Poetry

“recipe for a massacre: tulsa 1921” by Quraysh Ali Lansana

Captured Negros on Way to Convention Hall During Tulsa Race Riot 1921

I.

ingredients:
one economically and culturally thriving black community, the most vibrant of its kind in the world. before harlem renaissanced. where at sunrise a dollar journeyed from greenwood & archer to pine & back at sunset through thirty-six blocks of black hands, black labor, black love on the black side of town.

one fourteen-year-old state that was point of origin & repository for the nation’s earliest & largest ethnic cleansing actions that named jim crow attorney general (in defiance of the president) & the ku klux klan its supreme court.

a racism that suspends all rational judgment.

a stumble in an elevator. a scream of rape from sarah page. a jail, dick rowland, for your protection. a lynch mob. a defense mob. a gunshot. hate. a gunshot. hate. a deputizing of hundreds. a machine gun on standpipe hill. a dropping of bombs from chartered planes. a burning. little africa on fire. a marching at gunpoint. three internment camps. three-hundred dead in the ruins of their own prosperity.

 

II.

and we can’t find the sun
six thousand limping from mcnulty
park, convention hall & fairgrounds
pray on just a little while longer
past our smoldering dreamland
past madame cj’s & tulsa star
past doctor jackson’s & vernon a.m.e.
toward the ghosts of our homes
front stairs to nowhere but tarred sky

 

III.

add a terrance crutcher. a trayvon martin. a philando castile. a bullet for your protection. a columbine. a sandy hook. a stoneman-douglass. an ar-15 for your protection. a dude in las vegas with an arsenal larger than the armory in enid. a nra for your protection. a nobel prize winning scientist. a bell curve. an iowa senator’s lips. a dodge challenger on fourth street in charlottesville. a unite the right rally for your protection. a dylan storm roof at prayer service. a prayer. a prayer. a prayer.

he who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. he who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it, king said.

 

IV.

stir.

 

Quraysh Ali Lansana is the author of eight books of poetry, most recently The Skin of Dreams: New and Selected Poems 1995-2018 (Calliope Group 2019). A former faculty member of both the Writing Program of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Drama Division of The Juilliard School, Lansana served as Director of the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing at Chicago State University and was an Associate Professor of English/Creative Writing. His work Our Difficult Sunlight: A Guide to Poetry, Literacy & Social Justice in Classroom & Community (with Georgia A. Popoff) was a 2012 NAACP Image Award nominee. His most recent books include The Whiskey of Our Discontent: Gwendolyn Brooks as Conscience and Change Agent, with Georgia A. Popoff (Haymarket Books, 2017) and The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip Hop with Kevin Coval and Nate Marshall (Haymarket Books, 2015). Lansana’s work appears in Best American Poetry 2019, and he was recently named a Tulsa Artist Fellow.


Image: “Captured Negros on Way to Convention Hall – During Tulsa Race Riot, June 1st, 1921,” postcard from DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University digital image collection.

Hybrid, Nonfiction

Excerpts from ‘Extant Fragments’ by steve dalachinsky

dalachinsky-steve-welcome-to-new-york.jpg

the secret of life – “the local is universal. upon that all art is built” – w.c.w.

the secret of life has been revealed:              DON’T BE YOURSELF

i told the woman who offered me a seat – it’s a standing rule – i don’t accept seats from women unless i’m really really tired – i will tell you all you need to know – listen – total silence – then one woman in the row opposite starts to cough  violently – in front of me interiority – the notion of progress – images rather than movement – before the (pr)event of where the action would never take place – vertically or horizontally > as with irradiated stars > redoes the body as old now & contradicting its own attachments (it’s self) that kill you while keeping you alive > immune to the ravages > the savages who can’t sleep anymore / scarcely note the flippant intruders / i don’t believe in conspiracies unless they’ve been proven / free men once slaves / once free men then free (slaves) again / coexistence bagel shop > watch face meat eat rule cucumbers > the luxury of suffering & suffering of luxury but rather than simply listing it’s about stringing the words together how they are strung into > grated into the piece  to form “sentences” > therefore the shopping list becomes (in one) an organic entity rather than a stiff reminder > age – many people probably know or guess my age > i really don’t know how to be a blind person /tho i certainly can be an incumbrance / a near dead re-animated wall (meta) > scattershot punchy / pared down  / simple but not simple / infra-structure yet sophisticated > it’s as if one never prepares oneself for distractions > what makes this work is the mix / the openness / @ the pool today or near my covers or anything in my vision: he’s a poet. she’s a poet. those are raindrops >
one fast move & i’m gone.

2016 put together from many different fragments

auto-dictation 2  (announcer on wkcr beginning of Bach-fest 12/23/16  24044 am)

they really came out this year musician for these French suites though is Richard agar your hiney the French suites according to agar are was well known that there’re other key pieces of berries and some people view them as being quite a bit less friend and dramatic other keyboard pieces an issue that I think we’ll see during all of box in the way in which she deftly deserves to be featured in our first couple hours of Boston secured to be TCR gathered here today and obviously and additionally Terry know programming this evening from nine from the UK was also obviously piano keyboard player Dr. So please enjoy please keep listening always

Unhinged @ Stone(d)henge (9/27/15 – 6B/C Garden – for Kosuké

i can see through the clouds forming by the small pond. there is a confluence influenced apparently by a fluidity of music. the music accompanies the greenery. the child beats out a code that is neither rhythmic nor arrhythmic but is definitely his own. the garden feels moist. seems dark and drenched with past rains though there has been no rain in decades. the ivy creeps above the roof of an adjoining building. there is movement everywhere regardless of whether we experience it or not. it is done parading itself before us. this being we inhabit. it no longer relies on our help to magnify, the we, like the ant crawling on and befuddle it. the child understands the subtleties of the music and therefore his own instincts. what they rest upon are the foundations of a world. what comes down upon us are the foundations of the clouds. we are gone within the greenery. lost as they are found within the music. it is the periodic table we’re mimicking / can only lead to growth. quick thinking is definitely a sign of growth. the season is finally changing. this can all only lead to more growth

joggled – david amram @ the cornelia st café 10/7/13

& it was as if begun again the day’s radiant song joggled jingleness above the somewhere where safe in heaven sat the son of every son sang the praises of infinitality  – we walked the perch from here to everywhere where everyone believed in the belief that impacted an ever-shrinking belief system *’d with the idea the will could carry one further than despair – carrying angel could even tho everything is all predetermined & predestined  – we celebrate the arrival of this, the departure of that – the newly mown hay & first seedling planted – we play it different & better again & back then & always new each time   we do it   we do it   do it  & it was as if begun again the radiant song day each day first of days in this series of alternating tunes that bring to mind the One thing one should always have in mind to be where we are now to do it now to seek & find to revel in & behold the jangled jangleness as one would sing one’s breath above the somewhere safe above the sun somewhere where the son himself is safe.

