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Lit Undressed: Women in Disguise; Excerpt 1

The fourth and final installment of one of my artistic projects, Lit Undressed, took place Oct. 24 at House of Loom. The theme of this nude reading and art exhibit was Women in Disguise. To our amazement, it was the warmest audience and perhaps best event yet. After-which, we received a plethora of support, encouragement, and want for more. Lit Undressed as it was, has run its course, though its morphing into new projects… Here, for the first time, we wish to share with you, a selection of the art, writings and photographs from the performance. Here is the first excerpt from Lit Undressed: Women in Disguise (the second can be found here)…Enjoy and scroll down for bios of artists/writers and stay tuned for more… (*Some of the readings we did not receive permission to post online; that is why their titles/authors are listed but not the piece.)

Reading 1:
"Mam Bam Wam,” by Carlos Holmes, read by Fran, Jordan, Sally

MAM (Fran)             Women are always in 

BAM (Jordan)      Women are never not in

WAM (Sally)            Disguise?

MAM (Fran)              A woman in disguise is

BAM (Jordan)           Multiple disguises for single

WAM (Sally)             Once they marry, women lose interest in

MAM (Fran)              A disguise – any disguise – is

BAM (Jordan)           A woman becomes a woman only when she’s wearing

WAM (Sally)             For a woman to enter a bar alone, it is necessary that she be in

MAM (Fran)              Anything beyond three glasses of wine tends to unmask a

BAM (Jordan)           Women in disguise are a sight for sore

WAM (Sally)             Eyes?

MAM (Fran)              Women in disguise cannot be

BAM (Jordan)           Denied?

WAM (Sally)             A woman in disguise fishing for a man in the middle of a swollen

MAM (Fran)              River?

WAM (Sally)             Nope

MAM (Fran)              Lake?

WAM (Sally)             Larger!      

MAM (Fran)              Sea!

BAM (Jordan)           As the night wore on the woman’s disguise wore

WAM (Sally)             Thin?

MAM (Fran)              From between the waves emerges a woman in

BAM (Jordan)           We have nothing to fear but a woman in

WAM (Sally)             Unmask her and she turns to

MAM (Fran)              Honey?

WAM (Sally)             Tupelo honey

MAM (Fran)              (singing) “She’s as …    Sweet as …”

BAM (Jordan)           She’s as mysterious as a woman in

WAM (Sally)             First he unmasked her – then he

MAM (Fran)              Undressed her?

BAM (Jordan)           Remove your mask, Miranda, that I might lose myself in your

WAM (Sally)             Eyes behind the disguise sapped the vigor from the

MAM (Fran)              Predator?

BAM (Jordan)          Boy scouts break rank to offer a merit badge to the woman with the best

WAM (Sally)             Disguise serves to highlight the feminine

MAM (Fran)              Principle?

BAM (Jordan)           Moonlit skinny dipping calls for the appropriate

WAM  (Sally)             Left behind in her wake a recognizable

MAM (Fran)              Wave print?

BAM (Jordan)           She only removed her disguise when she was with her

WAM (Sally)             Children?

MAM (Fran)              Recognized her various disguises and reacted to them accordingly

BAM (Jordan)           In her wake a trail of

WAM (Sally)             Allowed her to inhabit every character from

MAM (Fran)              Mrs. Ramsay to

BAM (Jordan)           To who?

WAM (Sally)             Lily Briscoe           

MAM (Fran)              Before she sank out of sight!

BAM (Jordan)           Before she had had her vision!

WAM (Sally)             According to the lit undressed professor who should know

MAM (Fran)              Orlando?

BAM (Jordan)           All reality is

WAM (Sally)             Reality nothing but a

MAM (Fran)              Good excuse for

BAM (Jordan)           A disguise?

WAM (Sally)             Women in

MAM, BAM, & WAM    (gesturing to the audience)   Love your disguise!

Photo of Jordan by Walter Reubens

Reading 2:
“Couple in Disguise,” by Doug Hayko, read by Doug, Candy

A well-dressed Doug enters. He carries a brief case.

Doug (without emotion): “I’m part of a loving couple.”

A photographer enters and snaps his picture with a flash, then exits. (1 minute has passed)

A naked Candy enters. She stands to the man’s right, slightly downstage.

Candy (without emotion): “I’m part of a loving couple.”

