Wednesday, February 22, 2017

On Writing #123 : Susan Glickman

An Infinity of Blues:  Art as a Form of Attention
Susan Glickman

Before I learned to write I learned to draw and, to some extent, I still see the former as a more nuanced and sophisticated version of the latter. Making art is a way of representing the world to yourself; of looking closer so you can see what’s really there. The eye as microscope; the page as time-machine. Sharpen the focus. Slow everything down. Then copy what you see as accurately as you can.

There’s a radical honesty required from both writing and painting because copying what you see, not what you are supposed to see, challenges convention. To write what you feel and think, not what you are supposed to feel and think is even more subversive. This is how art frees the constrained and vindicates the powerless. It turns the bystander into an activist.

I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t a bystander; when I didn’t feel apart from things, observing them. I suspect this is typical of anyone drawn to the arts. A person fully immersed in the world isn’t compelled to scrutinize it, but if something or someone has flung you out of the centre to the periphery you necessarily inhabit a space of exploration. This is frightening but also liberating, which is why we continue to make art despite loneliness, frustration, lack of response, and lack of remuneration.

Until I went to university, the visual arts were just as important to me as the literary ones, but then I moved into my head – a space even smaller and more cluttered than a library carrel - and writing took over. There no longer seemed to be any way paint and charcoal could represent the honey and vinegar of reality; only language, parsed into metaphor and allusion, quotation and dislocation, could build a second world with anything like the variety and terror of the first. Words have been my medium ever since. I have worked as an English professor, a creative writing instructor, a mentor, and an editor; written poetry and fiction for adults and children, scholarly essays and dissertations, and book reviews. For recreation, when I wasn’t hungrily devouring other people’s books, I played Scrabble and Boggle and did cryptic crosswords. I even read Roget’s Thesaurus for pleasure! I was completely besotted with language.

Part of this intoxication was childlike: I loved playing with the sounds and textures of words. And part of it was more adult and urgent: if I only learned enough, maybe one day I could write something true. Daily life hurt; it made no sense. But literature would save me, if only I could write my way in to the truth and then out again, to offer it to others.

Then in September of 2015, exhausted by literary disappointment and juggling family demands, employment, too many illnesses and deaths, I took a break from writing and went to art school. And in drawing and painting and sculpture I’ve recovered the joy of making stuff not as a path to “the truth” -- which I no longer believe in -- but as an end in itself. When a model is posing in the middle of a room and twenty people are working at easels in a circle around him you invariably get twenty versions of “the truth,” each dependent on the painter’s height, angle and acuity of vision, hand-eye co-ordination, native skill, learned technique, quality of pigments and brushes, knowledge of other painters’ work, emotional state that day, life experience …. In the art studio it is immediately obvious that everyone’s view is partial, as is everyone’s ability.

This is something writers too often forget, but remembering it would help us be more generous not only to others, but also to ourselves. There is so much vitriol among reviewers of Canadian poetry these days. Maybe it is fueled by the reviewers’ own frustration at trying to make work that is not only authentic to their individual experience but somehow revelatory of a larger “truth”, not merely well-crafted but somehow canonical. What if we relieved ourselves of that burden and acknowledged that the task is impossible, and that none of us will ever get it right? Would that make the poetic enterprise more enjoyable?

For me it has.

Studying the laws of perspective, gradation, and shading, mixing pigments to emulate the colour wheel, trying to understand spatial relationships -- all of this is bringing me back to poetry with renewed faith and energy. I’m no longer worried that I’ll never write anything great, I just want to write something good. I can never capture everything I know about a person when I paint their portrait, but if the subject is recognizable and my own feelings come through, I’m happy. The past few years of incessant feuding in the Canlit scene and of my style of writing falling out of favour made me doubt that was sufficient. But art has always been my way of paying attention, and that attention connects me to the world and makes that world liveable. Without it there is just clutter and noise; conflict and appetite. With it, cobalt, pthalo, indigo, ultramarine. An infinity of blues.

Originally from Montreal, Susan Glickman is a recovering academic working as a freelance editor and creative writing instructor in Toronto. She is the author of 6 books of poetry (a 7th due out sometime soon), 3 novels for adults, 3 novels for children, and a book of literary criticism.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

On Writing #122 : Sean Braune

Sean Braune

Writing is a closed system—an autonomous space.

The poet Francis Ponge argues that he admires “writers most of all, because their monument is made of the genuine secretion common to the human mollusk, the thing most proportioned and suited to his body, yet as utterly different from his form as can be imagined: I mean WORDS.”

Words veil our bodies and exhibit our minds.

Words rest upon the landscape and create blizzards.

Speaking and writing are necessarily the result of various processes of selection, permutation, and reassembly.

Speaking and writing are chaotic systems that repeatedly make new chaotic systems.

Therefore, words fall in place like the cogs of a machine or the ways in which leaves collect in patterns on the ground during autumn.

Words permute like blood cells or viruses and they proliferate in our minds—parasites of thought.      

Writing is not a choice—it chooses you.

You can’t run from language.

You can try (I suppose).


“You won’t get far you homo loquens you…”

Even when we are not talking, we are talking.

And the talking postdates an earlier writing—a writing that we are not even conscious of (that constant blather and din that operates in the background). Language is the white noise of consciousness and the general atmosphere from which “selves” and “objects” differentiate themselves as selves or objects.

Therefore, the word “self” selves (Hopkins) itself as a salve for the object’s profound loneliness. For this reason, the word “self” solves the foundational problems of existentialism because it repeatedly resituates itself in relation to the object or Other through a variety of dynamic hierarchies.

This statement is an effect of poststructuralism and certainly we are post-poststructural now, which may perhaps be restructural.

These new structures will be linguistic and they can be captured in writing if we are attuned to the ways in which language is white noise.

We need to engage with language in a langauge. 

We no longer need to write language. We need to measure language.

René Daumal writes that, “although we believe we are addressing a man,” or, I would hope, a human…“it is rather a worm, a pike, a sheep, a wolf to which we are feeding the language that fattens him.” Daumal’s claim—which is certainly ’pataphilological—runs against the linguistic assertions of Abbé Condillac and Rousseau. Language is not the unique invention of human beings. In fact, for Daumal, language is not even spoken for and by humans, but for a variety of other non-human creatures.

Language isn’t ours, but we write it as if it were.

“Ours” lasts hours.

Belonging longs for being.

“To be” being and belonging.

I or you or we or they long for a complete sentence.

The sentence is a sentinel—sometimes frozen.

Freeze the frieze of language.

Stop writing.

Stop writhing.

Op on wry things.

Operate and eat the “E” at the “he.”

Get past pronouns—we don’t need them.

Get past the passed participle—we don’t need it.

Only the presence of Gertrude Stein, or was it the present?

Writing is (a) present.

Even when passed or past.

(The last sentence was incorrect).

The writing should stop, but even when it stops it does not stop.


We’ll be getting here.

To writing.

This is a message to writing.

A writhing.

A writing that is arriving.

Sketch out the shore.

Carve out the waterline.

Right it down.

Own it.


As knowledge.

The edge of know.


Sean Braune’s theoretical work has been published in Postmodern Culture, Journal of Modern Literature, Canadian Literature, symplokē, and elsewhere. His poetry has appeared in ditch, The Puritan, Rampike, Poetry is Dead, and elsewhere. His first chapbook, the vitamins of an alphabet, appeared in 2016 with above/ground press.