Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Broome Street Review no. 6 is here!

The Broome Street Review's sixth number is here, finally! After a substantial delay, I am glad to say this beautiful journal is now available for purchase. 

Our AWE issue features new work from: 

An interview w/ Jamaal MayClare Arlington Boyle

TBSR no. 6 also comes with HEDGE
a limited edition chapbook featuring excerpts from Pilar Fraile Amador’s forthcoming collection Larva & Hedge, as translated by Lizzie Davis

To PURCHASE a copy, visit the shop

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Poets on Poetry: Signe Swanson and Julia Madsen

Can you tell me a bit about your personal journey to where you’re currently at as a poet? How did you get started writing ↦ present day?

I've often felt uncomfortable talking about myself, in my writing or otherwise. In the Midwest, and perhaps Iowa in particular, where I’m from, there's this thing about extreme humility and humbleness. It's very Protestant I think. But lately I've been trying to break out of this, in my writing at least. I always think of this quote from Richard Hugo's “Writing Off the Subject” where he says “to write a poem you must have a streak of arrogance, not in real life I hope. In real life try to be nice.” Right now, my writing and film work is centered on where I’m from and the landscape, people, and stories that were there with me. I would go into more detail, but at the moment I’m a little protective and afraid to jinx it, so to speak. It’s been inspiring to do this work, and has felt productive in a new way. I would say that my work has moved toward documentary poetry and the personal essay.

I grew up in a rural Amish town with a population of roughly a hundred. My old computer would barely turn on, for the longest time we didn’t have television, and there were no video games or anything like that. It was very quiet. Silence was everywhere, sometimes peaceful and other times it would eat you. But it was a productive locus in which to read and write. A slowness rotating in the field. It’s how I mainly occupied my time.

As an undergrad I became particularly obsessed with poetry. I would check out something like thirty books of poetry from the library each week, trying to read as much as possible and writing when inspired. That kind of obsession. A lot of self-teaching. But at Brown, of course, I came into contact with electronic writing, which was pivotal for my thinking, writing, and creative practice in general. I’ve always had a strong interest in film and visual work, and my experience at Brown really incited me to pursue this. I took a brilliant course on essay film with Carole Maso that planted the seeds for the project I’m currently working on, which is essentially an essay film. And of course working with C.D. [Wright], Forrest [Gander], and Cole [Swensen] was absolutely insightful, and I am so grateful and appreciative for the time I had with them. C.D.’s documentary work in particular continues to echo and reverberate, it’s like a steam train that’s always coming down the tracks, rattling skulls and windows and anything else that might break. That’s the power of her language.

Something I have at times struggled with is how accessible to make my poetry. I feel like poetry missed me before coming to Brown because it was an abstraction too removed from the immediacy of my home culture, and I sometimes fear that as I grow to be deliberate with language I lose something with people at home who have thick accents and use a lot of idioms, haha. Have you ever felt this way? Could you speak a bit to the experience of working class language as it relates to poetry?

I’m so pleased to hear that you’ve come to poetry, and are thinking about important issues like class and voice – issues I certainly think about as well, and I think it’s safe to say that, as you know, there are no definitive answers. But this is where, to my mind, the role of the documentary and documentary poetics comes alive. I am so inspired by the work of documentary poets like Mark Nowak, who focuses on class and capitalism. I love Shut Up Shut Down and the way he uses the archive as a means of gathering and amplifying working class voices. In my practice, documentation involves inquiry and question asking. It involves research of all kinds, including talking to people about their daily lives and experiences. I’m genuinely intrigued by people and their stories and the way they tell them. In interviewing people from home, there’s something very grounded in the experience, perhaps different from the abstraction to which you are referring. Although, as I’ve already touched on, this is somewhat of a newer practice for me. In the past my work has been more theoretical, conceptual, etc., and in many ways it still is. I think that all of these registers are important for me to feel like my practice is running on all cylinders, so to speak. But certainly there are rarefied, sequestered, removed, and privileged aspects to the history of poetry that I’d like to think can change and are changing. 

