Category Archives: Reviews

The Strongest Girls in the World: A Review of Wigs

Still image from WIGS

Writer/performer/director/artist/professor, Lindsay Beamish thinks about rooms a lot. Some of her earliest art projects show a fascination with women in abandoned rooms. Ms. Beamish likes to make jokes while alone in her bedroom, and she once locked herself in a motel room in the middle of nowhere Wyoming to write her Master’s thesis, which garnered her the Iron Horse Discovered Voices Award in 2011.

Beamish describes her current project, Wigs as being about “two captured preteen girls locked in a room.” Wigs is a two-woman theatrical piece written, directed and starring Lindsay Beamish and Amanda Vitiello, and is currently showing at the New York International Fringe Festival. The origins of Wigs began with Beamish and Vitiello, in an empty room. According to the Wigs Artist’s Note, with “the impetus of challenging ourselves to work in ways that we hadn’t before; ways that were uncomfortably outside of our typical modes of creating original theater.” Rehearsal for Wigs began with Beamish shouting commands at Vitiello who only brought with her to that initial rehearsal space, The Flo Rida featuring Sia song, “Wild Ones” which is prominently featured in the final piece.

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Cure for the End of Summer Blues: A Review of Mall Brat

Mall Brat Laura Marie Marciano
I met Laura Marie Marciano at a reading in an eminently Instagrammable and chic bookshop in Chicago. My partner noticed how taken I was with her work, and encouraged me to introduce myself. Marciano’s work has a clarity of voice and vision to which we can all aspire to.

She read from her book, Mall Brat (Civil Coping Mechanisms Press, 2016), a collection of poems defined by its unflinching approach to sexuality and memory. Mall Brat’s forward (framed as “From the author at fifteen”) sets up the book brilliantly with details of a summer romance between the speaker at fifteen and a man six years her senior. The facts are excruciating to a reader aware of the power imbalance, begging for someone—anyone—to step in and save this child. Instead, Marciano forces the reader to inhabit the speaker’s thought process at that age, and to remind us that our own was equally short-sighted and precarious:

“I was the type of girl who might be featured in some virgin porn, just a little bit plump, with a second day tan, and extreme insecurity—but, also, smart, because I had read a lot and I had an older brother.”

As I read these poems, I find myself returning to a line from Dorothy Allison’s book of essays, Skin: “I can write about years in a paragraph, but the years took years to pass.” There is often a human desire, and a tendency in some poetry, to simplify the past and obscure it with language—to decide on a narrative that is easy to repeat with a few totemic details for emphasis.  Marciano refuses a smooth rendition of the past and honors those years, reaching into their layers and maintaining eye contact “as i sink my hand deeper/into the barrel of stones.”
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FROM THE STACKS: Oriental Girls Desire Romance by Catherine Liu

From the Stacks is a new series on Weird Sister wherein we pull a book—old, new, or anything in between—from our bookshelves, and write something about it.

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Oriental Girls Desire Romance by Catherine Liu #feministshelfie

Oriental Girls Desire Romance by Catherine Liu was first published in 1998, then re-issued in 2012 by Kaya Press, which specializes in Asian Pacific Diasporas. This book fell into my lap at just the right time; my best friend, who worked with Liu at UC Irvine, mailed it to me. (Isn’t it always the surprise-gift books that seem so magical, so resonant?) Catherine Liu is a professor of Film and Media Studies at UC Irvine, and she’s published a number of books of theory. I haven’t read her theory, but when I looked into her work a bit more, I found that this book didn’t receive the rave reviews I would have imagined. It seems to have been a little before its time, though I could see Oriental Girls Desire Romance fitting right in as an Emily Books pick today. The novel is poetic and not very plot-driven, with long, meandering prose detailing the thoughts of a unnamed young woman in New York City in the 80s. Through flashbacks, we come to understand that she has graduated from an Ivy League school, traveled to China to teach at a university for one semester, and returned to NYC, where she then begins graduate school in French and takes a lot of classes on theory. She dates men—a series of short, difficult relationships—and has one relationship with a woman during her last year of undergrad; what’s interesting is how little Liu dwells on this lesbian relationship. While the protagonist often interrogates her identity as a woman and as a Chinese-American, she does not contemplate the question of her sexuality. It seems she just momentarily fell in love with a woman, had some great sex, and then had her heart ripped out when she realizes it’s over. I really appreciated this nonchalance toward what is, essentially, a bisexual character, or what we could call, in today’s terms, a queer novel.

Liu’s protagonist deals with questions of identity, often trying to figure out “how to be a woman.” Recalling a childhood memory of playing chess with her brother, the memory quickly melds into an astute metaphoric observation:

“I said again that I hated the game and he said I was stupid. He told me I was just like a girl.

