community feature: CavanKerry Press Open Reading Period!

Taking a moment to help spread the word about CavanKerry Press‘ current reading period.

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Throughout the month of August, CavanKerry Press is accepting submissions for poetry collections, nonfiction essay collections, and memoir. Selected titles will be published by CavanKerry Press and receive national distribution. Check out the complete guidelines before submitting your manuscript.

Since starting as a member of their Board of Governors, I have been impressed with CavanKerry Press’ interest in receiving more work from queer, trans, and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) voices. With their LaurelBooks imprint, CavanKerry is also engaged with work from people living with physical and/or mental illness and disability.

I’m also happy to share that to better meet writers’ financial needs, CK has revised their submission fee to offer a “Pay what you can” structure, with $10, $18, and $25 options. This is an effort to further their ongoing mission as an inclusive publisher and will in no way impact consideration of your manuscript. There are also a limited number of free submissions for writers-in-need on a first-come, first-served basis.

Happy revising and submitting!

José

community feature: Artists Undeterred – Art Exhibit

This week, I’d like to introduce a new type of feature on the Influence: community features. In these features, I’ll be promoting events put on by marginalized literary communities and spotlighting their efforts. If you have a community you feel should be highlighted, feel free to message me about it either on Twitter (@JoseAraguz) or email  (thefridayinfluence@gmail.com)

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For this first community feature, I’m bringing attention to “Artists Undeterred” an art exhibit which opens at the Pride Center of Staten Island on August 11th at 7pm. The opening will feature artist commentary by LeVar “Var” Lawrence and a performance by Open Doors Reality Poets, of which Lawrence is a core member. To find out more about the event and explore links to the featured artists, go here.

This event came to my attention via Ani Schreiber, an artist whose work is part of the exhibit. I have had the honor of having Schreiber’s artwork feature on four of my chapbooks and all three of my full length poetry collections. Her work is marked by a rich directness steeped in realism, imagination, and vision.

For those who might not know, Schreiber is also my partner. We have been together for eight years, married for four of those. Over the years that we’ve been a part of each other’s lives, I have watched Schreiber come to terms not only with her disability but also with herself as an artist. Now, it is a problematic trope to discuss a disabled artist in terms of “bravery” or “admiration,” mostly because it fetishizes and condescends to people who are simply being people. So when I say that I have a great admiration for Schreiber and her work, it comes from a place of artist to artist and is informed by our personal history.

I have been there when she’s had to stop working on a project due to physical limitations and seen the frustration of those moments. I have also seen her suss out new mediums to continue at her work. Watching her do this navigating of the intersection where artistry and disability meet has resonated with me. There are lessons in perseverance that come with an artist’s life that don’t fit into instructional guides, and that drive home that you never know what a person’s been through to get to the creative act.

In the clip below which serves as an introduction to the Open Doors Reality Poets, Ramon “Tito” Cruz reads the following lines:

Soledad es una cosa que no se puede hablar
La soledad es una cosa que to puede matar

(Loneliness is a thing of which you cannot speak)
(Loneliness is a thing that can kill you)

These lines point to the loneliness of hardship which the creative act acknowledges. Events like the “Artists Undeterred” exhibit create spaces where the art resulting from this acknowledgment is celebrated and seen.

To find out more about Open Doors, go here.

unrealing with kelly davio

In my recent microreview & interview of Kelly Davio’s It’s Just Nerves: notes on a disability (Squares & Rebels, 2017)I spoke of her essays being driven by “a voice capable of insight and snark, as well as compelling honesty.” These three elements are in full effect in one of Davio’s recent poetry projects, a series of poems focused on the persona called the Unreal Woman. Through this persona, Davio brings together these same elements from her nonfiction essays to create a fulcrum to dig further into her experiences as a woman with a disability.

While the persona of the Unreal Woman takes center stage in Davio’s upcoming poetry collection, The Book of the Unreal Woman (Salmon Poetry, 2019), she is also an influence throughout the essays of It’s Just Nerves, as can be seen in the following from “Strong is the New Sexy”:

The product of a generation of girls who grew up with the specter of anorexia stalking our friends and siblings, I was told that “real women have curves” as though it were a mantra.

Our elders were trying. They wanted to flip the arbitrary concept of thin-body beauty on its ear. They wanted us to find self-acceptance, but when they tried to scare us with photos of undernourished bodies and with cautionary tales of the dangers of disordered eating, we learned that being skinny was one more way in which we could fail—one more way our bodies could be repellant.

With the onset of a progressive neuromuscular disease several years ago, my body’s relationship with solid food became a complicated one. I was never a curvy woman to begin with, but with each of the more feminine attributes I’ve lost, I’ve become, I am given to understand, less and less of a real woman.

I wonder at what point I will become unreal altogether.

davioIn the poem below, Davio approaches similar ideas as here but in a more visceral manner. Where nonfiction allows for the unpacking of rhetoric in a meditative manner, poetry allows for moves that go for the jugular as much as the heart and the mind. By subverting the well-intentioned phrasing of “real women have curves” and creating the persona of the Unreal Woman, Davio pushes against the erasure of women whose experiences don’t fit into the neatness of this phrase’s logic.

This poem brought to mind Anne Sexton, in specific her poem “Her Kind.” Through the imaginative and interrogative space created by the Unreal Woman persona, Davio evokes some of what and who is left out of the “real women” conversation, and invites it in with the conviction of one who has been “her kind.”

Real Women – Kelly Davio
—“Real Women Have Curves”

They fit in size-Q panty hose, we’re told.
Their volume fills the special-order bras
built wide enough about the lacey bands
to suggest a well formed plentitude

in fully lined and double-lettered cups.
Real women give birth to multitudes
of Gerber-blonde babies in a continual
swell and retraction not unlike that

of a latex balloon, so quick to snap back
to size. Real women, after all, work out.
They repeat a mantra: healthy is the new,
but forget what was old. They raise dumbbells

and celebrate themselves. They know
what would fix you, Unreal Woman, disposing
of your sharps in the bright orange canister.
They have tut-tutted you, unreal woman,

when bottled prescriptions spill forth
from your open purse. They have watched you,
unreal woman, vertiginous and clutching
for the staircase handrail or shuffle-stepping

with a limp, your slacks dangling from meatless
hips, from bony kneecaps. And under the Lasik
clarity of their vision, Unreal Woman, you
become small as they expand, claim the space

you were never meant to occupy. They start
with your hair, thinning from steroids,
and thread it out by the root. They nibble
at the keratin of your fingernails, roll skin

from your limbs like wet paper, knock
your bones together in a jaunty tune.
Seconds are all it takes to absorb you.
Real women, they eat your heart out.

*

For more about Davio and the Unreal Woman poems, check out this 2016 interview and poetry feature at Easy Street. Also, visit her site here.

microreview & interview: Kelly Davio’s It’s Just Nerves

review by José Angel Araguz

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Kelly Davio’s It’s Just Nerves: notes on a disability (Squares & Rebels, 2017) is a collection of creative nonfiction essays that explore and report the inner and outer realities of living with myasthenia gravis, a “a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disease that causes weakness in the skeletal muscles, which are responsible for breathing and moving parts of the body, including the arms and legs” (NINDS). The language of this definition, in light of its clarity and conciseness, or perhaps because of it, does little to bring the condition into human terms. One of Davio’s gifts is her ability to translate the complexities of her experiences into relatable moments via an authentic, engaging voice, a voice capable of insight and snark, as well as compelling honesty.

The opening essay, “Strong is the New Sexy,” for example, starts:

In the hospital complex, I sit in a room with a woman who plans to teach me how to swallow. Or, to re-teach me. I came into the world knowing how, born with the universal instinct to suckle and feed. I knew how to swallow just as I knew how to breathe. It’s just that, somewhere along the way, my body’s muscles have forgotten.

Here, Davio recasts her condition as a species of “forgetting,” a phrasing that would seem simple were it not also connected with “the universal instinct” mentioned earlier. This connection evokes the depth of vulnerability felt in this moment; the breaking down of the body means a breaking down of the self. This transition and necessary “re-teaching” doesn’t happen in a vacuum either, but rather in the public, fraught atmosphere of a hospital. The influence of the outside world is evident a little later in the same scene:

On the other side of the plate-glass window of the physical therapy room, hang gliders swoop down from the pine-covered mountainside. Their sails are the bright neon of 1990s fashion, and it’s impossible to miss the daredevils with their spectacular, spandexed bodies. I wonder whether the location of the window is intended to be inspirational: a call to the possibilities of good health, a motivation to perform one’s exercises well and get back out there. I have an impulse to drop the blinds over the window. I’d like to occlude the mountain.

