Golden Hills Marathon, Different Light Bookstore

October 11, 2009

Running the Golden Hills Marathon and the reading Saturday evening was a great reading at Different Light Bookstore with Rebecca O’Connor of Lift, Brendan Constantine with Letters to Guns and Judy Grahn with Love Belongs to Those who do the Feeling. Different Light is in the Castro District, a very cool bookstore with many pictures of gay nude guys, it was a little disturbing. So many nude men. But a very good bookstore. And a good reading by our three authors.

But let’s get back to the marathon. I get there at 8 am to Tilden Park for the 9 am run. All the other runners look very intense and in shape like they know what they’re doing. They all looked like super athletes. Well, off I go, and up, up the hills. This marathon is for professional athletes, it is not for your average marathon runner. It is absolutely not a marathon that be run well by someone unless they have been running hills, running fifty miles plus a week and climbing mountains. There are five severe mountains to climb that you also have to get down that are extremely difficult. They would be really hard if you were simply hiking them. But these severe hikes just spring up in the middle of a marathon. There you have it. Righteous hikes, brutal hikes, right in the middle of this marathon… This is a marathon that is not for beginners or for intermediate runners, it is for professionals. Running at the same time as the marathon was another group running fifty miles; they all looked like Green Berets. These fools made me tired just thinking about them.

The aid stations were great, with lots of goo and food and drinks, the people were nice, and the whole run was amazing beautiful. It was also crawling, literally crawling with more virulent poison oak than I’ve ever seen in my whole life. Well, I am really glad that marathon is over. I don’t think I’ll do it again. It was too much for my limited athletic ability. I think I’ll try a regular marathon. Mountain climbing in the middle of marathon is just not working for me. Although it was beautiful. Now I have to come up with a really serious accomplishment. Something that’s going to dazzle others, impress my friends and neighbors. Blow their skirts, up, whisk their little ties about. As soon as that happens, my darling blog readers, I shall let you know… right now, we may still be at the point and laugh stage, but changes are in the wind.

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The Myth of Red Hen Press

September 16, 2009

The book world is cool and blossoming.  I meet a lot of people especially in the poetry world who are angry and feel stomped on, as well we might.  We are lonely and evicted and ignored in the tiny cracks of life like dandelions, not at all like celebrated roses who get named after presidents’ wives and queens.  But, I’m not angry or sad about poetry or the book world.

 In spite of being a poet, librettist, blogger,  and the founding editor of an independent press now in its fifteenth year of publishing on the West Coast, not exactly the best coast to start a press on, in Los Angeles…, what we were we thinking?  Why not San Francisco where there is at least a literary tradition?  In spite of all that, I smile because I have my own secrets about poetry and life.  I’m not sharing all of them, but here are a couple. 

 I grew up in a closed Christian cult in Southern N.H. with a child rearing method that can only be described as water boarding for children.  I lived there for fifteen years in boarding school rarely seeing my mother.  My father was gone.  When I left I was homeless and wandering, and finally found college the way others find god or drugs.  Books mattered to me; like water and they still do.  I came to Los Angeles for graduate school and found a city that seemed consumed with narcissism, film and music.  I decided to roll up my sleeves and make it a literary city.  I was in love with a few authors, one of whom was Judy Grahn, a lesbian working class author who was out of print.  It took me a few years to get a press started with a few friends.  Originally designed to be a collective, in the tradition of Alice James, we eventually decided to make Red Hen Press a non profit independent publishing company publishing ten poetry books and ten fiction and non-fiction titles a year. 

 We run five reading series in Los Angeles, three in NY, we give out $5000/ year in literary awards, run a Writing in the Schools Program to combat Los Angeles dropout rate of 150,000 school children/year.  Red Hen has become a significant  part of the literary landscape in Los Angeles.  Eventually, I wrote my PhD on women’s poetry and wrote a chapter on Judy Grahn.  Three years later, Red Hen published her new and selected poetry, Love Belongs to Those That do The Feeling winning her the LAMBDA literary award and a standing ovation in NY in 2009.  As she came to the stage, I felt my heart come full circle. 

 I remembered everyone who had told that I wasn’t doing anything with my life, that I really should get a job, a tenured job, that I should try to measure up.  Someone asked me once at a conference what New Directions, Graywolf, Copper Canyon and City Lights had in common.  “They’re all great presses?” I said.

“No,” he said,  “They’re all presses started by men.  Who are you?  What do you think you’re doing? You don’t have what it takes.”

 I smiled then as I always do when I’m told that I can’t do something.  What I think is, “You have no idea.”  No idea, where I came from, what I walked away from and how much I don’t care whether you think I don’t matter in the universe.  Lots of people in the literary world worry about not measuring up.  I guess I’m lucky.  I have no one to impress except myself.  I’m not impressed with myself.  I don’t need to be.  I want to live in a world where I can write and dream and other people can too, and I’m trying to create that world in an inhospitable world that’s mostly all about film and beautiful people.  I may not be completely successful, but what’s great is, I’m having a very good time.

Published in: on September 15, 2009 at 4:51 pm  Comments (1)  
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Dissertation Accepted for Publication, Judy Grahn Sample

August 20, 2009

My dissertation from Claremont Graduate University was accepted for publication this summer by VDM a German publisher.  Here is an excerpt from the chapter on Judy Grahn.

 Poets Subverting Gender Roles in Culture

The Glass Wall that separates, Judy Grahn

 From The Work of a Common Woman

 “in the place where

her breasts come together

two thumbs’ width of

channel ride my

eyes to anchor

hands to angle

in the place where

her legs come togeth

I said ‘you smell like the

ocean’ and lay down my tongue

beside the dark tooth edge

of sleeping

‘swim’ she told me and I

did, I did” (42)

 To write outside the lines, to write outside the margins, to live outside the margins, to dream outside the margins.  To never really worry about the margins.  To not worry about whether there are any margins.  To embrace marginality.  To scream to everyone so they notice who you are and where you are.  To ask the sun to look your direction so you can’t hide, don’t hide, never wanted to hide anyway.  To call out your own name and the names others have called you either out loud or when you weren’t listening, but you heard anyway, and you know anyhow.  To call yourself a she-bitch and a dyke and to claim your titles in song, that is the poetry of Judy Grahn.  It is not quiet, it does not whisper.  At most churches you wouldn’t hear it, in most choirs you wouldn’t sing it, at some schools, you wouldn’t teach it. 

Just as Dr. Martin Luther King said that riot is the language of the unheard, Grahn’s poetry is the language and perspective of the unheard.  Grahn’s poetry creates its own language, a new way of speaking about women in the world.  Adrienne Rich speaks of the underside of the ship where one travels with fins and a mask to discover the truth.  Grahn’s poetry lives under the ship.  Grahn’s poetry speaks to those who are not only dissatisfied with patriarchal language, but also are dissatisfied with the world that creates it.  Adrienne Rich’s early poetry worked within the Academy, but Grahn’s poetry comes from her working class works, and even her poetry based on heroic myths touches the common woman.

Grahn was born in Chicago in 1940, but she grew up in a poor border town in New Mexico.  By her description, the town was made of people who were brutally poor and lived joyless lives.  In search of an employment and a way out of town, Grahn joined the Air Force, but was discharged for being a lesbian.  As a young woman in the 1960’s, she found herself stranded in Washington D.C. with little money, she became a bartender and spent her spare time trying to research who exactly she was.  Librarians told her that books on lesbians were locked up and could not be given to anyone except doctors, psychiatrists and lawyers for the criminally insane.  Finding herself un-publishable, she founded a press, with her then lover Wendy Cadden and moved to the West Coast.  In San Francisco, she wrote, published and created a voice for working class lesbians.  Her work, unlike Adrienne Rich’s, does not emerge from the Academy, but from the streets.  In doing so, Grahn creates new myths for women to live by.  For while she does not sentimentalize lesbian love, she grounds lesbian relationships in a world of their own.

Grahn reinvented such words as “butch”, “queer”, “fay” and “dyke” so that they become reclaimed spaces for power.  Just as “nigger” when used by an African American takes on new meaning from simple friendship to a form of endearment, and in so doing becomes a word that has been reclaimed by a culture and is no longer available for other cultures, so “dyke” is a word reclaimed by lesbians including Judy Grahn to become a word that could be claimed and used within a particular group, but not outside it.  In The Work of a Common Woman, she writes,

I am the wall at the lip of the water

I am the rock that refused to be battered

I am the dye in the matter, the other

I am the wall with the womanly swagger

I am the dragon, the dangerous dagger

I am the bulldyke, the bulldagger

 

and I have been many a wicked grandmother

and I shall be many a wicked daughter.  (98)

Far from disallowing the kinds of negative name-calling that have been inflicted on lesbians, Grahn claims these titles for herself, and by doing so, she strips them of their ordinary meanness and deep loathing, and reclaims them as titles that give her the seat of power.  She is to be feared.  She may be witch-like outside the country. But as such, she should be viewed as dangerous with her wicked ancestors and wicked progeny.

Published in: on August 20, 2009 at 1:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Judy Grahn, Red Hen Press author, wins Lambda Award

May 28, 2009

Lambda Awards in New York City.  Judy Grahn wins the Lambda Award for Love Belongs to Those that Do the Feeling, presented by Alice Quinn.  Other nominees included Liz Bradfield, of Arktoi imprint/Red Hen Press for her fabulous book, Interprative Work.  Judy Grahn got a standing ovation and she deserved it.  It was a long day, I ran ten miles down to the Statue of Liberty from Chelsea, then off to meetings.  Mark set up our booth.  We were starving as we hadn’t eaten all day, so we wandered to the Venus in Chelsea to get something.  I like the Venus, huge menu, always chill.  Lots of gay couples, but I’ve never seen any lesbians.  Well, it is Chelsea.  When I was running, I passed three teenage boys down by the river getting stoned, that pungent smell floating out over the gardens and me.  God, I miss my son.  And there was the Statue of Liberty, kind of giving me a high five.  All good.

Published in: on May 28, 2009 at 7:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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