So, you’re trans. Don’t you think the obvious first question is: When did you know you were a boy? Did you always feel “born in the wrong body”? And, while we’re at it, was your family cool with your transition? And how wild is it to know what it’s like to be BOTH genders?

I don’t think that any of these are obvious first questions, no. 

Wait–but you write about being trans. Don’t you?

Sort of! Did you read Amateur?

I did. 

What would you say it’s about?

The title of your new collection is Feminists Are Passing from Our Lives. Where does it come from and is this a book about feminists?

I used the title of one of my favorite poems in the manuscript, which is a parody of Philip Levine’s poem, “Animals Are Passing from Our Lives” which was published in the 1960’s. Levine’s speaker is a pig being taken to market to be sold for meat. The pig can sense his fate and speaks with a dignity we wouldn’t expect from any being under those circumstances.

With what’s been happening in the lives of American women, whose health care rights are under threat, who are still not paid equally for our work, and who are being targeted by extremist groups in the “manosphere,” I sometimes feel like that pig, properly fattened on title 9, on access to safe healthcare and a good education, now being guided into a future that looks a lot like the past. It’s a cautionary. It’s also an accounting of growing old.

after Philip Levine

It’s wonderful how they jog
in two-toned gel soled racing shoes
their yoga butts barely jiggling
in rosy spandex leggings.

I was there once. I felt
the brash I’ve got it all, I had
the uncomplicated beauty of the young
before the years peeled it from me

like flimsy wallpaper. In my memories
women’s work was pin money
to pay for ballet lessons, summer camp;
suffering children, suffering filing jobs

Here’s the start of the story and it’s a good story and this one is true.

Ashleigh Bryant Phillips is from North Carolina and we met on the internet because she went on a book tour with my friend Bud Smith and Bud told her some stories about me and then Bud told me some stories about her.

We exchanged numbers and texted and talked on the phone and I told her to listen to the song ‘House Cat’ by Mark Kozelek and she sent me a video of a hooting owl.

And then she sent me a postcard.

Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Amanda Stern. Her new memoir is called Little Panic: Dispatches from an Anxious Life (Grand Central Publishing).

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Poetry or Making Love?

 That’s a tough call and I might have to dodge the question by insisting they’re the same thing. I’ve always said the connection between a writer and a reader is like a settled relationship – one in which you take your time, learn about each other, go back and start again when needed. The connection between a speaker and an audience on the other hand is like a wild one night stand.

I expected them to tell me that my bacon
had come from a happy pig, one that had had a full life,
was corn fed and had free range, did yoga in the mornings,
played the cello, spoke Latin and learned
to salsa dance while visiting relatives in Cuba.
I thought maybe there would have been a photo album
to accompany the sacrifice, documenting its first birthday,
first snow and first of everything else,
here an oink, there an oink.

 

What is it about poetry as opposed to other genres?

I guess it’s the wordplay; the truly infinite number of ways that exist for using language and syntax in poetry that other genres don’t allow. Poetry by its own nature adheres to something ineffable and far more embracing than the Chicago Style Manuel. Restrictions that hinder creativity annoy me anyway. Poetry, on the other hand, is viscerally and emotionally freeing.

As a long time choreographer and teacher of improvised performance arts, I learned from the very beginning that any individual’s freely flowing and naturally occurring continuum of creative thought and action is hindered only by their own private wounds and learned or imposed behaviors. Most teaching of improvisation actually involves unlearning habitual patterns. And all writing at its inception is improvised. For me writing poetry is remedial work for the creative spirit. I love that work. The need for it, is at the core of my driving interest in writing poetry for the last 20 years.

Parachutes have risen
and structures of fashion
have shifted in the foyer.

Prestigious and versatile,
the concierge collects
luxury gifts. She drinks
the beverage before her,

sucks air too loudly to sigh.
A carnage of orchids
dries on Spanish tile. A red
pepper turns in the bowl.

 

Language needs a few new relationship words. Particularly boyfriend.

