FPP Season 5 Kickoff: September 15, 7pm!

Oh, it’s going to be a good one!  On September 15th, 7pm at Shrine in Harlem, we will gather for an electric night of literature and collaboration.  Come out to hear writer and musician J. Mae Barizo, poets Morgan Parker and Greg Pardlo, and essayist Kent Russell.  Join us at 7pm at Shrine, located at 2271 Adam Clayton Powell (7th Ave) between 133rd and 134th in Harlem.  By subway: 2/3 to 135th, or B/C to 135th.  As always, admission is free.   Bar is cash only.

bwmaewallJ. Mae Barizo is the author of The Cumulus Effect (Four Way Books, 2015).  A prize-winning poet, critic and performer, recent work appears in AGNI, Bookforum, Boston Review and Los Angeles Review of Books.  She is the recipient of fellowships and awards from the Jerome Foundation, Poets House and Bennington College. She is the founding co-editor of Fields Press, a micropress specializing in limited edition, hand-bound chapbooks. A classically-trained musician and an advocate of cross-genre collaboration, she lives in New York City.

GregoryPardloGregory Pardlo‘s ​collection​ Digest (Four Way Books) won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Digest​ was also shortlisted for the​ 2015 NAACP Image Award and is a current finalist for the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award. His other honors​ include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts; his first collection Totem was selected by Brenda Hillman for the APR/Honickman Prize in 2007. Pardlo’s poems appear in​ The Nation, Ploughshares, ​Tin House, T​he Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry, Best American Poetry, and elsewhere. Pardlo lives with his family in Brooklyn.

morganparkerMorgan Parker is the author of Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night (Switchback Books 2015), selected by Eileen Myles for the 2013 Gatewood Prize. Morgan received her Bachelors in Anthropology and Creative Writing from Columbia University and her MFA in Poetry from NYU. Her work has been featured or is forthcoming in numerous publications, as well as anthologized in Why I Am Not A Painter  and The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop. She has done editorial work for Apogee Journal, No, Dear Magazine, and The Atlas Review.  Winner of a 2016 Pushcart Prize and a Cave Canem graduate fellow, Morgan works as an Editor for Amazon Publishing’s imprint Little A, and moonlights as poetry editor of The Offing. She also teaches Creative Writing at Columbia University and co-curates the Poets With Attitude (PWA) reading series with Tommy Pico.

Kent Russell_MICHAEL LIONSTARKent Russell is a writer from Miami, Florida, whose essays and reportage have appeared in Harper’s, GQ, The New York Times Magazine, The Believer, n+1, Tin House, Grantland, and other publications. His first book, I Am Sorry To Think I Have Raised a Timid Son, is available now.





Join us 7pm Tuesday night, September 15th, at Shrine!

We Had a Fabulous Time at the March 31st FPP Finale!

We were lucky to have had Rivka Galchen, Mya Green, Patrick Rosal, and Khalik Allah join us for the Apogee Journal co-sponsored final reading of our fourth season.  They reminded us why we try to get the writers and artists we love under the same room for some electric language and images.

photo 1-35Rivka Galchen gave us a hilarious new take on the first person plural by reading the first few pages of Moby Dick, substituting “we” and “us” for “I” and “me” (during which time she was joined by her self-possessed young daughter, another plural).  She then read from her essay about a Elmhurst Hospital Center in Elmhurst, Queens, “the most diverse neighborhood in New York City and maybe in the world.”  Galchen completed part of her medical training at the hospital, which offers translation services in 153 languages, and could attest that to treat patients there one had to know the afflictions of the world, not just your corner of it.  The “we” was everywhere in evidence!

IMG_0348Mya Green then took the stage with the strong, round sounds of her poetry (“carry the one, conquer, divide by none”).  Often about the fault lines between the natural world and the social, the racial and the elemental, her poems slide along, pulling place into people and turning people back out again into places.  “Sweet with wilted cherry skins/dirt under my nails, rattle.” Her last poems were part of a “Tornado Series,” inspired by the tornado that devastated her hometown, Tuscaloosa, AL.  In “Damage Path,” she writes, “Tornado, I am your witness and your face.”


photo 3-27And then Patrick Rosal danced onto the stage with his liquid lines that nonetheless punch, punch, punched, mixing in his Filipino roots, his b-boy and dj past, and his ability to adapt as an outsider to culture after new culture.  One poem was about a dj who was “half black and half Filipino and passing as Latino…some might say that’s what being Filipino is.”  He writes of of carving out a presence in the city, on the streets– “Sometimes the only way to lay out a punk who ducks you is to trick him into singing.” A line from one poem might capture an aspect to Rosal’s poetic ventures: “Two tunes left to play at the same time will sync up…pick ax and wax wing…” He, too, responded to natural disaster with a poem about a teacher’s brutal will for her students to survive the tsunami of 2009.  As they watched friends and relations wash away, she lashed them to telephone and electricity poles lining the street, “building an orchard of them.”

photo 4-30We ended the night with Khalik Allah‘s stirring, exploratory documentary Antonyms of Beauty.  Allah spoke briefly about the work before he screened it, explaining that when he began filming and photographing in the streets of Harlem he thought he was seeking out the ugliest, rawest images he could find.  But he ended up finding beauty, finding his “superheroes.”  The film follows and interviews “Frenchie,” a Haitian immigrant who lives on the streets, watching him in his social context, absorbing the constant motion and sound of the streets, and listening carefully while he answers questions about the philosophies that guide his life, about god, and about the people who might look at him and see only loss.

Thank you to our readers/artists and thanks to our audience for a rich night! We’ll be back in September with more great line ups!

Reading in Private: An Interview with Rivka Galchen


Originally published on March 29, 20195 in Perigree, the blog for Apogee Journal.

Rivka Galchen is the author of American Innovations, a collection of short stories speaking in conversation with “classic” short stories from a female perspective, and Atmospheric Disturbances, a novel. Staff writer Joseph Ponce corresponded with Rivka via email about the dangers of “familiar” language, intentionally de-railing plots, and misconstrued emotion and characters. She will be reading as part of the First Person Plural Reading Series, along with Mya Green, Patrick Rosal, and a screening of the Field Niggas and Antonyms of Beauty, a film by Khalik Allah, on Tuesday, March 31 at 7:00pm, at the Shrine World Music Venue in Harlem, NY.

