Saturday, July 18, 2020

Primitive Information Episode 1 : David Hadbawnik interviews José Felipe Alvergue

The first episode of David Hadbawnik's Primitive Information podcast is now online!

This interview with José Felipe Alvergue was conducted July 2, 2020.

For information about the book gist : rift : drift : bloom, see…rgue-gist/

For more information on the essay "FEELING THE RIOT..." discussed in the podcast, visit

For José's other books and research visit

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Dessa Bayrock : Misha Solomon, milk envy, and other riddles of parenting and jealousy

The Cruelty-Free Ivory Tower: a recovering grad student presents tongue-in-cheek semi-academic poetry reviews

For a long time, I disliked children. What, really, is to like about them? They’re tiny people who don’t have their shit together, and don’t know how to get it together, and — worst of all — have almost zero impetus to get it together. They’re loud, scattered, overemotional, and constantly in need of attention. 

And yet: children are also creative, and hilarious, and occasionally fill their little bodies with so much love and surprising tenderness that their capacity for goodness seems impossible, illegal, miraculous. Children, somehow, are the best and worst of us: tiny tornadoes of unrestrained impulsivity, whether for good or ill. 

Misha Solomon’s poem “Milk Envy” perfectly sums up these feelings about children: how irritating and horrible they are, and yet how vital and precious. It’s a fine balance to strike, and one that most poems about children seem to shy away from; it’s hard to write about hatred and make it into a poem about love, and yet Solomon does exactly that. “Milk Envy” is brilliant, honest, and also, frankly, a relief — to witness someone else’s confession that yes, children are truly unlikeable, and that these feelings of annoyance can exist simultaneously with loving them.

Although it’s not explicitly stated, I imagine this poem takes place in a waiting room — the kind of waiting room we’ve all been in, time after time, in which a child just won’t stop crying. “your child is screaming,” Solomon writes, the first line of the first and longest stanza. “he’s not even crying / just screaming / in a vague imitation of sadness”. There are so many things to dislike about this scene, and Solomon dives deeply into what can be uncomfortable or even taboo territory: that children are annoying, and we, the innocent bystanders, are expected to endure it. “your child keeps dropping his numbered tiles,” Solomon writes, in a tone both vicious and bored. “your child can’t seem to put his tiles in order / your child is a fucking idiot / untalented at both art and science”. 

This is where the poem begins to build its complexity; after all, this isn’t just about hating loud children and their half-hearted bad-actor screams for attention, although it is definitely also that, but also about the ways in which this feeling of intense dislike can be shared or transformed — even by parents themselves. “and you / you don’t even seem to like him / all that much” Solomon realizes, addressing the parent in question, seemingly shocked, satisfied, and annoyed by this development. “you look at me and smile sheepishly and roll your eyes in his direction / as if to say: / sorry about my fucking idiot child / he is untalented at art and science / I know / and I hate him for it”. 

For a second, it feels as if this shared hatred will bring these two strangers together — a tender moment of connection at the expense of this annoying kid. The poem could end here, if it wanted to, in this perfect vignette of commiseration. 

But Solomon isn’t done yet; rather than allow the parent the easy escape of commiseration, he spits out another satisfyingly mean take-down of the parent, insulting their “balding husband” and his “slimy cock” which “produced / the worst actor I’ve ever seen” – namely, this screaming child who isn’t even sad, but merely imitating sadness, and doing it badly.

But here comes a surprising shift in tone within the same stanza, before the reader can catch their breath to laugh at the proverbial slimy cock.

“I’ve been fucked too you know / and I’ve fucked”, Solomon says, quieter now, a confession that reads as strangely mournful. “and never have I produced / a child”. 

There is something like a muted pride in these lines, but also somehow a confession of loss, of unsurity, of possibilities which have been avoided or unanswered. never have I produced a child. Is this Solomon’s way of apologizing, condemning, or mourning? It could be any of the above. In many ways, it feels like all three. 

This shift cracks something open in the poem, and here we begin to crest the last loop of the roller coaster, ripping away the facade of Solomon’s judgmental dislike and beginning to show us, the reader, what this scene has perhaps been about from the first. Because this parent does love their child — a depth of emotion that can’t be undone or obscured by sheepish smile or a roll of the eyes. “You hug your screaming, idiot child,” Solomon narrates, which at first reads as a critique but then, perhaps, as a realization. “You hug your screaming, idiot child, / hold him close to your breast, / where he surely suckled you raw, // and my nipples ache with jealous rage.” 

Here, then, finally, is where the riddle unravels: the place where hatred shields love, or else belies love as the other side of a shared coin. The jealous truth hides behind intense dislike, behind pride, behind rage, behind aching nipples, but emerges to be heard: every “screaming, idiot child” has a place on this earth, even if it is not with us. This realization is both a blessing, for those of us who never want to produce children, and a moment of grief, for those whose “nipples ache with jealous rage”. It is a poignant moment, amidst the satisfying meanness and hilarity of Solomon’s diatribe against this horrible actor, this screaming kid in this hypothetical waiting room, and it sits quietly at the end of the poem on its own. The truth revealed, there is nothing more to be said on the matter, and so, too, the poem winds to its finish: “You hold him close, / and exchange smiles, / and I get up and go.”

Dessa Bayrock lives in Ottawa with two cats and a variety of succulents, one of which occasionally blooms. She used to fold and unfold paper for a living at Library and Archives Canada, and is currently a PhD student in English, where she continues to fold and unfold paper. Her work has appeared in Funicular, PRISM, and Poetry Is Dead, among others, and her work was recently shortlisted for the Metatron Prize for Rising Authors. She is the editor of post ghost press. You can find her, or at least more about her, at, or on Twitter at @yodessa.

Susanne Dyckman : Counting Days

Wednesday Feb 26:  Woke with a smile, feeling great, and within two hours had a fever.  The fever climbed hourly until it was 102.  No other symptoms.  Finally, in the evening, it started to drop.  Exhausting, before knowing the exhaustion ahead.  Tuesday March 3:  The Corona virus is spreading across the world, and anxiety about it grows.  Friends are concerned about me, my having already had pneumonia twice.  I am surprised.  Wednesday March 4:   How much worry to have?  I start wearing a silver cross my son brought back for me from Ireland, and a St. Dymphna medal I’ve had for years.  Just in case.  Wednesday March 11: Concerned about traveling, I cancel a trip to Portland later in March, and cancel a trip to New Orleans in April.  Saturday March 14:  The San Francisco St. Patrick’s Day parade is canceled for fear of a viral spread, and with that, my traditional family plans.   Monday March 16:   Six counties of the Bay Area are ordered to shelter in place.  Thursday March 19:   Governor Newsom orders the whole state of California to do the same.  I have had face-to-face interaction with only one person for days, or is it already weeks?   I trust Dr. Anthony Fauci, “If you think you’re overreacting then you’re doing the right thing.”   And now one of my stepdaughters is sick with the virus, and has to stay at home alone, suffer alone.   I text her several times a day.  We are both scared.  Friday March 27:   After ten days, my stepdaughter begins to recover, but still is not well. I am needing some external stimulus, I need the wider world. I miss people.  Two friends drop by my house with a latte for me, place it on my front porch, then step back to the sidewalk. We wave and talk across the distance.   Monday March 30:   Yesterday was my half-birthday (which I celebrate, privately). Life, not just my age, has changed in ways I never imagined.  I’ve spent the last two weeks in a state of fear, and too often a kind of numbness.  The death rate, in the US and worldwide, increases daily.  The latest grim estimate is if everything is done correctly, with public health and medical efforts, then 100,00 to 200,000 will die.  Here.  My first thought is that I am not ready to die.  My second thought is that I’m not ready for anyone to die from this. I am having trouble concentrating.   Thursday April 3:   Still coming out of a state of shock and dismay.  A historic and heartbreaking and confusing time.  I have slowed down, tasks that used to take an hour now take four hours. As I go for shortened walks around the neighborhood, I regard other humans as possible threats.  My fear is not of violence but of contagion.  I feel vulnerable about my vulnerability.   Saturday April 4:   Last evening I was terribly sad as I watched the news of the number infected with Covid-19 and the number who have died.  This in face of the federal government’s cruel response, or non-response.   Wednesday April 8:   Today is the 24th anniversary of my sister’s death.  The loss has been integrated into who I am.   Now, for more than a month, the virus is integrated into my life.  Physical isolation, masks, gloves, the anxiety of being in a public place, crossing the street when I see someone walking my way, thinking of other humans as viruses, missing my friends, my family, watching news obsessively. There will come a day when life will be closer to what it once was, though maybe always with this new awareness. US Death toll 13,007.  Thursday April 9:   US Death toll 14,831.  Friday April 10, Good Friday:  Yesterday Trump signed an executive order for the mining of minerals on the moon. Now?  Saturday April 11:   20,283 dead. Woke up this morning feeling more like myself than I have for almost a month.  It has been weeks of having little or no control over almost anything in this pandemic.  I can simply order my life within the limitations that have been set.  Doing laundry becomes satisfying. Later, I think about it being Holy Saturday.  And about crucifixion, the torture of it.  Then I ask the ancient Romans, “What is wrong with you?”  How could anyone invent such a thing?  Then I think of other torture, the Middle Ages, WWII, the brutality of drug cartels.  What is wrong with you?  And I think of a fight I had with my son when he was a teenager, and the fury I felt, and that I grabbed him.  What is wrong with me?  My self does not want that memory. I vaguely recall something the Dalai Lama said about compassion. I want to be compassionate with myself.  But I can’t.   Sunday April 12, Easter:  21,686 dead.  2,405 in one day. Monday April 13:  The sun is shining.  I feel good physically.  This is another anniversary, the date of my sister’s funeral.  I am torn, feeling good and noting the grief. Still, I am okay, I’m not sick, all my family is now well, I have food, shelter, some money.  How grateful I am for that, and how I hope I can continue to have such good fortune. It is the fifth week of the stay at home order.  According to one model, today might be the peak for daily deaths in the US.   Tuesday April 14:   32,186 dead. Wearing a mask will be needed for months in order to protect from the virus, to keep it from spreading. Should I tuck some lavender in my new cloth version, like a medieval Plague Doctor? The shock is fading a bit and I am getting used to how life will be for some time.  I’m not yet settled with it, but realize I have to reconfigure the hours, learn how to feel productive under these circumstances. I had a strange burst of pent up energy last evening, and made circuits around the house to try to burn it off.  Friday April 17:   4,591 deaths in 24 hours.  A record. Tired of counting.   Saturday April 18:  I am pleased when I know what day of the week it is.  I watch NY Governor Cuomo’s daily briefing, a kind of church attendance for me.  Someone giving facts, someone showing compassion. 37,804 dead. Tired. I keep saying, to myself, and others, that I’m starting to come out of my shock and adjust to these new conditions, but in fact it is a process, an advance and retreat. Monday April 20:   Something as simple as going to the grocery store becomes a major outing that requires planning and outfitting.  I have an urgent sense of needing to catch up, but I am simply taking tiny, the tiniest, steps. Wednesday April 22:   Yesterday I attended another virtual poetry reading, thanks to electronic technology. To keep in touch with language, to try, even in this time of isolation, to be in community, and inspired. 45,150 dead. Friday April 24:  50,066 dead. Increasing faster than I can track. Monday April 27:   Mornings.  When I can remember a dream, I record it in my dream journal.  For the most part, I read news on my phone or watch on my computer.  I was going to just now write “what am I checking?” but I know what.  I am tracking the deaths, I’m looking for the latest government outrage, I’m following the economic impact. Every time I do something physical, baking, weeding, it’s a break from the overall sense of paralysis I have. Then, so quickly, it’s afternoon.  A beautiful, sunny day.  I spend a short time in the side garden, then come inside because I feel the need to write how grateful I am that I can do that. 55,118 deaths.  26% of those worldwide.   Wednesday April 29:   58,965.  Hunger now, and more death. Saturday May 9:  77,334. And a few hours after writing one number, I write another. 78,084. And then another, in one more hour. 78,320. And even then, later the same day                    78,618                78,618                    78,618             unfinished  Friday May 15:  87,204 lost to us.  At 3:52 pm, the count becomes  87,247.  I have lost a sense of my own competence.  About anything.  The Navajo Nation has one of the highest infection counts per capita in the country, with limited hospital facilities, limited water. I hear that Doctors Without Borders has gone to help.  Saturday May 16:  This morning I wash the kitchen floor for the first time in months.  The water in the bucket turns black. All those footsteps.  87,991, then, when I look again, 88,211, just after noon.  Sunday May 17:  88,898 have died as of this morning’s count.  In 1982 the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, designed by 21 year old Maya Lin, was dedicated in Washington, D.C.  Inscribed on the black granite were the names of 57,939 U.S. soldiers who had died or were missing as a result of the war.  Over the following years, additions brought the total past 58,200. With a close friend, I visited it not long after it was installed, bracing myself as I anticipated seeing a number of mourners at the site.  Lin’s intention was to create an opening or a wound in the earth to symbolize the pain caused by the war. As I neared the monument, it’s vast and awesome grief, I burst into tears.  That war, my opposition to it, defined much of my early life.  Now, I haven’t bothered to shower for two days.  I’m living in an unknown time.  Another place, a different battle.  Later, again, the number of deaths due to this virus becomes 90,000.   Monday May 18:  One year ago I was on my way to Maui, a long awaited trip, one planned for two years.  Long before I needed to write the number 90,527.  And on this same day, Chicago, Cook County, also nears the top  number of cases in the country.  Where I was born, where my people come from.   Tuesday May 19:   Shelter-in-place is creating an increase in domestic violence calls, which include child abuse.  What is the safety of shelter when it becomes the place of danger?  Is there safety anywhere?  By afternoon,  92,235 have died.   Wednesday May 20:  Whose numbers do I believe? The 8 a.m. news says 92,790, but another source at 11 a.m. says 92,387.  The count cannot possibly reverse. Why is accuracy so import to me?  Because the difference of 403 is huge.  Each one number a life.  

Susanne Dyckman is the author of two full-length books of poetry, A Dark Ordinary (Furniture Press Books), and equilibrium’s form (Shearsman Books), as well as the chapbooks, Counterweight, Transiting Indigo, Source, Hearing Loss, and, in collaboration with Elizabeth Robinson, Vivian Maier - 11 Photographs in 20 poems. Selections from her current dream-based project appear in GUEST 11 and parentheses.  She lives and writes in the Bay Area.

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