Larissa Nash grew up in the Everglades and spent many summers in Ohio and Hawaii. She holds a B.A. from Loyola University New Orleans and currently lives in Texas with her cats, one of which is part Florida bobcat. Her hobbies include rain-dancing and soothsaying. She is an M.F.A. candidate at Pacific University of Oregon.
Larissa has participated in several of Francesca Lia Block's online workshops, and her work has appeared in online and print publications and is forthcoming in December. Flutter Poetry Journal recently nominated her poem, "The Lady in Red," for the 2013 Best of the Net. Larissa founded Rose Red Review, a fairy tale journal.
Song of the Moment: Loud Like Love
Author Archives: Larissa
I am ugly. And awkward.
Looking at the photo on the right, you might think, “Girl, you’re crazy.” But I’m not. I can’t tell you how many internet friends have met me in person, only to seem puzzled (and occasionally horrified), eventually asking the million dollar question(s): “How old are the pictures you post? Are they even you?” When I was in college, a friend of a friend wandered into the writing lab, where I worked, and he asked me if he could speak to Larissa. He didn’t even bother to disguise his shock when I told him I was Larissa. Later, I overheard him tell my friend, “Well, that was disappointing. You were right. She looks nothing like her photos.”
Except, I do. If you were to look at me close-up, or from above, I might seem attractive, provided my hair hair is professionally styled and I refrain from smiling. I am what we used to call a S.I.F.: a secret internet fattie. Unfortunately, unlike most fat girls, I don’t have pretty teeth, my skin is a mess, and my hair and nails are terrible. I know I’m ugly. I have no idea why I’m so photogenic. I sometimes joke it is my fairy tale curse: my “true form” is visible through a camera lens, instead of through a mirror. But that just makes me seem vain.
I have become increasingly awkward as a result. I’ve always been shy around people I don’t know, but when I was in high school, I’d had the same friends for years, and I was pretty and thin. I felt comfortable and confident. I began to gain weight my junior year, and it surprised me how cruel people became. One girl–whose Mean Girl name and personality I will never forget–approached me and said, “Do you remember me from French class? …Yes? Are you pregnant?” She cackled in my face, then she returned to her gaggle of giggling Mean Girl friends. I cried in the bathroom for hours. Still, I didn’t see myself as ugly. I suspected I was ugly, but what I saw in the mirror didn’t seem ugly–not for five years, anyway.
I once believed people were quick to bully me about my appearance because they felt as though I had lied to them, but then strangers began to treat me like garbage. This behavior has become so commonplace, I no longer believe losing weight will solve the problem. I think it will help–overweight woman tend to stand out more–but I don’t think I will shed the pounds and become a swan maiden. I’m just gross.
So, people terrify me. I have no idea what to say to anyone. I went from being shy, to being completely awkward in a social setting. What’s worse: I sometimes feel the need to apologize for my awkwardness or to explain my behavior (e.g. “I’m sorry if I seem awkward; I’m just really, really shy, and I need lots of alone time.”). I once thought I’d gradually become an introvert, because I do need time to “recharge”; however, people don’t make me feel drained. Worrying about whether or not I will alienate other people makes me feel drained.
I spend way too much time worrying about how I will be perceived. There is a huge difference between shyness and awkwardness. It seems awkwardness is a hipster thing to claim, but I have yet to meet even one hipster who fits that description. I worry people will dismiss me as mentally ill, mean, on drugs, or simple. I want to tell people that I’m worth getting to know, but I’m so very skittish, I put everyone off. I wish I could fix my personality.
On the plus side: I really am like a fairy tale character. On the other hand: this is real life. I’m not even sure why I wrote this entry. If anyone else knows what it is like to feel as though everyone will hate you because of the way you look and because you’re so shy, you seem to have a shit personality, you’re not alone. I feel your pain.
In the early days of the internet, in Ye Ole Livejournaltown (c. 2000-2005), I went by “Araminta.” My first journal has since been deleted and purged (and taken over by a gothic model), but I have fond memories of my time as Araminta/”Minty.” No one knew my real name. I made so many friends. Over the past year, I lost nearly all of them.
In Ye Olde Livejournaltown, I posted silly .wav files as Miss Minteh, a psychic medium in the style of Miss Cleo. Instead of a feigned Jamaican accent, I spoke in the gruff, whisky-guzzling voice of a crazy old bag lady pretending to be a voodoo queen. I still remember the recording that made everyone laugh the most. It went almost exactly like: “Spirits! Miss Minteh is here for you! …Now where are those spirits? (Drunken slurring, bottles clanking.) What’s that? Yes. Yes, I hear you! Yes, Miss Minteh is listening, mmmm-hmmm. And now I will commune with… with… Tupac!” The recordings were over-the-top ridiculous, yet each one seemed to delight my friends. I lost the recordings during a laptop crash in 2006, and I began to go by my real name. Everyone seemed to prefer Araminta to Larissa. Around this time, Livejournaltown became a ghost town.
I miss the rosy days of internet yore–I do.
