts in a random order, like in a murder mystery? Readers then have to figure out how the parts work together to make sense of what is happening in the piece. So, when I “arrange” my sentences, I disrupt the normal order, what the reader expects, and make everything equal and interchangeable so a reader has to interact with the text. How is that for a little craft and theory lecture? (ha ha). But I didn’t write this way after reading theory. I was lucky enough to be given a book with some short story critics from Denmark who had studied this technique used in short fiction there in the 1980’s. This gave me a vocabulary to understand and talk about what I was doing.
Your micro fictions & narrative prose poems operate on gen-
eralized pronouns [you—me—I—they] and common nouns [he—she—they—boys & girls—brothers and sisters]. Why do you eschew the specific name or identified individual character? What challenges and/or advantages does that [pronouns & common nouns] give you as a writer? I want my pieces to be universal, things that happen to everybody in some way. The story of one person’s violence is really everyone’s, isn’t it? Especially because of the cyclical nature of violence, none of us are really immune from its effects. So the sister or brother in one of my pieces is everyone’s sister or brother. And the pronoun “I” becomes the reader, as well as the author or the character. And even more so with the pronoun “you” since it can mean one specific other person, all the other people, or even one single person speaking to herself. And that is my way of trying to universalize these pieces.
Your work thematically seems to focus on both Feminist and Women’s issues. When did your work begin to develop themes? If you could distill a statement or manifesto for your Feminist/Women’s issues, what would it be [in 100 words or less]? I think the idea clicked into place that this was going to be my theme when I was writing all of these pieces about violence against women, which were inspired by actual events. I think it is important to write these stories because they are in the news briefly and then it is easy to forget about them. I don’t want to forget about these women. I can’t forget about them. Because patriarchy is a hierarchy, injustice against women is so ingrained, so embedded, is so very deeply rooted in our culture that I know I sometimes forget to pay attention. But as a woman, I have to pay attention. Potential violence against me is a very real and actual threat EVERYDAY. It is easy to ignore something that has become habit. So, until we, as a human race, start examining and pointing out and forcing awareness of how it is in everyday actions that we belittle women, put women down, objectify women, etc. the cycle is going to continue. I mean, I just caught myself calling a crappy driver in front of me a bitch. Why not
Asshat? The boys in my neighborhood call each other pussy and skirt; these are not compliments. Just read/watch the news, listen to the radio, pick up a magazine, look at your FB feed. It is clear that this country, no, the world (I AM making generalizations here) reduces women to objects, to disposable property, and institutionalizes the belief that women’s bodies are there for the violating. These are not just women’s issues, these are issues for every body that exists on this planet because of a woman’s body. I think I might be over my 100 words… I will just step off my soapbox now…
You have two chapbooks out, The Neighborhood Psycho Dreams of Love (Cutty Wren) and Tender the Body (Spare Change), one forthcoming, All My Loves (All Nations Press), and a flash fiction sequence (Hold Your Breath) forthcoming in the Marie Alexander Flash Sequence Anthology (White Pine Press). What’s next for you? A full-length collection? A novel, perhaps comprised of short pieces that add up to a novel? All of that! Everything! I would love to go back and re-work my novel, so maybe that is a future project. Before that, I would like to create a full-length collection out of my chapbooks and finish up what I’m currently working on. My new project is a chapbook with the working title Midwest Memoirs.
The Resiliency of Road Kill There is something to be said About the resiliency of road kill How in spite of death's nitpicking And the nag of Crows Even after the flesh of expectation Dissolves into a career only For a 401k and the hope The children will write The skeleton remains still Standing free from insecurities Proudly presenting the idea Of what could have been
You always told me I was missing From my poetry the constant Observationalist narrating The lives of others instead Of living my own But I never really paid You much attention And you were the last thing On my mind when I went To a poetry workshop with a few Tight verses that uttered What people prefer not to hear even When itâ€™s the only thing being said
But you showed up When a crackhead explained How his loverâ€™s hand clinched Him as she died from an overdose And it made me think Of how you went alone In a sterilized hospital While I was still missing
Follow Jessica Hylton at http://jessicakhylton.wordpress.com
come out of your closets, Open your windows, open your doors,
You have been holedup too long in your closed worlds.
POPULIST MANIFESTO #1
Art with Teeth: An Interview with R. A. Washington
R. A. Washington operates Guide to Kulture, an independent bookstore and zine co-op in Clevelandâ€™s west side Gordon Square neighborhood. A former poet-in-residence at the Cleveland Museum of Art, he was named a 2014 Creative Workforce Fellow from the Community Partnership for the Arts and Culture in recognition of his numerous publications of fiction and poetry. On the side, he likes to make music, DJ, and engage in direct action as a means of social change.
Tell us a little bit about who R.A. Washington is, that is, how would you define yourself in terms of first, as an artist, then in terms of your political and community identity (I know, huge question). If I was compelled by gunpoint I would describe myself as a writer. Conversely, itâ€™s actually the truth. I don't really bother with the concept of political and community identity being separate. Part of the issue with handling a question like this is the tying in of socially constructed identities with art, with art making. I don't compartmentalize my work as an artist with my political concerns. I think they inform each other.
What led you to Gordon Square to open Guide to Kulchurâ€” was it the community, the location, or the sense of opportunity? The storefront was centrally located in an up and coming arts district. We knew that all of that could come in handy, but we also knew that although its considered an arts district, Gordon Square needed some more art with teeth.
