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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Revisiting 2019: Our 50 Most Popular Posts of the Year

 

Dear As It Ought To Be Magazine Readers,

As we enter the next decade, I want to thank all of the writers and readers who have made our tenth year so successful. I take enormous pride in working with so many talented and inspiring writers. Without your brilliance and generosity of spirit and intellect, none of this would be possible. It has been a great privilege to publish your work on our site, and I hope to continue featuring diverse perspectives, challenging ideas, and unique voices for years to come. As a way to look back on what we accomplished in 2019, I have complied the 50 most popular posts of the year based on internet traffic and clicks.

Thank you again to everyone who wrote for, read, and promoted AIOTB Magazine in 2019. Let the 20s roar again!

Chase Dimock
Managing Editor

 

Poetry

Jason Baldinger:

Ishrat Bashir:

Jai Hamid Bashir:

Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal:

Jeffrey Betcher:

Ace Boggess:

Daniel Crocker:

John Dorsey:

Ryan Quinn Flanagan:

Tony Gloeggler:

Nathan Graziano:

Cord Moreski:

Jeanette Powers:

Stephen Roger Powers:

Jonathan K. Rice:

Kevin Ridgeway:

Damian Rucci:

Anna Saunders:

Larry Smith:

Nick Soluri:

William Taylor Jr.:

Alice Teeter:

Tiffany Troy:

Bunkong Tuon:

Agnes Vojta:

Kory Wells:

Brian Chander Wiora:

Dameion Wagner:

 

Nonfiction

Daniel Crocker:

Nathan Graziano:

John Guzlowski:

Cody Sexton:

Carrie Thompson:

 

Reviews 

Chase Dimock:

Mike James:

 

Photo Credit: Fire Works At New Year’s Eve via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Chase Dimock: A Review of All Seats Fifty Cents, by Stephen Roger Powers

 

Although Stephen Roger Powers’ latest book All Seats Fifty Cents contains some poems that aren’t about Dolly Parton, once she enters your mind, she commands your imagination like the stage at the Grand Ole Opry. So, it’s impossible to begin this review in any other way but to marvel over Powers’ many Dolly meditations. And, it’s a good place to start because the Dolly Parton poems are a microcosm of Powers’ overall vision of the inalienable relationship between popular culture and personal identity in the American 20th and 21st centuries.

The story of Dolly Parton’s evolution as a pop icon is simultaneously Powers’ own coming of age narrative illuminated by the televised glow of Dolly’s radiant blonde. In a section titled “Burst My Bubbles,” Powers recalls the moment Dolly captured his adolescent fantasy:

I credit Dolly Parton in a bubble bath
for popping my Catholic cornfield bubble
I was hating my Sunday altar boy costume
and sore knees from all that kneeling

Like for so many other young people in the 70s and 80s, Dolly Parton’s television appearances in conservative households snuck in a vision of an alternative to the American culture of repression and limited ambition. For Powers, this is an erotic, but not objectifying awakening:

Sunday night, the 27th of September, 1987-
lather, bare shoulders, and a great big smile

Parton speaks directly to Powers from a bathtub, alluding to the promise of a world of something more glamorous and desirable than the duties of the Catholic altar boy.

While it’s doubtless that millions of adolescent boys had certain new stirrings when first seeing Dolly’s farm girl charm, luxurious appeal, and ample bosom, for Powers, this is not a story about a typical pin up object of desire. Rather, his fixation on Dolly is about how her transcendent talent and creative vision offer a lifestyle that breaks through gender and class barriers in ways few celebrities allowed in the conservative world could. In “Step It Up a Little,” Powers testifies to the appeal of Dolly’s agency, “Every man should learn to walk in stilettos as high as Dolly Parton’s.” It is refreshing to hear a straight man praise a female artist as something he aspires to be like. Dolly is a gay icon like Judy, Liza, Cher, Diana, Joan and Bette, all strong women who forged the steel of femininity. Yet, the appeal is universal, and what gay men got out of modeling themselves after these women is what straight men have long needed and have recently become more comfortable in expressing. That’s the power of Dolly Parton; she radiates universal qualities we all admire, and yet we all feel as though we have uniquely intimate relationships with her art.

