Annelyse Gelman: Returning to Reed

If I were to make a list of certifiable coolgirls, Annelyse Gelman ’13 would certainly be on it. During her time at Reed she could be found showing off her academic prowess in the psychology department, fervently discussing poetry with English professors, and improvising as a bunch of ducks in a human-suit in Fellatio Rodriguez shows. Since graduating, Gelman has been busy working on artistic pursuits, including publishing a book of poems, animating videos, and playing music with her band. Last Saturday night, she returned to campus to share some of her work at a poetry and music show she organized in Eliot Hall.

Saturday’s reading came as the last stop on a tour that took her up and down the west coast, and east to New York. “I read in living rooms, bars, cafés, bookstores — it's always the people that make the show, though, not the place,” said Gelman. “There was an incredible show in L.A.'s Union Station curated around a single malt scotch whiskey expert, advance tickets only, and an equally incredible show at a burrito place in Spokane, and even an excellent show that ended up being practically on the sidewalk, in the dark, with no stage or mics (the venue had a power outage).”

After a few months of driving around the country, and meeting new and interesting people, Gelman arrived at her old digs. “The last show, at Reed, was such a great ending to the tour,” Gelman said. “A lot of [the students who read with her] read a lot of daring, honest, vulnerable work.” Gelman read poems from her book Everyone I Love is a Stranger to Someone (Write Bloody, 2014), which she worked on while at Reed and published earlier this year. “Even though I rewrote a, the book is thoroughly tied into my time at Reed, and reading there kind of brought it full-circle,” she mused. “There are poems I wrote during a residency I began as a result of the Kaspar T. Locher Scholarship, poems inspired by people I met at Reed, poems set on campus — and I arranged the entire first draft of the manuscript at Reed, too, and turned it in on the same day as my thesis.” And you thought just writing a thesis was going to be difficult.

Gelman is now working on a completely different and new project. She is finishing up a selection of centos (poems composed of lines from other poems), which borrows lines from William Burroughs’ novel Naked Lunch to form poems that are all her own. Some of these poems have been published as a part of the PEN Poetry Series (visit for links). Outside of poetry, Gelman is active in music, working with her New York-based band Shoulderblades, and released an EP earlier this year that is free to download online. Contrary to her expectations, her experience making music has been very different from her poetry. “I used to think that writing songs would be like setting poetry to music, which it (for me) absolutely isn't. But whatever floats around in my head tends to bubble up in whatever I'm making, so general concerns or themes tend to appear across the board.” The board is large enough to encompass poetry and music, but also photography and animation. She had an opportunity to work in all of these mediums when, for the second year in a row, she and her fellow artists (Arty Johnstone ’11 and Auden Lincoln-Vogel ’13) in the collective ANAGRAM, set out for a residency in the New Mexican desert. “ANAGRAM's only been around for two years, but it's been a way of encouraging collaboration across disciplines…. New Mexico itself is beautiful, and harsh, full of plant and animal life that's only able to survive because of its thorns and claws. Being in relative isolation makes you (well, me) way more aware of the creative process, which is an experience I think everyone should have. It heightens everything, lending way more focus to projects that require it, but also making fallow periods much more frustrating. This year, our main project was an animation called Gila, and I'm really happy with how it turned out.”

This new work fits well with Gelman’s philosophy that, “it's always important to keep experimenting and taking risks.” For her, “ultimately publishing the book was a way of saying ‘this is what I've done,’ so that I can now go and do something completely different….Everything is a rough draft, ‘poems are never finished, only abandoned,’ but ultimately if you want to progress you need to stop (hopefully not at a totally arbitrary point) and move on. Dean Young has a line about this I really like: ‘just because a thing is never finished doesn't mean it can't be done.’”

In the midst of all of this, though, if you were looking for Gelman now you would have to search “a campsite on the way down from Portland to Oakland, where I'm about to attempt to move into a warehouse full of pianos with a bunch of other artists, including the entirety of ANAGRAM.” After coming full circle, Gelman is ready to set off again, taking on the world one rough draft at a time. I’d set a Google Alert.