Last Friday, Annelyse Gelman ’13 published her first book of poetry, Everyone I Love is a Stranger to Someone. The book was published by Write Bloody, a small press Gelman describes as “unpretentious and interested in bringing poetry to new audiences.” She had been a fan of the publishing house during her time at Reed, even inviting some of their writers to campus to give readings in the Chapel. “When I heard they were reading submissions during my senior year,” she says, “I read through hundreds and hundreds of my own poems and made the skeleton of a book.”
Write Bloody’s reading period is structured as a contest. “Happily, I was a finalist,” Gelman says. “I sent along a poetry video called ‘An Illustrated Guide to the Post-Apocalypse’ that I made with fellow senior Auden Lincoln-Vogel at the Safeway up the street from Reed, after which they decided to take me on as an author. Then I had a complicated and boring panic attack for about a year, and now it’s out.”
The short video she sent to Write Bloody, available on her website, starts outside our beloved Safeway on Woodstock on a rainy night as she recites the poem from which the video takes its name, which also appears as the final poem in the book. She speaks with the same enthusiasm and playfulness she often displayed as a member of Reed’s improv-troupe, Fellatio Rodriguez. As rain splatters off her glasses she implores the viewer to “sing along, you lovesick vampire” and sings joyously to herself before entering the store with her shopping cart, casually reciting the rest of the poem as she grabs items of the shelves.
Based on her own assessment of Write Bloody as a publishing company, her poetry — which she reads with no pretentions, but only a simple, emphatic joy to have her words heard and read — would seems like a good fit. Publishing a book of poems also seems to be a natural step for someone who started writing poetry from a young age in what she describes as “a tiny town in the East Bay Area.” Continuing, she fills out the image in a manner similar to how she delivers much of her poetry: “There’s a tiny movie theater and a tiny ice cream parlor and a tiny park where tiny women walk their tiny dogs. There used to be a tiny bench where boys smoked tiny joints, but the authorities removed it.”
She kept writing creatively at Reed while completing her psychology degree. Her thesis was on the effects of improvisation techniques and training on cognitive functioning like memory and creativity. She provides good evidence for such a correlation between the spontaneous creation of her comedic acts and the free-spirited nature of her poetic endeavor.
“Studying psychology and writing poetry are both products of a basic desire to understand and interpret the world, and the two practices influence each other,” says Gelman. “The curiosities and confusions that spark a poem aren’t solvable through science, but the precision and conciseness of scientific language appeals to me, and many concepts in cognitive science lend themselves to the kind of analogical thinking and associative leaps that I enjoy.”
During her senior year she took creative writing courses with Samiya Bashir and Pete Rock, both of whom she credits with helping her see the book through publication. “Jae Choi [Visiting Professor, Creative Writing] also allowed me to sit in on her workshop during a semester I spent being a fake student — long story — and she helped me win a Locher scholarship, which I used to spend a summer as poet-in-residence at the laboratory in Southern California where the brain of H.M., a famous amnesiac, was being examined. The result was a three-part chapbook of poems on the operation of memory, which was my first opportunity to really combine poetry and psychology in an explicit way.”
One of her poems is titled “Habituation” and another “Classical Conditioning,” but her work in psychology finds its way into her poetry naturally, as something that has influenced her view of the world. “The general idea of habituation, for example — the more you experience something, the less you’re aware of it — applies to so many different realms of experience,” she says. “I’m fascinated by how those applications are alternately physiological (and measurable) and subjective (and unmeasurable).”
Some of the poems included in the book were written at Reed, including the first and last poems, but roughly half of them were written after graduating from Reed and following the acceptance of the original manuscript. “I’ve been interested in how and why people do what they do since I was a person, and of course I tend to write about the things that interest me,” Gelman says. “It’s not so much a process of transformation as one of synthesis and integration. As far as process, I’m really fond of a quote by Del Close, one of the masters of modern improvisation — it actually prefaces my thesis: ‘Try not to invent. Try to discover.’ It’s an investigation.”
Learn more about Annelyse Gelman’s book on her website, www.annelysegelman.com.