About Posit Editor

Susan Lewis (susanlewis.net) is the Editor-in-chief and founder of Posit (positjournal.com) and the author of ten books and chapbooks, including Zoom (winner of the Washington Prize), Heisenberg's Salon, This Visit, and State of the Union. Her poetry has appeared in anthologies such as Walkers in the City (Rain Taxi), They Said (Black Lawrence Press), and Resist Much, Obey Little (Dispatches/Spuyten Duyvil), as well as in journals such as Agni, Boston Review, The Brooklyn Rail, Conjunctions online, Diode, Interim, New American Writing, and VOLT.

Erika Eckart

Sight

She needed a break from seeing it: the one daughter’s drinking, the one daughter breaking her hand on the other daughter’s face, the vodka-filled water bottles, the strategically placed puke buckets, the grandbaby turning his sleeping mother over on her side like he had been taught, etc., etc. So she squirreled away a few dollars to stay at a cheap hotel. She felt guilty about leaving them, but also if she didn’t remove herself she would do something dangerous. She couldn’t see it anymore, couldn’t see her baby she made with her body asleep in the snow. Well, technically she didn’t see that, the police just described it to her, but you get my drift. She was watching her creation destroy herself and there was nothing she could do, (believe me she tried all the things) but watch because she didn’t have the heart to do what the books said and put her baby out on the street. What she really wanted out of the hotel was the hot tub, to close her eyes in, to shut down completely in. And she did ease her body into the almost painful water, and it did feel so good the temporary reprieve, the halo of steam obscuring her sight, but lurking in the water was a single-celled organism which squirmed into her eye. It was a desperate grasp at relief, both her plunge and the parasite’s. It curled itself under the doorway that was her eyelid, embedded itself in the fleshy tissue, and started feasting. She came home with one eye shut. Disoriented. Nothing was better. The one daughter was unconscious in a grocery store bathroom. And the doctors couldn’t figure her eye out. At first they thought it was a trauma, then a bacterial infection until an eye specialist determined that, no, that’s a living thing in your cornea, preparing for its departure to your central nervous system. It was painful, an anvil in her skull, but the closed eye wasn’t empty. Instead, it offered a different vision. In it, she saw her daughter sober, happy, apple-cheeked, riding a fucking horse, lisa-frank style, walking down an aisle, white dress, a trail of babies, so clean. In the other open, still-operational eye, the daughter is running up a hill mostly naked, it is cold out, she is warning the neighbors about hallucinated phantoms. The mother wanted to close both eyes, to give up, and if the medicine didn’t work she’d die with her happy baby emblazoned on the backs of her eyelids. And this is how she figures the light works, the one you walk toward, the glowing embrace that protects us from knowing it’s the end, the calming fiction that gives mothers permission to let go, to pretend it’s all going to be okay, they can fend for themselves now, no need to be there to turn them on their side so they don’t aspirate.

Prepper

She had been through lean times, (I mean when weren’t they?) but she means when there really wasn’t enough to fill the cavities in their bellies. She watched them fight over crackers, for dinner once prepared a box of Jiffy muffin mix with nothing but water and split the rubbery yield among 5, garbage picked the contents of a gas station dumpster after a fire made everything technically unsellable, wept when her children reported they did not eat their free school lunch. It is a mother’s job to feed her children, and when you can’t something breaks in you, your mind is a scramble/frenzy/war always hustling to turn nothing into calories, bulk, something to chew. So later, when the foreclosure notice came/the light bill was unpayable/ the children now grown with full bellies struggled to work/live, she protected them the only way she knew, gathering food from dollar stores and food pantries like a magpie on speed: cans of potted meat, boxes of tuna helper, obscure jarred frostings, all past their sell by date. Much of it was boxes of dust: dehydrated corn syrup, ground to sparkly flint, gelatin, stabilizers, MSG, flecks of green. When reconstituted with water it transforms to the equivalent of stacking all the furniture against the door. She fashioned her stores into fortress walls, flanks of soldiers, a watch tower, a moat, stocked all the cabinets, a storage room, an extra freezer, every pocket of space filled with insurance that it won’t come to that again. In the end, there was enough to eat, but everybody was hungry for something else: affection, work, revenge, alcohol, some of it surely grounded in that earlier time of want, but there is no feeding it now, the statute of limitations is long past. Afterwards, her cupboards remained full, but she couldn’t throw it out–it was a keepsake, a relic, an obsolete fortress made of highly-processed corn, long covered in moss, trees growing on the inside, admired, but useless, but still proof of how hard she tried to cushion them from want, how well she did her job, just look.

The pull of the water

My boy wants to watch the creek carry its burden–watch garbage gather in the current and be pulled against the rocks, watch the water travel in indirect swirls when it dances over the jagged bends. When that’s not enough, he throws leaf carcasses and wood chips and discarded bottle tops on one side of a bridge and then quickly runs to the other to watch them be pulled by the flow. Each time his act has the effect he hoped he hops up and down in place, overjoyed. He wants to be closer so we walk down the bank to admire the pull of the water up close. Suddenly, he pushes himself and his puffy coat into the metal fence, separating us from the water and tries to scale it. He needs to throw himself in, to be the thing dragged by the current and pulled under, to dance against the rocks. I anchor myself on the wet ground and hold him back; he wiggles. Everything is slick, the whole world a smooth, wet surface with no traction. It is impossible to create enough friction to keep upright, so I shift my weight and we fall back, away from the water, a panting, still-struggling pile. A stranger comes and asks What are you going to do when he’s too big for you? My boy writhes on the wet ground; I’m pinning him, begging, explaining, promising, praying the stranger will walk away. It feels unsustainable, the pull of the forces, a seam about to burst somewhere in my mind or my stomach or the space time continuum. I start scream-singing “this little light of mine,” scaring the stranger away and startling my boy out of his mania, and I remember hanging from the ceiling in the school cafeteria little paper mâché planets with signs explaining how long it will take their light to get to us, and how comforting it is to know someday it’s coming, either the light or the current to carry us away.

