Monday, January 01, 2018

We Who Are About To Die : Aaron Tucker

Aaron Tucker is the author of two books of poetry, irresponsible mediums (BookThug, 2017 ; and punchlines (Mansfield Press, 2015 ;, as well as the forthcoming coming novel Y (Coach House Books, Spring 2018 ; In addition, his current collaborative project, Loss Sets, translates poems into sculptures which are then 3D printed (; he is also the co-creator of The ChessBard, an app that transforms chess games into poems ( He has also written two scholarly texts: The Militarized Internet in Hollywood War Films (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) and Interfacing with the Internet in Popular Cinema (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). Currently, he is a lecturer in the English department at Ryerson Universitywhere he is currently teaching creative and academic writing.

Where are you now?

As I write just before Christmas, I’m currently in Mainz, Germany, not far from Frankfurt, staying with my partner.

Mainz is a quiet city that I like a lot. The lights for the Christmas markets are strung across and in every tree. We stop for glühwein often, let it warm us. Even though there is no snow, it is wet, and we see off-duty American soldiers from the Army base just outside the city towards Wiesbaden, walking through the puddles, speaking English like us. I know an infinitesimal amount of German, and when someone speaks it to me, my brain automatically responds in French. It’s strange.

What are you reading?

The two books I am reading now are Nevil Shute’s On the Beach and Thierry Poibeau’s Machine Translation. 

Machine Translation is a really terrific and condensed history and basic theorization on machine translations that does well to cover a lot of chronological and mechanical ground in a hurry.  I have been reading it to firm up some of the thinking around my new media projects which involve translation and computers. My newest, O/Ô, uses the Google Translate camera function to translate the Canadian Parliamentary Hansard from the day that “O Canada”/“Ô Canada” was adopted as the national anthem, generating photographic concrete poems. Additionally, Loss Sets is a collaborative project with Jordan Scott, Namir Ahmed and Tiffany Cheung that translates poems into models which are then 3D printed (; the ChessBard is a project collaboratively created by Jody Miller and myself that translates chess games into poems ( In the fall of this year, I published a beautiful print version of the project, Irresponsible Mediums (Book*hug, 2017;, which translates all of Marcel Duchamp’s chess games into poems. Machine Translation has given me a lot of vocabulary and further reading to help me push these projects further.

In Shutes novel, the Northern hemisphere of the globe has been completely irradiated by nuclear weapons and the resulting fallout drifts south to Melbourne, Australia where the characters wait helplessly for this cloud to overtake them. In contrast to the near-instant eradication of nuclear warfare, when I first read this book over a decade ago, I was struck by the creeping, slow acceptance of extinction the book shapes itself around and I have been re-reading it because of a talk I will be giving about it in the new year at the Toronto Public Library, where I want to argue that we having been living post-apocalyptically since the Trinity Test, the first explosion of an atom bomb in 1945. This is a conversation I have been returning to as I have been editing my first novel Y (Coach House Books, 2018 -, about J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Manhattan Project, and I’m trying to situate myself within the current very-real climate of nuclear culture and war.     

What have you discovered lately?

Given that it is the holidays, I have had a bit more time to read and catch up on books and have been reminded of all the great poetry and fiction being published across Canada. In no order, the books that have come out this year that I’ve loved:

-        The Greats by Sylvain Prudhomme (Book*hug Books) -

-        My Ariel by Sina Queyras (Coach House Books) -

-        Incarnations by Janieta Eyre (Coach House Books) -

-        Double Teenage by Joni Murphy (Book*hug Books) -

-        Dawn by Jordan Scott (tinfishpress) -

-        I am a Truck by Michelle Winters (Invisible Books) -

-        Charm by Christine McNair (Book*hug Books) -

-        This Accident of Being Lost by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (House of Anansi)-

-        Sons by Dale Smith (Knife Fork Book) -

-        Voodoo Hypothesis by Canisia Lubrin (Wolsak and Wynn) -

-        Full-Metal Indigiqueer by Joshua Whitehead (Talonbooks) -

-        Pockets by Stuart Ross (ECW Books) -

-        Admission Requirements by Phoebe Wang (McClelland & Stewart) -

-        The Chemical Life by Jim Johnstone (Véhicule Press) -

-        If Clara by Martha Baillie (Coach House Books) -

-        Still Point by E. Martin Nolan (Invisible Books) -

-        Table Manners by Catriona Wright (Véhicule Press) -

-        Rag Cosmology by Erin Robinsong (Book*hug Books) -

-        A, A Novel by Derek Beaulieu (JBE) -

-        No TV for Woodpeckers by Gary Barwin (Wolsak and Wynn) -

-        My Nostalgia by Ralph Kolewe (Talonbooks) -

-        Cruise Missile Liberals by Spencer Gordon (Nightwood Editions) -

-        All the many things Jim Johnstone and company do at Anstruther Press -

-        All the many many things rob mclennan does at above/ground -

I can’t help but be so excited by the wide range of amazing books being published and it is really great to get to read books from people who I love and respect. This is especially potent when I go to a local bookstore, like the incredible and indispensable Knife Fork Book ( or Type, ( to scope out the shelves: I want all the amazing books!

