I’d been intrigued by Craig Calderwood’s work, but when I got a moment to really hang out with the stuff – when, by kismet Craig was visiting her hometown of Fresno, California the same night Sister Spit was passing through and she graciously hopped on stage with us – well, I became obsessed with it. 559, the name of the series she showed that night, is named after Fresno’s area code and explores a closeted queerness specific to that place. The images are intense and impacting, mesmerizing candy-colored labyrinths creating figures sinister, or wounded, or both. Hungry eyes peer out of chests and into cell phones, like deranged, digital sacred hearts. An ethereal, bubble-headed kid makes out with a fox-headed kid – or gets devoured.
So, I was fizzing with excitement to meet up with Craig at Craftsmen + Wolves, my favorite new gentrification hang-out, to pick up the piece she is super-generously donating to the RADAR Spectacle. It’s a study for a piece for her new series – each of Craig’s giant pieces begin as these smaller but no less intricate works, and the one laid before me on the table of beeswax paper inked with a pair of snuggle-necked swans, with a smaller illustration of flower-impaled penises and bees sewn to it. It’s super fascinating and beautiful, whimsical and, um, painful. I WANT IT. I talked to Craig on the internet about it.
MICHELLE TEA: Can you tell me how you work with beeswax? Is it messy or delicate or both? Do you feel a kinship with bees?
CRAIG CALDERWOOD: I am using the Beeswax with the Mulberry paper to create a translucency so you can easily see the images within the layers of paper. I find that the wax creates a more visceral piece of paper, giving it a more organic feel then if I used paraffin wax. The process is a bit messy, beeswax is very sticky in comparison to other wax options. I basically heat a cookie sheet up in the oven then take it out, lay the image down and rub the block of wax on top of the paper. The image then becomes more tactile and olfactory, the beeswax is very pungent and creates an interesting texture. I can’t say I have a strong affinity with bees but they do get referenced in the series due to the saying “the birds and the bees”. They go hand in hand with some of the Floral references in the series as well.
MT: What have you learned about swans in researching them for your new series.
CC: I have been reading a lot about Homosexuality in the natural world and a large part of the reading I am doing surrounds birds. I think I like using the swan imagery because the animal is so romanticized and heavily a symbol of monogamy and marriage. In fact the swan is so romanticized that I have been finding it hard to even find anatomy images, especially when researching the Mute Swan. As for its representation of Monogamy, the Swan in Fact does not always perform lifelong pair bonds and has varying mating and pair bonding experience. But I am merely paralleling animals and humans in these drawings, rather paralleling the way in which Psychologist and Scientists have approached queerness in both.
MT: What is the name of this new series?
CC: The Series is Called “Hard Parallels, Soft Parallels”, which has a sort of obviousness to it. The Hard in Soft is Suggesting states of arousal not just in the sense of genital arousal but in regards to the varying degrees of mental arousal. It also references the level of paralleling in the actually pieces, some of the comparisons may be really obvious while others will be very secret. I am still in the research and prototyping phase of the series so I am still developing it as a whole thought.
MT: Why are there flowers in the penises??? It is so compelling and sweet and painful to look at!
CC: In 2012 I was a part of a group show called Best Revenge: A Beautiful Fuck You, where I got to show with the sculptor Nicki Green who was showing these amazing porcelain penis vases with dried tulips sticking out of the urethra. I think when I was working on this pattern I was subconsciously channeling them. The drawing that is to come out of the swan drawing and the penis sounding flowers drawing is about being perceived as deceptive by a masculine accuser (the Chimera – more to come about that in the future). I wanted to represent having a penis as a trans feminine person while also playing with traditional symbols of femininity and what it means to have and want both. I also like the visual of something that is symbolically supposed to penetrate and represent masculinity in some contexts being penetrated by something traditionally feminine. I’m merely trying to create a beautiful representation of having a penis while being trans.
MT: Why are the two pieces stitched together?
CC: The two Pieces are Studies for a larger drawing I am currently working on; I wanted to bring them together to loosely see how the pieces can start melding. They relate in the sense that they are subject to accusations and assumptions from the Masculine Accuser which I am calling the Chimera, a monster made of many different parts in this case the scientists and psychologists that enact different types of violence on the Queer animals and people. They are pieces to a larger puzzle I am currently working on.
Well, as I learned at the Fresno Sister Spit show, I can listen to Craigh Calderwood talk about her work for-ev-ah. Come to the RADAR Spectacle Friday, May 17th at the Verdi Club, and take a shot at walking out the door with this beautiful + intelligent work!
Check this lady out! She’s totally naked, but she’s a superhero, so she’s not really worried about being vulnerable like that. She’s got her superhero hood on, and her namaste posing makes me feel like she’s totally on the side of goodness, as does that sort of smirk she has on her face. I feel like this heroine is all like, Yeah, I know it’s all samsara drama, but I gotta do my part. I’m here to help. A Bodhisattva to the rescue for reals, with a nice pair of wings clawing up her back. I lugged this big, wooden piece by artist Peter Max Lawrence around the Western Addition yesterday, then gave up and jumped in a cab, for I am not a superhero. It’s got a secret second piece on the back, a similarly nude super-dude whose main power seems to be making his bed in the morning. A super every-man we all can relate to! I am so digging Peter Max Lawrence’s super-powered visions after seeing his current installation at Mission Comics, where he papered the back room in scrawling and splattered butcher-paper portraits of old (Batman) and new – a powerful, sinister depiction of a superhero getting Abu Ghraib-style treatment doesn’t let you get to comfy with comic book nostalgia. The walls are also layered with smaller paintings that cascade downward into a pile on the floor, like a tide of superhero heads creeping your way. It’s an awesome illustration, and Peter Max Lawrence is clearly a factory of art! I am so psyched he gave us this piece to auction at tomorrow night’s Spectacle, and I chatted with him on the interweb about it.
