HI! It’s been a while, and I need to update some of the pages and doings on here, but for now I have few things I should mention:
I’m in this anthology! Come on out to the launch: “It’s The PAC’N HEAT Launch Party! Come celebrate with us at See-Scape on Thursday Nov. 10th from 7 PM to 10 PM! Check out the video games! Drink some drinks! Buy some books!” https://www.facebook.com/events/514551702083634/
2. I’m teaching an Uncreative Writing Workshop at Naked Heart Festival (Saturday, November 12th at 10:30am):
I keep wondering how I’m going to start this. Do I rehash everything that has happened in the last few months in poetry or do I just dive in? What can I impart that will illuminate a new thought to someone for a change for the better? I can’t really add much more than what I feel. I am person full emotions. They cloud me sometimes.
For now here are a few pieces I’ve already enjoyed and empathize with:
The first time I wrote about the poetry world was when I had finished reading Kenneth Goldsmith’s Uncreative Writing. It prompted me to start my James Joyce projects. A new world had opened up to me in writing. Soon afterward I met Goldsmith and he introduced me to some of my local poetry heroes. I was so taken aback. He introduced me like I was “a very interesting and important poet.” I was overwhelmed with his kindness. Around the same time frame, I met Vanessa Place at an art show here in Toronto that featured conceptual poets and artists. We were both in line for the washroom and she asked me if I was a poet too. She suggested I should visit Los Angeles and take in the poetry scene there. I started reading on her work and it inspired me greatly.
I took on my lyrical and conceptual projects with fervour I hadn’t had since I was a teenager. A combination of writer’s block, a desk job, and then becoming a mother put all my writing on the back burner. It’s still very exciting to me to be in a world where I can produce work for myself and have others critique it, let alone be interested in it. I really haven’t done much, but film and literary criticism help me practice and expand my avenues. I would never have thought of turning my nerdy pursuits into a career. It’s a career I feel very passionate for and drives me. Words mean so much to me and I am very protective of them. Letting them go is cathartic and I’ve since learned it’s important for me to keep writing.
Not only had that happened (I can’t even bring myself to appropriate that child’s name on this post. He’s suffered enough.), but conceptual poetry was to blame for all the problems of the poetry world which included racism, sexism, elitism, and add all the -isms you want here. Conceptual poetry had to be abolished because it was the platform of the rich, white, and privileged. Not only that, but somehow my words ended up in different news media platforms. Some of them had misconstrued and cut up my writing to suit their opinion and agenda, misidentified me as a Goldsmith student (I looked up to him as if he was mentor), or black (I’m mixed Hispanic and I don’t appreciate that a paper took it upon themselves to identify as they saw fit without consulting me first), while entirely dismissing my reasoned defence for conceptualism. I got a lot of support for it, but it didn’t feel right.
The one person that could have answered my confusion ran away because their work was being continually questioned and he was being continually burned. I still wait for an answer. Not that I’m owed one. I may have a lost a friend/mentor in the process.
I have no regrets.
I’d known about the @VanessaPlace twitter account and added it on because I was interested in reactions to it. I was surprised no one had already. I wasn’t offended by it because Gone With The Wind is already so offensive. I also didn’t see it as my place to say anything because as a woman of mixed heritage, I’m still navigating that part of my identity with an awareness of my own privilege. I live in mixed girl limbo and that has it’s own problems that most don’t concern themselves with. No one speaks for me and I don’t speak for everyone. The outrage against Vanessa Place’s piece is right and I understand it. Everyone has the right to react the way they want to against racism or if they feel an injustice. No one wants to hear the art behind it (you can read the art behind in those links above). No one wants to hear what VP or KG were thinking and why they did what they did. They just want to condone and abolish.
That’s well within their rights to condone and call for action. Abolish? I’m not sure of that yet.
I am very grateful for the discourse this has provoked. My eyes were partially closed and now they’re wide open. Decolonize language. Decolonize your soul. But only against conceptualism? Really? So which poets of colour are being taught in school? Are we positive that no lyrical poets have ever been racist, sexist, or elitist? It’s all the same boiling pot of vanilla and we have a giant problem all around with this right now. Poetry has always had their cliques, it still doesn’t make it right. Decolonize all of it. Restructure all of it. No holds barred and no excuses. I demand you decolonize your own worlds for you.
