Laura is a 4th year PhD student working on a creative dissertation in Poetry in the English department at the University of Rhode Island. She came to pursue her PhD having completed an MFA in Performance and Interactive Media from CUNY Brooklyn. Laura is involved both on-campus and off in fostering a creative writing community, as well as teaching and publishing her own poetry and that of others. She curates Gemstone Readings in the NYC area, incorporating performance elements in non-traditional venues and heads the Literary Arts Committee at URI, which hosts readings among other projects focused on students pursuing the creative dissertation option.
We reached out to her to talk more about her work and specifically LAMM presents at Artbook @ MoMA PS1, an exhibition series she is co-curating, which premiers Sunday, December 10 at 4pm at MoMA PS1.
You have an experiential poetry event at MoMA PS1 this month, what are the aims of this event? In this vein, how does experiential poetry differ from a reading or other live event?
The event at MoMA PS1 and Artbook is part of a new venture project, LAMM, in which my long time friend and fellow poet, Monica McClure, and I explore what it is like to create immersive poetry events within an institutional space, and also, consider how capital, commerce, and popular culture can effect the way poetry is experienced.
Monica and I came together through my project gemstone readings. We want to evolve from the project, and transition to a different model that negotiates with mainstream culture rather than resists it altogether. We both come from humble, down-home backgrounds, have an affinity for fashion and design, and share very similar aesthetic tastes, which make the project easier to navigate with little conflict.
LAMM Headquarters: Brooklyn, NYC
Laura and Monica of LAMM in an earlier collaboration in 2014.
The first event on 12.10.17 is Twinnish. There will be no formal introduction or welcome. We start off with a sound scape that introduces the concept of the word twinnish. There will be live video and music performance from Bunny Michael, the premier of the poetry video The Therapist Asks directed and edited by Zoie Omega and written and produced by Monica and myself, and a poetry performance by Camonghne Felix, whose work is also featured in the video. We also have invited the designers Women’s History Museum to outfit and style Camonghne and other performers for the event. Some of these artists are people I have worked with for almost a decade. There is a sense of intimacy that will be visible in the space.
LAMM wants to center the poet as the feature performer. We would like poets to have the same degree of hype as music artists and pop stars; we want poets to close events instead of open them. In addition to this, we are interested in promoting the books and art objects of all participating poets and artists, and so there is also a pop-up shop within Artbook the day of the event for audiences to “shop the art.”
The event, which is curated with relational aesthetics in mind, asks audiences to come into the space and have full and direct interactions with both the art and the artists. There is no pre-amble or pause. It is sort of like living directly inside of the poem.
Rehearsal for Twinnish at Artbook MoMA PS1
Women’s History Museum image composite for sale at Twinnish
Camonghne Felix styled by Women’s History Museum
Production photo of The Therapist Asks
Bunny Michael’s Me and My Higher Self
book for sale at Twinnish
LAMM and Twinnish are an “evolution” of the work that I have been doing for the last four years. In 2014, while living in Brooklyn, I started a collective gemstone readings to subvert the traditional poetry reading in NYC. To give some background, these were the initial goals of the collective:
A. Dismantle the biases that surrounded poetry readings. When I moved to Brooklyn I noticed many readings populated by the same identities over and over: overwhelmingly white cis-men and/or poets with MFAs. I wanted to include more perspectives in the poetry circuit and expand the voices that were being heard.
B. Break the mold of the reading altogether. The events curated were immersive and unusual; they were cross disciplined and included poets who not only worked in language, but in digital media, performance art, and other mediums. This was important to me since my graduate work at Brooklyn College was cross discipline. I worked in poetry but also performance art, visual art, and digital media. The readings also broke all the usual tropes of poetry readings and felt more like a coming together than a typical audience/reader exchange. In June 2014, for example, gemstone readings hosted a reading at a local auto body shop in Crown Heights. The space was chosen in collaboration; I had gotten into a slight verbal altercation with a worker at the body shop over “cat calling” women who walked by the space. It turned into a conversation, an exchange, and a way to combat both the tensions of gentrification in the neighborhood and the prevalence of street harassment. The reading happened directly in the center of the body shop, and both people from the art and poetry communities, employees of the shop, and neighbors attended.
Gemstone Readings event at Jam-Roc Auto Body; Crown Heights 2014
C. Include a studio for video production.
One of the hallmarks of gemstone readings
is that the website (www.gemstonereadings.net
) hosts not only a garden of the textual work of poets, but also, produces videos for poets that rival the music video. As a kid, and still today, I was obsessed with the music video. I wanted to create a form in poetry that fostered more collaboration and gave poetry a vehicle to compete in an image saturated digital landscape. As a collective, we have both produced, directed and edited videos for poets and also have featured the video and digital work of poets on our site.
Still from video With My Hand on My Heart; Gemstone Readings 2016
Still from video Chiflada; Gemstone Readings 2014
These goals are revisited and evolved from gemstone readings to LAMM; there is a kind of a transparency and practicality in LAMM that was not yet matured or realized in the original project. Nonetheless, the commitment to creating visual imagery, video, design, commerce and performance around a poem– to bring the poem alive–is really still the main objective.
You have a number of collaborative projects with other poets and artists, as a creator, what benefit do you find in working collaboratively versus working individually? Does this help you in reaching a larger audience?
Working with other poets and artists puts mediums in conversation and centers visceral connections between practitioners. For example, when we produce a poetry video, there is no way one person can be the center. A large scale film project requires writers, directors, directors of photography, stylists, managers, and editors to come together around a shared vision. It is super difficult work; sometimes I would much rather be alone in my room writing poems by myself! But the result is rewarding and the audiences to our events cross disciplines, and bring new energy and voices into a space of poetry that is sometimes viewed as exclusionary.
As a poet, it is easy to become isolated from other writers and artists. My creativity and work-ethic spike when I am involved with others’ work; collaboration is an intrical part of my writing, teaching, and art-making.
Much of your poetry and critical work focuses on popular culture and gender and sexuality. Do you feel that there is an aspect of activism or public scholarship to your work in addition to your work for other academics?
Yes, absolutely. My daily practice is a commitment to giving agency and voice to all bodies. I am committed, specifically, to work that negotiates with capital and commodity, allowing for opportunities for class mobility while still working for economic change, and also, work that actively dismantles the patriarch. That sounds like the most cliche thing a feminist can say at this point, but it is real for me. It is the principle that I live by and through.
That being said, there is no way this won’t filter into both my creative work and my academic work and basically every social interaction of which I am a part. I would be writing fiction otherwise, and I don’t do that because I am not very good at it.
This Fall I came to terms with two important realities:
1. While teaching a gender studies course, I felt for the first time to find no cognitive dissonance between what I was teaching and what I believed important in the world — most important. To have students be able to both understand the work of Kimmel on toxic masculinity or queer theory in Moonlight, and then apply it to a reality of violence, mass shootings, and the time they bullied a boy for his gender expression in grade school, is monumental. Creating space for change through discourse and poetry and art and academic writing is absolutely my vocation. It is a real activism and we all have a stake.
2. This work is hard, and as graduate students, we need to practice self care. We ought to be there for one another, and I am grateful for the community we have at URI. For example, I suffer from dyslexia, which is brought on most profoundly under stress. It takes me 5-6 careful read throughs of a document to find errors. This is exhaustive work. It is important for me to have trusted proof-readers, to make sure I am doing my best, and can put my best face forward. I find this to be a metaphor in our work — our shared activism as educators. We can live in a vacuum, or, we can work together and check each other, and go forward with some sense that we have each other’s backs. That’s about agency too — paying it forward.