Welcome to what I hope will become a regular feature here at Metre Maids. My plan is to regularly ask Twitter a question via the @MetreMaids account (if you don’t already follow us, get on that!) and cross my fingers for some good, creative, and interesting answers. This week I’ve been thinking a lot about my journals — the volumes and volumes of writings that I’ve kept from my teenage and college years and the volumes I have yet to write — and what a great asset they’ve been to me as a writer. I thought I’d ask what other folks thought of as their best poetry tool. Below are some of the answers I got on The Twitterz.
The first poem I ever read live was a poem about homophobia. It was originally titled ‘The Homophobe’ and with a push from Santo Cazzati, I read it in front of a bunch of complete strangers in a cold pub on a Monday night in 2008. I still remember flinching when I read the lines, “He’ll tell mum / who I’m fucking / She’ll hate me, / loathe me, for that”
Though I identify as queer, my partner is a woman and my mother is certainly not homophobic so the line isn’t quite true in the factual sense but it related to a few episodes where a homophobic man had begun targeting me on stalls whilst campaigning for same-sex marriage. I found a voice in poetry and a welcoming audience in the Melbourne poetry scene, for not just that poem, but other poems on sexuality and other issues I care deeply about.
Though that didn’t stop me from feeling a tension when I first read it. And the poetry scene isn’t an oasis away from homophobia. There was a heckler that followed me around to various gigs for a little while. But for the most part, it was an inclusive space and he didn’t hang around for long.
There are many queer and gender-bending type poets around the scene, though often the lines are blurred, which is a great thing, but for every out poet, there’s probably still a few more not. It’s probably nothing to do with the scene itself, but the wider society of Melbourne in which poets exist. Melbourne’s slam and poetry nights might be an escape for a night or two. Read more…
Dorothy Porter’s poetics affirm the extremities of my corporal existence. I cannot escape my body but I can read Porter’s lyrics and become intimate with the pulsations, aches and fluids of my own mortality. Lines from the title poem in Porter’s poetry collection, Crete (1996), allow me to express my feelings towards her poetry: ‘Finding a vein /I find you…O flash! O honey!’
When discussing her verse novels, Dorothy Porter explicitly stated that she loved to ‘write bad’. It was Porter’s fearless exploration of the ‘bad’, the erotic taboo, that allowed her to take charge of the verse novel, and by doing so, create a space for discussion about poetry and queer sexuality.
In a paper presented at the Tasmanian Readers’ and Writers’ Festival in August of 1999, Porter spoke openly about an era in her life where – in an attempt to gain a wider readership and more financial stability from her writing – she wrote the two young adult novels Rookwood (1991) and The Witch Number (1993). As Porter explains, despite her attempts to consciously write for a young adult audience, The Witch Number was still criticised for being too subversive. Porter believes that this rejection of The Witch Number was due to her exploration of witchcraft and menstruation and she was happy for this view to be proved wrong. However it was this rejection of The Witch Number that drove Porter to write against everything she considered ‘good’, to only write for herself – and what Porter wanted to write was poetry that would drip and make sticky freshly mopped tiles:
‘I wanted ingredients that stank to high heaven of badness. I wanted graphic sex. I wanted explicit perversion. I wanted putrid language. I wanted stenching murder. I wanted to pour out my heart. I wanted to take the piss. I wanted lesbians who weren’t nice to other women. I wanted glamorous nasty men who even lesbians want to fuck. I wanted to say that far too much Australian poetry is a dramatic cure for insomnia. But I still wanted to write the book in poetry.’ Read more…
1) The hardest thing about being an editor at Arktoi Books is saying “no” all the time. Howard Junker, founder of Zyzzyva magazine, told me, “Think about it—you say ‘yes’ once and ‘no’ a thousand times. Get used to it!”
I never get used to it. I am an author and have had manuscripts rejected. Because I am a lesbian author, I also know it is really harder to find a publisher. It is much harder to be published just by virtue of being a woman. There are numbers involved here. See the VIDA website for details about that.
If you are a lesbian writer, I believe there are two other “quotas” at work. I think there’s an assumption in publishing that lesbians don’t have anything to say that the larger society would be interested in. I think some people still have the idea that if you have published one or two lesbians, then you have done enough. There you have it. It’s the main reason I started Arktoi Books. There are a ton of wonderful manuscripts by lesbian writers out there that aren’t getting published.
For example, after reading 70 to 100 manuscripts, I end up with 4 or 5 that would make a perfect book for Arktoi. It’s heartening to see there are great manuscripts out there to publish, but it is hard to know I can choose just one. What wouldn’t I give to be able to publish all the final five? Or even three? Read more…
I wanted to be an explorer. For a long time I had a clear plan, that I would become an Archeologist, escape my family and their art. I would discover tombs and not art. Ocean divers and tomb raiders, these were my people. Growing up I would disappear into the English countryside for hours at a time, eventually developing a ‘Famous Five’ complex, dressing androgynously and insisting that everybody call me George for the better part of two years. I even convinced myself at one time that the pond opposite our house opened up into the Mississippi and made a raft to float away on, which promptly broke apart and left me with pneumonia. My aspirations of becoming an Archeologist were eventually quieted as I got older (and realised it had very little to do with Indiana Jones), and having been born into a family of artists with sometimes painfully open minds when it comes to my misadventures, romantic, poetic or otherwise, I was robbed of any controversy that growing into a bisexual poet customarily brings. I feel like becoming a writer was the perfect consolation. It allowed me an entirely new sense of adventure and discovery, one that I could access any time I wanted.
