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 ...