on this day

Wolf Eyes, Madison, WI, May 12


At one point, I counted how many more-or-less feminine-looking people there were at the Wolf Eyes show last night in Madison and, including the bartender, there were 4 out of about 40. This wasn’t true all night, but the ratio didn’t change too dramatically. And even if it had, something of the masculinity that was established at the start of the night stuck.

This didn’t bother me so much as remind me of what masculine cultural feeling often looks and sounds like. It’s something I consider my own even if it attempts or appears to attempt to only belong to itself.

So here’s what I took from Wolf Eyes.

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two blue

two blue

white swath

white swath

cotton candy

cotton candy

pink scrim

pink scrim

purple knots

purple knot

bending light


light bend

Striped Tights, Ann Arbor, MI, circa 1996


photograph by Shylah-Beth Petkus


I had a dream last night that I didn’t know who my family was

I had a dream last night that I didn’t know who my family was. In fact, everyone’s families were confused, overlapping, misdirected, misidentified. I introduced Pascal’s parents to my parents. His parents were French-speaking Canadians from Montreal. My parents were Chinese, yet French-speaking. In another version, both sets of parents belonged to him, and I had just met his mother who wanted to return to China because her business had been burned to the ground. She was sick of trying to make a life for herself here. She said I should come to the East sometime. I told her that I’d been to Taiwan many years ago. She said China was different.

Everyone’s homes had been set on fire. My childhood friend wanted to know if I was going back to my charred house and, if I was, could I get a chair for her that she liked? I didn’t think there was anything left. She wanted the Eames chair that belonged to my grandparents; I wanted to see if any of the books or papers were salvageable. I realized the loss of my books and writing would be the hardest thing to replace, that I could never remember everything that I’d owned.

A different childhood, in real life: a friend’s mother has just died. I’ve called to make a donation for the funeral. I realize that my dream is an indication of the confusion of families. There was a time when I felt myself to be a part of many other families, much more than my own.

postscript: I’ve just called my dad. There is something in all of this that we are able to share.

It seems like your work is trying to take a stand

It seems like your work is trying to take a stand, yet it fails to the extent that what it aims to stand on has not been successfully excluded anywhere. If you imagine yourself standing here, then it’s because you think this is the place to be.


I want to ask you why or by what means you see blood in places where there is none. Are you standing in a pool of it?
Last night on the episode of Downtown Abbey that I was watching, a soldier slit his wrists because he’d lost his eyesight and was going to be transferred far away from the people who’d helped him gain confidence. I have often seen and felt myself in a similar light. Seeing yourself from the inside out.

To what extent is fear written into the world?
I pick up scraps; I toss them to the sea. I pick up scraps; I toss them to the sea.

How long will it take before you finish erasing?
I couldn’t possibly explain the trouble I’ve gone to to not erase. I can’t believe you just asked me that question. Did you read what I didn’t write? Did you fall out of the womb yesterday?

More than anything, I want to know what it’s like to be you.
This is a great question. It’s almost too easy. I think I’m better off imagining we’re in a painting, exchanging glances that can then be read by a third or fourth party as an example of something. If I try to say anything else, it will fall flat, flatter than the figures in this draaaawering.

“Etched in stone may break your bones, but names will never hurt you.” What does that elicit for you?
Every rose has its thorn, just like every night has its dawn. Every cowboy sings a sad, sad song. Every rose has its thorn.

Aurora pricks her finger on the spinning wheel and a drop of blood pops out like the head of a baby.
What do you think about the writing you’ve done and want to continue to do? Be honest.
I hate to stop here, but we’re out of time. We can pick this up again tomorrow.

Different Worlds

Different Worlds Screen Shot 2013-02-14 at 3.31.39 PM

The Next Big Thing: A. Vitale

Anna Vitale (Steevie Sigmond Freud Nics) got tagged by Jan St Eustache for The Next Big Thing, and I was able to track down A. Vitale and ask her to conduct this interview. Thanks Monsieur Jan St Eustache. It’s hard not to like being tagged.

