Monday, November 5, 2012


I am going to vote tomorrow.

You should too.

I'm reposting the links below from this article by s.e. smith, which contains even more resources and suggestions than those listed here.

Here is information on how to find your polling place, when it's open and what kind of ID you will need. You can also refresh your knowledge of your local candidates, which I'm going to do tonight.

Here, from Election Protection, is a list of polling place changes due to Hurricane Sandy. If there is a problem with voter intimidation at your polling place, you can and should call this organization at 1-866-OUR-VOTE to report the problem and get suggestions for action.

Bring your camera and/or your phone, because you can also document voter intimidation (of you or someone else) directly at Video the Vote.

Here is the ACLU's state-by-state guide to voting rights.

 Don't forget to vote on your states' ballot measures as well!

I will be voting for the candidates that come closer than any of their opponents to civil, public service: plans and policies that either serve everyone equally or provide more to people who have less; liberties and opportunities that really are for everyone; efforts to, at least, prevent the abuse of existing power, and at best to to even out the distribution of future power. I hope you will do the same.

Friday, November 2, 2012

BONUS READING: Anthony Madrid and David Gorin in Providence!

There's a reading tonight! Come out, come out ...

poetry by
Anthony Madrid
David Gorin
TONIGHT (Friday, November 2nd) at 7 pm
at 186 Carpenter St., Providence

Refreshments will be served. Poems will be great. Please come! Here's the Facebook page, for those of you who do that.

Monday, October 22, 2012

In which I am a revenant

I have two readings coming up this week in places I used to live!

Friday, October 26th, 7 pm
Poetry Night at the Gallery Arts Guild: Halloween Edition
342 Main St., Lakeville, CT

I'll read for a bit, and then other people will share their favorite eerie poems. Then ...

Saturday, October 27th, 2 pm
Cadmium Text Series
with Anselm Berrigan
The Gallery at R&F Handmade Paints
84 Ten Broeck Avenue
Kingston, NY 

I will be the one who looks stunned, as though trapped in a time not her own.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Kate Schapira and francine j. harris at the Poetry Project at St. Mark's!

So excited to report that this coming Monday, I'm reading with the great francine j. harris at the Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church (131 East 10th St)! The reading will be at 8 pm on October 15th. Here's the event listing on Facebook if you want to remind yourself or others that this is happening.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Make it Rain Project Funding Roundup and Note to New Readers

The Make it Rain Project, a poetic effort to raise at least $200.00 each for five libraries in drought-stricken regions of the U.S., raised the following amounts for those libraries between September 5th and now:

For the McDonald County Library System in Pineville, MO: $215.00
For the Bedford Public Library in Bedford, IN: $235.00
For the Taylor County Public Library in Campbellsville, KY: $205.00
For the White Hall Township Public Library in White Hall, IL: $210.00
For the Oxford Lane Library in Oxford, OH: $237.50

People gave so much for the Oxford Lane Library that we were able to fund one more!

For the Horton Public Library in Horton, KS: $237.50

All of those checks have gone out at this point. If anyone is interested in learning how I chose the libraries, you can read about that here. If anyone from these libraries is still reading: thank YOU for the work you do.

I'm considering re-opening donations in case new readers want to help struggling libraries as well. People who've already participated in this project, no matter how, should feel free to sit this one out! If there is interest, I will  approach another round of libraries do another round of "rain dance" poems as well. Interested readers should comment on this post; email me at my gmail address, publiclycomplex; or click the Donation button on an earlier post.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Money for the Oxford Lane and Horton Public Libraries! and the future of Make it Rain

I'm delighted to report that I've heard back from the Horton Public Library in Horton, KS (Brown County), and that they'll accept half of the money that came in during this last rain dance. Thanks to you, we'll be able to send them $237.50, as well as sending the same amount to the Oxford Lane Library in Oxford, OH (Butler County). Those checks will go out tomorrow.

I was going to end this project at five libraries. Then two things happened: you all came through like champs and enabled me to give to a sixth, and a Champ Extraordinaire with the initials Darcie Dennigan got the project included in the Brown alumni news list, which goes out next week.

Here's what I propose: after one more message revealing more or less what I've said here, the emails to donors and potential donors will stop. If the news list generates any interest, I'll look for additional libraries to give to, based on whatever funds come in; check back in a week or so to learn more about that.

If you've been following the project and didn't manage to donate this time and/or are feeling the itch to give, I strongly encourage you to donate to your own local library.

Further bulletins as events warrant! Double-donors and triple-donors will get a scarf-related email from me shortly. Thanks again, a thousand times, to all who donated and/or spread the word.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Making of Make it Rain: Rain Dance Poems

While we're waiting: another "making of" post.

In these rain dances, I worked for a balance among incantation, science and humility. I know that they can't "work" in a literal sense -- words have no causal relationship with evaporation and condensation -- but I wanted them to sound like they could work.

Partly for that reason, they're more direct than is usual for me. I often want my poems to do several things at once, and to be somewhat rigorous about those things -- not just to sound true, but to be true. There was one main thing I wanted the rain dance poems to do, and that thing was impossible. To counteract this, I tried to fill the poems with tangibles and ponderables, items to give grit and grip, to make them sound concrete since they couldn't be concrete. 

It might be that their form of working, their concreteness, is the money you all have donated -- but the poems aren't a direct invocation to your money, an attempt to whistle it out of your pockets. In their attempts to move the rain, I did hope that they would move you; I tried to make them moving, as pleas can be. I also tried to make them modest, as pleas must be: the poems give me no power over the rain, so in them I was asking the rain to fall, knowing it couldn't hear me, is not one entity. Humility here was also a nod to science. And around the poems, I was asking you to share what you had, which I know in some cases is not a lot, with people you didn't know -- humility was an acknowledgment that it was up to you whether you wanted to do that.

The poems' incantatory qualities -- their rhymes, consonances and assonances, the tautness of some and the refrains in others -- reflect what tends to move or stir me in a poem or song that's also a plea or an invocation. They are associated in my mind with irrational or instinctive response, with being stirred, with magic. Since these rain dances couldn't work through science, maybe, I thought, they could work some other way.

In a book I loved when I was a kid (Margaret Mahy's The Changeover, if you're curious), a family of witches tells the main character that magic is based on "imagination and exchange." These are key to the workings of certain kinds of poetry, including, I believe, these rain dances.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

In the me me meantime: two things about me and one about my friend

While I wait to hear back from the library in Kansas, I'm going to use this blog for its usual purpose: to call attention to what I'm up to. I have two pieces of me-news:

1)  dancing girl press is putting out my chapbook of fake eulogies, Little Eva, the Insomniac from Mars. Go here to order it! There's a sample poem on the shopping page if you want the flavor.

2) I'm reading at the Brown Bookstore (244 Thayer St., Providence, RI) on Wednesday, October 3rd, at 5:30 p.m. I'll be reading work from The Soft Place as well as some newer poems. Providence-area people, I'd love to see you there.

I also have one piece of friend-news: the book of my very dear friend Michael Tod Edgerton is coming out, and his publisher, Lavender Ink, has an Indiegogo campaign up. Have a look! You'll want to buy this book anyway, so ...

More library news soon.

Thank you for the INCREDIBLE DELUGE!

Since yesterday morning, when I posted the call and first rain dance for the Oxford Lane Library, I've been inundated (yes, yes, the pun is on purpose, it's just not funny) with donations in the loveliest possible way. Including my "seed" contributions, $465 came in yesterday!

Rather than fund one library twice as much as all the others, I'd like to divide that incredible amount between the Oxford Lane Library and a sixth library. I've written to one in Kansas and am waiting to hear back; I'll post an update soon. In the meantime, for all of you who donated (special thanks for whopping donations from John Brett and Robin Dahlberg), donated for a second time, and let people know about this project:


Thanks for the liquid.
The digging. The piercing
of crusts. Thanks for buying
it that there might be
a wet day, later, when
people are reading inside
the gray windows. Thanks
for thumbing open,
for retelling, for pealing
like a wet animal on a wet wire,
thanks for imagining or
remembering thirst, for
being the record,
for now, thanks for making
an offering to later. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

Make it Rain for Butler County, OH!

Our fifth and last library is the Oxford Lane Library in Oxford, OH (Butler County). If you haven't donated yet, and you can now, I and they would really appreciate it. If you can't donate right now or have donated already, please let people know about this last series of rain dances.


