INAUGURAL SPEECH ERASURE

BY JERROD SCHWARZ

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Jerrod Schwarz is an MFA graduate of the University of Tampa. He is also the managing poetry editor of Driftwood Press. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Cultured Vultures, HOOT, The Fem, and many others. His first small collection titled The Crop was published by Rinky Dink Press in 2016.

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SHORTLIST

Taryn Tilton, Cherry Cherry

Bill Lessard, OPERATING SYSTEM

Gabriel Garcia Ochoa, The Hypermarket

 Maya Sonenberg,  After the Death of Shostakovich Pere

Stacy Austin Egan, You Could Stop It Here

From the Cover of the Village Voice’s Queer Issue

by Isabella David

 

It was the summer of 2008 when I posed for the cover of The Village Voice’s Queer Issue. Gay marriage would not be legalized in the state of New York for another three years. Not even a decade ago, but it was a different time. Even though gay marriage wasn’t legal, I felt that living in a big city exempted me from worrying about narrow-minded provincialism.

I didn’t realize provincialism is a state of mind not an actual state of the union.

I thought I didn’t need to compute how the law or how some small-minded people still felt about gay marriage when I agreed to pose for the cover. What I computed was the honor it would be to pose for an iconic paper like the Voice—a paper I hoped one day to write for, although that’s fast becoming more of a pipe dream due to budget cuts than the idea of a chubby, pasty theater actress like myself modeling.

Not least of all, I computed how talented the crew for the shoot was: Virginia Bradley regularly styles for Vogue. Nikola Tamindzic, our photographer, had been recently profiled in The New York Times. I happily agreed to his concept, involving me and the beautiful Julia Standefer, clasping each other in an almost passionate embrace.

What I didn’t compute was any negative consequences that shoot might mean for my career, not least of which was the effect the heat would have on me. It was my very first official modeling gig. Julia was an old pro and radiated coolness, her makeup pearlescent throughout the shoot.

Me on the other hand?

At one point, I literally collapsed from the 95 degree heat. It didn’t help that the statuesque Julia was so much taller, I had to wear 5 inch heels under a long, black wool John Galliano gown in order for my lips to parallel her lips. She stood barefoot in the photographer’s living room. A mattress stood on end, providing our backdrop.

I could sense her discomfort, and we had to stop periodically to let her exhale and relax. The concept was cinematic in scope, different from a regular modeling shoot. It was part of why I’d been selected. At that point, I’d been a crazy New York city theater actress for two years. I didn’t see anything too wildly difficult in holding a lovely Julia close to me, pretending passion.  I’d played drug addicts, housewives, victims of abuse, even murderers. I’d played a lot of parts that weren’t me, and what with the glamorous gown I had on, apart from the heat, I was having a lot of fun playing this one.

However, when we took individual shots, I found it challenging to look into the camera without flinching.  Julia on the other hand sent the crew into ohs and ahs of admiration when she posed. She simply stood there, yet there was so much more to it: she radiated confidence, ease, glamor, beauty, innocence. It was a lesson to me: there was an art to modeling. The evening ended with shots on the street in another Galliano get-up. When I didn’t have to look at the camera, I was happily lost in the character I’d created. When asked to look into the lens, I resembled a deer in headlights. All in all, it was a very satisfying night: I learned a lot and made several new friends.

A month later the cover came out. I probably broke several laws, emptying one of those ubiquitous, red Village bins that pepper New York. The image Nikola crafted showed all of the character-building with none of the painful 5 hours of labor that had gone into creating it. (At one point we had to break, so the hair stylist could run to the bodega for orange juice. I’d fainted from the combination of the heat and the sheer heaviness of that wool gown.) I was blown away by the artistry of illusion and by the team effort that went into one picture. To say I am proud of that image is to understate it.

Naturally, it took pride of place in my burgeoning “book”—model speak for the book of 9×12  pictures models used to carry around with them before iPads started taking over.

I don’t have to tell you that I’m not a lesbian, because my sexual orientation shouldn’t matter in the context of character-acting, but it did. I fell in love with my husband all over again when I found out he’d experienced 15 minutes of fame in the ‘90s, working as a peer counselor who went around to high schools talking about gay rights. Later when he was interviewed for the “straight athletes” chapter in Jocks: True Stories of America’s Gay Athletes by Dan Woog, Woog marveled that my husband never once prefaced a comment with “not that I’m gay.” The excuse is an apology. And what is there to apologize for? What does a person’s sexual orientation matter or say about their worth as a human being? Nothing. Nothing whatsoever.

