Conference and Reading: Kicking off Poetry Month!

Happy poetry month! I’m doing two events to kick off the celebration. the first is a panel at the Rosemont College LitLife conference. Click here for details. Tim Seibles, a wonderful Philly poet who now teaches in Virginia (where he is the poet laureate for the state!) is just one of the amazing poets at the conference. I met Tim a few years ago when he read for us at the college where I work. What a great guy! I’ll be doing a panel on creating images with the wonderful poet Dawn Manning. Look for us there on April 1st.

And, speaking of my college, Community College of Philadelphia, our Poets & Writers Festival comes to a conclusion this coming Monday with a free event below. Check it out!

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Monday, April 3, 2017

6 – 8 p.m.
Klein Cube, Room P2-03

The Community College of Philadelphia Spring Faculty Showcase of Writers

Join College’s distinguished faculty members as they read from their latest poetry and prose in what has become an annual tradition. Refreshments will be served! Click here for more info!

 

The line-up includes: Jonathan Pappas; Amy Birge; Lauren Genovesi; Julie Odell; Kelly McQuain; Brian Goedde. Hosted by Jeffrey Markovitz.

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Philly Writers Resist!

#writersresist    January 15 is the date for Philadelphia Writers Resist: United for Liberty. The event is part of PEN America’s country-wide mobilization to let the Trump administration know that we writers will not back down or backtrack when it comes to human rights and civil liberties. I’ll be reading alongside many Philly friends from works that speak to empathy and justice. Nathaniel Popkin, one of the organizers, writes, “We chose the word united because this event is meant to bring us together as a literary community with abundant shared interests. We are poets, novelists, filmmakers, artists, publishers, readers, promoters, journalists, essayists, narrative non-fiction and experimental writers, editors, scholars, and translators, all to say, loudly, that we will stand for the freedoms written right here.”

The event will happen on Independence Mall at the location of the Centennial Religious Freedom sculpture, the National Museum of American Jewish History, and in sight of Independence Hall.
This event is co-facilitated by Nathaniel’s fellow organizers Alicia Askenase and Stephanie Feldman.
Philadelphia #WritersResist: United for Liberty
Sunday January 15, 2017
National Museum of American Jewish History Dell Auditorium
5th and Market Streets
2:00-5PM
The Museum is generously donating the auditorium for our event.
phillywritersresist2017
More on ways you can #WriteOurDemocracy at this link.

Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods



                            EYES GLOWING AT THE EDGE OF THE WOODS by Laura Long#EyesGlowingAtTheEdgeOfTheWoods

Kirkus Reviews has a nice review of Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods, an anthology of writers from West Virginia that I have a few poems in. Read the review here. I’m looking forward to it out on March 1st, and it can be ordered now through Amazon or your favorite local bookstore.

Kudos to editors Laura Long and Doug Van Gundy.

 

Illustration for Kazim Ali’s story collection

UncleSharif1Summer 2015 was a busy one in terms of new visual projects, including a poetry portrait series for Fjords Review and this new wraparound cover I illustrated for poet Kazim Ali’s new book of short stories, UNCLE SHARIF’S LIFE IN MUSIC. @KazimAliPoet #KazimAli @SRP_Bryan

The wraparound cover features images of the nephew and uncle from the title story as well as tarot cards and allusions to other stories in the collection. Pen and ink and watercolor. You can order the book here: http://siblingrivalrypress.bigcartel.com/

Here’s the cover with the title added by the boys at Sibling Rivalry Press:

Uncle Sharif’s Life in Music
Stories by Kazim Ali

Uncle_Sharif's_Life_in_Music_Front_CoverAbout the Book: On the eve of war, a group of artists try to stage a performance. An ill-thought-through deception to protect a friend threatens to unravel several relationships in a circle. A young man wakes up in a church graveyard with complete amnesia except for scraps of memories that appear to be from several different peoples’ lives. Two friends, haunted by the ghost of failed intimacy and the shadow of disease, wander the rainy streets of Paris. A musician makes a clumsy last-ditch effort at seducing a lost love. At Niagara Falls a neglected boy discovers his relationship to God. In a contemporary re-telling of the Majnoon and Laila myth, an astronomer falls in love with the sky. These six stories and novella from the author of the novels Quinn’s Passage, The Disappearance of Seth and Wind Instrument intertwine their concerns for the artistic life and the importance of the creative impulse with their belief in timelessness and the universal need for human empathy. Kazim Ali brings a poet’s attention to language, a musician’s sense of structure and a choreographer’s sense of character and movement to these dynamic and genre-blurring pieces which range in form from coming-of-age story, speculative fiction, ekphrasis, epistolary fiction and tarot deck.