 

 

Powers’ Dolly poems understand how we craft our identities through the complexities of the celebrity/fan relationship. There have been plenty of odes to heroes in the history of poetry, but not as many about the nuances of 21st century fan culture. Beyond the scope of Dolly as an idol to worship, Powers’ poems also explore how she is a lifestyle to live and a commodity to purchase. Dolly is not just a singer and celebrity; she’s also a businesswoman with her own themepark, Dollywood, where the fan can live in a world of her own design.  In “Dolly Floats,” first published here on As It Ought To Be Magazine, Powers writes a year by year chronicle of Dolly’s appearances in parades at the Dollywood theme park, accompanied by annotations about his personal life:

2015

Dreams come true when Dolly, garnished in red
with gold trim, jack-in-the-boxed from cake,
her great big yellow wig a flaming candle.

With the majestic vision of Dolly, always as much fantasy as she is human, Powers own humanity and flesh, as prone to weakness as all us other mortals, comes between him and Dolly:

2017

Antibiotics pinholed my right hip.
“If I take it easy do you think I could
go to Pigeon Forge on Friday
for Dolly’s annual parade?”
“No.”
Steroids picked my left hip.
“But you don’t understand–”
“Absolutely not.”

Powers most powerfully juxtaposes the goddess with the mere mortal in his poem “Never Let the Truth Get in the Way of a Good Story.” Here, he recounts a brief encounter with Dolly in her Dollywood dreamland, known as the “sausage story.” He gives us first a mundane version in which he merely sees her walk by, and then this version “unshackled from the truth” that may be fiction, but better expresses the impact of seeing her while eating a sausage.

the greasy peppers and onions slid.
the moment the reigning queen of Nashville
graced all us fans standing around waiting
in the Dollywood devilry she gave us.
She was so sunny and funny
she hollered to her bodyguard to pour
club soda on me before the stain set.

Powers builds a connection with Parton through mythologization. We retell stories until the facts of the story transform into the meaning it holds for the teller. Powers further explores how celebrities do the same, and because their words are recorded, we can actually track this phenomena. He unpacks the story behind Jolene’s evolution from mere fan to vixen along side the multiple retellings and revisions of his sausage story:

Dolly lets her stories take
on a life of their own like this too…

Listen to Dolly tell it now–
Jolene is a fiery-headed hussy
at the bank who tried to steal
her husband one day when he cashed
a royalty check for
“I Will Always Love You.”

A celebrity is always a collaborative mythology created between the woman beneath the wig and the collective imagination of the audience. In these poems, we see Dolly as she is, and as she is imagined. Both of these Dollys are equally real.

I hope Powers will Parton me (get it???) for obsessing over Dolly in my review as much as he does in his poems. This American icon who my grandmother proudly refers to as “your grandfather’s secret girlfriend” cannot ever not be the focus of any media she graces. That said, the balance of Powers poems achieves equally brilliant insights into the relationship between pop culture and individual/family identity through considerations of other televised spectacles. In a poem about Lou Ferrigno’s feet, Powers writes:

My brother and his strawberry Kool Aid mustache
peeked out just in time to see
the hulk’s green slippers–unedited, overlooked,
unraveled illusion impossible to un-see–slap
the concrete, slow motion run away.
The Hulk wears green slippers
It wasn’t long before I learned trust
means different things to children and adults.
Even now I can’t un-see Challenger crumbling
in the sky like a clump of wet sand.

In the past few years, Hollywood seems to have kept itself afloat by repackaging 80s and 90s nostalgia to those who lived through it. Without a critical eye, or more social relevance than giving the heroes smartphones, this nostalgic regurgitation has been more of a security blanket roof over a couch cushion fort than any artistic tribute or reimagination. This is why I appreciate Powers’ pop culture poems so much. While they touch on nostalgia, they avoid the uncritical sentimentality of nostalgia that takes shots of Crystal Pepsi until you can’t hear the news about climate change anymore. Powers’ poems are not an escape from reality; rather, they detail the sad ache of nostalgia and the beauty of somehow knowing, even in one’s golden years, that the tarnish is inevitable and possibly already there. Nostalgia, as Powers engages with it, can be a powerful and informative way to trace the origins of our values and explore how we became who we are.

