March 28–April 3, 2016
Cat Tyc is a Brooklyn-based writer/artist whose work exists on the precipice of poetic mediology. Her video work has screened on MTVu and LOGO’s New Now Next and at spaces that include the Microscope Gallery, Anthology Film Archives, CUNY Graduate Center, Brooklyn Museum, Kassel Fest and the PDX International Festival, where she also acted as a curator of poetry on a bill combining poetry with experimental film presentations. In 2006, she was awarded a Flaherty Seminar Fellowship for their Creative Demolition: Reconstructing Culture through Innovations in Film and Video session. Her video work has been anthologized in the Journal of Short Film series distributed by Ohio State University. Along with Victoria Keddie, she is cocurator/director of the Poet Transmit, a live/recorded broadcast series that explores the projective possibility of poetics in transmission. Her most recent writings have been published in Weekday, the Sink Review and 6×6. Currently, she is completing her MFA in Writing at Pratt Institute.
from Memory Is Not a Test
Losing a poem is akin to losing an arm, but supposedly they grow back, a phantom limb.
A collection of redefined energies, they make her clench her teeth so hard it makes the base move.
When the rain comes West, it will be clear as hell.
A foot planted in its own critical storm, she is split, scheduled to land on the middle but balancing herself upright with the pads of her piano playing fingers.
Her lack of money and shyness signify weakness.
Being surrounded by the ones who hold up fronts and ignore realities make it glaring.
In a system less system for the truest saints to eat a combination of cereal and honey. Then, play chess. More locked copper in a cavity.
The more often she hears something, the better she will remember it.
He sometimes complained that the room smelled of socks.
She would complain that her wrist was handcuffed to the crook.
He knew better than to tell her about the junkie that he ran over riding his bike.
She hated that he took that bridge.
It left a clean gunshot hole of hunger in the center of the stomach throbbing ‘feed me’ in a 2/4 time structure.
He kept his tooth as a small souvenir of rougher days.
When she would come home, there would be spots of rainbow flecked all over the floor.
They were always asleep, so no one was listening to what the other had to say.
This was their broken bejeweled nature in search of friendly fire, beginning with words that cannot find their roots. Then, turning to the words that lost their heads.
–Originally published in 6×6 #33, Ugly Duckling Presse, Fall 2015.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
This section is part of a larger poem called “Memory Is Not a Test” and was a response to losing a laptop after my apartment was broken into when I lived in Bushwick the first time a zillion years ago. I was devastated because I lost a bunch of poems so this piece was an attempt to rewrite what I could remember but it really turned into a sort of journal about everything I was going through for several years.
What are you working on right now?
Currently, I am working on a manuscript born out of a relational performance project called CONSUME(S) ME that I have been doing for the past few years. On the surface the project addresses the ethical problems surrounding textile production, consumption and our relationship to what we wear, but as time goes on (or the more I keep on writing into it) it is also a piece about coming to terms with how varying feminisms maintain patriarchy and capitalism. When I first started the project, I thought it would be a film. I did video interviews for the first few years, then I started throwing clothing swaps as a sort of documentary investigation but also as a way to react to the somewhat out-of-touch feeling I was getting from only talking to people in fashion about these issues. I interviewed people, sometimes on video and other times just audio and then started creating “asks” because strangers were having such a hard time accepting free clothes. A lot of those reciprocations turned into writings from strangers that add to this archive of ephemera that I am now in the process of dismantling simultaneously with the intentions of this book but also organizing as a sort of annotated bibliography/web archive to articulate the process and shed light on the various modalities I used along the way.
What’s a good day for you?
It depends on what the weather is like outside. When it’s raining or snowing, a perfect day is staying in and just writing/reading. Making food. Cuddling with dogs and people. Watching a movie. If it’s nice out, I love a great art day. One that doesn’t start too early but takes you into evening. A perfect day is filled with art that feeds you. I also will never say no to going to the beach.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
My family. I was born in Manhattan, both my parents are native New Yorkers (my mom—South Bronx, Dad—downtown). We moved to Connecticut when I was five but my aunt and her family lived in Park Slope when it was still a real middle class (when that actually still existed) neighborhood. I spent every summer there. It was the best part of my childhood.
I moved to New York officially myself in the mid ’90s for undergrad but lived in Manhattan where my school was and then moved to Greenpoint in 2000. At that point, Brooklyn wasn’t what it was now. There was still a weird stigma about not living in Manhattan but Brooklyn was accessible, way cooler. A really great place to come of age.
Tell us about your neighborhood. How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?
East Williamsburg. Since August. This is my third apartment in three years but I was in the first one for five years which is the longest I have ever lived anywhere in New York. It looks like this building will be sold too and I will have to move again soon.
This is a weird part of Williamsburg because it’s right on the border of Bushwick. All the living necessities are accessible but it’s not too overrun with douchiness. I talk to my neighbors and I love that.
I was just talking to one of my housemates about this the other day because I have pretty much lived in every neighborhood in Brooklyn and this side of town feels strangely comforting as I have lived here the longest and witnessed so many iterations.
I do miss South Brooklyn. That side of town felt more mature and I have another connection to that side of town from my childhood. But most of my friends still live near me in Wburg, and I am grateful for that.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad or in between.
I don’t know if this qualifies but I lived in Portland, OR for five years and was so homesick for Brooklyn, I used to have dreams that I was walking around various neighborhoods I used to live in. These dreams were scored by that SY side project Ciccone Youth. I know that sounds ridiculous but they were so vivid. I knew I had to come home.
