Monday, January 25, 2016

On Writing #83 : Kaie Kellough

Kaie Kellough

for Jayne Cortez

You write because you are haunted: not hunted, not vanquished, but visited by something that hovers just beyond immediate perception.  You write because you are aware of something that flits close then away, that is vague but prescient, like an invisible twin, an entity you can only approach by by calling out, sounding, knowing that words are equally abstract. Words may say other than what you think, and may mislead away. Words are themselves but they are also other, scattering without discretion. A ship is spelled s-h-i-p but it is not a ship. It may also be a shape and a slip across an expanse, an estrangement, with an interrogation point looming in the rising song.  The writing process is a reach across this unknown, and as the letters are pushed and pulled across, they dissolve into something greater than themselves, somehting as expansive as a family never met, a hauntology, a bush of ghosts.    

The stories you want to tell are always the stories that tug and release when you try to grasp.  The only way you can pursue them is by laying out a trail of letters, a trail that you and others can follow, a spelling into being. Somehow, these stories are always vexed by inabilities, inadequacies, lack. Inability to completely address or redress immediate or historic grievance, inadequate ability to act on the world and directly effect change, inadequate ability to rise above the roiling mess of dialogue that is, at the end of the day, just dialogue struggling with dialogue. Inadequate ability to expand the stories of the minor characters in official histories, in everyday life, and in literature: characters who have been written into the background or erased altogether, and whose haunting is never fleshed into full presence. 

The process of writing is also bruised by dismissal and rebuke.  When it hears: we don't have an audience for your story and your kind of work; your language is too strident; your rage is too loud for this festival; your verse lacks "density";  your poetry isn't nuanced enough, you hesitate and question the value of your undertaking.  But even in the face of rebuke, the mind drifts.  Its unconscious drift traces letters, words, and that too is haunting. 

You reckon with the vexation, hurt, digression, and haunt before sitting down to write.  This writing, then, honors the difficulties and the inadequacies.  It is a ceremony of slow sentences encircling, decorating, and temporarily ennobling the crushed ego, a wreath of letters to throw into the void, perhaps a sacrifice or a purification rite, an acknowledgement that this service is not good enough but that it will be performed in spite of its naught. Welcome to the ceremony.

Kaie Kellough is a word-sound systemizer. His systems originate in the inchoate swirl of vowels, consonants, misspellings, shapes, stammerings, and emerge as audio recordings, books, visual entities, volumes of letters, and performances that verse and reverse utterance.

Kaie's work fuses formal experiment and social engagement. Kaie is the author of 2 books of poetry Lettricity (Cumulus Press 2004), and Maple Leaf Rag (Arbeiter Ring Publishing 2010), and 2 Sound recordings: Vox:Versus (WOW 2011), and Creole Continuum (HOWL! 2014). Kaie performs and publishes internationally, and is presently working on a novel.

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Thursday, January 14, 2016

On Writing #82 : Jacqueline Valencia

On Writing
Jacqueline Valencia

For me to talk about writing, I’d have to explain my obsession with James Joyce.

I was in my second year of doing my undergrad at the University of Toronto. I had hit a hectic time of exams and essay writing and two hour commute from home to my campus garnered me time to study and complete my class readings. During this time, I was tackling Ulysses for my Post-Modernism class. On little sleep I found myself in the middle of a pub scene in the chapter called Cyclops whereupon a character called The Citizen (an Irish nationalist) goes on a xenophobic rant against our protagonist & simple hero, Leopold Bloom. I fell asleep on the train and lucidly dreamed of the events I had just read. When I woke up, I hit my head on the windowsill and something happened. It’s something that I’ve tried to capture since then. It was a fleeting moment; an epiphany. It hard to put into words, but everything felt so clear and could think many things at once. It could also have been a psychotic break due insomnia. I don’t really know. What I do know is that my heart raced so fast and having missed my stopped. I clung tightly to my book just to get some grounding. It wasn’t panic I was feeling, but rather it was an extraordinary sense of elation.