The woman from Ohio says
she loves the fall. Says it makes her
feel peaceful and alive at the same
time. Those of us feeling neither couldn't help
but smell your promise, rain, coming to knock
more smells out of her leaves and her air.
Say you will. Then do. It was night not day,
we were over here, not in Ohio, but don't
be led astray by fracas. Say you will
fall in love with impact, tiny drops of you clicking
teeth with lights the size of drops of you. Then do.

As before, I'll seed the cloud with $50.00. Please donate to bring it up to $200.00 for the Oxford Lane Library.

The total for the White Hall Township Library is $210.00 and the check will go out today.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Money for Greene County!

We've raised $210.00 for Greene County! Thanks so much to all who donated.

I wasn't super happy with yesterday's rain dance, poetically speaking, so I'm going to do one more for the White Hall Township Library. If anyone wants to top up the funds with another donation, that would of course be lovely. The check will go out tomorrow, when I'll also announce our final library.


Rain, bowl over all
the days I assured I knew
what would fetch you.
How what I thought was a cowl
looked like harness. More
or enough. I see through
you like stair-rails,
that is, perpendicularly.
Rain, take a notion. Form
enough acute angles, you'll be in
relation to everything,
lie flat on nothing. If I
can bring you I can fail
to bring you. If I contract,
still I may fail you.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Make it Rain for Greene County: Day 9

Still at $195.00! Who has $5.00 for the White Hall Township Library?


The water plant is charged
with the duty of supplying the city with fresh and safe drinking
water. Rain, strange in your armor, any child
can learn about you, what you've got
to lose to the river bottom.
Color flushes. Seminary sediment.
Rain, can you fathom down
instead of up, can your longlines draw out
whatever's happening down there, mud and record
the trawl of our follies? You can, I know. All the town
ordinances conserve you. Please swerve. Show us
your mark on the surface.

Only $5.00 more to bring us up to $200.00!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Make it Rain for Greene County: Day 8

So close! $195.00 donated, only $5.00 to go! If you were putting it off, do it now, and I can send the White Hall Township Library what we've gathered for them.


Rain, I could be forgiven
for thinking the dishwasher sound
was the sound of you
but not for long.
The water I water to be
caught up in you, I offer
first to the air. A sliver.
Rain, re-enter the story.
Be a wedge. Smudge
from horizon to margin,
from center to center.
You're practically there.
Your sweep to their sill,
your heft to their roof,
your weft to their hall.
Rain, be their already.

Only $5.00 more to bring us up to $200.00!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Make it Rain for Greene County: Day 7

$190.00 donated -- just $10.00 to go. Make a second donation of $5 and get a present! Or donate for the first time and be the one to bring the total up to $200.00 for the White Hall Township Library.


Someone should tell me
you're not listening
to me. That my nib's a dry seed.
A scorched hoof. I should bethink
myself of how little
we know and can do
in the meantime, time we
could spend trying to find
out, not to dampen.
Someone should take
a toll on me where I live,
see how I like it.
I might like it. You never know
about people, rain, or is it
that they never know
about you till you're brawling,
silver, down their collar?
Well, tell us. Inform us. Infuse us.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Make it Rain for Greene County: Day 6

It is still daylight where I am, so it counts. A generous THIRD donation from Joel and Diane Schapira has brought us up to $190.00 for the White Hall Township Library -- we need just $10.00 more and then I can send a check!

This seems like a good time to note that one possible gift for people who donate multiple times is a scarf, knitted by me, in colors and materials of your choice. The other possible gift I'm still finding out about.


Rain, wake the people of White Hall the way
you woke me last night: with your sound and the reminder
that your presence makes complications.
I'm not complaining. I just want to share. When someone
in the mystery I'm reading says, "I just lost
my eye," it means they can't judge. Can't survey. Coincidence
rains its way into the name of the town,
the marble, the roll of the ground, so rain your way
into coincidence, the easy misfile, homophone error of falling.
I can't judge. Can't survey. The fill of the sill,
the fall of the land, its use, the the failure to rise.

Just $10.00 to go. Please donate!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Make it Rain for Greene County: Day 5

Still at $160.00 -- please donate! Those $5s add up.


Rust turns to powder after
most of a summer hiding
its lamprey mouth.
You, rain, you can renew it.
We know the risk we run
in asking, gutter run, clump
where a page meets a page.
Gravity would take you
there. Rain, you don't live
anywhere. Kids run
away to meet you.
Hope is for roots you
have met. Drenched metal.
I look at the water along
the wall and think,
should get a barrel. 
I should waste nothing
of you. Rain, they'll drop
what they're doing and blow
out after you; they'll tire.
Tear a strip off us, rain.
We are supine. Spit in our eye.

$40.00 is all we need to be able to send $200.00 to the White Hall Township Library!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Make it Rain for Greene County: Day 4

We're still at $160.00. Please do donate -- $5.00 would be helpful.


Rain, teeming with character, open your eyes.
Press to our chalk the slick balls of your eyes.
Curl up in our hollows the cygnets of your eyes.
Crack on the ground the apples of your eyes.
Hatch not a moment too soon the frog-eggs of your eyes.
Let's fall together on the greenswards of your eyes.
My mind got onto your physics.
The shape of your changes in falling in particular.
Rain, open your eyes like wheels.
Roll your momentum all over.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Make it Rain for Greene County: Day 3

Still at $160.00 -- please help the White Hall Township Library by donating below!


Rain, records show settlers
near White Hall as early
as 1820. It looks like the Illini
or Illinois or Illiniwek people lived
there before the U.S. Government
forced them out to Oklahoma. Rain,
it's no longer early. Every
chain with you at the end seems so
long, a stream disappearing
upwards to where you could be,
where it lies with you to make
the air a well. Will you write
the next page or what? Will it show
settlers there as late as later?
Rain, write back in water.

Please donate to the White Hall Township Library -- we're very close to $200.00!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Make it Rain for Greene County: Day 2

Thanks to an extremely generous donation from Charlie and Angie Keil, we've already raised $160.00 for the White Hall Township Library -- only $40.00 to go!


Let the pod swell
and the ground sog.
Let the season be old.
Blink and you'll miss it, we
humans say of our small
towns, our crossroads,
our intersections.
Then we blink furiously.
Blink up a storm. Our
eyelashes form a cough
in the wind, our eyelids
swell like pods. Rain, keep
yours open. Lower to us
where we meet, well
up like a footprint.

Please help us bring our donation to the White Hall Township Library up to $200.00!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Make it Rain for Greene County, IL!

Today we begin raising money for the White Hall Township Library in Greene County, IL. Please help us give them at least $200.00!


Rain, the first fed is the last faded.
Fall between us and the red planet.
Wash our walls. Think of the echoing
halls in the leaf. Think of the curved
hulls emptying, husks outed, covers
of books with no words between them.
Nothing to say to the next. Rain,
I'm at the place where your feet
would be, 39° 26′ 22″ N, 90° 23′ 57″ W.
I can't be measured from the air
but you can be incorporated.
You can flow down the channels
of information etched in the seed,
we can be the canals Schiaparelli thought
he saw, did see, got misread by,
you can be impossible and real.

As before, I'll seed the cloud with $50.00; please help me bring it up to $200.00.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Taylor County Public Library funded!

Thanks to your generosity, we've raised $205.00 for the Taylor County Public Library.

The next dances will be for the White Hall Township Library in White Hall, IL. Look for the first one tomorrow, and another "making of" post later today.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Make it Rain for Taylor County: Day 6

Up to $120.00! $80.00 to go for the Taylor County Public Library.


Now I'm learning
to put my mouth
where the water is not.
What it is, a taste
of it at the spout
of a leaf-wrinkle like
an old lip. Rain
can't want me to lick
the ground only
because it can't want.
It can't be that I asked
the wrong question.
It must be the wrong
answer that I've been
giving for years,
or the wrong one to ask,
it might be too late
to ask when every surface
of need is holed like
a dream-skin for the ink
of rain, the time of asking.
Rain, please prove me wrong.

Help me send $200.00 to the Taylor County Public Library!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Make it Rain for Taylor County: Day 5

Still at $105.00. Please donate and help us bring it to $200.00 for the Taylor County Public Library.


And you, rain, who
do you call on,
what do you pull for?
Just as I was falling
asleep I thought
of the perfect invocation. Of
course I forgot it. Is
that what you'd pay
for, rain, the visit
of utter forgetfulness?
Like wine in a folk tale
where hope is the moral.
Not hope exactly.
Luck. As you were falling
I thought: a visit
is something you pay.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Make it Rain for Taylor County: Day 4

$105.00 raised; $95.00 to go. Please donate!


