Cathy Linh Che, Pt. 1 In the Underworld, / I starve a season / while the world wilts

kundimanfireside:

For each day of National Poetry Month one of our fellows will explore the breadth of poetry in three ways: through a question from another fellow, through a poem and through a writing prompt, #writetoday.


[QUESTION]

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Debbie Yee asks, Cathy, Are there real or virtual spaces you go to for research? What or where are they? What do they inform you?

Cathy Linh Che answers, 

Thanks, Debbie, for the question! My answer is roundabout, but I do get around to it. Here it goes: 

Like Paul Tran, and so many others, I was sexually molested as a child—and have felt the ripple effects into adulthood.

I write about my experiences because I’m uneasy with the silence. I’m uneasy with the abject and unfathomable horror surrounding the topic—as if sexual molestation is not something that happens to one in three girls and one in seven boys. At a table with ten folks, several people have been sexually violated at some point in their lives (whether we identify as victims, survivors, or something else), or are perpetrators. So, it’s not ‘unimaginable’—it’s lived experiences that we all share.

 When I have a concept or an image I want to explore, I look up definitions and etymologies on the internet. I do Google images searches. I turn to different mythologies and origin stories. I buy books and read up on psychology and psychoanalysis. I go home and inhabit spaces where these incidences have taken place. I look at personal experiences again and again—after all “research” is about looking closely and looking repeatedly.

Type in the word rape into the Online Etymology Dictionary and you get:

rape (v.)

late 14c., “seize prey; abduct, take by force,” from rape (n.) and from Anglo-French raper (Old French rapir)

When I learned that rape originally meant to abduct, or to carry off by force, I thought of the myth of Persephone in a new way.

I saw her abduction, then being carried off into Hades, as a kind of childhood rape story—and from there, I wrote.

Editor’s Note: If you are interested in information about support services as a sexual assault survivor, please visit RAINN.


[POEM]

Pomegranate

I open my chest and birds flock out.
In my mother’s garden, the roses flare
toward the sun, but I am an arrow

pointing back.
I am Persephone,
a virgin abducted.

In the Underworld,
I starve a season
while the world wilts

into the ghost
of a summer backyard.
My hunger open and raw.

I lay next to a man
who did not love me—
my body a performance,

his body a single eye—
a director watching an actress
commanding her

to scintillate.

I was the clumsy acrobat.
When he came, I split open
like a pomegranate

and ate six of my own ruddy seeds.

I was the whipping boy.
Thorny, barbed wire
wound around a muscular heart.

Originally published in Split (Alice James Books, 2014)


[BIO]

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Cathy Linh Che would like to start a conversation with you. Email her.

On Persephone and bravery and Cathy Che. 

“their words make this possible”: A Roundtable Discussion of Poetics of Emplacement with poets from Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence

Some of my words (about 250 of them) appear over at Spoon River Poetry Review

Hi! Hi. Shamar and I are talking over at Conversant about the apocalypse. In it, I say some things I maybe shouldn’t have said. Check it out. 

Hi! Hi. Shamar and I are talking over at Conversant about the apocalypse. In it, I say some things I maybe shouldn’t have said. Check it out. 

Joyce Johnson, Minor Characters

After all, so much of growing up is the eagerness to grow up, the desire to make something. We do things in the hope that who we are will follow those actions: that if we act cool we will, eventually, be cool; that if we watch and write we will eventually be a writer. Wanting and doing. Being and making.

I wrote about Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and the female voices of the Beats over at The Gloria Sirens

"In some way I wanted to serve notice I was no longer the child he took me for. Somewhere inside me, waiting to make her appearance any minute now, was the person I really was."

Joyce Johnson, Minor Characters.