The tiny ghost of an archeologist in me was brought back to life last year though, at a wedding in Dorset where I stumbled across the idea for my current project. I stayed in a small town named Lyme Regis, situated on the Jurassic Coast, and quickly learned this sea worn, crooked little place is renowned for it’s fossil laden cliffs. I began to notice the name ‘Mary Anning’ cropping up in the various fossil shops, on plaques and signposts. It turns out she was a local fossil hunter and paleontologist in the 1800’s, and made some of the most significant discoveries of the 19th century, including dinosaurs such as the first plesiosaur and ichthyosaur. She immediately captured my imagination, and researching her became a new and bizarre obsession. Read more…
1 ) You asked me to write about queer as genre, poetry as genre – and all I can think of in terms of intersections is failure and scatter. What Kind; sort; style, asks the Oxford English Dictionary. I am obsessed with the zuihitsu poetic form, a hybrid Japanese form which utilizes subjective lists, journal entries, juxtaposition, fragmentation, etcetera, to create a sense of randomness which is not really random. Because it is messy, chaotic, contradictory, it is a form I frequently return to, especially when I do not always know what and how to say. It is a form which maps and contains my fear.
2 ) “My poetry is often guided by an impulse to fail. When this is the case, writing is an attempt to salvage something from the mess.” – Douglas Kearney.
3 ) I moved to Milwaukee from California and met five queer Asian people (not me, though I have been referred to myself multiple times – is this a mistake? Are others mistaking me for me? Do I look like myself?) This is totally subjective – I moved toMilwaukeefor poetry, not for queerness. Yet the search becomes what I frustrate, what pushes me to lineate, what creates the next line, what is filled up here.
4 ) What are the essential qualities that make up this loneliness?
5 ) Queer sorts:
One moved with me from California for school.
One I met in a cafe with leafy greens overhead. We met there because he drank tea, not coffee (my uncle – a handyman – in another life dreamt of opening a teashop). I think he had been persuaded to meet with me as a recruitment/retainment strategy. One of us had been tricked to be there? My mother was visiting, and we talked about whether he would be comfortable if she came along. She said, you go ahead, I don’t want to make him uncomfortable. It was a matter-of-fact conversation, and I cannot remember another one about this topic with my mother. Read more…
Gays have a problem. Sorry, did I say gays? Gays and lesbians. Well, and bisexual people. Oh, and transgender folk too. Oh, fuck it, let’s embrace the whole panoply of alphabet-soup abbreviations: LGBTQQUCIT2SAAPHO people have a problem (to use the full list of possible variants Wikipedia offers): what the hell do we call ourselves? It depends who you are and what your aims are, of course, but I want to briefly put the case for my preferred adjective, the underused queer, the Q in LGBTQ. First, though, let me explain why names are important.
One popular theory about names is that they are just labels we attach to things that are already there. This is the belief Juliet is espousing in the speech which includes her famous ‘rose’ line:
“’Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.”
Lesbian poets are enjoying a bit of a heyday right now, at least in America. We have a lot to celebrate and a lot to be thankful for. Britain’s Poet Laureate is an out lesbian, Carol Ann Duffy. The U.S. Poet Laureate, Kay Ryan, is also an out lesbian. One of the top-selling poets in the country, Mary Oliver, is also a lesbian. The National Book Award in Poetry this year was awarded to Nikki Finney for her wondrous book Head Off & Split. A new venture called The Lavender Review is highlighting the work of lesbian poets and/or poetry. Arktoi Books, featuring books by lesbians, is now in its whatever year and its books are garnering attention in places such as Poets & Writers and The Library Journal.
If all of this is true, then why is it still so difficult to find books by lesbian poets? It’s not that they aren’t out there, somewhere, because they are. But even if you are fortunate enough to live near an independently-owned bookstore (and if you are I hope you go buy a book from them a.s.a.p.) and even if it has a poetry section that is bigger than a shelf and actually has books by living poets, it’s really hard to know which are by lesbians unless your gaydar is phenomenal.
The upside of this is that looking for lesbian poets feels more like a treasure hunt where the treasure is often hiding in plain sight. Here is your treasure map. Okay, it’s really just a list of seven things you can do to celebrate and/or discover more lesbian poetry. You can do one each day. You can do one of them over and over again. Or, if you are greedy for treasure or just want a supergoldstar on your report card, you can do the entire list each and every day.
When my freaky teenaged friends and I got too old to go on kids’ writing courses we started organising our own. At first we hired youth hostels and dragged in authors to teach us stuff, with limited success. This culminated in the year we spent an entire week watching Doctor Horrible’s sing-along blog on repeat and the lead organiser had a breakdown halfway down the stairs. No one did any writing.
We had a rethink. We decided in future we’d teach ourselves.
Awesome things about KWE 2012!
1. Five participants, five totally different sessions.
Self-teaching works for a few reasons: it’s cheaper than hiring someone, it means everyone is terrified of delivering their own session so they actually listen to everyone else, and as everyone knows different stuff you get LOADS of variety.
Here is this year’s selection:
(i) Surrealism and cut up poetry
(ii) Reimagining Shakespeare – as a Disney movie! or a rap song!
(iii) Fractals – putting texts through sets of rules until they become meaningless
(iv) Characterisation – creating characters based on superficial objects then imagining they are totally different people from how they appear
(v) Exploring the Cumbrian countryside and totally experiencing Wordsworth’s Romantic Sublime. Read more…