CONTINGENCY reading between the genres poetry, prose, literary criticism, sound art, and things between Gretchen Jude Michelle Wallace Shannon McKeehen Stri Longanecker INTERMISSION Marjorie Jensen Cynthia Popper Naamen Tilahun Leigh Gardner
Organized by Emily Roehl ad the Mills College English Department’s Place for Writers
A note to our readers… Thank you for joining us for a new literary experiment. The English Department and the Place for Writers at Mills College, Oakland are pleased to present a publication in which critical and creative work is placed side-by-side for the first time. Herein we present texts that cross critical and creative boundaries. The texts you will read move between genres, tones, and styles, but all represent the theme of movement—whether it be the movement from page to performance, the movement of the voice through digital media, the movement of authors in times of social upheaval, the movement of individuals through threshold experiences, the movement between life and death, or the movement of the body itself. We ask for your active participation in the movement of ideas. The significance of the movement we perform in these texts is contingent upon our collaboration and upon you, our audience. The networks of meaning you perceive may be tangential; they may also combine in just such a way as to produce an explosion. We invite you to consider the possibilities and the potential of our movement. We would like to thank Lori Chinn and the Mills College Art Museum for their enthusiasm and support for this project. Our presentation of texts was in good company on the evening of its first performance. The exhibit A Room of Their Own: The Bloomsbury Artists in American Collections features an inspirational group of artists, writers, and scholars who collaborated across disciplines and genres. Cuba: Beauty and Decay, A Photographic Journey features the collaboration between a photographer and a writer, Vivian Stephenson and Mills College’s own Carlotta Caulfield. We feel very privileged to have shared space with these incredible artists. Enjoy. Emily Roehl
GRETCHEN JUDE Gretchen Jude is a composer, performer, writer, and multi-media artist from Boise, Idaho. Vocal and digital sound are often juxtaposed in her work, which explores the boundaries between human and machine, acoustic and electronic, analog and digital, self and other. Gretchen is currently in her second year in Mills College's MFA Electronic Music/Recording Media program. Voice as Movement: Performing the Disembodiment and (Re)materialization of Language The body, with its ephemeral movements in space and time, creates meaningful sound. This pair of poetic/performance works explores the externalization and objectification of the voice: from spoken word to written text to recorded sound. Language is fundamentally in flux, originating in physical motions meant to express, communicate, instruct, negotiate. The written text displaces the voice, giving language a medium (clay, papyrus, paper) outside human flesh, and translating it from primarily aural/oral to visual modality. In this journey, it loses its original, literal voice (self) to gain another, more immutable "body," that of the text. When language is recorded, it is similarly unmoored from its physical basis, uprooted from embodiment and other contingencies (acoustical and social environments, cultural and historical contexts). The recorded object is then electronically reproducible via physical media (radio, phonograph, tape, compact disc, digital hardware), which are completely unrelated to the (moving) human body that originally produced the sound. Many levels of technical intervention exist: the quality of the microphone, the acoustic character of the recording site, the mixing board (equalization, reverb), digital processing (pitch control, vocoding). The voice is still recognizable as human, even as belonging specifically to one human. But once recorded, the voice can be disseminated, owned, downloaded, played through loudspeakers of widely ranging quality and frequency response. In this form, it may become more powerful: louder (through amplification), wider in scope (through broadcasting), more flexible and malleable (by its availability to editing and other manipulation). Conversely, the voice as it remains in the human body may become weaker: atrophied from lack of use or training, overpowered by mechanically reproduced sounds. Ears also become accustomed to hearing augmented/enhanced voices; ignorant of the technologies that modify the recorded voice, people begin to judge the natural/unaugmented voice as "lacking." What is gained, and what is lost in these translations, these movements, these relocations of the voice? What is the place of the body of the performer in the rapidly changing technologies of our social and historical context? These two pieces attempt to respond to these questions. 4Â Â
"As Distinct from Humming" brings performer and listener to the boundary between speech and singing, foregrounding the physical mechanisms that make vocalization possible and highlighting the materiality of language in the most fundamental sense: phonemes, the building blocks of human language. The difference between the poem on the page and the poem spoken aloud is expanded, as the performer's musical sense of timing is crucial to the piece. The text is a found poem about the development of classical Western vocal technique, the positioning of the voice within orchestral genres, and the codification of performance (which subordinated the performer to the composer). These issues flow both through and in juxtaposition with the extended vocal technique and physical awareness demanded of the performer by this piece. Always, the body and its processes in phonating are placed in the forefront: breath, resonance, articulation and changes in the flow of sound are highlighted to compliment the meaning of the text itself. In "Stein Phase," the performer reads through instructions that morph through various voices (styles structured as movements). In the final movement, the instructions are then followed, and the performer interacts with the recorded voice of the referent of the poem, Gertrude Stein. The performer's ability to follow instructions waxes and wanes with the syntax of Stein's spoken words. A performance of this piece may be experienced by the audience as a duet, as phasing stereo tracks, or simply as a game. In any case, "Stein Phase" makes extreme demands on the performer's ability to concentrate, to listen, and to speak without thought or hesitation. In other words, the performer's ability to move effectively through language is controlled by the sound of Stein reading her text–recorded 75 years ago. Stein's disembodied voice, transported through time and space, thus both speaks with and guides the performer. Stein's work goes through the phases of text/speech/recording, to be finally (and potentially repeatedly) reconstituted into another's body, another's voice. In 1937, Virginia Woolf also recorded a piece of her own writing, her essay "Words Fail Me," which was broadcast by BBC on April 29 of that year. George Rylands, twenty years later, asserted that, "her voice seems a little strained at first but soon becomes her very self as she speaks of WORDS". In contrast, her biographer Quentin Bell felt that "this record is a very poor one. Her voice is deprived of depth and resonance; it seems altogether too fast and too flat....[I]t is sad that [her voice] should not have been immortalised in a more satisfactory manner." As our rapidly-moving technology collides with cultural forms and traditions, our very conception of ourselves–and of what it means to be human–is challenged. Critical and artistic practice provides one forum in which to give voice to these crucial questions. Quotes from http://www.virginiawoolfsociety.co.uk/vw_res.broadcast.htm, 11.20.09. Emphasis added.
