A Tactile Encounter: A Review of Slabs by Brittany Billmeyer-Finn

Slabs Timeless Infinite Light Brittany Billmeyer-Finn

The book fits in your hand: it can go inside the back pocket of your jeans. It is truly portable, and the tactile encounter of the book, I believe, conditions the reading experience. There is that feeling of manageability, contrary to its title, Slabs, that is being invoked by poet Brittany Billmeyer-Finn‘s second collection, released in 2016 from Timeless, Infinite Light.

The book is arranged in two parts. The language is fragmentary—as a reader, it seems as though I am eavesdropping. The conversation has been going on long before the reader opened the book, and now we are entering in and out of the narrative at any given point. What is beginning? What is ending? How do I situate and locate myself in relationship to the text?

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“United, In Spite of Everything:” A Review of Julia Alekseyeva’s Soviet Daughter

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Julia Alekseyeva’s Soviet Daughter is an intergenerational memoir, a graphic novel that weaves the history of Khinya “Lola” Ignatovskaya, Alekseyeva’s great-grandmother from Soviet Russia, with Alekseyeva’s own story of coming-of-age in America. Lola—a fierce, independent, intelligent, and rebellious woman—draws us right in from the very beginning. Although violence, tragedy, and loss color Lola’s life, her headstrong and resilient spirit blazes through these hardships, giving us a heartfelt—but also empowering—narrative. Alekseyeva herself is also an indomitable spirit—Soviet Daughter demonstrates how female badassery can define and even steer family history and legacy, giving us a Marxist feminist analysis of war, labor, and domesticity.

In addition to witnessing the Russian Revolution during her younger years, Lola also gives a female perspective of World War II. Soviet Daughter intervenes into the genre of the androcentric war narrative, illustrating that the positionality of the male solider/comrade is not the only valuable perspective surrounding these events. Lola herself challenges the Marxist distinctions between the “productive” and “reproductive” labor spheres. Although Lola initially begins working in the household as a child and fulfills the feminized role of a reproductive laborer, growing up, she enters the productive workforce—becoming a factory worker and typist—all while still sustaining and supporting her family in the home. Lola shows how these labor spheres are not really separate and that powerful women throughout history have traversed these dichotomous theoretical frames. Lola—and countless other women during war—are not merely “left behind” by their husbands and fathers, but perform key productive and reproductive labor that maintains not only their households, but the very fabrics of the nation-state. Continue reading

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How the 13 Reasons Why Response is Reshaping the Conversation about Trigger Warnings

13 Reasons Why trigger warnings PTSD
On May 1
st, Netflix issued a statement explaining that they will be adding a trigger warning to their hit series 13 Reasons Why, acknowledging the danger of exposing audiences to “graphic content” such as suicide and sexual assault. This decision was in part a result of pressure from mental health advocates, school administrators, and psychologists who fear that the show’s depictions of suicide could result in the contagion effect, in which publicizing suicide increases suicide attempts. Although suicide and sexual assault trigger warnings are guarding against vastly different reactions, as one attempts to prevent a person from taking their life and the other alerts the viewer to potential PTSD reactions, putting them in the same disclaimer is powerful.  By putting suicide ideation trigger warnings beside sexual assault trigger warnings, Netflix is taking the  PTSD responses of assault survivors seriously, and publically acknowledging that these can have serious physical repercussions.

In a society that constantly delegitimizes the magnitude of sexual assault trauma, seeing a major force in TV voice concern for sexual assault victims is a step to a public recognition of sexual assault as a devastating crime.  Just as suicide ideation is dangerous, being unexpectedly triggered is not just emotionally upsetting; it’s physically harmful.  Teenagers are the target audience for the show, which arguably makes the call for trigger warnings more pressing. For young people who are susceptible to self-harm, media that triggers suicide ideation could pose a real threat.  This is the main reason why Netflix received so much pressure to add trigger warnings to 13 Reasons Why, while much of their triggering content targeted at adults remains trigger warning-free. Although much of Netflix’s content still lacks trigger warnings, placing a warning on 13 Reasons Why is a step in the right direction, as it sets an example for adult television and teaches a new generation to acknowledge that sexual assault has real repercussions.

