writing

transcendent obsessions (or hearing reich's Drumming for the first time irl)

I’ve been turning something over in my head for a while now: Chamber works are to poems as symphonies are to novels. 

Hearing a composer’s chamber piece is to see their mind at work, the cogs churning and whirring; experimenting and exalting; wrestling and grappling and fixating on something—namely, an obsession—and turning it over and over again. 

It’s a something all writers deeply understand. 

This past Thursday, I heard Steve Reich’s Drumming in its entirety performed at House of Yes (HoY), and it was nothing short of transcendent. 

 
IMG_0584.jpg
Sandbox Percussion and HoY aerial performers and vocalists [left to right]

Sandbox Percussion and HoY aerial performers and vocalists [left to right]

 

Synesthetic, mesmeric, meditative… Sandbox Percussion along with guest musicians and HoY performers did not disappoint. I won’t lie—I was worried that including aerial performers and dancers and large-scale digital visuals would potentially detract from the music, or distract. But rather it was additive, truly transformative.

Reich’s phasing technique is in many ways an aural exploration of obsession. Beginning in unison with a singular pattern, soon one of the performers pushes forward, incrementally faster, displacing the initial line by a beat and weaving a texture of new patterns. The result is a churning state of flux, never stagnant or stale, that is at once soothing as it is surprising. 

And this isn’t the construction of hierarchies; rather, what becomes is a meditation on what could be if you were to train your mind on one thing—one tone, one motif, one timbre. It’s no wonder I love listening to Reich's music when I write.

After the show, I was in this gooey state of awe and raw excitement. Buzzing with presence and visions about what’s to come.

My close friends know I’ve been saying this for forever, but the perception and reception of *classical music* have been shifting for a long, long time, and it’s made significant strides out of the graveyard. In the coming years, I anticipate more accessible, interdisciplinary, innovative work. Smaller works, more intimate works. More ambitious programming and staging. More of the new, without forgoing the old. (Just listen to what Modern Medieval is doing to get a taste of what I’m talking about.)

All in all, it’s an exciting time, both as active listener and creator. Perhaps sometimes we forgot the intention and deliberation that goes into both these roles. Perhaps we could be kinder on ourselves for even attempting such monumental acts. 

oh P.S. here's a shameless plug for my newsletter, which keeps ya up to date on all my blog posts and latest happenings :~)

 

Shaping water as with words

With the Oscars this Sunday, I thought it would be fitting to muse about The Shape of Water.

My immediate thoughts were conflicted: gorgeous, yes, lyrical, yes, but it also felt too closed. Like a perfect circle that doesn’t hold a mirror to anything we could ever experience. 

Argue fantasy and fairy tales, and that’s true with this film, but I am a constant critic.

Why escape to the 1950’s? Who is nostalgic and warm and safe here? I’ve grown uncomfortable in these clothes, these roles. 

On the other hand, I loved that it ended with a poem, one which left me thinking, Wait, who wrote that?

"Unable to perceive the shape of you,
I find you all around me.
Your presence fills my eyes with your love,
It humbles my heart,
For you are everywhere.”

The state of poetry is thriving. Online it’s easy to find vibrant debate, dissection, and dedication to a craft that is (truly) old as dirt. And I love it. 

Just asking the question “who” can open a discussion and wealth of new knowledge for novice poetry readers.

I immediately searched online, trying to find who wrote the poem at the end of The Shape of Water. While I didn’t find any definitive answers per say, what I did unearth was a forum full of discussions over this very topic. 

Some suggested the poet was Saint Symeon. Others were adamant it was Rumi. (And at first their enthusiasm and confidence convinced me the most.) Others mentioned poetic origins hailing from different worldly corners and traditions, from Islam to Greek mythology. And others thought it was original, a poem written by del Toro himself.

I think it's special that a poem spoke to so many, and in a film with that massive of an audience. The poetic tradition is full of different lineages and the concluding poem in The Shape of Water speaks to that layered, interwoven identity.

