Bye, Bye, My America Died

An Inaugural Poem, err, Song?
“Bye, Bye, My America Died”
(Sung to the tune of “American Pie”. Don McLean, forgive me.)
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A long, long time ago
I can still remember how my country
used to make me smile…
And I know if I had my wish
Bernie Sanders would be the big fish
and maybe we’d be happy for a while…

But November ballots made me shiver
with every return CNN delivered:
A psycho at our doorstep.
Hillary hadn’t cinched it.

And I can’t remember if I cried
when I read about Trump’s third child bride.
But something touched me deep inside
The day America died.

So bye, bye, my America’s died.
Shoved my country to a cliffside
and that cliffside is high.
Trump’s good ole boys are drinking whiskey ‘n rye
Singing “This’ll be the day that they die!
Ground beneath his heels and his pride!”

Now did you write the book of hate
And would you help Putin masturbate
if the Russians told you to?
Now does Trump believe in rock ‘n roll?
The Boss ain’t gonna save his greedy soul.
Still gonna build his wall… just real slow…

Yes, I know we’re not in love with him,
40% approval ain’t a goddam win.
So don’t kick off your shoes.
Man, I got the Obama blues!

I’m just a lonely teenage broncin’ buck
With student debt and a beat-up truck
And I know my friends are all real f*cked.
Today, my America dies.

We’ve started singing
bye, bye, our America died.
Shoved our country to a cliffside
and that cliffside is high.
Trump’s good ole boys are drinking whiskey ‘n rye,
singing “This’ll pave the way for our ride!
This’ll be the day the Left dies!”

–Kelly McQuain
#WritersResist #WritersResistPHL #Trump #BernieSanders #Trump

WE CAN’T GIVE UP!
WE HAVE VERSES IN US STILL LEFT TO WRITE. RESIST!

Also, whoever baked the Cthulhu pie, I love you.

 

 

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.

Are Santa and Sinterklaas the same character?

Last year I was part of a Facebook discussion thread where JH Cové, a Dutch anthropologist, took to task someone who equated the two: He wrote, “The Dutch Sinterklaas, or Sint Nicolaas, has nothing to do with Christmas. It is celebrated on Dec. 5th [the20141228-192559-69959348.jpg eve of St. Nicholas’s Feast Day], after which he goes back to Spain, and Christmas preparations can begin all over Holland. He’s got his own songs, his own history (from Myra, Turkey, correct), and, these days, is rivaled by Santa Claus (or Father Christmas or Papa Noel). I’m sure there are anthropologists that find connections somewhere—and there is a resemblance in the fact that they both use chimneys (who came up with that first?), even though in Holland Santa Claus doesn’t!—but take it from this Dutch anthropologist, they’re very different.”

 

A lot of strong Dutch pride there. My take? Santa and Sinterklaas both share the same Catholic saint as their inspiration, and Santa derives from the Dutch version via the Dutch immigrants arriving in the New York area in the 1600/1700s. Without Sinterklaas, and perhaps without Father Christmas from England, there would be no modern Santa, since he is essentially a mash-up of the two. It’s true, Sinterklaas and Santa have markedly different personalities in the way they are portrayed. I think of them as cousins, or brothers in the Yuletide spirit.

Someone else in the conversation brought up the Dutch customs surrounding the black men mentioned in the David Sedaris story “Six to Eight Black Men” (from Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim). Those characters are Sinterklaas’s Zwarte Piet companions, and they sometimes play a role similar to Santa’s elves. At other times, as in the Sedaris story, they play a “bad cop” role to Sinterklaas’s good cop. Like Krampus, the Zwarte Piet characters are sometimes said to carry bad children off. In the Sedaris essay, that’s back to Spain, where Sinterklaas is said to live. Unlike his cousin, Santa, who lives at the North Pole. I’d say Sinterklaas has the better deal there.

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Getty images.

Most of the time the Zwarte Piet companions play the role of cheerful assistants, but they are not without controversy (for evidence, see the article below from a 2014 issue of The Economist).. As the Dutch become more racially diverse,  people are beginning to question the use of black-face as a means for white people to portray the diminutive imp, whose roots lie in the history of the Moors conquest of Europe. Some people now make up new stories (the black is ash from chimney soot) while others have turned to using  face paint in a variety of colors–red, blue, green etc, making the new Piets as colorful as a bag of Skittles. http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21635517-worsening-clash-over-tradition-and-racial-sensitivities-blacked-up

 

For more info on KRAMPUS, the star of a new horror film this year, check out this post. It tells how folks in Philadelphia are celebrating with an array of European characters and traditions.

