“Doing Civic” Part 2: An Interview with Roberto Bedoya

RTM: When did you leave SF and why?

Roberto: I had grown to experience SF as having a severe case of the cutes. I love SF but it can be provincial and smug. My own curiosities and aspirations prompted my move. While I was at Intersection, I was elected to the board of the National Association of Artists’ Organizations (NAAO), which was a national network of artist-centered organizations, primarily visual and interdisciplinary spaces. As a board member I became engaged in national policy discussions about artists’ support systems, which took me to DC with some frequency.

Many younger folks don’t know the history of the NEA prior to the Cultural Wars of the 90s and the significant role it had in creating networks and supporting new works. (Its current history under Dana Gioa’s watch is about branding American sentimentality and calling it great art. It is captured with their slogan – “a great nation deserves great art.” Bull! Especially the politics of naming “great”-- whether it is a nation or art -- give me new art!!)

Anyway at one point NAAO had received some NEA support to see if we could build a national network of literary presenters so I worked on that. We had a meeting at the Loft in Minneapolis. At the meeting were representatives of Beyond Baroque LA; Woodland Pattern In Milwaukee; Just Buffalo, Buffalo; St Marks, NYC; Writers and Books Rochester; Painted Bride, Philly and some independent presenters. For a while these organizations were part of NAAO but the connection didn’t deepen over time. Efforts by Jim Sitter and Liam Rector to create a network that included independent publishers and literary presenters took center stage for awhile and then when the attacks on the NEA resulted in a de-funding and reorganization of the NEA, the effort to create a literary arts network passed away, as well as NEA support for individual artists and new work development. I met Eileen Myles who was running St Mark’s at that time at that meeting and we became fast and close friends.

I left SF in 89 and moved to NYC where I had a residency at INTAR Theater working with Maria Irene Fornes. In 87-88 I was involved in taking care of two men with AIDS, Jack Stellman who was my neighbor and Danny O’Neil who was my on-off-on-off-on boyfriend for years. Danny had moved back to NYC for work and then he got sick and I radically reduced the work I was doing as I traveled between SF and NYC and was involved with being part of the caretakers’ team for both of these men. The board and my colleagues at Intersection were so compassionate and accommodating about how I was handling my work obligations. Jack and Danny’s illnesses were at the beginning of the epidemic and both lived less than a year after being diagnosed. (Danny worked in TV and I introduced him to Bob Holman, which resulted in the WNYC poetry spots, a precursor to Bob’s PBS’s United States of Poetry.) After their deaths I needed some chill time. So… I applied to the INTAR Workshop and was accepted.

While I was in NYC and because I was on the board of NAAO I would often travel to DC as the Cultural Wars started to heat-up. So my advocacy life took an odd turn. After a year in NYC, I returned to the West Coast and ended up in LA for a number of years where I worked at the Getty Research Institute creating community partnerships and producing public programs for them. I left Getty to return to DC and run NAAO. NAAO was a co-plaintiff in the Finley vs. NEA case, which was argued before the Supreme Court. I was on the board when we joined the lawsuit and nine years later I was the ED. The lawsuit argued against the standards of decency language of the NEA as unconstitutional-- many stories from that front.

RTM: You've worked a lot in a variety of arts and literary settings. Much of your work Roberto is at the intersection of politics and the arts. For example, some of the projects you've worked on include consulting on: The Ford and Rockefeller Foundations: Creative Practice in the 21st Century; The Urban Institute: Arts and Culture Indicators in Community Building Project and Investing in Creativity: A Study of the Support Structure for U.S. Artists projects; The New York Foundation for the Arts: A Cultural Blueprint for New York City, and The Center for Arts and Culture: Cultural Policy at the Grassroots: Los Angeles.

For you, how do the arts intersect with politics? Do you see art and literature as capable of political action or impact?

Roberto: Interstices is kind of my ballgame. While I was working at the Getty and then at NAAO my sense of my work had focused on making the “space” for practice, making the arguments for arts values in a politically hostile environment. I am not a big policy wonk but I found myself at those tables where resources are allocated, whether it was Ford, Rockefeller or the NEA. I was also at those think-tank tables--the Getty or as a Rockefeller Fellow at NYU--where arguments were being crafted about the public purpose of art.

Art intersects with politics when it makes societal claims, when it operates as a form of citizenship, e.g. the AIDS red ribbon created by artists; Mel Chin’s Fundred Dollar Bill Project; Bill T Jones’ Still/Here, the voices of Karen Finley, John Fleck, Holly Hughes and Tim Miller-- the NEA 4 who had their fellowships denied by the government because of their queer/feminist claims.

Art’s political capacity resides in the social imaginary – how we imagine our plurality and realize it. I’m keen about Charles Taylor’s writing about the social imaginary. He describes it “ the ways people imagine their social existence, how they fit together with others, how things go on between them and their fellows, the expectations that are normally met, and the deeper normative notions and images that underline these expectations.” He goes on to say “I adopt the term imaginary because my focus is on the way ordinary people ‘imagine’ their social surrounding, and this is often not expressed in theoretical terms but is carried in images, stories and legends.” The images, stories and legends are art.

Another quote from Robin Blaser: “Cultural conditions always approach what we mean by the word ‘world’ or the process of composing one… The world is never separately- by simplicity’s trick-social, political, artistic or scared but rather, it is made up of entanglement of discourses having to do with men, women, earth an heaven.”

“Composing the world” is political work. My work with Foundations, Local Arts Agencies or National Art Service organizations (NAAO, NAMAC, NPN) as a researcher and through policymaking is informed by a sense that in the US context Cultural Policy is a system of arrangements. My position in that arrangement is as an advocate for artists and their support systems. And to be dramatic for a moment --the demon in the “arrangements” are the forces of privatization that exist as a barrier to “composing the world”.

Cultural policymaking is a form of administration and critical inquiry. It is a sphere of practices dominated by technocrats out to measure audience participation, art’s economic impact, art’s impact upon school test scores, not a foul activity, but measuring the world is different than composing the world – which is what I speak about at those tables crafting policy. I’m an odd duck because I am not trained as some hard-core empirical researcher whose work is about separating facts from value, who pursues empirical regularities -when A occurs, then also B and … which future conditions can be predicted. I take my cues from a group of public policy scholars who offer up a post-empiricist approach in social and policy sciences. Post-empiricist policy studies acknowledge our complex social world in an analytical process that allows stories, argumentation, deliberation, and community visioning by the subjects of research to be utilized in policy analysis and planning, which I embrace in my cultural policy work.

Policy, poetry and the public that entanglement, those arrangements, those mambos, is where from my perch I see where action and impact reside. The social action(s) of policymaking and its ties to the social action(s) of imagination is where I find myself. In my work I employ deliberative cultural policy practices which seeks to understand and organize the ways in which individuals use their imaginations and the language of imagination, which is poetic as opposed to scientific. What post-empiricist approaches offer to policy practices are methods of working with experience, with poiesis, the bringing into being, that is central to art-making and aesthetic experiences.

