Archive for January, 2014

Poets in The New York Daily News Article Respond: CAMILLE RANKINE

by on Jan.03, 2014

[I asked the women featured in the New York Daily News article if I could interview them about the public response to the article. I asked them each the same set of five questions. Some of the women preferred to answer specific questions; others chose to write their own essays. I’ll be posting their responses here serially over the next 24 hours.]

 

CAMILLE RANKINE

1) What was your approach to presenting yourself in the photo? And was it actualized?

I was just trying to look like myself. And I think I was reasonably successful.

 

3) Do you consciously cultivate a public image that refracts, troubles, or adds to your poetry in some way?

I’ve worked in and around poetry in some capacity for a few years now – I worked Cave Canem Foundation previously, and am now at Manhattanville College’s MFA Program, plus I serve on The Poetry Project board and co-chair the Poetry Committee for the Brooklyn Book Festival – so when I think of a public image, I think of it mostly in the context my work for those organizations, and I try to keep it professional. I tend to be a cautious person, and I often think ahead to all the possible consequences of my actions, so I’m careful about how I present myself and what I say in a public sphere, because I don’t want anything to come back and haunt me or any organization I represent. Other than that, I don’t give much thought to cultivating an image. I’m mostly just trying not to embarrass myself.

 

4) What have been your thoughts and feelings around the uproar over the article?

Frankly, I anticipated there would be some grumblings over this before the article even came out. And once I saw the photos, I guessed what would follow. But I wasn’t paying much attention to the internet when it was published, because I was home with my family for the holidays and there was much food to be eaten and many movies to be watched and general fun to be had by all, so I missed whatever nuance there may have been to the conversation. Is the issue with what the poets are wearing? If so, I’m fairly sure all these women left their homes with those outfits on because that’s what they wanted to wear that day, and weren’t necessarily even aware that they’d be photographed—this was true in my case. So if someone wants to take a photo of you while you are wearing the clothes you happen to have on at that moment, what’s the problem there, exactly? Or are people upset that some of these women are in positions that appear possibly to be sexy or have looks on their faces that are suggestive of possible sexiness? If so, I know that these women are all adults and most likely in full possession of their faculties, and I hope they have chosen facial expressions and/or positions that they are comfortable with, as I did in my own photo. And if that is in fact the case, then isn’t it kind of their business how sexy they want to appear in a photo? Or is the concern that these women were selected because they are all reasonably attractive? Perhaps there could be an argument made on that front, but that argument also minimizes these women’s accomplishments as poets, which we can all learn about for ourselves through the bios and excerpts from their work that were printed alongside the photos.

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Poets Featured In The New York Daily News Feature Respond: MONICA MCCLURE

by on Jan.03, 2014

[I asked the women featured in the New York Daily News article if I could interview them about the public response to the article. I asked them each the same set of five questions. Some of the women preferred to answer specific questions; others chose to write their own essays. I’ll be posting their responses here serially over the next 24 hours.]

 

MONICA MCCLURE

1) What was your approach to presenting yourself in the photo? And was it actualized?

I can’t tell you how refreshing it is for my agency to be acknowledged, as much of the reaction to these photos has characterized us as passive subjects, naive or attention-seeking enough to be exploited by a male photographer out for his own recognition and profit.

I think it’s important to note that this wasn’t a planned, costumed photoshoot intended for the NY Daily News article.

I wore a crop top bustier thing on a miserably hot day to attend the NYC Poetry Festival, which is like Coachella for poets. Lara, you’re right to detect annoyance in my expression. My thighs are sticking to an inflatable couch while I try to look somewhat elegant. For who? Oh, anyone on facebook, including myself. I’m suspended in that gap between photographed object (aware that I’m being singled out for the way I look) and an empowered subject who agreed, and even enjoyed, being photographed out of my own curiosity to see my image on that little camera screen moments later.

Is that vain? The idea of vanity has always smacked of sexism to me. It’s a word that men have used for centuries to distinguish women’s interest in adornment and self-actualization from their own and make it seem frivolous, so it’s really disheartening when women presume that a sliver of midriff is a cheap shot for attention that can somehow be cleverly redirected at our poems, or that we’re too stupid to realize when and how the male gaze shines upon us. When Becca Klaver sent me the tumblr link to womenpoetswearingsweatpants I was pleased that its humor equivocated the lightness of the article and I said, “Great! We all know what we were doing in that article anyway.”

The publication, which is meant for easy consumption on the subway, constructs the article around novelty. It’s the news, after all. It invented a reason for its existence: a gender power shift in poetry based on newfound empowerment for women to talk about their bodies and sex. The article is (and I don’t mean to slam the writer, who did her job succinctly) amounted to a joke. My posing, somewhat classically on an inflatable couch amounts to a joke. Of course, anytime I’m on the other side of a man’s camera, I feel ambivalent. I can’t say it was my idea to languish on a blow-up couch, but I certainly wasn’t coerced or duped. I was thought-fodder for the camera as well as myself. I was considering myself being considered.