No one prepared me for the onslaught of hate against a creative/uncreative process. For years I’ve been hearing the death of poetry, the death of lyricism, or the death of conceptualism. Pick a side and kill the other. Denounce and silence the brand of poetry that you hate. The “I” of lyricism will fall at the hands of conceptualists and the robots of conceptualism will be beheaded at the hands of the lyricists. Poetry right now is filled with feuding families pointing smug fingers at one another. At first I was amused, now everyone is hurting. Guess what? Poetry is personal again now.
The thing I’ve always loved about poetry is that I get to play with words. I get to experiment despite the colour of my skin or the constraints or traditions I utilize. I want to use both English and Spanish to explore the languages I grew up with and add a new one: Chibcha (the extinct native language of Colombia). Whether that be creatively or un-creatively, I have every right to do what I want.
Is conceptualism stained by racism? Yeah, it is, but so is lyricism. All of it is stained. I grew up speaking Spanish at home and learning English at school. These are two languages brought by conquerors that eradicated my ancestral people and their native tongue along with it. We use English every day on social media. At least most of us do.
I’m still very confused and hurt by all the things said against all the camps. Seriously, poetry camps and coteries! Not that I matter in all of this any way. But Poetry (with a capital P) matters to me. It’s where all my forms of expression originate. It comes from a mind that aspires to be a poet; one that still has problems saying, “I am a poet,” because to say that means you earned a mastery of words. It’s an audacious claim. I don’t not hold a mastery of words. I’m a writer and deciphering the world with writing poetry and reading poetry is part of my learning process. It fulfills me and delights me. It will continue to do so. But now I’ve got this anger. This angering energy empowers me to make a deep change in how I use lyricism and conceptualism. I mean, look at this awesome work!:
I love the idea of decolonizing language with conceptualism. You can do it lyrically, but the possibilities become limitless in a cut up and paste world. KG and VP have offended and I hope that more poets offend and provoke. I don’t believe in art that’s sole purpose is to offend. I believe in art that opens eyes, changes perspectives, or makes people see things they were once blind to. As it is, these controversies have made me think about the world of criticism, how it must change and how it must start proving its worth. But that’s another world altogether.
You will not repress me because I have a voice. You may judge my methods of expression, but I have a strong voice, and I will use it as I see fit. You may critique me or condone me, but no one will silence me.
I come from people that matter, my parents, my family, my chosen family, my teachers, my mentors, but I follow no one. And I continue to learn. Full heart, clear eyes, and pen at the ready.
Learn to know thyself.
Poetry is freedom. There is freedom in speech. The poet is the world’s unpaid politician.
I should really entitle this “After Avant-Canada 2014 and finally watching Jorodowsky’s Dune.” I’m a little discombobulated after watching the film. The overall theme of it being of opening the mind, but most of all, an artist’s passion for bringing their vision to fruition. Therefore, if I am set apart like puzzle pieces at the moment, like puzzle pieces this piece will be. This is also my blog and thus I can write in whatever form I want within whatever structures I chose. I am free to say anything, even if it comes across as nothing. It is the concept that matters and the lack of delineation that defines me as whatever it is that I am in what I do. Honestly, I don’t know what I do, but more on that later.
My starting point is taken from Vanessa Place and Robert Fitterman’s book, Notes on Conceptualisms. The book, blue and pocket-sized, reads like a manifesto manufactured from a conversation which metamorphosed stream of consciousness. It’s a manifesto of nothing and everything in what is popularly termed as “avant-garde” writing.
Ideas stem from various seeds labelled archetypes, experience, DNA, nature, nurture, and all the things that make up a sentient being. The seeds are dominoes set up to fall forward, eventually gaining momentum in their falls until the last domino releases an energy spark in its culmination, setting a toy rocket free in the end. The toy rocket is the idea in its full form. The idea/toy rocket also goes through a similar sequence of events that are less theoretical and are more material based. The reason for this is that the person who has the idea must realize it in order to give justice to the idea’s formation. The seed must flower to pollinate in other minds.This last part, the materialization of the idea, is not as important as the processes by which the idea is first formed and is not as imperative as the idea itself. The idea is all.
Last month, I was invited by Gregory Betts to chair the panel entitled, “The Thinkership of Conceptual Literature.” I immediately (albeit very enthusiastically) accepted. Those on the panel:
Christian Bök (Calgary)—“To Ward Off a Diabolical Poetry.”
Darren Wershler (Concordia)—“Everyday Conceptualism.”
Derek Beaulieu (Alberta College of Art and Design)—“Words to be looked at but not read / Music to be heard but not listened to.”
Helen Hajnozky (Independent Poet)—“Lyric Conceptual Writing: A Study of Contemporary Canadian Women Poets.”
Natalie Simpson (Independent Poet)—“ TAKE WHAT YOU CAN AND LEAVE THE REST: Women Writers and Conceptualism.”
I introduced them as a coterie of scientists, thinkers, poets, writers, and artists. I would say that all of the panels and attendees could be defined as such. To me, it was an important event in a critical time where many seek out definition where there might not be one to be found yet. At least, I don’t believe it’s something available to us or are we given that power to label it at this conjecture. Definition is valuable mostly for the purpose of constraint. Nevertheless, in order speak about the experimental we must give it a name.
I’ve been writing poetry since I was a kid, and conceptualism didn’t really enter the fray in my writing until I was in my thirties. However, conceptualism and the avant-garde has always been a big influence. My appropriation, remixing, and re-writing projects were influenced by the bellicose writing movements of my time. Uncreative writing and conceptual writing is nothing new. In fact, the quality that drives me to these movements isn’t their rebellious textures, but its their nature, that which is closest the “idea;” the word “idea,” the thought “idea,” “idea,” fascinates me.
The conceptual writer writes out of the formation of a concept. A conference like Avant-Canada is a world plenteous of idea manufacturers whose experiments and alternative perspectives are birthed in the universe of ideas. We’re like Dr. Frankenstein’s creating gallimaufries of monsters because we can. We live in a world of “we can.” The internet and social media has given us that freedom and we must frequently stop and ask ourselves, “What are we doing here?”
Taking the analogy of the dominoes, are we the person setting up the dominoes? Are we the dominoes? Are we the spark, or are we the rocket? Looking beyond that, are we gear or cod in that machinery, or, when it is set in motion, are we even part of it at all?
These are all thoughts and questions that come to my mind after a conference like this. As I was watching Jorodowsky elucidate his vision for Dune, his passion for the project was so palpable that it became all encompassing. For a few moments, he becomes so expressive that his eyes take over the screen and I wondered if Herbert’s Dune was even a part of that vision, or if the vision itself was bigger than the director himself (I believe it was, considering the amount of everything the director had envisioned for it). In various parts of the film, his Dune is termed as “ahead of its time.”
If you look back at the films, books, and art of the seventies and eighties, a lot of what was predicted aesthetically and artistically, never came to be. There are no polygon hats at art shows, flying cars, teleportation devices…ok, I could go on. Also, these things might exist, but they’re not in the form that we predicted them to be. This has led to a surge of retro-futuristic art (8 bit, and Killian Eng comes to mind), music (Lazerhawk, and Drive soundtrack), and in a small way film (Beyond The Black Rainbow – but also this viewed from that film’s aesthetics and soundtrack, of which similar can be seen in Under The Skin, as well.). I believe popular culture aims to recapture the aesthetics of seventies and eighties futurism because it is still trying to catch up with the overwhelming amount of quick technological growth it has put itself through. In many ways, conceptual writing is trying to catch up with the amount of growth or overwhelming output its manufactured with the ease because of technology. We find ourselves trying to argue against or in favour of conceptual writing’s existence because we can’t stop to define it. The assembly line or idea factory is just too fast. When we attempt to define it, we stagnate, the assembly line slows down. Don’t let it slow down! It’s not in our natures! Like Frankenstein’s monster there are so many components we don’t know what to do next.
“Conceptual Writing, in fact, might be best defined not by the strategies used but by the expectations of the readership or thinkership.”