RTM: What about community? (see below)

· You've written: "A number of years ago I taught a class at CalArts entitled "Community As Verb." It was a survey class on community-art practices and philosophies that focused on community as action rather than place. This articulation of community as verb does not deny its meaning as a noun, but frees it from being a meaning fixed in location or longing — community as a network of interests working together." (The Dynamism of Art)

· In the San Francisco Chronicle's series on Intersection that appeared in June of 2005, you said: "...the upside of a competitive community is that when you're competing for audiences and resources, you have to refine what you are, what distinguishes you." ("Art in a Time of Peace June 14, 2005)

· Recently, Small Press Traffic held a conference called Aggression: a Conference on Contemporary Poetics and Political Antagonism that attempted to address how competition, contestation and aggression effected and continues to effect the Bay Area literary scene and the poetics forged there.
How has community helped or hindered or fostered your own writing and how do you see community in relation to the complex intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, etc?

Roberto: Community is a wonderfully slippery word- that’s its beauty. I work on being mindful of when community is being communicated as a noun or verb. I try to be as precise as I can when I use the word.

I’ve witnessed how community as a noun is often scripted by the forces of the US ideology of whiteness especially in the context of public resource allocation, political deliberations on public matters or debates on contested cultural issues. So often people of color are invited to participate in meetings, panels, forums, or on boards or management committees because he or she represents the community and is a minority voice in these larger civic contexts. What is scripted in these civic contexts is the meaning of community as fixed, as heritage, as the voice of the disenfranchised, as a form of other and that what he or she is asked to do is play a part in this narrow frame of the civic. I understand how some folks of color are willing to do this because that is the only way that their voice is heard and an understanding of a community of shared experiences--whether they be cultural or other interests-- is spoken and becomes part of the knowledge being used in civic analysis or the decision-making process. The repercussions of this role are that someone is acting out a new articulation of a Native Informant for better (upending preconceptions about say race or place) or worse (the paradise lost lamenting that is peppered with anger or guilt).

It’s complicated for sure.

Three citations: Community by Zygmunt Bauman; The Coming Community by Giorgio Agamben, and Mom.

Bauman’s work has provided me with a historical understanding about how the concept of community came into being, its relationship to security, how currently it is embedded in the politics of recognition and (re)distribution and how it operates as a form of “paradise lost.” Agamben is such a brilliant philosopher and his work takes up the relationship between singularity and belonging, community not as essence but as “towards.” Mom- “Turn off that TV and do something, do something for …. somebody else!””

RTM: You've written some poets theater, for instance, your play “Shattering the Curve,” a piece developed at the Hispanic Playwrights in Residence Lab at INTAR Theater. Can you talk about how you write for performance and how that is different from writing poetry?

Let me respond by talking about Ntozake Shange, Eileen Corder and Nick Robinson; and Maria Irene Fornes.

Sometime in the mid 70s at some place in the Mission District I caught Jessica Hagedorn perform her poetry with a back-up group called the West Coast Gangster Choir which included Thulani Davis and Ntozake Shange. It was a wonderful experience and lead to a close friendship with Jessica and Ntozake.

Ntozake’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf was first presented in the Bay Area. I didn’t see the show and I don’t remember how our friendship unfolded but I became a fan of her work and a friend. (The poet Alta was the first one to publish “Colored Girls…” and “Sassafras” through her Shameless Hussy Press in Berkeley and gave me copies of her books.) Ntozake’s composition opened the door to me on how to perform words – how to work words. I got to know her while I was working at Bookpeople and I had arranged to have a broadside of a poem she had written distributed at the annual American Booksellers Convention which was being held in Atlanta that year. The poem was a response to the serial murders of children in Atlanta.

Nick and Eileen – I was TOTALLY enchanted with their work. How they played with the power of words and gesture. Text as action. Cool and joyous.

Irene- she is the most amazing writer I’ve had the opportunity to work with. I got to know Irene when I was a participant in the INTAR playwriting workshop that she founded. She is a master. If you do your research on Latino/a playwrights you will discover Irene’s fingerprints on a group that includes Cherríe Moraga, Octavio Solis, Cadich Sivch, Nelio Cruz, Luis Alfaro, Migdalia Cruz, Jose Rivera, Carmelita Tropicana and Eduardo Machado, who are significant contributors to our contemporary theatrical world.

Prior to working with Irene, I had written a play called “Decoto”, which is the name of the barrio I grew up in, in the East Bay. The play was based on the history of Decoto – its initially rural Latino composition, how that changed when suburban sprawl developed-- as one elder told me “they started to plant houses instead of plants”-- and Decoto was no longer an autonomous Latino neighborhood and was incorporated into a new city called Union City. The new Anglo residents in the track homes that surrounded Decoto clashed with the Latino who had been there for generations and the tension between them was intense and resulted in the murder of the Union City Police Chief at a Decoto town hall meeting where these tensions were to be addressed. My source material for Decoto was interviews with Decoto residents, which I used to create a piece that was modeled in part after Ntozake’s work. Decoto is a two-character play that is a pastiche of some of my poems and Decoto stories. Decoto is what I submitted to the INTAR workshop, and lead to my working with Irene.

I learned a lot from Irene – not so much about “playwriting” but about the ways of imagination. I wrote “Shattering...’’ at the workshop and it is an okay piece. Irene liked it. With Irene it was about characters, not plot –thank god. Irene had a way of taking you to this place where the characters that you created were full bodied, that they dictated so much, that they processed you. I remember worrying that my writing, my dialogues were going on and on without incident- she told me not to worry because if my characters were real they would have drama. They will take you there cuz drama is a part of life.

If Decoto is a pastiche work, Shattering is episodic and with both of them, the overarching allure of cadences in speech is the driver.

As much as I loved working with Irene and enjoyed having my words spoken by others and seeing their affects/effects, I realized after the workshop and the staged reading in NYC, that I don’t have the temperament for directors and all those other parts that make a play – the lightening designers, the producer, the individual actors, the stage manager and their needs.

RTM: Who are some of the writers whose work has been most important for you and why?

Roberto: Gosh, the who/what/where black hole of my reading life, where do I start? In junior high I was all over Edgar Allen Poe and still have the paperback that I bought when I was 12 or 13. My father died when I was 11 and for a few years my mom lost herself in the library – reading was one way out for her grief. An important book in her reading life, which she gave to me, was Children of Sanchez by Oscar Lewis. It was a window into the life of my grandparents from Mexico and my mom’s early years as a first generation US citizen. I remember reading Charlie Chaplin’s My Autobiography while she read Children of Sanchez and we switched books after we were done. In mom’s library she had Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals which I read sometime in High School. Mom worked for Fred Ross on voter registration of Mexican-Americans in San Jose and Decoto with Cesar Chavez as part of the organizing work of the Community Service Organization, a Latino civil rights group that Ross started. Ross had been trained in community organizing by Saul Alkinsy. Other High School books: Soul on Ice, Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man; the poetry of e.e.cummings, Pocho by Jose Villareal, J.B. by Archibald MacLeish.