And when it’s a matter of art, shouldn’t it matter even less? Obviously, this is still not the case, as many people objected to Matt Bomer being cast as Christian Grey. Why, because a BDSM-obsessed billionaire turned Prince Charming is a realistic concept to begin with? It’s about the character you’re playing.

Personally, I thought The Voice cover was beautiful, powerful, and expressed sapphic love in a sweet, respectful and unusually non-exploitative fashion. I didn’t realize yet my concept of the New York modeling world was tinted with the lens of the New York theater scene. I didn’t see myself as a commodity, branding herself with a carefully crafted image, but as an artist trying to learn and experience as much as she could. I didn’t realize clients would see the image as provocative, and I still wonder why they did, when so many modeling shots feature half-naked bodies or heavily pouting expressions. Julia and I were fully clothed in couture, gazing at each other, not even quite kissing.

In fact, when one bridal designer reached the picture in my book, her reaction could be described as nothing less than apoplectic. Her eyes widened with almost comic horror, bulging out of her head, and then she shut my book with a snap, practically shoving it into my stomach and asked me to leave the casting.

I remember as I stumbled out of the hotel room, I saw all around me long, white gowns lovingly laid out on the beds and couches of the suite. I remember thinking they were the mirror opposite of the long black gown I wore in that shot she’d found so offensive. And I remember wondering why was heterosexual love sanctified and homosexual love treated as less than worthy?

It made me see marriage as a sort of benediction of hypocrisy. I won’t say I made a Dax Shepherd/ Kristin Bell/ Angelina Jolie/ Brad Pitt level promise never to marry until gay marriage was legal, but I did feel as if I’d seen the curtain pulled back on the other side of the 40 billion dollar wedding industry in a time when gay marriage was universally illegal, and what I saw was a lot less pretty and sweet than that cover that had so offended.

Needless to say I did not get that job. I’m sad to admit I thought about removing the picture from my portfolio, but ultimately, I decided I didn’t want to work with people who viewed art or sexuality through a distorted lens of their own neuroses.

When I married my husband four years later, I chose a white dress, but it was short and plain and only cost a couple hundred dollars. I could wear it again and again and planned to. Best of all, we got married at city hall.

There were plenty of gay couples in attendance that day, waiting in line with us. I thought back to that hot night in the Lower East Side when I stood for five hours in a black wool gown, and I thought of how I had unwittingly been standing for more than a modeling shot. I had stood up for the world I want to live in, where sexual orientation is just a choice and doesn’t define a person.

Best of all, I’m glad to see times are changing, how differently that picture is already viewed. In fact, even the conservative wedding industry is showing signs of change: this season’s Say Yes to the Dress included several episodes with same-sex brides, shopping together.

Sometimes I can’t believe how much has changed from the bad old days when my husband had his life threatened for daring to speak up for gay rights to only eight years ago when I lost work for posing for the Queer Issue to now when in a lot of mainstream media orientation is viewed more like a couture touch for a character: something to put on or take off, depending on the sweet soul’s choice of the individual person.

There’s still a long way to go as has been shown by the recent ridiculous bathroom controversy, as ridiculous as finding an image of two women hugging offensive, not to mention any individual who agrees with Donald Trump. Still, I think the strides that have been made in less than a decade are inspiring.

 

 

 

Isabella David is an actor and author of The Voices of Women, shortlisted for the 2015 International Venture Award. She’s also an editor at Easy Street—a books and culture off-shoot of The Lascaux Review. Other work has appeared in Tampa Review, 100 Word Story, Adbusters, Hello Giggles, and elsewhere. When not working on her first novel, she mothers a menagerie of animals and children, who are all almost (as in not at all) potty-trained.

IDENTITY

BY JAMIE LOWENSTEIN

 

Artist’s Statement: 

Changing the format of a poem from visual (reading) to visual (video) and auditory (spoken word) stretched my imagination and forced me to rely on intuition, friends, and my theatre training. My poetry writing tends to start with a small idea or phrase, and then goes onwards with no clear direction in mind, mixing metaphors, and ending eventually when there is not much steam left to go on. In my everyday life, I tend to have more direction with the same result- stopping when I run out of steam. In this case, I had already completed this step because the poem, which acted as the foundation, was already written. The small idea, identity and identifiers/labels, had coal thrown on its fire, and the steam powered it on for 5 pages. I finished the poem, reflected on its exploration of how one identity for an entire person is minimizing because people are inherently intersectional–“i am at the intersection of all my identities”–and set the poem to rest. So, how did I find a way to further explore a piece that I felt was finished?

