Date: Sep 11, 2018, 2:30 PM
Subject: 1981 Feminist Reading Group // Week One 9.18 // This Bridge Called My Back
Thank you all so much for signing up for the 1981 Feminist Reading Group. I am so excited to see you all next week! Our first meeting will be on Tuesday, September 18, from 7 – 9 pm at the Neighborhood Preservation Center, which is just next door to St. Mark’s Church at 232 East 11th St. When you arrive, buzz No 1, and the person at the front desk will let you know which room we’re meeting in. The group will meet for the next five Tuesdays, so if you are marking your calendars, those dates are 9/18, 9/25, 10/2, 10/9, and 10/16.
For the first week, we’ll be reading selections from Cherríe Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa‘s 1981 anthology, This Bridge Called My Back. Sitting at my desk now, thinking about just how many feminist reading groups have met together in living rooms and kitchens and other community spaces in other cities to talk about this book, I feel so grateful for the foundational work Moraga and Anzaldúa accomplished in bringing this text together, and I feel so honored and excited to participate in this great, what should we call it, this great feminist reading group tradition with you all. As you move through the text, perhaps think about any questions you might have about tradition and foundation, and about interconnectivity and intersectionality. Or if those questions don’t stick for you and you find another way into the text, that’s great too!
I’ve attached a PDF of my selections from This Bridge, but it was super hard to try and keep it relatively short. So if you’ve read it before and you’re bummed to see that I’ve left out your favorite poem or essay, please let me know and we’ll add it back in! I’m also including the introduction to David Harvey’s Brief History of Neoliberalism and Chandra Talpade Mohanty‘s introduction to a collection she co-edited, Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism. Both of those texts are totally optional, if you have time and want some extra context. Also, if you have other PDFs you think might be helpful/inspiring, for this week or for future reading, please feel welcome to share!
Finally, unless I think of something else later and have to pop back up in your inbox, if you’re getting this email and thinking, “damn, I forgot I signed up for this,” or “crap, when I signed up it sounded so fun but now my schedule’s too full and I’m stressed,” I feel you, no worries at all; please just let me know as soon as possible (like maybe today?) so I can offer your spot to one of the waitlisters!
I know this is a lot of information, so please do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions at all. I can’t wait to meet/see you again next week and hear all about your experience of and insights into This Bridge!
Date: Thu, Sep 20, 10:30 PM
Subject: 1981 Feminist Reading Group Week 2 // 9.25.18 // “New York Week”
I’m so excited for Week Two of the 1981 Feminist Reading Group, which I have found myself thinking of as New York Week or maybe even East Village Week.
Already the constraints of the whole “only readings from 1981” thing is proving to be kinda a pain. When you open the Eileen Myles PDF, perhaps you will think, “wtf, Sappho’s Boat is from 1982, how’d that get into my 1981 Feminist Reading Group,” which, fair enough, but in my defense, in some places Sappho’s Boat is listed as 1982 (like for example I Must Be Living Twice: New and Selected Poems by Eileen Myles from which I made this scan), but in other places it is listed as 1981. I even did a little extra research to soothe my conscience about disrespecting the constraints of our feminist reading group and asked Eileen about it, and they said poems for both Sappho’s Boat and Fresh Young Voice From The Plains were written at the same time, and in fact they were not 100% sure of publication dates, maybe both were 1981, maybe both were 1982. These are questions for another group of subversive archivists at another time. Because for us, we’re just gonna read both.
I also felt we would be doing this week wrong if we didn’t read some Tim Dlugos, so find that attached as well. I wasn’t able to figure out what poems were included in his 1981 book, Entre Nous (which full disclosure I have seen some places listed as 1982, I’m sorry, there are no rules, time isn’t real), so I just selected a bunch of poems from 1981 from A Fast Life: The Collected Poems of Tim Dlugos.
For additional context, I’ve included the introduction and epilogue to Kim Phillips-Fein’s Fear City: New York’s Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics, and would also encourage you to revisit the New York Times article published on July 3, 1981 “Rare Cancer Seen In 41 Homosexuals.” With these additional readings, I’m thinking about the politics of inevitability, I’m thinking about how things could always have been otherwise, how other possible actions might have led to other possible futures, had they not been foreclosed upon by existing structures of power who then call the steps they do take “necessary” or “unavoidable,” claiming anything else would have been “impossible.” I’m also thinking about how life is valued and devalued, what has been ignored at what cost, and I’m thinking about what is remembered, what is mourned, and what isn’t. I’m also thinking about (maybe you are too) what poetry has to do with all of this, how it can push back against a politics of inevitability to show that so much more is always possible, how it might value differently and remember differently.
That’s enough for now I think, can’t wait to hear what you all think next week!
Date: Thu, Sep 27, 10:15 PM
Subject: Diane Burns !