Erika Eckart is the author of the tyranny of heirlooms, a chapbook of interconnected prose poems (Sundress Publications, 2018). Her writing has appeared in Double Room, Agni, Quarter After Eight, Quick Fiction, Nano Fiction, Passages North, and elsewhere. She is a High School English teacher in Oak Park, IL where she lives with her husband and two children.

Julie Choffel

Because I Said So

it’s just
impossible to live among the industrious
what about the business of not

like conscientious objector of
the whole way
though I love a good list
I love something else more

one child goes to his room to deal with
his feelings, the other gets saccharine like
look at me I’m so
so good

so much of the children’s play is pre-
tending but then stepping in and out of it to
direct
now pretend I said I DON’T LIKE YOU.

Between teaching and listening
to her face, little force, little firework
already ashen at the thought
of what people are doing to each other

I’m not ready for place to mean
only lesson—

what about
finding beauty in the terrible world
I mean none of this land looked like this
before people

what about the not-lesson
not wealth accumulation
not permanent structures
not award ceremonies.

We stack up
all the apocalypse. Tell the kids
pretend I DID THIS DIFFERENTLY.

Now be chemistry and physics
now be a mess of thoughts
our demise making nothing but room
for something else
inside you.

I Mean Seriously

the side hustle of grocery angling
takes up all my would-be
art and makes me gag to think
about supply chains and inefficiency
pollution but there are still people
who would tell me how efficient it is.
You know what takes zero
power except maybe ambient
light is poetry or eating a little bit
of what you find. In The Gleaners
and I
which I haven’t seen because
well you can’t even watch it
you can’t watch anything now
that endless streaming exists
so the old things are all gone
and you can’t even pick them up
with your hands. In this
film that you can only read about
people who are now probably dead
talk about wasting nothing and
mimic the movements passed
down to them. What they picked up
with their hands. How they held
themselves on a brutal agrarian
landscape not yet totally ruined
with an ethics I wish I could
explain. But I haven’t seen it.
I spent an hour searching
an hour lost not even to dirt or
standing in the wind or talking
but poking at ideas to see
if they poke back. The woodchuck
in my garden makes faces at me.
The kids ask for snacks which
come from my phone now
and I wonder is the algorithm
a savior anyway because I
can write with those minutes
about what’s left over
when everything else is taken.
Oh to be an optimist
to see abundance in the wreck
put it in my pocket and keep
walking. And when it’s too heavy
leave it for someone after me
who will pick up the remnant and just run.

Danger Second

says my son when I refuse to speed down our street. Here in the literal suburbs where one block away is the city and the other side a small forest where the foxes hop over discarded condoms and broken glass and people don’t even guffaw at the number of crows. We’re used to voices raised in high winds. I mean everyone goes on their way. It’s the North and they mind their own business which now seems more animal than I ever realized before. We take our dinner to the yard and the bees or wasps or there are so many bugs I cannot keep track come out too and I did not know this place as fecund until I tried to make my own space inside it and found none. Nothing wants to scoot and everything knows what it knows. Its boldness is talking to strangers. Its strangeness quiet. Or only loud on the lam. We are warm-weather critters stockpiling stuff to keep us company in the cold. Driving. Almost home he says Faster and I gently remind him Safety first. Other kids and animals. He replies with what he knows to be true.

Patterns

of diamonds rising
through the glass
my eyes adjusting
my legs remembering
to be legs again

it’s always going to be strange
to have an inside and an outside

every week or is it every day
I remember this again? with unreliable
wisdom

the TikTok of the golden retriever helping
the guy working on and under his Honda
is so much and so little of
the dog
the guy
the song overlaying its sad pleasures

I wish living could feel
like the miniature paintings
of India, visibly intricate
my life story on a t-shirt

I used to want a tank top with the words
Demolition Woman
but that’s almost nothing of me

we say, I don’t know this person
I don’t know this thing

but don’t we? know them, the way their voice
clangs when they laugh too loudly
or how their sadness hides in the days
that they don’t call us

maybe it’s all too on the nose
and nobody likes that but me
that what we guess we are
is also what we really are

I guess it’s more like Construction Boss
or if we’re no longer joking
then just Thinker In The Corner

as the bold moves elude me
and I worry them
like fingers covered in paint
or whatever you’ve got access to

mineral & feeling
daylight & seethrough
I watch the pattern rising
then I rise to stop my noticing

Julie Choffel is originally from Austin, Texas, and now lives near Hartford, Connecticut. She is the author of The Hello Delay (Fordham UP) and the chapbooks Figures In A Surplus (Achiote Press), The Chicories (Ethel Press), and The Inevitable Return of What We Do Not Love (forthcoming from Finishing Line Press).

Pearl Button

From postcards to the past

 

Ms. V. von Willendorf der Gravettian
Naturhistorisches Museum
Burgring 7,
1010 Wien
(Vienna) Austria

 

When I walk? Mostly it is a rushing of sky. After that day moving across the flax field with you, still tasting pears, brie in my teeth—there was a moment a few weeks after I returned home. My knees became soft levers emitting a contralto hum; hips lilac rockers, arms, golden clock hands on silicate wheels, spinning Mingus’ goodbye pork pie hat. I happened to be walking downhill toward the nearby river. I could hear it singing, like sometimes I can the sky. There was a badger friend just down the soft slope grumbling as she dug. Last year’s locust pods, sentient and attentive. The wet in the air friable. It felt like I imagine a windstorm does to a mountain, wondrous and ephemeral. I cannot stay there, but I am learning to visit. Is this walking for you?

