Alexis Orgera

Alexis Orgera lives in Florida. She is the author of How Like Foreign Objects, available from H_ngm_n BKS, and two chapbooks: Illuminatrix (Forklift, Ink) and Dear Friends, The Birds Were Wonderful! (Blue Hour Press). She also writes at The Blog Poetic.

What does it mean to be a quirky writer?

Bathroom Poetics, Literally

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February 26th, 2012 / 2:09 pm

My Dog Died Last Night

When I’m sitting down to write every morning, I make sure the sun’s casting a photoshopped glow through the sheer blinds and that all implements of the trade are just so. I’m particularly interested in books being at the right angle for photographing. The above picture is apparently Faulkner’s writing room, and I’m 100% certain that it looked just like that when he was writing in it. He was a meticulous man. No errant papers, no spilled coffee. I’m equally certain that Faulkner only wrote in the perfect light, likely magic hour. Only ever magic hour. He wrote As I Lay Dying during that first and last hour of light because people only die when the light’s just right. You wouldn’t want to die in the wrong light, would you? I mean, what would people think? Writing and dying. Dying and writing. But when you think about it, you also shouldn’t eat in the wrong light or make love in the wrong light. Jesus, what if your lover sees that scar on your left knee?

My dog died last night as I held her in my arms. I tried for magic hour, but the vet was running late. I lit candles instead. She died there in my arms, injected first with anesthesia then with kill-you formula. Her eyes stayed wide open and twitched. She let out a dying breath that smelled like violence. We buried her in a deep hole. My office overlooks her grave. It’s magic hour, this hour, this hour between sleep and waking. I’m writing at my messy desk. The light’s really nice.

R.I.P. Nut.


Behind the Scenes / 1 Comment
January 19th, 2012 / 9:40 am

Would you, too, wear a dress to the ball?

My favorite childhood jingle was “Good mornin’, best to you each mornin’, K-E-Double-L-O-Double-G, Kellogg’s best to you. And YOU.”

What’s yours?

Black Jack Johnson NYC, R-O-C-K-I-N-G.

The title of this post consists of lyrics from one of my favorite Mos Def songs, on his album The New Danger. Many of the tracks on this album are about Jack Johnson, the first ever black heavyweight boxing champion. I could listen to it all day. And it’s in my head this fine Sunday morning because I’ve been catching up on Dexter Season 6, in which Mos Def, I mean Mos, I mean Yasiin Bey, plays Brother Sam, a born again murderer who Dex befriends. I am on episode 4, and I already love this character. I was curious, so I Googled Mr. Bey and I found a great clip from The Colbert Report in which Mr. Bey graciously gives no explanation as to why he changed his name, and from which I learned that Black Star has a new record. READ MORE >

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January 15th, 2012 / 10:19 am

Pen Pals: A Conversation with Nate Slawson

Nate Slawson is the author of Panic Attack, USA (YesYes, Fall 2011) and two chapbooks, The Tiny Jukebox (H_NGM_N Books) and A Mixtape Called Zooey Deschanel (Line4). Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Diode, Handsome, alice blue, Slope, Cannibal, horse less review, Corduroy Mtn., Forklift Ohio, DIAGRAM, Typo, and other places. He lives in Chicago where he teaches and runs cinematheque, an indie press that publishes chapbooks of poetry and prose.

I recently corresponded with Slawson about his new book from YesYes, Panic Attack, USA, but as with any great conversation, our subject matter ran the gamut from basketball to Neutral Milk Hotel—sort of like the  book itself with its strange and penetrating imagery, its tide-like rhythm-making, its obsessions, its pop culture memories. I pushed Slawson to talk about his poems in uncomfortable ways (for any poet), and he engaged—and set me straight a few times. And then we talked about good, old-fashioned poetics. Slawson felt like my pen pal for a week or so. Below is our conversation in its entirety–unedited. It felt like the thing to do.

AO: Talk to me about the first section of Panic Attack, USA, The Teenage Sonnets. There’s an American tradition of reducing the sonnet form to its most basic constituent part: 14 lines. What’s the significance, for you, in writing the American sonnet?

SLAWSON: Sonnets are rad. The first poems I ever wrote were sonnets, proper iambic, rhyme-schemed sonnets. And I thought they were fun to math. It was kind of like doing math, kind of like a word problem where the train from Poughkeepsie needs to arrive in Baltimore at 6:22 pm with its 140 passengers. But as I read more poems, stumbled upon more poets (my partial travels, chronologically: O’Hara, Lowell, Dickinson, Berryman, Stevens, Natasha Trethewey, Donald Justice), I was enthralled by how form was used. For a young (read: halfwitted) student/writer, there’s something remarkably badass and American about making an established form into something else but still calling that form the form.

