KGB: Three Women

November 30, 2012 § 1 Comment

photo from

photo from

We went the KGB bar the other night to hear three poets: Fanny Howe, Ana Božičević and Star Black. The small, very dark, old -fashioned barroom, up a flight of stairs, is red and black with Communist posters, pictures and flags of the hammer & sickle on the wall. There are wooden tables and you get your own drinks. After we’d been sitting in the dark awhile—the reading started late—a young man who looked one of the actors on Entourage sat down to talk to us about the bar. “I guess there are still a lot of Communists,” he said.

“The name is meant to be ironic,” I replied. “It was opened in the ‘90’s, after the wall came down.”

“Really? Well, yeah, but maybe not. Maybe there are still some serious ones and this is their place.”

What can you say to that? That idealistic American Communists would not open a bar and call it KGB? It’s strange to be the old ones, to whom this history isn’t history. I find myself feeling possessive—the 2nd half of the 20th century is mine, mine and my peers and our parents: if you want to know it, you have to pay very close attention; I won’t say anything twice. And I didn’t. I leaned back and let Charles talk to him.

Fanny Howe didn’t make it, sadly; her place was taken by Leopoldine Core, a poet who appears to be in her 20’s. She was suggested by Ana, and it’s easy to see why. They both hail from the left side of reality (which doesn’t make them Communists). Her poems are funny, sexy, digressive, alluring; she pulls you into her mind so fast, you have no chance to decide whether you want to be there are not. She sounds like the weird girl in the class talking to herself, the kind that in 1970 would have been fragile, no matter how smart, but in this era is self-possessed and unafraid.

Lots of sexual rumination and ruminating rumination, just chewing on those words, having fun; I, I, I, more little curls and nips of sex, wandering thoughts let wander, then closed with a buttonhook. It’s a bravura performance of how consciousness moves and her consciousness is of course like no other. Nobody’s is, but it’s very hard to capture that depth of difference. Listening, you remember the privilege the best writing gives: that glimpse into another mind, that shiver as your own mind bends down to taste.

Ana is an old favorite of mine. Her poems are also digressive, with startling leaps of imagery, words circling around around the clot of self in the brain, the cunt, the throat, all her provinces collaborating to figure out (or not) the sprawling world. It’s the world of an expatriate–she was born in Zagreb; moved here at 20–and she has that double vision that’s so powerful in poetry and comedy. Her poems are denser than Leopoldine’s, harder to follow, and the tensions are greater. One hand thrusts a sword into her stomach as the other tosses jags of lightning and zoo animals into the night; then you notice the sword has fallen out and the blood is flowing back in, red as a smile…was she in control of it all the time? I’m never sure.

Sometimes her poems remind me of riding in a limousine, very drunk and stoned but hyper alert to the world flashing outside, the stranger/lover beside me putting his/her hand under my skirt…an experience I’ve never actually had, in that detail, but I’ve done something similar in a taxi and I’ve ridden in limos at funerals when I was young enough to find it all acutely weird as well as sad. (Not my immediate family deaths; we had no limos). In Ana’s poems the memories fuse.

I also liked seeing her in the flesh; her tall sturdy body, her blond hair, her Slavic face, the way she rocks and sort of dances as she reads, dislodging the words from their homes in her hips and spine and pelvic girdle. (Strictly speaking, the pelvic girdle includes the hips, but I’m taking all the words I want.) It was hard to take my eyes off her body-her presence is very sexual in an diffident, slightly disjunct way. It’s hard to describe except to say she’s obviously not American.

Star Black I’ve heard before: she’s one of those poets, one of those people, whom you immediately put into the pile of the good ones who should never be taken, who should be restored after death in another body to grace the world. Her poems were less wild than the other two, her intelligence more orderly, but her imagination is full to the top and overflowing, like wave after wave of white birds in service to a Wiccan priestess.

She read the following poem, which is probably where I got the bird idea. I listened and thought: not me, grade school has disappeared utterly. But I’m with her all the same.


Moving away from rattled towns,
gaining, as a bird in a dishwasher,
an altered view, the owlish lakefronts
with their punch-clock crews

seem less luckless, the lunch-pail
chatter less dim; even recess seems pleasant.
Schoolmates from the third grade call
and nothing since matters,

you leap into kerosene waters
and swim, leaving the nervous talons
on a perch. The past doesn’t hurt,
the past is divine, everyone

the same age at the same time.
Moving is a white lie, a soft arrow.

–Star Black

I’ve already had a poem by Ana on this site, but here’s one by Leopoldine from The Paris Review that I’m probably not allowed to use, so it might not be up long.


I’m a freak

in a nightgown

and outside

a cool garden drips.

All this wasted time

could be full of something

but I’m always on the rug.
I’ve had good ideas

and placed them decorously

around the room,

all the little fish still

wriggling on their hooks.

I’ve had more good ideas

and kept them in the liquid

of my mind until they all

started to rot.

I’ve made a snack and

I’ve called a dead friend.

I don’t like everything I do.

I’ve let all the ghosts

feel me up

and it reminds me

of being on the subway

the things people will do

if you give them the green light

and then you do.

Well I do.

And then they touch me

and I pretend not to notice.

That is my joy.

It’s underwater all the time.

But it has not been a total waste

all this silence.

I think it’s more of a steak

than a hole.

And anyway


since now there’s no room

in the world unmarked

by human noise.

I’ve thought hard about this.

I’ve dug a dirt hole in my own

bedroom and lived there

rubbing my clit with a penny

under my blanket

there’s an old sandwich

and a jewel.

–Leopoldine Core

I’ve already published one of Ana’s poems, but here’s a link


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