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I DON’T WRITE ABOUT RACE: June Gehringer reads at Zinc Bar

A few Saturdays ago was a miserable snowy afternoon, more wet than snow, and I wanted to get to a poetry reading crosstown so I checked online for the M8 bus schedule (not many on a Saturday) and caught the next one.

I’d planned getting off at 5th Avenue, but saw Jacob Burckhardt and started to talk about The Cattle, a performance piece he had just collaborated in with video, which I’d missed because by the time I went to get a ticket, it was sold out. “Congratulations,” I said. “I could have gotten you in,” Jacob said. “It’s the Pennsylvania Dutch in me not wanting to ask,” I confessed. “Pah!” Jacob said, “you’re as much a New Yorker as I am.” “Next time I’ll remember that.”

Blizzard or not, the M8 had been rolling along because not a lot of folks were out, and I missed my stop, getting off at 6th and walking that long block back to 5th, turning south through Washington Square to the Zinc Bar on Third Street mid-block where it, a basement bar, kind of hides.

Inside, I could see that not many folks had shown up. The curators for the Segue Reading Series, Rijard Bergeron and Lonely Christopher had made it though. I didn’t know the poets who were reading, but I always trust their selection. That’s why I’d come; and it’s always good to make that extra effort when it’s raining or snowing out. Everyone was sitting on the west side of the room, against that wall; not a single soul was on the other, not one. “If this was a boat we’d capsize,” I said to Lonely. “That’s where the poets are,” he said pointing to them, surrounded by a ring of friends who had come through the lousy weather to hear them.

Of the two poets who read, June Gehringer is on the Vimeo below. Ru Puro will come along soon, but later on. June, who’d come up from Philadelphia, announced that this would be her last reading; she was retiring from the poetry scene. Spending this brief afternoon with her, I think that whatever she does in the future will be interesting. So, watch and enjoy. I was glad that I’d come.




Lonely Christopher’s introduction of June Gehringer:

This Saturday I had the pleasure of introducing June Gehringer for the Segue Reading Series. Apparently she is taking a semi-permanent break from poetry and this was her final public appearance as June (she goes by another name in her daily life). I spoke about her two books: I Love You, It Looks Like Rain and I Don’t Write About Race.