In these opening paragraphs, we have a different kind of clarity and conciseness than that of medical jargon. There is the clarity of one’s thoughts and feelings during the awkwardness of physical therapy, but also the clarity of what colors the experience. The indirect violence and insistence on difference implied by most so-called “inspirational” posters is never more charged than in a medical setting. In a context where one is forced to question and doubt who they are bodily, posters like the one described here force an inner questioning of one ‘s attitude. For this reason, the sentence “I’d like to occlude the mountain,” is striking not only in its agency and defiance, but also because it comes from a speaker who themselves is feeling “occluded,” blocked and forgotten by their own body.

One of the questions I feel this collection of essays keeps asking and answering is: Who are we in the face of what we don’t know? This is engaged with in a dual manner throughout. Like in the above, the essay “On a Scale of One to Ten” presents a scene where outside pressure, this time in the form of a doctor’s question, forces a quick gauging of one’s self. In response to a doctor’s request to tell “what percentage [she’d] been debilitated by [her] neurological disease” during an assessment for surgical intervention, Davio experienced the following:

“What percentage?” I had prepared myself for all kinds of possible outcomes in this consultation. I was ready for anything, from him brushing me off to telling me that I’d need one of the more gross and undesirable procedures for which he’s known. One thing I hadn’t prepared for was performing quality-of-life math on the spot. I didn’t know how to put a number to the way I lived, or to the extent to which I’d adapted, year after year, to a new and inadequate set of circumstances.

I told him, “I have no idea.” He assured me that he just wanted an estimate, as though that clarified anything. At this point, I was emotionally exhausted, and I was frustrated. As I often do when frustrated, I said whatever came to mind.

“I haven’t been able to chew a salad for three years. I can’t teach a whole class anymore. I can’t walk anywhere without falling. I stop breathing sometimes. You tell me what percentage that is.”

He stopped typing away at his computer, swiveled around in his chair to look at me, and smoothed out his tie. “I think you answered my question.”

Here we again have a disconnect between the clarity and conciseness of the medical world versus the language of human experience. While the use of math terms to discuss one’s pain carries its own thwarted ambition, what stands out more in this scene is the disparity between Davio’s frustration and consequent edged statement “You tell me what percentage that is,” and the detail of the doctor “[smoothing] out his tie.” This latter detail symbolizes the discomfort, even on the part of the professionals trained and paid to treat patients with chronic conditions, feel in the face of said patients’ realities. Which is where the duality of the question, Who are we in the face of what we don’t know, comes into play. In this scene, Davio has to summarize an experience in an impossible way; in the process of giving an answer she doesn’t know how to give, Davio herself becomes something that the doctor doesn’t know how to respond to. At the end of this scene, she is frustration, he is a tie to be smoothed down.

What these essays make clear through scenes like this one is the range of things one has to reckon with as one learns to live with a chronic medical condition. From unpacking the shaming and misinformation about disability in mass media, popular culture, and writing conferences, to her experiences living and working in England pre-Brexit, Davio’s gift for writing relatable, unromanticized accounts of her life remains consistent. One thing that the trio I mentioned above – insight, snark, and honesty – do well in this collection is to keep things dynamic. Time and again, when the world shows itself as wanting to neglect, ignore, and not see her, Davio stares right back, answering the impulse to “smooth down” and look away with essays that are undeniable and unignorable.

*

Influence Question: Did your background as a poet come into play in any way as you put together this essay collection?

Kelly Davio: I think my work as a poet did play a role in how I approached the subject matter of this book. Poets have these great toolkits for examining the world indirectly; it’s as though the whole of our training is geared toward delivering ideas and information in the least likely way possible. If we can compare nonfiction to another medium, like photojournalism, then poets are probably the most like these intrepid photographers who take underwater portraits of people’s pet schnauzers. So yes, poetry taught me to come at my subject matter from unusual angles, and that has allowed me—I hope—to keep this fairly universal subject matter fresh for the reader.

