April 25, 2011

from Reversible

by Marisa Crawford

We were going dancing in Northampton and I had this flimsy, sheer gray t-shirt with exposed seams and I wanted to wear it with only a black bra under it but you didn’t get it.
It was my birthday so I wore a fake pink rose corsage that was mom’s in junior high pinned to my black “wife beater” but you didn’t get that either.
Katie said I could have the ungodly huge sparkly leopard print flower brooch since no one would ever buy it so I took it. We named it “The Black Orchid.” I wore it with a white scooped boat-neck t-shirt and a gray denim skirt all ungodly hot summer.
In New York we bought battery-operated pink flashing heart-shaped Virgin Mary pendants and we loved them. But not in an “ironic” way. In a thrilled-to-tears little girl way.
I had these Punky Brewster-pink pencil hair barrettes that I found at Salvation Army and I wore them to the party. You said, “damn girl you love writing!”
It was always a question of do I want to be Janis Joplin or do I want to be Drew Barrymore or Enid Coleslaw or Kerry Kennedy today?
I had an idea. I had a Virgin Mary pendant that was maybe my grandma’s or maybe from the dawn of time and encased in a blue prism unearthed from a mermaid lair deep in the sea, and I had half of a broken golden heart charm from a Best Friends necklace. And I wore them on the same gold chain.
I told my mom that the sapphire-and-diamond ring that my grandfather gave my grandma and my grandma gave her should be the middle-child ring so that she would give it to me. I wore it to all my job interviews. It made me feel like crying.
I got these awesome, ugly tie-dye heart earrings at a tag sale. I developed an aesthetic called “5th grade hippie chic” based on them.
I found a child’s watercolor painting of a teenage girl wearing purple eye shadow in the trash in San Francisco. I wore a thick, red, quilted velour hooded vest with a gold owl necklace. I called it “urban red riding hood.” You didn’t get it.
I wear hot pink nail polish to save the fucking summer.
I wear gray nail polish to remind the world of graveyards. And consequentially that we are all on the contrary very much still alive.
I wear this hollowed out conch shell as a ring so I can hear the fucking ocean sing.
I wear a shredded t-shirt version of the Les Miserables sweatshirt that my mother wears for gardening and I wear it with the fake-diamond necklace from the Icing that I wore to Senior Prom. You didn’t get it.
I wear the black tights with the line up the back cause it conjures up a fake memory.
I wear a shredded, oversized Pink Floyd tank top as a reminder.
I’m at a party and I’m not even that lonely and I’m wearing birdcage heels.

Bio: Marisa Crawford is the author of The Haunted House from the feminist poetry press Switchback Books. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Action Yes, La Fovea, Black Clock, Bone Bouquet and Columbia Poetry Review. Marisa is an editor of Small Desk Press and a writing mentor with Girls Write Now. She lives in Brooklyn. Find her work online at marisacrawfordforever.com.

from The Book of Scab

by Danielle Pafunda

Click to enlarge:

Bio: Danielle Pafunda is author of Iatrogenic: Their Testimonies (Noemi Press), My Zorba (Bloof Books), Pretty Young Thing (Soft Skull Press), and the forthcoming Manhater (Dusie Press Books). She's an assistant professor of gender & women's studies and English at the University of Wyoming.

3 Poems

by Khadijah Queen

Pants: Los Angeles

In 1990 my sister decided she hated the way jeans dug into her belly when she sat down, the waistband as good as a cinch a hundred years before. She started shopping in the men's section at the Levi's store on Robertson & Pico, buying pants that hung an inch below her navel, adding a wide leather belt to close the gape above her ass crack, paired them with crotch-snapped bodysuits in every color. I bought some too. Denim and green velvet and gold hoop earrings and cowrie necklaces. We walked down Melrose during class hours and after, me in platform sandals, she in Doc Martens, our hair beneath bandanas, long fake braids with rubber-banded or lighter-burned tips swishing at the new low top of our bottoms, low-rise before retail, in love with movement and ditching and loving our own imaginations.

There is a beautiful my mother approaches.

Which approaches her. My mother overtakes.
She even stands beautifully, adds graceful
flourishes to apple-peeling and mid-afternoon
martini drinking and saying nothing but, be
done with it.
Her royal defiant wave. The colorful
headwraps and Air Force T-shirts. Jeans and gold
shoes. The way she embarrassed us when
she wore them and got compliments wherever
we went. And my father designer everything –
suits, neckties, socks, Porsche muscle shirts
to play basketball in on Sundays at Crenshaw High.
But his bum elbow wouldn't let his gray
ponytail be perfect, so in the mornings I brushed
the waves to his nape and wrapped them into
an ordinary rubber band. We were late a lot.
In one school picture I wore striped purple culottes
while a boy I hated pinched me in the back.
I also wore matching socks and jelly Mary Janes
with a kitten heel, even at eight, because I knew
glamour. I used to watch my older sisters, in their 20s
in the '80s, dress for nights out, how they changed
and exchanged, draped electric blue mini dresses and
gobstopper yellow fake pearls, paisley stockings,
patent leather stilettos and wet, wet lips. They practiced
for Karaoke night at the local club -- Prince's "DMSR":
Dancemusicsexromance. I just knew they would win.
Back to back, feathered heads touching, hairbrush
microphones in one hand, the other on hips, akimbo.
They smelled good. They thinned their eyebrows
only to draw them in again, arched, darker.

In line at Panera Bread.

The old man in the Guinness hat has a pale wife who wears dark plum lipstick and has a shaking face. His is slick and tight, like a burn.

At the table across, a trio of young white men exits. They’d argued the same old surfaces – what if your wife made all the money. Same discontented pages fluttering at their feet.

The redhead has a broken foot. She shuffles in after a gentleman who holds open the door, she comes up smiling to the old couple, smiles they don’t return. She limps away, watching the worker change the coffee machine and sing low to herself in Spanish.

Young people smirk in the back. A toddler in sequined grape-purple sneakers smacks her mother in the face. A chocolate-brown woman in black pumps and a gray shift dress with black buttons walks out quickly with her latte. Another woman, the brown of wet sand, pulls her maize sweater closed, puts a fist to her mouth, stares out of the window. Man on the phone saying, I love you. I don’t remember what he looked like.

Bio: Khadijah Queen is the author of two poetry collections, Conduit (Black Goat/Akashic 2008), and Black Peculiar, which won the 2010 Noemi Book Award for Poetry and is forthcoming in fall 2011. She is also a visual and performance artist. Visit her website: www.khadijahqueen.com.

THE SKIN-CLOTH: Race, Fashion, Hygiene, Writing, and Embodied Movement Through Space

by Jackie Wang

There is a story written by Zora Neale Hurston about a recalcitrant little brown girl who cannot stop dancing. Little Isis Watts. Also know as Isis the Joyful, as her presence is haloed. Movement is her way of being in the world. Her grandma gives her tasks and chores and she does them begrudgingly, her body unable to sit still or be disciplined. Hers is a body that refuses to submit, that insists on occupying space with limbs extended, armed with quick feet and swerving hips that leave enormous ovals of energy in her wake. She cartwheels to the yard to do her chores, romps around while raking leaves, and intermittently frolics with the dogs while washing the dishes. When a carnival takes place nearby she feels that she must go, that she must take to the stage and dance while the band plays and the audience watches. While running down the road toward the carnival, she stops.

“She realized she couldn't dance at the carnival. Her dress was torn and dirty. She picked a long-stemmed daisy, and placed it behind her ear, but her dress remained torn and dirty just the same.”

But Isis has an idea. She returns to the house, takes her grandma’s new tablecloth out of a tattered trunk, and runs to the carnival with the tablecloth wrapped around her body. At the carnival she dances as the band plays, amassing a crowd that is fixated on her presence—the presence of a little brown girl whose feet twinkle beneath the fringe of a tablecloth.

“The Grand Exalted Ruler rose to speak; the band was hushed, but Isis danced on, the crowd clapping their hands for her. No one listened to the Exalted one, for little by little the multitude had surrounded the small brown dancer.”

When her grandma catches her dancing at the carnival in her tablecloth, she runs to the creek and wants to die, but the sentiment passes after she enters the water with the tablecloth and begins to splash and sing.

What does a little brown girl need to do to ward of the feeling of wanting to die.

I think about this.

I think about little Isis Watt’s guerilla occupation of the carnival, the way she insisted on taking up space, the way her tattered clothing almost stopped her. But she stole the tablecloth to cover the markings of poverty, the markings that were meant to keep her off the stage and out of the limelight. Isis gave herself permission to inject her body in the festival and her presence was so huge that nobody gave a shit when the Grand Exalted Rule rose to speak. I imagine the Exalted one to be a white man eager to command the audience’s attention. But Isis takes away his power. Her refusal to be barred from feeling a sense of fabulousness and bigness is a revolutionary gesture, for it decenters the white person’s claims to grandeur and fabulousness. And she accomplishes this by whatever means necessary, by stealing the tablecloth, by performing extravagance without actually having access to extravagant clothing.

Fashion is all about the way you occupy space. Any potential that I find in fashion has to do with brown girls and queers of color occupying space in ways that don’t make them feel like shit. Or using class drag to disrupt the exclusivist boundaries around white opulence. The foul air of self-importance. I have seen the way that fashion-as-the-worship-of-whiteness fills brown girls with self-hate, the way it can ravage their sense of self-worth. We exist in a world that insists that the value of a person corresponds to their wealth—the value of their commodities. Fashion can also obscure the violence of our lifestyles, the slave labor of brown bodies behind the name brands. I am interested in fashion insofar as it can be used to disrupt the racist, classist and capitalistic underpinnings of the fashion world, like the queer people of color in the documentary Paris Is Burning, who steal and sew their own clothing to perform in “balls” (queer fashion events that incorporate multiple forms of drag, including forms of class drag).

These are provisional forms of fabulousness, aimed at disarming the dehumanizing effects of certain forms of class and race elitism. As Judith Butler said, “This is not an appropriation of dominant culture in order to remain subordinated by its terms, but an appropriation that seeks to make over the terms of domination, a making over which is itself a kind of agency, a power in and as discourse, in and as performance, which repeats in order to remake-and sometimes succeeds.”

As a queer racially ambiguous brown girl, I am very aware of the way my body exists in the world, the way it moves through space, the way it is read and judged by people. When speaking about the Croatian performance artist Zlatko Kopljar, Serbian art theorist Miško Šuvaković described how Kopljar uses his body as a “‘probe’ for testing the micro- or macro- social horizon of reality.” But I can’t help but feel like my body is always a probe—that every insulting racial comment or sexual advance on the street is a micro-encounter that reveals larger power arrangements. The demarcated space of the performance event and the practice of injecting your body into spaces that are hostile to your presence (as a way to have some kind of revelatory contact with power) are irrelevant to me. My whole damn life is a performance art piece in that people are always interacting with my body in ways that expose the “macro- social horizon of reality.”

During most of the day the body is sheathed in cloth. And beneath it—another cloth. A brown skin cloth. Dark nipples and oily skin. You can never abandon the markings of the skin-cloth. When you go for a walk or write or sleep, it’s always there. It’s the outfit you wear in every episode. What does your skin-cloth look like? Mine has scars. Many scars. When I scar, I scar dark and for a long time. I wonder if these scars could count as an outfit. I wonder about the place where surface ends and interior begins and what this means in light of the way certain wounds seem to cut through all layers.