In a class I’m currently taking, we spend a lot of time discussing media as a form of performance, and how this type of performance, in a Warholian way, either is or is not a reflection of our truth. So, my first idea was to film myself looking in the mirror in order to turn a private moment of performance public. Publicizing intimacy normalizes it, and allows an audience to feel personally understood. Next I thought of writing my identity labels on my body. Originally I wanted them to circle my neck like a noose, and then up onto my face like a tool of asphyxiation. However, I ultimately decided against that idea because of simple practicality and the worry of breaking out even more–maybe “vain” should have been a title in that list. In any case, I now had a new idea to further my work: the inability to change how others perceive you visually i.e. based on skin color, acne, etc.

With this idea in mind, I mapped out what the camera would be showing the audience for each beat of the poem, bringing out images in the poem more clearly and concretely. Once I had planned each beat, I knew I could not do this project myself. I am not a drawing artist, and I couldn’t pan around my own body. I reached out to 2 friends of mine who do have these talents, and they were extremely helpful, doing their best to help me achieve my vision. The process mirrored my theatre work, meaning that it was collaborative. I gave Ray a lot of liberty to draw the pictures however she wanted, which ended up with a beautiful result going down my spine. The filming went a similar way. Jen apologized for her shaky hands and not getting the timing exactly right, but I assured her that all small flaws could be embraced because the poem is not about being perfect, but rather about falling apart at the seams. The video both adds to this idea, but also contrasts it: showing me free of labels in the end, no longer dictated by the text of the poem. The last shot is very similar to the first because the text mirrors itself, but at the end the “i” words do not make me blink because I am controlling my own identity and what you see of me when.

The audio experience of the poem–my harsh assonance and stabbing pronunciations, contrasted with the Chopin piece–are used to further the contrast of the visual with the text. My voice reflects the uncontrollable spiral of self-doubt and the overwhelming power of others’ impressions. However, self-doubt is often internal. The most seemingly stable, happy person can be torn apart internally. And that is the function of the song- to reflect the external performance of someone struggling to come to terms with their identities’ intersections.

 

Jamie Lowenstein is a poet and actor based in New York City currently at Pace University in its International Performance Ensemble. He’s interested in diverse stories, especially within the queer community.

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BY JACKLYN JANEKSELA

 

Science claims the bilingual to be of two characters, of two people.  The shift doesn’t happen consciously, at least not that I’ve noticed; however, I am certain that I do not express myself in the same way between the two languages.  That means my voice changes, my vocabulary varies, and the rate at which I speak fluctuates.  And then something occurs to me, perhaps the shift indicates something more sinister happening inside of me –after all, my late paternal grandmother was schizophrenic.  I worry –in both languages.

 

Saying that I always knew I’d marry someone who didn’t speak my native tongue would be presumptuous, it would indicate that I have some soothsaying gene and somehow seized or, at least, pre-determined my destiny.  And it was sort of like that, actually.  From early on, even before I even understood the concept of languages, I created my own sounds –tucked in the back of my childhood closet.  Peeking out from the closet to admire my all white canopy bed, I pretended to be a defiant princess hiding from her parents, my stuffed animals –my servants and friends with whom I spoke.  No alphabet or any real pattern to my language, but it was not from this world –that much I knew.  And when I first heard words like South America and Africa and Europe, I was certain I was conjuring an ancestor –if not from my heritage, from any number of them.

 

My husband has heard this story several times, but never in my native tongue.  It’s much less fantastical in his language, but I paint him a picture that satisfies the rules of his language while mine are ignored.   I am so aware of how it sounds when I speak it.  And I know there are details that are tossed aside or poorly articulated, whereas others go unnoticed.  How strange to talk about childhood in a language with which I was not born speaking.


Being married in a second language means other things, things I might not share with my husband.  Things like I can really tune out of a conversation much easier –I daydream often during movies or in small talk at gatherings that are in his language.

Things like I can pretend to not understand, as in that word is not part of my second-language vocabulary, so I can get him to speak to me more often because he’s quite reserved.

Things like I can challenge his use of his own language by referring to grammar rules and thus discuss the nuances between our languages but I really mean us.

Things like I can laugh at the strangeness of idioms that are equally as strange as those in my own language, but I secretly think his are more absurd.

Things like I hate arguing in his language because I get all flustered and things never come out they way I want them, too –it’s hard enough to argue in one’s native tongue.

But there are cooler things that happen.  Like I have sex in a second language, we have taboo conversations right in front of other people who don’t speak his native tongue, and we talk about art and life in his language which makes it all sound quixotic.

My life in a second language isn’t any stranger than anyone else’s –of that I’m quite certain.  Those who teeter between the two begin to notice slight changes that snowball into other things, beasts perhaps.  Like many times I cannot recall a word in my own language and to compensate, I covert the second-language word into a word that suits my language.  Sometimes this works, but when it doesn’t work, it really doesn’t work.  Like when I hear myself speaking my native-tongue I become self-conscious.  I can feel and hear each and every saliva string.  Like sometimes I’m not sure in which language I responded or in which language I was listening –yes, that is real.  Like I feel more natural speaking in my second-language to animals and children.  It’s like my language isn’t made for soft things.  Like I use my first language when I want to feel more me or conjure some ancestors with whom I haven’t spoken to in a while.  And when I need comfort from so many years removed from my country.

I remember important words like bones, blood, all types of illnesses in his language because life.

It’s not easy to navigate dreams under the influence of two languages, I choose silent dreams.

My cat speaks his language and doesn’t respond to mine.

I talk to myself in both languages.

Learning a third language is influenced by my second language more than my native tongue.

My third language accent is affected by the second language.

When I see someone that needs help, I use my first language to facilitate the situation.

I still don’t know some basic words in my husband’s language and verb conjugation is a real struggle.

The flexibility of my husband’s language makes life easy.

When I fill out forms in my native language, some of his language creeps in there.

So what happens when I try to be nostalgic in his language when I’d prefer mine?  I adapt.  And because of this I become a better writer.  No, not a better in the grammatical sense or even the publishing sense, but I have more fun with language.  Because I don’t take it so seriously, I see the humor in life, in words, in playing with words.  I might say something like the house of my mother instead of my mother’s house; it rolls around and takes it’s time to make a point and I like that.  I might say the way in which my father looked at me rather than how he looked at me; the reader gets to take a small journey through his eyes rather than feel my experience.  These small nuances elevate my ideas of language, of me, of my art.  And I am in awe of the process.  It’s like becoming a child all over again.  Where I sit beneath my canopy bed and wait for the night’s coming so I can watch the shadows play on the walls that are covered with rosebudded-paper; I am for sleep, I have sleep, I am full of sleep.

 

 

 

 

jacklyn janeksela is a wolf and a raven, a cluster of stars, &  a direct descent of the divine feminine.  jacklyn janeksela can be found @ Thought CatalogLuna MagazineTalking BookThree Point PressDumDum MagazineVisceral BrooklynAnti-Heroin ChicPublic PoolReality Hands, Mannequin HausVelvet-TailRequited Journal, The Feminist WireWord For/WordLiterary Orphans,& Lavender Review.  she is in a post-punk band called the velblouds. her baby @ femalefilet.  more art @ artmugre & a clip.  her first book, fitting a witch//hexing the stitch, will be born in 2017 (The Operating System).  she is an energy.  find her @ hermetic hare for herbal astrological readings. 

Visual Hauntings: That Cactus Smile

BY CHRISTINE STODDARD

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I made “That Cactus Smile” using mostly tissue paper and acrylic, but it also contains tiles and found objects. I was inspired to make the piece after visiting my sister in Arizona. Hence the cactus. But why the lips? We still live in a world where women so often don’t have a voice. Exploring feminine power and energy is integral to all that I create. And when I visited Arizona, I felt that power in the desert, just as I do everywhere in nature. The feminine is natural and good and we must honor it. We must let it speak. We must give it equal importance in every conversation.

Christine Stoddard is a Salvadoran-Scottish-American writer and artist based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Marie Claire, The Feminist Wire, Bustle, Cosmopolitan, So to Speak, Tulane Review, Jimson Weed, the New York City Poetry Festival, and beyond. Christine is the author of Hispanic and Latino Heritage in Virginia and the co-author of Images of America: Richmond Cemeteries. In 2014, Folio Magazine named her one of the media industry’s top 20 visionaries in their 20s.

 

[REVIEW] The Uncanny Reader, edited by Marjorie Sandor

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St Martin’s Griffin
576 pages, $21.99

 

Review by Dan Bradley

 

 

The hardest readers to shock and surprise are, perversely, voracious consumers and lovers of horror; we’ve read it all before. So with this new collection of 31 uncanny tales, refreshingly attentive to international and contemporary voices, can editor Marjorie Sandor revamp the strangeness and power of the uncanny for a new generation of readers?

