Outrage & Outcry: Infuriating Our Way into a Better Future



Image from artist Jessica Caldas’ 30-day performance art piece #3everyday. The piece was performed throughout public sites in Atlanta during October 2015 during Domestic Violence Awareness Month.


Like many of us, I have read the powerful statement written by the woman who survived rape by Stanford student Brock Turner. It took me several sittings to get through her visceral recounting of the brutal rape and ensuing trauma. Lately, as I have read the news—hearing actress Amber Heard’s account of abuse at the hands of Johnny Depp and backlash from those who don’t believe her, reading the Stanford rape victim’s letter and then the horrific defense letter by the convicted rapist’s father bemoaning his son’s lack of appetite and how the act of raping a woman will impact his son’s future—I have come face to face with my own fury. A mantra has boiled under the surface of my skin, sometimes an incantation, other times a scream of protest: Trust Women. Believe Women. Trust Women. Believe Women. Trust Women.


Almost every woman friend of mine has a story of coercive sex if not one of sexual assault. Many of us have stories of emotional or physical abuse. I have taught on a college campus for nine years, and I have seen the way that sexual assault and the threat of assault impacts the lives of young women. They come to college to learn and one of the things they are forced to learn is how to walk in packs, how to keep an eye out for one another, how to try to protect themselves from the threat of sexual assault. Or they have to learn how to heal from trauma when they are the victims of sexual violence. They have to learn that even if they bravely come forward, they may not be believed.


I am so sick of women not being believed. I am so tired of having to prove myself trustworthy.


After having watched these recurrent public denials of women’s pain, suffering, and value and coming to terms with abusive experiences in my past, my body has become a live wire, hot anger coursing through my veins.


This rage is a relief.


Anger is not a comfortable emotion for me or for many women. We are socially conditioned out of our own anger. We are told that we need to be nice, that we need to protect others’ feelings, that our sense of safety is less important than the needs or desires of others. We are made to feel that it is not okay to take up space and anger is the ultimate form of space-taking. Anger says: I won’t abide this. Anger says: This is not okay. Anger screams: No More. Anger will not be silenced. Anger accepts no compromise.


And anger in and of itself is not a bad thing. Anger at its most healthy is our body and mind informing us that we have been violated. The productivity of anger, like all emotions, depends entirely on how we channel it. What I am seeing now is a world of women channeling our collective rage about this particular sexual assault—and about the constant abuse, assault, and belittling of women—into an outpouring of support and an outburst of creativity.


I’m thinking of the woman who rewrote the letter written by Brock Turner’s father so that it accurately reflected the atrocious actions of his son and the father’s deeply problematic attitudes towards women and rape. I’m thinking of the women—among them actress Cynthia Nixon and First Lady and Mayor de Blasio’s wife Chirlane McCray—who gathered in Gracie Mansion to read the rape victim’s statement in full. I’m thinking of the video featuring actresses from Girls in which they talk about the need to support a woman not because she is someone’s daughter or wife but because she is someone. I’m thinking of Kim Saumell’s list essay where each section begins with “I was never raped but” and proceeds to document the way that rape culture has permeated her life and affected her health, wellbeing, and safety. I’m thinking of Kelly Sundberg’s essay in which she recounts her own experience of intimate partner abuse and says that not believing Amber Heard equates with not believing her. I’m thinking of the countless friends and acquaintances who have written and posted and spread word on my Facebook feed, demanding accountability and a world in which women are treated with dignity and respect.


In her recent opinion piece in the New York Times, Jessica Valenti wrote about the way a lifetime of misogyny impacts women, about the accumulation of constant violations, big and small, and the grip of trauma in our bodies as a result. She writes: “When we talk about gendered trauma, we tend to point to moments of physical danger, harassment or assault. Those are critical to discuss, of course. But we can’t leave aside the snowball effect of all types of sexism over a lifetime. For me, it’s not one particular message or adolescent incident that bothers me; it’s the weight of years of multiple messages and multiple incidents. It’s the knowledge that this will never be just one day, just one message, just one hateful person. It’s a chipping away of my sense of safety and my sense of self.”


The burden of these experiences weighs on all of us as women. We are told, over and over again, by people we know and by strangers, that we are not entitled to the space we take up, to our voices, even to autonomy over our own bodies. We are treated as if we are small and disposable.


The only thing harder than the rallying against the assault and abuse of women is the constant dismissal from those who ultimately argue that either this suffering doesn’t exist or that it is inconsequential. And in saying violence against women is inconsequential, our culture says that women—their pain,  their stories, their worth, their lives—are inconsequential.


What I see happening now in a very palpable way is women showing we are the exact opposite of this by fully owning and embodying our power and standing up for one another. What is different now than the outrage and outcry of the past is that in this moment, the concentric circles of women’s empathy and rage are spiraling out. The Stanford rape victim and survivor’s letter was a catalyst for women—and men allies—to rise up, amplify their outrage, and refuse to let this grief and anger die out.


There is a long legacy of women in deep mourning—keening, wailing, weeping, tearing their clothes, laying their grief and fury bare. These women and their grief refuse silencing. I see this moment as a modern version of that very old tradition. Women are saying: I see you. I hear you. I believe you. I will help you carry your story. We can carry our stories together.


The Stanford victim released a second statement this week to address her anonymity. She said, “I remain anonymous, yes to protect my identity. But it is also a statement that all of these people are fighting for someone they don’t know. That’s the beauty of it. I don’t need labels, categories, to prove I am worthy of respect, to prove that I should be listened to. I am coming out to you as simply a woman wanting to be heard. For now, I am every woman.”


In 1968, poet Muriel Rukeyser wrote: “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” Thank you to the survivor of rape at Stanford for sharing your voice and words and splitting the world wide open. This split makes room for our outrage to echo and for a different reality to be born.



Lisa M. O’Neill, creator of The Dictionary Project, is a writer and writing teacher based in Tucson, Arizona. She writes at the intersection of pop culture and politics, focusing on issues of gender, class, race, and mass incarceration. You can find her at her website or on twitter.


The dictionary word informing this post is:

out·rage  noun

1. an extremely strong reaction of anger, shock, or indignation: “her voice trembled with outrage” or “widespread public outrage. synonyms: indignation, fury, anger, rage, disapproval, wrath, resentment

2. an action or event causing anger, shock, or indignation: “the decision was an outrage” synonyms: scandal, offense, insult, injustice, disgrace


1.  arouse fierce anger, shock, or indignation in (someone): “he was outraged at this attempt to take his victory away from him” synonyms: enrage, infuriate, incense, anger, scandalize, offend, give offense to, affront, shock,horrify, disgust, appall;  violate or infringe flagrantly (a principle, law, etc.): “their behavior outraged all civilized standards”

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The Newsroom We Need

news·room  ˈn(y)o͞ozˌro͞om,  noun  1.  the area in a newspaper or broadcasting office where news is written and edited.


The Newsroom We Need


I live in Arizona, which has been my home for the past eight years. I work in Arizona. I vote in Arizona. This year, I voted early. And tonight, I watched in horror as my Facebook feed filled with the stories of friends—and then friends of friends—who had been denied their legal right to vote. One, two, five, then a dozen times, and growing. One of my friends K, who is in her mid-thirties and has been registered to vote Democrat since she could vote, was told she wasn’t registered with a party. She took her toddler with her to the polls, and, after being told she couldn’t vote, left confused and frustrated.

Many Arizonans trying to vote had to wait in line for three, four, five hours to do so. Some of them did this outside in blazing Arizona heat. Some of them were still waiting in line at 11 p.m., four hours after the polls closed.

