"what is a body that can be a body not constantly exposed" : A Celebration of the work and life of kari edwards

Xpoetics has been on a bit of a time-delay in terms of posting responses to events. Life has just been that way of late.

But, Thursday, February 18th I made it to Modern Times Bookstore on Valencia in San Francisco for a celebration of the publication of kari edwards' Bharat jiva and No Gender: Reflections of the Life and Work of kari edwards. Each of these beautifully printed books was published as a collaborative effort between Litmus Press and Belladonna Books.

Thursday night's readers included contributors to No Gender: Reflections of the Life and Work of kari edwards: Fran Blau, Rob Halpern, Tanya Hollis, Kevin Killian, Wendy Kramer, Joseph Lease, Yedda Morrison, Donna de la Perriere, and Eleni Stecopoulos.

The editors--Julian T. Brolaski, erica kaufman, and E. Tracy Grinnell--of No Gender write:

kari's genius moved others to their own words, art, action--following a mandate of reclaiming the very words we speak and write--writing our selves, our other(ed) bodies, into a foundationl post-gender post-genre state. This book is that start of what hopefully will be a much longer conversation....

By "attempting language" as a way of combating the oppression of forced identification, kari shared with so many others this desire not to write the self into a genre, rather to find a space where gender could be written out, where a body can exist just as a body--not a body gendered, but a body othered, a queer fluid body, "a body without organs."

kari's authorial "signature" undoes the authorial body in favor of a visible obfuscation--strikethru: kari never just signed, but rather crossed out hir name and wrote "NO GENDER." The erasure--well no, the palimpsestic remaking of the name into a symbol for the dismantling of enforced gender codes is a profound and provocative gesture--the name is still visible behind the NO GENDER, as if behind bars....

These texts celebrate kari's mark--and insist that we must continue to take on and bamboozle our oppressive cultural nomenclature. kari, we'll keep reading your work, and continue the conversation and the protest and continue to challenge gender race class binaries and speak out about violence against transpeople and protest the two-gender option on governmental forms and public bathrooms, and take it to the streets and not shop at corporations and piss in a jar and use all kind of pronouns and let children decide their own gender.

kari, your work will keep calling keep inspiring the rewriting and re-visioning of speech previously ingrained. kari, you perpetually push the line of what one thought was possible to achieve both in verse and in how one positions oneself in a life. so, let's undo the words that bind us, let's write ourselves a space in a post-gender world.

Here's a piece from edwards's Bharat jiva:

exposed to a potential body, exposed constantly
exposed, broken to bits to prove death's limits,
choosing the most logical answer, someone said,
"do not do this." someone else said, "do not
presume screaming one more time will prove
anything," will divert broken bodies to bits, to
form another lonesome particle of something
between multiple co-authored epics and another
official counter-sentence, grotesquely misplaced,
measured in the name of...blown to bits to
prove, wounded by bullets, disfigured by rumor,
crippled by falling lies, in a state of the state of
euthanasia, choosing the most logical question to
prove, what is the correct program? what is the
correct proportion of rice? and what is that
something between partition and pogrom? what
is that something piles in vain, tears in suits,
linked to fantasies hidden blindness, full of strife
and bitter endings? what is a body that can be a
body not constantly exposed, blown to bits? (68)

Below are quotes from a few of the contributors to NO GENDER.

"kari edwards's late work reads like a sustained séance with the dead. The writing channels identity's effluvia so much phantasmatic excess, so many voices that won't submit. Singing in transitional tongues, kari activates the space between sensation and expression, where movement rescures the body from its own image, and language drives a wedge between thinking and naming."--"Reading the Interval, Reading Remains" Rob Halpern.

