Friday, April 13, 2007

Memorial set for kari edwards

by Zak Szymanski

Friends, family, and colleagues from literary, artistic, and LGBT circles are preparing to honor the late poet kari edwards at a memorial on Friday, April 27, to be held at 7:30 p.m. at the San Francisco campus of the California College of the Arts, 1111 Eighth Street.
Writer, artist, and gender activist, Ms. edwards, who did not use capital letters, was a winner of Small Press Traffic's Book of the Year Award in 2004, and was a recipient of New Langton Art's Bay Area Award in literature in 2002. She was the author of obedience (Factory School, 2005); iduna (O Books, 2003), a day in the life of p. (subpress collective, 2002), a diary of lies – Belladonna #27 (Belladonna Books, 2002), and post/(pink) (Scarlet Press, 2000), among other works.
Ms. edwards died on her 52nd birthday, December 2, 2006, of a pulmonary embolism. She had been seeking treatment for unexplained shortness of breath since October of last year; examinations revealed an enlarged heart but no known cause, and the blood clot was not evident in early X-rays.
By all accounts, Ms. edwards deeply touched a number of different communities in San Francisco and around the world. A transgender woman and queer activist, she worked for social justice within all of her circles, bringing awareness of gender and queer issues to people and institutions outside of LGBT-specific populations.
"She touched many, many different fields," Frances Blau, Ms. edwards's surviving life partner, told the Bay Area Reporter . "She had a whole career in digital art; she exhibited stuff in museums; she ran transgender groups. There's a whole sphere of different activities, during which she touched people in that world."
Born in Illinois and raised in Westfield, New York, Ms. edwards studied art and creativity, became a sculptural artist, and taught for many years in the art department at Denver University in Denver, Colorado. She left DU and began to transition to female in the early 1990s, then enrolled in the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado to pursue an advanced degree in psychology.
It was at Naropa – the country's first accredited Buddhist university and also the home of beat poet Allen Ginsberg's writing school – that she met Blau. After finishing her master's degree in psychology, Ms. edwards continued on at Naropa, earning her master's of fine arts in writing and poetics. During this time she also had sexual reassignment surgery and worked at Catholic Charities Homeless Shelter in Denver, where she held a number of positions and was an advocate for transgender people at the shelter.
After graduating Naropa in 2000, Ms. edwards taught many classes and ran a transgender support group in Boulder. She and Blau moved to San Francisco in 2002. Ms. edwards worked for New Leaf: Services for Our Community, as an intake coordinator. She remained active in the local poetry community while doing transgender education for Bay Area agencies and schools. She also published the popular Transdada blog.
In addition to her published books, Ms. edwards's written work can be found in Scribner's The Best American Poetry (Scribner, 2004), Civil Disobediences: Poetics and Politics in Action (Coffee House Press, 2004), Biting the Error: Writers Explore Narrative (Coach House, Toronto, 2004), and Bisexuality and Transgenderism: InterSEXions of the Others (Hawoth Press, 2004).
She also has volumes of unpublished work, including a forthcoming book entitled Having Been Blue for Charity (Blazebox press); and Bharat Jiva , a collection of her writings from her nine-month stay in India, where she and Blau planned to relocate.
Her work could be startling, clever, and dark at once, as in the poem "a napkin ring for my silent butter," which begins, "oil is my baby – oil is the cock I suck daily – I am your oil spill soaked in blood – I am mighty oil big joe oily big business oily big cock oily teen idol big picture window greased up to be a big time show girl – I am your school girl daddy – aren't you not going to fight for me and stick it to'em big daddy.Ӽ/p>
Language, said her close friend and fellow poet Rob Halpern, became a cause of its own in Ms. edwards's life.
"By virtue of her presence alone, kari made limitless demands on our responsibility to respond to all forms of injustice, from the violence against trans-folk, to the injustice of language itself," Halpern told the B.A.R. "kari's work as a poet had everything to do with this struggle against the violent force of language, which identifies and occupies in accord with interests not our own. She continues to make us vigilantly aware that we are complicit in the violence of gender simply by thinking in English, just as we're complicit in a murderous imperialism by living in America. kari knew that we need to use language radically and innovatively in order to overcome that violence, hence her faithfulness to the likes of Gertrude Stein, as well as Dada.
"There's no way to respond adequately to the demands that kari made, but she turned the inadequacy of response into the kind of anger with the potential to activate our attentions and mobilize our bodies."
Memorials for Ms. edwards around the country have included the voices and work of some prominent figures, including the writers Anne Waldman, Eileen Myles, and Reed Bye. Additionally, former students of hers who are now well-known artists in the Denver area hosted an event in her honor at that city's Edge Gallery.
San Francisco's April 27 memorial will be co-sponsored by the MFA Writing Program of CCA and by Small Press Traffic Literary Arts Center.
"I'm kind of looking forward to it," said Blau, adding that she may speak at the event about Ms. edwards's inspiration to start writing, back when both of them were students at Naropa.
It was during Ms. edwards's second year of her psychology degree that the legendary poet Ginsberg died, and Ms. Edwards – who had begun journaling about her gender transition – was profoundly affected by the loss.
"It catapulted her," said Blau, who added that Ms. edwards would use the school's multicolored Maitri meditation rooms to construct prose. "She would go in and write, and do that as her practice instead of meditating."
The memorial is a reading and performance. People will read Ms. edwards's work and their own work, and will share their experiences and stories of her. There will be some videos of her art work, including her DVD of India. At least one musical tribute will happen.
In addition to Blau, Ms. edwards is survived by her parents, Bud and Marlene (Loomis) Robbins of Westfield, New York; her brother Scott Robbins, his wife Laurie, and their children, Katie and Andrew of Westfield.

given the news

there will be rocks
that remember me
in perfect order
along the sea

allowed to float
atop sunset breeze

how many times
must I die
to know
I need not reach
to touch the sky

for I breathe heavenճ
last hours of perfect reflection.

kari edwards, November 2006

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