On Diane Glancy’s It Was Over There By That Place: The language in this chapbook deliberately eschews floweriness in favor of a more concise study of the history of language itself. This is a meditation on inherited speech, as when Diane Glancy writes, “The thought that could with written words of their own write the world through punctuation of thought that connected with other thoughts in the places within place in the long run could not.” The way she interweaves trauma and etymology is fantastic, a gorgeous mixture of Maggie Nelson and Layli Long Soldier in its ontological investigations. “The English language would not listen,” she writes on grammar. “How the letters changed and took from the sound the way of its being.” In her use of the English language, we can feels its lack. Wikipedia represents a perpetual colonization in how it imitates the layering of histories, a metaphor for collective knowledge, itself colonized. There’s a deceptive ease to how Glancy walk us through memory and history, so difficult sometimes to disentangle.
On torrin a. greathouse’s boy/girl/ghost: What we loved about this chapbook is that it looms at its edges with deft clarity, the senses turned always to the imagination when the world fails to properly intervene. There’s a painful and complex admittance that always surprises us in its turns. torrin writes “i want to look like everything else / that has ever burned // “ and we believe her. We believe in every declaration here. The body in its ramshackle elegy, the body as bloodless as a dream, as chemical as every cosmic thing. There is a way torrin verbs in this collection that astounds us. They Houdini and language and ghost and witchcraft themself, which forces us to be awake to both the magic of speaking and its subterfuge and trickery. Language must belong to the trans body more than any other body, the words themselves a root the way “we are born only of our own bones.” But then the body is also untranslatable—”communion / is skin swallowing / its own limbs”—and thus we find ourselves in a technicolor spiral alongside torrin here, in this chapbook.
On Nadia Owusu’s So Devilish a Fire: “So Devilish a Fire,” is, well, absolute fire. The language is so clean yet layered. It’s an impossible essay to skim. Once you begin reading, you’re completely sucked in. It’s compelling and rich and smart as hell. We begin the essay with a circular evocation: “I floated in water of mother as she floated in Indian Ocean.” We know this will be about origins, but more accurately, it’s about being. Being in the world, being at once part of a village and a people and a world, being a woman, being apart, being a part. Those latter ideas of apart and a part are made concrete by the clever switches between first- and second-person narration. There’s an intimacy in distance when memory is involved. To venture from, “You were, at first, a wild beast, frothing at the mouth,” to “I am multiform, amalgamated, many-voiced” reveals the various tensions at play with even speaking at all, what it looks [...] Continue Reading »

Teaches of Peaches: A Preview

November 21, 2017

Nobody knows how to language grief. It comes to us as a sine curve or a gust, as the smell of fabric softener or when we stretch and open our hips. It is significant that we capture our private pain creatures, which are intent on bloating spaces of absence with the ugly spasming replicants of that absence. It’s a creature that is, ironically, impossible to fully disappear. It finds a home in wreckage the way humans have always done. Diane Exavier’s Teaches of Peaches examines this grief through hybrid exercises, not bothering to train the cycles of grief for her intentions, but rather, by cycling her intentions around her grief. The book sets itself up through the lyric urgency of a poem and the sober reportage of the essay. Combined, we might call it a sober lyric or an urgent report, not daring its leanings toward genre in either direction. The poems spit and cackle, redact and quote; the essays ruminate and investigate, unearth and historicize. Peaches, we learn, is Diane’s cat, who was, as Diane tells us, “not my partner or my child or my companion or some surrogate or even the creature on this planet that understood me the most because we happened to live together.” That Diane has experienced great loss throughout her life meant, ironically for her, that she never quite learned how to grieve. It’s a family affair and then it is done. The entire book culminates not on the death of either of her parents (in fact, we start there), but with the fateful Uber to the animal hospital, Peaches in her carrier, Diane sitting in a makeshift reckoning. It is a chapbook of unbelievable elasticity and control, a freedom carved by way of formal constraints.
Co-editor Emily Raw (also responsible, as always, with the gorgeous chapbook cover) met with Diane to shoot the trailer. In Teaches of Peaches, Diane finds her mother’s mixed tape, a tape to which she has never listened. Emily procured a working tape player, which is no small feat in 2017, and recorded Diane listening to the tape for the first time. It is a special moment. Be sure to listen to it with the sound on. Below you can read a preview from the book, as well as my interview with this brilliant chapbook author. Do yourself a favor and get this book. 
—Natalie Eilbert
Of the two women who birthed me
I moved one of them in,
even though the other wants desperately for us to live together.
It’s not a competition.
The one I stole in the middle of the night
has been saying so much as of late.
And the one I left in Brooklyn
keeps saying the same thing —
except for when she talks about her sister.
I’m getting new old news now
that I’ve reached the year she ceased.
My sister did it four years before me.
Persisting is not rocket science.
I sleep well even though she sits on my coffee table.
I guess it’s not so hard after all
to breathe from behind plastic sheets.
She sits in my phone.
She sits in my feed.
I [...] Continue Reading »

Liv Lansdale: Who’s your favorite pop cultural figure?

