A photo of Jessica Lawson.

Jessica Lawson’s Gash Atlas


Winner of the Kore Press Institute Poetry Prize, Jessica Lawson’s new poetry collection Gash Atlas is both beautiful and devastating. Combining sexual violence, history, and the speaker’s own complicity, Lawson creates a twisted mirror of our own world. Suffusing this world is the figure “Christopher Columbus,” a villain personifying a long legacy of colonization and current political terror. Columbus’s lines are filled with haunting references: “there is no turning the globe can make away from me… The fake news says there is no / oxygen in space, but anywhere is breathable if you know who to pay.” This is a collection that lingers.

Gash Atlas gives us a map of words—the physical and philosophical language—to navigate a visceral reckoning. History and the present move insidiously through bodies that serve as “soft / places to plant  menace.” There is relentless difficulty, complexity, setbacks, toughness, rage. There’s hard humor alongside the exhaustion of everyday fear. Actual and symbolic horror, borne and delivered through the tender precarity of motherhood and violently performative femme-presence, show us the unsustainable cost of institutional force. How intimate it is, how prevalent, how invasive even to one’s own private thoughts—“I have a fantasy of lying down in snow and not being.” Jessica Lawson’s poems, images and stagings take the pulse of existence and offer a bold, intimate conversation that shows us just how close we—humans—are to the ultimate wreck, if we continue charting our world according to the persistent peril of ignorance.

Khadijah Queen, author of I’m So Fine: A List of Famous Men & What I Had On

Jessica Lawson’s work has appeared in The Rumpus, Entropy, The Wanderer, Cosmonauts Avenue, and elsewhere. Gash Atlas is her first book. To learn more about Lawson, visit her website.

Behind every great man/ is too much forgiving/ and an awl of blood” writes Jessica Lawson in Gash Atlas, a collection that erodes the statue Christopher Columbus has erected like a gash in each subjectivity colonized by powerful men. Lawson has given us poems that strike a balance between daring to ask the urgent questions and posing them with the care of one who knows how language often operates as a colonial mode.

Raquel Salas Rivera, author of lo terciario/ the tertiary and while they sleep (under the bed is another country)

To purchase Gash Atlas, go here.

We’re also very excited to share an interview that dives deeper into Lawson’s collection. This interview was conducted via email by our Blog Editor, Brennie Shoup.


Brennie Shoup: What inspired you to create Gash Atlas?

Jessica Lawson: I had multiple moments of inspiration, or at least motivation, that defined this project for me. The first was the 2016 election, which transformed my previous plans to write a manuscript about maps into a project that was much more directly political. I began to accrue poems about the terror of that current moment, as well as the violent histories informing it. The character of an antagonist emerged, who would later become Christopher Columbus. Then a second defining moment came, this time more quietly but perhaps more powerfully. It was when I realized that my book wasn’t just, or only, about Trump, but was about the complicity of my own speaker in the violence he was performing. The book didn’t really come together for me until I did the difficult work of problematizing the voice through which the book itself is coming, letting the book question its own speaker. The book and its composition, in real time, became about strategies for fighting against a system that imbues one’s own subject position. It’s why I gave the book an epigraph that came from a protest slogan by liberal white women, and attributed it to Columbus. My book is about maps, about violence, about Trump, and about white womanhood, and I realized each of these through the act of writing it.

BS: Your collection includes what’s been described as visual and poetic “maps.” Would you be able to discuss why you used the forms you did in this collection?

JL: Visually experimental literature is something I’ve been passionate about for a long time, and is reflected in a lot of the work I’ve already published. I think there is sometimes a misconception that visual literature, or experimental literature more broadly, is necessarily apolitical, and I’d love to see that change. Visual and hybrid poetry gets associated with a messed-up school of poetic elitism that uses “experiment” as a way of looking down upon any readers who can’t (or don’t wish to) understand it. And while there are absolutely writers who create experimental literature that way (those are the boring ones), there is also a rich history of activist writers who use experimentation to activate their texts and their readers, jolting us out of our seats by demonstrating that this is not business as usual. So, that’s a big part of why the forms of these pieces are so important to me. Sometimes, the political needs of the time necessitate breaking away from the forms we’ve inherited. Sometimes, when the world feels like it’s breaking apart, the pages and words need to break with it.

BS: Gash Atlas examines both past and present atrocities, with a particular focus on Christopher Columbus. Could you describe what your research process looked like?