In relation to the last bit, I’ve definitely struggled in the past with relying on place in my poetry. I think a lot of first-generation college students at Brown feel an attachment to place and local identity in a way that reflects class anxiety, or at least that was a big part of my freshman year experience. This semester I’ve been really interested in the poetics of place, namely reading William Carlos WilliamsPaterson, Charles Olson’s MaximusPoems and Daphne Marlatt’s Steveston, all of which instrumentalize working class language/identity in a kind of unnerving way. How do you conceptualize place as a poet?

Oh, I love all of those books you mention! I’m really glad to hear that you are thinking about the role of place alongside such tomes and compendiums of fluorescent poetry. Susan Howe is another poet I admire whose work has focused on place and documentation. I’ve watched so many brilliant essay films on place—Ross McElwee’s Sherman’s March and Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg come to mind. And of course Robert Smithson’s work on location. Place is such a character, isn’t it? A place has history and is haunted by history. A place ages, changes, develops, degrades. As a first-generation college student I absolutely understand feeling an attachment to place and local identity, as you mention. I think that this is an attachment out of which evocative art can be born. It’s a sort of passion. There’s so much beauty in local identity or what one might deem commonplace. There’s much to uncover and/or recover, as well as that which simply cannot be uncovered or recovered. The Production of Space by Henri Lefebvre and Postmodern Geographies by Edward Soja have been pivotal for me in thinking theoretically about space, place, and social issues like class. Baudrillard’s America and Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, too. A lot of my work on place comes back to something very simple, I think, and that’s the American Dream. David Lynch’s films are useful in meditating on this. The places I am drawn to seem to simultaneously (and curiously) uphold and show flaws inherent in the American Dream.

A more general question: how do the various communities you’re in, influence your writing process?

I could begin by talking about my family and community back home—a community that certainly influences me visually. So many moments and images from childhood and home crop up in my mind when I’m writing and working. It’s both settling and unsettling. There are dark moments. I suppose I could broadly define this as the Midwestern Gothic. It’s hard to describe the feeling of sleeping alone in an old creaking farmhouse with nobody around for miles. And what if a stranger rings the doorbell in the middle of the night? That’s happened. It splits the silence. And of course worse things happen—you don’t need to look far to find what the fields and snow and silence covers, you just have to look. Being back in academia at the University of Denver and the poetry community here has been so helpful in thinking about the importance of our stories, even when we think that they’re somehow not good or interesting enough. It has allowed me to sharpen my instincts.

While reading “LATE-NIGHT TALK SHOW BEGINNING WITH COMMERCIAL” I started thinking about private versus public thought and experience. How do you see the line between public and private manifesting in culture and in poetry’s reflection of culture?

I am very influenced by the Situationist movement and theorists like Guy Debord and The Society of the Spectacle. When I think of the public sphere I tend to think of mass media and Debord’s focus on the social relationships between people that are mediated by images. In the poem you mention, there is, to my mind, a blurred distinction between public and private in relation to mass media, the latter of which relies on the visual, the spectacle. The image, broadly speaking, is endlessly fascinating to me. It is both outside and inside—our capacity for vision is a complex relationship between the outside world and the function of our brains. The poet Ronald Johnson has a great interview with the filmmaker Stan Brakhage where they discuss the evolution of sight from the reptilian brain—something about how light created the capacity for sight. I love the image of light pouring onto the ancient, reptilian brain. And this is perhaps how mass media attempts to get ahold on the life of the mind, our innermost thoughts and desires. This is how mass media can liquidate us.

What do you think technology’s role is in poetry: now and in the future? Do you see technology impacting the accessibility of poetry?

I’m thinking of a quote right now from C.P. Snow, that technology brings you gifts with one hand and stabs you in the back with the other. Which reminds me of Derrida’s essay on technology as pharmakon, both cure and poison. To illustrate his point he discusses written language and documentation as a technology and prosthesis for memory that actually enables us to forget. And then there’s Heidegger digging deep into the meaning of techne as poesis and “bringing forth.” Both technology and poetry are acts of bringing forth, of revelation. How can they work together to bring forth stories, images, voices, etc., in innovative ways, and how can they work to disseminate these in ways that might increase poetry’s accessibility? I think there are many answers and the question itself excites me!


Signe Swanson is a second-year student at Brown University, where she is studying Literary Arts and Comparative Literature. Her writing is influenced by her experiences with place, class, and translation.

