Anthony Alaniz reviews Dodie Bellamy

EMU student Anthony Alaniz reviews Dodie Bellamy’s recent BathHouse reading:

Whistle While You Dixie and Bellamy

 “I was on an adventure,” proclaimed Bellamy as she read from her hard-to-find book, Whistle While You Dixie in the Eastern Michigan University Student Center Auditorium on February 7, 2012.

Whistle While You Dixie is split into an essay and a narrative.  The essay encompassed the first half of her hour long reading and divulged into such topics as the blatant sexual overtones of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, at least according to Bellamy.

Sadly, though, one cannot watch Snow White in the same, childish, way again, after Bellamy’s explicit reading.

Bellamy excels when she begins to dive into her narrative.

Her power and, what some would say, her nonchalant attitude towards sexuality and the human experience, courses through her slight frame as she reads while recounting her experience on returning home to Indiana.

She meets a young boy who is, “too young to be taken seriously.”

It is her conversational tone through, not only the narrative, but the essay as well, that make her reading, and of course her writing, approachable and easily relatable to any young reader or writer who have had any human experience with sexuality.

The greatest moment of the reading, though, wasn’t the reading at all.  The question and answer session afterwards gave great insights to Bellamy’s own thinking about writing.

When asked if the proliferation of technology would make it easier for writers to reach great popularity, she said, “I don’t know if new technology will make that possible.”

Bellamy’s greatest literary quality is her honesty both in writing and in lecture, yet the true gem to Bellamy is hearing her read her experiences.

Granted, like every writer, she wants them to think, “That I’m brilliant.”  After the reading, I have to agree with her.

Listening to Bellamy as she recounts mundane events should make a writer, like it did me, realize and understand that there is almost always a story in life itself.  This is something Bellamy excels at, especially in Whistle While You Dixie.

Amy Oleynik reviews Dodie Bellamy

Student Amy Oleynik reviews Dodie Bellamy’s BathHouse Reading from earlier this month:

Dodie Bellamy: Her reading of “Whistle While You Dixie” on February 7, 2012

I came to realize in a short amount of words that Dodie sounds like the friend you think you have, the one who says everything too honestly and with too much raw energy, with a potential to go any which way. The one you meet and you’re instantly insulted, which is why you like her so much. Comfortable, yet edgy enough that you don’t sit too close. The type of friend you wouldn’t take home to your parents for Sunday-Monday-AnyDay dinner. In fact, you can’t even mention her lest they ask you, “Oh, what does she write?” or “How did you meet?” which would end up in unsavory stories or explanations you find comical, but obviously those old fogies wouldn’t budge a lip. You’d be reduced to giving her only as a name or at least what she looks like. But questions can still ensue so you bottle her up inside. Yet ever persistently, Dodie peeks out of your conversations and you still trample over yourself to not include her in every word. Either my subconscious is lacking in strength or Dodie’s mark has extreme gusto.

The correct answer is obviously.

Dodie became the song in my head, the one you realize when it’s too late and you’ve been subconsciously at it and now conscious of it, heated and irritated to the point of obsession.

Whistle. Obsession.

He whistled. Habit.

The way whistle looks like thistle and is seen as such in the realm of sounds. Sharp. Quick and usually you want to use your foot to blot out its life, with haste. One mouth pucker and my eyebrows are erect. One tick on my counter from the man with a mustache. And she never mentioned the dwarves, whom I’m sure she’d have many a small penis joke lined up, buried waiting like a jack-in-the-box spring trap. Gasp. Oh ha ha. They do whistle. That’s seven instances left untouched, dripping with potential, right along with the use of the word “ho”. Or how they mine for diamonds and immaculately cut precious stones which they leave (where?) and come home to live in hospitable squalor, none of them daring to build another house. And I’m back to the whistling.

Tick two.

