Davey Davis + Andrea Abi-Karam
I’ve long been drawn to the epistolary exchange between writers. Before I was involved in any sort of creative community, I turned to these exchanges with an urgent desire to know what it was like to be a part of a network of people thinking, writing, & fucking. The unarchived moments of what precedes the published book, the historic performance, what were they thinking about & what were they wearing. I need time to think through things, to peel back layers to reach the various points of obsession that drive my writing. This epistolary exchange provides little snapshots of thought spirals between Davey Davis [SF Bay Area] & myself [Brooklyn] over about a week’s time. We set out to correspond every day for seven days, back and forth, and as often happens when we impose forms on ourselves, we break them.—AAK
9/24: 2:48PM EST, Andrea
I spent the morning promoting the reading I’m doing tonight with Lauren Levin & Oki Sogumi—two friends & comrades I met in Oakland—& reading Discipline Press’s latest achievement, Sexiness: Rituals, Revisions & Reconstructions, edited by Tamara Stantibañez that I picked up at the New York Art Book Fair this last weekend. Since moving to New York, I’ve been thinking about all of my networked-connections (in the cyborg/affinity sense, not the give me a job sense). I met Oki in 2012 & Lauren in 2014. All of these connections forged through poetry, riot & a proximity bound by politics & the desire to make an attempt at imagining a better world. I’m also thinking of how you & I existed in proximity for several years without ever fully meeting until the six month mark before I moved away & am grateful for the epistolary form that houses intimate ties across distance & time. I carry these ties around with me everywhere, the same way I carry a book around inside myself, right below my sternum until it becomes something, & then, begin again.
9/24 1:33 pm PST, Davey
I know Oki! We got to know each other during Occupy at UC Davis. I hadn’t seen her in years, but she came to a reading I did for my book at Wooden Shoe in Philly last winter and we caught up. She’s lovely, and so is her work.
“Networking” always reminds me of Network (1976), which reminds me of Christine (2016), both of which are films about people overwhelmed by modernity killing themselves on live TV (Christine is actually based on a true story). It makes me think about the double-edged sword of social media and the redefining of proximity/connection by digital spaces. When it creates community or whatever, particularly among radical & leftist & queer people, it feels good, and when it makes you feel like a bug under a microscope—but, like, a bug compelled to fulfill a content quota with actual, tangible deterrents for failing to participate—that does not feel good, not even when you get that hit of dopamine for playing into their hands or algorithms or whatever. There’s this insidious aspect of late capitalism that makes the carrying of those ties burdensome, sometimes. Making art feels like an antidote to that.
I wish we had gotten to know each other sooner, but at least we’re having that long-distance experience so we know it’s real.
I don’t know if the books live inside me, but where else would they be?
9/25 6:26 PM EST, Andrea
Glitch glitch glitch. The reading was so good! Oki & Lauren were of course both amazing, great crowd, like an eager to listen crowd, wow. A new friend and author I work with at Nightboat was there and today sent me this incredible blurb/review of my performance:
“Thanks for the total energy and provocation of your reading last night. You model what a desired community formation looks like--no beating around the bush: direct demand, direct depiction. A performance of power as collective, queer, feral, trans, polyphonous cry, urging forth a sociality of togetherness that refuses hate and other toxic modalities. Immense power and conviction. Immense grandeur. Hero-heroine sans the grandiosity of ego. This is what justice looks like, i.e. can be and is, via the pathway of your words. The message rings with precision and love speaking truth to power.”—Brenda Iijima
Feels really special to be reminded that performing/sharing/reading is so important & to decenter the obsession with productivity/publication. I get wrapped up in the latter all too often as I’m just so immersed in it right now, working as a publicist. Writing isn’t about the book product, but more about living every second as a writer. I’m constantly grappling with the concerns unwinding in my work, not only in the moments where I’m actually physically writing. In Inferno, Eileen Myles says something to the effect of the necessity of making yourself, the poet/writer into the object, not just the books. Was probably even more important in the past before small press proliferation. There’s something here also about not being able to hide from the work, if the writing is effective, you’re implicated in it, you have to be present—or it falls flat.
Anyways, some Leo stuff, my body was on the stage last night because it had to be.
9/25 5:45 PM PST, Davey
This is so lovely! But it’s giving me questions about you and your, like, creative identity. Is performing an essential part of being a writer for you? Would you still write if there was no aim to be published, or even read by others (I ask myself this question a lot; the answer could be its own unread book)? You already know I hate performing—if you can call what I do performing—and maybe also that I think that fiction readings are bad/unwarranted 99% of the time. Poetry, of course, is different.
I just got out of therapy, where I’m starting to do EMDR. I am trying to un-objectify myself as well as get comfortable with the inevitable objectness of myself, as someone with a body must if they’re ever going to relax. I tend not to think of books as objects anymore than I think of myself as embodying the books that I write: I think of writing more as process than production, and would like to have that same attitude toward myself as a body. Maybe when EMDR unfucks me I’ll be able to tap into that feral polyphony you’re working with. Probably not though. You know my sun sign.
9/27 12:18AM EST, Andrea
Yes! That’s what I’m getting at, decentering production. There’s a part in EXTRATRANSMISSION about the question of audience/reader. I don’t write with the audience in mind, but I know that there will be an audience no matter what. Maybe it’s just my Leo self-importance, but I’m not concerned what they think as long as I know they’ll be there? It’s such a constant process. My practice of readings is multipurpose, to have a deadline to write new work, & then to test out the emotional resonance of the new work. Part of becoming visible as a poet is by doing readings; it has this whole economic lackluster thing and in turn circulates very socially. For me, it is also important to be on the stage. Or like it’s important for me personally & it’s important for the work. I’m trying to study models of QTPOC performance like in José Muñoz’ Disidentifications. I want to come up with gestures not to overtake the text, but to amplify it. I’ve been seeing so many amazing performances in the last few months here. Feels important not to get stuck in any one genre or identity.
I just saw the final pass proofs for EXTRATRANSMISSION! I didn’t know until today that I was going to have an acknowledgements page, so I just spent the last few hours agonizing over it. Not in a painful way, but in an excavating way. I wrote the book between 2015/2016, so I had to delve back there and connect it with the present. Also, I think I have a fever. The endless cold is truly endless. I have a four day weekend this weekend, thank god, post working the NYABF, so hopefully I can kick this cold/hellscape ailment to the curb with a healthy dose of Renee Gladman’s Prose Architectures that I got at a deep discount at the Brooklyn Book Fest and an unsurprising relapse into Sex & the City. Closest I’ve come to EMDR is getting my collarbone tattooed after a break up. The economies of craft are so variant.
9/27, 12:16 AM PST, Davey
“Making a poem is making an object. I always thought of them more as drawings than as texts, but drawings that are also physically enterable through the fact of language.”—Anne Carson
I’m bad at writing acknowledgments. My work feels intensely personal; acknowledging others after it’s finished, even if they were involved or helped me in the process, feels like making direct eye contact after being caught eating from the garbage can. I’d rather be oblique, in life and with my work: orbiting the immovable pieces, reacting to their action. I’m interested in documentary through fiction, and crafting thought and speech into something that communicates on a level beyond its components, like when pieces of gold and steel are fitted together to make a timepiece—but it still makes me feel dirty.
9/28, 1:31 PM EST, Andrea
Ah, sorry I missed yesterday! I have two friends in town, one of whom has never been to NYC before, so we did hilarious activities like go to Central Park and Times Square. I hadn’t been to either since I moved here, actually. Times Square is like fucking Blade Runner, a very influential piece of ART in my opinion. I love that quote you sent and anne carson in general. Have you read The Glass Essay? It’s one of the best break up poems ever written in my opinion. It opens with: “I can hear little clicks inside my dream./Night drips its silver tap/down the back./At 4am I wake. Thinking”
Also, her translation of Sappho If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho. Sappho was the first (Western) construction of the Lyric “I” in poetry. Poetry before that was an amalgamation of the group “community” voice, like in Homer’s The Odyssey. Sappho was the first poetic turn to the internal, “I,” deep dark feelings. All poems can be deconstructed to trace this lineage of subjectivity.
Cruel Intentions heavily influenced all of my twisted ideas of romance & desire. While we walked from the subway to Central Park yesterday, we walked past the Cruel Intentions house on the Upper East Side. That balcony in every movie about New York. It’s really fascinating to watch my friend see IRL New York and how it feels the same as movie screen New York. Simulacrum abound.
9/30, 12:22am PST, Davey
I have read The Glass Essay, but only recently, I think because of Anne Boyers’s Twitter? I also love Emily Brontë, and insist it is always too early for melons. I finally got around to Eros the Bittersweet earlier this year, which I enjoyed, but for the most part find Sappho difficult to enjoy.
I’m writing late again. Tonight, I went to the Stud to see Gayle Rubin discuss a short film she appeared in about fisting in the gay male SM subculture of San Francisco in the latter part of the twentieth century. She was wearing a necktie with a red bandana pattern—a mysterious, switchy move—and after the screening and discussion, she DJ’d. It was fabulous.
I met up with a lot of friends from the leather scene, and met a few new ones, too. I’m rarely very public as a pervert anymore; I don’t go to parties, and since I almost exclusively bottom when it comes to play, I’m very selective about who gets to injure me. But I love spending time with other kinky people. The older I get, the more inextricable SM becomes from my sexuality, but at the same time, my appreciation for it as a dare-i-say-platonic activity deepens. This kind of sociality is very beautiful and mystical and fulfilling to me, I’m sorry to report, which is perhaps why I’m intrigued by Rubin’s account of a fisting scene that was, in some respects, desexualized—in part because decontextualized from heteronormativity, and in part because it centered the anus and the fist, rather than the “genitalia,” as Rubin put it. It was sexual, but more/less than sexual, more about an intense, embodied experience (one that was less strictly homosexual than you’d think) than fucking per se, though of course you can’t have fist fuckers without, you know, fucking. It’s a pleasurable paradox.
10:37PM EST, Andrea
Ah, the STUD, yes! Your night sounds amazing. I need to come back and go to the STUD before it moves locales on New Year’s. I went back to the Whitney today with some friends to see the last day of the David Wojnarowicz show. I thought it would be more crowded than it was. I sat in the film room for a long time and sat on the floor, back leaning against the wall, tiny gridded notebook on the firm cushions just writing. I generally don’t love traditional ekphrastic writing, but I did it for the “Covered in Time & History: The Films of Ana Mendieta” at BAMPFA last year & I did it for this. Film is what sets it off for me. It’s not a genre I’m well-versed in, but opens up something to enter into an outpour. I’m so glad I had the chance to return to it. I wanted to write the first time I went to it, but I was on a first date with someone and I needed not to be watched. There’s such a fine, brutal line between visibility and surveillance. The exhibit made me feel profoundly sad & very turned on. Part of what I wrote was about getting fucked nonstop for 8 hours by late stage capitalism. Horror-desire. Maybe that’s what queerness is. I hated all the Whitney copy about the exhibit, felt so erasing of queer community and the vastness of the AIDS crisis, how it was individualized on DW. David would have hated it. I hate the way gay icons become co-opted after death, after they literally can’t fight anymore.
On the walk from the Whitney to a diner, we walked to the end of Christopher Street to look at the ruins of gay cruising. It’s fall here & the air a little crisp. There were straight people laying around on the new Hudson River pier. We looked fabulous in the sun at the edge of dusk.
I also went to the NYU Bobst Library as they had a companion exhibit to the Whitney show, lots of process/visual/performance/painting notes & sketches for DW’s pieces, which was so cool to see. I took some pix & attached them for you! It’ll be up through October, but not sure if you’ll get a chance to see. I was with one of my friends who went to NYU and she took us to the bathroom on the fourth floor where she used to hook up. And also accidentally set off the fire alarm for a sec trying to check out the stairwell.
10/1 3:23 PM PST, Davey
I had a similar reaction when I was at the Whitney a few weeks ago. There’s a vivid memory of the room where you hear the recording of his voice. I stood there for awhile listening, looking out over the docks, the water. It was hot outside, and very bright.
I only began exploring Wojnarowicz late last year (I was delighted when my friend, Charlotte Shane, sent me a copy of The Weight of the Earth this summer when I was healing from surgery), but the image of him with his mouth sewn shut feels as though it has been living inside me for a very long time. There is something about his pleasure-seeking that is remarkable to me. It’s not escapist (traumatized) but actualized, probing; that kind of curiosity is a rare quality, I think. It’s actual pleasure-seeking rather than numbness-seeking. When you’re reading or listening or looking at/to him, his reaction to the world seems like the most natural thing in the world, but then I look around and see how very few people (that I know, anyway) are able to do that, not through any fault of their own, but because that horror is so all-consuming.