For 28 days, I have been traveling with still 9 more days to come. In that time, I have been to Shannon (Ireland), London, Paris, Ennistymon, Lehinch, the Cliffs of Moher, Cork City with Doolin, Galway, the Aran Islands, Limerick, and Dublin to come. The majority of my time has been spent working in residency on a new project at the Salmon Bookshop in Ennistymon, but I have also been about promoting my book, Boogeyman Dawn, at venues here and seeing another part of the world more deeply. Some of these places I’ve visited before: London, Paris, Dublin. One in particular I had no desire to see again as when I visited twelve years ago I had a bitter experience. Still, I think it makes a difference for how you will travel the way you start the journey. I didn’t start in my own home. I started as a housesitter in North Berkeley.
Rashaan Alexis Meneses and her husband, Phil, were set on traveling, too. She had conferences at Oxford and in Lisbon to present her work. They called themselves asking for a favor in inviting some housesitters to watch over their home. I called my service more of a gift than a favor. I have a small apartment at Saint Mary’s College of California, and though the view of a thousand shades of green is incredibly relaxing, it is not a well-thought home space; in the home of Rashaan and Phil in every few inches there is a well-placed treasure: A bright blue ceramic light switch, a cabinet that holds ukuleles, a large wooden table with space enough for an outpour-gathering of artists or a writer to splay pages and laugh to see them all on one level together. It’s not a place gilded in gold, but it feels like it is.
Rashaan’s friendship extended from home to virtual blog tour (VBT). When she was invited by Barbara Jane Reyes, she extended the invitation to me. Barbara Jane was invited by the inventor of the concept himself, Vince Gotera. Here’s the definition (borrowed from Rashaan, who borrowed it from BJR, who borrowed it from VG):
The “virtual blog tour” is an excellent, friendly way for writers, artists, and other creative folks to bring attention to their own work as well as that of others. It begins with an invitation from another artist or writer. Then in your blog you acknowledge the person who invited you, answer four given questions about your work and your process, and then invite three other people to participate. These people then do the same thing, referring their blog readers to the blogs of three more people, and so on. It’s a wonderful sort of “pyramid scheme” that’s beneficial for everyone: the artists and writers as well as the readers of their blogs. We can follow links from blog to blog and then we can all learn about different kinds of creative process and also find new writers and artists we may not have known about before.
Intro to Rashaan
I actually cannot recall when I met Rashaan. We both teach at Saint Mary’s College of California. She is one of the gurus of the Seminar (Great Books) program at the college. In that context, I am always impressed with her teaching innovations and her ability to share her pedagogical understanding with others in a way that inspires. She also has this way of addressing texts that make someone like me immediately chafe (so many dead white men) shift to curiosity with incisive questioning that challenges the text and me as the reader. In addition, she digs the Muppets and Dr. Who. Of course, we would be fast friends. I am also a fan of her amazing work.
(short fiction) published in New Letters, Vol. 80, No 2 (Winter 2014)
Ewan could remember lots of things. Robert the Bruce was crowned king in 1306. James the Fourth signed for peace with Henry the Seventh in 1502, and the new Parliament building was opened in October 2009. The last one was easy because Ewan wanted to go to the Queen’s inauguration, but the divorce was just being finalized and everyone said family needed to be together.
Despite all these dates that floated in his head, a constellation of facts with no clear order, Ewan could remember but a faint memory long, long ago, of himself, Callum, Mum, and Dad there at that rickety kitchen table, the same humming refrigerator knocking noise into their Friday dinner, as Dad kept shadow-boxing, showing Ewan how to throw a punch. Was it what Callum said or his father’s reaction that made all four practically spit out their food in hysteria? It was a belly-holding kind of laugh, a giggle fever going round and round the table in fits. Ewan didn’t know the kitchen light could get so bright. He hadn’t seen cheeks so red from humor. Now he wanted that ache more than anything. A feel-good, stomach-stitched ache that pinched his cheeks and made him almost tear up.
From the first line of this excerpt, I am caught up in Ewan and his capacity for remembering, how this might be wound up in self in relationship to others. The list of facts speaks to historical facts, important within community history, and yet the history that is invoked is filled with accords and communication, so the exploration of those subjects is especially striking when juxtaposed with the reality of a divorce being finalized. It’s a passage that immediately drew me in to the world of the story. Rashaan has that gift as a writer to, with deft fingers, paint a world with words, make it solid, and offer entrance to the reader. If you don’t know her work, you need to change that immediately.
