About Chase Dimock

Chase Dimock teaches Literature and Writing at College of the Canyons. He is the Managing Editor of As It Ought To Be Magazine.

Brian Connor: “Baseball Bastardized”

 

Baseball Bastardized:

How the Bungled Response to Covid-19 Reveals

Baseball’s Inability to Evolve in a Changing Culture

By Brian Connor

 

Nothing could be done with the timing. Baseball happened to be the most heavily affected domino that fell among the cancelled major sports, unable to cancel a postseason or come up with a video game-esque return to play tournament format. The NBA, NHL, and Premier League soccer all shifted towards finishing up what little of the season remained or moving right to postseason play- in other words, the best part of the year for all of them. The MLB, meanwhile, had to get everyone out of Arizona and Florida and figure out how to come close to salvaging the 2,430 games they would have otherwise played.

Baseball was never a sport designed to make everyone happy. If you do your job right 3 out of 10 times, you likely get put on a performance review; if you’re a major leaguer who gets a hit 3 out of 10 at-bats, you likely get put on the All-Star team. If you go to bed with your favorite team having lost that day 62 times a year, you probably root for one of the best teams in the league and went to sleep happy the other 100 times. Whether a casual fan or an absolute fanatic, your favorite type of games are likely fast games (i.e. under 3 hours) featuring a lot of homers and runs scored- in other words, games that almost never happen. 

So it was likely wrong for us to assume that we were going to be happy with whatever makeshift version of a Major League Baseball season was going to be proposed, especially as it became reality that our usual summer of a hot dog and a cold beer in the bleachers, a walk by a sports bar with the game feed audible, and a game on the TV as background noise to a family party was less and less likely to happen. And as the transition of winter to spring and, now, spring to summer came without the glistening feel of Opening Day, the rawness of the world suspended the joy of the turn of the seasons as all came to a halt. There was no joy in Mudville, for they were all indoors.

Baseball then tried, in earnest I suppose, to try to come up with a plan to return, because America’s pastime, damnit. Forget that boring old soccer or that ice hockey thing I could never really understand, we need baseball back to heal this nation, for Christ! And yes, there are much bigger things for everyone both on a societal and personal level and many lives to be saved in the time of a pandemic. But I get it, though baseball junkie I am: emblematic of both the daily grind of the American worker and the daydream summer’s day that gets over half the country through its brutal winter, the sport hits differently than others. World wars couldn’t stop it; 9/11 merely delayed it; there’s an invincibility surrounding it, as sure as summer comes, so does baseball.

So where are we, then, as we approach almost three months since the originally scheduled Opening Day? Mainly, prorated salaries for players were proposed by team owners, agreed to by those players, then taken back for further pay cuts by those owners. This is likely because it simply won’t be feasible to play in front of fans this year, and ticket sales, concessions, etc. are the money makers for teams.  The losses expected are, exact words from Cubs owners Tom Ricketts, “biblical” for this year for MLB. No crosstown rivalry here: he and Jerry Reinsdorf mark the Chicago owners worth $1.8 billion who likely won’t see a dime of ticket sales between their two baseball teams this year. At least they have a better fate than the five poor bastards in the group of owners worth less than a billion- how else would they sleep at night? (Bringing up the rear is supposedly Reds owner Bob Castellini, with a net worth of a chump change $400 million)

But who wants that pressure of owning a team and striking a deal, anyway? I just want to take my family of four to a baseball game, just like when I was a kid. In 2019 this came out to an average of $32.99 a person just for the privilege of being in the park (damn Yankees driving those price up). Pops need a cold beer, of course, and a dollar saved is a dollar earned, kids, so I’m getting this light beer for $10 instead of a craft beer for $12. You kids need a hot dog, too, and thank goodness for that family deal for a hot dog and a drink- cheaper than sold separately! This Bud’s for me, so honey, you can have my fountain drink and we all come out ahead at $11.75 apiece! You look like you could use a $20 hat, Junior- my dad got me one when I was your age- and your brother needs a souvenir bat for another $25. We’ve got all that, so let’s strap in for at least 3 hours and watch .006% of the regular season!

