February 24–March 2, 2014
Kristin Prevallet is the author of five books of conceptual poetics, including most recently, Everywhere Here and in Brooklyn (A Four Quartets), (Belladonna Collaborative, 2012). She edited A Helen Adam Reader (National Poetry Foundation, 2007) and is the Lead Faculty Member for the 2014 Emerging Poets Fellowship workshop at Poets House. She works as a hypnotherapist with a private practice in Manhattan.
From Dias Y Flores (The Garden)
Now begin again.
What is built will soon fall. Or be removed, bombed, renovated,
Now a vacant lot, a warehouse, a factory transformed into rustic
condos on the industrial waterfront.
Ruins fall back in time to the moment they were built.
Old iron, crumbled building. Old oak, burning house,
Ash to debris to earth. Bones to cinder, char, fur, and feces
Animal bones, man bones, child woman bones
Stalks of wheat, corn, rye.
House death, roof cracks, frame sinks: there will be a time for this.
After there will be a time to patch it up again.
And again, a time for occupying and decorating.
A time for the windows to shake when the rain is cold.
To tear down the wood paneling and free the mice.
Ruffle the frayed quilt embroidered with sentimental scraps of cloth.
Begin again. Say it one more time.
Twilight opens into a community garden now occupying a vacant lot,
Tiny bells and ornaments jingle on the branches of trees.
Here you are leaning against the locked gate, you can’t get in,
A truck loudly passes, blowing the dust of the street east,
The direction you are facing, as if propelled, is towards the river,
Towards the people sitting outside their buildings,
Playing checkers on the stoop,
In the heat, hypnotic.
The ozone levels are high and the light is sultry,
Absorbed by concrete, refracted by tar,
The honey locusts sleep in the buzz of disparate chatter,
Stirred by the sudden flight of a sparrow
Startled by a siren.
Standing in front of the vacant lot, which is now a garden,
You can come closer, or you can remain where you are,
You might hear music. Someone trying to play a flute,
And perhaps, someone playing a bongo.
There are people dancing around a bonfire,
There are people in love with each other,
Dancing man to man,
And woman to woman,
And woman to man,
Signifying two by two,
You know coitus matrimoinous —
Vow to love by any means necessary,
Holding each to each by hand by wrist by arm
They wanna move it move it, round spin it,
Grinding, laughing, elbow to elbow,
In a circle, witchily entranced or bewitchedly dazed,
Platform shoes, not practical for leaping over fire,
Callused bare feet, stepping on gravel, glass,
Endure what is tossed away, ancient souls,
Kept underground for too long
Blowing oxygen into roots thought dead,
Pumping the disco stick and ball,
Remembering time, rhythm, planet beat,
The seasons alive in all arteries, blood flow, cell flow,
Constellations tell the time of harvest,
The time of sex, the time of fucking each to each,
Bellies rise, feet flex, ankles to the sky,
Antlers entwine, wine and food.
Shit and exhaustion.
Dawn tips. And another day.
Silence breaks across the city.
The East River quivers as does the wind.
I am here.
Or you are. Or we are, there. Or elsewhere.
Wherever, we are just beginning.
—From Everywhere Here and in Brooklyn (A Four Quartets), Belladonna Collaborative, 2012.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
In “No More Masterpieces,” Artaud writes:
We must get rid of our superstitious valuation of texts and written poetry. Written poetry is worth reading once, and then should be destroyed. Let the dead poets make way for others. Then we might even come to see that it is our veneration for what has already been created, however beautiful and valid it may be, that petrifies us, deadens our responses, and prevents us from making contact with that underlying power, call it thought-energy, the life force, the determinism of change, lunar menses, or anything you like.
I’ve been a card-carrying self-identified avant-garde-experimental-innovative-performance/conceptual poet for the past 20 years. I came to the conclusion that if I was really as avant-garde as I believed myself to be, that I should do the opposite of what my perceived avant-garde gatekeepers (of which Artaud is certainly one) say to do. So, I resurrected Eliot from his glass box, rewrote The Four Quartets, and in the process of doing that, I found the very life force that Artaud said I wouldn’t find. The section you’re representing here, “Dias Y Flores,” corresponds to Eliot’s “East Coker.” It’s the one section that isn’t about Brooklyn per se (Dias Y Flores is a community Garden on the Lower East Side where the poet Jeff Wright used to host amazing pagan-spirited parties) although it begins in Brooklyn; actually it’s the perfect section.
What are you working on right now?