Alana Massey: Harry Styles. I write and talk a lot about Harry Styles and One Direction in a way that seems a bit flip and like I’m just some sort of overgrown teen with a crush on a floppy-haired boy but I honestly think that Styles is the kind of charismatic performer and person that we get maybe once in a decade, a generation even. People who have followed his career since the beginning of One Direction know that he’s always been exceptionally funny, self-aware, warm, and constantly learning and absorbing information as it pertains to living in a more just world.

LL: Are there any [pop cultural figures] you feel particularly ambivalent about? You love them but you don’t want to, or you believe you should love them but you don’t? 

AM: Intellectually, I know I am supposed to revere and care about Madonna because it is indisputable that she’s done incredible things for creativity, for women, and for society. She’s incomparable in so many ways and I get that. But I just have a hard time getting worked up about her or excited, even though I’m a huge fan of the music that made her famous.

LL: At what point did you realize this would be a book of women? Was there a draft with any dude-focused essays?

AM: This was always 100% going to be a book about women and the earliest incarnation of the [book] proposal was actually much angrier and more focused on the evils of men than on the merits of women. I used to think that there was quite enough material about men that I’d never write a word about famous men but as I’ve started doing celebrity profiles and have finally had a chance to write about boy bands at the length and depth I want, I am seriously considering shifting my focus to men. There is a lot of written work about men but very little of it is written by women—what if Vogue and Vanity Fair profiles of men were coming from someone with a hetero-female gaze? Or from a more empathetic, less adulating perspective than so many man-on-man profiles are? What if profiles or essays about men could show that they’re vulnerable more than that they’re cool? Angelica Jade Bastién wrote these two incredible pieces on Keanu Reeves and James Marsden that absolutely blew me away in this area and I would love to see more writing like that from women.

LL: Which essay from All the Lives I Want evolved the most? What was the starting point?

Alana Massey: The Winona/Gwyneth essay started as something of a rant that I ended up reading aloud at the first reading I was ever invited to. It read far cattier, far angrier, and far more self-indulgent than the essay that ended up in the book. The first published incarnation of it was on Buzzfeed and even after it was toned down for that, there was still this dichotomy set up that there really are Winonas and Gwyneths, which I [...] Continue Reading »

al youm: a preview

April 19, 2017

Poetry is capable of willing language into new utility. It can be a political engine, transforming discourse into a line, a fume of impulses. George Abraham is a poet of exact fury, channeling language as he also interferes with its oppressive transmissions. Few writers are able, the way George Abraham is able, to convey the bareness of violence without falling back on traditional poetic instincts. But for George, tradition requires splintering. Encountering George on the page and on the stage, it becomes clear that George is busy casting another net entirely, one in which mastery bows to mutuality, one in which power dissolves away from the absolute and into the terrible space of inhabitance. With George, we must obliterate the language of the Zionist by showing us the language of the Zionist. We must see the Queer Palestinian by seeing the Queer Palestinian present amid their enemies. We see grammar as a kind of ramshackle as the voice of the poems rise up, rise forward, break apart its captors. Working with George has taught me so much about patience and celebration, that we might elect a better community despite what we think we deserve from community. al youm is so much power and grace and beauty. I hope you’ll purchase your copy of it today and celebrate this singular, phenomenal poet. Much thanks, as always, to the ever-talented and brilliant co-editor Emily Raw for creating a gorgeous and compelling cover, and for conceiving George’s book trailer, seen above.
ode to my swollen, mono-infected Spleen
There’s a weight in you that screams at
Unholy hours & this is the first time you
Were led to believe your body is not a chasm;
When your gut becomes an ocean in love
With its tempests & the invisible islands
Swallowed whole in the wake of you —
You’ve got the colonizers shaking in their
Boots; every white thing trembles at
The sight of the expansive planet you’ve become;
There are parts you never knew existed
Until they occupied too much space.
Until your own weight fills your
Hollowed frame & everything inside
You bursts & swells into
A cacophony of organs & white blood
Cells — how could you expect to house
All this fluid & turbulence & history without
Imploding? Don’t they know you have a
Whole country in you? How can
You expect completeness when home is
A borderless entity; when you fit the
Infinite into a single body — how do
They look at you & not see God in that
Swell & undertow? In the Goliath
They made of that fist-sized organ, or the
Holy ghost your immune system has become;
They look at you & see a defenseless thing; a city
In love with the carpet bomb’s embrace;
You ever look at a body on fire & see
God in the burning? You ever sing hallelujah
To an infected thing because it did not
Kill you? Because the battle makes you feel
So alive you’ve forgotten the martyr your
Body has become? You’re still unlearning
The parts of you that shrivel & shrink beneath
The confines of gravity & you’ve begun teaching them
To swell. To crash.
To flood.
—Originally published by Brooklyn Poets

An Interview with George Abraham
Natalie Eilbert: The experience of reading al youm is a forceful [...] Continue Reading »