Rain, I remember
reading that you're
the universal solvent.
That would be you in
your mode of relation,
I guess, bringing one
thing to another.
Just bring yourself,
as the good host says. Be
brought. Let down.
The tight-packed molecules of
Coakley Street and Wilcox Street will offer
all the challenges for solution
you could require.
Skin-tight and rubber-deep,
severer, messenger.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Make it Rain for Taylor County: Day 3

I'll be putting $245.00 for the Bedford Public Library in the mail today.

We've gathered $95.00 for the Taylor County Public Library; $105.00 to go!


Sky like a socket,
rain like a bridge.
Seasons like hinges
weary to fold out:
rain, quicken.
Rain, freshen. Seasons
are changing. We may
not know them when we
get old -- you've seen
this happen, no
doubt, through the window.
Your drops. Lots
of windows. Steady
yourself again, rain, settle
in, cheek by glass. Lean.
Be companion even
in division. Sit
with us even in waiting.

Please help us bring this donation up to $200.00!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Making of Make it Rain: Part 1

My sister thought people might like to know how I found these libraries. Here's what I did:

1) I looked at the New York Times's drought map to find the hardest-hit regions.

2) I correlated it with county maps of affected states to see which counties were in those regions. I also looked up declarations of drought emergency by state, as a cross-check.*

3) I Googled "public library [county name] [state name]" to find the library or libraries that serve that county.

4) I looked up the libraries' towns on , looking for two things: the population of the town, and the median income. I wanted to send aid to libraries that might be particularly vulnerable to a drop in local income.

5) I went back to the library's website, if they had one, to look for a contact email address (preferably the director's or head librarian's address). Libraries without websites, or without email contacts, I ended up slighting because I didn't feel I could explain the project clearly and convincingly over the phone.

6) I emailed directors/head librarians, explaining the project and asking if they could accept this kind of donation. Those who replied are the ones we're funding.

The next "Making of" will be about the rain dance poems. Also, there's going to be some sort of extra surprise** gift for people who donate twice, as one amazing person has already done.

*After the first three libraries, I got smart and did a further cross-check with state agricultural boards, since farming-dependent communities are particularly vulnerable.

** "Surprise" because I haven't thought of it yet.

Make it Rain for Taylor County: Day 2


Dust on the leaves
lies real as light. Look
into it, rain, carve
your sign into it.
Yes, rain, the evenness
of tobacco, that's how
we love you. Quench
the hornworm thirst. Let's hear
you stumble home at night,
flushed with the skyline.
Slick the knowledge
of the roads. I'm trying
to make you sound.
To leave a scent
trail like you'd like
to call it out. You would.
You would like to call it out.

We've raised $55.00 for the Taylor County Public Library so far. $145.00 to go.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Make it Rain for Taylor County, KY!

Our next library is the Taylor County Public Library in Campbellsville, KY.


Wanted in Campbellsville: rain. Utility trailer.
Infant bicycle trailer. Your old broke down
vehicle. Rain. Cast iron wood
stove. Well casing. Tobacco help.
Adult care in exchange for free
lodging, utilities, etc. Rain. Iphone. Someone
to do drywall. Vegetables (corn,
tomatoes & green beans). Parts
for a 1999 Hyundai Sonata. *Old* road
bicycle. Rain. Price: you tell me.

As before, I'll seed the cloud with $50.00. Please help me bring donations for the Taylor County Public Library up to at least $200.00.

Money for the Bedford Public Library!

Thanks to your donations, we've raised $245.00 for the Bedford Public Library in Bedford, IN. I continue to be so amazed by everyone's generosity.

The next library I'm dancing for is the Taylor County Public Library in Campbellsville, KY. Look for that rain dance later today, spread the word, and consider donating if you haven't already. Thanks again so much to all those who've publicized and donated to the project so far.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Make it Rain for Lawrence County, IN: Day 3

We've got $180.00 now for the Bedford Public Library -- just $20.00 to go!

Thanks to the Harriet blog for the mention and the link -- and to all others who've given the project a mention!


There's been some suggestion that the rain
in Providence comes from my failure to provide
the rain with enough place names. You want rain?
it says. Here you go! So here goes: rain, rain
on Bluespring Caverns and the Devil's Backbone
and the Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom Memorial.
Refill the pools at the hatchery.
                                                These suggestions
make rain sound a hick. Kind of foolish,
a knee-jerk reactor, but eager. Rain so dear,
I do not believe it of you.
I believe in the science of blame.
"Gus" Grissom was an astronaut, one
of the Mercury Seven. He flew in space twice.
His hair in the photo is high
and tight as the clouds. Rain, come
down off your horse.

$20.00 to go for the Bedford Public Library! Please donate if you can.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Make it Rain for Lawrence County, IN: Day 2

So far we've raised $125.00 for the Bedford Public Library! Thanks to all who donated.


Dear blame,
rain greatly.
Come home.
All is forborn.
Make the green run.
Chute the chute, rain,
think of the air
as a slope. We
love the soddenness
you bring our
cabbage heads,
our stubborn mess,
the tea you brew of
dirt and leaves when
you arrive, dear
frail rain, whatever
we've done. Rain, trail
your suddenness.

$75.00 to go for the Bedford Public Library! Please donate if you can.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Make it Rain Project: Lawrence County, IN

Thanks once again to all who donated to the McDonald County Library System.

The next set of rain dances will be for the Bedford Public Library in Bedford, IN. If you weren't able to donate in the first round, consider donating now.


Rain me a hallway.
Make me an oaf, a roofer.
Drive me inside
like a nail. Galvanize
the lightning rods
of root hairs.

Appearance on the rail:
a row of lights slewed low
because of you, rain who
will be ruthless and
a result, wherever
you go -- each sand heart
droplet, each swig,
each wind, each year.


As before, I will seed the cloud with $50.00. Please help me bring the donations for the Bedford Public Library up to at least $200.

Money for McDonald County!

We did it! $235 raised for the McDonald County Library System. Thanks so much to all who donated.

The next rain dances will be for the Bedford Public Library in Lawrence County, IN. Look for the first one later today.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Make it Rain Project, McDonald County, MO: Day 2

 Raised so far for the McDonald County Library System: $140.00! Thanks to all who donated so far.


Maybe I should send my sister
over for a visit. She
said the weather's so nice, we
really need more rain but this just
feels so good, then
downpour. Maybe I
could clone her and ship
one of her over to Rocky
Comfort or maybe the real her would have
to go live there for it
to work. Or maybe science
refutes everything but the actual
leer of the water.
Rain, go into town
to buy something. Rain, there's something
you need on the ground here.
Rain of need, differ. Enter
books of water back
into the predictable.


$60.00 to go!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Make it Rain Project: McDonald County, MO

The Make it Rain Project, a poetic effort to gather funds for public libraries in regions hit hard by this summer's drought, begins today!  At least five libraries will benefit. I'll post a Rain Dance poem and the funding total every day for each library until I reach or surpass my funding goal of $200 for that library. Please make a small donation and spread the word.

The first library to receive a Rain Dance is the McDonald County Library System, whose central library is in Pineville, MO.


Rain, come crack
the napes of fruit flies
and the backs of ticks.
Sog shoes. Suit gutters.
Come into the leaf by
way of the thick vein on
the underside. Go
where the road goes and
swell the node of
the two creeks with the river.
By load, by flail,
by shower, haul
yourself up and over.
Lay down a shine
on the topography. Be
wet. Be ample. From the corners,
suck your drops together.
Be vapor. Befall.
Love gravity. Cozy
up to the hairy surfaces
of dogs, rain,
make a drum sound.
Make nest shapes in paper.
Wet the census
like a whistle.

Donors will receive a chapbook containing all the rain dances -- PayPal, when you donate, should ask you for a shipping address, but if it doesn't, please email me at my gmail address, publiclycomplex, to let me know where I should send your book. (Email me there if you have questions, too.) I will seed the cloud with $50.00. Please help to bring it up to at least $200.

Donate to the McDonald County Library System!

Monday, September 3, 2012

at Open Letters Monthly, a review of Butcher's Tree

My review of Butcher's Tree by Feng Sun Chen is in the September issue of Open Letters Monthly.

