photo courtesy of Norma Cole

This fall Small Press Traffic board members are curating readings; the enjoyable afternoon of October 6th, 2013 was organized by Camille Roy who introduced Mary Burger and Rachel Levitsky as two women conducting compelling experiments with the  novel. We heard generous portions of Burger's and Levistsky's work.

A number of us were acutely aware of the fact that the audience, interestingly, consisted mostly of women. I think there was one man present. What's up with that?

Rachel read from THE STORY OF MY ACCIDENT IS OURS and since I recently reported on Rachel's reading in New York, I will refer you to that post here on xpoetics.

In this space, we'll now turn our attention to Mary's compelling reading. Here's a thick slice of her latest, in progress:

From Red Dust Tangle (novel in progress)

Mary Burger


Dear heart,

I finally understood the appeal of spiderman.  To take an injury and turn it into your greatest power.   A power that only you had.   A way that you could save anyone.


I grew up in a religion of human sacrifice, though it wasn’t explained that way at the time.  Forgiveness came in a package of spikes and thorns.  Blood ran calmly from the palms of the hands.  We all pantomimed the anguish abstractly and repeatedly.


I saw two street fights that year.  Heads bounced on pavement.

I saw one building turn into flames.

Knotted bedsheets hung from the upper floors. 

How long does it take to pull sheets off a bed and twist a simple rope and tie it to a metal windowframe?  How long to wonder whether this is really happening?   How long to throw a leg over the windowsill (dusty terra cotta, push aside the plants and books)?  How long to test whether the knot will hold?  How long to look into the eyes of your dear heart and decide which one of you goes first?


It was too long.


The Red Cross gave out gendered bags of toiletries on the rescue bus.  Men’s and women’s disposable razors, men’s and women’s deoderant.  The toothpaste I guess was all the same.


Dear heart. 

All the freaks and loving weirdos gathered their bags of drugstore incidentals.  It was almost Weimar Berlin.


We got dry leaves in our ass cracks when we rolled around on the ground, under trees, off the trail.  Twigs poked our soft butts that weren’t used to daylight.  Dear heart, life is not for novices.


I got a pen with a small light at the tip, to write down what I thought about during the night.   No lamplight, dear heart, don’t wake up. 


We could throw a party for all our failed selves, awkward and shy, impulsive or raging, but none would be as bad as we once thought.


He walked his dog with the lump in its side up one alley and down the next, on a leash of rope.  The alleys drained to the middle, no gutters, no curbs. 


I bought trinkets for quarters and gave them away. 


At a small hotel a few blocks away, in the piano bar with dark paneling, we waited out the snow.   On the walk home, only fire trucks pierced the quiet.


Dear heart, who should go first?  Rapelling down a brick wall.  Who yelled out from the other windows, tie knots so you can hold on?  


In the hallways, the giant finger-swipes of the fire fighters’ sooty gloves where they ran their hands along the walls, feeling for doors.  Every door standing open, splintered with an axe.   Inside the doorways, nothing was different.  Or nothing was there.


All her friends offered dishes or towels.  A teapot and a shower curtain. 


In the trackless snow everything looked more the same. 


His dog with the lump in its side examined the base of every dumpster every day, looking for who had been there.   They walked slowly, he with the rope in his hand, but usually slack, they held the same pace side by side.


Grid of the windowpanes, grid of the bricks, grid of the alleyways, grid of these boxes of rooms.  In the closets, more boxes.  In one room, a bloom or a billow.  The end of the grid starts with the lick of the fire, the curl of the smoke.


I thought if we brought down the grid it would mean we could live in blind corners.  In suspense.  To be everywhere at the same time, with everything still possible.

M  A  R  Y     B  U  R  G  E  R  is a writer and visual artist based in Oakland. Her writing is often cross-genre, combining poetry, essay, memoir, and fiction. Her book Then Go On, a collection of prose, was published in 2012 by Litmus Press. Her writing has appeared in various literary journals (most recently The Volta and the Poetic Labor Project) and in landscape and art publications. She teaches in the School of Landscape Architecture at the Academy of Art University


Fred Moten Reading and Reading Groups!

Fred Moten Reading his Poetry and Talking about The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study, co-authored with Stefano Harney.