I’ll allow the issue of boy having a troubled history to speak for itself. Except to add that Black jazz musicians in the 40s began calling each other man because of the Jim Crow practice of referring to them as boys. This then is the root of the all-encompassing pronoun-slash-exclamation man used by most musicians, then bleeding into beatniks and out to many other bonded male groups: athletes, actors, (poets?).

But also, while women don’t mind (even, in my case, prefer) to be called girls, men don’t usually refer to themselves, individually, as boys. As in I’m a boy who likes ___. Yes, there’s the old standard one of the boys. Or boys’ night out. Or even my boys (although that could mean the male anatomy that comes in a pair, but I’ve never heard a woman refer to her breasts or ovaries as “my girls.”)

This month, the book club will be reading Circa, the terrific debut novel by Adam Greenfield. Available from Pelekinesis.

Read some excerpts here.

Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Allie Rowbottom. Her new book is called Jell-O Girls: A Family History (Little, Brown). Her essays can be found in Vanity Fair, Salon, The Florida Review, No Tokens, The South Loop Review, PQueue, Hunger Mountain, The Rumpus, A Women’s Thing and elsewhere.

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As I drove further away from downtown, the houses and sidewalks became progressively neglected. Like forgotten memories in an old attic. Like the unloved pages of an old dusty photo album, some complete, yet frayed–overflowing with used-up cheer. Others, abandoned, with only the peculiar unblinking gaze of an unnamed child–questioning and accusing all at once—staring out from among dubious, brown, square-shaped stains, the only proof that there was more to the story; that more had once existed. Proof that here was once a happy, bustling, productive community. A thoroughfare of dreams, once cherished and kept tidy and neat, to proudly display the depth of love, the fullness of life, of one family. One community. With its empty lots between every other house and its broken sidewalks and time-tested aluminum fences dislocated by century-old oak trees, Columbia’s North Main Street was such a forgotten piece of history.

At first glance it seems a thankless assignment: to write a new Raymond Chandler novel featuring his iconic detective Philip Marlowe. I suppose it would be like taking on a sequel to Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” and then you think: what the hell can I do with Gregor Samsa now? Hasn’t he been through enough? I don’t know what Lawrence Osborne’s first thoughts were when the Chandler estate approached him with this opportunity, but, knowing something of his previous novels, I think he’s a most interesting choice for the exercise, and the resulting work makes him seem inevitable.

Prior to this, sequels—or, rather, more properly speaking, new novels featuring the setting and the character of Philip Marlowe—have, with the blessings of the estate, been undertaken by Robert B. Parker and John Banville (writing as his alter-detective-writing-ego Benjamin Black). Now British-born, Bangkok-based Lawrence Osborne has been anointed to tackle this job, but if you know any of Osborne’s novels, the whole idea of it is highly intriguing.

Get to know me: I die for books but I live for television. The former is my bff, the latter is my one true love. Give me a meaty, well-written drama with an ensemble cast of Emmy nominees who can transport me to another time, place, or life experience, and I’ll binge it on a loop until it becomes embedded in my emotional memory like a song. Earlier this year, ER, the 15-seasons-long saga of daily life at County General in Chicago from the perspective of its emergency department, finally became available to stream (on Hulu). Created by novelist Michael Crichton, the show debuted in 1994 and holds up like a motherfucker; even its so-called bad seasons toward the end that no longer included anyone from the original cast make Grey’s Anatomy look like General Hospital when it comes to its medicine. Never pandering to its audience, ER calls procedures by their proper names and manages to educate, even as it works to destroy you emotionally with its too-often relatable human dramas. So, for months I’ve been watching all 335 hours of the show at home. Since episodes are often on as background noise the way some people do with NPR, I figured I’ve absorbed at least 1,000 hours of medical school by now, practically a junior resident. Right when I was missing the high of seeing an undiscovered episode ever again, I had the pleasure of meeting editor Megha Majumdar at Catapult, who told me about Paul Seward, MD, a now-retired pediatrician turned emergency department specialist, whose first book Patient Care is just as mesmerizing a read as seasons 1 – 4 are to watch. I couldn’t put it down.