rosemary stretch: a woman’s work is never done

Mercury retrograde’s got me itching to get rid of all these papers everywhere. A woman’s work is never done. I’ve been writing for a long time with drafts piling up over more than 30 years now. It’s too much. I mostly write by hand. By that I mean that I still do– I write every day by hand. People who know me well have seen the years of Mead journals that fill files, bookcases and chests. Not to mention all the journals in storage, the boxes full of them in my mother’s garage.

Every few years I have a bonfire. Or a shredding party. I just can’t keep all this stuff around, I need to let it go. Maybe I haven’t done a good enough job at midwifing; at getting the words out into the world: a woman’s work is never done.

There are poems here and there, a couple of books, but nothing compared to all these journals, papers and drafts. It seems a shame to just disappear them, but the point of the writing may have been the process itself. Not whether I got a book contract (I didn’t). Not anything measured in statistics, page visits, likes or any other measurable criteria. There was love in the doing, in the writing itself. (inner critic laughs, just keep telling yourself that, hon.)

impermanence

In my heart I have so much love for ephemera, for noting the moment, bearing witness, archiving, preserving. All part of why I became a librarian. Creating all those chapbooks helped make me a poet. Output could have been zines or stories, recipes, paintings, mixtapes, dance moves, love songs, anything, but I made poetry chapbooks. Most of them hand-sewn, with hand-stamped or painted covers. I loved doing it and sharing it with folks who seemed to share my interests. It’s love. That’s one of the ways love expresses itself through me, the vehicle I am.

Lately I’ve focused in other directions, but I’m grateful to have been able to share. Now that I’ve added one pdf I’m going to try to add more. For me the point was always in the making and the writing. There’s a physical beauty to handmade things that doesn’t translate into digital realms. That magic is mostly lost now, like browsing books or listening to music in record stores.

There is access though and that’s beautiful too. Information spreads far, wide and quickly– instantaneously. Most of my chapbooks had very limited runs. Only however many I could sew or staple– 50 or 100 total (a woman’s work is never done). That made them seem very precious, wonderful gifts, but very few people ever saw them. Putting them online, at least they exist again: new digital life. If anyone ever gets curious, they can maybe find them.

Like Rosemary Stretch.

Whenever I put together a chapbook, it was usually full of poems that already felt old to me, distant. Rosemary Stretch (pdf) was published in 2006 with the first Dusie Press kollektive project organized by Susana Gardner. (It was like a spinoff of the subpoetics self-publish or perish project– is there anything about that online? It was so long ago I can’t even remember what I wrote for that; though I know I participated because I just saw some sheets of old mailing labels to people on that list. Ah, listservs… so Y2K. Looking around the internets I don’t see much mention of it. Maybe that’s a subject for a future post.) I was living in the UK at the time; a new mother, all my energy was going to the baby. My thoughts, when I had them, circled around ideas of women’s work (it’s never done), women’s writing generally, and whether motherhood would change my own writing.

women’s work

The idea of the “Rose Mary Stretch” struck me as hilarious then the same as it does now. I stay amazed that people mostly don’t know wtf I’m talking about when I say that. Even though I put an image on the cover. It’s an abstracted black and white rendering of Rose Mary Woods, Nixon’s secretary, demonstrating how it was that she ‘accidentally’ erased 5 of the missing 18.5 minutes of the Watergate tapes. In the image, she’s re-enacting the scene, later known as the “Rose Mary Stretch.” Rose Mary Woods died in 2005 and I must have heard a story about it to set me off thinking about what it means to be a good secretary.

Rose Mary Woods' stretch that 'accidentally' erased 5 minutes of the Watergate Tapes.
Rose Mary Woods’ stretch that ‘accidentally’ erased 5 minutes of the Watergate Tapes.

From the Washington Post, “Reporters were called to the White House to watch her perform a re-enactment, and the photos of her performing a tremendous stretch, which she supposedly held for five minutes, were rejected as implausible. Moreover, the particular tape recording machine does not operate the way she had claimed; simply pressing the foot pedal to “record” would not initiate a recording unless the play button was being manually depressed at the very same time.”