MICHELLE TEA: Were you into superheros when you were a kid? How has your interest in them changed?
PETER MAX LAWRENCE: As a child born in the year of the “Star Wars”, “Superman” and “Wonder Woman” I believe that superheroes were the first set of mythologies that I truly believed in. These stories and characters seemed to mix into my very DNA. During my tumultuous teenage years I turned back to comics, but this time those with a bit more independent flair. I became interested not only in the characters but the creators behind them and the reasons for the metaphor and allegories they were steeped in. During this time I was also heavily into Greek mythology and my own repressed homosexuality and in short the the combination of all these things led me to not only start creating my own heroes, villains and universes but to also search out more obscure authors and creations. This led me into underground comics and zines which i went on to author myself throughout the mid to late 90’s. My general interest in them has actually come full circle in the last few years as the big screen adaptations of several of my childhood favorites have been a bit lackluster and now find myself going back to the source materials aka the old comics with some amazing story lines for example Iron Man and his struggle with alcoholism, Batman and the inevitability that he was getting older and needed to find a series of successors, so on and so.
MT: What can you tell me about the heroine you donated? How do you imagine her – does she have a back story, a life off the canvas, or wood?
PML: The heroine depicted on the poplar wood is a lesbian femme fatale version of an old Marvel character “Angel” who later went on to become “Archangel.” I continue to enjoy queering established characters and concepts by either incorporating trans or gender-swapping elements. This painting was a spontaneous study for the character that after several years of sketching and drawing evolved to a more magickal demi-goddess whose origin story boils down to she is the indirect offspring or lovechild of Pan and Terminus, a human who works at SFO.
MT: Who is your favorite superhero?
PML: It is very difficult for me to pick a single favorite super hero but if forced I would say Promethea ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Promethea )
MT: OH MY GOD I AM OBSESSED WITH PROMETHEA!
PML: Me tooooooooooo. I want more….more more moore Alan Moore. While I was in Iceland, (artist) Michelle Morby took a photo of me wearing a similar crown. And then just the other day a fan of my art all the way from Spain sent me this… and I swear to god I cried.
MT: If you were a superhero, what would your deal be?
PML: I have been asked this question many times and as per the always I’m just not sure. I feel like growing up as a closeted homosexual in Kansas and Missouri that in many ways I was living a double life for many years that made me clearly see the pros and cons of living such a lifestyle, and so if I was to be a hero of my choice I wouldn’t have to hide my identity and would probably fall more in line with a Jedi knight or someone who has to learn to embrace the powers the universe offers us all and to through trials and tribulations help the greater community and world. I prefer creating characters and their unique scenarios rather than fantasizing about my own possibilities.
Come to the Radar SPECTACLE Friday May 17th and bid on Peter Max Lawrence’s Angel, as well as work by Phoebe Gloeckner, Craig Calderwood, Kari Ovik, Joan Baez + more!
A few years ago Sister Spit did a show in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Through a series if unfortunate events, word did not get out that we were coming to town, and the only people who showed up to see us were three earnest lasses, and Phoebe Gloeckner, our Special Guest that night. A professor at UM/Ann Arbor, I had been freaking out that she would join us. I am a HUGE Phoebe Gloeckner fan, and have been since the 90s, when I first started seeing her creepy-cool comics show in in various places, and then, with the publication of one of my most favorite books ever, Diary of a Teenage Girl, an epic diary-comic that goes in and out between graphic novel and illustrated memoir. The dedication, For the Girls, When they are grown, haunts me sweetly. I feel like one of the girls Diary of a Teenage Girl was meant for.
Rather than being a dud, that sparsely attended midwest show was the BEST, because Phoebe stood on stage showing us slides form her new work-in-progress, detailing her mind-blowing process, the intensity of the story that had overtaken her life, and some witty and wise musings on the life of a working artist, in general. After visiting the Mexican city of Juarez to write about the murders of women that have been occurring on a horrible, massive scale, Phoebe was left in some sort of state of shock. as an outsider gringa who couldn’t comprehend the poverty the Juarez community exists within, and as a women and a mom who recognized the devastating loss these families were trying to live as her own worst fears. She became close with the family of a murdered fifteen-year-old girl named Elena Chavez Caldera, and began visiting them often. From this relationship has grown Phoebe’s current project, in which she intricately re-creates much of the family’s buy fashioning dolls and their environments and then photographing them, often manipulating the photographs to add details that shock and disturb, like the artist’s own face.
Phoebe has donated two of these pieces to the RADAR Spectacle, to help fund the Radar LAB creative retreat, which she will also be a guest at this year. I can’t believe we are able to offer these pieces, from a project that is so important and creative, requiring mad artistic genius and a dedication to empathy. They are amazing, and as the project comes to completion and is shown and published as a book, whoever walks away with these prints is going to be PSYCHED.
Almost as psyched as I’m going to be once I score Phoebe’s third contribution to the Spectacle’s Art Auction – an illustration from Diary of a Teenage Girl!!!!!! I am LOSING IT! If anyone wants to enter a bidding war with me for the sake of RADAR, let’s do it! That’s what it’s all for – to fund this excellent and unfunded writers’ retreat! But I am going to WIN.
Oakland academic Essence Harden interviews RADAR SPECTACLE performer BRONTEZ PURNELL.
Tell us about you’re recent work “New Diaspora” and “Other Dancers” at the L@te series at the Berkeley Art Museum (BAM). How does blackness, queerness, and collaboration inform your work?
New Diaspora was a means to celebrate the different Black talent going on in the Bay right now. It was inherently a very queer night also. I grew up in Alabama and have always been challenged/ curious about the lives of Black people in terms of place/environment/time period. Other Dancers was a means to celebrate the different experimental choreographers I know. there were some people involved in Other Dancers whose work i had never even seen before. i just got drunk at a bar with them and it was like “oh! you do performance? KOOL! would you be a part of this?” Blackness, Queerness, and Collaboration inform my work INFINITELY.
