2013 September

The Apartment

young poet

young poet


Our first shared apartment was on Amsterdam Avenue at 94th Street. It was a rundown walk-up tenement. We had cockroaches in the kitchen, ratty pigeons on the fire escape, and on Fridays the smell of the downstairs neighbors’ fish head soup filling our rooms. Several days a month we would be without heat and hot water until the landlord paid the overdue oil bill. 

The landlady was an elderly Greek woman named Evelyn who sat in front of the building in her beat-up aqua blue Pinto for hours each day. She could barely walk, but she drove in from New Jersey to keep watch on her property. She told the Korean grocers on the ground floor that I was her niece. I thought this was because I was Armenian and as a Greek she felt some affinity, but I discovered that the Koreans had been lobbying for the apartment that she rented to us and she needed an excuse. We learned from THE VILLAGE VOICE list of New York City’s “Ten Worst Landlords” that her son Tony was known as the “Devil Landlord” because of the terrible condition of the apartment buildings he owned in Harlem. He had once brandished a gun at a city housing inspector. 

I recently came across a photo James took of me at the time in my tiny study. Behind me are my poetry and theory books, as well as framed family photos. It reminded me of a poem I wrote during first days together in that apartment. 



The Apartment


We thought we were alone at last,
escaping housemates and their cats:
fresh paint, unscratched floors, empty cabinets,
a new mattress with no one else’s stains.

Until my mother showed up in her housecoat
and bare feet. She scrubbed the stove,
disinfected the garbage pail. If you want it done
well, she said, you have to do it yourself.

The next morning I heard splashing
from the bathroom. My father left puddles,
bits of hair and shaving cream in the sink.
My sister did grand pliés in the hall.

Next came Grandma and Uncle Leo,
then the in-laws. Old lovers waited
in line for the shower, comparing stories
about me, elbowing each other in delight.

My piano teacher blocked the stairway.
Cocoa the cat was on the fire escape.
I thought it couldn’t get any worse
and then the shrink moved in.

It’s like a circus, all jostle and roar.
The spotlights are hot, the props in place.
They throw peanuts, we jump the hoops.
We bow when they applaud.



Nancy Kricorian


FROM THE ARCHIVE: Direct Action and Street Theater


Dressed as a Pink Peace Officer (2007)

Dressed as a Pink Peace Officer (2007)


I wrote this piece in 2005 during my tenure as the New York City coordinator of CODEPINK Women for Peace, and presented it as a talk at a number of panels and conferences. It posted to the CODEPINK web site soon thereafter, and a version of it was subsequently published in Women’s Studies Quarterly in the Spring of 2006. (This is a slightly updated version from 2007.)



CODEPINK Women for Peace is a grassroots peace and social justice movement working to end the war in Iraq, stop new wars, and redirect our resources into healthcare, education and other life-affirming activities. CODEPINK was founded in November 2002 as a women’s peace vigil outside the White House. The name CODEPINK was chosen as a response to the Department of Homeland Security’s color-coded advisory system.  The government says Code Yellow for High Risk of Terrorist Attack and we say CODEPINK for Peace. In the past four years CODEPINK has grown to a national organization with over 100 local chapters.

CODEPINK employs a variety of tools and techniques for working towards positive social change, but we are known for our use of direct action and street theater.

First to define the terms:

Direct action is a political tactic of confrontation and sometimes-illegal disruption intended to attract and arouse public awareness and action. The Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 was an example of direct action that was successful in ending seating segregation on the public buses.

Street theater, sometimes called Guerilla Theater, involves the acting out of a social issue in a public space—that could be in a park, on the street or in a subway car. It is a form of direct action. There are a number of street theater groups here in New York, among them CODEPINK, the Billionaires for Bush, Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping. The Reverend Billy, for example, has performed exorcisms of cash registers in Starbucks stores to show his dislike of the corporate take-over of American life. After an exorcism in Los Angeles Starbucks obtained a restraining order against the Reverend Billy so he is not allowed within 250 yards of any Starbucks in the state of California.