Halfway through 2021, we’re still in a global pandemic. Climate crisis, wars raging around the world, mass graves appearing, severed heads in the garbage. There are bodies still in freezer trucks down the street. Centuries of greed, hatred and delusion are being revealed for what they are; bearing fruit in deeply painful ways for us all. Poems inspired by the idea of a good secretary erasing incriminating evidence for her boss seem almost sweet right now. Simpler times. Even in simpler times, a woman’s work was never done.

resistance is beautiful

Back in 2018, THERETHEN published a limited edition chapbook of mine called resistance is beautiful. Over the years, the poems have morphed and the chapbook became a full-length manuscript. (It’s sitting in a binder over there waiting for someone to decide to publish it.) Eventhough some of these poems were already old when they were published in 2018, I still love them. They mean different things in the current moment. The chapbook is online as a pdf linked here and from the poetry page.

masked folks carrying a banner that says "Resistance Is Beautiful.

Most importantly to me is that art serves collective liberation. To clarify, I’m not suggesting in any way that my poems had anything to do with any of this, but it pleases me all the same. Above is a photo of masked folks carrying a banner that says “Resistance Is Beautiful.” I think it’s from a protest in Charlotte, NC but can’t find a proper photo credit for it. I’ll credit itsgoingdown.org.

april was the cruellest

It was T.S. Eliot who noticed it first, that “April is the cruellest month” or at least he was the first one to bother writing it down. From “The Waste Land“:

“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain…”

pink roses
pink roses

For the first time in years I missed a month. Usually I get at least one post up per month and I just noticed missing April. Here are some scenes from May before life rushes by and I don’t notice it happening or bother to comment on it here.

light and dark purple lilacs in glass vase
“lilacs out of the dead land”

celebrate with me

Just the other day I was turned on to this Lucille Clifton poem, “Won’t you celebrate with me” by a colleague at work and now I’m grateful to be seeing, hearing and feeling it everywhere:

neon text reads: come celebrate with me that everyday something has tried to kill me and has failed

Inspired By “What Is Left” 2020 @brooklynhiartmachine (artists Mildred Beltre and Oasa DuVerney) in collaboration with @bricbrooklyn the installation is on view at the Prospect Park Bandshell in Brooklyn through May 2021.

won’t you celebrate with me

won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

Here’s a video of Ms. Clifton sharing her work:

virtual poetry reading

image description: store shelves stacked full of toilet paper
well stocked shelf of toilet paper will be my virtual background

I’m looking forward to my first virtual poetry reading. A week from Saturday it’s happening– on May 23rd at 5pm I’ll be reading with Alan Felsenthal as part of the Segue Reading Series‘ collaboration with Artists Space.

More info and link available here.

embodiment

I’m thinking about embodiment. I don’t often go into astrology here because it’s not everybody’s thing, but today’s Taurus new moon is joining up with Uranus as it’s squaring Saturn. That’s talking about a profoundly deep movement toward liberation & previously unimagined possibilities while confronting restriction, rules, limits, pressure, with possibly burdensome responsibility.

This 50th anniversary of Earth Day (lol, every day is earth day). Really being present with the transformation happening now, including the chaos, uncertainty, fear and grief that accompany it. It’s a wild ride & these bodies are our vehicles. Our physical bodies, the body of the earth. Sitting with what makes a body up.

Feliz Dia De La Tierra / Happy Earth Day

via GIPHY

In the Satipatthana sutta, we get great instructions about how to contemplate the body internally and externally, both internally & externally at once. We attend to our breathing, the breathing body, the whole of the body being breathed. The body in different positions: sitting, walking, lying down. Attending to the ways the body inhabits and moves through space aware that our experience of moving through space is different for different bodies. Our embodiment impacts our experiences. There was an article in the NYTimes recently addressing this, about being a black man wearing a mask in public during this pandemic, “For Black Men, Fear That Masks Will Invite Racial Profiling.” To extend the contemplation of the body externally, contrast that to the masked and armed “protests” taking place around the country to “liberate” the states.

