Monday, October 8, 2012

already magical: introducing rad poet and dedicated advocate brenda scieczkowski

totally rad poet & human being brenda s.
i met brenda a while back in donald revell's poetry workshop.  i never got to know her as well as i wanted to due to our respective circumstances, but from a distance, i could tell she was rad, for real, and had some serious poet-soul.  i'm very pleased to introduce her to our readers, and to recommend her wonderful poetry.  one of the cool things about her work is the eclectic array of sources she draws on.  she's included some of those "magical and bleak" sources for us here.

here's a bit about brenda, from her bio, and some writing she generously agreed to share with us:

Brenda Sieczkowski was born in a Year of the Hare but currently swerves through a Year of the Possum. Her poems and lyric essays have appeared in a wide variety of journals, and her chapbook, Wonder Girl in Monster Land, is available from dancing girl press. A full-length collection, Like Oysters Observing the Sun, will be published by Black Lawrence Press in 2013. Favorite Deformation Events recorded by the Carnegie Mellon Auditory Lab: “Crush cabbage on board,” “Sawing 2-Liter (Japanese saw),” and “Breaking matzo.”  

With the small scraps of writing I’m able to piece out of this fall, I’m stitching together a fable about small-town manufacturing plants and the peculiar (and potentially damaging) crops that sometimes bloom from them. Here’s an excerpt from the rough draft:

The most extravagant flowers fringed the retention pond at the chemical plant—as vividly and intricately colored as the wallpaper blooming behind dreams—though, if the townspeople had paused to examine this conjunction, they would have concluded that their dreams had only been of such a vivid and intricate coloration since the chemical plant, assembled on the six acres of plowed-under soybean field west of town, started synthesizing flavors.
The flowers smelled of roast beef and juniper and nutmeg and kumquat and hot butter and banana cotton candy.
That fall, the clouds dissipated into invisible hibernation far beyond the horizon, and the sun burned steadily from raw yolk to cigarette cherry. Crops on the residual farms shriveled. A stiff edge of metal tainted all the soft drinks.  
But the chemical flowers thrived. Well into October, new buds sizzled to life on the hillside. The wives of the junior flavorists continued to congregate in lacquered clumps on the patio of the Wayside Tavern for watermelon mojitos, relishing the quaint smell of fresh-crushed mint, the novelty of a truly natural versus nature-identical scent. October spilled teenagers onto the factory grounds, filling apple baskets and wheelbarrows and burlap feed sacks with the late, radiant blooms. 
Pouring from that long and syrupy fall, the Homecoming Parade smelled of roast beef molasses and peppermint and melted butter and orange peel and unwrapped bubblegum. Miss Beef Skirt and her pageant court swiveled down Main Street on a creamy carpet of butter carnations, waving in circumscribed figures of infinity. The Wilson tractor hauled behind it a swath of bergamot, unfurling from the 782 shasta daisies wired to Doc Murphy’s 8-foot tooth. The backseat of the Mayor’s Mustang convertible was heaped with a mound of purple-throated tulips from which his head and torso emerged in the manner of a bleached and abstemious jack-in-the-box. The cellophane wrappers on the sour apple and cherry and grape candies glittered and crackled as they showered onto the sidewalks.    
(Since my “fable” is still in a very raw state, any editorial suggestions readers would like to offer in the Comments Section to this post would be welcome!)

Fable, however, is not quite the right word.

Yesterday, I was reading about French beekeepers and their puzzlement at the mysterious shades of blue and green honey their bees had begun producing. You can read about it too here.

Fable implies whole wheelbarrows and burlap feed sacks stuffed with anthropomorphism. Pithy maxims, mythological wonders, supernatural phenomena. As a teenager, I devoured magical realism—Borges’ “Funes the Memorious” and Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude are enduring favorites. But increasingly, I’m drawn to what I will sloppily call “hyper-realistic magicalism,” the astonishing and haunting realities everywhere apparent in natural history and the contemporary sciences. Several years ago, I was captivated by the story of a Russian surgeon who cut open a patient to find a miniature fir tree growing in his lung.
Reality is already magical.

