Naropa Writing pt. 3

This is the third and final part of a three-part essay composed at Naropa’s Summer Writing Program in 2016 by Avren Keating, OmniVerse staff writer. Part one is available here; part two is available here.


July 7th, 2016

Found out first thing in the morning that another innocent black man was shot, Philando Castile, in Minnesota. Diamond Reynolds, his girlfriend, and her four-year-old daughter, were in the car with him when he was shot. She livestreamed the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook. The fact that she was able to keep her composure in the face of the cops who had killed Philando, and know that if she didn’t record no one would believe the truth, is so awful and so awe-full.

After discussing TC’s poetry reading from the night before, we discussed the shootings, what we knew and how we felt. We then spent the next half hour journaling and writing by ourselves. I could barely think. The killing. The killing.

I could be safety. I could be safe.

We then did a three-minute walking improv in which the only thing we had to do was get to the other side of the room in three minutes. I tried to do metta for myself and the world, slowly trying to focus on the pressure of my bare foot against the floor, but I didn’t feel anything other than sadness. I have to be in the sadness.

TC told us that we should know the ghosts of our work—“ghosts” as in the forms and the schticks that we always use when composing. TC asked:

“What poem are we going to keep rewriting for the rest of our lives?”

Fear is thick and heavy in my stomach whenever I think about this question. However, TC said we’re going to write what we want to say no matter what, so let us use the words that naturally come forth.

Pauline Oliveros gave a lecture during the afternoon panel period. I had not heard of her before attending, but apparently she is a huge influence on experimental music, especially her album Deep Listening which she composed as part of the Deep Listening Band—I’ve been familiar with the use of resonance due to Jherek Bischoff’s new album Cistern, but didn’t know that his music had its roots in Oliveros’s experimentations.

Oliveros discussed music’s healing potential, how she noticed during the Brexit upheaval that in England more folks were relying on her musical performances during her festival tour. She said one of the things that helps bring people together, to heal community, is to practice what she calls a Tuning Meditation. She had the collective attendance of her lecture also participate in this exercise. One takes a deep inhalation and then hums a quiet and resonating vowel sound. Then one listens to the rest of the group making their collective noise, and one attempts to pick out a note from the other side of the room and then one tries to hum this same note.

I’ve learned at Naropa how healing physical resonance can be and yet how temporary that healing can be. Physical resonance is like a good cup of tea.

Oliveros’s partner, Ione, stepped up the the mic from the audience and talked about dream therapy and how she listens for sounds in dreams. This listening influences the music that the two make together, infuses their music with a sense of mystery and potential.

Ariana Reines gave an Artist’s Talk after Oliveros’s panel, where Reines provided the audience with several brief descriptions of projects that she’d worked on and had us decide which project we would like her to talk about in greater depth. She talked about how she has taken the symbol of pawnbroker’s symbol, the arch with three spheres dangling below it, to be her own symbol and how if you don’t immediately recognize this symbol then good for you, you’re fucking privileged. She feels like the bad math of pawn shop transactions describes her life’s story. She talked about wanting others to understand the pain of what it feels like to circulate through culture.

Reines talked about trying to reckon with what she called “the stupidity” and the bad timelessness of gifs (she specifically cited porn gifs) with the physical time her body absolutely knows. She described her interest in being fully present and simultaneously aware of the influence of the internet reality, with its deadening stream of information. The internet, in her view, is both deadening and electrifying. She wants technology’s circuitry to hurt the way it should.

I honestly don’t really know how I feel about her talk, to be honest. I have to think about it more.

The evening before the poetry reading was of course spent eating vegetables with fake meat, catching up with the internet, and decompressing. I laid on my bed and stared at the ceiling; the morning’s news and the entirety of the week kept me weighted down to the bed. I wanted to sleep for weeks. I wanted to be held by more than the humming of strangers from across a room.

“I bet I could last at least a week without someone to hold me.
Won’t you hold me?”

I wrote most of a sonnet during Clark Coolidge’s didactic reading at the Performing Arts Center. I tried to form my grief and anger about Alton Sterling and Philando Castile through the sonnet, while also recognizing my own implicit presence in their death through my benefitting of white supremacy. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the workshop and working with TC, it’s the practice of trying to recognize the violence in oneself with mindfulness. I just don’t know if the sonnet form can hold that complication.

By the time Ione and Pauline Oliveros went up and started dream improvising and harmonica playing, I started to feel it pretty wiped out and couldn’t finish the poem. The combination of their improvisation and my emotional/physical exhaustion culminated into a slight disorientation.

I was grateful to go to bed.


July 8th, 2016

Today was the last day of workshop classes.

We workshopped each other’s poems in class. Since I couldn’t finish my sonnet during the Pauline Oliveros and Ione performance, I had hastily finished it ten minutes before class as I funneled cold brew coffee into my brain.

Before workshopping, TC introduced Catherine Wagner’s mnemonic “Six S’s” of line breaks: speed, sound, syntax, sense, space, and surprise. TC talked about how our use of line breaks, or the poem’s need for a different kind of break, can also apply to what we may need in life. Maybe we need slowness, maybe we need to break a pattern. He quoted Matthea Harvey when discussing poetic form and its relation to human thought:

Pity the bathtub its forced embrace of the human
Form may define external appearance but there is room
For improvement within try a soap dish that allows for
Slippage…

There was such a richness of diverse aesthetic and inquiry in the group, I felt proud to work with this troop.

After class, TC and I finally got lunch together in the student center to talk about life, trans poetry, podcasts, and childhood. He said that CA Conrad put a giant healing crystal next to his bed, and this week his back has been feeling really good compared to how he felt when first arriving.

I told him about the current predicament I found myself in with my thesis. How I felt the intense pressure to learn my transgender poetic lineage within this next semester and write in conversation with the lineage so that my thesis will not be trying to reinvent the wheel, or, an even worse fate, becoming nothing more than mediocre. TC reminded me that my poems are here, with me, already. I’ve already written my thesis in my lived experience, I just have to record it. He said that before I write, I could sit with myself and write what arises in the moment. My writing doesn’t have to speak for, or to, everything. He said that I need to write with what’s in my bones—which, if what’s in my bones are the cisgender folks I’ve been reading my entire life, then that is what I’ll write with! He said in 20 years, trans poets will be in my bones, and I’ll be able to write from that experience then.

I don’t need to feel paralyzed about trying to play catch-up with The Discourse. I can pace myself as I need to, which, I’ll admit, is a slow pace compared to the amazing intellectually savvy folks in the transgender and gender-variant community.

TC and I talked for about an hour until we each had to go our separate ways and prepare for the student colloquium. I spent the majority of this in-between time in my dorm room putting on stage makeup. I often wear stage makeup for performances to give myself an imagined semblance of control over how people read me. I know it’s a futile gesture.

After a performance in the Performing Arts Center with Anne Waldman, Julie Patton, and Devin Waldman (Anne’s nephew), there was an open time for students or writers in the community to take the mic and discuss issues that they felt were important to them.

Julie Patton got up to the mic and talked about how privileged people think people who are disadvantaged need the police dismantled. However, Patton argued that this clashed with what she had heard from several people whom she lived and grew up with in poverty-stricken areas of Cleveland. She stated that people in these struggling areas actually wanted more of a police presence, not its eradication. She claimed that they want good police to be part of a community, not a violence.

She also talked about how she dislikes the phrase “white privilege” and instead wishes that the culture would use the phrase “white superiority” instead. She said that the phrase “white privilege” implicitly tells those who “lack” material goods that they aren’t privileged, even though they may have wisdom or insight. What impoverished communities need, she continued, is access to basic services, not material goods.

The student colloquium began. In this colloquium, each workshop presented something they had created together as a class, which honestly reminded a little bit of the “What I Did at Summer Camp…” scenes from the beginnings of movies. I enjoyed seeing everyone’s work nonetheless.

As a troop, we decided to have K read her poem about our ensemble that was dedicated to Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. The rest of us held a grid exercise on stage to echo her language. I kept shouting the word “cop!” TC echoed it back to me from across the grid once. P and I hugged and I pressed my cheeks to hers after she asked if I could share my glitter with her. This was a big step—as a group we hadn’t come into physical contact with each other much at all, save for the occasional pat on the shoulder. P’s close friend/companion, SH, was the most vocal and meta about the process—she declared to the crowd that our group was bad at finding an ending for our performances. She also stated that we had 15 seconds until the exercise was over. Fifteen seconds until the week’s worth of work was over.

The performance time was up, and I ended in the Grid with P’s head resting on my lap like I was safety.

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