This conversation is far cry from the adamant rejection of trigger warnings of just a year ago, and marks an important cultural shift. Fox’s Greg Gutfeld’s 2016 article “The Ultimate ‘Safe Space’ is a Coffin,” for example, called calls trigger warnings on college campuses “psychological bubble wrap” and safe spaces “ball pits for babies.” This rhetoric was not just sequestered to right-wing media, as academic institutions classified trigger warnings as the unnecessary coddling of young adults, from American University officially discouraging them to the University of Chicago banning them completely. “We do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings,’” University of Chicago’s Dean of Students John Ellison told the class of 2020 in their admissions letter. “We do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”  Here, Ellison is equating trigger warnings with censorship. Safe spaces, to Ellison, are places to retreat and hide from ideas, as opposed to places to find literal bodily security. Continue reading

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Two Books About Beauty: Khadijah Queen’s I’m So Fine and Sarah Jean Grimm’s Soft Focus

Khadijah Queen and Sarah Jean Grimm

“A very flat-chested woman is very hard to be a ten.” As we all know by now, the President of the United States said those words on the Howard Stern Show in the nineties. I still can’t get past that. I’m not sure if it’s because our president, like most middle school boys, believes in a rating system where women are appraised based on their physical traits, or if it’s because, as a flat-chested woman, I’m bummed I’m not a “ten.” I know that’s a sick thing to think, but of course being feminist doesn’t mean one is entirely free from the intense ideological beauty standards of our society. I think this is what it’s like to be an intelligent, feminist woman today: you can recognize the bullshit, you can feel angry, and you can also want to be recognized within that admittedly-bullshit system as a desirable object. I’m So Fine: A List of Famous Men & What I Had On by Khadijah Queen and Soft Focus by Sarah Jean Grimm are two brilliant new poetry books that simultaneously celebrate and eviscerate the complicated landscape of American womanhood. While both books explore the traditional trappings of femininity—makeup, clothing, hairstyles—along with our newer gendered societal norms—selfies, Instagram, clickbait, celebrity culture—on a deeper level, Khadijah Queen and Sarah Jean Grimm each peel back the layers of multiple selves, masks, and metaphorical armor most women wear every day in order to simply survive.

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How Girls See Girls: A Closer Look at Pretty Little Liars Before Its Final Season

Pretty Little Liars feminist
There’s a lot of gossip but a dearth of good scholarship about Pretty Little Liars, or, familiarly, PLL. Why is this? It’s true, PLL is dumb. The show—the final ten episodes of which begin airing next week on April 18th—revolves around four or five girls, each a different shade of Disney princess, each from improbably wealthy families. The drama begins when queen bee Alison goes missing; a year after her funeral, her friends start receiving texts that threaten to expose them as liars, lesbians, precocious Lolita types and/or former fat kids. Occasionally they get group texts, like this one: “I’m still here bitches, and I know everything. -A”

Spoiler alert: this show gets so fucked up, I don’t know how it was ever on television, let alone ABC Family. A, the anonymous author of these texts, will eventually break into their Chinese takeaway, fill it with dirt and worms, then text: “This is what live bait looks like.” In a separate episode, A will extract the fortunes from their fortune cookies and replace it with a note of their own: “Liars and tigers and bitches, oh my!” A will sneak into their cafeteria and tamper with their Alphabits, replacing all 25 other letters with A. (This episode is called “Touched by an A-ngel.”) A will sabotage a memorial fashion show with heavy metal guitar and flame graphics, screaming over the PA: “THE BITCH IS DEAD!” In their final coup, A will build a dollhouse in the middle of nowhere, with fascimile replicas of the girls’ rooms, then submit them to psychological battery. One will wake up covered in blood; another will get her hair cut short. A is that unpredictable.

Who is A? It doesn’t matter. Like Twin Peaks, Pretty Little Liars is most enjoyable when it meanders, when the lead character gets lost in the woods or stuck in a strangers’ cabin. The comparisons end there. Twin Peaks was sexy and cool; Pretty Little Liars is not. It’s a flaming circus tent of tween vulgarity, a Sweet Sixteen cake that’s pink, black, and mostly fondant. Adam Lambert makes a cameo as himself. Every week is either Halloween or homecoming, and every dance is a masquerade ball. Actually, every day is a masquerade: no one needs an occasion to wear fascinators in earnest or corsets as outerwear. If you find the Dresden Dolls cringe worthy, you’ll find Pretty Little Liars disgusting. Trust me, I do. Continue reading

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On Homeland‘s Carrie Mathison, Mental Illness, & the “Ugly Cry”

Carrie Mathison Homeland feminist mental illness

It was in my couples’ counselor’s office, after a breakup, where I first realized I identified with Carrie on Homeland. The therapist was smart, Buddhist, queer, and clearly of the opinion we should have broken up much earlier. Even though he had told us both he would only see us as a couple and not alone (because we fought over him) he had agreed to see me solo once to debrief.  We wound up talking about Homeland.

