The Un Dis Embodied Voice of Jacq Greyja’s GREATER GRAVES

Maybe about a year ago now I had the pleasure of trading Jacq Greyja a couple of zines for an early draft of their forthcoming collection of poems, GREATER GRAVES. I have been struck by how brilliant these poems are, and because of this I asked them if I could review it for the first issue of THE WHITE STAR READER, which I will be debuting tomorrow* (Sunday, August 3rd) at the 16th Annual San Francisco Zine Fest. So as a sort of celebration of Jacq and the fest and the debut of the WSR#1, here is a sneak peek at my review of Jacq Greyja’s brilliant GREATER GRAVES, forthcoming from DANCING GIRL PRESS later this year.


I suppose that the experience of being physically arrested, for lack of a better word, is one of- if not the primary- reason people read poetry. I like to say that good poetry is like a hearty meal: it saturates you, surprises you with its combination of tastes and micro-experiences, leaves you breathless, even if you’re not over full. And yet it is a labor, it takes a certain amount of effort and even strategizing- when to eat what and in what order, when to take a drink, when to sit back and just feel your jaws moving over fare, marveling at the deep visceral sensation of the experience. There is some poetry that exceeds even this sort of analogy, that almost immediately affects one in such a profound way that even if the volume is small, it sits on your shelf or next to your bed or in your bag for a year- not because you’re not reading it, but because you can only handle snippets of it at a time. I know that I am waxing hyperbolic here, and also that one of the greatest characteristics of the best poetry is its ability to map and act out subtleties, the middle stuff of life, the stuff that is less easily apprehended precisely because it doesn’t operate at the extreme limits of sensation or registrability. What makes Jacq Greyja’s forthcoming Greater Grave so singularly exceptional is that it does both.

Greyja, a non-binary, mixed race, queer Latinx in their mid-twenties, is currently working on their Creative Writing MFA at San Francisco State University, after having earned their undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley, last spring. From their website:

“Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in Bettering American Poetry, Berkeley Poetry Review, The Fem, Apogee Journal Folio, Gravel Magazine, Columbia Poetry Review, Yes Poetry, The Nottingham Review, and MISTRESS. Their collage work was recently featured in ‘Not Even’: Poets Make Collage at Bushel Collective in Delhi, NY. Jacq is currently completing two chapbook manuscripts: Ejecta Ejecta, the winning manuscript in Where Are You Press’ 2016 poetry contest, and Greater Grave, forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press in late 2017.”

As you can see, they’re already prolific. And I, for one, am happy for this, already feeling blessed to have been given a sneak peek at Greater Grave, and already looking forward to whatever is next. I will need some time, however, to spend with Greater Grave.

Greater Grave is an excellent example of the sort of fantastic possibilities I talk about in the essay in this first issue of The White Star Reader*, first, because it works tirelessly to disrupt its own surface, secondly because it relentlessly problematizes relations between things.

Greater Grave has a singular texture, and that texture bears the traces of architecture- that is: it bears sort of signature of its own labor. It makes me feel as though the aforementioned tirelessness with which it works bears the marks of the author’s actual tiredness- that is: it feels like an expenditure. A precious expenditure, like the substance of actual labor rather than a product of labor. I want to say that this is why its texture feels so profound and uncanny: it is as though that which is impossible to make into an object has been given the sensual qualities of an object, like tasting a movement or smelling a sentence.

I’m going to have a hard time moving past talking about the very first poem, whose title “Progress still controls us even in tales of ruination.” -Anna Tsing already displays a sense of the competing vectors mentioned in this issue’s essay: here there are two vectors- two movements- one towards the good (progress) and one towards the bad (ruination) whose coupling calls into question the assertion that the vector of “progress” was ever ‘good’ in the first place. This simple, structuring juxtaposition displays a good deal of the entirety of Greater Grave’s function: to show the brittleness of single signifiers, in this case progress, where a simple placing it in relation to something else can show the multiform fissures of its foundation. But this is the most simple example of this function, as the poem to which the quote serves as a title immediately begins to unravel a number of constellatory relations between things, creating what seems like an objectless allegory: a moving metaphor without a single static node along which its mechanisms function.