JL: I was researching for this book long before I ever knew I’d write it. I remember years ago learning that Columbus was a terrible navigator, that he thought that the globe was shaped like a pear (or breast) rather than a sphere, that he wholly mistook the place he landed for an entirely different continent. I didn’t know I’d ever be using those bits of information to write poems, but once I decided to include Columbus in the book, this entire set of trivia flooded back in. From there, most of the other research had to do with the present moment I was writing in. I wrote about the United State’s opposition to the U.N. resolution banning the death penalty for homosexuality as it happened. I felt like my book wasn’t just reaching back into a history I’d already learned, but sprinting frantically forward after history as it was happening. The very last poem I put in the book, days before my draft was due to my press, responded to the January 6 attack on the Capitol. I was scared as I wrote it, both about what had just happened, and about having to let go of the manuscript before Trump left office. In a way, it feels like he never did.

BS: Do you have plans for future poetry collections or novels?

JL: I’m currently working on a second book of poems (though, like Gash Atlas, it includes hybrid elements that sometimes complicate its status as poetry). It’s about the body’s relationship to money, sexuality, and trauma. I’m getting pretty far along: the structure is falling into place, and a substantial portion of the poems have been written. Now I’m working on making the space to really look at it and push it toward completion (which is a challenge to do while I’m teaching four classes and raising three children). I’m excited and scared about it, which makes me think I’m where I need to be.

#ArtLitPhx: Feb Fair Weather

 

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Date: February 23, 2019

Event Description:

February seems far away now, and we are anxiously awaiting its arrival because not only will these two poets share fresh and innovative work, we also get to hang out at Kore Press‘s space! Thanks for cosponsoring this event, Kore! Webster will also teach a workshop while he is in town. Details on that to come!

Where: Kore Press, 325 W 2nd St, Room 201
Time: Poetry at 7:00pm, doors at 6:30pm
Cost: $5 suggested donation
Snacks & wine provided!

Poet and graphic designer Chaun Webster draws from an interest in the work of sign in graffiti, the layering of collage, and the visuality of text. These methods are used in Webster’s work to investigate race – specifically the instability of blackness and black subjectivities, geography, memory, and the body. Correspondingly much of these investigations engage the question of absence, how to archive what is missing from the landscape particularly as a number of communities watch in real time, neighborhoods once populated with familiar presences, dissolve in the vernacular of redevelopment and its attendant colonial logic. Webster’s debut book, GeNtry!fication: or the scene of the crime, was published by Noemi Press April 2018.

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Enrique García Naranjo (also known as Q) is a poet, DJ & teaching artist from Tucson, Arizona. They are a staff member of Spoken Futures INC , a youth-centered arts & community engagement organization based in Tucson ; they are a resident DJ for El Tambó , a tropical dance party held at the Historic Hotel Congress; & they are a founding member of Ojalá Systems , a collective of artists & creators working to secure liberator & radical empowerment for marginalized young artists. Q’s work is centered on Frontera identity & the language of resistance. In 2017, they published a zine of poetry, These Colliding Things, through Ojalá Zine Press. Q’s work has been published by & included in the Los Angeles Times, The Acentos Review, The New Engagement, Cunjuh Magazine & more. Between reading, performing and teaching, Q can be found crate digging for vinyl & spinning at a house party.

Accessibility info to come!

#ArtLitPhx: Natalia Treviño & Leticia del Toro Reading

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Date: January 26, 2019

Time: 6pm-8pm

Location: Kore Press, 325 W 2nd St, Room 201, Tucson, Arizona, 85705

Event Description:

Join Kore Press for a reading, conversation, and potluck with visiting fiction writers Natalia Treviño, from Texas, and Leticia Del Toro, from California.

Suggested donation of $5, no one turned away for lack of funds.

Natalia Treviño was born in Mexico and raised in Texas, and is the author of Lavando La Dirty Laundry and the new chapbook VirginX. She is an Advisory Board member of Macondo and professor at Northwest Vista College in San Antonio.

Leticia Del Toro is a California writer, arts activist and teacher with roots in Jalisco, Mexico. Her work has appeared in Zyzzyva, Huizache, Mutha Magazine and Southwestern American Literature among others. Her awards include the Kore Press Short Fiction Award, a Hedgebrook Residency for Women Authoring Change and a Rona Jaffe Scholar Award to Bread Loaf. Leticia is a VONA Voices fellow. She has completed a short story collection and is working on a novel.

#ArtLitPhx: Letters to the Future: Celebration & Launch

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Event Description:

Join Kore Press & Tucson Museum of Art on the evening of Thursday, October 11, 2018 for a free community celebration of the groundbreaking *Letters to the Future* anthology and exhibition. The museum and community gallery will be open to the public from 6:00 – 8:00 PM.

The Tucson launch party features readings by visiting artists Dawn Lundy Martin, Erica Hunt, Ruth Ellen Kocher, and giovanni singleton, book signing, and gallery viewing. 30 Americans and the Letters to the Future exhibitions will be accessible.