See below note from Nicole!! So excited for next week!!
Wow — I’m so excited to share, experience, and discuss the work of Diane Burns with you all next week! It was a true dream and honor to be invited by Laura to guest host this session, and I am so grateful for her support, for her care and deep interest in Diane’s work — a poet who means just so much to me, and in so many ways. So thank you, Laura. Really <3
Ok, I’ll keep this short since I’ve waited until Thursday evening to send this along to you, but I promise the readings this week aren’t long:
Riding the One-Eyed Ford (Contact II Publishing, 1981): Diane Burns’ first and only published chapbook, long out of print, published by Maurice Kenny’s Contact II Publishing in 1981.
“Sure You Can Ask Me A Personal Question” (poem, 1989)
Diane Burns, Native American Lower East Side poet (The Villager, Volume 76, Number 38 | February 14 -20, 2007)
Sinister Wisdom: A Gathering of Spirit, North American Indian Women’s Issue (Issues 22/23, 1983): This issue of Sinister Wisdom was edited by Beth Brant (Degonwadonti). The issue, the time (1983), the work being done, and Beth’s intro immediately came to mind and heart when reading Cherrie Moraga, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Toni Cade Bambara’s forewords for This Bridge Called My Back. I hope we can talk more about this on Tuesday. I’m curious to hear what comes to mind for all of you.
In addition to discussing / thinking together through the works above (attached below), we will also watch two videos — one video of Diane performing “Alphabet City Serenade” for Bob Holman’s Poetry Spots series and another longer video, I’ll Remember You as You Were, Not as What You’ve Become (12 mins, 2016), an elegy to Diane Burns by filmmaker Sky Hopinka (Ho-Chunk/Pechanga).
Date: Thu, Oct 4, 2:39 PM
Subject: 1981 Feminist Reading Group // Week Four // “These personal feelings are important enough to be made public.”
“I want to address you somewhere beyond whether or not you ‘buy it,’ I want to decline the magicianship in order for you to be present, right here” — Alice Notley, “Waltzing Matilda”
I’m so excited, here we are, 🌹Alice Notley🌹 week! And another week, I fear, with maybe too much to read. As I was scanning the entirety of Waltzing Matilda, I thought, “should I go ahead and include all 30 pages of this interview with George Schneeman that for some reason is in this book?” and then I thought, “yes, do it for the 1981 Feminist Reading Group,” and I happily scanned away, thinking of you all, listening to someone snore softly in the Grad Center library. You’re welcome.
For extra context this week, or maybe context is the wrong word in this case, maybe I mean more as a possible place to start, I’m sharing Wayne Koestenbaum’s “My 1980s” and an interview between Tammy Rae Carland and Ann Cvetkovich called “Sharing an Archive of Feelings”. (An Archive of Feelings is the name of a book by Cvetkovich that Carland later “stole” for an art project). Just read as much as you feel like/are able to, whatever you can do is enough.
This week, I’m thinking again about “private life” and “public life,” I’m thinking about something we’ve already talked about but can always talk more about, how “the personal is political,” I’m thinking about the description for Simone White’s master class, I’m thinking about feeling(s). I can’t wait to hear what you are thinking!
BONUS WRITING EXERCISES: I also thought to come to this week as poets, whether or not we are all poets, whether or not it is possible to come to anything in any other way. So I wanted to propose some optional writing exercises!
- Follow “Waltzing Matilda” and write a journal poem. Maybe try what Notley does and include multiple voices, styles of writing, line lengths, questions, dreams, jokes, relationships, conversations, mistakes.
- Write “My 1980s” or “My 2000s” or “My 2014” or “My 2020s” or maybe even “My 1780s” Something temporally located but extensive or expansive in experience. Use specificity in a way that can be felt.
- Maybe the same thing as the first two — make an archive of feelings! Or an inventory of feelings? Or a list of feelings? This could be with words or with objects of personal significance, or any kind of significance. It could be from your own private era (i.e. “the era I was in love with X,” “the era I only listened to X”), or an era that included others (i.e. “the 80s”).
Obviously you don’t have to do any of that, but if you feel so inspired, I’d love to see what you come up with, and hear about your experience writing in this way!
Finally, and sorry to leave an important update till the end of a long email, but for the last week, 🌟Lorenzo Thomas 🌟 week, facilitated by Dave Morse, we will not be meeting at NPC, as their rooms were already booked. Instead we will be meeting at 7 Belvidere Street off the JMZ Myrtle Broadway stop. I will remind you several times before then!
As always, if you have any questions or concerns or ideas or inspirations, please don’t hesitate to reach out!
Date: Thu, Oct 11, 2:56 PM
Subject: From Dave // 1981 Feminist Reading Group // Week Five // LORENZO THOMAS
See below, beautifully written and expertly cited, note from Dave! And I’ll see you all Tuesday!
