Friday, February 29, 2008


That's all I have to say.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Arbus, For Example

I always thought that Robert Frank was my favorite photographer. The Americans was a seminal book in my own development as a poet. After I saw the Diane Arbus show last year at the Metropolitian Museum. I had seen many Arbus photos in books, but had never seen them in person. The show was, for me, kind of an "ah,ha" moment. This is when I realized that the language of photography is human pathos, and Arbus was a master at capturing it.

As a person with cerebral palsy and all the misunderstandings that go with that, I was particularly interested in Arbus's photographs of the mentally retarded women at a home for people with disabilities. These photos, needless to say, were very controversial. I observed the audience looking at the photographs (which were segregated to one room) and they were clearly uncomfortable. The most obvious argument against the photos is that Arbus was taking advantage of the women. But, clearly the women were enjoying themselves. I think a more immediate issue is that "normal people" have a difficult time looking at people with disablities. Many (most?) people are prejudice against PWD because we show a fraility that is best ignored. After all, many people are disabled twice in their lives -- at infancy and at old age. People want to believe the illusion that they are in control of their bodies ansd minds - particularly in America's image obsessed culture. Art that shows PWD provokes prejudice that people don't want to admit to having because it makes them uncomfortable. This is why a certain TOP museum in NYC refused to buy my friend Jim's piece with images my labored running -- too controversial.

Maybe Arbus was a creep and she meant to "exploit" the women. But, when you look at the photos, it is much easier to believe that the women are being celebrated in their own strange beauty.

The best Arbus photograph, though, was another that no one wanted to look at for different reasons -- because anyone but a poet would find it boring. It was an image of a drive-in theatre at night with clouds at night on the screen mirroring the clouds in the actual sky behind the screen. What brilliance. How can I explain it? You've got a fake image (the photo) recording another fake image (the movie screen) which mirrors the reality of the sky.

I have been looking quickly through my archives on some early stuff I wrote about visual art. I want to bring a few of these back: see below. It's interesting to look at how I and my perceptions have changed over just the past two years. More on this later.

I'm realizing that my main problem as a professor is that I don't want my students just to 'get through' poetry, I want them to LOVE it. I want them to want to send Valentines and roll around in the mud with poetry. As Jeff would say, 'boy are you stupid!'

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

NYC Department of Education

To add trama to my five years of hell with the NYC DOE (plus one year of recovery) I got a letter from the good ole' DOE yesterday stating that I OWE THEM 3,000$ for days taken during my pregnancy. I don't want to do it, but I'm inching toward writing a memoir! Writing is the only way I know to release my story. But, ah how to get people to listen! I wish someone in power would wise up to the insanity that is going on in our lovely NYC school system.

Meanwhile, back at the factory, I have a bunch of college students who have never heard of Allen Ginsberg and didn't know Walt Whitman was gay (tho, at least they heard of him!). As Jeffrey would say, "Handicapped-girl to the rescue!"

A Victim of One's Own Passion, Part One

People tend to attribute a hierarchy to things. This just seems to be human nature. It seems logical, then, that people who are interested in the arts have their own preferences. I had a friend once who argued that poetry, film, and math were the highest art forms. As a poet, I won’t disagree with this assertion. I am nuts about text (poetry, fiction, and non). I also have a strange fixation on the NY Times – yes, that’s me dashing out naked in the snow to get my blue bag! But, I have also always been drawn to the visual arts. I love painting, film, and instillation art. However, above all, photography is the thing for me!

What is so special about photography? I love people. I love looking into their lives, seeing the bizarre quality of human nature, and comparing to my own. Whether set up or spontaneous, photography is always very real and immediate in a way that other arts aren’t. Of course, photographs can be skewed and manipulated by their taker, but I’m usually able to suspend my disbelief. Photographs show how beautiful and ugly and complex the world is. In short, they define pathos.

