Poet Of The Week

Krystal Languell

     August 17–23, 2015

Krystal Languell was born in South Bend, Indiana. She is the author of the books Call the Catastrophists (BlazeVox, 2011) and Gray Market (1913 Press, forthcoming in 2016) and the chapbooks Last Song (dancing girl press, 2014), Be a Dead Girl (Argos Books, 2014), Fashion Blast Quarter (Flying Object, 2014), Diamonds in the Flesh, a collaboration w/ Robert Alan Wendeborn (Double Cross Press, 2015), and a collection of interviews, Archive Theft (Essay Press, 2015). A 2013-2014 Poetry Project Emerge-Surface-Be fellowship recipient and a 2014-2015 Lower Manhattan Cultural Council workspace resident, Languell serves as Finance Director for Belladonna* Collaborative and also edits the feminist poetry journal Bone Bouquet. She is employed by Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY.

Commute Instinct

My commute instinct eliminates the luxury of slow mornings.
Still not at all a bedroom-community experience. The source

of understanding is internal, and we cultivate it. I lecture
about how subjectivity limits perception, yet we make

a new space for meaning. That space is here, where we get by
on shifting debt among balance transfer offers. All of our

paperwork is expired. Student says: I got beat but it was worth it.
I say: I only give money to amputees and women who look pregnant.

Account your cash cent for cent, the way the rich stay rich.
Teenage girls take photos of men asleep & drooling on the train.

Jamaica Center, Parsons-Archer full of dead umbrella spines
regardless of weather. Like petrified desert spiders.

Reverse commute is an inherently hierarchical phrase and
I’d mention that the station smells like a litter box, but

I want you to respect it like I do. Theater of heartfelt catcalls.
People pre-walk to be in front of the exact right doors,

know better than to risk disgust by getting in an empty car.
I ask: Do you see anything evil in the media’s spectacle?

You don’t have to answer now. Queering is a scaffolded project,
what they pay me for. I’m your vigilance, a skeptical gaze, a limit.

The long commute internalized like an accent. Another nature.
Value judgment connotes a classier means of competition.

When your street isn’t cleaned, ask if it was a value judgment.
Maybe that unflattering dress you teach in is to blame.

A track fire is a track fire, but debris on the rails is a body.
Life-or-death spacemaking in tunnels—dear maintenance.

Above ground an incomplete mural of the Obama family
in a park enjoying ice cream and recycling. This week

Malia’s neck is mercifully revised, a bit straighter now.
I tell my students we are all works in progress, that becoming

is a process: that’s why college is four years long. I am
making this up as I go, which puts my theory into practice.

The body can learn. Stumble forward, feel around.
Once you’re embarrassed, it means you’re already better.

–Originally published in SET, Issue 2, 2014.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

I taught at York College in Queens for two semesters (2010-2011) while living in Crown Heights, which is still my neighborhood. The commute took about 1 hour 40 minutes door to door in order to arrive at 7:50 AM with a few minutes to set up shop before class started. Franklin Ave shuttle from Eastern Parkway to the C train to Broadway Junction to the J/Z to Jamaica Center / Parsons-Archer. I took the LIRR from Atlantic Center (now of course Barclays Center) once: when I went to sign the hiring paperwork and at the department head’s advice. That happened to be the day of a huge service outage (likely it was also my birthday) and I sat locked in an unmoving train for over an hour. It took a week for service to return to normal. I haven’t gotten on the LIRR since.

I was new to NYC and broke and figuring out what I had to offer my students. I was also working in an office and teaching a Saturday class for the Borough of Manhattan Community College; I was working seven days a week.

None of that is about writing the poem, though. It’s backstory. I wrote a ragged draft of this poem in 2011 or early 2012 and showed it to Carmen Gimenez Smith, who suggested the couplets. Couplets often save me. The line about Malia’s neck in the mural was especially tricky, I remember, because it was so important to me not to sound like I was making fun of her / it / the place. At the time I thought I succeeded, but I’m less sure now.

What are you working on right now?

I’m sending out what will eventually be my third book. I keep thinking I’m writing a novel and I’m reading Renee Gladman to figure that out. This summer I was on the editorial team for Beth Murray’s book Cancer Angel, which Belladonna* is publishing posthumously in September, to coincide with what would’ve been Beth’s 48th birthday. I’m helping start a James Baldwin reading group at Hullabaloo Books on Park and Franklin (probably Thursdays, probably 7:30 PM), which kicks off this week with a marathon reading of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me on August 20 at 8pm. (Contact me to sign up!)