Unrelated, baseball’s popularity is decreasing nationwide but had a revenue of $10.37 billion dollars last year. If only owners had made their coffee and avocado toast at home, maybe they would’ve saved some money for the players this year.

Two things are true for me at once, as things often are now: baseball is my favorite sport, and I can no longer justify why anyone would take a rooting interest in it. I called it America’s pastime earlier, but it isn’t anymore: five NFL regular season games drew higher TV ratings than Game 7 of the World Series last year, and never mind trying to follow a team for 162 days of the year as opposed to 16 Sundays. Soccer’s boring and low scoring? Check the fans in the 80th minute of a 1-0 Premier League game compared to the 8th of a 1-0 baseball game. Best live experience? Be there in person for a 2-1 hockey game. Most exciting sport? Same hockey game, only playoffs. How often have you seen a Steph Curry 3 or a LeBron dunk on Twitter? Every other winter day for about five years, right? What about a Mike Trout highlight of any kind? Whenever the official MLB account decides to tweet about it, I’m guessing? And don’t even think about giving baseball or the modern day Babe Ruth that free publicity on YOUR account, that’s against the rules! If James Harden does anything funny, go viral, you millennial hippie, but don’t ruin the sanctity of baseball with that vine of a home run!

These were my gripes before coronavirus, usually countered with “can’t beat being there on a nice day” and “you never really see the same thing twice”. Now we likely won’t be able to watch it in person at all this year, again destined for a boring summer due to a labor dispute, again making the same mistake that doomed the sport back in 1994.  The owners who supposedly cannot cope with the idea of lost revenue have nixed the player’s proposal of a 114 game season with a final offer of 50 games, as if the increased per game importance will salvage the sport. 

This is where we stand, then, summer nearly in full. We are days away from a no contact sport with bases 90 feet apart not being able to figure out how to handle coronavirus, with variations of it currently being played elsewhere in the world and all other major sports leagues either starting or finalizing plans to start.  In a country with millions out of work, 30 owners have its most traditional sport at a standstill out of caution of paying their players risking exposure to a virus in a worldwide pandemic a little bit more than they’d like. As places gradually start to return to normal, the best case scenario for a Major League Baseball season is a bastardized, bite-sized, 50 game sprint despite the wishes of fans and players alike.  Baseball is, and should be, taking a backseat to the much more important things that affect our day to day lives more than any game ever could (unless you want to add it to the list of things that need racial reform: only 7% of MLB players are Black). But in a time when we just need it to be a three hour distraction in any iteration, it can’t even be that. 

Nothing could be done with the timing. So much more could have been done with the time that immediately followed.

 

About the Author: Brian Connor writes on a number of topics, though most consistently about baseball on a fan site covering the White Sox during the season. Some further readings can be found at discodemolished.blogspot.com, which lately has been a similar screaming in the void nature of MLB coverage.

 

Image Credit: “Detroit ball player slides safely into third base as fielder reaches to the left for ball on the ground during baseball game” The Library of Congress

Scott Silsbe: “Reading Rich Gegick’s Greasy Handshakes at Neighbors Tavern in Jeannette, Pennsylvania”

 

 

Reading Rich Gegick’s Greasy Handshakes at Neighbors Tavern in Jeannette, Pennsylvania