they’re like old people i’d rather not see
but maybe to many that’s what she and i are

 

Dalachinsky Steve2

Poet/collagist steve dalachinsky was born in Brooklyn (1946) after the last big war and has managed to survive lots of little wars. His book The Final Nite (Ugly Duckling Presse) won the 2007 PEN Oakland National Book Award. His latest CDs are The Fallout of Dreams with Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach (Roguart, 2014) and ec(H)o-system with the French art-rock group, the Snobs (Bambalam, 2015). He has received both the Kafka and Acker Awards and is a 2014 recipient of a Chevalier de l’ Ordre des Arts et Lettres. His books include Fools Gold (New Feral Press, 2014); A Superintendent’s Eyes (Unbearable/Autonomedia, revised and expanded 2013/14); Flying Home, a collaboration with German visual artist Sig Bang Schmidt (Paris Lit Up Press, 2015); The Invisible Ray (Overpass Press, 2016) with artwork by Shalom Neuman; Frozen Heatwave, a collaboration with Yuko Otomo (Luna Bisonte Prods, 2017); and Black Magic (New Feral Press, 2017). His column “outtakes” appears regularly in The Brooklyn Rail. His most recent books are the IBPA award–winning Where Night and Day Become One: The French Poems (Great Weather for Media, 2018) and The Chicken Whisper (Positive Magnets Press, 2018) and the book/CD pretty in the morning (Bisou Records, 2019).

 


Image: “welcome to new york” by steve dalachinsky

Poetry

“Schnitzel” by Rax King

AppetizingMatthewKlein

A priori: All meat
is tenderized the same way.
Good meat is beat lifeless
before you eat.

I know I am good
meat because men say it. Bludgeoned
plum by the hammer, I am tender.
Bludgeoned by ten thousand

tons of my own kidskin, I
am tender. All meat is tenderized
the same way. Good meat
is beat lifeless before you eat.

The pyloric jowl of my gut,
mucking me tender. Lucky
in the sun, gutless, plumb on a hook. Agèd
& tongue-perfect.

All meat is tenderized the same way,
all good meat beat lifeless before you eat.

 

King, Rax picRax King is a dog-loving, hedgehog-mothering, beer-swilling, gay and disabled sumbitch who occasionally writes poetry and works as assistant editor for Sundress Publications. She is the author of the collection The People’s Elbow: Thirty Recitatives on Rape and Wrestling (Ursus Americanus, 2018). Her work can also be found in Barrelhouse, Peach Mag, and Glass Poetry.

 


Photo by Matthew Klein

 

Nonfiction

“A Highly Subjective and Sometimes Contradictory Alphabet for the Young and Aspiring Professional Writer” by Marc Spitz

A IS FOR:
Agents:
Your agent will sell your book to an editor at a publishing house and take a percentage of the advance. He or she is not your friend. Do not drink with your agent unless it’s a toast at your release party. Do not get to know their kids, their wives, and their ex-wives. In other words, do not mix your business and personal relationship and do not forget they are not doing you a favor by working with you (a state of mutual respect and trust is ideal and almost never happens, but often you can find a working imbalance). Make sure that your agent is well read and truly enjoys and respects your work and will fight for you and not gossip about you or trade his or her loyalty to you for a newer, hotter, younger writer or to get in better with an editor (probably a new, younger, hotter editor). Don’t borrow money from your agent. Don’t loan your agent money. Make sure he or she is well dressed. Morrissey (I will drop some names here,) once told me, in a very expensive hotel suite in Rome, that appearance is everything and while cynical, he is mostly right. Make sure your agent knows who Morrissey is. Make sure your agent knows who Morrissey is especially if you happen to be writing a book on Morrissey. If you happen to be writing a book on the Jack White, make sure your agent does not refer to him as Jack Black. It’s incumbent on your agent to be informed about your subject and not just the points of the deal. It’s not your job to teach them. The contents of a book proposal should be all they need and they should be familiar with the proposal. At heart, they are salespeople. Collaborate with your agent on a book proposal at your own risk. Remember your book should be your own and you will not have them around when you write it. Your agent should always pick up the bar tab or the lunch tab on the rare occasions when you do share a drink or a meal (again keep these rare). They can write that off more easily than you can and have been doing so longer. You do not owe your agent for every stamp he or she licks on your behalf. Stamps should be, like drinks, on them.

B IS FOR
Book smarts:
People will tell you have to constantly read and they may be right, but it’s not been my experience that you always have to have another writer’s book on your brain or your coffee table or your desk. They are often just fine on the shelf, impressing guests. Read for edification, read for inspiration, read for research but don’t read just to be a better writer (this is an unpopular opinion by the way). I believe you write to be a better writer and it’s more important to write a lot than to read a lot. Anything else is just peer pressure at the hands of people who enjoy reading more than they enjoy or are able to write. Some people are better at reading than they are at writing and so they will skew you their way. I happen to be better at writing so I am skewing you my way. I am a slow reader. I am now in my 40s and need glasses to read. Why not find again, a working balance, and sneak a pleasure read or a status read (a book everyone is talking about this season) in the middle of a your writing, not because you think that you must. You should not do this because of the risk of someone’s style bleeding into yours while you write but if you need an excuse, you can tell people you are afraid of someone else’s style bleeding into yours while you write. I like to read biographies if I’m working on fiction and fiction if working on a biography.

C IS FOR:
Confession
The late Jim Carroll who I never met but once saw read at NYU’s Skirball Center and at the St. Marks Poetry Project and pretty much idolized all through college thanks to the Basketball Diaries and Forced Entries, and his album Catholic Boy, once wrote, ”All writers of confessions, from Augustine on down, have always remained a little in love with their sins.” – He was actually quoting the French poet Anatole France. I have never read any Anatole France. Confessional writing is more interesting to me than writing that shrouds dirty deeds but there are rules of thumb for and against it. If you ask yourself, “Should I really say this?” Say it. It’s probably strong if it haunts you. It’s probably brave and being brave has rewards. It’s probably the truth if it gives you pause. There are statutes of limitations for various sins that you can easily look them up on the web. Now when I say confessional writing, I don’t mean sharing your diary contents with the reader and I don’t mean kvetching. The reader is not your shrink or your priest and not responsible to heal you. Your narrator must sell these confessions; they must be entertaining and have purpose or keep them to yourself.