What’s a good day for you?

I’m not angry or sad the moment I wake up. I get something done that feels useful, meaning it clears a short stretch of a path for someone else to have a slightly less difficult way. These things are hard to measure or to ask for, so I’m setting new routines for myself all the time to shoot for being more productive and less grumpy. It’s a great day if I can also see something new in the city—Wednesdays are free at the Bronx Zoo and I watched brown bears play in a pool a few weeks ago!

How long have you lived in Brooklyn? What neighborhood do you live in?

I’ve been in Brooklyn five years, about four of them in Crown Heights. I shared a studio apartment in Greenpoint in the summer of 2009 and then actually moved here in 2010 once I finished my MFA at New Mexico State.

What do you like most about it?

I love a good sidewalk interaction and I find plenty of opportunities to exchange a greeting with neighbors on stoops, smokers outside bars and coffee shops. A bunch of trains are close and I can walk or bike to work at Pratt. The Belladonna* studio is just a few blocks away: convenient to stop in and mail packages or check in on our increasingly autonomous intern / volunteer / programming staff or hide out from my little apartment for a bit. I live with two cats and a man. It can get a little snug, but we have a hammock in the living room so we’re pretty skilled at relaxing.

Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad or in between.

Our car got booted this winter. You get like 90 minutes to notice a ticket before they put on the boot (thereby locking up your car), then 90 minutes to notice the boot before the fee for it doubles. Avoid this. We did make friends with a woman who also got a boot on our block. And it was fun to read some Yelp reviews of the Brooklyn tow pound.

Why is this defining? I’m thinking of the idea in terms of New York being a difficult place to live, which mostly manifests in the form of unexpected expenses in my view. My experience of life anywhere is that just when I think I have it all figured out, something goes haywire. I mean shit I broke my wrist in front of Guero’s last week.

Favorite Brooklyn poet(s), dead and/or alive?

My friends and my loves: R. Erica Doyle, Jennifer Firestone, Rachel Levitsky, Emily Skillings, Chia-Lun Chang, Betsy Fagin. My friend and “my author” Marina Blitshteyn, whose chapbook Nothing Personal I published this spring. Natalie Eilbert is an incredibly active poet and editor and publisher whose tenacity I admire. Stacy Szymaszek fights the good fight. Jamie Townsend recently abandoned us for the West Coast; nonetheless I dug his first book, Shade. My favorite poets are also people who get things done.

Favorite Brooklyn bookstore(s)?

Unnameable Books is easily my favorite because they have both new and used poetry. Berl’s is also very excellent and, as I’ve said many times, is the easiest place to host a poetry event in NYC, thanks of course to the generosity of Farrah and Jared. For what it’s worth, I wish I spent more time at the Brooklyn Public Library, too. Libraries are how I got into this whole mess in the first place: where I learned how to take care of books and how to stop, drop and roll.

Favorite places to read and write in Brooklyn (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

The Pratt Library has been a place to get hard work done, at times. I wrote a review of Lisa Robertson’s Nilling there. I used to hang out at Alice’s Arbor in the mornings, and I haven’t really found a replacement spot but Lazy Ibis is nice. Near Pratt, Pillow Café and Urban Vintage have been hospitable thinking grounds off campus.

Favorite places to go in Brooklyn not involving reading or writing?

I spend too much time and money at Catfish. I love to check in on the tulips at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Mayfield has a good lunch special. The Goodwill on Fulton just closed and I used to stop in there all the time—I’m pretty bummed. My routine has changed a lot in the last couple years, I guess. It’s taken writing this to figure that out.

Last awesome book(s)/poem(s) you read?

I’m reading Ronaldo Wilson’s Farther Traveler and really jazzed about taking his workshop at the Millay Colony later this month. I read Middlemarch this summer and I’m still bragging about it.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate work,
And what I complete you consume,
For every little check hushes me as good as the machine,
     I mean,

Why Brooklyn?

I arrived here quite by accident but now that it’s been home for five years I can’t imagine coping with living somewhere else. I’m from a small place. I’m doing my best not to be part of the problem of gentrification but I know enough to understand that I am anyway. Still, I try to keep my footprint light and to listen more than I talk.