Since it’s my first time at Neighbors, I don’t know what I want
to drink. Call me a snob, but none of the drafts look appealing 
to me. But I order one anyway. I can’t recall the last time that 
I had me a Coors Banquet beer. And it doesn’t taste bad. But it 
doesn’t taste great either—perhaps one of the worst things you 
can say about a beer. But I’ve got a copy of Greasy Handshakes 
and that is something. At the art gallery, Newman gave me a big 
box of them to take to Rich, his author copies. And I pulled one 
out of the box to have as a companion at the bar, promising I’d 
replace it after my brief stop off at Neighbors. Thinking maybe 
I’d only have to have one Coors Banquet if Bobby would be up 
for company once I am back in Allegheny County, and across
the Westinghouse Bridge, where I feel at home, close to my lady 
and my friends and my collection of books and records, cassettes
and compact discs and 8-tracks, DVDs and VHS tapes. I know 
I’m a sucker for crap. I fucking love crap. Maybe older crap 
especially, but any crap’ll do. My crap. All that crap that I own.
That crap almost makes you feel immortal, you know? I’m going
to own all this crap forever. These records. These old-ass books.
I didn’t spill any of my Banquet on the book I borrowed, Rich.
Next time I go to Neighbors, I think I’ll get a bottle of High Life.
Or else maybe I’ll just stick to going to Johnny’s Wife’s Place.

 

About the Author: Scott Silsbe was born in Detroit. He now lives in Pittsburgh. His poems have been collected in three books—Unattended FireThe River Underneath the City, and Muskrat Friday Dinner. He is also an assistant editor at Low Ghost Press.

 

More By Scott Silsbe:

Double Downriver

 

Image Credit: John Vachon “Bartender in Catholic Sokol Club. Ambridge, Pennsylvania” (1941) The Library of Congress

 

Max Heinegg: “Open Letter to Ezra Beeman”

 

 

Open Letter to Ezra Beeman
           Portland, OR 1997

I was losing her so I quit 
smoking Camels in kitchens, drinking Stone,
answering phones in undecorated offices
leaving behind the pallets in the carpet warehouse, 
the tight apartment share, the pool tables at the Silver Dollar  
& gracelessly, a huge phone bill.

You introduced us to Thai food, & the X-Files 
& drove me to the airport, blaring Cobain
who illustrated a pattern of Paradise 
& then blew it to bits.

You said you love the absence of clarity in a singer, 
how an open letter is read into 
according to what you bring to it,
but most singers are no surface
the listener can write upon. 
Down the highway, those notes of not fitting 
or wanting to fit were enough for me,

fearing return to where everything needed repair,
I said goodbye & wandered into the airport, 
on the other side of an ending, 
too close to the feeling to see its size.

 

About the Author: Max Heinegg’s poems have appeared in Thrush, The Cortland Review, Nimrod, Columbia Poetry Review, and Tar River Poetry. He lives and teaches English in Medford, MA, and is also a singer-songwriter (whose records can be heard at www.maxheinegg.com) and the co-founder and brewmaster of Medford Brewing Company.

 

Image Credit: Carol M. Highsmith “The old Oregon Leather Company neon sign in downtown Portland, Oregon”  Photographs in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

 

Chase Dimock reviews “The Premise of My Confession: A Dramatis Personae” By Sean Karns

 

Chase Dimock reviews

The Premise of My Confession: A Dramatis Personae

By Sean Karns

 

Many times, I have sat next to a random, drunk stranger at a bar, and he used the chance meeting to stammer and slur his words through his life’s story, the dizzying heights and crushing defeats. He has used my expressionless face as a sounding board for his ill-defined philosophies, raging impotently at foes he never really explained, pining for lost joys whose sweetness I couldn’t smell over his beer breath. He has seen a reflection of a younger self in my eyes, and tried to warn himself about the agonies of the future in which he lives.

Many times, that random drunk stranger at the bar was me. 

Maybe it’s because the bourbon has washed away all the specific contents of these tavern confessions, but I don’t remember any of them coming close to the philosophical depth and poetic craft of Sean Karns’ new book, The Premise of My Confession: A Dramatis Personae. 

The premise of this chapbook is simple. A retired magician meets an nameless stand-in for the reader at a bar and in 25 pages, we hear the rise and fall of a magician addicted to and debilitated by his craft and the audience’s adoration of his spectacle. The longform poem is set up like a dramatic play, though the only other character who speaks and breaks up the magician’s monologue is a nameless narrator who addresses you, the reader, to provide exposition. Yet, the narrator does not just describe the scene and plot; he also tells you how you feel and react while listening to the magician:

You impatiently shift in your barstool
And stare at your hands and pick at your nails.
You have no clear exit strategy

Perhaps I am in the minority here, but this voice of a narrator explaining my own actions to myself replicates my experience of drinking and remaining silent as others prattle on.