 

2) Is visual cultural important to your poetry? if so, in what way?

When mostly white women on facebook were policing the appearance of the brown bodies in the NYDN article, I was watching Beyonce’s visual album and noticing similarities in how white, academic detractors were responding to the overt sexiness of her performances and the traditional heteronormativity of her lyrics and public statements. While, personally, I aim to dismantle gender norms and the institution of marriage, I would think twice before slamming another woman for celebrating her marriage and family life in her art.

So many images of women in the media do disturb me as much as they mesmerize me, and my poetry tries to air out both sides of that. I cringe at Miley Cyrus’ twisted performance of a manufactured sexuality, the pro-patriarchal garbage spewing from the mouths of Fox News blondes, the ubiquitous battered, raped body of the black woman in 12 Years A Slave, and on and on.

On the other hand, there’s power in the images of themselves that girls put online, even when they’re highly decorated or their flesh is on display. Does that mean they are in collaboration with the culture that hurts them? Sure they can’t control whether their image will become an affront or a pleasure object, but they’re beating the culture to the punch anyway.

 

3) Do you consciously cultivate a public image that refracts, troubles, or adds to your poetry in some way?

In college one of my professors asked us to draw our vision of a good feminist. Having felt liberated by the idea of throwing off the accoutrements of femininity as a way to shun cultural fallacies of femininity and resist male oppression as related to the market and its advertising apparatuses, I felt obliged to draw a woman in plain clothes and bare face standing in front of Hull House. Those were the feminists I loved most: the socialists who only dated women and refused to be slowed down by fashion. But I didn’t. I drew myself, who is occasionally attracted to men and short party dresses, because it was important to see myself represented.

How Should A Woman Look has been a huge question for me, especially because one reason I wanted to write came from a desire to disappear behind mind’s labor and be recognized for my intellect. Therefore, I do understand the discomfort that a midriff in an article purportedly about poetry might cause.

In truth, I’m glad there was a cringe response. It’s just too bad that that gut response was articulated as a patronizing lament from my older feminist sisters.

When I perform my poetry- and I purposely say perform instead of read– I understand that I’m going to be measured against my looks no matter what, and I want that to be part of the critical discourse around my poetry. I know full well that my validity as an artist is undermined if I seem attractive, or worse, aware of my attractiveness, so I try to do my own beating to the punch by playing the target and the archer, thus hopefully making the audience aware of the patriarchy inside them.

The truth is, patriarchy is an insidious discourse, and both men and women tend not to expect much from a youthful, female body. I have to resist that kind of, um, resistance to a pretty genius all the time. It was so refreshing to read it confessed in Stephanie Young’s Ursula or University, which acknowledges the culpability of men and women in poetry “scenes” in reducing young women poets to bodies. I think my performances would like to dare the audience to do try.

Not too long ago, I was privy to one woman’s response during a discussion in an MFA visual art class who, when shown a video of the brilliant poet and performance artist Bunny Rogers, immediately, and without any qualms, questioned whether interest in her work stemmed from her talent or her appearance.

Because I’m both repulsed and enchanted by this deep paradox that is our regard for the woman artist, I will sometimes taunt my audience by alternating between beguiling and vulgar affectations to create discomfort. Discomfort heightens self-awareness. It’s the feeling you get watching stand-up comedy.

I’d like people to feel complicated about how they’re viewing me, especially as they’re being entertained or, at least, distracted. I ventriloquize some nasty cliched girl-on-girl jealousy in my poems because that voice is with me. She’s my twin, like it or not. She is the same as me just as I am all that she is not. The way we women regard each other is strange enough to call poetry. But I would never organize myself as a real woman around those thoughts.

 

4) What have been your thoughts and feelings around the uproar over the article?

It all felt misplaced. My poetry is nothing if not a reproach to the male gaze.You have to enact feminism on inclusionary terms because it’s too intersectional to be done correctly.

My thought is that the uproar was a rehash of second wave white feminist politics in what Becca aptly called Poetryville. As strange as this analogy is, an example that always pops up when I ponder the impossibility of really escaping one’s body: when Kanye West interrupted a pretty white girl at the Grammy’s and the white supremacist world rejoiced because he’d just proved them right: he really was a jack ass. Yet if he had always minded his manners, he would have been another part of the myth of post-racism and the American Dream.

To be an image accessible to publicity, a story in yourself, is, as odd as it sounds, a way to keep the death of the author alive. This whole thing made me ultra aware that it’s the strength of the work that keeps us from becoming cyphers. This is not an apology for the pretty girl in poetry. It could work just as well as a theory of the ugly girl in the poetry world. This is just to say it was important.

I’ve got a younger sister whose body I wish to protect. I can’t snatch it from her when she posts an instagram picture of herself on the beach. I can’t tell her not to enjoy it. She already knows the toll it takes to be looked at and must navigate it for herself.