As Distinct from Humming Found Poem/Vocal Score Performance note: Extend or repeat the specified phonemes for several seconds without changing the natural pitch or rhythm of the speaking voice. An interest in female voices and in the castrato becomes evident in the 16th century: improvised florid singing. Vocal virtuosity of a high order, the exact nature of which is no longer entirely clear because of the loss of authentic performance traditions. (a highly developed singing style) A sensitive nuance to the vocal line the main source of expressiveness. High voices were favored and the upper limits of the range much extended. The voice: the most complex of all musical instruments. Opera, cantata, oratorio: an affective declamation of the text, rethinking the relation between words and vocal style. The basis of the art was vocal flexibility. The singer's function, progressively circumscribed having been at times also priest, healer, actor, poet, and much else. Adumbrated electronic sound amplification: (to shape their voices to its requirements) Preferences in timbre, register, and tessitura described by Benigne de Bacilly: a sweeter and less rich quality of tone may have been favored. Since ignorance of the vocal mechanism long prevented the formation of precise terminology necessary for detailed investigations. (the long popularity of the falsettist and castrato) Embodied in the dramatic soprano, singers were reduced to interpreters of the composer's intentions. The role of singing as determiner of musical style diminished. The first half of the 19th century marks the transition. All words taken from The Harvard Dictionary of Music by D. M. Randel 6Â Â
Stein Phase Instructions for a Performance in 6 Movements 1. Find a recording of Gertrude Stein reciting a poem. Play the recording. Listen carefully. Repeat everything Gertrude Stein says immediately after she says it. Do not recite the poem. If you have accidentally memorized any part of the poem, do not anticipate it. Listen carefully. Repeat everything you hear right after you hear it. Do not say the wrong word or stop speaking or laugh. Do not fall behind. Finish speaking right after Gertrude Stein does. 2. Find a recording of Gertrude Stein reciting her poem. Play the recording. Repeat everything Stein says. Do not recite the poem. Listen carefully, repeating everything you hear. Do not say the wrong word. Do not fall behind. Do not laugh. 3. Find a recording. Play the recording. Repeat everything. Listen carefully. Repeat everything you hear. Find a recording. Play the recording. Listen. Repeat. 4. Find the recording of Gertrude Stein reciting Picasso performing. Play carefully, repeating while listening. Do not rememorize the listening. Repeat, she says. Do immediately the right word right after she says. Do not incite Gertrude Stein. Anticipate it careful. Play the repeat everything after she.
Relisten. 5. Find Gertrude Stein. Play the repeating recording. Everything repeats insights. Deliberate delights. Do not say the right after wrong. Gertrude Stein says Picasso listen. Play to Gertrude Stein but not laughs. List then to Finnish speaking. Find a trued stein. Lay the peat in chords. Say very thing severing severely. Serve Picasso your ear. Glisten laughs in behind. Fins peak after. [6. Performance follows instructions.]
MICHELLE WALLACE Michelle Marie Wallace is a second-year prose student. Though she is new to fiction writing, she has reported on the arts from Costa Rica, Mexico, Italy and, of course, the San Francisco Bay Area and currently blogs on art that addresses the U.S.-Mexican border. People who move—athletes, dancers, gymnasts, yogis, among others—develop identities based in their activities and when illness or injury keeps them from training, they have to readjust how they perceive themselves and rediscover who they believe themselves to be. In “Beethoven’s Ninth,” I set out to explore the transformation from physical movement into emotional and mental movement. If injuries halted Ana from moving in dance, they also ruptured her personal and professional journey and I wanted to look at the catalyst that propels her back into forward movement with her life.
Ana sits alone, tucked away in the far, dark reaches of the upper mezzanine. Her mouth is dry and her palms are sweaty. She is more nervous tonight than she was at her first performance. The lights dim, the curtains rise, and one reedy note streams up from the orchestra, then silences. A solitary dancer enters on delicate steps in response to the plaintive call. A single, lengthy note holds the dancer to her spot. Then gently, gently a melody gathers, slowly mustering in strength until the swell of music fills the theater, and the dancer once again begins her carefully wrought calligraphy. It used to be that with these first notes, all of Ana’s anxiety would fall away. Tonight is different. It is Ana’s first time back since her fall and she is on the wrong side of the curtains. The slight thackthack of toe shoes hitting the wooden stage plays a secondary percussion to the orchestra, plays prickles of jealousy along Ana’s brittle spine. She leans forward, like one insatiably thirsty, as if she could drink from the light pooling on stage. Leaning forward awakens the dull pain in her back; boils fire in her hips, and shoots a searing anger down her leg. Ana sits back, rustles, tries to find a position moderately comfortable. Years of training, of practicing tondue, tondue battmat, tondue battmat jete. Of fourth position pirouette, arabesque develope and hold. Hold until your thigh muscles cramp and the length of your back clenches as you lift that leg ever so slightly higher, keeping your face tranquil, as if a slight breeze wafted your leg up. Hold still the extension even as if moving, reaching ever beyond the length of leg torso arm, chest lifted. Hold exquisite the extension as if in holding, you could suspend time from your casually draped fingers. Hold. Hold until the piano tinkles in, reminding you to fold your body in, envelope, back from the expansive reach of extension, plie, humble yourself before the music.
Against the powerful, agile bodies onstage, Ana is acutely aware that she sits crunched into herself, that her spine compresses beneath the weight of gravity, her knees grind when she moves and her toes are forever curled under from years of toe shoes that she will never wear again. She wishes that her body would dissolve into the darkness. Her body is worth nothing more to her than the tumbleweeds and the big mac wrappers that line the highway. Perhaps even less. The music quickens and gathers in intensity; the stage empties for a count and then a dancer explodes onto it, mid-leap, lands only to take off in a chain of three turning leaps, executing a full splitlegged rotation with each jump, flying across the stage hardly touching it at all, and before he has exited, another dancer follows in the same steps, chasing the first off even as the first has doubled around backstage and comes flying on again. This is it, what it was all for. For when choreography and practice and power came together and she had leapt as if she’d had wings, had leapt, suspended upon air, transcending for that moment the believable limits of her body. She looked around, the audience sitting literally at the edge of its seat, as if it too was flying across the stage. Only where she once sat so far forward, now Ana felt as if she’d gotten something caught in her throat. The curtain falls, the lights come on and the audience rises. Ana stands too, hobbles out on one crutch to the lobby. For all her dancing, she hasn’t stood in the crowded room, with the high ceilings and expensive wine, the long bathroom lines. The dancers behind stage unlace their slippers, pull on sweaters and stretch at the barre, fix their makeup. The dancers—but she is not a dancer anymore. Crushed in by the crowd, she is pressed up against a very unathletic looking group of people discussing the unbelievable abilities of the dancers. Ana smirks. It isn’t impossible, she knows. She owns the steps, the positions, why even now, she can see the pas de deux in her mind and feel from within where that power to leap so high and land so gently, so soundlessly comes from. Even if she can no longer perform the dance, she owns it, and nothing can take that from her: she has earned it. They have changed subjects. “Beethoven wrote his Ninth Symphony when he was deaf,” one says. “Amazing,” says another, “only a genius could—“
But Ana has turned away already, to return to her seat where she sits crumpled into herself, gazing upon the drawn curtains. Beethoven wrote his ninth concerto when he was deaf. Beethoven wrote music when he could no longer hear it, but wrote, because he no longer needed to hear it. He understood it beyond the sound of it: he had become the music. Ana closes her eyes, conjures up her stage, and begins to dance, bodiless, upon the wind.
