or, where a poem begins
A poem is always a phenomenological event preceded by a period of relative inaction. In the past, I would attempt to induce poetry through methodological means—reading a book by a writer I admired before attempting a mimicry of my own poetry or imbibing altering substances so as to “trick” myself into the process; such methods always produced lacklustre results. I’ve come to accept that poetry follows behind states of patience: patience with myself and with language, through periods of silence and profusion alike. The time spent in lieu of writing is necessary to any poetry that is to come and cannot be avoided or otherwise deceived.
When I truly begin a poem, authentically begin a poem, another poem follows soon after. Poetry “appears.” Poetry appears, as though from a wellspring, through engagement with whatever psychic continuities were previously backgrounding this time of relative stasis, finally providing a release or means through which my internal experience can again become an “outside.” That this process often takes the form of poetry is, I suspect, an arbitrary distinction. These days, it just as easily takes the form of a painting, theatrical or dramatic writing, or hybrid prose. Form arises organically, without much premeditation.
While poetry initially arises in such an inexplicable way, I am, these days, moving towards a vastly different approach to composition. Over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, all process has been altered. Between artistic practice and the structures of my daily life, everything has become subject to difficult interrogation and sometimes breakage. Poetry has likewise been subjected to this ungrounding. The pandemic has completely changed the ways in which I relate to composition, poetry— art practice and to perception in general. The work of other writers has, during this time, become a lifeline, a way of thinking through my inner experience while maintaining a connection to that outside we’ve all been distanced from. This past year, I’ve occupying myself with comprehensive readings of the work of Friedrich Nietzsche and Édouard Glissant alongside Josef Albers, Arthur Schopenhauer and Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s writings on colour. I’ve been reading artist biographies and closely looking at visual reproductions of their work (Etel Adnan, Leonora Carrington, Dorothea Tanning, Ernst Kirchner, amongst others). I’ve been watching films featuring tragic heroines, films where form disassembles appearance, films which are paintings and poems (I repeatedly think to Pier Paolo Pasolini as filmmaker, poet and painter of light). So yes, I am often prompted by other writers, artists. In engaging with other’s thought I am able to apply some comprehensible system to my own process, or at the very least access some means of thinking through this extended period of difficulty.
My compositional process begins as a haphazard overflow, a somatic process of excision. My poems are never singular, standalone pieces but interconnected in a vast network of narratives and formal systems. This initial point of composition once began in physical notebooks— these days I turn directly to the keyboard. Notebooks are still important starting points to my thought—I have several in active use. A notebook for my notes on readings or films, a sketchbook, a bullet journal, one for painting techniques (I am currently engaging in a material art practice; one whose techniques have been melding into my writing in unanticipated ways) and another notebook for lineated poetry (at the moment, disused).
The second step to this process is, and I use this word conscious of its implications, a self-cannibalization of all that has been written prior to this point. While the writing which preceded this state was relatively free, unbound, this second state is a pained taking apart of all that had been written to this point, a reformulating and restructuring which is always experienced as incisive forfeiture. I was recently talking with Cynthia Mitchell, an incredible visual artist, filmmaker and dear friend, about the process of painting being a continual loss of a painting’s former image. Such composition is always an irretrievable replacement with another image, this image then being replaced in order to progress the work to its final point. This final point is itself only a sensed decision to cease engagement with what is essentially a practice of continual loss. I see an affinity here with the practice of writing—though each loss is not so permanent as it is in a painting (inasmuch one is usually able to revert to a previous point in the writing if so desired), bringing a written work to a point where it will be comprehensible to others is always a kind of loss of that initial mystery, even if it finally results in something more beautiful and complete to behold.
The idea of this process of continual loss now informs my process, one which ebbs and renews as paintings do, in self-erasure and revision before beginning again with another image, another poem, another book, another—
Nicole Raziya Fong is a writer living in Montréal, Canada. She is the author of PEЯFACT (Talonbooks, 2019) and OЯACULE (forthcoming with Talonbooks, 2021). Past work has appeared in publications including Social Text, The Capilano Review, carte blanche, Cordite, filling Station and The Volta as well as in translation in Exit, OEI & Revue Watts.