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Poets Featured In The New York Daily News Feature Respond: TRISHA LOW

by on Jan.03, 2014

[I asked the women featured in the New York Daily News article if I could interview them about the public response to the article. I asked them each the same set of five questions. Some of the women preferred to answer specific questions; others chose to write their own essays. I’ll be posting their responses here serially over the next 24 hours.]

 

TRISHA LOW

I’m not interested in defending, devoting myself to any agenda, extolling the virtues of any manifesto or dogma or explaining what’s already been speculated about more than enough. The article was unfortunate for itself in many ways, simply a bit of fun for those who agreed to be in it, and unexpectedly painful for others, which I am sorry for. But let’s not place and replace the burdens of representation in such a specified locus or drown one or two of us or those in the vicinity of by noosing any rocks to any necks. In the immortal words of Etta James, like every other part of life, it’s man’s world. Let’s not make any lies to each other about how poetry’s a land of security and opportunity for women or that we can all get on the same page without bitterness or vitriol; unbound to our own personal histories of abuse (and experiences with) in and beyond poetry.

I feel lucky there’s been a very diverse set of practices and work that’s grown out of a shared set of feminist concerns and it’s an exciting time to be involved in that conversation. I think that woman to woman relationships continue to be really complicated in what’s essentially still a boys’ club, that there’s sometimes still a sense of ‘there can only be one [woman]’ syndrome. But also like, whatever, we can continue be to be honest with each other about our affinities, competitions, jealousies, bitternesses &c&c&c. with respect – all the complexities of real relationships between people with ambitions and stakes and desires rather than any trite insistence on ‘sisterhood for a cause’. My work doesn’t function without an opposing feminist/marxist/materialist critique from others whom I love and respect for counterbalance and I would hope vice versa. Anyway, let’s not reduce, but i mean let’s, especially when we want to make a point. Ultimately, just like how they said at last comi-con, our work isn’t done, so nobody sit down, but jesus, nobody start screeching about how you can’t sit with us either. “Do you have a utopian vision of the future? you ask me. i got a fucking utopian vision of the present”, Dorothy Allison says here: http://inthesetimes.com/article/728/notes_to_a_young_feminist/ and sure, yes, it looks a shit ton like my bratty nihilism and her melancholic attachment and someone else’s grief and your disenchantment and our effusiveness and everything in between and that’s all, that’s everything kthnxbai xoxo

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The Impossible Situation: Altman Doing Star Wars

by on Jan.01, 2014

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Kershner making it happen on the Carbon Freeze set of The Empire Strikes Back

George Lucas’ first choice to direct Return of the Jedi was David Lynch. He wanted a gun for hire that didn’t belong to the Director’s Guild of America (i.e. someone not American) or an up-and-comer brazen enough to not care about getting blacklisted by the DGA (Lucas quit the DGA after they fined him for having his director credit appear at the end rather than the beginning of Star Wars). Lynch was the latter and declined the offer to make Dune instead, so Lucas went with British television veteran Richard Marquand.

I’ve seen Dune a thousand times and I still can’t really imagine what a Star Wars directed by David Lynch would be like, though I guess we get glimpses of what could’ve been in Jedi’s opening act, with Jabba’s plump grossness akin to the fat repulsive Baron of House Harkonnen in Dune, along with an entire action sequence staged around an abyssal/vaginal/rectal hole in the ground.

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The sick Sarlacc Pit from Return of the Jedi

But I can imagine what Robert Altman would do to Star Wars, thanks to The Making of Empire Strikes Back and whoever had the genius idea to strap a mic to director Irvin Kershner and record him on set the day they put Han Solo in carbon freeze (a full transcript of the recording appears in the book).

The star of Altman’s Star Wars is not Luke or Lucas, but Kershner as he relentlessly works out his most problematic scene, hitting up Ford, Fisher et al while trying to get at the truth of what Billy Dee Williams calls offhandedly “an impossible situation:” our heroes’ loss of agency as Han Solo is frozen in carbonite in front of his horrified friends and shipped off to his presumable death. This is one of two impossible situations orchestrated by Vader on Cloud City, the other occurring a few minutes later when Luke’s solution to losing his lightsaber hand and learning he is Vader’s son is to toss himself into the oblivion of an air shaft (also to his presumable death). In both situations, our heroes’ knowledge of the impossibility of their situation is key. This is Vader’s signature move and one Kershner wrestles out of the script. As he explains on set to Fisher: “See, the whole scene was based on ignorance before and I want it to be based on knowledge.”

Other highlights from the transcript include Fisher obsessing over her professional insecurities especially as they relate to Ford, which plays out like a recurring gag (Fisher: “So now he’s pissed off because I’m pissed off, because I have no right to be pissed off at him.”), David Prowse (Darth Vader’s body) unsolicitedly pitching Kershner his new fitness book called Fitness Is Fun, and Ford coming up with the iconic Leia/Han “I love you” / “I know” refrain on the spot.

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