Born and raised in the seismically fractured and diverse landscape of southern California, Rashaan Alexis Meneses earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College of California, where she was named a Jacob K. Javits Fellow. Recently awarded 2013 fellowships at The MacDowell Colony and The International Retreat for Writers at Hawthornden Castle in Scotland, in 2009 she was named a finalist for A Room of Her Own Foundation’s The Gift of Freedom Award.
Nominated for a Sundress Best of the Net Prize, current publications include a personal essay in Doveglion Press, short stories in New Letters, Kurungabaa, UC Riverside’s The Coachella Review, University of North Carolina’s Pembroke Magazine, and the anthology Growing Up Filipino II: More Stories for Young Adults. She currently teaches as Adjunct Professor for Justice, Community, and Leadership at Saint Mary’s College of California. She is the founder of Ruelle Electrique and tumbles at The Quarry.
Q&A part of the Virtual Blog Tour, my answers to the questions:
1. What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a manuscript of poems, tentatively called dis(locate), which explores interstitial spaces, insider/outsider identities, and the (Black) expatriate relationship to homeland. I’m currently on a residency at the Salmon Bookshop in Ennistymon, Ireland, where I’ve been immersed in my process.
2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?
In each project, I do a lot of shifting and growing, a lot of experimentation. My first collection, Canticle of Idols (2008), explores religious, gender, familial, and cultural identities using the triptych form, the trinity exploration of the three Marys of the Bible to represent maiden, mother, crone in a reimagining of the Christian story. My second collection, Boogeyman Dawn, is daring in its vivid depiction of brutality and neglect – the darkness – in our world, particularly in respect to children. There are just a few moments of light. As an educator, it came from a despair in seeing so many children – and are we not all someone’s babies – dehumanized and harmed by one another. I want to shake folks up, shake myself up, to try to do something. It’s a book that calls for action and change. There are a lot of shout-outs, connections to community, because there is a hidden desire to connect within the book, an attempt to fight the disconnect that leads to a disassociation from horror. In dis(locate), there is still a poetic emphasis on witness and change; there is also a joy that is woven through the forms chosen. There’s a discovery of the light, even in the darkness, and a dance into ecstatic wonder. There has been this progression, too, in the projects of focus on self in relation to the immediate, self in relation to the community/world, and self in relationship to nature/otherworld. I don’t think that the work is that different – I explore narrative, the lyrical, the experimental, the formal – but the progression of work is distinct.
3. Why do you write/create what you do?
Writing helps center me in the world. It truly helps me breathe.
4. How does your writing/creating process work?
In the academic year, I rarely write anything more than teaching documents. All of my creativity goes into teaching. An article or two, abstracts, proposals, grants, presentations, and all the scholarly work that comes with being an academic. That’s generally my world from about mid-August to late-May. In the last year, especially with the promotion of my book, I’ve been going to a lot of poetry readings. I read all the time, mostly scholarly work, but I try to build in explorations of creative work. Novels, short story collections, poetry collections, etc.
It’s in the summer that I actually get some creative writing happening. Here’s generally my process:
I do research on a central concept. That usually leads me down a rabbit hole. For example, I was researching James Baldwin. I found out that Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. had done an interview with him and Josephine Baker in 1972 at Baldwin’s home. I happen to love Josephine Baker, have loved her story since I saw the movie, The Josephine Baker Story, back when I was 10 years old or so. I’ve been talking about this project, what has become dis(locate) for YEARS, and I finally had some eyes to look through other than my own. So, I find the article, asked the library to get me a copy as it wasn’t available online. Did more research, find out about James Baldwin being cool with Nina Simone (huge fan of hers as well) and his role in hipping her to the Civil Rights activism happening in the States. So then, I’m listening to Nina protest songs and then jazz in general. I come to Esperanza Spalding’s new album, Radio Music Society. I’m listening to that while living life, reading poetry in London (where I meet a poet who turns me on to Gregory Porter), Paris, Ennistymon, Cork. This person tells me a story and gives me a hint about something related to what I’m writing, and I immerse myself in it. At the same time, I’m reading the news. It’s about Gaza and the children dying, Israel and its protection of borders, pictures of blood on the cement. I’m emotionally swamped. I want to change something. I write a poem, read a poem, and engage in this process of consumption of information and distilling it into poems.