Right after High School for a number of years, I was very much into Latin American letters, I ate up Paz, Lorca, Neruda, Borges, Vallejo (Trilce – tripped me out), Julio Cortazar – whom I met on an adventure in Spain. Intersection presented him shortly before he died. Julio influenced the Mexican writer Roger Bartra whose book the Cage of Melancholy trumps Paz’s exploration of the Mexican character and is a stellar book.

Important books and admired writers: I love the work of Dodie Bellamy and Kevin Killian; Lyn Hejinian’s My Life and Writing Is an Aid to Memory; Charles Taylor’s Modern Social Imaginaries; Giorgio Agamben, Robin Blaser, George Oppen, Leslie Scalapino, Eileen Myles, Juan Felipe Herrera, Frank O’Hara, Oscar Zeta Acosta, Bob Gluck, Edmond Jabes, Emmanuel Levinas; Dorothy Allison’s Bastard out of Carolina; Jean Genet’s, Prisoner of Love; Bob Perelman’s Virtual Reality; Thom Gunn’s Boss Cupid; William Gass’s On Being Blue; Adam Phillips’ Houdini’s Box; Wittgenstien’s Culture and Value; Adorno The Cultural Industry; E.M. Cioran Tears and Saints; Gianni Vattimo’s Belief; Lee Hickman’s Great Slave Lake Suite; The Diaries of Paul Klee, Todd Baron, Harryette Mullen, Lee Ann Brown, Fanny Howe, …..

My joy as a reader lies with those cited above and many more.

RTM: Right now you are the Executive Director at Tucson Pima Arts Council. Tell me a bit about your work with this organization and its mandate.

Roberto: The Tucson Pima Arts Council (TPAC) is the designated local arts agency that serves the city of Tucson and Pima County. I have a civic mandate to serve the public which I do through a grants program, facilitating the public art for the region, professional development opportunities for artists and arts organizations, support of heritage practices, arts education activities, community cultural development projects, and advocacy.

I work with the big organizations – the Opera, Museum, Symphony and the small ones. I work with individual artists, which range from the experimental to the classic in their investigation. I work with Business Leaders and Politicians. It keeps me busy.

Tucson is a mid-size American city; the metro area is about a million people - a million people in the desert. Tucson is part of Pima County, which is larger than the state of Connecticut and has the largest Native American reservation in terms of square miles in the US. I have a rural and urban constituency. Tucsonans pride themselves on being thoughtful stewards of the land, such as its preservation of open spaces. On being stewards of its heritage, evident in how it celebrates its diversity, history and neighborhoods. On being stewards of Native American, Latino and Old West ethos, of mining and ranching legacies that animate this place. And I see TPAC’s work as being a steward of imagination.

When some of my visual artists friends ask what I’m working on – I say I’m doing “civic.” Sort of in the spirit of Beuys' theory of Social Sculpture, working on shaping civic culture, working like some kind of a poet-paladin – crazy as that sounds. Working as an intermediary between artists and audiences, the public and its plurality.

Roberto can be reached at: rebedoya@earthlink.net


21 Grand Gallery: Ara Shirinyan & Jocelyn Saidenberg & Cynthia Sailers, and Company

Last night, a Sunday evening dash across the Bay Bridge to make it to the 21 Grand Gallery Reading: It was an evening of poetry as even on my drive across the Bay, on our local NPR station,KALW, Claudia Rankine read and talked about some of her work as the steel girders and fog swallowed me.

Brandon Brown and Alli Warren sat looking happy as they presided over the evening's events.

First up: Ara Shirinyan whose bio reads: Ara Shirinyan was born in 1977 in, what was then, the Soviet Socialist Republic of Armenia. Since 1987, he has lived in Los Angeles, where he writes, teaches, and is editor of Make Now Press. His first book Syria is in the World was published by Palm Press in June 2007. Speech Genres 1-2 is available as an electronic download from UbuWeb. Handsome Fish Offices was published earlier this year by Insert Press. He is also the author of Your Country is Great, also published in 2008 by Futurepoem Books. With the group Godzik Pink, he released two CDs (Es Em, Ekele Em and Black Broccoli) on Kill Rock Stars/5rc. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Word Ways, UbuWeb, Greetings, Trepan, Combo, Area Sneaks, Tuli & Savu among others.

Here's Ara:

Ara read from a series of poems which must be from his collection Your Country is Great. He read from "Mugabe is Great," "Libya is Great," "Haiti is Great," "Israel is Great" and others. These poems wryly engaged with and undercut the emptyness and overdetermined in "great" in the context of various national settings. Ara also read briefly from a book--Handsome Fish Offices--that finds its source material in an Office Depot catalog and another book about tropical fish. I liked this work in particular and would have enjoyed hearing more of it.

Here's what Juliana Spahr and Mark Wallace have to say about this book (these quotes from Anathematas web site.)

Praise for Handsome Fish Offices by Ara Shirinyan:

While office supply products and tropical fish might at first thought seem to have nothing to do with one another, once side by side they reveal the interconnections between global acquisitions, multinational capital, and environmental destruction. - Juliana Spahr

Of cut-up writing, in which different textual sources are spliced together, often jarringly, William Burroughs once said, “The results will look a lot like you.” Handsome Fish Offices, Ara Shirinyan’s book of profoundly 21st century cut-ups, takes up this insight with hilarity and irreverence, showing readers how the world looks like them, and they look like the world. No matter whose language he’s playing with, the startling juxtapositions of words in these poems reveal the contemporary global condition of being incorporated and measured, invariably down to the smallest detail. “This laterally flattened species is ideal / For catalogs, direct mail, promotions, etc,” he writes, and you’ll know what he means, because your species, too—and right now—is one of the many getting flattened. -Mark Wallace

Then, after Ara read and we had a brief break to chat, Brandon presented Jocelyn Saidenberg and Cynthia Sailers' play, Wild Analysis. Here's Brandon.

Jocelyn's bio: Jocelyn is the author of Mortal City (Parentheses Writing Series), CUSP (Kelsey St. Press), Negativity (Atelos), and Dispossessed (Belladonna). Born and raised in New York City, she lives in San Francisco where she works as a catalog librarian for the public library.

Here's the cast and the scene titles from Wild Analysis:

Katchie, yoga teacher and spiritual guide, played by Stephanie Young
Cynthia Sailers played by Cynthia Sailers
Jocelyn Saidenberg played by Jocelyn Saidenberg
Cynthia Sailers' alter ego played by Chris Chen
Jocelyn Saidenberg's alter ego played by David Brazil
Doctor Glenn Finch, couples therapist and dog trainer, played by Bob Gluck

Reese Adams-Romangoli appeared in the audience as a yoga student with a question for his teacher!