The word most associated with Dodie was uncomfortable, which I did not gain from the reading. If anything, Dodie forced me to reflect on myself, pulling me into my childhood days of Snow White being innocent and talented. She was the woodland creature whispering goddess. The scariest part being the lightning storm instead of the obsessed red mouthed queen asking for Snow White’s heart. (My Creative Writing senses tell me to delve a little deeper into the metaphor for some complexes, but really, I just think she wanted her dead.) Moving from essay to narrative, I still was compelled to feel for the characters meaning I connected with her fear and want of the boy on the far bed. What does that mean! My inner child panics. What happened in my life that I now can relate to Dodie? She is hilariously crude in her sentiments. Have I become like that? More personal reflection and it’s only been an hour. Focus on the peaches and try to remember to make a cobbler when you get the chance. Desserts, yes! Movies, innocent movies! Don’t think! Just watch! Sit, watch, cut up peaches on your couch! The uncomfortable self is found in Dodie’s aftermath.

Emily Riopelle reviews Dodie Bellamy

Emily Riopelle reviews Dodie Bellamy’s recent BathHouse Reading:

Whistle While You Dodie

by Emily Riopelle

Dodie Bellamy’s voice matched the dry monotone one I’d imagined for her in my head. Hearing her work live gives it a whole new dimension. The crass and ironic words she uses, the blunt honesty with which she writes, is magnified by the flatness of her tone. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Dodie’s work has a tendency to veer between reading like a gossip column and a porn novel, but the skill with which she weaves these elements into well written and concise prose is unmatched. At the reading she shared her piece, “Whistle While You Dixie,” written for an art show in which a group of women whistled theme songs for “sexist” movies such as Rocky. She seemed to begin her writing process by writing down her feelings and associations with whistling. It seemed she easily conjured both strong emotions about whistling and whistle-related vivid memories. In the first section she pondered the lack of whistling in two video clips: “Whistle While You Work,” from Disney’s Snow White and “You Ain’t Just Whistling Dixie” by the Bellamy Brothers. She took the opportunity to point out the overt sexual innuendo she discovered in the Snow White clip, thinking about how “whistle while you work” means make the most of your drudgery. Most of us will never watch Snow White the same way again. She pointed out the sexual and racial oppression present in the Bellamy lyrics and that “whistle dixie” means to not take something seriously. She imagined that perhaps both songs lack actual whistling because the singers have cast a certain spell over their listeners, whether to help clean the kitchen, or to ignore certain social issues, the sharp squeal of a whistle would snap the listeners out of complacency (or at least that’s the theory).

Dodie went on to a more memoir driven second half of the chapbook, recounting a time when she hitchhiked across the country with a boy tentatively named Greg and a young man driving a pick-up she named “Teen.” The connection to the whistling is tenuous at best, but still, Dodie’s story was captivating.

Dodie’s writing resists genre and categorization. She was trained in poetry, not narrative, but her writing tends toward an exciting hybrid of personal memoir and essay most of the time. Though some readers may find Dodie’s overt sexuality icky, her blunt honesty tends toward endearing. She’s honest about how she felt as she laid beside that truck driver boy, wanting his “boy meat,” but not at the same time (or at least she’s good at feigning honesty). And her vulnerability is what really pulls you in. At times, her writing feels like a personal journal, something very intimate. You feel like you are trespassing, violating her somehow by reading it, but that forbidden allure is precisely why you go on.

BathHouse Event: Konrad Steiner, March 14, time TBA

Mark your calendars for the next BathHouse Event of Winter ’12 semester, featuring Konrad Steiner.  This event will take place on Wednesday, March 14 (time TBA) at the Dreamland Theatre.  This is a free event and is open to the public (and also counts as a General Education LBC credit).

Steiner makes short non-narrative films in the American experimental tradition of unipersonal production, winning awards and screening in festivals worldwide. His primary interest is to use the moving image as a medium for compositions in language, sound and cinematography. Read more about him here.