"kari represents representation, particles of body / speech, the matter of the material, of unverse, containing dynamic and dialectic contradiction, a consistent proliferation of possibilities, not the limiting question, but the opening question, through expanding layered varying repetition"--"this and that and everything and kari edwards: rhythm, repetition and "breath" "in hir" "work" Cara Benson

"I have this feeling about kari that kari understood how to be both physical and virtual in the contemporary world, which enabled her to be extremely present as an activist of conscience no matter where she was geographically....Though I am uncomfortable with the religious connotations of Agamben's "coming community" "Kingdom" in this [passage not reproduced here in this quote], it is useful to me in thinking about kari's work, her voluminous project of redoing and undoing and redoing until the redoing was no longer necessary, as ground work, a ground work that leaves us empty as it is ever assisting us along our way. "Assistance" Rachel Levitsky

"The real gift kari gave me was an entrance point into the history of and evolving politics of the transgender movement. Sie gave me a chance to reconcile with my own modest insecurities about gender and desire, and more importantly to come into a clearer understanding of the socially-constructed aspects of who-we-are. These days it feels beside the point to make the judgement of male or female or male-to-female or female-to-male. kari was kari, and when I think of the people I love, there's a real beauty in the places where the boundaries of gender begin to melt." "Some Notes on kari" Lisa Jarnot

"kari edwards' Bharat jiva explores a relentlessly critical, passionate and agonized relationship with transcendence. On the one hand the book is concerned with a utopian narrative of dismantling structures of power in language, especially in situations wher these structures represent essentialist remnants of the body in writing or the violence done by the process of gendering people. Yet at every turn the writing wounds itself in advance to ward off an easy escape to the bourgeois, the reified, or the assumption that there could be a solution or answer. There is no answer, only process moment-to-moment, the writing thrashing about in the hope that somehow one of the buckles in the Christianized straightjacket of western thinking will come loose and permit escape, and the writer in turn scoffing at the idea of escape itself once that possibility appears." "Fuck Transcendence: A Close Reading of kari edwards' Bharat jiva" Tim Peterson

"iduna is an example of the poet's aim, which probably started with Baudelaire, for the text itself to be paradise as the 'author's desire.' The text's paradise can only be achieved by imperfection, total as continual disruption, or rather a perfect disorder as simultaneity of changes all present visible at once not either static or resolved, yet somehow held, as disorder." "Destabilized Space, With Counterparts: kari edwards' iduna" Leslie Scalapino

"That kari on some level saw herself as one of us was an affirmation that the New Narrative cause wasn't just about identity politics. The next time I saw her was at a setting equally sublime--Niagra Falls--and perhaps in consequence, when I think of her in retrospect, I always counterpose the beauties of "nature" with the rough-hewn and very human determination to wrest happiness from nature's maw. kari never looked natural per se, her quizzical, sometimes breathless air, her mode in the French sense, prevented one from thinking of her as naïve, or even young; and yet there was no one I knew with a deeper commitment to looking for something real in the heart of the façade." "Long Ago Tomorrow" Kevin Killian

"kari and I lived together for more than 10 intense and transformative years. She was my life partner, teacher, lover,critic and cheerleader....kari continued her prolific writing practice and sought out people to engage with, but sorely missed the writing community in San Francisco. After braving the heat of summer in Southern India we returned to the US in August of 2006. However, the contrast to the simple way we were living in India, coupled with general fast pace of life and oppressive and aggressive political climate promptly induced us to return to Auroville. We were working on those plans when she died suddenly of a pulmonary aneurysm on her birthday, December 2nd 2006." "My Words" Fran Blau

Fortunately for us, Litmus Press and Belladonna Books have made edwards' work and legacy available and legible.


Dear Eileen

Dear Eileen,

I’m thinking about you and Muriel Rukeyser. You wrote about Muriel and I’m writing about both of you. I tell my students, “Poetry can change your life!” and I believe it.

I like the watch you are wearing in your picture. And the fact that you look like yourself. In life.

One of my first most major important publications was when you and Liz included me in The New Fuck You: Adventurers in Lesbian Reading. Bob Gluck said I should send my poems. Bob Gluck is one of the most generous people I’ve ever met.

Since then I’ve seen you a few times, here and there, at readings. You always remember me and say, “Hello!” greeting me like a pal. This means so much to me. I feel young and school girlish when I see you. I can’t believe that you recognize me. How is this possible?

