Monday, April 16, 2007

I arrived today at the Atlantic Center for the Arts. We're musicians, visual artists and poets here this time around, with master artists Alice Notley, James Hyde and Robert Dick. Being here is amazing, but the added plus that I wasn't aware of before coming here is the strong emphasis on collaboration and interdisciplinary work. The Center really encourages working across genres and disciplines and their policies reflect that. As residents here, we can attend workshops with any of the master artists, use any of the facilities (I'm thinking right now that I'm definitely going to take advantage of the recording studio, and perhaps the painting studio, too) and even in the way we were introduced to each other. It's different from other residencies I've attended in that we have workshop and in that there are artists in multiple disciplines occupying the same space.

As we took a tour of the grounds, it was amazing to see how we all responded to space. The dance studio is huge, with tall, tall ceilings and one wall of windows looking out into the "forest" (after the northwest, it's hard to conceive of the woods here as a forest, but so it is); the painting studio is all white walls with large louvered windows at the top; the sculpture studio has both interior and exterior spaces; the writing studio is small, intimate, with a large table around which we will be sitting. And there's a pavilion that architecture residents built. We all loved it, but the musicians amongst us oohed and aahed for hours about what an amazing practice space the pavilion would be. When we walked into the library, all the writers gravitated towards the shelves, and the little reading nook up the spiral staircase. The visual artists got very quiet and immediately started circling the painting studio. And when we went into the music studio, the musicians immediately started asking questions about the instruments, and the equipment.

Hysterical. But here we are, artists, relating as artists. Some people are still up, hanging out. I'm here, writing this blog and some have already gone to bed. My first workshop with Alice Notley is not until 1.30pm tomorrow - which means that the morning people and the night people both have a fair advantage. It's all very excitiing.

With this writing, I'm going offline for a week (at the very least) so that I can focus on the manuscript I brought to work on. It's my hope that by the time I leave here I have a solid 60-80 poems in the Kohnjehr Woman series, and that with that, I'll have something to complete before the fall.

What a great transition from my time in the Bay Area. I'm both sad and excited that I'll be going to Minneapolis in the middle of my time here. It almost seems I might be cheating myself of something, but then I think about how amazing it is to be meeting new people and reading from Erzulie's Skirt and I get very, very excited all over again. It is a delicate balance.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Austin is a fly by. I'm here just for the day. I got to be in workshop with some of the Austin Project women today. We critiqued each others' poetry. Let's just say I walked out with a large task: to push my work to places I've never gone before. It's interesting to think about, as I get ready to head to Florida tomorrow. Some of the things I walked out of the workshop with are:

Exploring vulnerability in images.
When to bring the reader into the present/past/future.
How to write about emotional experiences from an analytical framework without losing the reader?
Balancing between putting the reader in the space of the poem and framing the poem for them.
How to engage people intellectually and emotionally at the same time?
Where is the departure?

The poem I worked on is very different from anything I've written before. It was originally a response to J.S.'s question: What myths did you grow up with? And, I've decided to explore it as a possible piece of work. So, for example, in the Kohnjehr Woman pieces, I am writing in a voice completely not my own. Therefore, vulnerability and truth look very different - the raw emotion is there, but in a different way. Hmmm.. not very articulate. I think I'm still thinking about how to understand the feedback I received.

In any case, Wura-Natasha Ogunji just sent out images and a cool short video of her sewing. I thought it was really pretty, so I'm putting it on my blog.


Friday, April 13, 2007

Well, my time in the Bay Area is drawing to a close. I had a wonderful reading at Laurel Bookstore on Tuesday night. A big shout out to independent bookstores everywhere - THANK YOU for doing the work you do.

The audience had fantastic questions, and some I hadn't heard before including:

  • How do I, as a writer with a political organizing background, manage to balance politics with the creative writing process?
  • How have I kept myself grounded on the journey of writing Erzulie's Skirt, in particular because there are so many ancestors/spirits/forces being named?

Here is my response to these questions:

There is never a neutral creative endeavor. I believe that the process of creation demands a certain awareness of intention, and that even if the intention is to document destruction and thereby recreate the context/the modes of destruction, the work is strengthened when the artist is clear on intention. Even when work appears culturally/politically neutral - say - in poetry about flowers - we as artists can be aware that that's what we are doing. And that that is a choice.

As an organizer, my primary tool is writing. And in this, I am biased. I am a person who was and continues to be changed by what I read, as much if not more so than by what I hear, what I see, what I smell and what I taste. The only thing more powerful than what I read is what I live. Books and other peoples' writing, especially poetry, fiction, and critical essays, have shaped the way I see the world. I recognize this is not true for most people, or even for a lot of people. But for the people for which this is true, it is my wish to create exposure to a reality, a world completely different from what we know - or completely familiar. To affirm our existence, to give voice to stories, because I think there is deep power in that. And by power, I mean, something that gives light to one's own strengths and vulnerabilities that then allows for personal and social transformation.

