Left to right: Laura Theobald, Prairie M. Faul, Zoë Blair-Schlagenhauf, Jo Gehringer, El Pearson — organizers of 2tender4house
A new independent poetry festival will take place across town on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, March 24-26. 2tender4house(or just "fest," as its founders refer to it) is a collaboration between two poetry ventures, the online journal tenderness, yea and the publisher/journal 2fast4house. I spoke with some of the festival's organizers about the festival, its components, and its underlying aims, which are to showcase local queer, trans, and POC poets and to foster a more inclusive New Orleans poetry community.
Gambit: Hi! Can you introduce yourselves to the readers?
ZOË BLAIR-SCHLAGENHAUF: I'm an artist and designer in New Orleans and the cofounder of tenderness, yea.
PRAIRIE M. FAUL: I'm a trans poet and Cajun native of Louisiana.
JO GEHRINGER: I'm also a confounder of tenderness, yea, and still alive somehow.
EL PEARSON: I cofounded 2Fast2House and just moved to New Orleans like two weeks ago.
Can you tell me more about tenderness, yea and 2Fast2House, the outfits that combined to make this festival?
ZOË:tenderness yea is a literary magazine and publishing house started by me, Jo and Amelia Seidel. Right now it's a website. We publish the work of poets and writers and authors; three entries every two weeks. We prioritize the work of LGBTQ people and people of color, and our mission statement is to spread tenderness.
JO: We knew a lot of great writers who didn't have anywhere to put their work, so we thought there was a reasonable excuse to establish another venue for that. And we're doing a soft launch of our first book— Zoë's book— at fest. It's called Chlamydia Summer.
That's one of the most New Orleans poetry-book names I've ever heard.
ZOË: It happened in New Orleans!
EL: I started 2fast2house with Joseph Parker in Tucson when we were living at Boost House, a poet residency thing. We started doing print issues and then we did online for a minute and then we stopped doing online. Our journal is called Spy Kids Review. It was started for a lot of the same reasons tenderness, yea was, as a platform for people that we didn't feel had a big enough platform. We had been in the internet poetry scene long enough to know people that we could ask to submit and it was really cool to publish other people we knew personally and give them the same platform. If you want to do print stuff, you can be your own publishing house. And buying a domain name is really all it takes.
JO: You can do it for free at tumblr.com!
EL: that's how we started, with a tumblr. One thing that's really important about publishing and journals is that you look at all these academic journals and the people that are published in them are overwhelmingly cis, white educated people. And when we do calls for submissions, that's who submits to us. So you have to go out of your way to find people who you want to put on a platform. You have to change the way you're asking people to submit, you have to change the way you're publishing so that people feel more comfortable sharing their work with you. People have to feel that you respect their work.
JO: You have to make a decision to do things differently. If you just put out your call for submissions on the internet and don't do anything beyond that, you're going to get the same old shit as every other mag. In the fourth year of an English degree, I'm so tired of academic poetry that doesn't do shit for me or anyone else. We're trying to do a different thing.
How did the idea for this festival come about?
PRAIRIE: I moved back here about six months ago after spending three years in Portland, Oregon, making the rounds in a scene that was more established with the intentionality that 2Fast2House and tenderness, yea maybe look for. A scene a lot of people put in a lot of work to make possible. [There were] trans-specific places, all-woman readings, QTPOC nights, etcetera. There was a bit of a culture shock when I came back to New Orleans, with an overabundance of those groups, and yet going to readings what I saw was outdated, in-print, mainstream, cis white authors reading very generic "My Money Makes Me Sad" poems. You know, "My Whiteness Is a Burden," and "Help Me, I'm a Cuck." Now, I will say there have been attempts to remedy that. Me and Jo actually met at an LGBTQ reading series, The Waves, which I think is a really great series that's made a lot of strides...
JO: It's one of the better things in town...