More of Julia Madsen's work can be experienced >>> here

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Views from the Tower: Election 2016

by Andrew E. Colarusso

Many of us, people on the outside of what's inside, are feeling today like we've been let down. Like we've been told (again) that we are collectively unwelcome in a nation that consistently demands our labor. On more than one occasion I've heard it said that election disappointment felt like the heartbreak of a first love lost. Thankfully, hearing it from others validated and gave expression to exactly how I felt on Wednesday morning, leaving my home to face a seemingly different America. My chest was constricted, my psyche excessively sober, and somewhere, elsewhere within me, I felt torn, returned to the irreparable fracture of an inherited nullity. The loneliness, I'm ashamed to say, felt familiar. Heartbreak—and in that way specific to romantic heartbreak. I perceived my own feeling as selfish, even detestable. Why? Why should I feel this heartbreak when, cognitively, I recognize there is much political work to do in the wake of a devastating verdict? 

In an unfortunately insidious way, nothing had changed between Tuesday and Wednesday. What an electorate expects and desires in their candidate is a representative of its best interest. It's part of democracy. And though our Democrat (who ironically resembles a republican elite) won the popular vote, the electorate decided on the Republican (who's ironically run, in my opinion, a campaign built on democratic rhetoric). Republican voters had already decided they were tired of the otherness parading itself in the halls of governmental authority, in media, in all channels of power—buying into the notion that a black President meant the end of American racism. These voters felt their tax dollars no longer served their best interest and found clarity in a figure who voiced the worst of their frustrations (despite himself not having to deal with any of these frustrations on a daily basis). Racism, sexism/misogyny, chauvinism—all of these things, despite their never having disappeared, have reared new ugliness into the American socio-political landscape. This election was certainly a reminder of what skeletons remain trapped in the closet of American democracy. 

But why this heartbreak? And why my negative self-perception of this feeling? Well, I think this has to do with the erotics of national identity. As Audre Lorde reminds us, the erotic is a form of power. 

THERE ARE MANY kinds of power, used and unused, acknowledged or otherwise. The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling. 

The erotic, as you likely already know, is a term derived from the Greek embodiment of desire, eros—it is a term specific to sexual/romantic love (as opposed to other expressions of ancient Greek love: agape, storge, and philia). More broadly, eros is desire writ large. It is to want. That we feminize the erotic is a truth often unacknowledged. And as a man (conditioned to reject the feminine within me), I was rejecting what came from my proper spirit. 

We all live in this country in hope that we might be invested in the poetic project of inalienable rights and the pursuit of happiness. And for many of us this translates to a desire (an erotic) to be American, to be received as American, embraced as American. This heartbreak is the feeling that one is helpless in the face of patriarchal oppression, that no amount of sweet talk or apologizing can seem to fix, that the sincerest desire of the heart is ignored, unrequited, disparaged—left to fester in what Lorde (and later Spillers) refers to as the pornographic. I return regularly to this passage by Lorde:

When we look away from the importance of the erotic in the development and sustenance of our power, or when we look away from ourselves as we satisfy our erotic needs in concert with others, we use each other as objects of satisfaction rather than share our joy in the satisfying, rather than make connection with our similarities and our differences. To refuse to be conscious of what we are feeling at any time, however comfortable that might seem, is to deny a large part of the experience, and to allow ourselves to be reduced to the pornographic, the abused, and the absurd. 

We are not without power in this. It has everything to do with a desire for fulfillment in the face of structures and continuums designed to rob us of that well-spring of power. This election was no accident. Things may get worse before they get better. In fact, some of us may never be American, may never receive or be received by America (as it so happens, some of us were never constitutionally considered human). But one thing is certain, we are not without power and we should not be made to feel anything less than divinely constituted and whole. We will not be moved.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Kissing the Frog(s)

Kissing the Frog(s)
On Love and Pokémon, 
Schopenhauer and the Masuda Method

Luckily we were met by ordinary devotion. 
—D. W. Winnicott
Did you teach him how to surf, is perhaps where it started. It’s 1998. Sheldon A. Brookner. P.S. 135 on Linden Blvd. Brooklyn, New York City where they paint murals of Biggie…You’re sitting at a collapsible cafeteria table, rapt in classmate conversation, each of them bubbling with excitement over something. Some new thing. You’re not sure what. Curious, you ask: what’re y’all talking about? 