First, the structure of relations between the lyric subject and the things within them are structured by desire:

          wanting to edit this memory           I interject

          that I recall feeling not liberated/…

Second, that an impossibility- the prospect of editing one’s memory- is presented as a possibility. This possibility is followed by a broad space, a pointed lack, wherein the reader is implicated in their relation to the lyric “I,” as one who can never be sure to what extent that which they are able to remember or apprehend has been edited: what was in that space before either the edit or the desire to edit it? Why does the word edit feel like the word delete? Because both are impossible, strictly speaking?

Not only does this lyric “I” feel or simply “recall feeling,” but it “interjects” the assertion- an assertion that is weak not only because it is three verbs (interject, recall, feel) away from something other than what it is claiming, but because it follows immediately after the caesura of the possible having-been-edited-memory, which feels like an actual, although negative, interjection. It’s weakness, however, becomes a moot point, when we learn that that which the voice claims to have recalled is the negative of something it doesn’t believe in anyway, now a double negative:


          back before I dis member

          I forgot that I disbelieved in liberation

The location of all of these things- feelings, the voice itself, whatever the memory is- in relation to each other are thrown into the mysteriously unknowable past: the voice recalls feeling (from when to when?), but reverts (to before when?)- to “back before I dis member,” where all of the sudden to remember- taken as such both because of swift reading and the fact that before one forgets one exists in a state of remembering- is to take apart a body, and somehow now seems to have always meant to dis-RE-member, which semantically amounts to the word “forget,” only with a double modifier: the negation (dis) + a return/ repetition (re) + the verb for “put together.” This is the formal and semantic mechanism of the uncanny, wherein something means one thing and as well as its opposite. The double movement of the competing vectors of ruination and progress which structure the poem are therefore shown to have many more moving parts, necessary tributaries, possible functionalities, and sophisticated middle mechanisms and textures than the now seemingly oversimplified binary heuristic of the title- while it all seems to remain contained within it.

And this in the first five lines of the first poem of the book. But the reader doesn’t come to know the placeless map of constant movement through the act of mapping, which I assume requires a static terrain. Greater Grave, a map of movements, so to speak, is apprehended via the affect produced by the troubled and fluxing relations of and to other relations, by the feeling of being arrested, the sort of paused-with-an-over-large breath inside your chest that needs to get out. It feels felt because it feels embodied, and therein lies one of its greatest characteristics: that this lyric “I,” the I that dis/ remembers and wants and from which the poems of Greater Grave emerge and which Greater Grave never denies, affirms the continued possibility, plausibility, and political necessity of the lyrical poem, of the poetic voice of suffering subjects in the world, of the sort of broken utopian dreams that come from this sort of post//post/postmodern subject, this re-embodied (un-dis-embodied?) voice.



“The Dome of Being Seen,” In Memoriam: Ren Hang (1987-2017)

RH 2016 05

there are no edges
to the light
of apprehension
as a sort of capture
a kind of remembering

whether or not
one realizes
it’s there
is a question

whether or not
it is there
is also
a question

(I want to say
that something about
the experience
becomes a convexing out
from the navel
as some sort of
center of being that
has as its central
principle seeing
an orbish projection
that wants the light
and isn’t concerned
with the exact
location of that towards
which the light as
seeing is presumed
to be something like
focused on –
or emanating from-
there is only a fuzzy
center of gravity)
the light-seeing wants
to touch

maybe that’s why
there’s so much pubic hair
in these photographs

maybe that’s why
pubic hair

light seeing
wanting to touch
close orbits

RH 2015 03


the possibilities
inherent in
the miscellaneous
assembly of bodies
doesn’t necessarily
negate ennui
and ennui
doesn’t necessarily
negate that
which its anxiety
covers up as an
unnameable threat
which we now
know is simply
a lack

bodies fit together
red nail polish
writing words like
‘proximity’ on the
dome of being seen

the proximity of parts

the analysis
of an assemblage
that de-emphasizes
the stable identity
of that which comes
and begins instead
with the significance
of the proximity
of their parts
as though
that which came
together to enable
said proximity was
a side-effect
a memory of
what used to be

what really happened

RH 2016 01


therefore that
which was behind
has come to the fore:

bedroom walls
high rise suburbs

if I hold an animal
it’s so you’ll see
how different my skin
can be
according to its
proximity to certain
parts of my body

taught, purple
darkened crease
exploding with hair

however it is
is somewhere between
celebrated and holy

however it is, is
and my vision pushes
on the language
of smell, or of taste

blood as the shape
of words

RH 2013 01

for my dissertation
I will hold a peacock
in the nude

RH 2014 02

all images via RenHang.Org

Jane Gregory’s Virtual World

A quick report on a practice job talk/ reading given by poet Jane Gregory at the English Department at UC Berkeley on Thursday, January 12th.


