Intertextuality the ‘ZINE

I like to go through the zine sections of local bookstores when on the road and have found a lot of really great kind of underground stuff that way.

It all feeds into everything else.


Jeff VanderMeer, Author

Why a zine?

‘Zines are quick and snappy. ‘Zines offer writers and artists a means of production that is fairly barrier-free. ‘Zines are pretty easy to organize and range from low-cost to moderate-cost production.


Comments about the Intertextuality Process.

I undertook a few days’ research to learn about ‘Zines. I had only made one before, and that was an old-school process; with paper, scissors, copier and a special type of stapler- a saddle-type. While I am fascinated by book arts, fibers, and hand-made goods, I decided to make this inaugural edition digital.

I put out a call to approximately 100 folks I knew from my earlier career as a dance artist. I also reached out to students in the Creative Writing and Literature Programs at Eastern Michigan University, my alma mater.

Submissions trickled in at first, then built to a steady stream. I love the diversity that is represented in this first volume.

Poets, cyber-artists, photographers, musicians, ballet dancers, somatic therapists, body workers, labor organizers, and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs all have thoughts about the theme “Words on Dance.” I actually couldn’t fit in all the submissions. Thanks to all the artists and writers who trust me with their submissions.

I hope you enjoy the ‘Zine. Due to reader interest, print copies are also available. If you’d like to purchase a paper copy, they are $12, mailed via USPS, to any where in the US. International orders are $15.

Message me or respond to this blog post to order a copy, or just enjoy the ‘Zine electronically.

Donations are accepted.

My Venmo handle is: @Christina-Sears-17. If you’d like your own paper copy, remember I will need to collect your mailing address. Email that to me please and place “Zine order” in the subject line.

Intertextuality the ‘Zine

Words on Dance

Collage Image by Sarah Imhoff-Jones

Memories of Paris, Process

As a Fiber Student in Advanced Fibers study with Professor Suzanne Boissy at EMU School of Art and Design, I’ve been having a blast learning new techniques and skills. I’ve been applying these new skills to my first Project in Fibers. I consider this an extension of my multi-media journeys, as this piece includes my original poem “Monk’s Hour at the Pompidou Museum.”

I wrote the poem six years after a visit to the famed Pompidou in Paris.

The piece is made of: An upcycled Degas Print “The Dancing Class” (1874), layers of lavender chiffon, screen prints, and more. First I had to learn how to make screen prints, which I did with some success. I love the magical process of screen printing. See the materials list below for a comprehensive list.

Materials

  • Linen fabric for screen print
  • white and lavender chiffon
  • yellow wool
  • gold embroidery floss and thread
  • Vintage photographs (mine are by Parisian Photographer Yvon Guy Greff, marked Greff studios from the 1940’s.)
  • Vintage frame and backboard

Screen Printing and Stitching
Process Photos

Multimedia journeys

handmade artbook

Since September 2018, I have been studying Creative Writing @ EMU. No stranger to EMU, having been a member of faculty in Music and Dance since 2011, I’ve always enjoyed the campus and community. However, studying with Creative Writing Professors in the program has been an incredible journey. One aspect that makes the Creative Writing Program at EMU special is hybridity.

Many higher education programs (MA’s, MFA’s) direct writers into a stream of study right from the point of application. As a multi-genre Movement Artist making the leap into Literary Arts, I had a deep desire to explore it all-

Poetry, fiction, flash-fiction, Creative Non-Fiction, and hybrid forms. This blog post documents my third project in MultiMedia, the art booklet. Today I’m sharing a photo gallery of DOCuDrama of a Dream, my second artbook project. I’m discovering a whole world of art books, collage, and multimedia composition.

As a person with health challenges and some level of disability, I’ve really had to take quarantine seriously during COVID-19. Even though I’ve struggled with social distance limitations, for example having to put my band BadjaMutha on complete hold, I’ve really never been more creatively productive.