You dunno Pokémon?

Shortly thereafter you acquire as a gift from your father Pokémon Blue, the one featuring on its cover the giant blue turtle with the cannons on its back. As it happens, your parents only learn about the games overtly Bio-Darwinian themes (evolution, genetic signatures, and later, breeding) after you’re knee deep in the game’s consuming (consumerist) time-suck. In fact, the game becomes controversial (just as Harry Potter would) with Christian conservatives and you begin to feel compromised. This will happen later with Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Remember Hot Coffee? No,  of course you don’t. 

But back to Pokémon— On that day, you crack the box open reverently and slide the blue cartridge into your beloved Game Boy. The same day your father, ever the big man, gets into an amusing confrontation with one of the local bloods. You don’t find it funny, but later see the irony in your choice of Blue version over the more popular Red. Little Orphan Annie is blaring from trunk subs as Jay’s Ghetto Anthem climbs the charts. You notice more and more unmarked white vans making their neighborhood rounds. 

And while all of this is happening, Professor Oak (the game’s Dantean/Virgilian psychopomp) cordially greets you, welcomes you to the world of Pokémon, asks your name…

Sunday, August 28, 2016

[Sitting] Endurance Against the Odds [of Publication]

In light of Colin Kaepernick's recent protest, choosing to sit during the national anthem, I wanted to bring out this old piece I shared as a guest speaker for the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop in spring of 2014. In it I posit that the act of sitting down, for black people in America, is nothing short of revolutionary. It has been since (and well before) Rosa Parks, and continues to be in light of circumstances. For those of you that don't know, this happened also in the 1970's NBA with Rucker Park legend Charlie Yelverton.


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Wonder Woman: Rebirth #1
Writer: Greg Rucka
Art: Liam Sharp, Paulo Siqueira

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Michael S. Harper (March 18, 1938 - May 7, 2016)

Why have I spent more time this year writing in and on grief, than I have generating rain? These days have been spent wading water, flexing my left arm in fear that it will go numb, singing alone. In the state of mind and mood I'm in I don't know what to write or with what eloquence I might summon a healthy recollection of this poet—this man who pulled me by the scruff of my neck back from the precipice of oblivion.

Oh, Sinnerman, where you gonna run to?
Sinnerman, where you gonna run to?
Where you gonna run to?

Michael S. Harper did that. He saved my life. In the fall of 2011 I had the opportunity to study with Professor Harper (he went by MSH in his correspondences). He was teaching a course called Master Poets, Apartheid Streets. I felt lucky to have this chance, to sit at the foot of the great poet. He was a marvelous raconteur. I spent much of that semester trying to shake off demons—until I was too tired, nerves too frayed to keep running from things and people in pursuit.

Well I run to the rock, please hide me
I run to the Rock, please hide me
I run to the Rock, please hide me, Lord

So I went home for winter break, wildly dissociated and impossibly morose. I needed to begin again, because my world had broken, my language for things had come unhinged and I too saw myself drifting in the void. Uncertain of who I was. Afraid of people. Sincerely unmoored. Untethered. But that semester, studying with Michael gave me a small piece of terra firma. He gave me life. He encouraged me to continue working on the Broome Street Review and sent me emails/notes always coaxing me back to life, back into the possibility of my becoming. Perhaps most relevant in his teaching were the reminders that my life, our lives, black lives, are not an afterthought. That each of us should know what we want, what we need, what we deserve, and pursue these things without fear or shame. Michael S. Harper lived and worked out of an ancient temporality—a time-space not grounded in the American ontic, but carried along lines of a seemingly cosmic consciousness. He might go on and on for hours connecting the dots between things and people I had once considered disparate nodes and this was his power, his magic. The way raptors circle high in the sky, the preciseness of their vision, their extra receptor for the color no human naturally perceives—Michael could see, I think, in this quasi-oracular way. And this was also frightening for me. Because it was always very nearly approaching the truth that I had just begun to taste.