SHANNON MCKEEHEN Shannon McKeehen is a second-year poetry MFA at Mills College. She originally hails from Ohio and went to Bluffton University for her Bachelor's in English. Her poems vary in tone and in subject matter, and have appeared in The Cedarville Review, The Shalith, and in Bluffton University's special edition of Inspiration Point, after the bus accident tragedy of 2007. Besides writing, she enjoys painting and drawing, heated political discussions, and listening to music. These three poems--"Wm. S. Tell," "A Smothering," and "Lacan's Dilemma"--deal with the irony of the frustration of language and its inadequacy, the forced, complicated movement of communication. "Wm. S. Tell" and "A Smothering" are both in conversation with William S. Burroughs and have to do with his status as an intellectual outsider / complete nonconformist, his desire to transcend language and its man-made barriers to be able to experience actual reality, in its pure, unfiltered form. "Lacan's Dilemma" engages with the same frustrations. In it, I wonder aloud whether we lose that true sense of community when we move from the Imaginary Stage into the Symbolic Stage. While in conversation with Lacan in this piece, I re-imagine the theory of The Three Orders: he hypothesized that the Imaginary Stage--when we are babies and before we have access to verbal, exchangeable language--was really narcissistic, as babies can really only identify with other objects and people as they relate to the self, and nothing else. But my poem asks whether there's something more to that, something valuable lost when transitioning from the first stage to the second: is it wholly narcissistic to think of everyone and everything as connected to yourself, or is there something beautiful and magical about that as well? Therefore, all three of these pieces express the movement of ideas between thinkers about words and their function in our lives overall, as well as their relationship to self, because I find it interesting that words create barriers or inadequacies that body language and other language can sometimes transcend. These texts also intrinsically grapple with self-/society-imposed identity, as we cannot help but "name" ourselves and objects around us in order to try to make sense of them. These poems essentially ask this question: what do we lose during the course of "naming"?
Wm S. Tell
i need to operate this way because i have to. there's this expectation set, established. human beings are supposed to communicate with one another. we wake up from our dreams and walk on the membrane of reality. we make our reality. if you aren't at war with yourself, then you aren't paying attention. material's encrypted. i can't care about your gadgets. they wrap your intentions and behavior, blur your vision. He played with the idea that human speech was the result of a virus, contracted by our ancestors--"the word virus." between gasps there is meaning, words defer, provide contours, but not purity. i wait, i listen for truth. it arrives in a grain of sand, a cloud--their purity, beautiful, spoiled by language.
please forgive me for having a limited number of i think in words, phrases. i have ever since i learned i wish there was a way to peel back the layers, take a inside. this can't be all there is, even if it's all we'll ever
tools. how. peek know.
i wonder i wonder standards, these walls
do. reason, down free?
if you can tell me how to breathe if the beautiful is imaginary. we have rules guidelines, barbed-wire fences... if you until your palms bleed, are you crazy, or
like you for a tear are you
Cut word lines, Cut music lines, Smash the control Smash the control machine... i want to, i want to, i feed the energy, starve the system, crave the center, not a peek inside. is there a way? could we ever know the real? only images. i'm trying to stretch these conformities, these but they're still here. i think in words, phrases, a blurry image, please let me out.
images, want to just take no words, symbols, a shadow.
Lacan’s Dilemma Is it possible to miss the Imaginary Stage, the comfort of line-less-ness, the knowledge of oneness, the capacity of only seeing the self as an extension of my mama's arms, her breath, her vocal chords, her breast? Is it possible to stop myself from looking in that mirror and saying, Oh, that's me, and I'm separate, and I'm free, and I'm not a part of anything, and my arms reach out to no one, and I breathe in isolation, and my voice is a soft echo in this cave, and this breast only contains my own heart, my own cares, my own science. . .? Could I prevent anyone from forming these words with their mouths, asking me to imitate and emulate and confiscate my own development, counting and shaping these figures without having to memorize and vocalize, without having to know language? I lost the connection. When mama became m-a-m-a, I lost the connection. Words took that away from me. They caused the gap between theory and practice, between fear and silence. Between me and you. And I want to go back.
STRI LONGANECKER Stri Longanecker is a first-year MFA student with a fiction focus. She also writes page and spoken word poetry. She has performed her own poetry in Hawai`i, Washington, California, and in Austin, TX at the 2007 National Poetry Slam. She has facilitated creative writing workshops in Hawai`i for under resourced 3rd through 5th graders, for Youth Speaks Hawai`i which serves 13-19 year olds, and girls groups for girls in or recently out of Detention Homes. She also accompanied the Youth Speaks Hawai`i team of 5-6 teens to the International Competition ‘Brave New Voices’ in 2007 and 2008. She is currently the Community Teaching Project Coordinator for the Place for Writers. ‘Dust-Lover’ is a present tense exclamation of revelatory praise for God during a trip through the desert. ‘Dandelion’ uses the second person point of view to describe an emotional and psychological decline.