Scene One: Buns, Buns, Buns
Katchie's Yoga Class--Stephanie, you had me convinced. Can I take your next yoga class?!
Jocelyn and Cynthia did downward facing dogs with their alter egos--David and Chris--shadowing them.

Scene Two: The Couples Whisperer
Office of Glenn Finch, MD. I think this might have been Bob's stage debut--at least it was the first time I'd seen him on stage and we want more!

Scene Three: Pillow Talk
Post Poetry Reading
Jocelyn, Cynthia and their alter-egos in bed discussing the reading and not discussing their relationship. David and Chris stole this scene, dancing and embracing while Jocelyn and Cynthia were tired and hungry.

Final Scene: Out Takes
Casting Cynthia's alter ego
What men from the poetry community might be cast as Cynthia's alter ego--David Buuck, Japser Bernes, Brent Cunningham....?

Here's some photos of the fun:

Couples Therapy:

Stephanie as Katchie:

A good time was had by all.


"Outside is the Side I Take" An Interview with Roberto Bedoya

“Outside is the side I take”—Patti Smith

Part 1 of an email interview with Roberto Bedoya conducted in September and October 2008

RTM: In a book entitled Opposite Sex (NYU), you have a conversation with two other gay men about gay men's perception of lesbian sex--a very interesting conversation by the way. You sketch out a narrative of your own coming out. You write:

..in the seventies, when I was in my twenties, it was about being a Chicano, doing organizing work for the Farmworkers' Union, being a part of Latino Activists' work. I grew up in the Bay Area and I was there when the Castro came into being, but I didn't become active in that world, maybe because it was too white, or maybe because of my age, my own homophobia. In those days it was hard to be a Chicano fag (229).

Later on you discuss how Patti Smith and AIDS moved you to think of yourself as queer.

So much to unpack here! Can you talk more about this trajectory? What was it like being at the intersection of so many identities--at a time when identity-based movements were really becoming powerful and the boundaries of which were perhaps less porous? It sounds as if your first allegiance, so to speak, was to identifying as a Chicano.

Roberto: Yes, there is a lot to unpack. In the 70s “identity-based movements” that crafted and informed Feminism, Gay Liberation, Chicanismo, multiculturalism, the alternative arts movement that created artists’ organizations like Intersection or New Langton who supported the experimental writing community, these movements were grounded in an ethos of self-determination – which is “my allegiance.” It was not so much about identifying as Chicano but about my political right to be myself. The dominant US ideology of Whiteness had policies that made me invisible which I challenged, still do.

A story: Racism California style in the 50s (I was born in 51) was played out in many different ways, not so much as overt discrimination but more along the lines of you’re “less than”… and in acts of belittlement. For example, I grew up in the SF East Bay, the barrio Decoto that is part of Union City, which is halfway between San Jose and Oakland. My schools were integrated, Anglos, Asians and Latinos, no Blacks lived in the south bay at that time. But the classrooms were not. For example, there were 2 classes of 1st grade, 2nd grade….. and one class was primarily for the Anglos and the other for the rest of us. A few of us got to cross, meaning on occasion I was in the white classroom, which is how I understood the situation as a kid – there’s the white classroom and there’s our brown classroom – I saw it as our classroom because that’s where my cousins and neighborhoods friends were. Our Asian population was very small, a few Japanese and Filipinos which played out with the Japanese in the white classroom and the Filipinos in the brown classroom. That’s how racial profiling worked then and it still haunts me - more on that later.

When the emancipation movements of the late 60s/70s upended all that crap, the Chicano movement was where I found myself engaging in political work: The UFW, grape boycotts; student walk-outs for ethnic studies, anti-war activities. The VISTA teachers who chose to work at my High School cuz we were poor and the Franciscan priests who I grew up with and who had a Berrigan Brothers/Dorothy Day impulse in them shaped my activist thinking. I remember Father Henry taking our teen church group to the People’s Park protests in Berkeley and telling my mom and Tia who were watching the protest on TV that I was going to join them and …they rolled their eyes and gave me permission because it was a church outing. Oh glorious 1968!!

This a long story but it informed my work at Intersection for the Arts and my career in the cultural sector – making the space for inquiry, making policy arguments, feeding the mechanism that supports the social imaginary.

As to Patti Smith, two quotes from her: Jesus died for someone’s sins but not mine” and “Outside is the side I take.” I remember the Jesus quote spray-painted on the side of the Catholic Newman Center in Berkeley – cool. And “Outside,” well if you find yourself more often in the terrain of “outside” than in the dominant ideologies-- embrace it.

RTM: Do you find Queer to be a more capacious way to construct your location and actions in the world? Teresa de Lauretis, the theorist who originally coined the term Queer Theory has moved away from it, since she sees it as having been co-opted by the status quo. What's your thinking about this?

Roberto: Queer is akin to “outside” which I am comfortable with but Queer is not my location. Where is my location? - My interrogations into place, home, shelter? In part. My life as a reader? To answer my own question I think of Edmond Jabes’ influence in my life and answer – the location is the question.

In 1988/89 I was living in NYC and working on a play dealing with AIDS and engaging with ACT-UP actions. At that time Queer was how we self-identified and it was a way to name ourselves and our form of activism. I wasn’t heavy into ACT-UP but went to the meetings and the protests. I was actively a part of the Day Without Art efforts and Visual Aids, the group that produced the red ribbon.

To circle back to the first question about my sexuality and this question about Queer-- it is linked in part to my notions of public and private. The AIDS activism dictum “SILENCE=DEATH” was a powerful cultural claim that changed society and altered the border between private and public. I believe Michael Warner’s writing on Publics and CounterPublics is very insightful on this moment of activism and he does a wonderful job of animating the meaning of queer and it roots which I embrace.

AND…. As to the Queer clothing line at a trendy boutique near you, well I prefer the DIY Cholo/dandy style of Latino homeboys.

RTM: It is interesting to me that in The Grand Piano, the Collective Autobiography written by 10 of the Language Writers, there's an assertion that part of their project has always been queer. For example in Part I, Carla Harryman writes that "...it almost goes without saying that opposition to the regulation of gender in literature had everything to do with formal innovation produced by us, as men and women" (38).

You were very much involved in the SF Bay Area writing scene in the 80s. What's your response to this?

Roberto: So many stories about the 80’s scene and I feel very lucky to be a part of it: as a presenter, a reader, as an observer/listener and writer.

I do agree with Carla’s statement that “opposition to the regulation of gender” prompted much innovative writing. The new narrative posse of Bob Gluck, Bruce Boone, Steve Abbott, Kevin Killian, Dodie Bellamy… and the How(ever) group of wonderful thinkers, these creative mining’s I found exhilarating. They embedded in their practices an “opposition to regulation.”

I also appreciate the community of women writers that included Genny Lim, Canyon Sam, Karin Brodine, Susan Griffin, Paula Gunn Allen, Judy Grahn, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Eileen Myles, all of whose investigations of the regulations of gender social systems were queerish in their ways.

