Thursday, May 18, 2017

call for submissions : h&

Currently seeking submissions of visual/concrete poetry for future posts.

The site so far features work by J4, Jeff Batago, Logan K. Young, Pearl Button, Rob Stuart, hiromi suzuki, Andrew Topel, sean burn, Texas Fontanella, Mark Young, Daniel Van Klei, derek beaulieu, kevin mcpherson eckhoff, Amanda Earl, Robert Swereda, Ali Znaidi, Pearl Pirie, Nico Vassilakis, Eileen R. Tabios, Rob Flint, Lawrence Upton, Michael e. Casteels, Gary Barwin, Michael Basinski, a rawlings, Sheila E. Murphy, Natalie Lauchlan, bruno neiva, Mark Young, Ken Hunt, Joel Chase, Tony Rickaby, Robert Swereda and Chris Turnbull.

The prior iteration of this journal was barely distributed, and might even have been imaginary.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

On Writing #130 : Billy Mavreas

On writing
Billy Mavreas

I write sporadically although I more often work with text. I find it easy to convince myself that my text-based visual arts practice is the main part of my writing practice. This gets complicated because my visual arts practice is quite multi-disciplinary, involving collage, concrete and visual poetry making and comics/visual storytelling. If that wasn’t enough my habit of collecting paper ephemera and found paper scraps has insinuated itself into my art.

When I actually get around to using just words in writing, the context is either random semi-foolish tweets (an extension of my long standing practice of bumper sticker poetry and band name poetry) or earnest blog posts mostly about creative process.

This all doesn’t stop me from telling myself stories about things in life and using personal (unfolding, unwritten) storytelling as a guiding principle in life. Neither does it stop me from self-identifying as a writer. As in writer/artist.

I’ve been drawing all my life and writing on and off since adolescence. I studied undergrad English Lit for what that’s worth. I worked on my college paper and university literary journal. I wrote poems. In university I shared my poems with another student writer and he unceremoniously suggested I stick to drawing. The advice of another 19 year old froze my poetry for decades. Kids, don’t listen to kids.

At the time I was increasingly self identifying as a writer (art was something I always did, hence took for granted, was known about me so it didn’t have the same weight or loftiness to me as did calling myself a writer). That silly episode broke the spell and I continued - a little- writing in secret. Mostly awesome song lyrics and slogans. I started writing graffiti more seriously, always in clear capitol letters. I got way weirder with my text. Invented alphabets, channelled entities.

I cannot successfully extract ‘writing’ from a myriad other creative processes. My visual poetry is composed with collage and found fragments more than type or text. My drawing is heavily informed by the minute strokes and gestures well known to the calligrapher or long-hand writer. My hand writing is an odd semi-cursive that grew out of all caps lettering. I am a decent letterer. I enjoy sigil crafting and logo designing.

I am glad I’m well over forty now so I can presume I have something to say. I am able to express myself competently in short personal essay form however choppy. If I have writing goals they include more graphic novels, at least one solid fantasy short story, at least one decent YA novel, and some children’s books. I have little interest carving out a larger place for myself in the various literary writing scenes I’ve been around for years although I do want to find the opportunity to write more, straight up word after word writing.

I love reading and I love books. I love odd puzzling books that aren’t necessarily hard to read. I want to make odd puzzling books. I’ll make them, as I already do, regardless of the kind of writing they are made with.

The challenge for the multi-disciplinary writer/artist, as I see it, is to achieve a balance in output, a union of voices and tendencies, that speak of a whole person. It’s ok if I am known as the guy who paints bunnies or the person who draws stoner comix or the guy who makes Xerox abstractions or yet another one who publishes small collage zines, as long as I know that I am cresting towards a unification process, wherein all my offerings are part of the same coherent universe. Writing can function as a glue of some sort as I use it most to explicate to myself and others what I am doing as an artist, as a writer/artist, as a writer.

Billy Mavreas is a Montreal based multi-disciplinary artist/writer and co-director of Monastiraki, an art shop in the Mile End neighbourhood.

He is the author of three graphic novels, one book of posters and many mini books, prints, zines, pamphlets and assorted ephemera.