Intro Students’ Installations in Pray-Harrold

Here’s a quick alert to interesting installation work in Pray-Harrold from Sarah Smarch:

Check out the posting board installation on the main floor of PH!

Inspired by studying recent BathHouse series poet, Taylor Brady, and the work of Jenny Holtzer (http://www.arthistoryarchive.com/arthistory/contemporary/Jenny-Holzer.html), both of my intro classes completed installations on the posting boards by the main floor elevators in Pray Harrold.  From Peter Middleton’s essay published in Pores journal (http://www.pores.bbk.ac.uk/issues/issue5/poetry-and-public-language/middletonlanguagepublicandpoetry) on the text Poetry and Public Language (http://www.amazon.com/Poetry-Public-Language-Tony-Lopez/dp/1905700644/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1322745496&sr=8-1), we derived two parameters for public language:
1) Work that is shared with the public (public=strangers)
2) Work that comments on the time it is produced within

Anthony Zick reviews Fall BathHouse Readings

EMU student Anthony Zick reviews both BathHouse readings from Fall semester (Laura Wetherington, Jill Darling, and Sara Williams from Sept. 28; Taylor Brady from Nov. 10):

BathHouse this Semester was in many ways, enjoyable, cohesive, and productive.  First I would like to praise the specifics of its organization, I will say that the requirement of all Creative Writing (CW) students to attend is a smart and generous move of the CW faculty.  Otherwise, unfortunately, half of the Sponberg Theater would be empty and the visiting authors would feel unappreciated.  Also, Sponberg Theater is a good is good location being that it is near the center of EMU’s Campus and thus makes the walk about even for everybody.  Additionally, the timing of the events were as good as they could have been at a college full of commuters Eastern.  Since anything scheduled before 4pm is likely to interrupt with classes, it made sense to have the readings start around 5 or 6:30pm.  And, of course, since many commuters come from an hour or more away, it was helpful to have the reading on a day when they were already on campus.

To broaden my review, the planning and programming of these events provided EMU students with a cohesive experience.  Most obviously, Taylor Brady’s work was taught in at least some of the CW classes this semester, precisely to prepare for Taylor’s live presence at the BathHouse readings.     Hearing an author live can make all the difference, especially for younger poets who are always in the hunt for mentors and real, available brains to pick for opinions.  The Reading with Jill Darling, Sara Williams, and Laura Wetherington benefited CW students in that many students were already invested in them as their former or current teachers.  Pathos really does make a difference in how we see a person’s work.  That is not to say that their work was not so good without the pathos.  It is only to say that the students are more likely to lend a generous ear to people who have been generous to them.  I should also mention that Jill and Laura’s  plan to read a collaborative poem was another good example of community.  I wonder now whether they were reading their own lines or whether they read each other’s lines or some mixture of the two.  Both of these readings stand as good models for community in literature.

In regards to the actual poets and poems, I am somewhat ignorant.  I was not one of the students who studied the poems that Taylor Brady read in class, and I have never had a class with any of the EMU MA’s, so I was partially out of the loop.  I know now that Taylor Brady’s poetry is the kind of poetry that needs to be read ahead of time, but I didn’t know then, so I did my best to catch a glimpse of what was being said.  This is one suggestion I have for future readings.  If the poet writes short and/or dense poems, I would put as many poems as possible online for students to study beforehand.

Another suggestion I have is in regards to the interests of the EMU CW community and to the larger EMU community.  As with all Universities, EMU’s Creative Writing program has a distinctive flavor.  In my experience it tends to be more experimental than other communities I’ve been around.  That said, my professors accommodate different tastes to a reasonable extent in their classes.  I would like to see this happen more with the reader series.  Personally, I like experimental work, but I also like the poets who are more conversational and highly emotional (not sentimental of course).  If we were to bring in poets like this, on an occasional basis, I believe that more non-CW students would come to readings and that CW students would get a new take on the possibilities of contemporary poetry.  Take this suggestion with a grain of salt because I’ve only been at EMU since last Fall.

