A Letter of Openness for Ayanna Jolivet Mccloud

Dear Ayanna,

Last night, I attended Hear Her Ear: Women in Sound at Art League in Houston. Here are some words about what I heard (or attempted to hear) through the rushing stream of constant thoughts I attempted to divert, dam and slow.

There are still small things in the wreckage. There are still sounds. Ephemeral bits of language and noise, and something rubs against something else and it's making a sound out of the universe. Vocal cords rub up against their own. An object rubs up against another.

I've been thinking a lot about dying. Maurice Sendak in an interview talk talk talks about dying, talks about those last months before he died when he recognized the trees and the flowers for what they were, for their brilliance, for the way they shone in the sun and soon, he said, he wouldn't be around to see them. Sound is like that. How it shows up and then disappears, how it occupies a space temporarily. What is held in the space once the sound has moved on? How do the vibrations linger in the reds and greens and oranges? How does sound impregnate the color and the color impregnate the sound? What do our bodies leave behind?

I've been thinking a lot about our bodies being sick or being well. About bodies, about my body getting older and about all of our bodies getting older. About the bodies of our kids getting older. I've been thinking about writing letters to artists and writers. I think a letter can be an act of generosity or a letter can be a love letter or a letter can be a way to reach out across the bounds. The bounds aren't always complex. Sometimes they are as simple as the distance between here and FM 2234 or the difference between seeing a photo of a party and being able to attend the party or seeing a person unwell in a photo or a post and being able to attend to that person. The bounds.

Tonight as I first start writing this note, maybe I'm thinking a lot about dying also because so many plants will be dying tonight. It's the first time in some years we've had a real freeze on this stretch of the Gulf Coast and the brief period of a few hours when the temperature gets below freezing seems so small and yet those hours are going to kill off years of work, years of slow-growing bananas and scheffleras and all the other tropical plants. Now, it's the early morning hours of the dawn, and the weather says it is 24 degrees. So many plant cells are freezing outside. What is the sound of so many living things freezing in the cold?

Is Houston a trick? A trick to make us think this is a hospitable place for tropical things to grow. Then down from the north sweeps the cold front erasing years of growth. Who was meant to grow here? What was meant to grow here? You read from an interview that Pauline Oliveros gave, in which she said, "Now the earth sounds that I experienced in my childhood were really dense and beautiful canopies of sound that came from all of the insects, birds and animals around. I lived in Houston, Texas. I was born in 1932 and grew up at a time when humans had less impact on the environment than they do today. I mean, now the frogs are leaving and vanishing. The frogs in my childhood could be heard loud and clear. Then of course, now so much is paved over with asphalt and cement that the cicadas are trapped and can't get out. But you can still hear wonderful stereophonic cicada sounds in Houston as you walk or drive down the street." 

Pauline Oliveros grew up with the sounds of cicadas and frogs, and you know what, she was right to leave. She was ready to leave. Like Gloria Anzaldúa up and left and went to California. Like Forrest Bess took paints out to a small house off the coast of Bay City. Like John Biggers picked up his pencils and went off to Ghana to write and to draw. It's a righteous thing to leave a place that was never meant to shelter you.

The focus is still on the small things. Pauline's cicadas couldn't get out of the dirt, sealed underground by the vast blanket of concrete laid out on the gulf plain, on this prairie, upon this swamp. A nation of cicadas trapped underground, unable to emerge. A horde of cicadas. One cicada living forever under the concrete. Pauline's frogs were vanishing. But I wonder how our children will remember all of this we are living today. Are they ever lulled to sleep by the croaking after a heavy summer downpour? Will they recall it? The croaking so loud it is troubling or so loud it seems like the house might shake with their mourning. Yes, Pauline, the wonderful stereophonic cicada sounds. And even as the frogs vanish, the kids hear the frogs and the cicadas or at least see the frog that was run over by the car in the subdivision or at least observe the shell of the cicada left after its molting. Maybe finger that shell with curiosity.

Sound lingers in the space, it must. How do the ones who are left keep track of the remains? Against all the odds? How do you keep track of the remains? What is left after so many years in such an inhospitable location? What is it that makes the sounds go on? Or at least what might a silent bell sound like? Is it ever silent really? How can we hear an un-ringing bell? How can we hear her ear? What is the sound of that dried, flattened frog or the cicada shell? What is left of the feelings?


Zeke Peña


Current Show at the Rubin Center at the University of Texas El Paso

zeke from Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center on Vimeo.
"Storytelling does not begin with inventing, it begins with listening.”


“I’m all for the diffusion of what I’ve written,” Berger says, “but my own story doesn’t interest me.” He pauses. “There’s a risk of egocentricity. And to storytellers, egocentricity is boring.”

- John Berger here


"Opposition is seen as confrontation, confrontation as aggression, aggression as a will to suppress." - Michael Silverblatt

"I've kinda let go of trying to name things and put things in boxes and just let it be multiplicities of me creating different types of work."