Speaking of “New Diaspora” I really loved how you ended the night with a decompression of energy by leading a group-follow dance onto pillows. How is community reconciliation significant to your art?
I went to speak to my friends class at Berkeley about community healing thorough art and i think its as simple as getting a group of people (no matter the number) in a space together moving towards a common goal or feeling however fleeting it may be. Its essentially about togetherness and intention.
Tell us about the making of “Free Jazz” your inaugural dance film from the Brontez Purnell Dance Company? Particularly the “cut n’ mix” of aesthetic choices involving punk, cosmology, the African Diaspora, and temporality. How has studying theatre and dance informed your current project?
I was obsessed with doing a dance movie cause like who does that? Particularity in Black and White Super 8 cause im a slave to aesthetic. I was doing work and making pieces at Cal State East Bay and was really excited about it so i wanted to put the work i did in a form that could live forever and encapsulate a certain period in my career. All my work is informed by whats closest to me. I think about things like sex, religion, community 24/7 and the film is a subdued response to my raging obsessions. Maybe it gives them more of a context for myself.
I loveeee novella’s, tell us about your upcoming work?
It’s called “Johnny Would You Love Me If My Dick Were Bigger” its not a novella as much as it is an exorcism of the ghosts of my reckless first 30 years on the planet. I found a publisher but editing is kicking my ass. I decided not to change to tittle ever cause i fell like trying to pander commercial appeal for a book thats about a black punk rockers romp through life is somewhat delusional. Plus i see it living on in that N.W.A meets feminism category of literature.
I think what’s really incredible about your art and you as a person is the inescapable visibility you give to the complexity of being Black, queer, male, and a politically radical punk. Can you talk about being a radical Black queer punk and how these and other positionalities continue to inform your art?
Its hard cause at 30 im finally starting to feel semi-comfortable in my skin and what i will allow and not allow. Even though im rightfully a cross section of all these varied identities i dont trust MOST Black people, MOST punks, MOST queers and don’t get me started on men. Its been an interesting journey finding out who my people are. One example was i took a dance class at Berkeley and this other queer black male student found out i was from Alabama and had all these romantic notions of Blackness and the Deep South (he had grown up in California) and he said something about wanting to move to Atlanta- now growing up down South i have my own prejudices. In inadvertently blurted out “dude, first of all if you HAVE to party down South go to New Orleans NOT Atlanta. I CANT with Atlanta. I know all the shows on TV make it look fun but its the WORST mix of East Coast attitude and Southern boredom. If i wanted a bunch of stuck-up Black people telling me to go to church all the time i’d watch BET…..BARF”- and i look up and im like “holy shit- i just scared this kid”- this is one example of how my radical, black, punk rockness gets me in trouble and i wouldn’t trade it for the WORLD…….
Essence Harden is a current graduate student in the department of African American Studies at UC Berkeley. When she is not researching articulations of Black masculinity through 1980/90′s hair and styling practices you can find her reading sci-fi and eating bagels in her back lot/garden.
Rhiannon Argo will be a guest performer at the Free Sister Spit Kick Off Show at the SFPL on March 31st. She is a Lambda Award winning writer, a schooled librarian, and a seasoned Sister Spitter. She is the author of two works of fiction, The Creamsickle, and Girls I’ve Run Away With, (coming September, 2013), a novel about two teenage girls in love and on the run. She is fundraising to publish her second novel and launch a new queer micro-press HERE.
I’m DIY-Publishing my New Novel, and Starting a Micro Press, and It’s so Much Fun!
By Rhiannon Argo
I want to tell you all about my recent journey into DIY publishing and starting my own micro press called Moonshine Press. Originally I never thought I would go this route to publish my work, but now that I am, I’m loving every moment of it!
Here are some reasons why:
1. Growing my queer writer community:
When I first began to research the possibilities of DIY publishing, I got a generous amount of encouragement and advice from other writers who had first-hand knowledge about the process. Many of these writers I’d only known vaguely before through social networking and I was super excited to find everyone so supportive and eagerness to share their tips and tricks! Even when the idea of starting Moonshine Press, was just a spark of an idea in my mind, I already felt buzzed with excitement at a new sense of writer community growing around me. I knew that should I decide to go forward with Moonshine Press that the powerful connections and sense of artistic community I was feeling would also grow exponentially.
2. Being pro-actively engaged in the entire process of making a book is magical
I went the traditional publishing route when I published my first novel, that is to say I queried the hell out of every queer-friendly small press in existence, dumped a lot of money into photo copying and postage, and wrote silly pitch letters that often resulted in me toning down the hella queer, radical, gender-bending, sex work-y, trash-mouth-y, aspects of the book. It took me nine months to snag a publisher and then it was over six months until my novel even saw an editor. Guess what!? When you DIY publish you don’t have to be on someone else’s time schedule! You get to make things happen as quick as you are humanly capable. YOLO, people!
With my first press there were also creative differences. They were generous in letting me design the cover, but everything else they did their way. I learned in college that the author never gets to give creative input on their books look, and that you should just keep your mouth shut and appreciate how lucky you are that you even have a publisher at all. But, guess what!? Now, I don’t have to silently disagree about the look of my finished book! I’m the boss woman and I get complete creative control. Totally BOSS!
You could look at DIY publishing VS. Traditional publishing like this: Sometimes people equate writing a book (or finishing an art project) to “having a baby”, like after publishing/birthing the book authors may even experience post-partum depression. Using this analogy, my experience with traditional publishing was like having a baby while hooked up to all those monitoring and drug inducing machines in a sterile hospital, like how some researchers have theorized that the hospitalization of baby birthing often makes the mother feel like she’s not even a participant in the birth. On the opposite side of that coin, I would say DIY publishing is like a home birth, and you’re in charge of the journey, it may be more painful because perhaps there’s more grunt-work involved, but the end result is more gratifying.
3. The publishing landscape is dull and desperately needs new queer presses focused on the next generation of edgy, radical, queer, and feminist voices.
I know a lot about the small press options for queer writers. I’ve got a list I would be happy to share with you. I’ve done research galore because after publishing my first novel on a press who was not exactly a good match for my work, I wanted to know everything about every small queer-friendly press out there, so I could find one that made me and my work feel like we had found a nice, cozy, understanding home, a press with an audience that was also my audience.
I took my short list of queer friendly small presses and I started crossing off the ones that my work just wouldn’t fit in with. During my research I noticed that of all the LGBT specific presses the majority were gay-male oriented, headed by gay male editors, with often times only a few lezzie authors in their catalogs. This is not a complaint, just pointing out the fact that while there may be a handful of LGBT friendly presses, there are less female focused ones, and even less QUEER-view- female focused ones. My narrowed down list provided me with two options that I felt good and excited about. Those are two options too few when you’re pitching a book and interested in a timely timeframe, with the knowledge that many small presses only publish a few titles a year, and are backed up far into the future.
I was bummed. Why can’t I have as many options as those straight, white, hetero-normative, writer MEN have!? Why don’t I get the luxury of querying hundreds of agents and presses that will “get” my work? I moped around with these thoughts for a little while and then the question, Hey why don’t you just start your own fantastic radical press and stop complaining, dummy?, popped into my head.
“Hey, why not?”
I made an appointment with my psychic via Skype (my Skypic), and she shuffled her cards, and meditated on my handful of name suggestions for a potential press, including naming it after Moonshine Road, where my mom gave birth to me in a tipi during her feral hippy days. The cards were complimentary and on that fateful day Moonshine Press was born!
4. Working with, and even paying, other queer artists:
To get Moonshine Press up and rolling, and afford the publication costs of publishing its first title, I needed a chunk of cash. I started a fundraiser that’s been going great so far. The campaign is basically just a way to pre-order the book. Extra pennies thrown in my wishing well go towards growing the press, such as, publishing future authors, and sending the Moon Babe Writers on future tours. Right now it’s the last week of the campaign my fingers are crossed that funds will go over the goal and Moonshine Press will be able to grow, grow, grow!
The awesome thing about the successful fundraiser is that I get to hire, and work with, other queer artists and writers to help me publish the novel. For example, my layout person is Allison Moon, a lesbian author who has had her own DIY publishing successes. I’ve hired a queer graphic designer, web designer, photographer, cover model, and copy editors, and my book cover designers run a small, queer press themselves in Vienna, Austria! Lastly, I get to print the book with a small, non-corporate printing company, with DIY and leftist leanings, that uses recycled paper and soy based inks.
With all this queer love going into the publishing process of this novel, ranging from other rad queer artists helping me design it, to each generous contributor to the fundraiser, I know that holding the finished product in my hand will feel super powerful! Like the books journey to print was truly a collective effort made possible by the support of an utterly special community.
If any of you reading this want to explore DIY publishing options just holler at me, I’ve got tips and pats on the back to share. But be forewarned that it’s a ton of work, but if you like this sort of work, than the process is wicked fun and rewarding.
Let’s destroy the gatekeepers! Their gates are so damn boring! Aren’t we all sick of men dominating the publishing world!!?? (And if you don’t believe me about men dominate the publishing world, because you live on another planet, than check THIS out.)
Hey, I’m blogging this from an airplane right now and they’re also dominating First Class, to the max! I’m thinking this is because they own all those media companies, websites, newspapers, film companies, book review sites, magazines, and blah, blah, blah. Lez wiggle into first class and do an impromptu reading. Make them squirm.
There are so many fun things happening this weekend! Follow my lead:
On FRIDAY I’m going to see Sister Spit alum Brontez Purnell’s new performance THE EPISODES with Anthony R. Lucas and Sophia Wang at The Garage. I LOVE Brontez The Writer (pick up a copy of his zine Fag School at your local DOWN AT LULUS retailer), and Brontez The Musician, so I’m really excited to experience Brontez The Choreographer.
On SATURDAY I’m going to the GRASP Showcase. As the invitation describes: “Girls Rock After School Program (GRASP) is a 10-week program for girls 8-18 years old. Students attend instrument lessons, form a band, collaboratively write an original song, participate in workshops, and perform with their band at a live showcase.” Girls Rock Camp is an AMAZING organization- give’em your support.
SATURDAY is all about the tweens because in the evening I’m going to Manifest Reads Pushing Margins, a reading benefiting Pushing Margins, an LGBTQQIA youth summer arts camp. Readers are Truong Tran, Nico Peck, Tessa Micaela, Brittany Billmeyer-Finn, Cheena Marie Lo, Kate Robinson and a musical performance by Maddy MADLINES Clifford.
And before I head home I’m going to go see Brilliant Colors at Hemlock!
On Sunday I’m spending the morning at my home away from home, DOWN AT LULUS. DOWN AT LULUS is a salon and vintage collective started by Tina Lucchesi and Seth Bogart. I’m a buyer for the store and each season we host a HUGE dollar sale.
THEEENNNN I’m going to the first show of the Black Salt Collective!
Black Salt Collective is the work of Fanciulla Gentile, Grace Rosario Perkins, and Adee Roberson.
These TALENTED LADIES will be selling their wares, exhibiting their works and unveiling their window display installation at ATA. I’ve got to be there by 5pm so I don’t miss the performance by LA-based musician Jeepneys!
So, please excuse me if I sound a little like THIS today- but there is just so much you CAN’T MISS!! See you this weekend.
Amber Dawn will be reading TONIGHT in the Latino Reading Room at the Main Branch of The San Francisco Public library at 6pm. FREE!