D IS FOR:
Drinking and drugs
We cannot pretend there’s not a long history of writers who don’t turn to alcohol and pills or powder or psychedelics. Artists feel too much. It’s just fact. And they think more than it’s healthy. I had a doctor who told me that I self medicated because I was a raw nerve with no armor who could not see a man with a scar on a subway and not wonder, “How did he get this scar? Did he injure himself in an accident, a fall off a bike, or was it part of a fight?” Drugs and alcohol can shut off that part of your brain temporarily but if you are a writer, you can never shut it off permanently, and know that this is also a gift. Get comfortable with the voice and don’t drown your brain salad in dressing. Alcohol is a depressant. Drugs make you boring. People who do a lot of heroin end up writing a lot about… finding heroin, being high on heroin, finding more heroin, going through heroin withdrawal, a friend dying from heroin, getting off heroin. When I mentioned it in my books, as I have in one novel and one memoir, I tried to get through that bit as quickly as possible because it’s well trod ground. As you get older you will find that drinking can sometimes mean a lost day of writing; a day long hangover the next day and an interruption of the process. If you are on a streak, remember that speech from Bull Durham do not mess with your streak by going to the bar. Stay in and work until you feel the power even out or dwindle. Then have a drink (but not a bag of drugs) and pat yourself on the back. Make these things markers, rewards, and part of the process and try to get back into the rhythm of daily writing within 24 hours of your well-earned break. One day off is fine. Two, you will find it harder to get back into a groove. Personally, I never related to the writers like Gay Talese who woke at dawn, put on a full suit and went to an office in their hope to write until five p.m. as if it was an office job. I wanted to be a writer so I wouldn’t have to get an office job. The only job is finishing your piece, whatever it is. Finishing is the goal, and by that I mean getting to a place where you can begin revision. Revision is the fun part, where the details get more vivid, the jokes get better, you think of a set piece that didn’t occur to you before or a good song to add to a scene. Revision is more fun than drugs are.

E IS FOR
Editors:
A bad or absentee editor can ruin a good book and a really skilled editor can save a bad book. If your heart isn’t in a book an editor can put your heart back in it but it’s not their job to do that so don’t count on it. It’s your job to keep your heart in the project. An editor, not an agent, is the most important person in a writer’s life, more so than a girlfriend or a boyfriend or even a husband or a wife. I don’t have kids but I have had editors who have had kids and I know that their kids are more important to them than I am, but if I had kids, my editor would still be more important to me. If he or she was a good editor, that is. Get a good editor and you have it made. There is no good writing without one. Your editor, unlike your agent, is also the boss. They essentially create the finished product; the thing that is on the shelf and in the hands of the reader. Read the books they’ve worked on. See if they’ve made the Bestseller list. Ask them what their favorite Elvis Costello song is. Get drunk with them at least once. Check them out but once you are committed, do not battle with what they do to your writing unless you are absolutely possessed to. Then pick your battles because most of the time you won’t win, and if it’s a good editor, most of the time you are wrong and they are right. Treat them with respect because they are working hard for you, and often after office hours when they’d rather be watching television or having dinner or sex, and they are instead, making you look better than you actually are. If you happen to suspect that you are stuck with a bad or dysfunctional or drunken or lazy editor at an otherwise good house, with your good book, you probably won’t be able to save it but if you know that you are on your own, sometimes that knowledge is helpful. You will know to go the extra mile and check your own work twice as much and then immediately begin your search for a truly good editor. Foremost, make sure your editor believes in you and enjoys their job as much as you do. Make your deadlines and don’t give them grief.

F IS FOR
Food:
Food is key too, always eat something before writing. That’s pretty self-explanatory. Even if it’s a Clif Bar. Sometimes you will wake up with an idea. It’s fine to get that idea down and even write a page or two before morning coffee or tea but don’t attempt anything too long without food. And if you are writing something long, like a book, you ultimately hate life and will eat crap or whatever’s around. You will order in Chinese food every night and you will have to lose all that weight or try to once the book is done and will look like shit in your author photos. Eat some steamed spinach with little pieces of garlic in it. That’s good stuff and more and more groceries sell it in neat microwaveable containers than when Dorothy Parker was in her prime.

G IS FOR
Graduate School Etc. Etc.:
I didn’t go. I sometimes wish I had. There are mornings when I wake up and see the Yale School of Drama application open on my laptop. Or an application to Julliard. I worry I might be a better playwright if I’d studied more, but you can also study too much, especially if you are pursuing the creative and not the academic disciplines (not that creative writing can’t be academic and vice versa but when I was in college, these disciplines as far as your thesis went anyway, were more divided). All I am saying is don’t feel like you have to continue and continue and continue your education in a formal way to get good. Move to New York City and get good instead. There’s your continued education and it’s probably a lot cheaper…or at least it used to be. Write and produce a play. There’s your postgraduate work in drama, and you might even make money and get press. Pitch something to a magazine and execute a well reported piece, then another. That’s journalism school. New York City will continue your writer-ly education. LA will not. Seattle will not. Portland will not. Chicago will not. Great cities all but… I’m sorry. It’s New York. Spend some time in London and in Paris but always end up in New York City when you are done. And remember if you learn too much, you’re only gonna have to unlearn it one day. I once had a serious girlfriend and aspiring professional writer who went to an Ivy League school and I had to help her methodically strip all the bad learning from her like the pigment from an impulsive dye job because she could not understand why she could write on campus but was unable to write here. “Because you learned too much,” I told her. “In a classroom.”
Learn just enough, but don’t rely on everything you’ve picked up here.

H IF FOR
Humility:
Be humble. Do not be a dick. Do this for the sake of your soul but also for the sake of your career. Once, during a reading in Philadelphia, I was surly to a Fresh Air booker while drunk and wearing sunglasses indoors. I’ve published five books since then and a few would have been perfect for Fresh Air, the very popular and influential NPR show on WHYY in that city, but I never got invited to do Fresh Air, I probably never will, and I don’t even remember what I said to this woman. I only know she did nothing to provoke it. I used to think in order to be “real” you had to have a bad attitude, and be an enfant terrible. I also used to make a point of telling people, especially my parents and blonde women, that I was a “genius.” Never declare yourself a genius. Even Oscar Wilde looked like an asshole declaring his genius. As far as critics and press and people who may become interested in you (and they will if you are good and work hard) keep your head. And if they snipe, or reject you, never ever keep a shit list. Waste of time. Do not plot revenge. Do not corner a foe and unload. My very first book was rejected by the guy who a decade later, bought my memoir when nobody else would. If you have a stroke of bad luck (this year after what I thought was a good interview that would spark sales of my book Twee, I got bumped from Weekend Edition) take it in stride. I wanted to give the booker a piece of my mind but I remained humble when my publicist said “this happens,” and soon, I got a half dozen different NPR spots. In the immortal words of Chrissie Hynde, “bad boys get spanked.” But I realize you cannot explain this to angry young men. I know doors must be kicked and hair must be pulled out sometimes, just remember, you are only hurting yourself as good as it might feel in the moment and as cool as you might think you look.

I IS FOR
The IRS:
Book publishers do not deduct your taxes from your advances and neither do agents, they just hand you big ass checks. The advance, ideally is there for the expense of producing a book. It’s not for you to spend, or even save but you will spend it. At least try to save some of it. You do not want to work for years on something and pour your soul into it to find out at the end of the day that your money is gone and you owe the city, the state where you live, and the US Treasury many thousands of dollars to which they will gleefully begin tacking on absurd interest and penalty rates. A lot of writers die in tax debt. Pay your estimates. Fortunately, advances are a little saner than they used to be but still remember not all that money is yours. Buy some shoes, have a nice dinner, then give Uncle Sam his due and get to work.

J IS FOR:
Jealousy:
Be happy for any good review a peer gets and make a point to congratulate them even if you want to strangle them and stare at their blue body while smoking a cigarette. If they tell you they just bought an apartment with their advance money and you are still renting, tell them you can’t wait for the housewarming. Jealousy will only make you miserable and spiteful and who knows? A trolley might hit them before they can even enjoy their good fortune and then won’t you feel bad.

K IS FOR –
Kafka:
Try not to romanticize writers who died miserable deaths at young ages after years of suffering. Franz Kafka, for example, was only 40 when he died of laryngeal tuberculosis in a sanitarium outside of Vienna, which essentially meant that he wasted away from starving because his condition made it too painful for him to eat and they had yet to invent intravenous nutrition. I used to think this was cool, party because it was in keeping with the kind of bleakness that many of his characters underwent, in other words, his death fit his words and his myth and then there’s the scene in Annie Hall where Shelley Duvall tells Woody Allen, “Sex with you is a Kafkaesque experience.” I no longer romanticize Kafkaesque experiences, medical, sexual or stylistically. Talented as he was, he most likely an undiagnosed schizophrenic who wanted most if not all of his work burned by his trusted friend Max Brod (who totally ignored his wishes, which Kafka probably suspected this anyway). Pain was not the source of his talent, it was a condition that he had in spite of his talent and it kept him from writing more or at least having a healthy relationship with his work. Simply, you do not have to suffer to be a real writer. Happily this myth has not been embraced by subsequent generations as much as it was by mine, Generation X but we really took it and ran with the idea.

L IS FOR:
Likeability:
Don’t worry about whether or not your reader likes your narrator. Have the courage to make him or her do despicable things if it is true to the story you want to tell. Not every hero needs to be a virtuous, feisty, sympathetic or even clean. And if your narrator is a version of yourself (and all narrators, all characters are in at least small ways versions of the author) remember it’s only a version, remind your mother and father it’s only a version and if you play this correctly, you can both experience things that you might never in real life, and create an interesting voice. Just for God’s sake, don’t’ waste a minute on worrying about “likeability” or even “anti-heroism.” Imagine a reader putting down a book and saying, “I don’t think I like this person,” then imagine them picking the book up again because they like not liking that person. That’s not the same as hate-reading. Today, it’s very fashionable to have what they call an “unreliable narrator,” but I’ve always been a fan of the opposite. I like a narrator who sees and shares things the way they are; usually my narrator believes he is the only sane person in a room, or a city or a planet full of mutants, in other words, huge assholes, but not without redemptive qualities. If you are worried about sales, remember, Holden Caulfield genuinely didn’t care if you liked him and Salinger sold a lot of copies of that one.

M IS FOR:
Menial tasks:
Stop and do a menial task after a point in the writing day. Some call it the shower principle, and it works. Do your recycling. Shave. Prep something to cook, chop vegetables for a stir-fry. Don’t watch TV, especially not 24-hour news channels or sports, and do not listen to music. Go to the snail mailbox. Checking your email is okay too, but just check it and delete the crap. Do not correspond. If you have a dog or a cat, spend some time with the dog or a cat. It’s good for a writer to have a dog or a cat, but nothing too exotic because then it becomes all about the dog or the cat.

N IS FOR:
Note Taking:
It’s anti-social, and literally dangerous if you do it with your iPod while crossing the street, and the auto-correct can be maddening and probably has software built into it to just fuck with you the more it senses you need it (mine once inexplicably changed horseman to Galliano). But always be making lists, and writing notes to you. I write more notes to myself than I speak words to other people, and I write more notes to myself than I think unwritten thoughts to myself. It means things are humming and you are engaged and the piece is coming to life. Form shorthand that works for you, instead of Ralph, just write R. Ask yourself questions about your characters if you are writing fiction, especially if you take handwritten notes, on napkins etc. but don’t feel pressured to answer them immediately. Just a question on a note taking device, a phone or a pad will be valuable. “Why does so and so want this?” “What is the process of cooking this dish?” “What does this neighborhood really look like?” Then fill in the blanks.
I keep a running separate word file, a sort of pool to deposit and later organize these notes. I keep the pool open alongside the main file. Sometimes I wake up in the night to write notes, which is better than waking in the night to smoke a cigarette. Don’t panic this too is a good sign. Your brain is popping. You are engaged. Get it all down, somewhere, and worry about sorting the major revelations from the minor fine tuning, the films you feel like you should see for inspiration or the sections that require full revisions at a later date. Forming a compulsive note taking habit will serve you well later in when your memory goes to hell around 40. Books, large pieces, play, they are really often the sum of two hundred ideas strung together and sometimes thousands of little digital or actual Post Its or cocktail napkins or weird sculptures or art installations. I’ve seen some writers’ walls that look very Silence of the Lambs basement-y. Usually a corkboard works fine, but if you need to build shrines do that it. Do anything that jogs the memory and keeps you from losing the good stuff.

O IS FOR
Overhearing:
Eavesdrop. Keep your ears open and do not be afraid to violate someone’s privacy by getting out a pen and writing something down immediately if you hear a perfect utterance on the street or in a bar or while on line at the post office. You will find something to do with it eventually and it will be special to you forever because it’s like finding a seashell on the beach or a ten-dollar bill on the street when you’re hungry for a sandwich. The people around you, the strangers, are there for you, and they speak to you whether they know it or not, they help you authenticate your environment. But don’t feel the need to use every quote. Hold onto a great quote you’ve overheard until that perfect moment when you can use it right. You can’t built a piece around a single quote no matter how precious or hilarious. It will cave in. Quotes are delicate. Preserve them like butterflies and handle them carefully.

P IS FOR:
Perhaps:
Never use the word “perhaps.” I mean use it if you want to but I hate that word. Make statements and observations and own them, don’t hedge, unless “perhaps” is part of a bit of dialogue from the mouth of a character that hedges. Know the story, know your characters at least by draft two, and there will be no need to guess. Tell the reader the way it really is, you’re not a fortuneteller searching the air. You’re the boss.

Q IS FOR:
Quiet.
Write quiet. At first. By this I only mean, don’t put on loud music until you feel you’ve worked your way into your piece. I know we all have a ten thousand song in the same place where we write but write something substantial first then reward yourself with some music. And keep writing with the music at about half volume. When not writing, use music to psych yourself up. In this case, I recommend maximum volume. “Jumping Jack Flash,” usually works, or “99 Problems.” Zeppelin. Really loud Be Bop. Maria Callas. I’ve also taken to making playlists for the old and new books I’ve worked on. One is over 11 hours long and the book is not even published. I might start making playlists for individual characters in my fiction and I usually give the actors in my plays mix tapes that means CDRs I made on my laptop. Not a real, hand decorated cassette, unfortunately.

R IS FOR
Reviews:
I’m name-dropping again but my friend and old Spin colleague Chuck Klosterman said if you believe the good ones have to believe the bad ones too. I don’t read them. It’s a choice. I realized years ago, when my plays would get reviewed that I would really learn nothing about myself or the way I write from them, all they did was give me a big head or an inferiority complex. If you reach the level where someone is writing a feature about you and your work as a whole, read it to learn about your work, but a review is too limited. The writer usually has a week and 300 words. That’s not to say I don’t read the Book Review Section of the Times where there’s a bit more value and sprawl. And I like to learn as much as possible from reviews of the new books and old books of other writers, just not my own. You have to figure about a way to know yourself and to keep going without them. And if it gets back to you that you’ve received a bad review, do not Google it, in fact, start something new immediately. And never, ever, ever respond to the critic directly, or Twee them. And remember, if you STILL feel shitty, you got a lot more money than they did.

S IS FOR
Spellcheck:
Someone invented it in your lifetime. Also editors hate it when you don’t use it. So do editorial assistants. If you write on a manual or electric typewriter, I don’t even know what to say. Keep a dictionary close at hand. And White Out, which I think gets you high if you sniff enough of it. See D for Drinking and Drugs.

T IS FOR
Trust:
When you finish a piece, it’s good to have at least one person you trust read it next and give you honest notes. This should be a person who you are not professionally or academically affiliated with, in other words, not your professor or your editor, yet. More than one person is fine but not too many. If you have at least one reader who you utterly trust you are ahead of the game. Don’t kill the messenger if they have issues. They are your trust-reader for a reason. Have a conversation; explain yourself if you disagree and seriously consider listening to them because they may know your work better than you are and are certainly closer in make up to the people who will be reading you in the future. This process should be quick so don’t give it to a surgeon or someone you met in a bar or someone about to go on a long trip or someone with seven children; but rather a pal who has already proven themselves to you; ideally a person who is also a writer. But he or she could also simply be a well read friend, an ex girlfriend or boyfriend, your mom so long as she’s not the kind of mom who likes everything you do unconditionally.

U IS FOR
Ulysses:
As I admitted in B for Book Learning I’m not exactly well read, but I own a copy of Ulysses and I am going to read it one day. I sometimes carry it with me. It reminds me to be ambitious; Joyce was ambitious when he wrote it and my ambition is to some day get through it. Ambition is key to this thing of ours. There’s a lot that will kill your ambition; the loneliness of writing, the repetition of having to do one book after the other because you are used to a lifestyle or the attention, or are in debt (see I for IRS). Ambition is there to remind you that you are not great yet. You are only, at best, very good, most likely pretty good, but you should always strive to be great (and never, ever, ever, tell anyone you’re a genius – even if you believe it). Even Oscar Wilde sounded like an asshole declaring him a genius, clever as the line was.

V IS FOR
Being a Vessel:
I don’t know if there is such a thing as muse. I have no imagination as a person and not much of interest to say in a salon or a gathering unless I’m drunk, so I like to think that since my characters often talk and talk and talk, something, a spirit perhaps, is putting the words there through me. When I write, with an eye towards finishing a large piece, I go into a trance and sometimes many hours will pass and it’s almost as if my eyes were closed the whole time then suddenly shoot wide open. This sounds a lot more cosmic and Jim Morrison-ish than it actually is. I know I’m typing. I just don’t know where the dialogue is coming from, or why I am deviating from an outline, even just a mental one (I’m not big on flowchart outlines, like I said, I have my process with notes… and the occasional shrine). When I come to, I realize that I have pages and pages and thousands of words, many of them not bad. See, musicians don’t own this. Neither do actors who play around with methods or techniques and make their discoveries. Or painters who throw paint at a canvas and suddenly it’s a thing like Jackson Pollock or Nick Nolte in that Martin Scorsese short. Writers can “jam” too and lose themselves for hours. So I like to think I am indeed, a vessel because writing is lonely and the idea makes me feel somehow less alone. But I often forsaken. The muse is fickle and just cause it lulled you into a lucky and hyper-creative state one day, it doesn’t mean that another day it won’t leave you with nothing but your fingers.

W IS FOR:
Wit:
Don’t put something in your piece just because it’s clever. Have the courage to not use the joke. I believe the best writing, fiction or non-fiction, is funny. Period. You can write about war and have elements of humor in it. You can write about sickness and death and have elements of humor in it. Do not be cheeky if you can’t be genuinely funny. Cheeky people are horrible. Just revisit O for Overhearing and hope you are sitting next to someone genuinely funny.

X
Is for X factor:
Most people don’t know why a book works or doesn’t work and nobody sets out to write a bad book. Don’t believe people who claim to have the answers. What’s hot is not. There is always an X factor that eludes agents, editors, publicists, marketers and most especially, writers. Fashion chasing will kill your soul. If books about Jane Austen characters fighting zombies or Presidents slaying vampires are selling, do not write one too. Don’t even blurb one if you are asked. Find your own thing and remember the William Goldman quote about Hollywood because it applies to publishing too, “Nobody knows anything.” Just be true to your characters, your sources, your voice and your vision and you will do fine.

Y is for
Years:
This shit takes years.

Z is for:
Zooey and Zoe
I was going to make z for Zeitgeist but I’m still not 100 percent confident whenever I use the word. It’s like I’m never fully comfortable calling Lil Wayne “Weezy.” I wanted to use Zooey Glass and the Zoe Kazan’s character in the film Ruby Sparks where an author invents then has an affair with his heroine, as examples to let you know that it’s okay to fall in love with your characters, to write a character that you want a reader to fall in love with. There is no shame in this. You should be in love with your characters, even when you do horrible things to them. If you are writing a non-fiction book, you will probably fall in love with your subject and if it’s good so will your reader. This is a process of seduction and don’t’ think for a minute Salinger didn’t want you to fall in love with Zooey, as batshit as she is. Be a matchmaker between your reader and your characters, be a friend, write for them, not to them, and know that one of the main reasons people read is because it’s a lonely place, here in the world.

 

Marc Spitz (1969-2017) was the author of the novels How Soon Is Never, and Too Much, Too Late and the biographies We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of LA Punk (with Brendan Mullen), Nobody Likes You: Inside the Turbulent Life, Times and Music of Green DayBowie: A Biography and Jagger: Rebel, Rock Star, Rambler, Rogue. He appeared in the anthologies: The Encyclopedia of Ex-esHowl: A Collection of the Best Contemporary Dog Wit and Rock N’ Roll Cage Match: Music’s Greatest Rivalries Decided.