Joe Ponce [JP]: American Innovations at times seems to be a commentary on the restrictive and even oppressive nature of language. Do you feel like the language you use in American Innovations is, in a way, a rebellion against old fashioned or constrictive language (the lazy language of idiom)?

Rivka Galchen [RG]: I do think my characters, on the spectrum, find phrases particularly magnetic, even talismanic. They’ll try on a phrase as a way to feel, they feel obliged to try and feel the way that language suggests they ought to. It doesn’t quite work, of course. Like, I suspect, the popularity of “that’s amazing” a few years back made us feel more compelled to find things amazing, even as the world may not have been any more (or less!) amazing. And sometimes the poor tailoring of language is just minor comedy and a popped button, and sometimes it’s tragedy, and usually it’s both? See that question mark, that’s the first emoticon doing its all-thumbs work at trying to nudge the sentence toward accuracy.

JP: You’ve spoken previously about literature speaking in conversation to other literature. How important is it to you that your work speak to what we typically consider “the modern classics?” What “lessons” do you think we can gain from looking over these classics and interweaving them with a more modern experience?

RG: I feel the classics are present with us even when we haven’t seen them. Every story of a girl making her way somewhere is always stuck also being Little Red Riding Hood again. So one may as well take advantage of that, it’s already there. I’ve often wondered if Hitchcock was consciously re-imagining E.T.A. Hoffman’s “The Sandman” when he wrote Vertigo. But, right, like you ask, is there something in that other than just that it’s there? I do think so. I think those interweavings are a natural way to defamiliarize modern experience and classics both. And I guess one could argue that defamiliarization is almost the only way we come to know things? At least literary sorts of things, and psychological sorts of things. The Proust quote on that which is so apt: “Habit is our second nature which prevents us from knowing our first.” Defamiliarization is a reliable way of rupturing habits of perception.

JP: In other places you’ve spoken about the dangers of certainty in medical practice and warnings about dangerous sorts of cliché and deadly abstractions  (referring to Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language”).  Do you feel there are dangers in the homogenization of language?

RG: There must be, right? Simply because language is so powerful, and we tend to organize our thoughts and feelings around it, under its spell. So it has to be fluid, flexible, changing, surprising, if we want to be able to think. Language has to leave room for thoughts that have not already been thought. What I admire about scientific language is how hard it works–at its best–to be as precise as it can be. But because scientific language intimidates us, and has the guise of truth, it can get co-opted, re-deployed, used to other ends, as a hired muscle.

JP: How about the verbal distances between people and the increasing number of abstractions (“armed conflict” as opposed to “war,” “muscular foreign policy”) they use to communicate with each other?

RG: Those are brilliant examples. Yes, it’s an old-fashioned, still powerful way of lying, of directing attention away from the center of things.

JP: The protagonists in American Innovations often seem to want to defy the plot of the stories they find themselves in. They yawn through bits of exposition told to them by male characters and, at points, voluntarily avoid contributing to the plot (by staying inside, by not answering the phone). Would you say that it is plots, overall, that are constricting for the protagonists, or a certain kind of plot, that present the kind of constraints these protagonists are trying to avoid?  

RG: I think it’s analogous to your language questions… there’s a natural rail-line set down by language, by familiar plots… and you want to de-rail, almost just to be able to say something at all. I think that the way plots are supposed to go, a reader can feel the presence of that plot even if it’s not followed, and so the writer has an opportunity to hit both notes at once, of the plot that would have happened, and the one that actually did. I’m not saying this very well, but I sometimes think of it in terms of this simply lyric from a Tom Waits song on the album Alice:

The moon is full here every night

And I can bathe here in his light

The leaves will bury every year

And no one knows I’m gone.

And, of course, that last word, even though it’s not said, we all hear ‘here.’ And so both the word ‘here’ and ‘gone’ are present. And so I think once an expectation is set up, you have the opportunity to rhyme or clang with it. And that expectation can be working itself out in the size of a sentence, or of the plot structure of a whole story. Like there’s that amazing moment in Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, where, about a hundred pages in, you see the terrible tangle that the main character has gotten himself into, and you sort of know how it’s going to (not) work out… and then there’s a car crash, literally, and that whole initial plot is no longer (straightforwardly) relevant—the rest of the book moves in another direction. I love that. Not just for the moment of surprise. But because in a deep way I think it accesses a more full reality, is more truthful.

JP: Often, surrealism in your stories makes fun of itself. And when love is expressed in a beautiful way its expression is a circumnavigation of an idea that could be love, but also could be curiosity, or mystery. Do you think fiction can capture those intangibles, such as love, but only by writing “around them?” And on that note, is the direct path to try and describe them perhaps false, an example of “badly wrought language?” 

RG: I am skeptical of nearly any direct expression of anything. I don’t think that’s how emotions, or thinking, work. “I love you” is a statement, and a nice one to hear, I guess, but it only means something when the person who hears it already understands the love that has communicated itself indirectly. Emotions aren’t china plates in a cabinet, we can’t just set the table with them and say, see, there they are! Let’s eat! Emotions (and again, also, thoughts) are forces that affect the way people move through time and space, so if we describe those movements, we can infer the force-field of emotions from those movements.

And also, I feel most humans have defenses up against strong emotions, just as a practical matter, as a way to board buses and buy bread and get through the day. And so getting at things indirectly, and writing “around” is, in a sense, straightforward transcription.

JP: You’ve spoken about the “gross misappropriations of the authoritative language of science.” This also appears in American Innovations: bad language contributing to incorrect, sometimes dangerous, worldviews. Do you think there are any ideas, phrases or “bad language” for which you’d like to see a moratorium on?

RG: Interesting. Maybe all words need a fallow period. Like if you look at the Google n-gram of the word, and its use has quintupled, then probably it has shot off and away from having any communicative value anymore. Like what would happen if the word ‘victim’ had to be left fallow for a term of four years, and everyone had to Hollywood Pyramid their way around the word–maybe we’d all be jostled out of our frozen understandings of all the issues that cluster around the word, maybe all across the political spectrum people would have lost their shortcut around thinking, and would have to think afresh? Or maybe it would just be a whitewash.

