Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Agony and the Push Ups for Poetry

At 11:35 EST on September 26th, 2009 I completed one hundred consecutive push ups.

Despite the lingering nausea I feel (adrenaline? exhaustion?), and the suspicion that I may have slightly re-injured my shoulder, I feel pretty elated.

The whole set didn't take very long--maybe a few minutes... I'm not sure because I sort of lost track of time. I just kept counting off sets of ten in my head, jumping from one finger to the next on my splayed hands to note my progress. The first 50 push ups flew by, probably because I had already done that many without breaking in the past.

Once I reached 60 push ups my heart began racing a little because it was further than I had ever attempted before and I still felt good.

At 70 push ups, I was breathing hard and trying to pace myself--remove myself from the fatigue I could feel building in my arms, shoulder and chest. At this point I felt like my greatest obstacle was my own mind, and I was trying hard to just stare at my knuckles while counting off, ignoring the growing rebellion in my muscles.

At 80 push ups I started to panic a little. My breathing was very heavy; sweat was starting to bead on my face and the back of my neck. My right shoulder was noticeably crunching each time I pushed off and although that sensation is nothing entirely new, it was bothering me and starting to take me out of the zone I was desperately trying to stay in.

By the time I hit 90 push ups, each new one felt slow and immense. My core was now quivering with the effort, my back was aching, and my entire upper body--from wrist to wrist--felt like it was cramping up. I wasn't sure if I could complete ten more reps so I started counting down, instead of up, because for some reason psychologically it made the final stretch seem more manageable by reducing the number instead of letting it grow.

As I entered the final ten push ups pain was now shooting through my shoulder but I knew I had raised enough pledges that each additional push up was essentially worth another $20 in the pot. At some points I would pause between push ups, holding the upright position to catch my breath--my heart pounding in my chest. I don't know if this actually made things worse, requiring me to stay on my arms longer, but I felt like I had no choice. I honestly don't know how I got through the final five. My eyes were clenched tight and I was completely focused on the pain in my shoulder. Everything else melted entirely away at that point: Poets House, the money, my life, responsibilities, the room dissolved and I entered a completely meditative state. There was just movement, slow and deliberate; my body angry and weak and my mind on autopilot just ordering it to carry on. I almost lost count around 97 or 98 as I started to completely disappear. Then I realised I only had a few more left to complete. When I reached the 100th push up I collapsed on the floor, face down, heaving and sweating.

I felt utterly spent, but I also felt completely content. I didn't want to move, and I didn't move for a long time. I've worked so hard for this--trying to stay disciplined enough to remain on track with the training that's required to accomplish my goal, while watching my marriage fade away into the past. Working 45-50 hours a week in an office while juggling Black Ocean's operations; planning and promoting events and hoping to sneak in enough time somewhere to maybe write a little, read--even just watch a movie or remain social. The past few months have been an incredible experience for me--learning a lot about myself when I thought I didn't have much more to learn. It hasn't even come in the form of specific lessons, but more like getting to know myself in a new way--like when you meet someone new and that person gradually transforms in front of you, from a face and an archetype into a deeper, more multidimensional human being.

I'd like to thank everyone who supported me on an emotional level over this period. You cheered me on, spread the word of my endeavor and made me believe I could do something that was personally extraordinary. I remember a time not too long ago when 20 push ups seemed like an impossibility to me. I'd especially like to thank all those who pledged your support; you're heroes to me and helped me achieve something very meaningful. With your help I managed to raise almost $2,100 for Poets House. This is an amazing feeling.

Time to go give my shoulder the hot/cold treatment for a while and eat a fluffernutter sandwich. Thanks again everyone.

Love Janaka

Friday, September 25, 2009

An apology of sorts

It’s been brought to my attention that the tone in my last post came across as a bit…offensive. I’d like to clarify that I understand a lot of poets contribute to the literary community in many different ways—whether it’s financially or otherwise. I appreciate the variety of ways that many of us work to strengthen our poetry community.

That said, at the time I wrote the last post only **four** poets had pledged for this fundraiser. I know what probably amounts to 100+ actively writing / publishing poets and it seemed…offensive…to me that more couldn’t take an interest in supporting Poets House.

