Dana Teen Lomax

Dana Teen Lomax is the author of Curren¢y (Palm Press), Room (a+bend press), and the co-editor of Letters to Poets: Conversations about Poetics, Politics, and Community (Saturnalia Books, 2008). Her documentary poetics manuscript Disclosure is forthcoming from Black Radish Books in Spring, 2010. Her work has most recently appeared in UbuWeb, Jacket, Poets & Writers, The Bay Poetics Anthology and will be included in Against Expression (Northwestern University Press, 2010). She is working on a book of poems entitled Shhh! Lullabies for a Tired Nation and editing a Small Press Traffic-related project, Kindergarde: Avant-Garde Poems, Plays, & Stories for Children. She teaches writing at San Francisco State University and Juvenile Hall and lives in San Quentin with her radical family.

What is (or has been) your favorite editing project and why?

Child Care from the Avant-Garde

Tess Jagger-Wells at Small Press Traffic’s Off-site Performances

Today at Small Press Traffic’s Poets Theater Off-Site Performances, a crew of my daughter’s friends wrote Gertrude Stein lines in pale sewing buttons all around California College of the Arts. They left Tender Buttons lines in trees, on signs, attached to bike racks, shining on the sidewalks. Early on in the day, one of my daughter’s 9-year-old friends, Nicole, wrote a Stein-influenced poem and dedicated it to me. It ends:
Una & Poetry, Una & Poetry, Una & Poetry
szzzzzz . . .
So cool! Hearing her read those lines, I was thinking about how hard it has been to balance my family life and making art. The two things I care about most. I watched the kids playing with words and listening to all the other SPT “happenings,” and wondered what they would take away from the afternoon—at least they were distorting what’s “understood” and re-envisioning meaning while at their elementary schools the big push is to solidify it...

When my brother-in-law died suddenly at 46, his son said something like, There was so much he didn’t tell me about what to do, how to live. I need to know what those things are... I wish he’d just left me a list. So what do I have to tell my daughter? Why would I write anything else? What would my community, the experimental writing community, have to say to younger people about this trippy existence? What would avant-garde writers want kids to know?

This past year I’ve been soliciting writing for Kindergarde: Avant-Garde Poems, Plays, Stories, & Songs for Children (This is the working title…). The anthology includes work by avant-garde poets and writers from throughout the United States and so far, much of it challenges prevailing ideas of authority in religion, rules at school, ways to think about death, and the parameters of sanity. I am psyched about the work that is coming in. Lines like Noelle Kocot’s:
We are one with the fried exoskeletons of toads
and Edwin Torres’s:
tell me about a girl named Story and a boy

Named Story who showed me how to talk inside my story
and the brush you use for fingers
And the tree that calls you Mine
tell me things I know but tell them how I know you
give kids clues about other worlds of words. Work for the anthology keeps coming in and everyday I’m more sure that this book will help children discover, help them enact (in so many different ways!) just what they need to know.

In the process of putting the anthology together, the pieces have raised lots of questions, for example:

               •   What might avant-garde mean for children? What’s more avant than their own uses/
                     abuses of language?

               •   What age groups are we writing for?

               •   What are the boundaries of experimental work for children? Is profanity allowed? Are
                    any themes off-limits?

As an editor, I want the broad range of work to answer these questions on its own. The project’s writers have their own bents and I’m looking forward to when the work is all in and I can spread it out and see what we’ve made!

Before fairly recently, I'd never been interested in the process of editing. My mother pronounces parmesan cheese par-meese-ee-an (rhymes with the American pronunciation of Parisian, but with an extra syllable…), and my father has run construction jobs for around 50 years. So my first MadLibs were full of profanity and misspelled. My parents are smart people, some of the smartest people I know. Don't get me wrong. But academicians they are not. This was the culture of language I was raised in. Even after earning a graduate degree and spending years studying philosophy and poetry, the thought of other people's writing left in my hands—the proofreading, the editing—scared me and seemed a completely unappealing prospect. After all, I had my own writing to do. I much preferred the idea of being in someone else's anthology.

But now it feels necessary, urgent really, to hear what my community is saying and I feel lucky to have worked on both Letters to Poets: Conversations about Poetics, Politics, and Community (which I co-edited with Jennifer Firestone) and this new Kindergarde anthology. Some of my favorite writers and biggest influences have trusted me with their work and found these projects valuable enough to participate in; I’m still learning so much from them. Not coincidentally, these books are both mentoring experiments of a kind, ones my daughter will read, ones that will help her find what matters most.


teaching a repertoire of magic
a thrown voice, coin out of the ear
spells & leprechauns, santa’s bigass red
faeries to be queen of

you ask which is real
and what’s pretend
the ripple of belief, believing

onomatopoeia is every word
sounding itself
Houdini’s indictment of psychics
tree achoo spindle dread

(First printed in 580 Split, 2008 edition)

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