Two New Chapbooks

I’m excited to announce that I’ve had two chapbooks published! The first one is Dress Forms from dancing girl press (2016). Many thanks to Kristy Bowen for the lovely cover and design! Here is a link to the dancing girl press shop:

Here is a sample poem from Dress Forms:

         Mother tattered

over the bodice    rob bing

Robin red-breasted: single-

double-    triple-    many-    breasted


midwife, animal-tender, hunter,

virgin-keeper. Not my

mother—my indoor mother

of drapes, porcelain,

Louis XIV decors  & headless

dress forms she pinned her

worsted fantasies to.


The second chapbook is from Tammy, chiefly known to date for the Tammy journal.

Scar let    Woe man (2016) was among three chapbooks selected for their first foray into chapbook publishing.

Here is a link to Scar let   Woe man on the Tammy website:

Here is a poem from Scar let   Woe man:


            Id entity

[My]   id entity   doesn’t   know   all   myselves,

r aced   &   g end e red   into   a   two-   p art y   system.

Id entity   s woo ns   on   the   anal yst’s   c ouch,

freely   ass ociating.   [&   I’m   t he   the rapist.]

[My]   she   id entity   lives   in     Freudian   fear   of

any   need   to   r un   he r self   like   wolves.

Id entity   cr ashes   the   g lass   ceiling,

ig nor ing   the   l id   Freud   put   on   it.

[My]   he   id entity   ex presses   himself    in

id iot   g loss olalia.   Yo u   psycho rabble,

hysteria   isn’t   a   hurt ling,   w and er in g   womb;

it   isn’t   en vying   t he  s word   a   pen is   is.

[My]   id entity   is   n either   inn er   no r   under   w ear,

but   id iolect   I   he ar   myself   sh outing.


Publication News

I’m excited to have several poems in Issue 81of CutBank (currently unavailable) and in the summer issue of Mojave River Review

And in news from the ‘Just Keep At It’ department:

My full-length manuscript, The Gaud Gospel, was a finalist in the Imaginary Friends Press book contest and the May Swenson Poetry Contest. My chapbook manuscript, Bee-lines, was second runner-up in Blast Furnace’s chapbook contest.

Sarah Arvio: “This was not me.”

Here is poet Sarah Arvio’s description where one’s writing comes from–what I call “the otherness which writes my work.” It’s interesting that she mentions that being able to disavow responsibility for the genesis of the work is a dodge that “liberates”:

. . . you hear a voice in your mind and you start to write.  What a rapture, hearing this voice, and writing it as fast as it comes to you.  Does it matter if it’s yours or not?

In any event, since no one truly knows the nature of the mind or the soul, no one knows where thoughts or words come from–study as they may.

It’s interesting, also, to say “this was not me.”  It liberates, doesn’t it?

from The Best American Poetry Blog

“To Lose Yourself in Language”–Don DeLillo

I came across this interview with DeLillo quoted in Brain Pickings (the “combinatorial creativity” clearinghouse for material on creativity, design, and innovation). I keep my eye open especially for the material on writers and their work.

This 1993 interview struck me for how much he relied on a unnameable feelings and urges toward meaning and significance in his writing. He puts himself in the receptive, “feminine” position of waiting and yearning, rather than in the heroic, Apollonian position of conquering by will. In the passage below he says, “You want to lose yourself in language, become a carrier or messenger.”

A “carrier” for what? A “messenger” for what?–This is something I understand viscerally as a poet; it’s also a question I want to address psychologically. But in the psychological realm, I have fewer answers, and all of them are analogical–which is to say, there are poetic.

DeLillo identifies his writing as an impulse coming from “a higher place,” saying that it leads to writing done with a brighter genius for linguistic combinations. He feels it yields a “higher kind of sense” beyond the language and meaning that can be willed through ordinary “discipline and control”.

What is this other mind? This “paradox . . . at the center of a writer’s consciousness”?