Last Saturday, I had my own pathos when my four-year-old son had a nervous breakdown in Union Square. The details are superfluous. Let me just say it turned in to hell on the streets of Manhattan. At one particularly low moment, I was sitting on the ledge outside COSI with my head (literally) in my hands. The boy lay on the sidewalk kicking and screaming. It was quite an image. Evidently, I wasn’t the only one who thought this. A young photographer (most likely a NYU student) stopped and snapped away. Gone is the anticipation of developing a roll of film, the darkroom, and a contact sheet. She had a digital, and she viewed the photos with pleasure as her and her boyfriend walked away. Now there’s an “A” in critique! I was left feeling curious, duped, hysterical, laughing, and, well, a victim of ALL my passions.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Poets and teaching

Today, I've been wondering about this: How do poets without books get jobs teaching creative writing? Awhile back, I thought that ONE had to have a book out to get a teaching job. It's turns out that I was mistaken.

I don't want to put too much stock in the all powerful book. To do so would mean that ED was not a poet! But, I do thinking there's something valid in the experience of birthing a book. It is torture and makes having a baby look like a cake walk (at least that was my experience!). Birthing a book (excuse the mama metaphor) is kind of like experiencing the death of a close person -- you (I) just don't know what it's like until it happens.

I expect poets without books are getting hired because they went to a 'good school.' But, this doesn't quite add up. Poetry is not law, going to a good school does not make one a poet -- writing poems does. Again, I'm not refering to the object of the book (although that's cool too) I'm refering to the PROCESS of making/publishing a book -- an experience that the professor can share with her students. Of course, if most students knew what being poet was REALLY like, they'd run for the hills.

Note to readers: I'd love to hear some comments! Do you think I'm right on -- or just taking too much crack?

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Working Disabled

However, what we see in the poetry movement -- and in the university -- is still only partially happening the what we like to call the 'real world.'

I was looking at job listings for my husband -- largely in private NY high schools. I noted something very interesting. Even schools -and certainly everyone else -- are still putting notes at the end of their hiring listings that they WANT minorities, that they don;'t exclude minorities. Ah, except for one! People with disabilities. Surely more women, African-Americans, and Asians have more jobs than PWD, so, in all fairness, shouldn't companies be hiring the least represented minority?

Read carefully. I'm going to tell you why it doesn't work that way.

Awhile ago smart people decided that there was no real reason to exclude women and race groups from the work force. They decided that this prejudice was unfounded and based on stupidity. Black people are not dumb. Women are not helpless. PLEASE do not think I am saying the system is perfect and all groups don't have trouble -- I'm not.

However, people believe that they can rationalize not including/hiring people with disabilities. These people are disabled, after all! Doesn't that mean they can't work? So, isn't the prejudice logical. Guess what, no! Now think of a list of jobs -- which of these jobs include a. walking b. walking straight c. hearing (remember one can use a computer) d. heavy lifting e. running track f. giving a speech to 1000 people g. seeing. If anything else, all disabled people could be movie ticket sellers. Those guys don't do shit! Seriously, 75% of jobs today involve some form of thought (usually VERY low-level thought) and a computer. So, why can't we hire PWD?

I hate to blame the victim, but PWD have to stand up too. The reason the other 'groups' have gotten so far is because they marched, died, and voted for their rights. I can tell you from experience, though, its hard to be rejected again and again. It's hard to be sitting across the desk from a person (say, Vicki Bernstein of the NYC teaching fellows or the lovely folks at Bronx Letters) and know that you are way smarter than this person and you know what they are thinking and there ain't nothing you can do 'bout it.

But, if my story isn't enough to convince you of the world's/NYC DOE's evils read this from today's New York Times: NOTE: Mr. W is a Hasidic Jewish man:

"Mr. Waronker, 39, a former public school teacher, was in the first graduating class of the New York City Leadership Academy, which Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg created in 2003 to groom promising principal candidates. Considered one of the stars, he was among the last to get a job, as school officials deemed him “not a fit” in a city where the tensions between blacks and Hasidic Jews that erupted in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in 1991 are not forgotten.

“They just said he may be terrific, but not the right person for that school,” Chancellor Klein said.

Some parents at J.H.S. 22, also called Jordan L. Mott, were suspicious, viewing Mr. Waronker as too much an outsider. In fact, one parent, Angie Vazquez, 37, acknowledged that her upbringing had led her to wonder: “Wow, we’re going to have a Jewish person, what’s going to happen? Are the kids going to have to pay for lunch?”