 

Poetry Means Making: The Empathy Machine

A Process Essay

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In working on “The Empathy Machine”, a visual essay on poetics recently published by Cleaver Magazine, I wrote and drew part 1 in the summer of 2015, and finished part 2 on the kitchen table over a snowy January weekend. Part two was much longer than part 1, which had CleaverFaceIssue-13-Front-500-px-1been subtitled A Visual Narrative on the Poetics of Kenneth Goldsmith. Part 2 expanded on those musings into something that took the form of an ars poetica. (You can read part 2 here.) For a long time, the ideas had been stewing in my imagination and coming to life in my sketchpad. But there comes a point when you have to pull it all together, even if that means doing so with tools as simple as glue sticks, a watercolor set, and some Faber Castell artist pens.

 

IMG_4877What appeared as part 1 in issue #11 of Cleaver started off as a series of New Yorker-style cartoons calling out poet Kenneth Goldsmith’s for his insensitivity in turning the autopsy report of Michael Brown into a performance piece. I was angry. I was MAD. I cmadouldn’t understand how the “material” Goldsmith was performing and the poetry I was writing could all supposedly fall into the same genre. Other people were outraged, too, and when Vanessa Place, Michael Derrick Hudson, and Sherman Alexie entered the equation it all built to a critical mass. (It didn’t hurt that Goldsmith, with his penchant for wild suits and his long beard, was a fun figure to draw.) The anger and energy I felt proved to be a vehicle for me to look outward and inward, a way to ask myself questions to guide me in terms of future art-making, whether that be in words or pictures (or the two combined). Karen Rile, Editor-in-Chief, and Raymond Rorke, Art Editor, would prove invaluable to me along the way in terms of critical feedback.

Goldsmith cartoon-McQuain-draft 1

 

 

As new ideas came to me, I found that working in a  “New Yorker” style wasn’t going to cut it. The project was opening up into an essay, stretching its shoulders, wanting more space.

My thoughts tend to bounce around in a ricochet, one idea playing off another. I decided my method needed to be old school (literally “cut and paste”) as well as very personal: a journal style to match my journey. I’m a huge fan of cartoonist Lynda Barry, and I’ve followed her work for years, even reviewing some of her early comic strip collections. Using legal pads — which Barry did in What It Is, her fantastic meditation on image-making — proved extremely liberating. Cheap paper gave me a freedom with the material aspect of the project. More color began to enter the drawings as I dug out the paints and Prismacolor pencils I had accumulated over the years. Why hadn’t I been using them? What had I been saving them for? For this?

Over Christmas, through a New Year’s Day plagued with a head cold, and well into a January snowstorm, I made steady progress toward the end of the project. My partner and I did not eat at the kitchen table for weeks.

As I was working on the project, David Bowie died. I loved Bowie, a grand statesman of the ’80s British Invasion that I loved, and so much more. Bowie became another of the visual homages that the narrative called for. Others included Keith Haring’s pop art from the 1980s, haringPulloutwhich seemed to be everywhere back when I was coming out (and is long overdue for a resurgence in popularity). Another inspiration was the current  plight of the honeybee in the face of colony collapse disorder. The list goes on: GaMonsterPullOutnesh and Cthulhu and Superman; Calvin & Hobbes cartoons; the art of activist Rini Templeton, whose brilliant drawings I happily discovered by way of Christopher Soto’s poetry book, Sad Girl Poems (Sibling Rivalry Press). Templeton’s image suggested connectivity and transformation to me, and were ripe to combine with the image of a mermaid, a sometimes-symbol of the trans community as well as a symbol of the connection between humankind and nature. Other allusions included The Great Wave off Kanagawa, a woodblock print by Katsushika Hokusai, which I smermaidPulloutaw once in the Michener collection at the Honolulu Museum in Hawai’i. Most importantly, I relied on a sketchbook filled with faces of the inspirational people I met during the summer of 2015 at the Crosstalk, Color, Composition conference, the Lambda Literary Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices, and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. To those  amazing people and their inspiring words, I am grateful. I am changed.

In terms of negative inspirations, I’ve been bothered by this era’s bad habit of people anonymously attacking one another through social media channels when they disagree, and how if anyone critiques that practice he or she is quickly accused of toGoldsmithPulloutne-policing or censorship. I understand that anonymity is an appealing veil when one fears for personal safety, but we also diminish our nobility on occasions when we don’t fight fair. If you ask me, there is enough micro-aggression going around these days that it all very quickly adds up to full-sized aggression. Such tactics should be used with caution. That might sound funny coming from someone who has taken a number of shots at Goldsmith and Place, but I also believe in the power of satire as a vehicle for critique and an instrument for social change. Certainly there are voices that get too often heard, and certainly we need new platforms to raise up those voices needing better representation. Yet every time I see a dialogue opportunity get crushed, I hear the creak of more minds closing.

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Poetry is essentially about making. It’s a messy process, and one often feels pulled in different directions at once, torn by competing ideologies.

What did I learn about image making? Poems and visual art rely on images, and these images are not always seen with our eyes but with our mind. Ezra Pound described an image as an “interpretative metaphor” or “an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time”.  I think sometimes images can be sounds. Or smells. Or things we touch or things that touch us. These images take us on a journey that at times feels circular and difficult, an uneasy game–but that path is not without purpose. 
EmpathyProcessOn a practical level, I found it useful to lay my pages out on the floor in order to get a sense of narrative flow and design. l was reminded how easily paper crinkles when watercolor is added, and that sometimes you need to make your better half gently iron pages the way Carson the butler irons the Earl of Grantham’s newspaper on Downton Abbey. I learned that there are probably better glue sticks out there than the ones Staples sells, and that there is great  joy to be found in the smudge-proof nib of a good Faber Castell drawing pen.

I learned that even with ironing it is best to have heavy books on hand to continue flattening your pages prior to scanning. I combined the weight of an atlas, Chip Kidd’s Batman Collected, and a collection of nude studies by photographer George Platt Lynes for a little extra frisson.

In my work, I’ve often felt pulled in many directions at once, that my different art-making impulses compete with each other. This has often left me frustrated. In teasing out the reasons why I think art-making should be viewed as an empathy machine, I learned that what I’ve feared can also be a strength. That the mistakes of others can teach us almost as much as the mistakes we make on our own. I’ve learned that hybrid, ekphrastic constructs bring great satisfaction. Along the way, I developed an Empathy Credo to guide my future making. It might not be the same approach as yours, and my own credo might change and evolve over time. Most of all, this project reminded me that poetry—and all art—is in the making, that the key to overcoming obstacles can be found in the words “try” and “do”.

Now I need to go get busy. What about you?

How Do We Pollinate Identity? The Empathy Machine, Part 2

MonsterPullOutGanesh, Cthulhu, Keats and honeybees! Sherman Alexie, Kenneth Goldsmith, Vanessa Place, and the Muppets!  What can this strange mash-up teach us about the pitfalls and triumphs of poetry and art-making? Part two of my comix essay, The Empathy Machine, is out now. Click here! It’s a hybrid graphic narrative I’ve worked on for Cleaver Magazine, a meditation on art-making, poetics, identity and appropriation. There’s even a board game you can play. You can read last fall’s part 1 of the project at the link below if you missed it (the Cleaver editors nominated it to Best American Essays!)
Make sure to link to the cartoon version. Cleaver published a text version as well for the visually impaired and for search engines that can’t (yet?) read comix.

Skate Rats & Deadly Cheesesteaks

#MurderMystery #NakedCheesesteak cropped-photo-8.jpgIt’s been awhile since I’ve published fiction alongside poems, but the fine folks at Philadelphia Stories approached me last spring with a sweet project: collaborate with twelve other Philly writers on a comical murder mystery called NAKED CAME THE CHEESESTEAK. My new chapter is out this week. Read the chapter  online here at the link and find out ‪#‎whodunnit‬ and who gets whacked.