Almost Dorothy Wasn’t Born this Way | Photo by Neil de la Flor
My alter-ego is back. He (or she-he) spent the week writing brilliant stuff at BAP, Bad Ass Poetry, I mean, the Best American Poetry blog. By brilliant stuff, I don’t mean turkey stuffing. I mean semi-well lit and deranged writings that are luminous (because they were written by candle light), goofy, sad, stupid, smart, funky, discoish, totally gay, impersonal, way too personal, problematic, polemic, prosthetic, hectic, corny, cheesy, divine, trashy, semi-soft pornographic (not really) and, most of all, honest (more or less).
I’m glad my alter-ego is back. I’m glad he has taken over my body again. I’m glad because I think he may have learned something about himself that he didn’t know before, but knew, but didn’t want to accept. Anyway, hopefully he’ll treat me better and not make me write stupid things on this blog too often. But, I won’t hold my breath, because a breath is really hard to hold in one’s hand.
Here are the links to this weeks postal posts at BAP if you wanna read. Don’t take it all too seriously. Please.
July 11, 2011: “Kazaky, Wonder Woman, Pedicures, Lago Mar, & Other Stuff”. Excerpt: “I need a pedicure. I need to spend more time Little Miss Sunshining my ass on a hammock on Fort Lauderdale beach. I need to live in the present tense. I need to stop caring about my presence in the present tense. Ghosts exist in every tense–past, future, present and inside the tenses that exist in between these.”
July 12, 2011: “Mama Mia, Chiquitita, Sinead O’Connor, Ladytron and Pegasus“. Excerpt: “Resistance is futile, so I bought tickets to see (the best damn) ABBA (tribute band in the world) next week at the Hardrock Casino in Hollywood, Florida. I’m super excited because “Mama Mia” may go with us. She is a “Super Trouper” and a “Dancing Queen”. We invited “Fernando”, but he has to work, which is too bad because he does the best Cubano rendition of “Chiquitita” never recorded.”
I’m on sabbatical, I’m gonna get physical, and I feel fine. I’m flying to Europe on a Jumbo jet with a giant bucket of Bubba Gump fried catfish and bacon shrimp. I’ll be back in a few, or even sooner. I forgot my passport. In the meantime, smell my feet and read my alter ego’s guest blog posts at the Best American Poetry blog. Because, you know, we Americans are the best at blogging.
I first met Sandra Beasley when she came to Miami for LegalArt Miami, a residency dedicated to providing artists with a support structure (or legal art?). We met in real life and and ate real food at Wynwood Kitchen, a cool place with fun graffiti murals but okay food ( 2.5 stars). We met again during Wynwood Art Walk and had a nice pre-Walk dinner at Joey’s, (5 stars) a yummy northern Italian restaurant in the Wynwood Art District. During our dinners, we spoke about life, love, robots (or maybe I just mad made that up), jukeboxes, love again, poetry, traveling through space & time, bungee jumping out of airplanes and Beasley’s soon to be released memoir Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life. No, we didnt’ talk about bungee jumping but it would have been a fun topic of conversation. Sandra Beasley is a mighty human who uses language to illuminate and elucidate the nature of human nature. In this interview, Beasley reveals what she wants to be when she grows up and other glorious things–like the identity of “Floof”.
Almost Dorothy: What is a poem?
Sandra Beasley: A poem is an idea, anchored by figuration and heightened into revelation. A poem’s dominant strength should be verbal (in other words, a visual artwork is not a “poem” just because it incorporates text). A poem should be an act of exploration, something that asserts a new truth about the world. I am not interested in passive observation, no matter how artfully constructed. A poem is a tough shard of a thing.
AD: After reading your book i was the jukebox (W.W. Norton & Company, April 2010), I was left wondering what you were before you were the jukebox. Care to explain?
SB: So much of the attention we give to emerging writers is focused on cultivating voice. Make it distinct, we say. Make it yours and yours alone. Naturally, this concept of a unique voice gets conflated with all the biological and cultural things that define the writer as a person—gender, race, age, slang, class—so it’s no great surprise that many first major works adopt a veiled but heavily autobiographical point of view. That’s mostly true of my debut collection, Theories of Falling.
But then I think it is important to step back and think of all the other ways a voice registers: level of formality, pacing, an ear for sound, a style of syntax. These are the truly defining characteristics of one’s voice on the page. In my second collection (i was the jukebox) I wanted to write about worlds and perspectives wildly different from my own, whether an orchid or a platypus, and have faith that the poems would still “sound” like me (as the author) in a way that provided cohesion. After all, the best jukeboxes don’t hold completely random songs—you need a sense that someone’s aesthetic curated the catalogue.