AO: I wrote a lot of sonnets early on too. I was writing these intricate things about snails and kids smoking in the streets and, well, my neighborhood in L.A. Eventually, these sonnets got torn apart and recycled into other poems, some of which found their way into my first book. Do you think part of being an American poet is learning how to dismantle (tradition, form)?

NS: I kind of want to read those early Alexis Orgera sonnets. And by kind of, I mean very very. [Nate: I just looked for those old sonnets. They are gone, gone, gone.] A part of me feels I’m always trying to re-write my own version of “Where You’ll Find Me Now” (from Neutral Milk Hotel’s On Avery Island). With the “tear into me” and the “kids in their cars cigarette smoking.” And yeah, I think learning how to dismantle is essential part of being an American poet (all the awesome poets do it). And learning tradition and learning form are the constant, the must. That comes first. We come to form and tradition through different experiences—books, teachers, friends—and proceed with whatever steam our mind-wheels generate.

AO: The Teenage Sonnets, again, as the first section of the book, set into motion the trajectory of the book: grappling with violent obsession, taking road trips, and recalling all kinds of musical influence. Could you talk a little about how these moments inform Panic Attack, USA?

NS: I look at this section as the clumsy (narrative trajectory-wise) introduction to what happens in the rest of the book. Along with the idea of TEENAGE sonnets being scattered and earnest and obsessive and trying so damn hard to convince “you” to show “me” your non-matching underwear.

AO: I would really love it if you’d talk more about the book’s trajectory. If the Teenage Sonnets are the most “earnest,” maybe in terms of teenage naivete, have you written a coming-of-age story that perhaps widens both the world and the heart? Maybe it’s not fair to ask you as the writer. Maybe that’s the job of the reader, but I’m always curious about what the writer sees.

NS: I don’t think I’m smart or skilled enough to write a coming-of-age story. I mean, I hope there’s some of that happening in the book—as the heart explodes it covers the world in its beautiful heart explosion. And that is, in some way, how I wanted the book’s quasi-narrative to function. But it was never all-consuming or mapped out. If you or another reader see a/the story, rad.

AO: In terms of micro-story (vs. meta-narrative), in regard to individual poems I’m very interested in your line breaks. I like the surprise I feel line by line, particularly in the shorter-lined poems. For instance, in “You Are a Saxophone,” you break on articles and prepositions in a way that creates a neat rhythm. You write, “a pain in your heart / sprung from the / blues & which / when I cup my / hand to your chest / be like thunderous / rain like wasps in / a coffee can & thou / nettles & dry river- / bed thou sermon / of fire sister & we / hymnal of matchsticks?” My sense is that you’re breaking lines rhythmically, almost as though you’re rocking back and forth (ala Nate Pritts at a reading) as you write. Yes? No?

NS: Yes x 100! Lines are sonic, and they break or continue because of sound. I’m sure there are theories out there people tell people or teach their students, but I and you and we can do what whatever the hell we like. And I do a lot of rocking: reading books, writing, giving readings. I never sit when I give a reading. I need to dance a little. I need to love-up the microphone. Sometimes people joke me (if you do it to my face it’s cool) and/or I can sense there’s what the fuck? vibe in the crowd, but I think almost everyone realizes 1) it’s something I can’t not do and 2) it’s something that’s a part of the poems. Though I hope some people like the sway of my hips.


Author Spotlight / 7 Comments
December 22nd, 2011 / 6:13 pm

“Best of” lists should be reconsidered as “In club” lists. Unless you can read all of the books, you’re going to pick the cool kids. Especially small press listers. So predictable it hurts.

Fictionitis |fick shun eye tus|


a disease of the frontal lobe that obliterates the impulse to write fiction almost before (in the time-space continuum) the impulse is acted upon; the foiling of grand plans and even grander fantasies as a result of said disease: I contracted fictionitis minutes after conceiving of a fiction-writing-for-poets series on HTMLGiant; I will wash my mouth out with soap, but it won’t cure the disease.

(Eggs and Bacon): The Poem as Memoir?

What is memoir in poetry? We read prose memoirs and see how lives are stretched taut around themes: a chronology of water, a debilitating illness, a drug addiction, a nomadic childhood, a strange religion, insomnia-driven thinking. Themes become umbrella girding; living, the fabric that fills it out. But where does poetry fit into memoir? We could think about the confessional in poetry and say, yes this is the place where poetry and memoir meet. Plath on suicide attempts: “I have done it again. / One year in every ten / I manage it–” or Lowell, “My mind’s not right…I myself am hell.” Depression and mania are easily encapsulated states of being, but all poets write their lives, confessional or not. When Simic writes, “My mother was a braid of black smoke,” we assume he’s not writing fact-truth. Maybe he’s writing dream truth or metaphor truth. Maybe he’s just writing, and I’m extrapolating.

I started thinking about this when a poem of mine called “Man Builds a Guitar” went up online recently. It’s basically a persona poem in Jack White’s voice. I wrote it after watching the documentary It Might Get Loud and not being able to shake Jack White’s weird tinkering and instrument making from my head. So, it’s a persona poem, but it embodies themes and emotions I was thinking about at that particular moment in time. When I say, “I heard everything disappearing” what I meant was that my marriage was over and life as I knew it was evaporating in front of my eyes. I’m using the imagery of my childhood in the South and the sounds that take me back there to get at the particulars of silence-after-a-storm. This is a memoir poem even though it’s a persona poem. I mean, I don’t know Jack White, but I know me.

Matt Hart has a poem called “Sailing the Gut Boat,” that begins, “I made you a thing with no tongue / and gallons of new-fangled fog. I made you / a thing with nothing and nobody—not even / a surrealist screaming into an atlas….” Hart reminds us that you can fashion people and events into whatever you want (a nothing, even) on the page, but the truth of them still remains behind that fashioning.

Or take a short couplet poem, “Future,” by Emily Kendal Frey:


Craft Notes / 9 Comments
November 21st, 2011 / 11:04 am

The Price of Modernity

For $800 you, too, can have an ipad typewriter. ipad not included. Click clack.


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November 4th, 2011 / 8:40 am

On Embarrassment

**Note after the fact: let me just preface this little bit by saying that while I’m confessing a feeling I get writing for a group internet blog, I am not confessing something deep and wrong about my own character. Please, don’t comment about my self-esteem. I’m pretty fucking okay. I meant for this post to be more concentrated on thinking about how internet culture, for me, demeans things deemed “more traditional” in art. That and my feelings about groupthink. Sorry if it comes across as something else.  I’m going to keep it as is anyway.

Sometimes I’m embarrassed by my favorite poems–most of the time that tiny flash of shame comes when I’m writing for HMTL. I feel like I have to be hip and cool, read things that are experimental and edgy (which, by the way, I do and also love). Like most HTML contributors I read widely and variously, and the cool thing about being a contributor here is that we do read variously, have different tastes, get excited by totally disparate things. Yet somehow I’m still embarrassed by my roots–the poems I can’t shake, obsess on, memorize–when I sit down to write posts. Those poets and poems that turned me into a poet from the outset somehow seem out of step with the 21st century (Dean Young being the exception?), or at least with the internet’s version of it. But they are my epiphany moments. For me, the brilliance of these poems comes not from experiment or postmodern aesthetic (we’re past that, right?), or political stance, though I think you could argue for those things. The brilliance of these poems derives from their depth of thinking about the human experience: the history of knowledge, the cold zero of perfection, the universal solvents and pilgrim souls, language’s redemptive power. I think, here, I’m supposed to be too cool for being in uncertainties, Mysteries, and doubts, that the simulation of being literati somehow precedes the ability to feel deeply. It’s as if I’m supposed to, but can’t, say everything with a wink and a nod. I’m probably wrong; likely, I’m being insecure, a wild child who has been invited into a gentleman’s club in which I feel sometimes validated and other times lost in the woods all over again. If you want to read a rant on “joining” at my blog, you can. It’ll maybe explain some of my feelings. Or you can just read some good poems from me to you.

Elizabeth Bishop, “At the Fishhouses”

Mark Strand, “Always”

Yusef Komunyakaa, “My Father’s Loveletters”

Philip Levine, “They Feed They Lion”

WB Yeats, “When You Are Old”

Dean Young, “Sunflower”



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November 3rd, 2011 / 12:05 pm

FictionSpeak 2: Dialogue

I was trying to write dialogue the other day. Then I was trying to write about dialogue. There was an article in the Wall Street Journal back in February called “Talk That Walks: How Hemingway’s Dialogue Powers a Story,” by John L’Heureux. I found this article because I had just read “Hills Like White Elephants.” I don’t feel like talking about Hemingway. Though his dialogue is masterful, I really hate his treatment of the girl. I also hate L’Heureux’s treatment of the girl for different reasons, but I like what he says at the conclusion of this article:

“Dialogue suggests what people mean by what they’re saying, even if they themselves aren’t fully aware of it. Sometimes, of course, the most effective dialogue culminates in silence. This is more than irony. It is what characters do to one another.”

