Mark is reading tonight at Skylight with Chris Tarry!

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This is Mark with Ginger when we first got her.

Reading is at 7:30 pm

You do not want to miss this!

I just landed from Austin and I can’t wait to go.

Published in: on April 3, 2015 at 3:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

50 Shades vs Big Love, The Heart is an Organ of Fire

“I like to watch,” Chance the Gardener says in Being There. That sums up how America feels about sex. We like to watch. Nearly two thirds of American males watch porn monthly. We don’t have enough sex, but we sure like to think about it. The French have sex. The Germans make their way through sex. The English do their best. The people of China, India and Bangladesh are clearly spending more than enough time procreating. Americans like to watch. Enter Fifty Shades of Grey.

Fifty Shades of Grey is about a silly young female who is a virgin and blushes at the idea of sexual activity. She’s kind of like the sheep in Everything You Want to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask. The sheep originally was innocent, white and woolly, but before you knew it, she was willing to be part of a bondage act in a hotel room with Gene Wilder leaving pasture and shepherd behind, she willingly submitted to indignities, no sheep should have to bear.

Our young virgin in 50 Shades is taken in by a cruel narcissist and is willing to submit to long periods of going over contracts when she could have been having real sex. Viewers of the movie who are part of the BDSM community, folks who frolic in the public dungeons of San Francisco, New York and Austin were sorely disappointed by this film. Americans have a lot of fetishes and at a dungeon like The Citadel, you can see your share of doms and subs, kinks and queers. In this movie, what you get is the 1950s version of sex. Christian Grey is a caricature of Mad Men and our little anointed girl is the one you always hoped to meet in the Fifties, a little faun of a creature who is going to get excited by your perversions, follow your instructions, kneel by your bedside, be impressed by your money, in short a lot of old guys’ wet dream. Christian Grey is an old man in a young man’s suit. He doesn’t see women as people but as animals for his pursuit and pleasure. The girl sees him as a thing as well. A thing to knock her out of the deadly doldrums of her life, and what girl wouldn’t want a man to ignore her, whip her, tell her what to do, as long as he has enough money. American men’s big dream: You have enough money that you can treat women like hookers and they pretend to enjoy it.

50 Shades of Grey is Mommy porn. The moms of America are not getting laid nearly enough if this is their idea of fun. I’m going to tell you something ladies. Watching this movie is not going to make you edgy or cool or romantic. Romance doesn’t happen from watching sex. It doesn’t happen at strip bars or watching or enacting sex shows in dungeons.

Romance isn’t part of 50 Shades of Grey at all. It’s more about lust, ritual, contracts and a shadowy weak version of the real BDSM world. The real BDSM world is complex but crazier, dirtier, wetter and has much more action than the movie. It’s complex in that it’s safe and wild at the same time. Fetishes and ritual can be fun, like climbing mountains or cliff diving. We all have our passions. But romance, is a whole other thing.

Americans want love and happiness. We feel we are entitled to it. But we’ve substituted watching sex for love. We’ve got movies like 50 Shades confused with passion. Passion isn’t something you experience for whips and neckties or well appointed rooms.

I am very sure where love, happiness and passion come from in my world. My husband had emergency open heart surgery on March 19th, 2015. The surgeon held his heart and replaced one valve. He closed the heart back into the body. Kids and husband, writing and stories, life and magic. Neruda wrote, “I want do with you what spring does with cherry trees… The moon lives in the lining of your skin.” I recognize that as the language of love and passion. When my husband is well, I will figure that out, what the spring does with cherry trees, and go for it. I don’t need any books or movies. 50 Shades is about pretend love, play sex. I’m a woman now, not a boy collector, not a toy collector. Edgy for me is the kind of romance you can sink your teeth into, your tongue, your whole heart.

In my favorite romantic movie, The English Patient, Ondaatje writes, “The heart is an organ of fire.” I watched the surgeon’s fingers when he came to talk with us before the surgery. His fingers were long and graceful as a girl’s. I didn’t want to touch his hands. That’s my heart you’re going to be holding, I wanted to say. I love that man, “The heart is an organ of fire.”

Published in: on April 1, 2015 at 5:31 am  Comments (2)  

Reading tomorrow with Peggy Shumaker and Ellen Meeropol at Bookwoman in Austin, Texas

Home » Red Hen Press Reading: Kate Gale, Peggy Shumaker, and Ellen Meeropol
Red Hen Press Reading: Kate Gale, Peggy Shumaker, and Ellen Meeropol
Red Hen Press takes its reading series into Texas at the BookWoman feminist bookstore.

Red Hen’s co-founder Kate Gale will be joined by Ellen Meeropol, author of On Hurrican Island and Peggy Shumaker, author of Just Breathe Normally and Toucan’s Nest. These highly-accomplished writers come together for an evening of poetry, prose, and connection. Kate’s most recent collection of poems was Echo Light journeys through the groaning city of Los Angeles, picking up and piecing together the disjointed fragments Eros in the city. Ellen Meeropol’s books are thrilling, fast-paced narratives that chip away the sociopolitical veneer convoluting the truth. Peggy Shumaker, the Alaska Writer Laureate, writes with an enchantment of the world in contagious, lyrical verse.

Peggy Shumaker is the Rasmuson Foundation’s Distinguished Artist for 2014. She is also the Artsmith Artist of the Year for 2014. She is the author of seven books of poetry, most recently Toucan Nest, Poems of Costa Rica. Her lyrical memoir is Just Breathe Normally. Professor emerita from University of Alaska Fairbanks, Shumaker teaches in the Rainier Writing Workshop. She is founding editor of Boreal Books, publisher of fine art and literature from Alaska. She edits the Alaska Literary Series at University of Alaska Press. Peggy Shumaker was Alaska State Writer Laureate for 2010-2012.

Ellen Meeropol is the author of two novels, House Arrest (2011) and On Hurricane Island, (Red Hen Press 2015). A former nurse practitioner, a part-time bookseller, and a literary late bloomer.She holds an MFA from the Stonecoast Program, University of Southern Maine. Her short stories and essays have been published in Bridges, Pedestal, Rumpus, Portland Magazine, Shaking Magazine, Women’s Times, Off Our Backs and others. Her dramatic script, “Carry it Forward,” tells the story of the Rosenberg Fund for Children; it was produced most recently June 2013 in Manhattan, starring Eve Ensler, Angela Davis, and Cotter Smith. Ellen lives with her husband in Western Massachusetts.

Kate Gale is Managing Editor of Red Hen Press, Editor of the Los Angeles Review and President of the American Composers Forum, LA. She is the author of seven books of poetry including Echo Light (Red Mountain Press) and The Goldilocks Zone from the University of New Mexico Press in 2014 and six librettos including Rio de Sangre, a libretto for an opera with composer Don Davis which had its world premiere October 2010 at the Florentine Opera in Milwaukee.

Event date:
Wednesday, April 1, 2015 – 7:00pm to 9:00pm
Event address:
5501 North Lamar #A-105
Austin, TX 78751

Published in: on March 31, 2015 at 9:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

AWP in Minneapolis is closing in on us

We are preparing for AWP in Minneapolis, where 15,000 writers will assemble to go to readings, panels,
Red Hen launches our spring titles there, and we have some amazing events. We have a panel that I am moderating with Ron Carlson, T.C. Boyle and Susan Straight. All three of them are dipped in wild of story.

We have a Red Hen party at Nyes Thursday night at 8-10 pm. Ron Carlson is going to read.

I can feel my life crowding back in on me.

There is a reason people go on vacations, and I know why it is. It’s so that you can feel yourself breathing. I’m short of breath with all this.

Today I met with Michael Roth. We are doing an opera.

I met a film packager at the Coral tree Café which is a friendly sort of place in Brentwood and I ran into Red Hen writer Larry Bridges who was very nice to me.

Fragments are lost every day. I need my writing life back.

Published in: on March 30, 2015 at 9:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

I am reading this week in Texas and Mark is reading Friday night at Skylight

Mark and I are both reading this week:

I am reading in Texas at Book Woman, Austin, Texas, 7 pm with Peggy Shumaker and Ellen Meeropol.

Mark is reading at Skylight on April 3rd at 7:30 pm with Chris Tarry.

I’ve started running again.

It’s very warm here in So Cal.

Mark is healing slowly. I had no idea heart surgery was such a slow recovery.

I didn’t know anything about heart surgery before this.

My friend Karen is going in for exactly the same surgery this week. Too crazy that Mark and Karen within two weeks of each other are having the same surgery with the mechanical heart valve.

My friend’s Jen visit was wonderful.

Tonight I saw my friend Elise Capron at the Palomino. Seeing her always makes me happy. She’s a bright star in the galaxy.

Published in: on March 29, 2015 at 8:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

Grand Park was amazing



Grand Park went amazing well today. Lots of kids having a great time playing with poetry.

Having a few days to take care of Mark has been good for me too. I’ve gone walking every morning, done some reading, and writing. I’m starting to feel human again. Mark doesn’t sleep well because tossing and turning in your sleep isn’t possible when you’ve had open heart surgery. But he’s doing well, and now that I am breathing, I feel much better myself. And I’m ready to go to Texas to read with Peggy Shumaker and Ellen Meeropol this week, and I’ll be back Friday night for Mark’s reading at Skylight.

Published in: on March 28, 2015 at 8:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

Mark requires two women to get him on the road to recovery, Jen and me

Jen-Kohan-headshot-2 (1)


Mark’s recovery is coming on apace. He’s gone for some walks, worked with Stephen on some plumbing around the house. We had to stop him from getting involved with the cooking, and from moving the water heater which seems to have gone out. We’re enjoying cold showers which aren’t bad once you get used to it.

Open heart surgery isn’t the kind of thing you go home to by yourself. And I’ve been so over-wrought by the whole thing that I needed some backup. My friend Jen is staying with us for a few days and it’s so great. Somehow it’s making it possible for me to unwind. We are writing and thinking and working on stuff for the press, all of this rolling forward one after another. But, I’m getting caught up on sleep. It’s hard for Mark to sleep because after open heart surgery, you can’t really sleep on your stomach. You really can only sleep on your back .

We believe in raw juices in our house as a means of recovery, so Mark is drinking raw juice every day. Raw juice and sleep are a great combination. I feel that most health problems can be improved by getting enough sleep and drinking enough water.

Mark is recovering much more quickly than I expected. I would manage to do considerably more whining, crying and carrying on. I would use the whole thing to get attention, but Mark is behaving with amazing grace.

To heal, you have to try to not think too much about what just happened to you.
1. They cut open your sternum. Think about that. They cut you open.
2. They take out your heart.
3. They hook you up to something that runs your vascular system.
4. They fix your heart and put it back in.
5. They sew you up.

But don’t think about any of that. Just think, I’m well now and I’m getting better all the time. That’s what Jen and I are telling Mark. The press is fine. We’re fine. We’re writers. We’re writing a new beginning, a new middle, a new ending.

Published in: on March 27, 2015 at 2:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Reading Los Angeles, my piece in The Guardian

Call them siren songs … The stories of Los Angeles make people want to come here. “Los Angeles is like the rest of the country, but more so,” in the words of journalist and author Patt Morrison. The Southern California dream is like the American dream, but better. Not simply wife, kids, yard, but palm trees, oranges in winter, beaches and more sin, drugs and fun than the rest of the country can imagine. It has glorious sunshine and apocalyptic events, fires, floods, earthquakes, riots. People move to California to reinvent themselves. That clichéd dream is perfectly reflected in Carolyn See’s Golden Days, which also follows a tradition of California phonies like Aimee Semple McPherson: it features a lunatic with followers and then nuclear apocalypse.

There are many Los Angeles in literature – and all feel vaguely familiar thanks to countless celluloid adaptations. Hollywood itself is, no doubt, the setting for much of the town’s literature. LA stories like F Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished novel The Love of the Last Tycoon place films as a major character in the city, a backdrop for everything. Nathaniel West’s Day of the Locust, set in the Great Depression era, describes piles of houses with a strange mixture of architecture from everywhere, as if a child God were playing with stacking toys between the freeways. One of its minor characters, Homer Simpson – which inspired the Simpsons TV character – walks out into what he thinks is a mob but turns out to be people in a film. And that is the essence of all LA stories: nothing is as it seems. The beach, the house, the hair, the intangible wealth, nothing is real.

I’ve always liked the idea that Los Angeles writers think they’re making up a new language
LA Noir, the sub-genre encompassing tales of crime set in the shadows of the streets, is impossible to imagine without Raymond Chandler. With The Big Sleep, he began the stories of Philip Marlowe, the hard-boiled detective who finds that Los Angeles is full of liars, cheats and dirty deals. Women jump into bed with you, but sometimes they have a gun. The distance between rich and poor, between the grime of the streets and the clean swimming pools, threads through LA noir stories: James Ellroy’s LA Confidential, Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress, also follow LA detectives through its mean streets. In Los Angeles, of course, the movies stick with us as much as the books do. Devil in a Blue Dress is hard to think about without remembering Denzel Washington walking through mid-Wilshire and LA Confidential is one of the most enduring films about Los Angeles, crudely introducing us to street hustling.

But lovers of Los Angeles stories would say: don’t stop. What about drug stories? Among many others, Lithium for Medea is a tale of addiction and of LA as an anti-paradise: “The deformed sun dissolving above me and spitting sick orange blood on the pavement,” writes Kate Braverman. Incidentally, she once told me that she invented “tropicalizing the language.” I’ve always liked the idea that Los Angeles writers think they’re making up a new language.

A must-read southern California chronicler … Joan Didion sitting inside white Stingray car, with cigarette, pictured in Hollywood in 1970. Photograph: Julian Wasser/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
Contemporary authors capture this bittersweet character of Los Angeles perfectly. In Janet Fitch’s White Oleander, we have the absent father, the mother in prison and the young woman inventing herself over and over, learning about drugs and sex too early. In Paint it Black, Fitch takes the story further: a young woman falls in love with a wealthy young man, but they cannot find happiness because they are both so damaged. Mona Simpson’s Anywhere but Here has a mother and daughter coming to Los Angeles to be happy together. But happiness is out of reach. It seems real like the huge gloating sunshine, the palm trees and the freeways against the skyline, but it’s not. Happiness is in movies that you didn’t get a part in. You tried out, you seemed perfect, but everyone else got into that movie except you.

For many readers of Los Angeles, the crime fiction and the inequality come together with Charles Bukowski. However, once you read John Fante’s Ask the Dust, you realise who Bukowski was reading as he fell asleep. Fante’s Los Angeles is colder and crueler than we’d like it to be, and it’s far dirtier. Mike Davis’ elegiac City of Quartz, depicting a metropolis destroyed by corporate greed and short-term civic thinking, is a must read for anyone who wants to understand how Los Angeles evolved. Wanda Coleman, Luis Rodriguez, Eloise Klein Healy and Laurel Ann Bogen are the poets you’d read to hear the music of the city. Of course, that music is all encompassing in Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays, the Los Angeles novel we’ve all been trying to write ever since. It’s about the desire to have it all matter, to have it all amount to something. To have the story hold up against the world:

There was silence. Something real was happening: this was, as it were, her life. If she could keep that in mind she would be able to play it through, do the right thing, whatever that meant.

Published in: on March 26, 2015 at 3:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

Hospital zombies



Hospitals are all about fighting indignities or getting used to them.
I’ve spent very little time in hospitals. My daughter spent her first night at a hospital, my son has never spent the night. He was born at 8:20 am, I had lunch at home that day. I once spent three nights at the hospital with a kidney problem. My husband had never been to the hospital since he was a child. He has now been in the hospital two weeks and counting.

Hospitals break down your sense of dignity. Prisons are worse, but hospitals are no fun.
1. They keep track of your bathroom habits.
2. You tell them you are in pain; they make you wait. Mark was given medicine at 1 pm yesterday. At 4, he felt like hell and asked for medicine, they said it was on the way. At 8 pm, he was beside himself and I had to go to the boss nurse to get something to happen. They make you wait for everything.
3. You have to wear this clothing which makes you feel like a petri dish being examined by high schoolers.
4. The food is crappy and cooked in some vat.
5. Your bed is uncomfortable.

You lose control over bathing, eating, sleeping, pain, visitors.
At home, you can say this isn’t a good time. In the hospital, people visit around their own schedules.
You lose control over how you present yourself to the world. Let’s face it, the hospital gown looks good on nobody.
You lose control over how the place smells, the aesthetics of your environment.

You get lost in that world and it’s mind numbing and antiseptic and fluorescent. It feels like being in a trapped air zone where everything is being filtered to you through some flat faced robot. A zombie apocalypse would be a real plus in a hospital ward. A real pick me up.

Unless Mark comes home tonight, which seems unlikely, I’ll spend another night on ward. Praying for a zombie apocalypse, and an early release for Mark.

Published in: on March 23, 2015 at 10:37 am  Comments (3)  

NICELLE DAVIS presents her newest poetry collection IN THE CIRCUS OF YOU, March 22nd, Skylight Books


In The Circus of You (Rose Metal Press), 5:00 pm Sunday

In The Circus of You is a deliciously distorted fun house of poetry and art by Nicelle Davis and Cheryl Gross. Both private and epic, this novel-in-poems explores one woman’s struggle while interpreting our world as a sideshow,
where not only are we the freaks, but also the on-lookers wondering just how “normal” we are—or ought to be. Davis’ poetry and Gross’ images collaborate over the themes of sanity, monogamy, motherhood, divorce, artistic expression, and self-creation to curate a menagerie of abnormalities that defines what it is to be human. The universe of this book is one in which dead pigeons talk, clowns hide in the chambers of the heart, and the human body turns itself inside out to be born again as a purely sensory creature. This grotesquely gorgeous peep show opens the velvet curtains on the beautiful complications of life.

Praise for In The Circus of You
“Accompanied by Cheryl Gross’ illustrations of stretched flesh and biomechanical anatomies, In the Circus of You writhes in a fever dream of divorce, depression, and an undercurrent of poverty. Nicelle Davis directs a cast of disfigured pigs, desiccated pigeons, and circus freaks in poems whose forms are often cinched with wasp-waisted girdles or filed into jagged angles. Never simple oddities, these afflicted characters and musical poems amount to a harrowing account of loss and how one has to fracture herself in private to appear unbroken in public. Don’t miss Davis’ acts of lurching grace and terrible beauty.”—Douglas Kearney, author of Patter

“Nicelle Davis’ newest book mythologizes pain, making grief, anger, disgust, and fear bearable by transforming them into finely wrought poems. These poems are filled with sharp edges, dissections, illusions, and images of flight, both in their language and in the ways they occupy the page. They are perfectly matched by the drawings of Cheryl Gross, who translates Davis’ poetry into an equally grotesque, equally eloquent visual language. In the Circus of You is a visceral spectacle of controlled excess; it dismantles the three rings we use to contain our most domestic horrors and shows us the way through vulnerability to release.”—Evie Shockley, author of the new black

Nicelle Davis is a California poet who walks the desert with her son J.J. in search of owl pellets and rattlesnake skins. The author of two other books of poetry, her most recent book, Becoming Judas, is available from Red Hen Press. Her first book, Circe, is available from Lowbrow Press. Another book of poems, The Walled Wife, is forthcoming from Red Hen Press in 2016. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Beloit Poetry Journal, The New York Quarterly, PANK, SLAB Magazine, and others. She is editor-at-large of The Los Angeles Review. She has taught poetry at Youth for Positive Change, MHA, and with Volunteers of America in their Homeless Youth Center. Recipient of the 2013 AROHO retreat 9 3/4 Fellowship, she is honored to work as a consultant for this important feminist organization. She currently teaches at Paraclete and with the Red Hen Press WITS program.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Cheryl Gross is an illustrator, writer, and motion graphic artist living and working in the New York/Jersey City area. She is a professor at Pratt Institute and Bloomfield College. Cheryl received her MFA from Pratt Institute. Her work has appeared in numerous films, TV shows, publications, and corporate and museum collections, including: The Museum of the City of New York, The New York Times, The Zebra Poetry Film Festival in Berlin, Germany, Jimmy Stewart and His Poems, Circe, and Becoming Judas, among others. She wrote and illustrated the novel The Z Factor.

Event date:
Sunday, March 22, 2015 – 5:00pm
Event address:
1818 N Vermont Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027

Published in: on March 21, 2015 at 9:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

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