If you’re looking for a great jukebox in DC, by the way, I’d point you to the Red Room Bar at the Black Cat.
AD: I’m not of age but I’ll check it out once I turn 16. Sandra, are you still the jukebox?
SB: You got a roll of quarters that you’re looking to spend?
AD: No, but I have sliced pickles. When I read i was the jukebox, I wasn’t expecting any potty mouth language coming out of your jukebox. In your poem, “In The Deep” you write: the “boys are fifteen/and fuckwild:/Fuck the glass fish…/fuck the nautilus…/fuck her blue rings./fuck her three hearts.” What is it about cursing, especially using the f-bomb, that activates a poem?
SB: Diction is a tricky thing. This poem has two engines: the octopus, all elegance and intelligence, and the brute energy of fifteen-year-old boys. I wanted to get in all those rich anatomical details, but I didn’t want the poem to become a nature study. So I put the observation into the mouths of the boys, complete with their litany of introductory fucks. I’m sure anyone who has ever overheard a teenage conversation that appears to be entirely composed of “Fuck, yeah” can relate.
AD: Fuck,yeah! I love to say that word.
SB: The irony is that while the boys emanate aggression with all those f-bombs, that’s an empty threat. It’s really the octopus, with her quiet handling of the baby doll, that could do some damage.
AD: When doesn’t fuck or cursing work in poet-tree?
SB: Most of the time. There are exceptions: Ntozake Shange‘s “crack annie” comes to mind. But if a poem goes for shock value that isn’t grounded in a particular character or social condition, that poem is going to have a short shelf life. I may be sipping coffee out of a Rumpus mug that reads “Write like a motherfucker,” but the truth is that I hardly ever swear. Nine times out of ten, there is a better and more original way to get your point across.
AD: In the poem “My God”, you write that your god is short, likes bacon, and never flosses. That sounds like my ma. I’m wondering if she’s god. Anyway, what kind of god does this? And don’t say my god.
SB: I was raised without the reference frame of religion. Maybe my parents thought that would leave me free to choose (or not choose) a faith later. As it turns out, it is really difficult to relate to the concept of “God” unless there has been some groundwork laid in childhood. This poem tries to articulate an understanding of God in the same way I understand myself and the people around me—in details and contradictions, in everyday mess, with both love and resignation.
I’m always surprised by the number of high school students who read that poem and assume it’s about my father.
AD: How’s the memoir coming along? It should be out soon, correct?
SB: Yep, Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl will be out in July. Writing a memoir (or any nonfiction book) is very different from the organic process of assembling a poetry collection. In poetry, there is only a minor distance between the Platonic version of a poem in my head and what makes it onto the page. But the gap between a Platonic understanding of my life to date (not to mention all the attending science of food and allergies) and what one “memoir” can capture—that gap seems so big and messy in comparison. I took some risks; I think they were good risks. I just can’t wait to see the damn thing in print.
AD: Can you reveal a morsel from it, a blurb, a line or two, or make an oblique, cobwebbed reference to what it may or may not be about?
SB: The first chapter includes the following references: Mickey Mouse, small town waitresses, malnutrition, a pink polka-dot dress, needles, Reader’s Digest, milk (bad), avocadoes (good), Hippocrates, Red Rover Red Rover, and Russian roulette.
AD: I love hippopotamuses and corn on the cobweb. What do you want to be when you grow up?
SB: A writer. If that doesn’t work out, I’d love to perform trapeze. That’s one art blessedly unchanged by modern technology.
AD: Favorite curse word & use it in a sentence.
SB: I was serious about not cussing much. Ever since I was a kid I’ve used “Foof!” as my go-to expletive of surprise. If I do happen to truly curse, I tend to look upwards (as if toward some holy audience) and apologize under my breath afterwards. Ridiculous, especially since I don’t practice a religion and use “goddamn” freely. But there you have it—my inner puritan.
So I will hearken back to the great Redd Foxx, a better man than I, or at least a saltier sailor. He said this: “I say ‘shit’ and ‘fuck’ for one reason: people do. If you ain’t fucked, shit. And if you ain’t shit, fuuuck.”
AD: Ohmygod. I’m going to chruch or church now to repent for Mr. Foxx. What was your biggest-giantest breakthrough.