Part of the impetus has been due to my extreme thirst for creative exploration, part of it is due to having a wonderful collaborative partner/teammate and delightful community of artists to interact with/ and learn from, and part of it is slowing down and attuning to my inner rhythms and the energy of the earth.

Winter, even in the disordered climate-change version of winter, offers opportunity for peering inward, and contemplating shifts, affinities and contrasts. I haven’t been posting a lot on my blog due to demands of life, job and school-work- I hope you enjoy this December post.

In today’s blog post, I offer glimpses of my new art booklet DOCuDrama of a Dream. I used many different compositional tools, techniques and technologies to construct this piece.

First, I concentrated on harvesting and recycling images and language from my dreams. I dedicated my focus to writing as soon as I wake, no matter what the hour, for a period of about 14 nights. Later, I processed the language into edited hand-written compositions. In these compositions, I hone the text into a bi-fold article: the meaning of the text is important, but the visual element of the writing has equal weight. Therefore, instead of typing the text and applying the usual (computer-based) options to the text, I tried to really focus on the act of writing as mark-making. I’m obsessed with line!

Textual Meaning and Materiality

Style of writing gains import here. I invented a kind of block-lettering that reminded me of early computers. And by early, I’m talking about the computer technologies of the late 70’s and early 80’s- ginormous computers that had a footprint of 20 square feet. My father, Dave Sears, an engineer at Allison’s at the time- took me to visit this computer at work. Allison, a branch of General Motors, was HQ’d in Indianapolis, Indiana, where I was born.

This computer used punch-cards and binary coding to function. It was a far cry from the nanochip tech we all have access to today. But this vintage tech was an aesthetic motivator for the hand-lettering you see below.

Additionally, I fleshed out my dream-material with character names (Lisa, Jill and Arthur Robinson, Barney, etc.) and gave Lisa, a leading lady, her own enscriptive style, a loopy cursive script. I even created a signature for her. Finally, I typed up the bulk of the content on a vintage typewriter I scored of Ebay. I was absurdly excited for the typewriter and it’s accessories, two ribbons, one black and one red to arrive. Quickly, working as a choreographer does, I established some aesthetic rules.

First- due to typing on unusual paper(s) I decided to accept all mistakes as fate, and work them into the flow of the text. One reason was that the corrective technology for this mid-1960’s Coronamatic typewriter is pretty primitive. The second reason was aesthetic: imperfection proves this item is made by human hands.

My own life is full of mistakes, shortfalls, and imperfections. Why should this booklet be any different? I decided to accept the mistakes of this booklet process, and integrate them, even when errors of spelling or fact occur. This led to another interesting sidebar- Tabloid type elements.

Some of the mistakes I made were mundane, but some were early steps in my research process. For example, one day, during a hike in the woods, my partner and I were discussing the Beatles’ song: “Give Me Money.” We both had a sneaking sense that this song, is, in fact a cover. I dreamed about it later, and dreamed it is a cover of a Bill Withers’ tune. That proved incorrect. I discovered a fascinating music research line. Berry Gordy’s administrative assistant at the time, Ms. Janie Bradford, is a co-writer of the song. She also was in the Motown Offices on the day the Beatles expressed interest in covering the song, and probably took the call where the deal was sealed.

Is she appropriately credited? Yes, today she is and does receive royalty compensation for her many songwriting credits. Check out this cool blog post for more about Janie Bradford, her accomplishments in music here. However, this is not the typical outcome for musicians, especially in blues and rock-n-roll music. Even in the case of the house bands for Motown’s various labels, many of the musicians suffered from poverty and instability in their careers and lives. Thus, creative exploitation, and a specific sidebar, exploitation of women, became a thematic sub-current in the booklet. This theme can’t be identified in the photos, and likely will only come to complete fruition a the next version of the project. (Spoiler: women’s reproductive capacity and monetization of biological reproductive capacities through the practice of surrogacy, sperm and ova donorship, etc. will be a theme in future drafts.)