- Ayanna Jolivet Mccloud
Sometimes I think that there is no poetry written without the intervention of the dead. It’s their voices speaking to you that allow you to find words from nowhere; they are the muse. I’m from the Mojave Desert; there are a lot of cranks there. I don’t usually tell people, but every once in a while I feel like telling them. Because everything else that’s said about poetry is so boring and trivial. And if I say I represent the dead, your head has to kind of turn, and you have to think about something besides poetics. Poetics! As if how people say poetry should be written is of any consequence at all or any importance. Critics create value. We don’t need any value, we need poetry.

- Alice Notley here
No one talks to a white poet and says, “How do you feel about your complicity in indirectly fucking so many people over?”


It's all personal for me. It’s the refusal to accept subjectivity as pretext for subjugation.


I don’t find the need to declare Gaza, to name a place. Even Gaza now becomes a safe reflex for those of us who prefer to sigh. Gaza becomes a logo of suffering to be consumed by the “witness” poets of the western world, if and when the poem that mentions Gaza is not frowned upon for its “politics.”

- Fady Joudah in this interview at Divedapper
Las emociones a flor de piel.
"At this moment, all over the world—and most recently in America—the conductors standing in front of this human orchestra have only the meanest and most banal melodies in mind. Here in Germany you will remember these martial songs; they are not a very distant memory. But there is no place on earth where they have not been played at one time or another. Those of us who remember, too, a finer music must try now to play it, and encourage others, if we can, to sing along."

 - Zadie Smith here

This, by Janice Worthen at Small Press Distribution:

ANTÍGONA GONZÁLEZ made my feet heavy, my hands itch, my thoughts turn to circles...around and around with Antígona, her big heart, her determination, searching for the disappeared. "How could I not demand his body even if just to bury it?" In such cases, how does the heart not become a tomb? "Facing what disappears: what does not disappear." Cursed to find the missing in every newly-found body and to never find them. The tethers holding a multitude of feet in place severed by each person lost. How many are set adrift? "I'm also disappearing, Tadeo." In this moving, tragic, loving, aching book, Antígona searches among a sea of bodies, living and dead, but how does one search when the sea keeps growing, keeps crashing in? "That's why when I watch the news, the truth is I don't know what to believe or who to believe...Day after day our certainties have slipped away from us. We've been unable to hold on." I closed this book feeling abandoned, bereft, and ghostly. I closed this book like a person might close a grave...a grave one never got the chance to dig.
"I knew and admired the films of Pasolini, but the one that absolutely enchanted me was his 1970 feature-length documentary Appunti per un’Orestiade Africana (Notes for an African Orestes), which I saw in 2003. In it, Pasolini documents his preparations for a planned but never completed film version of the Oresteia set in Africa. Probably the most eloquent sequence is the one in which Pasolini invites African students in Rome to a large auditorium where he explains to them what he wants to do and why he thinks the only authentic setting for this bloody political family tragedy today (i.e., the 1970s) is in Africa, where there are still states fighting for independence, for the right to determine which direction their countries will take. He then asks the students what they think of his idea. After a painstakingly polite start to the discussion, the African students destroy Pasolini’s notion of Africa and his interpretation of the play. All of a sudden they start talking about an African society that is faced by a nearly insurmountable mountain of problems. I was shocked when I saw Appunti per un’Orestiade Africana in 2003, thirty-three years after it was made. The African students in that nameless Roman classroom described all of the problems African states are still dealing with today and probably will still be dealing with for generations to come. That was the first lesson I took from it: nothing going on in Africa today would have been any surprise to Africans in 1970. The second lesson, however, was an even bigger one. Pasolini listened attentively, answering their questions, and when it was clear the African students had reshaped his vision, he posed a question to them: How do you think this subject should be filmed, and is it even possible? Pasolini took his audience as an equal partner. To this day, the intelligence of that creative debate remains unsurpassed. I had never seen anything like it before, and I fear I never will again. Creative intelligence, defined as absolute openness to other points of view, no longer exists today. All we do is shout over each other. Listening is a vanished art. We haven’t listened for ages. Which is probably why in my weaker moments I believe the emotional insight, intelligence, and precision in describing society attained by cinema in the 1960s will never be surpassed, let alone equaled."

- by Tomáš Zmeškal and translated by Alex Zucker here

"Abrazamos la idea del cambio con el sueño de que cambiando las relaciones de producción y distribución íbamos a tener un hombre nuevo. Nos equivocamos feo. Simplificamos la historia. Es mucho mas complicado y tuvimos que aprender una lección que resumiría: la cultura es tan determinante o mas determinante que lo material y en definitiva si no cambia la cabeza, no cambia nada."

- José Mujica en una entrevista hace unos días con Carmen Aristegui