I think it is what I’ve called here “the Otherness which writes my work”. Because every writer I read discussing their process says similar things, I’m convinced this is a near-universal experience of creative work–that it comes from ‘somewhere’ [in our brain] that our consciously perceived ‘self’ doesn’t have direct access to: the Skinnerian ‘black box’, the neuro black hole.

I’ve run across some neuroscience research that attempts to explain why our conscious self doesn’t have anything like perfect awareness of our own subjective and perceptual experience–how our consciousness is just a bricolaged version–an RSS feed, if you will–of everything our brain is doing.

The gap in understanding between hemispheres and the hiccup between our frontal cortex and other brain regions responsible for associative leaps is part of an explanation. As I find more resources on the neuroscience of creativity, I’ll share. In the meantime, here is DeLillo on his creative states:


There’s a zone I aspire to. Finding it is another question. It’s a state of automatic writing, and it represents the paradox that’s at the center of a writer’s consciousness—this writer’s anyway. First you look for discipline and control. You want to exercise your will, bend the language your way, bend the world your way. You want to control the flow of impulses, images, words, faces, ideas. But there’s a higher place, a secret aspiration. You want to let go. You want to lose yourself in language, become a carrier or messenger. The best moments involve a loss of control. It’s a kind of rapture, and it can happen with words and phrases fairly often—completely surprising combinations that make a higher kind of sense, that come to you out of nowhere.”




I came across an article about the soulful British singer Beth Orton in the New York Times on the occasion of the release of her new album called “Sugaring Season.” It’s her first album in six years, and I found her description of her songwriting process as a painstaking gathering and distillation to be very evocative.

In the article she describes her experience of performing live as “shamanizing” the audience while in a spontaneous, meditative, altered state. This is the vision of art as Dionysian transport–that the artist is attuned to another realm from which inspiration and ideas come as if by magic. This sense that inspiration is beyond individual control invites projection about who or what–muses, spirits, or gods–can be thanked for the gift which seems to come from outside the self.

That romantic (and classical) view of creativity is popular with the public, but is seen as passé in sophisticated and professional art circles. There, the eye is on the work as a commodity whose value is derived from the artist’s status as an artist approved by fad, authorities, and market forces.

Orton seems unabashed in hewing to the old, popular ways of thinking about her musical craft. She sees her music as coming, not exactly from muses, but from a different part of her brain, which she sees as “smarter than me.” Yet she doesn’t give short shrift to the conscious attunement or discipline (the “steadfastness”) also required:

“For Orton, her lyrics have always poured out thoughts of longing, solitude and steadfastness that rise toward the philosophical. ‘You want to learn the trick to turn/What’s not so pretty into something more beautiful’ . . . .

“She added: ‘The songwriting brain is much smarter than me. I’m not that person. It makes connections that I don’t make necessarily.’”

I like how simply Orton puts this. It’s what most poets say about the creative genesis of their work–that they have no idea where it comes from or why. That it comes from a part of us that we can’t account for. That part is that thing in us which makes connections or wild associations we wouldn’t (consciously) have ever thought of.

We poets say the work comes from ‘elsewhere,’ or that it feels like something that an ‘other’ has authored. It’s not that of our creations still strikes us as so mysterious that, even in 2012, we invoke spirits and phantasmagorical brain regions to account for it.

Part of the purpose of this blog is to approach, over and over–through different voices and different descriptions–, what that ‘other’ is that inspires the art we make. I want to read that otherness in light of what we’re starting to learn about the creating brain from neuroscience. I like this approach not because the scientific explanation is a better one, but because it is simply another interesting metaphor-laden language for talking about creativity.

Again, from the New York Times piece about Beth Orton:

“Although Ms. Orton wrote a song called ‘Sugaring Season,’ it didn’t end up on the album.

