Report from the Field: Letter to C

Dear C,

I am thinking of quitting poetry to sing. Maybe my voice will be more welcome there than at poetry readings.

I came here because I wanted to squeak. I came to writing in order to sing without having to train a singing voice, so that I could squeak as squeakily as I felt—I wanted to stop training toward what other people expected to see from my female body. I wanted to talk weird. I wanted to talk as weird as I talk to myself and my loved ones. I wanted my public talk and private talk to be more unified.

I have a body that fits pretty well with what people want of it most of the time. Most of the time it fits pretty well with what I want of it. I wanted to stop presenting this pretty well body in a pretty well way because I didn’t feel pretty well and it felt like lying to talk pretty well.

When I give readings it’s hard to figure out how to be anything more than pretty well. I’m so well trained to look pretty well and talk pretty well in public. I want to make an audience listen to something that is more than my pretty well body. Even if I wear a pretty dress to my reading. I want to make them listen to my body and more.

You wrote to me once about giving readings and how you feel your audience is always fighting you. And then, in “Reading as a Wildflower Activist / Pt. 2,” you wrote:

“Soap Carving” by Narisa Spaulding

 A Flower is / A Fruit and A Wound,

is what I think when a Man tells me

a Man who heard me read / said,

“I wish she wrote the way she talks.”[1]

What I hear the Man say to you is: Don’t talk if I don’t get it. Don’t talk if I can’t understand. Stop talking to me if I can’t understand you. Stop talking to me in a way that confuses me. Stop talking to me in a way that makes me uncomfortable.

I hear:

I wish she wrote the way she talks –

I wish she was just her body—

I wish she was only her body –

I wish her body was on paper –

I wish she read her body to me–

 I wish she read her body for me–

I wish she read her body for me along–

 I wish her body was all there was there–

 I wish she wrote the way her body–

I wish she wrote the way her body lulls me–

I wish she wrote the way she lullabies–

I wish she would lull me–

I wish she always wanted to be a mother—

I wish she played across my belly and I watched over—

I wish she played with me like a young girl should—


I always hear this. I always hear that I should play like a young girl should / that I should stop talking if that Man can’t understand. That I should try to say it real pretty or stop talking.

“I wish she wrote the way she talks.”

I wish I could write away from the way I talk – I wish my talking could move my body / not just my mouth. I wish my talking could move my body to a new location when often my location is stuck / feels stuck as pretty well / my body can’t escape the stuckness but my speech can / my speech can fall out of the stuck.

I’m thinking now about what it means to “fall out” like in Kelin’s new book. Especially re: weight and women and space. It feels exciting — a way to move beyond what now feels stale: the topic of men taking up too much space. I’m tired of talking about that, I’m tired of the tumblr of the men with their legs spread wide on the subway[2] – I’m tired of hearing myself talk about it. I GET SO TIRED OF TALKING ABOUT THAT. There’s more for me than this wily wise whine –

What happens when you fall out– always? When you’re always falling out of what someone else wants of you? What happens when part of your body falls away or out – or is taken out— or is told it should be taken out– what is LEFT?


What’s left in that air? What’s left in the place where the air came out of? What’s in the air when our speech is there, but we are not allowed to be there? When a person writes something a man doesn’t like—what’s in the air?

I have to fall back on something that stays in the air. Because I’m still in the air even if no one likes what I’m saying. I want to believe there’s something in the air when I read, when I write. I find myself returning to the word soul as a potential resource: something I never thought I would do. My father used to always mock spirituality but the soul has meaning to me the more I carve away / fall out–

What is left when I fall out– what is left when I fall out of talking pretty well? What is of value if no one understands me— what is of value fundamentally? When is how much space I take up relevant / irrelevant? What if nothing is of value and what, then, is that no-thing?

Maybe it’s because I’m small– my body is small– I’ve always been told how small I am– cute– coming up to chest level on other people– my head is about at nipple height on my husband– cute— but I feel too large– curves etc– belly etc– I developed a butt for the first time when I was 25 and was so confused about how part of me could expand without another human inside me– I felt guilty for more air being taken by part of my body– until men started to tell me they liked it– but I still feel some of that air-taking guilt. I don’t want space expanding inside me unless it can fall out.

The only way for my body to expand that is acceptable now that I am thirty: a baby— I want a baby to fall through me: not expand me, but lay upon my stomach and fall out through my back– clear out any need I could have of producing– so I don’t have to talk to be honest– I only have to just produce. If I can produce I don’t have to talk. My lady body doesn’t need to talk to be good / pretty well– it just needs to make a baby.