Knowing as many poets as I do, and frequenting literary conferences and book fairs and belonging to list serves, I am exposed to a kind of mantra that comes from the contemporary collective: “no one reads poetry,” and “no one supports the arts.” At the same time, having grown up as a member of a politically radical community, I hear from the other end that poetry is a ‘bourgeoisie art,’ and that it’s for wealthy intellectuals who have the leisure to indulge in it. Consequently, the imbalance of participation in this fundraising project struck a sour note with me…

It just felt overwhelmingly hypocritical to me when this institution, who is working very hard to advocate and preserve the writing of my peers, can't even get $10 out of them in return. Poetry becomes a ‘bourgeoisie art’ when we rely on the bourgeoisie to support us. Most poets I know aren’t rich, but they can all afford to spend what doesn’t even amount to a night at the bar on something in support of their own artistic community. I said earlier that I’m not pointing fingers, and I meant that. Everyone lives their own lives and while I try to stay cognizant of what’s going on in contemporary poetry I’m sure many people do many things that I am completely clueless about. I hope no one took my comments personally.

I’m probably just getting really agro as a result of the massive steroid injections I’ve been taking.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

It's Been Some Time

Life swallowed my life for the past few weeks. It's been a whirlwind of event planning, book promotion and distribution, magazine production and domestic ch-ch-ch-ch-changes. Hence I have been MIA from updating this blog.

I have my final trial the day after tomorrow: Saturday, September 26th. This was designed to coincide with the grand opening festivities at the Poets House new space in Battery Park City. I've been training diligently and although I still haven't pushed myself to the limit, I am confident. My shoulder has been bothering me a lot in the last couple of weeks (old soft tissue injury that has haunted me for half my life). Nonetheless I have managed to accomplish as many as 175 push ups in a single workout. Of course, that's broken up over sets; tackling 100 consecutive without a break is a whole other story...

The good news is that I've raised about $1,600 at this point. I am so psyched to have come this far. The bad news is that I'm pretty disappointed in my poet colleagues. I'm not naming-names or pointing fingers but I find it pretty depressing that the majority of these funds have come from people who don't actively publish. It indicates to me that the 'miserable state' of contemporary poetry that poets are always complaining about is probably more indicative of our own lethargy and self-absorption than larger society's unwillingness to support us.

I'd like to reiterate that Poets House is the absolute BEACON for the preservation of contemporary American poetry...

- When your little book comes out, and only a few hundred people read it and then it gets lost in the avalanche of other books that year--know who cares enough to archive it for future generations? Poets House.

- When you want to hear an audio recording or find that random obscure chapbook from the no-name poet that no one's heard about--know where you can go to find it? Poets House.

- There is not other physical intuition like it in this country. They are our greatest patron and most influential ally. They're worth $100, if not even only $20.

I guess in closing I'd like to reiterate that I'm offering a FREE COPY of the LIMITED EDITION (signed and numbered of 200) of Zachary Schomburg's Scary, No Scary to any pledge of $100 or more. That's a $30 value right there. Your contributions are tax-deductible as well.

Please consider pledging in the next 48 hours--or even afterwards if the spirit moves you. I'd like to feel like I've accomplished something important. Maybe that's selfish, but it's kept me going for the past month or two. You can email to make your pledge.

Love Janaka

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

UPDATE: New Date & Progress

I’d like to alert everyone that the “Final Trial” for this has been bumped up to September 26th, which is the public Grand Opening for the new Poets House space in Battery Park City (announcement below). I made this move for a few reasons:

1. First and foremost, I have not met my fundraising goal of $5,000. I am up to $800—which is fantastic—but I won’t be satisfied until I reach much higher.

2. This date makes much more sense, symbolically, than the arbitrary Labor Day that I had originally chosen.

3. Finally, last week was a little crazy for me—professionally and personally. My life is still in a lot of flux, and it’s made my schedule volatile. While progress is being made, I feel off my training schedule a little.

So, please continue to spread the word… Don’t forget: ledges of $1 per-push-up will now get you a free copy of the limited edition hardcover of Zachary Schomburg’s new book, Scary, No Scary. That’s a $30 gift!

September 25, 11:00am–5:00pm
A Housewarming Party for Poets House
Be among the first to view the new Poets House! Bagels and coffee are served until noon.

Saturday, September 26, 11:00am–5:00pm
Invocation of the Muse: Poets & Musicians Toast the New Poets House

11am: Kurt Lamkin performs for children and their adults.
12pm: Open House! Take a stroll through our new home.
3pm: Readings by Meena Alexander, Charles Bernstein, Regie Cabico, Billy Collins, Mark Doty, Cornelius Eady, Kathleen Fraser, Kimiko Hahn, Michael Heller, Marie Howe, Galway Kinnell, Philip Levine, Marie Ponsot and Quincy Troupe , among others, and music by Natalie Merchant. This event takes place at the Pavilion of Nelson A. Rockefeller Park, Poets House's new "front lawn." Cosponsored by the Battery Park City Authority.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Week 3, Training Day 3

I finally hit my mark today, but with an intense amount of effort. I felt nauseous with exhaustion afterwards. I'm knocking out well over 100 total, but broken up over several sets. I still don't know if I can complete 100 push ups consecutively, but I've been upping the overall number I do while shortening the time between sets.

