in spring of 2014 you hear Alice Notley read for the first time in your life. because it’s spring, you wear the wrong things and end up with a pile of cardigans and scarves piled at your feet and tucked into your armpits. you drink champagne because you were, at the time, in a depression. hours earlier, the day of the reading, you had seen Alice in front of a Popeye’s in Bed-Stuy. you couldn’t be sure but you were sure; it was her. you felt it, and it was a strange thing to feel. the day after the Notley reading, you find a brick wall near your apartment and write out in capital mint-colored letters the only thing you remember from her reading: “I DON’T HAVE A PLAN/ I HAVE A VOICE.” you don’t know why you do it but you do it. this feels important.
a few weeks before the Alice Notley sighting, you go to a colleague’s poetry reading at Unnameable Books. afterward they are going to the Copula reading at Wendy’s Subway—they ask if you want to join. you want to and don’t want to—something feels off—and ultimately walk home sulking. you don’t know how to make friends and this has become a problem. you feel shy. or are you distrustful? people make you nervous and exhausted. especially poetry people—the possibility for false intimacy is high. to ease your anxiety, you tell yourself you would have just gotten drunk at Copula and would be hungover the next day. you know what that space is like. later in the night, you get a few texts telling you to come to Copula but you don’t. the moon is full inside you like a knowing thing.
the next morning your friend Cori Copp writes on facebook that her friend was drugged at the Copula reading and did anyone have any information. you feel sick. you feel relief. you feel sick. too many months later, it comes to pass that at least three women were drugged. you feel sick for months.
that same spring, The Claudius App covertly self-publishes a piece by a male writer you had once considered a friend. the piece lampoons many in the poetry community, including some poets published on the same site. the piece is misogynist in a way that confuses you. you also notice the piece is strangely bereft of poets of color. as if poets of color are not worthy of being called out or lampooned. they are not even on the register. or, is this the point, perhaps? this piece scares you. what is this “community” you are living in?
on another coast that summer, you see something violent at a poetry reading afterparty. a man friend purposefully shoves himself onto a woman friend. you see it and, because you are very sober, you really see it. the violence. you tell the male friend this was fucked up. you don’t do it in your most severe voice, and you don’t confront either of them the next day. you tell a friend who wasn’t there. this is as much as you do because you don’t want to feel anything. it’s ugly; you want it swiftly behind you. you don’t want to see it or think about it. you don’t want to sit in the conflict that your friends are capable of violence. you are more comfortable doing nothing. weeks later, when the woman friend calls and asks you what you saw, you tell her the story and, in the telling, the shame rises to the surface. you feel yourself in the moment. you feel her pain. & your complicity. months later, you find out this same poetry party was hosted by a man accused of sexual assault.
on September 8th, you announce on facebook: “A DECISION’S BEEN MADE: if your NYC reading event has more than 2 people in it and all of them are white, i’m not going.” it gets a lot of likes but you basically stop attending most readings unless you are reading.
later that fall, you read this brave piece about rape by Sophia Katz (and this one too) and decide maybe it’s time for you to be a little brave too. there are things you want to share. there are things you know other women want to share in the company of other women. on September 30th you post: “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. cis and trans women poets of NYC, we are holding a community/consciousness-raising meeting at Berl’s [Bookshop] on Oct. 26th—time TBD—to discuss the lack of safety in our poetry community and our actionable next steps. more details to come but please save the date and spread the word.” the accounts of abuse, assault, and harassment you hear over the coming months become commonplace. you feel you’ve been, in some ways, turning a blind-eye.
it’s now winter of 2014: disappointment or outrage are no longer things you feel. sometimes you use the word “down” or “depressed.” at other times, “demoralized”—or simply, “not okay.” you like it when your friends default to asking if you are “not okay” because it’s December, you live in New York and no one is okay. Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Akai Gurley. and the others you can’t name because they weren’t newsworthy enough to make your register. where are the women’s names? where are the black women’s names? you use the word “hellscape” at the start of emails to friends. you feel it.
a month or so ago, over dinner, a friend tells you she and a few other woman-identified friends are strongly considering creating a counter-movement that calls out your activism(s) for being violent and divisive. you have difficult conversations with the friend—you wonder how much discord your friendship can sustain. that same week, a male poet who you admire writes you saying, “I don’t understand your strategy,” regarding an informal boycott you started doing in the fall in response to the unsafe spaces that remained despite so much information coming to light. in a forwarded email, you see the words “reckless” and “patriarchal” as descriptors for Enough is Enough, now the name for the series of meetings you helped coordinated.
it becomes clear to you and to others that you don’t know what you are doing. that you don’t have a plan. you don’t have a plan because you don’t know what you want.
It’s February of 2015—and it’s time for a plan. I can’t afford to rely on my voice only. I don’t live in an Alice Notley poem. HERE’S MY SURVIVAL IN 2015:
- i will embrace not just disagreement but conflict, if necessary.
- i will embrace conflict; when i see something fucked, i will call out its fuckery in a respectably loud voice.
- i will embrace conflict; when i do something fucked and get called out, i will reflect on my fuckery.
- i will support efforts following the trajectory of articulated vitriol and pain without exception. this is a good place to start: THE MONGREL COALITION AGAINST GRINGPO
- i will have challenging conversations i need to have with my family and friends; i love them.
- i will support the ‘necessary spaces’ (often replete with strategic negativity, conflict, discord) that push these conversations forward—even when they make me uncomfortable because this is not always about me and my feelings.
- i will be okay pausing friendships whose politics are not in line with this necessary, public rage that I’ve, in the past, worked to delicately negotiate.
- i will be okay working through problematic friendships, when i need to.
- i will be a better collaborator on efforts and extend beyond my immediate networks; i need to make new friends.
- i will “reach toward ancestry to betray whiteness” (thank you Lucas de Lima for this & so much more).
- i will no longer perform what Kameelah Janan Rasheed calls “emotional acrobatics” or unstrategic “affective labor.” I can’t do your work for you.
- i will, when invited to read, engage in dialogue with curators about what they want from the reading.
- i will organize counter-readings when I can’t find readings to attend.
- i will read more carefully and respond to everything i read (thank you Natalie Eilbert for this idea).
- i will ask that you be transparent with yourself about your politics; you need a plan.
- i will continue to being politically aggressive with my poetry and performance; this is part of my plan.
- i will be a witch. i will follow my intuition, what i feel to be right for me. (thank you Becca Klaver for this).
- i will be excessive, obnoxious, and annoying about my own survival.
- i will, in other words, not shut up even when i’m sick of my own voice.
- i will continue with my activism efforts when a group is twenty or when a group is three.
- i will be unreasonable. i will be so fucking unreasonable.