Monday, May 01, 2017

We Who Are About To Die : Pearl Button

In case you were wondering, that headshot is not Pearl, but it is the medallion she wears, that was painted for her by a family member of another family member, now deceased. Pearl wants you to know that the first piece is an excerpt from the serialized Tumblr book 13 dark moons. Tarot and dream work are skills acquired now many decades ago. Alchemy came later, but long enough ago to have sunk into the dark of forgotten knowledge. That’s a good place for magical knowledge to be. That way it can come and go as it pleases, organizing surprise parties and welcome-home hooplas for the unsuspecting ego. She also wants you to know that the second piece “later when I lived very differently” is part of the developing project mentioned in the interview called sticks and bones. The image recently published here at h& (creation myth #379) is part of that manuscript. Each of the primarily textual pieces is fronted by a quote from an anthropologist, a philosopher or scientist. The poem that follows makes a conversation with the quote. The two argue about what’s real and how to define things. That’s the world Pearl lives in. Contested ground. A place between two worlds where both have left indelible marks. The world of pidgin, surrounded by arguing parental languages.

Where are you now?
In the moments of writing this I am in my car (which is also where I live). Once I want to email this text to Mr Whistle, then I’ll go to a place where I can access WiFi, and boom there you go. Where is my car? At Muckleshoot. It’s an Indian Reservation in Washington State. There’s Sla Hal this weekend. Next week I’ll be somewhere else.

What are you reading?

I’m the kind of person who reads many books at a time. Because I have a limited carrying capacity, I don’t have a lot of paper-type books with me, but one I do have at the moment is a book of essays on poetry edited by Tom Chivers called Stress Fractures. Other than that I have an e-reader and the top 3 hits on that are 1491 by Charles Mann, Thinking without Words by Jose Luis Bermudez and The Terrors poetry by Tom Chivers. 

What have you discovered lately?

Mostly that my bones are no longer a fan of cold and damp. However, I am on a 6-month long research trip, and I’ve been digging around in local small-town archives and I’ve discovered tons of small things about how people are with difference. Like, there was a place about a month ago that recorded its own little-town creation mythology in a staple-bound book they sell in the local museum. In it there is a story about how a local tribe believed that when they’d developed enough as human beings they’d become white people. Heh. I was laughing so hard the librarian had to come in and ask me to share. I did. I frakkin love research, because people delight me in what they are willing to believe.

Where do you write?
Depends on the weather. Somewhere quiet if I can. I like semi-industrial areas in cities, rest stops in the US, abandoned quarries, old mine-heads, places like that. If it is too cold or too wet for my tech, then a public library or a Starbucks.

What are you working on?
I’m researching recent developments in a Native American gambling game that is called Sla Hal on the Pacific coast, but is also known as bone game or stick game or hand game. It’s a very big deal in the Pacific North West and neighbouring plains (in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatechewan, Montana, Idaho, Washington State, Oregon, California). There are small games and enormous tournaments and with the advent of easy roads and cars, they go all year round, although less in winter. Hundreds of people can play at once, and since players use drums and rattles, it can be very loud. The game is played with traditional songs that sound unlike anything Western European. One big current project is to write a series of semi-autobiographical poems to the rhythms of stick game songs instead of the Euro-meter of much poetry today and still try to make them intelligible to non-Native readers. That series has a working title of sticks and bones. These poems are as narrative as I get.

I’m also in the editing stage of a project called trembling underfoot which operates in a surreal circus of a world. It came out of a dream and a nightmare I had. The quartet of poems is not (not in any way) narrative poetry. If you approach it as if it were a dream and you wanted to make sense of it on waking, and you can accept Uncertainty as a Principle of Meaning, then you’ll be fine. Do you know Anne-Marie Albiach? I love her work. It’s a bit like that.

I’m also contemplating a series of witchcraft poems based on a lunar month. I’ll spend a good part of September out on the Palouse, which is this scarily beautiful plain that rests on an ancient basalt flow which itself rests on what used to be the ground on which the ancient plants and animals lived. Now the Snake River and the Columbia run along/through it. I’ll watch the moon rise and set, rise and set and then dream. That’ll become a project. It may or may not be like the one that resulted from a dream and a tarot reading I did a while back, which is now published as a serial book online at Tumblr and called 13 Dark Moons, a public alchemical working. 13 Dark Moons is full of sigils that were created for the purposes of the working, because I really like combined forms.