While a person appreciates art, the art piece is taken from the artist and becomes an entirely new piece in the viewer’s mind. The reader owns the text after it is written and it becomes a new piece in the reader’s mind. By viewing, appreciating, and listening, we are stealing. Never mind that the artist has gifted us their materialization of an idea, we are stealing for a universal comprehension through interpretation. Retro futurism, a taking of old ideas and making them new for now, is a symptom of schema created for the modern thinker’s survival. We own ideas, but no idea is original. Yet, the process by which the idea is formed is unique to its owner. Beyond that, it’s interpretation and reformation.
I met many women on this trip to St. Catharines. Within in the conceptual writing movement, within poetry, there’s a very powerful undercurrent of female poets with activist voices. I mean, by being anything female these days, we are speaking out against thousands of years of ingrained oppression. It was a heavy week of being reminded we are women writers within Can-Lit. So it was healing and rejuvenating to converse and exchange thoughts with these women.
“Radical mimesis is original sin.” – Place, Vanessa, and Robert Fitterman. Notes on Conceptualisms. Brooklyn, NY: Ugly Duckling Presse ;, 2009. 20.
I experiment with words. I remix, remodel, rewrite, and reform what already exists. My basis point has always been from a lyrical point, a creative view because this my nature. However, even when I assemble a work in an “uncreative” place in my mind, the end result reads as an innovation for myself. The only way I can classify that work as is from a poetic mind, thus the label “poet.” But even that label carries connotations with it that do not define most of my work. It’s kind of like I’ve rode with my processes and didn’t stop to think, “What am I doing?”
After watching Jorodowsky’s visions I can only assume that he didn’t care what he was doing. He tried to do it, failed to make it so, but in the end, the world of film ended up making many versions of his idea. His creation. His monster. His concept. His idea.
What did he do? He watched the dominoes fall.
P.S. I will always regret not being able to dance with Fraggles on the last day of the conference.
Also, no one told me Magma was going to be in Dune.
James Joyce is a maddening writer to read. If you were to ask me why I love reading him though, part of that love is in the aggravation he causes with his writing.
Typing A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man was one thing, writing Ulysses by hand is quite the other. In A Portrait, I had the pleasure of not having read it, thus being exposed to the work was like being presented with an interesting set of data. The experiment was what that set of data, how it was arranged and collated, would affect me. The early chapters made my creative work suffer. The infantilism and repetitive structure of it at the beginning, handicapped my writing. I couldn’t come up with proper sentences for a while. After young Stephen Dedalus finds the poetic language within himself, I found my own writing took off as well.
When copying from a book to a page (whether that be on a computer or on a piece of paper), I digest the work in a sort of peripheral type of reading. I’m reading the words as visual objects while transferring them over to a new environment. I know the controls: pen, paper, and a somewhat quiet environment. While writing/typing it, I notice little ticks or weird punctuations in the work because I’m focusing on transcribing what’s right before me. Half of my brain is on that, while the other is reading the words and doing what our brains have been trained to do while reading: visualizing the scenes. A Portrait was interesting because in its newness to me, I was absorbed into the pages.
I’ve re-read Ulysses several times because there are always new things I’ve found upon the re-read. And I’m known to get a little obsessive with my interests. Ulysses happens to feed something in my head. The first time I read it was back in a third year course on modernism. I was in the middle of mid-term exams and suffering a long bout of insomnia. I had just finished a long exam on Nietszche and Hegel for a philosophy course and headed home on the eastbound train from Islington station. My commute from UofT Erindale College was about two hours (bus and subway to Jane station, then up to Weston Rd. and Eglinton. Torontonians will know this intersection as the giant Monster Donuts stop). I spent that commute reading my course work and I was at Episode 9: Scylla and Charybdis in Ulysses when I fell asleep. I dreamed. In the dream, Stephen Dedalus was watching the sea from a hill with books from the library tucked under his arm. His head was full of every single insight he had gathered in his conversations of the day and the sun shone blindingly in his face. It was still image, but what I remember most was the churn of the water and the tumultuous thoughts coming in and out of Stephen’s head.
