Solid Quarter

Visit Trembling Pillow Press for poetry books, broadsides, chapbooks, and Solid Quarter Magazine.

Visit New Orleans Poetry Fest for the annual 4 day poetry festival directed by Bill Lavender and Megan Burns.

Megan Burns' Poeticsofbone&city project on Tumblr

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Collaborative Failure: Art & Intimacy

This is a generative post to what I want to eventually talk about at some length, which is collaborative failure or when collaborations fail or how collaborations fail.

I thought I would generate a bunch of corners to back into and then precede:

Does the artist choose collaborations that they know will be successful
or do collaborations that fail just disappear and not garner attention? Where do we see failed collaborations?

What does failure look like?

Is collaboration always a desire for intimacy? How does collaboration create a space for intimacy not relegated in other parts of our lives (as artists, as people)? Is the collaborative space a dangerous space?

Who decides?

When collaborations fail are they the failure of the two (or more) artists or the constraints or a problem of intimacy?

When is a collaboration not a collaboration?

& also if the working relationship works but the outcome of the work suffers
(if you write with someone & it fails what does that say about the relationship)

What if the collaboration is successful, but the relationship of the artists is not? What is a failure of intimacy in the midst of collaboration?

Where do we learn from failure vs. the breaking apart of communion?

Is it a failure to allow another into your space? (who are people that don't collaborate?)

Can collaboration succeed?

Can we argue that all collaborations are failures in their inability to cohere?

Or do they all succeed by their acceptance of opening up to the potential for failure?

Collaboration as the greatest source for potential failure/ how does this mimic intimacy?

If a collaboration fails, who takes the blame or Is collaboration inevitable?

At what levels, do we consider something a collaboration? Why are we more comfortable with failure in art and less so in our real lives? What is at stake to embracing daily failure in life?

Are we collaborating with the audience? As a medium, does poetry lend itself more readily to failure?

(Special thanks to poets Kristin Sanders, Ben Kopel, Lisa Pasold and Anne Boyer for discussions and thoughts generated about art & failure)

You can email me at: if you have any answers/ questions to add or comment below.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Review of Michael Ford's Where We Expect to See You Soon

This review first appeared in the literary journal Entrepôt in April, 2012. 

Reviewed by Megan Burns

            Often there is a text that haunts the text you’re reading. In the case, of Michael Ford’s Where We Expect to See You Soon, the reader is pointed in the direction of one such haunting in the opening epigraphs. Alice Notley’s line: “we move back into a damaged city” both frames the context of these poems and also signals to the careful reader a subtext for this work in both rhythm and line. I say rhythm and line because I don’t think one can bring to mind Notley at the beginning of a poem sequence without being attuned to her attention to the way a poem moves both in its line and each line in its place in the world of the poem. The epigraph is the first line from a poem “City” from the unpublished collection “Benediction” in Grave of Light (Wesleyan, 2006). The word “city” in the line though immediately reminded me of another chapbook, entitled “City of” by Notley (Rain Taxi, 2005). The two are probably linked in more than language as I read Notley’s chapbook after returning to New Orleans in late 2005 with its prescient lines: “It’s a placid / earth of horror and / from it/ I begin//No nation now/ only a/ city.” Ford, also a New Orleans poet, touches on these same images in the opening poem “The New Atlantis” where we find, “The city was marked— in the atlas as lost—the map of the place.” So, here are two texts wrestling with the city, the loss of the city and the illusion of the city. Each text also is setting down lines with precise rhythmical markers that tell us how to read the line as though we were locating through sound some sense of locale in the breath. Ford’s technique is to use the dash to break up any continuity in the line and to cause the reader to stop short and then begin anew. The line breaks become not the breaks, or smaller breaks when confronted with the eye’s need to traverse the horizontal line separating the sentences. In a sense, the horizon line also holds the text together, stringing through the body of the poem like a life line thrown to the drowning person: Here, if you can follow the path of this, if you can hear the sound of my voice, they seem to signal. Ford’s line breaks as well though signal distress as repeatedly the word “city” is broken amid other words cut in two by the end of the line: “fenc/es, to/day, dig/nity, point/ing, meta/phor. o/ver.” Things are broken; the tempo of the line, if not for the break caused by the dashes, would hurl forward at a rapid pace, especially as the images of what the city is pile up. In the ways that memories of loved ones crowd forward, the city is displaced and in its stead a cacophony of oral and aural images surface to take its place.  The narrator guides us through the ruins: “We make our way by match light—conveyed—on/ light bones and feathers—wings fanned out.” And that’s just the first poem.