I met Jane Gregory because we’re both smokers- or used to be, or sometimes are. Before it was anathema to smoke on campus, we’d cross paths at the usual smokers’ haunts around Wheeler Hall. I can’t remember how it happened but I eventually learned that she was a poet, and the next time we crossed paths she gave me a copy of her (then) new book, MY ENEMIES, which I’ve read over multiple times.

It feels like I say this a lot, which- if it’s true- must mean that I’m actually fairly lucky, though mainly I’m interested in whether or not other people experience the same thing: that thing where you meet somebody, find out they’re a writer, request and receive a copy of their work, all the while worrying that it’s going to be shit and you’re going to have to either lie, tell the truth, or just avoid that person forever. Anyway the thing I say a lot (usually to my partner, after I’ve met a new writer) is something along the lines of “I was worried that their work would suck but it’s actually really engaging” or something like that. The other option is that I’m incredibly uncritical, which I really don’t think is the case. Now of course comes the question: how many people are avoiding me because they’re read my writing, and hate it? I make an attempt to solicit bad reviews/ honest opinions, or at least I try (to remember) to, but I somehow think that taking me up on the offer is more awkward for more people than the above mentioned options. Which is to say, of course, that Jane Gregory’s work is really, really good, and I highly recommend it.

Gregory’s poetry succeeds in the same mode in which Daniel Owen’s fails, though to be fair hers is a more extreme version of the sort of poetry that manipulates its own surface- what with her plethora of slashes, back-slashes, parentheses, and de-etymologization of words via intentional misspellings, etc. The success of Gregory’s reading at the English Department at UC Berkeley on Thursday night had to do with- not unlike the similar but different success of the readings at SPD the night before- the hovering about a nexus of possible thresholds across which material was or was not disclosed, or promised to be disclosed and then withheld, and how the non-apprehension of things like gloss-data or marginalia or footnote like meta-data translates into a certain (aural/ oral) knowing unknowing- and whether or not this was a question of the virtual (Gregory’s claim) or the negative (via a comment from the audience).

What I mean to say is there was a whole lot of material that Gregory told us was there, on the podium or the page, but that she wasn’t going to or wouldn’t read to us. There were material reasons for this: this reading was really a practice job talk, in preparation for a visit with a prominent midwestern university (good luck Jane!), and so she was flying by night, as they say (I think), trying to find out what would work and what wouldn’t. In the end, I felt as though this was perfect: the uncertainty about what was desired led to an uncertainty in regards to not only what was or wasn’t really there, but where (podium or page?), and why something was or wasn’t there. All this is to say that Gregory’s poetry functions to perform the same work: in it’s increasingly fine distinction-making as made possible by the above mentioned plethora of surface markers, it sort of relentlessly slides about its own possibilities, all the while sort of displaying its own ability to agent distinctions or make judgements or claims in the world.

I was happy that she chose to read a number of her “BOOK I WILL NOT WRITE” poems, a series of poems that challenge the idea of a series on a number of levels (that she also spoke about during her reading). There are eight, I believe, such poems in MY ENEMIES, though interestingly enough she didn’t read the first one, which also happens to be my favorite. These poems are shot through with carefully constructed uncertainties: a) they claim to be a book, which they are not, 2) they claim to be one, which they are not (they are many), 3) they claim they are not written, or will not be written, but they are, 4) they fill out their given margins- are justified- but said margins fall short of normative prose/ book practice (again, defying bookishness). Their content performs similarly: the first BOOK (she) WILL NOT WRITE (see photo) couples its own motives for being written (“I must and know how to”) with the reasons behind that motive: “because it helps you.” The antecedent for this “it” is both either and/ or both because she “must” AND knows “how” to. It’s a both/ and situation, and affirmation, a yes that threads its way through the whole series as a contrariety with its own uncertainty.