How did I keep myself grounded when working with my characters and their worlds? With deepest honesty, my answer to this question is very private and sacred, so I will only share what forms the framework of how I do my work. I eat right - that's the first thing. And I drink good, good coffee or tea. That's the second. And I have an intentional community of artist friends with whom I talk about the work and specifically the writing. The more I write, the less resistant I am to characters' voices, and what they have to say. I've come to embrace the idea and reality that I can serve as a conduit to characters' stories. So, as part of that, I listen. I put pen to paper and listen.

So yeah...

Last night was the Lambda Finalists reading at the San Francisco Public Library. I was in great company: Justin Chin, Max Wolf Valerio, Leslie Larson, Karin Kallmaker, and Amity P Buxton read or shared their work. Assemblyman Mark Leno presented us all with a commendation, which I thought was sweet. I ran into people I haven't seen in years, and met some new people who just have me all smiles with their kindness and great insights. Ashe on the ilekes sisters and brothers - I got to see a couple shining through after I read.

Last night was also the reading/performance with Youmna Chlala, Sarine Balian, Maiana Minahal at the Red Poppy Art House Cafe. First - I love the space. And I love that it's run by artists for artists and the community. So, next time you're in San Francisco, check them out. They are so generous and really worth supporting. Carlos, who is one of the folks who makes it happen, was telling us about the Saturday arts workshops that turns out 40-50 young people on a regular. Yeah. Maiana and Youmna's writing was phenonmenal and so exciting. They're both doing experimental work - Maiana is delving into hybrid texts and Youmna's work is conceptually experimental, pushing notions of the normal and the extreme into new folds. Sarine's singing was beautiful - she sang Armenian and Palestinian folk songs for us. It was really, really great to be together.

Tomorrow I fly back to Austin for a bit. On Sunday, I'll be in workshop with the amazing women from the Austin Project. And Monday, I head off to the Atlantic Center for the Arts to soak up all I can of Alice Notley's brilliance, time with other artists and the sun (of course!). As a closing to the beautiful time I've had here, I want to say so much love to M RW, H RW, HA, CM and RK for taking such great care of me while I was here. Thank you big sweet hearts.


Friday, April 06, 2007

Pamela, Madeleine, Sarah, Ellen, Melanie, Neela, Rhodessa, Ana, Arisika, Nancy

Neela, Rhodessa, Ana, Arisika, Nancy

Last night was the Dreamspeakers event. It was incredibly humbling to be in the company of all the amazing women who were honored:

Arisika Razak
Ellen Reiko Bepp
Madeleine Lim
Melanie DeMore
Nancy Otto
Neelanjana Banerjee
Pamela Peniston
Rhodessa Jones
Sarah Crowell

Jewelle Gomez
, Teresa Mejia and Margie Adam did the honors and there were performances by the women of the Purple Moon Dance Project as well as videos and singing (thank you Melanie for gracing us with your gorgeous voice). One of my favorite moments to witness was right before we went into the auditorium, when Pamela and Rhodessa compared their fabulous amazing shoes. And Jewelle Gomez looked absolutely stunning in her suit. And it was really nice to congratulate the other women and to hear and see some of their work. Madeleine Lim is one of my new found heros for all of the work she does, as is Rhodessa Jones. I'm hoping Ellen Reiko Bepp will come out to Austin at some point. And look out for Neela Banerjee's work. Her writing is exquisite.

So, thank you Purple Moon, for the honor of making it possible for me to be in the presence of these incredible people. And thank you Y.L. for nominating me!

Yo & Me


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

I just got back from San Antonio. I read with Anel Flores and Pablo Miguel Martinez at Trinity College - an event hosted by the Sexual Diversity Alliance. It was such a sweet event, with a really great turn out. Dr. Bladimir Ruiz coordinated everything and made it a warm event. Anel read from her piece "Empanada". Pablo read his poetry, including some steamy haikus and prayers to begin and end. I actually read poetry - and a short excerpt from Erzulie's Skirt - but mostly poetry. It's been a little while since I've read as a poet, so it was nice to feel my feet in my shoes again, and to notice how I'm filling them differently. I'll post a few of the poems up on the blog in a bit, after I've had a chance to work on them some more. This is us:

It's so sweet: the students gave us all flowers.

Steven Fullwood, who I got to interview for the Magic Makers Project, just posted an interview with me on his website. The interview was so much fun to read and answer. He is so amazing. I can't wait to transcribe and post his interview (along with Cheryl Boyce-Taylor's, Wura-Natasha Ogunji's and Matt Richardson's). His website/blog is a ton of fun. He also just posted an interview with Baron and has some of his poetry up, too. Yay!

I'm off to the Bay Area tomorrow morning. I'm looking forward to the readings and seeing friends, to wandering the streets and spending some time revisiting old haunts. Like Kabuki Springs (so excited). And the African grocery run by Chinese Jamaican grocers in Oakland. They sell my favorite sweet plantain chips there (or is it the Nigerian store on the corner?). And of course all the wonderful cafes in San Francisco. Maybe, if I have time, I'll even go hiking up in the Redwoods.

For now - peace and love.