“I see every story, every word as a struggle of memory against forgetting. As a struggle of nuance in the flat face of fascism.”
—from “Why Writing Matters in the Age of Despair” by Lyz Lenz in The Rumpus
Over the past couple of years, we’ve spun out about why (and even if) writing and art making matters right now. In this essay by Lyz Lenz, we hear echoes of our private and collective despair—and the resolve, at all costs, to not be erased. We work to welcome the nuance, the tangle, the hard questioning. We make art as proof of our lived experience, of our enduring existence.
“. . . art endures past governments, countries, and emperors, and their would-be replacements. [ . . . ] art—even, or perhaps especially, art that is dedicated somehow to tenderness—is not weak. It is strength.”
—from “On Becoming an American Writer” by Alexander Chee in The Paris Review
Chee guides us through his memories to access our own. We meet on a bridge magically suspended between his words and our associations. When read in relation to Kristin Chang’s “Etymology of Butch” (our theme!), we see our dead, our past, our ancestors. We see what’s been made for us, what we in turn we make for them. Our art, our words—to live beyond our lifespans.
“For me, I always think about writing the things that should exist but don’t yet—things that would save my life, things that would have transformed me if I’d read them growing up–that’s when I kinda know I should go for it.”
— from “How our bodies domesticate/disaster: An Interview with Kristin Chang, Past Lives, Future Bodies” by Leona Chen in Taiwanese American
The wisdom is brimming in this interview with Kristin Chang. GO FOR IT. Make the art that would have saved the younger you. What you needed to see, to hear, to feel possible.
“I’m afraid, ‘What if none of this matters?’ Maybe this is the working-class roots of my family, where I feel like—I sit two days in a hotel, I get 10,000 words—what if it doesn’t matter? What if I could be doing something better with my hands for my community, my people? Maybe, in a queer body, that’s always a question: ‘How can we be of service to one another?’ At least for myself. That’s how I think of art, is how we are service to one another.”
—from “Ocean Vuong on being generous with your work”, a conversation with Amy Rose Spiegel, in The Creative Independent
We could read Ocean Vuong everything forever… This generous interview, overflowing with reminders of why and how we make, how and where we place our attention. To have the ambition to reimagine and arrive here: “Attention is the most common and purest form of generosity.”
“& “…because darling, before I came alive, I watched the world / without knowing what to look for, but I swear, it was there, again / above the tall grass, the headless hawk / still alive, still, somehow, flying.”
—from “Still, Somehow” by Hieu Minh Nguyen in The Margins
This week, we’re revisiting a poem that we’ve been holding close for months. Still, somehow, we are, again, again.
“No moon in sight, so I howled at the exit sign instead. Red runes, electric. Telling an old story of escape, of wind, a wide cold. A distant car alarm. Otherwise: the dark, and our bodies, two strange women trying to touch each other. Breathing strange. Moving toward or away from each other as the red ghost in the sky opened, called us gone, showed us the door to another world. Otherwise, the dark, and our mouths, tearing at what bones we could find. Grinning and hungry for something — something we couldn’t, with all our words, name.”
—from “Perihelion: A History of Touch” by Franny Choi in Poetry
Cycles of orbit, cycles of touch. This week, we circle “Perihelion: A History of Touch.” If you read one thing today read this.
“That’s how art functions. There are lacunae in every art work, gaps that we fill or don’t fill, and it’s not by understanding everything perfectly that we are enriched—not in art, not in life.”
—from “There Is No Single Voice of America” by Elaine Castillo in Literary Hub
In Elaine Castillo’s “There Is No Single American Voice,” we encounter the power that resides in untranslated language—the spaces that might not open to us, and the ways in which these spaces can still be a kind of opening. To include these spaces in art is to create a truer reflection of our multitudinous nation, a mirror that sees deeply and dimensional.
“There have been moments in our shared human history in particular parts of the world where poets and also singers have been banned. But why? What is there to fear? Precisely this: the force of the quicksilver self that poetry sets free—desire that can never be bound by laws and legislations. This is the force of the human, the spirit level of our lives.”
—from “What Use Is Poetry?” by Meena Alexander in World Literature Today
Thank you, Meena Alexander, for answers we feel bone-deep. What use is poetry? And she answers. This force. Unbound. Let’s free ourselves through art.
“I can use my mind not to punish myself, but to invite a special brand of silence to make room for celebration.”
