12 Lines about Gender (Florida-Style)
I looked to the sky, a UFO above me, or was it a gender
rolling over and over in that big sky like a female
orgasm, delirious with flashing lights? Intercoastal intersex
is so lovely with its salt water and its fresh: true Two-Spirit
brackishness. I mistook a manatee for an androgynous
goddess of rising sea and sinking city, gender-fluid
silver ripples along her back. I spied an omega male
kayaking quietly through musky mangroves, all genderqueer
with their gorgeous underwater roots, their agenda agender
and big love (the nursery of the world!). One transgender
spaceship (or was it a cloud?) was tired of cisgender
sand hogs and sea bullies and wrote across the sky: Bye, Gender!
12 Lines about Gender (the Cosmos)
I believe there is no one on the planet luckier than a bi-gender,
who, like a hipster trickster, lives above the fray, unidentifiable
in their lovely/lanky/stunning/staggering way beyond cisgenders
and their scripts. Monday I’m a femme, Tuesday, androgynous
as a moon pouring light in a cosmos that’s so gender-fluid
it holds Castor, Pollux (twin boys) and Venus (so female,
she’s star of both morning and evening, leading the sun, male,
and earthly Gillette to name a razor in her honor). Agender
ex-planet, Pluto, boasts 5 moons of mythical transgendered
radiance. Astronomists spy on Nix, its interstellar intersex
moonstruck self, as they fly by Pluto to confirm its two-spirit
orbit. The Hubble zooms in on each lovely sphere, genderqueer.
Denise Duhamel’s most recent book of poetry is Scald (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2017). Blowout (Pittsburgh, 2013) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her other titles include Ka-Ching! (Pittsburgh, 2009); Two and Two (Pittsburgh, 2005); Queen for a Day: Selected and New Poems (Pittsburgh, 2001); The Star-Spangled Banner (Southern Illinois University Press, 1999); and Kinky (Orhisis, 1997). She is a Distinguished University Professor in the MFA program at Florida International University in Miami.
Denise Duhamel and Maureen Seaton have co-authored four collections of poetry, the most recent of which is CAPRICE (Collaborations: Collected, Uncollected, and New) (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2015). With David Trinidad, they edited Saints of Hysteria: A Half-Century of Collaborative American Poetry (Soft Skull, 2007).
but dresses dressed in dresses are dresses
The dress says I will frame your beauty
when I bury you. The dress is a chateau
of ghosts demanding don’t go, don’t love
your nakedness. It is the vehicle, the volta
that comes too soon, without steering, only
sash for a wheel. Let it fly loose, grip yourself.
The dress is a liar laced with history’s lies.
Your beauty needs no frame; pivot on this
exposé as the body drowns its cargo
of blues beneath a voluminous red dress
that enters the room before you do.
Let it go on ahead, swirl its cliché, evoke
whatever gazes it can. That nakedness
you do love refigures any space you choose.
Department of Brokenness
The desert is an armory of black tires.
Assemble the animals. Assemble
the murder ballads, and the trembling
shadows. Silence strung along barbwire
catches the heat, the threat against flesh,
and starts to hum. Always the eye believes
human forms will emerge, some voice
will clear debris, give guidance or light.
Instead, fading notes, roadkill. A mass
of songless bodies trussed tight with shoulder
holsters. The weathervane no longer moves,
the land is out of breath. Assemble
every muted scarecrow. Every body’s
just as frail, and even the silence lies.
Solve for X
Everything is loss and the longing for
connection, but the ache of vacancy
has no home. Brittle stem flower—headless,
every planted thing knows its own uprooting,
knows that this is the way we wound—
sometimes a needle, sometimes a shovel.
Morning’s wasp-bright sting turns bodies
to stories of wreckage, of folly, the dull
thudding steps we plot for going on.
If salve or salvage exist somewhere,
do the stories weave what leads us there
away from the garden’s rot, obit, subplot,
toward something less dark. Not quite song
or sugar water, but a wrought ripe, sunlit.