SB: I feel like the answer should be when my first book won the New Issues Poetry Prize in 2007. But it was really the Maureen Egen Exchange Award from Poets & Writers, which I received in 2008. In part, because I got to carry out the prize of that award (a weeklong trip to New York and a reading at Housing Works) with Theories of Falling in hand, which put it on the radar of those it might have never reached otherwise. In part, because that trip was when I got introduced to the man who became my agent, who eventually landed the nonfiction book deal that allowed me to quit my job. In part, because they bought me sushi and put me up in the Library Hotel and let me dream that my talent could actually make a way for me in this world. I will always love Poets & Writers for that.
AD: Biggest setback.
SB: Once upon a time, I was devastated to be rejected by the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. But in hindsight, I am profoundly grateful I came home to Washington, DC, and received my MFA from The American University while staying close to my family in Virginia. Artists tend to regard regional history as either a burden or an inheritance. In my case, it has been a gift.
AD: If you could be any beverage, alcoholic or non-alcoholic, what would you be and why?
SB: My love is scotch: strong, tied to the land, sometimes smooth, sometimes smoky, improved with age, warming on a cold night. I could think of worse things than being a neat pour of scotch.
AD: How will it end?
SB: I don’t know. But if it turns out we’re all a dream in someone’s mind, I hope that mind belongs to Jim Henson. I’m flexible on whether that leads to The Dark Crystal or The Muppets Take Manhattan.
AD: Maybe it will lead us to the The Dark Crystal Muppets Take Manhattan.
Sandra Beasley | Photo: Matthew Worden
Sandra Beasley is the author of I Was the Jukebox, winner of the 2009 Barnard Women Poets Prize, selected by Joy Harjo and published by W. W. Norton. Her debut, Theories of Falling, was selected by Marie Howe as the winner of the 2007 New Issues Poetry Prize (New Issues Poetry & Prose, 2008). Beasley is also an essayist whose work has been featured in the Washington Post Magazine. In July of this year, Crown will publish her memoir Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life, which offers a cultural history of food allergies in America. Awards for her work include a 2010 Individual Artist Fellowship from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the 2009 Friends of Literature Prize from the Poetry Foundation, and a 2008 Maureen Egen Exchange Award from Poets and Writers. Residencies and fellowships include a 2011 LegalArt Residency in Miami, the 2010 Summer Poet in Residence fellowship at the University of Mississippi, a Walter E. Dakin Fellowship to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and fellowships to the Jentel Artist Residency, Vermont Studio Center, Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and the Millay Colony for the Arts. Beasley lives in Washington D.C.
I met Justin Petropoulos in Washington D.C. this past February at the AWP conference. The best thing about Justin is his last name which means something real cool. Just keep reading. The second best thing about Justin is that he is really tall and he wears cool glasses. He wears the kind of glasses that make him look super smart even though he is really super smart and doesn’t really need smart glasses. Like Einstein smart glasses. But I won’t hold it against him. The third coolest thing about Justin is that his real mother’s name is Dorothy just like mine except that I’m Almost Dorothy and his ma is the totally realized Dorothy without the Almost. She must have done something right to get that distinction. There’s one last (but actually most important) thing that I adore about Justin and that is his book Eminent Domain. On many levels, the book communicates with the spirits trapped or hiding out in the remote locations of his heart and head. In Eminent Domain, Justin brings the spirits to the surface, takes them for a walk and asks them to speak to us in tongues. As the spirits (by spirits I don’t mean drinks) communicate through him, we see Justin’s interior world inside his language. I have no idea what I’m saying at this point but it all sounds spooky. All you need to know is that Justin is an amazing human, brilliant as shooting Tomahawk missile in the night. (I apologize to Justin and his entire family if I’ve misspelled his last name. It’s a gorgeous name that tricks me every time I write it out.)
Almost Dorothy: What isn’t a poem?
Justin Petropoulos: Ah, the time honored question, or more accurately its inverse. I think squat thrusts are not poems, margin calls, pants suits and breaking-up with someone via text message or IM, also burnt flan is not a poem. Though, on second thought, the flan and the squat thrusts have potential with the right spotter. I really don’t know the answer to that question. There is so much collage work in my writing that it’s hard for me not see a poem in everything, or at least something that could be deployed for poetic ends. Poetic Ends would be a great title for a series of photos, don’t you think?
AD: I don’t think. I just type and I think that breaking-up via text message or IM is way appropriate. What’s not appropriate is your last name, Mr. Petropoulos.
JP: Poems should push on the language and the language should push back. Maybe a food fight breaks out between the poem and the language and it’s mashed potato day in the cafeteria. That’s a poem. I want poems to move me, somehow, emotionally, intellectually, make me laugh, however, in some direction, even if I hate where I end up. Ambivalence in a poem is great, but if that’s the reaction of the reader…that might not be a poem or at least not a good one. Lucky for me, being moved is so subjective.