I'm a little worried about my shoulder. I have an injury in my right shoulder from when I tore a bunch of soft tissue in it playing football in high school. The coach made me play on it for the rest of the game and it never healed properly. It built up scar tissue and hangs lower in the socket than my left shoulder. Back in February of this year, I tore some of that old scar tissue doing some improper stretching. I went to PT for a few weeks, but it still clicks and crunches during certain activity. There's no pain, but it feels gross. I'm going to resume the strengthening / tightening exercises the therapist gave me for my shoulder, and do them on the off-days between push ups this week.

Theoretically I only have one more week to go, but I'm seriously considering extending it another week. Aside from the week of training that got screwed up, I just haven't come near to raising my goal amount.

Most of the pledges have come from people who don't even write poetry. While that's pretty cool that they're interested in supporting this cause, I think it speaks pretty badly about the hundreds of poets I know, that know about this project, who haven't pledged a cent. For the record, aside from training I am throwing my own money into the pot as well--and it's more than $100.

So, from here on out I'm offering a free hardcover edition of Black Ocean's newest title--Scary, No Scary by Zachary Schomburg--to everyone who makes a $1 per-push-up pledge. This is retroactive, so if you've already pledged that then you can expect to receive a copy. These books are very limited and are only available directly from Black Ocean, normally for $30. I hope this will serve as an added incentive to the poets out there who have been hemming and hawing over donating money to Poets House. In my opinion they are one of the greatest advocates we have in America, and they deserve our support. All you have to do is email me at and make your pledge.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Week 3, Training Days 1 & 2 (belated)

I came in about 11 push ups short of my goal on Monday. No doubt last week really threw me off my training schedule, and so I had to go two days in a row without any recovery time. It was better than Sunday, but only by a few.

Yesterday I came in only 5 under my goal. I suppose that's progress, even though I'm still lagging a little. I also shortened my rest periods in between sets down to 45 seconds, which made for a more intense session, but also closer to what the real trial will feel like. I was still sweating when I showed up to the Deep Moat Reading last night... which was excellent, by the way. It featured Mark Leidner, Emily Kendal Frey and Zachary Schomburg.

It's always exciting to see any of the Black Ocean authors read, and of course Zach is now touring behind his new book with us: Scary, No Scary. I got to watch him encounter, for the first time, the limited edition hard cover we printed. I have to say that's one of the best feelings as a publisher—to share in that excitement and gratification that each author feels as s/he sees their book in print. I’m obviously not in this for the money, so the biggest pay-off is the appreciation our authors and readers have for the product. In that sense, all the time and energy I’ve put into Black Ocean over the years has made me feel very rich.

A few people have been urging me to push back the final trail for the push-ups, due to the week I pretty much lost to illness and domestic turmoil. I’m considering it, but probably more for the fact that I’d like to come closer to my donation goal than anything else. I’m up to $425 now, and I’m really thankful for the people who have donated, but they compose about 1% of everyone I know—which is discouraging and disappointing. If I could get $5K in pledges, it would mean that every push up I bang out in the final trial is worth $50. Now that’s motivation.

To pledge, just email me at: You don’t have to pay anything up front. Do it now, because you can!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Week 2, Training Day 3

I've been sick for a few days and had to miss my reading in NYC. I'm pretty sure the illnes is psychosomatic given the upheaval in my home life. It's exhausting and traumatic to see my partner leave after 8 years together.

I was running a fever of 102 on Friday night. The fever broke before I went to sleep and stayed normal all day yesterday. Regardless, I haven't been able to eat much, and my system is taxed.

Given that, it's not surprising that I came in 13 push ups under my goal today. Nonetheless I'm disappointed. I'm going to be modifying my diet and sleeping pratices to crank up my training. This begins tonight. I only have two more weeks and I need to get very serious.

On a similar note--I need more support. I'm now up to $325, which is great--but it's a long ways off from my goal of $5,000.

Please: if 100 more people would just donate 25 cents per-push-up I could reach my goal. If 47 people donated $1 per-push-up; I'd meet my goal.

I have to believe that there are at least 50 people out there in the world that think Poets House and all the tremendous work they're doing is worth a $100 donation.