—from “I Made Peace With My Body on a Sweaty Dance Floor” by Kimberly Drew from Vice—from “I Made Peace With My Body on a Sweaty Dance Floor” by Kimberly Drew in Vice
As we reflect on how we cleared space to celebrate, create, and gather at our #apossiblepractice popup in Farmington this month, this piece came to mind. Drew writes, “I have found hundreds of ways to lie to myself about my body; to tell myself that is not good enough.” We realized we do this, too, with our talents (Going For It!) or imposter syndrome in general (already nervous about #AWP19!). But there is power in showing up, as you are, and communing with others. And this, too, can maybe lead to being “reminded of my body’s worthiness of love.”
“I had to contend with the expectations placed on my writing because of my name and because of the first sentence in my bio: José Olivarez is the son of Mexican immigrants. In college, I remember being frustrated because no matter what I wrote [ . . . ]. It didn’t take me long to figure out that my classmates were not reading my work; they were reading me.”
—from “José Olivarez: How I Wrote ‘A Mexican Dreams of Heaven'” by José Olivarez in The Adroit Journal
With the recent college admissions scandal involving the wealthy, the white, the powerful, we turn to poet José Olivarez for candor about his experiences as a student poet at Harvard and a glimpse into the writing of his poem “A Mexican Dreams of Heaven.” Alana reflects, “What happens when POC enter those supposedly hallowed halls, those looming ivory towers, those gates? We may be ‘in,’ but what does that even mean?” Read this quick, illuminating piece, then head over to VS podcast to hear him read this poem in front of a live audience here. Starts at 29:40. ←
“But the foolish hope is that perhaps if we truly take a step back, and look at ourselves, stripped of noise or performance or misgivings, we can hold each other in the light. That somehow, we can recognize each other as whole human beings, whose flaws and sorrows are valid, and dream up a better future together.”
—from “Giving Up the Gaze: A Conversation with Sally Wen Mao” by Jenny Xie in The Margins
In this post-truth, garbage fire world, navigating through grief and creative struggle, let us see the light, the importance of our work without money, how to continue on. Let those of us on the outside looking in, those who are struggling to find togetherness, find togetherness and be truly seen.
“Rejections are a bit like scars, and they tell stories of creative growth in their own way.”
—from “What Collecting 100 Rejections Taught Me about Creative Failure” by Kim Liao in Literary Hub
What happens after something goes viral? Kim Liao’s essay “Why You Should Aim for 100 Rejections a Year” went viral in 2016; here she reflects on this dubious “expertise” in failure. Ideas of happily ever after, creeping imposter syndrome—and reminding ourselves of the importance of forging on, foregoing our expectations in order to continue growing.
“For I do not know all the faces / of my family, on this earth. / Perhaps it will take a lifetime / (or five) to discover every / sister, brother.”
—from “Spell to Find Family” by Chen Chen in Lambda Literary
As @megwilling settles back into a daily rhythm post #awp19 and @alana.dao continues to grapple with new/early motherhood, Chen Chen’s poem “Spell to Find Family” sings to both of us. We find family around us through fate and through choice. Walking crowded convention centers, looking up at dive bar readings, maybe even stuck in jury duty. (Ugh.) If we create new life, we create new family, relationships, power dynamics. This poem reminds us to embrace prismatic family in all ways it finds us—in all ways we find each other.
“All the world is moving, even sand from one shore to another / is being shuttled. I live my life half afraid, and half shouting / at the trains when they thunder by. This letter to you is both.”
—from “Envelopes of Air” by Ada Limón and Natalie Diaz in The New Yorker
For us, a big part of A POSSIBLE PRACTICE is correspondence. Full inboxes and weekly Google Hangout sessions keep our projects on track, but we realized we were missing the reflective space and intimacy that handwritten letters allow. So, we started writing to each other. When we saw this poem-letter practice between Ada Limón and Natalie Diaz, we fell in love and are striving for something as rich, as textured, as heart. As Kevin Young writes, “The resulting poem-letters reveal, as most missives do, their writers’ lives, but also a time and a place […] a rich physical and emotional landscape emerges; as the poets navigate their own experiences, they ask questions about heritage, place, nature, the body, language, and dislocation—challenging themselves, one another, and their readers to develop a more nuanced understanding of what home is, and of what it could be.”
