The Operating System

3rd ANNUAL NAPOMO 30/30/30 :: DAY 8 :: TC TOLBERT on CYNTHIA SPENCER

[h4]There is no god here:
Cynthia Spencer, will, speech[/h4]
cynthia
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Up the Rig
cram righteous, craze lit thun-di-fer-ous lin-ger finnnnnnnnnn
whap! surrounding lakes of cherrywood fish, un-
rippled with salt, un-rivaled clarity of rough munching
signal. fit. liable to riot a winter from yr wilting morass. yr
filched pickle. yr caption contest. “looks like you got the lion’s
share” HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA the circus in yr kitchen
boxing lunches like twelve grapes and a packet of ranch,
lapsing round the lady line. fix a yarn for wrigglin the sneak outta
rain, nobody likes a why, boo. nobody likes a mixin’ platter with
no fear of god in ya. giggle giggle teedleehee — you’ll always look
twice at a chicken now, boy, lemme tell ya fix a riddle like the pit,
like the motherfuckin pit. // my girl got it,
hottie with a black bag vocab task ‘er in a bit she knows what’s in my
telepathy basket fresh from the laugh-track lounging through bam-land
flat with sea. rat a wild deep & dark don’t dare don’t dare treat me
don’t dare seep leeches in this brisk cause we speak, we see.
 
– Cynthia Spencer
 
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The last time I was touched by the Holy Spirit I was a 20-year-old southern girl – long brown hair, nose ring, and a penchant for all things hemp. I was engaged to be married to a nice Catholic guy. I was both terrified and tempted by poetry. I wasn’t a lesbian and I certainly wasn’t a trans guy yet. The nondenominational charismatic church I’d recently joined had a full on rock band – electric guitar, keyboard, drums, even a tambourine. Running up and down the aisles was common and the metal folding chairs were spaced accordingly. There was clapping and dancing, sometimes for hours. If you were just to watch us from the outside, worship would seem to alternate between winning a big game and being possessed. I grew up Pentecostal so I’m not entirely shaken by charisma. In fact, I’m bored by most poetry readings. I often feel like I should take notes so that I can pass (I never pass) the discussion portion of the test.
That’s why I curate Trickhouse Live – an experimental cross genre event series at Casa Libre based on Trickhouse – an online hub for “visual art, writing, sound, video, interviews, and interactive experiments” created by Noah Saterstrom. And that’s how I met Cynthia Spencer. She was on a (mostly music) tour (she has a band of one called Sea Witch Plays the Death Star) and she had emailed me several months before to see if she could read poems at Trickhouse Live. I didn’t know her work at all but she sent me a link and I got lost in it. Lost as in Rebecca Solnit’s sense of lost: the world has become larger than your knowledge of it. I said yes. Mystery appeals to me. So does kindness. Juliana Spahr and David Buuck were coming to town in January and that seemed to line up perfectly. I try not to know too much about my own curatorial process. Either way, there is a loss of control. And anyway I’m after delight – a pleasurable, almost giddy, mixture of joy and surprise.
Glossolalia is also known as speaking in tongues. For Pentecostals, it is considered one of several gifts of the Holy Spirit. The grace of no longer being burdened by linearity. A momentary relief from the expectations (persuasion, explication, or sense making) of everyday speech. It’s not necessarily something to be afraid of, but it can be powerful and sometimes unexpected. In the church I grew up in, Sister Hazel’s body regularly rose from the pew like a snake – her right hand trembling in the air above her head, her voice a song of strange, while the rest of her buckled and jumped as though she’d been hit. I know it’s grand to say (but it’s always grand to say), listening to Cynthia – not just listening, witnessing her – I was touched by something larger. Anymore, I never know what I can say about god but language both untamable, untranslatable – both benevolent and terrifying – it was.
Judith Butler says: speech, itself, is a bodily act, and that’s the kind of poetry I’m looking for. Cynthia Spencer’s work is that kind of action. That kind of body. That kind of speech. Read her on the page, yes, (buy her chapbook Mercy or any of her other incredible collaborations with Chelsea Tadeyeske) but more importantly, go be with her. Bring her to your town. She is not Pentecostal. She doesn’t have to be. When CA Conrad says my religion is poetry, I know he’s not saying he’s Pentecostal either but it sounds like glossolalia (which sounds like a gift) (which sounds like Cynthia Spencer’s poetry) to me.
– TC Tolbert
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things that repeat
mirror neurons invite us to feel empathy for other human beings and often encourage us to smile when someone else is smiling. the idea is that this prevents us from hurting further those who have already been touched. ferdinand ambach visited new zealand from hungary. in december 2007, the 32 year old went to a bar and met 69 year old ronald james brown. we can never take it personally. none of it. I let a person strangle me once during sex not because I liked it, I don’t, but because on the other side of the wall is a bench. some days, it’s easy to feel decadent. on the way back to brown’s apartment, brown confessed to playing the banjo. ambach, a diving instructor, understood the importance of breath. scientists used to believe it was the ability to use tools that separated us from other animals. now the difference is four-fold. surface tension allows objects heavier than water, such as spiders and paperclips, to distribute their weight and therefore feel supported by something they don’t ever have to love. gay panic is a legal defense. ambach beat brown with a red instrument. in the average human body there are approximately 12 pounds of blood. the theory of “creative destruction” posits that even widespread societal gain always produces losses for some. when it was sufficiently broken, ambach shoved the neck of the banjo down the old man’s throat. excess is a practical concern. oxygen is only one kind of touch.
(originally published in Evening Will Come.)
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Cynthia Spencer writes and organizes readings in Milwaukee, WI. She is the author of two chapbooks, in what sequence will my parts exit (Plumberries Press, 2011) and Mercy (Pity Milk Press, 2013) and co-author of THERE EXISTS… (Plumberries Press, 2012) with Chelsea Tadeyeske. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Horse Less Review, Gritty Silk, Cannot Exist, Burdock Magazine, Drupe Fruits, Humble Humdrum Cotton Frock and the Shift Freedom Newsletter.
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[textwrap_image align=”left”]http://www.theoperatingsystem.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/TC-with-isabella-by-my-side-by-Mamta-Popat-e1396922832598.jpg[/textwrap_image]TC Tolbert is a genderqueer, feminist poet and teacher. Assistant Director of Casa Libre en la Solana, instructor at University of Arizona and Pima Community College, and wilderness instructor at Outward Bound, s/he is the author of Gephyromania (forthcoming, Ahsahta Press, 2014) and chapbooks spirare (Belladonna*, 2012), and territories of folding (Kore Press, 2011). TC is co-editor, along with Tim Trace Peterson, of Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics (Nightboat Books, 2013). TC writes and is arts co-editor for The Feminist Wire and s/he recently curated a trans and queer issue of Evening Will Come for the Volta. TC is a regular curator for Trickhouse, an online cross-genre arts journal and s/he is the creator of Made for Flight, a youth empowerment project that utilizes creative writing and kite building to commemorate murdered transgender people and to dismantle homophobia and transphobia. Thanks to Movement Salon and the Architects, TC keeps showing up and paying attention. John Cage said, it’s lighter than you think. www.tctolbert.com [photo by Momta Popat]
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