Everyone in a Dolly Parton concert has sausage stains and arthritic hips. Powers shows that Dolly’s presence doesn’t change this reality, but with her Backwoods Barbie persona, she knows Club Soda is a miracle potion and that the sparkle of her sequins is majestic, and on sale at Joann Fabrics.

 

All Seats Fifty Cents is available via Salmon Poetry

 

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, and San Pedro River Review among othersFor more of his work, check out ChaseDimock.com.

 

More by Chase Dimock: 

A Review of John Dorsey’s Your Daughter’s Country

A Review of Jumping Bridges in Technicolor by Mike James

Leadwood: A Conversation With Poet Daniel Crocker

“The Inner Life of Midwesterners Rarely Spoken: A Review of Marc Frazier’s Willingly” By Chase Dimock

 

 

The Inner Life of Midwesterners Rarely Spoken:

A Review of Marc Frazier’s Willingly

 By Chase Dimock

 

     In the poem “Iterations” Marc Frazier claims “There is no limit to the times a poet can mention the body.” Frazier’s latest book Willingly is true to his own words as nearly every poem is about inhabiting a body or the embodiment of ideas and emotions:

this body that stirs, or fails to
this barely defined shoulder
my body beside someone’s but not yet yours.

Frazier’s bodies are sites of memory, pain, desire, and the hope of transcendence through sensual connection with other bodies. These bodies are both familiar and alienating: his own body ranging from childhood to middle age, the alternately tender or cold bodies of lovers and objects of desire, and the bodies of his family members wracked with mental illness and the ravages of old age. Thus, Willingly is about how bodies are shaped by their environment, nurtured or neglected by family and community, and legible through scars:

Body, exhausted by metaphor–limited, earthbound.
Words can’t capture how it falters, breaks,
how there may be something more.

Words cannot capture a body in the sense that capturing means possessing and immobilizing it the way the possessiveness of desire sometimes wishes we could. But as a poet, Frazier’s words can depict the impressions of the body in motion, the way it ages, cowers in pain, and yearns for the touch of others.

      Frazier begins his collection with the poem “little death; dissociative identity,” which sets the tone for his subsequent explorations of identity and desire. I imagine “little death” as a reference to the French “la petite mort,” a term that refers to the after effects of an orgasm. As the majority of the poems intersperse recollections of his dysfunctional family and meditations on his sexuality from childhood to present, the idea of sex culminating in a small death frames this relationship between his identity as a gay man and his upbringing in the midwest. The pleasures of the body mean that a part of him must die: namely the lingering trauma of a childhood that shamed his queerness as a man and an artist.

      In “Synopsis” Frazier gives us exactly that: a run down of his infancy to manhood: “mother threatens to kill me during the seventh month of my life… mother is admitted for insulin and electro-shock therapies…I have to survive my father a difficult battle to win.” Living with a mentally ill mother and a stern Catholic father adds up: 

I live as a person
divided
the religious youth
and the man
cruising men
my fragile self fueled
by porn alcohol

While an upbringing does not determine one’s sexual orientation, it does heavily inform how one navigates their sexuality and what they want to get through it. By alternating poems about his family from the nostalgic to the traumatic with poems about his loves and lusts, Frazier’s poetry investigates how the wounds of the past drive us to heal through desires of the flesh. 

        All discussions of sexual desire carry the stigma of taboo in our culture, yet Frazier’s poetry is unafraid to be vulnerable and confessional. His work is especially brave because he does not merely reveal erotic desires, but also the pain of rejection, the lingering feelings of inadequacy, and the moral ambiguity of his sexual past. In two back to back poems, “Without Words” and “Sergio”, Frazier connects his difficult relationship with his mother to a failed romantic relationship. Addressing his mother, he writes: “Even now, I stiffen when you hug me,/ frozen in an infant’s body”. Through poetry, he attempts to find healing for his trauma:

Each word I write aims to uncover the damage,
to express trauma that happens before language

But a body remembers what happened.
How I want to surrender, to let you reach me:

My body’s wanting to love is not the same as loving
though wanting to be loved is the same as loving

The problem of wanting to love and be loved in a traumatized body that cannot process or receive love as the mind wants emerges as well in Frazier’s poems about sexuality. In these poems, he explores the dual nature of sex: the sensual and the carnal. I was particularly struck by some of the poems in which he positions the carnal as a reaction to the frustrations and disappointments in trying to make a sensual, romantic connection. In “Without You” he writes:

I bring bodies alive with a quarter
        Watch them laboring
Like pistons and cylinders,
        Without sound

To unlearn the beauty of you
        the pornography does best

When a body he loved slips away, he responds with a carnal possession of another, virtual body he can always control. In “Sergio” this reactionary attitude is echoed as he writes “the more I have sex, the more I get even.” It’s brave to explore this unflattering, yet all too human and universal aspect of frustrated desire. 

      Despite the strong focus on a traumatized past and painfully honest poems about the darker and stickier elements of desire, Frazier’s book still maintains a certain level of optimism in the promise of sensual connection through bodies. In these poems, he crafts some of his most beautiful images and lines. In “Architecture” he writes

I hear each cell crave to be more
my desire to be less
anchored deep in the kiln of your chest

In “Heart Tide” Frazier writes of the hope for transcendence through vulnerability:

My clear heart rests in your hand
                  beyond death’s fingers
                  It holds itself, freed of geography and time.

That line beautifully sums up the aspirations of Frazier’s book. We recover traumas through the body. We feel the pain of shame, rejection, and frustration through the body. But at moments, bodies can intertwine and transcend the damage of the past and the physical constraints of the present. There are indeed no limits to the times a poet can mention the body, and through poetry we reshape and we rethink the bodies we inhabit each time they are mentioned.

 

Willingly is available from Adelaide Books

 

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, and San Pedro River Review among othersFor more of his work, check out ChaseDimock.com.

 

More by Chase Dimock: 

A Review of John Dorsey’s Your Daughter’s Country

A Review of Jumping Bridges in Technicolor by Mike James

Leadwood: A Conversation With Poet Daniel Crocker

 

“When I Was A Girl Like Me: An Interview With Poet Margaret Bazzell-Crocker” By Chase Dimock

 

When I Was A Girl Like Me:

An Interview With Poet Margaret Bazzell-Crocker

By Chase Dimock

When Margaret Bazzell-Crocker told me she would be publishing her first collection of poetry in 20 years, I expected her to be revelation to anyone who picked up her book. As a good friend of hers, I knew readers would be equal parts charmed and provoked by her perspective. Her personality certainly radiates from the pages: funny, empathetic, authentic, unrepentantly unorthodox, and insightful.

What I didn’t expect was for the book to be a revelation to me. When you’ve known someone for a while, you tend to think you’ve got them figured out, even when your base assumption is that they are amazing and capable of anything. I learned a lot about Margaret: about her relationship with anger and disillusionment, how these feelings came from her upbringing and her dissatisfaction with the status of women in the world of her youth, and how the Margaret I met in her 40s is a product of decades of harnessing and channeling this into an energy that can create and nurture.

After finishing the book, I wondered if I had been daft and dense to have missed some of this in my friend. But, what I realized while interviewing Margaret is that it is through the language of poetry that so much of this experience can be expressed and heard. When I Was a Girl Like Me is the annotated guide to the life of Margaret Bazzell-Crocker. The following interview is just as much about wanting to better understand a friend as it is about wanting to share her with the world.

Chase Dimock: Your book contains a short introduction in which you address your anger. You write, “People are afraid of anger and especially women are afraid to be angry” and that you are now “comfortable” with your anger because you can “aim it with laser precision.” Why did you decide to begin by addressing your history of dealing with anger and what role does this anger play in your poetry?