1) Tell us about yourself.

Right now, I’m the opposite of a tightrope walker. This is not precisely true; I’m more like a tightrope walker performing on parallel wires, constantly hopping back and forth. Though my educational efforts have all been directed towards literature and creative writing, I’m now working full-time providing support and services for homeless individuals (more about this below). And scrambling to find time to write. And scrambling to find time to read for my PhD exams. Scrambling for balance.  

If you would like to read some of my work in slightly more cooked state, you can access a poem sequence, “Quantum Phantomology,” at Sidebrow— 

Here’s a link to Dusie, Issue 13, where you can find more poems—as well as incandescent work by former Guest Blogger, gentleman poet Nathan Hauke— 

I have a chapbook, Wonder Girl in Monster Land, here.

One of the chapbook’s best features is the amazing illustrations provided by Chad Woody—an extremely (almost annoyingly) multi-talented writer, artist-of-all-genres, and potato crusader. You can view some illustrations-in-progress on his website. You’ll want to bookmark his main page and return to it often. 

2) Are you in a tight place right now? If so, what are you doing to get out of it?

I’m in and out of tight places every day. That’s my job description; I work with a population (the chronically homeless) who have fallen, spectacularly in many cases, through the cracks.

In 2008, at the start of the financial crisis (are we still calling it that?), I abruptly and unexpectedly lost university funding, a circumstance I should likely have been prepared for, but certainly wasn’t. Suddenly, I was reeling with the realization that not only would I not be able to complete my degree in anything like a foreseeable future, the teaching I had relied on for (a meager) income had also evaporated. I needed to find a full-time job fast, and 2008 was not a prime time to find full-time jobs. I became intimate with neighborhood pawnshops. I ate spoonfuls of peanut butter out of the jar so I would have enough protein in my system to pass at the plasma donation centers. I could no longer afford my apartment. However, I was still keenly aware that as tight as the place I was in felt, there were thousands and thousands of people rattling around the same city in much tighter spots. I, after all, was donating plasma to buy Christmas gifts, not to eat. (I had peanut butter). I wasn’t battling addiction or severe mental illness. And I had friends who made sure I had a roof over my head. Late in the year I got hired full-time to work in homeless support services.

Four years later, I’m still working in the same field, as a case manager for chronically homeless individuals here in Omaha. It is out of both choice and necessity.

One of my clients jokes that if his EBT card gets stolen one more time, he will have to become a cannibal. One needs an organ transplant, but has no income and no medical coverage. One catches fish out of the pond at a city park.

I said early on in this ramble that I’m drawn to the fantastical and magical phenomena illuminating reality. To me this feels like a compulsion, but I realize it is also an indulgence, a privilege—it is necessary to look, as compulsively, as unblinkingly, at the stark and burnt-out desperation into which we have allowed our fellow humans to fall—poverty, addiction, violence. This is a price I’m willing to (I must) pay for indulging my other aesthetic compulsions. This is the only way, ultimately, I can achieve balance.  

Reality is magical and bleak.     

3) What do you hope to accomplish before the end of the year?

Improve the quality of life for as many clients as I am able.

I would love to make a sizeable dent in my long-suffering PhD-exam reading list, but I’ll settle for making it through Marx’s Das Kapitol, Volume I.

I also hope to finish a three-part chapbook I’m currently working on; the excerpt above is part of one section. Make progress on a longer-range nonfiction project about violence in the Mid-West.

Mail one letter (or collage) a week to a friend/loved one.

Learn more about the brain.

Love more.     

4) What inspires you?


5) What is your favorite leg wear?

It is with great sadness that I confess I am unable to post a picture here of my favorite sky-blue knee socks populated with pink robots. They were lost during the period of time I didn’t have a stable place to live. This will have to do:

a substitute for the rad sky-blue knee socks.

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