Twice a year my partner and I visit Katowice, Poland. At Christmas and also during the summer. It is a great time to visit Ewa’s family and it is also partly my writing retreat. I feel at home there even though my Polish is still basic. Like any forever beginner, I can of course understand a lot more Polish than I can speak. Someday I will speak better. I also lived in Poland for a number of years, in various parts of the country, and I feel connected to Poland, but per usual with every country, I am also an outsider. Occupying the outsider position is a good place to be, with the right mind.
One Christmas, it must have been 2012, there was magic snowman, with over 100 lights, and I sat next to the snowman, in my own mini room, tucked away to the side of the living room of Ewa’s parents. There was no door, but it was a nice writing nook. I sat on a nice hardwood rocking chair and took out my notebook. I was reading a lot of so-called Alt Lit back then (although that label, like most, encompasses a lot of very different writers). It was the big peak of so-called Alt Lit writing. Writers such as Chelsea Martin, Sam Pink, Melissa Broder, and many others. I finally felt like the writing I had been writing and reading, absurdist, sometimes surrealist, and often plainspoken, sometimes broadly confessionalist, had a larger community. Previously, closer to my generation, there were other writers with some similar inclinations as the so-called Alt Lit writers, and I was drawn to their writing very early. Poets like Matthew Rohrer and Dorothea Lasky and Zachary Schomburg.
I was never at the centre of that Alt Lit community, but I attempted an essay/review entitled The New Poetics of Confession. The Alt Lit community had a lot of potential, as well as problems that led to its demise. It was good to feel that potential. That aliveness. Art outside the walls of various academies/universities. Something fresh. It all dissolved, as most artistic communities are prone to dissolve, with quite a bit of controversy. But no matter. Many of the writers associated with that largely online community have continued writing some interesting work.
So there I sat, with my notebook and pen, Christmas 2012 in Katowice, Poland, writing a nomadic surrealist prose poem. It all came at once. The voice and the story/lines. This doesn’t happen often. Usually there are years of tinkering and collaging. But it was a whole birth. It feels nice to be written though completely, to lose yourself. The radio of Orpheus speaking through you, as Jack Spicer would say.
It was also the Christmas my sister sent me a t-shirt. In Utah there is small town called Beaver, it is very famous, and my sister sent me one of their famous t-shirts for Christmas. I was wearing that t-shirt, in that little compartment, rocking on the wooden chair with my notebook, feeling the heat from the snowman with 100 lights, and remembering the dancing from the previous night, at Ewa’s brother, with Gangnam style. Gangnam style was sweeping all the nations, and I was feeling it. The birth of the Polish beaver.
Here is a reading of that prose poem/story, “I Love Beaver,” from my new book The Spirit of the Bathtub