Have you anything forthcoming?

I had a book released with Dancing Girl Press in 2016 called this is not a love song to the dark. Since then I’ve been concentrating on the projects I told you about above. I do have a manuscript called accidental existence which has been languishing in cyber form. Being on the road is not conducive to large-scale editing work and frankly I’d kill for an editor capable of parsing experimental work who also acts as if cross-cultural lines are not meant as a prison. Until I resolve that, I probably won’t publish as much as I have in the past, but just keep writing, learning about stick game and wandering around watching the moon.

What would you rather be doing?
I would rather be travelling in a van with a bed, solar electrics, a table and a reading chair, but what I can afford is a 4-door sedan so that’s what I live in. 


SIGNIFIER | Six Swords, with an outward focus

There is a peace in the darkest time of winter. These days the valley billows in the dark. Shadows burgeon and bloom. Dark has its finest growing days here. Crops of dreams will be dried, stored for the worst of the sun-blasted days to come. Here in the peaceful valley of winter, in the dark of the moon, understanding unbuckles from the sun's direction. Ecstasy harbours here. This is the chimp returned at last to her forest. This is the isolated elephant finding her sister after 30 years of performance art for peanuts.
Mind roams freely in the unwound yarn of the year. Here thought's symbolic DNA zips together; creates sulfur's seeds for the year to come. First Matter bears in the dark. Salt joins sulfur in spinning life's threads. Mercury is the first Weaver known to the alchemist. Here in the first dark moon, the inner and outer weave each other into the world.
The mountain creaks in the dark. Small stones hide under the lowest boughs of snow-bearing pitch pine. Strung on sinew between cones and clouds, white blades clink against the setting moon. The badger sleeps but the cougar leaves tracks on the water. It is between the marks left by left front toes that truth for the year rolls laughing. 
Six thoughts in the dark. Six needs divided become 12 wants. Heat makes and breaks the sweat stones. This is the reason for the alchemical fire. Going into the dark of the sweat lodge, hidden stones seek knowledge best suited to the wide skies of a pendant day. Therefore, must all stones be counted, put through the fire. 
Let it be known: All that long sun-high-sky, the moon rides hidden above the horizon, slides above the stones, the snow, the moving mountain. To know what comes from beyond the valley, find three blades that ride with the dark moon at noon. To know what will rush past without pausing, find the three that pierce the clouds ˈround the midnight moon hidden behind the earth. Once to hand, hang them all clinking on a line and sing with them. Sing until the song falls crystalline and glistening from your mouth into the snow, then release it, fin flapping in the winter waters circling under quiet cat feet.

Later, when I lived very differently, I realized how alien waist-high living was to a Micronesian woman whose household life is spent on the floor.

Martha C. Ward, Nest in the Wind

Most of the time you get no real
choice about sleeping. Not when or how
long much less where. Catch authority’s
eye stretched celestial on the sidewalk
even languid on picnic-table beds at night
rest stop on the I 5 & trouble will snap
your Achilles, make you limp the payne's gray
of whatever you call this
temporal core of sleeping civility.
Stay at home for that. All those sleep
classes for the insomniac tell you tricks
how to slip transparent, down past the din
of red ochre, closed eyelids
against urban light still burning

but me, didn't work, got so tired my head blew left
white noise cauliflower ears battered, burnt
sienna static like a fist full of nettles
drove up from the river road
done with trying for home, hurtled instead, rabid
like a thirst, like petroglyphed rocks swimming
dog paddle circles under ultramarine
grinding clouds into the brittle 
rind of the late afternoon

parked back of the pull-out
turned off the engine walked up rock
& just went down

nose to ancient red eagles and traveller
notifications written on stone, arms nibbled
by basalt crumbed out onto the pine
needled soil, slept black
planed out the lamb's quarter, the kinnikinnik
woke after 10 hours
all the way through the dark and back
into the light, curled up the flattened horizon
of my spine to find coyote scat not far
from my feet and the car, engine cool
waiting for me to come to my senses

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

On Writing #129 : Kyle Flemmer

On Writing about Reading
Kyle Flemmer

How do I write about writing without writing about reading?

