Monday, April 28, 2008

I continue to read Alma.

One step-up from my reading notes, and really a process of thinking.

The writing in Alma is expansive and messy. On the level of the book, I like it, on the level of the sentence or line, it's hit and miss for me. That's a vague thing to say, so I'll try to clarify. The expansive messiness is energetic--it's not the kind of beautiful lush s l u g g i s h prose that weighs down some experimental fiction--the energy of the language does carry me through each section. The punctuation in this is often interruptive and substantial--a lot of commas (pauses, breaths, interruptions) in places that don't always make traditional structural sense. Periods used like commas. Not a lot of question marks, though there are a few--this isn't an especially questioning book. Alma makes declarations and proclamations: here's a brief section from "State of the Union" that I hope will illustrate the kind of interrupted energetic language I'm trying to describe:

"and when she. so the novel. glistens in all its propriety. and then he. no it was
where i spied no on knows any doves. and the cool features of one one blue as
the sky, which i've been studying. you are, were you, that time. i don't have it's
in my body. hemmed in by if the all-powerful, but they're cliche-inscribed..."

The values this book ascribes to men and women continue to irk me, even when I keep in mind that the book is supposed to be a relentless rant / curse, and that it's written, at least in part, to irk. Here's a section from "Curse Tablet of Dead Women" that made me write "mmm" in the margin:

"...we demand the binding of the tongues and
limbs of any who would usurp our power in present or future, as male presidents,
leaders, officials elected or appointed or self-appointed, directors of institutions,
all men of wealth, and also men of no apparent stature, who would steal our
power. may your tongues and limbs be bound indefinitely" (125).

Then in my notes I wrote: it's kind of interesting to speak in the language of the oppressor, or to reverse a binary, but it's still a binary, and power is power.

Women who support patriarchy are also cursed later in the poem:

" for those
who would want to justify our lives in their own sentimentality: that we must
have been happy and found our own fulfillment: may you be bound from speak-
ing so, male or female..."(125).

I'm excited about any moment in feminist writing that thinks about how certain kinds of feminine behavior might support traditional patriarchal hierarchies instead of undermining or resiting them (one of the things I obsess about in my own writing). I like the fact that Alma is aggressive--it's not passive aggressive or subtle about it's accusations. Of course, that's also it's weakness.

(Aside: I feel pressured to write poems and criticism that are open-ended and questioning. Lyn Hejinian is right--closure and conclusion certainly do have their problems. I like Leslie Scalapino's question marks. But I admit that I like things to be definite, too. I want to say "you are a total asshole," and not question it. I also want to say, "I will organize the party" or "I am happy to curate the reading series." I hate it when people stand around talking about how no one will do anything, and then hating the people who do something. This happens a lot in any community where everyone is supposed to be equal in some usually undefined way but really isn't. That's my own Alma-rant of the day).

Alma in Alma is almost perfectly feminine in the postmodern sense: she's total negation and non-symbolic otherness--she enters the world through archetypal symbols or marks imposed on her by men. On the other hand, the voices in Alma are also agressive in a way that, yes, is violent and masculine. The curse I quoted from above expresses a desire for a world where women rule and men are bound and punished--it's not a critique of power, it's a critique of the fact that men have all of it.

So, the voices in Alma remind me of Rachel Blau DuPlessis' description of the numerous kinds of feminine subjectivity at work in Anne Waldman's work, and how Michael Davidson describes Sylvia Plath in Guys Like Us. Here's a quote from DuPlessis' "Anne Waldman: Standing Corporeally in One's Time," (from Jacket Magazine #27) that also quotes Davidson:

"Waldman is certainly one of the exemplars of female masculinity. Indeed, Waldman might be closest in her ferocity, performativity, and aggressions to the picture Michael Davidson draws of Sylvia Plath in Guys Like Us, with those “self-conscious assaults on gender binarism” (Davidson 160) by someone who will “interrogate masculine aspirations from within a speaker who embodies many of those aspirations” (Davidson 170)."

In terms of content, Alma doesn't really attempt an assault on gender binarism. Like Descent of Allette, it holds on to gender binaries and doesn't let go. However, structurally, Alma does mess with gender binaries--it's lyric and epic, it's declarative and aggressive but full of disruptions (in grammar, sentence-structure, and punctuation, for example), it moves from reportage to song and back...Form and content (or content and form, if you prefer), always exist in tension with each other (whether we want them to or not). I like poems that make this tension interesting (Kristeva's notion of the "ethical text," maybe I'll elaborate later).

