Railing against the narrowest establishment

In enthusiastic recognition of Joe Brainard

There is everything. Especially what I pay attention to. There’s that time when, on the steps to the building of the society that I was unfortunately a member of, a boy, surely the eventual beneficiary of a major New York inheritance, dismissed the work of the great Frank O’Hara. Actually, this wasn’t on the steps it was inside the building, in a small group session, discussing literature. And with him was another boy who probably was in love with him, still is, though much smarter, and unfortunately the inheriting boy was not, at least never openly, going to be in love with this boy or any other. And you know, I’ll never forgive the smarter boy, who was a friend, for silently agreeing that O’Hara lacked rigor. Of course, this was preposterous, and despite both boys having very convincing things to say about subjects I knew and continue to know nothing about all these years later, I became certain, in that moment, that I would learn nothing from them—my subconscious filed away our relations. O’Hara was a genius, O’Hara is the reason I write to you at all. My ego, bigger than Joe Brainard’s, lets me know that you’re thankful that I write. Otherwise, I stay humble and quiet. I just wrote to an artist I love (this is where some of you might be able to tell where the fiction is just true, lazy, yet good), that I see the Gay New York School as my mentor. No one else would teach me but O’Hara, Ashberry, Schuyler, sometimes Ginsberg, now Brainard. Of course, you can’t say this as a woman “of” “color” without sounding like shameless social climber or like you’re angling for a top job at The New School but I swear I’m not, I just turned one down. I stopped getting personal after Louise Glück forgot who I was. She selected me for her “advanced” class when I was 18 and a few people I respect told me this was significant. Anyway I never forgave her for forgetting me, and plenty of people I respect told me that others might call this self-esteem. Your real mentors are the ones you claimed before you knew it was even possible to claim anyone. It’s not insignificant that they’re all old dead white gays with strong institutional affiliations, intersecting with the kind of gay I just lightly (for me) criticized in an article about the very sophisticated fight to remove homosexuality from the DSM. These are my forefathers of variousness, as O’Hara would put it. These are the people who said, go ahead, speak your petty little intimacies, make them grand, and I won’t forget you.

My favorite artists like chores

A virtual workshop

What else is there to say about the feeling of being right? Apparently, so much. There’s an art of picking fights you could never really win and that, to me, is criticism. Everybody who looks good doing it is having fun. That’s the rule of life and writing. You have to put a twist in it, let it roll. Otherwise you’re an academic. There’s nothing wrong with that except you get away with so much—looking bad, being miserable, getting tenure. That’s why the cute ones become critics (and maybe they can’t get tenure). The ones with half a sense of dress, maybe tattoos or friends with tattoos, can almost talk about sex or movies or relationships in our shared language. I remember running to the end of the hall to be just in time to the nonfiction workshop and being just in time but not early, having my pick of two seats, both next to the professor. I don’t remember anything else but something I like to graft onto the memory is my knowledge of the absurdity of a nonfiction workshop. The only way you get to be a critic is if you throw yourself at the scene without grace and so many times until gosh one day you finally move in rhythm. Until your limbs take lines and angles, the beautiful geometry in your head when you think of tall people dancing. I like to remember the workshop this way because it would explain why I didn’t learn anything from the workshop. It would explain why the only path to lucidity was by getting all mixed up. I can predict the sentences of some people, and in them, I see my own worst instincts—I imagine they didn’t tell us in the workshop that you learn as much from bad writing as you do great writing. You learn as much from pedestrian magazine profiles as you do from stunning works of narrative journalism. Hopefully you’ve been worn out enough to notice how easy it is to fall into an obvious thought and a banal expression of it; or a good thought and an overplaying of it. What you do learn, in these workshops though, is that your ability to see this won’t get you anything in public—no awards, friends in the business, big commissions. In fact, it’s better if you sort of pick out some of these flaccid turns of phrase and plop versions of them into your own texts, kind of gesture at some of the worst of what you saw, because that’s what people remember.

In a moment of intense Bari-Weiss-fueled antipathy

I tried to log into my deactivated Twitter account but it’s lost forever.

That’s the spirits talking, saying, do not make your offering to Bari Weiss. However… it’s clear that offerings do not come abstract and though they also do not come contingent, they must become something to mean anything.

There are, unfortunately, an abundance of unreflective people hired to inform. Aloof readers, hired to write. Excitable relations who do not listen.

The spirits say, the healing is yours to receive, and only then will you know how to give. They say, I’m happy to share with you that we have deleted your account.

And I was always taught in a series of arguments—of But, However, And, Still. And never No. And never silence. I learned Hmmm just in time but

It seemed, on landing upon Bari Weiss’s latest pronouncements, I had entered a vortex of hot air flush to my cheeks, none of the energy my own or shared. (I don’t know her.) I had to remember my lessons. Call and response. You, yes you. What the fuck “Don’t judge, notice” actually means. What the fuck it doesn’t mean.