When I write, I also feel like I'm making shapes. Language is so malleable, both soft like clay and hard like brick. It can become so much and soak up what you let it soak. The shape of words isn't so singular as it is possibilities—an infinite polyphony, as water also flows into whatever contains it.

 

Words w/ Friends_ 001: That vs. Which

What better way to start off this new series (W/w/F) than with a grammar quandary of my own. For the life of me, I never seem to commit this one to memory (or I constantly second-guess myself), so inevitably I end up pestering Google with the same question over and over again...

Should I use “which” or “that”?

Well, What's The Big Fuss About?

I think this question is particularly challenging because it involves grammatical concepts that aren't as crucial in everyday speech as they are written down. Just talking day-to-day, it's likely you use these two connectors interchangeably. And it works because you've got so many other factors to aid comprehension (i.e. facial expressions, body gestures, tone, etc.)

This is definitely more of a concern with formal, technical writing.

Knowing when to use one over the other can make all the difference when it comes to communication and comprehension. Clarity is invaluable in legal briefs and tech manuals, among other places. 

The "Rule" That's Not Really A Rule

So let's get right to it:

  • Use “that” when the clause is necessary, i.e. the entire meaning of the sentence would be insufficient or unclear without whatever follows “that.”

  • Use “which” when the clause isn’t needed, i.e. the entire meaning of the sentence would be kept intact and perfectly clear without whatever follows “which.”

Let’s examine this (deceptively) simple distinction in practice:

1.    Apples that have bruised skin are sometimes not safe to eat.

2.    Apples, which come in a variety of colors, are sometimes not safe to eat.

You can see how the clausal material in the second sentence is extraneous information; one does not need to know that apples come in lots of colors to know they are sometimes not safe to eat.

However, the first sentence contains a restrictive phrase, or one that focuses the reader’s attention on something. Knowing that apples with bruised skin may not be safe to eat is necessary information to understanding the entire sentence.

As it turns out, a lot of times the distinction between "that" and "which" lies in the direction of the reader's attention. I view it less as a rule and more so as a tool for more clear communication.

When asking yourself, “That vs. which?”, consider the sentence without the clause it’s connecting. If the sentence is unclear without the clause, then use “that.” If the sentence operates just fine without the clause, then use “which.”

Review Your Skills

Now for a quick quiz! (Everyone’s favorite, I know.)

1.    Melissa decided to meet Tami at the bodega (that/which) had seven cats keeping watch out front.

2.    The teacher was impressed and gave a high grade to Kat’s paper (that/which) was admittedly very well-written.

3.    The home (that/which) is next to a lake recently got renovated for flood safety.

Answer key is in the first comment!

Did you get all three correct? Let me know if this cleared up a super common grammar question for you. (I know it certainly helped me commit this one to memory finally!)

 

"Rose Hips" now live in MUSH/MUM #4

Super super stoked about <<this one>> going live for all you folks to read online

I've admired MUSH/MUM's roster for a while now, how they're deliciously pushing and subverting form in every which way. Reading that emailed acceptance as I touched down in JFK was exhilarating. I've often said this last batch of poems were like my babies, and if I had to chose one (like all bad mothers inevitably do) "Rose Hips" would be my favorite. This poem comes from a fraught (and ongoing) relation and exploration of my body, identity, and orientation as well as a long-distilled retrospect on a shitty illicit 3-time hookup. It's also a personal beloved Fuck The Captalist Imperialist Patriarchy manifesto. And like all recent poems of mine, this features a Composite Fuckboy: the combined cesspool of deceit and late night texts. Oh, and where would this poem (or I for that matter) be rn were it not for reading Karyna McGlynn's "I Can't Stop Being Performative" in the Kenyon Review summer of 2015. That piece had me thinking about narration and levels in a whole new light, a light which bathed and nurtured my own lines. 

"Rose Hips" took its own slow time to bloom and I'm so happy to share it now with y'all alongside some amazing writers in MUSH/MUM #4.

hope you enjoy🌹