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Venus & Jupiter: The Conjunction of Brown & Powell

Frederick Douglass argued against John Brown's plan to attack the arsenal at Harpers Ferry," Jacob Lawrence

Frederick Douglass argued against John Brown’s plan to attack the arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Jacob Lawrence

One hundred and fifty years ago, a man named John Brown was put to death by the state. He was not gunned down in the street, nor was he unarmed. He was arrested by Robert E. Lee for leading a raid on the national armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. He had planned to arm America’s slaves with a hundred thousand guns. He was a white man, a preacher. Newspapers called him “a madman.” In most pictures he had “crazy eyes.” Abe Lincoln declared him “insane.” One thing’s for sure, he was mad. His rage boiled over.

American poets compared Brown’s life to a meteor that tore across the sky as he sat in jail, very nearly bisecting the interim of his conviction and execution. Emerson called him a saint, “whose martyrdom, if it shall be perfected, will make the gallows as glorious as the cross.” Thoreau said, “When a man stands up serenely against the condemnation and vengeance of mankind, rising above them by a whole body . . . the spectacle is a sublime one.” Both had attended his speeches and probably knew about the raid before it happened. Years later, Melville wrote, “the streaming beard is shown / (Weird John Brown), / The meteor of the war.” Whitman, who was there, put him in Leaves of Grass: “YEAR of meteors! brooding year! / I would sing how an old man, tall, with white hair, mounted the scaffold in Virginia; / (I was at hand—silent I stood, with teeth shut close—I watch’d; / I stood very near you, old man, when cool and indifferent, but trembling with age and your unheal’d wounds, you mounted the scaffold;)” The actor John Wilkes Booth was there, too. He wrote his piece in Lincoln’s blood.

Even Victor Hugo, in exile, called for Brown’s pardon. “There is something more frightening than Cain killing Abel,” he said, “and that is Washington killing Spartacus.” READ MORE >

Word Spaces / 8 Comments
September 2nd, 2014 / 10:00 am

Poem by my friends Bela and Katya

Standing Poem

I take my job really seriously.
My job is standing:

Your job is being. Your job is not being naked.

My job is not standing for something but rather simply standing.
Standing for nothing? I don’t stand for anything…I won’t stand for just anything. I’ll stand for $8.75 an hour.

I don’t stand for that much else otherwise, but I can stand $8.75 an hour. I can’t stand for any less, but I could stand for more.

Oh, this is stand up.

I am standing up for my right to get paid a minimum hourly wage for standing up.

I stand for at least the minimum — at most, I stand for 8 hours. I can stand on my own two feet, but only if I am paid to be standing. Otherwise, I will sit.

I don’t stand for freedom; I can stand for minimum wage.
I don’t stand for free dumbdumb. I stand for: a living.

A high standard of living?

I’m pretty short so not that high a standard, but some take me as their standard.

My standing is standard.

I will take $8.75 sitting down, but I will take it standing up also. When I can’t stand anymore they won’t pay me for standing any more. I will keep standing as long as I can stand to keep standing.

Get up, Stand up. That’s a standard workday. You can think on your feet, but you don’t have to. Understanding standing plays a big part in the job of standing: you must understand that your job is standing to stand for a job.

It’s taken a long time to get over sitting, but I’m finally beginning to understand.

by Bela Shayevich and Katya Tepper

*Bela also wanted to make sure I let you know about her upcoming book tour with Ainsley Morse. They translated Vsevolod Nekrasov’s collected poems together. Go.

Word Spaces / No Comments
March 11th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Concurrent Events: There is no money

I hate when people announce a series. Usually when I announce a series, it just doesn’t happen. Like talking about something you’re writing, it makes it hard to finish, because talking about it makes it exist a little and that means you can move on. I prefer to move on. But I see no way around it: this is the first in a series of Concurrent Events. Hold on to yr butts.

mallarme by gaugin

At the crash of a Bank, vague, mediocre, gray.

Currency, that terrible precision instrument, clean to the conscience, loses any meaning.

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Word Spaces / 14 Comments
March 8th, 2014 / 10:00 am

OPEN LETTER TO HTMLGIANT: THE SEXISM STOPS HERE

zelda

I think everyone has an Internet feud they will never forget. Here’s mine: in January 2010, Jimmy Chen wrote a post for your site (that has since been removed) in which he showed a photograph of Zelda Fitzgerald and “complimented” her cute rolls of back fat. In the comments section, I called out the sexist move of reducing a female writer to the shape of her body, and was immediately dismissed with a “fuck you” and someone asking why I had a sexy picture of myself on my own blog.

And on my blog, Chen told me my life would be easier because my face looks like this.

In an open letter apology (that has also since been taken down), he wrote, in his defense:

“Leah [sic] Stein has a ‘right’ to post a sexy picture of her, and I have a ‘right’ to think her life will be easier because of her beauty than an ugly woman’s which is why she [sub]consciously posted it.”