i am driving out of Tucson through the electric desert night to the Catalinas because i don't really need to sleep anymore, & i have to go touch God in the mountains. i need to be licked by the stars. i have the smoky Citrine crystal Shannon gave me, my Osho Zen Tarot Deck, a disposable camera, D's reflector sunglasses, & my voice which i just found a few days, or was it minutes, or was it hours, or days, or years ago? i don't have much gas, but that's OK, b/c i'm v. good at running on empty, these days.! & now the sun is starting to rise for me, & it's amazing, so i drink the orange & yellow & pink & purple, & now i am really livin' in color! !i am praying & laughing & crying & dancing, b/c i need to show God that i get it. i'm finally able to see all of the signs he places all around me.!i love God, so i cry w/ a smile on my face. oh, oh, oh, drink it! YES!!! ! this is life.! & i've parked the car now, 'cause i need to run like the horse i am. these platform shoes may not have been the wisest choice, but they're perfect, really, b/c they symbolize how ridiculous i've been, putting such a thick sole between myself & the ground, so they suit the occasion. God has laid the ground, & now i must dance on it.! & anyhow, the Osho Zen Deck to me to play the fool, so it's not like i really had a choice in the matter, did i?! & now i'm driving again, b/c something farther down this road of dust is waiting for me, toe-tapping. i can feel it pulling me towards it, & i can't wait to see what it could possibly be, though i already know it's probably me.! & you wouldn't think this kind of a car could go down this type of a 4wheelin' road, but we're bouncing really good, actually, and each bump makes me laugh, laugh. i love bumps in the road! isn't that what life's about, anyways?! !v. funny, indeed. i get it, God. you have quite the sense of humor. i love you so much. thank you so much for everything you have ever given me. i so much appreciate all of it. i see you everywhere. i feel you everywhere. i feel youi feel youi feel you. !i love youlove me.! & now i have parked the car, b/c these bumps in the road of dust have gotten too big for the car, but it's quite alright 'cause i got me some feet.!so, i am running up the hill now, b/c something is pulling me Â 18Â
from just over the horizon. i don't know what it is, & i cannot wait! to see. it. me!! & what have we here?! it appears as though it's an abandoned rodeo corral. oh, how funny the Wild, Wild West is! God, you are funny, funny. i am peeking over the side of a pen--the kind they lock the buckin' bronco in, with the cowboy, gripper, squeezin' on his back, before they buck and ride. & all of a sudden for no good reason the song, "Shot Through the Heart," by Bon Jovi, pops into my head, which is a bit ridiculous, since i probably haven't heard or thought of it for, like, 13 years, & this is kind-of a weird scene. i mean, do they actually still hold rodeos out here--in the middle of nowhere, mountains, desert, on a bumpy road of dust? ! Dust. Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust. in Hebrew, dust translates as man. !Dust=man Adam=man man=humanity human=Dust ! God, you are a funny one. i love you, dust-lover!! & now i look down, for no reason, really, & this is a v. funny joke, indeed, God. here in the metal of of the pen i'm pressed up against peeking, seeking, leaking out of myself, in the metal of the fence is a bullet hole that lines up perfectly w/ my heart.!& now i know why 'Shot Through the Heart' popped in my head in the first place. !it's b/c God is a comedian. you're v., v. funny, indeed, God, so my prayer leaks from my eyes, & i even drool a little, which is funny, too, ya know, & God, you are such a funny one. so, you tease me for not always having loved you like you deserve, by leading me into the desert, to a rodeo corral where i press a bullet hole to my heart, just so could put Bon Jovi in my head to remind me of what a fool i have been. ! *stri=woman woman=dust stri=fool! you are v. good @ reminding me to be the fool i am. & i do, indeed, make one helluva fool. ha, ha. you're hilarious and i'm your dancing fool. i love you, God.!& speaking of fools & Osho Zen Decks, i left my cards under this here desert tree, so i could go peekin', so maybe now would be a good time for a reading, so as i go to pick up the deck, the top card blows off, & i am chasing it. i am the fool in the desert chasing a message from God, chasing myself, fluttering in the wind, being licked by the Sun, which is such a Great Star, & after all, it is made up of dust, too, ya know.
Dust on fire. wouldn't ya know it, i'm just a ball of dust on fire, too, & i am spinning & the card is spinning & the Earth is spinning & everything is spinning & it's a beautiful, wonderful, hilarious joke, God, & i get it. i am a spinning fool of dust dancing on fire, and you, God, are the greatest comedian of all time. ! i love you, you dust-lover, you love me, too. i know you do.
Dandelion You are standing alone in a field blowing on a dandelion, wondering if it’s true that each feathered petal will plant a new weed. It takes you three tries before you drop the nearly naked stem to the thick grass.
You should’ve known it would be like this. They say the third times a charm, but whoever made that shit up must’ve gotten what they’d wanted after their third time trying. Not you. Not with the dandelion, not with anything else in life.
Like everyone, you wish you could return to a simpler time. You’re not sure when that would’ve been, but you’re sure there must’ve been one. A time of patchwork quilts, and teapots, guilt-free cigarettes and friends who would come over just to chat. When would that have been? You’re not sure.
You start walking in a circle. A rotund, sweeping one at first, cinching slightly tighter with every loop. You can feel the scattered people off in the distance judging you, but you’re trying not to pay any attention to what other people think of you these days. You’re at a brisk walk now, winding tighter, and you pick up into a jog. You turn in on yourself till you’re spinning in a circle, no longer folding into the middle, but spewing out from the center, like those splatter-paintings from Elementary School carnivals that your mom still keeps in a forgotten basement box.
And now you’ve fallen to the ground, and you’re pulsing. You’re laughing because you understand, and you’re crying because it makes too much sense.
And now you’re searching between blades of grass for one of the dandelion seeds, because it’s the only thing you can do, and you’re not finding any. Can’t find even one of the petals, if you even call those fuzzy wisps petals, at all, and where could they have
gone. It’s not even that windy. But you can’t find them. And you search on hands and knees, drooling onto the earth beneath your now muddied knees, and you crawl in concentric circles outwards, and outwards, but you never find any of the loose petals. Not one. Just the stem, which means nothing to you now. You wish it could mean something, but it’s as useless as your skin. At this point, it might as well be a random twig from a tree that hates the sight of you, spinning yourself in circles, when the entire field knows you’re supposed to walking a labyrinth.
MARJORIE JENSEN Marjorie Jensen is a MFA candidate at Mills College and holds a BA from Antioch College. She is currently working on her Masters' thesis--a poetry collection called In Situ-- and a novel entitled Transient Mode Home. Marjorie teaches an essay composition workshop and works as a tutor at Mills. She is also applying to PhD programs in Medieval and Renaissance Lit.
Out of Reach
I chose that moment to have a cigarette. You walked, with her, below the patio railing I leaned on speaking too low for me to hear. Her haughty, accented laugh echoed, she tossed blond curls as if brushing everyone but you aside. Neither of you knew I watched. I dragged, exhaled, feeling more pressure than just the nicotine grasp on my lungs, a painful clutching more intimate, less under my control. I could crush out the Camel fire, but not this other burning force that left me breathless. I lit another, unable to keep myself from watching you walk away from me, walk away with her.
Marjorie Jensen March 2009
Squeeze Machine Inspired by Temple Grandin’s “Cow’s Eye View”
You guide me down a twisting chute, applying the right amount of pressurea comforting squeeze in all the right places. Simultaneously. I can’t see what waits beyond the turn. But you removed shining distractions, muted attraction that would make me anxious. Put blinders between me and her. You have studied my panic, my attempts at flight. Your hands, affirmations are confident in their systematic push, caressing away my desire for escape. There is no room to turn around, no space for anything but your guiding touch.
Marjorie Jensen October 2009
I completely believe in the vision of my Queen. Closed eyes can’t play tricks on you. I find myself in stunning submission to a love I’ve never touched. My clear view becomes opaque; my love is in situ1, when I look with open eyes. The contrast in view is disillusionment. I argue with the inescapable truth; dreams don’t last. When harsh morning comes, I’m roughly cast from her. My waking life is defined by seeing the loss of love surpass the loss of innocence. What I find left is the desire to keep the dream as I lie in an unwelcome sunbeam.
situ: from the Latin phrase meaning “in place,” referencing a “live” bomb; the state of being dropped, but not detonated; existing, but not exploding
CYNTHIA POPPER Cynthia Popper is a freelance writer who is pursuing a graduate degree in English and American Literature at Mills College in Oakland, California. Her book, Selling Scandal, is the culmination of five years of fieldwork in Edgar Allan Poe scholarship and antebellum publishing. A graduate of U.C. Berkeley, Popper is the editor of social media for the Poe Studies Association and a contributor to the Edgar Allan Poe Review. In 2009, the Poe Studies Association awarded her the Susan Tane Grant for her research on Poe’s career within the nineteenth century literary milieu. She was an invited speaker at the 2009 Edgar Allan Poe Bicentennial Conference in Philadelphia. For Poe, movement marked ambition. Much of the author’s success or failure during the ten years leading up to “The Raven” depended upon his sensation-fueled upward mobility, but also his city of residence. His journey from Richmond Virginia to the quaint soiree near Washington Square Park in New York City spanned over ten years, through several editing positions, countless manuscripts and equally innumerable glasses of cider. Poe set out to undermine the marketing of literature he considered to be subpar—which was plentiful in his view-- and then exceeded everyone’s expectations with the caliber of his own. Many critics view Poe’s strategy as reckless and risky, but it was one that eventually earned him his status as a masterful prose maker, then and now. Without his travels to larger and more cosmopolitan literary markets, Poe would have neither achieved the status of a national pen, nor become the American literary icon we know today.
Chapter One: Nevermore He needed this badly. Crisp leaves danced around Poe as he walked past Washington Square Park, his mind traveling back along the career path that led him to this night. Spiteful rejections, jealous ravings, and increasing talk of his “moral delinquencies”: Poe’s troubles ran deeper than he could have admitted to himself. He tried to shake away his anxiety and focus on the performance he was about to give of his newest poem, “The Raven.” After all, that was why he had finally been invited to Miss Lynch’s salon—to perform his opus as the featured poet of the night. He had been invited to dozens of other salons around the city—why else would Miss Lynch invite him now? “The Raven” had been released just weeks before and was an instant success. This blustery winter evening, he would finally be the artist and not the critic. Uneasy as he might have been, Poe pulled himself together. His introduction to literary royalty was about to be made by socialite friend Anne Lynch. She lived just on the other side of Washington Square Park from Poe, and did him quite a favor by inviting him to her popular Saturday night salon. Most of the invited guests were publishers and writers familiar with Poe, at least by name; a few were personal acquaintances, and a handful he had done battle with in print. But there would have been serious consequence to his future if he brought professional squabbles into Miss Lynch’s drawing rooms. Without the comfortable distance that print afforded, he chose to be on his best behavior, or risk not getting invited back. His latest position at the New York Mirror had given the writer desperately needed work, allowing him the role for which he was best known: the bitterly shrewd book reviewer. But as a marginally recognized author, Poe often helped himself to a mix of frustration and self-righteousness. There was a way to write, after all. Prose must be clear, grammatically sound, and creative—designed to stimulate the intellect. It must serve some purpose other than sating the vanity some attention-starved half-wit. Over-puffed balderdash needed to be called out— no matter its provenance—and reviewed harshly, as would its authors for insulting the public’s intelligence. Pass off drivel for the sake of print vanity or mere profit? How dare you. Others might—others certainly did—but Edgar Allan Poe would not stand for it. There was simply no excuse to write cheap fluff. This simple but effective philosophy kept Poe’s standards intact and his pockets threadbare.