The collection is inspired by the ‘haunted word’ itself. Sandor introduces the collection by tracking the etymology and semantic shadows cast by ‘uncanny’ and how its broad insinuations snake through languages and cultures, touching upon so many parts of our lives, enabling it to inspire such a wide ranging collection of tales ‘from the darkly obsessive to the subversively political, from the ghostly to the satirical.’ In Sigmund Freud’s 1919 essay ‘Das Unheimlich’, commonly translated as ‘The Uncanny’, his catalogue of experiences capable of creating an uncanny sensation, which ‘speak to the uninvited exposure of something so long repressed… that we hardly recognize it as ours,’ could easily read as a template for the greatest horror art, fiction and cinema of the past century:

When something that should have remained hidden has come out in the open.
When we feel uncertainty as to whether we have encountered a human or an automaton.
When the inanimate appears animate. Or when something animate appears inanimate.
When we see someone who looks like us—that is, our double.
The fear of being buried alive.
When we feel as if there is a foreign body inside our own. When we become foreign to ourselves.

Continue reading

[REVIEW] This Must Be The Place, by Sean H. Doyle

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Civil Coping Mechanisms

102 pages, $13.95

 

Review by Nicholas Rys

 

Sean H. Doyle is a seeker. His gasoline-soaked debut, This Must Be the Place, begins with a quote by legendary American Mystic, Edgar Cayce, “…at any time, in any world, a soul will give off through vibrations the story of itself and the condition in which it now exists.” Throughout the book, both parts at the end of that quote prove to be important, as Doyle summons up not only the vibrations of the story itself, but also the condition in which it now exists.

The book presented itself to me unusually. I was half drunk on a Thursday night and for some reason, eager to start something new. The explosive and deceptively playful cotton-candy-meets-Jackson-Pollock cover art was too loud to ignore, even strewn across my living room floor next to a handful of other 2015 books I had recently ordered. Despite my better efforts to call it quits after the first vignette. This is heavy stuff, I thought. I should wait until tomorrow. I read the first half in one feverish sitting. Continue reading

[REVIEW] The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

The Heart Goes Last cover

Nan A. Talese

326 pages, $26.95

 

Review by Mary Akers

 

As a thirty-year fan of Margaret Atwood, I eagerly purchased the first few episodes of The Heart Goes Last back in 2012 at Byliner, a reader’s website, when the working title was “Positron” and Atwood was still figuring out what form the story would take. When it grew into a novel and the opportunity arose to review it, I jumped at the chance.

As the novel opens, Stan and Charmaine are down-on-their-luck newlyweds. They have lost their home, their jobs, and are living out of their “third-hand Honda,” doing their best to avoid gangs of marauding rust-belt thugs after a financial crisis leaves middle class citizens marooned in a sea of debt and desperation. Continue reading

[REVIEW] [insert] boy, by Danez Smith

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YesYes Books

116 pages, $16

 

Review by Peter LaBerge

 

“Being black, holy, drunk, my mother’s son”

 

            Thank God for good poetry. Thank God for good poetry collections that leave necessary emotion in their wake, and thank God for poets like Danez Smith, who—through his debut Lambda Literary Award-winning poetry collection [insert] boy—demonstrates that what is political should be openly approached in personal terms, and vice versa. In [insert] boy, Smith ignites a discussion about life as a queer person of color in today’s racially charged, orientation conscious society. Through the arteries of movement, music, and religious (or non-religious) experience, Smith allows us to imagine life from his perspective in a way that only the most powerfully evocative poetry can.

The collection begins simply enough. In the opening poem “Black Boy Be,” Smith compiles a list of similes that complete the sentence “Black boy be _________.” We meet a character who ranges in manifestation from “a village ablaze” to “an ocean hid behind a grain of sand” to “blood all over everything.” Within the first few lines, we effectively meet a character who represents the world. Ultimately, we come to find this sense of motion informs many of the poems in the collection. In the first “Poem in which One Black Man Holds Another,” “the black boy falls into himself / & you mourn everyone ever.” In the third poem of the sequence, the narrator “make[s] fire in the absence of storm.” In “The Black Boy & The Bullet,” “one’s whole life is a flash.” By emphasizing the fast-paced, always static nature of his narrator, Smith enhances the experience of [insert] boy’s reader by reinforcing both the urgency of his message as well as the entrancingly violent quality of the events that transpire. Continue reading