So much good writing consists not of writing at all, but of good reading. Language is, of course, communicative by design, and is therefore a social tool, so writing cannot possibly exist in a vacuum as communion involves multiple parties. Given this unavoidable truth, the best writing, in my opinion, is built upon a conscious integration of judiciously selected source material. Take, for instance, writers like Jacques Derrida, or Anne Carson, powerful readers who weave together threads from a seemingly infinite number of reference texts, never concealing their sources while crafting something totally unique. Their writing thrums with ancestral energy channeled in a new way. Is this not the prime directive of all creative writing?

Reading is at the heart of my desire to write in the first place. How can a child grow up surrounded by the influence of written words and not wish to exert their own influence upon and through language? It’s like watching an older sibling jump off the high dive every summer at the pool – how can you not want to try that? Similarly, the more I read, the more keenly I feel the need to participate in the exchange. There is a saying that you must write down one-hundred ideas to get one good one; I argue that you must read one-hundred ideas before you can have an original one of your own. Reading is the heavy lifting a writer does to train for their craft, the base of a writer’s pyramid, and the bones of their practice.

Many of my poems begin with an epigraph. An epigraph is a keyhole view into another room in the house of our culture. Though it is only a glimpse, an epigraph draws an explicit connection between that other room and the one I am about to construct around you. It’s a way of building dialogue, history, subtext, and drama, and this influence should be felt whether readers have encountered the source text or not. Like the tip of an iceberg, an epigraph signals that there is important material outside the confines of my specific piece, which, as mentioned, there must always be. That said, under no circumstance must an epigraph or reference be made to do the labor of writing.

An experienced reader who is not also an experienced writer is commonplace, though perhaps not as common as I should hope. On the other hand, an experienced writer who is not an experienced reader is something conspicuous and a little detestable, like a chef who does not sample the dishes of other chefs to know where their tastes lie in comparison. As a writer, reading the work of others does not constitute approval of or complicity in their ideas, but a baseline against which one measures their own work. Some people think you should not judge yourself by the measure of other people, but I hold there is no self without others, and an awareness of the people who make up your community is essential to defining yourself within it. I’m not taking about making friends on Facebook, I’m talking about exposing yourself to the writing people put their sweat and blood into making. Give that stuff a chance, and I think you’ll find you are giving your own writing a chance as well.

Kyle Flemmer [photo credit: Dean McClelland] is an author, editor, and publisher from Calgary, Canada. Kyle founded The Blasted Tree Publishing Company in 2014, a small press and community of emerging Canadian artists. He graduated from Concordia University in Montreal with a double-major in Western Society & Culture and Creative Writing. Kyle is passionate about social satire, philosophy, and science, and enjoys writing poetry, short stories, and critical essays. His work has been published by NewPoetry, above/ground press, no press, Soliloquies Anthology, Gadfly Online, The Bullcalf Review, and Spacecraft Press, among others.

Friday, April 14, 2017

On Writing #128 : Ryan Eckes

On Writing the Truth
Ryan Eckes

I just re-read Bertolt Brecht’s essay “Writing the Truth: Five Difficulties” (1935), which is about writing under fascism. When I first read it, during Occupy Wall Street, I thought “this is so relevant to our time.” Reading it five years later, after the 2016 US presidential election, I thought “this is so relevant to our time.” You can read a PDF online here. Brecht’s five difficulties are:

1 – The Courage to Write the Truth
2 – The Keenness to Recognize the Truth
3 – The Skill to Manipulate the Truth as a Weapon
4 – The Judgment to Select Those in Whose Hands the Truth Will Be Effective
5 – The Cunning to Spread the Truth Among the Many

For Brecht, truth can be a weapon if a piece of writing illustrates the causes of barbarous conditions. He asks, “how can anyone tell the truth about Fascism, unless he is willing to speak out about capitalism, which brings it forth?” His description of those who aren’t willing calls to mind American liberals who cling uncritically to the Democratic Party: “Those who are against Fascism without being against capitalism, who lament over the barbarism that comes out of barbarism, are like people who wish to eat their veal without slaughtering the calf.” Yes.

