Introductions: Janice Lee & Anna Joy Springer

I just realized how much I enjoy the form of the "introduction." I like writing them. And reading them. After the reading Monday, Anna Joy requested I post my intros online. So here is the text of both intros:

Welcome to Kaboom Books and to this 3rd edition of an As-Yet-Unnamed-But-Really-Quite-Lovely-Reading-Series on the back patio of Kaboom Books. If you have suggestions on the name, let me know.

Tonight I have the pleasure of using way too many adverbs. To introduce these two startlingly strange, defiantly brilliant women from Los Angeles. Two extravagantly excessive and disarmingly distracting prose innovators. One refreshingly queer, the other comfortingly weird. One a survivor of nineties riot grrrrl, the other a survivor of the CalArts experimental writing MFA.

Both are active contributors to a for-me legendary, yet little acknowledged L.A.-based innovative writing scene that is exploding right now. Based around a wide array of small presses and gallery spaces and bookstores and universities, the scene is a real example of literary culture's potential when it invites dialogue with other arts and all kinds of people.

And they are on a tour of the Northwest and Southwest parts of the US bringing this energy all over the country: they headed out from Los Angeles a few weeks ago and went up north to SF and Oakland and Eugene (where they had a run-in with drunk dude poets declaiming paeans to their penises) to Portland and Seattle and Olympia then on to Boulder, Dallas, Austin to now end up here with us.

So I am thrilled you have all come out to see both of these women read.

First up is Janice Lee and then Anna Joy Springer. I'll do an intro for Janice then later I will intro Anna Joy.

Janice Lee works hard. Janice Lee is a writer, artist, editor, designer, curator. I first met her a few years ago in Tijuana, Mexico. In fact, her author photo, the one I see her use the most was taken in the room where we met in Tijuana. Or at least I have imagined that we met in that light blue room. (Janice later corrected me. We met in Monterrey, Mexico in 2008.) Janice has two books now: Kerotakis (Dog Horn Publishing, 2010): and Daughter (Jaded Ibis Press, 2011). Both books have this undercurrent in them, an undercurrent that something is wrong or has gone horribly awry. Oddly, her main character in Kerotakis has a homonym of the same name that Anna Joy uses in her book: G.I.L.L. and [Gil]. As if their respective Gils  brought them together. As I've been reading all of their books to prepare for this evening, the dialogue produced between these two authors has been really fruitful—a dialogue that seems to revolve around writing one's way around histories, both personal and collective. Janice writes: "There is a daughter who is an excavator of dead gods, slapping down a stone path, with a stick in one hand, a mirror in the other, a gatherer of worries and prayers, a jar full of whispers and echoes." Janice's work has a sadness, a sense of loss that pervades. But there is also a persistent exploration, a brave insistence to push outside of the realm of what is known and understandable and into unaccounted-for regions of the brain and of experience. She dwells on the limitations of imagination and thought and writes her way into unexamined spaces: the bends and twists of the cerebral cortex in all its scary interiority. Janice also has a little handmade chapbook that I was lucky enough to get a copy of. It's called Red Trees. Red Trees is a wholely different animal and yet surely of the same species as the other books: a text grounded in Janice's experience of family and family stories and growing up. And yet, in each one of her books, I've been struck by the fact of the continually reappearing desert. The desert as a non-fertile space, as a dangerous expanse. In Kerotakis,  "I have made a nest in the desert. There is so much sand and dirt. Is the dust here the same as the dust there? Is it my own skin that clings to the lens, or has the dust, the dry skin of millions of others followed me here?" In Red Trees, "There are deserts that are waterless. There are deserts flooded with excess." And in Daughter, "The desert, like the abyssal plains of the sea, is far from the monotonous expanse you might imagine. There is a slope of no more than one part in one thousand—completely beyond the ability of the human eye to recognize anything but perfectly flat."

Janice's writing is always in the desert, writing her way through the desert and into the desert, always searching, always on the lookout for water in an oasis always over the next hill. Sometimes finding an octopus or a cyborg, sometimes reporting back, always at the bottom of the sea, wondering what this thing called language and this other thing called the sentence, what these things can do.

Janice Lee.

(Janice Lee reads.) 

So I feel like the least I can do after Janice and Anna Joy have driven all the way across the country in August (!) to be here is to provide thoughtful introductions and readings of their work. It's one of the things that I love about this network of writers who take risks: we read each other and talk to each other about each other. So here goes:

Anna Joy Springer is a prose writer and visual artist who makes grotesques - creating hybrid texts that combine sacred and profane elements to evoke intensely embodied conceptual-emotional experiences in readers. Anna Joy first started out in a series of early-nineties riot grrrl bands: Blatz, The Gr'ups, and Cypher in the Snow. With those bands, she toured the United States and Europe being a wild feminist punk performer, and also toured with the all-women spoken word extravaganza, Sister Spit. The energy of the early nineties and the riot grrl movement is alive and well in her most recent book, hmmmm maybe not "well" but yes "alive." But I'll get back to that point in a second.

Ok, so full disclosure: Anna Joy Springer was my professor in the MFA at UC San Diego, where her bio proclaims, "she truly loves teaching courses in Experimental Writing, Graphic Texts, and Postmodern Feminist Literatures." And I can attest to the fact that Anna Joy brings an energy and an attention to her pedagogical practice that few people manage. One of the gems of my experience in the MFA was taking Anna Joy's workshop in hybrid forms and cross-genre writing. Instead of just hating on the writing workshop or complaining about it, Anna Joy set out to radically transform and reimagine it. Instead of the conservative, prescriptive, suggestion-based approach, she proffers what she calls "Project Attention" because of the unnerving, uncomfortable fact that on a base level each of us writes to get attention and she acknowledges the vulnerable place that puts each of us in when we decide to write. Her workshop creates a space for reading, for experimentation and dialogue, for risk-taking and pleasure. A space where we each reflect back our experience of reading each others texts and where we write through and with each other instead of always at each other. I want to mention this because I think she is really on to something here and I think we all could learn something from it. In fact, this intro is another form of "project attention." Anna Joy has two books: Birdwisher from Birds of Lace and The Vicious Red Relic, Love from the same press as Janice's, the shockingly multidisciplinary Jaded Ibis Press. Both of Anna Joy's books combine illustrations and prose experimentation. I spent a lot of time this past week with Anna Joy's most recent book The Vicious Red Relic, Love and I came away feeling both deeply wounded and also deeply aware of the possibilities of language to re-structure experience, to dwell in the forests of our imagination and our inability to understand or explain. The book, called a "fabulist memoir" on the cover returns to the emotional wreckage of the early nineties and her early twenties, when perhaps she had a relationship with an HIV-positive, seductively self-destructive girlfriend called [Gil] in the book. There are letters from the narrator, here named Nina, to a small tinfoil elephant named Winky, who is also a narrative device, who travels back in time and forward in time, seemingly at will, carrying messages and providing comfort to [Gil] before she shoots a speedball and dies. There are journal entries from the early nineties and feminist re-writings of Babylonian and Sumerian mythology. Oh and then there are the forests: these spaces where meaning degrades or abounds in all its messy symbolism: the Forest of Good Bad Intentions and the Not Fake Parallel Forest and the Forest of Clashing Erotics and the Forest of Mythopoesis. We get lost in the forests and that might be a space for us to, as Anna Joy writes, "to lose yourself in ways that felt feel relief, that almost remembered state before consciousness, that estatic realm of the freshly post-fetal." But Anna Joy is always aware when she writes sentences like this, aware that, as she says, "I know I'm getting far out here, Winky, I know I sound like a burn-out trying to psycho-babble a teenage girl on mushrooms into his skanky patchouli bed. It's the pitfall of language."

Anna Joy writes a lot about language, about semantic slippage and excessive symbologies, about rape and AIDS and how we find healing through narrative, how we create meaning out of the wreckage. Especially, how women and queers can create fables out of twisted histories.

As we were wandering around Kaboom Books before the reading, Anna Joy pulled a book by Antonin Artaud off the shelf and began to read a page at random. Then she turned and said, one day I would like for someone to use this quote to talk about my work. So here is the quote which I think fits into my intro quite well:

I do not sytematically cultivate horror. The word "cruelty" must be taken in a broad sense, and not in the rapacious physical sense that it is customarily given. And I claim, in doing this, the right to break with the usual sense of language, to crack the armature once and for all, to get the iron collar off its neck, in short to return to the etymological origins of speech which, in the midst of abstract concepts, always evoke a concrete element.

Anna Joy's writing from the Metaforest is always allegorical, always curving and torquing and never straight and always excessive and rarely restrained. So often in the book, it seems like Riot Grrl never ended, like all the grrls ran off into the forest to find new ways to scream and to explode. This time in words, this time with language in a riot of skin, sex, sweat, blood and butterflies.

Anna Joy Springer.

(Anna Joy reads.)

(Anna Joy and Janice answer the amazing questions from the crowd.)

(Now you have attended the reading, just with all the readings excised.)