The booklet components lay fallow for about six weeks this past fall, while I tried to decide upon a strategy to complete them. With the aid of art found in a little free library (LFL’s) on Oak Street in Ypsilanti, MI, I generated a cover. Memories of growing-up times with my father are layered underneath the medieval lady (greeting card art) on the back cover: a jingle from a radio advertisement for Smith Brothers’ Wild Cherry Cough Drops is penned in messy gray and royal blue marker.

Front Cover

On the front cover, I include a photo I took in 2009 on a visit to the Dominican Republic. The signage in English reads “No Passage, Private Property.” According to Frederick Engels’ 1884 Book, Origin of the Family, Private Property and The State the conceptualization of Private Property, ushered in a transition from matriarch to patriarchy. Family bloodlines and the establishment of trackable paternity made monogamy and privatization of land the new system in 18th century Europe. Industrialization in the mid-19th century allowed for the development of the middle class, and the widening divisions between workers, landowners, middle class managers of industry, etc. Finally, nuclear family practice and models of patriarchal tradition formed the perfect vehicle for the transfer of white privilege through heirs and inheritance. As society continued to evolve, a centralization of wealth and familial lines through the father created a cult of domesticity for certain classes/ races of women. The fence in the sepia-toned photography, and the off-center sign speak to all of these meanings.

I choose, with great zeal and joy, to stitch the whole booklet together on a fancy modern sewing machine. This choice of technique echoes centuries of female labor and points to women’s integrations and roles in testing technology. Also, women’s roles in fashion, textile production, manufacturing garments.

I hope you enjoy this post and my booklet.

Interview with Matt Seigfried, Historian

This semester I have had the privilege of studying with Dr. Elisabeth Däumer from the Department of English Language and Literature. The course finished now, and despite the Quarantine and finishing the course in lockdown, Winter 2020 was a wonderful semester, in terms of our course: Literature in the Age of the Anthropocene. My eco-criticism final project for the Course is a paper entitled “Luna Lake: EcoCriticism, History and Land Use in Ypsilanti.” There is also a conjoined hypermedia notebook in the hopper. Meet me at the River is a multi-modal creative investigation of the Huron River and my study of it over time.

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I have the pleasure of speaking with Matt Seigfried who is a self-employed historian. According to his website, Matt is a historian, writer and researcher originally from Cincinnati, Ohio who has lived in Michigan since 1996. A graduate of Eastern Michigan University with degrees in History and Historic Preservation, much of his work has been on connecting local history to broad historical moments.

Matt’s Master’s Thesis Project resulted in the publication of an impactful website. This site centers around the cultural and sociological histories of African-American Families in Ypsilanti around 1900. Matt and I spoke about the gaps in what history has been preserved in terms of land use, ethics, and social and cultural norms and practices of African-American families. Matt stated:

“If the information wasn’t collected 150 years ago, it’s not (going to be) available now…When we look at history, there is an absolute necessity to use an informed imagination.”

When I explained a bit about my project, and that several of the components in my hyper-media e-book, Meet Me at the River, are inspired by a somatic sensing of place, I wanted to get a professional impression of my research process.

As a Somatics practitioner, I have found that this work infuses everything. A somatic sensing of place allows one to collect distinct impressions of place through one’s sensory apparatus, energetic attunement, and intuitive creative visioning. I call this process of somatic attunement “Deep Time Listening.”

Due to there being significant missing pieces in Ypsilanti’s social and cultural history, there was a lot of sadness and sense of loss in this study. One particularly disturbing gap is the lack of record regarding First Peoples and this area.

The Prospect Park which marks the epicenter of this lived history project is particularly complex. What I was able to establish from historical record is that Luna Lake and Prospect Park were widely used as hunting lands by at least three tribes (bands) simultaneously. The area was plentiful with game and water, having been documented as “Swamp land,” on a platt map.

However, this area, bordered to the East by International Water Way and the Port of Detroit, to the immediate North East by the powerful Huron River, and the South by Ohio settlers and bands of people migrations from East to West, was lively and multi-cultural from the get-go. European influence came from the British and French wars, military history, fur traders and trappers from French-Canada and so on. Consider all the impact of this past, and then add “Great Migrations” of African Americans. Families travelled northward following the Emancipation Proclamation, and continued to seek better employment opportunities in through mid Twentieth century. The progressive manufacturing activities of Edsel Ford are intricately tied to Ypsilanti history. Ford used the river extensively, and hydrology and automotive history play a big part in the industrial development of the area. Additionally, Ford designated housing for factory workers, and the connections between Detroit families and Ypsilanti are hinted at in my poem, “Boys in Dress Uniform.” (DM if you’d like to read a draft.)

Of particular note, burying grounds have an important function in cultural life for all people, and land cultivation as well. In the past, Prospect Park was a burying ground for cholera victims, though these remains were exhumed (presumably respectfully?- one hopes) in 1892 as a activist efforts by local women were undertaken to “improve” the area.

Facing these complexities, during one 15-week semester, which was disrupted by COVID, was a daunting task. I imagine the possibilities of undocumented land use, in January 2020 I began a poetry series inspired by the place where I live. Most of these poems are set in the time period between 1890s-1930’s, and I have wondered how valid Deep Time Listening, combined with sociological and biological factual points of reference and poetic prompts are as literary inquiry.

How important is imagination, interrogations of place, and an examination of built structure in terms of interpreting history? Was I totally off-the-wall in my practice, which like most other points of inquiry, is multi-modal?

How does investigative traditional research, books, scouring newspaper accounts and making detailed examination of photographs, drawing, cartoons, etc. interface with the lived body? I’ve long been fascinated by oral history, especially given its mainstay as a feminist mode of inquiry.

How do conversations, news accounts, and found items play out with the experience of living in a historic neighborhood?

I floated a few questions about the research process I used during LIT 592 to Matt, during our interview. One gem from his response below:

“I do nothing but walk around and imagine what things could have been like. You have an informed understanding of the past, but you must use your imagination. All history requires imagination, in one sense or another.”

This position was reassuring to me. As a white LGBTQ+ woman, living with hidden disabilities, ethics and anti-racism are an on-going concern in my research and life. I’d been juggling historic papers, from City and Michigan State University sources, contemporary pro-Black farming studies (notably Ms. Dorceta Taylor’s comprehensive reportage on African-American farmers in Michigan and nationwide, published in March 2018) with observational study, perusing platt maps, vintage photographs, and the like.

Balancing historical traditional research, primary research and the emergent “Deep Time Listening” made for a heady stew. In order to compose my paper and create aspects of my conjoined hyper-media project, “Meet Me at the River”  I required a professional historian’s point of view. It is and was imperative to me, that the research be as immaculate as possible.

Matt conducts walking tours and considers the built and natural environment an invaluable resource. Matt shares:

“One of the reasons I do walking tours is because history is what we walk around in everyday. History is in our built environment… history navigates the… relationship of the built environment and our natural world. Roads are racially-coded, and the built environment is a really important place to understand history and how social differences are built and encoded into place.”

Visit Matt’s impressive website, which documents African-American families, neighborhoods and life-styles here. The feature image, at top, is a photo from the website, and marks an intersection of major historical import in South Ypsilanti. Similarly, the second image, a candid of Matt, shows him standing in front of a former theatre, on Michigan Ave. where Frederick Douglass spoke twice.

To contact Matt and book a place on one of his tours, or inquire about other programming, send him a note through his website. I personally hope to go on a walking tour with Matt soon, and will be sure to share a bit about it this summer.

Flash Fiction Workshop

Join Christina-Marie and the Creative Writers Association for a Flash Fiction Workshop this coming Sunday March 8th, from 4-6 pm at Cultivate.

Write a short short story of 300, 500 or 1,000 words and bring it to the workshop for peer or small group review.

Look for our table at Cultivate, in the Main Cafe area. Excellent coffees, beverages and snacks are available for purchase, but purchase is not required to participate.