But the rock cried out, I can't hide you
The Rock cried out, I can't hide you
The Rock cried out, I ain't gonna hide you guy

In my struggles that semester I had begun to realize (anew) the hostility this world has to offer "young and black". In fact I began to see and bear witness to the structural position of blackness as that which undergirds the actualization of normative sociality. Of course we "know" this inherently. We "see" it at all stages in our lives. But until you sit inside of this blackness. Inhabit this blackness...Bear witness... Everything tastes like ash when you know this, finally. Everything. But there was Michael. A man of grace, elegance, sophistication. Also a man whose hawkish eyes might pierce the complacency which governs a self-satisfied life. To be so incriminated by his gaze was to recognize your own complicity in this, the structural oppression, and acknowledge the limits of your own moral and ethical sense. I knew he was always with me. He made certain to remind me that he was my ally in all things. That his fighting spirit was also my fighting spirit. But he couldn't, despite his power, protect me from the violence and fungibility that undermines and overdetermines blackness.

I said, "Rock, what's a matter with you, Rock?"
"Don't you see I need you, Rock?"
Lord, Lord, Lord

I suppose if what I needed or wanted was protection, Michael offered a kind of safe haven for me. It was when I sat with him in office hours that I realized the unique temporality he occupied. We sat speaking so long that I had to stop him and ask if he'd eaten. No, he had not. I went to get him a salad while, without pausing, he invited another student inside. How he rapped interpersonally was a revelation. He was so honest and so damn funny. I won't even go into some of the things we discussed because we kept it 100. But mostly he was loving. A protector. A man who loved this thing we call Jazz—who admired the poetic possibilities of Lester Young's predilection for foul language. A man with stories of experiences of happenings and events. A man with heartaches and confusions. A flawed man, but a man aware of his failure—and being so aware, a man who never failed to try again, try harder. In this respect, one of the most thoughtful people I will have ever met. 

So I run to the Lord, please hide me Lord
Don't you see me praying?
Don't you see me down here praying?

But the Lord said, "Go to the devil"
The Lord said, "Go to the devil"
He said, "Go to the devil"

We exchanged gifts at the end of the semester. I was falling apart and he was groaning with old age, but sharp and steady as ever. I gave him my signed copy of Toni Morrison's "A Mercy". She'd signed it for me at the 92nd St. Y and I thought it the only thing that could possibly express my gratitude for his guidance. He returned a sheaf of my poems with commentary and added a sheaf of his own. He signed for me a copy of his collected and gave me some recordings, two CDs. CD's that I would fall asleep listening too when the ghosts came too many at a time to deal with. 

So I ran to the devil, he was waiting
I ran to the devil, he was waiting
Ran to the devil, he was waiting
All on that day

I cried, Power

I wonder, everyday, what it means to debride oneself from trauma. Michael's poem Debridement tries to sing after the violence of the Vietnam War. 

Debridement: The cutting away of dead  
or contaminated tissue from a wound  
to prevent infection.  

And on this Mother's Day, it is also a meditation on the mothers who suffer(ed) for their sons. 

Mama’s Report 
“Don’t fight, honey, 
don’t let ’em catch you.”  

I think debridement was his life's work. To uncouple oneself from the embedded remnants of trauma, remnants that threaten to infect, to rot—that threaten to take the entirety of a life. That need to heal wounded territories, whether corporeal or spiritual, he made his labor. I am grateful to Michael for taking the time to pull splinters of shrapnel from my wounded spirit. He was this healing presence for so many. And more than that, a fierce advocate for justice, for the reparation which is itself the debridement of our trans-atlantic wounds. He reminded me that I am a man.

So I ran to the Lord
I said, "Lord hide me, please hide me"
"Please help me"

He said, "Child, where were you
When you ought a been praying?"
I said,"Lord, Lord, hear me praying"
Lord, Lord, hear me praying
Lord, Lord, hear me praying"
All on that day

Once, in a dream, he sat in conversation with my (white/italian-amer) grandmother (Eleanor) and I just listened. What is there left to say? What is left to say is perhaps the fact of his poetry. The immensity that I could never myself say or explain away in grief, in sepia. Listen to him, as I listened to him, as a child sitting at his feet. Hear this beautiful introduction by my friend Renee Neely (a marvelous writer herself). Find his work (or let it find you).

Begin to debride.

"Brother John" from Dear John, Dear Coltrane

Andrew e. Colarusso