Maybe more specifically, I recently returned from my first trip to Berlin and the Hamburger Bahnhof. There is a wing of the gallery that is dedicated to full room installations and I saw a number of incredible pieces, in particular War Damaged Instruments by Susan Philipsz ( and Bruce Nauman's Room with My Soul Left Out (l Philipsz’s work reminded me of a Janet Cardiff piece I saw at the AGO (, and was incredibly evocative - I stood in the middle with my eyes closed and listened to the instruments shift around me, thought of the specific history of those specific instruments, thought of my own relationship to listening to music, to listening in general. Nauman’s piece was surprisingly visceral - it was cold! And the bomb-shelter structure was unnerving, stark and no-place. All of the works, but those two specifically, pushed me to think about scale and space (and bodily enactment within that space) in ways that I don’t immediately think about with poetry, and have encouraged me to expand the types of work I want to make.   

Where do you write?

When I actually sit down to write creatively I tend to do it at my desk facing my big window. However, I find myself writing all the time, just not creatively (emails texts etc) and usually on my phone in transit, and have struggled recently with how to focus and write when the time comes. In many ways, my response to rob mclennan’s blog ( was me making peace with leaving behind a certain stage of my writing life and transitioning to a new one that means less, but hopefully sharper, writing and creative work. I don’t write for a living and so that part of my practice has to fit around the other major blocks of responsibility in my life and I struggle sometimes with that.  

What are you working on?

Loss Sets, described above, is an ongoing project; we are hoping to get to nine sculptures and sculpture five has been giving me fits at the printing stage, so the first task in the new year is to make that one, then move to the next group.

I’ve also been asked if I might contribute a chapter for an upcoming book about Florine Stettheimer, and so have been doing some initial reading and thinking through her portraits of Marcel Duchamp. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Duchamp over the past few years in relation to Irresponsible Mediums and this chapter will hopefully push me into some new directions.

In terms of solo creative work, I’m writing weird little bird-lyric poems based on some of the travelling I have been doing. I’m not exactly sure what they are, or what they might become, but I’ve enjoyed writing them so far.  More substantially, I want to finish O/Ô, to translate the whole proceedings and begin hosting them online, in addition to working through a physical photographic form of the project. 

Have you anything forthcoming?

I’ve spent an incredibly satisfying past few months editing Y ( with Alana Wilcox and am so excited to see it published in the spring of 2018.  About two years ago I picked up American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, though I can’t remember exactly why now, and was struck by how complicated figure Oppenheimer was. He was a brilliant polymath, a Communist sympathizer, and a Humanist, yet still led the building of the first weapon of mass destruction at Los Alamos. On top of all this, his romantic life was incredibly tangled and he seemed to live his life split and bouncing between the two poles of himself. So I started writing ithin this rich historical frame, thinking it might be a short story, then a set of short stories, until it was a novel. On the whole, I’m extremely proud of it.

What would you rather be doing?

I really do feel I’m doing exactly what I want to do be doing.

The following poems are excerpted from Irresponsible Mediums: The Chess Games of Marcel Duchamp (Book*hug, 2017 ; In 1968, avant-garde artist Marcel Duchamp and composer John Cage exhibited Reunion, a chess performance that took place in Toronto. Whenever Duchamp or Cage moved a piece, it generated a musical note until the game was transformed into a symphony.

Inspired by this performance, Irresponsible Mediums translates Duchamps chess games into poems using the ChessBard (an app co-created by Tucker and Jody Miller) and in the process, recreates Duchamps joyous approach to making art, while also generating startling computer-made poems that blend the analog and digital in strange and surprising combinations.

Further description of the translation process can be found at

machine sealed sand or

resistance, any blurred sketch, instant

questions deserted cell or cord

single cast or broken sand

warily measures some seashell

single silicon gobbles within

the reassemblage, dormouse beside coherence

each speed the purposeful decomposition

gobbles beside cloudy redundancy

               Playing White vs M. Schroeder (New York, 1922)

a centre among drawing and
blazing mathematics, hunches beside instant

hooded astonishment beyond complete insult
or texture inside deception and
washed specimen traps

            Playing Black Vs. Anatoly Alekseevich Chepurnov (Paris, 1924)

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