Butcher's Tree is a complex and volatile collection and I was glad of the chance to interact with it in this additional way.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Get ready to Make it Rain

I'm embarking on a new project to gather funds for public libraries in areas hit badly by this summer's drought. Over the next few months, I'll periodically (right now I'm thinking about every 10 days) post the name of a library or library system along with a "rain dance" poem. I'll start the pot a-boiling with $50 in each case, and hope that you will help me bring it up to at least $200 for each library.

I love public libraries. Everything about them is fantastic. Access to information! Access to services! Literacy classes! Computer classes! Pleasure reading! Shared, purposeful public space! Freedom to browse and explore! Skilled and helpful guides along your quest! Free cultural events for adults and kids! Free books and movies! I could go on for days. As a resident of Providence, RI, I know only too well that when a community's finances are strained, public services like libraries are often among the sufferers, and I want to offset that just a little bit if I can.

Things I have yet to do include:

- Get in touch with more library directors to make sure they can accept the money.
-  Install a PayPal button on this blog so that you can make donations easily.
-  Write the actual poems, of course.

So this is just a heads-up. Look for the first poem, and the first library, soon! Please feel free to email me with questions or suggestions, too, at my gmail address, publiclycomplex. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Inter-review and collaborative snippet with j/j hastain at Tran(s)tudies!

For a while now, j/j hastain and I have been internet-collaborating on a poetic project that I won't describe here, because you can go over to Tran(s)tudies, learn more about it, read a little of it, and hear what we have to say about other aspects of each other's work. This mutual interview and discussion was a great augmentation to our collaborative efforts and has added to my appreciation of j/j's work. Go read!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Part of The Bounty reviewed at Galatea Resurrects!

Somehow I missed this when it happened: John Bloomberg-Rissman engages with "You're my sister" from The Bounty in Galatea Resurrects. Thanks, John, for this attentive, sensitized and thoughtful response.

The desire to feel certain about the about of a poem is one that many enthusiastic readers of poetry think we're not supposed to have or feel. There are many equally enthusiastic readers of poetry who have no problem with this desire -- but the two batches of readers usually, I suspect, prefer different batches of poems. If John's question, "[H]ow can a poem be said to hide anything, when it's nothing but itself and there's nothing but itself to read?" is read as rhetorical (i.e., the answer is "it can't" or "suck it up") this can cause us to deal with a poem on its terms rather than on the terms of our expectations, and may make it more likely that we'll be moved, changed, uprooted, shaped by it and by our efforts to work with it. It may also lead us to make guesses anyway, and then comb the poem for support for those guesses, and then feel simultaneously frustrated because we aren't sure and because we're not "supposed to" want to be sure.

Treating John's question as real rather than rhetorical leads me to this response: in some poems, much prose, and the various kinds of functional language we use in everyday speech and communication, the about is separable from the words that make it up. A reader can paraphrase it, can summarize it. In other work, including a lot of mine, entwines the about with the language -- its stresses, its sounds, its evocations -- calling attention to the way they create each other. John also writes of a sequence in my poem, "I can't parse this ... but I can feel it," and this is, I think, often what we're left with when we read a poem whose about is not easily disentangled from the words that create it. The about may be biographical. It may be procedural, based in method. A poem may even be about what John describes as the "surface" it creates. Enthusiastic readers of poetry may be open to reading a poem in all of these ways, and to getting pleasure or provocation from some of them if all are not available.

But I don't believe there's any shame in wanting to know the about. John writes, "I have an unfortunate tendency to attempt to find meaning in much of what I see." I disagree that that tendency is unfortunate! It's one of many ways to read and build (or tear down, maybe) your thinking with what you read. What would be unfortunate is if a reader were unable to engage with a poem in any way because they couldn't engage that way. If they were to say, "This isn't giving me what I want, so it can't possibly have anything to give me," and give up.

That doesn't seem at all to be what John has done here. He's not comfortable on this poem's quaking ground, and in this response, at least, he resists building a platform to stand on (to keep on with the bog analogy) because he's concerned that all the pieces of the platform might be coming from him, not from the poem. That's brave. I do want to ask a question in return: what would happen, John, if they did come mostly from you? If you said, "Here's the scene I see in this poem, here's the impression I take away?"

He wrote, "I actually want to apologize to Schapira if I'm doing her poem too much violence." I don't accept that apology because I don't think that's possible. You can be wrong about what made someone write a poem, you can be mistaken about its references, you can be off-base about its ethics or dull to its atmosphere, you can fail to pick up its rhythms or miss some of its layers, but I don't think you can hurt the poem by doing that. When we read, we build a version of what we've read into our mind. We change it, and that's true (maybe more true?) even of the most paraphasable, summarizable writing that exists. But the writing itself is still there. I'm not saying "every interpretation is correct", because I don't think that's true. I'm saying that it will often happen, probably, if you (general "you") love to read, that you'll want something from a piece of writing that it doesn't give you. That in itself doesn't make the writing bad. But it doesn't make you bad either. What you do next can change your experience: you can see it as a reason to shut down -- and a person can't read everything, I get that -- or you can see it as a possibility, an opening.

John, I value so much your (specific "your") generous and speculative approach to this poem of mine. If you want actual, biographical answers to some of your other questions, you could email me at my gmail address, publiclycomplex -- but what you've written here suggests that you value the questions as well, so it's up to you. One thing I can tell you that you're right about: the love is unbreakably deep.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Kate Schapira reads in Georgia!

Headed down to GA this week! Folks in the area, here are two readings you could attend:

Dustin Brookshire, Kate Schapira, Laura Straub, Shelly Taylor
What's New in Poetry
Thursday, August 9th, 8 pm
Emory University Bookstore, 1st floor
1390 Oxford Road, Atlanta, GA


Kate Schapira and Caroline Young
Friday, August 10th, 7 pm
Avid Bookshop
493 Prince Avenue, Athens, GA

Friday, August 3, 2012

Whoa, hey, look at that

The ever-excellent Roxane Gay has compiled a necessarily incomplete list of writers of color that I will be drawing on -- for my own reading enjoyment, for recommendations, and for Publicly Complex -- for years to come. There are more names in the comment section.

Some of these names belong to favorite writers of mine, others I've heard of but never read, and still others are new to me. Modestly, Roxane didn't put herself on the list, but I recommend her fiction and essays highly. (I've also been extra-impressed by her calm, dignified and firm responses to online ignorance and bile.) If you're looking for something to read in August ...

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Kate Schapira & Mary Wilson read at Carpenter St.!

Mary Wilson and Kate Schapira
read AND write for you
on Thursday, August 2nd, at 7 pm
at 186 Carpenter St., Providence

We'll follow short readings with poems written on the spot, just for you. Listen to our tasty work, then hang out and eat snacks while we respond to your requests!

City Change #11

Rachel L. writes from Brooklyn, NY: "Soon the contested Barclay Stadium will open at Atlantic Yards. I think they were trying to make it as grotesque as possible."

Monday, July 16, 2012

July 19th: RISD Design the Night: Text presents a Publicly Complex Summer Special

On July 19th, Publicly Complex will present six Providence poets at the RISD Museum, reading their work and writing poems on demand!

Anytime between 7 and 9, you can hear a great mini-reading in the Porcelain Gallery or visit one of the two writing stations in Pendleton House to have a poem written to your specifications by one of these excellent poets:

Andy Axel
Darcie Dennigan
Michael Turner
Amish Trivedi
Rosalynde Vas Dias
Mary Wilson

Publicly Complex partner Ada Books will have a table of beautiful books for display and sale, as well as works by the participants.

The RISD Museum's Design the Night events are open late/open free nights at the museum, brimful with talks, performances, and hands-on activities, as well as all the art the museum has to offer. You can find a complete schedule for July 19th here:

This will be amazing. Providence-area poetry-lovers, we hope to see you there!

Review of How We Saved the City

Joshua Ware wrote a short, thoughtful review of How We Saved the City. Thanks, Joshua!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Congratulations, Messrs. Frank and Ready

I'm aware of the arguments against the focus and emphasis on marriage equality -- that not all gay and queer people want to get married, that marriage as a social and economic institution has some bad history, that the rights and privileges that come through marriage should be available to everyone, that marriage isn't the only kind of valuable relationship, and most importantly that the focus on marriage equality draws attention away from more basic equal rights and more radical possibilities alike.

People who do believe in marriage and want to acknowledge their love in this way -- whoever they are and however many of them there are, provided everyone involved wants to -- should be able to go for it, and so I was glad to read this morning of Congressman Barney Frank's marriage to his partner.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

I really do encourage you to buy The Soft Place

There are so many ways to do it! You could buy it here! or here! You could buy it at Ada Books or Books on the Square if you live in Providence!