Miss Minteh was created in response to what most South Floridians had known for years: Miss Cleo was a fraud. That is not to say I didn’t/I don’t believe in psychics. I come from a line of women I refer to as the old wives: West Virginia women who embody the Victorian vision of someone associated with the occult (country magic, folk remedies, intuition, a belief in the supernatural and the Christian god). My mother and my great-grandmother both speak/spoke to the dead in their dreams, and my mother is a particularly gifted psychic. I, too, strongly feel I have communicated with ghosts in my dreams, and many of my “dream visions” have come true (sadly, most of these dreams have concerned natural disasters). My mother says my “gift” is stronger than hers. We’ve butted heads a bit, because I don’t believe in the Christian god. When I was a teenager, I flirted with Wicca (my mother became terrified I was a Satanist), but I’m not sure I believe in any deities. I believe in elemental energy (the life force radiating from all living things), and I believe in science. The main problem I have with Christianity–apart from its hateful, judgmental practitioners–is that it is clearly the creation of man. The bible is literature. I would sooner believe in the Greek gods, because while it doesn’t make sense for an all-powerful deity to come from nothing, it makes sense for a pantheon of gods to be descended from the primeval god-sludge of the titans–sort of like the big bang, the universe, human evolution, etc. In any case, I don’t presume to know what’s out there. I only know I am drawn to nature.
I don’t speak much about my belief in ghosts and visions, because I don’t want anyone to view me as a kook–the way I view Christians as kooks. In my belief system, anything that goes against science (creationism, say) cannot be real. At the same time, I realize ghosts, visions, and energies have been dismissed as hokum by science. I am aware I sound just like a Christian when I say it’s possible there are mysteries we do not understand–mysteries that may eventually be explained by science. My rational self is at odds with my spiritual self.
But this is backstory.
In early October, as I considered the selection of strawberries at the grocery store, a woman approached me. I could feel her staring at me. I thought I was in the way, so I smiled at her and moved my cart. She complimented my eyes. When I thanked her for the compliment, she said, “Were you aware someone cursed you?” I was taken aback at first, but you know, I did know. For some time, I have felt the bad energy directed at me. The woman asked me whether I had ever had my cards read, and I said that I had. She said she normally charges for readings, but that negative energy so permeated my aura, she wanted to help me. We sat down at a table in the cafe next to the produce section. She pulled out an ordinary deck of playing cards and told me to shuffle the deck. She then told me to select three cards: I chose the Eight of Hearts, the Queen of Spades, and the Three of Hearts. She said I was the Queen of Spades, and the person who cursed me was the Three of Hearts. She said that, while this person may not have intentionally cursed me, this person (a woman who feels betrayed) has worked to turn others against me. She then said curses are a “low energy vibration” that can be deflected. I asked her about the rule of three, and she smiled and said, “You won’t cause her harm. Just be positive, and the curse will be broken. She wants you to be miserable, and is telling people the fact you are unhappy is ‘proof’ you wronged her.” She then tapped the Eight of Hearts and said, “It probably feels like everyone in your life is against you. There is a lot of negative energy directed at you, and not just from this woman and the friends you once shared. Just be positive, and things will change. I can tell you are in a lot of pain.” I asked her whether the playing cards corresponded to certain Tarot cards, and she said she was unfamiliar with the Tarot–that her mother taught her to read playing cards, and the method worked well for her. She then said, “I think your mother taught you certain things as well.” She said I have a gift and should explore the spiritual path I abandoned. It was all very eerie. She wished me well and went on her way.
For a while now, I have felt the pull toward green witchcraft. I look around my house, and I see how I organize my crystals and statues in clusters, like little altars. While I do not believe in deities, there are certain aspects of Wicca I never gave up: Tarot reading, scrying, lucid dreaming, herbalism, gardening, meditation. That’s all it really is: a balancing of the self; attunement with nature and one’s living space. I think of this attunement as being similar to the law of attraction. I know I am negative. I know I am impacted by what has happened to me in my life and the way people treat me. I believe this balancing will help, in the same way a healthy garden feels different from a dying garden. I’ve neglected my garden (and my house–man, do I ever need to clean out my closets), and I really do think tending to it is the first step toward tending myself and breaking this horrible cycle of negativity.
I won’t smear the people who dislike me. I’ve done that enough. They wronged me, and in most cases, I did nothing wrong (beyond standing up for myself in my admittedly abrasive way), but that is the past. It is time to move forward. I wish them well. They do not like me, and they are no longer a part of my life, but there is no reason to hold on to this anger.
So, when xoJane ran a piece about a Tarot card reader, I requested a general reading. I suspected the three cards I drew during my playing card reading were the Eight of Swords, the Queen of Cups, and the Three of Swords, and I wanted to see what a Tarot card reader had to tell me. I wasn’t disappointed:
And there it is: the Eight of Swords.
According to Ananda:
For you, this card indicates the best course for you right now is to
focus internally. Heal the wounds within you and that will lead to the
spiritual understanding you seek. This will mean exploring unknown
territory. Try some new methods of self-examination, especially
modalities that help to change negative self-talk. You will have to face
your fears to move forward, but you will be most successful if you see
this as a time of adventure and growth rather than something painful and
difficult. You must focus inward now, but later this will lead to better
decision-making and a clearer mind.
EVERYTHING IS EERIE!