Margaret Bazzell-Crocker: I think I wrote first about anger because it’s the emotion I’ve wrestled with most, and I’ve been fascinated with the idea that it seems to be especially shocking when a woman is angry. I remember feeling the same way when I got old enough for my mother to make me start wearing shirts. Why did I have to go around in shirts? None of the boys or men in our neighborhood did! Our household wasn’t really great when I was growing up and anger seemed to be the go-to feeling for all of us, although we always expressed it in gender-specific ways. The girls were allowed to sulk and the boys were allowed to hit.

I think a big, powerful moment growing up for me was when I discovered I had the power to express my anger in more definite ways, and I’m sad to say that I wasn’t, at first, very responsible with this power. I hit, I threw things, I did things I was sorry for afterwards, and I wouldn’t go through that experience again if I could help it. However, I think the message I got when I was younger, and that women continue to get now, was that a girl or woman could feel things in a corner, but they’d better not sit at the table with it. I’m not completely comfortable sitting at the table today, but I’ll do it, by God. As far as how anger affects my poetry, I think it affects some of it, of course. I hope readers will see that this collection begins with anger, but then talks about all kinds of emotions and situations. The collection gets past my anger, but still acknowledges it as a great source of power. Good and bad.

 

Chase Dimock: Let’s talk about where this anger and your attempt to harness and manage it surface in your poems. A few months ago, we published the second poem in the book, “The Art of Acquiescence,” in As It Ought to Be Magazine. In it you write:

To be a woman
in this world
is to bend and curve and slip around its corners
like a snake in the river.

You explain that a woman must “contort” herself. How do you feel this compulsory contortion and acquiescence feeds into the anger you feel? How does this connect your personal experience with the women of the world who you broadly address in the first two lines?

Margaret Bazzell-Crocker: First of all, I like the words you use about the anger in my poetry, because I think they are correct: “harness,” and, “manage.” That is what I tried so hard to do in the past whenever I felt angry. I would add another that’s in “The Art of Acquiescence” poem itself: “meet.” I did try to harness my anger because it went far into a dangerous field when I found I had the power to wield it, and as I’ve said, I regret that. But, then I found I over-corrected, because I was trying to be accommodating to everyone but me. There is still a tendency now to please everyone around me and be resentful of it. The more I matured and was around different women, the more I found their anger and resentment, even for the people they loved sometimes, matched my own. The more I still found this tendency in many of us, to turn the art of acquiescence into a line, drawn in battle. And the more determined I was to erase, or at least redefine, this line in myself. That’s why I would add the word “meet.” In the poem, the snake meets all obstacles. I love that little snake!

I hope, with this collection of poetry, readers see, not that I am finally at Hallmark Channel peace with my anger, but that I am working to remove the battle from it, to negotiate a peace-accord, maybe with myself. I have come of age, I guess, in my willingness to see it as a part of me, but no longer a defining part of me. I would never advise anyone else to do the same. My poem is my journey, and no one else’s. I wrote it because I feel my journey with anger and with other emotions that stand in the way of growth, change, or even just a happy, still life may resonate with others, too.

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“A Review of Mike James’ Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor” By Chase Dimock

 

 

In “My Wife’s Shoes,” the first poem of Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor (Blue Horse Press), Mike James writes “some nights we turn the radio to ballroom music and I pretend to be Fred Astaire, led by Ginger Rogers for a change, and dance in high heels in reverse.” “High heels in reverse” is the essence of his book. Astaire and Rogers had to know the geometry of each other’s bodies and steps inside and out to perform their moves. A careful eye can spot the scenes where Rogers is actually leading. This is exactly what Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor achieves.

We’ve all heard the old adage about reserving judgement until we’ve walked a mile in a man’s shoes, but that always assumes a lack of empathy and the need for a radical thought experiment just to imagine outside the self. In reality, as Mike James reminds us, we are always wearing each others shoes, although sometimes we lack the insight to see them, or we keep our steps hidden. Just as the surrealists were not about random weird imagery, but about making the real experience of our psyches visible, so too does Mike James make the multiplicity of self and the malleability of the body legible in his prose poems.