¬¬On some days I like to occupy space differently. On some days I enjoy tricking heterosexual men into thinking I’m normal, straight, and pretty. On some days I feel like donning the tablecloth and wearing it in such a way that people are fooled into thinking it’s an expensive dress. On other days the strategy of provisional fabulousness doesn’t work for me. I want to be more aggressive. I want to walk around all wild, oily, frizzy, unkempt, and smelly—without combing my wolf hair or hiding my period odor or armpit smell. If fashion is about your presence in space, then odor is a form of fashion. On some days I want to disrupt hygienic space with my grossness, to sit in places that I look like I shouldn’t be in while looking lonely and strung out amidst the opulence. To shit on etiquette and make people feel uncomfortable. To force people to smell and look at everything they try to cover up and eliminate and wash out when they get dressed in the morning. To pollute white space with my brown body.

The strategies of my dress correspond to the strategies of these words. Writing. Fashion. Sounds. Smells. These are all about ways of moving through and occupying space. I came to writing because I wanted to build a space that was more free for me to move through, because I felt that in words I had more agency over creating safer dwellings—ones that do not adhere to a logic of domination and oppression. But even these language-dwellings are partially poisoned. You have to muster all the energy you’ve got to work against the toxicity of these spaces.

I negotiate my movement through physical space like I do textual space—always with an eye undoing the damaging codes that regulate those spaces, the ones that make you feel like you’re worthless, that your beauty doesn’t count as beauty, that your presence is unwelcome, that your words aren’t worth saying, that you shouldn’t be up there dancing. To explore fashion is to explore the surface of the body. I think about the garments I cannot take off. The skin-cloth. And my burning desire to rearrange space so that we may be received differently, so that we can move through space without fear.

Bio: Jackie Wang is a Baltimore-based writer and performer whose writings on literature, film, music, theory, politics, and culture can be read on HTMLGIANT and serbianballerinasdancewithmachineguns.com. She has recently published a chapbook about vomit, color hallucinations, and renegade tongues titled C. Exigua (Birds of Lace, 2011) as well an essay in the anthology Other Tongues (Inanna Publications, 2010) about hybrid identities and writing temporalities. She is currently working on a novel about mother-ghosts, adolescent queer desire, kidney stones, and parthenogenetic birth stories.

Orsino and Joanna: left to their own adornments

by Dolly Lemke

Orsino’s first shirt

Had never seen such cuts before,

cut long and narrow, cut pant leg,

cut cuffs, sliced buttonholes.

Slid arm right through, grabbing rail,

writhing down that hoary cavern,

tucking bottom roughly.

The name of man or woman

can kill at first glance,

can die over one time

Base line accosted on railroad

by streetcar, in lamplight.

Shirts over-starched,

sliced straight down the back.

Joanna, the only deserving woman

If given the chance she could not speak

without material by her side

Seemed to sadden the heir a touch

Saddened more by paternal monsters

Joanna deserves the chance

A guide might be necessary or truly essential

Her body deserves a good man mostly up her petticoat

Yet can’t give goodness to a woman

Joanna’s inner monologue; hesitant & subservient

I’ll learn to crochet for this lemon tree.

I’ll learn the intricacies of the loom,

perhaps a slip knot or cross stitch.

I’ll learn the mapping of internal spaces for this nectar

I now know the lemon tastes like how memory works.

The crossing action looks comforting and small.

You need to get out of here.

Get the silken threads outside to dry, to burn, to chop.

Make out of kindling make to unravel cuff by cuff.

The possibility of patterns is remarkable.

This is nothing like gardening.

Nothing really grows from seed or bulb.

Orsino self-identifies; a lovely shade of violet

Tell me about the leather boots tight to bone and calf.

How polyester feels against your sweat after running away.

I think you need a smattering of rouge, my little pear,

a touch more definition.

I might push you down the stairs you are so beautiful,

delightful cavernous ruffles.

I said wear the gown I want to slap you around,

you are just so.

This tulle and lace, I must have some,

give me the mending kit and floral prints.

I will make you with buttons,

tinted to match your pressed powders

and scented stationary.

(Y)our hysteria is becoming

let’s go out on the town tonight

Joanna conspires as escape

That is an awfully real gun, she worries.

This madness yellows the pages quite quickly.

And they have unmatched storage capacities.

The inlet has been wounded severely.

She looks forward to the descent

in repose at safe distance.

Tonight she will kill her own dinner.

The collarbone’s weakness close to the broken neck.

Inside these ridges a party dress has never been enough.

She left her gloves at the door, on her way out.

Sweet lightness, what happened was not false.

Photos by Aris Bordo.

Bio: Dolly Lemke received a MFA in Poetry from Columbia College Chicago. Her poems are published or forthcoming in Columbia Poetry Review, Best American Poetry 2010, Umbrella Factory, Super Arrow, horse less review, and Mad Hatters' Review. She is currently a paper-pusher in downtown Chicago, Assistant Editor for Switchback Books, and Associate Editor for Arsenic Lobster.

The Panoply of Silk

by Yvette Thomas

Try: it is hard to be content, the arches in the feet having collapsed, the curves in the spine having reversed, the bones having lost their density. It calls for an exoskeleton, a silken panoply, a dream of escape, the plaid of dismay, the linen of engagement, the armor of certainty.

The mind afflicted and the mind that inflicts. Inflects.

In the poems there is a lot of white cotton, which is the equivalent of a fig leaf. A sign of disarming honesty. But in the world, I want to be a little more coy. A little more textured and a lot more stiff. Grosgrain, corduroy, wool. I don't want anyone to know anything. I want everything to know everything.

So I'm going to wear this hat that women haven't worn in half a century–borrow a little more of your time, if I may.

Bio: Yvette Thomas is a recent alumna of Columbia College Chicago. She is featured in Starting Today: 100 poems for Obama's First 100 Days. She has also been published in elimae and 27 rue de fleures and has work forthcoming in Columbia Poetry Review. She lives in Cleveland and blogs semi-regularly at transballad.

Behind the Scenes of My Novel-in-Progress about Vintage Fashion & Surrealism

by Amy Boutell

When I was a kid, I used to draw pictures of women and girls and design their clothes; on the back of the sheet of paper, I would name the characters and write a paragraph about their outfits and their lives. Two decades later, I’m midway through my first novel which is set in the world of vintage fashion in Los Angeles, and I realize that what I’m doing now is essentially the same thing: starting with an image of what women wear—their fantasy dream dresses—and creating a narrative inspired by these dresses.

In my novel-in-progress, thirty-year-old Violet West lands a job at an exclusive vintage haute couture atelier in Beverly Hills and assists with curating an exhibit on Fashion & Surrealism. Her responsibilities include transporting dresses by Elsa Schiaparelli and Madame Vionnet from the atelier to the museum where the exhibit is held; ordering mannequins for the exhibit (Bonvari, from Italy); locating pieces on the exhibit’s object list (Salvador Dali’s pink plush sofa, Mae West’s Lips, Meret Oppenheimer’s fur tea cups, Eileen Agar’s Ceremonial Hat for Eating Bouillabaisse); and problem-solving all sorts of complications with the design of the exhibit space, which is meant to invoke the window displays of Schiaparelli’s atelier at 21 Place Vendome, Salvador Dali’s infamous Bonwit Teller windows, and the mannequins in the surrealist tableaux in the Surrealist Exhibitions of Paris in 1937 and 1938.

I started the novel three years ago as I was in the midst of revisiting my graduate school research on poet, publisher, heiress, and modernist/surrealist style icon Nancy Cunard, whose diaries and scrapbooks I poured through at the Harry Ransom Center at UT Austin (and who had an affair with nearly every surrealist imaginable). Nancy has stayed with me over the years—from an image of the leopard coats, Lily Dache turbans, and armfuls of African bracelets she wore, to the pamphlets she edited on the Spanish Civil War and the anthology on black literature she edited in 1934, Negro, to the work she inspired as a muse to Aldous Huxley, Louis Aragon, Man Ray, Hemingway, and T.S. Eliot in early drafts of The Wasteland, among many other artists. I wrote a few thousand words of fiction about Nancy, experimenting with the idea of writing an historical novel, but what I wrote sounded stilted and wasn’t in my voice at all. But I was drawn to the details I’d researched about Nancy’s extravagant and rebellious wardrobe. (The velvet coat she once had stenciled with pure gold, the armor she wore to a charity ball during WWI, the small flask of rum she kept in her silver metal mesh handbag, along with dark kohl to line her eyes.)

A few days after revisiting my research on Nancy, I happened to spend a few hours with the owner of a vintage couture atelier in Beverly Hills with my glamorous mother. The notoriously prickly owner was actually quite friendly, as she was clearly taken with my mom and her platinum diamond jewelry and sparkly 1920s celluloid bracelets. I waited in an overstuffed chair while my mom had her new navy 1930s-esque Moschino dress from the 1980s altered. Then later that night I went home, wrote down everything that had transpired, and invented a backstory and a name for my narrator, Violet, who, like me, grew up with a glamorous mother who collected vintage, and unlike me, was fired from the Costume Institute in New York after trying on a pair of Salvatore Ferragamo rainbow sandal heels from 1938.

It was recently pointed out to me that I seem to do a lot of research. But even after three years of pouring through books on vintage fashion, attending exhibits at the Costume Institute, buying magazines such as Votre Beaute and Flair at the Santa Monica Vintage Expo, surreptitious sleuthing at Los Angeles vintage haunts, and investigating the process of dressing a mannequin and making paper wigs for exhibits, it somehow seems strange to think of these activities as “research.” Even before I started my novel, this is simply how I have always enjoyed spending my time. At vintage stores with names like Puttin’ on the Ritz, Nobody’s Baby, and Drama, buying puffy-shouldered 1940s pin-striped suits and patriotic navy and red flouncy rayon “Victory” dresses from the end of WWII, black jersey flapper dresses with beaded necklines and asymmetrical hems, 1960s Mad Men-esque dresses from British Hong Kong, and 1970s polka dot halter dresses to wear on dates, to clean the house in, and to write poems about.

I love vintage dresses because they are full of stories, both my stories and stories that precede me. They are also very much about the world of fantasy. There’s something about the mystery, theatricality, and unknowability about the dress’s former life, and the time in which the dress was first worn and made, that has always intrigued me. I also grew up surrounded by vintage—
my mom had a vintage clothing store when I was a child, and her favorite decade is the 1920s—so some of my earliest memories are from accompanying her to estate sales and flea markets (which perplexed me, at age four, confused that that’s where we’d come to find flees for our Maltese—a very 1920s dog, incidentally). The past has always seemed readily accessible to me in this way. In the sparkly bracelets, gold sequin change purses, and translucent Lucite Patricia of Miami handbags that accompany us through our daily lives (and render daily life all the more interesting, glamorous, and story-worthy).