Because the writer is god, she knows what her characters mean. I don’t know about that. I like Silence. I’d like to know about un-dialogue please. When I was thinking about dialogue, I started writing this:

What is dialogue but the memory of nothing-ever-said? How many palettes from which to choose? You say this, you dothisthingtome. I say something back, which is worse in my mind than knifing a dying dog. I want to write about a conversation had. A once-had conversation. But it’ll never work. Nothing works but the working, someone said, out of darkness. Nothing but the eventual loss of a thing. Loss of a pain, loss of a memory. Is it or is it not the same face on the coin? The same face before bed beckoning.

I wake up angry. Wanting a fight. Which I’ll never get, which you’ll never give me. Ever-heaver. Ever-body-distiller.

Dialogue is a thing we do in stories. Or a thing smug people do in offices with bright lights.

“Let’s have a dialogue about this.”

“Fuck you.”

And then the piece turned into something else entirely. I was trying to teach freshman writing students about dialogue a few weeks ago, and I gave them a bunch of revision checklists. I asked questions of them like, “Is the dialogue natural? Does your dialogue portray personality? Is your dialogue interesting? [what does that mean?] In class, we’d read “Hills Like White Elephants” aloud. We talked about mystery, about saying, not saying, about how things are said. I didn’t teach these kids a goddamn thing, though a few of them caught on.

My question is this. I don’t want dialogue. I want not-dialogue. What are the best books that make minimal but insanely good use of dialogue?

Craft Notes & Random / 18 Comments
October 14th, 2011 / 12:58 pm

FictionSpeak 1

For the next couple of months, I’m going to run this weekly series, FictionSpeak, because, well, I’m a poet trying to write fiction, which seems like it could be worth talking about. 

I started writing fiction a few weeks ago. I’m writing this fiction in a square yellow sketchbook. Just like a poet to be writing fucking fiction in a square fucking sketchbook, you say. On top of that, I’m only writing on one side of the page. And I’m only writing in snapshots that will ostensibly form a novel. It’s probably a disgrace to fiction writers everywhere, what I’m doing. I don’t understand things about dialogue or character development. I really don’t understand plot. Zip. Zilcho. I think I’m decent at description and setting and emotional arc, poetical things, so then why am I not writing poems in my new fancy-pants sketchbook. Because I already have a black vinyl, lined notebook for poems, silly.

Originally, this fiction-in-a-sketchbook thing was going to be memoir. Then I read The Chronology of Water the other weekend. Then I picked up Sarah Manguso’s The Two Kinds of Decay, which I’m reading right now, and I thought two things. One, I don’t have the stuff of a memoir yet. Two, these books are great to read if you want to write fiction. For different reasons. Lidia Yuknavitch for voice and fierceness. Manguso for matter-of-factness and snapshot.

Back in grad school at ole Emerson, I’m pretty sure there was a fiction-writing-for-poets course, or maybe a poetry-for-fiction-writers course. I never took either. Navigating fiction makes me feel like I’m walking into a Templar initiation ceremony or something. It’s dark. There are candles. Robes. Dorky music. A guy in a mask with a sword doing degrading things to another guy who poses just the right way to look simultaneously mysterious and mastered.

Umm, nevermind.

My first question is this. Writing fiction forces me to dredge up weird shit from my past and use it with different characters and settings. I mean, I’m raping my life wholesale.  Is that normal? Somebody said to me yesterday, “Change the facts enough so your family doesn’t recognize them.” My feeling is that I’ll change them just enough to fit the narrative, just enough to make them work for me. I mean, that’s what poets do…


Craft Notes & Random / 39 Comments
October 5th, 2011 / 3:08 pm


They're lining up for you.

All guests wishing to enter the signing line must have a wristband.

Days, sometimes consecutive, without showers.

Campus-or-city map.

Arc of narrative. Arc of argument. Arch-ness.

A boy who draws a teddy bear and a bumblebee and hands it to you on crumpled paper.

Wristbands will be handed out on a first-come, first-served basis beginning the day you decide to get off your ass and write something.

Sensitive skin lotion abounds.

Massage oil.

Grape flavored lubricant that tastes like Kool-Aid.


