Category Archives: Reviews

Women of Naropa & Friends Celebrate Anne Waldman, April 23, 2015

By Matthew Pincus

The 11th Annual Women of Naropa Reading was a celebration of both women writers, and Anne Waldman’s birthday. Bobbie Louise Hawkins said in her reading, “Time eats history,” and certainly it did for Florence Jenkins, the subject of her fine short story about an amateur operatic soprano who had a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall in the 1940s.

Readers included professors, graduates, and undergraduates of the Jack Kerouac School. Mara Ochoa, an undergraduate, in her poem discussed the speaker’s personal grievances over how language had been used to hold sway over an individual’s feelings. Undergraduates Erika Hodges and Sara Schultz also read.

Many second year MFA students (Hannah Kazema, Ella Longpre, Brent Zionic, Ellie Swensson, and Sean McDaniel), known as Polly Vocal, along with Professor Reed Bye, performed one of Gertrude Stein’s many short plays. Although all her plays have an absurd fixation on language, the cast provided a strong rendering of a Modernist Parisian scene with the discipline of syntax and grammar the writer herself would have approved of. Graduate students Heather Sweeney and Rachel Martin also read.

Another performance-based piece in honor of Anne was by her friends and colleagues Toni Oswald and Max Davies. The musicality and also repetitive hushes of their lyrics, a musical experiment by Anne herself, written and performed in the 1970s, brought to life, as she often does, the vibrancy and energy surrounding art and music in New York City.

Colleague and alumni HR Hegnauer read a touching letter by Anne’s mother written to her in her twenties, and contained a good deal of cynical wit about a workshop she was attending at the time. Andrea Rexilius read a fitting poem for the evening written by Anne, and Laura Wright used a fierce, passionate voice for her piece. Also, friends and alumni to the Jack Kerouac School Lisa Birman, Jennifer Dorn, and Jade Lascelles read.

The last, and featured speaker of the evening was poet Anne Waldman herself. Like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she becomes younger through the years. Anne’s poetic voice is swift with perfect elocution. She speaks with passion for scenes varying from quiet serenity to ominous paranoia. In Beirut, at the outdoor courtyard of a teahouse, the speaker encounters the beauty and freedom of artistry in a space, which both inspires and fosters creative growth. However, a remembrance of a child’s fear of drones harkens one back to the concern with devastation caused by the American unmanned air crafts many civilians in Lebanon fear, and which effect innocent citizens.

This evening of performances was a fundraiser to benefit Bombay Gin, the school’s literary magazine, and also A Woman’s Work, a non-profit based out of Longmont, which assist women in financial crisis with child care, housing, medical, and transportation needs. They also helped, and continue to help, victims of the Boulder flood.


Matthew Pincus was born and raised in San Diego, CA. He has a B.A. from Pitzer College in English and is has written book reviews for Bookslut, RainTaxi, Pank, and Necessary Fiction. He also published an essay on Dodie Bellamy in Coldfront, and presented at last years Disembodied Poetics Conference.

I/Not I Symposium on Identity Poetics Panel, March 31, 2015

By Angelica Maria Barraza

I arrived at the panel an “I.” I was simultaneously a “not I” — this addition a testament to all the parts of me that were not contained in the basic terminology of my identity: Female. Mixed race. Queer. I took a seat near the back with my notebook opened to an empty page. I’m not sure what I was expecting to fill it with. Perhaps lamentations on the old questions Who am I? Where do I come from? But identity is more complicated than that. More elastic. And, perhaps, more difficult to language than I’d previously imagined.

Michelle Naka Pierce, the panel’s moderator, opened the space with a talk on hybridity. She spoke about her own experience as a Japanese American and asked us to imagine what it was like to embody two cultures at once, without embodying each fully. How can language be manipulated to illuminate the interstices between two worlds? An impossible question. Unless you allowed language to contradict itself, and, at times, fail.

