“Looking, I look through her, and only then walk into her. She re-opens and each reopening reopens in a path of unenterings. I’m looking in to where sight is not possible.” —Stacy Doris, Conference
I first met Stacy when she called me in April 2003 at 10pm to tell me I was accepted into the MFA program at San Francisco State. I had never heard of the poet Stacy Doris. I bought Paramour in Chicago and read it three times before I arrived in San Francisco in August. I had never read anything quite like it. Everything was unique and new and had something I wanted in my own writing. Her weaving and reweaving of texts throughout, her introduction insisting that it was conservative, the palindromes were all over the top, yet so skillfully constructed. Today I return to the book often and always open to the calendar first, to get grounded, and then open the book at random, always finding something I had not seen before. The book is infinite, allowing the reader to be a part of the text, inviting you in with every word.
The day she died I went to Penn Sound just to hear, to remember the way she started a reading. I listened to her read from The Perfume Recordist at the Bowery Club. It was hard to listen, is still hard to listen. Stacy is very precise when she begins a reading. She takes time to settle in, she rearranges chairs, she does not like to sit where the host suggests, and she always begins by sharing her process, her arrival at her work. I have since heard others read from this work for Stacy and it is infinite in its ability to fill space, to assault your senses.
One of my favorite Stacy readings, as we called them, was at Canessa Park after her babies were born. The babies were not there, though they were for the release of Knot, since the book is so infinitely tied them to it. At this reading her focus was on sound and instead of reading her work she recited poetry. The poetry she recited she placed into song as a way for her children to fall asleep. Many were derived from Keats, reworked into newly created lullabies.
The way Stacy started readings was the same way she started a class or a workshop. No two classes were the same and your experience in each always set you on a new path of poetic uncovering. Her classes were always connected to something she was interested in at the time—quilts, lyric poems, economics, appropriation, hypertext, mistranslations—and part of her process was inviting others in as she explored these topics further. Interesting to her was including all of us in her process. Interesting to us was how she pushed us to discover. Each person was responsible for dissecting the topic, supplying new reading materials, teaching a class, and creating creative exercises. By allowing each member of the class to define the topic for themselves, the possibilities were limitless. It was about what we all brought to the table, that shared perspective that opened up something new to explore, exhaust, set aside, and start again. She was gentle but fierce during class. She always told you the truth and it was the truth you were ready to hear. That truth constantly evolved as your poetics did. She pushed back when you were being lazy, she asked the right questions, she enriched your presentation, and she made sure everyone was a part of each class. She demanded a high level of engagement and proved that if you immersed yourself in the topic you would see how that immersion would affect your own poetry. She taught us all how to be true to our own process and our own work. To be true required you to be honest about your level of dedication, your commitment to poetry. Her classes were meant to rattle you, awaken you, she wanted nothing more than to be surrounded by possibilities. Many didn’t make it past the first class. But those that did are forever altered.
Stacy taught all of us to never think of a poem as just a poem. All poems were in service to the book you were creating. Five weeks into my first workshop with her I had to present my book and contextual materials. Because of her, I only see poems as books and books surrounded by the context used to create them. I know that the process I undertake to arrive at a book is just as important as the book itself. Those contextual materials are as much a part of the writer that wrote them initially and just as much a part of the work that I create. When you read something from Stacy she is explicit about her influences, what she is including, and her nod to the process and her interests are readily apparent. Her work is richer for it.
She ended emails with “Love, Stacy” and she meant it every time. The love she had to give was generous and unapologetic. Love did not intimidate her, nothing did. Love did, however, intimidate me. In a café right before we started discussing Djuna Barnes’s Ryder she let me know that the wanting, the forward movement of action in my poems was absent of vulnerability, which meant that I wasn’t being true to my intentions. She did this with a simple, you know he’s in love with you, will always be in love with you. I had let Stacy see my intentions in the time we spent together, but on the page I was holding back. That awareness, that unapologetic way of just being who she was and nudging me to be the same, is something I will always admire. The vulnerability returned to my work after that meeting. I let love have a place. I now let my poems, my work, be truthful and I am constantly aware of Stacy’s tremendous generosity that allowed that to be.