He opens his briefcase and takes out a pair of 2-inch high-heeled shoes. He puts the shoes on the woman’s feet from behind, as if he were shoeing a horse. He goes back to his briefcase. He takes out a mid-length black or dark gray cocktail dress. He puts it on her. It is two sizes too small. There are many buttons, hooks, and zippers. It takes quite some time. Even though it is quite a difficult process, neither of them shows any emotion during the dressing. A short moment after he begins dressing her, she begins repeating the phrase “I’m part of a loving couple”. The phrase is evenly spaced and repeated until she is dressed.

Once she is dressed, they stand side by side. She is to his right. She changes her phrase to the contraction “I’m…”. She continues this through the following sequence, repeating the word approximately twenty times.

A photographer enters and snaps their picture with a flash, then exits. (3 minutes have passed)

Doug closes his briefcase, then exits.

Candy stands alone in her dress and high-heels, continuing with “I’m…”.

(Photo by Walter Reubens)

She notices a tear in her dress. She begins to pull at it. Her one-word mantra changes to “I’m trying to find…the time…to be me.” She continues with this phrase, awkwardly. The wording is difficult and she seems to search for better words, but the same phrase emerges from her lips “I’m trying to find…the time…to be me”. She continues to pull at the tear in her dress. The tear gives. She pulls more. She tears away at her dress, until she is again naked. There is a glow of red on her body where the dress used to be. The process takes about five minutes. She steps out of her shoes. She stares forward, stopping her repetitious phrase for a moment.

Doug reenters, naked and stands back to back with her. She faces the audience, while he faces away from the audience toward the back to the performance space. She repeats the phrase, “I’m trying to find…the time…to be me.” Doug turns so that he is now facing the audience to the left of Candy. He repeats the phrase, “I’m trying to find the time to be me.”

A photographer enters and snaps their picture with a flash, then exits. (5 minutes have passed)

Long pause. They exit.

Reading 3:
“It’s Only A Man,” anonymous, poem from American Art News Magazine, 1921, after Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase” (1912), read by Andy

Liz Dittrick’s “Under the Suit,” acrylic & oil on canvas

Reading 4:
“Breasts,” (from Pricksongs: Poems from the Sixties, Omega Cottonwood Press, 2013), by Marilyn Coffey, read by Jordan

1.

breasts breasts  there are bare breasts everywhere

bouncing off the ceiling rolling

all along the floor sliding through sidewalk cracks to burst

fresh upon the cold air   breasts

and where are you, my long lost darling, hiding there under the summer snow fall where are you

and there are breasts  breasts roaming everywhere

across the snowfall lurking there underneath

the fucking wall    where?  Where?  Are they    everywhere

there are breasts tumbling and there they

are running everywhere with their babies (don’t look dear)

tucked under their rubber arms (where where are we safe)

there are beasts every(nowhere dear) where beasts bouncing

through the air rolling off sofas growling in the easy chair

where is your sword, Lancelot, for there are breasts

(once I heard one, malingering in the hallway)

(where are you going, little red riding hood, I said)

(up there) and at the head of the stair, lolling on the tip

of a sword, dripping blood (it is red) (traffic lights are

are red, too, I said, and we laughed

where?  Where?

2.           

BREASTS BREASTS  there are BREASTS under there

Under all that clothing and BODIES there

There and there   BREASTS you wrinkle your nose at me

What does it mean BABIES and BREASTS there

Are BODIES under there  there under all that clothing

And a plum tree growing in celestial air that is not less real

For knowing how to eat how to plow how to dynamite dead

Tree stumps (and other) now I pluck a pear a peach a crab

Apple with its wrinkled bitter smile and all the while

BREASTS BREASTS there are BREASTS under there

Bounding up the subway stair I feel them bounding up

The subway stair to burst into the fresh air I eat a plum

A pear come sweetheart let us go then you and I   I am a lion

Dressed in underwear I am a bear

BREASTS BREASTS there there bear BREASTS HAIR

HAIR and BEAST BREASTS there THERE

AURORA BOREALIS BEAR BEAR

Let us go, then, you and I, and blast open the whole goddamn sky

And let the plums fall

Live event drawing by artist Travis Apel

Reading 5:

“Shopping with Winona,” by Janis Butler Holm, read by Candy

Reading 6:
(excerpt) “Lady on Three Stages,” by Fran Higgins,
read by Fran

“Frances, put your shirt on!” Mom would yell from the door.