Also one time I was at a day dance party with some friends at Rippers at The Rockaways and then the party ended and all the people ended up on the A train. It started storming pretty hard and you know that beautiful part of the train ride where you are surrounded by water on both sides … it was all splashing and blue and was kind of violently beautiful. Someone had a boom box and the train kept dancing and I remember being so happy to be back in Brooklyn. If we had been pushed over by a wave, I wouldn’t have even cared.
Speaking of storms, as someone who experienced 9/11 and Sandy here, I have to say the bravery and resilience of not just Brooklyn, but New Yorkers in general, makes me proud to be here. I just don’t sense the same degree of backbone in other cities.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
I think poetry community builds over time. I used to think it was centered around workshops, etc. but really I think it is centered around aesthetics and social space and like-mindedness. I definitely feel like I am part of a poetry community when I go to to the Project on New Year’s. But I have been hanging out there since I was a scrubby 17-year-old punk girl and have been off and on every since. There are just so many people to hug. I don’t really believe in church but if I had to have one, that one would be mine. Every time I do an event there, I feel tremendously honored.
Recently I have been introduced to the whole Wordhack community through Claire Donato at the Babycastles gallery and that has really been cool to meet poets who aren’t afraid to interact with technology.
My creative community is so assorted, it seems ridiculous in New York of all places to only hang out with people who do exactly what you do. So I don’t do that.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
I am having a hard time differentiating from the next question because I cheated and read ahead but I am going to give Todd Colby the cred for Brooklyn poets because he wrote this poem that I think has the line “my heart belongs in Brooklyn” or something to that effect and I remember reading it once and it making me so happy, and now I am looking for it on his blog and can’t find that line, but there’s this one:
The chubby light of morning
is really great. I hear some birds and they
are totally making up new songs.
The coffee is just right and the fan
is pleasantly circulating air
around my sleepy body.
The top of that tree looks like
a little green carnival. Holy cow, a cardinal!
A kid on the street just
shouted breakfast! Okay, Brooklyn,
here I come.
And I think this will suffice because Todd has this Whitman-esque love of Brooklyn that I really adore and I have known him for such a long time.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
I met Steve Dalachinsky when I was still a teenager and he was a bookseller in Soho. I recall being with him the first time I heard Alice Notley read at Zinc Bar and it was so crowded that they played the audio into front room and Steve was teaching me how to listen to her emphasis choices. It was the first time that I realized how much thought went into reading and how cadence alters everything.
Cynthia Nelson was a mentor of sorts. I met her and Todd when I was still an undergrad. Bored with school, I kind of created a job for myself doing marketing at this crazy little press called Soft Skull Press on the LES. And they both could see how thankless my job was (for those of you with presses who actually have marketing people—hug them now!) and really encouraged my writing. Cynthia brought me out on my first out-of-state readings and we remained dear friends for years, even lived together as roommates. Through her, I made so many friends who were just living and making all types of art and music and not really worrying about MFAs. It was really inspiring.
Around that same time, I met Lee Ann Brown and this question is reminding me of this time she forced Midwinter Day into my hand and was like, “You must read this.” She was so right so I will put her on the mentor list. And also because she called me a “true subversive.”
I took a workshop with Lisa Jarnot several years ago and that was significant because she gave me Charles Olson’s “Projective Verse” to read and that has become a text I return to constantly in making connections to poetics and media.
For the past few years, Rachel Levitsky has been a real mentor and friend. She saw the poetry in my clothing swap project long before I could. And I don’t think I would have this accumulating manuscript if it weren’t for her belief in me and this project.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
I just read and really enjoyed Diana Hamilton’s chapbook Universe. She also wrote this essay called “Essay on Bad Writing” that I am really in love with. I just think it’s so spot-on in its assessment of how women still have to feign lack of confidence or intelligence to not be threatening.
I really loved Claire Donato’s Burial. Very dark but good.
Rachel introduced me to a writer named Diane Ward whose work I just adore. It’s so light and gorgeous.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
Ha … I have this list of books for a trip to Unnameable that I have been trying to make for weeks so I will just read you that. Companion Animal, Magdalena Zurawski; Cold Genius, Aaron Kunin; Ban en Banlieue, Bhanu Kapil; The Fire Within, James Baldwin; Jenny Boully is a name that keeps coming up—do you have any suggestions about what I should read first?; Incidents of Travel in Poetry, Frank Lima; Lisa Robertson’s Nilling.
Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?
Oh, I read several books at a time. It’s somewhat maddening but I need to read for mood and some books are better for home than the subway. And the other way around. I also like to read different types of things, poetry, prose and biographies (I obsessively read biographies) and lately I have become a theory head but who knows how long that will last.
Despite my media predilections, I actually prefer books. I don’t do Kindles or anything like that. And yes, I am an obsessive note-taker.
Where are some places you like to read and write in Brooklyn (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I like coffee shops a lot. But I don’t really like to work on my work out in public. I teach in the Bronx twice a week and it is about a two-hour subway ride back and forth. I mostly read on the train but I am trying to incorporate some writing into the trip to make better use of the time.
What are some other Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
I really love the Sunview Luncheonette in Greenpoint. It’s a space where a group of artists, writers, activists and thinkers hold events as a sort of members’ club out of this now closed-down diner whose owner Bea still lives upstairs. She comes down often to check out what’s going on. It’s very sweet. So, there’s that … this fantastic sense of community and the fact that it still has all these old-time fixtures from the ’50s and ’60s but it’s also the very first place I ever ate in Brooklyn. So I know it as an actual diner and having a burger made by Bea’s now-gone husband. So, yeah, I guess that’s what I love about the space and why it’s so Brooklyn, the way things can fold into themselves to make something new.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman with words of your own choosing:
I celebrate myself (ok, maybe that’s cheating),
And what I love you may loathe,
For every distincted me as good distiguishes you.
Because no matter where I go, I can never be lost.