Karns’ chapbook follows a tradition of random encounters with monologuing, philosophical drunks in literature. As I read the magician’s story, I thought about Crime and Punishment and The Fall. Raskolnikov listens to the drunken laments of barflies who squandered their family’s savings and reputation as Dostoevsky explores what he called “the present question of drunkeness.” In The Fall Camus places the reader in an Amsterdam bar. You are the unlikely recipient of the confession of a once prominent and respected defense attorney whose fall from grace came from the paralyzing realization he did not authentically believe in the values he championed in court.

Karns’ Magician is somewhere between the drunken oblivion of Mameladov and the weary introspection of Clemence. Like both Dostoevsky and Camus, Karns’ perspective is existential. All the world’s a stage, and that is where the crisis of authenticity opens the void, or as the Magician explains, a wound:

When you’re a spectacle, you can’t be something else.
There are consequences for acknowledging

There is an absence. I didn’t want to be
A lonely spectacle…how’re we spectacles,

You ask? Why so dismissive? The Wound will
Let you know what you are or aren’t.

We’re formed by a collection of the Wound’s 
Memories, and through these memories,

We become a spectacle, a viewing pleasure
For others, especially for the Wound.

Here, I feel as though I am under the gaze of Jean-Paul Sartre, thinking of how we internalize the gaze of others and become not a being in of itself, but a being for others. When how we perform for others pleases the other, we internalize that role and mistake it for an authentic self. As the magician puts it “While performing a pointless trick/ Perhaps our real selves are locked in trunks.” 

As a young queer scholar, a short passage from Sartre’s Being and Nothingness redefined my understanding of my own identity. To illustrate the problems with authenticity, Sartre presents a scenario in which a homosexual man refuses to come out to another person who believes he has the right to urge him out of the closet. The homosexual man is in a bind here. If he were to lie about homosexual desires, he would be inauthentic with his true desires. But, if he were to confess, he would would be accepting the definition and expectations of sexuality that the other man holds, which the homosexual man does not agree with. He can’t deny himself, but he also can’t validate the flawed thinking of others that would place a label and category on him that doesn’t come from himself.

Karns’ Magician presents a similar problem with authenticity and being turned into a being for others:

As a spectacle, for it was all
I knew, and I knew I’d regret it.

Hypnotize, I’d regret it. Don’t,
I’d regret it. Disappear and relocate

An audience member, I’d regret it.
Don’t I’d regret it. Unknowingly

The audience follows the spectacle
Into ocean bound trunks.

Like Sartre’s example of the closeted homosexual, you regret staying in the trunk and hiding, but you also regret pantomiming the expectations of the crowd on stage. Even celebrated figures like famous magicians become bound by the persona needed to achieve applause. I wonder if those 80s and 90s bands, well past their glory years, that you see playing county fairs every summer ever feel this way. Could you find the guy from Smash Mouth sitting next to you at the funnel cake stand, confessing that he’d rather lock himself in the mic trunk than sing “All Star” one more time?

But here’s the inherent problem with confessions that the Magician, the homosexual man in Sartre’s story, and maybe even the Smash Mouth guy knows: they are always given to someone who does not possess the power to forgive them. As the Magician says: 

And I longed for forgiveness for years
Of deception, but the Wound ignores confessions

And redemptions–the Wound requires you
To absolve your guilt, alone.

Since in this poem, the person receiving this statement is “you,” I wonder if this means that the magician knows this barroom confession is invalid since he is not alone and “you” cannot absolve his guilt, like some people assume priests can. Maybe this confession is as much a performance for an audience as any of his magic tricks.

