Celebration of Kathleen Fraser's 80th Birthday!

On Sunday March 22nd, Kathleen Fraser turned 80

Claim through and through,
breathe me now window.

Lift. Oh turn your back.
Turn will do.
                          --"Claim" from Notes preceding trust

photo by Steve Dickison

and a crowd of people from far and wide

a small portion of the audience
photo by John Sakkis

gathered at the California College of the Arts Writers' Studio on De Haro in San Francisco to fête Kathleen.

The event was organized by Stephen Motika and Susan Gevirtz, and co-sponsored by The Poetry Center and Small Press Traffic

The Writers' Studio was jammed with countless writers, book printers and artists, former students, colleagues, friends, family, and admirers. A group of about 15 writers each read for some 6 minutes, offering selections from Kathleen's work and their own responses, some in the form of poems or mini essays in various styles; some spoke extemporaneously about their encounters with Kathleen's work and with Kathleen herself. Opting to give myself entirely to the event, I didn't take notes, but here's a bit about what I remember people presenting.

photo by John Sakkis

Frances Richard talked about Kathleen's work and poetic matrilineage, Brian Teare beautifully re-encountered Wing via Mel Bochner's work, one of the original inspirations for the piece, John Sakkis elaborated a kind of litany inspired by Fraser, Jeanne Heuving told the humorous story of her move from an admirer of Donald Barthelme as a model for what she might be aiming for in her own writing to an encounter with Kathleen's New Shoes and its playful erotic energy, and then later with when new time folds up, in which Jeanne found pleasure in the graphic elements of "Etruscan Pages."
Eléna Rivera, Norma Cole, Beverly Dahlen, and Brenda Hillman addressed Kathleen's work in poems and experimental mini essays. Kazim Ali recounted an experience of taking Kathleen's workshop in New York City and his excitement about the promise of working with scissors and glue although the workshop never got around to actually using these materials since their discussions were so vibrant; nevertheless, cutting and pasting are integral facets of Kazim's process. After working through the lunch break, the whole group walked down the street for the Robert Creeley memorial.

Linda Russo recounted her experience of meeting Kathleen at a reading and Fraser's impact on Linda's own writing and book work. Lauren Shufran discussed moving to San Francisco from Buffalo and completing an interview with Kathleen started by Linda Russo. In Washington Square park Kathleen and Lauren talked for some 6 hours. Listening to these recordings later, Lauren was struck by how much of the time Kathleen was engaging her. Lauren and a number of other readers noted Kathleen's generous correspondence and the beauty of her letters. I read from "Notes re echo," briefly contextualizing Kathleen's use of the epistolary in poetry and literature's long and ongoing interest in the letter, from Ovid and Horace to Spicer, Mackey, Bellamy and Adnan, suggesting that the letter provides a formal and rhetorical zone in which the personal and the lyric can be remade, enabling poetry to work the lyric, record and remake the social, poetic and political landscape of our presents, or what will become our histories.

Kathleen closed the evening first by reading "little joy poem," published in The New Yorker. The New Yorker asked Fraser to change the title of the poem, but Kathleen refused. They published it.

little joy poem

Like a shiny bus in the snow,
I feel good this morning--
new upholstery, green and tough,
I'll never wear out!
The snowplow came at 2 a.m.
last night on its lonely task
and I looked from the window
waving my toothbrush.
(At night, the snow
changes color.)
Here I am--two legs
a new morning
and joy,
like the whiteness of cold milk,
filling me up.

Then, reading from WING, gorgeously produced by Dale Going who was in the audience from the east coast, Kathleen left us with her words and resonant voice vibrating in the air.

photo by Dale Going

The good news is you don't have to rely on my memory. Night Boat Books is going to publish a limited edition collection of the essays and encounters with Kathleen's work. This is forthcoming in the Fall. Keep an eye out for it.

All of the presenters offered rich and engaging encounters with Kathleen's work, but of course, even this diversity barely scratches the surface of Kathleen's contributions to the poetry world. There are indeed her more than 15 books, but there is also her work as a teacher, her feminist poetics seminars, workshops, and other classes at San Francisco State, her mentoring, her work as the founder and editor of the groundbreaking HOW(ever) and HOW2, her role as the Director of the Poetry Center at San Francisco State (1973-1976), her dumpster diving there to rescue NET Outtakes footage (a fact John Sakkis noted in his talk as "legendary"), and more.

I first met Kathleen at SFSU where I was an MA student beginning in the fall of 1985. I remember being in Kathleen's seminar and working with classmate Mira Pasikov on our presentation of Barbara Guest's Seeking Air. I was in my early 20s. It was daunting and exhilarating. During the years I spent at State, Kathleen suggested I interview various writers, write reviews of books or performances. She prodded me to do this and to submit these pieces to Poetry Flash. And I did. I'm still doing it!


H A P P Y   B I  R  T   H  D  A  Y  KATHLEEN!