If you buy it online, forward your receipt to my gmail address, publiclycomplex, and include a mailing address. I'll send you a copy of new mini-chapbook The Pass. It has a picture of a yucca plant on it.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Bishop on shame (just when you thought you could hold up your head)

Beloved friend and fellow poet Bronwen Tate sent me this extract from Elizabeth Bishop's "The Country Mouse" in her Collected Prose:

"Three great truths came home to me during this stretch of my life, all hard to describe and equally important. Emma and I were sitting under the chestnut trees, making conversation in the way both children and adults do. She asked me about my parents. I said my father was dead; I didn't ever remember seeing him. What about my mother? I thought for a moment and then I said in a sentimental voice: "She went away and left me. . . She died, too." Emma was impressed and sympathetic and I loathed myself. It was the first time I had lied deliberately and consciously, and the first time I was aware of falsity and the great power of sentimentality -- although I didn't know the word. My mother was not dead. She was in a sanatorium, in another prolonged 'nervous breakdown.' I didn't know then, and still don't, whether it was from shame I lied or from a hideous craving for sympathy, playing up my sad romantic plight. But the feeling of self-distaste, whatever it came from, was only too real. I jumped up, to get away from my monstrous self that I could not keep from lying."

Thursday, July 5, 2012

4th of JuPie

James and I have a 4th of JuPie party every year to celebrate the freedom to eat delicious pie. Here are some hot items from this year's event.

Party duration: about 5 hours

Number of babies: 2

What I made: a veggie pot pie with a biscuit topping and a straight-up peach pie with a top crust

First pie to disappear entirely: spinach and mushroom quiche (Annie Schapira)

Other pielights: the best key lime pie I have ever tasted (Holly Sedlock); veggie samosas (Michael Turner and Jason whose last name I can't remember -- sorry, Jason, if you see this. Your samosas were good); banana coconut cream (no idea, but well done, that person); spicy cornbread (Jenna Legault); sweet potato/cheese/fennel pie-lets (Rachel Schapira)

Pies I maxed out before trying: cherry pie; fennel pie; Cliff of Pink Gelatin pie; peach custard pie; apricot almond pie with apricots from the neighbor's tree (some of these had leftovers, so I get another chance)

Roof time: yes

Fireworks after: yes, standing on Wickenden Street looking through the gap in the buildings

Number of bags of recyclables: 2

Number of dishes left at our house: 5

Number of pairs of sunglasses left at our house: 2

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Essay on Shame #29

This is the last day of my essays in shame. I was secretly hoping to transform myself, to shed my shame through writing about it; for mistake-free me to lay down her arms and melt into me like we were two drops of water and for the new waterdrop, the new larger and more united person, to dance in the streets and tell the truth always. Or at least that shame would become less compelling to me, less of a compulsion and a draw.

None of this happened. I was methodical, and earnest, and met the commitments I made. For that, I give students in graded classes a B. I tell them, "B from me is a good grade. It means you did everything I asked you to." What I give them an A for is moving beyond what I asked them to do into a new insight, or a harder question, or a greater degree of complexity. This almost only ever happens when they care about the thing they're doing, itself, with the grade, the outside judgment, as a pleasant side effect. They have to attach their worries, their excitement and even their standards and judgments, to their actions--what they do to make the the thing, and how it comes out--rather than their invisible intentions and clamorous selves.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Essay on Shame #28

Last night there was a march/parade/dance party downtown to honor the anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. I don't know how it was, because I didn't go.

I love the idea of public engagement, vivid, raucous, explosive. To protest, to celebrate, to reclaim, to activate public and free spaces. I recognize its power and beauty, its ability to help people feel close, alive and brave ...

... but I hate doing it. I hate chanting and I'm not crazy about dressing up. I imagine myself judged for doing it and judged for not doing it. I don't want to stay the same and I don't want to change. I stay in the house of shame.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Essay on Shame #27

When I was 20, I went to teach for Summerbridge (now called Breakthrough, I believe) San Francisco. I was an immature 20; I didn't look for housing on my own, opting instead to do a homestay with the family of a kid in the program. After about two weeks, the head of this household told the program that I needed to leave because I had a negative attitude.

I'm ashamed of how I behaved that summer. I was whiny and dependent, instead of taking responsibility for my living situation. I was also a bad teacher -- impatient, volatile, unmethodical, bad at prioritizing, taking everything too personally. Teaching badly is particularly shameful and horrible because of the power differential and because the harm a bad teacher can do can be so lasting--think of bad teachers you've had. Some teachers may be great at it from the moment they step into the classroom. I learned to be a good teacher from being a bad one, feeling terrible, fixing what I was doing wrong, and then building beyond problem-solving and troubleshooting to include the real work of teaching and learning--spurring each other to greater and more complex understandings, getting more flexible and more precise with what you know and what you can do.

I'm a pretty good teacher now, and I know how to get better at it -- I know what I want to reach for next -- and I learned that partly from being bad at it. Being bad at it was, in that sense, good for me: it was a part of my development.

But it wasn't a part of my students' development, or it was a bitter one, even if the bitterness was fleeting. I think I did some good things with and for them, but I also think I wasted their time, confused them and made them feel bad. I used them in my arc, and I'm not convinced the use was mutual enough. This is one situation in which, rather than being a paralytic or a tourniquet, (my) shame really has acted as a spur for (my) improvement -- it's worth it to me. I love teaching and I love being good at it. But I have trouble saying it's worth it, period, when the way I learned to do it better meant embittering someone else's days and confirming their suspicions of learning.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Essay on Shame #26

Actions: I've been thinking more and more that any sense of who I am needs to come from what I do. Not what do I intend, but what do I actually do? Not just because that's what other humans see or know, but because that's what actually reaches them, directly or dilutedly. If anything has an effect in the world, good or bad or energizing or corrosive, it's my actions, not my intentions or thoughts or even standards.

I've been reading P.W. Martin on Jung (I should probably just go ahead and read Jung) and he says that the Shadow is more frequently expressed in inaction, in omission, in the things we don't do. In my mental vocabulary, what I don't do is the province of guilt, not shame -- but it's often the fear of shame that drives me back, both the fear of attracting negative attention and the fear of actually hurting someone. It does hold me back from actions that might produce beautiful or useful sparks.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Essay on Shame #25

I talked on the phone yesterday with both my sisters and we talked about shame, though we didn't use the word. In one conversation we talked about the mean mistake-free self (although she visualizes either Edward Cullen, from Twilight, or a bunch of weasels) and how badly it wants her to stay in the past and focus on things she can't change or do differently -- to trap her in time with her mistakes. This takes that divide, that split, to an additional level of malevolence -- the mistake-free self is actually trying to destroy the mistake-making self, to remain alone, hollow and sterile, cold-blooded and chattering and sparkly, in the world, half-dead and half-alive.

With my other sister I talked about reducing the amount of time between flailing and realizing the flail -- making the mistake of unkindness, of misinterpretation, of violence -- to seconds and hopefully to negative seconds. To know what selves, what impulses, may be lying in wait in the very near future in this complex of thoughts filled with enemy actions.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Essay on Shame #24

Shame as deterrent, tourniquet, deflector, screeching brake: as far as that goes, it can work. If it doesn't provoke me to be more of an ass to prove that I was right to be an ass in the first place, I will probably stop -- as previous essays have shown -- doing whatever it is, whether it is genuinely harmful, just unsuave ("You liked X?", also known as every conversation I had in high school), or -- and this is where the blur begins -- just not liked by the person I'm talking to.

But it doesn't just stop the thing I'm doing. It stops everything I'm doing. I sit still and my brain churns and steam comes from the gears, as aforesaid. I'm thinking now about the kid I want to have: what I will do when I need her to stop doing whatever it is (or think I do) and what I will do to get her brain moving again. If I could figure that out, maybe I could do it for myself too.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Essay on Shame #23

I searched the memory banks for times I tried to make others feel shame -- wish fervently they could go back in time -- and I came up with two main things.

One: times that people have said something homophobic around me. My responses have ranged from, "Could you please modify your language?" (to a couple of guys behind me on the bus) to, "You know being gay isn't bad, right?" or--if it's the second time or more--"You know I don't like that" (to people, younger than me, that I know fairly well).* My goal is immediate and, at least in my mind, clear: I want them to stop, and I want feeling bad to be part of what makes them stop. I am using shame as a pressure point, or maybe as a tourniquet. This seems all right to me: I don't have time to have a slow and reasoned conversation with them, because I need to stem the flow of aggression and spite. I hope, too, that next time they're tempted, they'll remember that they got grief for it last time and think, "Maybe it isn't worth it." Not a change of heart, but a change of surface.

