The Leftovers (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, April), a collection of lyric and experimental essays on feminism, art, food, and intersectionality that critically examine Judy Chicago’s 1979 feminist installation The Dinner Party. Selected by Renee Gladman as winner of the 2017 Essay Collection Competition. Agent: None. Editors: Caryl Pagel and Hilary Plum.
First printing: 1,000.
As a kid I collected. I was concerned with stasis: collages, moments, scenes, dioramas. Then I developed a fascination with the dynamic. I learned the term liminal. I tracked Alexander McQueen through stacks of magazines. I learned the term feminism. In college I accumulated artists, architects, photographers. I saw Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank. When a professor gave me Peggy Phelan’s Unmarked: The Politics of Performance, she said, “Write whatever you feel.” Not theory but rather its underbelly. The darks. I devoured Anne Carson, Sophie Calle, Marina Abramovic´, Ana Mendieta, Nan Goldin.
I wrote nature poetry. Explored
fields of visibility. Then I went to New York City. I worked in a restaurant. Days off I spent at galleries, theaters, museums. I found Laurel Nakadate, Marguerite Duras, Adrian Piper, the Wooster Group. A retrospective of defunct performance rooms. I started to think about how to re-create what no longer exists. Representations of once-realities.
I think we write to understand thoughts; we make art to understand emotions. But we can’t ever, really. Those strange unsayable beasts. That’s what I wanted to consume: obsessions, unknowables, inarticulatables. Performances. To mimic that feeling of playing witness to art, of playing witness to the aftermath of art. How I felt on the train there. How I felt on the train home.
In the kitchen I got so utterly depressed. I was too full; I wanted out. I was accepted into an MFA program in poetry. My first semester I purged in prose. Everything
I had stuffed inside: what I saw, didn’t see, loved, hated, wished I did or didn’t have or do or want, got aroused or confused or upset by, cried at, laughed at, danced for, dreamed and nightmared about, couldn’t remember, couldn’t forget. Everything I couldn’t say.
At the end of the semester my professor handed me back hundreds of pages with a brief note: “I felt most engaged when you wrote about art.” I still wrote poems, but nothing fit. I read Claudia Rankine, Lidia Yuknavitch, Maggie Nelson, Kiese Laymon, Jenny Boully. I discovered possibilities of form. I learned my way through a sentence.
In the concave silences of workshops I realized I wasn’t trying to write about art; I was trying to write around it. Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party gave me time and space to focus—a context of which I was both proud and ashamed, felt complicated by and complicit in. The installation became the proverbial sandbox: I could explore, dig, plant, harvest, experiment, play. There was time for trial and error. Space to figure the contours of a project. A continuum to make it cohesive.
Every essay begins a poem. All those lines, stanzas, caesuras. Blank space. Then research. Another poem. More research. Sentences. Etcetera. A puzzle, a sculpture: piecing and honing. A border, an outline. Stuff goes in; stuff comes out. Each essay is a thing built without blueprint.
The Cleveland State University Poetry Center was among my top three choices for publication. I submitted my graduate thesis to the essay collection competition and didn’t win. I finished school and stopped writing. When I returned to revision I wrote just for myself. I had changed. And so the writing changed. When I submitted my revised collection to the contest, I won. Spending five years with a manuscript taught me not what it could be, but what it should be: a messy place adjacent to the algorithm of genre, an amalgamation of infatuation, a reminiscence of what’s leftover.