Where: California College of the Arts Timken Hall at the San Francisco campus 1111 Eighth Street San Francisco. This event is cosponsored by The Poetry Center at San Francisco State University and Small Press Traffic with the help of the Public School.
When: 5 pm

In advance of Fred Moten's visit, we'll be reading together and talking about The Undercommons!

There will be two reading groups:

**Thursday Oct 17th 7-9 pm at The Bay Area  Public School
For Thursday night please read
chapter: 1: Politics Surrounded and chapter 4: Debt & Study
We'll focus our reading, discussion, and some writing around these two chapters.

**Sunday Oct 27th 5-7pm  at the Artists' Television Access (ATA), 992 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110.
On this afternoon we'll focus on Chapters 5: Planning and Policy and 6: Fantasy in the Hold.

The text of The Undercommons is available for free as a pdf here!

The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study
Stefano Harney and Fred Moten
Introduction by Jack Halberstam

In this series of essays Fred Moten and Stefano Harney draw on the theory and practice of the black radical tradition as it supports, inspires, and extends contemporary social and political thought and aesthetic critique. Today the general wealth of social life finds itself confronted by mutations in the mechanisms of control: the proliferation of capitalist logistics, governance by credit, and the management of pedagogy. Working from and within the social poesis of life in the undercommons Moten and Harney develop and expand an array of concepts: study, debt, surround, planning, and the shipped. On the fugitive path of an historical and global blackness, the essays in this volume unsettle and invite the reader to the self-organised ensembles of social life that are launched every day and every night amid the general antagonism of the undercommons. 


Celebrating Robert Gluck's Elements

cover art by Joe Brainard

In September, while I was in New Hampshire helping my sister Linda get ready for her wedding, Robert Glück and a host of eager readers and friends were celebrating Ithuriel's Spear's republication of Gluck's Elements** (originally published in 1982 as Elements of a Coffee Service). This republication was partly sponsored by many former participants in Bob's long-running writing workshops, once held at Small Press Traffic, and then later in his home.

photo: Francesca Rosa; Bob reading at The Green Arcade

Elements of a Coffee Service, now Elements, was written in the context of the Bay Area writing scene in the 1980s, a scene characterized by lively and contentious debates over literary experiments and their social, political and aesthetic values. During a time when the self, narrative, and representation were considered debased literary tools for innovative writing, Robert Glück and Bruce Boone asserted their potential critical and imaginative value for a socially activist and experimental queer writing. Rather than attempting to describe, from outside, the whole world, New Narrative writers explore specific local communities, blurring textual and social realities, while making offerings to and demands of their readers, who, as a result, become participants in the text while the text extends into the world. New Narrative, then, develops as a performative textuality, calling into being and speaking to and from a community and its future.

New Narrative grows out of a dialogue, a friendship between two gay men who share an interest in Frank O’Hara. Invoking the social or collective implied in narrative in his “Long Note on New Narrative,” Robert Glück explains how New Narrative has an intimate origin in friendship and community; it begins not only as a response to the provocations of Language Writing and the insufficiencies Glück locates there, but takes place in the context of the friendship between Glück and Bruce Boone that began in the 1970s. Glück writes that “to talk about the beginnings of New Narrative, I have to talk about my friendship with Bruce Boone” ("Long Note" 25).

 Located in relation to emerging gay and lesbian identity-based movements in the context of the 1970s, New Narrative responds to movement poetry’s demand for representation and what Boone called “the vigor, energy and accessibility that mark so much of the new Movement writing of gays, women and Third World writers” (“Remarks” 29) and Language Writers’ disparate but new formal experiments intoxicating and agitating the poetry community of the Bay Area.

All of this is on display in Elements' stories--"Sanchez and Day," "When Bruce was 36 (Gossip and Scandal)," "Safety," "Sex Story," "The Dinner Party," "Chaucer," "Night Flight," and "Violence."