Alma does have an interesting form/content dynamic, especially when I consider the ways in which that dynamic both supports and undermines gender binaries.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Fluff and Fold

There's been a cooper's hawk hanging out in the acacia trees around our apartment. Yesterday, after chasing and being chased by one of the local raven gangs, it settled into a perch just outside the window by Mark's desk. Lester is a parrot, and a hawk is a hawk, but they're both birds, and they preen like, well, birds. The hawk sat on the branch and preened for a good fifteen minutes. After preening, it stood on one foot, relaxing, and fluffing her/his breast feathers. I've never seen such a fluffy hawk! The fluffing and folding didn't last long, though; in a few minutes, the hawk became narrow and focused, and flew off to another tree.

All birds are individual birds, and different species have different ways and concerns, but all birds take on a similar demeanor when they're preening and relaxing. It seems absurd to compare Lester to a hawk or the ruddy ducks that I see by the lagoon every morning, but they all preen in the same way, and they all get fluffy and one footed when relaxed.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

So they, of course, chose the monks.

Tomorrow I'm taking my students on a field trip to the Prince of Peace Abbey. They have a copyrighted logo. A teacher I work with knows some of the monks there, and so he's arranged for both our classes to visit, tour the monastery, and then ask the monks some questions about the challenges and joys of monastic life. I'm excited about the visit, but my students think I'm strange. I told them it was either the monks or an exam.

I'm recently returned from Barbara Henning's reading at CSUSM, and am thinking about some odd and unexpected ways that her work reminds me (and doesn't) of Leslie Scalapino's work. I'm writing that down so I don't forget.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

In Honor of Earth Day I Graded an Essay about Earth Day

And had a conversation about Earth Day in my ESL class. None of them had heard of Earth Day, but they had heard of pina coladas.

I also drove to work, which I do less than once a month, and bought wine glasses. They are not the most beautiful glasses, but they will do.

I also went running.

Last week I sent out fliers about Earth Day events at Yoga Swami, even though I couldn't actually attend any of the events.

I wore an iridescent blue dress and white, pattent-leather sling backs. It was all very absurd.

I've been grading almost non-stop since 1 pm.

Monday, April 21, 2008

I can't really do the splits.

I went from urdhvadhanurasana to handstand and then back to standing, and also from standing, to handstand and down to urdhvadhanurasana. It was cool.

I also did hanumanasana, because today is hanuman's birthday. I really hate this asana. It's basically the splits.

For kicks, here’s the Hanuman Chalisa from the animated film The Adventures of Hanuman.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Hags rant about things you wish they wouldn't rant about.

Rereading, with more attention (and interest) Alice Notley's Alma, or The Dead Women. I'm not going to write a review, since I'm not finished with the book, but I think it will help if I blog my thoughts as I'm reading and thinking.

This is an angry book. I like it that Alma is angry. She's not a heroine like Allette. Alma's a hag, not a warrior. She's a bit like the Cailleach or Morrígna--she's a god but no one really treats her like one. Alma shoots up into her forehead and dreams/hallucinates the world. It reminds me of how the fire and light from Shiva's third eye can annihilate evil--but also how he often opens up his third eye when he's angry, to burn things (like Brahma's 5th head that liked to badmouth him).

So, Notley continues to work with big archetypal female characters. I can't think of any other epics where the central figure is an angry, often self-righteous hag. It's true, hags are dangerous, erratic (Baba Yaga sometimes helps you, sometimes tries to eat you, and she lives in a house built on dancing chicken legs, so the house moves and looks really creepy), and often annoying. I often find the character Alma to be all of these things--but it's hardly an accident. In "The Invisible Organ Presence," Notley writes:

"That a woman is a composition? a trial lawyer, a severity, a bother to one who would move up, an aging hypnotist an aging theoretician, always the nag, the complainer, the denouncer, the radical feminist. nothing you can say, it doesn't matter what i say, it's always heard in the image of the ear of another, this has been said before, everything you do is meaningless..." (42).

Alma, or The Dead Women imagines the hag as a powerful alternative to being any of these things.

The female/male binary in this book is pretty absolute. Men kill and make war, women don't. This dynamic comes up over and over again in the book, and it irks me. But then there are moments where this dynamic is undermined. So maybe the book doesn't hold firm to that dynamic. I don't know. Here's a section from "The Stupid Guy Etc" that I think is quite funny, although I don't really associate camp or humor with Notley's work, so maybe it's just me:

"because this guy is stupid, you find out by fucking them don't you, and who is there but the stupid to fuck at this point. the moment is the one just past when the seeds have spread throughout the world that moment when we were still just fucking almost fearlessly" (33).

(Note to self: that section also makes me think of San Diego county, bad decisions about marriage, and fantasies about domestic life that still exist even when they don't work).

or this one from "Of Luz, Cosette and of Vengeance":

"Do we want people to die? no, we want them to know they are guilty, and stupid. we want to abolish sexes themselves. races themselves. we want to abolish everything you stand for" (37).

