Christine Taylor & Kristin Garth on Toplessness, Twitter & Loneliness
The Sonnetarium held its first ekphrastic poetry challege last week. We were honored to feature a painting by F.E. Clark, a Scottish painter, who produced a fiery piece of visual art entitled Daily Painting 9th February 2018. Clark’s work led to fabulous free association in The Sonnetarium community. This contest, our first, was celebrated by a generous offering by the painter of her piece as a reward. So in addition to winning a feature in The Sonnetarium, our winning poet of this challenge, Christine Taylor, won the painting itself.
I was so inspired by Christine’s fresh take on this stunning piece of art. It incorporated elements of modern tragedy (gun violence) with literary allusion (The Great Gatsby, a personal favorite), and it was a mesmerizing use of the haibun form. I fell hopelessly in love with it, and I am honored to publish it. I feel so lucky to have met Christine through this contest and become acquainted with her work. We were able to chat about some writerly things after her victory and talk about diverse topics like school teaching, blood, haiku, Anthony Frame and Kanika Lawton.
Kristin Garth: What are your favorite writing environments?
Christine Taylor: I know I’m gonna regret admitting this, but honestly my favorite writing environment is anywhere near my partner when he’s creating music or performing. I always take my journal to his gigs, and some of the best haiku I’ve written have come from those nights. Or sometimes, we work together in our study room or on the couch, and being able to share that creative space is a powerful experience.
K: What themes do you find yourself often obsessed with in your work?
C: Obsessions seem to hang out for a while and then trade places with each other, so over the last year I’ve been frequently visited by wildflowers, bridges, and sex. My current obsession is blood-- I’m ready for this one to move on. . .
K: What is one of your current writing goals?
C I realize this is a really pathetic goal for the outsider-looking-in, but my current goal is just to keep writing! And that’s because it’s August, and the school year is starting soon, and with it will come all the drama that is working in a middle and high school. I love working with kids, which can be all-consuming, and I pretty much dislike working with adults, which makes me cranky, and those two things are the perfect storm for a distraction from writing. My school-life triggers my anxiety, so I have to be mindful about self-care and distancing myself from the negativity so that I can continue to write.
C: What poets (and other writers) are you reading/obsessed with currently?
One of the joys of being an English teacher is the nonstop reading we get to do, so I’m always reading new poems and falling over and over again in love. But one poem that has stuck with me for months is Lynn Melnick’s “Losing the Narrative.” I read it to my eighth graders before class one morning (I read them the poem-of-the-day from Poets.org every day), and I after I finished, I said, “Wow, that’s just like me.” And then a few students in class said, “Yeah, that’s me too.” And then a couple kids put their arms around their classmates. And for the record, these storybook moments only happen in an eighth grade classroom when the planets are in retrograde, so you gotta hold them close. So I went on to read Melnick’s Landscape with Sex and Violence, and yeah, I’m obsessed with her work.
K: What is your favorite (or a few) literary magazine to read?
C: If I start picking a few, I’ll be here for ages, so I’ll limit myself to one: I love wildness. Admittedly, I’m a layout whore, and I drool over how lit mags look on the page or on the screen. The clean look of wildness is a big draw, and then when I read the work they select--oh boy. Often it takes me a while to get through a whole issue because I’m thinking about the writing and the questions posed in the work.
K: What editors have you been inspired by lately, either through engaging in submitting, publishing or just through their own writing and publishing of inspiring/entertaining content?
C: I’m gonna give a big ole shout out to Anthony Frame of Glass: A Journal of Poetry and Kanika Lawton of L’Ephemere Review. I’ve had positive experiences with both from a publishing perspective, but really I regard both of them highly because they stand their ground in the face of challenges. I have seen both of them take hard knocks regarding inclusivity, First Amendment rights, and censorship, and they have stood their ground to create safe spaces for under-represented writers, and they promote the heck out of their contributors. This is the kind of integrity that is sorely lacking in many arenas, not just literature, and for what it’s worth, I applaud them for the work they do as editors. I hope they know that their commitment is seen and heard!
K: Have you written a poetry book? If it’s published, tell us where we can get it (or them). If it’s not, tell us about it so that any interested editors reading this may get a feel for your collection.