Since that fraction of a millisecond I’ve read Ulysses too many times to count. I find new things in it and learn many interpretations from others who have digested it as well. I’ve gone on to type his first work The Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man in its entirety online and I am currently transcribing Ulysses by hand, a work that is also online through scans of these books.

* * *

Think of a seed that takes root in freshly poured concrete. It has death written all over it. Sometimes, in defiance of its predicament, the seed bursts open out of the dried concrete and wriggles its way out into the open. Suddenly a schoolyard, a parking lot, and a subway station wall all have sprouts and seedlings growing out of them. In concrete, a budding flower from any garden becomes a weed
My ideas can be impossibly ambitious or ridiculous useless. Once in a while, a concept plants itself like the seed mentioned above though and it will take root. It won’t budge. It doesn’t matter how idiotic or over my head the thought is, it keeps nagging at me until I let it out.

“You’re going to write me now,” it says.

“No, I think it’s best that I don’t. You need time,” I reply.

“What’s the worst that could happen? You say nothing? Pffft. Write me!” it demands.

“Ok, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to anyone see you.”

I write it and instantly feel relief. Before I knew it, without editing it, I’d post it, and run away to do errands. It’s too scary to look back and cringe at what might have come out of my head. I’d discombobulated myself.

Honestly, those are the moments when I have my most fearful and satisfying times as a writer. The Ulysses-ean epiphany exists there.

“Every life is in many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love. But always meeting ourselves.” – James Joyce, Ulysses

* * *

James Joyce lived most of his life in a self-imposed exile. This nomadic state spilled over to his work and he was obsessed with collecting words, learning many languages, and recording as much of the world as he could. The great trauma of not living in his homeland caused him to hoard the world of words. His passion for interpreting the real world, the daylight hours in Ulysses and the nighttime dreams in Finnegans Wake, were his way of trying to translate the reality of human existence. Writing is like exploring a mystery and recovering the known. A dedicated lover of literature faces the hard task poetic interpretation utilizing the very limited sphere of language. Individual emotions and the filigree in their personal experiences are as numerous as the stars in the sky.

From Eveline, a short story in Joyce’s first collection, The Dubliners:

“She sat at the window watching the evening invade the avenue. Her head was leaned against the window curtains and in her nostrils was the odour of dusty cretonne. She was tired.”

From Finnegans Wake, James Joyce’s last novel:

“And whowasit youwasit propped the pot in the yard and whatinthe nameofsen lukeareyou rubbinthe sideofthe flureofthe lobbywith Shite! will you have a plateful? Tak.” 

Joyce was a master of language. He claimed to be at the end of language and felt compelled to break it. He lived, worked and breathed in the rapidly advancing time of industrialization. The assembly line, electricity, technology changed the world every day. Joyce felt like he needed to translate his here and now via a new way of writing to catch up with it. It could be said that Finnegans Wake was one of the first works to showcase prose and poetry in a technologically advanced way. He created a word assembly out of notes and text detritus to write the undecipherable in the best way he could.

* * *

Today some writers parse their words or remix them the words of others.  This is constantly happening in social media and the digital world of writing. We all have opinions and we must share them. We all have objectives and we must collaborate them. Writers can pick and chose from many mediums to sculpt worlds and create situations. There are perpetual epiphanies within this kind of experimentation.

It’s a frightful, but provocative world to write in nowadays. Real and digital worlds are built out of words. People bargain, deal, and navigate the universe through speech and written text. It is assumed that everything has been written and that all a writer is doing now is rearranging the alphabet. What would James Joyce do?

“Shut your eyes and see.” – James Joyce

He’d probably tell us to write from the outside in and then from inside out. Joyce was a man more concerned with how to say something than saying it all. Shut our eyes to see the best way to put it down and make the world clearer for everyone. If a seed of an idea implants itself in your brain, no matter how absurd it is, go for it. The mind is a universe of unknown obscurities and there is connection there if we let it all out. The seed becomes a weed in the concrete, but some of those seeds become giant oaks despite the soil they break out of.

All of these tiny seeding epiphanies form unique algorithms to become a meditative grain, to become a part of the writer’s consciousness, to become a biting thought, and eventually become part of a written page. Ideas are all different buds formed through various patterns in the mind of the writer. It is in the process of writing and the world behind the words where the real reason for writing dwells. We write to reveal ourselves.

Language is a virus because it exists to make ideas solid. The computer I’m writing on now was once just a dream. Now I type on it. The possibilities in this are terrifying. All the dreams have the possibility of seeing the light of day. Look what it did to James Joyce? Try reading Finnegans Wake or Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in Ulysses. As a writer, I am trying to give birth to dreams and I’m having the time of my life navigating that realm. All because I hit my head while reading a book.

Writing isn’t a condition or an affliction. It helps me escape and offers me relief. Writing is human nature.

Jacqueline Valencia is a poet and film/literary critic. She has written for Broken Pencil Magazine, Lemon Hound, Next Projection, subTerrain magazine, and Notebook Mubi among others. Jacqueline is a senior literary editor of The Rusty Toque and a CWILA board member. Her debut collection There’s No Escape Out Of Time will be out with Insomniac Press Spring 2016. She lives in Toronto.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

On Writing #81 : Kevin Killian

Writing the Anthropocene

      Like many writers, I came to San Francisco from graduate school, without any real training in doing anything, and I took a series of temp jobs.  This will date me, I remember the temp agency asking me what office machines I was familiar with, well, I had never actually been in an office, but I said, flatly, “all of them.”  “Do you know the ten-key machine?”  “Of course,” I said, rather coldly.  I wonder if many of you now know what a ten-key machine is . . . it’s like this accounting thing—but I didn’t know it then.  They sent me to this job downtown, I think for Pillsbury, and placed me in a room with a ten key machine and about a million pages of documents.  I walked out and said to the woman in charge, “I don’t know how to use that thing.”  My agency called and said, “You swore you knew how to use a ten key machine,” well it all came out that I thought they were referring to—you know, those touch-tone phones, with the ten keys, which I knew quite well.

      We are at a crossroads now in which previous conceptions of history seem to be collapsing like houses of cards.  Poetry must have been based on the idea of history as progression, not just the eternal cycle on Finnegans Wake that Vico posited, that civilizations all accrete and then dissipate as does the human body.  At least I think so, for it’s hard to imagine the act of writing poetry without imagining that people will read it in the future.  Was it Osip Mandelstam who had that piece satirizing a friend who dedicated all his poetry to posterity, saying that the future is a ghost and what we write today won’t be anything a ghost can relate to?  The truth is we don’t know how to write to death, though some poets have tried.

      Marxists must be deflated as the age of the Anthropocene kicks in.  If Marx predicated that the capitalist disaster is predicated on the exigencies of production, there was always an optimism in his thought—for some reason—he is perhaps the most hopeful of philosophers, believing that once we could see the outlines of history clearly, we wouldn’t repeat it.  In the 20th century, George Bataille took  the opposite view, writing that capital is instead managed and fed by the exigencies not of production but of consumption, and so that’s why our news is so bad, overconsumption, nine billion people on a shrinking planet, David Bowie took up the theme forty year ago, closer to Bataille’s time than to ours, “The earth is a bitch, we’ve finished out news, homo sapiens have outgrown their use, all the strangers came today, and it looks as though they’re here to stay.”