Had to remember I learned it means it means it means you do not have to take everything you’re offered. Yes, say it again. You do not have to take what you’re offered. In fact, to thrive at all, you will have to breathe, notice, say No so often, it will become mantra. (Even to yourself.) You’ll be floating in cross-legged position, your hips not even aching (spiritually speaking), and you’ll be saying resounding NOs as an abundance of Mmmm Yeses.

They don’t teach critics this.


“No” by Anne Boyer : https://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2017/04/no

“Exit West: An Interview with Ismael Reed”: https://aaww.org/exit-west-ishmael-reed-rishi-nath/

“On the Issue of Roles” by Toni Cade Bambara https://blackfeministmind.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/toni-cade-on-the-issue-of-roles.pdf

Financial counseling

There’s no money in poetry………

What to say except that when you contemplate the best thing to do with the one life you have, as it were. That there’s no money in it.

There’s no money in anything good. Anything worthy of time.

I go around telling this to anyone who looks hopeful. “Know that your hope is a poor person.” Most people take this the wrong way.

Think I mean “Your hope is poor,” bereft, even. No, actually I mean

Your hope is a poor person. Your hope is a person. Who is poor. Your hope has no money. Does not break even in this economy.

You have to do what you can to nourish it or you’re nobody. Because there’s no money in it, you have to give it whatever else you’ve got. You might look around a little, alarmed, and think, what could that be?

Everyone thinks that, does not make you special to think that. Most people approach life at a loss. Even rich people, plenty of rich people look around and think, but what do I have?

There’s no reason in this, no wisdom to take from it, nothing I can or will say to make you empathize with this thinking no matter who expresses it because actually it does matter who expresses, how much money they have, net.

Matters if your parents are rich, if they don’t have debt, matters if they have a second home, matters if you partner is rich, matters if they’re poor and you’re rich and they’re still poor. Matters, even more than poetry matters, but they won’t tell you that on the admissions webinar.

There are people who wage success on poetry, not just Rupi Kaur or Billy Collins (bad poets if it has to be said, though for different reasons, it has to be said) but, for example, whoever has tenure and is worshipped by the students, that poet waged success. I’m not saying this is good or bad, but in this economy, it is mostly bad.

They say don’t trust people who don’t read but I say don’t trust people who read bad books. That’s worse than not reading.

Not worse for the person who reads bad books but for everyone under their influence.

This is the thing, it is easy to pity people without taste or intelligence but often it is the people who think these people have taste and intelligence who would benefit more from pity. A loving condescension.

Can condescension be loving? Yes, parents mastered this.

Parents don’t want their children to be poets because their children will certainly be broke if they’re any good and certainly parents want their kids to be good, so better not to be a poet.

They never say this outright, it’s supposed to come through.

Plenty of parents themselves are or were broke or poor or some teetering combination of both or all and in fact it depends on who you are, what neighborhood you come from, whether your ancestors were slaves or slaughtered somewhere, depending on those things your parents may or may not secretly want you to be a poet.

You spend your life hoping they’ll tell you which it is.

Three phone calls

Everyone who thinks they're a listener is a talker

There’s not enough of a difference between what I do and what I don’t, to me. Every day I walk on a rope I can’t perceive, and I just keep going. There are days when this feels romantic, and in my mind’s eye is a representation of this stringy mass of life that is signifying nothing real, nothing I could open my eyes and see.

I picked up the phone, which I don’t do, and I accepted all your ideas, which had nothing to do with what I had done. I think you get that now, that I will accept your ideas to show you how I listen. But you understanding this doesn’t teach you how to listen. I can’t remember when it became noble and attractive to be quiet and let others talk but I know this in fact happened in my lifetime. Now I have a hard time accepting that everything I did to be physically beautiful is overshadowed by my interpersonal grace.

No one wants to notice it. My friends don’t say, “Wow!” Instead, they compliment my attitudes. I flip through all the best portraits in my head and feel sad that anyone tried to be relevant. You just are, aren’t you? You meet the moment because you were already headed there or you conscript yourself to some dumb fate. And that’s OK!, I tell absolutely everyone. It’s OK because both can happen to you over and over again!

(I should say that it’s OK as long as both can happen to you over and over again, but I don’t because I am a listener.)

(I talk this over with you, a different you this time, and we agree that I should say everything I mean aloud, but even then, sometimes it’s not worth the responsibility. So theoretically, I am good if I say everything I mean aloud on the phone, but in reality, I won’t, because I can only take so much, and that’s OK!)

(It’s conversations like these that always make me feel so close to you every time, this you, who lobs the ball back and forth, who comes up with little ideas for us, who doesn’t know what to do but is happy to imagine it’s possible to know. I feel like a child now because I never did. I sidle up to everything you know which makes me love you so much. This, I can open my eyes and see in the way you wear your shirt, hold your head, stand in photos.)

And there are days when I panic, when I look at every object and see nothing in them but the demand to signify. And this is why I write, but don’t call you.

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