Even though I have said that EMU tends to be experimental, I will also say that it is very practical, in that, when you’re handing in a final draft, your work is your work.  The teacher just wants to know that you are working hard and that you’re going through the process of learning what he or she is teaching you.  I think this has been beneficial for me because I’m not great at all forms of writing.  I try them out, but if I feel strongly led to something familiar, I don’t always hold back.

Alessa Pointer reviews Laura Wetherington, Jill Darling, and Sara Williams

EMU student Alessa Pointer reviews the faculty BathHouse Reading from earlier this semester:

On September 8, 2011, I attended my first BathHouse Reading with Laura Wetherington, Jill Darling and Sara Williams and I must say that I enjoyed it. All three women were wonderful, but Laura Wetherington absolutely magnificent. Her style is so quirky and funny, and everything she read was wonderful. My favorite line would have to be “an orgasm is just your body clapping for itself.” The collaborative work between Jill and Laura was also something I very much enjoyed. We have been discussing   collaborative works in one of my creative writing classes and to actually see it done was beautiful. It was obvious that these two women were close and knew much about one another and the piece executed that very well. Sara’s work was interesting, but what I found most interesting was her students work.  Her students are young and innocent and it reminded me a lot of my own work as a child. It also made me think of how much my work has grown and matured and I hope theirs does as well. My second BathHouse Reading wasn’t as memorable as my first, but Taylor Brady’s writing was exceptional. I cannot remember entire phrases but I do remember being moved by his work. Hopefully one day I will be able to move someone the way Taylor, Sara, Jill and Laura moved me.

After seeing these performances I realized that is what I want to do with my life. Before I wanted to edit, critique someone else’s work because I passionately dislike the criticism of my work. I don’t take criticism very well, and I accept this. But now I think I would like to change someone’s life the way literature has changed mine. The way all of their work made me feel has opened up a completely new realm of possibilities for me. It has allowed me to finally go on with my true passion which is and has almost always been writing.

Jessica Chrisekos reviews Taylor Brady

Following yesterday’s review of the first BathHouse Reading of this semester, EMU Creative Writing student Jessica Chrisekos shares her impressions from the second Fall BathHouse Reading, which featured Taylor Brady:

After just reading Snow Sensitive Skin, featuring work from both Taylor Brady and Rob Halpern, I was very excited to attend this BathHouse event. Taylor Brady was welcomed by Rob Halpern in a very heartfelt letter of appreciation and praise. It was enjoyable listening to Rob talk about Taylor’s accomplishments as a writer, and how he has inspired new thoughts and writings.

What I loved most about Taylor Brady’s work was that it dealt with a topic that is relatable to most people: debt. Not only was this topic relatable, but it’s not often a topic that I ever come across when reading poetry or prose. I enjoyed the fact that Taylor’s work was much different from other poetry that I read, and even my own poetry. To be honest, I don’t think I would ever include debt as a possible topic to write about. However, Taylor presented it in a lovely way throughout his poetry.

I also loved the physicality of Taylor’s work. Many words and sounds stuck with me because they seemed to be very physical words. His words were not only powerful, but they were doing something in the text. As a writer, it is often difficult to attain that level of physicality within a piece, but I think Brady’s work is a great example.

Jessica Chrisekos reviews Laura Wetherington, Jill Darling, and Sara Williams

EMU Creative Writing student Jessica Chrisekos reviews the EMU Faculty BathHouse Reading from earlier this semester that featured Laura Wetherington, Jill Darling, and Sara Williams:

On Wednesday, September 28th, Eastern welcomed Laura Wetherington, Jill Darling, and Sara Williams to the Creative Writing BathHouse Reading Series. Their performance was particularly enjoyable for me. They covered a range of topics, and they also included many styles of writing. The first style presented was a collaboration between Jill and Laura. They went back and forth reciting lines of their own. This was fun for the audience to listen to because there were two different voices that needed to be strung together to create one poem.