Then, not even an hour after the polls officially closed—when only nine percent of the precincts were reporting and people were still waiting in line to vote—the Associated Press called Arizona for Trump and Clinton. How on earth, I thought, was this responsible journalism? How could anyone report with any certainty when the percentage of precincts reporting was so low?

 Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 12.08.13 AM.png


Like many Americans, I watch a lot of television. On my laptop, many episodes at a time. Some of the television I’ve seen is satisfying in the way that french fries are—cutting a craving but not gratifying long-term. Every now and then a show stays percolating in my mind long the last episode.

For weeks, I’ve been immersed in Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom. The show is smart and witty, with fleshed-out characters, who are both deeply-flawed and deeply-noble. When I finished the last episode this week, I grieved that the show was over. Not only because of the complicated plotlines, strong acting and pacing, but because the show revolves around the central need for integrity, the desire for capital T Truth, and the tenacity required to get the story right.




The show opens with news anchor Will McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels, sitting on a panel of journalists at Northwestern University. A student from the audience asks all of the panelists, “What makes America the greatest country in the world?”


“Diversity and opportunity,” answers one journalist.


“Freedom, Freedom, and Freedom, so let’s keep it that way,” says another.


McAvoy avoids answering the question with a straight answer until he is sick of the moderator’s prodding. And then, he does, with a long monologue. He says that America is not the greatest country in the world:


“…There is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re seventh in literacy, twenty-seventh in math, twenty-second in science, forty-ninth in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force, and number four in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next twenty-six countries combined, twenty-five of whom are allies….We sure used to be. We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons, we passed and struck down laws for moral reasons….”


The speech—a lbeit generalizing and nostalgic in a way that misremembers major injustices in American history—is an act of unplanned honesty that galvanizes the show.


For years, McAvoy has been beholden to his ratings but this one moment of candor begins a torrential journey of reporting the news differently. He might not have undertaken this choice without the push from News Division President Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) and his old/new executive producer and old/new love interest McKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer).


And yet, this is the news he knows he has to do. News that asks hard questions of guests, politicians, and administrators; news that helps to shapes the debate; news that reports on difficult and complicated stories and manages to do so in a timely way.


With my fellow Americans, I have watched this election season unfurl into a disaster that looks nothing like the democracy we often claim with pride. Like so many of us, I have ingested countless hours of coverage, watching commentators suss out differences between Hilary and Bernie (on the odd chance he is mentioned), listening to political journalists on the ground reporting Republican state primaries.


I have seen footage of Trump speaking at these rallies: proposing a ban on Muslims immigrating to the U.S., threatening the wives and children of alleged terrorists, calling Mexicans rapists and murderers. I have seen the videos of Black Americans being punched and pushed out of Donald Trump rallies as he yells, from the platform, “Get ‘em out of here!” Most recently, at a Trump rally in Tucson, a protestor was peacefully exiting the convention center when a Trump supporter sucker-punched him the face before violently kicking him on the ground—this while Trump supporters behind the brawl cheered and threw up their hands in celebration and Trump spoke into the mic calling him a “trouble-maker,” telling the crowd that protestors like this one were “taking away our First Amendment Rights.”




The Newsroom takes place in the not too distant past and reflected back to us almost in real time. The show aired in 2012-2014, with storylines beginning in 2010 and ends in 2013, and viewers see those stories we remember flickering across our monitors and TV screens: the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the shooting in Tucson of Gabrielle Giffords and eighteen others, the Boston Marathon bombing.

We begin to see all that goes into getting it right. We see beyond the anchor to a cast of producers, reporters, cameramen, editors, technicians, and digital experts. We watch them securing the guests, drafting questions, checking the facts, deciding what to include and exclude, creating the graphics, editing content, and finally putting the news on the air.

As we get to know the characters, we witness their intense desire to break the news—but more than that, the obsession to get the story right. We feel their accountability to viewers, demonstrated by long hours in the field and a willingness to take responsibility for their journalistic fuckups.

I fell in love with the characters not only because of the thoughtfulness with which they are written, but because these are the people I need right now in the current political climate. Smart, conscientious, people—imperfect but striving—who are doing their best to communicate really complex issues to a community that desperately needs that dialogue.




The problem with calling primaries with only nine percent of precincts reporting and people still standing in line is that you can’t be sure you got it right. And you are also telling the people in line to go home, that it’s all over. It’s irresponsible.

The problem with media covering Donald Trump’s candidacy incessantly is not only that his name has become ubiquitous, filling and filling airwaves and inflating his importance. The problem is that the media has been covering Donald Trump’s candidacy incessantly without editorial intervention. They’ve reported on the appalling things Donald Trump has said without mentioning how appalling it is that he said them. In an effort to be perceived as “fair and balanced,” many mainstream media outlets have failed to fulfill the media’s oldest role of watchdog. It’s irresponsible.

That the honesty of these TV-portrayed journalists has resonated so deeply with me—to the point that I miss them like friends—makes me realize how much I am craving honest dialogue in the media.  While some journalists are working hard to do this, some networks and news outlets seem less concerned with speaking the capital T truth and widening their scope of perspectives than with not making waves. A recent example is the firing of Melissa Harris-Perry, a television host whose show was recognized for its diversity of guests in terms of gender and ethnicity. The show was canceled after she wrote a critical letter of MSNC to her staff members about feeling that her show was being deprioritized by the network.




The Newsroom’s Will McAvoy is a Republican and in Season 2’s “Election Night: Part II” he is asked by a Republican political analyst on his show about this affiliation. She asks him: “Do you call yourself a Republican so you can make a claim to credibility when you attack the GOP?”

He responds, “No, I call myself a Republican because I am one. I believe in market solutions and common sense realities and the necessity to defend ourselves against a dangerous world and that’s about it. The problem is now I have to be homophobic. I have to count the number to times people go to church. I have to deny facts and think scientific research is a long con. I have to think poor people are getting a sweet ride. And I have to have such a stunning inferiority complex that I fear education and intellect…in the 21st century. But most of all, the biggest new requirement, really the only requirement is that I have to hate Democrats…..”

In a party that has such requirements not only in fictional TV but in real life, we see a presidential candidate who has won twenty primaries regularly threatening people because of their nationality, ethnicity, or chosen religion. How is it that when Donald Trump decries and threatens people he is not universally written off by media professionals as reprehensible? I’m all for difference of opinion but what about when that difference requires the scapegoating of entire groups of people?

Last week, The New York Times columnist David Brooks took responsibility for his own participation in the maelstrom of attention to Trump and in the underestimation of Trump and the undercurrent of his rise. He wrote, “Trump voters are a coalition of the dispossessed. They have suffered lost jobs, lost wages, lost dreams. The American system is not working for them, so naturally they are looking for something else. Moreover, many in the media, especially me, did not understand how they would express their alienation. We expected Trump to fizzle because we were not socially intermingled with his supporters and did not listen carefully enough. For me, it’s a lesson that I have to change the way I do my job if I’m going to report accurately on this country.”

We need our media to get real. We need their honesty and integrity. We need to stop calling hate a difference of opinion. We need to ask hard questions and demand answers. And we need to stop elevating the voices of candidates who are more concerned with the sound of their own voice than they are with the voices of the American people.

In the final minutes of the first episode of The Newsroom, just after reporting an in-depth coverage of a breaking news story, News Division Director Charlie Skinner meets McAvoy at the anchor desk. “In the old days, of about ten minutes ago, we did the news well,” Skinner says. “You know how? We just decided to.”