Ford tells us in a note at the back of the book that all of the poems are written in a form he calls “89,” where the syllable count in the lines as well as the lines in each stanza adhere to a loose structure based on 8 and 9. This brings us to the second epigraph from Shakespeare: “And in fresh numbers number all your graces.” This isn’t the first time that Ford has used a number constraint to create his poems. The success lies in the all but invisible deployment of the method. Far more obvious than the number form on the poems is Ford’s use of the dash to break up his lines and his use of space to cut the line cleanly and control his rhythm. Take the poem “Lizzie Borden, What’s all the Fuss About?” which begins with the line “This will be my murder ballad—” and then precedes to deliver a poem mimicing both Williams’ variable foot as well as subject matter, only to break off in the next line stating: “These fucking numbers are on every-/ thing.” In light of the author’s note, the double meaning behind such a line is even richer. More interesting to me is always Ford’s deft handling of the movement of the poem, here at once he is able to slow the line down to a crawl like William’s cat foot creeping about and then pick it back up to toss it around.  Ford also has the poet’s eye of taking a seemingly innocuous statement and placing it down amid a sea of chaos, so it suddenly resounds loudly. Take the line: “The river is deep because/ there is so much water in it.” Alone we might find this statement quaint, but in Ford’s hands this is the poem “10 Most Dangerous Places in Space” and we have been led here with this reminder: “We will never meet—in quiet/—in footprints on another globe—We/ will never meet again.” Another connection between Ford and Notley for me is that their poems often chill me to the core, and yet I can’t let go of them. Ford presents us with the familiar just enough out of place so that we can never get comfortable; his poems envelope the terror —root in the “terra incognita.”

Review of Vincent Cellucci's An Easy Place/ To Die

This review first appeared in the literary journal Entrepôt in April, 2012. 

CityLit Press (2011)

by Megan Burns 

            The oldest stories are flood stories. Here in Vincent Cellucci’s An Easy Place/ To Die, the flood that swept through New Orleans in 2005 haunts the text, shading and contouring the line of thoughts and memories contained in this carefully constructed book of poems. Carefully constructed in its specific layout, Cellucci wants the reader to know that the story of this flood reads like a palimpsest covering the oldest of written tales, Gilgamesh, and borrowing and leaning on influential texts such as Eliot’s “The Waste Land” or Joyce’s Ulysses. These markers are not integral to the understanding of the poems though as they create their own particular landscape; it simply allows us to appreciate the layered history that Cellucci is writing upon. Bleeding through the lines is the structure and forms that Cellucci insists must make sense of the chaos, must in some ways contain the terrible. Cellucci claims that New Orleans is his Enkidu, the city made flesh and in this incarnate form: the one sought. It is down into the underworld that one must always travel to understand. Cellucci may title the book with the directive “To Die” but this is a collection about thwarting death, about emerging into the light after a long trek in the darkest dark.

            The first section begins “Uruk—Cradlecasket,” establishing links from the oldest of cities to this present day city: New Orleans. Embedded in the word “Uruk” is the “Ur-” that signals a primal or precursor to whatever follows as in the “ur-poem” with its promise of the germane source of our modern texts. “Uruk” draws an interesting parallel to New Orleans in that it is an ancient city whose history is built on myth and fact. In some sense, New Orleans remains a city existing somewhere between its own myths and reality, and it’s not a far stretch to imagine its eventual disappearance and subsequent memory being one constructed on these guiding principles. The district of Eanna in Uruk is one of the earliest known cites to develop writing and architecture cementing its place as a true “ur-city.” But Cellucci knows as well as any New Orleanian that a city is an illusion and what makes it stand is as illusory as a line of descriptions pilling up to embody the scene:
“megalomaniacs line to Tip’s/ for vampire music/ & blood/ suck mosquitoes/ a domicile/ turned    sacristy/ febreezed/ smellnomurder/ comingoutfromin/ that’s welfare” (16). Unpacking all of these images reveals the interlocking nature of urban life, the music integral to New Orleans is paired with the murders and poverty also widespread in the city.  The mythology of Anne Rice’s vampire lovers paired with the reality of blood sucking insects, and in the lines, words crammed tight to signal our need to either rush past, (don’t look here where the murder lies) but that also mimic the rhythmic rush of speech.
            The vernacular emerges throughout the poems capturing the speak of every day in lines like “done made a habit out of where you live” from “Eyes Bottle You” or in “Cleaning up/ Al’s Apartment:” “we walking graveyards. inside, we all hold the dead. clean them alive.” The second section: “Ishtar Castles” present poems dedicated goddess-like to the invisible other who in turn fascinates and torments the speaker.  Cellucci employs the use of the term “nother” to further depersonalize the “other” who is the source of the emotion, but the intimacy is emitted via the intense scrutiny of the other, sometimes fierce and sometimes tender: “the world lies/  lie with me/ invent constellations/ between our imperfections” (35) can be thrown against the earlier “I want to conquer you   speaking/ of which     start pretending/ you haven’t    smothered me” (25).  Cellucci often marks line breaks in the titles of his poem as he does in the book’s title; a structure that should read as a marker for us is purposefully broken. A stop of breath is commanded by the interruption, and yet the line remains whole: broken and whole.

            Some of the most beautiful lyrics are contained in the third section “Death by Heaven’s Bull” such as in the poem “Partial:” “we enjoy the brackish taste/ of tears toppled// we take the slow boat/ to scales/ we devour” (39).  Again, in “White Azaleas/ or Axioms for my Daughter” the delicate wisdoms of: “Don’t you don’t/ Could wind be a wish on us? / Let’s leave to a song./ Use imagination, not others.” The final poem in the collection “Causeway” is a long tribute to a post-Katrina New Orleans and, like the world’s longest bridge that it is named after, it carries us on a journey from one place to another. But here, it is the bridging that matters, (coincidently, in the afterward, Cellucci notes that the poem is loosely based on Crane’s famous bridge poem). “Causeway” attempts to contain the chaos of emotions amid the surreal and heart-wrenching imagery, sounds, and smells that were post-K New Orleans. “how I love Americans/ who (haven’t) waited/ on the corner to grab canned water and MREs” it states, playing with the literal opposites between New Orleans and everywhere else. Conversations overheard drift in on absurdist wings: “ ‘Baby, I don’t have any clothes’/ ‘It’s okay, I don’t have a stomach’”(62). In the afterward, Cellucci states that “Causeway” is a presence that “perseveres collapse and immolation,” (82). Perseveres, a word so close to the word preserve, which is another thing these poems do, but perseveres implies a resistance against, a lasting in spite of. And that’s New Orleans, preserved and persevered, caught in the double bind of “being easy” and “dying.” It’s a beautiful mystery to contemplate, like an ancient tale handed down century by century, and yet, here it is among us for the taking. Cellucci’s voice embodies the complex lover/ warrior, dissident and disheartened, and yet coming up from under the rubble, as Milton would say: long is the way/ And hard that out of Hell leads up to light.

Monday, November 26, 2012

NOLA Poetry: 17 Poets!, Brothel, Tulane Poetry Exchange Symposium, Latter Library & More

If you play your cards right, you could hear over 40 poets read between Thursday and Sunday. 

Thursday, Nov. 29th 17 Poets! hosts Carolyn Hembree and Kristina Robinson followed by the open mic

Thursday, Nov. 29th
Poetry Brothel: Allways Lounge, 2240 St. Claude (9:00 -till) 
Come wearing your finest burlesque, Victorian, or steampunk ensemble and receive a token for a free reading. Your hosts will be the Maître d’, Francis Shadfly (Jordan Soyka), and Madam Scarlett O’Heresy (Kim Vodicka)

Our cast of poets includes: The Private Dick (Adam Atkinson), Lady Ktsune’ (Aime’ SansSavant), Mam’zelle Cherie Louve (Anne Delatte), Jack Prince (Chris Shipman,) Pearl du Mal (Izzy Oneiric), Bi Nary (Jenn Nunes), and Calamity Kate (Katie Booms)

Guest reading by Vincent Cellucci, editor of FUCK poems (Lavender Ink)
Burlesque performances by Lana Turnover and Picolla Tushy
Live music from Cypress Channel.
Dramatic readings from historical tabloid "The Mascot" courtesy of Sally Asher & co.
Tarot card reading by Jenelle Campion
Busking by Aurelea River
Cyanotype & stilting by Philip Ylannopoulos
Acrobatics by Heath Stevens

Poetry Exchange Symposium organized by Andy Stallings and Zach Savich

Friday, Nov. 30
10:30 a.m. - 12:00 p.m: PXP Student Presentations (Tulane, Stone Auditorium, Woldenburg Art Center, Rm. 210)

1:15 p.m. - 4:45 p.m: Panel Conversations (Tulane, Norman Mayer Hall, Rm. 200B)
  • 1:15-2:00: Publishing and Editing Contemporary Poetry -- moderated by Zach Savich, featuring Nik De Dominic, Carolyn Hembree, Caryl Pagel, Dan Rosenberg, Mark Yakich
  • 2:15-3:00: Community Building in Poetry -- moderated by Brad Richard, featuring Megan Burns, Kelly Harris, Daniel Khalastchi, Kiki Petrosino
  • 3:15-4:30: All-New Orleans Student Reading -- featuring student poets from universities and high schools across the city
6:00 p.m. - 7:30 p.m: Keynote Reading (Tulane, Robert C. Cudd Hall) -- featuring Daniel Khalastchi, Blueberry Morningsnow, Kiki Petrosino, Michelle Taransky

Saturday, Dec. 1
12:00 p.m: Poetry Walk & Picnic -- b.y.o. food and poetry (City Park, near intersection of Wisner Blvd. & Filmore Ave., at kiosk across from driving range)

3:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m: Hunter Deely Memorial Poetry Reading -- (Mid-City, 623 N. Rendon St.) -- featuring Megan Burns, Peter Cooley, Nik De Dominic, Melissa Dickey, Carolyn Hembree, Maggie Jackson, Paul Killebrew, Ben Kopel, Alicia Rebecca Myers, Caryl Pagel, Hilary Plum, Brad Richard, Dan Rosenberg, Mark Yakich, and Zach Savich

8:00 p.m: Closing Celebration -- (Marigny/St. Claude, 2433 St. Claude Ave., at Music St.) -- entrance on Music St., b.y.o.b.

Latter Library Reading Dec. 1, 2:00PMJarvis DeBerry, Gina Ferrara, and Lee Grue read 

Sunday, Dec 2 Staple Goods Gallery, 2 p.m.  (w/ Carolyn Hembree, Geoff Munsterman, Nasimiyu, Niyi Osundare, and Maurice Ruffin)  

Sunday, December 2: 3:00-5:00 PM 

Join the MelaNated Writers Collective for an afternoon of verse featuring the award-winning artist Thomas Sayers Ellis on Sunday, December 2 from 3 to 5 p.m. at Cafe Treme (1501 St. Philip St.) 

Thomas Sayers Ellis co-founded The Dark Room Collective -- a big cousin of sorts to our MelaNated Writers Collective -- in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is the author of The Maverick Room (2005), which won the John C. Zacharis First Book Award, and a recipient of a Mrs. Giles Whiting Writers’ Award as well as Skin, Inc.: Identity Repair Poems (2010).

His poems and photographs have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Callaloo, Best American Poetry (1997, 2001 and 2010), Grand Street, The Baffler, Jubilat, Tin House, Poetry, and The Nation. He is also an Assistant Professor of Writing at Sarah Lawrence College, a faculty member of the Lesley University low-residency M.F.A Program and a Caven Canem faculty member. 

MWC poets will also spit, flow, read!
Admission: Free

Monday, November 12, 2012

Peformative Madness: Country Style

I don't know anything about country music. When I put country music into Google Images, here's what comes up: white men in cowboy hats, white women, guitars, American flags, cowboy boots, wagons, Willie Nelson and this obscene belt buckle:

I'm fascinated by poet Kristin Sanders' obsession with country music. It speaks to my own obsession with rap music. Two different worlds/ sounds wrapped in the construction of how it makes us retell our own stories against the flow of another's words. I want to talk about her video and her poems over at TENDERLOIN this month. 

Link to Sanders' video: I Learned to be a Woman from a Nineties Country Song

What's happening in this video? It seems like a tongue in cheek nod to how "country music" frames a type and that type is then performed by Kristin in an almost hysterical sense for our viewing pleasure. And I use "hysterical" with a precise nod to Invention of Hysteria, which I know Sanders is familiar with, and I use "pleasure" to denote as well the titillating view we are presented with as she romps and shakes before the camera.

The shot opens with our "performer" in the garbage can, a male voice off camera says, "do it" and then our "performer" pops out of the can to shake her stuff. It enacts a pornographic frame establishing who is the viewer, the one who controls the gaze, and who is the viewed, the one who performs for the gaze. It's hysterical in the dual meaning of the phrase as the video is funny and aims to poke fun, but hysterical as well in the pathological sense in that Sanders (the artist) uses her own body to enact a display of the tragically comic. Stuffing pearls into her mouth while standing in an open washing machine: she is quite literally the poet silencing herself, suffocating in the absurdity of these iconic displays: domestic and sexually available. Pornography exists in gluts of images, it's self-engorging and etymologically, from Fr. engorger "to obstruct, block, congest," O.Fr. engorgier "to swallow, devour," from en- (see en- (1)) + gorge "throat." In other words, to strangle on that which we desire.

Hysterical Epilepsy Hallucinations from "Iconographie De La Salpetriere"

The "performer" in the video is ecstatic, whether she is jumping on a bed with her hands tied behind her back or caressing a giant spoon or ironing while holding Freud in one hand. The appearance of Freud in the video leads us again to Invention of Hysteria where we learn: "Because Freud listened, hysteria returned to rattle the epistemic bases of neuropathology. But Freud had to pass through the great theater of hysteria at the Salpêtrière before beginning to listen, and before inventing psychoanalysis. The spectacle and its pain were necessary; first he had to get an eyeful" (Didi-Huberman, 80). An eyeful, that's what Sanders gives us, of herself. The performative specter who then is tied to the poem.

In the end of the video: the "performer" is masked. A lion mask obliterates her face as she takes what appears to be a basket of laundry outside the house. The return to the normative involves obliterating the face, hiding the face and containing the earlier exuberance or naked display. Behind closed doors, the "woman" is available; she is useful as an object that cleans and irons and also pleasing to the eye as an object that is able to be filled (with pearls) or to be gazed at in an inanimate state (corpse-like on the bed). The only babies, procreative elements that would signal her power, are reduced to king cake plastic dolls that are arranged over her abdomen as if she were a decorated float. There is no threat of real conception, no creation, and nothing to break the gaze of her role as that which is pleasurable to admire.