Or, maybe this is why “you” do not speak in this poem, and why he speaks to a random stranger. Even though you’re there to hear him, he’s still alone in the bar.

 

The Premise of My Confession: A Dramatis Personae is available via Finishing Line Press

 

About the Author: Chase Dimock is the Managing Editor of As It Ought To Be Magazine. He holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Illinois and his scholarship has appeared in College LiteratureWestern American Literature, and numerous edited anthologies. His works of literary criticism have appeared in Mayday MagazineThe Lambda Literary ReviewModern American Poetry, and Dissertation Reviews. His poetry has appeared in Waccamaw, New Mexico Review, Faultline, Hot Metal Bridge, Saw Palm, Flyway, and San Pedro River Review among othersFor more of his work, check out ChaseDimock.com.

 

More Reviews By Chase Dimock:

A Review of All Seats Fifty Cents by Stephen Roger Powers

A Review of Willingly by Marc Frazier

A Review of Your Daughter’s Country by John Dorsey

Ben Nardolilli: “Low Risk Fuel”

 

 

Low Risk Fuel

Paramedics, attend to this body,
open up your stretcher arms
and take me with you on a healing route
to a bed at last,
put me in a vehicle blaring and bright,
just as fierce and fast at those flames
which set their embers in me

I got out early, among the first,
but I pressed plenty of bad buttons
on the way down,
every time the doors opened up for me
I was on a burning mezzanine,
escape was difficult, I laid down chords
and tripped over half of them

Go ahead, take him and her away,
if you think they are worse,
mottled with damage and losing parts,
my diagnosis is no telescope,
I will stay here at the site and continue
to feel my future melting,
looking at the fire I left behind.

 

About the Author: Ben Nardolilli currently lives in New York City. His work has appeared in Perigee Magazine, Red Fez, Danse Macabre, The 22 Magazine, Quail Bell Magazine, Elimae, The Northampton Review, Local Train Magazine, The Minetta Review, and Yes Poetry. He blogs at mirrorsponge.blogspot.com and is trying to publish a novel.

 

More by Ben Nardolilli:

Large Bull-Thistle

 

Image Credit: “VIEW OF ELEVATOR SHAFT FROM FIRST FLOOR TO SKYLIGHT, LOOKING SKYWARD, NORTH” The Library of Congress

Daniel Romo: “20/20”

Feature._Paul_Legendre_O.B.E._School_for_Sailors_BAnQ_P48S1P10398

 

 

20/20

When the regular asked how she was doing
the barista replied, Living the dream, before making
his usual drink
and isn’t that what we all do as we rely on
whatever form of faith and familiarity it is that
keeps us moving into the face of
a new day?

I just had my eyes checked for the first time because
I’m at an age where I’ve seen every hurt too clearly
and I want to ensure my vision from here on out
will allow me to recognize the victories in any battles
the younger me would’ve deemed too fatal
to fight.

My face stuffed into a machine transported me
to a world of tiny, tricky letters appearing too small
to be alive
and that’s how I feel sometimes,
overcome by a combination of consonants and vowels
teaming together to create sounds that still echo
amongst memories clanking around in a life
I’ve left behind but will never
forget.

Shouldn’t we all aspire to attain the stillness of the barista,
the one who makes the same drinks and repeats the process
in the midst of monotony and minimum wage,
her fears and misgivings swirling around inside each cup
like a never-ending threatening motion
before eventually settling at the bottom
rather than us guessing at a series of blurry symbols in our lives
trying to guess at
what we can’t see?

Her customer leaves and thanks her for his purchase and for
her sense of reverie and the barista says,
I’ll keep it as long as I can
and the optometrist says I’ll need reading glasses
in the next few years,
both of us making out all that is in front of us
the way we want to see it
whether in the distance,
or right under our noses.