Spitz presented this piece in 2014 as a talk at The College of Saint Rose as part of the Frequency North reading series., after which he granted permission to publish this piece. Photo: Marc Spitz, Los Angeles, circa 1992-93, from personal collection of Rone Shavers.

 


Photo: “Oh Hushed October Morning” by Courtney Bernardo

Fiction

“Single” by Jaime Fountaine

MobileMatthewKlein

When she’s single, my mother goes out with the girls from work. “Men don’t grow on trees,” she says.

They grow in bars, in line at the bank where she works, at the gas station where she used to get her car inspected before she and Scott broke up. They grow older, wider, meaner, tired of her. They grow apart.

If she comes home still single, my mother is honest, tipsy. “I just miss the feeling of a man on top of me,” she’ll say. “It’s so hard to sleep alone.”

When I was little, I used to have these nightmares about her disappearing, getting into some car and never coming back. I never bothered telling her. She’d be upset about the wrong thing. I’d just go into the living room if it was late enough and turn the TV on real low, so it didn’t wake her.

I guess I spooked a boyfriend enough, asleep on the couch in my nightshirt, that a little TV showed up in my room one day.

“Wasn’t that nice of him?” she beamed.

She’s the kind of person who adapts to a broken thing instead of figuring out how to fix it.

When she’s single, my mother will climb into bed with me when she thinks I’m asleep. I can tell she’s disappointed that I’ve started to face the wall, because it means she has to be the big spoon, the protector instead of the protected.

I wait, until I can slide down the length of my twin bed and sneak out into the living room to sleep on the couch, facing the door, until the infomercials turn to news.

 

Jaime Fountaine 1Jaime Fountaine was raised by “wolves.” Her novella, Manhunt, is forthcoming from Mason Jar Press. She lives in Philadelphia, where she co-hosts the Tire Fire reading series with Mike Ingram.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Photo by Matthew Klein

Poetry

“Goodnight, Whoever You Are” by Michael Robins

Must be a gift to shrug what others shoulder,
what’s blown from the rooftop & nonetheless
asleep, not I swear another flooded forfeit,

catalogue of a poor magician staged & reciting
daily harm, run-of-the-mill regret. Evenings
I read a thing or two on Mozart, cause of death

unknown or working yet as a janitor in Nebraska
where he paces under rain. If I turn yesterday
I’m a ghost, nothing myself. Maybe a ninny,

blue & motley, rolling the tired semicircle
sidewise in a plastic August breeze, one sheet
& on my way to the wind. When the drunks quit,

quake & sweat or when they bat each other
my good eye wins, tracks twice to the window
against which a future checks its teeth, meets

&, behind the beveled glass, imagines marriage,
pledge & fruit of every American billboard,
then finally knocks. I’d nothing brainy to say

(oh Nebraska, I mean Amherst), stood anyway
as if the fields knew my name. Faceless hills,
lamps of summer in galaxy gray, we touch & go

toward war like a thousand birds, apparent death
before the engines howl & lift a chimney brick
or recover from the splash with a fish. It falls

now to the neighbors & only later did we leave
ill-manner in water, walk without remembering
each relic of a rusted trampoline, bed spring

& washing machine, the conversation held years
where we planted feet like we’d stay, pleased
our umbrella didn’t cartwheel past the reel

overgrown in firefly & thicket both. We crested
like a wrongheaded tune, flickered & nodding
& knowing that touch & go meant Massachusetts,

home, a surfeit of skunks for who can really say
how many afternoons will gnaw our corners,
our resolve along the bumper-to-bumper cars

stalled & sunk. Twice today that low memory
moved the horizon, swept me near the exit
like tinder inhales, like kisses flare & not anyone

thinks anything but fire. I rouse to the credits
casual & free, merge with the midday shine
raising a finger to the temple, my ready thumb

tempted among the shadows gone, & their trees.

 

Michael Robins is the author of four collections of poetry, including In Memory of Brilliance & Value (2015) and People You May Know (2020), both from Saturnalia Books. He lives in the Portage Park neighborhood of Chicago.

 


Photo: “When I Walk Away I Notice” by Courtney Bernardo

 

Fiction

“Neighborhood Watch, circa 2009” by Susan Rukeyser

“Oh, you have an answering machine? I thought all you Millennials used voicemail. Look, I know you’re home. I watched you pull into the garage. I see you’ve added another bumper sticker to your Prius: hope not hate. You girls have some nerve.

“So you’re screening my call? Suit yourself. This is Mrs. Darcy Wallace, from across the street, and, yes, it’s about the lamb. Here it is, a beautiful spring day, and the Colemans’ lawn ornament is still under a tarp. Like it has been since you bought the house. I imagine Betsy Coleman would’ve taken her lamb with her, if she’d known you were just going to hide it. I mean, if she hadn’t died. We had all that rain yesterday, but you didn’t see me covering up our Easter cross. We have an HOA in this subdivision. Restrictive covenants. You girls are from somewhere up north, right? Some city?

“You’re in Georgia now. This is a nice neighborhood. Our home values have taken enough of a hit, thanks to your Obama. I saw that bumper sticker, too. I know some of you homosexuals are drawn to Atlanta for the permissive culture. But this is not Atlanta. We have traditional values here.

“Cindi, at the corner, says there are churches that allow homosexuals, now, but you don’t go because you’re Jewish. Not the one of you who’s Black, obviously. You, with the nose.

“I’m not homophobic, don’t go calling the ACLU. (The mailman misdelivered your membership renewal. You should know—we’re patriots, here.) Gays love to play the victim card. Like the Blacks, for that matter. Or you Jews. Never let anything go.

“My husband and I are descended from Confederate heroes. We raised six children in this neighborhood. Suddenly we’re expected to let anyone in, even if they don’t respect our traditions? And hide the lamb of God at Eastertime? My family is saved, do you understand?

“You’ve been home a few minutes now, maybe you’ve started to look for your cat? While you were out, I saw her at the window. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be just like liberals to leave their windows unlocked, as if trust makes you a better person?’ She didn’t fight much. She’s okay, she’s in a cage. Don’t think of coming over here. I have a gun, and I think it’s a fair bet that you do not.

“Just uncover the lamb. People are talking; I’m doing you a favor, honestly. Do it and your cat comes home safe. Oh look, your garage door’s opening. What’s the Black one of you got in her hand? A baseball bat? Am I supposed to be scared? I already told you: I have a gun. Call her off! She comes onto my property and I’ll shoot. I do have some rights left in Obama’s America. Do you see what she’s doing to my Easter cross? Make her stop! I’d say you’re going to Hell, but you were already. You think you’re getting your cat back now? I’ll drown her in my tub! I gave you a chance. How many notes did I leave, before you pushed me to this?