"Travel widely. Don’t be afraid to feel uncomfortable, or scared. Do things even when they don’t seem practical or you don’t have the money. Find a way to make things happen by making important, strategic sacrifices. Experiencing these events, emotions, and sacrifices makes you a self-aware writer with a real understanding of existential boundaries. Love, make mistakes, be willing to forgive yourself. Live in your car for a week with just a change of clothes and your laptop. Go skinny dipping, eat lavender gelato from a Parisian street vendor, have a fling with someone to whom you feel wildly attracted who might not be your soul mate, but who has amazing eyes. See a therapist regularly. Stare in a mirror for an hour and don’t feel ashamed to love yourself as much as you love your art. Don’t ever flinch when your (parents, math teacher, boyfriend) tells you that writing is crazy, or meaningless, or economically unwise, or for foolish dreamers who eventually grow up. Don’t keep to “safe” topics in your writing. Write about what moves you, what scares the hell out of you, what makes you cry, what fills you with joy. Don’t be scared to be cliché, or corny, or unoriginal because you will be all of these at some point of your development. Don’t be afraid to be dark, or angry, because you will write poems sometimes that are dark, or angry. Write poems that you know will fail, and let them fail because without that practice, you’ll never write the poems that will stun you and move your audience. Remember that there are no right or wrong poems, even if someone tells you your poems are right or wrong. Give yourself time to arrive … this will take time. Read everything you can get your hands on, from physics textbooks to Søren Kierkegaard, from William Blake to trashy romance novels. Read the canon, and then transcend the canon. What I’m trying to say is, pretend there are no genres or rules for what makes great writing. Major in anything but creative writing, and then throw yourself into an MFA. Consider a doctorate in English and Creative Writing, but don’t feel compelled to take this path. Most of all, write as much as you can. I’m not going to tell you to get up at 5 AM every morning and write for two hours, like it is some magic formula for success. There is no set formula, but you will hone your skills to understand what works for you. And when you reach a comfortable plateau, jump off and try something else."

Sara Henning, author of A Sweeter Water.

Sara Henning, poet

femmesfollesnebraska:

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Poet Sara Henning shares with LFF about her latest book, A Sweeter Water, dropping a pre-med major to study English, tenacity and feminism in her work, her unhinged advice for aspiring writers and more…

Where are you from? How did you get into writing?

I was born in Savannah, Georgia. After my father died and my mother couldn’t make it on her own, financial issues drove us to Athens, Georgia, where her parents lived.

I am not sure when I got into writing.  I wrote short stories about animals as a child, and remember writing my first poems in later elementary school and middle school. I feel like these are common experiences for precocious children.

I was nominated by an English teacher to participate in a creative writing contest when I was a junior in high school, and I particularly enjoyed writing very stale, metrical poems. I lost the contest to the future Valedictorian of our high school, who is now a medical doctor. I seem to remember that his prize-winning story concerned shooting a wild bear, though I cannot vouch for knowing the statistical averages of violence against bears in Georgia in the late nineties, especially in his family. 

When I was in college, I dropped pre-med and my Genetics major for English when I met my first poetry mentor, Brian Henry. The poetry I wrote was no good at the time, but I never looked back.

Tell me about your inspirations, process.

Though I left behind my pre-med science major long ago, I never left behind my propensity to examine the world scientifically. My penchant is to tear things apart to understand how they work, then suture them back together. I like to follow the scientific method, which sounds very boring except when this enters an existential plane of reasoning. On this plane, my mind meets my heart, and things get less boring.  

I would say part of what inspires me, then, is to understand—the world, the people around me, my life, and even the stars. All of this sounds very recycled and dreamy, but I think this goes back to the fact that all writers tread the same ground—life, love, birth, sex, tragedy, the world as they understand it. We are all human, and I guess it is the vacillation between the quotidian and the extraordinary that inhabits every moment that keep me digging and writing.  I am always reading articles on science, psychology, the natural world, astronomy, and this finds its way into poems.

A friend recently brought up a point about my craft that I had not considered. She said that while my poems are often emotional, I seem to approach the realm of the emotional surgically, building a living, breathing poem by grafting bits from my aforementioned studies.  I hadn’t thought about it this way, but it makes sense that I would enter emotion by trying to understand it, by taking it apart to find corollaries, and by inducing a different truth.   

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Tell me about your book and why its important to you.

Well, I just published my first full collection of poems, entitled A Sweeter Water.  The poems describe the interstices between coming of age and recovery, a speaker who comes to consciousness in a fractured world. The work began to take form in 2006, and it took until 2013 to find a home. This somewhat convoluted, labyrinthine process is definitely not atypical, but it can be discouraging at times. Being in the post-MFA years can be especially challenging for writers seeking to understand themselves apart from their mentors and the academy at large, and the rush of happiness for peer writers placing books can sometimes feel simultaneously heart-wrenching when your pile of contest rejections starts to reach the ceiling of your apartment. I’d say some of those years were darker than others, and I felt like the moment my manuscript would achieve a specific architecture, it would (in perfect, phoenix-like poise) be razed to the ground. If this process sounds melodramatic, it totally was for me. The gorgeous part about it, though, is that while it felt like me, the writer, was the only person going through this painful struggle at that moment, I really was. I was forging a new set of boundaries concerning my emotional and artistic growth. Yet while I was unique, I was not special: true redemption came for me by internalizing that this struggle, while personal, was also universal for an artist of any discipline. I saw talented writers place books, writers who I perceived to be less talented than my amazing, yet book-less friends place books, and this all worked its way into a methodology that formed its own paradox. What I continue to take away from placing my first full-volume of poetry is that I can no longer justify holding myself back from cannon-balling into the next major project(s): the second full-length collection, the many chapbooks trying to spread their wings. I think that being in the position of having a completed, yet unpublished first collection can lead one to the pretty dysfunctional habit of hyper-revising, a process that can sometimes kill the spirit of the work through using its lack of publication as a block to moving forward. I sure did this, while other writer friends were able to write and circulate multiple manuscripts. Being able to be objective once a collection is done is emotionally necessary to continue making good work, no matter your stage of development, publication record,  or ultimate artistic goals.