 

About the Author: Daniel Romo is the author of Apologies in Reverse (FutureCycle Press 2019), When Kerosene’s Involved (Mojave River Press, 2014), and Romancing Gravity (Silver Birch Press, 2013). His poetry can be found in The Los Angeles Review, PANK, Barrelhouse, and elsewhere. He has an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte, and he is an Associate Poetry Editor at Backbone Press. He lives and teaches in Long Beach, CA.

 

More by Daniel Romo:

The Main Event

 

Image Credit: Conrad Poirier “Paul Legendre looks in a sextant” (1944) Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Ben Nardolilli: “Large Bull-Thistle”

 

 

Large Bull-Thistle

Looking up Chenango County,
It’s what I do at work, travelling through
The internet and coming across
Maps, images, and demographic data
For counties I’ll probably never go to

But I help out the people there,
Or who died there and whose families
Have moved on to other places,
They need their checks
And I make sure they get them

I know death unites us all,
Yet asbestos seems a runner-up,
I wonder if I’ve ever been exposed
And if some pale tumor
Is ready to bloom inside me because of it

Then I can join with the men
And women who died by similar means,
In Erie, in Albany, in Kings County,
In Warren, and in Wayne, finally,
Someone else can process a claim for me

 

 

About the Author: Ben Nardolilli currently lives in New York City. His work has appeared in Perigee Magazine, Red Fez, Danse Macabre, The 22 Magazine, Quail Bell Magazine, Elimae, The Northampton Review, Local Train Magazine, The Minetta Review, and Yes Poetry. He blogs at mirrorsponge.blogspot.com and is trying to publish a novel.

 

Image Credit: “Thistle” L Prang & Co. (1886) The Library of Congress

 

 

Chase Dimock: A Review of Sugar Fix By Kory Wells

 

A Review of Kory Wells’ Sugar Fix

By Chase Dimock

 

       When Kory Wells sent a submission of poetry to As It Ought To Be Magazine last Spring, I was first struck by her sense of history. In “The Assistant Marshal Makes an Error in Judgement”, Wells writes about a census taker in the 19th century whose guesses at the races of citizens become their legal racial identity inscribed in his government ledger. Today in 2020, it took a court battle to resolve the citizenship question on this year’s census. This poem is more than just a historical footnote; its reminder of how the politics of identity and who has the right to recognize it have continually defined American society. In this way, Wells follows the words of fellow southern writer William Faulkner, who famously wrote (and was even more famously quoted by President Obama) “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

       With Sugar Fix, Wells explores the never dead past of today through the personal and cultural memories of sugar. Recipes handed down from generations are clues to her family mythologies, the proustian taste of chocolate ice cream on her tongue is a confessional, the trade in sugar and sweets in the south is a material history of the racial and class tensions of reconstruction to today. It would be easy for a book of poetry centered on the metaphor of sugar to lapse into saccharine sentimentality and syrupy cutesiness, but Wells is a poet who understands the cost of pleasure and the sweat demanded of our brow before we taste the sweet. She knows the personal price of indulgence and the social cost of supplying society with its sugar fix.

       In “Still Won’t Marry” Wells takes on the persona from the traditional Appalachian song “Angeline the Baker,” envisioning her as weary of the constant propositions of trading sugar for skin:

He says a little taste of sugar will cure
my weary back, my aching shoulders, my
singed arms. Like I don’t know what that man wants.

Angeline’s side of the story is wise to the after effects of the sugar fix “The bed a pleasure too short. Babies Chores./ His wants ahead of mine.” Wells connects this folklore of indulgence in sugar and flesh to her own past in a poem whose title conveniently saves me from having to summarize its premise: “He drove a four-door Chevy, nothing sexy, but I’d been thinking of his mouth for weeks.” During a date at a Dairy Queen Drive in, Wells is fixated: Continue reading

Dandylion Riot: An Interview with Poet and Artist Jeanette Powers

 

 

Dandylion Riot:
An Interview with Poet and Artist Jeanette Powers
By Chase Dimock

The problem with writing an introduction to Jeanette Powers’ work is that by nature, an introduction presumes that you can define your subject and contain it in a rough overview. It also presents the reader with the assurance that you have prepared them for what you’re about to subject them to. I’m not sure I can wholly achieve that because Powers’ art is consciously transgressive of definition and containment. Powers’ poetry explores identity and the language with which we express it, not by defining it in a way that pins down or immobilizes, but by pushing at the seams of what these words can hold. 

Powers identifies as a hillbilly, but stresses how this identity can be reclaimed as subversive, queer, and ecologically progressive. And yet, for all this rebellion against expectations, their writing is never isolating or cold. There are so many deeply personal stories and intricate descriptions of their relationships with nature, family, and one’s self that it’s easy to connect individually with Powers’ work. To simultaneously challenge and intimately connect with a reader is the toughest, yet most powerful move a poet can make. In short, Jeanette Powers is heckin’ rare.

Chase Dimock: What first drew me to your work was how you locate expressions of queerness and gender non-conformity within the nature and culture of the midwest. As someone who has lived on both coasts and the midwest, I feel that the coasts tend to overlook how the midwest cultivates uniquely queer communities and identities. How do you feel that living in the midwest has shaped how you articulate queerness in your poetry?

Jeanette Powers: I’ve never lived on the coasts, so I can’t speak to the real differences between the queer communities, but I can definitely say that I find a lot of interest on the coasts and abroad in specifically the Midwestern and MW queer experience. People sometimes are shocked to find out about large and thriving queer communities in the Bible Belt, people want to know how we are surviving in MAGA America, and they are very interested in how our communities thrive. 

I am born and raised in Kansas City, both sides of the state line, so Kansas and Missouri. I’m a Pure D Midwesterner and that experience shapes the paradigm from which my ethics and art both arise. I am a poor, “white trash”, river rat, polite to a fault, redneck hillbilly; farm loving, meat-eating, off-leash dog having, bonfire building, corn eating, hot plate cookin, truck loving, camouflage wearing radical. I want to de-stigmatize some of those traditionally derogatory words I used there. For me, being a hillbilly is directly related to the subversive attitudes I have: an idea of living “off-the-grid”, a belief in the value of our indigenous cultures, an anti-authoritarian ethic, a deep value of the land and resources. I reclaim being poor white trash as being something beautiful and an agent for change. In some ways, class struggle and connection to nature supersede my queerness even, and I think my heartland upbringing are part of why.

So from that perspective, queerness is an underlying fact and lens through which my connection to the rest of America happens to occur. My art is less about being a non-binary, pansexual queer human than it is about loving nature, discovering the inherent self, abhorring oppression, seeking equity, and striving for healing or reconciliation. In that way, my location becomes less visible because folks all over the world share those values. But the Ozarks, the prairie, rivers and state fairs are the context from which all the metaphor arises. And being a hella queer who lives for performance art, challenging the status quo, and being a deeply intellectual human is all in there, too. 

I do question sometimes if the queerness being an underlying rather than leading component is a reflex of preserving my safety. I pass as straight, cis as long as I restrict my language, and that is powerful here in the Midwest, where hate crimes against queer folk are common. Many of our families reject us, discrimination is still happening. These thoughts have caused me to lead with the queerness more often, and to shake the chains which hold all non-passing queer folks in danger. That is using my privilege as a tool for change rather than as a mechanism to keep just me safe.

 

Chase Dimock: To go a little deeper in exploring where your poetry comes from, I’d like to bring up the role family plays in your work. Your new book, Dandylion Riot is filled with childhood memories of your grandparents, aunts, and other family members. You also have a tendency to connect your memories of family with objects: a yellow rotary phone with your grandparents in “Hearts Break All the Time,” a stuffed monkey with your aunt in “The Mon Chi Chi,” and a Buddha statue with your grandfather in “The Laughing Buddha.” How do these portraits of your family fit into the objectives of your art that you talked about in your previous answer? Why do certain associations with people and objects stick with you as you depict them?

