Hassidic Witch Murderer: The Official Videogame of the Poems

Hi all, I’m proud to announce the release of “Hassidic Witch Murderer: The Official Videogame of the Poems,” an interactive poetry zine that I made using Twine. If you’re unfamiliar with Twine, it’s an open-source software that lets users create choose-your-own-adventure type stories via hyperlink text. So, what does that have to do with poetry?

 

In the Fall of 2012, I started planning a poetry and book arts collaboration project with my sister, Jamie Kutner. I hadn’t come out to anyone but myself as a trans woman yet and this book was going to deal with ghosts, visions, nightmares, and cycles of generational trauma, so as you can imagine, that was a rough winter for me. Confronting all of that at once, though, made it painfully clear that I needed to do something to break that cycle. That something, it turned out, was ceasing contact with my parents and transitioning, hence the title of my novel-in-verse, Never Coming Home, but that’s a whole different story.

 

The original draft of Hassidic Witch Murderer contained 23 poems, was deliberately not paginated, and was in a box with a zinc inlay title plate and print of a copper plate etching as a title page. Unfortunately, the years, all three of them, have not been kind to it and the piece has basically fallen apart. We decided not to add page numbers or a table of contents because we thought that readers would be better able to understand the chaotic and disconnected nature of our family history if they had to shuffle through it and piece it together like we did. Not all of those poems are present in this draft, in fact, at least one poem from the original made it into Never Coming Home, but you’ll never guess which one(s) and I’m not telling.

 

Last year, I caved and released a very limited run (we’re talking well under ten copies here) of a paginated Hassidic Witch Murderer, complete with a fancy-shmancy table of contents, to sell at NYC Feminist Zine Fest. It sold out, I ended up selling PDFs of this version to a few friends over the internet, and I was happy about that, but I couldn’t help feeling that the people reading this version were missing something crucial about this book.

 

Fast forward to this past October, when I found myself touring the northeast coast of the US with a professor who makes Twitterbots and teaches programing classes, including one on Twine, to English students at Fordham and NYU and a girl who has to legally change her middle name to Twine if she sells a hundred thousand copies of her book. I’m talking, of course, about Instar Books authors, Allison Parrish and merritt kopas, who wrote the books @everyword and Videogames for Humans respectively. I honestly had no idea what Twine was until I googled it the week before tour. At our friends’ house in Boston, these two showed me the basics of Twine, and it clicked, this was exactly what Hassidic Witch Murderer needed.

In the months since tour, I’ve given a lot of thought to what this book is and what it says. Where Never Coming Home does its best to present as clear and concise a narrative as possible with its poems, Hassidic Witch Murderer chucks that out of the window entirely and gives readers a fragile, but convoluted web of dreams, memories, visions, and lies. If you feel confused or frustrated reading and re-reading certain parts, I’ve done my job. This thing is a nightmare; I know that well. There are poems you’ll only get to by reading and re-reading certain poems.

I’d wince if people started calling me a game designer after this, because I’m not. I couldn’t code my way out of a paper bag if I tried and making games, while it’s fascinating to me, isn’t really my goal. I’m only calling it a videogame as a small homage to Videogames for Humans. This is about as bare bones a Twine experience as you’ll find, it’s just text and hyperlink text. I don’t know from CSS, but if someone out there has the time and patience to teach me, you could possibly see another version of this game/zine/book thing. For now, though, I’m happy to say that this thing’s time with me is over. Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy it! You can play it here

HWM_5.jpg

 

Scary Monsters, Super Creeps, and My Parents: Reflections on Mourning, Creative Brilliance, and Abuse

Today, we lost David Bowie. Fifteen year old me is fucking crushed. The girl who was out as queer but not trans, who said to herself, “Heh, I guess I’m not a trans woman, I’m just Ziggy Stardust,” is crying like a baby today. Bowie, no, Ziggy, was what I needed him to be then, a glittering, glamorous icon that dared me to experiment with gender.

My mother would sometimes help me with make-up, but only if I agreed that I was a boy. My father would, when I was dolled up like that, call me a faggot and be sexually inappropriate with me. I looked to Bowie-as-Ziggy for strength in times like that. I thought that if only I could be an alien or a rock star like Ziggy, I wouldn’t have to deal with any of that.

It was around this time that I had first heard of Lori Maddox saying she’d lost her virginity to David Bowie. Back then, I’d assumed she was at least 18. I knew she’d said that Jimmy Page raped her, and I believed her. I’ve always hated Led Zeppelin, anyway. (and Screeching Weasel, but that’s another story.)

Today, I came across a source that lists her birth year as 1958, which would mean that in 1972, she was no more than fourteen. She has publicly described her sex with Bowie as consensual , but I really don’t believe, as a survivor of child sexual abuse, let alone a rational human being,that a fourteen year old  has enough life experience or information to properly consent to sex with an adult. Even if she lied and told him she was older than she was, even if he had no reason not to believe her and was as gentle with her as she said he was, David Bowie still made a conscious decision to do what he did.

Difficult as it may be to reconcile this information with the glittering icon that I, and many other Bowie fans, wanted or needed him to be, it needs to be done. Several other people have accused Bowie of stealing songs and being emotionally abusive, and I believed them as soon as I heard their stories. It was easy, I thought, there was no way Bowie was a saint.

This, though, has been a much harder pill to swallow. The only thing I can compare it to is when filmmaker Woody Allen’s adoptive daughter, Dylan Farrow, accused him of molesting her in The New York Times, I believed her whole-heartedly and cried for days. When that news broke, I was writing the first draft of the manuscript that became my semi-autobiographical novel-in-verse, Never Coming Home. I wanted to throw away my memories of my mother and I laughing at the same moments in “Annie Hall.” I even made the first line in my poem, “Mother’s Day,” “I don’t want to watch Annie Hall with you.”

If I had known then what I know now, I might have written the line as “I don’t want to listen to your old copy of Hunky Dory,” but right now, I’m not as eager to get rid of those memories.

In the process of editing Never Coming Home, where I’ve written poems from the perspectives of characters based on them,  I learned that my parents, or abusers, or whatever you think it’s appropriate to call them, were not, in fact, the monsters from my memories. They were people who made decisions and had reasons why they made those decisions. They had terrible reasons for making terrible decisions, so did Bowie, Allen, and whoever else, but that doesn’t erase their humanity.

I’ve seen a lot of people, friends and random internet commenters, say things today like, “Why would you mourn a pedophile?” I’ll tell you why. My father was an incredibly gifted architect and my mother was my first proofreader. They fed me, clothed me, and when they told me they loved me, I believed them. But guess what, they both beat me, they both raped me, they both neglected me, and when I decided they were dead to me, I still needed grieve for the people I wanted them to be.  When each of them dies physically, I know I’ll need to grieve again. In short, kill your idols, stab your dad, give yourself time to mourn, remember what you needed from them, and do your best to be that.

 

bowie1

Dusting Off the Cobwebs and Never Coming Home

Hi all! I have not kept up with this blog at all in over a year, and a lot has changed since then. I’ve basically put this blog and the majority of my other writing projects on the back burner as I’ve been writing my full-length book of poetry, Never Coming Home, which will be out October 6th on Topside Press. That’s really soon, you say? Yes it is, that’s why I’m reviving this blog! I’ll be putting up publications, tour dates, videos, rants, articles, and pretty much anything else I do that’s worth mentioning publicly up here. There’s more info coming, so stay tuned! While you’re waiting, here’s this video of me performing in NYC in March.

NeverComingHomeFC

Featured Image -- 1599

Curb Cuts and Cat Calls: Street Harassment at the Intersection of Transness and Disability

New Bluestockings post!