 
 

Ms. V. von Willendorf der Gravettian
Naturhistorisches Museum
Burgring 7,
1010 Wien
(Vienna) Austria

 

I’m sorry to have assumed upon your origins in my last postcard. It’s a peculiar failing, this assumption that where found, where from. The idea that you were on a trading mission when you came across the oolitic limestone that you used to carve your gift to me had not penetrated my ideas about our past. The idea that you worked the stone while pregnant and walking, eyes to the ground, makes such resounding sense now that you’ve said it. In a time (for me and my current human kind) where mirrors at a distance generate the rulership of the eye, your sense of multi-focal tactile perspective has all but been lost, except, of course, in some of our more experimental painters and sculptors. You can refrain from further chastisement: I can hear you laughing despite our 25 or so thousand years distance. Yes. We have learnt a few new things and we are not as primitive as we might seem to you. I hold to this. It gives me hope.

 
 

Mr. B. Spinoza
c/o Svalbard globale frøhvelv
Longyerbyen, øya Spitsbergen
Norway

 

Gentle Benedictus, I am glad you have found your work with seed so restorative, but what do you do in a “black box” site? I understand your personal lab on the mainland, but the sense I have at the frøhvelv, of apocalyptic expectation, wars with the roiling beauty of the archipelago. Do you still wander out to follow Rangifer taradus, or was that report for my benefit alone? I must admit that I do continue to play with the elastic that is our friendship. The wonder of your conception of the relative nature of morality, snaps against the absence of chance in your necessity. I am no abstainer from reason, but can’t you see that compassion, yes even certainty, are feelings, and we only inhabit reason as one does a cottage in the summer? What good a set of rights ordered by the state if they are reasoned through the lens of a peculiar compassionate certainty without even the barest acknowledgement that their certainty is limited to their circumstance? What can any lens specific to any human being be but peculiar? We are all the fragrant breath of our time and place. Oh, but enough. Do not disturb your luncheon with this old disputation. I will see you at mid-summer next. We can talk more of necessity’s definition.

 
 

Mr. I. Newton
Woolsthorpe Manor,
Water Lane
Woolsthorpe by Colsterworth
Grantham, Lincolnshire

 

Well, we’ll have to disagree. My preference for peaches remains undiminished despite, your admittedly brilliant, discourse on fluxions, their relationship to the limits of the plague sickness, and the benefit of apple orchards upon the vital essence of the human body. I admire the dedication your friend, Major Dawson, shows to you by planting an arbour of that “holy fruit”. It made me smile, as I know was your intent, to hear you speak of Adam’s fruit in that way. This “wanton Eve” makes do with the soft fuzz of the yellow fruit made dear to us in our most recent visit to the East. Still, you know I’m unlikely to come over to the dark of fluxions when individual infinitesimals are so luxuriously fertile and bright in their immeasurability. You remain a mathematician, dear. Do obsess over fluxions and fluents. I’ll stay a poet of very small numbers. Looking forward to our next trip. I wonder what Iceland will have to offer us in the way of profitable disagreement? See you there come spring, gravity willing.

 
 

Major W. Dawson
The Apple Arbour
Langcliffe Hall, nr Settle
Yorkshire Dales, Yorkshire

 

Dear Isaac! And you, William, how kind to tell me of his visit with you, those days under the apples! Friendship is a rare thing for him, I think. Such a mind is hard to countenance with envy being such a strong thread in the human weave—and we two, friends of his, but so far from his brilliance. And, still, not servants. How have we managed? This is our peculiar brilliance, which is something, respect him as I do, to which he cannot hope to aspire. Your village of Giggleswick is well named, I think, both for its contemporary connotations of delight; and for those of a Viking who came, saw, conquered, then farmed. Our mutual companion of furious curiosity certainly managed up to and including the conquering bit. Not at all good at farming, but hey, he has you to come to for orchard perambulations of foot and mind! Do keep me posted on any new inventions and I’ll send you a report of our upcoming Icelandic trip.

 
 

Ms. Saartjie Baartman-Khoikhoi
South Arm of the Gamtoos River
Upper Gamtoos Valley,
nr. Willowmore
South Africa

 

I was glad to hear that you moved home after those disastrous decades in the Museum of Man. Yes, I know you laughed about it. Even George’s flagrantly stupid remarks about your “appetites”, could make no headway against your feet-to-ground refusal to countenance their “opinions”. I know I’ve said this before Saartjie, but I am so glad we met in London. I’ve learnt much about my own “distinctions” (such a kind way of you to describe my madness!) by watching you. Those first steps you took coming down from the ship! Your startling beauty! You knew this, but I had to learn it. Thank you dear heart. Perhaps when I am again near your river home, we can return to our favourite game. This time, I’ll imagine a world where you are what counts as normal, and you can imagine a world built for someone like me.

 
Process Statement
Process Statement

By the time I’d settled into puberty, my “episodes” (later to be diagnosed as epilepsy) had taken on a new form. I called them “fast spells.” They would start with a change in texture that I could (at the outset of an episode) feel with my tongue and felt faintly like malt – the air became a little rough, bumpy. Then time split, and I experienced more than one stream concurrently. My head, lips, tongue, nose moved fast. My knees and thighs were in the slow-stream. It wasn’t difficult, moving in multiple time-streams. I could walk quite normally, think, chop veggies, dodge cars and bikes when crossing the street. These events would come, and then go.

I never did correlate fast-spells to anything environmental; I stopped having them by the time I was in my late teens. New forms of events came in their stead. Tell the truth, I kind of miss them, even though now I can slip pretty close, to what a friend calls their event-horizon. There I can talk to the still-living-through-their-words-and-human-impact. We exchange postcards.

The part of me that lives further away – into the universe’s gravity-calm regions called normalcy – loves math, philosophy, raw moments in deep cultural and human change (often studied through anthropology). Those in history that are the whirlwinds of change – people like Spinoza, Leibniz, Newton, FirstBird, Lucy Australopithecus Afarensis, Egeria the Nun, the woman who carved the Venus of Willendorf, Saartjie Baartman – they function like charging stations, and simultaneously, temporal platforms from which I participate in the system’s emergent properties.