Say what you will about Tarot readers: Ananda is the real deal! Everything she wrote mirrors what the playing card reader told me (with one exception: Ananda told me people would want to hear my story and offer support, whereas the playing card reader told me people would only want to be around me if I maintained a positive attitude and didn’t discuss negative things–which I find to be true). While it is no secret I am troubled (I really put it out there), my renewed interest in green witchcraft has been a secret until now. I feel cautiously optimistic about the future.
Here is what I want out of life:
1) I want to travel. When I was growing up, I traveled every year, and I miss it.
2) I want to write for a living.
3) I want to be appreciated. I want people to see that I am intelligent. I want my opinion to matter. I want someone to think I’m pretty.
4) I want a group of close friends.
5) I want to participate in a book club (where my opinion is welcome and appreciated).
6) I want to exercise. To eat well.
7) I want to keep a clean house, full of cool stuff. I want to maintain my garden, even if I feel depressed.
8) I want to vlog/blog about geeky things (once again, to an audience that appreciates me).
9) I want to be famous, but if enough people like me, I can live without traditional fame.
10) I don’t want to be seen as negative, stupid, disgusting, lazy, fat, ugly, unpleasant, a terrible writer, etc.
This list is telling. I just want people to like me. Unfortunately, few people do. Perhaps it is my fault. I am a fan of inviting discussion with a Devil’s Advocate argument, and I was recently dismissed as “lazy, fat, disgusting, and stupid” in one such discussion. I was told “people like [me] ruin the good things in life for everyone else.” All because I had read a piece about why organic farmers should like genetically-modified seeds. I found the piece interesting, as it was written by a respected scientist, who presented his argument in an intelligent way. I posted the article on my Facebook page, not because I agree genetically-modified seeds are a good thing, but instead because I want to hear well-informed opinions about why they are a bad thing. Let me tell you, there are a lot of uninformed people out there, whose only argument against genetically-modified seeds is this: people like me are fat. I have read convincing reports that tell me GMOs are a bad thing, yet not even one person has cited this data when asked why they are against GMOs. I am left with the impression they have no real idea why GMOs are bad. Sometimes, even seemingly informed people are ignorant, you see. The article in question did make one point I agree with: we are running out of water. GMO seeds, which do not require much water, are not a good solution in the event we experience widespread water shortages (and we will), but we should focus on ways to conserve water and to ensure we will always have a supply of food. Resorting to personal attacks and pettiness in a debate isn’t going to save the planet and the human race.
The same goes for the healthcare debate. I was dismissed as “showing very little intelligence” by a 9/11 conspiracy theorist, simply because I said that, if we do not fight mandatory car insurance, why do we fight mandatory health insurance? Car insurance protects our vehicles and ourselves. Health insurance protects another kind of vehicle: the human body. His argument: he “chooses” to drive a car, yet health insurance is a product he does not choose–one that is “forced” on him. We do not choose life, yet we are here. Why not protect our lives? I agree the insurance system is flawed. I would prefer a tax-based universal healthcare system, like the one in place in many other countries, but I believe the Affordable Care Act is a step in the right direction. Why am I dismissed as unintelligent? Because I see that mandatory insurance is well-intentioned?
Perhaps I am just as intolerant as the people who don’t “get me”/understand my debate style. Perhaps I shouldn’t debate with anyone at all. However, in my heart of hearts, I worry I truly am nothing more than a dumb fat ass. I have been dismissed as such my entire life. Every month, at least three people tell me I am negative–that I bring this pain upon myself. Most people who interact with me on Facebook nowadays do so in order to tell me I’m an emotional, irrational woman and a disgusting fat ass. My own brother described fat women who dress in sexy clothing as “cottage cheese stuffed in a balloon,” and he couldn’t understand why I would defend such women. When I bring up the fact I was bullied in school, there are people who tell me it never happened. I remember: I was “lard ass,” “Lapissa,” “retard.”
I don’t want to be negative, but how do I change? (And is it really all my fault?)
So, here is what I do:
1) I don’t write for a living. I know people who freelance and who are successful working writers. I want to pitch articles to publications I read, but if I am rejected there as well, I will have to consider the possibility I’m a talentless hack.
2) I don’t have many friends. I avoid social situations, because again, I have alienated so many people online, I don’t want to experience the immediacy of it in real life. (For this reason, residencies at Pacific University give me more anxiety than they should.)
3) I feel sorry for myself instead of adhering to an exercise regime and eating well. I sleep a lot. Some of it is the result of depression, but in the words of everyone who ever told me to snap out of it, I probably don’t try hard enough. (It should be noted that telling someone with depression to “snap out of it” is really quite heartless… though hurt feelings are still no excuse for not adhering to an exercise regime and not eating well.)
4) I’m afraid to offer my opinions on GoodReads. Case in point: I love Vaginal Fantasy. Its GoodReads forum seems like a cool place, populated with intelligent, articulate folks who read fantasy, sci-fi, and paranormal romance, but I’d rather imagine what it would be like to interact with people than to actually go for it. (Because again, if my Facebook discussions are any indication, people are either going to think I’m unpleasant, or they’re going to tell me I’m an idiot. Woe. Just call me Eeyore.)
5) I don’t clean my house, and I neglect my beautiful garden. Everything is hidden away in closets or drawers, and my garden, which I once lovingly tended, became more wild and neglected the more depressed I felt. Again, I want to blame my depression, but as many people have said, the problem is me. I can’t even fully articulate how sad I feel when I look at how much I’ve let my garden go, yet I don’t do anything about it. (There might be some kind of metaphoric message here.)
