I'm off-put/bothered by Sissy Newsom.

and then came this: SLIPPAGE

sissy's glances off-camera, the changes in the pitch of her voice, the collaged cuts between in-ness and out-ness of character. slippage everywhere. gelatinousness.

and then this:
The menace of mimicry
is its double vision
which in disclosing
the ambivalence of colonial discourse
also disrupts its authority-- from Bhabha

when JD first shared this video with me I jotted down the following in my notebook.

what makes the female body such a cow suit?

now I'm struck differently. mainly by the way in with (the/this) video expands/explodes body and renders it something more supreme than the "real body"-- it creates a new more complicated thing: a text. text/body is not a full, three-dimensional thing, a round real thing but a hyperly-unreal thing made up of image, letter, sound, texture that is prone to transformation/mutation. a text/body, unlike the way we are often taught to read fictional characters--- (... hmmm... maybe just the way I was once taught to read fictional characters...) , how are these characters real, how are they like us, how are they likable or unlikable, OR how do they parody us, how are they caricatures ---is expansive, multitudinous, --- godlike. textbody can be stretched, manipulated, pull & pinched, cut up, colored, burnt up, punched out, muted, puffed etc. it can be it and not it. textbody is an opportunity for wild, contradictory manipulation.

in "Sissy Newsom--Former Lesbian" JD is arguing (maybe critiquing) for a gender, a sexuality, an identity that is supremely mutable. It takes a video camera, a wig, some jewelry and accent for JD to be transformed. And it takes Sissy just a swab of lipstick for her transformation to come about-- one that goes from Sissy "The Lesbian" to Sissy "The Former Lesbian". Sexualities are a slippery slope of red enamel. Once a lesbian, now a cum-lover. Once a JD, now a Sissy. (I don't want to stress an either/or situation here but a both/and situation that is aimed at underlining our discomfort with such mutability.) think of this discourse-- you've changed. you are such a hypocrite. you are so two-faced.

Sissy's change in identity took just "48 hours, 7 garbage bags and lots of will power." imagine that. how often have i wanted to change myself like that. how often have i been told that such change is impossible. But do I believe her? Do I collude with her? (<---- not the same questions, I know.) Between takes, as JD gives us access to, Sissy is laughing at us. Or is that JD. Are we to take this as a big crack-- i mean, it's fucking hilarious. Clearly these are also the breaks in identity (between character and actor) that are one of the thrills/complications of video work-- or, as Bhabha sets up in the quote above, between the colonizer and its subject-- where authority is subtly subverted. In only being able to mimic, not represent or embody, the colonial subject reveals the impotence of colonial power and simultaneously underlines the inscrutability of identity.

But here is where Sissy, as the glorious text-body it is, provides me another reading: identity (and all its subtitles) is obsessively, wonderfully, manically, slippery. sexuality is queered and unqueered at the whim of luring genitalia. gender is costume. language is an accent. (SWEEPING GENERALIZATIONS) we all have a touch of the schizophrenic-- and I say this with all the due respect. and here's a another demented thought-- this condition is both wildly liberating and terrible.



I wrote these things down during the Raul Zurita reading/panel at AWP. most are his. and some are mine and one is monica de la torre's (i think):

1. poetry is an act of compassion for every detail of the world.
2. polyphony
3. the limits of poetry are the purgatory of words
4. language is like me like a skin and not a like a stain.
6. the lyrical subject is shifting but identifiable
7. at the moment one is writing everything is being written

zurita's reading was terrifying. it was comforting to be able to contemplate the differences between words like golpe and blow-- and thinking about how i would have translated golpe to hit. blow being too soft a word. anything to distance myself from all those rotting bodies flying across the sky. it was rough. i couldn't let the language in me. wait, i could only the language in me-- not the meanings. not the essence. gosh-- this is embarrassing to say-- but i guess i was zoning out a little bit.

perhaps this addresses some of Kristin's concerns, in an odd way. I didn't find myself saddened by the reading and i should have been-- it was powerful and moving and horrific and beautiful. The language creates a distance tho. It is a distance/distancing. So when I read a "sad" poem or hear one, I am more in Susan's camp-- seeing the poem as an anchor for a type of connection that exists more on the level of construction rather than content. this might be a sickness.

i feel implicated by this statement-- like i'm avoiding a substance. but any way in, right? or am I taking a way out.


when i finished my thesis last year, several of my readers said they felt assaulted by the work. this was a hurtful thing to hear. it was hard to think of my writing as a weapon. and i denied it.

when you enter a text, you are coming into an understanding with its writer. what are the boundaries there. how can i negotiate not letting myself lay down and die. lately, i read as writer and find this easy. consumptive. self-indulgent. i guess this is what i did during the zurita reader. i need to be more people and less writer?

first post: claudia rankine

I'm thinking about this:

Dear friends,

As many of you know I responded to Tony Hoagland’s poem “The Change” at AWP. I also solicited from Tony a response to my response. Many informal conversations have been taking place online and elsewhere since my presentation of this dialogue. This request is an attempt to move the conversation away from the he said-she said vibe toward a discussion about the creative imagination, creative writing and race.

If you have time in the next month please consider sharing some thoughts on writing about race (1-5 pages).

Here are a few possible jumping off points:

- If you write about race frequently what issues, difficulties, advantages, and disadvantages do you negotiate?

- How do we invent the language of racial identity–that is, not necessarily constructing the “scene of instruction” about race, but create the linguistic material of racial speech/thought?

- If you have never written consciously about race why have you never felt compelled to do so?

- If you don’t consider yourself in any majority how does this contribute to how race enters your work?

- If fear is a component of your reluctance to approach this subject could you examine that in a short essay that would be made public?

- If you don’t intend to write about race but consider yourself a reader of work dealing with race what are your expectations for a poem where race matters?

- Do you believe race can be decontextualized, or in other words, can ideas of race be constructed separate from their history?

- Is there a poem you think is particularly successful at inventing the language of racial dentity or at dramatizing the site of race as such? Tell us why.

In short, write what you want. But in the interest of constructing a discussion pertinent to the more important issue of the creative imagination and race, please do not reference Tony or me in your writings. We both served as the catalyst for this discussion but the real work as a community interested in this issue begins with our individual assessments.

If you write back to me by March 11, 2011, one month from today, with “OPEN LETTER” in the subject heading I will post everything on the morning of the 15th of March. Feel free to pass this on to your friends. Please direct your thoughts to openletter@claudiarankine.com.

In peace,


Cheer up, you poems!

This is my first post.  Sorry it's taken me so long.

I'm sad I didn't see you all (or, most of you) at AWP.

I'm sad about other things, too.  But mainly I've been wondering why whenever I try to write more poetry, I get more sad.  About the world, I mean.  You know how intelligence is often depicted by a negative outlook?  For example, we deconstruct, we tear apart, we analyze, we cut things down.  But where is the building up?  Of course the world is sad and scary and there is a lot to be angry about.  (Also, the VIDA report: so there is that, too, to be angry about.)  [These posts can't include links?  Here's the report: http://vidaweb.org/the-count-2010]

Why is it that I'm trying to write poetry, which means I'm reading lots of interesting, intelligent, difficult poetry books, but I'm also trying to live a happy life, which means I'm reading fluffy self-love/self-help stuff, and "The Consolations of Philosophy" by Alain de Botton, etc etc.  I'm doing this to keep my head above the water level.  But where are the books of poetry that do this as well?  Seriously, do any of you have any suggestions for happy or funny or light-hearted poetry books that are STILL intelligent and NOT Billy Collins?

Or do any of you have this problem, too?  Maybe you have some words of advice?