Some more pictures of the event:

Arthur Bierman, Kevin Killian and Kazim Ali

Beverly Dahlen and Norma Cole
photo by Kevin Killian

Elena Rivera
photo by Kevin Killian


House-Scrub, or After Porn by Rob Halpern at Margaret Tedesco's [2nd floor projects]

Sunday March 1, 2015--at Margaret Tedesco's [ 2nd floor projects]
Sundays 12–5pm, Wednesdays 1–8pm, and by appointment

Left: Nancy White, Untitled; Center: Courtney Johnson, I am Living My Fantasy;
Right: Gregory Kaplowitz, Untitled (Shroud)Photos from M. Tedesco's blog

We celebrated the artwork by Courtney Johnson, Gregory Kaplowitz and Nancy White along with the publication of Rob Halpern's chapbook HOUSE-SCRUB, or AFTER PORN. 

Tedesco's light-filled and airy room accommodated some 35 or so people eager to hear Rob read. Many of these same people later headed over to Small Press Traffic's 5pm event, a Field Report with Jennifer Tamayo, Amy De'Ath and Cassandra Troyan. For a report on that event, click HERE.
photo courtesy of Margaret Tedesco


Here's a brief excerpt from Rob's compelling and beautiful work:

There are so many things I want to tell you, things that embarrass me most, though it's hard to voice any one of them, even for you whom I've come to trust. So far, all my writing amounts to these strategies of evasion. That's what I was telling Dana & Lee, sitting outside in the late August heat as we tried to grasp where it all might be going. Casting idols on my brain, the sun produces these false appearances, the dahlias burning under gunmetal skies, so I've yet to discover what real life feels like. At least that's what I tell them. But what I want to tell you is, well, take my body, for example, a place where incommensurables collide rhetoric & blood, price & value, datum & event the bad equivalent of a hole in a soldier's bladder before he's given the form to join the donor's club. The dialectic, having come to such dumb arrest, yields this taxonomy of wounds pasted to a straw man I'll never fuck, a cheap shot at militarization, its so-called human face. What figure do combatants cut against a company that earns the bulk of its twelve billion in annual revenue from army contracts, and whose product tracks my car as it moves thru any one of eight hundred Oakland intersections. This is why my book amounts to a simple X without the algebra to resolve its value in the world where the word 'decorative' modifies unintelligible things, thereby assisting sales. As in every cash-starved city, the promise of federal dollars makes military surveillance an easy cow. See what I mean, in the absence of incident, structure eludes, the poem being but the gesture of a body groping its own withdrawn architecture. Whether bound or bundled, all my usable parts compress to the volume of a prosthetic device shoved inside a foreign orifice. This is how capital explodes in song, usurping the air you might be privately singing, the way the very idea of the flood dries up after the deluge. That's so dutifully Rimbaud, but what would the equivalent be? After the idea of collapse recedes, my use of disjunction will bear no relation to a break in the chain of title, a detainee's autopsy report, or any old forensic audit robo-signed& withdrawn in hazy spells of law. But nothing appears to accumulate inside the hole my organ makes when, mortally wounded in grenade attack, his blown genitals get contracted to a public utility, a city square or park, this being but an asset to securitize, a convention by whose rhyme scheme 'scars' and 'cars' seem to be of common scale, a sound to sing no polis.



Field Report with Jennifer Tamayo, Amy De'Ath and Cassandra Troyan

Sunday March 1, 2015

Yesterday afternoon Small Press Traffic and Mills College collaboratively hosted a conversation/field report with Jennifer Tamayo, Amy De'Ath and Cassandra Troyan on the subject of gender and sexual violence in the writing scenes in New York, Vancouver and the UK, and Chicago.  The Bay Area writing scene has been grappling with these issues as well.  Artists Television Access (ATA), where the event was held, was packed with people standing, sitting on the floor, and spilling on to the stairs.

Each of the three presenters spoke for 10-15 minutes, informing attendees about recent events, the work they and others are doing, and articulated their own questions, doubts, and concerns about actual and potential possibilities for action, change.  After Jennifer (who went by JT), Amy, and Cassandra spoke, the audience was invited to ask questions while Samantha Giles and Stephanie Young recorded these questions on large sheets of paper. Each speaker then addressed some of these comments and concerns, the event culminating with all present invited to offer up  ideas for action.  Below I've tried to capture some of what I heard the participants saying. There have been a number of sexual assaults and gendered violence in writing communities and various public discourses around these events, many of those under discussion in the last year or so. Some of these I was hearing about for the first time. I've done my best to reflect a small portion of the content of this urgent discussion. For more info on this event and the discussants, please see Small Press Traffic's web site.

Jennifer Tamayo (JT) told us about her experience working with Enough is Enough, a group that came together after several sexual assaults against women in New York in August of 2014.  JT expressed frustration with

·         pervasive sanctioned sexism

·         unsafe poetry events

·         misogyny

·         the promotion of poets accused of sexual assault

·         a poetics of domination that operates under the guise of aesthetic gesture

·         the valuing of reputation over accountability

·         the lack of institutional and community memory (the aggressors are forgotten)

·         and  both the lack of resources and the continual refrain of "the lack of resources" as a   rationale for an absence of response.

