AWP Is NOT Us

Over years of working on literary publications, I have never felt particularly compelled to self-disclose as a radical queer editor, instead hoping that the writers I support would make clear my editorial interests. Today, Red Hen Press editor Kate Gale’s tone-deaf, reactionary—perhaps satirical?—piece “AWP Is Us,” posted at Huffington Post, illustrates publishing’s implicit & explicit intolerance for critical engagement with intersectional oppression and its influence on art & literature. Today, I realize that my silence has been a mistake.

So here goes: I, Jesse Rice-Evans, hereby vocalize my ongoing commitment to seek out and publish queer & trans writers, authors of color, writers of varying dis/ability & class, and any writer similarly committed to dismantling the exclusionary fascist bullshit demarcated by Kate Gale’s oblivious editorial. As a queer, educated, white grrl-presenting poet, I am fully able to slip into privileged literary spaces, evidenced by my gatekeeper status as editor and writing instructor. It is of utmost importance to my practice in both of these spheres to remain committed to inclusion, challenging neoliberal & apologist discourses, and the act of becoming as necessary for any person of privilege interested in challenging the very real oppression within publishing.

The challenge of who discloses in submissions is also up for debate; I have not felt it integral to the experience of my work to self-identify as [whatever], but I am also questioning if this is misguided. Publishing is still incredibly insular, overwhelmingly white, cis, straight, wealthy, and otherwise paralleling normative, exclusionary patterns that dominate our cultural narrative. By neglecting to explicitly come out as an editor (or a writer) committed to rejecting those paradigms and publishing authors who challenge hegemony, I have done all writers who have submitted/will submit to Identity Theory and other publications I have worked for a great disservice.

I am deeply disappointed that an editor at an influential small press such as Red Hen would show her (racist) ass quite like this, but in truth, I am not surprised. (And I’m not surprised one bit at Gale’s affiliation with and blind defense of AWP, aka Apologist White Poets.) For my own well-being, I have elected to stay the fuck out of publishing as paid work for exactly this reason, but I am now doubly committed to signal-boosting writers of color and queers, and publishing them whenever I am lucky enough to have the opportunity.

I’m so pleased the online response to Gale’s willful ignorance of how institutions operate and her baffling writing style has been so strong. There are enough politically literate writers & publishing folks to push hard against these unacceptable incarnations of oppression in our community, and folks are out there fighting back. Let’s find each other! And buy each others’ books!

Piece

So I think I’m writing an essay–or a series of essays–but I keep calling it a collection of prose poems. At what point to I have to admit to myself that I might just be writing prose? Prose terrifies me. Can’t I just cling like a sloth to my poet moniker forever? Does this contradict my roles as a nonfiction editor and professional/academic writing tutor? So many identities!

Day #12

Inheritance

after Cassandra de Alba

Slivers of soap marking years like tree rings
fused into a pillar;

a collection of clown figurines glowering
over the duct-taped couch;

glass, marble, and plastic eggs
embossed with Florida
and Eloise;

jars caked in ancient dust, a coffee can rattling
baby teeth, yellowed newspapers barking
the end of the war

one day
all of this can be yours

NaPoWriMo Update

So I’ve been writing a lot, but most pieces I’ve been working on are intensely personal. I have elected to leave them off of the internet.

Something I’m doing differently this NaPo around is reading actual books of poetry to supplement my own writing. Matthew Olzmann’s Mezzanines, Kristen Stone’s Domestication Handbook, and Natasha Trethewey’s everything have really helped get my blood pumping.

Day #3

Funeral for Home

Watercolor paper stacked
rough as old hands–
heater grates open
to a desert.

Florence Boulevard smolders
in inch-deep volcano ash–
thick merlot carpet
petrifies like bone.

A ghost kicks dirt
in the basement. Long
hairs drizzle the bathtub.

Hornets lull the dead,
fruit drops and worms feast.

#NaPoWriMo

In preparation for the inception of NaPoWriMo–an intense thirty-day poetry binge for those of us paralyzed by fears of audience, topic, detail, and ourselves–we discuss why anyone would put themselves through the torturous process of writing a bad poem draft every single day. The answer? Lots of wine.

It’s almost April, which means baby animals, Earth Day, sunshine, and poetry.

(If this list isn’t gritty enough for you, try October, month of blindness awareness, pizza, opals, and pagan celebrations.)

April is a good month for poets. We can sit on the porch, wear sunglasses, and write.

Winter gets me into the bad habits of watching lots of (good!) television in my bed, sleeping late, and not writing as much as I would like. This is partially because it is expensive to heat my apartment, so staying in bed is the best warmth option; but it also because everything is the same grey color for three solid months. Grey trees, grey sky, grey asphalt. Grey is lovely, but my poetry relies heavily on color as fodder, fuel for its verse. Consequently, my winter poems are mostly about death and rainstorms.

The response to many months of not-so-brilliant poetics? The 30-day challenge of National Poetry Writing Month (otherwise known as NaPoWriMo). Similar to NaNoWriMo (wherein writers work on a novel draft to polish and wrestle the remaining 11 months), NaPo challenges poetry nerds to write a poem every day in April. Many poets defer to writing several in a sitting, then skipping a day or three (ahem), but the 30-poem challenge remains (that’s a whole chapbook, folks).

These poems don’t have to be complete, or even near complete, or even real poems. Half the time, I end up writing “ugh I hate working at the grocery store before a rainstorm. Everyone is batshit crazy and forgets their canvas bags,” before abandoning my computer in favor of drinking tea and looking out the window. But from this small moment in the time between other things, I begin to consider my myriad food service jobs, making lists of weird customers and co-workers, and remembering stories. I make lists of images, brainstorm titles on the backs of grocery receipts, think in meter.

Poetry is always in the back of my mind, even while I am busy writing consulting, bagging natural groceries, or running errands. With NaPoWriMo, poetry takes a more central space in my brain, becoming an undercurrent, a benevolent riptide of thoughts, pulling and pulling. The fragments that I puzzle together are not unlike seashells: often fragmented, sharp, and duller when dry, but they are poetic bookmarks. As of now, I have 14 scalloped edges of things that may or may not become poems. This is certainly better than nothing.

A side note for the curious: Some NaPoets post their pieces on the internet. I am saving mine for my inevitable collected works.

5 Words to NEVER Use in Poetry

Another in the JBAC series–this time, gearing up for NaPoWriMo. I’m still considering if I will participate, but I’m leaning yes. I need something to rev my poetry into high gear, and last time I participated (in 2012), I ended up with half of my creative writing thesis.

There are many things worthy of a poem: the weather, an especially delicious cupcake, the erotic whoosh of a freshly laundered cotton dress, dreams. In truth, the realm of the poetic is wide open to discovery and exploration (of the non-colonizing variety, please).

However, there do remain things that should never be touched by the long fingers of poetry. These things may be tantalizing, omnipresent, and even inescapable; yet this does not mean that they belong in a poem. This is a list of five words that should never under any circumstances find their way into a poem.

Continue reading “5 Words to NEVER Use in Poetry”