I know you are doing some really kick ass things with your bookstore, Guide to Kulchur. Can you talk about what you do at Guide to Kulchur, and then discuss how you see what you are doing directly impacting your community. We are a full service print shop, specializing in zines, and limited edition books. We operate the Cleveland chapter of Books 2 Prisoners. We offer several speaker series and a new music series. We are the home for She Speaks, a women writer collective specializing in survivorship support and creating ally opportunities across the city. We also sell books! The community engagement piece of our mission is the most important to us, building solidarity economic models in partnership with small presses, independent authors is just one small aspect to what we want to do. By concerning ourselves with only direct action political campaigns like Books 2 Prisoners, and overall prisoner support, we take what is typically theoretical and make it praxis.
What sort of future community projects do you have in the works (or what projects are you hoping to put in the works)? I'm glad you asked that. We are working on an anthology of inmate writing to be edited by prisoners. We just finished a proposal to build a tiny homes park for homeless vets, and we hope that project gets funded and we can begin in August. We are also working on a collaboration with a few non-profits to do a very large anthology documenting much of what is fueling this revitalization movement.
I see you as someone who is really an activist in your community—someone who is putting into practice real ways to implement change. As someone who is currently in the “awareness” stage—that is, I see things that are systemically wrong, but I’m not sure how to put this awareness into practice, I am especially interested in your journey from theory to practice.
I would not consider myself an activist. I think we sometimes get caught up in the labels that we give ourselves and that selfpromotion leads to work being undone. Direct Action has always been a part of my understanding of social change, it’s the service tool that has fueled this country's D.I.Y. ethos, and for places like Cleveland it’s the only way to get things done. Identify the problem and then attack it. It wasn’t until I stopped concerning myself with making so called political work that I really understood how I could lend ally-ship to causes, and issues that impact me, that I felt furious about. A lot of times its the small gestures that make the most difference. The speech making, while its cool, and can often lead to an impassioned response, is not the driving force. Doing the work, and trying not to put your ego in there (good luck!) is the path.
Congratulations on your Workforce Grant! It's exciting that Cuyahoga County supports its writers and artists. But what if their were Workforce Grants for social activism? Which person or organization would you nominate? Thanks. If I could, I would give all the money, every dime that ever existed, to organizations like City Fresh, Maggie's Farm, and other community-owned urban farming initiatives. These ideas are very important when you think of how much of a wage gap there is in this country. It’s a crime. We all know it. But the means to truly do something about it is going to come from lowering our carbon footprint, and consuming less. We do not need half the stuff we end up buying.
Because this is the Buried Letter Press Manifesto Issue, do you have a personal manifesto? And if you do not, if you had to codify what it is that makes you get up in the mornings and do your thing, what is your impetus to enact change? I think we have a responsibility to make the world we want to live in. Since it is not, we have work to do.
What is one book that you think every human being on earth should read and why? Another Country by James Baldwin! People should read it because it beautiful, and quite timely given that its almost 40 years old!
For more information about R.A. Washington and his work visit http://guidetokulchurcleveland.com
The Portrait Project A couple years ago I took a self-portrait using very harsh lighting. It wasn’t a flattering photo, but it didn’t necessarily make me look bad. It was just very real, very true to life. It was a far cry from the intensely edited and retouched wedding and engagement photos that I’m used to doing. Wedding photos and all client work for the most part require me to use light to hide the flaws and imperfections and highlight the person’s best attributes, and then further enhance the person’s looks in post processing. This is fine, and even though I tell my clients that I have a moral objection to making someone skinnier, or giving them a photo-shopped nose job, I will still even out skin tones and whiten teeth and photograph someone in a way that’s naturally flattering to them. It’s all a part of being a photographer, but I like truth. I like people for who they are. I’ve been a portrait photographer for so long that when I’m talking to someone I can’t help but look at their face and think about how I would photo-shop them. It’s sort of awful because the truth is I love people to have great detail in their face and imperfections and rough skin. All of those things that I normally would have to ‘clean’ up for a client, are the details that I see beauty in and want to capture. That’s what the portrait project is all about. I want to capture people for who they are and flaunt all of those details that make us unique. I decided to start the project with a handful of willing friends. I set up a black backdrop and some harsh studio lights in my living room. After about fifteen friends came over to have black and white portraits taken I got excited about the project and opened it up to anyone willing to come have a portrait done. I got a decent response and made some new friends, but having strangers stomp through my apartment and my living room taken over by a make shift studio for weeks on end had gotten old. Thankfully, a gallery owner in downtown Cleveland invited me to set up my studio and do portraits during a party she was hosting. That really helped boost the project to a new level, and I ended up with just shy of fifty portraits.
I haven’t taken any new portraits since then, but I’m not going to consider the project over. I still want to keep shooting these especially because I’ve yet to decide exactly what’s to become of all these portraits. I eventually want to do a show of large scale prints of my portraits, which is, I think, the best way to view the images. I want people to be able to stand in front of a giant face and see every little detail, every pore, every wrinkle and crease. I want to make people feel uncomfortable when they look at the portraits, but at the same time feel more comfortable with their own image. I want my portraits to show people that despite all of the little things that we see wrong with our looks, that we’re still beautiful and that no one is truly “perfect” in the magazine cover sense of the word. I want the portrait project to encourage people to take pride in the things that make us unique.
Follow Jeffrey on his adventures here at www.climbing the fence.com
We call on all men to give up their male privilege and support womenâ€™s liberation in the interest of our humanity and their own.
Published on Jul 17, 2014
1. We want more out of life. 2. We want good, open conversation. 3. Read this. 4. This is the manifesto issue from the extravagant arts and...