This workshop is free and open to serious creative writers. For those who are not currently students, a suggested donation of $7 to $15 applies. Funds raised will support the Creative Writers Association of Eastern Michigan University. We ask that writers commit the full 120 minutes to the workshop, so everyone has a chance to receive feedback on his/her/their projects.

Email to RSVP

My Teaching Practice

Last August, I began teaching CRTW 120, Composition I: Writing the College Experience. As it is, whenever one begins a new adventure, I had a lot of new content to embrace. A new text, a fantastic cohort of teachers in the First Year Writing Program, a new Pedagogy professor, and finally, a full group of lively and talented students at Eastern Michigan University.

We’ve had a wonderful semester together, and in 2020 I will be moving on to Instruct WRTG 121, Researching the Public Experience. I couldn’t be more excited to meet and face new challenges that allow me to refine my pedagogy, learn from my fellow Graduate Student Assistants, interact with expert FYW Director and co-directors, and engage with a dynamic community of freshman students.

As I go forward, I am thrilled to be able to look back on all we’ve done in WRTG 120. Research will be my polar plunge for 2020!

How can this Community Wellness Space benefit you?

logo for Maple Street. In it, you see dancing, fitness, wellness and beauty.

This is a home-based creativity space with classes in music and dance, somatics, and yoga. This is a family-owned and operated wellness studio. Come as you are! Enjoy arts experiences, workshop, small classes, personal instruction, safe space for everyone. LGBTQ friendly. Payment is donation-based.

There is a staircase down to the studios, so Maple Street has limited ADA accessibility. For Full Accessibility options, Programming is available at Riverside Arts Center.

Our first ArtsShare was a lot of fun! This casual gathering is a wonderful way to meet other creatives and share your artistic practice.

Highlights include Bombay Jam with Miraya Fit. This is a woman-owned dance and fitness business. My friend and colleague Mukta Joshi reached out to me in 2018, as she had just moved to Michigan with her family. She is a classically trained Indian dancer who is also a personal trainer.

For more on this ancient dance form, visit the India Times.

As a demonstration of my design and production skills, enjoy the art I made for MPS’s First ArtsShare. Save-the-date for the next one, Sunday February 1st, 2020.

At Arts Share we enjoyed dance, food and fun, and poetry. Three poets read their work in this intimate and supportive setting. While you are enjoying the holidays and trying to beat cabin fever this winter, consider taking a workshop or class at Maple Street. If you are wondering what else is happening in the studio, Tap is hot and improves memory, balance, coordination. I have been a tap teacher and dancer for over twenty years. sooooo…



Learn tap dance with me!

Tap Dance is an American classic form, and it’s brain and body friendly. I have beenb a tap dancer since the age of three, and I love sharing the joy and fun of this rhythmic form. I consider tap dance an extension of my musicianship, and perform it with our cover band BadjaMutha.

Videos of our Fall Outreach

Ypsi Writes Workshops

This semester, part of my Outreach has been with Ypsi Writes. This series of workshops has shared leadership, and we have so far met for two hour-long workshops. Both have been on the smaller side, but overall have been very successful. The lesson plans for our workshop time have been created by Joe Bishop.

On the first workshop, we met our young adults, who identify as having a disability, and the content concerns word choice, synonyms and antonyms. Among the three young writers who were present, Grey presented with the most content. Grey is already hard at work on a short story. The text has a great deal of detail, interesting characters and plot-twists.

Gray set a goal of completing her story within the 2019-2020 series of workshops. Other folks were also setting goals, particularly “Lawrence” who works part-time as an auto-detailer while he completes his education. “Lawrence” is writing more and really ramping up his imagination. I noticed this in last Saturday’s workshop.

Because I was seated near “Lawrence” I got the opportunity to work closely with him on lesson #2, Maps. In this lesson, participants drew a map of an imaginary place. Our small team of three decided to draw a village set into the side of a mountain, and from there, details, economies, imaginary creatures and topographic information sprang forth. Our inventions included: Fields of Frolic (a recreation arena), Mines of Requirement, Shepherd’s Heath, Lama Crossing, Mermaid’s Lagoon, a swift flowing wide river well suited for trade and commerce, etc.

We had a lot of fun with making our map, and “Lawrence” and another volunteer created a short paragraph describing it. A goal is just to inspire “Lawrence” to write more and grow in confidence.

Everyone is having a great time at workshops, and the volunteer team have a good rapport. There is a budding sense of community developing, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Grey’s Map and a bit of their story.

The Vital System

This collection of poems, published in 2012 by Tupelo Press, is the first I’ve read of CM Burroughs’ work. The slim text, her first collection of poems, is beautifully designed and the poems sing from the pages, and deftly slide from one to the next. CM Burroughs’ voice on the page is immediate and vivid, exploring internal spaces, corporeality, pain and suffering, and different modes of loving. Remembrance of Burrough’s sister is heartily sprinkled throughout the text, and while she is not named, the absent sister is in the core of the book, an invisible magnet.

Table of Contents, The Vital System: Poems


For example, consider the first Poem, Dear Incubator, which I had the pleasure of hearing Burrough’s read at Ann Arbor’s University of Michigan, on October 17, 2019 (excerpt from p. 3)

How can I ask you from inside the poem- what sense did I have so early…So unformed./ I was tangled in tubes (that keeps my heart pumping; that kept my lungs from collapsing; food/ to the body; oxygen to the brain).

You are everything and nothing.

A surrogate. A packing of half-made sensory detail; a past.

I have scars on my belly in shapes of fish…Where sensors tore thin skin.  What a tragedy to / be powerless. And yet, I controlled the choreography of everyone around me (the check of/ vitals; arms through the arm ports; my parent’ speech; also, there were surgeons.)

 This initial piece sets the book up with embodied theatricality, and indeed, the poems move through many spaces, in addition to the first space. Place occupies an important priority in the poems, as they move faster than the speed of light, from the first high stakes space, to the departed sister’s graveside, to a high tech television studio or film set, in Video Shoot, (p 47) a bed/ a bedroom, where sometimes the reader is invited in, but are compelled to stand behind the velvet ropes, as if touring a historic site. At other times, the reader is intimately close, invited to lean into private spaces, as in the provocative and powerful poem Clitoris. (p. 12)

However, the first space is polished, light, clean and scented with antiseptic. “The Theatre” as the OR or Operating Room used to be called, is a hospital space filled with anxiety, fever, illness, pain, heroism, recovery. We are mortal and this is high-stakes drama. The space clearly is constructed as a preemie unit, or possibly neonatal intensive care. Dear Incubator seems to be written from the point of view of the infant, this is a wildly creative choice that brings up all sorts of spiritual questions, and a web of musings about consciousness. 

Who is speaking? Can such tiny infants recall such things? Will this baby survive? The thought of a tiny person, conscious and feeling pain, hearing her parents speak, monitoring the comings and goings of hospital staff stirs up so much. Additionally, we discover that this infant “makes it” but the reader is left wondering, is this the absent sister? Is this a memory of the poet’s? Who is this partially-formed being, dependent upon medical technology, receiving touch, nutrition, life-support, and also aware of how she directs “the choreography.”

When Burroughs is behind the podium, a petite stylish woman who laughs as she turns on the microphone, she seems to occupy more than the physical space of her frame. She embodies her poems with melodic voice and a serious, yet slanted delivery. She forms the words of the poem with warmth and grace, yet there is a distance and deep range and precision. 

Her voice gains power as she read the poem Raving : I and the scale grows to mythic feminine; Diana the Huntress may well be circumnavigating a battlefield. 


“There was blood. Testicles lay in the streets
Like confetti post-parade. I was glad: Diana
after Actaeon’s own salivating pack consumed him-
Limb by limb licked, tendons trailing.”