Now that I have the first book past me, I am thick into my second collection, tentatively titled Lost Girls. I don’t want to say too much about it right now, because it is definitely still in its formative stage. I can say that it feels amazing to write fresh work.

Artist Wanda Ewing, who curated and titled the original LFF exhibit, said of her work: “I’ve been making provocative art with a political edge in my Midwestern hometown since 1999. And to do that, you have to be tenacious as hell.” Are you tenacious in your work or life? How so?

I am completely tenacious in my work and my life. As a woman, and especially a woman writer, lacking tenacity largely still means being silenced, emotionally squashed, or ignored. These are stereotypical categories of internalized repression, but they ring true for me more often than not.  I grew up in a very emotionally abusive family in the conservative, often racially fraught South—the internal and external social states of repression reinforced each other. I found myself attracting partners during my twenties who helped me perpetuate being silent, emotionally squashed, or ignored, despite any strides I made with my writing. Fighting back, getting the heck out, and being tenacious gave me my life and my art back. 

Stemming from this, my work often speaks out against the violence often done to women, in a hope to spread awareness to the silent war being waged around in 21st-century America and beyond. I’d say my personal, emotional and artistic lives reinforce each other. If they did not, then where is my ethos to be writing this? I am a feminist in the polyvalent sense of the word. I detest inequality in expectations placed on both genders, and speak up for what seems to be the most well-informed and socially aware position on all matters that concern me, and even matters that don’t!

Ewing, who examined perspective of femininity and race in her work, spoke positively of feminism, saying “yes, it is still relevant” to have exhibits and forums for women in art; does feminism play a role in your work?

I couldn’t avoid it even if I tried, but I never enter my writing for the day thinking, “I’m going to write a feminist poem today.” What would come out has the possibility of feeling contrived, preachy, or limited in case-specific relevance. Two recently published poems concern the cases of Jaycee Lee Dugard (kidnapped at 11 by Phillip Garrido and his wife and kept as a sex-slave for eighteen years) and the Ariel Castro scandal (where three women were imprisoned in his Cleveland home).  Those poems were certainly feminist, but only because situations of social degradation, sexual abuse, shame, and exploitation should be discussed in art. When they are not, our society fails itself. In writing those poems, I engaged in feminism by ontological proxy, though I admit that those poems were written by an ardent feminist. 

Ewing’s advice to aspiring artists was “you’ve got to develop the skill of when to listen and when not to;” and “Leave. Gain perspective.” What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

Travel widely. Don’t be afraid to feel uncomfortable, or scared. Do things even when they don’t seem practical or you don’t have the money. Find a way to make things happen by making important, strategic sacrifices. Experiencing these events, emotions, and sacrifices makes you a self-aware writer with a real understanding of existential boundaries. Love, make mistakes, be willing to forgive yourself. Live in your car for a week with just a change of clothes and your laptop. Go skinny dipping, eat lavender gelato from a Parisian street vendor, have a fling with someone to whom you feel wildly attracted who might not be your soul mate, but who has amazing eyes. See a therapist regularly. Stare in a mirror for an hour and don’t feel ashamed to love yourself as much as you love your art. Don’t ever flinch when your (parents, math teacher, boyfriend) tells you that writing is crazy, or meaningless, or economically unwise, or for foolish dreamers who eventually grow up. Don’t keep to “safe” topics in your writing. Write about what moves you, what scares the hell out of you, what makes you cry, what fills you with joy. Don’t be scared to be cliché, or corny, or unoriginal because you will be all of these at some point of your development. Don’t be afraid to be dark, or angry, because you will write poems sometimes that are dark, or angry. Write poems that you know will fail, and let them fail because without that practice, you’ll never write the poems that will stun you and move your audience.  Remember that there are no right or wrong poems, even if someone tells you your poems are right or wrong. Give yourself time to arrive … this will take time. Read everything you can get your hands on, from physics textbooks to Søren Kierkegaard, from William Blake to trashy romance novels. Read the canon, and then transcend the canon.  What I’m trying to say is, pretend there are no genres or rules for what makes great writing.  Major in anything but creative writing, and then throw yourself into an MFA. Consider a doctorate in English and Creative Writing, but don’t feel compelled to take this path. Most of all, write as much as you can. I’m not going to tell you to get up at 5 AM every morning and write for two hours, like it is some magic formula for success. There is no set formula, but you will hone your skills to understand what works for you. And when you reach a comfortable plateau, jump off and try something else.