There is nothing easy about the life of a writer with the face of a woman, especially when men get to tell you what you’re allowed to do with your face. Which brings me to yesterday’s post by Garett Strickland, about how Kate Zambreno humiliated him when she unfriended him on Facebook, taking away his ability “to participate in a conversation I’ve got as much right to as any other human being, regardless of the seemingness of my being white or male.”

Note that both Chen and Strickland are eager to point out their “right” to write whatever hateful, sexist, ignorant thoughts cross their minds, even in the personal spheres that female writers are often forced to create out of necessity for their own safety (Chen was commenting on my blog; Strickland was writing on Kate’s own Facebook page).

In retaliation for his hurt feelings, Strickland goes on to unleash what I can most accurately call a sloppy prose poem about sexual inadequacy, which ultimately turns Zambreno into a doll, “Made by Men,” who arrives in a box. When he pulls the string, she delivers “reactionary polemic” that Strickland can’t understand due to “personal deficiencies.”

Here’s the most significant thing Strickland doesn’t understand, the worst of his personal deficiencies: he doesn’t realize that by objectifying Zambreno and turning her into a doll, he is being aggressively chauvinist. He isn’t participating in a conversation he has a “right” to. Notably, in order to have a conversation, he has had to create a doll who can only spew pre-recorded messages, who can’t actually talk back.

To Chen and Strickland, I would ask: have you ever been reduced to a body and a face? Have you ever felt afraid for your safety because of your body? Has anyone ever trivialized your work because of your gender?

In the summer of 2011, I met with a team of Random House sales reps who would be responsible for bringing my novel and poetry collection to bookstores and libraries around the country. One asked me what kind of cover image I wanted for my novel.

“I only know I don’t want a headless woman on the cover,” I said. “I don’t want my book cover to exclude men from picking it up.”

“Do you really think a man would read your work?”

“Well, a lot of men like my poetry,” I said.

“Only because you’re cute,” I was told. By my editor.

I didn’t know what to say. I like to think that out of the 37 people in the world who read poetry, the men who read mine are finding some merit there, and not just jacking off to my author photo.

Chen has described Zambreno as “a feminist who hosts an irrational hatred of me due to not being able to perceive my misogyny ironically,” but what’s truly ironic in all this is that Zambreno has written an entire book about women who were written off, robbed, and institutionalized for/because of their creative talent, while their husbands and lovers were celebrated. I read Heroines with my jaw hanging open in recognition, especially when I got to page 140. She describes Chen’s Zelda post and the feuding in the comments section:

The snarky dismissal. I answer back with vitriol. It becomes heated, ugly. Personal. Slurs of a sexual nature slung in the comments section, mostly by a chauvinistic supporter of Chen’s. A way to bully, which is to humiliate, to silence, to make a woman smaller whose behavior is seen as outsized. (Won’t she fucking shut up?)

As writers, we know words carry power. I challenge HTMLGIANT contributors to use their power to make this site the weird-ass literary carnival it is at its best, without using discriminatory, sexist, hate speech that objectifies, humiliates, and infuriates their female readership. To quote the Urban Dictionary, please check yourself before you wreck yourself:

Take a step back and examine your actions, because you are in a potentially dangerous or sticky situation that could get bad very easily.

Sincerely,

Leigh Stein

READ MORE >

Word Spaces / 85 Comments
December 13th, 2013 / 12:24 am

THE GREATEST POEM OF THE 21ST CENTURY SO FAR: Lukas Moodysson’s CONTAINER (2006), the thing in itself (Pt. ONE)

CONTAINERstill

SAYING EVERYTHING AT ONCE.

Film & Word Spaces / 4 Comments
December 2nd, 2013 / 8:03 am

Speaking Through

Late 2013

This tribute to anti-office poet-burnout Slash Lovering–who died on this day in 2004–continues indefinitely.

Word Spaces / 2 Comments
November 13th, 2013 / 3:41 pm

Thoughts — May 9th to May 31st

On May 9th, 2013 I started doing this thing where I’d force myself to write one thought for every hour that I was awake.  I did this regularly for 22 days.  The end came not from a lack of thoughts but, conversely, because I found myself totally overstimulated during a trip to New Orleans (referenced in the final entries) and it didn’t make sense to pick it up again after that.

I wasn’t sure what I could or would do with this project while I was doing it, but reading back over it now, I’m intrigued by the weird, oblique narrative it creates.  You get NBA playoff scores, observations from an 8-part Beatles documentary I was watching at the time, a legal “brouhaha” my roommate involved me in, and updates on the dogs I walk and cats I sit (my job).  It’s sort of feels like a liveblog/livetweet but different because the constraints and medium are different.  It was really fun to do, I hope it’s fun to read.

Need a finer knowledge of building materials.  Clapboard, vinyl, sheetrock – what are these things?

Fishkind’s party. Am I gonna go? Feel fat and stupid, but also like drinking.

George Harrison was from an Irish family with the last name “French.”

I can’t tell if it’s foggy or if I’m just tired.

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Word Spaces / 7 Comments
August 29th, 2013 / 1:10 pm