To re-familiarize myself with the references in this stanza, a little research is necessary. I visit here and find an interesting article that restates the classical myth of Diana and Actaeon. Within the article, I found many 17th century Europeans paintings, used as illustrations to the myth, which I found topical.
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The way in which the above example foregrounds a particular problem- the portrayal of classical Greek myths- informs my interpretation of this poem. I have selected this example to illustrate the historically and culturally complex dynamic which is refuted/reframed/renavigated/reclaimed by Burroughs’ poems.

With a critical view of this Italian painting, I want to make plain an example of how Romantic European traditions in canvas painting totally white-washes the complex relationship between Grecian and Egyptian culture, both trading cultures, and denies the Africanist origination of Actaeon. However, I was intrigued by the artist’s portrayal of the fallen hero as earthy, strong and powerful, and the oddly contextual but ironic rack of antlers he wears as costume in the painting.

The ruins of Thebes lie today within/underneath Luxor, and Actaeon is a Theban hero. Immediately, the surface of the poem cracks open for me, and begins to reveal complexity within. While in the Italian painting, Acteon is of a darker complexion than the bathing maidens, his portrayal is far different the body of an actual Thebean hero. This site offers a thumb-nail sketch of how Actaeon might have dressed. Certainly he would have been clad either in Egyptian regalia, or in “commoner’s linen,” if he is intended to be disguised, which is not at all suggested by the painter. A very euro-canvas-traditional costume is depicted; painting tropes win over logic and accuracy.

Questions of race, ethnic heritage, female empowerment emerge. Also implied by this rhetorical research into the myth and its interplay within the poem, this reimagining of Diana’s power is a statement about identity.

Again, salient aspects of place and time, corporeality, and voice circulates between the poems.

In Raving: I (p.11) a seed is planted for the sowing of richer investigations. The connotations which arise from the author’s focus on this particular myth grounds the themes in the book. Identity, transformation, disease, medical intentions and mortality and transformation lie underneath and within the poems. Female power, violence and mourning sift beneath the leaves.

Burroughs, who is a black poet born in Atlanta, Georgia, and currently resides in Chicago, navigates contemporary political content, as well as intense personal material in her work. The relationship between the poems, and the subtle and organic structuring of the poem collective, effectively prioritizes lived experience with epic imagination.

Along the way, complex identities of Americans of color begin to thrum, and this is hinted at with the fierce repetition which ends the poem, Raving : I.

“I wore red paint, salvaging neither plated breast,
Nor firm mouth. Not once was I tender. 

I wanted them wasted- him, him, him, him him” 

In the mid-point of the text is a tightly woven three-part poem The Vital System which I presume to be important as it illuminates the title of the book. This poem is vivid and enigmatic, replete with erogenous language and complex hot images. The voice and perspective shifts in each section of this poem. Part I contains gendered images in its early lines, then shifts to an interrogation of collage as identity. (p 27)


I, in strutting cock stance,
anatomy blazing, phonic, self-
made mid-light….
I trans-
formed: across canvas stretched
white, a black bone bi-continental collage,
a put-upon pace.

Later in Part II, and Part III, Burroughs zooms into extreme close-up, richly describing a bucolic landscape of sex, agency, injury and action:
her bastion evidences fable: he plants his rollicking root. Blood lets, not enough to regret, repent. A body politic ravels. (p. 28)

and in the third section, zooms in still closer to the erogeny of the lived female body:

“Labial. Women grapple-hook women. Plum loaf, garnet welt, milk smear, complexion an arousal-lidded cunt. Mode: additive.” (p. 29)

In Part VI of the collection, Burroughs’ ability to create texts that works so well on many different registers is crystal clear. The first poem in this section, My helpless need to repeat, re-view, re-vise, (p. 55) is clever and self-possessed, also honest. Perhaps this quick switch of perspective makes this very brief poem such a wonderful start to a new section.

She primps in the powder room. She performs in public. She visits a therapist to leave/ her self with someone else. Repeat I, I, I.