That’s not the kind of liberation I’m talking about when I say liberation.

Embodiment is unique to each individual body. We are sharing a collective experience and can talk about the collective body, but our experiences are wildly different. (There’s an insightful reflection on It’s Going Down, “All We Have Is Us: A Report From A Delivery Driver In Manhattan.”) Structural inequities are laid bare now. We’re seeing what there is to see, but how are we experiencing it in our bodies, how are we making sense of it?

Embodied experience

The body doing activities, the body’s experience of impermanence– of arising and passing away in the body. I love the anatomical parts part of the Satipatthana myself: “in this body there are head-hairs, body-hairs, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, bone-marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, diaphragm, spleen, lungs, bowels, mesentery, contents of the stomach, faeces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, spittle, snot, oil of the joints and urine.” (from Ven. Analayo’s Satipatthana, the direct path to realization.) These detailed methods of contemplating our component parts are a highly effective way of herding our attention toward what we’re made of.

Disclosure: that’s an affiliate link. My first one ever. If anyone ever buys a book from my site, Bookshop will throw me a couple coins. Literally, it’s pennies. I want to encourage and support independent bookstores especially in these times. Bezos won’t miss your business, I promise.

These parts of ours (each part worthy of attention, worthy of love and care) are comprised of elements. “In this body there are the earth element, the water element, the fire element, the air element.” Celebrating earth day, honoring the earth, we celebrate ourselves. It’s not poetry, it’s highly practical and pragmatic. As within, so without. How does embodiment show up in our lives, in our bodies, in this present moment? What are we made of? Imagining what will we can create with the elements we share. What’s residing in our hearts now? What are we capable of? How will we shape this transformation? What structures will we put in place? How do we manifest the embodiment of our ideals, bring feeling and aspiration into form? New moons are for planting seeds for future harvest. These are the things I’m thinking of as I do what I can to move us all closer to true freedom.

Cultivating embodied awareness

Laura from the Poetry Project asked me to share a few writing prompts from the workshop I led in the Fall, meditation in an emergency. I’m sharing them here as well, a few writing prompts to cultivate awareness of the body and practice communicating with/through embodied presence. Some ways to write when it feels like an emergency–

Writing prompts

  • Cultivate present moment awareness– deliberate, non-judgmental, bare attention to the now. Write from that place: what you can discern through your senses right now, in this very moment? What do you see, hear, feel, taste, smell? Not thoughts or ideas, you’re the scribe of direct experience, what’s happening now? And now, and now?
  • Inhabiting that awareness, write to and from the body (personal body, body of the earth, fear body, grief body, body electric) &/or body parts.
  • Too anxious to generate new material? Write into or from (take a line, phrase, words, ideas, anything you like) this poem https://poets.org/poem/i-sing-body-electric or any other text or song that you like.
  • Anything that supports moving beyond self-focus can be a useful path through emergencies. Finding and creating flow states, for example. Flow = a state of being completely immersed in a project or learning experience that challenges us.
  • Write for 3 minutes without picking up your pen. I do mean write, not type. (I guess you could type if that’s your thing.) Try to incorporate the sensations of the writing experience into the work. (How’s your posture? How are your eyes feeling? Are you getting sweaty? Is trying to write new work stressing you out? Are you having fun yet?) Try 5 minutes.
  • Try creating: collaging, chapbook making, drawing or painting without judgement around it, simply focusing on the pleasure of the experience.
  • If none of that’s working, ask what Bernadette Mayer would do & try that: http://www.writing.upenn.edu/library/Mayer-Bernadette_Experiments.html

poetry month

The fact that it’s poetry month again didn’t really register with me immediately, what with everything else going on. It’s not a luxury though and I’ve often insisted on the importance of a world where poetry, art, music, dance, JOY not only exist but flourish whatever else is going on. As a poet, it’s part of my responsibility to do what I can to help manifest that vision.