6) People say I have a persecution complex, and perhaps I do. I certainly do feel like nobody likes me… but that is because most people don’t. Again, I don’t know what to do about that.
7) I seldom blog, and the one time I had a vlog, somebody made fun of my voice and said some unkind things. Granted, it wasn’t a vlog about geeky things, but since my opinion doesn’t seem to matter to anyone, why bother?
8) PERSECUTION COMPLEX.
9) I do work on Rose Red Review, so I’m not a total waste of space.
10) I daydream of a better life. Constantly.
I want to change, but in truth, I can’t imagine a world wherein I am appreciated and I have a lot of friends. Most people don’t like me, and I don’t know how to make myself likable. I feel broken.
I dreamt there was a huge earthquake near L.A. I was on the beach at the time, with my roommate. As the earthquake occurred, I thought about the poem I wrote about a month after I left L.A. (“and I said, / ‘At least I won’t be on the beach / during a quake.’”)–the one I wrote the night before a small quake occurred, the epicenter directly beneath my old apartment in Pomona. The water whooshed backward, and I told my roommate we had to run to our hotel and get “to the second floor, at least.” Once inside, I decided to rescue our cats. They were on the 18th floor. I ran up the stairs, with a container of cat litter. I had to find different stairwells to take, because there was a lot of damage. I helped a few people along the way (one girl’s name was “Denver”), and then hotel waitstaff helped me access secret stairwells (but not without making a snide remark about how good it must feel “to get [my] exercise in”). Everything was white and looked very art gallery, despite the damage and burst pipes. When I reached the 18th floor, I had to walk up an Escher-like stairwell (with 80s pink carpeting). “18l” and “18rn” were written on a sign. I had to cross a ballroom/lounge area to reach a glass door leading to the rooms. Someone was having a 30th birthday party, and I thought, “I’m 36–no, 33–but I remember 30!” The carpet here looked like the carpeting in an 80s bowling alley (bright colors, confetti-like). Someone asked me what was wrong, and I distinctly felt as though the party was for “Denver.” I couldn’t see any damage. On the glass door, “80th Floor.”
Very strange. My brain apparently likes numbers.
I can’t recall the exact night I dreamt this dream, but I know I dreamt it before the flooding began in Colorado. Very spooky/unsettling.
I stood in a room with a floor-to-ceiling glass window. There was a blue couch. Someone had warned everyone to avoid going outside, as the water level of a nearby river had begun to rise. The water swirled against the window. I sat backward on the couch and rested my body against the cushions, in order to watch the river. It looked like a tropical marsh river. I saw sawgrass. I thought I was safe, but then I realized there wasn’t a window. I toppled into the river. I felt its force. I clawed at the back of the couch and finally managed to pull myself into the room. The couch acted as a dam, though water didn’t spill over the couch as the river rose above it. There seemed to be a sort of forcefield in place.
I understand many of the reader complaints about poetry: it’s inaccessible (language poetry), rhyming poetry sounds saccharine, the poetic form is dying, etc. What I can’t understand is the most common complaint voiced by poets: that the self has no place in poetry.
The general consensus between poets is that any poet who writes about the self is inexperienced or, worse, a narcissist. The speaker (or narrator) should not reflect the self (the poet). He or she should exist separate from the self, even if the speaker does reflect the self. If it sounds confusing, it’s because IT IS CONFUSING.
Simply put, an “accomplished” poet will describe a sunset through his or her persona. A reader is then supposed to insert himself or herself into the poem and identify with the speaker’s experience. He or she is supposed to become the speaker. In the same way a teenage girl is meant to fall in love with Edward from Twilight, a reader is meant to appreciate the sunset in a poem. Weird, huh?
I have to wonder: why can’t a poet embrace the immediacy of his or her own experience? A reader can identify with a poet’s experience; after all, most people who read poetry do so in order to feel moved by another individual’s perspective. In placing so much emphasis on the speaker as Everyman, the speaker becomes like Bella, the brown-haired, brown-eyed Everywoman. Do these poets truly not realize they’re writing a kind of Mary Sue?
It is never a good idea to get hung up on “the rules” of poetry. To quote Marvin Bell: “Learn the rules. Break the rules. Make new rules. Break those rules.”
“And we will never be alone again…”
“I don’t want to start any blasphemous rumours,
but I think that God’s got a sick sense of humor…”
“Something so worthless
serves a purpose…”
“It’s far too sacred.
Don’t ever fake it…”
“Baby, did you forget to take your meds?”
“A friend who’s dressed in leather…”
Scared of Girls
“An introverted kinda soul,
the earth did open, swallow whole…”
“Love of mine
this fortress in our heart
comes crashing down….
I need a change of skin.
I need a change…”
“That’s why I spend my days alone.
I’m forever black-eyed…”
Spite & Malice
“You look well-suited, like you came to win…”
“You hate me now, I’m sure.
I didn’t mean it…”
Ask for Answers
“These bonds are shackle free…”
“Since I was born, I started to decay.
Now nothing ever, ever goes my way…”
I’m too tired for this shit. I took a shower three hours ago, and my hair is still wrapped in a towel. I want nothing more than to either stare at sunbeams on the wall, or to watch the Anna Nicole biopic (Martin Landau, you’re breaking my heart!). I’ve felt sleepy and depressed all week. Now I know why: my Spidey sense was tingling. Snark is coming. (Get it? Snark? Stark? Winter is comin–oh, whatever, I’ve already told you I’m tired! NOBODY SAID I HAD TO MAKE SENSE.)
So, here I am, my pink bed sheet draped around me, toga-style. I am goddess of Editorial Despair. I don’t know why I even bother to check the e-mail account for Rose Red Review. Someone is always upset with me.
Writing is an intensely personal endeavor, and I understand all too well a rejection letter can feel like a personal attack. For this reason, I have composed a brief, yet encouraging, form rejection letter:
Although I enjoyed your work, I regret it does not reflect my vision for the Halloween 2013 issue of Rose Red Review. Please know this decision does not reflect the quality of your submission in any way! I would love to see more of your work in the future. I encourage you to submit again during the next reading period, which will begin October 1st, 2013.
Rose Red Review
Alas, I still manage to ruffle some feathers. Case in point:
Thank you for your message. I just read the poems in your current issue, and I am thoroughly unimpressed. This is not to say that I believe my poetry is better. However, I fear I am out of touch with what other poetry writers (because, per Emerson’s definition, I have rarely observed the work of a true “poet”) consider to be worthwhile. All poetry now seems to be free verse, but a type of it that does not even begin to approach Whitman’s caliber. I believe poetry has become a lost art, although there are more writers of poetry than ever before. I think it is rare for such poetry writers as you have featured on your site (no offense intended, only honest concern here) to entertain anyone other than themselves or their fellow poetry writers. Writing poetically about something and chopping it up into lines, in my opinion, should not necessarily be considered poetry. Where is the skill? Where is the talent? Where is the mastery of language, meter, rhyme, or rhythm? Almost all contemporary poetry I have encountered consists of emotionalism without feeling, narcissism without introspection. It bores me at best, and nauseates me at worst. The poem “Dollhouse” is particularly mundane and pretentious. There seems to be no reason behind its scattered appearance. The motivation for this piece is certainly valid, and it most definitely communicates an understandable and compassionable theme. But there is nothing about it, save its format, that is reminiscent of a poem. If there are no standards for what poetry is, then how can its quality be measured?
be a poem;
an inquiry into
the nature of poetry?
Are there no
Just because this
Or are we as a society simply brainwashed into believing that similarity is congruence? A McDonald’s sandwich certainly resembles a hamburger, but are the two actually comparable? Government resembles leadership, but are we as much led as we are driven, as sheep to the fleecing line?
I appreciate your site and the service it offers. Please try not to take my letter personally, or be offended. I simply needed to get these questions off my chest. I hope you will sincerely consider my position on the matter, and wonder for yourself if there has been a drastic lowering of the bar.
That is some “grade A” snark right there! Never has anyone insulted my taste so well. I especially love the condescending way the writer implores me to not take offense (after he has clearly taken offense).
I debated sending a private reply. However, I think it is important for writers to consider the way they approach editors and other writers. Such snarky responses have, unfortunately, become commonplace. In the world of online publishing, the editor is seldom respected. Other writers are seldom respected. In sharing this letter, I might seem immature and unprofessional, but in such extreme cases, I believe a lack of respect should be called out and discussed. Is it okay for a writer to respond to a rejection letter in this way? Would this writer have torn apart my publication if I were the editor of Prairie Schooner? Further, if this writer had never even read Rose Red Review, why did he submit his work for my consideration?
I question his “position on [this] matter,” because it seems he expected me to fall on my knees and worship him after reading his work. When I did not, he chose to attack my taste and the work of the writers I publish. If I had selected his work, would he have changed his “position?”
And what position is that, exactly? That contemporary poetry nauseates him? I ask again: why, then, did he chose to submit to a contemporary journal, and a niche one at that? His work does not revolve around fairy tales or folk tales. His work does strike me as particularly old-fashioned, but I admire it for its rhythmic quality. The poems have a nice cadence when read aloud. I rejected his submission only because the upcoming issue is a themed (Halloween) issue.
A good editor will overlook an author’s bad behavior when it comes to the work itself. If this writer were to submit again, I would consider his work for a future issue. While his style is not to my taste, I know other people will like it. I certainly do not select work I feel will appeal only to a select audience. Although Rose Red Review is a niche publication, I accept a variety of styles. I want people to read the publication. It seems I have succeeded: Rose Red Review has become exceedingly popular. It isn’t a vanity project.
I thought I was prepared to run my own publication. From 2003 to 2004, I edited P’an Ku, Broward College’s literary magazine. In 2006, I interned at New Orleans Review. I have some experience as an editor, but not as much as I thought. Over the past year and a half, I’ve learned a lot more about the industry–and about myself. Editing isn’t about awards or acclaim. It’s about gathering tales and sharing them. I like to think of myself as a witch woman in the woods, collecting old mountain songs. On some level, everyone enjoys a good folk tale or a ghost story. It’s in our blood.
Certain writers possess two faces: a post-acceptance face, and a post-rejection face. (The “submission” face is a poker face: neutral. Unreadable.) This writer isn’t the first person to attack my taste. Far too many writers are convinced of their own genius. The writer in question dismisses “Dollhouses” as pretentious, yet his response is dripping with self-importance. “Dollhouses” is a wonderful “in-the-moment” poem I selected as the closing note to the Summer 2013 issue. I think it works well, especially given its last line:
The best thing
is the ability
of the day.
If the writer is so unimpressed with Rose Red Review, why does my wittle old rejection letter upset him? It’s simple: for two-faced writers, the work is about them. He describes the contemporary poem as “narcissism, without introspection,” even though he is a narcissist. I’ve wounded his ego. He has chosen to retaliate by attacking Rose Red Review and its published poets. I never like knowing someone is hurt by rejection, but neither do I like encountering people who are what they rail against.
So, what is poetry? The writer in question’s complaint about line breaks is a common one. I think it is a valid point that what looks like poetry isn’t necessarily poetry; however, I believe poetry is about musicality and vivid imagery. If a piece possesses a rhythmic quality and strong images, I don’t care if you break the lines on my face: it’s poetry. Why quibble over how something looks? (Function, over appearance.) I would say his inquiry into poetry is poetry: if read aloud, and read well, a listener will absorb the words and ponder the question. Poetry is about movement and sound. A slice of life. A snapshot. The moment. A song is poetry. A speech is poetry. Breath is poetry. Rustling is poetry. The determined pad of cat paws on carpet is poetry. A good poet is a conductor: the way we perceive the world travels through our words. The writer in question attacks a poem’s scattered appearance, yet states “[the poem] most definitely communicates an understandable and compassionable theme.” So, what is the problem? It seems to me it simply isn’t to his taste.
After I rejected his work, the writer in question decided he wanted to hurt me, by attacking his fellow writers. These writers clearly mean little to him, as he believes they lack his skill (he claims he does not believe his poetry is any better than theirs, but it’s obvious he does). I cannot condone this sort of behavior, but is it justified? I suspect the writer in question is unaccustomed to rejection. The poems I publish are poems. His poems are poems. His poems weren’t right for the Halloween 2013 issue of Rose Red Review, but never would I dismiss his work because it does not fit a theme or is not to my taste. I am neither brainwashed, nor mistaken in my definition of poetry. It’s just like, my opinion, man.
And so, dear, angry writer, please try not to take my final thought personally, or be offended: if you do not consider the work of contemporary poets worthwhile, you can always continue to write for yourself–in private.
Drunk in Rio
“Baby, stay a while.
I just want to watch you breathe.”
20 Years in the Dakota
“They want to burn the witches inside us.”
What a strange, unsettling dream:
I died. I can’t remember how. After lingering in a brightly-lit Edwardian mansion (that had been modernized, with stainless steel appliances), I returned to my body, yet I remained in limbo. The house changed: in some rooms, I was in California; in others, my childhood home. I suspect two dreams bled into one another.
Being a ghost wasn’t so bad. I could still talk to everyone. I decided to return to my body, because I wanted to help someone I’ve since forgotten (I think it might have been Frances Bean Cobain, but that is odd). Once inside my body, one thought consumed me: beating the clock. I worried I would run out of time before I began to decompose. When I looked at myself in the mirror (I often look at my reflection in dreams, even though it’s “dangerous”/reveals “the true self;” I’M A REBEL!), my cheeks seemed sunken–my flesh, a bit yellow. I thought I looked bloated. When I left the bathroom (the master bathroom from my childhood home), my parents were waiting for me.
Mommy, I’m rotting.
“I know,” my mom said.
“No, you’re not! You look the same way you did before you died. No one will know the difference,” my dad said.
I’m sure the dream is a metaphor for my body image issues, but it scared me. I thought I could smell myself. Perhaps my subconscious is simply telling me to take a shower?
“And I warned them:
‘Embrace the storm and the night.’
What do the waves have to say now?”
“You take me to New Orleans….
You sing songs into my lips.
Well, I am speckled like a leopard.”
Take You on a Cruise
“The sea will crowd us with lovers at night….
(I see that you’ve come to resist me….)
White goddess, red goddess, black temptress of the sea,
you right me right.”
“I wish I could live free.
I hope it’s not beyond me.
Settling down, it takes time.
One day we’ll live together
and life will be better.
I have it here, yeah, in my mind.”
“It’s like learning a new language.
Helps me catch up on my mime.
If you don’t bring up those lonely parts,
this could be a good time.
It’s like learning a new language.
You come here to me.
We’ll collect those lonely parts and set them down.
You come here to me….
My love’s subliminal.”
“If time is a vessel, then learning to love
might be my way back to sea….
So swoon, baby, starry nights.
May our bodies remain.”
“You can’t sit up.
You fell too fast….
You bloom in Spring.
Yeah, you move the sky….
Start again, buttercup.”
“Did I say that I need you?
Did I say that I want you?
Oh, if I didn’t, I’m a fool, you see.
No one knows this more than me.”
“The waiting drove me mad.
You’re finally here and I’m a mess.”
“Now the world can be an unfair place at times,
but your lows will have their complement of highs.
And if anyone should cheat you,
take advantage of or beat you, raise your head
and wear your wounds with pride.”
“Even when my luck is down,
I take joy in knowing that our love grows…”
I found this amazing painting during my internet-questing and decided to share it.
It’s very Beauty and the Beast.