Bio: Amy Boutell is a graduate of Barnard College and the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas. Her fiction is forthcoming in Post Road and has appeared in Nimrod, New Letters, and Other Voices. She has been awarded residencies at the Ragdale Foundation and the Norman Mailer Writers Colony. She lives in Santa Barbara where she's at work on her first novel, The Invention of Violet, which was a runner-up for the 2010 Pirate's Alley/Faulkner Society Novel-in Progress Competition.


by Anna Lena Phillips

Each weekday, I go to work at an office. It is a nice office, a pleasant one with pleasant people, and it is more laid-back than many. Still there is the expectation that its occupants will dress in keeping with a vaguely defined set of conventions, tossed together under the name “business casual.”

No one says, in any practicable way, what this is; or, rather, there are so many definitions for it that we are each tasked with making it up as we go. I like looking cheerful, interesting, put together, or raveled at the edges in interesting ways. I appreciate seeing others dressed thusly. So I can get behind an approximate notion of what’s good to wear at work.

But it would be inefficient and perhaps wasteful to have two wardrobes. What works for the office, at least a lot of it, must work for the bike, and the bus ride, and the kitchen table to which I return.

For at night, in the evenings, or in the mornings if I can muster it, I write. My writing self is the self I dress for. The self on behalf of whom I do not wear flowy synthetic pants with cuffs at the bottom. Or blazers (and how I have tried, with the blazers). For whom I wear bright colors, black and white, stripes. The self who, prepared in this way to feel well and happy, cheers the poem on, if that is needed; or can be more easily forgotten, if that is what’s required.

And she wants—I want—some very particular things. Knows it is a privilege to have them, or to have the time to scheme about them. Desires, and feels thankful for:

Clothes that look as though they are acquainted with one another and like each other’s company.

Clothes that last and look good at various ages, wearing elegantly, as bodies can, as I wish mine to.

Red, jadeite green, warm purple.

Clothes that are made out of fibers of this world—cotton, linen, sometimes silk. Although I make exceptions for small amounts of spandex.

Clothes that are sturdy and durable, especially pants and skirts—ones I can go outside in. Because I do sometimes go outside. And come back in with pollen on my shoes and a stray leaf in my hair. And feel thankful that I work in a forgiving place, and a sparsely populated one.

Clothes that say person. Person who likes red and who is prepared for most things.

Ruffles, done well.

Shift, without penalty; shift as a condition of clothing myself: changing what colors I like best, changing my mind, changing outfits mid-Saturday-morning.

Electric blue, bright cool yellow.

Clothes that echo and appreciate the shape of my body, not badly approximate it or superimpose some other, less pleasing shape upon it.


Old dresses, cotton, fifties ones with the waist unashamedly defined, forties ones with elegant and practical side pockets, whose flower patterns seem sturdier and more true to me than the new, lazily drawn and quickly discarded ones.

Red shoes.

Sleeves that extend the full length of my arms, not leaving approximately one quarter of my arm, and my wrist, to flush with goose bumps at the slightest chill.

Clothes that transition well. An easy change into dancewear (pants under skirt; singlet under shirt).

Black and grey—safe, efficient, clear.

Clothes that are used—that might otherwise not be used anymore; that have aged well, or not much; that have character.

If they must be new, clothes made by people who are treated well—by people who can also feel happy in the clothes they wear.

Cardigans: plain white cotton; dusty red; black wool, slightly itchy.

Easily variable sizes; or, a range of clothing, all of which works and feels good to wear.

Clothes that have not been treated with petroleum-based chemicals, or, at the least, clothes from which the petroleum-based chemicals have been (I hope) washed out by a previous owner.

Shoes I can run in, or at least walk in, that will survive mud, that do not hurt.

A comfortable and capacious bag, which transitions from bike to walking with ease, which is pleasing to the eye, and which will not wear out any time soon.

Experiments—to take what doesn’t work, or might work, and make of it something that does work. (Says my partner: No wonder it takes you so long to get dressed! You have to cut your clothes up before you wear them.)


Spending little, lasting long.

Stripes, preferably in good primary colors on a white ground. (One week, I wore a different stripey shirt to work every day. I felt gleeful all week and into the next. And no stripe patrol appeared to say Enough!)

Integrity. Playfulness.

Clothes that say girl. Clothes that say boy. Clothes that say watch out.

Bio: Anna Lena Phillips's poems are forthcoming in the Anthology of Appalachian Writers and BlazeVOX. A two-time recipient of the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg prize for poetry, she lives in Piedmont North Carolina, where she writes, calls square dances, and plays oldtime banjo. Her most recent project, The Endearments, is documented at theendearments.wordpress.com.

From a Closet of Grief

by Nicole Steinberg

A friend writes: If I didn't already know where you live I would totally believe that you live in a dressing room.

I carry a vivid memory of my mother in a dingy plastic chair, stretching fabric taut around my rounded torso with her own plump fingers, trying to coax a small brass button into its intended hole. I recall her frustrated sigh of failure, the look in her eyes that said: I don't want this for you.

The last time I saw her, I preened in my new size six pants, over twenty pounds lighter than I'd been just a few months earlier. I showed off the skinny fit, the zippers that rose from the hems. She nodded and looked off toward the wall. It was then that I remembered we were in a hospital.

Another friend says: You have a clothes problem.

When you're thin, fashion is an easy vice. Everything fits. There are no what ifs and oh wells, no sizing up. No buying men's jeans and passing it off as a style choice, no hiding in oversized Tommy Hilfiger sweaters and pleather coats. No notebooks full of angry poems about your plight, that old department store fear. If you want something and it suits you, you can have it. You should have it.

My mother is gone now and I shop. I shop, constantly. There's a rush to it, a satisfaction that curls over you when something looks good on your body. When something makes your body look better. My foyer is littered with bags, clothes piled on the floor that won't fit in my meager closet space.