DO NOT SHOW UP TO OUR NORMAL MEETING SPACE, THE NEIGHBORHOOD PRESERVATION CENTER!!!
TUESDAY’S MEETING WILL BE IN BUSHWICK, OFF THE MYRTLE-BROADWAY JMZ STOP (OR A SHORT-ISH 15-20 MIN WALK FROM THE MONTROSE OR MORGAN L), AT 7 BELVEDERE STREET. The space is a retrofitted shipping container that a group of artists and activists have been running as a community and arts space for over a year now. It’s rad, but the bathroom situation is a little lacking (there’s a port-a-potty). However there is a bar and a coffee shop across the street with more than adequate facilities for anyone who needs.
Anyway. It is with immeasurable sadness that I approach us bringing our reading group to a close, and with immeasurable gladness to be able to discuss with you all one of my favorite books, the staggering collection The Bathers by Lorenzo Thomas.
Following some of the ways in which we have been reading our authors over the last four weeks, I want to contextualize Thomas’ work as we explore it. I thought an interesting point brought up last week was the ways in which societal pressures and demands interact with how someone can or has to engage with their work and their life as a public, working artist — I know one example brought up was ways in which Diane Burns may have had to excuse or justify her own substance use, while Alice Notley seemed privileged to casually freewheel her speed habit and drinking around her poetry as she pleased. These pressures and demands obviously intersect and expand beyond things like substance use, but are perhaps useful for understanding and positioning the author and work.
I also think it will be useful to consider the developments of experimental/”avant garde” poetics in Black artistic/poetic movements, and their resulting varieties of representation, acknowledgement, reception, or lack thereof–an area which Thomas concerned himself greatly in his scholarly work, and also a very valid and useful critical lens for viewing Thomas’ work and positioning it alongside/against peers whose similar experiments may have had different “impacts” or reception.
So I’m going to include two quotes here to start the readings. First being Thomas on Amiri Baraka, second being Alice Notley on Thomas:
“For good and bad reasons, Baraka, as critic Ezekiel Mphahlele (otherwise one of our more alert readers) has consistently failed to understand, is best as a poet of intense personal reflection, which is exactly why he always appears to us in the sack cloth of social activism. Literally, he does not have time to be himself. But were he given the time, who (as he himself eloquently ponders in his poems) would that self be? In this way he speaks to us in our lostness, striving, and misery, and we are habituated now to the eager anticipation of his own subsequent interpretations of each current guise. For all his complexities, however, Baraka’s work reveals a fundamental consistency.” (Thomas, Extraordinary Measures p.159)
“[Thomas’ poetry] uses personal feeling and knowledge to achieve a public voice that’s thoughtful enough, playful and subtle enough, to appeal to a reader or audience member as an individual intelligence without separating her/him from others, from communal issues. The articulating of this voice is an important achievement. It corresponds to what many people are when not pushed to extremes by outrageous cultural demands: reasonable, musical, both gregarious and private.” (Notley, Coming After p. 106)
I have of course uploaded a generous selection from The Bathers, but for supplementary reading we have an essay on Thomas by last week’s heroine Alice Notley, a paper given by Thomas in 2000 on the origins of the Black avant-garde, a short lecture on poetry and the vernacular from 1988, and an uncorrected proof chapter (it’s all he could dig up for us!) on Thomas and earlier experimental Black poet Tolson by eminent Thomas scholar A.L. Nielsen (who was instrumental in getting the Collected Poems of Lorenzo Thomas published, which there will be a launch party for at the Poetry Project Wednesday 10/24!).
I didn’t have time to scan it in today, but I also hope to include “Roots of the Black Arts Movement: New York in the 1960s” from Thomas’ “Extraordinary Measures”. It is a survey of many key writers from the BAM/Umbra scenes. If I can get around to it I will be sending that along later!
Also, embarrassingly, you will notice that my bookmark got in the way of most of the scanned poems in the “Fit Music” section of The Bathers. I will absolutely be rescanning and sending it along later — it’s one of my favorite stretches of the book, and an incredible work on the insanity of the 1960s, specifically being caught up in the racial and Imperialist conflicts of the time (Thomas was drafted and fought in Vietnam).
Obviously this is a LOT of supplementary reading — and is by no means mandatory, as always! Just want to give as much extra fodder as I can for this final week.
It might also be worth mentioning this great resource that is the Eclipse Archive — many Umbra and Black Arts Movement poets’ works are up there, including one of the chapbooks (Dracula) later reprinted in the Bathers.
See you all on Tuesday! Oh, and one last thing — the bookstore I run with my friend Matty happens to be about forty feet from our meeting space, at 867 Broadway. If anyone feels like checking it out, we will be open before the meeting (but closing at 9).