Like in his previous collections, My Favorite Houseguest and First-Hand Accounts from Made Up Places, James populates some of his book with portraits of celebrities. Yet, these portraits are never about the celebrity him or herself so much as they are about the process of painting them and seeing the pigment of self in each brushstroke. In “The Films of Burt Reynolds” he begins with “not the films, but the books about the films…Someone loved Burt enough to watch each, then write descriptively.” While James writes about someone writing about Burt, he’s also writing about himself, and how his “mother said she’d marry him if he’d just stop by.” For men, Burt’s mustachioed masculinity is something we’re supposed to identify through as he “walked down the carpet with Dinah, Lauren, Sally and Loni.” Yet, when he is written about, he becomes an object of grammar. Straight, gay, or in between, all men must ask, do we want to be Burt, do we want Burt, do we want to be wanted by Burt, or is it all of the above? Continue reading

“In the Mental Architecture of the Deceased” By Chase Dimock

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In the Mental Architecture of the Deceased

By Chase Dimock

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Five years ago, my father, grandfather, and I remodeled the bathroom in our family cabin. This was no luxury ski chalet or time share condo masquerading as a cabin. My great-grandfather built it himself in the 30s with the help of his five daughters and the boy scout troop he lead. Great-grandpa was not a master carpenter or plumber, so as we tore away the rotting drywall and jackhammered the cracked cement floor, we discovered an unexpected and unconventional layout of pipes. It was a map of kludges, improvisations, and applications of sheer brute force.

The more Dad and Grandpa studied how the pipes were fashioned and connected, the more it became clear that the success of the remodeling job became dependent on interpreting Great-Grandpa’s plumbing choices, and then predicting where the pipes would take us. They had to think like Great-Grandpa, and in the process, his cognition and imagination became reanimated. The pipes were a network of thought like the neural pathway of synapses in his mind. Debates between Dad and Grandpa over the next step in the project evolved into nostalgic appreciations of Great-Grandpa’s resourcefulness. They were once again enveloped in the creative vision of a man who built his own carnival rides and managed to keep a citrus grove thriving during the severe rationing of WWII.

If you clicked over here from Facebook or Twitter, you are probably wondering why I am beginning a remembrance of Okla Elliott with an anecdote about plumbing. My Great-Grandpa died well before I was born, so the experience of a man’s resurrection through exploring his handiwork was only secondhand. I could see it in Dad’s and Grandpa’s faces, but I could not feel it directly. In August 2017, when I took over As It Ought To Be following Okla’s untimely passing, I finally experienced this phenomena first hand.

As the new Managing Editor, I have been combing through nearly a decade of articles on As It Ought To Be. This has meant figuring out formatting, style, and organization as Okla had established them, and charting how he evolved in these ways. I’ve read through all of the posts Okla authored from the beginning of the site to his final article about Lent and its political and social possibilities posted just weeks before he unexpectedly passed. Just as the plumbing revived the spirit of Great-Grandpa for my father and grandfather, so too has editing and organizing As It Ought To Be kept Okla’s voice as a writer and thinker perpetually resonant in my mind.

Although I have known Okla since right around the founding of As It Ought To Be, one tends to forget how people were when you first knew them. You don’t always remember them as they ended either. Rather, you remember people for their established role in your life and you preserve them in that stance. You build a home for them in the structure of your existence, and when they die, that’s where they stay, beautifully enshrined in your memory as a witness and an ally. This would be the Okla of 2010-2014, when we were grad students drinking Bushmills, debating Sartre, and geeking out over the genius of Professor Cary Nelson. Like so many published here on As It Ought To Be and in many of his other creative endeavors, he encouraged me to expand my mind, amplify my voice, and apply my sense of reason and empathy toward engaging with the world’s social issues and political problems.