"We are all exposed to the prevailing ideology of our culture, and some women learn early on that they can prosper by aping the misogyny of men; these are the women who win provisional favor by denigrating other women, by playing on male prejudices, and by acting the man's woman." -Joan Smith, Misogynies

"It's a subtle abyss that separates men's use of women for sexual titillation from women's use of women to expose that insult." -Lucy Lippard, "Scattering Selves"

I thought a lot about how the enactment of this video depends on the normative sexuality displayed by Sanders and the accessibility of her as an object. What if the "performer" had not been "attractive," had not adhered to conventional images and forms that we find pleasing. What if the "performer" had been a person of color? How would a discussion of race have changed the dynamics, if instead of country music, the title was: I learned how to be a woman from nineties rap videos. What preconceived ideas would we imagine then as the template for what rap videos teach us about performing womanhood rather than country videos?

If they all display a performance then it truly enacts bell hooks statement: "misogynistic attitudes tend to be portrayed by the dominant culture as always an expression of male deviance. In reality, they are part of a sexist continuum, necessary for the maintenance of patriarchal social order" ("Gangsta Culture--Sexism and Misogyny).

I would go so far as to add that in relation to performative madness and the allusions to the hysterical women exploited at the Salpêtrière that being a woman always involves a performance (or several performances) and the pathology presents itself when the performance is treated as "normal." In other words, the insanity that women seem to chase is the distraction from a closer and more insidious form of insanity, which is the belief in the performance rather than a close deconstruction of how the part is played. What is portrayed as "natural" in film, books and T.V. is violence against women, is sexualization and mistreatment of women, is the ongoing fieldwork of upholding the patriarchal society that hooks reminds us: "must be labored in and maintained both to sustain patriarchy, but also to nourish an antifeminist backlash" (Gangsta Culture--Sexism and Misogyny).

I like that country music isn't a put-on for Sanders; it isn't a place to explore for some gain even as she points a critical eye at what it offers. She says in her interview: There’s no worst thing about country music, I truly love country music: what it says and what it refuses to say.  It’s so polite.  It’s so impolite.  I am utterly devoted to it, to who it made me become.  I have loved it all my life.  And this—speaking of secrets, of shame—brings me back to your very first question.  Sometimes we fall in love with what scares us most.

The poems are where the work is done though; regardless of our love or our devotion. It is our desire where we write it out, it is where we are not, which then complicates the images in the video. And Sanders' poems in conjunction with the video create a place of critique and discussion. You have to read the poems to get under the veil of the image like in  "Fancy Sung by Reba McEntire" where Sanders begins: "Fancy has a gun and I don't mean a real gun/ A man has a gun and I do mean a penis" or in "A Little Too Late Sung by Tanya Tucker" where she writes: "I walked into a gangbang and I was like/ oh shit." Sanders is not rewriting or decoding the songs for us; she's reinscribing them through the lens of her own performance stripped down. Beyond the pearls and denim, the "other" is given voice.

I think it's incredibly important to also point out that Saturday night, I went to karaoke with Kristin. And she sang "Fancy" by Reba McEntire. And it was beautiful and sexy and a woman can be a lot of things but when we're talking culture, a woman better be armed.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012



“Language is a skin. I rub my language against the other.”
-R. Barthes

for Kristin Sanders
                        (& for her students who say they don’t mind the trade)

gradually, till it sloughs off
any coat discarded, torn off husky voice
I was a hub for whispers, gossip mongrels
suck & I gave sip, tutelage where I trained
drawn all over cheeks while sleeping
oh, you confused little ninny
his “other” fills every open line

rockaway rockabye’s
how you sanded my levees
how picture my picture
let’s pretend it’s not the end
of times, part sea: my boat bulky
copied graffiti like a code
for generations stalled
wisdom under the toilet
paper roll: girls just want to have

see how the lids pop open
when she’s upright
I precipitated/ not participated
margined, absolutely
this day is traceable
what couldn’t be tumbled
breath on the frame: would he
notice my invisibility
if I cloaked or by the way, I buy
the double vision wedded
bound tyranny & desire
about to make _____________

Megan Burns