Civil disobedience, which is another form of direct action, involves the nonviolent act of breaking the law to call attention to a particular law or set of laws that some people think are immoral or questionable. An example of civil disobedience from the Civil Rights Movement was the “sit-in” campaign by African-American students in the south. The students would sit at Whites Only lunch counters, trying to show that it was wrong to have a law enforcing that kind of segregated seating. They would remain in their seats, in effect breaking the law, until the police were called in to drag them out.

CODEPINK has used direct action on numerous occasions to make our opposition to the war in Iraq known—during the Democratic and Republican National Conventions in 2004, during press conferences in Baghdad, outside Armed Forces Recruiting Centers here in Manhattan and during recent fundraisers for New York’s Senator Hillary Clinton, who was a consistent supporter of the war even as she criticized the way it was being managed.

Starting in late 2005 CODEPINK bird-dogged Hillary at her appearances in New York,; held vigils outside her Manhattan office; and showed up inside and outside of her speeches and fundraisers in cities around the country, including Washington, D.C., Chicago, Denver, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Our LISTEN HILLARY campaign has had an impact on the Senator’s rhetoric on the war as well as her recent votes against war funding in the Senate.

CODEPINK women have been popping up all over the place with our pro-peace message—and you’ll often see us on the evening news.

Why direct action?

You know the old expression, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease?” Using direct action is a way of being a very squeaky wheel.

Huge media conglomerates control most of the information we see and hear about the world. Corporate-owned television outlets show us for the most part the version of reality that the current government wants us to know. For example, the Bush administration doesn’t want us to see the dead bodies of Iraqi women and children who are killed in U.S. military campaigns. They don’t want us to see the bodies of dead U.S. servicemen. These kinds of images are part of what turned public opinion against the Vietnam War and if we actually saw the devastation being caused with our tax dollars—and billions of our tax dollars—we might have something to say about it. By controlling the images we see they hope they can control our perceptions of and often feelings about the war in Iraq.

Direct action and street theater are ways to try to break through this control and have our anti-war message covered by the mainstream media. We believe that direct action works. A recent study on environmental activism by sociologist Jon Agnone showed that chaining yourself to a bulldozer is more likely to influence environmental policy than lobbying on Capitol Hill. And beyond having a direct influence on legislation, we believe that our street actions have an impact in our communities. It’s about educating people. It’s about making an alternative version of reality visible on the streets and on the news. We’re angry about what’s going on; we’re standing up for our beliefs and principles, and we’re strengthening our movement and ourselves by working together. And often we’re also having a great time.


Nancy Kricorian

Published in Women’s Studies Quarterly, Spring 2006


Fall Book Events and Literary Fashion

Book Culture


It’s September, and the summer hiatus from peddling books has come to a close. I’m about to start doing public events (see schedule here) and some private gigs (a book club meeting in NYC and a political science seminar at Vassar, for example). I’m especially looking forward to an evening at the Robbins Library in Arlington, Mass. on October 3rd. Librarian Jenny Arch wrote a lovely blog post about the upcoming event. If you want to invite me to a public or private venue near you (and me) or to a Skype chat convenient for all, let me know. You are also invited to join my 9/25 online book chat via Togather and Spreecast. You can also check out an interview I did last month with Book Case TV (starts at 15:23 and runs to 21:17).

In August there were a number of articles about the state of literary fiction that I thought might be of interest: a funny piece in Flavorwire about why bestselling novelist Jonathan Franzen annoys so many people; a piece in Salon discussing the dubious distinctions between “Chick Lit” and “Literary Fiction” by women; and a related piece from the Fashion & Style Section of the New York Times in which the author of this summer’s hot debut novel waxes eloquent on life in the literary borough of Brooklyn. If you’re still confused about how to separate literary fiction from genre fiction (chick lit, historical fiction, mysteries, etc.), you can read this piece, which probably won’t clear things up. And finally, in yesterday’s New York Times Style section, in honor of New York Fashion Week, there was an article entitled “The Rising Value of Land in Book Titles” about a hot trend in book publishing this fall. As Oscar Wilde said, “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.”


Nancy Kricorian