AD: Hmmm…no comment. In your new book, Eminent Domain, where the domain is eminent, why did you write “para meus pais com todo o meu amor”?
JP: Because I love my parents in Portuguese a little more than I do in English, or maybe, they love me more in Portuguese. I forget what they told me before they left me at that rest stop off I-95.
AD: You too!
JP: My parents have always been supportive of my writing; I wouldn’t have a collection of bottle caps, much less a collection of poems without them. There was always a second language being spoken, a pun, joke, (mis)translation or innuendo flying about in my house; language was very fluid, unstable, and there was a lot of it. We’re talkers. At home language was this incredibly dynamic construction, simultaneously personal and public…a performance. I fell in love with words because of that context, because of my parents. That’s what I tell my therapist anyway.
AD: I therapise my therapist. I’m gonna come out and say it: you write prose poems. Deal with it! What is the difference between a prose poem and flash fiction or a short short or a short short short?
JP: Yes officer, I was driving that car when it went over the bridge, but I have no recollection of who was driving the car. Sorry, got my interrogations crossed there for a second. What was the question? Oh, right, prose poems vs. flash fiction, what is the difference?
I want to quote Gloria Leonard here, she said, “The difference between pornography and erotica is lighting.”
AD: I thought it was the size of the penis.
JP: Don’t ask me which is which, prose poems and flash fictions are both pornography and erotica at different moments. The only differences I see between prose poems and short shorts are in the degrees specific techniques expected from the ‘traditional’ or source genres, i.e. fiction and poetry, from which these ‘new’ forms mutated, are employed and for what purpose.
But it’s all by degrees, scaled, some prose poems have a strong narrative element, others a more associative structure, but they both may have a heavy focus on a highly lyrical syntax or on character development, if one can call a poems speaker a ‘character.’ The same is true of short shorts, both the ones you wear and the ones you read. Leonard is right; it’s all in the lighting?
I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [prose poetry]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it…. (Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184, 1964)
AD: Jeez, I just wanted a yes or no answer. So, do you wear short shorts?
JP: I wear shorts as frequently as possible. There’s never enough time for shorts. That’s why theories of multiple dimensions are so wonderful, because at any given time/position, in at least one of these congruent dimensions, I’m wearing shorts.
AD: Hot. In the “The Coincidence of Wants”, there’s a memory of a prayer for snakes and a bit about punching out zygotes. You write, “If you say the words through the nose the snakes disappear, lassoed off by the wind….”. I’m curious: how is your nose, why are you anti-zygote, and when will you reveal the secrets of snakes?
JP: My nose is quit fit. Thanks for asking. Some light, weight-training three times a week has it blowing at capacity and yoga keeps the nostrils limber and balanced. I’m not anti-zygote, at least I don’t think I am, I just wanted to mechanize their production a bit. I don’t know their secrets. They don’t trust me since I bought that pair of boots. Let’s not talk about it. Feelings were hurt, let’s leave it at that.
AD: What is your favorite word, real or invented?
JP: This week: concretize, putrefaction and hippopotamus.
AD: Marxist, socialist, capitalist?
JP: Activist. At least I used to be.
AD: “We wash each other’s hands, we create phantom syntax, we caress the morning’s flimsy coat, like a whisper” (p.13). What does the whisper whisper?
JP: What the whisper whispers is less important than the (f)act of the whisper itself, I think. The message can be dirty and it can be sad, or shy or really anything, comforting, that doesn’t matter as much to me. I like all the messages I get whispered. They stay with me.
There’s something so perfect about communicating that way, especially now when we’re all on blast twenty-four hours a day, on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Plus I love that exchange, the transmitter/receiver dynamic, the body as source (instrument) for words, when people whisper, it’s like they’re two bagpipes playing each other.
I realize that there is an a priori assumption at work in my logic: that this is a whisper between two people, which forces me to rethink all of my previous whisper rhetoric. (Contemplative interlude.) No, it doesn’t seem to change that much for me if we whisper as a group. But to be honest I prefer my whispers as a pair…a bit 50’s of me, but there it is. I’m a cliché maybe, but there’s just something about whispering that tears me up.
AD: I think you’re a liar. What’s the one thing you want people and their pets to know about Eminent Domain? About Petropolulos?
JP: Well, I’m not sure I want them to know anything about me, at least not the humans. As far as the poems in Eminent Domain, I think that the important thing for me when I wrote them (collaged them) was to offer the reader a huge space to read/write into. These poems need readers to finish them; at least I hope they do.