Two: times that someone has asked me for something I do not want to give. Instead of just saying, "I don't want to do that," I try to make the person feel bad for asking me in the first place. This works in exactly the same way. It works as a tourniquet. Next time, maybe they won't tell me what they want. Not a change of heart, but a change of surface.

*I know these don't sound all that harsh or weapon-like. One reason for this is that I am not very brave. The other, related reason is that Option 2 for responding to shame--trying to find reasons why it was really okay to do whatever it was, and thus no shame is necessary--is a particularly common, and aggressive, response to this kind of assholery.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Essay on Shame #22

A book I haven't read by a writer I admire has been on my mind yesterday and today, since I saw a review of it in The Rumpus: Joyelle McSweeney's Percussion Grenade. The section of the review that stood out to me, which is also featured on Montevidayo, reads thus:

"The violence we throw on the human body and the shame we expect of one another are all endlessly reflecting in language. McSweeney asks us to inhabit the conflicting edges of that reality, mouthing the power and joy that come with degeneracy. She does not let us read for beauty or lyricism, but makes us active participants, tongue-tied by our own culture."

Aside from my total jealousy that I did not write this book, and my fear that reading it would make me feel terrible (I'll probably still read it though, because apparently I love to feel terrible), the phrase "the shame we expect of one another" is what made me focus on that excerpt. I've been writing about my own shame throughout this series, but I'm also part of "people" and "one another"--I also have a seat in the stadium of shame (possibly more than one)--and maybe it's time I started thinking about the shame I expect from others as well as myself.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Essay on Shame #21

I thought of a nice phrase to describe what I'd like to achieve: forgiveness without erasure. A way to hold steady and full the understanding of Jerk Move #798 without seeking or even craving absolution (who would absolve me, anyway? The injured party? Yeah, that's a great idea -- stomp on someone's fingers and then ask them to tell you it's okay). Just a bowl, even if it's a full and kind of spilly bowl, to carry my mess in. Without questions of whether I deserve one and who else gets one and whether or not it's too much to ask. That bowl, that container for shame, that forgiveness without erasure, is something I want.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Essay on Shame #20

Today I can't even remember who I talked to recently in a way that I should be ashamed of, a savage withholding. The erasing machinery's already at work, and this is what I fear when I put down the flathead screwdriver of keeping the gap open and shame activated: that I don't deserve to forget what I did. It's too terrible and I'm too terrible.

Let's do an experiment together, mistake-free me. You can be my lab partner who's embarrassed to work with me. Here's the hypothesis our science teacher gave us, the one we're stuck with, just like we're stuck with each other: what if what I did is too terrible and I am too terrible?

Someone else's being will be eroded.

Everyone else who knows will love me less.

What experiment can we set up to test whether this actually happens? We would need to stick around and watch that person and their being for a long time. We would need to pay close, anxious attention. We would also need to watch the people who know with sickening, diamond-bright precision. What would we be able to see, even with the finest instrumentation and greatest degree of panting awareness? A change, a shutting-down, a falling-off?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Soft Place is available at SPD!

For those of you who prefer to order from SPD, or would like to teach The Soft Place, it's up for sale there now! Follow this link or click on the cover at right. (If you'd like to review it, let me know.)

This has been a busy week, fun in some ways (trip to Chicago with CAKE for James and a reading for me) and infuriating in others (we're trying to buy a house and are at the infuriating stage). Last night I sat on the couch and held my box of books in my arms for a few minutes. It helped. I'm proud of this work, delighted by the book, and honored to be in the Horse Less Press flotilla.

Here's a piece of the book's first section, "The Beginnings of Generosity":

The smell of taking care
dwells in the starred sections,
hangs over the very most giving
territories in the hotly disputed map.
Disembark there to find a crystal region
dotted with abandoned prostheses,
empty bottles, misinformed genitals.
Reflections of beings of pure light
circulate landing oddly and cyclically like
the reflections of hazard lights,
emergencies, alarms, arrests. Because there are
no bodies, there are no lines.

Essay on Shame #19

Of course it's fine to make a promise, but if I don't keep it I'm setting myself up for shame: Remember that time I tried and failed? Remember that time I made that promise into a lie? Or sometimes I say "you", twisting the flathead screwdriver into the gap between who I actually am and who I want to be: at that moment, I'm speaking as the person I want to be (mistake-free) to the person I actually am (riddled with mistakes).

But when I say "you", I'm speaking cruelly. Mistake-free me, with her glowing skin and her perfect pitch for clothing, is a mean jerk. She calls mistaken-me a stupid whore, a useless cunt, a vile piece of shit. My impulse was to say, "I don't talk to anybody like that," but of course I do. I talk to myself like that. The urge, the rage, to talk to someone like that is present in me. It is me, and periodically, it fills me entirely.

It occurs to me that mistake-free me is a somewhat high school version of a perfect person, like a puppet with really long, smooth hair. What does she want the shame of others for? Why is it so important to her for me to be someone else?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Soft Place available at Horse Less Press!

I am delighted to announce that my new book, The Soft Place, is available for sale over at Horse Less Press. You can order it now and save on shipping!

If you're wondering why it looks so good that I can't stop caressing it, it's the cover art by Agata Michalowska and the cover design by HR Hegnauer.

I'm proud of this work and glad that it's in the world.

Essay on Shame #18

This weekend I sat on a backstairs porch on a hot summer night with two people I like a lot, two people I don't know very well but like fine, and one person I adore (James), who made one great joke but otherwise didn't talk much in the conversation I'm about to respond to. Everybody else joked about incest, told stories about shitting in plastic bags, offered to shit on each other's chests and disapproved vehemently and profanely of things I needed explained. I couldn't always tell whether they were being sarcastic or serious (one of the two I like a lot has the best line in deadpans of anyone I've ever met). I got increasingly uncomfortable and squirmy and eventually went inside to go to sleep.

All four of the talking people are anti-status-quo in a wide range of ways, most of which I admire, and I bring this up because the shame I was feeling was partly status-quo shame, societal shame -- "People don't talk about that stuff!" even though of course they do and anyway, if something really is harmful, it's not talking about it that makes it so. It was also partly my high school shame, which comes from the fear of being insufficient, revealed as inadequate, and which is the source of a good 40% of the lies I have told in my life. As of this moment, I vow to say at least 40% more often: "I don't know what that is. Tell me about it."

Monday, June 18, 2012

Essay on Shame #17

Shame is a restraint, a check, a negative reinforcement, a trap. It happens in the borderland, the place where the boundary between my I and the I or we of others is most permeable and smoky and mutually contaminated -- the I that feels shame and the I that commits the shameful act are shaped by others, or at least our ideas of others, individual people with names and bleachers full of a giant social and cultural other-than-me, or in-addition-to-me, that blurs together. People who have decided for me, without anyone making any individual decision, that one act is shameful and another is admirable. I caught it from them. Their shame, their admiration, is mine.

But the blur isn't total. It's not just a case of me flinching back from the mob or being swept up in it, as if by the moral and emotional equivalents of football hooligans. Historically, I have resisted situations, like shows and protests, where this could happen. I prefer not to be swept up; I want to be able to extricate myself, to withdraw my participation, at will. This makes me wonder if I'm also trapping shame, clinging to it, as well as the other way around.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Essay on Shame #16

I feel embarrassment and shame on the behalf of someone (not me) performing when their performance is bad in one or more of a few possible ways, most of which have to do with what I perceive as trying and failing. I also sometimes feel embarrassment and shame when a performance is good -- when it exposes something that people don't usually expose in public, like lust or misery, or crosses a threshold of intensity.

That second kind of embarrassment and shame is mine, on my own behalf, for being present and unable to "handle it". I'm disappointed in myself for not being able to manage, to reduce, something unmanageable, something that's the more powerful the less leashed it is, something that gains power through its very public-ness or publication of something that is usually private --

-- something I usually do by myself and am not ashamed of it there. Or something I usually do by myself and am ashamed of it, because I'm not really by myself, I'm imagining the stadium and that the people in the stands are in the same position that I, watching this performer, am in: wishing they were somewhere else because this is just too much.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Essay on Shame #15

My friend Darcie Dennigan wrote a poem called "You're an Embarrassment to the Void." The tenor of this poem is that any affirmation, any firm ground, any texture or pleasure or even interest, is a disgusting affront to ... well ... the absence of all of those things. A void is the absence of all things, but some things, Darcie suggests, are worse for it than others, more repulsive to total ending and the aftermath of dissolution. She writes, "Go ahead and add your own tale of the void's shame here," and leaves some blank lines for us to do that.