JP: In a NY Times review of Innovations your protagonists were described (collectively, and possibly inadequately) as not “prescrib[ing] to the old (perhaps discredited or exhausted) revolutionary movements.” There’s a moment where one of your protagonists finds herself disagreeing with a teacher, who reminds her of her father, and he speaks about how refrigeration “ruined cooking”, and how “his mother used to make the best food.” By coming out in favor of refrigeration (albeit only slightly), your protagonist is characterized by the professor as a “refrigerator-advocate.” Is this a commentary on the writing process itself, on how a thought can be misconstrued as unintended support?

RG: Yes, I find myself drawn, even just for the comedy, to those moments when someone makes a hesitant, small observation, and then it gets reflected back at them distorted and looming large as a Macy’s Day Parade sized balloon.

We all know what it’s like to find an image of ourselves in sloppy lipstick and a weird costume, appearing in someone else’s private theatrical production. And of course, we all do this to other people. I have one character who answers a wrong number of someone trying to order Chinese takeout, and then she finds herself the recipient of a lot of nuanced anger the caller has towards the woman at the takeout restaurant–a totally different woman, and also just women in general. I feel that’s just an extreme case of the everyday experience. I’m interested in those moments when characters find themselves used as puppets in other people’s shows… and when the characters themselves do this to the people around them… one of my characters has a habit of neutralizing other people by always thinking of them in terms of one adjective…

JP: There is an emphasis here on old language re-purposed, transmogrified, bastardized, brought to us in a new form. First Person Plural emphasizes deliberate, new and collective language, and Apogee Journal attempts to give a voice to fringe artists that might otherwise be overlooked. Often in your stories the larger world (the Internet, hospital experts, science at large) is represented as being an unsafe place for self-expression (as is, to some extent, the real world). Is this idea an important topic to be considered for you in writing?

RG: To be honest, I never feel I quite know what topic I’m exploring in my writing, but I do know that again and again and again I find myself drawn to the small, the tiny, the delimited observation. I have a faith in the careful, in the little. I prefer an enormous accumulation of littles to a broad, consistent, big.

JP: Does the page, the short story or novel, as a container for self-expression or independence, feel any safer?

RG: This sounds odd, but I think one of the wonderful things about novels and short stories is that, for the most part, they don’t really make much money, they’re not followed by millions of people. Which is different from movies and television, which have much more pressure on them in that way. And so–I feel like people let writing just be, at least more than other forms of expression, and at least, in this time and place we’re in. I feel the most companioned in the world when I am reading other people’s words. Though I often can admire and enjoy TV and movies too, they are somehow too large, too budge-y, and that’s part of what I love about writing, it feels more intimate, it feels like it has an audience of one. Reading has that wonderful feeling of one at a time. I pretty much never watch even a TV show alone. But reading: it’s private.

RIVKA GALCHEN writes fiction and nonfiction regularly for Harper’sThe New Yorker, and The New York Times.She is the author of the novel Atmospheric Disturbances  and the short story collection American Innovations.


Joe Ponce holds an MFA from Columbia University, and a BA in English and Creative Writing from Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He received a Fulbright Grant to teach in eastern Turkey, and is currently at work on a book about domestic violence and marginalized families in the Americas.​ ​Joe grew up in Joliet, Illinois, where both his parents work in emergency management. His father is a police officer.​

The FPP Interview: Khalik Allah

FPP Harlem spoke with filmmaker and photographer Khalik Allah about his connection to his subjects and the way their participation in his art has affected them.  Khalik will screen his documentary film, Field Niggas and Antonyms of Beauty, at this Tuesday’s FPP reading at Shrine!  Chris Boeckmann, documentary film curator, describes the film like this: “Set entirely at night, Field Niggas takes us to the corner of 125th Street and Lexington Avenue in Harlem and introduces us to its faces. Not just avoiding but repudiating condescension, Khalik Allah’s camera, a longtime, welcome presence in the neighborhood, spotlights his subjects in stunningly composed, dignified portraits that are hypnotically woven with street images. The non-synch audio track consists of conversations with and among those faces: dreams, regrets, arguments, affection, observations, opinions. Field Niggas is a mesmerizing viewing experience, that finds its rhythm using field hollers. The title draws from Malcolm X’s ‘Message to the Grass Roots’ speech, in which he targets the power balance that creates a dangerous wedge between the ‘house slaves’ and the ‘field slaves’.” Khalik Allah’s singular, trenchant film serves as an ardent call to rise above social constructs.”

khalik allah w_cameraHow did you gravitate toward photography and documentary film as your medium? 

All of my impressions came through the sense of vision. I was always a visual learner. I grew up in ’90s New York, so I have seen many gritty things that impressed me. I knew there was a way to depict all of this through film and because of that, at age 14 I started messing with cameras.

What responses have you gotten to Field Niggas and Antonyms of Beauty that have surprised you, made you reconsider something, or deepened your own sense of the work? 

People are deep. People come up to me and give me a pound and say the work is inspirational and that it touched them. All the responses that people have vocalized to me have been positive. There are spiritual implications in my film that people hooked into, and I’m glad for that. The title of the film is always something that needs to be explained but besides that I feel the film is very direct. I’m inspired to make more films that explore deeper elements of our collective soul.

I read that some of the subjects of the film came to a screening of it at UnionDocs.  What was that like for them and for you? 

That was deep. To have my brothers from the hood with me, in an art venue – I was like “woah, this is real!” Many of my heads in the street don’t see how far I’ve taken the art, so it’s good for them to see it. Also it’s an inspiration to them and a way out.

I imagine that one of the difficulties of street photography and documentary is negotiating the line between work that feels humanistic or empathetic and work that feels exploitative.  Can you talk about how you address that question in your own work or the work of other artists? 

It all has to do with one’s heart. You’re gonna find out what’s in your heart by if you survive or not. To do what I do you have to be righteous, otherwise how will people be sincere and open up to you. I stay in the streets. I’m of the environment I depict. I’m offering a dignified perspective to what’s avoided and overlooked. My agenda is God oriented and somehow people can see this and feel my intentions are good.

