Wednesday, August 23, 2017

El Paso: The Tumblewords Project: In Which I Am Introduced to Outlaw Poetry

Graffiti, mural, Tbilisi, Caucasus Georgia. May 2012.

Born in 1995, founded by Donna Snyder, the Tumblewords Project is a writing workshop that occurs every Saturday at the Memorial Park branch of the El Paso Library. Each week, a workshop leader suggests writing prompts to the participants; the prompts usually follow a theme the leader chooses for the session. Everyone is enthusiastically welcomed. If you're just passing through El Paso and happen to be in town on a Saturday afternoon, go! 

My related posts here.

Chauncey Low, a wildly talented writer in the Tumblewords Project, led the workshop one Saturday.

I can't speak for the others in our group, but for me, he cracked open a smudgy window to let me peer into a hidden room.

The Underground Art Scene

First up was a tiny treatise by poet and performer, Penny Arcade, from the Outlaw Bible of American Poetry:
The underground is inviolate. It is not a street, a neighborhood or a certain city. It is a metaphysical space located where bohemia intersects with the demi-monde. Not everyone from bohemia can descend into the underground just as not everyone in the demi-monde can find their way to either bohemia or the underground.

If you do not have a functioning criminal class in your art scene you have academia and while academia is a reflection of the art world it can never be the art world.

The Lower East Side of New York used to be filled with poets, writers, actors, musicians, photographers, filmmakers, junkies, whores and weirdos. Now it's filled with college students pretending to be poets, writers, musicians, actors, photographers, filmmakers, junkies, whores and weirdos, in other words the ten most popular kids from every high school in the world are now living in downtown New York. Those are the people who most of us who ran away to New York came here to get away from! Nobody who was popular in high school can ever be hip. It's not possible. If you were popular in high school, that was your peak. Be satisfied.

Am I Mad At You?

Then there was an outrageously wicked, terrible-licious, no-boundaries poem by Vampyre Mike Kassel:

Am I mad at you?
Of course I’m not mad, whatever gave you that idea?
Just because I’m sitting here pushing pins
Into a little wax doll
With a lock of your hair in it?
Just because I burned the panties you left here
And buried the ashes
At the crossroads at midnight?
Just because I sent the nude pictures we took of you
To Cattle Breeders Digest?
Just because I welded the doors of your car shut?

I’m not mad, whatever gave you that idea?
Just because I wrote your name and address
On the men’s room wall
Of every biker’s bar from here to Bakersfield?
Just because I made three hundred copies
Of your apartment key
And handed them out
To every junkie and wino in the Tenderloin?
Just because I switched your birth-control pills for Ex-Lax,
Spiked your shampoo with Nair,
And hid an electric cattle prod inside your favorite dildo?
Just because I pitchforked your mother,
Got your kid sister ten-dollar tricks,
And strung out your cat on speed?

No, I’m not mad.
And, by the way,
Have you got a dollar?

.... which Chauncey followed with his own, equally wicked version.

Note: The book, New American Underground Poetry, Volume 1, includes several of Mr. Kassel's poems.

Then we workshop acolytes took a turn at dysfunction. Here's mine, taking a more passive-aggressive tack:

Pistachio Ice Cream

Did I remember to bring you your pistachio ice cream? 

Of course, I did. 
Why are you using that accusatory tone? 

I bought it and I paid for it and I personally witnessed the cashier putting it into my reusable bag, 
You know the one, that lavender and green one?
Oh, you've never seen that bag? 
Well, it's my favorite. 
You never notice anything I like. 

I put it on the passenger seat right next to me. 

It was such a fine day and I rolled the windows down. 
And so I was driving home and I stopped at a red light.
I had my favorite song on, 
You know the one.
Oh you don't? 
Well that figures.

All of a sudden,
A hand from nowhere
Reached in and took the bag!

With your pistachio ice cream in it.

The Real Me

Chauncey presented us with a poem by another contributor to the Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, Kathi Georges (now using Kat Georges). Title: The Real Me.

I am laughing at myself because The Real Me is so in-your-face (ahem) that I feel sheepish about posting it here. It startles, but then one - "one" being a woman, specifically - gets it, and says, "Yeah." At least metaphorically.

But you can read it over here, where Chicano Poet has shared it without any bashfulness.

In addition to being a poet, Kat Georges is the co-founder of an independent publishing business called Three Rooms Press.

Art or Commitment? 

Chauncey also re-introduced me to Bob Flanagan, the artist who nailed his penis to a board.

Bob Flanagan, who died in 1996 from cystic fibrosis, used intentional pain to master the involuntary pain associated with his physical disease.

Here is Mr. Flanagan singing an explanatory song that he put to the melody of Mary Poppins' Supercalifragilistic:

He frequently pauses to clear phlegm while singing the song.

So the unoriginal question: Is public self-harming, such as when Mr. Flanagan nailed his penis to a board, art? Or is it self-harm that is a function of a mental illness, like cutting, and which calls for an intervention?

Maybe it's the intention that pertains? I have proclaimed this as art, therefore it is art. Versus I am hurting myself because I am in pain and I don't know what else to do.

Or maybe it isn't the performance of the act that is questionable, but the decision to make it public and call it art that presents the puzzle. Can one defecate in public and call it art?

Damned if I know.


raw poetry by donna snyder said...

How wonderful to discover your blog and your comments about Tumblewords. I hope you are well and send much affection.

Mzuri said...

Lovely to hear from you Donna! I hope to be in El Paso in January, and if that comes to pass, I intend to come to the workshops while there!