I love thinking about and probing the physics of poems (and Darcie's poems give great physics), although I rarely do this publicly (see: fear of being wrong / putting my leg in a position that's not weird enough). The poem's language ("the void's shame") suggests that the void is embarrassed or ashamed on its own behalf, not embarrassed for anyone or anything in the way I sometimes get when I'm watching a really bad performance. If the void can feel shame, there must be a self there -- and a fragile, irritable self, since it's so easily shamed; if the void can feel shame, it must be able to do something, to do something wrong. Every time something exists, the void has failed. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Essay on Shame #14

If something is solved, I can stop thinking about it. If something is solved, that means it was a problem. If something is solved, that means I don't have to change anything I'm doing. It means I'm okay. It means the Stadium of Shame is quiet, if not empty.  And if a solution worked, that means I can just keep doing it, right?

Problem/solution is a closed system, and there's no such animal. Open systems eat, excrete, exchange parts of themselves with their environments, things like them and things different from them. You can't solve an animal except by killing it. When I die, I will no longer make any mistakes.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Daniela Olszewska, Kate Schapira, Luis Humberto Valdez at Myopic Books!

So excited to be reading with these fine poets in Chicago!

Daniela Olszewksa
Kate Schapira
Luis Humberto Valdez

Saturday, June 16th, at 7 pm
Myopic Books (1564 North Milwaukee Ave.)

Also: Come visit cartoonist James McShane (and me) (and some of the other best cartoonists working today) at CAKE earlier in the day. The Chicago Alternative Comics Expo is in Columbia College's Ludington Building (1104 South Wabash) from 11-6 on Saturday, June 16th and Sunday, June 17th.

Essay on Shame #13

I was reading a Montevidayo post in which Lucas de Lima writes that self-determination "promotes values as stifling as enlightenment, individualism, and restraint" and I became extremely irritated and aggressive-defensive, like a ferret. The negation of restraint--and of agency, which the post also condemns--troubles me in particular because it seems like one of its quick descendants is, "It's not my fault that I hurt you" or "I couldn't help hurting you." Ugh, that's terrible. I'm ashamed to have typed that, even in quotation marks.

But then I thought about my life as a person participating in the money-world and in relationships with other people. The money-world sets it up so that I can't help hurting people by proxy. Some would argue that because it distributes damage so widely (the poisonous equivalent of, say, voting or donating to charity) and draws from so many sources my participation in it is actually worse than, say, punching someone in the face. I can see the logical and emotional truth of that.

And I do believe it's possible to hurt someone you're close to "by mistake" or "by accident" in the sense that hurting them was not a self-determined plan, but a side effect of misplaced or incomplete attention. In some ways, I'm more aghast when I do this kind of damage. But mostly, when I (individualism) do something* (agency) on purpose (self-determination) to hurt someone, I feel the worst about it. I may be mistaken about that. While trying to protect what's directly in front of me from my terrible self, I may be leaving a wake of carnage. But I'm not sure the solution is to remove the self.**

*This doing is usually saying. I haven't taken any other kind of deliberately harmful or vengeful action in a long time.

**The self -- my sense of self -- not myself. Don't worry.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Transmission from JUPITER 88!

CAConrad's video journal, JUPITER 88, offers up short readings by poets writing now. My video is up today and I'm so pleased to be a cell in the honeycomb!

We did this video before our reading together (with Michelle Taransky and Adam Roberts) in Albany, NY for the Yes! series, at the dining room table of co-organizer and friend Matthew Klane.

This is a particularly great project for those who prefer to hear poetry. Go look and listen -- and then check out some of the other delights. Just before me were Sara Larsen, Kevin Killian, Dodie Bellamy ...

Essay on Shame #12

Shame, the stuck time machine, keeps me in the mistake state, at the scene of the crime. It makes everything I do to mend the mistake into damage control -- damage to me.

How about this for an anti-shame reminder? "How other people feel is important, but how other people feel about me is not important."

But what if I really get behind that and push, and it turns out to be a mistake?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Essay on Shame #11

A little while ago, someone suggested that I take a yoga class -- a suggestion I met with a visceral "Hell no." I made my usual, widely-accepted excuses for not doing things (I don't have time! It costs too much money!). What I really meant was that I didn't want to put my legs in a weird position and have a stranger tell me that it wasn't weird enough while other strangers looked at me.

I am aware that ...
1) A yoga class is a class. By definition, you don't go to a class because you are already perfect at the thing the class is teaching.
1a) When I teach a class, I don't shame my students for not already being perfect at writing. I assume the same would be true in a yoga class, only with yoga.
2) The other strangers in the class would be trying to get their legs into weird positions and would not be worrying about mine.
3) If I were worrying about their legs, I would be the one who was the jerk, with a new source of shame.

 I didn't sign up for a yoga class. I've started doing sit-ups and push-ups and a few stretches in my own apartment, where no one can tell me I'm doing it wrong. And if I could be doing it in a way that's better for me, no one knows -- including me. I don't ever have to change what I'm doing because of someone else -- even though, by exercising in my apartment and in my apartment only, I'm changing what I'm doing because of someone else.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Essay on Shame #10

Mistake-free me! She looks just like me, except she doesn't pick at her skin as much, and she doesn't have that vertical line at the inside corner of her left eyebrow. That line comes from fretting, and she never frets because she just naturally never makes a mistake. Never wants to. She only wants what's right, what she approves of. There's no stadium in her head; she fits right into herself, her brain fills her entire skull, like the nut in a nutshell. Packed full, nutritionally sound, synonymous: she's all self, all satisfied.

I would like to be her. It would mean never changing, never learning, never striving, being already perfected, sort of like the human version of the poem C.D. Wright refers to in Cooling Time, "the poem that would in effect allow me to stop writing." I don't have a clear sense of how she'd deal with other people, since her borders would be so snug and firmly set, so unlikely to ever impinge. It would mean sitting in the center. Right now it sounds very appealing.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Essay on Shame #9

The Stadium of Shame: it has a grand, pompous sound to it, like something from Monty Python. The seats line the interior of my head. I'd like to get a closer look at the people in them: who are "they" in "If they knew ..."?

One of the provocations for this series of essays was a response from James to an offhand comment I made. He pointed out that it was unfair and untrue, and he was perfectly right. I spent the rest of the day moving very slowly and in small amounts, as if I were afraid to break something. It was the offhandedness that made me so ashamed -- I knew that if he hadn't called my attention to it, I would have gone on thinking it was okay. Walking around like I was a fair, kind and generous person instead of an ignorant bigot.

James didn't call me an ignorant bigot. It wasn't him in the stadium seats, or other people whose opinion of me I value -- they weren't there. It wasn't even the people I was talking about, who weren't there either, even though they might have the best right to those seats. It would be tidy to say that the stadium is filled with me, like the scene when John Malkevich goes inside his own head and everyone there is him, but I don't think it's true enough. I think the stadium is filled with people who never make mistakes -- who are always fair, always kind, always generous. Not me, but the person I pretend to be -- a stadium's worth of them.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Essay on Shame #8

If what I want is not who I am, that could mean I don't have to do anything about it, to get it, and can steer away from shame that way.

It could mean that I can do whatever I want, without being ashamed that I want it, got caught wanting it.

If shame makes the self more important -- puts the self at the center and drools over it with passionate reminiscence of the last terrible mistake and anticipation of the next terrible mistake -- this division could displace it, could put wanting at the center instead.

There's a sexual gospel that does just this. You can find it on the internet. It fascinates me, in theory. Who cares who I am, as long as I yearn, beg and am satisfied? It replaces a static self with a mutable cycle of longing and relief.

The late Mark Aguhar, whom I'm ashamed to say I only learned about after they died, wrote on their blog calloutqueen, "Aren't simple desires dead yet? Are we still so obsessed with the hegemonic body? ... Why are things like pleasure and bodyfluid still so predominant in discussions about ecstasy and emotion and love and lust? ... Where are the tricksters, and the sneaks, marked by illusion and deception and joy and glamour and transformation?"