AD: Thanks God I don’t read. Do you own a lion? If not, why?
JP: I’m not sure ‘own’ is a word one can use regarding any proximity to a lion. So no, I don’t own a lion, but that’s just semantics.
AD: The [digression on the corn trade] culminates in a kind wind that “recognizes how lost we are”. Will we ever recognize what the wind sees?
JP: The existential answer is no, we’re too close to the object observed, but I think ‘recognize’ is a great word in this instance. The idea, that to know a person, for example, is an ongoing process, requiring a constant re-imagining of that person as a context in their own right, nesting in other, equally dynamic contexts, is an idea I’ve obsessed over. I also love Venn diagrams.
JP: I feel like these poems were fueled by that desire though, to ‘recognize’ language, to recast certain lexical features from economics or chemistry in an attempt to replicate the displacement of people by and within language itself. It’s also really kind of romantic to me. Like a vow. To think and re-think someone for as long as you both shall live. I now pronounce you. You may kiss the philosopher.
AD: At this point, I feel like you’re either really smart, really high, or i’m really smart because I figured out that you’re either really smat, smart, or really high. High-five! Favorite drink:
JP: Patron on the rocks with lime. It was a gift from a great poet and friend.
AD: Favorite scent:
JP: I love the smell of the ocean, of bacon frying, and the rest, I know I won’t tell.
AD: I smell like bacon therefore you love me! Define Petropoulos:
JP: Petropoulos is a wheel with a grooved rim around which a cord passes. It acts to change the direction of a force applied to the cord and is chiefly used (typically in combination) to tell lies to strangers in gazebos.
Justin Petropoulos’ poems have appeared in A cappella Zoo, American Letters & Commentary, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Crab Creek Review, Gulf Coast, Mandorla and Portland Review. He received his MFA from Indiana University.He lives in Brooklyn, New York where he and co-curates Triptych Readings (www.triptychreading.com) with poets Mary Austin Speaker and Anne Lovering Rounds. He is also a part-time bunny rabbit.
Even though Emma Trelles is not E.T., it doesn’t matter. She’s better than anything Spielberg could possibly dream up. That’s, right! Emma Trelles is the author of Tropicalia (University of Notre Dame Press), which won the Andres Montoya Poetry Prize. Ma adores the cover art because it reminds her of her imaginary backyard. Our real backyard doesn’t have grass. Anyway, back to Emma. Emma is also the author of the chapbook Little Spells (GOSS183), a recommended read by the Valparaiso Poetry Review and the Montserrat Review. Montserrat, Spain, FYI people, is my favorite place on Earth and in or around heaven. That’s where I want my ashes tossed from. Emma has been a featured author at the Miami Book Fair International and at the Palabra Pura reading series at the Guild Literary Complex in Chicago, and she is a regular contributor to the Best American Poetry blog. She lives with her amazingly awesome husband (I wish I had a husband!) in South Florida where she teaches and writes about arts, books, and culture. She also break dances. Note: I’m a liar. I interviewed Emma before her book release at AWP in Washington D.C. and this is what she had to say. Enjoy-ness.
Almost Dorothy: What does it mean to live in South Florida and what does it mean to live in South Florida as a poet?
Emma Trelles: Living in South Florida means living and dreaming water: ocean, lake, canal, and rain (misted or primordial), the Gulf and its delicate inlets, marshes, rivers, swimming pools, fountains and the man-made waterfalls that trickle down the tiki gods of the Mai-Kai. Living in South Florida as a poet is a tightrope Continue reading “Emma Trelles is Way Cooler Than E.T.”→
PRESS RELEASE: Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, boy-girls and girl-boys, cats and turtles, Almost Dorothy announces the world premiere and inaugural edition of GLIT LIT, a wickedly funny, and/or serious, somber, smart and/or always or usually interesting series curated by Maureen Seaton, who is currently a professor of Creative Writing at the University of Miami, author of 13 books, and mother of the universe. The GLIT LIT series marks Almost Dorothy’s flowering (or deflowering) of her blog into new realms of discourse and intercourse. Pay attention. Smart stuff is coming your way. Enjoy.
ALL ABOUT GLIT LIT: Well, it’s simple. GLIT LIT is all about glitterature. That’s glitter + literature. According to Maureen Seaton, GLIT LIT is “about (mostly) poets and the stuff they make, brought to you on a rapid if irregular basis (coherent if inchoate, blasé if décolleté, Floridian if Querque, queer if bonsai). Cheers to little A. Dorothy and her entourage of marbles: clearies, puries, and crystals. Enjoy the glit.”