For Ursula’s first-ever theme issue, we asked a dozen poets to create a chapbook of verse within the magazine.
Christina Quisumbing Ramilo, Composition, 2022. Courtesy the artist and West Gallery, Metro Manila, Philippines
Kimberly Alidio, Composition II, 2023. Courtesy the artist
By the hand a schooling the hand in infamy long-winded oratory incanting with
Fetish of mini eye in triangle surprise a random
Face in the back alleys
Of Time clutch a moving hand
With narrowing eyes zoomed
From drone above writing’s
Fields edicts writs
Brush never lets up
From a ceremonial score of sur
Face swelling with graphisms red
Embroidered day-of-the-week set
Of panties scarlet
Scrawls to hang onto “scratching
And pawing at their paper with
Tools the scale of their hands”
Such as dermatographic refuse of spiral derma like a future tense reversal of a
Non-event such as universe creation which in this
Case is the boundary by which no other
you can’t smoke even outside at Lincoln Center
or take photos in the Frick
fuck marry kill in the Dutch portrait galleries,
two schoolmates sidle past, one declares
Rembrandt “looks dumb,” the other replies,
“If you’re saying that then you’re saying
he thought he himself looked dumb”
he looks many things, but not dumb—
bewildered by his own face, beat up—
is that rouge on his cheek, or a scrape?
using his resources without illusions
it’s erotic but what isn’t—seltzer makers,
books packed to bursting on the shelf,
time moves so slowly on the canvas
but even there can never fully be stopped,
the blood held an eon in the fist of her heart
will one day flow again, and in the next instant
do her eyes fall to her hands
or fly to the door
in search of a lens that grips
when focused, closes in by
tinier and tinier increments
without suddenly slipping past
the point of greatest clarity
before dialed back in hopes
of alighting upon a thread
or fine strand where resolution
coincides with and solidifies
the specter of my intentions
when in reality composition’s
one of those ropes, wide around
as a waist, that make you wonder
in the musty old ship museum
which sailors were crushed
in the bum-rush of the tides
Orphic Interlude #1
Attend the missing referent:
The new way to spell ethics is M-O-D-A-L!
How does one trill?
Illuminate very well
Titration prompt begets
Even titration of vision.
The new way to spell leaf is T-W-I-S-T!
How does one enunciate?
Sustain flattened crisp
Padding forms circle
Disclosure no prompting
The new way to spell condom is S-Y-M-B-O-L-I-C!
How does one arpeggiate?
Contact loss timbre.
Undone so actional
Coordinates not withheld
The new way to spell style is I-N-S-T-R-U-M-E-N-T-A-L!
How does one ascend?
Pickled submersion sustains.
Incensed privacy upturned
Line through held up
Upturned cradled in service
Blue sphere foregone.
The new way to spell fictive is P-R-I-V-A-T-E!
How does one make clear?
Never dwindle sever mirror
Sky Advising — after Zachary Wollard
manure blueberries in
fields and arcs
no need to build that stories-high, dull chartreuse watering can
to get to the place of your need
safely lit candles dozens of them
beyond sunlight in three parts
out of my face
as talon vinyl fluoride
Sprite harbor foam
dressing a French fry
morning sax for bottle fish
all marinas swell moon forms
the steady, relaxed smell of cover stock
try answers toward me leave a lake
from PARA CLASSIC: structural panic
sure, i hear myself say,
i would stay here couch
simple google search prototype
for sailor say who giveth rooster
understanding how long before
fashion week notice “return”
to landscape kitchen stories pre-
season brawls let’s not pretend
times change or it’s okay just
watch temporarily mute myself
hero tossed aside like paper-
work redacts allegorically vapid is
as vapid becomes wanton puddle
of procedures feeling birds wait
no one helps sort
debris worship metallic
feet in retrospect what is
work for but to flag
here i am don’t notice
giddy up in small ways
get attention expensive
carpet hair dye cell phone
tactics i try to happen
realize our protagonist
polite sanitized instead
of an event carry forest
forward crib figures upend
movement is not a place
Wind Studies, No. 4
Wind Studies, No. 11
Untitled Frustration Poem
I swear to god.
