Portrait by Aurora Rose and John

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This photo is part of a series by the photographer Aurora Rose de Crosta. More on this later. She and John took many portraits, and I chose this as my favorite and answered this short interview to go along with it. Check out Aurora’s and John’s work at www.auroraandjohn.com. They are a beautiful and talented pair who I am so honored to have worked with.

1). Why did you choose the outfit you did? What about it represents you the most?
I chose this outfit because it’s one of my favorite dresses to wear when I dance. I like to perform a combination of Romani dance and Bellydance, but actually the dress is a Mexican wedding dress from the 1970’s from my favorite vintage store, The Odd Showroom, which was operated by the artist Amity Joy. I am a writer, perhaps first and foremost, but my grandmother taught me her Romani (“Gypsy”) family trades fortune telling, dance, and healing. The word “Gypsy” is a racial slur and reduces us to stereotypes, a dangerous thing in the midst of the current Romani human rights crisis. We are more than fortune tellers and dancers– I am also an English professor, writer, artist, editor, and activist– but these old trades, born of persecution in the centuries after our ancestors left India in the great diaspora, live on too.

2). Do you in general like being photographed? Why?
Yes and no. I did some very small-time modeling when I was young, and I suppose I got used to it, and now I’m a professional art model and have my image rendered in a number of mediums over and over again. If you believe in astrology, I am on the Cancer/Leo cusp (a touch deeper into Leo), and I suppose my relationship with having my picture taken reflects this. I don’t actually know anything about astrology though. I like being a part of an artist’s work, but sometimes it’s hard to look at my own image.

3). How did you feel during the shoot?
Aurora and John were so kind and creative and gave me loving direction while encouraging my own spontaneity. What a joy to work with! Deniz Ataman did my makeup, and she made me feel so glamorous. I loved that we shot in my bedroom too– the whole thing felt so intimate and sweet, and I felt supported in being myself, in all my odd multitudes.

4). Why did you choose the photo you chose?
I am a writer, and I fancy that in this photo I have a crazy face like Jean of Arc in Jules Bastien-Lepage (1879) painting (my paternal grandfather’s favorite), when the angels are telling her what her calling is. When I was a child, I believed that writing was my purpose, and it gave me a reason to live with a fire that I flattered myself by likening to Jean of Arc’s fire. I still might believe that.

5). Were there any particular images you hated? Why?
Anything remotely unflattering I will always hate because my vanity runs wide and deep.

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Joan of Arc, Jules Bastien-Lepage, 1879, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Hot art and Literature at Summer Writes 7/23

Come, this Saturday, to a magical rite of art and literature, a veritable carnival. I’ll be taking the stage with a performance that’s half-literature, half-dance, and not appropriate for children. So even if you hate my style, my little sliver of the evening will be racy and weird, and that might be worth something to you. Best of all, many artists will be performing, and they are all fantastic and I’m lucky to be among them.To learn more about this incredibly fun night and the artists, see below.

“This Saturday Dallas Athent, Christian Niedan, Melissa Hunter Gurney and Christoph are bringing Nomadic Press, Brooklyn Wildlife and GAMBA Magazine together for a late afternoon and evening of art and celebration. Summer Writes which will start promptly at 5pm and run till 8 in the backyard of The Hollows, an artist residency at 151 Bedford Ave in Williamsburg run by Pırıl & Friends, promotes independence and diversity within the arts with acoustic music, readings and electronic sounds by Jon Eckhaus Directly after this the celebration continues with Danielle and Vanessa at Hell Phone where Brooklyn Wildlife will be hosting a listening party for Crimdella (Mandella Brathwaite of Black God Pantheon’s) new EP Bury Me in Gold Vol. 1 produced by MNDCFT.
What does this mean? It means you get free art by 20+ diverse and independent writers and musicians. It means you get to have free wine and whiskey at happy hour and then come to hell phone for delicious French food to sooth your buzz and carry you into the evening. It means you get a sneak peak at one of New York Cities prolific rappers newest projects. It means you will meet new artists and new friends. It means you will get to see artists like Stanford Reid, Maayan Oppenheim, Brian Sheffield, Craig Kite, Jessica Reidy, Christine Stoddard, Chris Campanioni and Nathaniel Kressen. It means you will have a phenomenal Saturday – so – don’t miss it and bring those inspired by the arts to enjoy it with you.
Can’t wait to see you soon! RSVP on event links below
https://www.facebook.com/events/1333040806713992/
https://www.facebook.com/events/831494326974241/

 

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If you enjoy angry, literary stripping, come see me. Photo Credit: Oscar Fuertes

 

GAMBAZine Reading & International Romani Day, 4/8!

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I am so jazzed to be reading with GAMBAZine at Hell Phone speakeasy! There will be music, art, writing, food, and refreshments, and who doesn’t love all that? GAMBAZine is all about art and writing that’s edgy and raw, and I’m honored to be part of this event. If you’re in or around Brooklyn, join us. It will also be International Romani Day, so I’ll be getting my Gypsy Pride on, y’all.

Here’s the Facebook event— please share if you’re so inclined. Thanks!

Fresh off the press! Issue 32.2 of The Southeast Review

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Cover art by Alexa Torre

The Southeast Review issue 32.2 is out and available for purchase! It’s chock full of gorgeous poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. I’m the current Art Editor, and I’m so in love with the artwork in this in issue. Alexa Torre’s exquisitely beautiful photography captures the liminal space between contemporary and traditional Mexican culture, and Julia Gfrörer’s dark mermaid comics tantalize and chill you to the bone. Order your copy today!

Trauma poetry in Luna Luna Magazine

I’ve been honored to have three poems about childhood sexual trauma appear in Luna Luna Magazine, a favorite ezine of mine (and sister publication to Quail Bell Magazine). These poems are the first to be published from a series on trauma that I’ve been working on for many years. I’m putting together the manuscript alongside the novel I’m working on about Coco, a half-Romani (Gypsy) dancer and fortune teller at a Parisian circus who becomes a Nazi hunter. Coincidentally, the novel will contain a few poems. I’m so motivated to finish both projects within the next year. A large part of that is due to the warm reception that these poems have gotten– I couldn’t be more grateful or more touched. Many thanks. And a big thank you to Lisa A. Flowers, founder of Vulgar Marsala Press and author of diotomhero, who solicited me. I also got a lot of good advice about writing trauma poetry from Erin Belieu, Florida State University professor and co-founder of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, and I so appreciate her help and encouragement. Check out Erin’s latest book Slant Six, and its starred review in Publisher’s Weekly.

You may know Luna Luna for their powerful feminist content, their fierce leader Lisa Marie Basile (Apocryphal), their cutting edge poetry and fiction, and their articles and features on alternative spirituality, the occult, and beautiful cultural practices from all over the world. One of my new favorite things is their Poescopes, that is, poetic horoscopes by Fox Foley-Frazier (Exodus in X Minor), curator of The Infoxicated Corner of The The Poetry Blog. P.S. I have some poems about Romani rights and mythology in the Infoxicated Corner as part of the Political Punch series. 

So here’s the link for “In the Oven,” “Night and Night,” “Gulls Calling Over Corcaigh” in Luna Luna Magazinehttp://lunalunamag.com/2014/11/03/poems-jessica-reidy/

Thank you for reading, readers. I feel fearsome and strong, and I’m writing like a demon. I was a demon for Halloween, by the way.

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Click the demon to read the poems, I dare you.

Beat the block Southeast Review style

I like to do these little posts about beating writer’s block because writer’s block is bullshit. Right? Just write. But, it’s also a thing, and a thing I struggle with a lot, even though I supposedly love writing and have worked my ass off to do this whole writing professionally business, and it’s basically all I think about. That and puppies, and smoothies, and magic.

Here are some of my favorite ways to beat writer’s block, SER edition:

1. Visual art! The Surrealists did it, and before them the Romantics, and before them frickin’ everyone did it. Go to a museum, surf the web, make some art yourself, and check out The Southeast Review Vol 32.2 because we have two killer-great artists– Lita Cabellut and Dmitry Borshch. Both artists completely astound and inspire me. Cabellut is something of a personal hero– she’s a Romani (Gypsy) painter from Spain and her work haunts my dreams in a good way. And Borshch is one of the most striking and unusual illustrators I’ve come across in some time– his designs spring from Russian stories and some great place of blue ink creation. We’re proud to feature interviews with both artists.

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2. Read other people’s work! One of the best ways to find out what’s new and exciting in the literary world is to read more literary journals. You can drink your fill of art for free on ezines and electronic journals, but don’t forget to show your print journals some love, too. When you subscribe or order an issue, it keeps the art and the industry alive.

3. Writing prompts! The Southeast Review does these Writing Regimen packets a few times a year, and it’s a fantastic writer’s block cure, full of prompts, craft tips, and inspirational tidbits to keep your mind spinning, inspiration flowing, and words coming. All the good gerunds. The next round starts OCTOBER 1ST! Yes!

The Southeast Review Writing Regimen is for poets, essayists, and fiction writers who want to produce a body of work by introducing structure to their writing life, and, at the same time, finding new and innovative ways to approach their craft.

Sign up for The Southeast Review Writing Regimen and you will get the following:

  • daily writing prompts, applicable for any genre, emailed directly to you for 30DAYS! Use these to write a poem a day for 30 days, to create 30 short-short stories, or to give flesh to stories, personal essays, novels, and memoirs
  • a daily reading-writing exercise, where we inspire you with a short passage from the books we’re reading and get you started writing something of your own
  • A Riff Word of the Day, a Podcast of the Day from an editor, writer, or poet, and a Quote of the Day from a famous writer on writing

  • Flashback Bonus Craft Talks, where, as a little something extra, we repeat an earlier regimen’s craft talks from more writing heavyweights

  • weekly messages from established poets and writers—including tips and warnings on both the craft and the business of writing

  • a FREE copy of a current or classic back issue of The Southeast Review, featuring interviews, poetry, nonfiction, and fiction that will knock your socks off!

  • a chance to have your work published on our site.  Read the winning entry from our most recent Writer’s Regimen contest in June, “Vaquera” by Kim Henderson

  • access to our online literary companion—www.southeastreview.org—for interviews with up-and-coming and established poets, fiction writers, and memoirists, podcasts of readings from the Warehouse Reading Series, including such writers as Ann Patchett, Jennifer Knox, Matthew Zapruder, Barry Hannah, . . . as well as essays on the reading life of writers, book picks, web picks, and much more . . .”

So that’s all pretty great, and all are SER inspired to celebrate the birth of Vol. 32.2. I couldn’t be more excited.

Keep writing, friends.

Posing with a book of Shelley many years ago at Hollins University, my alma mater

Posing with a book of Shelley many years ago at Hollins University, my alma mater

The Symbiotic Magic of Yoga and Writing: Retreat, Ritual, and a Chat with the Women of the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop

If you’re an artist or writer and you’re feeling a little tapped out, check out this Quail Bell Magazine essay/interview “The Symbiotic Magic of Yoga and Writing: Retreat, Ritual, and a Chat with the Women of the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop” about the benefits of practicing yoga alongside your writing practice and the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Summer Yoga & Writing Retreat at the Château de Verderonne, FranceAlthough the CWW has marked the retreat application deadline as May 15th, admissions are rolling until filled and there are still a few spaces. Apply A.S.A.P.

 

Elissa doing yoga in front of the Château de Verderonne, Image source: Quail Bell Magazine

Elissa doing yoga in front of the Château de Verderonne, Image source: Quail Bell Magazine

Some quotes from “The Symbiotic Magic of Yoga and Writing“–

Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of The Christopher Marlowe Cobb Thriller Series, argues that ritual is the key to creating art. In From Where You Dream: the process of writing fiction, he explains that you must prepare for writing by entering a trance and focusing on the breath in a quiet space, much like the centering meditation of a yoga class. Once you’re there and centered, you must stay present with sensation and allow yourself to create directly and organically from that “dream space.” Like in yoga, you set an intention to stay open to all experience and at the same time, remain unattached to ideas, hence the popular mantra, “I am not my mind.” Butler writes that the best art comes from this “moment to moment sensual experience,” and “non-art” is full of summarized or intellectualized reported experience. 

Those “moment to moment sensory experience[s]” are much more nuanced than you’d think—all the available senses are involved. In my Yoga Teacher Training at Kripalu, I learned that the body holds memories, a phenomenon addressed in the study of somatics, a branch of psychology that examines the mind-body connection. In certain poses, you may feel spontaneously happy, sad, angry, frightened, blissful—you may be flooded with memories, sensations, and epiphanies. You may weep or laugh without knowing why (or knowing all too well why). Stay with present if you can: breathe, relax, feel, watch, allow (or BRFWA). Your body is releasing trapped energy, memories, and emotions—parts of your past that you have been carrying unconsciously, perhaps as tension, shortness of breath, pain, or anxiety. What does the experience feel like, smell like, look like, sound like, and taste like? The information you need to have a cathartic experience is the same information you need to create one on the page. Butler argues that in order to make art, we have to dive into the unconscious mind, confront whatever pain dwells there, and use that intense awareness to write from the “white hot center.” This is just another way to access the unconscious.

 

The renovated stables

The renovated stables

Jessica: What are some of your favorite yoga poses, breathing exercises, and/or meditations for stimulating (or sustaining) creativity?

Elissa: To increase creativity and flow, hip-openers like Pigeon pose and Lizard pose (Uttan Pristhasana) are my favorite. When you release tension in your hips, you also release the emotions that come bubbling up. The hips and pelvis are related to the Svadisthana chakra and the water element which governs the area of creation and creativity. These postures help clear writer’s block by encouraging creative energy to flow without over-efforting.

Also, Nadi Shodana pranayama (also called alternate nostril breathing) is a wonderful breathing technique to begin or complete your practice and is appropriate for anyone. It stimulates a daydream-like state, where our senses draw in (called pratyahara) and we can disengage from the external world. It helps us develop the focus and concentration needed in meditation. I think any meditation that works for you is excellent. Meditation is the key to open the mind to inspired creative thought. It brings you back to yourself, to moments of truth, without mind chatter, self-criticism and self-consciousness.

 

I'm enjoying yoga with Elissa

I’m enjoying yoga with Elissa

Jessica: How does community support your yoga practice and/or artistic practice? 

Norma: The image of the solitary writer is deeply rooted in the romanticized myth of the lone, genius writer. In truth, most great writers were part of communities comprised of other writers, intellectuals, and artists that inspired each other. Many great literary movements and unforgettable manifestos came out of the collaboration of such communities of writers….In addition to encouragement, support, and critical feedback, I think one of the most powerful things a community can offer a writer is accountability. If you know that people are counting on you, then you are more likely to follow through. Whether your goals are short term or long term, a community can hold you to your word. 

Of course, the same principles apply to a community supporting one’s yoga practice.

For the rest of the essay/interview: http://www.quailbellmagazine.com/the-real/essay-the-symbiotic-magic-of-yoga-and-writing

Click here for more details

Applications rolling till filled

If you want to read more about the importance of cultivating a community, check out Rita and Norma’s interview with VIDA & HERKIND “Community as Catharsis: A Conversation with Rita Banerjee & Diana Norma Szokolyai”