C: I have a chapbook manuscript titled The Queen City making the rounds now. I grew up in Plainfield, New Jersey (a.k.a. “The Queen City”) and after living overseas for several years, I had to return to my childhood home. The collection is largely about my making amends with that return. I’m also working on a full-length collection with the working title What I Make Mine, which is about sexual and domestic abuse, body image, and identity reclamation. It’s getting there. . .
Winning Entry of the The First Sonnetarium Ekphrastic Exercise:
by Christine Taylor
Because I already imagined an easy path, the journey won’t happen that way--the traverse of the mountain, the kiss of the sun. Beauty exists in my head: here, the horizon is radiant, the glow of promises kept. Here, there is no ShotSpotter, no blood in the street. On the corner of New and West 5th Street, a poppy springs from the foot of the curb.
pulses on the dock
Christine Taylor, a multiracial English teacher and librarian, resides in her hometown Plainfield, New Jersey. She serves as a reader and contributing editor at OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters. Her work appears in Modern Haiku, apt, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Rumpus, Eclectica, and The Paterson Literary Review among others. She can be found at www.christinetayloronline.com
Please read the first magnificent poem Christine Taylor ever wrote here:
Twitter, Toplessness & Loneliness
A stripper does a dance with loneliness. Each shift she works, she is surrounded by in it in the apathy, the desperate romanticism, the casual sadism of lonely men. These men, often, feel stigmatized about going to therapy but normalized paying to talk to naked young girls about their problems between lap dances. Their problems are far beyond the scope of any logical understanding of a sometimes chemically altered girl in her early 20’s: unspeakable acts of violence in war, sexual misconduct, marital disputes, complex financial problems, suicidal ideations.
When I was this girl, listening to adult complex psychological problems inbetween dancing to The Thong Song and ADIDAS, I was often reduced to racoon-eyes and tears at the tragic tales. I was someone not unacquainted with tragedy myself. Perhaps this is why I was so popular with the men whose baggage was as bottomless as their Black Cards. They might be car detailers, soldiers, surgeons, psychologists, pharmaceutical reps, rock stars or priests but the head bartender, at the club I worked at, would send barbacks to collect me for these special sensitive creatures who needed not just a dancer – but a girl who could listen, who could speak, could tweak this loneliness into something livable in the darkness one more night.
I didn’t know what it was to go to war, to be forced to kill another human and live with that. I hadn’t been married or known the pain or disappointing the person in life you pledged your greatest allegiance to, that you had once loved – maybe still did but ceased to believe you could ever make happy. I’d never had a patient die in my skilled hands during surgery. I’d never lost a case for a client that needed my legal victory to refurbish their wrecked life. Never flew a plane or played the same 20 songs the words didn’t sound like words anymore, and I often didn’t remember where I was. Most of my customers problems I’d never experienced.
I understood, however, loneliness. I came from a heritage of the financially comfortable and emotionally bankrupt. Like many of my customers, I knew from a young age that money and control had nothing at all to do with happiness. Smart, well-educated, completely dependent on physically abusive and emotionally negligent parents, I was never as happy as I was on a strip club stage making enough money to not have to engage with my father, to never be beholden to him. When I lived with him, I didn’t have to work, all my physical needs were met but at great physical and psychological cost. Being free of abuse was worth every table dance I ever performed.
And yet, it was a lonely life to be a topless dancer in the Deep South. I personally went from being a high school English teacher/graduate student who dated men who would become Microsoft executives and traffic planners to a girl that many people wanted to engage with but few wanted to date. Many of the ones who do want to date you when you’re a stripper have agendas, too; often dating felt lonelier than simply being alone. So I empathized with the loneliness of my customers who came in to celebrate their small victories and to grieve over table dances, extra dirty martinis and overpriced champagne. We grieved together, and we became a community.
I feel this way on Twitter, too. It’s been a long time since I danced in the darkness with lonely men. On Twitter though, my feet remember the sequence of the steps. Many nights, I find myself performing the same choreography perhaps with new insights and life experiences, with male and female partners who only type, not whisper their confessions, their loneliness. I confess mine, too.
I had some sonnets on this subject this week that were published on this period of my life, one in Yes Poetry entitled Your Body is His Blessing and one entitled I, Twitter, published by Poets Pulp Press. Read and listen to my poetic confessions here: