My bird & I are traveling to Illinois in a few short weeks as the winners of this years Devil's Kitchen Reading Series in poetry. I have been proud of Pelican from her first day, and prouder still that she has wings beyond what I ever anticipated. If you've yet to get a copy of your own, buy one now at 10% off from YesYes directly. And if you're anywhere near Carbondale October 26th through 28th, come check out the fall literary festival put on by Southern Illinois University's undergraduate literary journal Grassroots & the Crab Orchard Review. The full schedule lives here. I hope to see you there!
There is a set list for every hurt under heaven. I just found mine from smack in the middle of my first few months as a person with a book & it's wild to hear how sure/unsure I am of myself. Now that Pelican is over a year old, it feels easy to forget that my bird even exists. I want to keep reminding myself that I made a thing that helped me to laugh & live & grieve through one of the hardest losses I've ever dealt with. It's been five years since I lost my dad. I'm having dinner with his best friend tonight & toasting to how he taught me to tell our story.
1. remember the fun we had when you poisoned me
2. You Bring Out My Worst Side**
3. Everybody Knows That I'm a Mess
4. I Didn't Mean to Swear in Your Church
9. the internet doesn't know
10. The Right Words*
11. Out of Control
12. On The Day You Decide You are Quitting*
13. She Drives The Honda to Wisconsin
14. Smoke 'Em If You've Got 'Em
* these poems appear in Pelican, published by YesYes Books
** these poems appear in Celeris, published by Fog Machine
That title is borrowed from a review of my bird by Kelsey Hoff recently published in Columbia Poetry Review, and I think I'd like to use it as the subheading for all of 2016. Pelican is nearly a tender year old, a fact I believe almost as little as the praise heaped on my little book that could. The first print run is nearly sold out, but you can still buy copies before the second printing here. Every time I sign a copy for someone, I want to warn them of how sad the poems are, how far away they are from how I feel now. I can't think of a better characterization for how I feel about this new year of writing than one from Hoff's review:
Even in her quest to become her best self, she must look to a nostalgic past for warm memories, though she feels a deathlike detachment from them.
Every time I return to Pelican or the manuscript for my follow-up to Pelican the poems feel more like dreams from some other life. How does the self end up so strange? The work this year is so much more about articulations of joy and strength, a practice in being gentle with myself. I am drafting and publishing and performing maybe more than I ever have, but I'm trying to be accountable only to my own expectations instead of worrying about the big "what's next?" question. In a month, I'll hear back from grad schools and potentially have to make a huge decision about uprooting myself and having a life in another city for at least a few years when Boston has come to feel so much like home. That single disruption to how I imagine my future as an artist has been the greatest disruption I've ever experienced.
Most of the people close to me think the pace I write at is terrifying and it certainly doesn't hurt to slow down, to measure my movements more carefully, to dig in for the winter and work more carefully while I'm still here. I recently did an interview with Your One Phone Call where I was asked to give my younger self advice and ended up with the following:
Be as patient with your own failings as you are with other people’s. Walk away the first time your gut tells you to, not the fifth. But if you do wait until the fifth time, you are not wrong to have stayed. You are not the things that have been done to you. You are not the things that have been done to you. Be gentle with yourself. Make time for quiet. Make time to recharge even when you think you don’t need it. You have permission to be in pain when you are in pain; do not wait for anyone to confirm this, just tend to what hurts how you need to. Don’t apologize for crying when you are overwhelmed. Survival isn’t something to feel guilty for. Growth isn’t something to feel guilty for. Leave when you need to. Come back when you need to. Set boundaries and let in only the people who respect those boundaries. Make whatever you need to out of everything that happens. Worry about what it means only when someone asks you, and if you can’t find an answer don’t be ashamed.
Even though I wrote it to my younger self, all of it applies now more than ever. Speaking of coming back when I need to, I have my first real New York reading next month at KGB Bar on 2/19 for the Free Water reading series, details here. If you're in or around the city, I'd love to see you there!
Pelican's first reviews are coming & I'm so proud to say that they're excellent. Hello, Giggles named my poem-bird one of the 13 books you need to read this spring, calling it "a treasure for the world, nay, the universe." Over at American Microreviews & Interviews, Carleen Tibbetts wrote "Pelican's speaker is very much attuned to her fighting spirit, her strength, her passion, and her wildness," & I honestly can't think of a better affirmation of what I try to do in poems. Once upon a time, someone whose opinion mattered a lot to me said that my poems were too messy. That if I wanted to be successful, I'd have to pick one thing to feel at a time, or else nobody would publish me. I didn't follow that advice. The mess stayed, & the mess is where I feel most like a success. If it isn't wild, I don't know how to look closely at it. If I can't look closely, then a poem won't happen for me.
Speaking of messes & feeling too much, I have a bunch of poems from my manuscript in progress floating around on the internet & wanted to make a list here in case you missed any of them.
+ I have a Drake remix poem in the music poetry anthology Again I Wait For This to Pull Apart, edited by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib for Freeze Ray Press. I am so proud to be included alongside work by so many folks I admire as writers & people. You can read the full list of contributors & pre-order your copy of the ultimate poetry mixtape here until 7/30.
+ Fruita Pulp published "please don't him them" & "affirmation for the damned" in their 9th issue, next to work by such wonders as Caroline Cabrera & Dalton Day's e-chapbook, TANDEM.
+ Maps for Teeth is the new nest for "SOMBER/DISTANT/GHOSTLY" & "PGH," two poems about my many heart-homes, the earlier being Feral Bitch Palace & the latter being Pittsburgh, my favorite city to run away to.
+ Quaint was kind enough to land their first-ever print issue on my poems "You Bring Out My Worst Side," a Selena Gomez remix poem, & "all the reasons why," an ode to friends who encourage you to be your incorrigible self. You can download a free PDF or order a copy here.
Finally, I wanted to offer a boatloads of thank yous to the folks who've had me come read for them this month. Thank you, New England College - Concord! Thank you, Eastern Point Lit House! Thank you, Belt Out!
When you make a book, there are leftovers. You look at the leftovers and try to imagine what body they need to walk upright. You write more poems. These aren't quite poems yet. Just attempts. You make many many many attempts. Abandon drafts. Steal titles from that which isn't working. Repurpose lines. Ask questions. Respond to prompts, discard results. Make conjectures. What happens when I. What if I don't. What will change here. Experiments. Folks might ask for more poems to publish, if such poems exist. You don't want to disappoint. You polish the strange new things, worry their legs aren't nearly as strong as the legs on the poems in the book you're still reading from in public at every chance. You send the strange new things out to be seen and hope they're as good as the once-new things. You panic frequently that you won't keep going, but you keep going.
I am lucky for stamina, and for deep pockets. There were lots of orphan poems when I made Pelican and the more I look at them, the more they feel like walking into an unfurnished room. Anything could live in them. They could belong to any kind of house. I get to make the house. Fill the rooms with whatever furniture I want.
During the wild flurry of book birth and tour travel, these little poems from newer projects have been sneaking out in the world. Recently:
+ A strange little creature called "Lemniscate" (yes, after the math term) has a home in the newest issue of Dreginald.
+ Drunk in a Midnight Choir was kind enough to feature three more of my poems--"Everything to Everyone," "I'D LET THE GEEK GET THE GIRL," and "how it started." "GEEK" is the first piece to be published from the very strange chapbook I've been working on about the Scream movie franchise, and I'm really excited for more of those monsters to see the light of day.
+ Extract(s) has given three poems from Pelican some more light. Head over to read (or reread) "Caught in Bruce's Mouth," "Sailor's Knot," and "Rosary for the Blood Moon."
+ Five Quarterly gave a home to one of many strange poems I've written after binge-watching Gilmore Girls, this one called "A Thousand Yellow Daisies," and about highway drives and refusing to be married.
+ Noble/Gas Quarterly provided a wildly generous amount of space to five of my poems in their latest issue. Click here to read "predation," "Everything is Wrong," "I Don't Want to Talk About Anything," "Work," and "sure as you live."
+ "Conditional," the Pelican poem that scares me the most to read aloud, will appear in the next installment of the Best Indie Lit New England anthology. Read it at Radius, its first home, with loving introduction by Stevie Edwards.
And if you have new birds of your own, consider sending them to me and Brent over at Wyvern Lit, preferably in flock form.
I've returned (albeit reluctantly) to a semi-thawed New England from the Yes Yes West Coast tour, armed with loads of copies of my bird and more tour dates where you can hear poems & celebrate this huge milestone with me. The officially official release party is 3/28, & will feature performances by Cassandra de Alba, Jess Riz, & Sean Patrick Mulroy, as well as selections from Pelican & copious joyous tears on my part. If you can't make it to Cambridge, you can find me shouting wings onto things in a few other New England cities this month.
Monday, 3/16, 9 PM
Ralph's Diner, 148 Grove St
Slam Free or Die
Milly's Tavern, 500 N Commercial St
Thursday, 3/26, 9 PM
Negative Burn, also featuring:
Wes Hazad, Nonye Brown, Sarah Blodgett,
plus Jake McKelvie & The Countertops!
Ralph's Diner, 148 Grove St
Saturday, 3/28, 5 PM
Pelican Release Party
with special guest readers
Cassandra de Alba, Jess Riz, & Sean Patrick Mulroy
Voltage Coffee & Art, 295 Third St
Kendall Square, Cambridge, MA
Boston has about five feet of snow on her face, but I'm trying to focus on my flight Tuesday afternoon, when I will be delivered to two weeks of West Coast shows. Are you all in your feelings and looking to commiserate? I'll be performing work from Pelican in Washington, Oregon, and Northern California for the rest of the month alongside my powerhouse press-mates Meghan Privitello and Danez Smith. Let's hug, if you're into that.
Wednesday 2/11, 11 AM-1 PM
PCC Cascade Campus
705 North Killingsworth St, Portland
Thursday 2/12, 7-9 PM
Olympia People's Mic
204 4th Ave E, Olympia
$3-7 entry, Facebook event page
Friday 2/13, 7 PM
Ace Hotel Portland
1022 SW Stark St, Portland
Saturday 2/14, 7-9 PM
Sole Repair Shop w Sara Brickman
1001 East Pike St, Seattle
Sunday 2/15, 6:30 PM
Portland Poetry Slam
Velo Cult Bike Shop
1969 Northeast 42nd Ave, Portland
Wednesday 2/18, 12 PM
City College of San Francisco
Rosenberg Library 305
50 Phelan Ave, San Francisco
Wednesday 2/18, 7:30 PM
The Starry Plough
3101 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley
(1 block uphill from Ashby BART)
$7-10 sliding scale, cash prizes
Thursday 2/19, 6-7:30 PM
University Book Store
2430 Bancroft Way, Berkeley
Friday 2/20, 7-9 PM
The Art Bar & Cafe
1060 River St #112, Santa Cruz
And if you haven't pre-ordered your copy of Pelican yet, there's still time. The official release date is 2/15, so if you buy your book in the next week and send me a picture of your receipt, I'll send you a copy of the zine of witchcraft/pizza/pop poems I made called nobody dies from being wrong.
My first poetry collection, Pelican, is available for pre-order now for $2 off list price + free shipping. It is full of poems about medicine and memory and growing up in New Jersey. There are letters to my father that I've dropped into rivers. There are prayers I re-wrote as spells to drag myself back from grief towards something living and holy. There are all kinds of stories I could tell you in synopsis here, but if you want to hear even a few of them, I want you to have a copy of this monster. Click here to get your very own big-mouthed bird made of poems.
Below is the first poem in the collection, the first of many birds taking flight in me at all times.
In honor of finishing the edits on my first book, I'm taking a challenge posed to me by my dear friend Emily Carroll and rattling off, in no particular order, the ten writers Pelican couldn't exist without.
We share a first name, and a history of secretive behavior, and our hearts' burial in Amherst. Dickinson is the first poet I loved as a child, specifically and especially for her "I'm nobody" poem. I went through a phase circa middle school when I was convinced I was from outer space, and feeling connected to another "nobody" is probably what inspired my impulse to record--I wanted to be like Emily: bent over her desk, claiming space through language.
I read The Bell Jar for the first time much earlier than anybody would've let me had they known how I was spending my pocket money. I still have that copy, all my favorite passages underlined in pink, then black, then green, as I read and reread again and again. I became a huge admirer of Plath's poetry in college, but my connection with Plath will always be rooted in her prose and how simultaneously delicate and hysterical she was in her descriptions of a girl too deep into her own mind. I was that girl at 11; I'm that girl now. I go back to The Bell Jar time and again, and I always find some new moment where she shakes me by the shoulders saying you are only seen so far as you can see yourself.
I have a now-illegible text tattoo of a quote from Woolf's Orlando on my ribs: "if we survive the teeth, we succumb to the waves." It's pulled from the passage when Orlando wakes in the night transformed from man to woman, where the narrator steps back from the narrative to muse on the difficulties of accurately telling a story. No matter how you write, your biases will always get the better of you. But Woolf goes beyond her biases by asking more questions that she can possibly answer before the end of an essay or novel or life. In my mind, her prose is unparalleled in excellence, but her heart is what matters most to me. Her characters are so frequently overtaken by the world around them, and I see myself in that surrender every time.