Ronaldo Wilson was the first panelist to engage the subject of “I”. He conflated identity with the act of obliteration. But how does one practice obliteration through poetics? As an example Wilson streamed a ‘film’ layered with multiple audio tracks and visual components. It’s about texture, he said. Identity is texture. Texture is a space of loss. Mourning is a site of possibility. The film resonated throughout the room and I began to pull the pieces together. The pieces were not made to fit perfectly. Rather, they were meant to be jagged, imperfect, and to create gaps and overlap.

Kazim Ali followed with an introspective talk on the mind and the body. He asked who one meant when one said “I.” He posed the body as a thought, and contemplated our involvement in the creation of our own identities. Ali further suggested the powers of yogic chanting. He posed that chanting had the ability to change our internal shape/landscape. He believed in the practice of writing from a body centered space.

Ana Merino, who grew up in a country fraught with war, spoke about childhood and identity. She fervently argued for the inclusion of poetics in early education. She posed that languages were like houses and believed in the agency of children — that they, at young ages, possessed the capability of transcending the oppressions of their parent’s history. She sought intellectualism as an answer. After listening to her speak it felt like the world, however imperfect, was in my hands.

Alongside these panelists were two JKS graduate students who presented on the topic of I/Not I. Brent Zionic engaged a more scientific route while Cait Turner looked to Theodore Adorno to sparse out who one is under a capitalistic regime.

To say I walked away from the panel with an answer would be incorrect. While my notebook was dense with notes I found there are no answers on the subject of identity. We hold within us contradictions. We are and we are not. We are both/and. We are neither.

I’m not sure what I was waiting for.

I/Not I: Symposium on Identity Poetics Reading, Tuesday, March 31, 2015

By Jennifer van Alstyne

The Symposium on Identity Poetics asks

How do we as writers negotiate the “I” in the face of deconstructed/reconstructed identities? The “I” has become an interstice. It is the liminal: a transitional space, occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. It destabilizes the binary. It functions as imbrications. “I” am both; “I” am neither.

and featured the two-day combination of the annual Leslie Scalapino lecture and symposium. The final event of the Symposium on Identity Poetics was readings by Ana Merino, Kazim Ali, Leslie Scalapino Lecturer in Innovative Poetics Dorothy Wang, and Ronaldo Wilson.

Ana Merino is Director of the Spanish Creative Writing Program at the University of Iowa read her poetry in Spanish. She read from her books Child’s Play and Cell Mate with issues ranging from knowledge of self, child poverty, and the femicides in Ciudad Juarez. Caroline Swensen accompanied Merino with English-language translations.

Kazim Ali, a professor of Creative Writing and Comparative Literature at Oberlin College, read old and new work, the most memorable of which was a poem about San Francisco and the many fault lines, which run across the hill-sided city on the bay. His poetic voice artfully structures religious, personal, racial and queer concerns into an aesthetic amelioration of traumatic space.

Dorothy Wang, whose Leslie Scalapino lecture discussed racial concerns and Asian Americans in contemporary poetics, read from a literary essay on Bhanu Kapil, discussing the merits of her Asian American narratives Schizophrene, The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers, Humanimal, and Incubation: A Space for Monsters. Her reading melded recursive quotes from the author’s own text with critical and enlightening statements on a Naropa professor.

Ronaldo Wilson, an Associate Professor of Literature and Creative Writing at University of California Santa Cruz, performed a piece where he played with postmodernist concepts of narrator and point of view in a fashion similar to the transgressive memoir of Kathy Acker. His spliced mixtapes, and explicit dialogue about sexual escapades, attempt to jar the viewer into gaining a full and more transparent understanding of race relations in the current political and social climate of the United States.

Each poet and critic in their own respect commented on aspects of identity in modern American and international life. Lectures given on a panel earlier that day showed the different philosophies of each individual. Ana Merino was the most direct, describing her childhood during the Franco dictatorship in Spain and her parent’s leftist stances against the government. Ali discussed his spiritual connection to yoga and the metaphysical necessity to keep open in a poetic space as to stave one from giving limits to their practice. Wilson emphasized the need for mediation in his performances, and his exploration of texture in Victorian literature as well as the broader them of resistance. Cait Turner and Brent Zionic, first and second year Jack Kerouac School MFA candidates, also participated in the panel.

Don’t forget to stop by Jack Kerouac School events this year at AWP! For a full listing of JKS on and off-site panels and events as well as future spring events, click here.


Jennifer van Alstyne has been published in the Eunoia Review, Crack the Spine, Midwest Literary Magazine, The Monmouth Review, The Foundling Review, Paper Nautilus, Poetry Quarterly, and Whiskey Traveler. Her collection, “Scansioned Music: A Glenn Gould Collection”, was published in Crossroads 2013 for which she was the winner of the Jane Freed Grant. She is currently an Associate Editor for Something On Paper and Book Reviews Editor for Bombay Gin.


Leslie Scalapino Lecture in Innovative Poetics with Dorothy Wang, March 30, 2015

By Jennifer van Alstyne

The Leslie Scalapino Lecture in Innovative Poetics is an annual lecture series with a focus on critical analysis of innovative poetry, essays, plays, and/or cross-genre work primarily by women poets/writers. The Scalapino series invites contemporary writers to present their work in the spirit exemplified by Scalapino’s own critical writing and editorial vision as publisher of O Books. This year’s Lecturer in Innovative Poetics was Dorothy Wang, author of Thinking Its Presence: Form, Race, and Subjectivity in Contemporary Asian American Poetry (Stanford University Press, 2014) which received an honorable mention in the 2014 Pegasus Awards for Poetry Criticism. Wang’s talk “Forms of Poetic Difficulty,” discusses intra and extra poetic difficulties that disrupt a poem (i.e. irony). Reader resistance or miscomprehension, as with directness with race, can produce discomfort and communicative difficulty. Wang recalled a white male poetry professor who upon reading her manuscript for Thinking Its Presence called her argument “outdated,” that Asian Americans no longer faced such discrimination in this post-race society. The fundamental differences in their views of the purpose of poetry and of the state of prejudice in American society today caused these disagreements. Wang mentioned the conceptualist Kenneth Goldsmith’s performance and anonymous response through the Mongrel Coalition Manifesto as examples of a current discussion in avant-garde poetry and race, post-Tony Hoagland and Claudia Rankine.
From her book, Wang writes: “Critics are more likely to think about formal questions—say, poetic tone and syntax—when speaking about [John] Ashbery’s poems but almost certainly to focus on political or black ‘content’ when examining the work of Amiri Baraka, a poet who has pushed the limits of formal invention for more than half a century—certainly as long as Ashbery has.” In the talk, Wang also gave the example of Thomas Jefferson, scribe of our Declaration of Independence, writing in the same year Phillis Wheatley’s poetry was “beneath the dignity of criticism.” Wang then showed a clip from the television show Two Broke Girls in which the portrayed Korean-American diner owner is stereotyped proving not only that racism still exists but that it is portrayed in prime-time for the greater American public. White male writers will more likely be read as a universal speaker, the “default poet-person.” Marked or minority poets are generalized to groups like Asian or black. Abstractions, particularly, can mark a buffer in a discussion of race, but it can also be a removal from the discussion. But, separating the poet and poetic speaker is crucial to the discussion of poetry made harder by that perceived “universality.” “We should, I argue, be reading both minority poets and canonical poets with attention to formal concerns and the social, cultural, historical, and literary contexts that have shaped the work.” And, as she reminds us Charles Berstein said, “For as long as social relations are skewed, who speaks in poetry can never be a neutral matter.” The 2015 Leslie Scalapino Lecture will be published in the 3rd issue of Something On Paper, Spring 2015.