What if I don’t want to?

I have less money these days and I start to need— I start to buy things so I can feel good, a habit I’ve fallen out of for the last few years. I get anxious and I want to be more clear to people. I start to prepare again for (newly) what everyone wants from me. I fall back on talking pretty well. It is labor– emotional labor– social labor– unseen labor— but still I want to be what everyone wants from me– sometimes that’s tiring but sometimes I think it’s the world I want to live in.

I said to S: I don’t want to stop doing this work / I want to live in a world where everyone does this work— I want to live in a world where everyone is doing that labor making something other people want, but/and still making themselves slippery –

Is there anything to be said that isn’t what someone needs from me? This is a real question I have. This is my gender training: I’m not sure if there’s anything to be said, written, or spoken if it isn’t something someone needs from me.

Is there anything beyond what people need from me? What else is there? Will I ever get over who my sister needs me to be– who J needs me to be— will I ever get over who A wanted me to be / a heartache poet— a poet – so I was a poet for a man?

Did I become a poet for a man? I think in part. I came to poetry because a man let me in, and let me in again. I am ashamed to be a poet for a man— but is it possible enough time has passed so that now I am just a poet? That I am JUST as a poet / JUST in BEING a poet– as in, justice has been served and I am in balance on the scales?

The scales keep tipping– maybe that’s life / what I want from life– but also always I find myself seeking what is RIGHT– Am I JUST– am I OKAY– is this labor WORTHY– does it make me GOOD –

I love (& hate) that in poetry I’ve come upon a labor / work / joy that will never be of value in our exchange system. In poetry school, Peter was always trying to convince us baby poets to back out while we still could. He’d say, it will always be superfluous – that is what it IS, no one will care, no one will pay you, and yet somehow I keep yearning, yearning to be told that doing labor as a poet is valid, valuable, good, good enough to be more than just for a man / for a person.

But what could ever be more / more worthy than to do something FOR a person? That’s my bottom line question: doing FOR– I want to— to contribute, is it bad (automatically) because / when it’s for a man? For a non-man person? For a group?

I pledge allegiance to speaking.

Even in writing now, to you, I write and writing comes easily because I write FOR / TO / TO FALL THROUGH. I hope this doesn’t feel like I want to fall through you– erase you– not see you— I just read in Maggie Nelson’s new book about how Wayne Koestenbaum got chastised by someone he wrote love letters to, they wrote back: next time, write to me[4]

Part of the joy / job / joy of the letter / poem is to cast out to know something. To cast out— but also to fall through because to write there has to be someone there to fall through / with— I feel often I cannot write without something to fall through.

This morning I fell through Danez Smith’s whole book at once / I fell through because I wanted to— I swallowed— my father used to always accuse me of swallowing books instead of reading them– he was in awe of how fast I read but couldn’t believe that I could be getting something from through them if I swallowed books so quickly.

In an interview[5] Maggie Nelson said she thinks readers should read The Argonauts quickly and take it in all at once. I want to take it in. I followed her instructions and I fell through Danez Smith’s book so quickly. I thought about my own whiteness and race afterwards – consuming— did I use his book only to fall through– to charge myself up with his meaning– to make myself less guilty— to write— to write upon? I want to write with, not upon. What does that look like?

What would it be like to fall through someone / something and not take something FROM them— not take OF them? I’m so grateful that I have no penis to use as I fall through– or no penis grown onto my body– because I can’t assault in that particular way. My falls don’t go to that kind of assault– but where do my falls go?

I wish she wrote the way she talks–

I wish she FELL the way she TALKS–

I wish she FELT the way she TALKS–

she talks and falls, writes and falls.


Does the penis always have to take something away from someone as it falls through?

Does the writing always have to take something away from someone as it falls through? The speaking?

What if taking up space didn’t mean taking from?

What if space isn’t finite?

Danez Smith: I wonder what song would have to play / To make her a black blur of joy & pepper mane.[6]

Maybe joy doesn’t have to be finite. What creates joy isn’t finite. But space IS finite / it is / it is right now – on this planet – in these bodies – in these races and classes we’re socialized to have.

Talk of the penis filling a void that needs to be filled is over-done but: what if the void just got bigger with that filling? What if the void only just got bigger when the penis got in / near it – what if the void didn’t get filled up, and always had more space left? This is not good for capitalism, to always have more space.