The you in the first section, I think, implicates women readers, and the you in the second section refers to all the evil, nasty, war-loving men that show up throughout the book. Not all the men in the book love evil, though. Dick Cheney is there, but so is Sonny--who is mostly a stupid and naive young man who wants to go to war because he knows nothing about it, really. He's stupid and tragic.

This poem is mostly a poem about women in a world of violence, men, and war. But let me quote one more section, this one from the second half of the book, a section called "The Boys and Men":

"the boys and men who came with us just chose to come with. and no make no new social order, make no social order, they just chose to, to come with us. they too had nothing left, in or outside. this is a story of women but i want you to know"(205).

Not all the men are stupid and violent, but this book isn't about them.

Allette is angry, but she rises above her rage, or at least uses it for something productive. Alma is productive in any normative way, and she exists because of and through her rage and pain. I'm both attracted to and annoyed by mythic archetypes in poetry--but I see their value: a hag can really, really rant. And rant. The point is that a hag really rants a lot. Of course you want her to shut up.

Other stuff to think about:
  • Nagging sense that Alma is just as pious and uptight about her world view as the men in the book. This really would be, I think, the major problem...
  • Old Hag Syndrome (sleep, hallucinations...)
  • The hag (in Persian mythology, maybe, who lays on your chest at night so you feel like you can't breath. Associated with Old Hag Syndrome).
  • Hag's connection to battlefields (Morrígan in the Táin Bó Cuailnge)
  • And sovereignty--land, etc. Hag is sometimes the barren land. Hero usually has to confront her.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

I was behind on posting, but not on writing.

I posted more poems at See it Everywhere.

I think I am going to make this Eggplant and Lentil Stew with Pomegranate Molasses soon. I love stew, but stews aren't so great when the weather gets warmer. This is a summer stew!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

More more mysteries.

I am still grading. Still and always. Until May, when I will only be partially employed for a few weeks.

In between teaching and grading and grading again, I did something that looked kind of like this:

Except not quite. I can hold my toes, but I can't put my forehead on my foot. And my hips aren't nearly as square or as rooted. Rajakapotasana is a wacky pose, and it seems completely astounding to find my toe, there. It doesn't ever seem like it could possibly be my toe. But I am glad it is my toe and not someone else's, which would be even weirder.

Many people, including Mark, are at the &Now Festival, just up the road from us.

Monday, April 14, 2008

It will long and perhaps monotonous.

The house finch hatchlings are getting larger and louder every hour--they're nesting in the most protected corner under the awning of our balcony. As usual, one of the chicks is more curious or courageous than the others, and s/he eyes me from the nest while I eat my breakfast or lunch (the others usually only stick their heads up when it's time to feed).

Other mysteries:
  • My nails are getting long
  • My left thumb-knuckle is still recovering from its sprain
  • I made twice as much money in 2007 as I did in 2006.
I'm going to write a poem with DOD acronyms. It will go on longer than you want it to.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

More Mysteries

I live by the beach.

In California.

In southern California.

I went in the water today. The water was 59 F.

There was a surfer dude playing the guitar on the beach. I keep waiting to see someone playing the ukelele on the beach, but that hasn't happened yet.

The 70s last forever in California. California invented the 70s.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


I always look astoundingly nerdy in my running clothes.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

I think I sprained my thumb.

Or not sprained, but torqued it. Is there a specific word for almost sprained. Like, a bit swollen but not black and blue? I'm not sure how I injured it. I think in yoga class, just now. Maybe in pincha mayurasana somehow, though that makes no sense to me...

I bought artichokes today. And also asparagus. At last the asparagus is in season. Nice enough to eat raw.

Monday, April 07, 2008


I'd like to write a poem called "energetic men" or maybe "energetic young men." It could be a good Lorraine flarf poem, although most of the search results are about war and missionaries, which seems a little too obvious, though there are a few gems: "The woman decides to make a film about these young revolutionaries and upon arrival in India she gets involved with a group of apolitical but energetic young men and women who love to party and only reluctantly agree to be cast in her film."

Today I don't care about authorial intention and I'm sick of the debate about it at Harriet. I guess I'm not that sick of it though, because I'm about to talk about it for a paragraph or two.

I love this moment in Willa Cather's The Professor's House when the Professor is watching Tom eat lunch: "At luncheon the boy was very silent at first. He sat looking admiringly at Mrs. St. Peter and the little girls. The day had grown warm, and the Professor thought this was the hottest boy he had ever seen." It's such a goofy pun, but I love it anyway.