What is the working title of the book?
Different Worlds

Where did the idea come from for the book?
Like a lot of people, I think a lot about what’s being made under the large umbrella of conceptual writing. I’m not certain of my relationship to its explosive energy, its attempts to break things, but I’m really attracted to it. In fact, it frightens me. So, specifically, Holly Melgard’s writing. Different Worlds is after her Poems for Baby Trilogy. I keep asking myself, how do I relate to this work? Do I try to top these cats? [Cue: Top That, the not-so-fabulous rap song in the excellent movie "Teen Witch."] Do I walk around the edge and watch blood squirt from the ring? I think there is something bloody about conceptual writing. Not literally, but almost. I’m also OK to admit that my view is skewed. That I look for blood where there is none.

What genre does your book fall under?
Baby book, picture book, love book, hate: poetry.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Sylvia Plath would be Black Mountain. Charles Olson would be Colorless Sphere. Who else shows up in this book? Blue Sea would be played by Emily Dickinson. Red Star would be my mother; the first communist who ever laid eyes on me. And there’s one more, Jade Clay or something like that. I think that’d be my second really important boyfriend, whose name sounds like Jade.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
It’s a different woooorld than where you come from!

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Over my winter break, but I was fucking around with the ideas for longer.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Holly’s interest in infants and shapes, which I knew I always had, but didn’t realize what form it could take.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
This is for Pascal who is one person who’s taught me a lot about living and loving in different worlds. And by that I mean world as human/object. Also, I had a great time making lists of synonyms and using Adobe Illustrator.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I aspire to start a press called Love & Limits; it’s going to be published by them, but as of today it’s available online, on this very website.

I’d like to tag Brad Flis, Holly Melgard, Laura Wetherington, and Brandon Brown. Have you guys done this already? Hop to it! I compel thee!

Dream Come True

I’m supposed to be writing a book called Dreams, so today I searched my computer for “dream.” I typed out the names of all the files that apparently have something to do with “dream” and then I read the whole list. It took 18 min 59 sec to read the list and took a long time to type the names of the files. I wanted to type them so that I could read them as if I’d wrote them. (All the noise in the background is a fan.)

Teaching/ Reading

Below is a letter I wrote to political activist and poet, Marie Buck. It is is in response to her response, “Organization and Aesthetics,” to Josef Kaplan’s piece, “Theses on an Aesthetics of Violence.” She’d sent me an email asking for my thoughts, but since I was in Harpers Ferry , WV, I couldn’t reply then. I don’t have a firm position on the following questions, but it’s not for lack of wanting one.



Dear Marie,


I’ve read your post, “Organization and Aesthetics,” and caught up with the Josef Kaplan piece and interview. Thank you for writing me and asking my thoughts on it. Since we have such distinct relationships to political action, meaning you are politically active and I am not (I don’t believe) in your assessment (?), I’m happy that you thought of me/ my brain. I’m sorry I couldn’t respond sooner and now this feels belated, given the speed of conversations on the net. But that’s OK. These are ongoing conversations.


What seems sorely missing from your (and Kaplan’s) assessments of poetry, art, and politics is teaching (yet when I say this I recall how constrained graduate students felt in the classroom during the demonstrations in Madison). [There is no purified space for political organizing, right? I don’t know how to answer my own charge that teaching should be part of this conversation except that it is a context in which people are learning how to convince each other of what they think are good ideas to greater and lesser degrees.] I completely disagree with Kaplan that an engaged intellectual community can form around a knitting circle in an analogous way to that of a group discussing poetry, unless the knitting circle is also reading or makes it a point to discuss cultural objects or they analyze the forms in which patterns are made and distributed, etc. A group (knitting or not) discussing Mary Oliver, if they are a group of working-class, first generation college kids will, in my experience, call that shit out as uninteresting because it has nothing to do with their lives and say, “Next!” But, in my experience, they will glimpse a strange optimism in Harryette Mullen’s writing that makes them want to know a whole lot more about how the culture and language they live in has shaped them and how they might want to shape it in return.