(It’s also “the working class thing,” shorthand for all the ways that growing up working class made me feel invisible and unimportant. So I don’t ever assume that people will remember me.)

And then there’s the fact of my lesbian failure. I live with a man now and we have a son. All of us different: black, white, biracial. I never expected to have a child. A son is a miracle. A real live person. Last night he came to my door while I working, poked his 3-yr-old head in, and crowed like a rooster. Every few minutes, he would run back to my door, open it, and crow again, but each time he would crow a little quieter. The ritual and repetition. He says, “Mommy cracks me up.”

Eileen Myles does not judge me. She looks like herself. Low-slung Levi’s on her hips. She knows how to wear a shirt, that Eileen Myself. She cracks me up.


On:Contemporary Practice 2

(Michael Cross, our master of ceremonies, and one of the editors of ON. Photo: Alan Bernheimer)

Last Wednesday night, February 10, 2010, a bunch of us gathered at Moe's Bookstore in Berkeley to celebrate the publication of ON: Contemporary Practice 2.

ON "serves as a space for dialogue, discourse, and the emergence of new cultural expressions, if not a space for the acknowledgement of unrecognized subjects....[because] transmissiblity and critical conversation are of the utmost importance to grounding an activist function of poetry, a function not so much for a people (in the Hobbesian sense), but for a multitude which is always arriving but has yet to realize its various potential libratory manifestations." ("From Center to Margin," by the editors Michael Cross, Thom Donovan, and Kyle Schlesinger)

This is a large format and beautifully produced magazine. Inside you'll find engaged and thrilling experiments as writers read and think through each other's work. You can find it at Small Press Distribution.

The readers on Wednesday night included: David Brazil, Brandon Brown, Robin Tremblay-McGaw (yours truly), Jocelyn Saidenberg, Alli Warren and Suzanne Stein, Dan Thomas-Glass, Taylor Brady, Michael Cross, and Laura Moriarty. I don't think I've forgotten anyone!

Here's a very few excerpts from some of the pieces read:

from "License and Registration: Translation in the Work of Brandon Brown" by David Brazil:

6. Implicit in a 'common-sense' idea of translation is:

7. Is the text in the origin-language (A) properly, adequately, sufficiently brought over into the target-language text (B)?

8. So, yeah, we're always also talking about judgement here, as in, who makes the call?

9. Quis judicabit?

10. (Usually, experts.)

11. You know all this already. The writer does too obviously. He's just interested in other practices.

12. Why? Is he a pervert? Is he just perfidious? (Wearing the mantle of the traitor with pride?)

13. Or is there something particular we can learn about translation, about poetry, about writing, from these other sorts of practices?


16. In several theoretical texts the writer has reiterated that the primary aim of his work is to reintroduce the body and its complex physical, intellectual & social overdeterminations into the practice of translation.
from "Conceptualisms Diary" by Laura Moriarty

May 8, 2009

An email solicitation arrives from Vanessa Place and Laynie Brown to submit to an anthology of conceptual writing by women. I am surprised because I wouldn't have thought of my writing as conceptual. I mention the email to Brent, somewhat perplexed, and he tells me about the new conceptualism. Laynie and Vanessa encourage a response and submission even if one does not consider oneself a conceptual writer. The openness of this invitation recommends the project. I decide that I actually do know what conceptualist writing is but then I wonder if I really do. I wonder also if I am one and if not what I am but, of course, I already know what I am.

This brings me to A Tonalist. At this point, it is a while since I have thought of A Tonalist but now the book will be published by Nightboat and Kazim Ali has asked me to write an afterword. When I first started writing the poem A Tonalist, there was a lot of explaining and I always seemed to explain it differently each time.

A Tonalist refers to work that has existed for a few decades such as my own and that of Norma Cole, along with newer work by Jocelyn Saidenberg, Taylor Brady, Brent Cunningham, Standard Schaefer and others I read and see. I began to write a long essay poem called A Tonalist in 2002 and started an eponymous group blog in 2005. There were somewhat heated exchanges between Flarfists and A Tonalists on the blog. At the time I don't think Kasey Mohammad, Gary Sullivan, Nada Gordon or others who think of their work as Flarf exactly identified as conceptualist but I might be wrong.