From a Facebook status:
I don’t want to spend my days trying to sound “smart.” I have always been a writer of few words (which is why I’d be accepted more in the ancient Far East than in modern day America). I’m short and to the point. I say what needs to be said, nothing more. I write skeletons. I don’t care about the skin and the hair and the overall presentation. As a writer, I’m entirely opposite who I am as a woman.
I Think That I Would Die
“She said, ‘I am not a feminist.’”
Why I’m done with Jezebel (for a while, anyway):
A few days ago, one of their writers bitched about the male protagonist of Oz: the Great and Powerful. I’ve long since decided I’m not a feminist, because I love pink, I love purple, I love jewelry, I love fairy tales, and I love “princess culture.” (If I had a daughter, and she loved princess toys, I wouldn’t tell her “girl” toys are bad or sexist. When I was a child, I had equal love for Fashion Star Fillies and Star Wars. My parents were awesome enough to let me be me. To me, that is an example of good parenting.) I also think men are pretty okay. I don’t think men should bow to women, as I believe women are equal to men. (Once upon a time, feminism was about equality… not anymore.) We’re not better than men. Sorry, girls.
In any case, Oz is a film about–you guessed it–OZ, a male magician. So what if Baum’s books have female protagonists? The movie is a spin on the books. Is Jezebel seriously in outrage because there is a male protagonist? Cinematically, no one knows much about Oz. I haven’t read all of Baum’s books, so admittedly I can’t say much for Oz as a literary figure, but if the issue is a new personality/backstory, I’m okay with a revisionist character. In fact, I would prefer a story about a revisionist character to a straight-up adaptation or a reboot. (I am of the opinion The Wizard of Oz should NEVER be remade. NEVER.) I am okay with female supporting characters. Yes, the producer made some obnoxious, sexist remarks. I’m not going to boycott a movie, with a plot that appeals to me, because of it.
How is this movie any different from what Gregory Maguire is doing? Oh, right, Maguire writes about female side characters. According to Jezebel, ain’t nobody got time for male side characters.
Then, this morning, whilst browsing my Facebook feed, I read that Jezebel is up in arms about Michelle Williams dressing as a Native. Okay, I get that. However, I’m not going to apologize for the turquoise jewelry, Native patterns, and feather earrings I’ve always worn. I’m not going to apologize for my father, who identifies with Chief Joseph and, though outwardly white, had a Native great-grandmother. I’m not going to shame anyone who wants to identify with Native culture. America is a cultural wasteland. I understand how problematic “redface” is, but there is a difference between “redface” and appreciating Native culture. White people wearing Native art and jewelry is not something to get up in arms about. What Michelle Williams did is questionable; what others do is not.
Case in point: Jezebel is super-into Francesca Lia Block’s books. Block’s characters often wear Native-inspired fashions. I mean, come on. Native attire means something deeper than clothes for most people. These individuals feel a tie to something they aren’t part of… why bitch about that? My great-great-grandmother’s tribe, as a single unit, was eradicated long ago. She was told she was white. That’s something to get upset about. Not this.
In short, Jezebel consists of a fair amount of man-hating hypocrites who, despite preaching the evils of “shaming,” do just that, whenever it suits.
Addendum: in response to my post (originally a status update posted on Facebook), one of my dear childhood friends said the following: “We have to abandon this ‘GOTCHA culture’ that seeks to point out all that is ‘wrong.’” He couldn’t be more right. Determining what is “wrong” can be difficult, but the internet loves to point out certain agreed-upon evils: No slut-shaming! Little girls can’t like pink! A good feminist is smart and sexy, but she can’t be sexy according to standards set by society (though a manicure is okay–waxing, too). No fat-shaming! If you’re white, you can’t identify with Natives! However, feel free to learn the Middle Eastern art of belly dance. WE DETERMINE WHAT IS WRONG AND WHO TO SHAME. FUCK YOU, SOCIETY!
It goes without saying slut-shaming and fat-shaming is never okay. I mention it simply to make a point.
Yes! An experiment in which I blog about stuff! (But what?)
I’ve been meaning to post this writing exercise, even though I’m a bit embarrassed by my efforts. I had intended to focus on writing dialogue, but then I decided to have fun with it:
“Dude, wake up!” Hurley pokes at my forehead with his makeshift flag of plastic shirt and bamboo. “It’s snowing, and Kate’s a zombie! DUDE.”
Why is my Hurley action figure still talking to me? I’ve got to wake up sometime. “Kate isn’t a zombie. She only looks like a zombie because that’s how plastic toys covered in plastic mud look.”
“She ate Jack!”
“No, she didn’t. I told you before: I didn’t buy a Jack. He’s a whiny bitch.”
“But it’s snowing! FULL-ON ZOMPOCALYPSE OUT THERE.” I sigh and burrow beneath my blue-green patchwork quilt. It is rather cold–not that a chill in the air and death by zombie toy are mutually exclusive. Then again… “Dude, you’ve got to save us!”
“All right, Hurley. I’ll humor you. How can I help?”
He pokes at my arm. “You’ve got to get provisions!”
“Provi–aw, man, why am I buying into this?” I throw back the quilt, get out of bed, and head toward the bathroom. “I’m going to brush my teeth, then I’m going to–” I stop, mid-sentence, because Hurley is right: it is snowing. Also, Kate is perched on the windowsill, covered in toothpaste. “What the?!”