A poem cannot make a decision, but, importantly, it takes a really fucking long time for humans to make decisions, or at least some humans, including myself, which makes us not unlike poems, given that some of us never get around to making the decisions we mean to make. (How have we been plummeted into an Enlightenment conversation about the will-to-act?)


My point is not to be round about here. My point is to be clear. What is “genuine political action”? Does it not involve reading, writing, and discussing the practices we deploy to read and write? Since when are reading and writing well enough to make convincing arguments so different from speaking well enough to make convincing arguments? Isn’t this conversation, then, also about audience? Who do you want to organize? How are they available/ open to organization? What if you organized the poets and artists in Detroit? Are they more or less organizable than the workers at Thorn Apple Valley? I’m just thinking out loud here. There’s so much that I don’t understand about the ground for conversations about political action and why such clear, righteous pathways must appear before us.


When I gave my paper at Orono about rethinking how Language poetry is political, I produced a reading of Barrett’s poem Progress and some early Language poetics. I chose to read the poem’s “message” quite differently than anyone had before, and I hope to keep reading in the way that I do and convince others that the way I read is worthwhile. I read the poem in terms of its overwhelming representation of force. What I might say is political about this reading practice is its attention to unseen effects and affects. What could be useful about this reading practice is its transferability to listening (in a meeting?) and grabbing the trails of effects that are created by lots of bodies in rooms. Collecting those and showing them to ourselves and others when we get hot-headed and the discussion starts to break down. Tracking these so we might know, as a group, why we’re not able to make a decision that we desperately need to make to alleviate suffering? (Does such a singular decision exist? Well, not really. If I were willing right now, I’d read the desire for such a singular decision as one thing that determines inaction. Everything takes so damn long and our lives, our deeply personal, individual lives are coming to a close. We must make openings!)


What’s the translation from reading to action? I bet I could (and one day will) take my reading habits into rooms of people that are not all scholars (or scholars-in-training or psychoanalysis or whatever teeny-tiny groups I’m oriented around), and use them to help people do things. But I’m not sure people can do things as well as we’d like them to and maybe some poems can help us think through inaction in order to put our feet on the street?


I’m being cute, but here’s something not cute. I was just in Harpers Ferry, WV and was reintroduced to the enormous importance of Harpers Ferry to the history of African-American political action and the fight against slavery. [It’s taken me a very long time to come up with the next sentence. This is because this country is still so fucked up. An address by W.E.B. DuBois in the earlier part of the century is cited in one of the exhibits with a list of demands for African-American liberation and the list could still be read today, meaning those demands/ needs for equal participation have not been met]. John Brown and twenty-one (?) men seized one of the two largest arsenals in the United States. Their plan, it seems, was to take weapons from the U.S. government and distribute them to slaves that joined their army as they traveled through Virginia. U.S. soldiers surrounded them, though, and they never got out of Harpers Ferry. The story about John Brown’s raid, the most mundane version I think, is that it failed. But Frederick Douglass said something like, it may have been one of the most important events leading to the ending of slavery. A failed raid is not a poem but, now that it’s history, it’s also not political action (which implies now, right?). It’s a fucking amazing story with consequences that historians are still debating over.


I don’t have a final point to wrap up with. Disappointing, I know. I’m not married to the idea that poems or art do something SUPER DUPER SPECIAL THAT NOTHING ELSE CAN. Not at all. I’m highly suspicious of it. But I know reading and talking about them does things and I imagine that that doing stretches and expands. This is a terribly disappointing ending to an otherwise interesting letter. If poems aren’t political all by their lonesome, maybe the stories we reproduced as a result of our reading practices are? Meaning, isn’t choosing what stories to tell and to whom a kind of political action? Isn’t that, partially, what organizing is?


With love to you and your brain,



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