In writing about A Tonalist I have used the word "lyric but then fellow A Tonalist Brent Cunningham warned me that the word has implications that don't really relate to the sort of anti-lyric-lyric that I am interested in. Eventually I realize he is right. I start using the phrase "highly prosodized syntactic unit" but then I forget to use it, though these units are what I continue to write and to find in work by other A Tonalists.
Jocelyn and I each read a section from her book Negativity and a section from my critical piece on that book. Here's the section Jocelyn chose to read from my piece.

from "Notes On : Holes & Intertextual Alimentary Writing, Jocelyn Saidenberg's Negativity" by Robin Tremblay-McGaw

Language, a system of differences as Saussure describes it, is lovingly and aggressively taken into the body, broken apart, made runny so that reference slides into the gap and everything comes apart and merges. Language is digested and dispersed, taken apart. It becomes in its destruction a variety of generative and waste products, or even, gifts as when a young child offers its waste as a gift and accomplishment to its parents. Maybe the coming apart of language has something to do with the queer subject. In their collaboration Jocelyn and Bob [Glück]write: “In that country, in order to lose the self, disintegration is being possessed by another. In this country, in the movie, they tear me limb from limb” (52). In “that country” romance is possession by another; in “this country” there is the violent tearing asunder of queer subjects such as happens to Sebastian in the film version of Tennessee Williams one-act play Suddenly, Last Summer. Each results in an ecstatic loss or standing outside of the self, an erotic and wasteful, Bataillean expenditure. In the film, like the poet Orpheus who is ravaged by a mob of women, Sebastian is torn limb from limb by a crowd of lower class boys, in Sebastian’s case, young boys whose sexual favors he sought. Catherine, played by a young Elizabeth Taylor, wails “it looked as if they had devoured him.” In their violent frenzy, those same boys become cannibals, dismembering and eating Sebastian’s body. In this piece, Jocelyn’s and Bob’s use of the deictic demonstratives “that” and “this” with “country”underscores the contextual nature of the references. "This" and "that" highlight the disparate nature of “country” and the subject(s) making such distinctions, while also blurring and troubling such differences. “This” and “that” overlap. Ultimately, what we put into either end of the alimentary canal is con/fusing. The alimentary in an ethos of being is not without its ambiguities. As is the case with nearly anything, the social or antisocial ends to which it might be put, are never simply one thing or another.

In “Not Enough Poison,” the “I” describes these fragile and mobile tensions between division and unity, assertion and accommodation, incorporation and purgation, the hierarchical and the contiguous:

I can’t assume with sufficient strength this imperative act, the one that excludes you from me, the one that feeds on us, that one. I can’t dam that up or that potential, where it’s filth whether it’s defiling, from the line I traverse or the line we walk the inbetween, mounted between jettisoned and aggregate, vacillating, threatening in silhouette, permeably engulfed, hand in hand.

In Suddenly, Last Summer Sebastian’s mother, Mrs. Violet Venable, played by Katharine Hepburn puts it this way: “all of us trapped by this devouring creation.” Maybe Jocelyn’s proposal includes also all of us creating in this trapped devouring; all of us—we—creatively devouring this trap.
from "Code$witching, Priceless Poetry in the Bay" by Dan Thomas-Glass

Jasper Bernes's Desequencer, out this spring from Suzanne Stein's TAXT press, presents the unknowable as the already-known, exploring the dialectic between the sublime and the mundane. The impossibility of the human genome, both the organizing and disorganizing principle of the poem, is in the chapbook's concise introduction the mid-20th century's dream of an absolutely administered subjectivity, the final gambit of internalized oppression: class codified as "species," class in the genes.