I did feel stupid. I felt just like a girl, though I had tried so hard not to be stupid, not to be like a girl.

I once overhead two students who looked like football players talking in the streets of our college town. One of them said to his friend, so she says to me, just like a girl she says, oh come on, let me suck your dick. Can you believe that?

I walked around the months saying, thinking, come on, oh come on, let me suck your dick. I was trying so hard not to be just like a girl, but it wasn’t working. Being a girl seemed to be about being tricked into playing games you couldn’t win and then being called stupid for it. Being a girl meant that you could be misrepresented and misquoted by a man in order to enhance his reputation. I was determined to find a way of being a girl that would get everyone back for such gross injustice. […]

Being a girl was beginning to feel more and more dangerous.” (22-23)

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Romance Novel Bibliotherapy

Romance Novels

Where can we turn when the world feels too painful to bear? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. For me, the answer is usually words: poetry, novels, interviews, quotations—all of language seems to have a healing power. Regarding Brexit, and its attendant xenophobia and racism, Joanna Walsh, fiction editor at 3:am Magazine, invited “publishers, writers, translators—people fighting, in their work, to keep our cultural borders open—to contribute a single sentence in reaction to what’s happening right now,” resulting in a powerful litany of “[a]nger, despair, protest, sorrow, love.” Bibliotherapy, the act of therapeutic reading, has a long history; Ceridwen Dovey’s New Yorker piece from 2015 titled “Can Reading Make You Happier?” finds that “Ancient Greeks […] inscribed above the entrance to a library in Thebes that this was a ‘healing place for the soul.’”

I’m traveling for the summer in South America. (Does travel make us feel better? Experiencing the world? Being in nature? I guess so, yes. But still: books.) I took one book with me—Elena Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter—and it was stolen in LAX before my first flight. So I’ve switched to Kindle and Emily Books. As an experiment, I decided to open myself up to the highs and lows of the romance genre: If love heals, then I thought I’d try out, as they say, “trashy” romance novels, or “beach reads.” I suppose the only difference I’ve discovered between the “high art” of literary novels and the “lower art” of romance novels is twofold: 1) the self-publishing writers of the world need editors, badly, and 2) saccharine hope and happiness of “light” literature may be easy to generate and fluffy—but, as sentiments, they are still important, and even necessary.

I’m left wondering why we literary or intellectually-minded readers put down the whole genre of the romance novel when all it is, really, is another attempt to feel okay in the world.

I’ve read four romance-focused books in about as many days. It’s a way of hiding, of healing. Sometimes, I think it may be working. Here they are:

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Talking with Cheena Marie Lo About A Series of Un/Natural/Disasters

A Series of Un/Natural/Disasters (Commune Editions, 2016) by Cheena Marie Lo is a book of poetry that challenges what “poetry” can be. This text “[attends] to the sorts of mutual aid and possibility that appear in moments of state failure. As such it maps long and complicated equations, moving from Katrina to the prisoners at Riker’s Island as they await Sandy. It understands disaster as a collective system, the state as precarious, and community as necessary” (Commune Editions, 2016). While Lo’s original preoccupation concerned headlines of the past, in light of recent events in Orlando, I feel like this text, unfortunately, continues to be relevant today.

so what about the instinct to survive.

so what about birds and burying beetles.

so what about support and what about struggle.

so what about ants and bees and termites.

so what about the field upon which tender feelings develop
even amidst otherwise most cruel animals.

so what about migration. breeding. autumn.

so what about the numberless lakes of the russian and siberian steppes
and what about aquatic birds, all living in perfect peace—

Geraldine KimMany sections in A Series of Un/Natural/Disasters begin with some sort of carrier word or phrase that is repeated throughout that same section (e.g., “Because Another Tropical Storm is Looming,” with the word “because” or “Poor Marks for His Handling of Federal Response” with the word “poor”). Can you talk a bit about the function of this repetition in regards to the overall project/subject matter?

Cheena Marie Lo: Repetition is something that I use a lot in my writing because it reflects my thought process when I’m trying to figure something out. I have a tendency to relentlessly circle around things in my head. Some of these “carrier” words or phrases were part of the procedures I used when writing this– I lifted instances of “because” or “poor” or other “carriers” in the texts that I was working with. Reducing the materials to these words and phrases that surrounded them illuminated patterns and narratives in the source material. My intention with the repetition was to build and expand these narratives out.

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Sass and Sincerity: Arielle Greenberg’s Locally Made Panties

Arielle Greenberg's Locally Made Panties

Vintage photograph c. 1975 from the collection of James Mullineaux, “Darkroomist,” courtesy of Goldline Press.

Not too long ago my friend Kiki and I were sharing an impressive order of fries and hashing out the long-held divide among feminists about the frivolity vs. importance of fashion in general, and personal style specifically. Always an expert with the killer one-liner, Kiki managed to skewer the notion of fashion as frivolity with, “First humans clothed themselves, then they started drawing on cave walls.” Meaning that “fashion” is in fact so integral to our sense of self, of personhood, it preceded all other forms of expression short of, possibly, language.

Sure, to call the clothing that enabled early humans to migrate out of Africa 170,000 years ago “self expression” might be a stretch, especially since we wouldn’t evolve the high order thinking skills that led to “art” for another 130,000 years, but still. Let’s just say our ancestors married form and function.

Either way, in the intervening centuries fashion has evolved as a form of language in and of itself–an aspect of personal visual culture that can be “read” with all the subtext, narrative arcs, and suspense of a good book. The stories of our “selves”–our bodies, our fears, our aspirations, our successes, our interests–are the stories we tell with our clothes. Continue reading

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Feminist Summer Reading List (or, Books I Wish High Schools Would Assign For Summer)

Action A Book About Sex - Feminist Reading List

I recently taught high school for two years at a private school in the South, and for two summers in a row I witnessed the school’s Summer Reading List: ten or eleven books total, from which the students could select one book to read over the summer and then discuss in a small group on their first day back to school in August. Both years, the list of books was predominately male-authored, with one or two books written by—or about—women.

Something about this really pisses me off. I’m going to assume that the high school at which I taught was not unique, and that the pattern is to teach/assign/read books by male authors in classrooms (and summer breaks) across the country. The longer we assume that “male” equals ”universal” and “female” equals ”specific,” the worse off our society will be. It would be beneficial for teenage boys to have to read a book by and about girls. It would be beneficial for teenage girls to see that their school values their experiences as valid, interesting, and important.

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On The Meshes: An Interview with Brittany Billmeyer-Finn

The following is an interview I did with Brittany Billmeyer-Finn, an Oakland-based poet whose recent book of poetry the meshes (Black Radish, 2016) features a complex polyvocal/temporal interpretation/dialogue of and against Maya Deren‘s filmography.

the meshes cover

 

Geraldine Kim: When I was reading the meshes, I noticed multiple layers of gazing or “looking” throughout the text—the gaze of the filmmaker, of the author writing about the filmmaker’s work, etc. “looking resists. looking revises. looking interrogates. looking invents, to be stared at. looking at one another. looking back” (p.31) and “having performed seeing. seeing double. seeing doubles. having performed spectatorship. I describe the lens. the film itself. the both-ness. opposition of becoming. soft focus. caught the light. depth of surfaces. multiplications as limiting” (p. 54). Could you talk a bit more about these layers?

Brittany Billmeyer-Finn: Spectatorship is innate to the process of writing this book. An important part of the process is watching films. It also becomes a source of contention and critique that develops in the four sections of the book; “the poems,” “the essay,” “the play,” and “the annotated bibliography.” Continue reading

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We Were (Sobbing? No, Not Yet): On Jennifer L. Knox’s Days of Shame & Failure

It’s easy to read a book by Jennifer L. Knox and imagine all the characters between the front and back covers living in the same world, if not in the same town. This feeling is strongest in Days of Shame & Failure (Bloof Books, forthcoming 2015), Knox’s fourth and maybe most heartbreaking book to date. The characters Knox illuminates here (Marilyn in “Life’s Work,” Tommy in “A Fairy Tale,” unnamed I’s) are all bound together by various forms of shame and/or failure. And by extension, Knox, with her characteristic use of dark humor, holds a mirror up to us as readers. Some of these poems are gut-bustingly funny, some are sniffle-worthy, but most are even better: a combination of both. Knox isn’t so much keeping her finger on the pulse of life in America as she is speaking from it: that is to say, through saying a lot, trying to figure it out along with the rest of us (whatever “it” is).

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We Were There: Wax Idols and Them Are Us Too Live @ BOTH in San Francisco

Photo credit: Holly Coley

Photo credit: Holly Coley

I may be having a musical mid-life crisis. My efforts at personal growth and introspection have landed me in front of a funhouse mirror and suddenly so many things that I have loved, or thought I loved, possibly still do love, are bugging the shit out of me. “Please!” I whined the other day, “I never want to hear another band that thinks they sound like the New York Dolls. Make it stop.” I have a serviceable collection of powerpop 45s. Hell,  in 2004 I even snuck backstage to take a photo with the Romantics in my matching haircut and skinny tie.  A few months ago, I was weeding out dead weight from my record collection and jettisoned a batch of albums featuring 30-year-old men in pink overalls crooning about their underage conquests. But then, last Sunday, I was visited by my teenage self and received a jolt of inspiration.

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