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.



I’ve recently stumbled across four poems that were cut from the final version of COLORS MORE COLORS. You can read them below: a saucy true story about public sex and a lightning strike, a rumination on a bee at Codornices Creek, another rumination on Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee-level eschatology and mild depression I recorded one afternoon at People’s Park, and a eulogy on the mode and style of the poems in what was then my previous (/first) ‘zine, MY FIST IS A BOOK OF ETHICS. All of these are, of course and along with my collaboration with the inimitable Bonnie Cherry, available at both my Etsy store and via my Patreon. Be sure to keep your eyes open for next month’s IT’S HERE THAT I AM COMFORTABLE WITH MYSELF, HERE THAT I HAVE FRIENDS, in which I attempt to both sharpen and put to rest a mode of poetics I’ve been attempting to call the poetry of knuckles. More soon xo and all that.

May 20th, 2011

we ran into the library

soaked by rain, she

put me in her mouth

and then her self

we came and

lightning struck

the steam whistle,

its billowy contents


out into the storm,

when she noticed

that we’d fucked

next to Whitman

and Miller and

a student who

we didn’t know

was there

Degrees of Proximity Dictating Value

a small green bee

leaves behind no

orbits, nor follows

mindless, mindlessness


Its shadow suggests a swarm

or the possibility of one

one of many

sound logic is anything but

knowing the way an animal

crouches before it pounces

or an insect floats or that

a plant grows imperceptibly

but that doesn’t mean we’re

blind, doesn’t mean god

doesn’t see us in order

to exist, doesn’t follow

mindless orbits

soundness of mind is like

the soundness of anything

else: it never actually has

it; is adjacent like smoke

causal like flowers facing

the sun, degrees of proximity

dictating value

there isn’t a mountain

for miles around and as

such it can’t be forced

to disclose itself, what

it can only suggest are

the possibilities made

such by its closeness

to the sun

perhaps granted by the

small trauma of the fact

that I have just killed

the small green bee

having swatted it once

and twice on its return,

sending it softly to the

ground into which I

smashed it with my

foot proclaiming




Whole & Entire

… and if the soil present

would itself be so kind

as to rise to the occasion

of swallowing the just and

the unjust so that it might

be known that in doing so

myth would be undone and

the world would fall apart

I would be grateful

grateful for the fistful

grateful for the grasp

and the grasping

grateful for the outness

of the sunlight

for that which I would

be unable to ever know

again would cover me

cover me whole

cover me entire

My Fist Was A Book Of Ethics

all that will have been

will be the case as well

if, that is, indeed, the case

so, you see, it must respond

in kind: by opening- we

are desperately in need of

the verb; to be, at least,

for a moment, the passive;

to have been opened unto

and so we needed the

verb of the question – the

activity that brought

about both the perfectly

present opening as well as

the state of openness

that shoots out an inability

to delineate the limits of

the verb to open, that forces

us to choose, to trace

a line of force from

emptying object to

emptying object until

what ends and begins

becomes a flow that

bleeds out its own

trajectory into every


and so to regain,

to gather up our

useful singularity,

we must remember

the rhythm of

the litany along

which we travel


Kylo Ren Eleison: Patricide & The Pull to the Light in The Force Awakens

Throughout history, temptation has existed as that thing which draws one away from the good and toward the bad. Both a mediation and a catalyst, the word temptation itself is metonymic for that toward which it leads: “lead me not into temptation” is a second-order request: please make it so that I’m not even tempted to do the thing the temptation leads me towards.

Here let me just place my helmet in this pile of my grandfather’s ashes.

This is not the case with Star Wars Episode VII’s villain, Kylo Ren, for whom the formal structure of temptation remains the same, even though the script is flipped. In an essential scene we find Kylo alone before the famed half-melted helmet of his grandfather, where he monologues: “Forgive me. I feel it again. The pull to the light.” So while for everyone else in Kylo’s family and the universe, temptation is the vacuum of evil, for Kylo it is the opposite: the idea of doing good, of being good, draws him away from his desire to stay bad, be badder, or both.

The whole form of this question feels like that seminal moment of western subjectivity ala Paul’s exposition of the law in Romans chapter seven (verse 15b): “… (f)or what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.” Kylo Ren shows how this logic is applicable in all directions, regardless of which law one attempts to obey. A verse later Paul clarifies: “But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.” It very well might be that in episode VIII we will see Kylo do something good, thus having the occasion to proclaim “it is no longer I who do it, but the light that dwells in me.” Indeed, it is Leia’s insistence that there is “still light in him” that convinces Han to meet his brilliant fate out on that bridge over that gratuitous bottomless pit.