My only clothes problem—as I see it—is that I’ll never have enough.

The angry poems have already been penned. Fashion is easy. Grief is transmutable. I peel off a layer, pull another one on. Everyone indulges me. Everything is engineered.

Late at night, I stand inside my closet, as full as my mother's, where I used to hide until she came home. I shut my eyes and slip between sleeves.

Bio: Nicole Steinberg is the editor of Forgotten Borough: Writers Come to Terms with Queens (SUNY Press, February 2011). Her chapbook Birds of Tokyo is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press, and her poetry has appeared in numerous publications. She is the founder and curator of Earshot, a Brooklyn-based reading series dedicated to emerging writers, and an editor-at-large for LIT magazine. She hails from Queens, NY and currently lives in Philadelphia.

"trunk to the blow": a poem-dress

by Jessica Bozek

These photos represent my literal take on the relationship between writing and fashion. I sew because I need a tangible craft; because preparing fabric, cutting out pattern pieces, stitching, pressing, and ripping out seams that go awry is a process that I'm not making up as I go along; because it takes more time to construct a placket than it does to write a poem and that makes me feel purposeful, somehow; because I can wear my mistakes or use them as rags. Figuring out how to draw with a sewing machine and how to type on fabric were two ways that I was able to make this dress a bit more amusing in the absence of elaborate construction know-how.

Bio: Jessica Bozek is the author of The Bodyfeel Lexicon (Switchback Books) and several chapbooks, including Squint into the Sun (Dancing Girl). Recent poems appear in 751, Action, Yes, Artifice, Black Warrior Review, Guernica, horse less review, and Sixth Finch. Jessica runs Small Animal Project (smallanimalproject.com), a reading series based in Cambridge, MA, where she lives, sews, bakes muffins, and walks a brown dog.

5 Hats

by Lily Ladewig


This was a kind of hairnet
and was a somewhat startling
14th century innovation.
Previous ages had considered
visible female hair immoral.
Next add a “nebula” headdress
composed of several layers
and resembling a muff. Extremely
square, the face being, as it were,
enclosed in a frame.


The black cat curls up and turns
itself into a beret. I still coo at it
as I did before.
I alternate between wearing it
and nuzzling it. The simple beret
worn by Che Guevera, Johnny Rotten,
and Faye Dunaway in Bonnie & Clyde,
became imbued with an edge
of rebellion and danger.
My beret is not so simple. It is my familiar.


We call it cloche as if being
purely experimental it pulls
down around the ears and requires
a new haircut—a blunt bob.
So then what came first, the extension
or the performance? The bell
or just the day?


Women in general
did not wear wigs
but powdered their hair.
Soon a simple bow
or ribbon was not enough.
Wire frames reached skyward
over which real hair was draped.
From here things get thematic:
a night sky of stars made
of diamonds; gardens of flowers
both real and fake; to celebrate
the French Navy’s victory
over England in 1776, the Princesse
de Lamballe added a ship.


What orbits her. A wig
functioning as a hat of hair.
She pulls gravity with her
like a train she has her own
lipstick shade. A fleshy plumping
pink taking her pants off strapping
antlers to her brow. Her shoulders
are purely structural. Sometimes
she can’t move under the weight of it
banked by dirty snow, going buck wild.

Bio: Lily Ladewig is the author of the chapbooks You Are My Favorite Person of the Year (Mondo Bummer Press, 2010) and, with Anne Cecelia Holmes, I Am A Natural Wonder (Blue Hour Press, 2011). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Conduit, Denver Quarterly, H_NGM_N, No Tell Motel, and SUPERMACHINE. She lives in Brooklyn where she has two closets, one for shoes and one for dresses.


by Jennifer Tamayo



There were a few years I couldn’t do a reading without a
covering over my face, perhaps a shame over the kind of
work I was reading. Now, I refuse to do a reading without
some kind of mask-up, even if that means eye shadow so
thick it makes my lids droop.



Photos by Sean Cain.

Bio: JT loves needles and threads. Her manuscript, Red Mistakes Read Missed Aches Read Mistakes Red Missed Aches, was selected by Cathy Park Hong as the 2010 winner of the Gatewood Prize and is scheduled for publication in Spring 2011 (Switchback Books). JT lives and works in New York City. She is the Managing Editor at Futurepoem.

The Pantsuit

by Danielle Roderick

Steel blinders, made of metal that dusts. Helmet that fits under hair, heavy enough to keep head down. Same sooty metal. Collar of sleeping cat. Girdle of cake icing, bright and sloppy. Hose from an egg bowed to every morning. Hose struggled into, every morning. Begrudged for the lost shape of the toes, the new webs. Sitting and cased. No bra. A good suit will blanket all things swinging and pointing. Cotton/polyester/spandex, lined in flannel. Tailored at the waist and shoulders to promise feminine form: to soothe and distinguish. Chafed underarms are made up for the moment the jacket comes off, and all the hidden sweat. A pantsuit is not meant to be beautiful first, but I can pin on it whatever I want. Brooches and shopping ads from 1933. Always pistachio, red, something that catches a picture, that says I can wear color, I have to. I am the same, but I can bathe in your necktie. Serious face. Serious legs. Pants. Together. Confident. Well-groomed. Not light. Curvy and blocky. Elegant and factual. Covered. Presented. But don’t look at me, really. I'm just here, claiming space. But look at me. Listen to my suit. Listen to me in my pantsuit.

Bio: Danielle Roderick has more pajamas than real clothes, and more gowns than real clothes. She is alone in her office, not in real clothes, a lot. She also blogs as Carla Fran over here.

4 Poems

by jojo Lazar


I learn offstage that the waif
of a contortionist is only eighteen;
a culinary student, strangely
enough. She is amiss, all bones,
her shadow a snake-charming
sliver. Counting her ribs,

I feel my corset cut,
draw the line between physical
prowess and the brainy girl burlesque.
"What do you do?" she asks.
I fold a sonnet into my thigh high,
reply, “A phony vaudeville routine.

I’m a comedic poetess…”
She’s already stretching metatarsals
and counting on her bit’s
pièce de résistance et délicieuse.
Her limbs rearrange as impossibly
as a paper crane. She touches

her toes to the top of her shaved head,
and with a flash of her pearls,
she removes her skirt
with her teeth.
We undress to address you.
Ghazals burst my lace-veined garters,

vulgar villanelles cling to skin,
my Petrachean punchlines never
align with my stocking seams.
I know I can count
on a buccaneer with that front
row leer to bite a ballad from brassiere

every show I am limber enough
to write. I wonder if she’s always
highly aware of her ribs, worries
whether she'll be able to extend
her leg entirely over her head tonight.
In some cultures, poetry is printed on money.

Let’s press our last dollars to her feet.
(Years ago I read this poem’s last
line in my sleep. I know it wasn’t
a book I’d published in that universe,
but I’ll flash it, even
if I’m sued in my dreams…)

Rained out busking left us up to no good, Brookline

There will be no copper jingle
As it tumbles out of hat, tips raining onto
Boutineer, bound breast, sidewalk

Stage too damp in this Oh, Boston
Storm means roaming Friday night
In flapper cape, in character to flyer

Kamikaze song and soft shoe in the nice
Neighborhood's sex shoppe?
Let me regale you with linen napkins

And kugel samplers- delicate deli
Inappropriacy in ascots & bowlers:

Seated near us, a hospice patron
Speaking at Friday night volume
In a rather rowdy restaurant

We normally love the place
But it's just TOO LOUD tonight
Repeated to waiter, manager, busboy

Until we finally notice
Their untouched soup and wine
(If we'd been faster ruffians

We'd have pounded it and toasted
Them L'Chaim! on their way out)
You can't kick Semitic gem'd gesticulations

And youthful jazz hands out of a booth
For being queer(ly dressed) and bubbly as greps
Water, giggling animatedly 'bout fisting

In cartoon voices vaudeville bespeaks
Folks rather spiffed up, you can't point us out
As those rough lookin' teens with silver topped canes

Lesbros in chimney spout tophats! The one with
The nose ring and monocle! Tattoos and cuff links!
It's how the bourgeoisie & boisterous

Get away with any everything
Isn't it? Starched & collar'd delinquents
Matzo ball robber barons

Of your calm soup and crackers evening
Paying customers as pretty as we
"Get away with" enjoying ourselves, entertaining
Anyone warm-blooded as bouillon broth

Poem-a-day #89

I woke up with a dream of a ruffled
Elizabethan ruffian costume. Courtier
busking, poetry for poppenjays.


On a porch in Watertown we get
in touch with our tiny inner skeezoids,
That's me in E minor! That's me in the spot

-light losing my back to A minor...
After rehearsal, a suburban hot date
complete with shopping for boy

-cut ladies underthings. Cupping
one another in the strapless negligee
aisle. I guess we are the same bird

giggling and ribbing.
At my first trip to Friendly's, crayons
and a root beer floats

to table by a waiter that could've
been a Backstreet Boy. When
we leave the parking lot, honk and cheer

at the purple-haired andro preteen
darting dangerously across four lanes
of traffic. Don't let the squares keep you

Stage Shtetl

My whole life feeling green around the gills
In green rooms has (not) prepared me for this
Cloying smell of talcum, humid hairspray shared

In the human reflecting pool
Counter-space ~ a mine field
The silver spandex lining tense

Accordion rhinestones eclipse the
Sequined red mouth of stage
Human mike stands kneel on stained wood floor

Mascara wand nervey before smoke
Break, performer-drink, sliver of mirror to wink at
The performance poet straightening grey wig

Peeing yourself laughing at their flannel-drag
"I'm a film maker, I make films. This poem is about
Lesbians and their cats. It's called, 'Meow Mix!'"

And then it's suddenly our tiny instrument turn
Suzuki drop outs' dramatic entrance
With speculii and rosin, tadpole throats

Coughing Yiddish, Haftorah portion jitters
Make your moustached playwright mute
On half-sized fiddle, the bowler hat crowing

Lentils and gentlefolk, hear the ritual
Nom de plume in perfect reverse
Shadows of majiscules-- English and Alef-Bet

We're just living up to the Jazz Singer stereotype
Flirting with zaftig curls, colorful bracelets
What else are two nice gender-queering Jewish goirls going to do
Besides get writing degrees, wear black?

Photos by Dr. Susan Lazar, jojo Lazar, David Aquilina, and Derek Kouyoumjian.