Jennifer van Alstyne has been published in the Eunoia Review, Crack the Spine, Midwest Literary Magazine, The Monmouth Review, The Foundling Review, Paper Nautilus, Poetry Quarterly, and Whiskey Traveler. Her collection, “Scansioned Music: A Glenn Gould Collection”, was published in Crossroads 2013 for which she was the winner of the Jane Freed Grant. She is currently an Associate Editor for Something On Paper and Book Reviews Editor for Bombay Gin.

Review of Naropa’s 4×4 Reading, March 10, 2015

By Cait Turner

The final installation of the 2015 4×4 reading series brought together members of Colorado’s collegiate community of creative writers. Readers from Colorado State University, CU Boulder, University of Denver, and Naropa University performed their poetry and fiction at the Performing Arts Center on Naropa’s Arapahoe campus.

The evening’s first reader was Katie Naughton, an MFA student at Colorado State University. Naughton performed a series of unnamed, interrelated poems drawing upon environmental, political, pastoral, and erotic themes. Naughton’s tightly coiled language transformed domestic/pastoral images of boiling water, burning trash, and sprouting sunflowers into percussive anaphoras meant to situate the listener into the space between rural poverty and poetic intimacy. In one piece, Naughton compared the passage of time to a “small money restaurant”; in another, she asserted that “the disaster comes in sunflowers, in hunting rust.” The musicality of Naughton’s language did not distract from the power of her imagery. Her pieces described poems environmental and emotional spaces where landscapes and faces are “flat and made of lakes, making water where everyone knows there’s none.” Katie Naughton’s poetry deconstructed the pastoral myth and re-introduced the face of America’s rural enclaves back to itself, “warning ending what it may persist.”

The work of Brandi Homan, a doctoral student and adjunct faculty member at Denver University, also drew inspiration from familial enclaves of the rural Midwest. Homan’s short story, “Green Green Corn”, examined the “dangerous and dumb” teenage fascination with the “other side of town.” Homan’s use of second person narration allowed listeners to connect and identify with the voice of her adolescent narrator, who just began a summer job “de-flowering” female corn plants—a summer rite of passage in the American Midwest. The sexual awakening of the narrator coincides with her introduction to the world of physical labor; the end of the day finds her sprawled across her bed, sweating, repeating “Jesus. Jesus. Jesus” in a state of both physical exhaustion and sensual ecstasy. The subtext of “Green Green Corn” involves class and gender imbalances; the middle class narrator feels superior to the working class boys with whom she shares the fields, but her emergent femininity renders her simultaneously in awe of and in thrall to her handsome, college-age foreman. Homan’s narrative lovingly mocked her characters at times—they tease their hair and wear layers of makeup and foundation to perform back-breaking labor in sweltering summer heat—but ultimately, Homan presented a realistic and moving picture of a young woman’s coming of age.

Mac Goad, the third reader of the evening, performed a series of short poems exploring the relationship between music, witchcraft, romantic love, addiction, and the act of writing. Her first poem “One Part Harmony” described the “muscle memory” involved in practicing the guitar as an “act” similar to that of lovemaking. Alone, the speaker strikes the “clearest chords.” Goad’s second piece, “Amateur Spellcraft” re-imagines love and friendship as the magical consequences of a “teenage witchcraft come true”—the poems ends with a dedication to an unnamed other, conjured up through images and Goad’s uniquely rhythmic delivery. Her third and final piece of the evening re-views addiction as a practical craft, like musicianship or writing. Indeed, all of our human practices, from writing to lovemaking to songcraft and spellcasting can be seen as a sort of repetitive action. Humans, Goad implies through her poetry, are addicted to creation, and “recovery is death.”