If you haven't read Hotel World, begin there. My beloved fiction professor and thesis advisor Nell Arnold gave me this book as an assignment for one of her classes and I think about it constantly. Smith's play with tense and perspective is a joy for any admirer of experimental writing, but the true joy of her work is that she doesn't sacrifice earnest for technical backflips. If anything, her talent for manipulating mechanics only makes you feel more deeply for the scenes and stories she makes.
Love: An Index lives beside Hotel World as the only other book I urge all of my writing students to read. Both experiment with narrative in surprising and satisfying ways, but Lindenberg's poems are unique in that they are at once an archive of a personal story and a meditation on memory as the most personal of all storytelling acts. For us to remember anything, we must mark it somehow as ours, and Rebecca's poems are just the right marriage of the deeply personal and the curiously intellectual.
David Foster Wallace
Since we're talking indices and intellect, Foster Wallace seems a natural place to go. The summer my father died, I read Infinite Jest during interminable shifts manning the espresso machine and crepe griddle at a truly horrible cafe that very few customers ever patronized. All of our food was rotten, all our espresso pre-ground, and I had all the time in the world to flip back and forth from main text to endnotes to main text to earlier passage to next chapter to why the hell am I reading about puppets for this many pages and then suddenly I was crying into my coffee. People criticize Foster Wallace for being willfully inaccessible, but I really enjoyed the novel because it forces you to remember that a book is a narrative made physical--that you must interact with an object to access the story you're trying to understand, and that the object might end up being as difficult to deal with as the people it is cataloging.
It's getting awfully pretentious in here, but hear me out one second more: my first year of college I took a class called "The Bodies of Leo Tolstoy" taught by Polina Barskova, who also happened to be my advisor. The course was gorgeous--we talked about the physical descriptions of war, aging, family, and sex in his work--but the fact that my presence there gave me Polina as an advisor is the true reason Tolstoy makes this list. My father was having health problems again and I was thinking about dropping out of school. Polina frowned at me during one of our dozens of meetings that semester and said, "If you leave, you will never come back." It felt very Russian, but she was also very right. That small push for me to stay put kept me in the community I was beginning to build for myself as a writer, the one that made me a poet and pushed me to the point of telling a lot of really scary stories about myself in my work, many of which produced early drafts that ended up (after countless revisions) in Pelican.
Her narrators mytholigize like no other, and of that I'm so envious I could scream. But specifically, she ranks on this list because of The Autograph Man. The novel is about the rituals we take on in memory of what we've lost, and also the ways we sabotage ourselves instead of finding healthy ways to process grief. It's a beautiful, hilarious, essential read for anyone who's lost a parent. I read most of it on the commuter rail back and forth from Providence to Boston and wept openly, glaring at any stranger who dared interrupt my very intimate relationship with the book.
I would follow a cat down a well for this many an day. I don't care if you can make bingo cards from his personal vocabulary of tropes. I don't even care that I couldn't finish 1Q84. I love him for dropping the surreal into the most normal of circumstances. I love him for manipulating the same conditions and coming up with endless fever dreams. Hardboiled Wonderland and The End of The World is one of my favorite novels of all time for how deftly is rediscovers the human mind. Can our own memories lay dormant inside us? Certainly. Can we admit those dormant memories are ciphers for all we see and know about the world? That's much harder to face, but a concept important to me beyond words. I wish I could've given that book to my father. He would've adored every page.
Yes, I am blaming my debut collection on the frontman of Everclear. I said it in an interview for a forthcoming issue of Profane, and I'm going to say it again here: listening to Everclear as a grouchy adolescent made me realize that it's possible to be angry at your family while still loving them ruthlessly. You can expose the pain they've caused you and claim them and you won't tear yourself in two with the effort of either. Seeing the whole picture--the mess and the joy of being bonded by blood--is what makes family so important. I know that there are plenty of poems I've written that make my family unhappy or uncomfortable. I've already had countless conversations about many of those poems as they slowly see the light of day. But I also know that my family is proud of me for telling our truth, even the ugliest sides of it. Which isn't to say I'm not terrified of my book's birthday. I know there are more hard conversations to come. But I'm willing to have them, because telling the whole story is worth all the hard conversations in the world.