June Gehringer is a writer who has lived in Omaha, New Orleans, and now Philadelphia. She’s garnered much appreciation in the past few years with a tone that is absolutely colloquial and casually confessional, replete with a trademark injured wit and jaded optimism. Her poems and stories are stylistically reminiscent of the best aspects of the collapsed Alt Lit movement, which largely turned out to be a cynical front for young heteronormative men to appear hip and sensitive while perpetrating sexual abuse. Although Gehringer may not be reclaiming those aesthetics as much as following her own prerogatives. She has said, “Alt lit is fucked, and I hate that a lot of elements of my work which feel politically imperative to me (accessibility, rejection of prescriptive grammar, use of internet slang, etc.) cause me to be associated with alt lit and thereby dismissed. […] As far as my work goes, I’m mostly writing for people like me, young queer and trans folks who are trying to survive in America. I write in the language that feels most like it could be mine or could be ours, which, in the colonizing language of English, is something difficult to navigate.” Her first collection, I Love You It Looks Like Rain, which came out in 2017 from Be About It Press, is characterized by a sense of aching sincerity and morbid humor. She is completely unafraid of emotionality, writing “Poetry is bad when there are more words in it than feelings.” The intensity of those feelings is often expressed hilariously, as in the poem title “I Get Jealous of My Router Because Nobody Hesitates to Pull the Plug When It’s Fucking Up.” If her first book introduced her as an exciting young voice, her second full-length collection, published only the next year by Civil Coping Mechanisms, established her as a mature force to be reckoned with. The poems in I Don’t Write About Race focus on June’s interior life, her family, and her efforts to exist and flourish in a confused society. She’s trans, mixed race, and of Chinese heritage and the fruitful if challenging intersections of those identities and experiences is where she tries to make sense of everything happening around her. Her style feels a little like wearing sweatpants all day around the house, and this diaristic, stream-of-consciousness approach works with her acid criticality to create well-crafted comedic beats and moments of calculated pathos. The particulars of her identity blossom into metaphors concerning the wisdom of the pariah: “If you don’t think language is a weapon, be grateful no-one’s pointing it at you.” She writes through herself about white people, showing them what they don’t want to know about how they’re fucking her life up. “I read poems about white people to rooms full of white people and they laugh like they’re in on the joke, they laugh like they didn’t make me need to write these poems.” June interrogates the world that is presented to her as truth, pulling apart the injustices like a mozzarella stick. She writes, “you have to unlearn so much in order to be happy.” This is its own ingenuous register, yet a delivery system for some dark and complicated truths. Easiness on the knife’s edge. The ennui of wartime. The feeling in her head, the one telling her to die, she recognizes as “another white man’s voice.” She is “busy with survival” because even bathrooms are dangerous. She thinks about getting into car accidents just so she can apologize. It would be alarming if it didn’t make such perfect sense. Of her writerly voice, and June’s public persona in general, she has said, “The speaker of those poems is someone who really allows herself to live deeply within her trauma and pain, her love and her joy, in a way that I’m not afforded the space to do in my daily life. I wouldn’t want to be the person speaking in these poems. It’d be too difficult, too painful, and I’d never get anything done.” After starting a dumpling catering and delivery service, she has said she is kind of retiring from writing and this is her last public performance for the foreseeable future. I don’t know anything more about that, but I know we’re lucky to be here to listen to her read. Joining us from Philadelphia, please welcome June Gehringer!


To the reader: You can subscribe and read reviews and essays by Lonely Christopher at Patreon. I think it’s worthwhile. Check it out:

http://www.patreon.com/lonelychristopher

June Gehringer


I don’t write about race

for Daphne
after El Pearson

I don’t write about race.

I don’t talk about race.

My white friends are very supportive.

My white friends perform allyship on Facebook.

My white friends apologize, but neither
as often nor as profusely as
they should.

I hide my legs from the sun and
in the shower, they blend into
the off-white
mildew
off the walls.

I hide my legs from the
sun and in the
shower I try
to tell myself:
I’m not one of them.

The day after I graduated college, I took my white
father and my brown mother to the World
War II Museum and we sat
in silence as we read
that the Japanese killed 20
million Chinese people during World War

II.

(How many times have I been asked if I was Japanese?)

My brown mother and
I already knew this. I wonder
what my father knows.

I don’t write about race,
I write about erasure.

I go to a bar with my white
sister and my brown brother. Someone
tells us that we all look
the same, and I wonder
what that means
for me, a white-brown
girl with an uncut
dick. But then I
remember
that I’ve heard this before, that
we all look the same.

I don’t write about race,
I write about gender,
I once killed a cis white man,
and his first name
was me.

In Washington D.C., while walking
through the National Mall, I hear a white
teenager joyfully screaming with her
white friends.

In Washington D.C. I am terrified
to speak, I am terrified to
whisper. I write
poems on my phone instead.

I don’t write about race,
I write about silence.

My white friends talk
about race. They say
all the right
words. I say
nothing.

I read poems about white
people to rooms full of white
people and they laugh
like they’re in on the joke, they
laugh like they didn’t
make me need
to write these poems.

In a poem I ask
white people everywhere
to please go
home. My white
audience laughs and
I wonder how much
of me is laughing
with them. I wonder
if my father is laughing
too.

I don’t write about race,
I write about erasure.
I write only, and always
about myself.


June Gehringer’s I Don’t Write About Race can be found on Amazon here:

http://www.amazon.com/I-Dont-Write-about-Race/dp/1948700123


in Philly

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