Time-itself and time-as-we-experience-it are distinct. The second is an emergent property of the interaction between mass and time-itself; this is how I explain my fast-spells.

Matter in its relationships creates many property states. The body-form as it moves through its evolution has a teleology, that is, the body “wishes” (has a set of properties and resulting behaviours that causes it) to continue as a recognizable system. Teleology, in itself, is an emergent property; the feeling of “wishing” is another. The “platforms” (formerly known as historical figures), both remembered and not, act as jump points for system exploration. Think of them as StarGates, if you are a fan of the sci-fi franchise. But instead of new worlds, what you get to explore are nodes in the actual system, that is, temporality and materiality operating in tandem.

What do I want to do with this series?

Explore the vibrant and ongoing set of resonances that exist between my place in the greater system, and theirs. I do it mostly for myself, I suppose, and for the system itself. I suspect that like tendons, twanging the “chords” that connect me and those who are normally known as historical personages, thickens them, reinforcing their existence. Like good habits, the more you do them, the deeper they are gouged into your neurology.

I don’t mind the idea that others, readers, viewers, co-observationists and postcard writers, might also share in my temporal anomalies. Fast-spells for everyone! I can’t really share my “events”, but through art I can create another platform from which the system, simultaneously ephemeral and everlasting, can be experienced. Would more of we-who-live-at-the-moment experience the continuance of the past. But I suppose that’s selfish too. So maybe all I really want to do with my art is to explore and think things through. But that doesn’t stop others from coming along if they want.

Pearl Button lives in Mi’kma’ki, the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq People. She is published or forthcoming in a variety of journals including SurVision Magazine, Agapanthus Collective, filling Station, Impspired, Peculiar Mormyrid, New Note Poetry, and Drunk Monkeys.

Andrea Burgay

 

—click on any image to enlarge—

positInkSpash131210.small

Artist’s Statement

 

I find inspiration in the cycles of destruction and renewal that mark the passage of time. I
am interested in worthlessness and potential, finding meaning in materials that have been
discarded. I am interested in memory and examining the past, especially the potential of
imagination to confuse and create new memories.

My Fictions series of sculptural collages on deconstructed books and magazines are
colorful, densely layered objects that bear the markings of their visceral transformations.
The covers or interiors of these books are collaged, then taken apart and reassembled—
destroyed, then transformed. This process results in works that evoke both deterioration
and growth.

I imagine that these objects have taken on lives of their own, neglected and ignored stories
pouring out of them and mixing. Some books explode with color, others are eaten away,
ravaged by time. Either documents of the past or reimagined fictions, these objects no
longer communicate what they once did, but now explore realms of remembrance and
projection, nostalgia and evolution. They are invitations to reimagine the past and the
present.

Andrea Burgay is a visual artist from Syracuse, NY, living and working in Brooklyn, NY. Her
work combines collage, painting, sculpture and found materials to elevate the overlooked and the mundane via transformative processes. Through adding and removing layers of handmade and collected materials, her works harness both destruction and decay to create a sense of potential renewal. Her work has been exhibited in galleries in Genoa, Paris, Warsaw, New York and
throughout the US. Her solo exhibition Mining the Ruins: The Library was shown at Northwest Missouri State University, Maryville, MI in 2019. Andrea is also founder and editor of Cut Me Up, a participatory collage magazine and curatorial project.

Isaac Akanmu

spurs

silly me — i think we’re celebrating. the misperceptions of summer. gunshots spurt. people disperse. sunrise and sunset over the wild west. i am 24. almost 25. hobbies: basketball, fashion, staying alive. favorite tagline: “it’s not that serious.” current aspirations: barbeque chicken, a cheeseburger, anti-perspiration. it’s a cookout after all. a big one at that. how many people do you know? same. i know you. and yankee-fitted-cap looks familiar. (over your left shoulder.) why are they arguing? (over your right shoulder.) looks intense. you ready to go? i’ve seen this film before — it’s a western. the scrape of nike air force ones on concrete. like the rattle of stomping boot spurs. pistols drawn quickly. dramatic scattering. extras screaming. (we’re extras here.) stray plastic — the new tumbleweed. they never shoot the target. still, they never miss.

row by row pews shriek
then the wood quiets to hear
his flyer whisper

rockets

death is a white light, they say. a static gleam near the tunnel’s end. red glare, blue glare, then red glare again — that’s motion. it is proof through the night of death’s tardiness. he must be stuck in traffic. he must be occupied with others. or outside with the commotion. red glare, blue glare, then red glare again. the blue glare was cut from this nation’s anthem. how does it go — “and the rocket’s red glare”? those rockets are no match for cop cars. for ambulances. for fire trucks. “red glare, blue glare, then red glare” again is a more fitting lyric to an anthem. perhaps it is already the anthem of another galaxy. the lights do indeed reach far and wide. far enough and wide enough to traverse space and disrupt time. and intrude the drape-less bedroom of a teenage alien who searches for rest in a tired song. perhaps red glare, blue glare, then red glare again is proof through the night that he too still lives.

picturesque take-off:
hot flame, vivid skies, jaws dropped,
plus burnt soil and grass

pelicans

with the first pick, the kingpin selects…the crooked cop. tip-off. corner boy drops dimes. second unit. burglar with sticky fingers. halftime. hitman snatches bodies. crunchtime. pyromaniac on fire. end regulation. another game of basketball in pelican bay. fouls include shanks, strangling, poking, punching. none today. overtime. uncle sam has them under duress. clamped. shackled. locked up. the defensive player of the year. unanimous. four hundred years running.

few feathers float free
while three tree branches entrap
the pelican’s wings

Isaac Akanmu is a Nigerian American from Staten Island, NY. His poetry appears in Rejection Letters, cool rock repository, OROTONE Journal, and more. He lives in Charlotte, NC. Find Isaac on Instagram and Twitter.

Editors’ Notes (Posit 30)

 

Welcome to our (gulp) 30th issue! Although (to paraphrase David Byrne) we’re not quite sure how we got here, we’re thrilled that we have, thanks to the vivid and continuing engagement of our growing family of contributors and readers. For this milestone issue, we have once again gathered the work of distinguished artists and writers (both acclaimed and emerging) that is as resonant and relevant as it is aesthetically exciting.

Here you will find poetry and prose by Isaac Akanmu, Tyrone Williams, and Pearl Button that confronts the historical and contemporary poison of racism and colonial appropriation, alongside work by Julie Choffel, Erika Eckart, Vi Khi Nao & Jessica Alexander, Jo O’Lone Hahn, Sam Wein, and Nancy White exploring gender repression and violence – as well as its persistent, sometimes even exuberant defiance “swinging ourselves to wonderment” (Sam Wein, Season of Fanny Packs). The innovative poetics of Kristi Maxwell, Benjamin Landry, and Dennis James Sweeney speak to the state of the planet and even the dubious nature of the future itself, while the visual art of Andrea Burgay, Taraneh Mosadegh and Ana Rendich grapples in a different idiom with the existential challenge of living as moral and emotional beings in a threatened and threatening world.

In this abused and abuse-riddled world, the need for art that speaks to the struggle between fury, despair, and hope is as great as the necessity for wonder and delight. Defying the temptation to let “your horror here . . . be unheard” (Tyrone Williams, History, History, All is History) these works confront the way our “sense . . . of apocalyptic expectation, wars with the roiling beauty” of existence (Pearl Button, to Mr. B. Spinoza). That our species is blighted and blessed is inescapable. This very duality is addressed by these works, even as their virtuosity offers proof of the latter.

Isaac Akanmu’s inventive prose texts with lyric counterpoint begin in first person at a cookout that turns into a shooting, move to the descriptive third of a “teenage alien who searches for rest in [the] tired song” of the national anthem, and finally pan to a prison ballgame. Each poem exposes the experience of America’s promises violently broken. The protection promised by the mythicized “rockets’ red glare” is no match for the “red glare, blue glare, then red glare . . . of cop cars.” And at Pelican Bay prison, “uncle sam has them under duress. clamped. shackled. locked up. the defensive player of the year. unanimous. four hundred years running.” But as a coda, in spite of all this, a sweet, sad lyric keeps singing of the persistence of life as resistance in itself: “perhaps red blue glare, then red glare again is proof / through the night that he too still lives.”

By preserving the shapes and structures of the books whose covers and pages she deconstructs for her sculptural collages, Andrea Burgay reorders and builds upon their ruins to reconstruct new artifacts of singular energy and intensity. Mysterious, disturbing, and ultimately inspiring, the works in this series comment upon and take flight from our literary legacy – from anonymous vintage paperbacks to Dante’s Purgatorio and Shakespeare’s plays – to engage the limitations and potential of verbal narrative. Peeling open and exploding the problematics of the past — the very “rhetoric and false decoration” identified by T.S. Eliot and incorporated into the title of one of these works — these complex and probing artifacts uncover and create fragmented and elusive glimpses of the multitude of futures our problematic past might seed.

Pearl Button’s delightful and poetic postcards are full of the erudite and charming personality of the sender, whose name and essence we never know, and who is an intimate friend of Spinoza and Newton, the Venus Hottentot and the Venus of Willendorf. The postcards effortlessly shift from witty to lyric and back. She seems equally at ease admonishing Spinoza: “The wonder of your conception of the relative nature of morality, snaps against the absence of chance in your necessity. I am no abstainer from reason, but can’t you see that . . . we only inhabit reason as one does a cottage in the summer?” as she is evoking her own physicality to a 30,000 year old statue: “When I walk? Mostly it is a rushing of sky. . . My knees became soft levers emitting a contralto hum; hips lilac rockers, arms, golden clock hands on silicate wheels, spinning Mingus’ goodbye pork pie hat.” These excursions of intellect and imagination are a celebration of the cerebral and the poetic. Button also captures our yearning for connection and our hope for the future in a redressing of our cruel and colonialist past, imagining “a world where you [Saartjie Baartman-Khoikho] are what counts as normal, and you can imagine a world built for someone like me.”

Julie Choffel’s poetry grapples boldly and bluntly with fundamental questions of living and parenting, like how to “find. . . beauty in the terrible world” and “see abundance in the wreck,” or how to teach our children anything of value beyond the plea that they “pretend I DID THIS DIFFERENTLY.” These darkly witty verses challenge the value of human industry and its fundamental egotism, exposing the mess we humans have made with the very impact whose value we so grossly overestimate. The radical alternative proposed by this brave and brilliant “conscientious objector of /the whole way” is a “not-lesson / not wealth accumulation / not permanent structures / not award ceremonies.” These poems offer an ambitiously unambitious inaction plan, modeled on the modest efficiency of gleaners, grounded in the admirably ego-less goal of making “nothing but room / for something else.”

In Erika Eckart’s brilliant and moving short fiction, women desperately struggle with the consuming worry of being a parent despite the societal forces stacked against them. In Sight, the pain of a parasite in one eye creates an alternate, desired vision of an alcoholic daughter’s life, in which she is “sober, happy, apple-cheeked, riding a fucking horse, lisa-frank style” although “[i]n the other open, still-operational eye, the daughter is running up a hill mostly naked, it is cold out, she is warning the neighbors about hallucinated phantoms.” In Prepper, a woman so used to trying to keep her children fed through a lifetime of poverty that she “for dinner once prepared a box of Jiffy muffin mix with nothing but water and split the rubbery yield among 5,” continues to hoard stale food after the kids are grown, despite the fact that “[m]uch of it was boxes of dust,” because “[w]hen reconstituted with water it transforms to the equivalent of stacking all the furniture against the door.” In the pull of the water, a mother struggles to keep her small boy from climbing a fence to get to the swirling creek below because “[h]e needs to throw himself in, to be the thing dragged by the current and pulled under, to dance against the rocks.” Eckart’s answer to the question posed by a passing stranger, “What are you going to do when he’s too big for you?” brings light and a wry kind of comfort.

Benjamin Landry’s penetrating and resonant engagements with The Arcades Project build on, and take off from, Walter Benjamin’s contemplation of the aesthetic and societal significance of Paris’ Galeries de Bois. With meticulous economy, Landry’s spare and musical verses consider aspects of the “[f]eatureless desert of now” such as the problematics of closure (“you’d / never guess completion’s sickness,”) the “dissolute gravitas” of grandeur in contrast with “the wet white teeth / of modesty,” the dehumanization of war, with its capacity to convert us into “regiment[s] of brute-faced / animals” by suppressing the “crucial information” that “everyone / has a mother,” and the soulless ease of mercantile capitalism so effectively served by the Galeries de Bois to offer a seductive “place out of the weather where the remains / of the world are brushed clean, cataloged, / reconstructed, finally understood.”

Kristi Maxwell’s extinction poems delight the ear, the tongue and the intellect, while reminding us that language used inventively can uncover, through humor and surprise, a deeper and sadder truth. “Chromosomes form self’s reef—we reek of luck” begins extinction (Giant Panda), calling into question our human tendency to believe we somehow deserve a superior place on the planet; no matter how much we value ourselves, we too, are subject to extinction: “Messy crumb of us crumbles more. We’re else.” We are also the means of extinction for many species, and likely our planet itself; we’re “da bomb’s damp wick.” But maybe there is yet a way for us to “unbecome to become.” After all, “[w]e’re our souls’ humus, yes?”

Taraneh Mosadegh’s reverse-glass paintings depict abstracted organic forms in translucent, jewel-toned layers that explore the interconnectedness of existence. These works feature reiterated motifs recontextualized to reveal the porous nature of conventional distinctions between sky and sea, animal and vegetal, animate and inanimate, and micro and macro, by way of images resembling plankton, flowers, and stars; cells as well as eggs; and human heads as well as planets. Layered over Mosadegh’s generous engagement with the unbounded and un-boundaried plentitude of the natural world is her engagement with human culture and social justice. The land of her birth is invoked in The Wind Will Carry Us, which is named for either Kiarostami’s film, the poem by Forough Farrokhzad for which that was named, or both. Her depiction of Mount Damavand, the iconic “roof of Iran,” recalls Cezanne’s studies of Mont Sainte-Victoire. Other works take their titles from the poetry of Bashō and Celan (including an image, in the latter, reminiscent of a hooded Guantanamo prisoner). Mosadegh’s use of a Venetian technique not used in Iran until the late 19th and early 20th centuries further enacts the syncretic inclusivity of this artist’s vision.

In A Dead Cave Called Sleep, Vi Khi Nao and Jess Alexander’s intense color exposures of a train station mirror the bold and surreal text made up of both actual and internal journeys of the narrators/lovers. Changes in color and font within the text heighten the emotional impact of every element, from recalling newspaper accounts of a tennis star’s abuse to observing an abusive interaction in real time: the outer observation and the inner pain mingle. In a frighteningly familiar scenario, “[t]he door opened and the angle of their bodies was so covert and revelatory, you felt as though you’d crawled into a stranger’s bed and you apologized and let the doors close on them again and took the steps up to the pedestrian bridge. And when you arrived she was stepping out of the elevator and he was gripping the back of her neck and telling her they’d work it out. They’d work it out.” These almost-daily assaults on women’s psyches are one of the sources of pain for the narrator and color these lovers’ relationship as intensely as the photos, preventing, perhaps, the intimacy that would heal it: “You wished I had a pain free life. That’s called death, I said, and you disagreed. Death isn’t life you said and repeated yourself, knocking each word out – like a mallet sounding out the hollowness of a wall.” Or, perhaps, like this powerful piece, sounding out its resonance.

Jo O’Lone-Hahn’s stark and artful cycle of interconnected poems confront a young woman’s struggle with the ever-present threat of violence. In these powerful poems, the toxicity of objectification embodied in a trophy of feminine desirability, a County fair princess sash, is exposed for what it is by a refrain which evokes the dread “draped across your breast” by the menacing reality of the stalker’s ‘admiration.’ In a brutal world defined by power, where “eating is always / death & equally / so for / all things / eaten” and “scientists / often choose / to save only / creatures that / eat smaller / creatures,” a preyed-upon young woman is driven to contemplate suicide in order to “decide between // sacrifice or triage” in her desperation to regain control of her own fate.

Ana Rendich’s masterful variations of intensity and translucence in color in both painting and sculpture, and her innovative use of materials such as resin, paper, and old tools, combine to make powerful, startling statements about the emotional nature of our lives. Rendich says, “Hope in the light of loss and displacement is my primary subject,” and indeed, joy (surely a form of hope) is invoked in the viewer in pieces like littlegiant, a delightful assemblage of machine, resin and paper; while on the other hand, we feel the loss in the tattered grey of the moving Rescued pieces, and Mourning and Hope (a response to the artist’s research into personal letters from World War II). These works remind us that although we experience fear and loss, art is a form of reparation and healing.

Dennis James Sweeney’s singing poems alternate between the communal “we” and the personal “I” while operating on both the immediate and figurative levels. One can imagine a community of beings who express themselves in images rather than narrative, viewing history and its most problematic elements through a more purely lyrical lens. In Sweeney’s complex formulations, imagistic and idiomatic implications build meaning in layers: a “moon as blue as gold / the chosen pockmarked in it” draws a parallel between the rarity of gold metal and a ‘blue moon’ while evoking their glowing colors scarred by damage. Sweeney’s resonant neologisms recall Celan’s, and add to the sense that this work creates its own idiom to address the puzzle and paradox of existence: the body’s “box- / house of organs,” the “already-said” “rightlanguage” to which “[w]e gave the years,” the “rest-road” that “does not flake / but hollows / with throat talk.” In the almost neo-Imagist poem, “I built a subtle,” emotion (gasp) is embodied in startling metaphor: “I slept like an egg through the ungulate night: I clenched like hard bread, gray in back of blue.”

Sam Wein vividly details the pivotal moments in a closeted childhood when the wide-open future could suddenly be envisioned, in spite of the social mores of the time. Although the narrator had a loving and perceptive grandmother who he wants “to think . . . knew about all my boyfriends like I knew a handful of treats would be waiting” whenever he visited her, it was the discovery of the magic of defiance as a self-defining experience that was pivotal to his self-realization: learning “how to talk my way under the water slide /over the sledding hill, up the chimney / where I grow glittery wings / Wings made/of lies.” He recognizes the delight and necessity of pushing against the expected when he sees “a queer, 70s themed dance troop from/ the Valley with packs at their waists” and thinks, “I need / to be that. I need to be them. The judges told them I want / to see the fellas dance like fellas and they didn’t—they didn’t listen.” The reader applauds, and is inspired by, his exuberant breakthrough: “I’ll have style at my waist, like you. I won’t listen to anybody.”

Nancy White’s poems consider the sorrows and joys of life and death with serenity and tact. If entire poems can be onomatopoetic, these gems of craft and compression are just that. Deftly enacting what it depicts, Spell rings with an incantatory music that is as compelling as it is hypnotic, casting a spell designed to ease one’s passage from weight to weightlessness (“Instead of stalking, flutter. Swap pound / for patter and shank for shim”) and life to death (“Soften, offer, / drift. Oh, weep. Waft, puff, / settle. Widen. Stop.”) And Traveler, like its eponymous narrator going home to a land of “homes drastic and identical” to visit parents who “were not [her] people,” hints at the wrenching pain of her dislocation — and the more drastic measures we surmise she later needed to take in order to fully chart her own course, as well as the victory of that liberation — with delicate subtlety, aware that the “correct way” the family “embraced at formal events” might “corrode” “[s]hould the sight of [her] uncovered throat” or “the smell of joy provoke.”

The spare, objective imagism of Tyrone Williams’ A Little Coffee In A Saucer recalls William Carlos Williams’s red wheelbarrow and purple plums — haunted by the ghosts of Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, and the countless other victims, past and present, of racist violence. Tyrone Williams’ musical prosodics elegantly ‘rhyme’ with the visual effect of his one- and two-word lines to keep the stanzas flowing in a long, thin, liquid stream. But the spilled brown coffee that “cools / as it pools” over the (white?) “faux / porcelain” chillingly recalls the unchecked stream of cooling Black blood still being met by “brown // lips” with a “black shiver.” History, framed by a haunting quote from a documentary about Lebanon’s home-grown 1960s space program, laments the endless cycle of colonization and appropriation, from concealment (“In the lawn around an island of sycamores the roots are beginning to show”) to denial (“Throw a few bags of denial on ‘em”) to the complicity of difference and distance that lets us “slip into the trance of another life, needing your horror here to be unheard.” Not only, the poem reminds us, are such differences and distances illusory, especially when a “patch of Yankee know-how updates the trick,” but we have no choice but to “resign . . . ourselves to one another” since the cycle will go on “indefinitely.”

Thank you for helping us celebrate this milestone by honoring their incredible work!

Susan Lewis, Carol Ciavonne, and Bernd Sauermann

Tamar Zinn

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Artist’s Statement

 

As a visual artist, I am driven by curiosity about what is possible, rather than seeking certainty. By working intuitively and without a preconceived endpoint, I let the work lead the way. The thread that runs through my paintings and drawings is the embrace of the transitory nature of our experiences. While recent paintings have centered on shifting atmospheric sensations, my drawings are a visual manifestation of breath and gesture.

In my search for quiet in an increasingly tumultuous world, several years ago I began a daily practice of sitting in stillness, open to whatever came into view from behind closed eyes. In two recent painting series, Behind Closed Eyes and Where I Find Myself, I’ve gravitated towards the ineffable sensations I experience during this daily period of reflective solitude. Particles of light slowly rearrange themselves across the field, colors shimmer and recede, and there is a never-ending flow between stillness and drama. Having shifted from painting singular images to multi-panel installations, the paintings increasingly reflect the belief that nothing is fixed, and that our perceptions are comprised of a multiplicity of moments.

Since I am seduced by light but also drawn to aspects of formalism, finding a balance between the two keeps the work in a state of tension until each element seems to find its place. The formal structure of the multi-panel paintings allows me to place unique sensory experiences side by side and present them as one. And ultimately, it is the imposition of this structure that gives me the freedom to fix in place that which is impermanent.

In my drawings, my embrace of both transitory and formal concerns is revealed through the interaction between gesture and the field. Attention to the unique nature of the field for each series of drawings grounds me in formal structure. Making the field is a slow and methodical process in which multiple layers of pigmented charcoal are gently rubbed into the surface of the paper. It is only once the field is established that I turn my attention to drawing the lines, an act that is filled with risk and where I feel most exposed.

For me, to draw is to breathe and to breathe is to experience a fullness of self. In this way, my drawings are rooted in the time of their making. Recent drawing series have reflected a dance between line and space — each helps to define the other. Each gesture is a choreography of movements, and once made, the marks may be altered but all that was there remains. While the gestures may be evocative of many things, my drawings depict nothing in particular.

Tamar Zinn is a visual artist whose work balances light-infused romanticism and reductive structure. Both painting and drawing are integral to her studio practice and distinct in both intention and process. Recent exhibits of Zinn’s work include Where I find myself, a 2021 solo exhibit of paintings at Markel Fine Arts, NYC, and Liminal Space, a 4-person show at Bryant Street Gallery, Palo Alto, in 2020 where Zinn exhibited a selection of drawings. Zinn has curated several group exhibitions and periodically blogs about contemporary art. Her work is included in corporate and private collections throughout the United States.

Holly Wong

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Artist’s Statement

I create installations, assemblages and works on paper that summon protection and celebrate female energy. Using materials such as colored pencil, drafting film, paint, and candle smoke, I strive to reconnect in myself what has been fragmented. Much of my work is constructed with ephemeral materials that are both strong and fragile simultaneously. Working often within the context of memory and impermanence, I gather images and patterns. I often name my pieces after Goddesses because my work once completed becomes a form of drawing down eternal energy and life force. I am calling upon those forces of protection through the practice of making artwork. Art is my form of magical practice which reveals the sacred in myself.
Holly Wong lives in San Francisco, California. She was educated at the San Francisco Art Institute where she earned a Master of Fine Arts with a concentration in New Genres. Holly creates installations, assemblages and works on paper. She has been awarded visual arts grants from the Integrity: Arts and Culture Association, Barbara Deming Memorial fund, the George Sugarman Foundation, the Puffin Foundation, and a Gerbode Foundation purchase award. She has had over 70 group exhibitions and 10 solo exhibitions. She is represented by SLATE Contemporary Gallery in Oakland, California, and is a member of A.I.R. Gallery in Brooklyn, New York.

Al Wong

 

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Artist’s Statement

 

My work is a visual expression of the interconnectedness of perceived opposites. For the past 50+ years, my work has involved the use of negative and positive space, light, and transparency. I have always been fascinated with the ways in which light and shape are both presence and absence. Past bodies of work bring the foreground and the background planes of the sculpture or installation into one interconnected space.

In essence, my work demonstrates such relationships as light and dark, negative and positive, and emptiness and solidity. These relationships seem to imply difference at first glance, but because they are entirely interdependent, they reflect our interdependent existence. This implies that there is a deeper harmony in our environment that we may often overlook. My approach to art has always been to reveal life’s true nature in the everyday.

Al Wong is a native San Franciscan and has spent the past 50+ years making art in a variety of media. He has shown at exhibition venues such as the New York Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the UC Berkeley Museum & Pacific Film Archive. His work has toured nationally and internationally including Europe, South America and Japan. In addition, he has received several awards and honors including an NEA Grant in 1983, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1986, and a Flintridge Foundation Visual Artist Award in 1997.

Rodrigo Toscano

Songsters

How did people
procreate
around these parts
50 years ago
under what conditions
100 years ago
by what constraints
and liberties
200 years ago
to what ends
with what means
400 years ago
what rituals
impelled
what songs
propelled
800 years ago
what songs
were deemed fit
and by whom
1600 years ago
songsters
back at camp
sampling
other camps
compressing
and fitting
old songs
to new times
3200 years ago
call it quits
on rituals
ritual’s purpose
till a direction
a journey
is divined
6400 years ago
songsters vying
who’s shining
who’s not
12, 800 years ago
vanguards
in tatters
retrofitted
jimmied
just enough to
make relevance

Frisky-Frightened

In 2031…

In 2041…

In 2051…

(you frightened
or frisky?)
In 2071…

Ok, let’s go there

3021

100th year commemoration of
2021

In 2021, 1921

sentiments, sediment
surfeit of silly stances
towards
1821

1821, never quite
nor 1822

1822

200th year
reverse-commemoration of
2022

2022
right around the corner
is
nothing

making you
frisky-frightened

You’re frisky-frightened

What else to say

21st Century Odyssey

You scroll
and you scroll

and you scroll
and scroll

till something
also not you

commands
you stop

at which
you comply

then somehow
some you

lifts the pad
opens it and

notes it
by pencil

at which time
a dozen discourses

start vying
for your attention

notice
not a one

really wants it
notice

you can’t give it
anyway

notice
this condition

sketch out
this prison

dare declare
this inmate

a ‘mystic’ or
‘realist’

note well
the urge to

say something like
oh shit

my zoom’s
coming up

note well
another you

immobile
happy to comply

to nothing
and noting it

The Left & The Right

That that that
What?
That that that
What?

Ours ours ours
Mine mine mine
Ours ours ours
Mine mine mine

Leap leap leap
Chill out
Leap leap leap
Chill out

You can’t
Oh can’t we?
You can’t
Oh can’t we?

This too this too
That’s not
This too this too
That’s not

For the love of
For the love of
For the love of
For the love of

Hands up!
Take, my rocker
Hands up!
Take, my rocker

Rockin rollin!
Freeze!
Rockin rollin!
Freeze!

It’s about the children!
It’s about the children!
It’s about the children?
It’s about the children?

Rodrigo Toscano is a poet and essayist based in New Orleans. He is the author of ten books of poetry. His latest book is The Charm & The Dread (Fence Books, 2022). His previous books include In Range, Explosion Rocks Springfield, Deck of Deeds, Collapsible Poetics Theater (a National Poetry Series selection), To Leveling Swerve, Platform, Partisans, and The Disparities. His poetry has appeared in over 20 anthologies, including Best American Poetry and Best American Experimental Poetry (BAX). Toscano has received a New York State Fellowship in Poetry. He won the Edwin Markham 2019 prize for poetry. He works for the Labor Institute in conjunction with the United Steelworkers, the National Institute for Environmental Health Science, National Day Laborers Organizing Network educational / training projects that involve environmental and labor justice culture transformation.