When I woke up I was at Christie station, many stops away from where I supposed to get off, but I didn’t get up in a fright. I kind of floated in a euphoric state, on the cusp of an eventual epiphany. And it happened when I hit my head on the window sill of the train. It was like a rush of everything I’d read my whole life was in that book in my lap. The best I can come up with to describe that event would be as if you could smell a rainstorm approaching, hear the thunder and see the lighting for years and then suddenly the sky opens up and it’s raining every truth all around you. I felt truth all around me in that subway car for only a few seconds before it left me as quick as it came. Ever since then, Ulysses has had a special place in my heart and mind. I don’t know whether it’s because I want to relive the epiphany or if its a weird addictive curse born out of a compulsion for a spiritual high again, but either way, Ulysses upon the re-read has never failed to deliver to me many insights on writing, reading, and some pretty wacky perspectives of life. And hell, is Joyce ever wacky. Horny for spirituality and physicality, Joyce masturbates and orgasms his way through an ordinary day in an ordinary life.
I started handwriting Ulysses on December 9, 2013. Today I’m in the first half of Episode 9 and on the second green moleskine journal. The journals I’ve used have taken a beating because I’m a heavy handed writer. When I flip a page, I can feel my pen marks as if I had dug them into the page instead of just writing them. I’ve exhausted four pens in the process, and that’s not counting the ones I’ve lost as well. I began with a few constraints (writing down where I was writing it, or indenting the cited poems/songs), but I’ve decided to just stick with a random flow on each writing session.
I’ve found Joyce to be a difficult writer to transcribe. Ulysses is basically pulled together by the inner thoughts of people, some of them very random. Joyce tries to capture a reality that storytellers fail so often at capturing: the humdrum. If Leopold Bloom is thinking about the skirts of his mistress, he will go into detail about the smell and feel of the skirts, the colour of her hair against the light, the scent of her sex, while still making a point to list the errands he has to get to during the day. If it occurs to Mr. Bloom it will get recorded and archived. Beyond the incredibly entertaining conflicts that happen to Leopold or to Stephen, beyond the philosophical psychedelia that is the meat of the book, what glues it all together is this frustratingly mundane minutiae. It’s boring to read and frustrating to write, especially if you have a short attention span like me. Yet life in general is made up of mostly frustrating and mundane stuff. Life can be distracting in its grandness, it can be in the focus of its banality, and vice a versa.
I was recently discussing this with Tony Burgess at a poetry night we did. He asked about Ulysses and I had had particularly trying session with the page I was writing that day. I said, “I yell at the book sometimes. Fuck off, James! Again with the murmuring and the sighing! Today I wanted to throw you across the room.” That day Mr. Bloom was observing the people around him eating and he was thinking of eating and what others thought of him eating. It was such insular blabber, but it’s what we do every day in our heads. This is the brilliance of what Joyce set out to do. The day in the life of Leopold Bloom is the day in the life of you and me, or rather what he perceived to be the every day person. Upon the reading his approach read with an eerie accuracy.
Many scholars have picked Ulysses apart and will probably continue to for hundreds of years to come. I’m not bringing anything new to the table, I think, but it is in my reading and in my transcribing that I’m finding myself attuned to the unique perspective in the minuscule parts of my day. I know now that I handwrite my “f” in two different ways. My handwriting is also a mixture of cursive and printing. I write sloppier towards the end of the page and neater when it’s in the middle.
This “uncreative writing” project has made me a transcribing machine. I am but a means for those words to end up on a different format. Are they read? That’s not the point. Neither is it the point for me to know more about Joyce through handwriting his work. No. Getting Inside James Joyce’s Head is just a title. For me, this endeavour has me learning that writing is copying what is in your head to make it material in the real world.
Manifesting the prosaic, (whether it be lists, errands, important dates on a calendar, etc.), by common means is an extraordinary endeavour. It is just one of many ways one can be intimate with a novel or a piece of art. People copy paintings and trace drawings to learn how to draw and paint. Writers sometimes retype work (the quotations in an essay are integral part to that essay’s defense). Hunter S Thompson retyped The Great Gatsby just to get the feeling of typing a great novel. Replication of thought and ideas is what Joyce did and it’s what many authors already do. My work with James Joyce’s work is mundane, ordinary, and perplexing to me, but it’s my work. I have infused Ulysses with my own thoughts in the margins and have been physical with its words through a pen that I hold and maneuver. I often think about monks transcribing important literature before the printing press. I am a printing press.