This is fitting because Gregory kept mentioning, in her talk, the virtual, which amounted to those pieces that she didn’t read, or wasn’t going to read, or didn’t want to read, or decided she didn’t have time to read, or that she mentioned as not going to be read on purpose (without the intention of ever reading them (we’ll never know)). All of these came to occupy the space of the virtual in that Deleuzian sense of things not there/ revealed, but that exist in a sort of adjacent field, nearby and as-of-yet undisclosed, while the presence of their absence yet puts pressure on experience. This is the virtuality that Deleuze tried to articulate up to and against (that space of) the negative, which at least one member of the audience misidentified Gregory’s virtual space for: the significance isn’t that something was effaced or ever had the option of not being there, but that all these not-theres were carefully arranged in a virtual spectrum of sorts- from not being mentioned at all to being specifically mentioned as NOT there- and comprised just as much of the experience of the poetry as the read words, the spoken ones, the positives. Gregory’s work therefore does what the most sophisticated poetry-as-a-mode-of-thinking does: it articulates the mechanics of what to an untrained eye might simply seem like inference- that gap between the distinctions it can and does make in the world, and the virtual significances that fueled its own ability to do so.

Undisclosed Dis/Closure: 4 poets at Small Press Distribution

A quick review- the first of many, I hope- of a reading held at Small Press Distribution in Berkeley, California on Wednesday, January 11th, 2017 featuring Kristen Kosmas, Lisa Rogal, Claudia La Rocco, and Daniel Owen

For years now I’ve lived something in the order of a mere stone’s throw away from (the legendary? I feel like it’s legendary) Small Press Distribution in Berkeley, California. Yesterday evening, for the first time- I am ashamed to admit- I finally visited for one of their many poetry readings. The reading popped up in my Facebook timeline, as these sorts of things tend to do, and since it’s the beginning of the year and I’m still in touch with my desire to do certain things I traditionally don’t, I decided to go*. Also since it wasn’t raining yet, and wasn’t scheduled to do so until midnight or so, I decided to walk. Once there and sat surprisingly comfortably with about twenty or so other folks in SPD’s front office, I realized that thinking about the rain as something schedulable was a bit ridiculous: soon from a skylight I imagine would be extremely pleasant to have during any given work day came the tell-tale pitter-patters of intermittent East Bay raindrops. It was the sort of reading, luckily and however, wherein the anxiety that I might have had in regards to the possibility of having to walk home through said rain never won out over my ability to give my attention to the readers. Also luckily, it stopped raining before I had to walk home.

Kristen Kosmas, playwright, performer, and assistant professor of theatre at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, began the night with the preface that she wasn’t a poet and a piece that amounted to a fictional-ish letter to an old friend of hers, who turned out not only to be in the audience, but the final reader for the evening (at the time that Kosmas took to the mic, I was not aware that the Dan in the front row was the Daniel from the Facebook event page). Her piece reminded me of a subtle way that (something like) poetry might function like science fiction: in creating an absurd(ish) scenario wherein she claims to have been abducted by some sort of alien that is running a camp for people to stop being “in-effective,” and by issuing with candor the sort of lyricism made possible by the epistolary mode, she managed to do what I want to call shift her subject position to a place that somehow deepens the real feelings the voice of the letter expresses precisely through this bizarro-world (see: not real) scenario. This shift was effected all the more by what was either an extremely well-done performance, or simply real, which I suppose is the crux of the matter: the fact that the question of how real something is, in a dramatic or lyrical setting, is unanswerable: there very well might be this oscillation between fiction and nonfiction, but we’ll never know.

Lisa Rogal’s poetry accomplished something similar, but only insofar as it actually did something in a sort of opposite sense, something that a lot of contemporary poetry seems to do- sometimes effectively, often not. Both Kosmas’ and Rogal’s work had to do with a diegesis; their oppositeness has to do with the fact that while the world of Kosmas’ world was (at least partially) fantastic (see my scifi reference above), Rogal’s was realist. I wanted to say it was that mode of contemporary poetry that is something like creative nonfiction or journalism, something that told you about something you couldn’t really know in a way you wouldn’t normally know it or think it, but that’s not all of it. I think a lot of folks might describe the kind of poetry Rogal does as something that expresses the writer’s “personality,” as in her work puts a personal touch, or spin, on everyday occurrences that we all experience, etc. etc. And honestly? This sort of poetry usually bores me. I’m not saying it’s not entertaining- it actually usually is. Powered by the charisma or the quirk of whoever is reading it, I find myself chuckling along, nodding in that weird affect-exchange space that affirms the fact that I do, in fact “get it.” But I wasn’t annoyed by Rogal’s work. There was something in it that had to do with that undisclosed nature of the oscillation between fiction and fantasy that I felt when listening to Kosmas’, only here the threshold straddled was between that which can be known or experienced, and that which cannot- or should not- between people, either in everyday interactions or when sharing common experiences with others, via poetry or in everyday speech. More than simply the question of whether or not chicken tastes like chicken to you and pickles to me, or whether or not there is such a thing as a one-to-one translation between any words ever, it’s a question of losing track of when and whether or not we slide into and out of each others’ consciousnesses somehow, how something that maybe shouldn’t feel familiar can feel familiar in much the same way a dream just out of reach of memory lingers there on the margins.

