What or Who Are Your Patron Writer-Saints / by Teresa Carmody

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I’ve been living with Kathy Acker for awhile now. With her writing, her ghost, a number of her personal objects. Like her dining room table (now at Anna Joy Springer’s house in Los Angeles). Or her desk (in Matias Viegener’s storage, but soon going to the new KA Reading Room at the University of Cologne). Here is a photo of her table lamp in my bedroom in Florida. My first seminar paper in phd school was on her Don Quixote, and more recently I finished an essay for a forthcoming French anthology edited by Val Rauzier.

So I’m thinking about Kathy and also about patron saints. Because Kathy is one of those writers that people love to call a saint (and of course she wrote about saints, hello Saint Simeon). In Sarah McCarry’s description of Matias Viegener’s wonderful chapbook, The Assassination of Kathy Acker, she names Kathy as the “ferocious and magnificent patron saint of the queer, the fearless, and the furious.” In “Situations,” Arnold Kemp writes about how Kathy visited him in a dream (such a saint-like thing to do) and “stayed a long time.” She gave instructions, exercises, and was “accompanied by black, French, elegantly long and agile dancers,” who became, along with Kathy, Kemp’s tutors. This reminds me of St. Magdalena de’Pazzi’s visions in narrative and love. Or Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ amazing book, Spill: scenes of black feminist fugitivity, which is a poetic experiment written through the work of Hortense Spiller (another saint, or elder, and Alexis Pauline Gumbs is one of the most brilliant writers working in that liminal space of the archive, the ancestors, what’s held in breath between).

Traditionally, a patron saint is one who protects and provides heavenly intercession on behalf of a person or a group of people. The group of people may share a living place, an occupation, or a condition. Saint Agatha, patron saint of breast cancer, comforts suffering humans while calling forth the energetic forces that bring healing or transmutation. St. Teresa of Avila is the patron saint of many situations and places—including bodily illnesses and the loss of parents, but also Požega, Croatia; Spain; and Talisay City, Cebu. As a writer and theologian, St Teresa is also a language-place you can go to, i.e., when you read The Interior Castle, you enter the space of her writing. (btw: In Dalia Rosetti’s forthcoming SUEÑOS Y PESADILLAS, the narrator finds herself in Teresa’s castle, where there are lesbians, sex, flirtations and more… very exciting!)

So here is my question:

What if the writers you keep returning to are your patron saints? In other words, they want to help and protect you, guide you, push you further into your reason for being, which is also your writing. Or art. Your visionary work. These writers aren’t parents you need to slay or some other competition (which is how capitalism encourages us to see each other). But your council. If they goad you, it’s for a purpose. I’ve learned so much from writers who initially agitated, annoyed, or even infuriated me. I mean, really, Gertrude? What are you trying to say?

I count Kathy as one such writer. For me, she’s the patron saint of honesty. Of self-authority. Of radical illegibility. I often approach her books like I do the bible: I let go of the illusion of comprehension (the idea that I can “get” the story), and look instead at whatever line is shining through.

Here is a prompt:

Pick a writer (or artist) you’ve repeatedly returned to. One who has haunted you. Preferably a dead one, as saints are most powerful when they are orchestrating miracles from the other side. What have you learned from this writer-artist? List it all (or as much as you can): the elements of craft, of energy, of affect, what they do with language, image, how they lived while also writing/making. Who they read, and who or what you met while reading them. Let this figure be your tutor-saint of messy lessons. List it all and when you’re done, sit with your mess-list for 24 or 48 hours, adding but not deleting. Then write a poem or a prayer, a letter or a story: thank your patron artist-writer-saint and call on their care.