After wrangling with words, I print out the manuscript and start to tear it up, mostly through reading it to others. I believe in sharing poetry to see if it connects, if it works outside of my own head. It’s perfect that I’m currently on a book tour, promoting Boogeyman Dawn, as I try to always sprinkle in some of the new shit, to use the language from the Acentos Bronx Poetry Showcase of years ago. I try to privilege that new shit when I can. I read from Boogeyman Dawn, creating an emotional arc through the poems I choose (we usually start light, go dark, go brutal, get a peak of light, and then go for sunburst). dis(locate) has many more poems in the area of light, so it’s switching what I do in my readings a bit. It’s switching how I feel at the end, too.
Right now, I’m reading the poems, seeing where they stick, where they lose the music, and marking them up for changes. You know when it’s right, when it sticks sweetly. Example: my last poem of a reading at Ó Bhéal in Cork last night is a poem that I’m working on, | everyw(here) |. It’s pretty experimental in that it has these two lines of text on either side of a central, more narrative block of text, broken up into couplets. The two lines are vertically placed and written in a trance, stream of consciousness style, that invokes the most joyous, natural and spiritual wonders. The text at center is what I read, and it re-imagines heaven. It’s an exultation in words. A poet at the end of the night came up to me, bought Boogeyman Dawn, and said that he never buys the book of the guest poet, but he loved that poem so much he wanted to the book. I gave him the poem as a bookmark to go with the book he had just bought. I think the poem has hit where it needs to. At least the central part is done. Now to figure out how to perform the side sections.
So let me introduce you two three other writers so you can tour their work.
Oscar Bermeo is the author of the self-published poetry chapbooks Anywhere Avenue, Palimpsest, Heaven Below and To the Break of Dawn. He is a BRIO (Bronx Recognizes Its Own), CantoMundo, IWL (Intergenerational Writers Lab) and VONA (Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation) writing fellow. Oscar has taught creative writing workshops to inmates in Rikers Island, at-risk youth in the Bronx, foster teens in San Jose, bilingual fourth graders in Oakland, and in the Oakland Public Library’s Oakland Word program.
Tara Betts is the author of Arc & Hue and the libretto/chapbook THE GREATEST: An Homage to Muhammad Ali. She is a Ph.D. in English/Creative Writing at Binghamton University. Tara is the Poetry Editor for Blackberry: a magazine and a Contributing Editor for Radius. She has collaborated with interdisciplinary projects such as John Sims’ “Recoloration Proclamation” and “Rhythm of Structure” installations, filmmaker Nijla Mu’min, and Jen Abrams’ web series “Any Resemblance.” Tara Betts appeared on HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam” She also appeared in the Black Family Channel series “SPOKEN.” In 2010, she was selected as one of Essence magazine‘s 40 favorite poets. She has shared her work in Cuba, London, and Ghana. Her writing has appeared in Steppenwolf Theater’s “Words on Fire,” The Black Scholar, Obsidian, Callaloo, RHINO, Crab Orchard Review, and anthologies such as DISMANTLE: An Anthology of Writing from the VONA Writers Workshop, The Incredible Sestina Anthology, Drawn to Marvel: Poems from the Comic Books , Saul Williams’ chorus: a literary mixtape, VILLANELLES, A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poetry, Gathering Ground, Bum Rush the Page.
Bob-Davis is an American writer/actor living in Paris. Originally from Boston, Massachusetts, he has lived and worked in Washington, DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles. He is a satirist (short-short-stories, poetry, and performance art, in the realms of politics and religion) by virtue of many years of administrative work, the study of law and economics, an Irish-Catholic heritage, and an oft-unexamined life. He has a JD (2006) from the University of the District of Columbia. Bob-Davis wrote and performed a three-act one-man show at Highways in Santa Monica, CA, entitled “The Prophet Chronicles” and created an art installation based on one act of that show called “Bobism, A Spirituality for the New Millennium.” He has dared to sing in public with a very limited range and has attempted the masochistic art of stand-up comedy. Bob-Davis hyphenates his name to distinguish himself from the myriad of Bob Davises found in the US.