For more on holiday folklore, join the Krampuslauf Philly Folklore group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/966987013330153/edit/

ALSO, if you live near Philadelphia and wish to take part in this year’s fun Alpine Christmas tradition, check out the Krampuslauf Parade of Spirits website.
Event: Krampuslauf Philadelphia 2015
Sat. Dec. 12, 3 pm. Parade is usually at dusk.
Venue: Liberty Lands Park
Philadelphia
913-961 N 3rd St, Philadelphia, US

 

Cheesesteak Murders in Philly?

#NakedCheesesteak    The first few chapters of NAKED CAME THE CHEESESTEAK are live at Philadelphia Stories here.   

NAKED CAME THE CHEESESTEAK is a serial murder mystery written by 13 Philadelphians for Philadelphia Stories magazine. While the novel is designed to be a fun romp, poking fun at the sacrilege of such things as vegan cheesesteaks, it also touches on  more serious themes. These include the exploitation of adjunct instructors that college towns like Philly use to staff various campuses.  NAKED CAME THE CHEESESTEAK is a wry portrait of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, cuisines, educational institutions and legal systems, all wrapped up in greasy wax paper and shiny aluminum foil.

The idea was cooked up last winter by a handful of writers meeting over wine and chili in a Society Hill townhouse. The story NCTC.bookcover_WEBcenters on an intrepid Philadelphia detective trying to solve the puzzle of who is poisoning college students at campuses across the city. The novel features a huge cast of flamboyant Philadelphians:  an African-American police detective named Chelsea Simon; her bad boy restaurateur husband, Arturo; a crusty, trench coat-wearing news blogger named Ben Travers; the Nicholettis, a sprawling South Philly family with ties throughout the city; and a host of college skate boarders and scullers who get caught up in the malfeasance of the unknown serial killer.

It’s also a portrait of Philadelphia neighborhoods and college campuses. The action takes place in locales as varied as Strawberry Mansion, Allegheny Avenue, Boathouse Row, the Italian Market, Passyunk Avenue and Rittenhouse Square. Murder, mayhem and mystery-solving also takes place at Kelly Writers House at Penn, the Temple University Bell Tower, the Drexel Dragon and more.
The 13-chapter serial novel was written by Philadelphia area writers Diane Ayres, Randall Brown, Mary Anna Evans, Gregory Frost, Shaun Haurin, Victoria Janssen, Merry Jones, Tony Knighton, Don Lafferty, Warren Longmire, Kelly McQuain, Nathaniel Popkin and Kelly Simmons. Edited by Mitch Sommers and Tori Bond.

The novel will be published by the magazine’s books division, PS Books.

Learn more here.

Murder Mystery on South Street!

Who is poisoning people on local college campuses? On Sunday The Philadelphia Inquirer published the first chapter of NAKED CAME THE CHEESESTEAK, a serial murder mystery I co-wrote with 12 other #PhillyWriters. Read it here. Kelly Simmons offers the first rollicking chapter… but don’t get too attached to her characters. This novel comes with a high body count.
Join us for the launch party Thursday night of this week at Tattooed Mom. 5th and South Street, 21+.
My chapter debuts online during week 6 of this fun project from Philadelphia Stories‘ book dNCTC.bookcover_WEBivision.   Each week, a new chapter will drop at the link!

Naked Came the Cheesesteak…

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That next bite is MURDER! Philly friends, join me and a host of other Philly writers for the kick-off of NAKED CAME THE CHEESESTEAK, a serial murder mystery written by 13 Philadelphians for Philadelphia Stories. The novel will be serialized at their website starting in November. It’s definitely the freakiest fiction project I’ve ever been a part of.

Thursday, November 5 from 7:00pm – 9:00pm

Tattooed Mom, 530 South St, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19147

Join us at the launch party for “Naked Came the Cheesesteak,” a 13-chapter serial novel written by Philadelphia area writers

NAKED CAME THE CHEESESTEAK is a serial murder mystery written by 13 Philadelphians for Philadelphia Stories magazine. The idea was cooked up last winter by a handful of writers meeting over wine and chili in a Society Hill townhouse. The story centers on an intrepid Philadelphia detective trying to solve the puzzle of who is poisoning college students at campuses across the city. The novel features a huge cast of flamboyant Philadelphians:  an African-American police detective named Chelsea Simon; her bad boy restaurateur husband, Arturo; a crusty, trench coat-wearing news blogger named Ben Travers; the Nicholettis, a sprawling South Philly family with ties throughout the city; and a host of college skate boarders and scullers who get caught up in the malfeasance of the unknown serial killer.  The 13-chapter serial novel was written by Philadelphia area writers Diane Ayres, Randall Brown, Mary Anna Evans, Gregory Frost, Shaun Haurin, Victoria Janssen, Merry Jones, Tony Knighton, Don Lafferty, Warren Longmire, Kelly McQuain, Nathaniel Popkin and Kelly Simmons!

The novel will be published by the magazine’s books division, PS Books.

https://www.facebook.com/events/1658738927715339/