I don’t know how to look at paintings.
I don’t know how to see them.
Anymore, or at least, now.
No I don’t, no I swear it.
Look, you can watch me.
Watch me try it.
I just tried it, using my eyes in the way you’re supposed to, taking it all
in, feeling the painting’s presence, but if someone were to say to me,
do you see that, it’s a foot, I would have to disagree with them and say
no I don’t see a foot because I don’t see one, and if they were like fine,
do you see a swirl of color, I would have to tell them no, I don’t see
a swirl of color or a see a foot, I don’t know how to look at paintings
I would have to tell them, I swear, and that I’ve spent a few minutes confirming it,
It’s possible that this has always been true,
About what I can and cannot see and it’s possible
That it isn’t true, movies are still easy to see,
And I’m on the fence about photos,
But yes of course I’m angry about it all.
It’s not like I want to give up looking at them.
I like paintings, but also I don’t want to be a liar.
I want to be able to speak to others accurately
about what I’m looking at or have at some point seen
inside or on paintings, or along my way to them, or all of a sudden,
when I’m standing inside a gallery or a museum or hanging out
at my house or the home of a friend who puts
art on their walls with faces and places I’m afraid of
not recognizing, as if I were invited over to do just that.
But it’s possible that for years I’ve been lying for years
not just to myself but to everyone about how I know
when I see at a painting, what I’m looking at, a big liar.
Maybe this is why I like to read books
that represent my condition and hide
their paintings behind or inside something
else like an elaborate plot in which no one is tasked
with description but the potential of a painting’s theft,
replacement, or total destruction, as in the novel Cigarettes
by Harry Mathews, in which Walter paints Elizabeth
so well that everyone around them,
two generations of horse-and-dog set,
upstate socialites and their downtown art
world friends squabble over who but the painter
sees its subject better than anyone else but the reader
who learns that the painting in question isn’t by Walter
at all but by Phoebe, whose training involved making
an immaculate copy of it, which Owen, her frustrated father
destroys in a fit of jealousy and self-protection.
Even when I was young I liked books, they are so nice.
“Tintoretto was squiggling all over the place,” writes Mathews,
calling out Henry James—who always put the beast in the jungle, and the figure
in the carpets of his novels and who had said of the Italian
painter that he had never painted an immoral line—for his bullshit.
I better watch what I say about paintings
to magazines in the case that someone like Mathews
calls me on my bullshit. Shiv was wrong, Kilgallen’s blocks
of bikinis are not on her canvases they’re in his head;
the “mottle and mince” he uses to describe how Ellis’s paintings look
“like how forgetting feels” a more correct description of his addled mental state
than of contemporary technique; that the “slow rub” he uses to describe the butts
of Majoli’s blueboys are the products of fantasy; etc.
Now that I can’t confirm it.
Yep, nope, it’s right, really,
to see absolutely nothing and to say
there’s nothing there in front of me or to admit
from time to time how I don’t understand what I’m supposed to
look at or do but replace the ask with a question like
Is this is what you call a gallery,
I’m standing in an empty room.
The Little Dulling Edge
The attempt to make
freedom comprehensible, magnifying
this most tender pink
bile just about
so long pretending
my lips are pennies
mightn’t work gazing
into his bobbers—how many
fathoms is the pits then
I find my index, sigh
as petals skirmish thus
around his cheek defying
esthetic standards of conformity
meaning skinny punch or rested
in green terror the young painter
knew of its beams’ first interruptions
along this spin, along the dread
creek we splash into again ever
hollow we hear once and shake
footprints in the dew, overshot
this rancid loom cannot spoil
the weft moreso than present,
pretty blossoms come out and smile
at the husk in the shallows, his
and his cold hand on shore.
for Joan Retallack
“A city should be a place where a little boy walking through its streets
can sense what he would someday like to be.”—Louis Kahn
The golden glow characteristic of Philadelphia’s morning light
is best viewed from the southwest corner of Market Street facing east
facing the Delaware, natural boundary of the Colonial City.
Ben Franklin, of course, alights from that body in legend, first of his kind on legs,
to originate the history of boys, apart from the history of light.
None of the significant historical scenes that shaped the landscape of ideas in Philadelphia’s
power structure in the 1980s or any given time
would have anticipated the life of the black teenage girl running the low-slung stairs
leading to the concrete plinth that supports
Claes Oldenburg’s Clothespin (1976).
Ed Bacon’s keynote Downtown project
does not contemplate six year old black girls who use the buses and trains alone,
fear pissing her yellow carpenter pants as she lifts the gate-latch outside a Mt. Airy river stone
seconds before she can use the brass key she is clutching in her little fist.
Sixteen, she can run, though no one credits her athletic or physically creative in any way,
2 miles in under 13 minutes, a clip that assures a decent chance of a getaway
from your lunging crackhead or rapist; she navigates the dank crap subway to nowhere,
ho strolls and black commercial Avenues North, South, Northwest of her location.
In the heart of Philadelphia
black children get bombed, so knowing how it’s built is good.
Not sensing what she would like to be who is before you sprinting the stairs
emerging from the commuter rail concourse,
she runs the tunnels past luminescent below-grade tulips
shoe shine SEPTA tokens Dietz & Watson hot sausages
the places urine pools abandoned unplanned violent
Manifesting a process most people did not realize was going on
power most did not know even existed.
Her father, as it happens, could have seen her if he looked out his office window,
but he is not in his offices on Chestnut Street.
He is being humiliated in a meeting with Senator Arlen Specter,
one block north down 15th Street at City Hall. Specter snaps, “What is it you want?”
Her father consults his notes on index cards,
doesn’t react, tells the motherfucker what he wants and gets it.
Her father has been watching the girl turn feral and done nothing to stop it.
She is going to i.goldberg for Timberland boots with his cash in her pocket.
She is free when she has his cash in her pocket.
But I have stranded the girl on the unsightly Penn Center stairs,
whipsawing between aesthetic and financial rejuvenation
of a major downtown, also known as redevelopment, and its failure
as an innovative matter of cooperation between reform and capital
such that the object is reduced to its absolute essentials and totally deprived of its function.
Let us go back to the Laurel Canyon scene of the 1960s that both begins and arrests
the girl’s movement unto the the big world
where an image of Joni Mitchell’s Blue is affixed to the wall on a record sleeve
Joni hanging there no one listening.
Unborn at the moment the picture was made, the girl’s radiant identification
with the saturated blue light, countenance in shadow, suggests the presence of
that which is sonically feminine prior to its actual emergence—Joni before the microphone—
becomes a manner of awakening to a form of speech or life not directed
to the politics of the (black) father possible and possible to examine
only on and as a conjunction of several elemental planes.
As the curves of Joni’s face resist the light the camera requires and implies,
and break out in a fury of shadow, in childhood segregation was not allowed the girl,
who is essentially unhanded by Jim Crow the last little plinkety SOS barely on a t-shirt,
which results in incidental denial of Joni Mitchell
who implies segregation and also somehow allows through the girl
distortion of the interpretive tools that would tell us what
she would be allowed to become in the built city and her movements
through and away from it, in the accidental discovery of the fact
that art would not necessarily kill her.
Without knowing the precise angle of ascent of Penn Center Plaza’s stair,
it’s hard to say whether Alexander Calder’s statue of William Penn would be visible at their
Crest without considerable craning of the neck.
The site of the Clothespin is 200 yards, give or take, from the western walls of City Hall,
22 feet thick in some places, anti-modern or faux ancient, as was tacit agreement of
the banker class
to build no structure higher than 548 feet, or, the top of Penn’s hat, for nearly a century.
