It is midnight under the sky’s dome ceiling.
The moon speaks, saying nothing of consequence.
John Wayne is from Iowa, so we hitchhiked West
and I realized I never really loved you.
Your skepticism of scientific indices of happiness
is probably gendered or otherwise distorted.
According to Keynesian economics, demand is erratic,
therefore, I am not insane, but merely unsane.
I came over all unnecessary. I came, I saw,
I licked the mint green ice cream of evanescence.
Quivers of gardenias, sheaves of tuberoses,
I tripped over the semiquavers. At least I know
your home address and some good valedictions:
I blow a kiss to you, my friend …

-Elisa Gabbert and Kathleen Rooney

People who don’t read fiction often characterize it as frivolous and as some kind of escape from the world, which it isn’t inherently, nor does it need to be. I’ve learned as much about the world and the people in it—and their motivations—from fiction as I have from nonfiction. Fiction is often a much-needed step back that gives you the distance to see things more clearly; it’s very often better at explaining why events happened as opposed to just what happened. And if a reader believes that everything in non fiction or history is just objectively true, I don’t really know what to tell them, except that at least in fiction, the choice of what perspective and bias to tell a given story from—which is always a deliberate choice—is foregrounded and clear.
—  Kathleen Rooney
Invisible Threats


Blistering Agent, 2014. 10” x 10”. Colored Pencil on Bristol. Courtesy Packer Schopf Gallery

Levato Coyne builds tension not merely in the content of her images, which are as disturbing as they are pleasant to behold, but in their composition as well—each one insists on a vivid demarcation between space that is full and space that is unoccupied. Negative space offers the viewer an implicit invitation to fill it in—to imagine the rest of the suggested narrative, to try to see what can’t be seen. Levato Coyne’s work is emphatic in its use of negative space, surrounding each intense and delineated image with vacant whiteness, which makes the subjects and their beauty stand out starkly. But the unworked expanses’ potential seems as though it could just as easily be ominous as it could be optimistic—like a mountain lake that is lovely and clear, but whose clarity you later learn is owing to the fact that it’s been poisoned and is therefore unsuitable to life. 

It can be hard, at times, to tell for sure what exactly the images are saying about poison: snakes—known, of course, for their venom—appear often, as do monarch butterflies, which develop and store a poison known as cardiac glycosides, derived from the milkweed leaves they eat as larva. But this ambiguity seems appropriate inasmuch as often we don’t realize that we are being poisoned, either because we are unwittingly doing it to ourselves, or having it done to us through our environment and its contents both natural and unnatural, and by toxins that are administered both by forces outside our control (corporations, pollution) and by our own hands (foods, drugs both legal and illegal). In the image “Headmistress,” for example, Levato Coyne depicts a female’s left hand, held out and open-palmed, truncated at the wrist at which a profusion of monarch wings sprout outward. Instead of a forearm, the butterfly appendages give way to a pair of crossed arrows whose blue bands suggest veins. Are the butterflies there to heal the wound or to feed off it? Or are they meant to be the pulse, particularly the abnormal pulse, often characterized as a “flutter”? Are the arrows poisoned, or are they IVs containing an antidote or remedy?  Meanwhile, the title itself pushes the viewer to consider questions of autonomy and power: who poisons us and by what authority or permission?


Headmistress, 2014. 17” x 11”. Colored Pencil on Bristol. Courtesy Packer Schopf Gallery

Keep reading

As a writer who writes poetry, nonfiction, and fiction, I think it’s important to always maintain a firm grasp on genre and ethics. The challenge in writing this book was less one of keeping reality separate from imagination and more one of style. The ingredients that make a good poem often differ from those that make a good essay and from those that make a good novel. In early drafts, one of the trickiest things for me to do was to realize that the techniques and devices that make readable and compelling nonfiction are not always identical to the ones that make good fiction. I had to reframe my use of everything from diction and syntax to paragraphing and the presentation of information to the balance of scene and summary.
—  The Sunday Rumpus Interview: Kathleen Rooney, author of O, Democracy!
Some Notes on Loss

Kathleen Rooney & Elisa Gabbert

Losing the thing can be worse than never having had it at all.

People may resent you for having something they don’t, but don’t expect them to like you better if you happen to lose it.

There’s not much else to life; the gains exist only to allow for loss.

I don’t know why I wrote “Sorry for your loss” on the Valentine.

Polyamory is the ambitious but campy attempt to love without loss. Love has infinite value when scarce, limited value otherwise.

Sometimes it takes losing a thing to realize how little you care. You may feel like an empty paper bag, waiting for the next thing.

The next thing is little comfort in the wake of loss. The brain wants to run concentric circles around the thought of the next thing.

Sometimes you lose it like the memory of a dream—in half-steps, slippery.

So much history is missing if not lost outright.

I still think of that dog from my 20s as lost, versus gone.

I only listen to this song to remind me of my loss.

Take all the objects you fear losing, and burn them in a drunken fire in the desert. Rituals, a sense of the ceremonial, can ease the pain of loss.

A great loss can leave you feeling like a half-finished painting. Depressingly left in the easel.

Decay is a less dramatic kind of loss, but no less hurtful.

When love is lost, as opposed to a limb, what is the equivalent of phantom pain? Where, outside the body, is it experienced?


Great interview at Another Chicago Magazine. Was impressed by the parallels Cassandra and Kathleen were able to make with Poems While You Wait to things like marketing and internet poetry.

CG: I think that sort of feedback is what sustains a lot of the internet-centric literary community right now—capacity to comment/respond. A lot of writers depend on it. Do you think this sort of rapid response has notable downsides? I feel like the “ego-boost” of a successful piece has led a lot of the writers I adore into weird places.

KR: Great comparison. And yes, I think sometimes—both in person and online—“interactivity” becomes interruptivity, for better and for worse. Whether it’s ego, per se, or just a desire to please/make people happy or make people like “you”/your writing, that immediacy of response can become an obstruction like any other. And that obstruction can be “good” like the obstruction of writing a sonnet, or “bad” like pandering-bad.

Poem of the Moon / Max Jacob

There are on the night sky three mushrooms, which are the moon. As abruptly as sings the cuckoo from a clock, they rearrange themselves each month at midnight. There are in the garden some rare flowers which are little men at rest that wake up every morning. There is in my dark room a luminous shuttle that roves, then two … phosphorescent aerostats, they’re the reflections of a mirror. There is in my head a bee that talks.

—Translated by Elisa Gabbert & Kathleen Rooney via

from "Some Notes on Monstrousness" by Elisa Gabbert and Kathleen Rooney at The Collagist

Every monster is a little bit cute. Could cliché be the best way of getting at truth? Epistemology of kidding on the square?

In the early 14th Century, “monster” meant “a malformed animal or human, a creature afflicted with a birth defect,” and came from a root word meaning “to warn.” I’m arming you with knowledge to lessen your fear, but I’m scared myself.

In Gender Trouble, Judith Butler argues that sex, gender, and sexuality—categories that are normally seen as “coherent” and “natural”—are all culturally constructed through the repetition of stylized acts in time.

I have worn my mustache in public a total of eleven times since the first on October 31, 2012.