These writers gave readings or talks at Intersection.

RTM: Tell me a bit more about your literary work in SF during this period. You ran the reading series at Intersection for the Arts. Who did you invite to read in that series? You brought Harryette Mullen to SF didn't you?

Roberto: I started off at Intersection as a volunteer in the early 80’s. Prior to that I had been in the creative writing program at Fresno State studying with Phil Levine. The program at Fresno was known at that time for being a creative hub for Chicano poets. Fresno was not working for me so I went back to the Bay, got a job at Bookpeople which was the largest distributor of small presses in the nation at the time and I started volunteering at Intersection. Jim Hartz was the literary director at the time. As a volunteer I set-up the room and took the money at the door. I would produce an occasional reading, primarily with writers of color. And because of my connection to Bookpeople I worked with some of the poetry publishers outside the Bay Area whom we distributed and presented readings of their authors who would be traveling through town. Jim was great as the director and he was very supportive of the Language School writers, who initially I found very bewildering. Yet my bewilderment became part of my education as a listener and reader. When Jim became the director of the Poetry Center at SFSU I became the director of the literary program at Intersection. I worked at Intersection from the early 80s to 88.

Intersection has a long history, 40 years plus as an artists-centered organization. In the beginning of the 80s we were in North Beach and then moved to the Mission. The North Beach venue was a former church, the Mission venue a former mortuary. Where Intersection is today, that was formerly a furniture store.

You asked “who.” Well, over the years so many. The abundance of writers in the Bay, and Intersection’s curatorial philosophy of supporting the breadth of this community manifested in an eclectic program. Of the many different poetics at work in the literary community, I was committed to presenting the most innovative/fresh/probing voices for the public. How I defined innovative, fresh, probing was based on my reading of the many works that came across my desk. I understood my curatorial responsibility along the lines of contributing to the aesthetic education of the public.

I took a great deal of pleasure in presenting new voices to the community, often through programming an emerging writer with an established writer. Most of the time it worked. I don’t know if Nate Mackey introduced me to Harryette or not, but I did offer her her first SF reading and she was very well received. I introduced Harryette’s work to Lee Ann Brown which resulted in Lee Ann publishing Harryette’s book Trimmings.

I often thought of my job at Intersection as a connector. And, to use some popular jargon, to be a contributor to a “tipping point” moment in an artist’s career or a publisher’s effort to establish themselves or expand their audience. I loved working with the independent publishers whether it be the local efforts of Tombouctou Books, Tuumba, MOMO’s Press, City Lights, North Altantic Books, Kelsey Street Press, the Figures or beyond the bay - Copper Canyon, Coach House. Gray Wolf. Many of these relationships with these publishers were created when I worked at Bookpeople in the sales department.

I also loved working with the editors of literary journals and so I would present group readings associated with ACTS, Five Fingers Review, Jimmy and Lucy’s House of K, Mirage, No Apologies, Soup, Little Caesar, Temblor.

I could go on with a lot of names associated with some memorable readings: The Frances: Frances Mayes, Frances Jaffer and Frances Phillips; The Bob’s: Bob Gluck, Bob Perlman, Bob Kaufman, Bob Hass; Leslie Scalapino and Leslie Silko; Bill Barich and Bill Berkson; Jane Miller and Jane Hirschfield; Victor Martinez and Victor Hernandez Cruz; Jessica Grim and Jessica Hagedorn; David Henderson, David Meltzer, David Melnick, David Highsmith like going through the alphabet A- Aaron Shurin, B- Beverly Dahlen…..

I had very much a catholic-- with the small c --POV, which I employed as a presenter. How fortunate to be a part of a very dynamic community with the wide range of poetics during the 80’s. I was especially fond of the experimental feminist writing community loosely associated with How(ever), Kelsey Street, and women who were associated with the writing program at New College – Norma Cole, Mary Margaret Sloan, Edith Jenkins, Susan Gevirtz, Kathleen Fraser Jean Day, Laura Moriarty, Beverly Dahlen and many others due in part that I found in their poetics an understanding of the “outside”-- the gender outside, the class outside of mainstream culture, mainstream writing.

I recall a conversation with Bob Holman who programmed the series at St. Marks’ while I was at Intersection, and we were joking about the “no’s” we said to authors who wanted to read at our organizations … something like artists say yes and bankers say no and that our challenge was how to say no as an artist to an artist – not always easy. One guy was into harassing me and complained loudly to my board and other writers about me while I told him no. Yet, this trash talk was not the norm.

In regard to talks/lectures-- what Bob Perelman was doing at Langton with his talk series was mirrored at Intersection in spirit- offering an opportunity to writers to speak about their practices, their poetics, their reading habits.

Some of the talks I produced were by Bill Barich, Leslie Scalapino, Kit Robinson, Rosemarie Waldrop, Jessica Hagedorn, David Henry Hwang, Benjamin Hollander, and Carl Rokosi.

I have too many stories…

RTM: How did you negotiate the "poetry wars" of the 80s? What's your understanding and/or experience of what those wars were about?

….by keeping moving. I am joking a bit but I and Intersection were not inside those heated debates. Believe me I heard from folks -- how could you present the language poets; the North Beach beats types; the sentimentalist AWP types; the queer/sexual outlaw types; the multicultural nationalists; those odd ducks from LA, NYC, Seattle, Fresno, Vancouver; the Eco Humboldt County types; the Minnesota “Bly” sensitive types; the non-fiction New Yorker writers…. But really those that were complaining to me were often those who were not readers of the work they often criticized. I just listened because I could not understand all this animosity (antagonism is a different story).

People knew my taste preferences, which were more towards the new narrative and the experimental feminist writers, but Intersection was about the public we, the we of a probing literary scene.

Post Intersection, I came across this quote by Emmanuel Levinas: “We is not the plural of I,” which speaks much about the aesthetic battles I’ve witnessed, especially the cultural war of the 80s/90s. I recall a conversation with David Levi Strauss about the privatization of culture that those 80s battles were much about. In many ways these battles were and continue to be about the privatization of the pronoun “we” – whose definition of “we” were talking about in these 80s battles?: the Jesse Helms’ “we” of ultraconservatives, the Reaganomics’ “we” that David pointed out was rooted in California’s Prop 13. Prop 13 can be marked as the beginning of the dismantling of the tax system, a system that was supposed to support the public community. Levinas’s “we” is not a “we” of me and my friends and associates. It resonates for me because it speaks to a meaning of “we” that includes people you don’t know.