“. . . let’s just be ourselves, let’s be loud and messy and talk shit about people in Cantonese while on line at the grocery store. [ . . . ] Let’s bring our own snacks to the movies. [ . . . ] We did that and more and yet we believed it was okay to turn on the ones who had less, buying into the idea that there was only room for some of us. Like we weren’t the same, our survival dependent on one another, our spiked and complicated love.”
—from “Who In America Is Allowed To Be Ordinary?” by Lisa Ko in Buzzfeed
In recent weeks, we have been thinking a lot about who gets to “assimilate”—what that actually means and at what cost. Who gets to be the better than another? In what ways do we survive through our dependence on others—and how can we use our interdependence to lift each other up? We all deserve the right to be ordinary, in our unabashed selves, in this “spiked and complicated love.”
“There is a time for everything. Look,”
—from “Sorrow Is Not My Name” by Ross Gay in Poetry Foundation
The end of this season has a muddy, gravitational pull into dark, wintry doldrums but as this poem by Ross Gay reminds us, there is still sweetness among the sorrow.
“Don’t tell me that the experiences of a vast majority of our planet’s human population are marginal, are not relevant, are not political. Don’t tell me that you think there’s not enough room for another story about sexual abuse, motherhood, or racism. The only way to make room is to drag all our stories into that room. That’s how it gets bigger.”
—from “The Heart-Work: Writing About Trauma as a Subversive Act” by Melissa Febos in Poets & Writers
It has been a rough winter/entry to spring for us. (Alana here with a running list: Hit and run! Losses in our community! Pneumonia!) While these things may feel taxing and often mundane, they are all still special, precious. And at these times, we often don’t feel compelled to write or create, assuming these stories are ours alone to navigate, to carry. BUT, as Melissa Febos writes, our stories reveal universal truths and can be our own acts of subversion against a patriarchy that aims to silence and shame. Vulnerability is bravery. Writing is art.
“I cannot walk through all realms— / I carry a yearning I cannot bear alone in the dark— // What shall I do with all this heartache?”
—from “Speaking Tree” by Joy Harjo in The Slowdown with Tracy K. Smith
This fucking week. Let poetry offer expansiveness, the perspective to recognize our interconnectedness. To keep showing up for each other. Keep showing up.
“Forgive me, for I have been nurturing my well-worn / grudges against beauty.”
—from “How Can Black People Write about Flowers at a Time Like This” by Hanif Abdurraqib in Gulf Coast
Tender and brief, this life, this love. The temporality of our springs. This gorgeously crushing poem. Take a handful of fleeting minutes to hold it, knotted, in your hands.
“so let’s end this / classist pretend where names don’t matter / & language is too heavy a lift”
—from “etymology” by Airea D. Mattews in Poets.org
This season of artwork is a multifaceted exploration of etymology—the study of a word’s origin and how definitions evolve over time. “etymology” by Airea D. Matthews echoes this season’s theme. Self-definition, our names, those who named us. For me (Alana), there have been times where someone has been unable to pronounce my name; I’ve always let it go, too embarrassed to correct them. But more recently, I have been making an effort to correct them as a way to rebel against imposed definitions and, perhaps, those who wish no harm but still mangle.
“I Don’t Know What Will Kill Us First: The Race War or What We’ve Done to the Earth // so I count my hopes: the bumblebees / are making a comeback, one snug tight / in a purple flower I passed to get to you”
—from “I Don’t Know What Will Kill Us First: The Race War or What We’ve Done to the Earth” by Fatimah Asghar in Poets.org
The fever spring, a collapsing umbrella of catastrophe all around us. And also, the world’s small beauties at our fingertips. Despair lives and so does hope, as Asgar writes, in “getting lost in the words and presence of someone you love, having them put a pause on the impending doom that seems right around the corner at all times.”
“As a poet, I struggle constantly with these questions: What can poetry do in the face of so much violence and fear? What can a poem do? What do I want my poems to do? I don’t have an answer for these questions, and maybe I never will. I never imagined, though, that a book of poems would inspire me to cook.”
—from “‘And Yet, We Meet There’: On Resistance, Memory and Transformation in Sarah Gambito’s Loves You” by Rachel Ronquillo Gray in Hyphen
As we slowly bring our season to a close with our recent event, we wonder: what’s next? How do food and art coincide? May we suggest Sarah Gambito’s lovely collection of poem, Loves You? A cookbook in format but poetry within, Alana loved it so much she sent it to meg as we struggle through our own understandings of what poetry, art, and reading can mean in this time and place. Read this article as a lovely taste of what Gambito’s newest work feels like.