“She’s at my door! Still with the bat! And you, running down your front walk with a kitchen knife? You don’t scare me, you lunatics! You lesbians! I have a gun, didn’t you hear me?

“Fine, take her! I didn’t hurt her, obviously. I’m not violent like you people. I don’t shove my politics down everyone’s throats. Just like a couple of Yankees, not closing the door behind you when you leave. Southerners have manners, haven’t you heard? Since when is there no freedom of speech, anyway? Since when do we bully real Americans? You should know that I’ll be reporting you to the—”

Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep….click.

Rukeyser Susan 20182Susan Rukeyser is a white lady but she’s trying to do better. She’s half-Jewish, queer, and in recovery from 12 years in the suburban South. She wrote the novel Not On Fire, Only Dying (Twisted Road Publications) and a chapbook of tiny stories, Swap / Meet (Space Cowboy Books). She edited and published Feckless Cunt: A Feminist Anthology. Susan’s short work appears in numerous places, including River Teeth, Mojave He[art] Review, Luna Luna, and Monkeybicycle. In 2017, Susan moved home to the Mojave, although she grew up in Connecticut.


Photo: Answering Machine by Susan Sermoneta via Flickr

Poetry

“Enlightenment”by Virginia Konchan

There is nothing eternal about us.
Therefore, I embrace my dogness.
Therefore, I recover my dignity,
lost in Acapulco centuries before.
Welcome to the pecking order.
Welcome to the wet dream
of interminable rank and file.
Joy is on hiatus, and at parties,
all that’s spoken of is Netflix
and the catafalque of female desire.
My lips get in the way of speaking.
My hands flap, like fat pigeons
unable to take flight.
Parenthetical Lord,
there is an expiration date
on cold cuts, on nature’s
syphilitic blooms.
All I care about is everything.
All I want is an endless supply
of something.
I have a blind date with destiny:
no doubt I won’t be recognized.
I am done erecting boundaries,
done with adjectival phrases
and post-confessional lore.
I am an animal very rarely.
I will not entreat you anymore.

 

VK author photo 1

Author of two poetry collections, Any God Will Do (Carnegie Mellon, 2020) and The End of Spectacle (Carnegie Mellon, 2018), a collection of short stories, Anatomical Gift (Noctuary Press, 2017), and three chapbooks, including Empire of Dirt (above/ground press, 2019), Virginia Konchan‘s poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, The New Republic, Boston Review, and elsewhere.

 

 


Photo by Matthew Klein

Poetry

“What Are the Prospects?” by Amy Lemmon

UnionSquareMartinakaMaha

Union Square Park swarms with students
and tourists, languages I can’t identify,
families, mothers with toddlers
trailing sippy cups, men just off shift
lighting and then stomping cigarettes
before they descend to the train.
What are the prospects? The question I asked
every time I tried the online Tarot reading site,
hoping again and again for some ancient truth
to blow up like a billboard in living color,
explaining everything from the guy I wasn’t hearing
from, to the poems I wasn’t writing, to my kid
not getting out of bed for school. What are
the prospects? The blunt dull-dog persistence,
refusing to quit until I got an answer I could live with.
At the moment, the answer is curly kale
and whole wheat pita. I’m a pushover for fiber,
health kicks and promises, rooting
for moisture in a dressingless salad, settling
for the odd clump of feta, a lone pitted kalamata.
What are the prospects? Kaput, goosey gander
full-on shutdown, which we are not at liberty
to discuss at this time. They say spring
is coming, as it does, pushover that I am,
anticipating change, anticipating green pea shoots
and white asparagus, new lambs and all that bleating,
bleeding out and about in the world that remains
mostly fine, mostly inhabitable, mostly turning still.

 

Amy Lemmon photo finalAmy Lemmon is the author of five poetry collections, most recently The Miracles (C&R Press, 2019). Her poems and essays have appeared in The Best American Poetry, Rolling Stone, New Letters, Prairie Schooner, Verse, Court Green, The Journal, Marginalia, and many other magazines and anthologies. Amy is Professor and Chairperson of English and Communication Studies at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technologywhere she teaches poetry writing, creative writing, and creativity studies classes, and co-editor (with Sarah Freligh) of The CDC Poetry Project.

 

 


Photo: Union Square by Martin aka Maha via Flickr

Nonfiction

“‘Don’t Let Me Down’:  Eleven Facts About the Beatles” by Joanna Penn Cooper

1.
It’s a warm day at some point in the mid-1970s, and I’m at the record store about to pick out the first album I’ll buy with my own money. I am five or six, and my grandmother has taken me “uptown” in Salisbury, North Carolina, to the record store on Innes Street. One of the family legends—a legend in my mind, at least—is about my mother being a child and going uptown with her own grandmother. Mamaw would dress them both up, and they’d wear white gloves, 2as you did. Here I am a little over twenty years later, probably not dressed up at all.  I’m wearing shorts or jeans, most likely. Possibly a sundress my mom made me on the sewing machine.  (Those mother-daughter sundresses are the only thing I remember her ever sewing.) Anyway, the fifties are over, and even the sixties, and here I am gloveless about to buy a Beatles record.  Before I go in, I ask Joe—my mother’s baby brother—which one is best, and he says, “All of them.” I feel momentarily at sea, as part of the fun was going to be impressing Joe with my purchase. But Joe walks away from us on the sidewalk to go look at bikes, and I must make the decision on my own, armed with the knowledge that there’s no wrong choice.  (Or is there?)  Finally, after some consternation, I buy Let It Be. The Beatles all look friendly on the cover.  Except John. Well, Ringo looks a bit fed up, as well, now that I look at it. Or maybe just tired.

2.
In an earlier, scene I’m even younger, maybe four. If I am four, Joe is nine. We’re on Gates Street in front of my grandmother’s house, standing by the curb. (Is this when I still call her Mama sometimes because Joe does?) He is having me say the names of the Beatles. I don’t remember if this is for his own amusement, or if he is having me do it for someone else, as a sort of party trick. “Paul, George, John, and Ringo,” I say, my preferred order. “No,” he says. “You’re supposed to say John, Paul, George, and Ringo.” I refuse. Paul is first in my heart and on my list.