Bluestockings Magazine

Trigger Warning: trauma, sexual assault, street harassment.

Art by Rebecca Moore Art by Rebecca Moore

No matter what I do, people are going to stare at me. On the metro, on the sidewalk, at public parks, and at almost every restaurant or bar I’ve walked into, someone has given me the side-eye. It was like this before I came out as transgender and it’s probably going to be like this until the day I die. I smile and wave at most passersby, but that doesn’t stop rude, invasive, and downright degrading comments and actions from breaching my sense of safety on a regular basis.

I heard one of my favorite insults of my life so far while walking from Baltimore Penn Station to Liam Flynn’s Ale House the other night. Someone called me a “crippled-ass faggot motherfucker,” and I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. If I savor the bluntness and vulgarity of moments…

View original post 1,445 more words

Featured Image -- 1597

Mother Mirror

I got a poem published in Bluestockings!

Bluestockings Magazine

This was originally published in the 4th Issue of Bluestockings Magazine.

Trigger Warning: self-harm.

Mother Mirror

Do you see through my stubble? Do you forgive my

eyebrows? The shaking

hands that paint my eyelids

aren’t here today.

I’ve been drinking with the frat boys,

covering rusted crutch cuffs

with duct tape, and not making

as many excuses after I pass out at

5 a.m.

I never cut my wrists,

I was smarter than to give my teachers, doctors,

physical therapists, and

friends a peek at the color

of my blood.

I was falling on the bus,

sputtering in class, walked in

with a red handprint on my face.

I was happy when my zits were

bleeding, who gives a shit about

acne medication?

By Tyler Vile, Staff Writer

Edited by Stefania Gomez, Literary Editor

View original post

10 Bob Dylan Covers That Are Better Than The Original

At 73, it’s a safe bet that Bob Dylan has spent most of his waking life writing and recording music. While some complain about the nasal, gravely, or strained quality of his vocals on this song or that album, there’s no question that he’s a songwriting giant. Because Columbia Records cracks down on the availability of free, original Dylan content online, fans who don’t own the albums have mostly covers to work from. While the web is saturated with sub-par versions of excellent songs, there are a few gems from major artists hiding out in the far reaches of the internet. A cover that’s as good or better than the original is one that pushes the song into a different genre, gives the lyrics new meaning, captures an aspect of human emotion that the writer neglected, or does all three simultaneously.

10. The Clash-“The Man in Me”

This scratchy, reggae-influenced cover of The Big Lebowski’s theme song will warm the hearts of die-hard Clash and Dylan fans. Unless you’re a stickler for sound quality, in which case, a demo from “The Vanilla Tapes” might not be music to your ears. The sessions from “The Vanilla Tapes” would go on to become the classic “London Calling,” the title track of which Dylan himself has been known to cover from time to time. Joe Strummer once called Jakob Dylan and Jakob hung up thinking it was his dad putting on an accent. Go figure. 

9. Iggy and the Stooges-“Ballad of Hollis Brown”

The “Raw Power” of Iggy, James Williamson, Ron Asheton, and Scott Asheton gave this song  from “Times They Are A-Changing” a darkly psychedelic twist in 1973. The muffled, yet hypnotic pounding of Scott Asheton’s drum and Williamson’s haunting guitar work drive this version as Iggy’s hysteric vocals float over the top. Todd Haynes used this version for a montage in “I’m Not There” where Cate Blanchett’s amphetamine fueled Dylan character was furiously writing, but it’s not on the soundtrack. Got to admit, it’s good background music for writing.

8. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds-“Death Is Not The End”

While Dylan’s 1988 album, “Down in the Groove” wasn’t a critical or commercial success by any means, it provided the perfect ending track to Nick Cave’s brilliant 1996 album, “Murder Ballads.” Shane MacGowan of The Pogues, Australian pop singer Kylie Minogue, PJ Harvey, Anita Lane, and two members of the Bad Seeds all sing on this song. If you aren’t a fan of any of those people, steer clear of this one. If you are, or haven’t heard of them, give it a listen. Fun fact: Paul Simonon of The Clash played bass on “Down in the Groove,” but not on this track.