I read "hegemonic" there as a cross between "absolute" and "approved".  Who does the approving? A vast stadium of faceless mainly white people that arises, in a vision, around people having sex. My mind goes, "It's a problem! Solve it! Repopulate the stands with more fabulous and loving people! Stop caring about them! Keep everything in extreme privacy!"

I want to solve everything.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Essay on Shame #7

One place of shame is where we turn back from the borders of ourselves and lock them down. It's probably possible to write about shame without writing about sex and lust, but I knew that I would feel it was missing, like I was turning away from it.

Two wires intertwine: "What I want is who I am," and "What I want is not who I am."  Not just who I am to the person or people* I'm fucking with**, but to other people if they knew. In most cases, they won't know unless I tell them. If I don't tell them, I may wonder if they know, and what they'd think. Like "Buying something is doing something," this has a political dimension, but I want to look first at the turning-back place: I am the person who wants / No no no, I am not that person. Who would I be if I wanted? What would I have to do? How would I have to change, to go beyond the border? How far beyond the border would I have to go?

Shame is obsessed with the kind of person I am. That's what it drools over; that's what it clicks away from.

*As a matter of fact the relationship of "I, Kate Schapira" is monogamous, but the relationship of "I, the example human" might not be. It's tricky.

**I know this expression is usually used to mean "teasing you / lying to you / messing with your mind" and is often preceded by "Not really," but a young friend of mine used it as a synonym for "having sex with". I like the mutuality of it and would like to nudge its meaning in that direction.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Essay on Shame #6

My mind likes binaries. I'm not proud of this. It's longing to make that division between the "upstairs self" and the "basement self"--private/public, raw/cooked--even as it knows those divisions are simplistic, inadequate, dessicated. I'm constantly steering myself away from this longing and into more open waters, where all is fluid, all can change. Where the floating body loses and gains molecules to the water.

Could shame be useful? Could the fear of it be useful? Could the sick state of mind, the feeling where the water gets deep and drops off, where my sense of myself slicks out from under me on the stairs, be a reminder that the person who falls and the person who floats are the same person?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Essay on Shame #5

"I'm ashamed of all the stuff we have in our basement," my friend said the day before her yard sale. I tried to reassure her by talking about other people's basements. I asked her if when she goes to yard sales, which she does often, she thinks, "God, these people have so much crap. What idiots they are. They must be so shallow and horrible to buy all this shit." I offered that perhaps, instead, she thought, "Hey, look at this great thing I found! How exciting that I get to have this nice thing for not very much money!" Possibly not exactly in those words, but that, I suggested, would be what her neighbors were thinking too.

She agreed reluctantly. The shame of buying--really, of having bought--implies that buying is doing. People put a lot of energy into getting other people to believe that; that energy is not of interest to this inquiry, but its results are. Once you believe that your actions have meaning, that meaning can be dark and gross just as easily as it can be soothing or beautifying or ennobling. My friend's purchases, now in her basement, soon (she hoped) to be someone else's purchases, said (she feared) something shameful about her. Instead of, say, "the kind of person who would say something cruel" she was "the kind of person who would buy a cat fountain," which was fine--or maybe not fine, but bearable--or maybe not bearable, but avoidable--as long as that cat fountain stayed in her basement and nobody else knew it was there.

I don't there is anything dark or gross about having bought a cat fountain, and as I noted above, I'm less interested in all the permutations of "capitalism made me do it" (putting the responsibility on someone else is part of the shunt-and-baffle system for shame). I'm more interested in where shame lives. The basement seems like such a corny place for it.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

City Change #10

Lis writes from Tahoe City, CA: "Tahoe City got a new bike path that takes you right along the lakeshore, vs. in town by the cars where we used to have to share the road. Makes my commute lovely."

Lis is also the keeper of the aforementioned postcard showcase at 28cents. Thanks!

Essay on Shame #4

I can't believe I said that corny thing about having wings. I can't believe I said that dismissive thing about working at Pizza Hut. I can't believe I said that thing about the kids in the Astor Home, or that other thing about wearing leggings as pants, or that other thing, to my class of ESL students, about men hitting women.

Believing it should be easy, because I did say all those things. Believing it should be much easier than erecting the complicated series of baffles, buffers and shunts required to redirect my mind away from the traps it laid for itself in the past. When I forget, when the buffer sequence works too well,  two things might happen: I might approve of myself too much, more than I deserve--the kind of person who would say that thing--and I might say something else.

This assigns a tremendous amount of power to my words. It believes that they can change my shape, can twist, shrivel or swell my features, the pitch of my voice, the force behind my muscles; it believes that they can set in motion series circuits and waterfalls of thought, memory and justification in other people as they do in me. I do believe that words have power; my two main forms of work have that assumption at their root.

If it doesn't matter that I said those things, words might not matter as much as I need them to. I might be making a terrible mistake.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Essay on Shame #3

From when I was about 12 to when I was about 22, I lied a lot. I didn't just tell lies, I was a liar. I lied to stay out of trouble, and in these lies I mostly got caught. I also lied to make myself seem interesting and, occasionally, to make other people look bad, and sometimes for no recognizable reason -- like the time I said I took the subway and then walked when actually I walked and then took the subway. I got caught in some of these lies, too.

When I say I "got caught", I mostly mean that grownups found out that my lie was a lie (I still thought in terms of "grownups" when I was 22) and yelled at me or explained why what I did was wrong or disapproved of me. But when no one found out, I was caught in another way, because I often kept telling people that I broke the foot of a groping man on the subway (I didn't), or that I once peed in a potted plant at a party (didn't do that either). I told those stories and many more, several times, to multiple groups of people; when I met a new group of people with whom I had a chance to be my truthful self, I ruined it as fast as I could by telling a lie. And then I was caught. If I forgot the story I'd told, and said in another conversation that I'd only hit one person in anger (true), a puzzled look, an "I thought you said ..." and the cold fog of shame were surely waiting for me.

What kind of self was I trying to make? In that imagined self, I believe shame and lies--both of the kinds I told--converge. A self who would pee in a potted plant, who would react swiftly and bravely to sexual creeping from a stranger. A self who never backed up too fast and dented the bumper on a stone wall; who was the insulted, not the insulter. A shameless self. A blameless self. A self without responsibility, who had never made a mistake, or whose mistakes stopped dead at its edge.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


Hey 28cents, thanks for including my City Change postcard!

All you fans of paper mail, check out this tumblr "showcasing 28-cent correspondence".

And anyone who has a City Change postcard lying around, I'd love it if you would send that in.

Essay on Shame #2

The eyes of everyone I imagine stack up like a wolf spider's to be ashamed of me. I don't want anyone to know I did, said, thought, failed, betrayed. I want to have not done it, never done it. To be the kind of person who has never. Who would not. Whose mind it wouldn't even cross. This makes me think the solution is to become very still. If I don't move at all, maybe the wolf spider won't know I'm alive.

When I'm ashamed, I say furiously to myself, "You deserve to die." Well, I will die. So that problem has actually been solved for me. I enjoy being alive, except when I make a mistake, when shame informs me that it would be wrong for me to enjoy anything--pervades me, cold and heavy, driving all other airs away from my vicinity.

Solutions are so appealing. Like dioramas. A place, and a relation, to restore, in perfect stillness. Nothing to be ashamed of.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Essays on Shame

I'm going to write a mini-essay on shame here every day for the rest of June to try to teach myself how to make mistakes. That's the first thing to know about shame: it's a lesson, but not a lesson about what happens next. Shame is a stuck time machine and as I yank on the levers ever more furiously, as oily smoke starts to rise from the gears, the present sails majestically, sadly, with great dignity further and further away.

"Lesson" sounds good, and I ought to know, because I'm a teacher, but apparently I don't believe anything I've taught anybody else. Learning is for next time, but the magic of "next time" eludes me because I've already ruined my ability to move through time. I yank on the levers. I bite all the breath out of my words. The air inside the time machine gets worse and worse.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

City Change #9

Brenda writes from Brooklyn, New York: "The changes I've experienced while living in this metropolis have been drastic. NYC has been Disneyfied. It has been corporatized and gentrified to the point where one needs a permit to gather in any meaningful way. The attitudes cater to the rich and any "undesirable" element is quickly rushed out of view. Rent is way up as are real estate prices in general. The opulence is a decoy, a simulacra and a mask for the suffering under its surface. Is this the throbbing heart of Imperialism and Empire? I believe so!"