Jeanette Powers: It is interesting how much my family plays into my poetry, when in reality I don’t have much of a relationship with them. Except for my son (and bonus kid, and an aunt and cousin, and my sister), who I actually write about very seldom. I guess I’m tracing back the lineage of my emotional being, trying to reconcile what one is taught and how that shapes one against what one wants to be, or maybe really is. It’s part excavation, part commemoration, part study. It’s all very interesting to me and does tell the story of the culture I was raised in, which of course shapes the person I am today. In some ways, I’m dismantling the cognitive dissonance that I’ve experienced trying to reconcile the love with the trauma. And I hope I do that respectfully. I know my family is upset with me talking about the darker aspects of our family culture, but I’m committed to not being silent about what made me, I don’t feel that helps anyone. And maybe, some other folks will feel the solidarity and in some way that will help them feel less isolated, or consider their (and my!) own problematic, learned coping mechanisms.

Those specific examples you bring up speak so much to the life of poor, emotionally unavailable, working class white people. Well, everyone had rotary phones once, so maybe not that example so much, but that memory is so powerful because it’s the only time I ever heard my grandfather say I love you to my grandmother. Ours was not a physically (or verbally) loving family. In fact, I’d say I grew up in a atmosphere of neglect. So what makes the phone so powerful is hearing that affirmation. I am very affirmation seeking, really, a natural born optimist and creature of love. 

Much of my early work is about the negative, trauma informed memories and objects, but Dandylion Riot begins an exploration of the other moments, too. The Buddha opens a door to acknowledging the racism of my family. I’m in a space where I believe strongly in adding that element to my art, not to shame me or my family, but simply because it’s true. I hope the love of my grandfather shows through still, I think many of us struggle with reconciling our family’s problematic views and behaviors with our love and appreciation for them. The Mon Chi Chi was an object which felt unattainable as a child, much too expensive, and the monkey is a device to illuminate how my aunt was never stopped from eating sugar, an object to orbit a wider story around. As an adult I look back and realize the price that consumerism and denial had on my aunt, potentially anyway. It’s also a call to why her adopted kids were abandoned by my family after she died. The same way I’m abandoned? I’m not recording precise history here, I’m recreating vast emotions that span decades and working to encapsulate them in a moment. 

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Alice Teeter: “Directionless”

 

 

Directionless

West from here, the land goes up and up —
dry desert mountains bare of trees and hot —
dun undulations — veined pale gray tones of mauve.

Eastward, in field after field, amber
sunflowers stand tall in full bloom,
heads swiveling in the morning sun.

North, cracked land —
mud flats as far as the eye can see
rich dark red ruts with pink flat tops.

To the south, blue rounds of water make
polka dots midst diagonal dark rows —
short trees, viridescent, heavy with orange.

We left as soon as we could —
formed caravans —
headed east to west —
north to south.

One, overloaded camels —
the other, weighted wagons
pulled by oxen.

Dust and animal smells
fastened us tight.

 

About the Author: Alice Teeter’s most recent book Mountain Mother Poems was published in 2017 by Finishing Line Press. Previous books include Elephant Girls (2015 Adrich Press), and When It Happens To You… (2009 Star Cloud Press). Her poems have appeared in The Atlanta Review, Poetry Daily, The Tower Journal, Per Contra, and Kentucky Review. Her chapbook String Theory won the 2007 Georgia Poetry Society Charles B. Dickson prize. Teeter was awarded a Hambidge Fellowship in 2010. She was adjunct professor teaching poetry writing at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, from 2011 to 2016. She studied poetry with Peter Meinke at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Teeter is a member of Alternate ROOTS, a service organization for artists doing community-based work in the Southeast; a member of the Artist Conference Network, a national coaching community for people doing creative work; and a member of the Atlanta Women’s Poetry Collective. With Lesly Fredman, she leads Improvoetry workshops combining theatrical improvisation with poetry. She lives with her wife, Kathie deNobriga, in Pine Lake, Georgia.

 

Image Credit: Chase Dimock “Andreas Canyon, Palm Springs” (2019)