Amber Dawn came to my house for an interview one rainy February afternoon during the last term of my MFA in Vancouver. “It’s so weird to be here,” she told me. “I used to have friends who lived in this house. It was a bit more punk rock then. I even broke in through that back window one time,” she told me. As if she wasn’t badass enough already, Amber Dawn is a writer, filmmaker, activist, and performance artist whose first novel, Sub Rosa, won a Lambda Literary Award in 2011. Her poetry chapbook How I Got My Tattoo won the Eli Coppola Chapbook Prize from RADAR Productions in 2012, when she also won the Writers’ Trust of Canada Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBT Writers. In her forthcoming book How Poetry Saved My Life, Amber Dawn tells her story of working in the sex trade in Vancouver through nonfiction and poetry. I spent an afternoon with Amber Dawn where she talked about her star-crossed relationship with memoir and poetry, and her commitment to community activism.
I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about writing and publishing a mixed-genre book like How Poetry Saved My Life.
Well, I first of all did not say to myself, “I want to write a mixed genre prose and poetry book” and set out to do that. If someone asked me to write out my life story, or a chunk of time where I worked in the sex trade, there’s no way I could stomach it. I also just don’t feel like my story is best told through a chronological view of time. I don’t think that most people’s lives are that tidy, and mine certainly isn’t. So I just started writing bits and pieces, mostly therapeutic to begin. Then, when I got to grad school I tried nonfiction with Andreas Schroeder for the first time. That’s when I really started to write my story, in that class. But where I did most of my writing was to submit to sex worker festivals in the United States that were. I would often write just to be able to be in those shows, I was so desperate for community. It was great to leave the city and be more anonymous. And eventually realized I had a book’s worth of writing. And even then I sat on it for a long time because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to put it out in the world. So I didn’t set out to do it. If I had set out to do it I’m sure I would have failed. [laughs]
I’m so glad you did. I wanted to ask about some of your poetic techniques—I really liked how you used glossing and drew from such a diverse selection of poets. Are they pieces that have been with you for a long time? Is the form something you crafted yourself?
I love a glosa. One is an Irving Layton quote, which is almost cheeky—Layton is one of those “fellas,” who has been widely canonized. But the other two glosa quotes are from feminist poets Beth Goobie and Lucille Clifton. I was a late reader; I didn’t really start reading until I hit my mid-twenties, and so I felt I should get caught up, especially with the Canadian canon. And once I did that, I pretty much went right for lesbian feminists and more radically-identified poets, which is still what I read a lot of today.
I was lucky enough to help you copyedit the manuscript of How Poetry Saved My Life one afternoon. When you write, do you have an imagined first reader? Do you often show things to groups of friends, or to your wife? Who gets to see things first?
Vancouver is a very transient place; I found that my community in grad school dispersed pretty darn quickly. So I’m in the lurch, to be honest. Luckily enough I’d say maybe forty percent of this book was stuff that I had worked on when I was at UBC. People in your undergrad or in grad school in creative writing right now: do not undervalue the creative writing classroom! As much as it might drive us all crazy at times, it is such a tried and true structure and the idea that there are other people there to take interest in your work, and vice versa, is such a powerful thing. So no, I don’t really have first readers. I do have women who I think are elders in the sex work activism movement who I can check in with, which has been really helpful. And I read a lot at community events. I think that’s a great pilot audience. I find community readings very helpful.
What does it feel like to have a poem come to you? Is there a part of you that observes and says “I have to write about this,” or is your process more about sitting and looking out a window and the poems arrive?
I have this terrible joke that I tell about the Canadian poem. Canadian poets have their ideas come to them when they’re like, kneading bread dough and looking out the kitchen window at some snowy vista. That’s how the Canadian poem happens. Maybe there’s like, a red-winged blackbird that flies by or something.
I wonder what that would be like. That would be nice.
I know, right. That’s not my experience. [laughs] Poetry is my first love in terms of creative writing. As much as it sounds a little west coast woo, poetry is the closest thing I’ve had to a spirituality. Says the ex-Catholic. I can’t write poetry as often as I’d like because I have to be in a fairly sound place in myself, an almost meditative-level state. I have to feel as though my sensitivity towards language is resonating at a higher place than when I’m writing prose. Going to readings really helps; it really helps me reach that place, listening to other poets. When I don’t read books of poetry or go out and see other poets it’s almost like I lose a language. Poetry doesn’t keep pace with the rest of the world, so I have to slow down to meet it.
What’s it like, by contrast, when you’re writing your nonfiction?
Oh it’s fast. I can’t keep up with the ideas. I usually have a fairly good outline and character sketches and I’m ready to go. And I could do it anywhere. I could be in a cafe, I could be in bed with my laptop. It could be noisy, it could be quiet. I could have only an hour to write or I could have the whole day and something will happen. Poetry’s not at all like that. I feel like I really need a whole week just to settle into writing poems.
You definitely get a sense of that when reading your work. Do you have a process, for your nonfiction, where you decide what to share and what you don’t?
Nonfiction for me is the complete opposite of poetry. I think that in this book a lot of the nonfiction, with the exception of a few pieces, was me responding to some sort of call. I’m also an activist, and a woman that’s had some stigmatized experiences. I’m very keenly aware of the communities that I came from that have many day-to-day barriers to finding their voice, which I do not—I’m privileged that way. But I listen to people. There’s a piece called “Ghetto Feminism,” which is something a lot of my sex worker friends and I would talk about—wanting to be activists but not feeling like we have the political chops or the research-based knowledge that we need to be activists. Towards the end of the book there’s a piece called “To All the Butches I Loved Between 1995 and 2005″ which I actually wrote for “Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme” (Arsenal, 2011). I wrote it specifically because it seemed like, at that time, every sex worker I knew was breaking up with someone and feeling discouraged about relationships. There’s always been some sort of call, and I’m trying to address it through my nonfiction. It’s probably the only reason why I write nonfiction. I never would write nonfiction about like, whales or something. [laughs] I’d never write out my travel journals. Writing is activism. There’s no other reason for me to write nonfiction, I think, than making some sort of statement that I hope will help the communities that I have in mind when I’m writing.
Further to that—do you know Louise Halfe at all? She was the Poet Laureate of Saskatchewan, and writes a lot about survivorship. She once said writing is a part of the work, but it’s not what’s going to heal you. I was so moved by your pieces about queer funerals and Trans Day of Remembrance in your book, and I was wondering if you could talk a bit about your experience of writing through grief.
Yes. Well, first, I disagree with that quote. That you can write about fear, or grief, or whatever the emotion is, but it won’t heal you—that wouldn’t be a credo I could adopt. My writing doesn’t live in isolation. I’m not very precious with my work; in fact, I’m quite the opposite. I want things to be seen as soon as possible. I’ll read something that’s raw at events because I think that writing, for me, is a call-and-answer. I want to be a part of the dialogue. That’s why I write. I want to be a part of dialogues. I’m not a very good political speaker, as I mention in “Ghetto Feminism”—I get really flustered very easily. I don’t like to talk with a voice of authority, but I do like to talk in a peer-to-peer way and I feel like writing allows me to do that. So bringing stories of grief and loss to my community feels like the right venue. And when I say my community I mean queer and allied communities, survivors.
Did it feel therapeutic for me in any way to sit down and write that story out? No. It felt like cutting my eyeball open and pouring some lemon water on it. But once I got out there and started reading it for people, and getting responses—that’s healing.
I’m not an extrovert either, so writing’s kind of what I’ve got to join in the conversation. Especially with grief; I’ve had a lot of grief in my life. Writing nonfiction and nonfiction poetry has been great to show people that I’m present and that I share some of their experiences and am willing to speak out about it.
Reading “How To Bury Our Dead” has been really rewarding for me because a lot more people knew Shelby Tom than I I had realized. I had such an isolating experience when she was killed because I was working in a massage parlour in Surrey and I just felt like no-one acknowledged her death besides other working girls. None of my queer friends knew her and there was this big divide between my queer friends and my sex worker friends. That story actually helped me start to bridge those two communities a little bit more. I’m so glad I wrote that. It was extremely helpful for me.
I know you address themes of grief in the poem “How I Got My Tattoo,” and that’s the title piece from the chapbook that won RADAR’s Eli Coppola chapbook contest. Can you talk a little bit about the chapbook, and the prize—is it included in How Poetry Saved My Life?
Mhm. You’ll see a lot of overlap between the poems in the chapbook. The Eli Coppola prize is a funny thing, because I tried to apply a few years in a row. In my work desk, I had an envelope with the RADAR address written out, stuffed full of papers and my cover letter. And two years in a row I didn’t send it. I’m so insecure about my poetry! I’ve been really blessed with people like Rhea Tregebov and Kate Braid who have supported me, but my poetry never got published in literary journals—there’s been a lot of rejection, and I know part of it’s the content. How do you just put one of my poems in with, the other poems that in appear in the Fiddlehead? I get it. I’ve been a curator and sometimes it’s not about the quality of the work but about the fit. But I do have such insecurity about my poetry and I was so happy to win—I never get anything for poetry! [laughs] Me and poetry are like star-crossed lovers or something! I love poetry but it doesn’t really work out between us, so it was really nice to receive recognition.
That’s so great. Do you have any wishes for How Poetry Saved My Life? What are you doing next?
I wrote this book really with survivors in mind. I think sex worker is one of many examples of a stigmatized identity where the speaker—in this case, me—takes a risk and sticks their neck out to tell a story. So I wrote with those people in mind—who are many people. Many, many, many more people than the literary marketplace might realize. Not my publisher [laughs]—they’re great.
I’m really excited to go to different cities. I have been making contact with sex worker activist groups in Toronto and New York so hopefully I’ll connect with those communities as well as book lovers and readers as I go. That’s always huge for me, when other folks, especially women, approach me after a reading and tell me how hearing me read has been positive. That makes it worth my while. Why stick your neck out unless it’s going to do something positive for others? So, here I go. . .And then I’m sure I’ll crash, and cry. [laughs]. The crashing and the tears are a part of it! I’ll have the queer bookstores and places where there’s going to be a lot of sex workers in the audience, and then I’ll have Ottawa Writers’ Festival, where I might be introducing ideas to people as opposed to sharing experiences with people. So, we’ll just see how it all plays out. As for what I’m doing next, I’m looking forward to returning to speculative fiction.
I feel that way too. I grew up in a very small town in Ontario called Crystal Beach and it was an amusement park town for 100 years. The park closed in 1989. So the book is set in 1990, the year after the park closed and there was an economic decline prior to the park closing but when the park closed part of the town basically became a ghost town, and it’s very small to begin with. So my story’s about a disillusioned twenty-something protagonist, quite in debt financially, who returns to live with her mom in this small town because she’s sort of run out of options. And magic ensues. For folks that read Sub Rosa, they’ll know that it was pretty overtly about sex work. This next book much more allegorical, with subtle messages about queer suicide and mental health. It will be one of those books that readers can take to whatever level they want—a plot-based page-turner or a deeper look at queer identity and melancholy. It’s going to be a lot more speculative than Sub Rosa was.
Leah Horlick is a writer and MFA candidate in poetry in the Creative Writing program at UBC. Her first book, Riot Lung (Thistledown, 2012),was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award and shortlisted for a Saskatchewan Book Award.
Hello! And welcome to my Better-Late-Than-Never ART Monday. This week I’m so excited to recommend Spit and Passion by Cristy C. Road.
Spit and Passion is a graphic coming out memoir focusing on the often-overlooked moment of secret childhood queer-revelation, rather than the more common narrative of adolescent queer-declaration. This isn’t a story about coming out to others- it’s about coming out to oneself. And for some of us, coming out to oneself looks a lot like this:
You could say the book takes place in early 90s Miami- but the setting would be more aptly described as in the mind of preteen Cristy as she navigates, and second-guesses, the realization that she’s probably a dyke.
The story tracks Cristy as she reconciles her Cuban-American Catholic upbringing with her new queer punk leanings.
She seeks solace in Ren & Stimpy, Freddy Mercury, Broadway musicals, Rosanne Barr, and most fanatically, Green Day. Her story is filled with references, as varied as they seem, that all outsider-gays will identify with. Ren & Stimpy is the millennial Burt & Ernie, no?
I’m a HUGE fan of Cristy C. Road’s illustrations and this book does not disappoint with incredibly beautiful artwork. Each panel is a stand-alone piece.
Buy a copy of Spit and Passion RIGHT NOW and come see Cristy C. Road when she’s on tour with Sister Spit 2013! (For those in the Bay Area- come to the Sister Spit Kick Off at The San Francisco Public Library on March 31)
AND ANOTHER THING: Cristy C. Road is also working on a tarot deck with our own Michelle Tea! Check out some of the drawings in the works- THEY ARE AMAZING.
Amber Dawn is the winner of Radar’s 3rd annual Eli Coppola Memorial Chapbook Contest. I recently got a sneak peak of her winning chapbook, How I Got My Tattoo, and it’s completely lovely. Amber will be coming all the way from her native Vancouver, Canada to read at the Radar Reading Series on March 6th. She will also be on hand at the East Baydar Literary Cabaret to answer your Hot Probs advice questions. In the mean time she took the time to answer some questions I posed to her about her zodiac, artistic process and upcoming projects.
When did you begin writing and/or identifying as a writer?
I began writing in my late-teens, but it took years before I had the confidence to call myself a writer. Maybe by the time I was in grad school, completing an MFA in Creative Writing, I identified as a writer. Before then, I just identified as a loud mouth, who sometimes wrote shit down on paper.
Would you recommend doing a Creative Writing graduate program to budding writers?
I think it’s a way to develop one’s writing practice and complete a book, but it’s not the only way. For me, the structure and institutional support was a gift. I still reflect on my grad with fond feelings. My grad cohort was populated with fantastic writers, who I miss dearly. Since graduating, I still haven’t found a writing group or community quite the same. I should also say that Canadian university fees are significantly lower than in the USA. While I always had a job, or two, during university, I never took out loans. I’d feel pretty peeved if I had to go into debt to write!
Which writers, and artists, have inspired you and your work?
Beth Goobie, Lynn Crosby, Larissa Lai, Nalo Hopkinson, Barbara Gowdy, Hiromi Goto, Persimmon Blackbridge … I’m naming Canadian authors because I encourage folks in the USA to read CanLit. What do all these authors have in common, you may ask? They all unflinchingly understand that complex identities and literature make wonderful companions.
What is your process like? Do you have a favorite place you like to write? Do you have any interesting quirks, or rituals, regarding how things should be to have a good creative session?
I’m lazy, and I was raised Italian-Catholic. So I procrastinate when writing, then I guilt and shame myself for not being as productive as I should be. Currently, my wife is also writing a book-length project, so the two of us support each other. Sometimes we joke about our writing projects in the bedroom, like “I wrote 1500 words today, so now you totally owe me a blowjob …” It helps us not slip into writing-depression.
Your piece, “To All the Butches I Loved Between 1995 and 2005: An Open Letter about Selling Sex, Selling Out, and Soldiering On,” in the anthology Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme is one of my favorite pieces of writing about sex work. In it you discuss many of the personal sacrifices that come with working in the industry, especially in regards to relationships, and it reads as a sort of confessional. Often times we sex workers must justify our occupation in the face of societal judgment so we play down the darker sides of the trade. Has this been true for you at all, and if so, did you ever find it difficult to write about the challenges of the work with this external pressure at play?
This has been very true for me. Sex workers are a silenced population and so I understand the privilege I have in being about to use my voice and speak up around sex work. With this privilege comes a sort of duty to represent sex workers as the dignified peoples that we are. Being worthy of esteem and dignity does not mean that I haven’t grappled with many personal low moments, in sex work and in other areas of my life, and these stories of vulnerability are important to me too. It’s bullshit that sex workers (or anyone) have to represent themselves infallible. More recently, I decided that I am forwarding sex workers’ by showing myself as a complex human being. I hope readers see strength and find solidarity in what I write about—even the darker parts.
What was one of your favorite memories from touring with Annie Oakley’s Sex Workers’ Art Show?
That tour was is rich with memories for me, it’s hard to pick one. I toured four times with SWAS. I said things on stage I had never actually told anyone before. I developed my voice as we went from city to city. Young women in the audience would disclose their own truths to me after the show. It was truly empowering. But I guess my favourite memories was simply sharing stories and wisdoms with the other performers backstage. Here were other sex workers who were making outstanding art and leading inspiring lives. My tour mates gave me such hope, you know, SWAS tour made it okay to be who I am.
I know you must be busy gearing up for promo for the spring release of your new book, How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir, but what’s next? Do you have a new project in the works?
After launching a memoir, I’m looking forward to returning to Speculative Fiction. I love fantasy and magic. I’ve recently begun writing a queer ghost story that takes place in my birth home—Crystal Beach, Ontario—a small amusement park town that went bankrupt and lost the amusement park in 1989. The book will be something of a salute to my childhood.
Rhiannon Argo is a writer of fiction, a schooled librarian, and a seasoned Sister Spitter. She is the author of the Lambda Award winning novel The Creamsickle and a forthcoming novel, Girls I’ve Run Away With, (September, 2013) about two teenage girls in love and on the run. More info can be found at www.rhiannonargo.com.
It’s FRIDAY- time to enjoy genius Myriam‘s Blah blah blah BLAHG post!
Spoiler alert: I made it!
Okay, if you read the prequel to this BLAHG post, you’ll know that during act one of this two-act hyper-punctual lesbian saga, or, should I say, vaga, I arrived early, seven days early, to a reading at Culver City’s Antioch University, a reading I was invited to by native Aussie Alistair McCartney, a cutie who I’d love to someday cajole into shouting MAYBE A DINGO ATE YOUR BABY. Speaking of an aboriginal dog perhaps eating the thing you’d hoped to vicariously live your squashed dreams through, I have a very good, very sleepy friend who I call Zzzzzz, and when she was in high school, she and her brother taught their Costa Rican foreign exchange student that the foulest slur you could say in America was the phrase I long to hear come out of Alistair. When the Costa Rican got angry at Zzzzzzz’s mother for something untoward, like making her set their Phoenician table (they lived in Arizona), the Costa Rican shouted MAYBE A DINGO ATE YOUR BABY at her in her bejungled accent and prepared for deportation. She believed she’d thrown a verbal machete and she kind of had.
Also, if you read this BLAHG’s prequel, you’ll know that I fantasized that Antioch was a correspondence school and auditorily visualized the reading I’d been invited to having great acoustics. Don’t mailboxes have great acoustics?
So, as per the picture above, on the appropriate Tuesday, I re-arrived, re-climbed the Rockyesque stairs, and humped into the building that’d been pointed out to me by two kind Marys during my premie visit. I made my way to the big, fat, fluorescently-lit suite the reading, Literary Uprising, was going to go down in.
Alistair, wearing a tie he’d resurrected from 1985, greeted me.
“I’m so surprised you came!” he said from beside a multi-table hors d’oeuvres spread luxuriously delicate enough to inspire a Flemish, Dutch, or Walloonian still life. “And all the way from Long Beach!”
The further one lives on the outskirts of LA County, the more those who live closer to its heart believe you must pack a lunch for the sojourn towards them. They endearingly flatter themselves.
While Alistair added nuts to the still life, I subtracted from it, noshing at fruits, olives, and crackers. I set more on a see-through plate, headed to a stiff chair, sat, and observed as an albino spider acrobatically descended from the ceiling on her silk string. She and I and watched Literary Uprising’s attendance swell and with all the alumni crowding and hugging and in-joking with one another, it seemed less like a lexical Bastille and more like a class reunion.
Finally, Alistair told everyone to stop carousing and herded us into the reading area.
We sat and waited to be titillated by the spoken word and ill-timed ring tones.
Alistair introduced the first reader, Kyle Sawyer, a B.A. candidate AND good man. He was one of the guides I’d encountered during my premature ejack. I CAME EARLY.
In a tortured tone, Sawyer read several pieces about the horror story of gender. Interestingly, his narrators’ genders were never indicated, however, we really got to know his narrators’ FEELINGS. My favorite part was a line describing the ascription of gender based on how one pees, which reminded me of my workplace, high school. People pee everywhere in high school, including the ceilings. What gender is that? Teenager? I love jokes that end with handwriting analysis of snow pees.
The next reader, George Moreno, jazzed me big time.
Moreno isn’t an Antioch student but a Santa Monica City College kid, from Jim Krusoe’s writing class to be exact. He dove into a story, and lo and behold my literary erection(!): it starred a character named Myriam!!! Since this Myriam only existed through his voice, I chose to believe that she spelled her named like mine, and this was so exciting. I never come across other Myriams, we’re a limited breed, and I sat in wonder, marveling at my narrative. I was a pretty good hostess in the story. I ‘d baked a Dutch apple pie. Good for me! I was bummed when the protagonist left Myriam in her apartment and went to kick it at a jazz bar, and I wanted to go back to myself because I wanted to know what I was up to. This shadow-me was dully fascinating. Was I cleaning up after my pie? Baking another? Entertaining more of the opposite sex? George Moreno showed me that I have the potential to be a straight baker. Who knew? Certainly not my titless wusband who Kyle Sawyer should be pleased to learn inspires equal amounts of “Ma’am…” and “Sir…”
While the Myriam story’s narrator was soaking in the jazz at that bar he’d left Myriam to go to, somebody’s phone rang, and it was appropriate. It was Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.”
Of course, I introduced myself to Moreno afterwards and said, “Just so you know, I’m Myriam.”
The reader after Mr. Myriam, Tanya Hyonhye Ko, was bomb.
She played with English and Korean by reading a poem that poked lyrical, or should I say ryricar, fun at the Asian pronunciation of river as libber, and then Ko did something even more amazing: she read the poem in Korean but left river and libber as they were and it was so amazing that we knew what she was saying even though we didn’t understand her. Her proceeding poems continued to be beautiful but not quite as light, in fact not light at all once she delved into the exploitation of Korean women as sex slaves, comfort women. Sometimes, when I hear the phrase comfort woman, I think of comfort shoes, and these are third world shoes that are forced into providing a welcoming cave for some corn chip ass foot. Forced prostishoetion.
Literary Uprising’s last reader, its champagne supernova, was Erin Aubrey Kaplan, a Los Angeles Times columnist and Antioch professor.
She invoked Sir Mix-A-Lot and then read her glutteally iconic essay “The Butt.” I’d read the essay before but had never heard her read it, and when she got to the part about the black woman-big butt association, my brain turned it into the Black Woman Big Butt Association, a 501(c). “The Butt” is as super serious and as it is hysterical, and I loved gawking at the white guys in Kaplan’s rapture who were losing control of their vocal chords and chuckling with this woman who was making them understand the racial travails of big buttery. “The Butt” also forced me to consider my meager cushion. Mom accuses me of having pompis planchadas, her Mexican way of referring to my flat-ironed ass.
Once “The Butt” was over, that was it, time to head out like (maybe a dingo ate your) a baby, and as a queer gesture, to keep the evening homosomething, before heading back to the outer limits of LA County, to my rabbits, iguana, and wusband, I slinked into the men’s room to freshen up as a tribute to Kyle Sawyer.