Find A Sweeter Water on amazon.com.

___

Les Femmes Folles is a completely volunteer run organization founded with the mission to support and promote women in all forms, styles and levels of art; originally inspired by artist Wanda Ewing and her curated exhibit by the name Les Femmes Folles (Wild Women). A portion of the proceeds from LFF books and products benefit the University of Nebraska-Omaha’s Wanda Ewing Scholarship Fund.

Travel widely. Don’t be afraid to feel uncomfortable, or scared. Do things even when they don’t seem practical or you don’t have the money. Find a way to make things happen by making important, strategic sacrifices. Experiencing these events, emotions, and sacrifices makes you a self-aware writer with a real understanding of existential boundaries. Love, make mistakes, be willing to forgive yourself. Live in your car for a week with just a change of clothes and your laptop. Go skinny dipping, eat lavender gelato from a Parisian street vendor, have a fling with someone to whom you feel wildly attracted who might not be your soul mate, but who has amazing eyes. See a therapist regularly. Stare in a mirror for an hour and don’t feel ashamed to love yourself as much as you love your art. Don’t ever flinch when your (parents, math teacher, boyfriend) tells you that writing is crazy, or meaningless, or economically unwise, or for foolish dreamers who eventually grow up. Don’t keep to “safe” topics in your writing. Write about what moves you, what scares the hell out of you, what makes you cry, what fills you with joy. Don’t be scared to be cliché, or corny, or unoriginal because you will be all of these at some point of your development. Don’t be afraid to be dark, or angry, because you will write poems sometimes that are dark, or angry. Write poems that you know will fail, and let them fail because without that practice, you’ll never write the poems that will stun you and move your audience.  Remember that there are no right or wrong poems, even if someone tells you your poems are right or wrong. Give yourself time to arrive … this will take time. Read everything you can get your hands on, from physics textbooks to Søren Kierkegaard, from William Blake to trashy romance novels. Read the canon, and then transcend the canon.  What I’m trying to say is, pretend there are no genres or rules for what makes great writing.  Major in anything but creative writing, and then throw yourself into an MFA. Consider a doctorate in English and Creative Writing, but don’t feel compelled to take this path. Most of all, write as much as you can. I’m not going to tell you to get up at 5 AM every morning and write for two hours, like it is some magic formula for success. There is no set formula, but you will hone your skills to understand what works for you. And when you reach a comfortable plateau, jump off and try something else.”

Is GoldieBlox for Girls, or for Grown-Ups?

aliceinreflection:

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The GoldieBlox commercial featured during this year’s Super Bowl depicts a stampede of little girls, gathering up their “girly toys”—dolls, stuffed animals, playhouses—to build a big pink spaceship that they launch into the sky. 

It is cute, and GoldieBlox looks like a fine, if overpriced, line of products. The company’s stated purpose, to get more girls interested in engineering, is important: Women are still vastly underrepresented in the S.T.E.M. fields, a gender gap that begins early. However, judging by the placement of the commercials alone, GoldieBlox’s marketing strategy seems designed to appeal more to well-intentioned, liberal-minded parents than to the girls themselves. (Why not feature the commercials on Nickelodeon?) So, while GoldieBlox has been receiving a lot of praise lately for challenging gender stereotypes, the true test of GoldieBlox’s value still has yet to come. Products for children may achieve commercial success thanks merely to the fact that adults hold the wallets, but their value in the development of children’s skills, interests, and imagination must rely upon the children themselves. Will girls want to play with these toys?

Read More

Poem-A-Day: A Book Of Music by Jack Spicer

cathylinhche:

A Book of Music
by Jack Spicer

Coming at an end, the lovers 

Are exhausted like two swimmers. Where 

Did it end? There is no telling. No love is 

Like an ocean with the dizzy procession of the waves’ boundaries

From which two can emerge exhausted, nor long goodbye 

Like death. 

Coming at an end. Rather, I would say, like a length 

Of coiled rope 

Which does not disguise in the final twists of its lengths 

Its endings. 

But, you will say, we loved 

And some parts of us loved 

And the rest of us will remain 

Two persons. Yes, 

Poetry ends like a rope.

Can’t wait to read this. @bjnovak @mindykaling