In the US, where the working class has no voice in government, the Democratic Party continues to act as a roadblock to social justice. Most large unions forfeit their power to this party; their leaders rarely even mention the word “capitalism”, the very thing that divides and crushes us. Instead, since the election, we hear messages like “stop the normalization of hate”, as if hate hasn’t been normal for the entire brutal existence of the country, as if racism hasn’t been sustained by capitalism. I think writers need to undermine capitalist narratives peddled by liberal institutions however we can. It’s not enough to simply counter right-wing narratives. We need to show the relations between these narratives. Class war is always made invisible. Wars on women, on people of color, on LGBTQ people are always made invisible. So let’s make it visible. I imagine poets, journalists, essayists, fiction writers contributing to an infrastructure of disobedience and solidarity that people are already building.

Because we live in a media-saturated world, Brecht’s 4th and 5th difficulties strike me as most difficult right now—how best to disseminate the truth? Brecht points out an obvious problem: “The writer thinks: I have spoken and those who wish to hear will hear me. In reality he has spoken and those who are able to pay hear him.” Where does our writing exist? In journals? in newspapers? on buses? on walls? on sidewalks? in cafes? in workplaces? in people’s mouths? in people’s ears? What specific audiences do we have in mind, and why?

Vijay Prashad, in an interview with Mark Nowak, defines “socialist writing” as that which comes from listening and interacting with people who are ultimately your audience but not necessarily your customers. Citing Antonio Gramsci, Prashad suggests that socialist writing elaborates on the “common sense” of a people and produces continued conversation and interaction. This model partially addresses the difficulty of spreading the truth. As a poet, I like the idea, and to poets who are used to writing within a community, this idea might sound obvious. But like everyone else, poets’ social circles are often determined by education, class, race. The severe stratification and compartmentalization of society—a society in which our individual identities are sold to us endlessly—makes spreading the truth that much more difficult.

We should work to make sure our writing isn’t always funneled to predictable venues. The internet isn’t as democratizing as we may think, and we cannot rely on its stability and accessibility. We can be imaginative with print and performance. We can be helping to construct a public, feeding networks of solidarity.

Beyond telling the truth, writers have to keep inventing a world we want to see. And we have to keep attempting to live it, especially in the face of despair. Prashad explains why this is so critical:

“One of the things that has become clear to me is that once human beings surrender to the present, the idea of the future wears thin. There is only a present. The present stretches on into infinity. When we say tomorrow, we mean only tomorrow in time, but not in epochal terms. Tomorrow will look like today. The sensation of an endless present greets us each day. Change is never going to come.

That feeling — of futility — is the greatest detriment to the socialist imagination. Socialist writing, to my mind, has to help break that fatalism and create what Arundhati Roy calls ‘a new imagination’ — an imagination of a different kind of world, with different priorities and different sensibilities.”

Practicing this new imagination is necessary to help each other continually overcome the difficulties that Brecht points out, difficulties which won’t disappear.

Lately I’ve also been listening to James Baldwin’s speech “The Artist’s Struggle for Integrity” (1963), which deepens the urgency to identify and articulate the truth. After expressing his distrust of words such as “integrity” and “courage” for their imprecision, Baldwin states that our words are

“attempts made by us all to get to something which is real and which lives behind the words. Whether I like it or not, for example, and no matter what I call myself, I suppose the only word for me, when the chips are down, is that I am an artist. There is such a thing . . . The terrible thing is that the reality behind these words depends ultimately on what the human being (meaning every single one of us) believes to be real. The terrible thing is that the reality behind all these words depends on choices one has got to make, for ever and ever and ever, every day.”

I recommend listening to the whole thing.

Ryan Eckes is a poet who lives in South Philadelphia. His books include Valu-Plus and Old News (Furniture Press 2014, 2011). You can read some of his poems in Tripwire, The Brooklyn Rail, Slow Poetry in America Newsletter, Supplement, Public Pool, Whirlwind and on his blog. He is the recipient of a 2016 Pew Fellowship in the Arts.