      In San Francisco we all practice, rich or poor, a modified version of the famous paradox defined by the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci in his prison notebooks: “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.”  There we’ve been living in an existential way for a hundred years or more, ever since the big earthquake that leveled the city in 1906.  Nothing’s good for very long, soon we will be swept out the sea, and I think it had given SF poetry a special character, the nearest Americans have gotten to Blanchot’s recipe for the “writing of the disaster.”  In the Bay Area there was a conference at UC Santa Cruz in 2014, and the keynote speaker, Ursula K. LeGuin the science fiction writer, admitted that though she could no longer be, as she had been in her youth, an optimist about the future, she still couldn’t bring herself to the edge of pessimism.  You still have to hope, she said.  I suppose otherwise you’d go mad.  Whenever anyone comes to San Francisco, I tell them that “while you are here you’ll experience an earthquake, hopefully not a devastating one, but you’ll be out walking and you’ll have to crouch down and touch the pavement. “ And maybe that perception of possible danger has kept us honest a little bit.  We’re at the end of the continent and the next stop is the ocean.  We came to it for a reason.  Jack Spicer, the California poet on whom I have written so much, often pictured in his poetry and fiction a post-human society in which everyone has disappeared and only “aimless signals” bounce back and forth between our meaningless satellites and the surface of the ocean.

This ocean, humiliating in its disguises
Tougher than anything.
No one listens to poetry. The ocean
Does not mean to be listened to. A drop
Or crash of water. It means
Is bread and butter
Pepper and salt. The death
That young men hope for. Aimlessly
It pounds the shore. White and aimless signals. No
One listens to poetry.

Kevin Killian [photo: Ted Rees], one of the original “New Narrative” writers, has written three novels, a book of memoirs, four books of stories, and three books of poetry.  For the San Francisco Poets Theater Killian has written forty-five plays, and the anthology he compiled with David Brazil—The Kenning Anthology of Poets Theater 1945-1985—is the standard book on the subject.  Recent projects include Tagged, Killian’s nude photographs of poets, artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers and intellectuals; and forthcoming, with Dodie Bellamy, The Nightboat Anthology of New Narrative Writing 1977-1997.

Friday, January 01, 2016

We Who Are About To Die : bruno neiva

bruno neiva is a text artist and poet. Author of Servant Drone (w/ Paul Hawkins), washing-up, averbaldraftsone&otherstories and dough, amongst other titles.

Some of his work is featured on The PO.EX Digital Archive of Portuguese Experimental Poetry and in a number of international mags and anthologies.

bruno’s ongoing projects include:

topoi: a collaboration with Canadian poet and artist Chris Turnbull that includes text, visual art and video production, as well as art installations;

The museum of boughs: an ongoing, itinerant museum dedicated to boughs, built on open-ended sets of intermedia installations;

Servant Drone, a collaborative poetry and performance project with poet Paul Hawkins.


Where are you now?
Porto, Portugal.

What are you reading?
Winter Journal, by Paul Auster
Monolingualism of the Other, Or, The Prosthesis of Origin, by Jacques Derrida

Also rereading these:
Contumacy, by Paul Hawkins
Multiple Bippies, by Colin Smith
Means, by Roger Farr.
1000 Proverbs, by SJ Fowler and Tom Jenks
Candid, by Chris Turnbull
The Nude Formalism, by Charles Bernstein and Susan Bee
Collected Minimal Poems, by Aram Saroyan

What have you discovered lately?
p. inman, Sean Bonney, Elizabeth-Jane Burnett, Robyn Hitchcock, etc.

Where do you write?
Mostly in my study, but also in libraries and cafés.

What are you working on?
I’m working on some text art and poetry books, and installations. Some of it is due to the collaborative work I’ve been developing with Chris Turnbull and Paul Hawkins.

Have you anything forthcoming?
Yes, I do.
Servant Drone, a full-length poetry collaboration with Paul Hawkins is coming out this November through Knives Forks and Spoons Press.
in cahoots, the follow-up to washing-up (and second part to binder clip series, a minimal poetry/artist’s book project) will be out some time in 2016 through zimZalla and umaestruturaassimsempudorreedições.
michelin, un poisson (capítulo 2), the second part to an ongoing poetry/artist’s book series in Portuguese is also out in 2016 through umaestruturaassimsempudorreedições.
And some other publications in the pipeline.

What would you rather be doing?