Claudia La Rocco- poet, performer, and critic for ArtForum and The New York Times- read third, bringing a certain gravity to the evening. At first, her work seemed to echo the mode of Rogal’s: a strong voice cutting through various daily encounters, either sliding cutting critiques into the gaps left by the various brokenesses of everyday life or creating the cuts herself. I found myself thinking about how I would write about these writers during her first poems, and was thinking this about the cuts, when she introduced her final piece, which was a splicing together of her editorial/ critical notes with notes from her physical therapy sessions. Fittingly, the vacuous question that fuels all narrative was left unanswered prior to the poem, and only fragmentedly so by/ during the poem, which worked to create that space of undisclosed dis/closure mentioned above, with regards to the realness of Kosmas’ drama and the improbability of real-world free-indirect-discourse with Rogal’s work. This time it’s the question of diagnosis, of the urge to work one’s way back from the symptoms, if the text of the poetry-notes could be seen to be anything like a symptom (the documentary mode of notes seeming to better enable this possibility). But the splicing, the enmeshing of two documents atop each other seemed to want to fight against any systematization that might capitalize on allegory. It felt like an anthropological experiment, an inquiry, and observation as much for La Rocco as it was for us; a standing outside of and looking back at herself. Afterwards I perused the few books that were offered for sale, and was particularly taken with a work she edited entitled “I Don’t Poem,” in which sixteen different artists were asked to write, or provide, text/ poems to accompany sixteen color fold out plates of their work. It’s a book I want, and a mode I’m smitten by and haven’t seen enough of (have I not been looking in the right places?).

Finally the addressee of Kosmas’ letter, Daniel Owen, whose work- unlike the three previous readers- eschewed the diegetic or modal emphasis, focusing instead on the surface of its own language, took the mic to finish the evening. This sort of work, work that leans towards being about its own form, as opposed to its content, is usually the sort of work I am drawn toward. In its simplest register it’s wordplay, at the other end it’s extreme gibberish, and in between exist a vast amount of fantastic possibilities along a wide array of competing vectors. It’s here that words, concepts, notions, the bricabrac mechanics of prosaic language are all fucked with either for their own sake or for the magic of nonsensical allegory- that bizarre occurrence in which chaos somehow triggers meanings or sensible forms or even, sometimes, manages to elucidate the real world or whatever it is that’s outside the (experience of the) poem at any given moment. This might be a slapdash explanation of a mode of poetry that misses important things or trips up on problems I haven’t noticed, but at the end of the day a more refined exposition is still liable to accusations that poetry like this, poetry that is described like this, falls under the auspice of the “my kid could do that” realm of letters and arts, and that all criticism extrapolated from this sort of art is but an echo (if not a worsening) of the blather. Of course I think *that’s* bullshit, and one of the reasons is because Owen’s work ultimately fails to construct the sort of fantastic meanings or affect or experience that this sort of poetry is fully able to effect. Mostly it reads as a succession of disparate images or concepts, notions or descriptions that are strung together in an effort to relay whatever lyric experience they’re about, but fails to do so. They somehow obscure, somehow come across as blockages, as opposed to in-roads, to their meanings or my experience of them.

I walked home almost immediately, sauntering down the wetted street through too few streetlights- at least I think I was sauntering- and I realized that I really enjoy poetry readings. Also I can’t tell if I’m consistently growing or just a slow learner.

* This isn’t really true (/ the best way to say what I want to say): I actually do attend poetry readings on a somewhat regular basis. I think the idea of this years’ iteration of the old resolution has to do with the determiner “more,” as in go to poetry readings “more,” go to “more” poetry readings, etc. The desire itself isn’t for something other than what I usually desire.