“The first insect drawn by man was a locust. / Art is where what we survive survives. / Sizzling oil, great fists of smoke. Art. Sizzling oil. Art. / My mother fries eggplant. The first / insect drawn by man survives.”
—from “The Palace” by Kaveh Akbar in The New Yorker
The wilds of nature/human nature, of destructive pulls, of poetry, of place, and of art all converge in Kaveh Akbar’s gorgeous poem, “The Palace.” Akbar questions the home we can find on this Earth—and how. Expansive and engaging, this version of the poem is also presented with animated illustrations by María Medem for an even more sensuous experience. What does the world hold for us today?
“We also need organizing and resistance. We need speaking out, marching, boycotting, direct action, and more. But we need beauty to fill our cup, nourish our souls, inspire and fortify us to fight another day.”
— from “Beauty is not a luxury: a praise song” by Tamiko Beyer in her newsletter
The intimacy of a newsletter. A quiet inbox moment that wraps us in story, welcomes us into a liminal space between written and read where we are free and close, where we are dear friends at the fire. This week, we share a note from writer and poet for social change, Tamiko Beyer, with a much-needed reminder that beauty is not a luxury. It is necessary. Generous in her words, she offers poetry, prompt, and recipe to carry forward.
“I want the magician’s thread to hit the light and for it to make you appreciate the flying card even more. What skill and choreography it takes to spin the card without breaking thread, without a tangle. What skill to make us care. To make us want to examine the card after the thread’s wax is scraped from the back of the card, to say Wow.”
—from “Against Catharsis: Writing is Not Therapy” by T Kira Madden in Lit Hub
Engaging with #apossiblepractice alongside you this year has deeply impacted our personal creative practices. In our own ways, we have been probing the workings of memory, the mechanics of writing to communicate the past. Are our acts of storytelling catharsis? It’s murky. What we both hold unwaveringly true is that we must consciously create room for a reader, a viewer, a YOU in these worlds. Pour your loves, truths, hurts, and fluid memories into your work with deep care and craft. (And, if you’re looking for a longer read, we could write a million love letters to T Kira Madden’s memoir, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls. It is heartbreakingly, breathtakingly so so good.)
“because you can love someone & not remember their birthday / because sometimes I want the wind & it is impossible / because from the airplane I can see both oceans & where they meet”
—from “I Haven’t Masturbated in Five Days for Fear of Crying” by Eloisa Amezcua in Poetry
Lately, we’ve been marveling over our parallel lives, surprised when we discover we’re reading the same books and articles, grappling with the same questions, thinking similar thoughts. Alana stumbled into another parallel course when she came across this poem on the VS podcast this week—the very episode meg attended live in Portland, OR months before. “I Haven’t Masturbated in Five Days for Fear of Crying” by Eloisa Amezcua works to unveil how “sadness keeps us from doing things that make us feel good.” What pleasures have we been avoiding for fear of crying? Can addressing this question honestly allow our sadness its course, our joy to bubble like a cold spring to the surface?
“And yes, this is a dark age. And a darkness such as this is the perfect setting for our dreams. Visionary fiction is a way to shape dreams of justice—to understand that art is not neutral, that what we dream and create is a practice ground for the futures we need.”
—from “Dream Beyond the Wounds” by adrienne maree brown in Ding Magazine
It’s been a challenging week for us personally. Adjusting to new schedules, increased work loads, colder seasons. Receiving news that a good friend of ours was in a serious car accident. (Support if you can.) The explosion of the LEAP building in Farmington, the town where meg lives. (Support if you can.) This short read reframed our immediate darkness into a possibility to dream/lean into the support systems that build true community. To use our resources and imaginations to take care of each other—and keep taking care of each other far into the future. Dear ones, thank you for being here. We love you.
“In order to see / what we would become, what we were supposed to be, we / had to abandon / ourselves. We had to go derelict, / go wild. Let the living dynamics / of the world outside us grow over us, separately— / and then recreate our wilderness / with a shimmery wildness // Not constantly recreating our memory”
—from “Feed” by Tommy Pico in Poetry
This week we’ve been feeling our interconnectedness: our personal, collective, and planetary ecosystems. Nothing is separate. As we read Tommy Pico’s poems, we are bathed in wild immediacy where the everything-ness of life floods our senses. Life is simultaneous, wet and layered, never static, never one thing at once. Overwhelming? Totally. A poem? It can be, if you look.