Out in the cool evening air, the smell of burning wood from yet more fires uptown wafted as Poe walked towards the welcoming front stoop of 116 Waverly Place. This particular evening he had not been invited to Miss Lynch’s salon as merely the sensation-thirsty decimator of printed rubbish. Tonight he would be neither an incongruous shambles nor a snarky over-reaching critic. It was 1845 and Edgar Allan Poe had made it as a writer, in New York City. It had not been an easy task. New York City, too, was on the verge of greatness. The population had soared to over three hundred thousand, swollen with both opportunistic Americans and famished Irish immigrants. The swaggering port city was caught undressed, ill-prepared for a massive onslaught of new residents. With no paid police or firefighters, New Yorkers often fell victim to fires, riots, theft, and squalor. Impoverished families without homes huddled in grey ragged clumps on the streets, their children in tatters and begging for change among the thieves and marauders. For these unemployed, survival was a daily task: holding their breath while rummaging through steaming pails of slop for discarded food, pleading for help from passersby who could, and yet never did. They had their own troubles to manage, and the city was no place for beggary, or those who couldn’t pay their own way. Apathy and frustration let thousands of people starve in the streets or perish in the elements of harsh New York winters. These broken souls were reminders of a much larger population of the barely employed who were not living without a roof, but who teetered on the verge of homelessness daily. The papers publically urged those wanting to come to New York in search of big city prosperity to stay put in their small communities. Unless you had the wherewithal to muscle through a belligerent metropolis, you were better off elsewhere. But they came anyway, with little or nothing, ready to do battle with the grim odds and fight for their opportunity. Yes, New York City was determined to become a success story, but like most success stories, it would be one very dearly bought. Seven o’clock chimed. 116 Waverly Place shuttered and creaked as a blunt wind bullied its way up the front stairs and through the open door, while the patron saints of literature filled its cozy foyer. The salon was held in the two drawing rooms, each pretty and simply furnished, and designed to showcase interesting intellect rather than the crass displays of wealth for which New York society was all too well known. In spite of her high ranking social status, Anne Lynch considered herself neither wealthy nor fashionable, serving austere little trays of tea and cookies at her weekly events rather than the foie gras and champagne that such a scene usually called for. The lack of pretense was refreshing to her literary
colleagues. As such, her Saturday night salons quickly became the talk of the town, and Miss Lynch became the literary mistress of ceremonies for Manhattan. Soon the little drawing rooms were abuzz with familiar handshakes and boisterous chatter, but there were many faces not so familiar to Poe, even with all his years in the business. He dabbed himself with a neatly folded handkerchief while watching Miss Lynch from across the hall, her chestnut sausage curls bobbing cheerfully as she sailed down the hallway, her hoop skirt gliding across the polished floors. She gathered everyone into the main drawing room to present the author of “The Raven.” Guests murmured, speculating on the quality of the impending performance. Since its release, the poem had been recited, reprinted, and parodied by the masses, but until this night, it had never been read aloud by its creator. Guests set down their cups and quickly took their places. Poe stood before the crowd with his papers and composed himself with dramatic pause. Though the drawing room was quite small, he carefully looked out across his audience, as if on stage, and softly declared, “Not one in a thousand of the best readers can read aloud this poem as I wish and intend it to be read. They cannot get the music out of it.” The room fell silent. Ladies sat prim and solemn, men stood in the back rows, with taciturn eyebrows, and all waited without breath. Poe began. The words rolled out, heavy and deliberate; a hushed metronome about a tortured man’s lament of a loved woman long dead. The crowd watched as the poet’s expression changed from solemnity to fiery terror, seeming to ignite the very stage beneath him. His vivid imagery ripped through his audience. They sat transfixed. When he was finished, there was no applause. No one moved. Poe looked down and smiled at the floor. Finally the silence turned into a low hum that quickly revved into a peppy surge of congratulatory chatter for the salon’s newest member. Mr. James Lowell walked over to thank the poet for his rendition, but instead received preemptory gratitude from Poe, who vigorously shook Lowell’s hand. Lowell’s biographical sketch of Poe had just been printed in Graham’s Magazine. The article was quickly pirated and broke out in newspapers across the Eastern seaboard. Good fortune saw to it that Lowell’s article was released to the public just as Poe’s invitation to Miss Lynch’s prestigious salon was made known, and a perfect storm of exalting publicity was born. Despite the chill weather outside, the little drawing room blushed with heat. Mr. Lowell opened the back 30
window, letting the cool evening air and the smell of burning wood drift inside. Some of the female guests made their way over to chat with Poe, who had become noticeably more voluble. Poet and author Frances Osgood had arrived with publishing mogul Rufus Griswold, but quickly found herself lingering in Poe’s orbit. Griswold was strictly a platonic escort, and while Franny was married and he a widower, he couldn’t help but notice how she looked at Poe. Griswold stood in the corner and stirred his cup of tea while dispensing the occasional how-do-you-do nod to prospective authors and well-worn colleagues. He had a standing invitation to Miss Lynch’s Saturday night soirees—a coveted position—and all he was expected to do was to bring new authorial talent into the circle. He had brought Frances Osgood under the guise of promoting her work, but he also, perhaps, had other motivations on his mind. Eyes flickering, he watched Poe chat with the ladies of the salon. He sipped at his little cup and grimaced. The Reverend Dr. Rufus Griswold (it was his preference to use both salutations) was a former Baptist minister turned publishing giant, notorious for his reprinting and piracy practices. In terms of industry success, there were few who could top him; his earlier years as owner of both Brother Jonathan and The New World newspapers had earned him a fortune. Griswold was known for his caustic attitude and hypocritical business dealings, vociferous in his opposition to the lack of copyright protection given to American writers, while simultaneously stealing work for his papers. He became known as one who “takes advantage of a state of things which he declares to be ‘immoral, unjust, and wicked,’ and even while haranguing the loudest, is purloining the fastest.” Many publishers and writers held felt disdain for the hothead mogul, but most sought to remain on his good side, for Griswold’s span of influence was wider than most. Miss Lynch’s dear friend, British actress Fanny Kemble tossed her head back and laughed out loud at her new friend Poe, while the petite Frances Osgood stared at him, speechless, with infant-like wonderment. He had southern charm, impeccable manners, and now a smashing literary success that made him the talk of New York society. Dr. Griswold had all of the success a man in publishing could ever want, yet as he stood there, smoldering with his tea and stuck on Frances’ gaze, he knew that there were some things just beyond his reach.
It was past 10:00pm before Poe escorted himself out of 116 Waverly Place, spent but relieved and pointedly pleased with himself. He walked across the street towards the park, then turned back to watch the house glow and heave with its most recent occupants rolling down the front stoop, slipping into their carriages or dissolving on foot into the night. The stench of New York burning hung in the air, its origin a comfortable distance from Washington Square Park. This night represented the culmination of ten hard-fought years. Poe now had something to lose, and he knew his strategy with the literati ought to change. The men of the literati that he critiqued so brazenly were the very men wielding the power to destroy this newly minted fame. As a shadowy silhouette of smoke billowed up from the low slung skyline, Poe walked the six blocks home.