Craft Notes & Random / 4 Comments
September 20th, 2011 / 2:02 pm

The Writerly Life: Part Uno

Started teaching at a new place today. Was hired on Friday. That’s one weekend to prep. It’s a freshman writing class. Nice kids. First day of college, etc. etc. They all get laptops. I do too. I don’t like teaching when I’m not doing it. I like it okay when I am. We talked about some fiction-y things. They wrote a little about an impossible thing that didn’t happen to them but did, ala truth vs. Truth in fiction, etc. I don’t know. I had no time to prep this class that I’ve never taught. It will not be taut. But they will write some things and revise a few. Maybe they’ll develop a writing vocabulary. They are art students so they will also draw some things. They will put these words and pictures together and make new things. I said something about Sid Vicious. I said fuck. I wore a nice teal dress and some heels. You know, like a real-live-person. This morning, before everything, I wrote a poem about X-ray Astronomy but really about pain or something. This is part of a new hour-a-morning scheme. And then I worked at another job where I wrote emails and shuffled papers, which was fine. I dealt with some drama here and there. Then I went to the other job, teaching writing. Then I went to an art collective meeting. Then I went home and crawled into my pajamas and a hoodie. I wrestled the tennis ball away from the pit-chow mix. I can stick my hand into his mouth, and he won’t bite me. Sometimes he growls if I tug on his paws. Sometimes I try to stick my head in his mouth. I did not walk too much today. Or do my special physical therapy exercises. But nothing hurts too bad. There was coffee. I smell like cigarettes.

Behind the Scenes & Random / 4 Comments
August 23rd, 2011 / 11:27 pm

5 nonfictions I want to read right now

Anybody read any of these??


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August 6th, 2011 / 1:43 pm

House Wife Blues: Plath, The Bell Jar, and Writerly Neuroses

Yesterday, my boyfriend and I were out walking the dog, and I was feeling shitty about work as usual. Rounding the corner where the Bay meets the roadway, sun setting pinkly, I blurted out, “Sometimes I just wish I could be a housewife.” He looked at me and said, “Me too.”

That was the end of it. Which pissed me off even more. I wanted to have a legitimate conversation about what it means to be a housewife (which, by the way, I could never be in the 19050s sense), the fact that it’s not even an option anymore for most women. We’re worker bees now, too. It’s only fair. If I want to stay home, which I kind of do, I have to figure out a way to pull in enough income to pay the mortgage on the house I bought all by myself. I have to be able to pull my weight. Not to mention take care of the dogs, do the laundry, make dinners–all because I’m home, which somehow still means, not doing anything at all. My boyfriend would  never say or think these things, by the way, but I would. I struggle with these concepts because I would feel guilty if I had the luxury to write. As if writing isn’t work. Writing poetry isn’t work, it’s what you do in your spare time.

In her essay “The Bell Jar at 40,” Emily Gould writes of Sylvia Plath:


Craft Notes & Random / 18 Comments
August 5th, 2011 / 8:57 am

The Writer’s Mind?

Last night as I was leaving the local pub, a middle-aged drunk woman jumped into my car with me before I knew what was happening. She said, “Hey, gimme a ride up the street?” and proceeded to talk about her husband who doesn’t come home when he should but who’s pretty good to her.

I didn’t know she was a prostitute until she said, “Hey, slow down,” at which point I slowed to 30mph on a 45mph street, and “Roll down your windows. How am I supposed to see?” So we rolled past the seedy motels of my neighborhood, as she explained to me how she has to see who’s where. This somehow made sense to me. It even made sense when she had me turn onto a street behind an abandoned Winn Dixie and onto another, smaller street where several men strolled on cell phones. I thought this was where she’d get out, but when two of the men came up to the car, she told me to go. She said, “Go. Now.” Even this seemed okay. We drove some more, casing more corners, checking out the motel situations.

We spotted another woman she knew, much younger, much thinner, much more traditionally dressed for this line of work, and I pulled onto a corner to drop her off. But we were friends now. She didn’t want to leave, so she whispered that the girl was her daughter. I said, “Really?” and she said, “No.”

The two of them argued through the window about a lighter for a while, and then they fought about age differences. “She says I’m 14,” the new girl told me, “but don’t believe her. I’m 29.”

And then the woman with whom I’d, by now, spent a half an hour or so, jumped out of my car and started chasing her friend down the street and out of my life. All I could think was, I have to get out here more often. What a great story this would make. And I do this all the time. With my dad’s Alzheimer’s. With crazy roommates. How will I do this justice on paper, as though paper is the only way to legitimize life.

Do other writers do this? Am I my own kind of prostitute?


Behind the Scenes & Random / 66 Comments
July 27th, 2011 / 12:11 pm

I don’t mean to be a nudge, but I actually do. If you haven’t filled out my small survey, would you please? I’d like at least 30 more respondents in order to get a proper non-scientific view of how a tiny sliver of the population views the J-O-B word alongside creativity and other such nonsense. I will write an exciting post about this very subject! Including data!

A job worth doing.