Young Poets and the Diversity Model

Despite my rants that the politically correct model of publication and hiring should -- and doesn't -- include 'the disabled,' I have never been a big supporter of this idea. I think poets should be published solely on the merits of their work -- something that almost NEVER happens in American publication. For proof, one has to merely look at the memoir phenomenon. Why is every Tom, Dick, and Harry who had a bad childhood or worked as a waitress at Per Se on NPR while poet X (insert name here) never is?

But, I'm getting off the topic. As I went through the list of poets in my mind to endorse for president (see left) I have (a little) expanded my reading to poets of different abilities, races, and religions. This is largely because I'm meeting some many young poets (under 40) and the PC movement is starting to have the trickle down effect to 'normalize' diversity in the poetry world. It is finally moving past the 'forced' stage.

The next post Might be contradictory.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

New Manuscript

I'm been keeping a few secrets, which is HIGHLY unusual for me, I'm a big mouth. I have a second manuscript called (a) lullaby without any music. It's 90% done. I sent to to Apogee Press (on their request) and they rejected it. It was the nicest rejection letter I have ever gotten. Now, I'm thinking over the next step. The manuscript is really good. I like it better than my first one -- but doesn't that always happen? I just can't find a stopping point with it.

I have four books in mind after that: a book of letters, a book of hip-hop poetry (with Jim), a book of essays (based on the blog) and a third book of poetry. Boy, am I tired.

A Kinder, Gentler Jennifer

Thinking of my last post...I didn't mean to criticize academic poets. I should have used the word 'I' more. 'I' don't think tenure is the place for me. Ironically, I am a professor, but I use that term loosely. I teacher comp part time, and I am thrilled with my job for the most part.

I think I warn people from putting too much stock into their career (career versus vocation) because I did and I got burnt. I worked so hard at being an inner-city school teacher. I sacrificed my family, poetry, and mental and physical health. I wanted to help people. I wanted to be sucessful. I wanted people to look up to me. The whole thing was a bitter failure. The system didn't care, the administration didn't care, and only a few of the students cared. It chewed me up and spit me out. I spent a year staring at a wall, recovering. Don't get me wrong, I love my students now, and I bend over backwards to help them. But, in the words of the lovely Liz Phair, I'm gun-shy.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Do Poets Belong in Academia?

The AWP has made me revisit some things that have been lingering in my mind for awhile. As an emerging poet, I feel like I want to define my life and how I fit into this world of poetry.

I am still of the mind that, in general, poets do not belong in academia. However, poets have to eat, right? And it is good that academia has somehow created a space for them where they can make a decent salary and discuss the thing they love. To pursue this is a perfectly decent activity. However, I am getting at something different. Academia should not be a trap for poets. Poets -- and I hope most don't -- shouldn't write books or publish in order to gain tenure. It should be the opposite. They should use the freedom that the University offers to write more poems. They shouldn't write more poems to advance their career. For poets, the poetry always comes first. We are blessed to have the schools to create magazines and teach our work, but that only goes so far.

The university can be a trap. The university validates poets, particularly ones who do abstract work. Poets are humans and they need validation. Some might feel that if they are not in the university system, no one will pay attention to them. They are probably right. American society doesn't give a fuck about poetry. European, Indian, Pakistani, Iranian, and South American cultures do care about their poets -- enough to make them heros or execute them or put their children in jail. The USA just isn't like that. We are the land of Britney Spears and American Idol. Somehow, jazz, rap, and the Abstract Expressionists managed to slip into the culture, but who knows how.

But, I feel like poets have to try. If we just give up on the average public we're committing a crime into order to make ourselves safe. The academics might love poetry, but, in the long run, what does that mean? Poetry isn't about safety. Life isn't about safety. If one is in the po-biz to get kudos, money, or fame, they're making a mistake.

Time to match the boy's socks.


I'm fussing around with the blog. Please be patient with me. Today, I voted for Obama. I just couldn't pull that Clinton ticket.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Chicago Review

I have been purposeful ignoring the debate deriving from the Chicago Review on women and publishing. Yesterday, however, I dipped into it a bit. I have had simuliar debates over the issue of feminism in the past year. My main thought is why does the feminist movements and other crucial movements like it, continue to rage when a movement for people with disabilities is ignored?

Denise Levertov once said in an interview, "Not to deny the history of women. But women who see exclusively the opression of women tend to forget other kinds of opression. 'But my opression is better than your oppression.'" This is not to pick on feminism -- one could say this about any group. Levertov was championed by feminisms of all kinds but found the label problematic. She (with Rukeyser) was a strident anti-war activist. She felt frustrated that many women felt frustrated by men in the anti-war movement and, in a sense, felt pushed out. She said that she was upset with women who left the anti-war movement to create feminism while there were still 'babies dying of Napalm."

This is kind of how I think of the problems surrounding disability. I am a woman. Certain issues have derived from that. However, the problems and prejudices that I experience as a person with a disability are so much more profound than those posed by my womanhood. It's kind of like disbility is MY napalm.

The CR centers are the numbers game of how many women and published and/or given accademic jobs. No matter which way you cut it, men are still more sucessful than women. But, here's the rub, people with disabilities are not sucessful at all, compared to men, women, or any other group. 75 percent of PWD are still unemployed. Mentally handicapped people are legally paid $1 hour. I can name about 7 disabled poets. Inclusion has become the trend. But, let's take an anthology like Not For Mothers Only by Wolff. The anthology includes women of all ages, aesthetics, religions, races, and sexual orientations, but where are the handicapped poets?

If we are going to make a fuss about who publishes and who doesn't, let's expand our minds a bit.

Reading on Saturday

Saturday at 3:00 2/9/08
326 Spring Street (west of Greenwich Street)
New York City

See you there!

Color Vs. Gender, The Great Debate

In her editorial in the New York Times, Gloria Steinem makes some interesting observations about race, gender, and the democratic race.

Steinem writies, "What worries me is that some women, perhaps especially younger ones, hope to deny or escape the sexual caste system; thus Iowa women over 50 and 60who disproportionately supported Senator Clinton, proved once again that women are the one group that grows more radical with age."


"Why is the sex barrier not taken as seriously as the racial one? The reasons are as pervasive as the air we breathe: because sexism is still confused with nature as racism once was; because anything that affects males is seen as more serious than anything that affects “only” the female half of the human race."

But, if one was listening to All Things Considered last night, they may have gotten a different perspective. ATC had a piece with South Caroline female, African-American activists in light of Clinton's stupid MLK comment.

The Marvelettes, three powerful political insiders in Orangeburg, S.C. — Labrena Aiken-Furtick, Gilda Cobb-Hunter and Baraka Cheeseboro — spoke with Michele Norris about negative reaction to the injection of race into Democratic primary politics.

The Marvelettes say that most of their difficulties come, not from being a woman, but for being black. Baraka says, "they speak of the question, am I black or female? Black women are being forced to chose. Most of the problems that I have had come from being black, not a woman. They also speak about what legacy they want to leave their children and the question of whether they are willing to vote against someone who will advance the lives of people of color."

This is why I have had an easier time relating to the civil rights and gay movements than the feminism movement. I will not be disrespectful of the feminist movement, but, like these African-American activists, what has happened to me a disabled person has been so profoundly worse than what has happened to me as a woman. I can't even see any gender prejudice, because I'm so busy dealing with the other. If I had the choice between a able-bodied woman and a crippled man, I'd probably vote for the guy too.

Our country is in a strange time. While it is exciting to see two 'minorities' running for president, we cannot lose sight of the bigger picture. Who will stop the war -- not matter if their skin is black or they wear skirts.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Now, that I'm concious, mostly and AWP

Now, that I'm concious, mostly, I'm going to go back to the previous posts and fix some errors and add here and there.

The jury is still out of what we think of the AWP. As I noted before, paying for poetry and paying to go buy books, just strikes me as odd. I found out, boy am I stupid, that a concrete reason for AWP is that academics can give papers to add to their resumes for tenure. On the one hand, this is a clever idea. On the other hand, it sounds bizarrely contrived.

I'm going out on a limb here. I think I'm one of the few academics (and I use that term lightly) with little to no interest in tenure. I would kick a tenure job out of bed, and I just might have one one day, but it isn't my goal. I am not bashing people AT ALL who want tenure. It stikes one as a necessary evil. People have asked me why I want to teach so bad if tenure is not my goal. The short answer is teaching is fun. I love writing. I love young people. And I love being on campus.

I spent my entire life aware of tenure in one way or another. My father was a professor for years and my ex-boyfriend was once turned down for tenure and is on his second go around. My attitude toward tenure is that I am trying to "make it" in so many areas of life: motherhood, work, and poetry -- all with a disability. I don't need one more competition. My goal is to write good poems, have people read them, and have the least anxiety possible. In the short term, my goal is to decide what I want my students to focus on in their Joycean paper and to find my kid some socks that match.

Back to the AWP. On the other hand, the AWP and surrounding events was kind of like Caligulia for me. All I do is think about poets, poetry, poetry gossip, poetry ideas, etc. I pretty much do this in a vacuum. I do know plenty of poets in New York, but everyone is always so busy. I never go to reading because I'm too tired. The AWP gave me an opportunity to be around people 24/7 for a few days. It let me neglect my real life. That was good.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

More AWP Report

I lag behind, sometimes the world is so dangerous.

Last night I went to Reb Livingston's fabulous poetry pageant. I love Shanna Compton, Bruce Covey, Reb Livingston, and Jill Essenbaum so much. They are endlessly talented, but they have no pretense about them. This 'group' of people moves in a world that is so exclusionary, yet they are so down to earth. I told Jim that the pageant was probably the first reading I'd been to where I was actually entertained.

Then, today, the boys and I went to the AWP book fair. On the last day, it was a complete madhouse. Everyone at the tables had candy out and Jeff kept running up and grabbing stuff. Then, he went into sugar-super high. I ran into Jeff from La Petit Zine, sans baby, Jill Essenbaum, Katy and Matt Hendrickson. and the fabulous Amy King. After the guys left, I went to a reading for Bowery Women Poets with Anne Waldman and Brenda Coultas. At this point, no one was checking badges and it had turned into an AWP free for all. The book sellers were thrusting books at people. And, true to New York form, a voice came over the loud speaker saying "HEY BOOK SELLERS YOU'D BETTER HAVE YOUR BOOKS PACKED AND READY TO GO AT 5:30." The only things I bought were Brenda's book and Kate Greenstreet's chapbook. There was a lot that I wanted, and I had cash to spend, but I just found the whole thing so overwhelming. I couldn't make a decision.

Friday, February 01, 2008

AWP and Cash

What struck me as really ugly about the AWP is the money situation. Okay, the atendees have to pay $100-$200 to get in. There the presses, which are already suffering financially, have to pay for these tables. Then, people don't really buy the books, which, if they do sell are sold at a discount. Then, the AWP 'sold out' which means many people who want to go can't. And there has to be a lot of badge trading and sneaking around, not to mention, no one poor can go. And who is all this money going to? Of course, they have to rent the place, right? But, my husband goes to Sci Fi conferences at equally swank hotels and the fee is $45. I don't think the readers and panelists get paid, I think they have to pay to go.

This AWP person isn't very smart. Want to make some real money on poets? Buy a bunch of booze and coffee and set up two card tables. You'll have the entire thing paid for in two hours and everyone can attend poetry readings for free!

Motherhood, AWP, and all

I did 'get' into the AWP yesterday. More on the details of that later. The panel I saw was on disability with Paul Guest and a few others. I can't stress how wonderful it was to be in a room with people with like-minded idea. They take disability culture -- and mainstream's rejection of it -- very seriously.

Last night we went to Matt Hendrickson's "Steal This Book." All of the readers were wonderful.

As I type, I am half-awake, and heading out to teach. I was all set to slow down this morning and take Jeff to school late purposefully, just to buy time. Then, I open his notebook and there's this big ole note saying JEFF HAS BEEN LATE TWICE THIS WEEK...BLAH BLAH BLAH. Okay, panic attack. I called Dina and she was able to swoop by and fetch him. He goes to school screaming, "I don't want to leave TV" with one sock that is dirty and no mittens. The teachers -- Dina agrees -- have no idea what it's like to be a mother. The only kids with their hair combed have mothers who put all their energy into that. We constantly limp along. There is no cat food, the house is a mess, off to the university!