I don't care if you were being sincere but the audience thought you were being ironic, or vice versa. Maybe your intentions weren't clear, maybe the poem changed your intentions, maybe the connotations of all the words you used spun out of your control. I named one of my chapbooks (and the URL of this blog, and also my first book manuscript for that matter) "Terminal Humming" without considering how quickly humming could become "hummer," and how the title of the chapbook could connote a kind of melodic, deadly and perhaps mechanical blow job. It now occurs to me that, of course, a hummer is a kind of car that is rather popular here in San Diego county and in the military in general. It is also, apparently, a kind of lobster and a slang term for a smelly corpse (that last definition fits with my intentions, kind of). Anyway, I clearly like the word, since I've used it so much, but at this point it's spun away from my intentions, even though I did, in fact, have specific intentions when I chose it.

I don't mean that words don't have specific meanings and rules of usage--of course they do, and poems generally use words. But finally there is no guarantee that anyone anywhere is going to understand your specific intention when you send your poem out into the word. Meaning and intention aren't they same thing--meaning is something that at least two people have to make together, through their intentions. Language is social, that's why every word in the OED has a long entry.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

This CD is Dirty

I had a great time at the reading yesterday--the audience was larger than when I read at DCAC last October (ahem), and very low-key. I did not wear the fancy shoes I brought, but left them on stage as a kind of talismanic object (like the small, magnetic statue of Hotei Buddha that I used to take with me to exams as an undergrad). I also played a sound piece I made called "I still have a problem with agriculture," complete with two flute parts in D minor and vocals. It's meant to have something performed over it, but I just played it; I'd never done anything like that before. It was good, I think, and quite goofy. But now that I've done it once and didn't die of horror I can do it again. Maybe at the Evergreen conference in May.

After the reading, a guy complimented me on my performance and said, "So, are you a writer?" I wasn't sure what to make of this question, given the context, but I decided not to be a jerk. I just said, "yes." Then smiled and said, "thanks so much for coming" and left to go get some wine.

I also got up at 7 this morning for a workshop with Sienna Sherman. It was interesting to practice with a group of absurdly accomplished yogis (yeah, I know, it's yoga and some might say I shouldn't talk about accomplishment, but there's plenty of ways to value accomplishment and plenty of accomplishment in yoga). We did a lot of psoas and hip opening leading up to several back bends, including a few back bend inversions I'd never done before. Recently, I've been focused on opening up my hamstrings and external rotators, but I've been neglecting the front of my legs and hips. Thigh and psoas stretches are my new friend.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Tonight at Agitprop!

Please join us for a literary reading in the company of "Colby Jackson's Alien People" (ceramic sculpture) at Agitprop in North Park, co-sponsored by the gallery and local poetry presses 1913, Kuhl House, and Tougher Disguises.

Susan Maxwell & K. Lorraine Graham
Saturday April 5th 7pm
2837 University Ave in North Park
(entrance to the gallery is actually on Utah)

Susan Maxwell's first book of poems, Passenger, was published by the University of Georgia Press in 2005 as winner of the Contemporary Poetry Series. Maxwell earned her BA in Peace and Conflict studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and her MFA in poetry from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and featured in such publications as 1913 a journal of forms, American Letters & Commentary, New American Writing, Denver Quarterly, Bay Poetics Anthology, Verse, VOLT, as well as other journals and art installations. She's currently a doctoral student in Psychology at the Wright Institute in Berkeley.

K. Lorraine Graham is the author of several chapbooks, including "Diverse Speculations Descending Therefrom" (Dusie), "Terminal Humming" (Slack Buddha), "See it Everywhere" (Big Game Books), and "Large Waves to Large Obstacles" (forthcoming from Take Home Project), and the recently released chapdisk "Moving Walkways" (Narrowhouse Recordings). Graham has just completed the extended manuscript of "Terminal Humming" and writes the blog from her home in Carlsbad, CA.

This event is free and open to the public. Donations to the gallery are greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

I bought a Peter Rabbit bowl to match my Peter Rabbit mug.

Maybe it's time for me to get over my somewhat totally irrational but definite dislike of Gustaf Sobin. But I can't even think about The Fly-Truffler without wanting to rant. Young orphan woman becomes lover, language, earth, and food, all at the same time, and is then consumed by old husband, both literally while she's alive and then figuratively when she's dead (honestly, there's nothing sexier than a hot dead young woman). Barf. I'm interested in obsessive desire, but this book feels so cliched in a sexy, international way that I find it maddening. I know: my reading and rant aren't especially nuanced. Are any of you readers Gustaf Sobin fans? What should I read?

I'm going to attempt to participate in NaPoRiMo. I've already posted some poems, even. Wow.

I just finished reading Elisabeth Workman's Opolis. I liked it. I will review it.

I just finished eating some butternut squash soup to which I added arugula and a tablespoon of peanut butter. It was actually good. It's all part of my non-diet diet. Soups are good for that.

I made a sound poem thing, complete with weird ambient flute stuff in the background. For now I am going to call it "I still have a problem with agriculture."

I've been thinking about things that would make me cool(er). What are they?