Each piece is rich with detail, prose that invites us to pause, to take pleasure in the writer's artistry, to laugh, to be astonished, and moved. The first story “Sanchez and Day” uses a first-person narration in the past tense to tell a story of fear and violence as the narrator describes walking his dog, Lily, and encountering four men in a Chevy pickup who start yelling “faggot” and “fucking faggot” and throw a beer can at him. The narrator and his dog run from the men and manage to escape, finding refuge in the location of another “other,” a produce market run by a Thai family. But this short piece does more than recount a straight forward story of a narrowly escaped gay bashing. This four-page story’s ostensible main narrative–the story of the violent homophobic attack by the four men– is interrupted by a number of devices. An interruption occurs through an interpellation of the reader via the construction of a narratee, “You’ll understand my fear because television has trained us to understand the fear of a running man” (12). The encounter with the four men is further suspended by a collection of several memories–of the speaker’s mother’s childhood, an uncle’s funeral, a memory of something the speaker’s mother said when she was nearly sixty as well as memories of homophobic violence inflicted on gay friends. The reader’s attention is called also to songs playing in the background of the produce market run by a Thai family into which the narrator runs. Furthermore, the construction of the text is underscored by the production of a fantasy ending, an ending that is itself dissevered through an analysis of it. Lastly, the reader is left with a closing manifesto: “And what I resolved was this: that I would gear my writing to tell you about incidents like the one at Sanchez and Day, to put them to you as real questions that need answers, and that these questions, along with my understanding and my practice, would grow more energetic and precise” (15).  This manifesto reinforces the story’s social embeddedness, its political dimensions and implications, both for the narrator and his auditors. 

Here's an excerpt from another piece, "Night Flight":
         A ceiling of low clouds domesticates the light, slanting and yellowing it. A promise of rain. That interior light brings distance and near into sharp focus, make the stop sign, telephone pole, the bland pueblo-faced building across the street and the hills beyond--makes them accurate, brings them to a point. Lily jumps on my bed to put herself in the path of some affection, curls into her tail and dozes off. Then the twilight gives it s intensity to the streetlights while my house fills with the sweet metallic artichoke scent--smell rather--the artichoke intact in its steamer suffering a medieval torture.
        Bruce and I spent a strange afternoon. He wanted a black leather jacket. Denise, myself, and other friends approved of his decision and Bruce's ex-lover viewed it a little anxiously, which seemed propitious. Bruce rarely buys anything, fearing that one purchase will lead you to the next and so on--like S/M where you must always raise the ante to achieve the same degree of pleasure until you become a different person and not necessarily  the one you intended (75).

My story begins with light and ends with the body. Bruce tried on one of the jackets and something surprising happened. The jacket was beautifully made. The Mongolian lamb, buttery and yielding, said touch me. 'Tis midnight, but small thoughts have I of sleep: The black looked deep and rich but its statement was power--death if you prefer--saying don't touch me: a mixed message at the heart of glamor. Full seldom may my friend such vigils keep! Certainly Bruce is a handsome man. Tall, slender, fine featured as a lemur. The black lent intention to his grizzled black hair and slate blue eyes. Visit him, gentle Sleep! with wings of healing. It heightened his tan, his good skin. It drew a frame around his handsomeness and advertised its availability. And may this storm be but a mountain birth. The addition of power rerouted the tenderness I already felt for Bruce. Bruce became a sexual object and the new direction was sexual appreciation. May all the stars hang bright above his dwelling. I encouraged him to buy the jacket (90-91).

Still fresh and powerful three decades after its original appearance, this generous collection of investigations deserves new readers, and new readers, you want this book.  You can get it here:

Elements by Robert Gluck   http://www.spdbooks.org/Producte/9780983579144/elements.aspx
30th anniversary edition published by Ithuriels Spear Press http://www.ithuriel.com :  Jim Mitchell Publisher; F.S. Rosa Project Manger

part of the audience
Here are some photos from the book launch at  Green Arcade Bookstore SF  Wed., 9/15/13 Patrick Marks owner  http://thegreenarcade.com

Bob with former workshop participants

Boone, Bruce. “Remarks on Narrative: the Example of Robert Glück’s Poetry.” Afterword.  Family Poems. By Robert Glück. San Francisco: Black Star Series, 1979. 29-32. Print.

Gluck, Robert. “Long Note on New Narrative.”Biting the Error: Writers Explore Narrative. Ed. Mary   Burger, Robert Gluck, Camille Roy, Gail Scott. Toronto: Coach House Books, 2004. Print.
**About the change in title, Gluck notes: "We dropped of a Coffee Service from the original title of Elements: I got tired of saying it and no one else seemed to remember it.