Besides, the girl is diminutive. Looking straight ahead, the girl is eye level with the hot dog cart
obstructing her view of Dilworth Plaza, a filthy, dim slab covering two square blocks on a good
weather day, otherwise recalling the drippy malignant toad, now squashed, that was the
Chinese Wall originating at the old Broad Street Station.
No one ever mentioned that the old Station had existed; it had never existed.
She read about it in a book.
Her father was a toddler when it was demolished in 1953
and no one knows anything about Philadelphia before her father, who did not know his father
who was not in Philadelphia or from it. The girl’s attachment to the place is loose,
belonging to a separate politico-economic history, that of her paternal grandmother who
lived within the system of municipal authorities that produced AFDC and the Richard Allen
then died at 41 when the girl was 9 months old. Her grandmother’s cancers and death
loosely contemporaneous with the death of the old industrial city and the full geographic
installation of the deep underclass outside the purview of view the “aesthetic.” That is,
the PCPC’s self-understanding as world strategist,
seeing to it that by the year 2009 no part of Philadelphia is ugly and depressed,
demanded the removal of the prospective existence of the sixteen-year-old black girl
waiting for a friend, as usual, at the hexagonal guardrail beneath the Clothespin.
Pink gloss glows in waves
Across stern Lake Michigan
Our eyes red cracked bowls
Our debts fucked on patchwork quilts
While the client talks about
His daddy issues
He pays us 400 down
For double TS
Time spent drunk rambling on
His surgeon father’s cocaine
Addiction and his
European oil paintings
Sissy bard strums in rose silk
All these old racist masters
Framed in gold carved leaf
French provincial and
So fucking CAMP until he
Brags about their price tags to
Us the two whores bored in
Ombre blonde wigs and
Inky vinyl thigh-high boots
The timer rings and
We get dressed while he begs us
To stay but doesn’t want to pay
In the cab ride home
We hear a judge ask about
Our obligations to wealth
We pout pricelessly stoned.
Staffed entirely by poets, The Poetry Project has nurtured new and experimental poetry since 1966. Based at St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, in New York’s East Village, the project has been an accessible resource and advocate for diverse, culturally rich poetry and art from its conception, offering reading series, writing workshops, a quarterly newsletter, a website and archives for poets and the wider reading community.
Bahaar Ahsan is a poet from the Bay Area living in New York City. She is the author of Gay Girl Hyacinth (Eyelet 2021).
Kimberly Alidio is the author of four books of poetry, including Teeter which will be published July 2023. Her video, sound and visual poetry appear in FIVES, Bæst, Juf and Anamorphoseis. Her writing has been awarded the Nightboat Poetry Prize and the Bill Waller Award in Creative Nonfiction; nominated for the United States Artists Fellowship and the Lambda Literary Award. She lives on Munsee-Mohican lands along the Mahicannituck River, otherwise known as New York’s Upper Hudson Valley.
Joss Barton is a writer, journalist and spoken word performance artist exploring and documenting queer and trans* life, love and liberation. Her work blends femme-fever dreams over the soundtrack of the American nightmare. Combining prose poetry, non-fiction confessional essays, drag artistry and spoken word stage performances, Joss examines the myriad states of queer trans womanhoods from historical, political and pop cultural identities of death, desires, dreams and disco.
CAConrad has worked with the ancient technologies of poetry and ritual since 1975. Their latest book AMANDA PARADISE: Resurrect Extinct Vibration (Wave Books, 2021), won the 2022 PEN Josephine Miles Award. They received a 2022 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, a Creative Capital grant, a Pew Fellowship and a Lambda Award. They exhibit poems as art objects with recent solo shows in Spain and Portugal and their play The Obituary Show was made into a film in 2022 by Augusto Cascales. A new collection of poetry is forthcoming from Wave Books in 2024 titled Listen to the Golden Boomerang Return.
