A poem from Fast Fire won Puerto Del Sol's 2019 poetry contest!!

I found out last night that I won Puerto del Sol's poetry contest, and I am beyond grateful and excited.

I always saw myself as a poet whose work only worked when taken as a whole, and forever I was afraid to submit to contests like these - self-rejecting, rationalizing, and just hurting myself because of it. As so many other things in my life were changing (and still are), I decided to take a chance last April on a newer poem I was especially proud of. I'm so glad I chose to believe in myself in this new way. Winning this contest, I feel like I can let go of this belief I had about my work - that I couldn't write poems that worked well on their own. I can free myself to make the most beautiful things I possibly can for the people I care most about.

This poem is maybe the crux of the new book/video-game I am working on. To me it was one of the most important poems I ever gave myself permission to write. This poem, and the book it comes from, is a way of digging into the super complex relationship I have with gender. The character of Diane is a made-up twin sister who bursts into being around the time I start to gain some self-awareness (8 or 9) and dies around the time I start puberty - a way of simultaneously acknowledging, mourning, and celebrating the feminine self within me that all my life I was denied and denied myself communion with.

It's a really intricate and messy set of ideas and symbols for me, of which I only had a faint inkling for a long time - it took me a few years to muster up the courage to try to unpack it in poetry. But - as I wrote this poem, and as I'm putting this new book together, I'm exploring all of this, and coming to heal and love myself more through it. I am affirmed repeatedly of the incredible power of believing in myself and following my heart and giving myself permission to explore what I need to explore and be who I need to be. I also owe so much of that to all the support that I've received and continue to receive. Thank you (and thank you especially to Ariel Chu, whose continual unflagging love and support have been a constant gift).

I'm also incredibly humbled by contest judge Emily Pérez's fantastic reading of the poem: "There is nothing flashy about 'The Room Divider,' and yet, like the kids hiding between the folds of a blanket hung on twine to divide their bedroom, the unobtrusive heart of this poem haunts its reader. The poem addresses the speaker’s sibling 'Diane,' asking her to remember their old room. A divider is a child’s attempt to attain control and privacy, to manage space, and this poem beautifully enacts those things. Control appears in the lines and language: in five four-line stanzas, plainspoken diction glides across subtle internal rhymes. In an almost-iambic rhythm, the story unfolds. Stanzas are even and orderly. No linguistic or imagistic tricks call attention to themselves; our focus is on the siblings and their attempts to both irritate and connect as they hide from one another beneath the blanket fold, right on the dividing line. We are alerted that something may not be right with Diane, who is 'thin… / by then' but it is not until the penultimate stanza that we learn of Diane’s death. The speaker has kept this private because the true audience—Diane—already knows. Afterwards, the speaker attempts a fire, which 'wouldn’t take.' This is not a poem of flaming rage. Instead, this is a poem of grief and slow recovery. In life, the siblings did not cross into each other’s space, but after Diane is gone, the speaker confesses to a gesture that signals the weight of despair: 'I tried to sleep / in your bed permanently.' Relief does not come quickly, but after a time: 'For a while / that seemed right. Then, I moved to mine.' Quietly, deliberately, this poem shepherds its reader through years, a relationship, life and death, and back to life again."

I'll post a link to the poem as soon as it goes live in September.

"Transmissions from Another Body" goes live at Territory!

Quoting my partner and collaborator on this project, Ariel Chu:

This piece was a blast to work on! Rainie Oet and I imagined what it'd be like to share a body with an extraterrestrial teen. Nick Greer, with his digital wizardry, brought our writing and art to life. Thanks to everyone at The Map is Not the Territory for giving Anteena a (disorienting, wacky, perfect) home. And be sure to check out the rest of ISSUE X: EXTREMES for boundary-pushing, map-defying work!

Desktop view strongly encouraged (and warning for flashing screens throughout the site): http://themapisnot.com/issue-x-ariel-chu-rainie-oet

Porcupine in Freefall!!!!!!!!!!

Super duper excited that my book Porcupine in Freefall won the Bright Hill Press Poetry Prize! It will be coming out this summer! That’s 3 books accepted in 6 months! More news to come!

Board Game Review - Cult Following

I got a review copy of Cult Following plus expansions and had the opportunity to play a few games with 2 friends. Although ultimately the game didn’t hit for us, there’s a lot I like and appreciate about this game. The box and card art is good — minimal yet evocative. The game feels like something between Dialect and Cards Against Humanity, but carves out its own space, as a fast-paced funny creative game with emergent storytelling.

In Cult Following, 2-3 Cult Leaders create cults and face off to come up with the most compelling answer to the questions the Followers ask when trying to figure out which cult to join.

A three player game has 2 players be Cult Leaders and 1 player represent a group of followers, each follower getting to ask their own question. The Cult Leaders create their cults by choosing 3 out of 10 phrases drawn from a deck, and the Follower chooses 1 of 2 questions drawn from a deck. The Cult Leaders must improvise their answers to the Followers’ questions.

Something I appreciate about this game but that also frustrates me is that it demands a great deal of energy from its players. I love energetically intense games like Dialect and D&D. But those games are less emotionally exhausting than Cult Following because their narratives extend throughout the entire long game. In order to be funny and fun, Cult Following forces players to do the most exhausting parts of D&D, role-playing a character from scratch AND creating a world and story at the same time, and it asks players to do that over and over. Even the 2 people I was playing with—seasoned improvisers and role-players, felt exhausted after a 30 minute game. There is little sense of payoff in being the Cult Leader that any Follower chooses, as the game has an auto-balancing property wherein the Follower player wants to see the Cult Leaders perform as long as possible, and — at least in our group’s experience — will want to semi-arbitrarily split their votes to extend the end of the game to the last possible moment.

I wouldn’t recommend his game for casual players, although Cult Following seems like it was designed and marketed primarily for the kind of player that loves Cards Against Humanity. I think Cult Following fails in this regard, since it is not a fun game unless its players are willing to expand a ton of energy to go the extra mile. When they are, it’s pretty fun, but could be much better.

Personally, I wish the game were more geared towards serious creative role-players, and I wish that rounds lasted longer, with Cult Leaders only creating 1 Cult each game, and questions being designed not just for funny answers but to bring out complex emergent stories.

In any case, for the kind of game Cult Following turned out to be, it is cool but under-developed. I wish the game did just a little more to support players who may not have the energy to perform the way the game expect its players to. Cult Following tries to account for this problem by saying that shy players should just be followers, but—unfortunately—I don’t think that that’s enough. Maybe it would work if the group were 20 people large. At 3 players, we all had to play a role as the Follower, as well as Cult Leader.

Lastly, problems with the cards make the game hard to understand. Quite a few of the questions are worded in ways that confused us. Additionally, each card has 2 questions or phrases on it, 1 upside-down from the other. It took our group some time to understand that we should play our cards upside-down in order to make them readable to the other players. When we did this, though, we weren’t able to see our own choices easily. These cards feature small text, which doesn’t make the problem better.

Cult Following is fairly fun, but has problems and I think I’d need to be in a very particular mood to play it again.