I must tell you, and possibly you know, there is only this stage.”

Women, performing our public selves in private, women preparing the private self in public, trying to get “out of my head” through talk-therapy: how many women can see their lives in Burroughs’ lines?

The next poem Black Memorabilia, is a vast shift of perspective, and the reader is invited to a witnessing of the lived black body, the female body. In section I, Burrough’s shines her light onto and between a Black American experience, overcoming racism and oppression. I derive this meaning from Burrough’s pacing, and swift juxtapositions of body systems and phenomena: pain, teeth, nails, action, agency, body organs, (shoulder, tongue, skin) with more abstract ideas, such as anthems, interrogatives, loyalty. The line “When he fucks me, isn’t he uprising?” (p. 57) is preceded by an interior first section.

In this section, I can intimate by the word [Reclamation], set aside in brackets by the author, a rebellion/ a re-working/a re-visioning? I see a hologram of a certain woman of color, no a collage of multiple holographs, all of whom work in a domestic sphere, catalogued in the first line. Regarding voice, here is the coolest tonality in the set of four sections, however, there is a quick shift from outside to interior spaces: her/she to I/what I’ve done.

Here I excerpt the entire section I, from page 56.


[In this position in the poem: a maidservant.]
See: mammy/nanny/au pair, slipping into
tarnish like caviar spoons. This is a corner
for thinking about what I’ve done—placed
my hands over a series, a collection, of
rouged lips and their melanin-fringed rims.
[Reclamation.] i have faced the question:
What are you? In my dream, I am flanked by
such a number of windows that my limbs are
bound by light. Yellow girl. How do I say
no to that much canvas? As the poet of the
poem, I say No. I say Black. Behind me,
horizon fills with saliva.


In conclusion, this stunning book is one you will read and enjoy on so many levels. Intellectually stimulating, deeply felt, musical and vivid to all the senses, it also contains so much soul and yes, love. Eros, obviously is romantic love, fraught with all its failures and perils, yet phermonaly-speaking, unavoidable. Phillia, love of the mind drives the deep themes and investigations of the texts. Pragma, long-standing love, imbues the text with dedication: “for my sister”. And there is much focus on the sister, a dear one, and her pain, and the pain Burroughs survived in losing her too soon. A life all too brief, yet held in the shrine of remembrance.

The other forms of love humans create and experience, for example playful love, love for humanity and familial love are present as well, but painted so effectively in the poems; they become like live oaks in a landscape. There, but also part of the air we breathe.

In conclusion, Burrough’s outstanding collection of poems is a bit like a spiritual journey. There is wracking pain, take-your-breath-away pleasure and vivid, torqued and intrepid writing. These fascinating texts teem with ferocious resilience. I know I will return to these poems many times in the coming years, touching my tongue to the wine, my fingers to the velvety smooth places, and also the gritty scarred places, and warming my heart by their fire. A book like this one transcends time. Thank you CM Burroughs for the reading at the Zell Visiting Writers Series and for sharing you courageous and unforgettable book of poetry.

To purchase your copy of the text, visit here. To learn more about this poet, who is also Assistant Professor of Poetry at Columbia College, visit her academic profile here.

the Poet in a recent photo from the Cave Canem Blog, accessed 27.10. 19.

Sources Consulted

Burroughs, CM. The Vital System: Poems. Tupelo Press, 2012.

Cesarti, Giuseppe. https://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends-europe/diana-and-actaeon-0011397.

Dhwty. “Diana and Actaeon: When an Innocent Encounter Turned Deadly.” Ancient Origins, Ancient Origins, 27 Jan. 2019, https://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends-europe/diana-and-actaeon-0011397.

Naim, Rania, “The 7+ Types Of Love You’ll Probably Experience In This Life,” https://thoughtcatalog.com/rania-naim/2016/02/the-7-kinds-of-love-and-how-they-can-help-you-define-yours-according-to-the-ancient-greeks/. 25 October 25 2019.