But there’s another respect in which writing these essays was a new experience for me. When I write a poem, I’ve typically gnawed on the idea for some time before I put the text down on the page. I have an idea of what I want my underwater schnauzer portrait to look like. Essays turned out to be more exploratory for me; in my early drafts, I was writing to understand something, whether about myself or about the world around me, eventually revising down some more fully formed idea. That was a really exciting process for me as a writer, because I hadn’t really felt that same kind of freedom to wander around on these long, intellectual hikes before.

Influence Question: One of the great accomplishments of this book is your ability to write sober, unromanticized yet relatable accounts of experiences like being an American living abroad and engaging with the (mis)representations of disability in popular culture. What were some of the obstacles and/or lessons learned in evoking this hard-earned clarity on the page?

Kelly Davio: First of all, thank you for that! I think that the greatest challenge I had in writing these essays was getting past the stigma that exists around my subject matter in the literary world. I cannot tell you how many times I was lectured by other writers on the global truths that there’s no audience for books about illness or disability, that reading about other people’s pain is boring, that personal essays aren’t a legitimate thing to be publishing in the first place…you get the idea. For a long time, I bought into that stigma.

I got over it one morning as I sat in a panel discussion on the craft of essay writing at a literary conference. I had been hoping for a discussion of—oh, I don’t know—the craft of essay writing. But what I and the other attendees got was an hour or so of some hung-over looking guys I don’t think any of us had ever heard of roundly mocking the work of several well known women writers who publish personal essays. I left that room knowing exactly who my audience wasn’t. Who cared what those guys thought?

After that panel, I decided I to write whatever the heck I wanted. I wrote the kind of thing I wanted to read, and I trusted that there were other folks who might want to read the same kind of thing. Since the book’s come out, I’ve been enormously gratified to find that, yes, there is an audience for this work, and they’re much more pleasant people to hang around than those sour-grapes panelists, anyway.

*

Kelly_Davio_web-1Special thanks to Kelly Davio for participating! To find out more about her work, check out her site. It’s Just Nerves can be puchased from Squares & Rebels.

Kelly Davio is a poet, essayist, and editor. She’s the author of essay collection, It’s Just Nerves and the poetry collections, Burn This House and The Book of the Unreal Woman, forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2019. She also writes the sometimes-column “The Waiting Room” for Change Seven Magazineand her work has been published in a number of other journals including Poetry NorthwestThe Normal SchoolVinylThe ToastWomen’s Review of Books, and others. She is one of the founding editors of the Tahoma Literary Review.

* singing with jim ferris

Poet of Cripples – Jim Ferris

Let me be a poet of cripples,
of hollow men and boys groping
to be whole, of girls limping toward
womanhood and women reaching back,
all slipping and falling toward the cavern
we carry within, our hidden void,
a place for each to become full, whole,
room of our own, space to grow in ways
unimaginable to the straight
and the narrow, the small and similar,
the poor, normal ones who do not know
their poverty. Look with care, look deep.
Know that you are a cripple too.
I sing for cripples; I sing for you.

*

beauty is a verbOne of the highlights of teaching composition this summer has been engaging with excerpts from the anthology Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability. There is a wealth of great poetry in this anthology, which includes the work of Ona Gritz, Hal Sirowitz, and the writer of this week’s poem, Jim Ferris.

What I love about this week’s poem, “Poet of Cripples,” is how Ferris takes a singular experience and sings it in such a way that it becomes personal for the reader. The stakes engaged with via the poem quickly become familiar; the speaker’s intimate address of Look with care, look deep, is in the tradition of Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” Poetry becomes, for Ferris as it was for Whitman, a way to access our hidden void and push ourselves to what we would become.

This poem’s momentum makes me think of another Whitman-influenced poet, Pablo Neruda, specifically his lines at the end of “Alianza (Sonata)” where so much intangible and conceptual feeling is evoked through language that is felt in the body:

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…I feel your lap’s heat and the transit of your kisses
creating fresh swallows in my dreams.

At times the fate of your tears rises
like age up to my forehead, and there
the waves keep breaking, destroyed by death:
its movement is damp, decayed, final.

Both poets meet at the place where language and the body meet to affect each other, like waves making and unmaking the shore.

Happy singing!

José

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Reasons (not) to Dance by Jose Angel Araguz

Reasons (not) to Dance

by Jose Angel Araguz

Giveaway ends August 07, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

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