3.
I am seven and Joe is twelve. We are sitting in the spare room watching a TV broadcast of Yellow Submarine. My grandfather is downstairs in what is normally the den, but he is on a bed in the middle of the room, dying. My mother and I are visiting from Knoxville, where she is a graduate student in psychology. She works in the animal behavior lab, feeding newborn mice to the two-headed snake. She won’t let me watch them eat, but I’ve looked at the mice, naked as thumbs, wriggling in their box. I don’t know how the occasion of the trip has been presented to me. Often when my mother had to give me bad news, she presented it as something that “could” happen, and I would be shocked when it did.  Before we went to the airport—which in itself was unusual, as it’s only a four-hour drive between the two towns—she had picked up some medicine at the pharmacy in Knoxville to bring with us to Salisbury. Now I wonder what it was.  Morphine? But why wouldn’t they have had that in Salisbury? The pharmacist was very nice to me and gave me a coloring book and some crayons for the trip, free of charge. I knew then that something strange was happening. I didn’t know the word for it, but I recognized what it was: pity.  Joe and I sit and watch, immersed in the world of the Blue Meanies and the acid-mild cartoon Beatles. And then my mom and grandmother are walking into the room, both crying a little. Before they can say anything, Joe is yelling, “Noooo!” and either rushing out of the room or toward my grandmother. I have to wait to be told before I get it. My grandfather is dead.

4.
My mom’s second husband plays the Rolling Stones loud.  Really loud.  I am in second grade, third grade. The sound is an assault, both for the sound itself and the self-centeredness of the act. This is not all that he was—he also brought me stacks of 45s from the record store where he worked. I had most of the hits of 1979-1981 in a box in my room. Steve Martin singing his novelty hit “King Tut”; Pat Benatar; “Cruel to Be Kind” by Nick Lowe. My tastes in pop music at this age were broad and ecumenical. But the Rolling Stones it takes me much longer to like. For years it was Beatles over Stones.

5.
When I am nine, I live with my grandmother for half a year. My mom is on the verge of divorcing her second husband, but I don’t know this, either. My grandmother is still in a state of stunned depression that I now realize was probably grief and tiredness. Joe has started high school and has grown to over six feet tall, seemingly overnight. Occasionally he will deign to speak to me.  He does let me scratch his feet with the letter opener, but I must stay on my end of the couch. One night after we are all asleep, someone bangs on the door loudly until we’re all awake. It is Mike, Joe’s friend from down the street. A guy with what I would now describe as an odd energy, Mike is a little older, but hangs around with all the kids. Now he is at the door late at night, weeping, hysterical, and demanding to speak to Joe. John Lennon has been shot.

The next day, Granny is peering out the front window at dusk to see if anyone has a candle out for John, muttering, “I lit one for Kennedy, but I’m not lighting one for him.”

6.
I guess it’s that same year that John starts to talk to me from the White Album poster? My mom and I are living alone in grad student housing, and I have the poster from her original pressing of the album in my room, next to my bunk beds. I’ve developed a number of strange compulsions. I count my syllables when I speak, tapping a finger surreptitiously against my leg as I do. There’s some equation about how many steps I have to do in each sidewalk square that I don’t even remember now. And not only can I not step on cracks for fear of breaking my mother’s back, but I can’t step on the dividing lines between sidewalk squares, either. John Lennon tells me these things, and it’s possible that John is the devil. I can tell by the way he stares out so intently from the poster. Also, I think I saw a hysterical teenaged boy say something to that effect in a Beatles documentary. When I finally admit some version of these thoughts to my mother, posing it as a question—“So, do you think it’s possible that John Lennon is the devil?  Can he see me from the poster?”—my mom brings a child psychologist to our apartment. He has me calm my mind and imagine that I am in a meadow of flowers. I find it embarrassing. Later my mom asks if I could see myself meeting with the psychologist every week. I’m alarmed, as I didn’t see that coming. I tell her I don’t feel that it’s necessary and I don’t want to. Nope. I won’t go. At some point, John stops talking to me.

7.
Years later, I will teach an essay to teenagers about the subversive power of Beatlemania[1].  The authors argue that for young Beatlemaniacs, the band offered a vision of sexuality that was “guileless, ebullient, and fun.” They suggest that part of the fun lay in the Beatles’ androgyny.  While commentators like Dr. Joyce Brothers saw the Beatles’ “girlishness” as providing a safe outlet for young women’s burgeoning sexuality, Ehrenreich, et al. argue that “the Beatles construed sex more generously and playfully, lifting it out of the rigid scenario of mid-century American gender roles, and it was this that made them wildly sexy.” Some girls, in fact, likely identified with the Beatles, not just wanting to be with them, but in part wanting to be them. Reading about these theories of Beatlemania, I think back to playing the make out game with Lisa, whose parents also lived in the graduate student family apartments. We listened to Sgt. Pepper, our favorite, and I would pretend to be Paul to her adoring fan.

8.
I find myself extremely frustrated with some boy at my dorm freshman year who acts like he can in any way school me on the Beatles. No. Another boy stands in front of my Beatles poster—the poster made up of four psychedelic portraits in a grid, which they may still sell at college bookstores—and tells me I really must try shrooms at some point. They take away your inhibitions and they’re just totally natural. My core of Beatle fandom is part of what gives me power over these boys and makes me feel not at all bad about showing them to the door when they became tedious. A core of knowledge, of desire all my own.

9.
Before I even reach high school, my Beatles albums are stolen by my mom’s third husband, upon the occasion of their break up.  When I receive my crates of records, along with my other possessions delivered from his house—no Beatles.

10.
I’m in my early thirties, and in a quasi-dating situation with a fairly odd guy in the Twin Cities. He’s at my apartment in late winter, and we’re watching a documentary about the early days of the Beatles. We learn that we both have a deep and abiding affection for the Beatles. Even so, our connection feels somehow removed. That is, we have one, but it is polite and never quite lands. Still, there’s something deeply enjoyable about a chill afternoon of remote, companionable shared Beatles fandom. Later, he will drive me to a used bookstore and run in to buy me a gift. He wants me to have the AA handbook in order to understand him better. I refuse to take it. At home in a drawer somewhere, I already have the one my biological father sent me.

11.
I’m between boyfriends in graduate school, driving around listening to Let It Be all these years later. I’ve bought it on CD, and I zip around whatever state I’m in re-encountering a deeply familiar album I haven’t listened to from start to finish in years. I’m making circles back and forth between the eastern states and those of the Midwest, looking for something (education, companionship, a connection to landscape). At one point, I listen to “Two of Us” and feel momentarily lost—there is no longer a “Two of Us”—before settling on a different feeling, the “two of us” as me and the Beatles, or maybe as me and some other, inviolable version of myself.

[1] “Beatlemania: A sexually defiant subculture?” by Barbara Ehrenreich, Elizabeth Hess, and Gloria Jacobs.

 

Lis Romine Tyroler
Lis Romine Tyroler

Joanna Penn Cooper is the author of The Itinerant Girl’s Guide to Self-Hypnosis (Brooklyn Arts Press) and What Is a Domicile (Noctuary Press). Her work has appeared in South Dakota ReviewZocálo Public SquareOpen Letters MonthlyPositPoetry International, and other journals. Her digital chapbook of collaborative poems with Todd Colby, I’m Glad I Know You, was published by Poetry Crush. She is an editor at Trio House Press and lives in Durham, NC.