The cultural wars of the 80s and 90s were a battleground for me. The attack on artistic freedom of expression and the NEA by conservatives was where I found myself in the battle. Maybe one way to read the attack on the poetics of the LANGUAGE School writers, or multiculturalism or the sexualized writing of Kathy Acker, Dennis Cooper, is that these Poetry Wars were part of a conservative turn in our culture. I was very lucky to have had the opportunity to serve on a number of NEA funding deliberation panels for the Literature and Interdisciplinary programs. While on the lit panels, I was often surprised by the hostility to experimental poetics that I heard from other panelists. I was on panels dealing with publishing and presenting – not the fellowship program. This, coupled with my experiences on the Interdisciplinary panel which supported new works, helped me to begin to understand how the Culture Wars were really about content, whether it be experimental poetics, performance arts, images of sex as well as artists’ support systems. In regards to artist support systems, the Culture War battles resulted in the unraveling of a system that provided financial support for artists-centered organizations that presented innovative art: the elimination of the NEA Fellowship for individual artists and the support for new experimental artworks; the efforts to destabilize artists-centered networks, such as the National Alliance of Media Arts and Culture, The National Association of Artists’ Organizations, The National Performance Network, the National Network of Organizations of Color, Alternative Roots which, as service organizations, exist to support artists and their development – all eliminated because of probing content.

The political and cultural conservative attack on most contemporary art practices and arts presenters was in many ways part of a developing US Cultural Policy of constructing complicity with the aims of markets and state. Now I know I am talking shop here as an arts administrator, but I had my work questioned because of who I presented at Intersection or the organizations I supported as the ED of The National Association of Artists’ Organizations (NAAO). My work was questioned by artists, private and public funders, or Joe Citizen, who did not believe there should be any public support of the arts. My responses to these questions in part took me down the path of cultural policy- the path of making arguments about the role of artists, freedom of expression, the value of artists-centered organizations. I used these arguments to defend the policies of the organizations I was a part of as well at those national cultural policymaking tables that included me.

The dogmatic position of some writers against other writers and their animosity bothered me. I’m cool with antagonism because really that is the terrain of politics, to believe or not believe in a position, such as a particular poetic investigation, and to argue about it is great. But animosity – too much divorce court and hate speech drama which unfortunately occurs and is poison. Intersection as a public venue felt some of the animosity out there but it didn’t change our policy of supporting innovation. Maybe a different window into the Poetry Wars is to look at Poetry Flash-- that's where a lot of dishing happened.

To talk politics here for a moment, I’ve gained an understanding of the affects of antagonism and animosity at work in the public sphere through the writings of Chantal Mouffe, which have informed greatly my work as a policymaker. Her riffs on “negotiated equivalences” are rich and they upend the democratic ideal of some greater good on the horizon that we work towards as a democracy. She argues for democracy as a chain of equivalences that we create among ourselves informed by the ethico-political value of liberty and equity.

Intersection for me was in many ways about creating a chain of equivalences -- which is not about engaging in happy-face reductionism of “can’t we all get along” as a presenting strategy. It was about working with community difference, working with antagonism. Today, you and I together are admirers of George Oppen, tomorrow you and I are arguing about Adrienne Rich - who is the you and I in the scenario – the reading public, the writing community.

RTM: Can you also talk a bit about what it was like to be a person of color in a fairly white San Francisco experimental poetics scene? What about your sexuality? Were you out at this time?

Roberto: It had its odd moments. I can’t speak to the “white” writer and what he or she thought when they looked at their audience and saw me, so often the only person of color in the audience. But I don’t want to dwell too much on that point; it was at times odd but never an obstacle.

Remember the story I told earlier about my elementary school education and my classroom experience with the “white classroom.” The experimental poetics scène at time felt like the “white classroom.” It’s surprising how that feeling lingers. Earlier this year there was a symposium at the University of Arizona Poetry Center “ Conceptual Poetry and its Other,” which was wonderful, but at the same time my first impression was it was a return to the “white classroom” - there were maybe 150 folks at this conference and there were the poets Tracie Morris, Sherwin Bitsui, the scholar Carlos Gallego and myself who were the only folks of color at the event. It was one of those scenes that I have often encountered-- where their background determines the foreground, where I am in a ‘white space’ that brought into focus by my browness, my otherness at that moment. The questions the symposium prompted within me were not just about aesthetics but also about sociology and dramaturgy in the art world.

In regards to dramaturgy, I have often been invited to be a participant on panels about some contested cultural issue and I look at the setting, stage, actors, and script associated with the event. If I am invited to speak because of my diversity, because the scripts ask for the Post-Colonial other, I think hard if I want to participate and if I do, how do I problematize my own positionality.

The sociology of the art world is odd. I look at the various worldviews at play. In Tucson I see the tension between a strong Latino and Indigenous culture worldview that places great value on place--making place rub up against an Euro-Centric avant-garde view of the non-referential, the non-place. Further to the point about the sociologies of art within various disciplines--whether it be letters, music or the visual arts--one needs to be aware of the politics of taste and the politics of resources and position that are a part of these sociologies. These politics shape how artists and art works are validated and supported. They inform how distinctions are made, tethered as they are to ethics and aesthetics.

Another story – back to the experimental poetics white classroom characterization- (which I know is problematic.) I remember a reading/talk at Intersection in the North Beach Days-- early 80s-- and I was at the back of the room listening and feeling frustrated. I don’t remember who read but someone associated with the LANGUAGE School and I wasn’t getting it – too much vertigo for me. There was a talk, Q & A, afterwards and I rarely spoke at those occasions but somehow the conversation was becoming too academic and I was having that intense “white classroom” reaction – feeling that folks were not addressing the politics of marginalization at work in the world. Bob Perelman was next to me and he just leaned over and encouraged me to speak, to ask my question – which I did do. He read my tension, my awkwardness and made an opening for me. Kit Robinson, Steve Benson and Leslie Scalapino through their generosity of being and poetry dislodged some of my white classroom framing often by the conversations we had after a reading at the bar – where my aesthetic education about their lines of inquiry was fed.

I am not shy but the belittling I received for being a racial “other” in my early years still lingers and effects my voice, my presence. I suspect everyone has some “other” like this in their life.

To circle back to the question about being a non-white in a white scene, here’s another story. There’s a cool group of activist artists out of Chicago associated with a group called Temporary Services. I recall going to a lecture a few years ago at their space called Mess Hall and there was all this talk about aesthetic intervention. Again I was the only person of color in the room of young spirited anarchist /prairie socialists’ types all with deep passion. At a certain point I was getting fatigued with an on-going dialogue about intervention. I think what triggered the conversation was that they were recently in a show at MASS Moca, anyway I spoke up and questioned their privileging, romancing, and fertilizing of the term Intervention. I told them how when I walk into a high-end fashion store like a Barney or Saks often I’m clocked-- security follows me. I am marked as an intervention. I then spoke of Project Row House in Houston, which they did not know about, an artist-centered community development effort and how for some folks of color reform strategies were a course of political and aesthetic action which is different from intervention because of the conditions of privilege. I don’t recall the upshot of my questioning but the meeting ended shortly after.

Stay-tuned for Part 2 of this interview!