JT spoke of various concerns and tactics--

·         considering who maintains a safe space

·         attending other events and meetings

·         supporting the shutting down of readings with men who are sexual assaulters

·         working on developing a site to maintain institutional memory.

JT closed with a list of "15 Things I've Learned."  There was no way for me to record all of these but I found this list powerful in its ethos of critical assessment, for example, when JT asked "What is preventing me from using these resources?" Other things on the list include:

·         "Organizing poets is hard and infuriating"

·         Demand what you want and be direct

·         Writing and thinking together is empowering

·         Shaming works


A number of these statements were interwoven into larger points and thus do not indicate discrete items, but as I was so engaged with listening, my pen couldn't keep up.

JT also noted "Ways I have Failed":

·         my efforts are too sectional

·         and are focused around cis women

·         Enough is Enough hasn't reached out to older generations

and argued that "there needs to be more destruction before building" since the problems are systemic.

This last claim I found particularly provocative and engaging; throughout the discussion, we returned to this a number of times.

Amy De'Ath's talk began with outline of three topics: First Nations in Vancouver and here in San Francisco, class in the UK, and online organizing.  She explored how one might use gossip and conjecture as a feminist strategy. De'Ath contextualized her own position in Vancouver as a settler on unceded Coast Salish territories, reminding us of the more than 1,017 indigenous women and girls who have been murdered in Canada and how the Canadian government refuses to launch an investigation into these murders, considering them isolated criminal cases rather than sociological and racist.  Amy offered a critique of Rachel Zolf's Janey's Arcadia worrying that it risks implying catharsis, suggesting that white settlers can cathartically work through settler issues, but also noting that this might be part of the problematic that Zolf intends to present.

Amy used to live in London and was part of the UK poetry scene which she described as "macho and exclusionary along class lines.” De'Ath expressed frustration with the confidence and rhetoric of entitlement among the  dominant male writers and wanted to think about how this is linked to "the poetics of  difficulty” particularly associated with Cambridge poetry. She discussed the posting of Elizabeth Ellen's "An Open Letter to the Internet" to the UK poetics list-serve and the fallout of that discussion. A group of feminist poets collectively left the list as a result.  There might be a piece in the Chicago Review that is forthcoming on all of this. I'm not sure.  De'Ath also discussed her participation in a group and list-serve that excluded cis males but did have one male queer feminist artist. Amy noted that she (ambivalently and hesitantly) thought that he should not be in the group, for reasons not at all to do with his personal politics – a position he later confirmed when he thoughtfully volunteered to leave. She also recounted the fact that a woman of color left the group because she did not feel welcome there. There were only two direct immediate responses to this woman's email announcing her departure, and for De’Ath, this event raised several serious problems in relation to issues of race and the question of what kind of content gets the most attention, and who is most comfortable speaking up in a space. At a number of points throughout the evening the conversation turned to the ongoing problems of white supremacy and racism across numerous writing scenes.
Last but not least, Cassandra Troyan spoke about their experience in Chicago which, because of  geographic, racial, and class segregation, doesn't quite have a central writing "community." They noted that when it comes to gendered violence, "silencing is extreme," with few women willing to name the men involved since many of them run institutions, presses, etc.  Troyan spoke of their work with the Chicago Feminist Writers and Artists (CFWA)and Feminist Action Support Network (FASN), noting that there is a cross-cultural scene there, with people coming from punk, radical, art, and music communities.  Troyan expressed interest in an accountability process, in facilitating safe spaces, in collective goals, discussing ongoing Sunday workshops on a variety of topics, from mental health to self-care, healing justice, generational violence--that have been taking place.


Some of the Questions/Comments Proposed by Attendees:

 How do we surface unconscious bias?

How can people support individual work?

What can we learn from what others are doing?

Someone wanted to know why JT read off the list of names of the 72 attendees at the first Enough is Enough meeting.

How do we respond in the moment? How to call shit out!

Exclusion and transformative justice and how these are related to systems of incarceration

What are the limits of gossip?

How does information move?

How to differentiate between aesthetic preference and closed communities

What is the link between aesthetic difficulty and class, gender, race?

How to dismantle white supremacy in poetry circles?

The problem of indigenous issues not being able to be made present. An attendee mentioned someone who did not come to the Sunday event because of this concern. There is simply no space to address this issue, given the community.  Another participant underscored this claim noting that race cannot be addressed precisely because the community is largely white and cis.

Some of the comments under A Call to Action, generated by the entire group included (The discussion was out of time as ATA needed to close for the evening. Some of these were more notational or working propositions, rather than explicit calls):

An understanding that not everyone wants to take action in the same way. How can we make this possible?

Creating individual healing for those most affected.

Safe spaces.

Establishing Support Liaisons

Organizing Rage Liaisons

How to collectively lower inhibitions around booing and hissing


Some people suggested that writers of color do not need white people or cis men. A brief discussion about who is needed or wanted ensued.

The atmosphere was alive at this event. Stay-tuned: there may be follow-up meetings.