7. Judy Collins-“Bob Dylan’s Dream”

This one has Bob Dylan’s name in the title, so how could Judy Collins do it better? Well, as she says, Bobby swiped the melody from an old English ballad called “Franklin’s Lament,” so it’s not entirely his to begin with. Her singing stops at about two minutes in, so pause it after that if you don’t want to hear Pete Seeger talk about learning a song. If you do, try to find Pete’s TV show “Rainbow Quest” which had guests like Judy, Brownie McGhee, Sonny Terry, Donovan, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Len Chandler, Elizabeth Cotten, and so many more. Judy Collins’ stunning vibrato really makes this version, listen to the way she thumbs her heart into those strings, too.

6. The Specials-“Maggie’s Farm”

When I interviewed Roddy Byers, he said that The Specials decided to do a version of this song when Jerry Dammers saw The Blues Band do their version. He also said that he preferred Dylan’s version, but I have to respectfully disagree. The jungle beat of the drums and the anti-Thatcher message make this version praise worthy. It’s not only a great version of a Dylan classic, but an important historical document.

5. Jimmy Cliff-“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”

“Where have you been my brown-eyed son?” Waiting to hear this gorgeous tune, that’s where. The Tim Armstrong-produced “Sacred Fire,” released in 2012, sounds like it could have been released in the mid-70’s. It takes a reggae titan like Jimmy Cliff to make such a jaw-dropping version of one of Dylan’s most famous and lyrically complex songs. Check out Jimmy’s cover of The Clash’s “Guns of Brixton” while you’re at it.

4. Buckwheat Zydeco-“On A Night Like This”

While the “Planet Waves” version of this song uses accordion, Buckwheat Zydeco’s accordion playing powers this entire jam. This one sounds fuller, sexier, and more celebratory than the original. It doesn’t snow much on the bayou, though, so that line’s a little weird. The sax and the washboard really help give it that down-home feeling. Nothing like a Dylan song steeped in the swamp.

3. The Faces-“Wicked Messenger”

Before Rod Stewart was an overblown, overrated rock “icon,” he was in a kick-ass British mod group called The Faces, which formed out of the ashes of Small Faces and Jeff Beck Group. This song is the first one on their first LP and it rockets a simple guitar and harmonica tune into a heavy-sweating rock anthem. Ian McLagan can play those notes right into your nerves. Rock critic Andy Gill thinks the song’s “messenger” is Dylan himself, while I think interpreting  a song, poem, or story as a direct, literal extension of the writer is a mistake, which is a different subject for a different time.

2. Odetta-“Paths of Victory”

It must have been exciting and surreal for Dylan to hear Odetta, one of the people who inspired him to trade in his Ritchie Valens-inspired rock and roll style for an acoustic guitar and a button-down shirt, record an album entirely of songs he wrote. The beauty of this song is that it can be about an apolitical kind of hope, if there is such a thing, and about any and all protest movements at once. Coming out of Odetta’s mouth, the words seem like they belong in a gospel hymn book, but they were written by a skinny Jewish kid from Minnesota. In all seriousness, if Dylan decided to cede any of his songs to the public domain, this one would be at the top of my list.

1. Nina Simone-“Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”

Only Nina Simone could be so soft and forceful at the same time. While Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” version presents a whiny, crass, and resentful speaker, Nina Simone gives us a delicate, somber, and remorseful voice for the same lyrics. The lullaby-like piano lulls the listener in as the pitter-patter of the drums calls out to heartbeat. The lyrical change from “picking up Angel,” to “picking up my brother Carl,” may not make sense, but it works so well with this arrangement. Every time I listen to this version, I well up with tears. This has to be one of the most spellbinding recordings ever made.