But also, what if you enjoy being filled up? I love to be filled up– I love to feel that I haven’t any crannies in me that need to be filled – with books / sex / people / food– I love to swallow— I love to feel full– maybe because mostly other people don’t force me?

But in other ways I hate to feel full / with food– it means I’ve not been able to control my body in the way I’ve wanted to– been taught to– I know pretty well how to restrict this body. I get angry, angry at myself when I am full, for letting myself get full, because it means I will get fat, have an excess / larger than the version of me I wanted: the version of me that has plenty of room to hold others / reach out to others with an offer to hold— hold anything in.

My favorite version of me is not full because it has room for anything anyone can throw at me. I will make room for it. I will find spare room for that. I will dodge to catch your needs in my spare room– are you impressed by how well I dodge and dance? Are you impressed by my room?

I make room for everyone in every place in my life except for in my writing. I don’t slash out a space for everyone in my writing. This is where that Man can’t find me.

Hillary Gravendyk: pioneers slash only toward a territory / they remember[7]

Perhaps in order to slash toward something we don’t remember– something new– we can’t be pioneers.

So let’s not be pioneers. Let’s give up on being pioneers. Let’s slash away from what we remember. Let’s not colonize new spaces. Let’s not slash toward.

Perhaps in order to avoid colonizing ourselves and pioneering in this work, I cannot slash toward. I cannot slash / I must instead make room in what I have already / slash myself / let the blood be / honor this slashing behavior of making room. Let’s take a look at what we have in the room.

pioneers slash only toward a territory / they remember

And also Gravendyk, who wrote this, lived with so much pain. And she made so much beauty. Maybe her saying this is itself a lesson in how we can go forward / keep in touch / slash ourselves, meaning live in the pain and slash at it rather than away from it.

Anne Carson: Pilgrims were people who figured things out as they walked.[8]

To walk / slash / speak.

I’m good at keeping in touch. Liat reminded me I’m so good at keeping in touch that sometimes it’s hard to be my friend because no one can be as good at keeping in touch as me– she’s worried about disappointing me. I reach out– I reach out– I reach out– I slash / but am I reaching up and over— am I slashing / falling out?

Perhaps I keep in touch this way because I don’t want to do it in my writing. I slash out toward some pretty distant places. Can you help me learn how to slash close? How to slash pretty well?

Youna Kwak on Roland Barthes: we keep our distance from each other as a means of remaining proximate.[9]

I’m good at keeping in touch from a distance. I like to be far– I can get filled up and still have endless amounts of room. I want to learn to slash close and survive it.

Like you wrote: a previously closed indwelling of blood / shedding / or about to dream / Your skin scared and free.[10]

If I keep slashing the Man at the reading might not understand me, but I might get scared and free. The Man might have to slash himself.

Brenda Hillman: how good to be able / how good to steer & grin / thinking paraffin / & in that sentence shack / an ache of novelty.[11]

I am able, I am pretty well, and so I must slash / I must slash at the sentence. I shack up with the sentence and then slash away. I pick a fight with it to get that ache of novelty– I say the shack is shitty and useless and back away– and then I take it back. I sing for the sentence sometimes, but only when I decide.

What I am singing for is the choice to sing an easy song sometimes, a screechy song sometimes. What I am singing for is to write a full grammatically correct sentence sometimes and sometimes not. I want us all to fall out at will. I want us all to invite ourselves to fall out only at will.

I wish I could fall out without slashing— I wish I could reach out without making anyone feel they had to– even though I want– always want–

I wish I could keep in this kind of touch.



[1] Lorig, Carrie. “Reading as a Wildflower Activist / Pt. 2.” Atlas Review 5 2015: 76.




[5] about_queer_families_you_have_to_be_tough_and_foxy%E2%80%9D/

[6] Smith, Danez. “Swayless”

[7] Gravendyk, Hillary. “Lantern Canyon”

[8] Carson, Anne. “Buergette,” The Anthropology of Water


[10] Lorig, Carrie. “Reading as a Wildflower Activist / Pt. 2.” Atlas Review 5 2015: 76.

[11] Hillman, Brenda. “July Moon.” Practical Water, 2011: 67.


1 (1)Leora Fridman is the author of My Fault, forthcoming from Cleveland State University Press. She is also the author of the chapbooks Precious Coast (H_ngm_n Books), Obvious Metals (Projective Industries), On the architecture and Essential Nature (The New Megaphone), and Eduardo Milán: Poems (Toad Press). She is founding co-editor of Spoke Too Soon: A Journal of the Longer.