Although there is a non-Marxist vibe to selecting the work of one particular student to showcase, I have selected the Domestication Handbook of a current grad student, Kristen Stone, for where it is written: at the intersection of social justice, agricultural and lyric aims. What would a training manual for “pets and other animals,” as written by a queer *goat farmer look like? Kristen brings the philosophy of Donna Haraway, contemporary farming techniques, and suburban girlhood together, in a three-part work that is both entertaining, slightly wild and incredibly brave. The work is in its final draft stage, and so I don’t know about quoting directly from it when I am not sure that Kristen is finished with her revision process. Instead, I asked her to send me the letters that framed the first drafts of the book, and have her permission to cut and paste from them. Here are two excerpts, one from the beginning and from the end of a letter, with some sense, I think, of Kristen’s cheeky genius and the innovation she brings to the question of what a book of poetry could (possibly) be. Be for:
I write to you on a bright February morning when the Chickasaw plums are beginning to bud on the dark, striped branches of the trees by the front door.
Bhanu, I am going slightly insane. Also, I am happier than I’ve been in many years. The flush of green. Part of it is radically remaking the sense of where I’m from and all my old bad assumptions about Florida. Part of it is revisiting my undergraduate thesis on homeless shelters, now, working in a shelter environment again. Having made a study of narrative and place in the meantime. Having become more interested in the stories we tell ourselves than an abstract System. I am part of a special club now, Bhanu, called Empowerment Advocacy. [Potentially triggering information follows] It involves not telling people what to do but nodding a lot and saying things like, it sounds like he really knows how to hurt you and since you’re telling me you want to go back to him, let’s talk about ways to help you stay safe. Another book, maybe— will be about the highly specific linguistics of Empowerment Advocacy. How to help someone shape, through language, her sense of herself as a survivor. A certain kind of elaborate, guarded empathy, knowing there’s a very good chance that the person—okay let’s be real here, the woman—you’re working with might go back to the partner who kicked her down a flight of stairs. Who broke a window with her head. Etc. there’s kind of a Renee Gladman thing going on—a refusal to interpret for someone else. A kind of sharp honesty, which is also a totally different way of speaking (writing). Does any of this make any sense?
Yesterday afternoon the woman at Dunkin Donuts—she is tall and thin and she has a name that I can’t read tattooed on her neck in thin script—prepared my coffee as soon as I walked in the door. She punched my card four times and told me she’s pregnant. “Next one’s free,” she said.
[Here is the problem—not the problem, the tension—between being a writer and being a social worker. In social work your aim is to assess people, to see each individual as a locus of types and risk factors—patterns that may be intervened upon to help someone maintain stable housing or avoid being killed by a batterer. As a poet though I want to be surprised by people.]“
And from another letter:
“PS- I have been reading Kate Zambreno’s blog. Occasionally I make a comment and she makes a comment back. Today I told her she should join a CSA and she told me how to massage kale. My life is slowly becoming unintelligible, full of interminglings. Okay this is a very long letter. Toad is howling at the door, at the moths that try to get into the kitchen, to the lights that hang over the counter.
I wish for you a flush of green on the mountains and a torch of cheese.
*I sent this to Kristen to see if it was okay to excerpt her letters like this before sending it (this) (them) to Lemon Hound. She pointed out that she, herself, is not, as yet, the particular owner of any goats. Though: she does work with goats. This is what I meant by goat farmer. (To clarify.)
Bhanu Kapil lives in Colorado where she teaches writing and thinking at Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, as well as Goddard College’s low-residency MFA. She has written three full-length works of poetry/prose: The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers (Kelsey Street Press), Incubation: a space for monsters (Leon Works), and humanimal [a project for future children] (Kelsey Street Press).