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Kara Walker silhouette from " Emancipating the Past: Kara Walker’s Tales of Slavery and Power"

Kara Walker silhouette from “Emancipating the Past: Kara Walker’s Tales of Slavery and Power”


prism (ˈprizəm/) n. piece of glass or other transparent material cut with precise angles and plane faces. Prisms are useful for analyzing and refracting light (see refraction). A triangular prism can separate white light into its constituent colors by refracting each different wavelength of light by a different amount. The longer wavelengths (those at the red end of the spectrum) are bent the least, the shorter ones (those at the violet end) the most. The result is the spectrum of visible light, or the rainbow. Prisms are used in certain kinds of spectroscopy and in various optical systems.



Netflix is proposing I watch White Christmas. White Christmas is one of the many classics I watched with my grandma growing up. We would often screen films on American Movie Classics in the living room, after she popped popcorn on the stove. I got to know Rita Hayworth and Audrey Hepburn and Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire while curled up on that old brocade couch. I found the stylized nature of these films comforting, conjuring nostalgia for a time I never experienced first hand. The fancy dresses with foundation garments underneath, the finger-waved hair, the three-piece suits and wingtips and fedoras, the inexplicable breaking into song or dance at any moment. These glimpses gave me access to my young grandmother. The one with bright red hair and sweet collared dresses, who was a secretary after attending Washington University in her hometown of St. Louis.


White Christmas, released in 1954, features Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera Ellen and is mostly a remake, in Technicolor, of a film made less than a decade earlier: Holiday Inn. Filmed in black and white, Holiday Inn was the movie that first introduced the world to the now-standard holiday song “White Christmas.” In the middle of the film, a cardigan-sweatered Crosby croons “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas” and pauses in playing the piano to reach over and ring the bells that are hung on the Christmas tree with a silver spoon.


The 1942 film revolves around two old buddies, Jim and Ted, played by Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire respectively, who used to have a musical act in New York City, who are intensely competitive, and who fall in love with the same woman, an aspiring performer Linda Mason, played by Marjorie Reynolds. Jim starts an inn in Connecticut—the Holiday Inn—that features monthly performances based on each month’s signature holiday. He hires his love interest Linda to perform alongside him. There is singing. There is dancing. There is a friendship strained by the friends’ mutual love of and competition for one woman. There is misogyny and stereotypical gender roles. And then there is the issue of blackness and whiteness.


I vaguely remembered the premise but mostly the feeling of sitting with my grandma in her living room when, a few years ago, I rented the DVD from a local video store. I remembered the costumes and the dancing, the coy smiles of this old school romance. I recalled the stunning solo number by Fred Astaire, who tap danced across the floor while throwing down firecrackers for the Holiday Inn’s celebration of the Fourth of July.


What I didn’t remember was the performance from Lincoln’s Birthday, which is astonishingly picked as the holiday for February instead of Valentine’s Day. Necessitated by the plot that requires Jim to disguise his beloved so as to ward off advances from his friend and competition, he makes a quick change and the number for Lincoln’s Birthday suddenly becomes a minstrel show. Bing as Jim emerges in blackface with a top hat, beard, and cane. Linda’s face is painted black as well and her hair spikes out into a myriad of ribboned blonde braids.


My jaw dropped. I had no memory of this scene at all. And I wondered: Was it because I was too young and had no context for what was happening? Did my grandma see the issues of the scene and choose not to tell me? Did she not see the scene as problematic enough? Did she avoid talking about it with me because of its problematic nature?


The song “Abraham” unfolds with Bing Crosby singing against a full orchestra also in blackface. The blackfaced banjo player sits in the far back on the ground. The waiters and waitresses are in blackface as well, the women adorned with kerchiefs and petticoated polka-dotted skirts.


The film also features a black housekeeper character named Mamie and her two young children, a girl and a boy, who also participate in the song. After Bing’s first verse, the camera cuts to Mamie. Holding her children on her lap, Mamie sings the question: “When black folks lived in slavery, who was it set the darkie free?” Her daughter sings a reply: “Abraham.”


Holiday Inn Bing Holiday Inn Marjorie Holiday Inn Bing and Marjorie


Research reveals that some broadcasts began to show an edited version of the film in the 1980s. (How that worked I’m not exactly sure since this section of the movie also reveals crucial plot points. For example, that touching moment when Jim proposes marriage to Linda while painting her face black for the minstrel show.) Turner Movie Classics didn’t edit the film because they believe in broadcasting films as originally cut. And until more recently, American Movie Classics also ran the film in its original form.


This all makes me think I saw the original uncut version.


As offensive as this scene is, as horrible as it is to think that someone deemed it acceptable to create this musical performance and then use it as a lynchpin in the film, someone made that choice. Many someones. And to revise a cultural artifact that reveals its time, who was in power and what they thought, is dangerous. Revising texts in this way is to pretend that popular culture was not feeding into racist attitudes and actions.


But even more dangerous, I think, is the outrage so many white Americans often experience about the past that can nullify or desensitize us to the reality of the present. And our present involves a system that privileges and protects white people over and over again solely because of the color of our skin. Our present praises and makes permissible a system that results in the demoralization, degradation, dejection, and death of black and brown people.


Like so many Americans, I have felt devastated and angry this last week about the lack of an indictment of Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown. When I returned home the night of the verdict, my desire to hit something was so strong that I ended up punching my mattress for a while. I felt a sickening feeling in my stomach, a combination of fury and grief, a few days later when watching the video that shows a Cleveland cop shooting and killing 12-year-old black child Tamir Rice a mere second after the officer got out of his car. There is no sound in the video so all you see is a small body standing upright and then crumpling to the ground. Devastating. Not to mention the local news story that led by attacking the character of the victim’s father instead of the confounding fact of an officer killing a child holding a toy gun. These deaths are tragedy accumulated because Michael Brown and Tamir Rice (and Trayvon Martin and and and) are not exceptions but part of a long line of African-American people killed in this country because of the color of their skin and because our country refuses to look at the reality and pervasiveness of the racism that we are founded in and on.


We would like to think we are so much farther along than Holiday Inn. But that’s just not true.


Only two weeks ago, Jacqueline Woodson was presented with the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for her book Brown Girl Dreaming, a memoir about growing up in South Carolina in the 60s and 70s, dealing with Jim Crow and the aftermath of the Civil Rights movement. And at this pinnacle moment of her career and artistic work, Dan Handler, the author of the popular Lemony Snicket series, made the joke that he “only just found out she was allergic to watermelon.” I can’t imagine what it would feel like, on one of the most important nights of your life, to have your accomplishments smeared with insults and reminders of the very injustices your work strives to illuminate.


Woodson responded in a New York Times editorial entitled “The Pain of the Watermelon Joke.” She traces her repulsion for the fruit as blossoming out of understanding its history. The fruit went from being tied to summer traditions, the lightness of family and childhood, to the rotting mess of racism. She writes, “…by the time I was 11 years old, even the smell of watermelon was enough to send me running to the bathroom with my most recent meal returning to my throat. It seemed I had grown violently allergic to the fruit. I was a brown girl growing up in the United States. By that point in my life, I had seen the racist representations associated with African-Americans and watermelons, heard the terrifying stories of black men being lynched with watermelons hanging around them…In a book I found at the library, a camp song about a watermelon vine was illustrated with caricatures of sleepy-looking black people sitting by trees, grinning and eating watermelon. Slowly, the hideousness of the stereotype began to sink in. In the eyes of those who told and repeated the jokes, we were shuffling, googly-eyed and lesser than. Perhaps my allergy was actually a deep physical revulsion that came from the psychological impression and weight of the association. Whatever it was, I could no longer eat watermelon.”


Woodson writes in the piece about how she realized her childhood dream of becoming a writer and about how she and Handler have been friends for years. She mentions that when he served watermelon soup at his Cape Cod home last summer, she told him she was allergic. Of his comments at her award ceremony, she writes: “In a few short words, the audience and I were asked to take a step back from everything I’ve ever written, a step back from the power and meaning of the National Book Award, lest we forget, lest I forget, where I came from. By making light of that deep and troubled history, he showed that he believed we were at a point where we could laugh about it all. His historical context, unlike my own, came from a place of ignorance.”


Ignorance of history and also denial of the significance of the small things in defining the large ones. A watermelon joke is not just a joke in the face of the history of that stereotype.


I am reminded of Sam Hamill’s essay “The Necessity to Speak” in which he talks about witnessing violence in the form of war, domestic violence, the criminal justice system, and abuse. When discussing domestic violence, he references popular culture’s complicity in and condoning of it. He writes, “When James Cagney shoves half a grapefruit in a woman’s face, we all laugh and applaud. Nobody likes an uppity woman. And a man who is a man, when all else fails, asserts his ‘masculinity.’” All forms of oppression are different but all oppressed groups are ultimately linked. And they are linked by the times in which someone said or did something oppressive and demeaning that an onlooker decided was no big deal. Oppressions are linked by slurs and taunts and side-glances and critics that say: “aren’t you taking this a little too seriously?” and “can’t you take a joke?”


Back in August immediately following Mike Brown’s shooting, Jon Stewart closed a segment of The Daily Show called “Race/Off” by saying: “Race is there and it is a constant. If you’re tired of hearing about it, imagine how exhausting it is living it.”


The media reporting of protests surrounding the lack of indictment in Ferguson have focused largely on the “mobs” of people, on the intensity of people’s anger, and not on the reason for their fury. There have been some wonderful articles comparing the difference between why white people riot (winning or losing sporting events) and why black people riot (verdicts like “not guilty” for Zimmerman or “no indictment” for “Wilson,” i.e. no justice for innocent black people being killed). I am reminded too of the two almost identical photos published just after Katrina: one of two black people and the other of two white people wading through water with food from a flooded grocery store. The captions revealed that the black people were “looting” and white people were “finding food.”


Last weekend, before the grand jury released its ruling, I read Claudia Rankine’s new book Citizen: An American Lyric. Through lyrical prose about her personal experiences, politics, and pop culture, Rankine explores the perpetual presence of racism in the lives of African-Americans and the extent of the damage it does. On the front cover is a white backdrop with a black hoodie torn from its torso.


Except for the last page, written in first person, the book is in second person: firmly placing the reader in the slot of “you.” She writes in one section about Hennessy Youngman, aka Jayson Musson, who, in youtube videos, “advises black artists to cultivate ‘an angry nigger exterior’ by watching, among other things, the Rodney King video while working.”


She continues: “Youngman’s suggestions are meant to expose expectations for blackness as well as to underscore the difficulty inherent in any attempt by black artists to metabolize real rage. The commodified anger his video advocates rests lightly on the surface for spectacle’s sake. It can be engaged or played like the race card and is tied solely to the performance of blackness and not to the emotional state of particular individuals in particular situations.”


“On the bridge between this sellable anger and ‘the artist’ resides, at times, an actual anger. Youngman in his video doesn’t address this kind of anger: the anger built up through experience and the quotidian struggles against dehumanization every brown or black person lives simply because of skin color. This other kind of anger in time can prevent, rather than sponsor, the production of anything except loneliness.”


“You begin to think, maybe erroneously, that this other kind of anger is really a type of knowledge, the type that both clarifies and disappoints. It responds to insult and attempted erasure simply by asserting presence and the energy required to present, to react, to assert is accompanied by visceral disappointment: a disappointment in the sense that no amount of visibility will alter the ways in which one is perceived.”


I want to repeat her words again: “anger is really a type of knowledge, the type that both clarifies and disappoints….a disappointment in the sense that no amount of visibility will alter the ways in which one is perceived.”


I read an article recounting an event in St. Louis following Mike Brown’s shooting where ten black mothers sat and talked to an audience full of mothers—of different ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds—about the experiences they had in talking to their children about race and racism. Director of Racial Justice at the YWCA in St. Louis Amy Hunter told a story about a time when her son was 12 and noticed a police officer following him as he walked. He was only five blocks from home. When he arrived and told her what happened, he asked, “I just want to know, how long will this last?” She cried as she relayed to the audience what she told him, what she had to tell him: “For the rest of your life.”


Can we just think about that for a second? That for his whole life, this child, this mother’s son, this boy then young adult then man, this human being will have to walk the “right” way, say the “right” thing in order to attempt to preserve his life. And even if he does everything “right,” he is still at risk of being harmed or killed solely because of the color of his skin. How many more lives lost? How much more will it take for us to change a system that is harming and killing so many citizens of our country?


I understand that, as a white person, my perspective is limited and that I cannot fully understand the grief and anger of black individuals and black communities in seeing this same injustice and violence perpetuated over and over again. I felt myself paralyzed this past week with what to say in relationship to this, wondering when and if I should write anything at all.


I grew up in New Orleans, a city segregated by color lines. And without anyone ever needing to really explain the idea of separate and unequal, I saw it everywhere. And what I mostly saw was good-hearted white people pretending that nothing was happening. This is happening. People of color are being killed and oppressed solely because of the color of their skin. This is happening. The criminal justice system is rigged against minorities and people of lower socio-economic status. This is happening. Black kids are being killed while white kids are being given the benefit of the doubt. This is happening. People of color are not “playing the race card,” people of color are being played, by a system rigged to oppress them.


I believe that many Americans will look back at this time and be as appalled as we are now by lynchings, by blackface, by Interstates built through African-American communities. That’s not good enough, to hope that one day we will look back and be appalled. Let’s be appalled now. Let’s do something to change this.


Before Isaac Newton, people believed that pure light was colorless and that light was “altered into color” from interaction with matter. Experimenting with prisms using refraction, Newton revealed the opposite, that light included within it the whole spectrum of color. That a prism didn’t create color but rather separated it, showing what was already present.


In ophthalmology, prisms are used to diagnose and treat deficiencies and diseases of the eye. Ophthalmologists use light reflected and refracted by prisms to examine the eye for vision problems so they can be treated. It is only in altering angles, in finding mirrors, in looking in different ways that problems can be identified, that vision can become clear.




Here are some pieces I found insightful/helpful/encouraging/profound in reference to Ferguson:

On Ferguson Protests, the Destruction of Things, and What Violence Really Is (And Isn’t) by Mia McKenzie

Telling My Son About Ferguson by Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow

It’s Incredibly Rare For A Grand Jury to Do What Ferguson’s Just Did by Ben Casselman

Twelve Things White People Can Do Now Because Ferguson by Janee Woods

This Is What Darren Wilson Told the Grand Jury About Shooting Michael Brown by Jaeah Lee and AJ Vicens

“Not An Elegy For Mike Brown”: Two Poems for Ferguson by Danez Smith

Ferguson isn’t about black rage against cops. It’s white rage against progress. by Carol Anderson

Interview with Mike Brown’s parents


Claudia Rankine’s amazing book Citizen.







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noun \kap-tən also kap-əm\

: a person who is in charge of a ship or an airplane

: an officer of high rank in some branches of the military

: an officer of high rank in a police or fire department

1 a (1) :  a military leader :  the commander of a unit or a body of troops (2) :  a subordinate officer commanding under a sovereign or general (3) :  a commissioned officer in the army, air force, or marine corps ranking above a first lieutenant and below a major

(1) :  a naval officer who is master or commander of a ship (2) :  a commissioned officer in the navy ranking above a commander and below a commodore and in the coast guard ranking above a commander and below a rear admiral

c :  a senior pilot who commands the crew of an airplane

d :  an officer in a police department or fire department in charge of a unit (as a precinct or company) and usually ranking above a lieutenant and below a chief

2 :  one who leads or supervises

3 :  a person of importance or influence in a field <captains of industry>





“I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable, I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.”

—Walt Whitman, from Song of Myself in Leaves of Grass





Robin Williams died today.

I don’t know quite how to explain how I feel about this. Sadness doesn’t quite cover it.

I miss him and I didn’t know him. I wish he were here.

Williams was a master of comedy. However, it was his serious roles that moved me most. But if you look closely at even his comedic roles, there is always something serious there, too. 

I hadn’t realized how young I was when Dead Poets’ Society came out. I was ten. And I’m pretty sure I saw it not too long after that. Maybe I was a few years older. But what I know was that I wanted him to be my teacher. The way he was on fire for words. The way he encouraged his young students. The way he told them that the things that mattered to me mattered. He made them sound their barbaric yawps and I was a scared little kid who desperately wanted to yawp, too. I wanted someone to give me permission to yawp. And when the lead character, the student he encourages to follow his dreams and be himself, commits suicide because of the competing pressures of what he wants and what his parents want, I felt that sadness deeply. I felt the tragedy as if it were happening to someone I loved, in a community I cared about. When Williams’ character is told to leave at the end and his students one by one stand on their desks, defying their old teacher and old ways of thinking and being, I felt as if the sea changes that had happened inside them had also happened inside me.

When I saw Williams as a young doctor bring to life patients who had previously been catatonic, enslaved in their frozen bodies, his joy was mine. And when the meds stopped working suddenly, when he couldn’t figure out what went wrong, when suddenly he saw the patients he had grown close to become closed off and isolated again, I wept. And not tiny tears, not a single drop rolling down a check, but full body quaking kind of weeping.

We could say, yes, Robin Williams was a good actor. And we would be right. But it was more than that. He was tapped into something greater, in who he was and what he did. I always felt like there was some aspect of every character that was him. And not in the “he always plays himself” way. He played everyone and still was himself. He drew the essence out of each character. He showed us what human looked like and in doing so, he showed us ourselves.

He didn’t show us the selves that we carefully curate and dress for the world. He showed us our whole selves: broken and flawed and terrified, risking and failing, fucking things up for the millionth time. He showed us our whole selves: fragile and vulnerable and joyful and filled with love. He made us laugh because he knew what it meant to weep. He made us weep because we understood that to be human is to be everything at once, that there is tear in every roll of laughter, that what makes us beautiful also makes us breakable.

So in this, he was my teacher. And he was one of the best ones I’ve ever had. I am sad he had to leave us so soon. I’m grateful he was here.






O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;

But O heart! heart! heart!

O the bleeding drops of red,

Where on the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead.


O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;

Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,

For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,

For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

Here Captain! dear father!

The arm beneath your head!

It is some dream that on the deck,

You’ve fallen cold and dead.


My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,

My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,

The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,

From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;

Exult O shores, and ring O bells!

But I with mournful tread,

Walk the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead.



–Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass




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Luray Caverns



vault1 (vôlt), n. 1. an arched structure, usually made of stones, concrete, or bricks, forming a ceiling or roof, sewer, or other wholly or partially enclosed construction. 2. an imitation of such a structure constructed for aesthetic reasons. 3. an arched space, chamber, or passage, esp. one located underground. 4. an underground chamber, as a cellar or a division of a cellar. 5. a room, often built of or lined with steel, reserved for the storage and safekeeping of valuables, esp. such a room in a bank. 6. a strong metal cabinet, usually fireproof and burglarproof, for the storage and safekeeping of valuables, important papers, etc. 7. a burial chamber. 8. Anat. an arched roof of a cavity. 9. Something resembling an arched roof: the vault of heaven. –v.t. 10. to construct or cover with a vault. 11. to make in the form of a vault; arch. 12. to extend or stretch over in the manner of an arch; overarch: An arbor vaulted the path. v.i. 13. to curve or bend in the form of a vault. [alter. Of late ME vout(e) < MF voute, volte < VL *volta a turn (cf. It volta), n. use of fem. ptp. *vol(vi)ta (r. L volute) of L volvere to turn; see REVOLVE] —vault like, adj.



This is a delayed post from the dictionary project presents event held on May 17, 2014 at Casa Libre en la Solana. Thanks to our amazing reader lineup: Brian Blanchfield, Lela Scott MacNeil, Farid Matuk, Molly McCloy, and Meg Wade.


We, unfortunately, don’t have video recordings to share with you from the reading. Here is the piece I read by way of introduction.




My early twenties were spent walking in the footpaths my father walked in his—the cobbled streets of Rome, the bricks that encircle the square in front of St. Peter’s. We both looked up at the colonnade, at the grandeur of the duomo. We both walked through those colossal doors. On our right in the corner, Michaelangelo’s Pieta. In front of us, Bernini’s Dove of the Holy Spirit. And all along our path to the altar the undulating marble of Bernini’s Saints. We both walked up to the ancient statue of St. Peter, his foot one long smooth rectangular surface, without an ankle, without toes, worn from the touch and kiss of thousands of pilgrims.


By that time, I had been taught for twenty years to look to the heavens: for answers, for solace, for grace. I did not need the architectural columns that forced the eyes’ vision to the ceiling. It was instinct to look up. And I thought not of engineering or architecture when I gazed upon the vaulted ceilings of St. Peter’s. I thought of majesty. I thought of God.


In the sixties, my dad and his friends were nicknamed bagarozzi by the Italians: little cockroaches for the long robes the seminarians from the North American College wore, black cassocks with buttons down the front. My dad had come there to study theology but he fell in love with Rome. There was a vibrancy about living that spilled out everywhere: in the boisterous debates of old men drinking espresso at corner cafes, the ruins rising up amongst newer buildings, the savoring of freshly baked bread dipped in olive oil and salt.


I told everyone I chose to study in Rome because I wanted to live in Italy, but I also was deeply curious about the life my father had led so many years before and about the capital of the faith I had been raised in and still practiced. I didn’t realize at the time what formative years the early twenties are. But it is significant to me that both my father and I spent time in Rome, learning to love the Italian way of life and in turn becoming disillusioned with the religion we had both so firmly placed our faith in.


When I lived in Rome, it was during the Jubilee Year, 2000, and a deal was made. It was a holy year and only during this year were the holy doors to all four main churches in Rome opened. If a pilgrim were to walk through the holy doors of all four churches and then go to confession and communion within a two-week period, he or she would receive indulgences to heaven. Although I had my doubts about Catholicism before my time in Rome, the indulgences might have been the beginning of the end. I never quite understood the idea that one could do these basic things and suddenly receive free passes to heaven. What about the kind of life one had led before and after this moment? If someone did all of these things and also, say, murdered someone during the same time period, did they still get indulgences to heaven?


I went to all four churches but not within the time frame. I didn’t go to confession. I did not want to believe in indulgences and I did not want my passport to heaven to be paid for in this cheap way.


Every Sunday, mass was held in the basement of our college. In the circular room, we sang songs in English and listened to the priest recite the Eucharistic Prayer. On other days, we went to class, we wandered around Monte Mario: looking for leather jackets, eating spaghetti carbonara, drinking cappuccinos, and buying three bottles of good red wine for 3,000 lire, at the time the equivalent of five bucks. We walked up the Spanish Steps and checked out the nearby boutiques, which held nothing we could afford. We went to the all night bakery located off one of the bus routes and filled our mouths with fresh dough and cream. We walked along the Tiber at night. We roamed Trastevere visiting restaurants where we flirted with young Italians. We ate too much margherita pizza. On days when we got homesick, we went to the Pantheon, staring up at its dome, with cutouts like postage stamps, and then grabbed burgers and fries from the McDonald’s nearby.


I took was an art history class called Art in Rome, one of the most challenging courses I have ever taken. Our instructor, an American expat who had lived in Rome for three decades, was a small pale man with glasses who always wore a little black beanie. He had made his own photocopied packet to serve as our book and it was filled with names of artists and artwork and dates, which we had to memorize for tests. The saving grace was that the entire course was taught on site so we spent our time talking about Rome’s masterpieces while looking at them. We walked around Piazza Navona discussing the symbolism of the Four Rivers fountain and then we went out for gelato and a carafe of red wine.


My father speaks of going early on to the Catacombs. We descended into the earth where the early Christians would meet. I was impressed by that. I imagined what it was like for the early Christians, persecution that meant that they had to meet underground in these vaults. I never made it to the Catacombs. In part, because of time and the need to make reservations. In part I think because the idea of weaving in and out of underground tombs, honeycombs of the dead, made my chest start to constrict.


But I felt differently when visiting churches that had rooms underground. I remember the coolness of the air, the feeling of being somewhere secret, sacred. In one of these churches, several Caravaggio paintings hung. I found myself startled by the way he used light: illuminating only the face or hand or book of his subject while the rest of the image was cloaked in darkness. There was a brilliance to that one candle and the limitations of its light.


My father was in Rome in 1965 for the last year of the Second Vatican Council. St. Peter’s Basilica is shaped like a cross. And for the council, hundreds of bishops gathered in the main hall, the vertical line of the crucifix, with stands constructed so they could face one another to rewrite the future of the Church. My dad was studying these documents as they were being created and in them, he found the exciting potential for change and the focus on service and inclusivity in the Catholic Church. But when bishops visited the North American College, all he saw was incongruity. These same men writing about the importance of staying true to the mission of serving those most in need were lavishly dressed, were served a neverending buffet of gourmet food and wine.


Because I was in Rome during the Spring, I was able to attend Easter services. My friends and I watched the Pope as he carried a cross up a hill near the Coliseum. On a sunny Easter morning, we crowded into St. Peter’s Square amongst hundreds of thousands of believers. But on Good Friday, I had gone to St. Peter’s for a mass and something was off. I was struck by the gold, the gilded nature of everything. The incense was so strong I felt I might pass out. And as man after man gilded in golden robes went up to kiss the simple wooden cross at the front of the church, I was reminded of the opulence of the Church and the absence of women. Out of hundreds, three women, two of them plainly dressed nuns, were invited to kiss the cross. And this kissing, this adoration, would be something I would remember when I returned to the United States and my catholic university, where weekly, students would gather for Eucharistic Adoration, singing songs to the consecrated host. I remember sitting in the hard pews and thinking: is this how Jesus wants us to be spending our time? Wouldn’t he rather us be helping people? It seemed unnecessary to put all our attention on adoring an entity that was almighty and didn’t need us.


Vaulted ceilings are built to induce the feeling of levity, but the construction which allows them to stay there binded in that unlikely bend, that permanent lift is quite complicated. So too is the control, the core strength an Olympic vaulter must exact to arch his body so high up in the air, to curve over the unyielding pole.


I must have visited at least a hundred or more churches in Europe while I was there. There was a solidity in all that marble—a density that felt comforting and secure. But in turn, that same density could feel oppressive and obstinate, a weight too heavy to be born.


My father traveled to Rome on an Italian liner and the first place he visited was not Rome, but Capri. After arrival in Naples, he and his fellow seminarian were brought to Capri where a trip had been arranged for them to explore the grottos. On a sunny day over turquoise blue waters, they took a small rowboat. When they approached the entrance to the grotto, the water turned a deeper shade of blue and they had to duck their heads as the tour guides rowed them under the rugged rock arch. Once inside, they looked up. The water had become a kind of prism, refracting the light from outside through the water and sending it ascending to the ceiling. The cave was filled with an intricate web of luminous veins. My father jumped out and swam alongside the boat until it was time to row back outside into the fullness of light.


The morning I left Rome, I wept—in part from lack of sleep but mostly from a palpable grief born out of the knowledge that I had learned to love life in a way I never knew possible. And that this love was in many ways in direct conflict with my life back home. The light I had believed was only possible through certain mediums was in fact present in everything. Obedience and submission were no longer options. I would have to find another way.


Vaulting requires a kind of faith in the ability to bend and stretch. It asks us to steel ourselves, to combine materials to find solidity, for a moment or a lifetime. It demands an answer to the question: what are the limits to your soaring? To vault is to ask ourselves: where do we find majesty?









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Here we are on this bittersweet day: the last day of National Poetry Month and the last day of napomo at the  dictionary project. Thank you for joining us as we have celebrated poetry and bibliomancy and the play and beauty that can come from constraint-based writing.


I always find it fascinating when the word that comes is scientific or mathematical in origin, as with our word today, which is explored through physics and geometry. Although not universally the case, so many of us word types were drawn to words not only out of a love of language and story but a clear sense of doom evoked from math and science. So I think it is an extra challenge to engage through words with concepts that may be outside of our normal day-t0-day processes and frameworks. But then again, when we are searching for understanding is when the most interesting metaphors and twists in language can arrive.


Please enjoy these poetic interpretations by Meg and Ari of this:






and this:




and this:





el·lip·tic·i·ty noun (i-ˌlip-ˈti-sə-tē)  1.  deviation from perfect circular or spherical form toward elliptic or ellipsoidal form.  2.  the degree of this deviation.




Ari Ellipticity 1

Ari Ellipticity2





Ari Belathar is a Mexican poet and playwright in exile. Between 1994 and 2001, she facilitated creative writing and popular theatre workshops for indigenous women and children throughout Mexico. She was also a founding member of the first Mexican community radio station during the student strike at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 1999. After being kidnapped and tortured by the Mexican National Army in 2001 due to her work as an independent journalist and human rights defender, she escaped to Canada, where she became a political refugee. A winning-artist participant in Artscape’s Gibraltar Point International Artists Residency Program, she has published poetry in literary journals and anthologies around the world. Belathar served as Writer-in-Residence through PEN Canada’s Writers in Exile Network at the University of Windsor and at Brandon University in Manitoba, the latter of which resulted in her first chapbook of poetry in English, The Cities I Left Behind. In Summer 2010, Scirocco Drama published The TAXI Project—a collective play about exile, originally produced by PEN Canada, with Belathar as lead–writer. The TAXI Project was performed by Alchemy Theatre in Toronto and toured high schools and community centres in ten southern Ontario cities and municipalities. In 2012, Belathar was selected as Alameda Theatre Company’s Playwright in Residency as well as being invited to be part of Cahoots Theatre Playwrights’ HotHouse Writing Unit. She is currently developing her first full-length play, La Danza del Venado, a multidisciplinary piece inspired by her own experience of crossing the Mexico/U.S. border into the United States as a child to reunite with her father. In 2013, Belathar lives and writes in Tucson, AZ.





MegWade Ellipticity






Meg Wade was born and raised in the hills of East Tennessee.  She received her MFA from the University of Arizona, where she was the recipient of the Academy of American Poets Prize.  Meg is currently finishing her first full-length verse collection, Blame the Woods, and is the working Assistant Editor for an anthology of contemporary, rural American poetry titled, Hick Poetics, forthcoming from Lost Roads Press.  Her recent work has appeared in CutBank, The Feminist Wire, and Phantom Limb, as well as work forthcoming in two anthologies set to be released from Locked Horn Press in 2014.  Beginning this fall Meg will be the 2014-2015 Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellow at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.  For now, she lives, writes, and teaches in Tucson, Arizona.




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packedHands Holding Soil


Today is the third post for napomo at the dictionary project. I’m pleased to introduce you to this pair of poets who I met at ::Throughlines:: an improvisational movement and writing intensive I participated in back in January of this year. They also have an amazing ongoing image/poem project, what they call a daily endeavor of poetic attention, which you can check out here: how we share the sky.

Speaking of attention, that is what I love so much about the dictionary project and annual series like napomo. Because it is all about attention: attention of one person at a particular moment in time to a particular word and meaning. Maybe it’s a word we’ve never heard of in our lives. Maybe it’s a word we’ve long forgotten. Maybe it’s a word that is part of our daily vernacular. In any case, we are asked to show up to that word in a new way, to see it with fresh eyes, to discover the ways in which our current mindset and circumstances and place in the world inform our understanding. What draws our attention in this word and meaning? How do make sense of it in this particular moment?

There is a majesty in this kind of micro-level attention. Because, in truth, all the micro choices we make add up to the macro of our daily existence and what we contribute to the collective. Our creativity is not only found in the novels we painstakingly craft but in that hard earned and alive sentence, in the way we set our table with consideration of color and light and texture, in the summer garden we co-create by digging our hands into the packed earth.

So thank you to Kathy (whose birthday is today!) and Katherine for their attention. Thank you to John and Jamison. Thank you to Johanna and Matthew. Thank you to the poets still to write this month and all the writers who have shared their work on the dictionary project. What a difference a word makes when you bring your attention to it.


pack  (pak),  v.t.  [< prec. pack, v.t.], to choose or arrange (a jury, committee, etc.) in such a way as to get desired decisions, results, etc.



k bio pic

Katherine Ferrier is a poet, dance artist, educator, maker and curator. She is a co-founder of The Architects, an improvisation ensemble with a performance history spanning over 20 years, and teaches and performs regularly throughout the US and abroad. Katherine curates /directs Cultivate, a festival created to nourish a growing community of contemporary dance-makers and dance supporters in Northern New Hampshire, and her writing about dance has been published in Contact Quarterly and Kinebago. Her spontaneous on-demand typewriter poetry service, THREAD, was recently featured in The Knot, and she offers ongoing writing workshops at The Gallery at WREN in Bethlehem, NH.





For 17 years, Kathy Couch has been designing and creating visual landscapes in performance and installation works. Through the use of light, language, readymade objects, photography and space, she attempts to craft experiences that allow people to linger and contemplate moments of being, that they might become more aware of the power they possess to influence and shape the way they move—alone and together. Kathy is currently engaged in the year-long collaborative photography/writing project How We Share the Sky with Katherine Ferrier. This past January, in collaboration with Katherine, Kathy created and taught ::Through-Lines::, a 4-day writing/movement workshop exploring the intersections of language, body, space and objects in Tucson, AZ. Kathy makes her home in Northampton, MA.


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Today, we have our second series of poems for the third annual napomo at the dictionary project in honor of National Poetry Month. All month we will be posting poems written from bibliomanced dictionary project words. In an added twist, this year, two poets are writing to each word. We are discovering what happens in these pairings when two different minds and aesthetics hold space for the same word.


Poets Johanna Skibsrud and Matthew Schmidt have written on screw. Please enjoy their poems and feel free to write your own poem inspired by screwin the comments if you so desire. The actual piece my finger landed on when selecting the word was the image of a lagscrew below.






screw  (skro͞o), n.  [ME.  screwe; OFr. escrone, hole in which the screw turns  <  L. scrobis, vulva],  1.  a mechanical device used for fastening things together, consisting of a naillike cylinder of metal grooved in an advancing spiral, and usually having a slotted head: it penetrates only by being turned: male (or external) screw.  2.  anything like such a device.  3.  a hollow cylinder equipped with a spiral groove on its inner sufrace into which the male screw fits: female (or internal) screw.  4.  the act of turning or twisting; turn of a screw.  5.  a screw propeller.  6.  [Chiefly British], a) a stingy person; miser. b) a crafty bargainer.  7.  [Chiefly British], a bit of tobacco, etc. (in a twisted paper).  8.  [Chiefly British] a worn-out horse.  9.  {Slang], a prison guard.  10.  [British Slang], salary.  v.t.  1. to twist; turn; tighten.  2.  to fasten, make secure, tighten, press, insert, etc. with or as with a screw or screws.  3.  to contort; squeeze; twist out of natural shape: as, screw one’s face up.  4.  to force to do something; compel, as if by using screws.  5.  to extort or practice extortion on: as he screwed me out of money.  v.i.  1. to come apart or go together by being turned or twisted in the manner of a screw: as, the lid screws on. 2. to be fitted for being put together or taken apart by a screw or screws.  3.  to twist; turn; wind; have a motion like that of a screw.  4.  to practice extortion.




Desire Must Be Taken Literally


What exists?




Even in darkness.


If not:


the idea of darkness.


Marked, therefore,

already, by


the idea of light.


What is there but that

to grow slowly


toward, or away?


What but that


to propel


that most

uncertain element,


the soul,


slowly toward

the idea of itself?


To hover, as above,

or outside of itself.


A question.


Toward which

the mind also turns


in a deliberate spiral—.


The mind, the simple



according to which


we conjoin,


and therefore



between that most


uncertain element,


from which we came,

and the world, which is


most certain, some




What, then, the soul,

but the simple


opening, carved

by the mind—


as it constructs,


like a joist or a beam,


upon which the idea



a further idea?
As it insists, if only

by virtue of its


continuous effort

to do so,


the possibility that


the mind will

also hold?


That it will still

be possible,




if only

very briefly—


to suture to the

uncertain idea


a single real thing?




Skibsrud portrait, fall 2013, 1Johanna Skibsrud is the author of the Scotiabank Giller Prize winning novel, The Sentimentalists, a book of short fiction, This Will Be Difficult to Explain, and Other Stories, and two collections of poetry, Late Nights With Wild Cowboys and I Do Not Think That I Could Love a Human Being. A second novel, Quartet for the End of Time will be released in fall, 2014. She lives in Tucson.







Shades drawn—darkness crept scantly
scantily through slats—a cover of destiny
destination to which each day pours itself
out. Outside lined slats, thump of bass
an apartment adjacent in rhythm, enjoys
Saturday evening victuals, imbibes in whether
Sunday will ever step from shadow to show
itself, a difficult concept to grasp in utter
dark, that even through stars appear away
through several named spheres exiting the planet
seem on the verge of consummation, of consumption
in blackness which harnesses a vast swath
of earth, here, now, as somewhere else
someone else is sunning themselves by a rill
twisting grass blades, a tune upon lips
accompaniment to slow burble sluicing
submerged rock on its way to a place
any party herewith has been except tangentially
or rather mentally, in eye of idea
where a picture once seen must be
like this place where the rill—after turning
into other names, empties itself, finally
in an ever ebbing body that removes
all notion of meaning in here, now
until again a cycle is run and rain
falls on windows, behind shades
draws a party at an apartment indoors
bass fading into a dull thrum
in a different time when someone is idle
rill tricks, trickle thought into a coalescence
of sunburst over horizon, another contemplation commences.

2013-04-23 23.54.53Matthew Schmidt is an MFA candidate at the University of Arizona. His work has appeared in Asinine Poetry, Down in the Dirt, Eye On Life and The Missing Slate.

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nebulous1 nebulous2 nebulous3



This is the dictionary project‘s 200th post! It feels like a significant milestone. So thank all of you for reading and commenting and showing up to consider words and language. Today also begins the third annual napomo at the dictionary project in honor of National Poetry Month. All month we will be posting poems written from bibliomanced dictionary project words. In an added twist, this year, two poets are writing to each word. We are curious about what will happen with these pairings, about what will happen when two different minds and aesthetics hold space for the same word.

Today, for our first word, we have poets Jamison Crabtree and John Myers. Please enjoy their poems and feel free to write your own poem inspired by nebulous in the comments if you so desire.


neb·u·lous (ˈnebyələs),  adj.  1.  hazy, vague, indistinct, or confused: a nebulous recollection of the meeting; a nebulous distinction between pride and conceit.  2.  cloudy or cloudlike.  3.  of or resembling a nebula or nebulae; nebular.  [ < L  nebulosus full of mist, foggy, cloudy.  See NEBULA, –OUS]


First we have Jamison Crabtree:


Jamison Nebulous




jamison2Jamison Crabtree is a Black Mountain Institute Ph.D. fellow at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. He looks after six cats and his work appears (or is forthcoming) in Thrush, Blackbird, Hobart, Whiskey Island, The Destroyer, The Offending Adam, and Apt.






Now, John Myers:


John Myers Napomo Nebulous




Photo on 2014-04-09 at 22.47


John Myers grew up in the Endless Mountains. He has work forthcoming in Aufgabe, Denver Quarterly and The Corduroy Mtn. He lives in Tucson and is learning to play the flute.

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It’s the last day of february and the last day of flash fiction february at the dictionary project. Thanks for joining us this month and please enjoy our final piece by Alison McCabe.


mezair  n.  Dressage. a movement in which the horse makes a series of short jumps forward while standing on its hind legs.

Airs Above the Ground

Mr. Moore carries his belly in front of him as he heads for Sam. His shirt swells like a young cheek around a lollipop and, if the gray beard and heavy walk didn’t make his sex so obvious, you might ask when the baby was due. He stops directly in front of Sam so the distance between them is close and Sam can smell honey-roasted peanuts on his breath.

“Negotiations in ten,” Mr. Moore says. “You’ll want to get the drip going.”

Sam nods, as always, and follows Mr. Moore across the midway into the tent.

The sword swallower wants decaf. Sam waits for the coffee to brew and looks her way. Her hair is black and the longest he has seen. Her skin is so white it is almost blue. Her fingernails are short, bubblegum pink. She licks her lips with her tongue, split down the middle; each tip is pierced, as are her eyebrows, nose, the dimples of her cheeks, and other places, Sam guesses. On her collarbone is a tiny red apple tattoo and, below it, in script, Eve. Of course it’s unsurprising. Nothing much surprises Sam anymore. They all stand out in the exact same way.

Everyone sits around the table with Mr. Moore at the head. From what Sam can tell, a thin gentleman with an uneven smile is in charge of their crew because he does most of the talking. He talks fast, like everything is dire, and not one word, not even a syllable, can wait. The others don’t seem interested in the conversation. A large woman stands in the corner opposite Sam because the chairs are too small to support the weight of her frame. She is the biggest Sam has ever seen, though he isn’t convinced that customers would be satisfied after dishing out to view such a hefty display. It’s an old act that worked back when Jumbo was just an elephant and not the go-to size for a tub of popcorn, or a corn dog/fried pickle combo. He thinks he would like to remind Mr. Moore that practically everyone is fat these days, so really it’s nothing special, but he doesn’t want to offend the man, thickset as he is. He guesses Mr. Moore can’t afford another misstep; the paint is starting to peel on the welcome sign, and one more failed investment might be enough to topple the whole thing down.

Sam walks over to where Mr. Moore sits. “I’d drive a hard bargain with this one,” Sam whispers into his knobby ear—the one part of the man that’s small, baby-like even. On the lobe are short, blonde hairs.

“I’ll have sugar with mine, Sam,” Mr. Moore says.

“What I’m saying is we need to be cautious.”

Mr. Moore swats Sam away. The back of his hand brushes Sam’s chin. “I know what I need to be,” he says. “We don’t need to be anything.” He coughs into the top of his fist, smiles at the thin man, their spokesman. “Excuse me,” Mr. Moore says. “Now how many freaks you got?”

“You mean real ones?”

Mr. Moore nods.

“We have Sparky.” The thin man puts his hand on the shoulder of the body beside him. It’s so covered with hair you’d have trouble finding the person beneath or even the creases in his face. Except for small blue shorts, the man is exposed. “Rest assured, he rides a horse too, dressage and everything. You want capriole? You got it. You want levade? Mezair? Because you know how it is nowadays putting someone like Sparky on display with no other selling point. Everybody’s gone sensitive.”

“And the others?”

“They all got selling points. We swallow swords, eat light-bulbs, read frickin’ minds.”

“I mean where are they?”

“You’re looking at them.”

“That’s it?”

“They’re outstanding, really.”

Excluding the two businessmen, there is only the sword swallower, the large woman, Sparky, and a young man with thick, black eyebrows in an orange turban. Sam brings them coffee, already poured into mugs. He makes two trips because they are too hot to cradle in his arms all at once.

“You salaried?” Mr. Moore asks.

“Work off commission.” The thin man pauses. “Barbara gets double, though. We all agreed.” He looks up at the fat lady.

“Double?” Mr. Moore widens his eyes. “Christ, what for?”

The thin man stares at Mr. Moore and shakes his head. “We decided. We all just agreed.” He takes a pen out of his shirt pocket,  scribbles something down and passes it to Mr. Moore, under the table. Sam hovers beside him. getting stomach stapled, it says. has to happen soon.

Mr. Moore crumples the napkin and glances up at Barbara. Her cheeks and neck turn red. He lowers his head and sighs. “Okay,” he says. “Thing is you haven’t got enough for an entire act. We need our ten in one.”

“Those have been dead for God knows how long. Nobody knows what to expect anymore.”

“Well, maybe five is enough, not four though.”

“You haven’t seen what these kids can do. Sparky doing dressage, I’m telling you. We’re talking capriole, we’re talking frickin’ mezair.”

“I grew up half a mile from this boardwalk,” Mr. Moore says, “in a studio above a bar, on a blowup mattress, with three women who all claimed to be my mother. And you’re telling me there’s something I haven’t seen. I’d like to know what that is.” He shakes his head and his eyes land on Sam, who’s leaning now against a filing cabinet in the corner. Mr. Moore stares at him for a moment, mouth shut tight until his lips disappear. “Be a doll, Sam” he says, “And bring us that bundt cake. Top shelf in the fridge.”







authorphotoBorn and raised in New Jersey, Alison McCabe lives and writes in Tucson. She teaches English at the University of Arizona where, in 2010, Alison received her MFA in Fiction. She is currently at work on a novel.

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