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.

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.

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.

New Yorkers’ busy schedules

Our writing & meditation class at The Poetry Project, meditation in an emergency, continues apace. We made lots of little books last week. Above is an image from one of my own. I’m so grateful to get to offer what I love with/for others who share my interests. Writing and book making for me are gateways into flow states. There was so much wonderful energy and focus in the room, I didn’t want to disrupt it by documenting for social media. Participants will be sharing some of their own work at an upcoming reading at the Project in December.

meditation in an emergency

“Each time my heart is broken it makes me feel more adventurous” Frank O’Hara

Meditation in an emergency: a writing & meditation workshop with Betsy Fagin at The Poetry Project, NYC. 5 sessions beginning September 19, 2019

Next month, I’ll be guiding a workshop at The Poetry Project, meditation in an emergency. I tweaked Frank O’Hara’s title because it feels especially apt, but the workshop’s got nothing to do with Frank O’Hara.

It will be a practical class, a space to explore the present moment– lived, bodily experience– within and through the vehicle of writing. Utilizing a variety of generative writing exercises, meditation practices and discussion, this 5-week class invites participants to anchor in the body, the breath, sound and sensation and to translate this embodiment into their writing practices. The focus of this class is cultivating mindful awareness and generating new material. Previous meditation experience is not required.

EVENT DETAILS: Meditation in an Emergency
Thursday, September 19, 2019, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Parish Hall, St. Mark’s Church (131 E 10th St, New York, NY 10003)
Cost: $150 for 5 Sessions – 9/19, 9/26, 10/3, 10/17, 10/24.
Register online at The Poetry Project

Accessibility: Please call The Poetry Project at 212-674-0910 in advance to arrange accessibility. Please note on Thursdays & 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.