Our primary approach is one in which each of us decides on a specific poetic form (sonnet, cento, glosa, pantoum, etc.); or, in some cases, we merely make a decision about stanzaic length (for example, we may choose to write in couplets). We then begin a stanza, establishing its length as well as any other parameters, before giving it to the other person through differing collaborative encounters including email, text, phone conversations, and bi-weekly meetings. During our meetings (typically over a glass of Malbec), we discuss new topics and possibilities as we reflect on our discoveries about our collaborations. We continue to develop those ideas as we write, editing as we go along as well as after each poem is completed. The sonnet seems particularly suited to a two-person collaboration due to its dialogic nature, and so we find ourselves returning to this form frequently.
by Devon Balwit
Red copse on an age-flecked page. 500 years of hounds and the runners of hounds gone to bones since the artist’s hand clustered the russet branches, the grove of birdsong and unseen creatures foraging. Without the attribution, we’d think it a sketch from last Sunday’s picnic. We know the place, have been there even. But see the name Leonardo, and suddenly, the trees groan beneath manna, the mute solemnity of the archive, untouchable. Omit it then, leaving the gate unlatched, no sign to ward off trespassers. Thus relieved, we can enter, quick as quick, rustling the underbrush.
History of the Knife
by Devon Balwit and Jeff Whitney
You’re it. You’re the rabbit. You’re the knife, the flensing blade, the wordless cry. You’re the tulle, rucked in the hurry to fuck in the stairwell. You’re the dropped clatter, the harrow scattering voles. You’re the slap and the burning thereafter, the skinned scrotum, the tap into nailbeds. You’re the splash over the bridge railing, the burst bubble, the sink into secrets.
You’re the frantic in the backward glance, the lifted curtain. Thunder. The dark-stained cloud belly. You’re the hectic, fever-fed, the uttering candle. You’re the raised palps, questing, the flat stare in the reflection, the back-lit pane. You’re the key, dropped in darkness, the groping fingers, not finding.
You’re the dark of a wizard’s dream, his book of mites and half-fleshed demons. The world tilts this way and that, flat-lined equator, continents of grief, islands of sorry. You’re the you of this poem, of the line you go to the window. Drawn to its red horizon, you’re the strange bird summoned always back to earth.
You go outside, pick a tree, name it Mary. You don’t know why. Important is the act of carving, sap-sticky. A rite lucky and mournful. The best coffins are made from what the earth can eat. Even you, the knife, flicking the forest to desert and swallowing ruin.
Sometimes, you tire of the whetstone’s rasp, the hairsplitting, but no longer a knife, what would you be? What beyond your pearl handle? A story? Fine. No street ever went anywhere golden. Now you’re a scorpion snipping the head of a star. You’re looking become wanting. You’re the balloon, floating away.
What do you do when nothing calls you anymore? When you turn, and there is only the empty clearing, those you came with hidden? When you wait there, counting Mississippis?
Best to remain the knife. There is a knife in everything, in all stories of suffering, beetle to hanged man, finches at a feeder. Every so often, one sings.
You have left for tomorrow
like the rhythm of rust
gasping, fleeing the day
we pressed our hearts
against the glitter
of wisdom, our being
choked on a voiceless
be pliant, be the words
translucent as dust.
The Waiting Room
It must be rain inside the walls. The rain of a child’s cries, a red swing against the grey sweetness of sky. A hollow to stifle, rocking in the cold front. Of ciphers discarded on the doorsteps, lips bleeding into porcelain shards to let live. Come back, come back, to the call of faceless drinkers pleading for histories, in a room of dust singed by erasure. For I will wait, I will wait to touch their voices, punctured by rain.
from Pages from the Frozen Sea
The “pages” in Pages from the Frozen Sea are photographs of ordinary objects or materials suspended in ice, or artworks made by working with ice. This collaborative project is a celebration of the beauty and constantly changing nature of ice, and embraces an experimental, process-oriented approach to art-making. The project was inspired by a quote from Franz Kafka: “A book must be an axe for the frozen sea within us.” The images selected were done during the winter of 2017. The project will continue during the winter of 2018: it requires cold weather. This year Sarah Stengle and Eva Mantel hope to extend the scope of the project by inviting other artists to also contribute pages. The project can be followed on Facebook and Instagram.