Well, I’m clearly in the midst of an identity crisis regarding my poetic allegiances! So, I’m working on circumnavigating the entire burden of tradition by embarking on investigations into trance, language and somatic change. I’ve been doing a lot of writing into ideas around “Trance Poetics”—it’s a huge subject of investigation and inquiry, and embarking on this line of thinking has made me happily oblivious to all my old poetic anxieties. There’s nothing like doing the opposite of what you’re supposed to be doing to set you on a different course … I recommend it.
What’s a good day for you?
One that ends with me still breathing. Every day is my last.
How long did you live in Brooklyn? What neighborhood did you live in? What did you like most about it?
So, I lived at the end of Greenpoint Avenue for 15 years. Before the boutiques and the mahogany-lined gourmet restaurants, I loved the landscape of broken-down warehouses—all the exposed iron from days long gone, the bone-chilly drafts coming from the windows of those old buildings. When the sun hits them it’s like rust meets florescent pink. Amazing. Plus there was always a parking spot.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad or in between.
First morning waking up in our apartment at the end of Greenpoint Avenue, it’s September 1998, and the entire apartment is rumbling. I rush to the window and yell for Alan (my BF at the time) to come quickly. Tanks are rolling down the street! Like five of them, with their guns fully sticking out. We run outside to figure out what is happening. I’m thinking, “War!!” Then I see Denzel Washington standing on the sidewalk eating a sandwich. Oh. It’s a movie. “The Siege,” where the terrorists terrorize Brooklyn. Remember that bus they blew up at the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge? I watched from my window as they scrubbed every inch of it. It’s a funny thing to scrub a bus for 3 days, and then to blow it up!
What were your favorite places to read and write in Brooklyn?
I used to hang out at the L Cafe on Bedford Ave, which when I first got to Brooklyn was the only cafe on Bedford Ave. I got lots of writing done there. Then the Greenpoint Coffee House opened up on Franklin Ave, and because it was closer I went there almost every day. The owner, Louise, is still a good friend of mine even though the cafe is long gone.
What were your favorite places to go in Brooklyn not involving reading or writing?
I loved Issue Project Room when it was on the Gowanus Canal, and I loved hanging out by the waterfront in Red Hook. I tried to make it out to Jamaica Bay every year to see the rise of the horseshoe crabs, and once my kid was old enough, we were at Coney Island at least once a month during the summer.
Where’s home for you now? What’s it like being a poet there? As Jay Z might ask, Can you live?
Once my block on Greenpoint Avenue became a destination (the fancy-fication of Transmitter Park, the gourmet bakery on one side, and the River Styx (restaurant) on the other), our rent started to rise by $500 a year to get it to market levels. Clearly we needed to move, and I was resolved that 15 years with no garden was enough and so I moved with my kid and boyfriend to the last affordable house in Hastings-on-Hudson. Jay Z would not approve. Being a poet here isn’t the same—I don’t walk out my front door and run into cool poets at the coffee shop. But I get a lot of writing done, and I have a study that isn’t in the bedroom. The one thing I REALLY miss is going to the local bar in the middle of blizzards and hurricanes. Here everyone is homebound, which kinda sucks when there is no power. Other than that, I’m livin’ just fine, and grateful to be surrounded by lots of trees.
Favorite Brooklyn poet(s), dead and/or alive?
Laura Elrick and Rodrigo Toscano because if there is an edge, they’re walking it and I love their energy. Rachel Levitsky because her home is the poem. Actually are there any poets who are not Brooklyn poets? Seriously that’s a loaded question. This list could go on and on!
Favorite Brooklyn bookstore(s)?
Unnameable Books is so amazingly generous to poets. It’s actually a lot easier for me to get there now (by car) than it was when I was living in Greenpoint.
Last awesome book(s)/poem(s) you read?
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate all that is multicolored, vixen, and bold,
And what I love you should tend to, because I love you,
For every time you saw me as good, I chopped away at
the heart of you.
If you have time, write a nine-line poem using these end-words (in whatever order) from Jay Z’s “Brooklyn Go Hard”: father, Dodger, jack, rob, sin, pen, love, Brooklyn, Biggie.
Talk to me father
of that one carnal sin,
not Jack nimble in his lair
but pliant and in love,
If his pen were anymore fluid
he’d be like Biggie waning crescents
in the moon. Or Rob,
feeling lucky as a Dodger, 4-0.
Because I happened to be there … And at the time that I was there, it felt easier to be young in Brooklyn than to grow old anywhere else.