“’It’s a beautiful poetic phrase,’ she said. ‘These long cold nights and then this slight upping in the temperature in the day would create an upsurgence in the tree, and the sap would rise, and it would create some sugar. But you’d have to have a lot of sap for every little bit of sugar. I like the chemistry of the idea that that’s the creative process for me. It’s taking it all and just making a little bit of sugar.'”


“A lot of sap for every little bit of sugar” — that really expresses the essence of creative work. When I first read that passage, it set up precisely the kind of chemical reaction in me that she was talking about. That reaction distilled itself, as if I were living the creation of a crystal, into a poem I call “Sugaring.”

It’s a poem that, as Orton says, is both the product of the long, simmering process of taking things in, reading, observing, musing, reflecting, as well as the inexplicable lightning-bolt moment of things suddenly clicking into place; that alchemical process of producing something in the crucible of one’s imagination out of materials both interior and external to one’s sense of self, both utterly self and utterly other.

Here is the poem that Orton’s words triggered for me:


happens when sap
defies winter gravity & rises
to be let

in an upward blood-flow
from compressed woody
& frozen tissues.

That flow is know-how–
liquid life’s thawing spurt &
spring run-off. It’s the not-yet

crystalline distillate
of Vermont, or of the lovers’
sugar-shack set. It is

sweated sufferance, pooled
in a wood-fired vat,
stirred, sweltered, boiled down.

— Coco Owen

2500 Random Things About Me Too (Viegener)

This is a piece I wrote about Matias Viegener’s new book for my blog, Tarzana Is My Heroine:

I.   2500 Random Things About Me Too (Viegener, 2012)

I went to LACE (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions) in Hollywood last Thursday for my friend Matias Viegener’s book release party. He teaches writing and critical studies at CalArts and is part of the Fallen Fruit public art collective. Matias actually lives in Silver Lake, so I’m going back ‘over the hill’ here to include him, but I’ll get back to the Valley in part II of this post (look for it tomorrow!).

His new book, 2500 Random Things About Me Too was just published by Les Figues Press, with which I’m associated. The book is a great and engaging read. The text consists of 100 different “25 Random Things About Me” Facebook lists. For those who’ve forgotten already, that was a meme that went around FB what, two years ago now?

Matias’s sustained reiteration of these lists results in a work that reworks the eternal dilemmas: Is my life random or coherent? Does my life fit a traditional or an experimental ‘narrative’? Who would play me in the movie version of my life? And . . . . Is it even a life, if there’s no ‘story’?

In the beginning of the book, Matias says, “Narrative is overrated. An addiction to transparency . . . It doesn’t have much to do with real life. . . . Of course I love a good story.”

This tension is sustained through the book as Matias (randomly) discusses and ruminates on:

1. his immigrant parents and their complex identities;

2. his dog Peggy’s declining health;

3.  many gay liaisons and loves;

4. a friend’s struggle with cancer;

5. What is art? What makes a good life? What is death?

Matias begins his first list saying, “People think I’m American but inside I’m foreign.” Five lines later he says, “I don’t want to tell people things they don’t know about me.”  This was posted on FB one list at a time, where his 3,500+ ‘friends’ and counting could read them. Or not.

The irony here isn’t a knowing tone, but is rather, and thus more seriously, in the work’s bones.

The act of continuing to write versions of a singular list puts questions of self-presentation, voice, and time in the foreground. As the lists progress through the book, it’s the repetition itself that builds the implicit formal structure that ends up both superseding the list format and serving as plot. Or not.

Matias told me it was his FB readers/friends who pointed out repetitions of which he’d been unconscious. He chose to leave these in. I think this stylistic evidence of his ‘repetition compulsions’ is more revelatory than any individual, racy detail (of which there are also many) could be. The structure of the book, in a way, is a self-psychoanalysis. Genius!