Along with a collaboration, many styles were present in their performance. There was humor, as well as a disturbing tale about a Michigan murder. Sara Williams also included a piece called “First Poem.” I really enjoyed listening to this. There is a sort of magic that comes along with children and the innocence they possess. It’s interesting to think that when we were very young, we had none of the cares that we carry now. “First Poem” had a special meaning to me, as it drew attention to the fact that perhaps life isn’t as troublesome as we thought. While there are hardships, it’s important to remember the simple things that never failed to interest us when we were so young.

I enjoyed this BathHouse reading because these three wonderful women had energy and passion. It’s always fun to watch a poet perform and express themselves. In a way, they are letting you into their mind for a brief moment, letting you think their thoughts, and feel their feelings. This was definitely the case for this event, as the readers captured and held my attention with their works.

Gerard Breitenbeck’s Introduction from Taylor Brady’s BathHouse Reading

Enjoy another taste of the recent Taylor Brady BathHouse Reading via the following introduction from the reading by EMU Creative Writing graduate student Gerard Breitenbeck:

The BathHouse Reading Series is not only about shifting our perspectives, but redefining them. Tonight we welcome a writer whose work is all about redefining perspectives, not only with respect to the micro-politics of daily life, but also within the scope of narrative and literature itself.  

Taylor Brady lives in the San Francisco Bay area and is the author of many acclaimed works including Microclimates, Yesterday’s News, and Occupational Treatment, as well Snow Sensitive Skin, a collaboration with our own Professor Rob Halpern. 

Brady’s writing resists our efforts to know it; this is no accident, but a deliberate, ethical decision. Brady refers to narrative as “…the elaboration of an ongoing experience of missing the point.” Encountering his work is like encountering another human being when we stumble into those lucky, horrifying moments of social amnesia and forget categories and conventions, like staring into a prism of infinite complexity. And we are at a loss for description, as to grant privileged attention to one colored refraction is to do violence to the rest.

Or maybe it’s more like some hyper-paced plate-tectonics, confounding every would-be Magellan by shifting territory faster than the hand that presumes to draw the map. We feel lost in Brady’s prose and verse; it is a bucking bronco that wants to throw you, a determined resolve that shapes and intensifies its kicks and whips and thrashing in direct response to your efforts to hang on.

We might be inclined to resent him for this. What I mean is, at first I  was inclined to resent him for this. I felt as though I had to leave a trail of bread crumbs behind me just to find a way out of his sentences.

But then I realized his work was drawing attention to the very content of my efforts to keep up, my desperate and frustrated need to extract and isolate meaning from these words and images. I found myself wondering just from where I was getting all these meaning-seeking bread crumbs, just how it is I had pockets full of them. I began to find that these crumbs weren’t arbitrary or shapeless at all. They had character and inclinations and attitudes, and a sort of  spooky unspeakable context the way dreams have. But they weren’t dreams at all; rather, they were like wrinkles in the fabric between myself and my waking reality, a fabric which usually hangs as a veil, too sheer and familiar to notice.

I began to see his sentences, and my memories, and thoughts, and sense-making efforts as though set up in some third place like a rec center basement or high ceiling garage, with each of these elements embodied and sitting in a circle on gray metal folding chairs sharing some telepathic conversation in words made out of dream-context anti-words. And because no one is really talking, everyone speaks at once, if without conclusion, than certainly not without consequence.

I imagined the work as a kind of four dimensional map of our social relations, which, as tangled and dynamic as they may be, here are teased and felt and thoroughly investigated in something of a web of associations or a melting collaborative landscape. And that it was this landscape that is our social reality; that we carry this rec center basement collective around with us, every moment of every day.

Sharing in this landscape, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Taylor Brady.