from Sweet-Voiced [Mutilated] Papyrus
for George Schneeman
feminine art controversy? do not spray
we’re regressing here in the manner of social and civil rights
never go homeless into the void
deep in time things are done out of contrariness
cast away pretense, charm the winds of Thrace
speech! speech! before the angry mob
& a clamor for pride
dreamed in the Greek dream I gave birth to a snake
and had a laugh with the other damsels
wanted the ones who were feminists to cheer
but they didn’t (did I?) get the joke
I was their school teacher……………………………………………………..
pencil over my ear
woman’s work is never shunned
the pudenda chronicles
look up to see the pillaging Zeus?
can you spin? will you be scanned?
are you mad?
groves & shrines, dance around my course description
what is the art of our love?
he went thinking, the shes kept circling the
liberated hearth, escaped into the streets
memory, meanwhile, kept steady
and standing on the soapbox heads
nose: in profile
hairline: reconstitute for the fabricant
fin de siècle decadence
I mean the last go-round
was she pure?
waiting for a future society to take over
hermeneutics for everyone……………..
lens of rescue
did we miss the absentee ballot procedure?
Hetairia! my friends
welcome to the symposium
and sing all night because we are all suppliants here
she is not an island of paypals
where beauty is set apart and purchased
gaze: masked identity
Runes, fragments and the odd moments and gestures and fissures of cultural artifacts of the past are ever generative in my poetry. How they relate to language and the body is always an exploration. Lines come together as the images assume composite yet fluid identities suggesting, in this case, parts of the hieratic female body.
On one occasion while visiting my literary archive at the Hatcher Graduate Library in Ann Arbor I watched skilled and scholarly librarians gently repair a recently acquired “mutilated” papyrus. Neglect, weather, age, war, other abuse? It triggered a suite of poems that eventually morphed into this one. I see this serial poem as montaged to reclaim and recreate a viable presence – a visible body, which is also a kind of archive – on the page.
I had already thought about a visual collaboration with the artist Pamela Lawton whose work I have long admired. Visualizing the project in black and white with her inimitable drawing line, I invited her into this project. This seemed the perfect match.
Pamela in her “Educator” role at the Metropolitan Museum has access to a range of cultural artifacts and outstanding masterpieces of all times and place and her recent work has been reflecting some of this visual input, as well as the machinations of her own expansive imagination.
I presented Pamela initially with my first drafts and then went on to respond to her responses to my texts. Things evolved in a playful back and forth mode, and when we presented the work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art live in the galleries with some of the pieces she had worked from, I felt the further dynamic of performance enter into the mix. I think of our collaboration as an interactive project in many ways, of a process that that will continue into the future with a sense of discourse, reclamation, and intervention.
When collaborating, my peripheral vision expands, taking in others’ perspectives. This leads to spontaneous, unexpected and uncensored creative responses. This encounter with the “other”, this potential for empathy, occurs for me when working with poets, in a direct way, and also when I work from a motif, such as architecture or statuary. It also happens when interacting with other artists’ works, such as at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where, as an educator there, I have a glimpse into the world view of, say, a Renaissance tapestry designer, or a Buddhist sculptor.
All of this and more came together in working with Anne Waldman, whose poetry and writings and performances I had long-admired. When she asked me to work with her on this project, I was intrigued and overwhelmed by the serially fragmented fragments, on artistic, historic and corporeal levels. Among the oblique antiquities and modern muses, the textual layers elicted countless possibilities, leading to my making a connection between her writing and the overwhelming array of art within the museum. Her writing in hand, I allowed the voice of her poem and the language of the art at the Met to speak to me obliquely, sub-consciously, and made many artworks in front of statues, stele, and more. When the idea to present it as a performance arose, then our collaboration took on a new level, and we exchanged writing and art (mine and the Met’s) to shape it as both a visual and oral piece. Within this new way of working, the possibilities are rich, and we are looking forward to new iterations.
The Ruler of Rusted Knees
|You were the king of all the abandoned bathtubs
and I was the king of air/space/ time/ questions
unlucky fuzzy key chains and speech.
Were you jealous?
Um, sorry (?)
I was never / actually kidding.
In the beginning, we made birds chirps translated into the language of broken chairs.
No one exactly understood us, so they called us wise.
This was before the bloody fedoras,
before the arrival of floating leaf territory.
Try to balance
like an idea,
like a balanced
of balance like
on another idea,
on many ideas
Back then—you were
the ruler of plastic wrap,
lost words and
I was the ruler
In the beginning, we didn’t need to be friends with all the parts of ourselves.
It was enough to listen to the wind tear the world to pieces.
Later, the wind swallowed parts of ourselves we had no name for
but missed terribly.
We had happened in many
Like the taste of teeth
space around a loose flag.
You can be the king
If you whispered to the light,
say you were
its flashing was a product
In our mixed-media literary project, Egyptian gods, stripped of their context and role, wander various New York City neighborhoods trying to figure out where they belong, how to make sense of what they have lost, and how to get along with one another.
In the first step of our project, Toni Simon constructs three-dimensional, small-scale figurines out of paper, modeled on Egyptian gods. She then paints them with abstract, graphic details. We then take the little gods out into different neighborhoods and take hundreds of photographs of them. We select eight to ten images, which become the basis for a series of poems written by Joanna Fuhrman.
So far, we have created picture/poem serial combinations in Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Chinatown, the Reversible Destiny Studio, Red Hook and Gowanus (featured here). Parts of the project have appeared online in paperbag and Talisman and in print in the 100th issue of Hanging Loose.
Joanna Fuhrman is the author of four books of poetry, most recently “Pageant” (Alice James Books 2009) and “Moraine” (Hanging Loose Press 2006), as well as the chapbook “The Emotive Function” (Least Weasel Press 2011). She teaches poetry writing at Rutgers University and through Teachers & Writers Collaborative. Other sections of her project with Toni appear online at paperbag and Tailsman and in print in the journal Hanging Loose. For more see: Joannafuhrman.com
It’s All Your Fault, Now Burn with Me
Whatever you do, don’t defrost
that last thought
dancing out the airlock.
I wanna know your infection
touches the glass
you pound with savior palms
I’ve never found. An ideal worth believing
in retreats from you, lowers its solar shields.
We need our decompression
initiated, stranger. Love, as
we coast into the sun,
scoop your fusion heart out
illegally. Flash the flares
of your eyes in someone else’s direction.
Say Your Silent Goodbyes
The most impossible white
point star left
a conventional impact crater.
And yet you are found:
a skinny little idiot
in a blizzard of bullets.
Unfrazzle your asteroid
laser, cue montage music
like a missile through a plate glass window.
Hide your weeping angel eyebrows;
the approach begins.
The horde of travesty’s
nightmare child. Choose your enemy
from memory’s 4-beat cycle.
27 Effervescent Planets
Pulled a second out
of sync, hidden in
a time pocket
torn through. The universe pants—
the run was too long
for the crucible loop.
Shoot! The dimension cannon
naked in the neutrino
core with only one disgusting heart,
one inhumane universe.
Reality bomb (boom)
testing calibration apotheosis
waits for a wavelength.
An Anomaly on the List of the Dead
An army of ghosts gone
hungry, running warm,
shoots into void 600
feet above your body
politic. That’s inside the future
breach and science lines. Genesis
arc needs 13 square
miles. Move your universe a little
to the left. Exterminate,
delete, elevate. The void
stuff is sticky with duty
to queen and country. Cue
the move-on music, burning
up a sun just to say goodbye.
The preceding poems are taken from a short manuscript titled “Bigger On The Inside” that the authors wrote collaboratively while watching episodes of Doctor Who. It will be published by Ixnay Press in 2014.
Travis Macdonald is a poet, copywriter and small press publisher. He is the author of two full-length collections: “The O Mission Repo [vol. 1]” (Fact-Simile) and “N7ostradamus” (BlazeVox), as well as several chapbooks. He currently lives, works, writes and co-edits Fact-Simile Editions in Philadelphia, PA.