Text reads: Tuesday as fuck. Keep testing me. from "Flex," Betsy FAgin
from “Flex,” Betsy Fagin

I think I’ll be having a reading soon– details are still being worked out– and in preparation, I went back over some of my work to see what I have to share with folks now. Re-reading self-driving, I’m really into the work there and it’s gotten wildly eery in light of the pandemic and current global circumstances. Some earlier versions of poems from self-driving are available here at the Brooklyn Rail. Anytime anyone wants to publish the whole book, just hit me up. I’ll keep on tweaking and editing it until it finds a forever home.

The last 6 weeks have really been Tuesday as fuck though. For real.

devotions: everyday ecstasy

Mary Oliver is quoted regularly in mindfulness and yoga circles. Probably because her lines are so beautiful and they’re also very true. One of them is “attention is the beginning of devotion” from her essay “Upstream.” (An article in the Atlantic, reflecting on that essay is here.) I could spend ages diving into Oliver’s work. I’m incredibly grateful that I have the opportunity to do just that. I’ve been living closely with her work for the past few months, and will continue to do so through the summer when I’ll be guiding a workshop at Poets House on her work, Attending to Everyday Ecstasy.

Attending to everyday ecstasy. Betsy Fagin guides 6 weeks of engagement with the work of Mary Oliver at Poets House, NYC. Registration deadline May 22nd.
Text reads: Attending to everyday ecstasy. Betsy Fagin guides 6 weeks of engagement with the work of Mary Oliver at Poets House, NYC. Registration deadline May 22nd.

I’m looking forward to spending time at Poets House again. Before becoming a librarian I wrangled the collection at Poets House for years in the old location on Spring Street. The new spot on the water is beautiful, a perfect setting to explore this work. In this practical workshop, we’ll dive into Oliver’s work and make use of Poets House’s waterfront location to cultivate attention as we listen to the world and explore our “place in the family of things.” We will create new poems and investigate earnestness, accessibility, and darkness in Oliver’s work, focusing on Dream Work and Devotions.

The course runs from June 11-July 16, 2020 and registration is open until May 22nd.

Poets House is wheelchair accessible & located at 10 River Terrace in New York City.

new poems

Thrilled to get my hands on the latest copy of Obsidian: Literature & Arts in the African Diaspora. There are five of my recent poems in issue 45.1 along with fantastic work by some of my favorites, Cynthia Manick and Douglas Kearney as well as voices that are new to me. Thank you to the editors for putting together another wonderful issue!

Subscribe to Obsidian & support the work here: https://obsidianlit.org/subscribe/

meditation in an emergency

While I was off meditating in the California hills, the good folks at The Poetry Project put together a feature of some of the writing that was produced in our Meditation in an emergency workshop this Fall.

New work from Janae Brux, Anna Gurton-Wachter, E.C. Kane, Peter Bogart Johnson, Susana Malo, Ryan Nowlin, Victoria Ordway and Serge Rodriguez is now online at https://www.poetryproject.org/publications/work-from-meditations-in-an-emergency/.

I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to share some writing & meditation practices with this group. It’s wonderful to see some of what grew out of our time together. Join us next week for a free reading from workshop participants: Thursday December 12th at 8pm. The Poetry Project is located at 131 E. 10th St. NYC. Facebook event details here.

Accessibility: St. Mark’s Church is wheelchair accessible. Please call The Poetry Project at 212-674-0910 in advance of events to arrange accessibility. Please note on Fridays between 8-9:30pm the wheelchair accessible all gender bathrooms on the ground floor are unavailable because another arts project has performances in the sanctuary. There are All-Gender bathrooms on the second floor of the church. To access Parish Hall, attendees must pass through the main sanctuary and a corridor. There are 2 sets of double doors and two single doors to go through. The smallest of these doors at the end of the corridor is 28.5 inches wide. The Poetry Project will arrange for an ASL interpreter for any event with one week’s advance notice.