“I’ve connected the thread between my various labors, all of which emotionally confound and stir me. These labors make me want to immerse myself in them, write about them, celebrate them. Living with such bright, intense emotional labors causes me to examine the world with a more empathetic eye.”
— Molly Sutton Kiefer from “Lines of Work: Five poets on their day jobs” online at poetryfoundation.org
Hustle after hustle, the gig economy, re-writing our bios to sound more “professional” or “like real artists”… Each piece of the puzzle, however small, has us asking once again: What is work? What does work mean to us financially, emotionally, artistically? How does paid work inform the work of artistic practice (and vice versa) and how can we be transparent about the work that occupies our days? In her bio, Alana always begins with “mother” and ends with “restaurant professional” after years of avoiding any whisper of restaurant or other paid work. meg now lists her work as a Volvo shop owner. We are claiming our work and therefore reclaiming our time and redefining what “working artist” means! Housework is movement work, restaurant and service work is valid, and there is no shame in multiple jobs to pay our multiple bills! Or in Alana’s case, to pay for the very fancy oysters her very fancy daughter requests.
“To name is to reveal. To reveal is a vulnerable act.”
— from “Shira Erlichman Reflects on Odes to Lithium” in Foglifter Journal
A POSSIBLE PRACTICE is our act of returning, our surprise deep end, a cycle. For this project, we knew we wanted to share what we were reading with each other and keep time to talk about process, practice, and making. As we change, our practices change. So, October will be the last month of 2019 for our reading list in this form as we focus our energy on getting our artist’s book to print and applying for grants to move A CLEARING towards sustainability. We’ll be back in 2020 with new ways to read alongside us AND we still have three more readings to go in this cycle! This week, we’re head-over-heels celebrating the launch for Shira Erlichman’s debut poetry collection, Odes to Lithium (@alicejamesbooks, 2019—read this whole dang gorgeous book!). This interview reminds us of the power of naming as a way to know. It reminds us that vulnerability can weave our connections stronger. It reminds us to listen to our deep knowing, to allow our creative force to flow.
“Our friends know our joy when they see it. Often, I think they recognize it before we do.”
— from “Regarding Columbus, Ohio” by Saeed Jones in his newsletter The Intelligence of Honey
It’s been a challenging week for us and, in our own ways, it has us asking, “What are we doing with our lives?” Turning again to letters, to these little notes in our inboxes, to the intimate spaces of reflection, we find purpose in Saeed Jones’ reflection on why he moved from NYC to Columbus, OH. A reminder to follow our happiness, wherever it leads. To make changes outside of our preconceived notions of “making it.” To take steps towards a joy that sustains our practices. Love grows through the cracks of oppressive structures. There is kinship and caring outside of capitalism.
“[…] Bungled // F. beauty: beast I aimed to skin // 1. but carved bone-torches of instead.”
—from “Etymology of Butch” by Kristin Chang in BOAAT Journal
As the last reading under this theme—@kmingchang’s “Etymology of Butch”—A CLEARING co-directors @alana.dao and @megwilling reflect on what it’s been like to spend a year in deep collaboration with this poem and each other. • Alana: As the calendar year begins to close, the skies darkening once again, I am reflecting on what it means to discover what is possible within ourselves. What we have created, we have had to dig deep to explore what it means to carve out a little beauty within this beast of a world. This season has pushed me to realize what is possible within me, within our collectively busy schedules, and what our relationship/collaborative practice can be. My possibilities feel intertwined with meg in really beautiful ways—we are creating our own lineage, our own etymologies and I am so grateful. I learned to remain vulnerable and to reach out, to sit with poetry, to write poetry, and to expand further into those soft, tender spots. • meg: I never imagined A POSSIBLE PRACTICE—this idea we envisioned as a way for artists to gather together around a theme—to impact my personal practice so deeply. This project has led me to confront my fears around bringing projects to completion, about being visible, about the ways we sacrifice personal control to the magical unknowns of collaboration. I have searched for ways to name and re-name my selves: naming as a means to know. I have danced with my queerness. “…a moon’s mistressing.” I have been “bowl / 2. of howl.” I am growing into my wild and possible furs in the intimacies of our practice together. • What’s next? A full-length visual poem (artist’s book) to celebrate this year of practice due out December 2019. More soon, our moons. ✧