NAAMEN TILAHUN Naamen Gobert Tilahun is obsessed with the spaces between what we tend to ignore. Its not life or death that truly matters but what happens in-between the two; where is the space between mortal and god; what exists between colonialist and colonized. He's attempting to explore some of these positions in his writing while an MFA candidate at Mills College and a fiction editor for 580 Split. Physical movement. Mental movement. Emotional movement. All of these are things I’m addressing in my work. The “I” moves from body to body on a battlefield, and in the process of mourning and celebrating their death she moves from shock and guilt to finally waking up from the ennui the death of her family has caused in her. She moves between death and life, becomes the conduit for spirits to pass on and ponders the living death of enslavement that she is trapped in and finally she physically moves towards a freedom-whether the freedom is actual physical freedom or an illusion conjured by her mind to find some sort of mental freedom is left up to the reader to interpret.
“the dead, who called out in tones of warning” The bonefields. The sand under foot crunches and creaks with the remnants of people. I cannot see the chips of white, slivers of red, mounds of pink that shift and squelch under foot. It is night and only touch and smell reveal the lining of the pathway I walk. A hundred hundred fires fill the space between the tents behind me, the sounds of breaking reach for me through the curl of heat against the dip in my spine. There are no watchers set on me, no bodyguards to make sure I do not run or kill myself. They are sure that the sounds of the bones breaking in their hands are echoes of my own spirit shattering under bend of fingers. I stood between to waves of war and neither caught me in their undertow, they crashed around me, shattered the surrounding ships to shards of bone but left me whole. spirit-walking, from past to future, the images that clutch at the hem of my clothing never existed, or knew I did. swords and arrows and spears that all passed by my body as if my skin had turned to mist, my insides to smoke, my soul to the shred of night that will be dissolved by the coming daggers of yellow-gold. The hills stretch before me, low rolling mounds of sand that shift with the howling of night winds prompted by the screams of those cut down that swirl through time back to me.
I scream. I rage. to my knees.
There is no response from behind me, no reaction to the emotion given form of wind and expelled from dry, cracked lips. Do they not hear over the crackle of fires and victory and slaughter? Or do they not care? There is a response from in front of me. A low moan, a broken voice, the spaces between the grunts and exhalations sound like my name. My name in silence, he calls for me.
I crawl towards the sound hands and knees sinking into puddles of shame, the white grains slithers and fall into the cracks of my skin. I rise over bodies, my fingers fall into wounds and are colored red. From death to me and me to the sand I am the harbinger of death, the carrier of foulness across the land. I have forgotten what I am crawling for/towards when the body beneath me arches up and coughs a red mist of pain and blood into my nose and mouth. I freeze and I think that our bodies must look like love in the dunes, two bodies locked in the act of joining surrounded by a plain of death. He has entered me, his blood drips back from my face to his marking the space between us, making it smaller, closer. I breathe him in. I roll off of him, vibrate through the sand until my body is curved around his head. His back is still arched, a half moon of flesh yearning to return to the night sky. I reach forward wipe his sweatsoaked forehead, clear it of beautiful damp curls. My palm leaves traces of pink across his forehead, traveling through the ridges forming rivers that drain off of his head and form two pools that bracket the source. His eyes swirl, circle, focus and pause. swirl, circle, focus, pause circle, pause swirl, pause focus I am pinned by the recognition in his gaze, it returns my name to me for a moment I know you. Then my name is gone again, cracked by recognition, broken by knowing. Shh, to conserve his strength or my secret. I trace his body with eyes. It is still arched high. Is it the spirit ready to leave before the the clutch of the flesh is ready to let go? Should I curve my body in such a way? Encourage my own spirit to free itself, tear itself, fly free to join the spirits that have been cut from my past both living and dead. A flutter in my chest. I know you. He will not be silenced and though I think of placing my hand over his mouth – stifling words and breath until he body unbends and mind fades away from the topic of me – I do not do it. And he speaks:
You walk with death. Shh. And he speaks: You are a tool, a tool of them now. Shh. And he speaks: The blood does not see you but it knows you. Shh. And he speaks: Soon the blood spilled will talk to the source of blood. You will be a tool of the gods. And I listen. I raise on my haunches and rest my hands on the man’s belly, across his smiling wound, against the inside/outside of him, against the smell that ripens the air around us, makes it ripple with the approach of death, the flight of buchas, the hunger of cithans. I try to hold him inside him so that he may speak. With the touch of my hands his body unfolds, flowers across the dark sand in limpness, broken from its arch it is simply another body surrounding me like the broken dolls of my son surrounded his fallen form. I am the center. His eyes are still locked on me. Will you sing the song for my bones? Will you sing them to the stars? I nod and his body relaxes further slipping along the path we all must stumble down, he is sliding at a faster and faster pace, the pulse of him against my palms growing slower and slower. My heart beats quicker, beats against the cage of bones and pain that form its home. When his body stills I feel a rush and fall back into the sand, out of the way of his soul, blackest against a black sky arching up.
I do not know the song he wishes me to sing Is it my place to mourn for this man, to sing? My skin absorbs the damp sand, made muddy with human I made this and yet is it all I can do, to sing? My hand clutches my breast, squeezes flesh between fingers Rhythmic beats, to form the backdrop so I may sing. My head moves from side to side, listening to drums of hair A long curtain of black to form a echo so all may hear me sing. The song comes with no prodding, long, loud, filled with me Only the sand is alive to hear me sing. Snatches of words burn my tongue, carve memory to pink This song I will never forget, the song I am made to sing. When I am done I am spent, empty of feeling and thought and they are all around me. Spirits caged in flesh, wrapped in meat too weak to end on its own, too rent to sing their path open to rest. They are an ocean all around me and I drown in their currents, their wishes and hopes press against my skin form dimples in my surface that will never leave. I am marked by them, by my part in this slaughter and the lack of ending for any of these. I move. From one to the other, from one to the next, from one to two to three to hundreds. The song forces its way from my throat ripping pieces of me to pay for the passage and still I move. The waves of suffering push me more than any effort in my shell of life. Slowly I hear the noise from the camp lessen, is it because the sky is slowly growing light? Is it because there is no longer any room in my ears, mind, soul for anything but this song? I cannot stop the pressing of my feet to sand, bodies, cages, corpses, my hands to curving wounds in stomach, throat and groins, my face to sky. When I am done the darkness lies in tatters beneath me, the sun blazes in the sky, animals creep from below the sand, swoop from the noon day light, swirl out of the shadows of dunes to feast on the banquet I have laid before them. I turn and see the quiet of the camp in the distance, I have walked far in the night, length and breadth of battlefield crissed and crossed with my footprints, wavering trails of indentations that the wind will wipe away. I turn back to my prison, waver on the edge of the first step. There is no where to run, I alone hold the history of my people inside me and none will take me in after my part in this slaughter is known, carried with the speed of thought to all others people in my path.