Allie Warren & Suzanne Stein read from "A Poetics" from issue 1 which you can read here.
Because Rob Halpern could not attend the reading, Michael Cross read a section from Rob's piece, "Sensing the Common Place, Taylor Brady's Dialectical Lyric" also from issue one. You can read it here.
You can read the first issue of ON online here. And you can see Alan Bernheimer's photos of the evening here.


Tribute to Leland Hickman

Tribute to Leland Hickman
Poet, Actor, and editor of Temblor
The Poetry Center
San Francisco State University

Featured readers included:
Todd Baron
Beverly Dahlen
Kathleen Fraser
Larry Kearney
Kevin Killian
Bill Mohr
Laura Moriarty
Stephen Motika
Brian Teare

Norma Cole and Bob Glück were on the program but unable to be present.

I attended the Poetry Center’s tribute to Leland Hickman Saturday night, February 6, 2010 at the Unitarian Center in San Francisco. The event honored the writing of the late Leland Hickman, who edited Bachy, and with Paul Vangelisti, Boxcar, though he was perhaps best known as the editor of Temblor, an impressive journal that ran from 1985-1989. In this large format journal, Hickman published writers such as Robert Creeley, Kathleen Fraser, Aaron Shurin, Ron Silliman, Lyn Hejinian, Alan Davies, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Laura Moriarty, Sally Doyle, Stephen Rodefer, David Levi-Strauss, Susan Howe, Bob Perelman, Mei-mei Bersenbrugge, Ronald Johnson, Barbara Guest, Rosmarie Waldrop, Bruce Boone, and many others. (I’ve pulled most of these names from issues number 9 & 6).

All of the readers, those who knew him personally and those who did not, gave moving testimonies about Hickman’s generosity as an editor and mentor, and the demands that he made on others’ attention and time. Apparently, Hickman was well known for giving poetry readings and having conversations with friends that lasted, and demanded, many hours. Engaging and moving anecdotes abounded, but no time to share them all here. Note: Todd Baron read excerpts from letters Hickman had written him exploring the self and autobiography as constructs. I hope to share some of these with you here soon. Kevin Killian read from his memorial speech for Hickman and he has kindly allowed me to post it here. See below.

I wasn’t aware of Hickman’s poetry. And no wonder. Until now, it has been hard to come by. The young, energetic, and kind Stephen Motika, editor of Nightboat Books, in conjunction with Otis Books/Semiocity Editions, has published Tiresias: The Collected Poems of Leland Hickman. Motika and his press are doing some really valuable work, making sure that difficult to find but important writing is available to readers, critics, fellow writers. This collection of Hickman’s work is just the latest in an impressive run, including most recently, Bruce Boone’s Century of Clouds. And there’s more forthcoming. Keep it coming, Stephen, and thank you. See here for more details.

Leland Hickman was born in 1934 and died of AIDS-related causes in 1991. He was 56. “His literary career began in the middle 1960's with the publication of ‘Lee Sr Falls to the Floor’ in The Hudson Review. A book-length section of his serial poem, ‘Tiresias,” entitled Tiresias: I:9:B Great Slave Lake Suite was published by Momentum Press in 1980. It was named a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award in Poetry. Although Hickman did not finish ‘Tiresias,” additional portions were published in Manhattan Review, Trace, Momentum, Bachy, New American Review, LA Weekly, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Rara Avis, Little Caesar, Invisible City, Boxcar, and the anthology The Streets Inside: Ten Los Angeles Poets. A second book, Lee Sr Falls to the Floor, which collected early poems and several sections of ‘Tiresias,’ was published posthumously by Jahbone Press in 1991" (Tiresias: The Collected Poems 205).

Now that Hickman’s poetry is available in this generous collection which includes previously and never before published work, I hope that more readers will discover his moving and expansive writing. I am smitten. Hickman’s work is incantatory. Dark. On the edge. Operatic. It makes use of repetition, runs its diction, images, phrasal units through some sort of fractal process that parses, plies, duplicates, unravels, and proliferates. It does indeed, “tell, tell, re-tell” (“The Hidden”).