You’ve spoken before about how immersive your art is—how you feel part of the neighborhood where you photograph and film (125th St and Lexington in Harlem) and part of your subjects’ lives.  What kinds of relationships have arisen with the people that you photograph and film? 

My relationship with Frenchie was deep. He was a 53 year old Haitian bipolar/schizophrenic who I became close friends with. He’s the most featured subject in my photography. We spent a lot of time together. I even went to look for him when he was in the psychiatric unit of Harlem Hospital on 135th St.

Certain souls you have a history with beyond this planet. Frenchie is one of those souls I met while out shooting in the middle of the night in Harlem.

When you go to a film festival, what kind of work are you hoping to see?

Other inspiring films that’ll help me understand and see what the people are thinking. I’m really into ideas and I like to see work people are creating that’s well thought out and honest to the heart.

What project are you working on now? 

I’m working towards my first book of photographs and my next feature length documentary film. I’m screening at a lot of festivals, national and international. I have plans to continue with the same momentum I have now. I’m only getting started.

To see Khalik Allah’s Field Niggas and Antonyms of Beauty and hear Rivka Galchen, Mya Green, and Patrick Rosal read, join us at 7pm at Shrine located at 2271 Adam Clayton Powell (7th Ave) between 133rd and 134th in Harlem this Tuesday, March 31 at 7pm!  By subway: 2/3 to 135th, or B/C to 135th.

Announcing the Tuesday, March 31st Lineup at the Shrine in Harlem!

We– FPP Harlem Collective and Apogee Journal— are thrilled to present the line up for the First Person Plural Harlem Reading Series on Tuesday, March 31st: writer Rivka Galchen, poets Mya Green, and Patrick Rosal, and a screening of Field Niggas and Antonyms of Beauty by filmmaker Khalik Allah. Join us at 7pm at Shrine, located at 2271 Adam Clayton Powell (7th Ave) between 133rd and 134th in Harlem.  By subway: 2/3 to 135th, or B/C to 135th.  As always, admission is free.   Bar is cash only.

rivka galchenRivka Galchen is the author of the novel, Atmospheric Disturbances, a finalist for numerous prizes including The Canadian Writer’s Trust’s Fiction Prize and the Governor’s General Award.  She is also the author of the short story collection, American Innovations, and has published essays and stories in The New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, The Believer, and Harper’s Magazine, for which she is a contributing editor. She teaches in the Writing Program at Columbia University and has received a Ronna Jaffe Writer’s Foundation award and a fellowship from The American Academy in Berlin.  In 2010 Galchen was chosen by The New Yorker as one of its “20 Under 40”.

mya greenMya Green is the author of the poetry collection, Selvidge and the winner of the Poet Lore Contest.  She graduated with an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and has poetry published in journals such as Apogee Journal. She served as poetry contest director and editor for LUMINA Journal Volume XI and acted as a liaison for Sarah Lawrence’s 9th Annual Poetry Festival, where she also opened for 2012 National Book Award winner, Nikky Finney.

patrick rosalPatrick Rosal is the author of four full-length poetry collections. His most recent, Boneshepherds (2011), was named a small press highlight by the National Book Critics Circle and a notable book by the Academy of American Poets. He is also the author of My American Kundiman (2006), and Uprock Headspin Scramble and Dive (2003).  He has published work in journals such as Apogee Journal, and his newest book, Brooklyn Antediluvian, is forthcoming in 2016.  His collections have been honored with the Association of Asian American Studies Book Award, Global Filipino Literary Award and the Asian American Writers Workshop Members’ Choice Award. In 2009, he was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to the Philippines. He is co-founding editor of Some Call It Ballin’, a literary sports quarterly.

khalik allahKhalik Allah is a documentary filmmaker and photographer recently named “Harlem’s ‘Official’ Street Photographer” in a Time Magazine feature.  His work has been screened at UnionDocs Center for Documentary Art in Brooklyn and he has presented work at venues such as Bard College, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the TRUE/FALSE Film Festival, and Strictly NY2: a Photographic Exhibit.

FPP is pleased to be partnering with Apogee Journal for this event.  Apogee is a literary journal specializing in art and literature that engage with issues of identity politics: race, gender, sexuality, class, and hyphenated identities. They currently produce a biannual issue featuring fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and visual art. Their goal is to publish exciting work that interrogates the status quo, and provides a platform for unheard voices, including emerging writers of color. We love the work they do and are happy to collaborate in any way possible!

The FPP Interview: Marc McKee

FPP spoke with poet Marc McKee about the power of listening, the “money that goes into crafting a culture of victimization and criminalization”, and what his skateboarding youth in a small East Texas town taught him about community–plus so much more. Marc McKee will be reading on February 3rd at Shrine NYC.

mckee_author2-1Tell us about your earliest sense of community. How has the relationship fared over time?  

RIGHT. What a great question. I’ve never really thought about it in these terms; actually, this particular question about community has never been posed to me. I grew up in a very small town in East Texas, and still and yet I did not think of myself as part of that community, most likely because I belonged to a religion that made itself distinct from the predominantly Protestant religions of the region. It seems like I would have formed my first senses of community around that religion, since it created a stark contrast between me and the other folk in my age group, but I think the first real sense of community I had developed out of being a skater. In a football crazy, small Texas town, to voluntarily immerse yourself in what was then a fringe subculture meant that community as I came to know it was at least in part a choice, and entailed a certain amount of difficulty. Something about that difficulty and the choice to embrace it, and to be loyal to and protective of other people who had made the same choice, means that my ongoing ideas about community are a necessarily intriguing and complex networks of relations that are always somehow about how we negotiate who we feel we authentically are, what we decide to do and how we decide to act based on that realization, and the struggle to embrace and support people who feel the same pulls, often for entirely different reasons.

As time goes on, I appreciate my blood kin more and more, but I’m also ever more astonished by the families we make in the world and the lengths we go to when it is important to cultivate those families, those made communities. At this point, it’s almost all aspiration, especially in the wake of the first 14 years of this century, to conceive and seek community. Our challenge is to embrace and internalize notions of family, kinship, and community that gentle the social we find us in now, which seems to be insanely irradiated with rabid and reactionary xenophobias. As a skater, I was trained to embrace my clique and reject or ridicule others, but I hope that as I’ve grown the fuck up, I realize more and more that the experience of being in a small somewhat maligned group (which I felt as a teenager, though time and relative maturity has granted me a clearer perspective) is supposed to be instructive and to invite you to NOT replicate those kinds of malignant behaviors. More and more it seems clear that our ongoing project needs to be centered on preserving and protecting a great multiplicity of communities so long as they serve each other in the greater fabric of a nation far too large to entertain any one narrow set of quasi-unifying beliefs. Talk, talk, talk: can we just all talk to each other?

When do you feel most “we”?  When are you most troubled by “we”?  

Most “we”? I feel like all these questions are for me, specifically, which sometimes makes them hard to answer. I suppose I feel most “we” when I’m helping in some way. I teach. I’ve taught creative writing, literature, film, and composition for essentially the last 15 years of my life. I feel the most “we” professionally/daytime when I’ve said something that students that now are about half my age feel as something that turns a corner or hits an exit ramp in their brain. Nighttime “we” feels are different; I like to be out at night when there’s time enough and I continue to nurse an idea that in the spaces that night allows for we can sometimes be parts of conversations that even if they start in mundane places can graduate into revelatory and soothing recognitions of relation.  I don’t like the word “relatable” because I think it’s a cop-out, but I do love the word “relations,” because it implies an actual responsibility—“relatable” only means that you recognize someone else’s experience and you can think of yourself also having experiences. “Relations” to me implies a bond that further suggests responsibility.

I feel most “we” when there is a conversation, when it moves from being led to being an organic trade, a carousel of shared ideas and narratives like gifts whose energies achieve a kind of critical mass that feels more like creating than reciting ideas and positions. To paraphrase what Frank O’Hara says in “Personism: A Manifesto,” once you’ve gotten past the trappings of doing something and exist in the creative action of doing it, that is when refreshment arrives. So when I’m talking to friends, and we hit the point where we’ve left ego-affirming small talk behind and are into some authentically searching and creative conversation, I feel like I’m in the real energy of the “we” because I feel like we are starting to get somewhere, and it’s not just me talking to hear myself talk.

When I feel least “we” or most troubled by the “we”? I’m pretty sure that my gravest discomfort and shame at the “we” comes when I have to recognize being part of a larger community or group that is responsible en masse for the oppression, repression, or violent deconstruction of an Other “we.”

You often employ the first person plural voice in your poems.  Tell us about this desire, and what it has meant for your work. 

When I first started writing poems, I wrote in all lower-case: it was about 60-40 or 70-30 “it looks cool-it is a meaningful statement about what parts of language should be emphasized or important.” I always lower-cased the “I” of those first elementary and terrible efforts. I was disabused pretty quickly of that aesthetic, but I retained a instinctive, intuitive resistance to the “I” as a proper representation of the poet, or even of just the persona of the speaker. I think other poets do the “I” quite well, and winningly, and create poems that are not just absolutely earned but transcendently marvelous, but I’ve never trusted my own “I” unless it’s connected to a “you” or a “we.” Often, the speaker of my poems will move between the first, second, and first plural positions, and it will often be the result of a poem starting in a smallish, local place and aspiring to end up in a much bigger, fiercely inclusive place. Noticing this in my work has led me to embrace it and what I hope are the intuitive impulses behind it, which are to be eager to connect to or create communities, but also to indulge in pronouncements that are easier to contend with in the plural. For example: if I say “I,” you might be more apt to take my word for things just as you might comfort yourself by reminding yourself that it’s just one human’s perspective—after all, we exist in a culture which fetishizes to some degree people relaying their experiences. If on the other hand, I’m telling you how we feel, how we respond to tragedy, how we experience go-carts, then you may be more likely to be alert to your compulsion to agree AND your compulsion to disagree. For me that makes the experience of the poem richer: even if you think it’s rubbish for me to say “we,” you’ve got to have a reason, and that reason usually entails an attempt at empathy and a rejection (or acceptance) of the presumption of the first person plural. To elaborate on what this has meant for my work would be a nearly endless task—I’ll be doing right by my aesthetic desire if I just manage to keep exploring and evolving my relationship to these forms of expression and address. 

Do you find there is a particular place that is recurring shadow, or soil, for your poems?  

I feel like place most often in my work , is a negotiation between where I am physically and where I’ve been. The poems in What Apocalypse?, the chapbook that was my first collection, is suffused for me with the experience of living in Tucson, but also of having just left Houston. The poems in my first full-length book from Black Lawrence, Fuse, were written in the wake of moving from Bloomington (where I was first becoming a writer) and Houston, where I did my MFA. Bloomington left its mark, and Houston was such a giant experience that it couldn’t help but bleed through the poems. Bewilderness (also from Black Lawrence) was written in Houston and Tucson, with another round of places making themselves felt in my writing. Over all, though, I don’t think of there as being a particular place. My poems come from my contemporary local, and seek to fly off to wherever else I might want to go, as long as I can get a bunch of y’all to come with me.

Your writings reveal you to be a passionate teller, as well as questioner, of truth.   What has the last year been like for you and your work, especially living in Missouri in the wake of the Mike Brown killing?  

First of all, it’s an almost unreal compliment to assessed in this way: I am humbly grateful to be thought of  like this. The past year has been very challenging, in terms of starting any work.  Usually, I like the truths I can get at to be turned out of a lot a play in the language, a lot of puzzles I set up for myself, which I then labor to refine into adventurous conversation I try to buoy with jokes acutely turning into reminders of our short, sad, miraculous turns on this stage. The past year has been nauseatingly replete with reminders that my existential understanding is propped up by a complex of privileges that I need to interrogate and attempt to dismantle even as I’m trying to create new work. As a person, I need a lot of time to process difficult things before I feel I can talk about them with any degree of responsibility or wisdom. What that means essentially is that I need to just listen. As that happens, and when I can make poems, new knowledge and new understanding that I’ve internalized then necessarily seep into the work, and I hope give it deeper dimension, especially as it accesses images and information that current events yield. This past year has spurred incredibly important, responsible, and necessary social action. It has also shone a much brighter light on the fear and exhaustion of the black community around the country, and their entirely justifiable anger. My writing will be affected by this and it will convey this as I am able to: in the meantime, I can help by listening, I can help by asking people who are ready to act how I can help. It’s like a dire version of helping someone move house. Point me to the boxes, toward the unwieldy dresser, towards the piano or the perishables: there are things that I want to resist doing or saying from my particular position, but I can help load the truck.

Your new collection of poems is called Bewilderness.  How was it to write these poems?  

One interesting thing about all my collections is that the poems in them are quite old to me: most of the poems in, Fuse, were written between 1999 and 2003. The poems in Bewilderness were written between 2001 and 2006, which I think that explains a lot. The first person plural parts of Fuse were, perhaps, youthfully optimistic: expressions of a singular self trying to disabuse himself of the vanity and preciousness of the singular identity and trying to make poems that found and illuminated connections. My version of that is really inflected especially with poets of the New York School, and the poets that influenced them as well as the poets who expand on their kinds of experiments and methods.

Those methods didn’t really change with Bewilderness, but the time period is one I think we can all agree is not our finest hour as a nation. I wrote most of these poems in Houston and in Tucson and “finished” them in Columbia, MO, when I had experienced a number of different communities and friendships as well as lived through 9/11, the invasion of Iraq, the Great Recession, and all of the other social, national, and international issues connected to those events as well as the ideological filters that redistributed truth in particular and intentional ways to confuse and mislead a public. So it’s a bit less optimistic in the practice of making connections, but still fiercely clinging to the hope that it’s within our power to recognize beauty and be spurred into making the world better. In fact, by the time I got to writing the title poem, I realized that I wanted it to become a vision of everything in the world disappearing, of everything being taken back and re-imagined before we returned a better world than the one we found. So, you know: joy and despair, fear and love, that’s what it was like.

Could the Bewilderness be described as a place?  And if so, do we seek to stay or escape? 

For me, writing it, Bewilderness, is where we were, and maybe still are. Yes, definitely, we are still in the Bewilderness. If you think of the amazing quantity of unreality we are implored to just accept, day to day, I think you have to come to the conclusion that we (and by “we” here I largely mean the West, and especially the United States) are in an incredibly advanced position from the standpoint of technologies, of gadgets and very nearly having much of the knowledge for the history of the world at our fingertips. The possibilities for making the world better are astonishing. Yet, if you’re paying attention, it’s hard not to see most people who occupy the most elite positions of power and wealth willfully ignoring the comparatively painless steps they could take to insure stronger, healthier, more equitable societies in their respective countries. Instead, a tremendous amount of money goes into crafting a culture of victimization or criminalization that divides and vexes the poor while mollifying the sense of entitlement for those not as affected by poverty. And don’t get me started about war. What I was hoping Bewilderness would do was reveal those insanities, to make them apparent and provoke resistance to them. So, for me, the Bewilderness is not necessarily something we seek to remain in or to flee from, but the unreality we must work to transform.

When it’s time to write, what brings you back to poetry?  

Poetry. And music. And more poetry. And sometimes film, or television. There’s something about other genres that I feel can be useful cross-pollinators with writing, especially if there are moves, from editing in movies to new takes on language in television and music and so on and so forth, that I can figure out ways to translate into poetry. Dean Young is right: poetry really can be about anything. 

What was your first knowledge of Harlem?  What does Harlem mean to you now?  

Given that I have an MFA in poetry and PhD and English and Creative Writing, my first thought is the towering, iconic writers and artists of the Harlem Renaissance, of course. My first knowledge of Harlem came from reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X when I was a senior in high school. The way that Alex Haley and Malcolm detail his experience of that environment from the time that he was “Detroit Red” through his evolution into Malcolm X was so vivid and compelling—it was really my first introduction to New York as a concept that was overwhelming to someone from very small towns, a hub of artistic and political energy where, you know, things actually happened. This only continued with my education, though my knowledge of Harlem is incomplete, and though I have been to NYC once before, I have yet to go to Harlem. It’s one more realm I’m excited to come to know better and develop an even greater appreciation for.

What urgent advice would you offer emerging poets?  

Read everything, see everything, do everything you can do while first trying to do no harm, bring unlike things together, break like things down, discover what you need and what you can do without, take care, be reckless with the language, flee your darlings, return to your darlings, when all else fails cut 30%, and be kind, be kind, be kind.

Who are five artists everyone should know right now?  

The first thing to leap to my mind are actually all artists that we lost too soon, so I’m going to honor that impulse: Jason Molina (musician: Songs: Ohia, Magnolia Electric Co., etc); Elliot Smith (subject of the forthcoming documentary Heaven Adores You), Frank Stanford (poet; The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You, and other books), Jake Adam York (poet; Abide, Persons Unknown, and other books), and one of my gods, Tomaz Salamun (poet; There’s the Hand, There’s the Arid Chair; Book for My Brother; Feast; and other books).


The FPP Interview: Fouzia Najar

FPP will be screening the film “The Semiotics of Islam” at our next event on February 3rd! We spoke with filmmaker Fouzia Najar about the inspiration for the film and about her current work documenting post traumatic stress disorder in the chronically embattled Kashmir region.

Can you tell us a little bit about the provenance of “Semiotics of Islam” and what inspiration you took from the seminal feminist film “Semiotics of the Kitchen”?

The first time a friend lent me Martha Rosler’s piece, I watched it multiple times in a row. The kitchen is an oppressive space for the woman, and the actor pantomimes using everyday utensils in an increasingly aggressive way.  However, it’s very much a product of second-wave feminism and I wanted to update it to speak to a more diverse group of women.

NAJAR-Semiotics2Who do you imagine as your ideal audience for “Semiotics of Islam”?

The ideal audience will recognize themselves in the piece. Some might identify with the actor, the items displayed or the language that the news programs use. I believe all of these people can benefit from viewing in different ways.  Usually in viewing nonfiction films, the target audience learns something, but a Muslim viewer probably won’t receive any new information from viewing “Semiotics of Islam.” They are familiar with both the items and with the media’s agenda that affects Muslim lives daily. The value for them is in representation. An Islamophobe might recognize media that s/he consumes, but I did not intend to make the film for that person, despite the jokey subtitle “A Primer for Kuffar.”