The micro exhibition of audio, visual, and textual works from the book is in the museum’s community gallery, and is in dialog with the featured exhibition, “30 Americans,” on view in the main galleries. The launch event is a feature of the UA Humanities Festival that runs the month of October.

Admission to this event is free.

This event is in partnership with Tucson Museum Of Art, The Dunbar Pavilion, Tucson Humanities Festival, Africana Studies, Institute for LGBT Studies, and Social and Behavioral Sciences.


*Letters to the Future: Black Women / Radical Writing*, collects temporal, spatial, formal, and linguistically innovative literature from Black women from the United States, England, Canada, and the Caribbean, celebrating work that challenges readers to participate in meaning-making.


About the speakers:
Dawn Lundy Martin is a poet, essayist, and conceptual video artist. She is the author of four books of poems and three chapbooks, including most recently, Life in a Box is a Pretty Life (Nightboat Books, 2015) and Good Stock Strange Blood (Coffee House Press, 2017). She is currently at work on a memoir. Her nonfiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, and other magazines. Martin is also a co-founder of the Black Took Collective, an experimental performance art/poetry group of three, and a member of HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN?,a global arts collective. She has been awarded the 2015 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Poetry and a 2016 Investing in Professional Artists Grant from the Pittsburgh Foundation and the Heinz Endowments. Martin is Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh and Co-director of the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics.

Erica Hunt is a poet, essayist, and author of Local History (Roof Books, 1993) and Arcade (Kelsey St. Press, 1996), Piece Logic (Carolina Wren Press, 2002), Time Slips Right Before Your Eyes (Belladonna*, 2015), & A Day and Its Approximates (Chax Press, 2013). Her poems and non-fiction have appeared in BOMB, Boundary 2, Brooklyn Rail, Conjunctions, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Poetics Journal, Tripwire, Recluse, In the American Tree and Conjunctions. Essays on poetics, feminism, and politics have been collected in Moving Borders: Three Decades of Innovative Writing by Women and The Politics of Poetic Form, The World, and other anthologies. Hunt has received awards from the Foundation for Contemporary Art, the Fund for Poetry, and the Djerassi Foundation and is a past fellow of Duke University/University of Capetown Program in Public Policy. Past writer in residence in the Contemporary Poetics/Creative Writing program at the University of Pennsylvania, and at Bard College’s MFA program, Hunt has taught at Wesleyan University and was a repeat faculty member at Cave Canem Retreat, a workshop for Black writers from 2004 to 2015.

Ruth Ellen Kocher is the author of Third Voice (Tupelo Press, 2016),Ending in Planes (Noemi Press, 2014), Goodbye Lyric: The Gigans and Lovely Gun (Sheep Meadow Press, 2014), domina Un/blued (Tupelo Press, 2013), Dorset Prize winner and the 2014 PEN/Open Book Award, One Girl Babylon (New Issues Press, 2003) Green Rose Prize winner, When the Moon Knows You’re Wandering (New Issues Press, 2002), andDesdemona’s Fire (Lotus Press 1999) Naomi Long Madgett Prize winner. Her poems appear in Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poets, Black Nature, From the Fishouse: An Anthology of Poems that Sing, Rhyme, Resound, Syncopate, Alliterate, and Just Plain Sound Great, An Anthology for Creative Writers: The Garden of Forking Paths, IOU: New Writing On Money, New Bones: Contemporary Black Writing in America. She has been awarded fellowships from the Cave Canem Foundation and Yaddo. She is a Contributing Editor at Poets & Writers Magazine and and Professor of English at the University of Colorado where she teaches Poetry, Poetics, and Literature.

giovanni singleton is a native of Richmond, Virginia, a former debutant, and founding editor of nocturnes (re)view of the literary arts, a journal dedicated to experimental work of the African Diaspora and other contested spaces. Her debut poetry collection, Ascension(Counterpath Press), informed by the music and life of Alice Coltrane, received the 81st California Book Award Gold Medal. She has received fellowships from the Squaw Valley Community of Writers Workshop, Napa Valley Writers Conference, and Cave Canem. singleton regularly consults and gives presentations on writing, editing, graphic design, and publishing at high schools, colleges, and conferences. Her work has appeared in What I Say: Innovative Poetry by Black Writers in America, Best American Experimental Writing, Inquiring Mind, Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology, and elsewhere, and has also been exhibited in the Smithsonian Institute’s American Jazz Museum, San Francisco’s first Visual Poetry and Performance Festival, and on the building of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. She has taught poetry at the de Young Museum, CalArts, Naropa University, and Sonoma State University. She was the 2015-16 Visiting Assistant Professor in the creative writing programs at New Mexico State University and currently coordinates the Lunch Poems reading series at UC Berkeley.

KorePress.org