Roberto Bedoya is the Executive Director of the Tucson Pima Arts Council. He is also a writer and arts consultant who works in the area of support systems for artists. As an arts consultant he has worked on projects for the Creative Capital Foundation and the Arizona Commission on the Arts (Creative Capital№s State Research Project); The Ford Foundation (Mapping Native American Cultural Policy); The Ford and Rockefeller Foundations (Creative Practice in the 21st Century); and The Urban Institute (Investing in Creativity: A Study of the Support Structure for US Artists and the Arts and Culture Indicators in Community Building Project). He is the author of the monograph U.S. Cultural Policy: Its Politics of Participation, Its Creative Potential (www.npnweb.org <http://www.npnweb.org/> ). He is the former Executive Director of the National Association of Artists№ Organizations (NAAO) a national arts service organization for individual artists and artist-centered organizations, primarily visual and interdisciplinary organizations. NAAO was a co-plaintiff in the Finley vs. NEA lawsuit. Bedoya has been a Rockefeller Fellow at New York University and a Visiting Scholar at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles.


New Featured Author Section!

This month we are very pleased to unveil our first Featured Author, Magdalena Zurawski. (Oh, Maggie, behind the veils you are lovely, lovely . . .) Maggie's novel, The Bruise, won the Ronald Sukenick American Book Review Innovative Fiction Prize sponsored by Fc2.
If you have suggestions for our Featured Author Section, please contact klouhome at bellsouth.net.
Happy Reading!

Featured Author: Magdalena Zurawski

Statement on Crossings
When you asked me to comment about my novel in terms of "Crossing," I didn't think I would have much to say, but now I think I might be able to say a little. I'm not sure if the novel is cross-genre. (That's the first "cross" word you suggested.) There's a couple of poems excerpted in it. But there's a lot of poems in a George Eliot novel and I don't think that's cross-genre, nor would many other people. And a couple people have suggested that it isn't a novel, but a poem disguised as a novel. That might be true. I paid a lot of attention to the sounds of words and the breath of the reader, and I have never really written prose before, or taken a class on how to write prose, but only know some things about poetry. So I am sure I didn't write a novel correctly and only used what I knew about poetry to try to write what I thought was all along a novel. So maybe it isn't a cross-genre work, as much as a work that failed to cross over into the genre it wanted to be. That seems to me the most satisfying answer insofar as the whole novel worries about change being possible. Why shouldn't the form itself?

The kind of crossing I'm more interested in thinking about right now, especially in regards to this book, has to do with the relationship between textual space and extra-textual space, or, as my narrator, who is both me and not me, would say, the relationship between the writing in books and the real life outside of books. I've been thinking about this a lot while walking my dogs this week. I'm wondering if a writer isn't a kind of failed magician. Or if it's an erroneous gesture for a reader or a writer to apply the kind of thinking required in the space of the book to a space outside of the book. What I mean is, a reader or a writer is praised for the correspondences she can make between things in the space of a book. The more unexpected relationships or links I can make between different ideas or objects in my book, the "smarter" I'll appear as a writer. The same goes for a reader. The person who can point out the most relationships between things, who can make the most meanings, is the best student. And maybe this is true in the game of reading. A magician, if I remember my Spicer correctly, is a person who does this in the world, in the object world. A magician creates correspondences between things that another person wouldn't necessarily see and that's where the magic comes from. But I'm beginning to think that for a person to read the world in the same way that she reads a text is a kind of false or failed magic, if only because the world is not a sealed system the way a book is. A book is a limited set, whereas the world is infinite. We don't get the whole story when we are outside of a book, but the practice of reading books, especially if we are good at it, might make us confident enough to read the real this way. I think it gives us a false sense of control because the world is too big. Too many things remain outside our ken. So to create a narrative based on certain coincidences of experiences, to read life the way we read a book, seems to me, at least this week, emotionally dangerous. We can ascribe people and places too much significance. Maybe I'm just feeling a victim of my own magic because the book uses so much of me as material for itself. The life of my early twenties is the furniture of the novel, though the majority of events are invented. But in the writing process the text started echoing so many parts of itself that it seemed so much smarter than me. Everything corresponded. I think I began to believe it could reach out beyond its pages, cross over into my life and make meanings where there maybe were none to be made. But maybe most things that happen outside of books aren't meant to contribute to a person's narrative of self. Maybe to try to make meanings in your life the way you would in a book is simply the tic of a reader. Maybe reading only works in books.

Excerpt from The Bruise
The Melting Heads
Shortly after L-- left me it seemed as though my entire person was reduced to being a weak ache of body so much so that I didn’t hear poems anymore and I had no thoughts that went beyond understanding how to move myself through time and space. The only thing I felt was a mild ache in my bones that seems hardly worth calling an ache because in truth it didn’t cause me any pain but simply made my body heavy as if I wore everywhere the lead apron given to me by an x-ray technician whose office I didn’t remember visiting. So even to name the feeling I am describing as an ache is not accurate but I know no name for the weight I felt that was not the ache of any specific ailment but only the slight and constant annoyance of having a body.

And whoever had given me the bruise was sending me now a revisionary message but this time because I had never felt so alone I could no longer see anyone except myself in the shower room mirror or the brass doorknob so the new message didn’t come through a dream or a poem but instead through a book that someone else had written. The book was a book I had found on one of the reading tables in the Periodicals Room as I was on my way to my seat in the Rockefeller Library. I had stopped to look at the book not because I had recognized the name or the author of the book but because I had seen the book out of the corner of my eye as I passed it on the table and the cover was a special cover that caught my eye. A cover that had three different paintings of a man’s face melting on it and there was something that I had liked about the way the faces looked when they were melting and I think it was that the faces when they were melting looked not like faces of dripping paint but like faces of melting flesh and the flesh didn’t look so much like flesh but meat. And since there were no faces really left in the paintings but only these melting heads of flesh that looked like meat there must have been something that I also liked about the fact that the faces weren’t faces any more but only heads made of meat. And even though in the book there were no more pictures of the heads of meat only the author’s ideas about what it meant for this painter whose name was Bacon (which somehow seemed right for a painter who made pictures of heads that looked like meat) to make a picture a portrait of a person that turned the face into a head of meat I decided to read the book since the pictures so much seemed right to me that I was willing to read about them even without being able to see them and though the book was a little bit difficult for me to understand especially without pictures to show me all the ideas about flesh and faces and heads and meat that the author saw in Bacon’s paintings there was one idea that was easy for me to understand and it stuck with me and because it was easy for me to understand I thought that it must be an idea that I needed at that moment because I was so sad that L-- had left me.