John Coletti is the author of Peppermint Oil (PUSH, 2020), Deep Code (City Lights, 2014), Mum Halo (Rust Buckle Books, 2010), Same Enemy Rainbow (fewer & further 2008) and Physical Kind (Yo-Yo-Labs 2005). With Anselm Berrigan, he is the author of Skasers (Flowers & Cream, 2012).
Renee Gladman is a writer and artist preoccupied with crossings, thresholds and geographies as they play out at the intersections of poetry, prose, drawing and architecture. She is the author of fourteen published works, including a cycle of novels about the city-state Ravicka and its inhabitants, the Ravickians, as well as three collections of drawings, Prose Architectures (2017), One Long Black Sentence, a series of white-ink drawings on black paper, indexed by Fred Moten (2020) and Plans for Sentences, an image/text-based meditation on black futurity and other choreographies of gathering (2022). She makes her home in New England.
Poet, writer and teacher, erica kaufman is the author of POST CLASSIC, INSTANT CLASSIC (both from Roof Books) and censory impulse (Factory School). She is co-editor of NO GENDER: Reflections on the Life and Work of kari edwards and a collection of archival pedagogical documents, Adrienne Rich: Teaching at CUNY, 1968–1974. Recent poems can be found in e-flux. kaufman’s prose, focused on contemporary feminist poetics and pedagogy, appears in: Approaches to Teaching the Works of Gertrude Stein; The Supposium: Thought Experiments & Poethical Play in Difficult Times; Urgent Possibilities, Writings on Feminist Poetics & Emergent Pedagogies; and Reading Experimental Writing. kaufman is the director of the Bard College Institute for Writing & Thinking.
Shiv Kotecha is the author of The Switch (Wonder, 2018) and EXTRIGUE (Make Now, 2015). His writing appears in publications including 4Columns, Aperture, Artforum, BOMB, frieze, The Nation, Notebook at MUBI and The Poetry Project Newsletter. With the artist Pradeep Dalal, he edits Cookie Jar, a pamphlet series of innovative arts writing produced by the Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant. He lives and works in New York.
Matt Longabucco is the author of the poetry collection Heroic Dose (Golias Books, 2022) and M/W: An essay on Jean Eustache’s La maman et la putain (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2021), a book-length essay about a landmark of French cinema and its creator. His essay “Poster Syndrome” appears in the Nicole Eisenman catalog Incelesbian (2020). He lives in Brooklyn and teaches writing, innovative pedagogy and critical theory at New York University and at Bard College’s Institute for Writing & Thinking.
Ted Rees is a poet, essayist and editor who lives and works in Philadelphia. His most recent books include Dog Day Economy (Roof Books 2022) and Thanksgiving: a Poem, a Lambda Literary Award finalist which was published by Golias Books in 2020. Recent essays have been published in SPT’s The Back Room and The Poetry Project Newsletter. He is editor-at-large for The Elephants, as well as founder and co-editor of Asterion Projects with Levi Bentley. Since summer of 2020, he has been running Overflowing Poetry Workshops, an extrainstitutional online workshop space.
Laurie Weeks is a writer, pataphysicist and educator who divides her time between New York City and Idaho. She is the author of Zipper Mouth, A Novel and I Watch The Human. Weeks is the founder of the Institute for Lifelong Juvenile Delinquency: Investigations into Psychomagic, Resonance and Shapeshifting. She is also the founder of Summer of Bad Plays, in collaboration with Nicole Eisenman, Charles Atlas, Dancenoise (Lucy Sextion & Ann Iobst), Mike Iveson and Stinkmetal. A chapter from her latest novel-in-progress, Worms Make Heaven, appeared in the recent anthology Pathetic Literature, edited by Eileen Myles.
Simone White is the author of the collections or, on being the other woman, Dear Angel of Death, Of Being Dispersed and House Envy of All the World. She teaches at the University of Pennsylvania.