June 30, 2013

Amazing how many different places a person can sleep in two months. I went from a small city in northern France to the banlieue of Paris to the wonderfully familiar bookshelves of Shakespeare & Co to the seemingly never-ending sprawl of LA to Autostraddle camp in the mountains of California to Minneapolis to Carleton College…it was only two weeks ago that I finally made it to Albany, where I will be spending the next year.

As you might expect, being a tumbleweed for a month at Shakespeare & Co was the highlight of my time in France (drinking champagne in front of the Paris city hall when gay marriage passed was a close second). My fellow tumbleweeds were a delight, as they always are. Nathan, last I heard, was headed to India, where I can only imagine he is eating like a king and writing the next great American novel. He and I first met three years ago during the shop’s literary festival, and through the strange machinations of the universe, we both ended up returning to the shop this spring. Tom – Scotsman, musician, and whiskey expert extraordinaire – is still at the shop and blogging up a storm. And Holly, the driving force behind the shop’s production of Much Ado About Nothing, continues to blissfully avoid returning to the US.

If I had not already paid for a transatlantic flight and a spot at Autostraddle camp, I would probably still be at the bookshop. It would seem that the only thing tempting enough to convince me to leave Paris is a campground full of queers (the fact that my French visa was about to expire mattered very little in this course of events, interestingly enough). Rather than try to recount all of camp for you – this would simply be me saying “everyone was so smart and attractive!” in as many ways as possible – I’ll just link you to the Autostraddle staff’s recaps.

After southern California, I flew to Minnesota, where I crashed on a variety of couches in the apartments of very welcoming friends. I discovered that Minneapolis is a wonderful city when it’s not buried under two feet of snow, that small Midwestern towns feel even smaller after living in Paris, and that after a year away, your alma mater will never feel like the home you remember it to be. Despite the onslaught of feelings that hit me upon seeing so many familiar haunts and faces, I made it out of Minneapolis without completely succumbing to nostalgia.

And so I’m back in Albany, my to-do list dominated by grad school applications and my ever-expanding reading list. The bane of my existence while traveling was my clashing inabilities to 1) avoid acquiring books and 2) fit more books in my luggage. Thankfully, media mailing rates exist and so all was resolved in the end.

Things I’ve read:

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald — I somehow got through high school without being forced to read it.
1Q84, Haruki Murakami — very long, very bizarre, very memorable
Antigonick, Anne Carson — a poetic and feminist translation/interpretation of Antigone. Wow, you need to read this.
Much Ado About Nothing, William Shakespeare — best if read with wine and friends
This Jealous Earth, Scott Carpenter — my critical theory professor’s latest collection of short stories
various poetry collections by Stephen Dunn — I will never not be obsessed with “Loves

Things I’m reading:

Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami — runaways and talking cats. just go with it.
Moby Dick, Herman Melville — surprisingly hilarious and beautifully written
Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”, Judith Butler — Problematize all the norms!

Last but not least, I’m still writing down my feelings, adding creative enjambment and punctuation, and calling it poetry. Post to follow.


Radio, someone still loves you…
April 11, 2012

Yes, for the next seven weeks, I will be reading and talking about poetry with my lovely co-host, Clare Costello, on Carleton’s radio station!  KRLX 88.1 FM, Wednesday nights, 9pm central time.  Clare and I will be reading our own poetry, poetry we like, and we will be having guests on the show.  Fun times!  Tune in: www.krlx.org

And here’s a poem, because presumably that’s what this blog is about:

Through the kitchen window

The band-aids are on your
five left fingers, the blood
cleaned and gone – it was
the knife moving beyond
its realm of fruit flesh (the
pomegranate sliced open,
exploding seeds, deep red juice).
It was the neighbor, her
bare shoulders, her white
laundry, the fold of her body
bending down, her arm
reaching for the clothespins
(oh, pin me down, won’t you?).
It was your wandering eyes,
your steady, steady hands.


Winter is almost over
March 11, 2012

…and so is my second to last term as an undergraduate.  I finished my final poetry portfolio this afternoon, so those 16 poems, some of which have already been posted, will be steadily making their way to the internet.

Winter Poems

My words are waiting in their fading
ink dresses, lined up on paper park
benches in the springtime of their
long adolescences, waiting for your
wandering eyes, waiting for your
fumbling tongue to let loose all their
consonants and deep-held sighs,
until they sleep with your fingerprints
and wonderings on their skin,
their lips parted in soft silences.

They are every mystery I have
managed to scrawl in dark pen,
every tired beauty I have watched
and wept for. They are every
silent thing I have wished to say,
every warm hand held while
walking, head down, into the wind.

the future freaks me out
September 8, 2011

I must apologize, not to my readers, but to my blog itself (herself? himself? I think my blog is beyond gender).  I had made an unspoken and largely unacknowledged promise to my blog that I would post regularly, and I have been trampling all over that promise this summer.  So I’m sorry, Blog, that I have been neglecting you.  Perhaps I will write you a poem, and then wallow in the intellectual conundrum of whether a poem dedicated to a poetry blog is meta or simply bizarre.

But all that is perhaps beside the point that I wish to actually make in this post.  I want to share what I have been writing instead of poetry.  Over the course of the summer, I have been putting together applications for the Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships; the former would allow me to study English at Oxford for two years, and the latter would allow me to study Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia for one year followed by another year studying Issues in Modern Culture at University College London.  This should hopefully explain why I have been dedicating absurd amounts of time and mental effort to these applications.  So because these applications have been my major writing projects for the past month and because they have to do with my interest in poetry, I thought I’d post them (or rather, just the Marshall essay, since it is more poetic).  Perhaps it will be genuinely interesting for some of you, perhaps it only matters to me.  Be that as it may.  My blog will appreciate the post.

    Kierkegaard once asked of his own work of philosophy, “is this poem perhaps like a proverb, of which no author is known because it seems as if all humanity had composed it?”  Sometimes when I have finished a poem, I ask this of my own work, hoping the answer is yes.  In lines made beautiful by rhythm and imagery and alliteration, I hope that in that beauty there runs a strand humanness – something that defies my own particularities and closes the gap between author and audience, something that goes beyond an everyday poetic pleasantness.  Poetry, for me, is not necessarily about sounding good; it is about saying something utterly and movingly human.

Creative writing in general, then, is in my mind a form of humanistic inquiry, and because of this, I have found my interests in college divided between writing and philosophy. Ever since reading Brave New World in high school, I have been captivated by certain philosophic dilemmas: Should humans allow their natural urges to lead them in decision-making?  Is religion necessary to human existence?  Is the happiest way of living the best way?  These questions and others like them became more than a passing interest after my first year at Carleton; I have purposefully sought out classes that grapple with these very questions and give me the opportunity to read works by thinkers like Aristotle, Hegel, Luther, and Kierkegaard.  When it came time to declare a major, I designed my own – Self, Community, and Interpretation – and it has allowed me to devote my studies to these scholars who address the issue of what it means to be human in a way that transcends the fields of religion, philosophy, and political theory.  I find myself faced with topics varying from the life of Alexander the Great to the role of women in contemporary Islam, but whether it be an ancient philosophy text or a recent book on the sociology of religion, I have come to realize that these seemingly unrelated works are frequently dealing with the same issues.  Just as theologians must clarify their understanding of human nature to come to conclusions about the relationship between God and society, political philosophers must similarly establish a stance on human nature to assert that a certain type of state is best.  These are the sorts of problems that never cease to fascinate me.

This line of inquiry that I find so animating and vital has led me to pursue research beyond my coursework. Carleton awarded me the Hanson Ethics Fellowship, providing me with a stipend to do independent summer research.  Concerned by the deconstruction of ethical frameworks undertaken by postmodern scholars, I studied the relationship between personal identity and ethical authority.  In the work of Kierkegaard and Sartre, I was shown the despair of individuals left stranded without a moral compass, and in the writings of late 20th and early 21st century religious scholars, I found a solution to this moral floundering through models of religious community better suited to our liberal democratic age.  And I, being a student of both the political and the religious, offered my own solution (with great trepidation): an empowerment of the democratic state as an ethical guide for individuals seeking direction.