I spare a wish that they will band together, that allies, trade partners, enemies, splinters, all these smaller tributaries will merge to streams to rivers to a wave that will crash over me, that will place me and my imprisoners in the place of the meat I stand among. No one will mourn my body but I am already trapped in rotting flesh, already confined in disease that pulls at me and forces me into new shapes, impales me on truths I do not want to face. If I already endure might it not be better to endure in one place, alone, screaming forever with a mouth gone slack, staring ahead with eyes gone glassy? I turn away from the camp, look across the dunes but there are not only dunes in my vision now. an oasis thick trees stretching upward, darkness still lingers in this place pushing against the light that pools among the hills that surround. It was not there moments ago, I am sure of that, I walked these dunes for hours and never caught a glimpse of this massive shadow. There are oases scattered across this land, links in a necklace that connect my land in the dry grass plains and the jungles of the south. I know the placement of such sanctuaries, all children here do, and this is not one in the chain. We left the last one three nights ago tearing fruit from the trees and ripping water from the ground until the bushes and trees groaned bereft and sundered. There is not another for with four days walk and yet this one rises before me. leaves reach for me cool, dark echoes my name the trickle of water sounds shadowed, knowing eyes comfort, mourning; I feel it call to me with voices long, quickly, swiftly, recently, remembered, gone; there is no respite from this new space where I exist, but it calls as a place of rest
ashes cool under bodies snoring mouths call the name they placed upon me the stench of death and spent love clouds the air ignorance that I must lead and guide that sucks my body and soul dry into the husk that I now am, unable to feel protection from the fingers that reach to rip scabs from wounds, expose pain freshly each day turn my skin to metal, my hope to dust, my love to blood a slave, my chains of apathy, of breaking not of steel under all the layers I feel a kernel of wishing, prayer I want a break from this if only for a moment
I do not turn again, do not look back at the place of birth, the place of recreation, where those who ripped who I was apart and put me back together now lay in exhausted, restful sleep. I begin to tear up, my eyes leaking from staring too long at this mirage of peace without blinking, for if I shut these windows the image may dissolve into fragments, memories and final death, might slip through my clawed, grasping fingers as everything else has. The burning grows, inside and out, the liquid leaking down my face is not water but flame burning furrows that carve shapes into my face, turn it into a glorious ruin that echoes my heart.
Turn my feet to wings,let feathers replace my skin,let my fingers become talons and my mouth hook forward into beak. Let me be the shaper and the owner of my form, let my body grow at my will and not at theirs, heal me of touches past and yet to come. Who will hear this call, this prayer when the pieces of my holiness lie in bloody chunks at the base of their houses. The call will not be denied, rings through me. I I I I I shut my eyes, sending more fire down my face, smothering the source, the core and leaving my mind shredded and singed. I breathe, I breathe, I breathe. I open my eyes, washed clean and purified. The oasis is still there, still calls. I run. I fly. I go.
LEIGH GARDNER Leigh Gardner is a first year MFA student at Mills. She is originally from Arizona and graduated from Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in 2008. The work that I am presenting involves movement on different levels. Much of my work focuses on the idea of threshold experiences. These are experiences that carry us from one state of being to another. I believe that threshold experiences are always happening and that, while we may have some foreknowledge of them, we must pass through them on our own. I am particularly interested in the threshold experiences that contribute to the process of growing up or coming of age. The work that I am presenting is primarily concerned with movement through these threshold experiences. It also deals with movement through physical place and time.
My Mother Is Silent While My Ears Are Pierced I have been imagining all my impending beauty, all the adult pain I will get to endure. At the mall I keep very still as my earlobes are laced with metal. They turn hot and hard and red. My mother has holes in her ears put there with an ice pick and a potato in a friendâ€™s barn. Her mouth is practiced in keeping the sharp metal of sadness hidden.
on the anniversary of your arrival i wanted a wooden ring so that’s what you gave me i was allergic even when i took it off my finger itching red swollen could never take it off your mom makes us sleep in separate rooms doors open at all times she yells that she knows our gayness would not could not respect her home your dog eats shit right out of another dog i yell at it to stop you yell at me to stop yelling at your dog it does not even lift its head from the other dog’s asshole it will cry when you leave the room i will not put it outside i will let it piss on your mom’s carpet you will book me a room in a hotel with three locks on the door i will call it a good dog and will not move to clean anything up i still wish i was coming home (open doors and bitch mom and shit and stains and itching finger and all) to you
The Railroad Man He built our house like a train, all boxes and connecting lines. The rust-colored walls shifted as we slept. His voice spread through the rooms as regular and deep as the train’s whistle. Some nights he drove us across town to sit next to the tracks and feel how silent a night could be and how, when a train came towards us, the stillness could crack like an egg, spilling light and sound everywhere. He turned his body into railroad tracks, his spine the rails, his ribs the ties. If he let us near him, we could see grisly memories of pain. His arm was a roundhouse where train track scars of old stitches all met in a raised white spider web. He smelled like metal coated with dust and thick grease. He was so much a railroad man that one night he placed us like dirty pennies on tracks he had been laying for years and left without waiting to see how we were reshaped in the instant he pulled away from us.
The Tomatoes Her Polish is the sound of a fist breaking crackers into soup. Her memory of Communism is red. Slippery. Only that they could buy just one tomato each week. Her mother cut it into seven even slices, every morning made her close her eyes, savor one piece. The seeds slide across her tongue, stick in her teeth for one hot moment, then vanish. These rings of tomato are breath on a window, lingering just long enough for her to write kocham cie with her finger, just long enough for her to learn how the body and the heart are fused, how the hungry glacier of one scrapes across the other. She wants to know a love that has no taste. She will have a Las Vegas wedding, a green card so close she can smell it, smoke in her throat and her mouth full of nothing but light. Her husband will not sprinkle rose petals on the bed. Instead, a room full of tomatoes. Their skin will split beneath her feet.
Published on Dec 3, 2009