How have audiences reacted to it so far?

Not many people have seen the film, but the feedback I’ve gotten is positive and affirming. The people who seem to enjoy it most have been Muslim women.

Your current project explores PTSD in South Asia. What has surprised you most in your filming so far?

I have learned that mental health professionals worldwide did not consider that people of color experiencing war or natural disasters in their countries were suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Rather, these experiences and their affects were just characteristic of Third World life. By the time doctors began diagnosing and treating PTSD in Kashmir in the mid-nineties, the region had already been brutally suppressed for many years, and occupied by the Indian government for almost half a century. I want to find out what happens to a society when one third of the population has PTSD.

What challenges do you see ahead in completing or screening this documentary?

It can be difficult to film in Kashmir because often the subject matter directly or indirectly criticizes the Indian government. The military presence is immense: there is one Indian soldier for every six Kashmiri civilians and their actions are often arbitrarily violent. The last time I was there, I used nonprofessional equipment, claimed to be a wedding videographer, mislabeled my media, and depleted my camera batteries so that no officials could view my footage. Visiting filmmakers, journalists and activists have to be careful, but Kashmiri people of all vocations have no recourse.

I hope to ultimately screen the documentary there, but Kashmir has no movie theaters. Even gatherings on religious occasions twice yearly are subject to curfew, so public assemblies (like an outdoor movie screening) are dangerous. Still, I hope to reach people with the film.

Can you tell us a bit about the difference between filmmaking in collaboration, as part of the television series, and making your own, independent projects?

In collaborative filmmaking, you have support; in a television series, you have money; and in independent projects, you have control.


Announcing the Tuesday, February 3rd Lineup at Shrine Harlem!

With great happiness and anticipation we present the Tuesday, Feb. 3 lineup for the First Person Plural Reading Series: poets Jason Koo, Marc McKee, and Montana Ray; prose artist Melody Nixon, and short film Semiotics of Islam by filmmaker Fouzia Najar.  We’ll wrap up the night with a special set by DJ Lady DM.  Join us at 7pm at Shrine, located at 2271 Adam Clayton Powell (7th Ave) between 133rd and 134th in Harlem.  By subway: 2/3 to 135th, or B/C to 135th.  As always, admission is free.   Bar is cash only.

Koo-Tang Jason Koo is the author of two collections of poetry, America’s Favorite Poem (C&R Press, 2014) and Man on Extremely Small Island (C&R Press, 2009), winner of the De Novo Poetry Prize and the Asian American Writers’ Workshop Members’ Choice Award for the best Asian American book of 2009. He has published his poetry and prose in numerous journals, including the Yale Review, North American Review and Missouri Review, and won fellowships for his work from the National Endowment for the Arts, Vermont Studio Center and New York State Writers Institute. He is an assistant professor of English at Quinnipiac University and the founder and executive director of Brooklyn Poets.

unnamed-1Marc McKee received an MFA from the University of Houston and a PhD from the University of Missouri at Columbia, where he lives with his wife, Camellia Cosgray. His work has appeared in several journals, among them Barn Owl Review, Boston Review, Cimarron Review, Conduit, Crazyhorse, DIAGRAM, Forklift, Ohio, LIT, and Pleiades. He is the author of the chapbook What Apocalypse?, which won the New Michigan Press/DIAGRAM 2008 Chapbook Contest, and two full-length collections, Fuse (Black Lawrence Press, 2011) and Bewilderness (Black Lawrence Press, 2014).

NAJAR-Semiotics2Fouzia Najar is a Kashmiri-American filmmaker and multimedia storyteller from Buffalo, NY. She recently earned an M.F.A. in Integrated Media Arts from Hunter College and before that studied history and media at Carleton College. She has worked for award-winning production companies Kartemquin Films and Jigsaw Productions, and has works broadcasted on major networks, including The Weather Channel, ABC News and CNN. Fouzia most recently examined the death penalty in America for a nonfiction television series and is currently developing a documentary on post traumatic stress disorder in South Asia.

On Semiotics of Islam: Inspired by Martha Rosler’s second-wave feminist film “Semiotics of the Kitchen,” this experimental nonfiction short reveals the politics of (mis)representation in today’s media.

MelodyNixon_MAIN_400x386-1Melody Nixon is a New Zealand-born writer living in Harlem. Her essays, fiction and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in ConjunctionsCura Magazine, VIDA Web, Midnight Breakfast, No, Dear Magazine, Hoax Publication and The Appendix, among others. She is the Interviews Editor of The Common and Co-Founder and Editor-at-Large of Apogee Journal. Melody is an activist for LGBTQ, women’s, and migrant rights. She has provided front line abortion clinic defense in the Bronx, taught an introductory “Artivism” class at Columbia University, and is currently a creative writing workshop leader for the New York Writers’ Coalition.

Maria pic2Montana Ray is a feminist writer, translator, scholar, and mom. She is the author of 4 artist books and chapbooks; her first full-length book of concrete poetry, (guns & butter), will be available from Argos Books this spring.



DJ Lady DMWith roots stemming from the legendary musical island of Jamaica in the Caribbean, Mackenzie Largie a.k.a. Lady DM describes herself as a ‘musical expat’, an apt description for her fearless take on crossing genres of dance-able music.  Lady DM’s story begins in 1995, in NYC as a host on FIT’s radio station, by day; and avid regular at parties like Theo Parrish’s SugarBabies by night. Two years later, she begins her ascent of the city’s DJ circuit proper, a regular at venues like the Limelight, Orchard Bar, and The Cooler. While based in Europe from 99’-10’, Lady DM regularly hosted radio shows in Zurich, and Berlin, while jetting around entertaining crowds at legendary parties like Amsterdam’s Mazzo Club, Zurich’s Lethargy festival, Milan’s Cox 18, Munich’s Muffathalle, and Berlin’s WMF. In Berlin, Lady DM also curated events, with Berlin’s then up-and-coming artists, including Peaches, Dixon, Jamie Lidell, & Gonzales.  She now calls Harlem home.

Introducing Our New Co-Curator Melody Nixon!