As enthralling as I find my coursework and research, the craft of writing itself is never far from my thoughts, and in fact, my work in college has proven to me that attention to the means of articulating an idea is just as important as attention to the idea itself, for there is always more than one medium through which to communicate a thought. As a writing tutor, I constantly advise other students to think of meaningful ways to get their points across; I ask them if descriptions of concrete examples might support their conclusions more robustly than an abstract argument.  When organizing a publication for the organization I help to run, Dialogue on Education at Carleton, my co-editor and I encouraged our peers to share their views on the college’s approach to education not through academic essays but through poems, anecdotes, personal reflections, and any other medium that would powerfully convey their ideas to the Carleton community.  Even in my sophomore writing portfolio, I made a point of including a short story that I believed exemplified all the criteria of a successful academic essay, and in the poems that I write while studying philosophy, I find that the intellectual exploration they permit is often just as fruitful as outlining an academic research paper.

My courses, too, have shown me that literature has great philosophic potential. In a political philosophy class, my professor included Shakespeare on the syllabus; in the work of Paul Tillich, one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century, whole chapters are dedicated to discussions of the existentialist literary movement; and in a class on Russian literature, I discovered that Tolstoy and Dostoevsky are philosophers as much as they are novelists. When choosing a topic for my senior comprehensive thesis, I have found myself compelled by philosophy in literature, and I hope to research existentialist theology not alone but in conjunction with the literature that is in dialogue with it, particularly the work of T.S. Eliot.  Being able to incorporate literature into my major while also continuing to take creative writing workshops has for me been a personal exemplification of the dual nature of poetry.  It is beautiful in itself, in its rhythms and lyricism, and the construction of a poem is truly a craft that demands skill and patience.  But there is a beauty, too, in what is said that goes beyond how it is written, beauty that is present in even the most poorly written philosophy paper.  The task, then, of the poet – that is to say, my task – is to be both a philosopher and a wordsmith, conveying the beauty and power of an idea through a medium that can, through its own power, instill that idea with even more meaning and force.

lost poetry
June 16, 2011

As readers of my blog might have noticed, the month of June seems for me to be about finding.  I have found two poems serendipitously placed in my path by chance (if you believe in chance or serendipity or those sorts of things that go against all conceptions of Fate and inevitability), and I have found numerous objects, those not so much by chance as by my desire to just go out and find something.  The end of the academic year at Carleton is heralded by the appearance of discarded, unwanted belongings in all the dorm lounges and recycling bins, and for the intrepid and poetic explorer, there is much finding to be done. Things I have found/taken/creatively re-appropriated include a magnifying glass on a stand, brand new articles of clothing (price tags still attached), an unopened box of pasta, a pencil case, gold wire-frame glasses without lenses (of the hipster variety), and a shocking amount of candy (which I did not creatively re-appropriate so much as simply consume).

But for all the finding and taking-up of things that I have been engaging in, I have also done my share of letting go.  I sold books that I had been holding onto with the ridiculous belief that I would revisit them in my free time; I contributed to the piles of unwanted items in the first floor lounge of my building, getting rid of – among other things – a bath robe I had never used during my entire three years at Carleton; I left a large tin of anchovies on the table of my floor’s lounge, something that I had originally purloined from a dining hall display table but never opened.

And finally (I assure you that this post is indeed primarily about poetry), I left a poem.  I am not sure if there is already a widely-used term to describe a poem that is the opposite of a found poem, but for now, I’ll call it “lost.”  The idea behind this, for me, is that while with found poetry, the poet is seeking out the poem, with lost poetry, the poet lets the work go.  In a way, all poetry is lost.  The poet, having written a piece, desires to share it and in doing so, gives the poem up to the reader.  Once the poem is released, it cannot be taken back; it is lost to the world and to the reader’s interpretation.  But the poetry that I have in mind when I use the term “lost poetry” refers to those poems that are let go that will perhaps never be found.  The poem that I found scribbled on a slip of paper and dropped in a stairwell was truly lost, in that if I had never picked it up, it could have gone unread forever and eventually been crumpled in the corner to become a victim of a custodian’s dustpan.  Lost poetry is not presented to the reader in the same way that a poem on a blog or in a journal is because it is never known if the reader is there and it is equally unknown if the reader will understand the poem as poetry.  Lost poetry is written, but its publication is more of a giving up or a letting go – a release of poetry into the world in which the poet knowingly leaves much to chance.

