Celebrating Small Press Traffic's 40th Anniversary: Saidenberg, Murray, Reilly and Gladman in San Francisco

This season Small Press Traffic is celebrating its 40th Anniversary through a series of readings curated by former Small Press Traffic directors. 

The festivities began on Sunday March 10th, curated by Jocelyn Saidenberg (Director of SPT from 1999-2000), who invited us to enjoy the work of three powerful women writers: Beth Murray (via telephone), Evelyn Reilly, and Renee Gladman .

Jocelyn Saidenberg

Somehow, in the midst of the frenzy of end-of-quarter grading, and in the season of awaiting news from College Admissions Departments for my daughter, I've misplaced my notebook with all my notes! So, for this post, I'm flying on the magic carpet of memory only folks!

Beth Murray is living near Yosemite these days. Jocelyn arranged for Beth to read via phone and speaker, but the connection kept breaking up. We heard a tiny slice of some of Cancer Angel, a full length manuscript. Beth has been kind enough to let me post some of it here.  This is a small portion of a section entitled "Vile."

Beth Murray


here in the chest who will instruct?

in the branches who will locate motions?

however swift or slow,

several wheels turning trust

brass instruments blowing luck,

strings plucking faith have

inherited terrible violence around which

numbness injects unnoticed—


tumors too can be circles,

the path into curiosity, to ask

who are you?

sit quietly for what arises,

when the recesses of mind pop up,

there is a trembling in the bones in these moments

draw attention to this spot so that

other wayfarers know to

stop here, so that other

travelers holding offerings

are moved to give,

light dimming in what has fallen

tumor says,


I grow here to make bigger this



we are traveling

taking the thoughts back

‘the entire planet’ we say in our blessings

but inside the twitching there is no

boundary your gaze catches mine and we fall asleep knowing

until looking too closely

the space becomes difficult to see

the feeling of feeling is not the story of what happened

but the fabric that called you to your birth,

that decided you would meet  and

look with love beyond compromise –

who are you without years of counting?

who are you without breathing in the habitual direction?

waking to check–

the tumors are a voice speaking

the message of their own dissolving

and each message continues until

the waters of the tide fall in on it

under the continuity that cannot be

numbered upon which the bowl

is placed empty and all eat – in that continuity the blessing

that there will be others or there are others

blinking in the sunlight,

through the stillness of the diamond shapes

vibrating past orchestras and the witness of winds –

no more they shall blow you




I first took lamb-soft leave,

my lungs tightening from

these years of interruption tethering

the loss of children,

the passing of my brother,

the leaving of lovers,

releasing the oh well,

to come to we require another—


do not let your desires run down,

as the body will clock it

a year or many later reading

the moment of abandoning desire

or accepting obstruction –

the end of the entire hallelujah, not a celebrated slicing

pomegranate, bitter food of winter’s darkness:

I will not carry forward these

dark secrets –

ask yourself where is the space?

the freedom, the light

let yourself into the lit room

find the others who have sought the light

            tumor says,


                        I  grow here to make bigger

                        the struggling part

                        when the voice is not big enough

                        grow in the throat to augment


before how hiding

want something else and cannot

in my dream house,

barely able to lift my arm

            tumor says,


I make bigger your lip

                        to hide the size of your teeth


so Olympian

under pressure of expectation

            tumor says,


                        when loved ones are troubled

I grow as breast to nurture them





my only hope Adriamyacin they said -

syringe of vile, red liquid in

sealed manila envelope with doctor’s orders, the nurse

opens in front of me, she will be paid a few dollars to sit on my bedside and

place her thumb on the syringe, slowly press, she says

“you should not see it move”

faster would strip my veins,

she explains they call this “pushing”

she will be paid a few dollars to sit slowly pushing

he will be paid $15,000 for signing the vile red liquid order,

starts every woman with breast tumors as large as mine on vile red liquid,

it takes much longer for her gloved hand to

patiently hold the syringe

the first time I’m curious, watch the syringe,

feel for some change in my blood

is it cold, metallic?

fifteen minutes later syringe empties, she tosses it in toxic waste bin

I get up to pee, wheeling my IV stand with me

pee is red – it’s gone in –

the next day pee stings

knows corroding, knows killing cells

this will kill only the fast growing ones they say

so stomach lining, so hair, so tumor –

within a month hair is falling

each morning black strands on the pillow

satin pillows my femme friend says

satin pulls hair the least

my mother sends two satin pillowcases

Devatara shows me satin magnetized blanket

with bright yellow Buddha toward which to direct

cancer pulled from my breast out fingers send to Buddha

Buddha-magnets will absorb, neutralize

blanket costs $150, it’s the

size of a crib blanket for a toddler who will not suckle here

satin pillows from mom are free


after first chemo cannot eat for days

wait for the day I can get into the water

swim in fishy, toxic bay to clear my head

fingers slip into the water with each stroke

send cancer out my arm into the water

Devatara says you must only use blanket to absorb it

I think, “the sea is big enough”

sea will neutralize –

next time sight of red syringe turns my stomach

I cannot look, belly reels with fatigue and dying cells

red syringe flashes—

I look forward to more of Beth's work.

Evelyn Reilly,
photo courtesy of Kevin Killian

Next up Evelyn Reilly read excerpts from Styrofoam and Apocalypso, both from Roof Books. Reilly's reading was lively, and in particular, I was struck by how much her writing is studded with language of our moment though it is also intertwined with a diction attached to the past such as in her references to Browning's "Childe Harold to the Dark Tower Came." Reilly's work is interested in the environmental, technology, the internet, science; she revels in linguistic play. Here's an excerpt from "Styrofoam," pulled from her website here.

from Styrofoam

Answer:  Styrofoam deathlessness
Question:  How long does it take?
& all the time singing in my throat 
little dead Greek lady
in your eternity.saddle
[hat: 59% Acrylic 41% Modacrylic
[ornamental trim: 24% Polyvinyl 76% Polyamide
holding a vial           
Enter:  8,9,13,14,17-ethynyl-13-methyl-
(aka environmental sources of hormonal activity
(side effects include tenderness, dizziness
                  and aberrations of the vision
                                 (oh please just pass the passout juice now!) 
Answer:  It is a misconception that materials
biodegrade in a meaningful timeframe
Answer:  Thought to be composters landfills
are actually vast mummifiers
                        of waste
                                                and waste’s companions                                          
                                    lo stunning all-color
heap-like & manifold.of 
foam 1 : a mass of fine bubbles on the surface of a liquid 
2 : a light cellular material resulting from the introduction
of gas during manufacture 3 : frothy saliva  4 : the SEA 
which can be molded into almost anything 
& cousin to.thingsartistic:
Kristen J
A low oven and a watchful eye turns bits
of used plastic meat trays into keychain ornaments.
Monica T
Soft and satisfying for infant teething if you first freeze.
posted 10/11/2007 at thriftyfun.com
hosted by FPPG the Foodservice Plastic Packaging Group
All this.formation
            & barely able to see sea
for the full poem visit Evelyn's website. 

Lastly, Evelyn read from Apocalypso, a book that continues her linguistic revelries, cast in shadow and humor, as in this piece, briefly excerpted here:

Apocalypso: A Comedy

And I became the Alpha
and the Omega

and my little dog too

Come and I'll show you what once
shall have taken place after this

forever and ever and ever, etc.

at which I took my glue gun
from its hipster holster

and twenty-four elders
began to sing:

Eight swimming creatures covered with eyes (state of the oceans, check)
Sixteen birds with sinister wings (state of the flyways, checkers)

But even the end of evolve, luv?        (I was down with the animals)

Then the twenty-four fell down:
clad in white garments
and wearing golden crowns

(this is the revised standard
sedition edition chapter four
verses one through ten

in which enumeration equals

a technique of calm

                            3 2 1 we are calm

So many pretty revels
in these devastation pictures

head as mollusk shell
whale with insect tail

and a twig become
a tiny musician
fingering a stringy box

(see Fall of the Rebel Angels
by Pieter Bruegel)

as I scan
my es-cat-a-logue

covering that part of language
concerned with reckoning
and the density destiny
of survivor species

For he poured his bowls of wrath on the earth
and a great star fell onto the rivers

For more, check out Evelyn's book:

Next up was Renee Gladman. In her intro, Jocelyn referenced the SPT African American experimental literature conference she, Renee, and Giovanni Singleton worked on in the spring of 2000, citing it as her first conference ever and one of her seminal experiences while at Small Press Traffic.

Renee and Kevin Killian at ATA
photo by Aja Duncan

Renee read from the third book in her The Ravickians series--Ana Patova Crosses a Bridge, newly out from the Dorothy Project, and then later from a manuscript in progress, a book of essays, called Calamities, because, Renee said, they fail.

I confess not having yet read the previous Ravickian books. Event Factory, The Ravickians, and now, Ana Patova Crosses a Bridge, are among many books awaiting time and space. I promise to clear the decks for them this summer as I was simply blown away by Renee's reading. I found her language to be roomy, roamy, expansive, deeply satisfying in its careful attention to thinking and thinking about thinking and living in writing, and doing it in a way that feels deeply important, weighty, enigmatic.  Examples will make clear what I as of yet cannot:

from Ana Patova:

I wrote this book in a circular home a hill, overlooking the city, which roams while we are sleeping; I wrote it in a café with my friends; I wrote it as I looked for hidden streets, while sitting in desolate and lush spaces. I wanted to say language leaves a trace, makes a simultaneous trail, of us and of the crisis. My walking leaves a trace, also my saying I have walked. And, this is important, because, though these marks do not render precisely the picture of our crisis, they do show where there are still people. The day fills up with monuments, and the book attempts to erect a fence around them. The book wishes to end a crisis by sheer fact of existing. But, rather than a History, the book becomes an index. It shuffles our bewilderment. It does not tell our story. It cannot do that. Nevertheless, it opens toward you. Tij.

                                       --Ana Patova

Meanwhile, the eye witnesses the story
of what we were when we happened,
when the last person left and the first
person returned as if the same moment,
as if the inhale began in the exhale, that
first person leaving, who belonged to all
of us, and what we became in his
leaving: our reaching for our cups. We
were holding space and making space
through stillness, looking for structures
to reflect what we were seeing, which
was nothing. I wrote about buildings,
and for the first part of the crisis this
kept me occupied. I was holed up in my
home. I slept on the books I wrote, which
I'd glued between board and given
unassuming titles, like Slow and Tired, but
these books were my life's work; I knew
once I'd finished them I would never
write again; rather, I would not need to
write or live or sleep, it felt like. When I
changed my mind about this, when I
changed my mind--but, it was me and it
was L and it was Z. and B., and we were
all high on coffee and sometimes pills,
waiting for some storm to come, some
document from abroad.

I am eager for Gladman to publish Calamities. They too were thrilling and deeply satisfying. Visit Floor to read an excerpt. Gladman gave a talk "The Sentence as a Space for Living:Prose Architecture" as part of the University of California's Holloway Reading Series on March 13th that I did not learn about until after the fact. This is regrettable as I have a feeling I might have swooned. Hopefully, the Holloway Series folks will post a link on youtube soon! I can't wait.


Three by Rachel Blau DuPlessis

Continuing the Collage fest!
Homage to Hoch


Homage to the Baroness

More on Rachel Blau Duplessi here & here!