We wish to let our FPP community know that co-founder Wendy S. Walters has stepped down from her curating role.  We couldn’t be more grateful to Wendy for her vision and hard work. And we’re riveted by her new writing in the world: Wendy has a recently published book of poems Troy, Michigan and her collection of essays Multiply/Divide: On the American Real and Surreal will be out soon.  We encourage you to seek them out.
imgres-2And now, drumroll please…we are thrilled to announce that writer
Melody Nixon will join us as co-curator.  She has been a longtime friend of the series, and now brings her incredible talents to FPP in an official capacity!  Melody is a New Zealand-born writer living in Harlem.  She writes lyric essays, cultural reportage, poetry and short fiction, and teaches creative writing for the New York Writers’ Coalition. She is a founding editor of Apogee Journal, a literary journal dedicated to work by writers of color and work that explores issues of identity, race, and writing from the margins.  She is also the Interviews Editor for The Common.  We are very excited to work with her!

Come to Silvana for the Next FPP Reading on Tuesday, November 18th!

Our next reading is only two weeks away and we are so delighted by our lineup–they are a stunning group of writers and artists.  Join us downstairs at Silvana on Tuesday, November 18th at 7pm for Cameron Fraser, Asali Solomon, Marguerite Van Cook + James Romberger, and FPP co-founder Wendy S. Walters. Special DJ sets by Lady DM.  Silvana is located at 300 W. 116th St. near Frederick Douglass Blvd, across from Harlem Tavern, steps from the B/C at 116th. Admission is free.

More about our participants:

13941Asali Solomon was born and raised in West Philadelphia. Her first book, a collection of stories entitled Get Down, is set mostly in Philadelphia. Solomon’s work has been featured in Vibe, Essence, and the anthology Naked: Black Women Bare All About Their Skin, Hair, Lips and Other Parts. She has a PhD in English from the University of California, Berkeley and an MFA form the Iowa’s Writer Workshop in fiction. She is a Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Trinity College in Hartford, CT, and is on the short list for this year’s Hurston/Wright Literary Award for best new fiction. The Hurston/Wright Legacy Award 2007 nominees include Asali Solomon for her collection of short stories, Get Down published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in 2006.  She also was named one of the National Book foundation’s ‘5 Under 35 in 2007.

Romberger Van Cook selfportraitMarguerite Van Cook came to New York with her punk band The Innocents, after touring the UK with The Clash. She stayed and opened the seminal installation gallery Ground Zero with her partner James Romberger. Her own works as an artist and filmmaker have placed her in many museum collections, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Schwartz Art Collection at Harvard. Her other credits include poet (she was awarded the Van Rensselear Prize while at Columbia) and actor. Her current generational graphic memoir The Late Child and Other Animals with James Romberger (Fantagraphics) has been translated and published in France under the title L’Enfant inattendue. Her color work on the graphic memoir 7 Miles a Second, a collaborative project with James Romberger and the late David Wojnarowicz garnered her a nomination for an Eisner Award 2014 for Best Painter/Multimedia Artist. In 2006, Van Cook became the creative and managing director of the Howl! Arts Festival, which led in 2009 to the establishment of Howl HELP, a free emergency health & care service for downtown artists. She holds an M.A. in Modern European Studies from Columbia University and is currently completing a Ph.D in French at The Graduate Center CUNY. Website: http://margueritevancook.com/

Romberger Van Cook selfportraitJames Romberger’s fine art pastel drawings are in many private and public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Romberger’s ecological comic Post York was published in 2012 by Uncivilized Books; it includes a flexi-disc by his son Crosby and it was nominated for an 2013 Eisner Award for Best Single Issue. Romberger collaborated with Marguerite Van Cook and the late writer, artist and AIDS activist David Wojnarowicz on the critically acclaimed graphic novel 7 Miles A Second, which was first published in 1996 by DC/Vertigo and then released in a revised, expanded edition in February 2013 by Fantagraphics Books. Romberger interviews authors for Publisher’s Weekly and he writes critically for The Comics Journal and the pop culture site Hooded Utilitarian. Website:  http://jamesromberger.com/

IMG_5055Wendy S. Walters is the author of a forthcoming book of essays, Multiply/Divide (Sarabande, 2015) and two books of poemsTroy, Michigan (Futurepoem, 2014) and Longer I Wait, More You Love Me (2009).  Walters was a 2011 New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow in Poetry, and her work has appeared in The Iowa Review, Bookforum, FENCE, Harper’s Magazine, and elsewhere.  She has won a Ford Foundation Fellowship, a research fellowship from the Smithsonian Institution, a scholarship from Bread Loaf, and multiple fellowships from The MacDowell Colony and Yaddo.  She is a Contributing Editor at The Iowa Review and Associate Professor of creative writing and literature at the Eugene Lang College of The New School University in the city of New York.

CamPicCameron Fraser hails from Chesapeake Virginia. He studied sculpture at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and is currently a MFA candidate at Columbia University in the Sound Arts program. For years, he lived in Los Angeles working as a musician, sound designer and recording engineer. His focus is on making work that lives at the intersection of acoustic ecology, sound design and new music and he is interested in soundscapes as narrative spaces. Cameron left his heart in San Francisco, with his girlfriend and two cats. CameronFraser.bandcamp.com

-4-1With roots stemming from the legendary musical island of Jamaica in the Caribbean, Mackenzie Largie a.k.a. Lady DM describes herself as a ‘musical expat’, an apt description for her fearless take on crossing genres of dance-able music.  Lady DM’s story begins in 1995, in NYC as a host on FIT’s radio station, by day; and avid regular at parties like Theo Parrish’s SugarBabies by night. Two years later, she begins her ascent of the city’s DJ circuit proper, a regular at venues like the Limelight, Orchard Bar, and The Cooler. While based in Europe from 99’-10’, Lady DM regularly hosted radio shows in Zurich, and Berlin, while jetting around entertaining crowds at legendary parties like Amsterdam’s Mazzo Club, Zurich’s Lethargy festival, Milan’s Cox 18, Munich’s Muffathalle, and Berlin’s WMF. In Berlin, Lady DM also curated events, with Berlin’s then up-and-coming artists, including Peaches, Dixon, Jamie Lidell, & Gonzales.  She now calls NYC home.