Carrie Mathison is not a beloved character. The trolls hate her, especially what they refer to as her “ugly cry.” When Carrie cries, it is a mix of anguish and outrage; she does not get doe-eyed, while a tear gently rolls down her cheek.  Her face twists; her lips quiver; her voice cracks… she embodies what the artist Louise Bourgeois once said about her emotions, “they are disproportionate to my size.”  Carrie is played by Claire Danes, formerly of My So Called Life. Her character on Homeland is a CIA agent, a single mother, and bipolar.  What I love about the portrayal of mental illness on this show is that it does not separate her gifts from her demons; it does not lock a part of her in a box and label it crazy. While it causes pain to her and those she loves, it is Carrie’s mania that sometimes allows her to find the truth.

I’m not a spy but I might have the skillset—a combination of passion, paranoia, and a propensity for relentless obsession. When I want to find something out, I usually do. Driven by both heart and humiliation, I can usually tell you what all my significant exes are up to, no matter how many ways they block me. These days, I mostly temper these impulses in my personal life, but reading the news can feel like an invitation to uncover the secrets of a Russian spy movie. I have to make myself turn it off and watch something soothing before sleep. Homeland decidedly does not fit this bill, but, like Carrie, I don’t always do what’s good for me. This was driven home recently, by season 6, episode 7, when Carrie’s young daughter is taken away by Child Services because she is seen as being in imminent danger. This is, of course, a triggering fear for any parent, but for me, it felt disproportionately personal. Like Carrie, I’m also a single mom (although I’m lucky to have a great co-parent). Like Carrie, I also reside in Brooklyn.  Also like Carrie, I have been diagnosed with bipolar illness.  Continue reading

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Reversible Available Now!

Weird Sister founder and editor-in-chief Marisa Crawford’s new poetry collection Reversible is now available from Switchback Books!

Marisa Crawford Reversible

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What people are saying about Reversible:

“Be prepared to be washed in nostalgia when you crack open Marisa Crawford’s new collection Reversible. Crawford’s work mixes pop culture, social commentary, and vivid memory in this this unabashedly feminist collection.” — Bustle 

Reversible is nostalgic, dark, surprising yet warmly familiar. I mourn for the girlhood of this book.” — Morgan Parker

“Crawford’s poems know, better than any I’ve ever read, that fashion is imagery; ditto for friendships and stickers and backyard pools and the things girls do to their bodies in their bedrooms late at night.” — Becca Klaver

Reversible is the glossy mixtape of girl in becoming […]. I can relate to the poems’ ‘you’ or ‘we’ in ways mediated by the ‘trinity’ of race, class, & gender—as the poems here certainly locate themselves within—or in the other similarly dangerous trinity of: are you on your period, what’s your rising sign, & who’s your favorite Spice Girl.” — Jennifer Tamayo  Continue reading

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Gesturing Towards Intimacy: An Interview with Janice Lee


The Sky Isn't Blue Janice Lee

The first time I met Janice Lee was at an off-site AWP reading in Seattle. She was wearing a black leather jacket and looked cool and tough as fuck, and was there to read from the chapbook she co-wrote with Will Alexander, The Transparent as Witness (from Solar Luxuriance). Over the years since (and before!) I’ve run into Janice online and IRL many times, all of which attest to her way-of-being-in-the-world: cool and tough as fuck as her leather jacket promised, and also generous, supportive, and constantly working on her own books while also engaging with and helping sustain literature in her community. We talked over email about her book The Sky Isn’t Blue (CCM 2016), colors and textures, and how everything is everything– plus a brand new excerpt from her novel-in-progress, Imagine a Death.

Janice Lee is the author of KEROTAKIS (Dog Horn Press, 2010), Daughter (Jaded Ibis, 2011), Damnation (Penny-Ante Editions, 2013), Reconsolidation (Penny-Ante Editions, 2015), and most recently the essay collection The Sky Isn’t Blue (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2016). She currently lives in Los Angeles and is Editor of the imprint #RECURRENT for Civil Coping Mechanisms, Founder & Executive Editor of Entropy, Assistant Editor at Fanzine, and Co-Editor (w/ Maggie Nelson) of SUBLEVEL, the new online literary magazine based in the CalArts MFA Writing Program. She can be found online at janicel.com.

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Gina Abelkop: I visited the Entropy post in which you first published a draft of “The Salton Sea,” a section in your book The Sky Isn’t Blue, and loved so much that an essay on the poetics of space engaged so closely with sound and image, referencing Django Reinhardt and Wilco, the sound of water in your video from the Salton Sea– it’s a multisensory reading experience on the level of the sensory in addition to language. What was it like moving a text from a home on the internet to a home in a physical book– how did that shift the parameters of the project?