“Nyaaaaaaaaaaaar,” Kate rasps, her eyes bloodshot. “Nyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar.” She waves her toothpaste and plastic-mud-covered arms. “Nyaar?”
“No, Kate, you can’t wash off the mud. HURLEY? Kate’s not a zombie; she just wants to take a bath.” I squeeze what’s left of the toothpaste onto my Sonicare, and Kate’s eyes light up. “No, Kate. I know what you’re thinking, and no. Just, no.”
Hurley peeks at Kate from the threshold. “Will you take us to the gas station for some ding dongs? What if the power goes out?”
I look out at my snow-dusted street and sigh. Nervous breakdown or no, at least I won’t be alone if the power does go out. “Sure, why not?”
Hurley waves his makeshift flag of plastic shirt and bamboo, triumphant. “TO THE GAS STATION!”
(True story: after I wrote this exercise, I realized my Hurley action figure had gone missing.)
Of all the poems I’ve written, only one line remains etched into my brain: “I smell river in the woodwork.” My Loyola classmates and I laughed at that line in workshop. (The river didn’t even flood the city!) Still, I remember the way rotting shotgun houses smell, and they don’t smell like mold. They smell like river in the woodwork.
When I get it right, I get it very right, even if I laugh about it and pretend that I don’t.
The Beekeeper’s Daughter
A garden of mouthings. Purple, scarlet-speckled, black
The great corollas dilate, peeling back their silks.
Their musk encroaches, circle after circle,
A well of scents almost too dense to breathe in.
Hieratical in your frock coat, maestro of the bees,
You move among the many-breasted hives,
My heart under your foot, sister of a stone.
Trumpet-throats open to the beaks of birds.
The Golden Rain Tree drips its powders down.
In these little boudoirs streaked with orange and red
The anthers nod their heads, potent as kings
To father dynasties. The air is rich.
Here is a queenship no mother can contest —
A fruit that’s death to taste: dark flesh, dark parings.
In burrows narrow as a finger, solitary bees
Keep house among the grasses. Kneeling down
I set my eyes to a hole-mouth and meet an eye
Round, green, disconsolate as a tear.
Father, bridegroom, in this Easter egg
Under the coronal of sugar roses
The queen bee marries the winter of your year.
Helen of Troy Does Counter Dancing
The world is full of women
who’d tell me I should be ashamed of myself
if they had the chance. Quit dancing.
Get some self-respect
and a day job.
Right. And minimum wage,
and varicose veins, just standing
in one place for eight hours
behind a glass counter
bundled up to the neck, instead of
naked as a meat sandwich.
Selling gloves, or something.
Instead of what I do sell.
You have to have talent
to peddle a thing so nebulous
and without material form.
Exploited, they’d say. Yes, any way
you cut it, but I’ve a choice
of how, and I’ll take the money.
I do give value.
Like preachers, I sell vision,
like perfume ads, desire
or its facsimile. Like jokes
or war, it’s all in the timing.
I sell men back their worse suspicions:
that everything’s for sale,
and piecemeal. They gaze at me and see
a chain-saw murder just before it happens,
when thigh, ass, inkblot, crevice, tit, and nipple
are still connected.
Such hatred leaps in them,
my beery worshippers! That, or a bleary
hopeless love. Seeing the rows of heads
and upturned eyes, imploring
but ready to snap at my ankles,
I understand floods and earthquakes, and the urge
to step on ants. I keep the beat,
and dance for them because
they can’t. The music smells like foxes,
crisp as heated metal
searing the nostrils
or humid as August, hazy and languorous
as a looted city the day after,
when all the rape’s been done
already, and the killing,
and the survivors wander around
looking for garbage
to eat, and there’s only a bleak exhaustion.
Speaking of which, it’s the smiling
tires me out the most.
This, and the pretence
that I can’t hear them.
And I can’t, because I’m after all
a foreigner to them.
The speech here is all warty gutturals,
obvious as a slab of ham,
but I come from the province of the gods
where meanings are lilting and oblique.
I don’t let on to everyone,
but lean close, and I’ll whisper:
My mother was raped by a holy swan.
You believe that? You can take me out to dinner.
That’s what we tell all the husbands.
There sure are a lot of dangerous birds around.
Not that anyone here
but you would understand.
The rest of them would like to watch me
and feel nothing. Reduce me to components
as in a clock factory or abattoir.
Crush out the mystery.
Wall me up alive
in my own body.
They’d like to see through me,
but nothing is more opaque
than absolute transparency.
Look–my feet don’t hit the marble!
Like breath or a balloon, I’m rising,
I hover six inches in the air
in my blazing swan-egg of light.
You think I’m not a goddess?
This is a torch song.
Touch me and you’ll burn.
We are remnants of an imploded star. Is it any wonder that, when things get bad, I turn inward–collapse?
“Starling, you were right. I am the jealous kind…”
The World at Large
“Why does it always feel like I’m caught in an undertow?”
Take to the Sky
“My father says, ‘You ain’t makin’ any money.’
My doctor says, ‘You just took it to the limit.’
And here I stand, with this sword in my hand…”
“When he sucks you deep,
sometimes you’re nothing but meat.”