The idea that I liked so much was the idea that in the paintings the faces turn into melting heads because the faces are mostly trying not to be faces anymore and the faces are attached to bodies that don’t want to be bodies anymore. What I mean is or what the author meant was that the people in the paintings are trying not to be flesh and blood any more and so the melting head of meat is just the first step in a long process of not being flesh and blood anymore and so the painter by being this kind of melting meat painter is helping the person’s whole body begin to disappear. And so the book said that when a person is screaming in one of Bacon’s painting it’s not exactly like the person is screaming just to scream -- just to show that something hurts -- but the person is trying to create an opening -- a hole -- for the body to slip out of itself. So when there is a painting with a melting head that is screaming the head is really trying to melt into and out of the open mouth and disappear into a sound so it doesn’t have to be a body anymore and there was something about that idea that I really liked and I think that I liked the idea because it seemed to be the opposite idea that the bruise wanted to give me or that the poem gave me because it seemed to me that the bruise and the poem had made me try to become a face and a body when I had just been a head of meat waiting to slip out of my own mouth like an idea. But then the bruise came and the poem came and it seemed like all those things came to bring me back into my body so that I would finally kiss L-- and finally become a person. But even though I kissed L-- and let myself be a person in a body still L-- left me and suddenly now it didn’t seem so important to have a body anymore and it didn’t even feel very good to have a body anymore and even when I was with L-- it was very confusing to have a body but even though it was confusing at least when I was with her there seemed the possibility that I wouldn’t be lonely anymore but now that L-- was gone it didn’t seem very important to have a body anymore because the body just seemed to make the loneliness worse. So when I read this book even though I thought it was a message from the same person who gave me the bruise and the poem and all my dreams I wondered if it was really the same person at all and I thought maybe this was a message from another voice -- a voice that was against the voice that gave me the bruise and the poem -- a voice that didn’t want me to be a person in a body anymore. And I thought maybe this new voice was a better smarter voice that knew it was better not to have a body but I didn’t even know if all these signs came from angels or ghosts or voices or if all these messages were coming from different parts of me and with all the confusion it was impossible to know who I should listen to or what exactly I was listening to. But the idea that a body could so much no longer want to be itself that it could scream just to fall out of itself seemed like a real idea to me and sometimes late at night when I couldn’t sleep because I was too much thinking about how it used to feel to sleep next to L-- I would open my mouth and although I wouldn’t scream I would keep my mouth wide open until I fell asleep just to see if suddenly my body would slip out of my mouth in the middle of the night and I would become something else but I never did. And I liked the idea that even when the person in the painting was too tired of being a person to scream and free himself that even when he was so tired that he had to lean over a sink in the painting that the flesh was still willing enough to melt even though there was no mouth to melt through and the sink knowing that there was no mouth for the person to fall through let the melting flesh fall and escape down the drain. The drain was there for the flesh to fall through so that the person could finally disappear from the world and no longer have to be himself.

And the more I read about how Bacon liked to turn peoples’ faces into heads of meat so they could melt away and not have to be people anymore the more I wondered if when he walked down the street and looked at peoples’ faces if he could actually see how much the people didn’t want to be in their own faces anymore. And then I wondered what it would mean to see a person’s face and see how much the person didn’t want to be in her face and so because the face showed so much how it didn’t want to be a face the person looking at that face would not see the face but only see this melting head of meat that was really the first step in helping the person escape her face. And when I thought about that I began to think that the painter was almost like a saint saving people from the flesh and helping them become part of the spirit world faster and if he only could do in real life what he did in his paintings there would be so much less sadness in the world.

And in the mornings after I hardly slept because I missed L-- so much I wondered while brushing my teeth in the shower room if the horrible feeling that I was feeling in my body because I was no longer with L-- I wondered if the horrible feeling was actually my flesh not wanting to be flesh anymore and I wondered if I leaned there on the sink long enough if I would just melt down into the drain and disappear into the spirit world. And because I never fell out of my mouth at night or down the drain in the morning even though I felt like I didn’t want to be a body anymore I began to wonder if the idea that Bacon was painting was actually an idea for real life or just an idea for paintings. And since I hadn’t even really seen any of the paintings but only read about them in the book I thought maybe the idea wasn’t even an idea that worked in paintings and I wondered if when I actually saw the paintings of the scream and the sink if I would really look at the paintings and think that the bodies were really trying and wanting to melt out of their own flesh. And the less I melted when I wanted to and the more I thought about this idea I wondered how it would even be possible to have a painting that could really show this idea and maybe the idea was just the idea of the author of the book -- an idea that he had while writing about the paintings after not looking at them for a very long time because I knew that it was easy to write anything that you imagined with words because words could say anything especially when a person just started typing with a small idea and let the words take over the idea. But I wondered if a painting could really show that a person just standing over a sink was really a body that wanted to melt and fall down the drain of the sink. And so the next time I went back to the library I went to the card catalog and found a book with pictures by Francis Bacon and when I went to the third floor into the stacks and found the book and opened it the first picture I saw was not one of the pictures I had come to see. It was not of a man screaming or of a man leaning over a sink waiting to melt down the drain but it was a picture of a man sitting. The picture was of a man sitting on a white table with wooden legs. A table that was long enough to reach across the painting left to right. And it was impossible to say where the table was exactly except in the painting because in the painting there was nothing but a color for a background. A bright orange color. So it was impossible to tell where the table was exactly because the background was not a specific place but just a color and not a place -- a very beautiful bright orange place that was not a place. And the man on the table was sitting in such a way that his right leg was extended in front of him and that leg was a horizontal line across the middle of the painting -- just as horizontal as the table top. And the other leg -- the left leg which was deeper in the painting because the figure was extending his right leg from left to right in the painting -- was bent into a V and the man’s arm was clasping the bent leg right below the knee. And the head of the man was turning into the painting so that I couldn’t see the face of the man just his back and on his back there was a very deep cut and the deep cut was the first thing I noticed when I looked at the painting and when I saw the deep red cut that looked like a long red gash I immediately imagined the rest of the man falling into the cut as if the cut were like a drain and I imagined the whole man disappearing and there being nothing left in the painting except the table the beautiful orange color and a floating red mark that used to be a gash in the body but was really a gateway to a whole other universe where flesh no longer had to be itself and when I thought all these things I remembered that I had thought them all because I had just read a book that had said all these things almost and so I began to wonder if I actually would have thought these thoughts if I had never read the book about the paintings. I wondered if I would have thought these things if I had only just seen the paintings and so I closed the book of pictures and opened it again to see if a picture was as strong as an idea about a picture and when I opened the book again I saw the same thing. I saw the entire body wanting to slip out of itself through the long red gash in the man’s back and because I could see the want so much I could also make myself see what wasn’t happening on the painting and one more time I saw the whole body falling into the cut on the back and disappearing. And again in my mind I imagined the beautiful painting that was just the table and the lovely orange color and the beautiful red gash floating by itself in mid-air with no body to hold it anymore and I wondered what would have happened to me if the bruise on my forehead hadn’t been a bruise on my forehead but a deep cut on my back.

Magdalena Zurawski's Blog (with reading dates): http://minoramerican.blogspot.com/
FC2 Page: http://fc2.org/zurawski/bruise/bruise.htm
Review of
The Bruise: http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6584376.html
Excerpt of
 The Bruise in Shampoo: http://www.shampoopoetry.com/ShampooTwentynine/zurawski.html