And Han himself plays an essential role in a second script-flipping, itself made possible by the first: here instead of a sacrificial son, we have the sacrificial father. He even gets his own, condensed garden of Gethsemane: moments before he meets his end at the hands of Kylo Ren, Kylo implores him: “I know what I have to do, but I don’t know if I have the strength to do it.” Prescient movie watchers and those of us with perfect hindsight know now that the “it” Kylo speaks of is the act of patricide (probably ordered by Snoke to help make Kylo eviler). But it isn’t only the fact that Kylo asks Han for his help, but that Han responds in the absolute affirmative: “Yes! Anything.” Now to be sure, Han’s fatherly sacrifice has more of an unwittingness to it- it’s hard to believe that Christ, as he was struggling so hard with his own humanity in the garden that he sweated blood, didn’t actually know (him being God and all) what was going to happen before he uttered the Han Soloan dictate: that “not my will, but thine, be done.” But this adds a layer of virtue to Han’s self-emptying, considering the fact that Harrison Ford’s performance doesn’t look as though Han really believes that his son’s about murder him. But alas, he does, and the image of the reverse crucifixion is made even clearer when we realize that Kylo Ren’s sword itself LOOKS LIKE A CROSS.

Klyoa Eleison
Is that an upside down red laser cross or are you just super pissed off to see us?

Yes, the oft-talked-about raggedy broadsword looking impliment is a cross, and it is worth noting that when Kylo finally deals Han’s death blow it is an upside down cross, which is both extremely metal as well as fitting, considering the inverted nature of the narrative. 

If the above is the answer to the question we had prior to The Force Awakens- how are they going to mess with the forms essential to Star Wars?- then the new question becomes: did Kylo Ren’s patricidal act do the trick? Did it make him more powerful than Vader? Or Luke Skywalker? Did it make him eviler? Did it- or will it help- push him beyond a threshold from whence there is no returning? In a word: No.

The Christianity that I was familiar with for a long time (Easter Orthodoxy) liked to talk about Christ’s crucifixion as a sort of trick god played on the devil: the metaphor was that of a fishhook, with Christ as the worm. Since the fall the lot of humanity was death- everyone had to do it. But since Christ was both man AND god, and since being god meant being deathless, being life itself, it was therefore impossible for either a) him to *actually* die (though they say he did, and they say that’s the beautiful paradox), but more importantly, b) for the devil to handle that action. Submitting life to death broke the bonds of the latter over the former, and thereby flipped the script on the whole shebang. I think something similar happens with Han & Kylo.

In short, since Han offered to do whatever it was that Kylo needed, Kylo will be forever grateful to him for that. This whole being-the-baddest-dude-in-the-universe thing is obviously really important to Kylo, and since it’s important to Kylo, it’s important to his dad.

Christ tricked the trickster: the devil thought that he’d figure out a way to kill god, but god was all “gotcha!” The same thing happens here: regardless of how heartfelt Kylo’s “torn apart”-edness was, the endgame was to be an eviler Kylo: trick your dad into letting you kill him! But then it turns out that this very act of “letting” nullifies the ends of said patricide, foiling said wicked plans. Unless of course the agent of said plans is really Snoke, in which case Snoke has Kylo exactly where he wants him, just like Han said mere seconds before his death: “Snoke is using you for your power; when he get what he wants, he’ll crush you.” and Han is still right.

At the end of the day, Kylo will never be able to let Han’s kenotic sacrifice go- and that never-letting-go is going to play an essential role in the narrative at some point in the future of the franchise- mark my words.

Now Available: The Book of Foxes

Three Excerpts:

“Before it was a dramatic liturgy it was a codex of fragments, a mysterious hodgepodge with a multiplicity of mysterious original sources. Only here instead of time ruthlessly and slowly having her way with words written on marble walls, we are the agents by which what does not get said is not read.”

my poem is the object of your body

with its divots and sluices, bulbous and tremblings

shoulders in high-relief against morning suns and freckles

I shoot my hot self into that which can be filled no further

am folded into myself into a blurred oblivion

only to re-materialize at three in the morning

when she thought that I’d died because I’d died

and been resurrected”


“with ravenous mouth

with wildest hyperbole

with hummingbird heart”

For more info on The Book of Foxes – and to buy it- check out my etsy store.