The concept of person as machine is an important one to note today. The objects we utilize (computers, televisions, phones, lights, dishwashers, trains, buses, etc.), were once dreams in somebody’s head and those dreams now conveniently help move the world. If we didn’t have the machines, we’d be spending most of our days in desperate pursuit of the next meal and busy transporting ourselves with our own two feet. Now with all this convenience, the machines have made it possible for us to explore. The machines themselves, ones we built with our brains and hands, are exploring too.
It’s time to explore past the line of traditional and try new things and new methods of doing those things. I’m constantly reading books (not just Joyce), and usually have two or three on the go. I also find that the best books, inspire new ways of reading (having read a book backward online and remixed another).
Handwriting Ulysses may be the dumbest thing I’ve done, but Joyce was an idiot to write all the thoughts of Leopold Bloom and call it a novel. I really don’t know what I’m doing and I’m not keen on labelling it anything more than uncreative writing at the moment. It’s art in its performance. It’s a concept in my explanation of it. It’s writing in my execution of it. It will be a feat in its completion. It will most likely take me two years to finish.
I am very excited and happy to announce that Derek Beaulieu’s no press has published four pages of my work. ULYSSES by Jacqueline Valencia is now available for purchase. Details at the link:
(UPDATE: This poem was written by Oriah Mountain Dreamer: http://www.oriahmountaindreamer.com/ Which makes this whole thing pretty cool that Beyoncé rewrote the poem word for word to post on instagram. Either way it makes for an interesting rewrite of a rewrite and a condensation afterwards.) You can see where she gives credit in the third post of the poem: http://instagram.com/beyonce
My friend Alanna McKnight sent me an email recently:
“Just wanted to drop you a line to say you’ve inspired me.
For the class I made the Rossetti dress for we have the option of doing a creative piece. Everyone has been saying I should do something with the dress, so I am, but I didn’t just want to re-make the picture with the poem, so I’m re-making the poem as well. Inspired by you! I’m taking apart Rossetti’s poem and putting it back together in the same sonnet format. It’s a tricksy exercise! It may take a couple goings over to get something I like.
Also, is it cool if I cite you in my statement explaining the creative work?”
Excited, I asked her to let me know when her finished product was done and here it is:
“The original sonnet and painting can be found here for a frame of reference of what I work working with:
Alanna took out some time and answered a few questions for me:
1. How does it tie into the course?
The course is about nineteenth century visual culture. We were given the option to do a creative assignment, with the suggestion of taking a Victorian poem, and creating an image to go along with it, something that would invoke the feeling of the materials we’ve covered. Some people opted to try lithography, which was really cool, others are doing photo collage. I originally wasn’t going to do this optional assignment, because I don’t see myself as being particularly creative. But I made the dress for a presentation I did about Sibylla Palmifera (Soul’s Beauty), and sort of got peer-pressured by my classmates into doing it.
2. What made you get uncreative with it?
I chose to go this route because the idea of taking someone else’s poem and slapping my own image to it didn’t appeal to me. I had looked at the words of the sonnet while preparing my seminar about it, and loved the words that were used. I remembered reading about your experiences (specifically the OCAD class), and thought that would be a cool way to go about it. The words were all there, they just needed to be shaken up. Likewise with the image. The elements were there, but they weren’t mine. There was another story that wanted to be told that were begging to be released.
3. What did you get out of the experience of uncreative writing? Would you do it again?
Taking the poem apart and looking at it for just the words, taking away any content that was there, and putting a new identity to it was fascinating. I started wondering why specific words were used, like “Bondsman”. What an odd choice! But I had to use it, because it was there. At times I got frustrated thinking “if only I could cheat, and add a word, or break a word up, or make it plural, or possessive”. It forces you to look at your use of language, and your habits of writing. I think I’ve only written two poems in the past 14 years, and they’ve both been for school, but I certainly have a specific voice. Being “uncreative” (which is so not the right word for this!) forces you to use that voice within specific confines. I would certainly do this again. It’s like fridge poetry, except more awesome.