Reviewing Okla’s writings and editorial work has reacquainted me with the younger, wildly ambitious Okla, and introduced me to the older, more circumspect Okla with whom I wish I had spent more time after I graduated and bounced around the country. As I edit the site, I find myself more and more thinking like Okla, most notably in the joy I take in providing a spotlight for the work of my talented friends. And yes, like my Great-Grandfather’s patchwork of pipes, Okla left plenty of ingenious kludges and creative engineerings for me to smooth out as I have begun to archive the site. I’m slowly putting together more organized and navigable collections of past articles while considering how to preserve his vision through necessary remodelings and additions for As It Ought To Be’s progress into the future. This year, that meant moving to the new As It Ought To Be Magazine site, primarily because his password for renewing the domain registration passed with him.

Throughout this process, one nagging worry has loomed over me; memory is malleable. Every time we remember something, we change it. We access it differently, and then add that moment of access to the memory. It’s as if every time you play a tape, the ambient noise of the room in which you played it is added to the song. I worry that the act of remembering distances us from the original affect of its experience to the point where we can no longer access it directly. Men and moments become replaced by their mythologies, and while this is how we carry them into the future, a part of me wants to reach back and relive moments that have not been codified into a monument.

I challenge myself to remember without memorializing, knowing this is nearly impossible. What can I remember that is authentic to the moment in which it happened, and not just a generalized narrative my memory has woven out of collected experiences? I remember Korean tacos, extremely cold walks around the library late at night, how he liked living in on-campus housing even though the apartments looked like Cold War era bomb shelters inside. I remember when he went with me to a memorial for teenage LGBT victims of suicide and I cried uncontrollably.

I remember that over one Summer, he lost a considerable amount of weight, and when I returned that Fall, he seemed so much smaller than I remembered him. But after a few minutes of talking, his stature immediately inflated back to feeling ten feet tall. I guarantee that the majority of Okla’s friends misremember how tall he actually was because his personality enveloped every room he entered.

Although I am fortunate to have not lost many people close to me, I have learned that after someone dies as a biological organism, there are several other layers of their being that die at different intervals. Obviously the most painful is the loss of their presence. The second most dreaded is the moment when nothing new will come from them. If you can keep uncovering new things about them posthumously, one of the most beautiful parts of their life remains operational. That layer remains alive. In the memoir Maus, Art Spiegelman plunges into deep despair when he learns his father had burned his deceased mother’s diaries. The idea of reading new words and experiencing new ideas from his mother promised to bring her back to life, and their burning further cemented the painful reality of her passing. The fact that artists like Prince die with huge catalogs of unreleased material eases the grief of their passing.

Managing As It Ought To Be has kept Okla very much alive for me in this sense because I am constantly coming across something he had crafted that I had not seen before. It’s been oddly Proustian at times. I’ll come across something Okla drafted or edited, and a certain phrase will suddenly trigger a memory, reminding me of a time we discussed this topic, or just a momentary visualization of the expression on his face that I know he had as he wrote it.

Reposting his article on Lent a few weeks ago reminded me of the arguments we used to have over religion. In grad school, he was an ardent atheist. He could not believe that I could maintain my faith given how terribly the church has treated some minority populations such as LGBT people. This was a completely valid argument. He knew that this was the most contradictory and fragile element of my professed beliefs, and like any philosopher challenging what seemed unreasonable, he aimed directly for it. And yet, I knew he was not trying to disable me. Rather, he was sparring with me. If I was going to stand on this principle, it needed to be swifter and more resilient. After many of our debates, my ideas came home bloodied and bruised, and sore in the morning, but became far stronger in the long run.

In the final years of his life, Okla became receptive to the teachings of the church. Inspired by the new pope, he began writing about theology and social justice. I regret that I never had the chance to revisit this topic with him. What did he read or hear that spoke to him? I hope someday I’ll get the opportunity to read his unfinished writings and begin round two of our conversation.

 

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, Hot Metal Bridge, Saw Palm, San Pedro River Review, and Trailer Park Quarterly. For more of his work, check out ChaseDimock.com.

 

More by Chase Dimock: 

Letting the Meat Rest: A Conversation With Poet John Dorsey 

Leadwood: A Conversation With Poet Daniel Crocker

First-Hand Accounts From Made-Up Places: An Interview With Poet Mike James