I often rode shirtless astride the propane tank in our back yard, pretending it was a horse and I, a cowboy. My brothers didn’t have to wear shirts, so why should I? Usually, I’d obey, but sometimes I’d ignore her and nudge the tank with my heels to coerce a gallop. A great, ringing clang pealed across the desert with each kick. Those clangs ruined the fantasy.

Nobody wanted a real horse more than I did. I envied my Mormon cousins, who lived on a ranch and rode horses from the time they could sit up. They could keep their rodeos, 4-H, and chores, and certainly the magic underwear of their religion, but, oh, I wanted to ride. No matter how hard I begged or prayed, though, no real horse ever materialized, so I saddled that propane tank with wire coat hangers hung over the sides for stirrups. Mom and Dad tried to lure me away from the tank with stick horses, but dragging them over rocks and brush quickly wore the sticks down. The only advantage was mobility. My body became the horse. He/I stamped his foreleg and snorted. I’d cluck my tongue to coax a trot, and then the clucking became the sound of hooves. I’d pat his vinyl head and say, “Whoa, boy. Easy now,” as the stick horse reared and whinnied. This centaur-like roaming also allowed interaction with my friend who lived across the street, but I was happiest alone and shirtless on the propane tank. I didn’t want to be a horse, I wanted to ride one, half-naked and free.  

photo by g thompson higgins

Reading 7:
(excerpt: 1) “Disavowals, or Cancelled Confessions,” (MIT Press, 2008) by Claude Cahun, read by Doug

The invisible adventure.
The lens follows the eyes, the mouth, the wrinkles, dusts the surface of the skin …
The facial expression is violent, sometimes tragic. That is, calm—the conscious, developed calmness of acrobats. A professional smile—and voilà!
Reappearing in the handmirror, rouged, eyes powdered. A space. A period. New line.
I’ll start over.

"Goddess," photo litho print, by Samantha Ashcraft

Reading 8:
“Ms. Behaving,” by Laura Madeline Wiseman, read by Andy

Over the grind and grunt of trolley wheels,

the hiss and flap of doors, the low din

of traffic, the shuffle from so many

bodies on the double long 501

heading west on Queen Street

comes this over the intercom’s

static, Don’t Look! Don’t look!

In a shop window, three women

in masks, with feather fans,

black lace, whips, and stilettos

twirl and bend over, gyrate and smirk,

beckon the gaze. The city’s cameras

watch us watch them and the unseen man

behind the lens watches us all,

one hand in his lap as lights pulse.

Only their faces are disguised, I muse

as I return their dark-eyed gaze

that is there and gone in the moment

it takes for the trolley to stop and continue on.

Nothing more from the conductor

but the pressure of breaks, the momentum

we lean into at the turns, the familiar

thrum as our intersection approaches,

the grab bars we reach for as the cars shudder

and pause for us. How we love it—

the tassels and flesh, the masks and smirks,

the driver’s boyish glee, the pedestrians pace,

all of us part-passenger, part-performer,

—round, grey eye of the camera rolling.


photo by g thompson higgins

Reading 9:
(excerpt: 2) “Disavowals, or Cancelled Confessions,”
(MIT Press, 2008)by Claude Cahun, read by Doug

I want to stitch, sting, kill, with only the most pointed extremity. The rest of the body, whatever comes after, what a waste of time! To travel only at the prow of myself.

live event drawing by artist TG Ndoda

Reading 10:
“Model in Disguise,” by Sally Deskins, read by Sally

Behind the class he sits, slumping,

Greasy, scruffy head down, obese belly

Bulging from his skull t-shirt, ripped jeans.

The jovial students hover around the professor

Who gives each student encouragement

For their half-ass drawings.

“and yours?” she asks him.

He stares at his dust-covered boots, silent.

“Nothing?”

he picks at his blackened nails, still no eye contact.

I remove my satin red robe

And freeze in a dead deer pose,

My long lean limbs lying flatly

Further aging the mossy 1970s couch.

I see him out the corner,

His hawk eyes measuring my meat,

The scratch of his charcoal gnawing his paper.

I imagine his boots clomping behind me

as I walk to my car

In the barely lit parking lot after class.

Timer gives a break.

My joints relax as I reach for my raisins,

The class scurrying to the hallway

For their vending machine trailmix.

He remains, gaze untethered from my being,

Blackness erupting on his unseen page.

I hear the screech of his chair,

The creak of the door,

his boots stomping down the hall.

I creep like a fawn

To view the results—

An ugly horse-monster,      

A statuesque ballet dancer,      

A faceless ghost,      

A bulbous-nosed cartoon boy?      

I hold my breath, anxious as I reach his easel—

The image stuns me.

At once delicate kitten and fierce feline qualities

In this haunting raw beauty of a woman—

Intense and bold expressive lines reveal a steady, strong goddess

Ready to pounce.  Surrounded by the vanity of everyone’s productions of me,

I come to.

I am more disguised than he.

I break off a piece of his charcoal,

Snatch a piece of newsprint

And head to my corner

To find her myself.

Reading 11:
(excerpt 3) “Disavowals, or Cancelled Confessions,” (MIT Press, 2008) by Claude Cahun, read by Doug

painters, writers, sculpters, musicians even, they copied life. Instead of cheating on her, the eternal wife! to whom they were most faithful. How could I admire their chromos, I who so disliked the model. The “losers” pleased me more, those whose portraits never managed to resemble a likeness… . But others, so-called lovers of the Ideal, made sure they deformed with each drawing the features of the heroine (of course! They were bragging!) Make her up, add rouge, give her a false nose—scratch, the grimace will reappear; the woman is always underneath!

"Saving Face," photograph, Shawn Rathman-Sturh

Reading 12:
(excerpt) “Lady of the Burlesque Ballet,” by Timothy Schaffert, read by Jordan

Irish Maupin, immobile again in her old city, in a tearoom with white linens, sat fatter than she’d ever been, fatter than anyone had ever been in the history of recording such things. Faint from eating too little too fast, she found in a ruffle of her collar a sliver of candied grapefruit peel. She mustered up her every bit of strength to life the candy that had fallen there, to dip it in a tiny drop of marmalade staining the tablecloth, and to bring it up beneath her veil and to her lips to eat. To eat, she thought. Eat. Eat. You need to eat something.

To have an elegant, dainty afternoon of tea and dessert required at least twenty men and women, a special appointment made weeks in advance, trusses and hoists, diverted traffic, an empty ice truck dragged along by sturdy mules. The famous stained glass window at the front of the tearoom, the one depicting Hansel and Gretel licking the witch’s hard-candy cottage topped off with meringue shingles, required removing so Irish could be shoehorned in.

A breeze from the street, with its taint of uncollected garbage, now rustled the feathers in her hat and watered her eyes. She glanced outside to where two children stood as curious as the Hansel and Gretel who’d been there in glass. They were enraptured by Irish’s excess, as so many had been in her years of fame, and, before her eyes, their fine blond hair flaked into shreds of coconut, their tender, pink tongues puffing into twists of cotton candy.

Monster, Irish called herself. She cried, her tears barely able to trickle past the bags beneath her eyes. The skinny little slip of nothing that Irish had been was still inside her, she knew—everyone she’d ever been existed deep beneath her piles of flesh, stacked one within the other within the other, like the nests of a Russian doll.

"Ideals," oil and graphite on canvas, Emily Jordan

Reading 13:

(excerpt: 4) “Disavowals, or Cancelled Confessions,” (MIT Press, 2008)by Claude Cahun, read by Doug

What can I do? In a narrow mirror, display the part for the whole? Mistake the aura and the splatterings? Refusing to throw myself against the walls, throw myself against the windows? While I wait to see all this clearly, I want to hunt myself down, to thrash myself out.


photo by g thompson higgins

____

More writings to come including pieces by M.Breazile, Grace Bauer, K.Lubbert, Kristin Pluhacek, Shawna Foster, Trilety Wade, Caitlin Moran, Cat Dixon, Mary Stillwell, Eloise Klein, Monica Narwocki, and Barbara Dahlhauser; and art by Marcia Joffe-Bouska, Brenda Turner, Tom Miller, Beth Hanson, Dirty Haiku Project, Bridget Eggers and Trilety Wade.

Bios of above writing submitted/selected:

Janis Butler Holm lives in Athens, Ohio, where she has served as Associate Editor for _Wide Angle_, the film journal. Her essays, stories, poems, and performance pieces have appeared in small-press, national, and international magazines. Her plays have been produced in the U.S., Canada, and England.

Sally Deskins holds a BA in Art from UNL and a Master’s in Nonprofit Management from UNO. She is a writer, artist, art model and co-producer of Lit Undressed and Drink n Draw Omaha. She keeps the blog Les Femmes Folles: Women in Art. facebook.com/femmesfolles.

Doug Hayko holds a BA in English Literature and Theatre from Creighton University. Known for developing experimental performance pieces that push the boundaries of audience expectation and decorum, his work has been shown at various venues in and around Omaha. Most recent works include Extraordinary Rendition (OEAA 2012 Best Group Show) in collaboration with artist Tim Guthrie at the Bemis Underground and Fag Shoot! at the Science Fair. He received Best New Media Artist nominations at the Omaha Arts and Entertainment Awards (OEAA) in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012 with a win in 2008.  Doug is the founding member of the omahaliveartdivision and lives in Omaha.

Fran Higgins earned her BFA, graduate certificate in Advanced Writing, and a Masters in English from the University of Nebraska Omaha. Her work has appeared in Plains Song Review, Celebrate, SlipTongue, NEBRASKAland magazine, and an upcoming anthology, The Untidy Season. She is working on a memoir…still. She is co-producer of Lit Undressed.

Between first kiss and last rinse, sundry songs of experience, turbulent and serene. Birth was hardly the death of me. I left the headwaters in a big yellow water taxi. I expect a great yawning omnipresent toothless whirlpool to swallow me in one gulp in the not too far off future. ~Carlos Holmes

Laura Madeline Wiseman has a doctorate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she teaches English. She is the author of several chapbooks including, She who Loves Her Father (Dancing Girl Press, 2012). Her poetry has appeared in Margie, Feminist Studies, Poet Lore, Cream City Review, and elsewhere. lauramadelinewiseman.com.

Producer Selections:

Claude Cahun (1894-1954) was a French artist, photographer and writer. Her work was both political and personal, and examined the concepts of gender and sexuality. Born Lucy Schwob, she made photographic self-portraits in sexually ambiguous nature. Her published works include: “Heroines” (1925) and Aveux non avenues (1930). The excerpts from tonight’s performance are from Inverted Odysseys: Claude Cahun, Maya Deren, Cindy Sherman (editor: Shelley Rice, 1999).

Marilyn Coffey is a writer of poetry, fiction and nonfiction. She’s the author of the Pushcart prize-winning poem “Pricksong” and a book-length poem, The Cretan Cycle. She’s also the author of Great Plains Patchwork, Mail Order Kid, and Marcella, a memoir that is being reprinted by Omega Cottonwood Press in 2013 for its 40th anniversary. Marilyncoffey.net.

Timothy Schaffert is founder/director of the (downtown) omaha lit fest. He is author of four novels including Devils in the Sugar Shop, The Singing and Dancing Daughters of God, The Phantom Limbs of the Rollow Sisters and The Coffins of Little Hope. His short story, “Lady of the Burlesque Ballet,” can be purchased at amazon.com. timothyschaffert.com.

Artists:

LIZ DITTRICK, an Omaha native, received her Bachelors of Visual Arts Education from Kansas University and her MFA in Studio Art from Johnson State College. She currently teaches art at Westside High School. Her work explores sequences of harm and healing and encourages the viewer to see, experience and contemplate more than what lies on the surface. Dittrickart.com

ELEANOR LEONNE BENNETT is a 16 year old internationally award-winning photographer and artist. Her photography has been published in the Telegraph, the Guardian, BBC News Website, and on the cover of books and magazines in the United States and Canada. Her art is globally exhibited. Eleanorleonnebennett.zenfolio.com

WALTER REUBENS is an aspiring photographer in Omaha, Nebraska. walterreubens.com

SHAWN RATHMAN STUHR: “I see life through the lens of my camera, whether in hand or not. My focus is structural/industrial, landscape, and conceptual photography, however I am still finding my voice, and I relish the discovery.” Facebook.com/shawnrathman.stuhr.photography.

SAMANTHA ASHCRAFT: “I am currently working on my thesis show to graduate this December with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Printmaking and a Minor in Modern and Contemporary Art History. Aside from Printmaking, I also work with photography and other mediums. SamanthaAshcraft.com.

EMILY JORDAN is a dancer, painter and student at UNO who will receive her BFA in painting in the spring of 2013. She trained in classical ballet with the former Omaha Theater Ballet and currently dances with UNO’s modern contemporary dance group, The Moving Company. Although she works in various painting styles, her background in dance influences her work. Eejordan.com.

g thompson higgins is a celebrated fashion and art photographer from Omaha, Nebraska. His works have been published in The Plains Song Review, Omaha Fashion Magazine, Les Femmes Folles, The Reader, and The Omaha World-Herald. gthompsonhiggins.com.

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