Janice Lee: There were rewrites, additions, deletions. Also thinking about how most of the images were less necessary in the book. I needed to reframe the project. The essays online were more like blog posts, immediate reactions, confessionals. It was a way for me to combat my writer’s block by writing, by articulating what I was feeling, and the immediate space of the internet allowed me to be urgent and honest and open. So for the book, there was a little bit of “cleaning up,” bringing the slightly more raw writing to the page, but I also wanted to preserve a lot of that. So it’s not a completely rewritten, polished book because the original feelings and thoughts, even if flawed, were important to keep intact for me.

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“Healing is Sparse and Concealed:” A Review of Cristy C. Road’s Indestructible

Cover of Cristy C. Road's Indestructible.

Indestructible, via Microcosm Publishing

As a queer brown girl, adolescence was cruel and oftentimes ruthless. But in Cristy C. Road’s Indestructible: Growing Up Queer, Cuban, and Punk in Miami, queer brown adolescence is rebellion, self-discovery, and self-determination. Indestructible is an illustrated novel exploring the intersections of race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality within the feminist punk rock scene of 1990s Miami. For Road, punk subculture was more than loud music and DIY fashion. It provided avenues for subverting misogyny and normativity, in reconstituting female pleasure and sexuality, and in navigating the cultural barriers and discrepancies between America and Cuba. Set in a typerwriter-esque font and Xerox-style printing that mirrors zine-making, Indestructible redefines the growing-up narrative, giving it a new form, a dissonant voice, and a queer aberrant body.

The memoir begins with Road expanding the interpretation of coming-of-age, stating, “[T]he enticement of adolescence [goes] beyond any new pubes and first kisses” (11). For Road, adolescence was first orgasms, defying white and Cuban beauty standards, and negotiating the collisions between girl/womanhood and queerness. Road poses the questions I was too afraid to ask as an adolescent: “‘Why do women compete?’ ‘Why do men abuse power?’ ‘Why doesn’t anyone think it’s normal that I masturbate?’ ‘Why does the way I pee, the way I fuck, or the way my chest looks dictate the language that’s acceptable for me to use?’” (28). These questions are not only explored and answered through Road’s various musings and conversations, but the many one-page and two-page black-and-white spreads illustrate the experimentation, aberration, and resistance of queer punk bodies to normativity and authority. The bold, black lines that curve around brown female bodies and the intricate patterns and textures of clothing aid in transporting the reader into Road’s world of Latinx punk subculture. Art and DIY manifesting in and on punk bodies was essential to the movement, and Road does a stunning job demonstrating this reality through graphic storytelling. Continue reading

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A Love Letter to Single Mothers & Their Daughters — For the Gilmore Girls and the Rest of Us

 

I’ll confess that I was excited to write a piece about the Gilmore Girls reboot. The idea of course came before Trump happened. I was not anticipating the reboot to be a racist, misogynist, body-shaming, ageist, and flat out weird piece of garbage, but I guess it’s fitting, since so is Trump (badum ching). I was ready for it to be a capitalist fetish fest but not like that, not an excruciating series that confirms that Lorelei lost the struggle to save her daughter and herself from bourgeois entitled nonsense. Remember when Lorelei wouldn’t let Emily buy her daughter extra skirts for school because she doesn’t need them? I know this battle was already done with the appearance of Logan, but the reboot—with its sad, bizarre, and uneven writing—confirmed for me that Gilmore Girls is a cautionary tale for women and girls who want to imagine and create their own homes, their own joys. And it is for that reason that I want to write about Gilmore Girls—especially now considering Netflix talk of a possible second revival.

Gilmore Girls came out when I was just out of high school (a shocking fact because I think of it as a backdrop to my high school years). I was working at a chain restaurant where I had to sing about sombreros while I attended community college full-time. I was driven by getting out of my particular small town, driven by the strangely abrupt alert feeling that coming out of family transition and trauma rattled in me, driven by my mother who would drape a blanket over my shoulders as I typed away on an aged computer late into the night, me smelling of “faquitas” (Really it was butter that they’d drop on a skillet so that it’d look sizzling hot, so yes my skin was great then) and coffee. My mom was working like she’s always worked (a lot) and created her own spaces like she always had—waking before the sun and sipping coffee while slowly walking her garden. We were coming off of four years of rebuilding and creating home. We would watch Gilmore Girls between hurried dinner and homework and ironing tomorrow’s clothes and washing dishes and talking about that person at work and wringing out stockings and feeding the dog. Continue reading

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