You are perhaps wondering about the poem I lost, and unless you were wandering around downtown Northfield, MN on June 4th around dinnertime, it is unlikely that you could have found it.  Anna (whose blog you should read and whose interest in psychogeography initiated and influenced this poem) and I found two pieces of sidewalk chalk, and what ensued could be called, “If you give two twenty-year-old intellectuals a blank page,” or in this case, chalk and sidewalks on a sunny day.

We purposefully wandered (is that a contradiction in terms? I don’t think so), starting our wandering by writing a word on the sidewalk accompanied by an arrow pointing in the direction of the next word.  We took turns writing words, and eventually, after many more words and arrows, we made it back to our starting point.  The poem that we ended up with was this:

here and now
a means of
think of this:
punctuated equilibrium
fails, but
all sorts of bubbles
(uh oh! don’t be misled! or do…)
lead you back
and bind nutshells with
with borderlines

By now, all these words have disappeared from the sidewalk, and I have no idea if anyone stopped and decided to follow an arrow in the short time the poem lasted.  I suppose for this poem to remain truly lost, I would have refrained from posting it here and from taking photos of each word to document the poem’s existence on the sidewalk.  If I had just let it go, it is likely that Anna and I would have been the only ones to read it, and maybe as its authors, it would have had meaning only for us.  I guess what I can conclude is that I’m much better at finding things than I am at letting myself lose them.

Andrea Gibson and Slam Poetry
April 13, 2011

In case you didn’t know, we are currently in the midst of National Poetry Month.  On my own college campus, this has come to be overshadowed by the fact that it is also Carleton’s Pride Month, and though there is no shortage of poetry-related events on campus, the Gender and Sexuality Center is proving to be tough competition in the struggle for student support and recognition.

An event that I recently attended was in the spirit of both things we at Carleton are honoring this April.  Andrea Gibson, an internationally acclaimed slam poet, performed at the Cave, Carleton’s own student-run pub.  The place was packed.  Standing-room-only packed.  People-listened-from-outside packed.  You get the picture.  I suppose that when you tell a campus full of LGBTQ/poetry enthused/politically concerned students that the 2008 winner of the women’s world poetry slam is coming to campus and that her work deals with themes that “deconstruct gender norms, sexuality, class, patriarchy, and white supremest capitalist culture,” you can expect that the hearts of many students on campus will skip several beats from the sheer prospect of the joy they know will accompany her performance.  (Here‘s her bio, in case that quote sparked your interest.)

The hype is well-deserved.  Of all the events I have been to during my time in college, Gibson’s slam performance is my favorite, without question (I say this as both a poet and a budding member of the LGBTQ community).  Her poems were shockingly personal, a way of approaching poetry that I have yet to master/give in to, and as you would expect from a professional poet, her willingness to reveal to us her deepest emotions and private experiences is moving, inspiring, so many other -ings that I need not list.  But instead of asking you to take my word for it, I’ll let Andrea speak for herself:

She says that “A doctor once told me I feel too much,” and her feeling is contagious.  When she smiled as she spoke certain words, I wanted to laugh, and when she held her hands out to the audience and seemed to cry and beg for us to listen, I listened hard, with my whole being.

It’s poetry like hers that makes me want to write poetry – to write it better and read it louder.  My own poetry seems feeble next to hers, or perhaps just meeker and self-aware and quiet, so I hope that in exposing whatever readership I might have to Gibson’s work, I haven’t lost you all to her words.

And you can look forward to another post about famous slam poets in the near future.  Tomorrow, Anis Mojgani and Derrick Brown will be performing on campus, and I have high expectations…

Poetry: a new service of Carleton’s social thought department
February 2, 2011

Yes, I have started a poetry blog.  Don’t judge.  That is to say, don’t judge me for the fact that I have chosen to not only write poetry but also share it.  Really, the blog’s subtitle says it all.  You can judge the poems themselves all you want.  Comment to your little heart’s desire.  In the midst of all the judgment, though, I hope that you do take some time to enjoy reading the poems and the inevitable philosophical musings that will accompany them.