The final reader of the evening was Ella Longpre, an MFA candidate at Naropa University.  Longpre’s poems are “hallways lit with memory”; language itself is simply “a dream collapsed into another dream.” Her poems kept returning to the “I in question” suggesting a sort of rupture and conflation between poetic objects, poetic subjects, poetic speakers, and poets themselves. “We all have apocryphal texts”, she claims, “I am an icon.” Longpre’s poetic language is gorgeous; her delivery was melodic without overt musicality, which leant her language a soporific edge wherein the listener eases in to her collage of images and memories as though into a warm bath of ether. Longpre’s poetry suggests that memory is a form of ruin—it is always already decaying. “The voice carries the weight of the body”, Longpre states, “through blue dusks and wet forests.”

The final 4×4 reading of 2015 at Naropa University  was a collage of different geographic and psychological landscapes, where common language can be found in the interstitial space between image and memory, self and other, speech and silence.


Cait Turner is a first year MFA candidate at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University.  Her research interests include jazz poetry, activist writing, and critical pedagogy.  Cait’s poetry has been published in the online ‘zine “The Potomac” and the print journal “Lungfull!” When not working or studying, Cait enjoys playing music, especially drums and piano.

Review of Allen Ginsberg Visiting Fellow Kevin Killian’s Lecture, The Colors in Darkness, February 9, 2015

By Jennifer van Alstyne

Kevin Killian’s performance/photographic series entitled Tagged, where male models pose with a male genitalia drawing while nude, was the subject of his lecture Colors in Darkness. The drawing models held in front of their own genitalia was called, cock and balls on a mannequin by Raymond Pettibon, a New York based artist famous for the band Black Flag’s logo.

Killian also taught a class over the weekend which focused on the Bay Area poet Jack Spicer. Killian noted in his lecture that Spicer himself conducted a similar photographic experiment with nude male models. Unfortunately, the poet died indigent, but was buried in a mausoleum a few yards from the newspaper mogul Willian Randolph Hearst, a setting Killian used in this series—young poets offering their bodies to the dead poet. He was also inspired by Allen Ginsberg, visual artist David Wojnarowicz, famous for his series Rimbaud in New York, and other both distant, but subtle sources such as Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge or William Holden’s body in Sunset Boulevard.

Models range from artists to novelists to young poets. The series questions not only what the phallus has become but allows models and viewers to explore the mask of the drawing, whether placing it over their own genitalia or gazing upon it. David Brazile says, “Photos can act as mere signifiers of masculinity.” Thus, the viewer is seeing a signified version of masculinity through the drawing, which is, in itself for the subject, a signifier of masculinity. Killian himself admitted a drawing of a phallus is a perfect example of Freud’s over-determinism.

He had a ritual with his subjects to place their clothing on a table, and photograph, or record, what they came in with and what they would walk out of the studio or residence wearing. Killian, trying to explore “the gaze in [him]self,” opens up authorial agency creating a temporary but safe dominant/submissive relationship where models can experience the mask without commitment. One can choose to see the subject performing masculinity, or rather condensing it into what society believes differentiates gender. The intention of the act is to draw attention to different points of cultural reference for a viewer say, in an art gallery, to be taken by surprise at the oddity, and also surreal poses, of the men’s stares and different contraposto poses. It is both multi-layered and characteristic of a camp style consciously, although wary of revealing itself as such.

Tableau vivant translates from French to mean “living picture,” and was mentioned by Killian in his talk. This was another goal of his artistic practice, which dates back to American frontier towns in the 19th century, where paintings and royal coronations were recreated, but also were a form of erotic entertainment. Photography has long been used to capture people living in a present moment of history, from Julia Margaret Cameron’s portraits, to Ansel Adam’s landscapes, to Robert Franks The Americans. Killian hopes to eventually recreate a collection of nude photographs of men which originally appeared in Koff Magazine curated by Maggie Dubris and Elinor Nauen in the late 70s.

The lecture was followed by a reading and reception. Killian is the author of Poet Be Like God: Jack Spicer and the San Francisco Rennisance (Wesleyan University Press, 1998), editor of My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer (Wesleyan University Press, 2008) and The Kenning Anthology of Poet’s Theater: 1945-1985 (Kenning Editions, 2010), as well as several books of poetry.

We hope you join us at the Naropa 4×4 Reading on March 10th at 7:30pm in the Performing Arts Center (PAC) on the Arapahoe campus. Please click here for a listing of 2014-2015 Jack Kerouac School Events.


Jennifer van Alstyne has been published in the Eunoia Review, Crack the Spine, Midwest Literary Magazine, The Monmouth Review, The Foundling Review, Paper Nautilus, Poetry Quarterly, and Whiskey Traveler. Her collection, “Scansioned Music: A Glenn Gould Collection”, was published in Crossroads 2013 for which she was the winner of the Jane Freed Grant. She is currently an Associate Editor for Something On Paper and Book Reviews Editor for Bombay Gin.

Review of Allen Ginsberg Visiting Fellow Kevin Killian’s Reading, February 9, 2015

By Heather Sweeney

Prior to Kevin Killian’s reading, the room was already charged. The lecture preceding the reading, in which he unveiled a series of photographs, created an atmosphere of heightened interest, among those of us who stayed. The images depicted nude, or nearly nude, men holding a drawing of a penis over, or near, their own penises. Some audience members loudly stomped out, leaving their energetic residue. A few were uptight. Many delighted and lightly laughed at times. Regardless, this work called attention to ourselves, our own desires and sexualities. Whether we were ready or not. Called attention to our own humanity, the sense of a collective we.

Killian is funny and charming with a touch of brashness. Some of his poems were balloon like, others dark smudgy. He zig zagged across the terrain that is our cultural landscape. The landscape that we cannot escape. Topics covered: Valentine’s Day, crystal meth, Walt Disney, hydrogen, Sean Penn, the war in Iraq. The field of the open, human page.

He began, appropriately, reading a Valentine’s Day centric poem from his book, Action Kylie, in which he invoked pop goddess, Kylie Minogue, singing, “She had a fever, a fever of love…” The poem was a resurrection of candy hearts: “love me, text me.” A formula of updated nostalgia.

I imagine that in a past life, Kevin Killian was one of the golden age Hollywood actors from the 1930s. It is the way he can pick apart a phrase, pause and sneer within the same breath. He appeared, at times, vulnerable, but he also brought an intensity to his readings with his sharp hand gestures that accompanied a constellation of famous voices. We witnessed the channeling of Kate Bush in her orangey red dress (“Heathcliff, it’s me Cathy. I’m so cold”) and Ethel Waters singing, “Am I Blue.”

Killian also shared some new work from Tweaky Village, an homage to San Francisco in the height of the speed and crystal meth craze of the 1990s. He described the “hollowed eyed men” on billboards and medications that “make you smile.” The gentrification of the city, the hyper-development. Can’t we all see this in our own towns and cities? Our bodies? As a mirror. The death of the flesh.

He often leaned in toward us while reading, as if he were talking with us at a cocktail party, and extended his hands as if to say, “Do you remember this too? Are we still experiencing this together?”

In 2013, Rex Ray asked Kevin to write a poem for the Gay Pride month mural. A poem had to be written and erected, and one that did not offend. But, Ray said, “Make sure they know…that it’s a gay poem, from line one.” Killian’s first magical line: “Before we knew we were gay, the plants knew…” Rex Ray recently died. Can this be a form of dedication to him? There we were, witnessing.

There were knowing plants, autumns and sestinas to experience. There were emerald isles and robots colliding. We had fun. We remembered disasters, deaths, epidemics. It was an exhibition. Of ourselves and each other. We kept our eyes on the prize. Thank you, Kevin Killian.


Heather Sweeney is an MFA candidate and Allen Ginsberg Fellow at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University. Her poetry and book reviews have been published in Dusie, Cutbank, Shampoo and canwehaveourballback?. When she is not in Boulder, she lives in San Diego with her husband and beloved dog, Dexter.