Bio: jojo Lazar is a Boston-based multimedia visual and performance artist known as “the burlesque poetess.” She is the tenor ukulele player in circus band, “Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys,” as well as half of “The Tiny Instrument Revue.” Her poetry has appeared in Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, A Bad Penny Review, The
Starving Artist’s Diet (Jackodile Press), Magpie Magazine,
and additionally in her own zines, including “Niblet.” She is a creative writing and zine-making workshop leader with a BA from Brandeis and an MFA in poetry from Lesley University. Additionally she web-wenches as need be for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. Visit her keyring site: jojolazar.com

Socks of Fire

by Susan Yount

Never mind that the manager instructed you to wear solid black or navy socks. Hey little pistol. You'll even forget the four fat fucks at table five. Want to make some extra cash? You got the round table tonight and in these smokin' socks you'll serve chicken-fried-steak, mashed potatoes and sawmill gravy scintillatingly. Let me be your pepper you salty centerfold. You. The star of the Cracker Barrel Ballet and Roadside Freak Show. Your Glowing-Charcoal Argyle Socks (No. 555), dyed in China, will stay mid-calf as you dance to the tune of cranky, deep fried okra. What time you get off work? I’m staying at the hotel next door. Even that 50 cent tip left by the two old crones is no match for these swanky Uzbekistan-combustible-cotton, hand quilted socks. Another cup of coffee hon. Your patrons will be amazed as you blaze through kitchen grease seizing oversized portions of mac and cheese for their delight. More biscuits. More cornbread. Then, sparks flickering from your ankles— the manager notices. You are fired. You’re secretly thrilled. He calls you into his office. You take a seat. Kick off your shoes. Light a cigarette from your hand-linked heel.

Ribbed, stay-up tops. Made by India’s leading hosiery-maker to the upper caste. $32. Glowing-Charcoal Argyle Socks (No. 555), as described, combustible-cotton, originally found in hell.

Bio: Susan Yount is madam of the Chicago Poetry Brothel and editor and publisher of the Arsenic Lobster Poetry Journal. Her chapbook, House on Fire, is forthcoming from Tilt Press. She received top honors in the Poetry Center of Chicago’s 2010 Juried Reading and works fulltime at the Associated Press. She is an MFA student in poetry at Columbia College Chicago and has a sock fetish.

"Socks of Fire" was first published in blossombones and then in the anthology, Eating Her Wedding Dress, a collection of clothing poems.

On Looking Like

by Angela Veronica Wong

Style has never been incidental to me. Perhaps it was spending ten years as a uniformed student, where clothing very clearly indicated a where and what you belonged to, if not a class, a privilege, and a mentality. Additionally likely, the love of clothing and development of a style is something passed down from my mother, who received it from her mother, an amazing woman who, when I was born in America, sent boxes of adorable children’s dresses, shoes, and hair accessories from Taiwan because children’s clothes were much more expensive in the States. Pictures of me at two years of age show an impeccably dressed little girl in white bobby socks and patent shoes, plaid jumpers with shiny black hair and big dark eyes looking solemnly into the camera, flanked by my smiling, youthful parents.

The author and her mother.

For years, these pictures served as my basis of self-understanding: I was such a good, attentive little girl, I thought. Perfectly dressed and standing still. This idea of myself was quickly disabused when I saw home videos of myself as a child, where I am bursting with energy and unable to stay put. There is a clip of me at three, sitting on a piano bench with a friend of mine. I stare at him warily as he attempts playing a piece in completely acceptable toddler fashion: out of rhythm and very slowly. This goes on for about a minute until I pushed him aside and started playing myself.

I think of this when I think of fashion, because there is a distinction between style and fashion. Fashion is the clothes, the objects. Style is personal, what you do with objects. How you give them life.

In case it rains, yellow boots and a clear umbrella.

As someone who has styled both photo shoots and personal closets, to make something or someone really work is to understand the what or who. The narrative that wants to be told. That what one wears is tied to identity—chosen identity, manifested identity, and determined identity—is nothing new. What is interesting to me is the expectation that comes with a visual presentation, and the subversion of those expectations.

I am often told I wear things that few can get away with, that my style is quite eclectic. That one day I will be wearing pearls and sundresses and the next leggings and plastic jewelry is not a testament to my excellent taste, but more my continuing changing nature. There are days I choose what to wear based on how I am feeling, and change how I feel through what I choose to wear. (I am guilty of mid-day fast-fashion shopping for a complete wardrobe makeover – thank you H&M on Fifth Avenue!). You have to feel and believe in what you wear. And when you do, you can get away with breaking rules and experimentation.

Modeling at a hair show.

There is a bit of an exhibitionist quality to this—which is not to say I walk around wearing as little clothes as possible, or writing the most audacious, titillating material. But rather, I’ve learned and continue to be learning how to embrace the fact that being a visual body (textually and physically) entails absorbing a gaze. It’s not always welcome, but being able to anticipate or subvert the power of being gazed at, of being read, for me, is wrapped in subverting expectations. My new favorite (and also most frustrating) words to hear are: “you don’t look like,” and the times when people first encounter my work after meeting me echo a similar sentiment, the surprise of what I am on a page versus what I look like.

Inside the notebook 1.

The author in the fall.

While I would not claim to be an experimental writer, pushing boundaries in expectation and language is extremely important to me as a writer and a reader. I am attracted to those who are willing to take risks for the sake of uncovering or presenting something new. In terms of the material of writing, though, I have found, despite my notebook fetish and desire to own every type of stationary in the world, a great comfort in a particular brand of notebook (Moleskine Large Plain Volant Notebooks, 5 x 8.5, 96 pages) and a particular type and color of pen (Muji black ink, 0.5 mm tip). The notebook is the perfect size to carry around in almost all bags, and 96 pages is not too daunting when completely empty. The Muji pen gives the perfect ink flow on the Moleskine’s acid free paper. It's cheesy, but true: it just feels right.

Notebook + pen.

Inside the notebook 2.

And from that, an important lesson in style: after all that experimentation, if you find something you love and works, stay with it. You make your own classics.

The iPod as an accessory.

Bio: Angela Veronica Wong is the author of the forthcoming chapbook 25 little red poems on dancing girl press, as well as two previously published chapbooks on Flying Guillotine Press and Cy Gist Press. Recent poems appear in H_NGM_N, Drunken Boat, and Columbia Poetry Review. She is almost always wearing big sunglasses and wearing dresses. Please visit her at www.angelaveronicawong.com.