Poet Of The Week

Maxe Crandall

     December 24–30, 2018

Maxe Crandall’s chapbooks include Emoji for Cher Heart (Belladonna*) and Together Men Make Paradigms (Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs). He has received fellowships from the Poetry Project, Poets House, Lambda Literary and the Millay Colony for the Arts. His critical writing on art and performance can be found in Women and Performance, SFMOMA’s Open Space, Critical Correspondence, Jacket2, OntheBoards.tv, Transgender Studies Quarterly and the exhibition Transgender Hirstory in 99 Objects: Legends & Mythologies. “Dionne Warwick Stares Down Her Enemies” appears in the Brooklyn Poets Anthology, released last spring.

Dionne Warwick Stares Down Her Enemies

                              for JB

Raising banners is attractive,
makes one burst with personality.
Women have a lot to say about these things
while assuredly “not speaking”
to men through style.

To wit, Jackie O likes her girlfriend
thank you very much
but would rather not see her burned at the stake.
Besides Jackie’s busy at the nursery,
where she works nights fretting over hibiscus,
and O the constellations!

Meanwhile in her everlasting trenchcoat
Dionne Warwick stares down her enemies,
reducing them to straining teenagers
and secretly considering herself
America’s Last Action Diva.

Like us, she spends much of her time
leaning against doorframes and talking
on the telephone.

The men tend to more commemorative cruelties.
With Chris Brown in his wretched kingdom,
the stakes of celebrity vassalage get knobby
around the nobodies he becomes and then shuns.

Speaking of Violence, the first episode ponders
Hemingway’s flagrant remarks about lesbians.
In the second installment, rumor has it
Papa will hand over one of his savage sweaters
to the singer. To close, the forest weeps
new rivers suddenly, as in myth.

Everyone knows gold is a shaking color
a key to what the early bisexuals taught us
with their oratorical chanting: “Earthquake,
or milkshake?” which is to suggest
there will always be progress,
be infighting—
but to clash, and to do it well,
one must couch objection
in obstruction

and eat and yell, and eat and yell,
and eat and yell

—From the Brooklyn Poets Anthology, Brooklyn Arts Press & Brooklyn Poets, 2017; originally published in CutBank.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

I’m fond of this poem because it’s an early mapping of my process before I was even aware of my process. Much of what I’ve written to date, including the plays I’ve staged, comes from devising language from the culture of images I’ve long been obsessed with. (I hate celebrity culture, but love the language and genres of icons.)

The image that drives this poem is Elizabeth Taylor with drink in hand against a doorframe in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (lol). This poem is built from binaries (or built from making jokes of binaries?). The original title was “A Tennis Match for Single Hearts,” and the poem came out in a fit like a little play during my early adventure years in Brooklyn. The poem’s dedicated to underground art star Julie Blair, who refers to dinner parties as “eat and yells”—get-togethers where you eat food and scream gossip/politics at the top of your lungs.

What are you working on right now?

Just finished edits on my first poetry collection, a hybrid-genre performance novel about AIDS archives called The Nancy Reagan Collection (out from Brooklyn’s Futurepoem books next summer!). Writing that book spawned a research project on Reza Abdoh, and I’m working up my first essay from that right now. I also have a few performance projects coming up and have been helping with the Belladonna* reprint of Samuel Ace’s out-of-print collections, which is going to be fantastic.

What’s a good day for you?

I love either an epic nine-hour writing day, sun up to sun down, with no one in the house but me, or an epic nine-hour tumble around the city where you walk ten miles, see ten friends, and pop into a bunch of galleries, bookstores and parks.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

I followed my partner, the writer/performer Diana Cage, to Brooklyn. Our first apartment was way out on Nassau Ave in Greenpoint, a mile from the train. In 2012, we moved down to Flatbush, and we’ll never give up that apartment if we can help it. At the moment we live in Oakland but sublet our place to Diana’s ex-husband. He sleeps on the couch when we’re back in Brooklyn!

Tell us about your neighborhood in Brooklyn. How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How has it changed? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?

Our place is in Prospect Lefferts Gardens right by the Prospect Park Q. It’s the only home I’ve ever known and I love it so much. At some stage of my life I thought of gentrification as being about rent hikes, spaces changing over, and who lives in the neighborhood; it was something else to feel the particular way that gentrification impacts the bonds forming between who lives and who works in the neighborhood. I’m thinking about this now because of the last two novels I’ve read, both of which figure New York gentrification in fascinating ways: Sarah Schulman’s new detective novel Maggie Terry and Ling Ma’s Severance.

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

As soon as we moved into the neighborhood, I kind of fell in love with the woman who ran the bodega in our building. Not romantic love, but a profound adoration. I mean, when Diana’s ex moved in, this woman was rude to him because she thought Diana had taken up with another man. We clicked right away on principle and personality but one night, several years into our friendship, she took out some pictures of her granddaughter and showed them to me. I was so moved and said, Your granddaughter is trans like me, and she said, Yes, that’s why I am showing you her picture. She is beautiful. I love her so much. I cried in the checkout line, and she also started crying! After that we made a habit of crying together in the store. Last year, the owners moved her to another location and it broke my heart. For years I saw her every day, sometimes multiple times a day, and one day there was another cashier. Last time I was in Brooklyn we ran into each other on the street. I mean, now I have a way to contact her, but it’s still not the same and she was not happy about being moved.

What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?

I once heard Will Alexander offer some simple advice. He said, “Find someone you can call with a poetry emergency in the middle of the night.” I never call the poetry community in the middle of the night but I do have a short list of poets who would answer the phone.

Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?

The people who’ve helped me above and beyond are Claudia La Rocco, Mónica de la Torre, Kevin Killian, Stacy Szymaszek and everyone at the Poetry Project. My first chapbook/play happened thanks entirely to Brenda Iijima who turned to me at a Poetry Project reading and asked what I was writing. I never studied poetry or performance formally, so I’ve learned writing from these kinds of generous, brilliant people who become my friends. My serious work with poetry started when I lived in Philadelphia for a flash of time. I took every workshop I could with CAConrad. PRAISE THEM and the poets of Philadelphia.

Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.

Aldrin Valdez, ESL or You Weren’t Here / Ari Banias, A Symmetry / Saretta Morgan, Feeling Upon Arrival.

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?

I read everything all the time in all ways, including my ongoing, somewhat campy commitment to audiobooks.

What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?

I’m trying to teach myself to work in smaller forms and structures, like the sentence.

Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

I love to read on the subway. I love reading huge books on the train. One of my favorite reads was an ebook of Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren on the train during my ping-pong commute from Flatbush all the way up to 116th St. Another time, someone cruised me on the 1 because I was reading David Halperin’s How to Be Gay.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

I love iconic Brooklyn: Grand Army Plaza, the Brooklyn Bridge, the loop in Prospect Park, BAM.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate celebrations,
And whatever, wherever I elaborate, you give me sport,
For every ribbon in me is good,
and better to the rhythmic gymnast
you with your dancing groups.

Why Brooklyn?

Because forever!