Here’s what Aaron Shurin has written about Hickman’s work:

“Maximal: as if the towering world above him, writing from the kneeling position, were bursting with element and import– and down they rain! Leland Hickman’s poetic abjection is one of deep saturation, a full-body sensorium, slurped to the brim and fearless of overflow. The stance is worshipful even as it sorrows, incantatory while it keens. His verse lines open in paratactic elaborations that are also compressions: a restless, animating, outward-seeking erotic energy that wants to turn event into body, cauterizing memory and sizzling attention via absorption. Poetry in Tiresias is a relational act in the Whitman tradition, where the reader is taken in and stuffed underneath the shirt to lie close to a shameless beating heart. As I see it, the goal is to make two hearts beat as one. Reading throbs for such poetry at last!”

A few excerpts from Hickman’s work:

from “Virgo I”

Virgo is visited
demons of dark he
sees also alone
bits of beauty.

from “He Who Delights in Signs”

angerly glad flung, mad by infected
feastings, starkt as to dread, dasht to last
wishes, cobwebby viral word blood temblor this
stumbler in naked elision, enjambments stunned, at alarm’s
distance, syllable hell in a panic deathwell toxic bittersweet sleep of who drink thee

I wanted to include an excerpt from "The Hidden," but alas, I cannot. The formatting on blogger here, given the margins on this blog, just won't do it justice. But, do, seek the book out.

Here is Kevin Killian's memorial speech given at the tribute to Leland Hickman held at Intersection, San Francisco, October 22, 1991.

For a Tribute to Leland Hickman

Late 1990, I went to LA to read with Leland Hickman at Beyond Baroque. When he asked for me I took it as a commoner might receive a royal summons, and I bought a book on how to curtsey. I gave a light, febrile, amusing, desperate reading, then came an intermission, then he appeared–he looked like a normal person, then he opened his book and all this grandeur fell out.

After the reading Sheree Levin took our picture, sitting on a bench in kind of the faux-Spanish decor of Beyond Baroque. We blinked at the flashbulb–it was so harsh. The next night, Saturday, Dodie couldn’t come so I took Matias Viegener to the dinner–to which Lee had invited me, at his apartment. Lee and Charles [Macaulay–Lee’s parnter] were charmed, I think, by Matias’ beauty, grace and intelligence. In the elevator I said, “You’ll recognize Charles right away,–he’s been in a million distinguished shows,” and sure enough when Charles opened the door, Matias said, “Oh my God you were on Star Trek,” and began quoting all the dialogue of the episodes Charles had appeared in 25 years before.

As we were walking down the stairs from their apartment, Matias said, “Aren’t they wonderful!” but I couldn’t reply.

You remember the symposium Phillip Foss and Charles Bernstein made for Tyuonyi–I was a little shocked, but not surprised–when as it turned out only one writer spoke about AIDS in the context of experimental writing. And so it was that the same shock, yet lack of surprise, enveloped me as Sheree sent me a print of the photo. I look so light and handsome, but he is wreathed in darkness–inside the darkness of his own genius, and inside the darkness–I had almost said the genius–of AIDS. But let that stand, because AIDS has its own genius, otherwise how could it have beleaguered us, tormented us as it has? I know how cameras lie, and how slogans lie, and how death lies to a certain extent. After dinner Lee and I sat around a table while I interviewed him about the scope of his work, while Charles and Matias took to another room to have coffee. Again his passion and his control made Leland Hickman an enormously living force as he spoke about Olson and Duncan and Pound, about Eliot and Jeffers and Yeats while I tried to write it all down, take it all in. Inside the body of the camera the film, the frame, was taking shape at that moment, and I was growing more attractive, and he was darkening with his twin demons, though this was not manifest. All of us are doing work which we feel is important, and we look pretty attractive–there’s a light beaming from us that beams also from our writing, and AIDS has done this for us. And this is the century we all live in, and this is the disease that history will ask us all these questions regarding–and we will be giving these way–lame–answers.–Kevin Killian

To read Kevin's review of Tiresias, click here.