PRAIRIE: It's one of the better things. But for us in particular, for people who grew up in writing, in the internet poetry scene, in these spheres of marginalization, it did not feel necessarily like the entirety of a space that we desired, so literally after a couple drinks one night, after a ramshackle poetry reading we put together, we talked vaguely about a thing like this, and kind of just fell into it by just seeing if it's possible.
JO: We all got a little drunk and were like: what if we do this?
PRAIRIE: There's also the element as well, I mean, no shade towards other organizations or events, well a little bit— when I see an unnamed poetry festival that has 90+ authors all of which I've never fucking heard of, 90% of whom are white cis males who are tenured professors, my conclusion is that is a sponsored event with the goal of continuing to elevate a particular form of poetry as the one that should be read.
PRAIRIE: So it feels like a great thing to connect with people who don't have that sphere of access in a similar way to what we have all experienced, even in terms of having a night where we read, and then once we do, someone says something shitty or makes people feel uncomfortable in a particular space... to have an alternative to that, even if it doesn't fully hit that mark, is a great step in the right direction.
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JO: i think that's all we're aiming for: to do something different than everything else that's going on. Especially just with the readings you've tried to organize it's hard to get people there. Just the young people who care about poetry and aren't tenured professors. I think we're just trying to say hey, we're here, and we're here for you.
I often feel like all art is besides the point, because everything is so fucked. What do you see as the role of poetry?
ZOË: For me, it's about poetry becoming more accessible and about communicating. I feel like there's this huge atmosphere around poetry that makes it seem pretentious and highbrow and something that not everyone is allowed to do. Personally, I was exposed to poetry through the internet which is one of the most accessible things there is. I want to show people that poetry isn't all about constructs; it's just your everyday folk saying really beautiful things and really tender things and trying to communicate and connect with you in some way.
PRAIRIE: There's an element I've been trying to explore from the example of other folks, which is the ways in which poetry can remind us of where the lines are drawn. So poetry which speaks to, for those who experience it, to the banality of the oppression we daily have in a way that's both striking and resonant — speaks to it in a way that someone who is sympathetic towards it maybe isn't hearing in a verbatim description of a microaggression. What the totality of that feeling is like, and what the connection to the entirety of systematic oppression feels like — in the medium of poetry that can come across in a way that translates a bit more easily. That's not the entirety of the work, but a useful tool in addition to things outside the reading of work and hopefully translates into material effects outside art and creation — into solidarity and understanding.
JO: On a really basic level, especially since the election, I have needed poetry as a person. Not just reading it, but writing it in order to get me through my day. As much as anything else, I just want to remind folks that it's there. Poetry is there, and there are spaces full of people who give a shit about it and give a shit about you and who are also very marginalized and terrified, trying to fight back as best they can by writing like 100 words a day.
EL: Especially with arts and education funding being cut, to invest in visual arts you have to monetarily invest in supplies and stuff. To become a musician, you have to invest in lessons or instruments. With poetry you don't have to do that. With poetry you don't really even have to "get published." You can just put stuff online and and people can read it. It's the easiest thing to get into. What Zoë said about poetry being the most accessible platform is really important, and going to be something that drives a lot of people to poetry, so I think it's important to create spaces where people can feel safe. The people who need poetry the most and the people who need to write it the most are those in marginalized groups, and those are the people I most care about listening to and helping have a platform.
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Complementary fest-organizer stick'n'pokes
I'm pretty clear on the meanings of "trans" and "people of color," but it's decreasingly clear "queer" has any meaning at all, beyond just being shorthand for an aesthetic. As a poetry festival that's trying to elevate queer voices, what does queerness mean to you, the organizers?
PRAIRIE: I've recently had to grapple with that. A lot of my early coming out was very wrapped up in finally being able to take up space in lesbian and dyke scenes. I felt a very strong affinity for and wrote a lot of poetry about what were to me at the time very lesbian acts. But recently being in the city and finding myself in connection with other folks, whether they're trans men or fall along non-binary lines, or the very rare once-in-a-blue-moon moment of thinking a cis dude is cute ... I've found a larger affinity with the word "queer." It feels more amorphous and evolving with the ways my desire changes... and also the ways in which I'm read.
Cordoning my experience of oppression and moments of euphoria and joy and freedom to just other trans women feels inadequate. I feel like that's a space that a lot of folks are coming to, and I feel like the instances in which "queer" might be utilized inadequately by folks is a very very very small negligence. It just shows more people are grappling with the ideas of gender and desire, and even if they come out of that feeling like "OK, i'm a straight cis person," that internal struggle feels important.
ZOË: I feel like I have a very swallowable sexuality — I'm a white cis girl who likes boys and girls — and I don't want my sexuality to be seen as trendy. I don't want people to think it's a phase or — not even that, that it's acceptable to experiment with me because it's something cool to do in college. Queerness isn't just something you can get drunk and do, it's more an innate part of who you are. Queerness feels more unanimous; it's a banner we can be under while acknowledging we don't all face identical struggles.
EL: I also feel that addressing queerness as an aesthetic is part of heteronormativity. For example when people say "Oh, there's just so many more trans people now," and "There's so many non-binary people now," the reality is that people have felt like this forever, but have more platforms to speak about it now. Some people viewing it as a fad is just part of what increased visibility does.
JO: It's any identity that trangresses against a normative cishet way of life. Any kind of gender or sexual expression that makes 50-yr-old white people in Kansas go "huh?" is queerness.
EL: Even if people are presenting as queer just for aesthetic reasons and not for gender or identity reason, it still makes the world safer for me, so i can't be too mad about that.
PRAIRIE: That's something I definitely learned in Portland ... there's a camouflaging effect.
JO: As compared to the other Southern cities I've been to, something relatively good about living in New Orleans is that there's a wider range of gender expression here among people who probably consider themselves cis. So I'm not as scared leaving my house.
You've expressed hopes that the fest will get you laid. I have to ask: do you actually think getting laid will make you happy?
ZOË: No! The most common untreatable STD is depression.
PRAIRIE: I don't think that anything — poetry, money, getting laid, drugs — is going to make me happy.
JO: I've been doing poetry for a while and i don't think i've ever gotten laid because of it. I feel like if I don't get laid at fest I should probably just quit. Well, ok. If I don't get laid, but I get at least five Twitter followers out of it, I might not quit poetry.
EL: I don't need to get laid that bad, but I do need more followers.
ZOË: Not to be pretentious but in some ways reading poetry feels like getting laid, when you perform, in terms of not feeling like you're going to die. I forget about my mortality for like three minutes... or however long it takes. I remember my first poetry reading at Jo's house; it made me feel so high... it made me feel heard. But yeah, I'm trying to get laid at this festival, to be honest.
EL: That's the whole point of ever leaving the house.
PRAIRIE: I'll say, as the very repressed granddaughter of a Southern Baptist pastor, that there is something very powerful in owning my words, my feelings and my sexuality. Being frank about that with other writers, other queer and trans folks, feels like a very important and unique space. The intent of fest is not solely to get us all laid, but i think all of us grapple with our sexuality and desire, and it's nice there's a point where that can be crystallized.
ZOË: And just when all your crushes are in the audience, and you look into their eyes...
PRAIRIE: This fisting poem is about you.
ZOË: I'm trying to peg you, right now.
EL: That's all I've ever wanted anyone to say to me!
More information about 2tender4house, including the roster of readers and musical acts, can be found on its Facebook Event page. The schedule is as follows:
- March 24: Party and Reading at 1932 Broadway Street, 9 p.m.
- March 25: Reading at Grow On: Urban Farm, 2358 Urquhart Street, 8 p.m.
- March 26: Reading at Sisters in Christ Record Store, 5206 Magazine Street, 2 p.m.