The echoic layering of themes and phrasings builds as the lists keep coming and coming, along with all the sex he keeps having! The ‘random’ facts accrete and then compound–poignant, throwaway, and indelible all at the same time. Even though I know the writer very well, I saw a unique and literary character emerge out of the queer marriage of formal constraint and maximallist repetition in this book of 25 x 100 things.

2500 Random Things is a sustained interrogation of self and surroundings in which the reader is handed roles that keep morphing: confidante, student, stranger-on-a-plane, voyeur, beloved. Who [besides Les Figues editor Vanessa Place] could have guessed that a faddish FB meme could yield something so artful and so thoughtful?

Read more about the book, or buy it here:


My work dramatizes the very gender-inflected struggle of claiming a voice. It speaks of that struggle with forked tongue, using irony, punning, allusion, ambiguity, and double entendre as strategems for opening up treasures in words beyond the manifest meanings that lie on the surface (because they lie on the surface).

I like to lean on the archeology of words, which exposes infraverbal, etymological residues that can be unearthed and put back into use. [Meddle English by Caroline Bergvall uses such verbal archeology.]

In a poetic line, words (like Trojan horses) yield unexpected resonances: what’s concealed in the unconscious of each word whickers to the unconscious of the others. Like the Jungian I am, I enjoy amplifying those sotto voce conversations among words. Sometimes their talk sounds like Babel-babble, but it’s always revealing.

When I use gender as a trope for the struggle between silence and utterance, it isn’t necessarily literal. But I always pose the question: do I have the right to write? And because I pose that question, what I’m also asking is: do I write right?

There! The phrase “right to write” drops something beautiful in my lap, because the issues of voice, permission, and proximity are right there in it. Can I claim my right to work English in a way that pleases me?

My skewed, homophonic version of Matthew 7:7 pleases me, because it both plays with and critiques the source text:

Her Golden Rule

Mask, and ye shall receive.
Sequin, ye shall find;
Knockout, the door will be
Opened into you.

I love rendering [pun intended] the multiplicity of words, in words.

I love exploiting English’s inherent ambiguities and redundancies to celebrate them. Homonyms, puns, double entendres, overdetermined line breaks, and variant spellings build up the musical richness and intellectual complexity I want my poetry to bear and bare.

James Merrill called the Oxford English Dictionary “the unconscious of the language,” so that’s the word-bank I go to, to “make the unconscious conscious.” For writing poetry is (also) work of the psyche. Here’s where my training in psychology and my writing dovetail.

Sometimes I play with language using verbal fission:

Be e    c om e    to    me    no  w;
Be    a ll u red,    yo u
Be au ti  ful    hone y
Ma ch in e    of    be e in g.

(from “Final e”)

And sometimes I use verbal fusion:

We thought our LemonDropMantle
would never dissolve,
but endure—EternalConundrum—

on our tongues, SweetJesus!—
like a BitterSweet pickle,

(from “LifeLiqueur”)

Sometimes I try to bamboozle syntax by letting trickster words mean everything at once, like waving while drowning (c.f., Stevie Smith). I court ambiguity on purpose, preferring polysemy to simplicity (i.e., the simplistic).

I dislike “accessibility” even more. Porn is accessible.

I like the richness ambiguity affords, even if it can be dis-

Abandoned ship, disembark I  you  sovereign
Cargo.  Chaste-ravished  I your utter  Subject.

(from “Holy Child Sonnet”)

I write the poems the way I do in part because, as Linda Kunhardt said recently in Poetry magazine, it entertains me to do so! But it is serious entertainment.

I like giving a poem a textual tic which hawks a thematic shtick. I really like it when I can get a poem to read two (even if conflicting) ways at the same time:

Dear P|earls before s|wine.

(from “Be-hold, Be-head”)

I like that dizzying kind of sense-making because, in truth, aren’t we all polymorphically perverse, hemispherically bilateral multi-taskers? Why pretend, especially in poetry (that “condensery”), that we’re not?

(Excerpted from the One Alternate Workday blog: