2019 was busy with getting some things in order, didn’t have much time for writing or art of any kind, but there were plenty of changes.
April: Artscape had a call out for 80 units for low-income people who are artists living in Toronto. A long time friend from my days at CIUT, Marcus Ware, alerted me to the open house. I went and applied with my CV with little hope.They received over 8000 applications for these spaces. In late September, while I hadn’t heard anything, I received a call saying the kids and I were being offered one of these units. And so in October we did and it’s been a rush and an overwhelming blessing.If you’re an artist and have a low income and struggle to make ends meet, please sign up for the Artscape waiting lists. It’s honestly the most validating and helpful development for my family and myself.Mixed housing seems to be the development here in Toronto, but I’m hoping we can build more affordable housing in the downtown core as a result of the city’s rethinking of it’s overblown love of condos. Keep a look out for developments here:
Not much else in other news, except for a couple of things coming down the pipeline in regards to CanLit stuff and publishing (actually a kind of big thing, but for now I’m just keeping my fingers crossed and keeping quiet about it). I am shopping out a new manuscript, but these days with the new home, writing, CanLit activism, and art will be a constant.
I don’t understand the problem that people have with political correctness. I’m on many sides of this issue. I think it stems from a conversation I had with my boyfriend about how people were outraged with Steve Martin’s tweet upon Carrie Fisher’s passing.
I think Steve Martin was speaking from the heart here. People are allowed to be outraged. I personally don’t believe the tweet was in poor taste, but maybe deleting his tweet was. I can see that Martin probably got upset or tired of the responses he was getting. Keeping in mind that Martin is from a different time, I think of what he might have meant, which was probably thoughtfully considered, especially knowing that he knew her personally. Her fans knew her well too, hence the outrage. The public might have gone overboard, but in this place and time, today, if you’re going to engage with the public, you’re engaging with thousands, even millions of people. And they will respond in multitudes in real time. That is the hyper world we live in now.
Now I’ve spent a good portion of my writing career talking about appropriation. I’ve written about the ethics and colonization aspects of it within the literary establishment. But I want to note that a lot of this conversation, a lot of this backlash is coming from writers of colour. This isn’t about being politically correct, or being too sensitive in this day and age, or “political correctness” gone haywire. These are legitimate concerns that people of colour have had for ages. We were rarely heard though even though we’ve been shouting it out from the mountains. Why are we not giving more people of colour and the disenfranchised more opportunities to flourish and to be heard?
I like to think I’ve been “woke” since I was a teenager. The Gulf War and the Human Rights Now Tour of the 80s really made a impression on me. Reading the Charter of Rights here in Canada and the Universal Declaration of Rights from the UN, empowered me and made me feel like anything was possible. So when I began writing, I noticed a few things that I was told to brush off. Why weren’t there only a few people of colour at poetry readings, book launches, literary parties, and the like? Why were there so few people of colour as editors to magazines and publishers in the industry? The more I questioned, the more I got consoled.
“It’s not true. We’re trying. It’s all in your head. We’re a community.”
Nevertheless, after a few poetry readings I started to begin my sets by looking around the room and if I didn’t notice anyone like me, or my colour, or diverse like community in Toronto I live in, I would say, “Thank you for inviting me. It is a privilege. It’s great to see people come out for poetry. Looking around the room, we need more people of colour, more people from the community here.” And then I’d start my reading.
It’s a response to gas-lighting. It was a response to truly waking up to reality. I feel it’s a statement that forces attendees and organizers to do something about it. Unfortunately, a lot of that ends up on people of colour’s shoulders. We are asked to solve the problem the privileged have created. We are told to bring solutions to the table. Therefore, instead of us focusing on our craft and our chosen careers, our labour is given to fixing messes or putting up the illusion that something is being done about the establishment’s “diversity” problem.
As soon as that article inWriteappeared, I spoke out on twitter and Facebook and quickly retreated. I did speak out a few times on threads trying to point out the ignorance in our literary community, but nonetheless, I had to let it go. I realized how much those debates take out of me on social media. In turn, I also thought about the emotional labour that the indigenous writers who were in that Write issue were about to take on. It’s scary and overwhelming, even full of opportunities because people want to “diversify” their platforms, and hey, you’re there right in the middle of it, so why not?
But it takes up your time and space in your head. It does for me because I feel really passionate about anti-appropriation and for ethical appropriation in poetry and prose. A lot of the fights I feel like taking on, I have to step back and think, “Whose voice is better suited for this?” I can’t speak for the indigenous cause, nor can I speak for the causes of a black person. I can speak from a Latinx (yes I’ve adopted this term because I’ve come to love it and I’ve chosen it), Afro-latin second generation Canadian female perspective. That is who I am and how I was born. I don’t go around saying that is how I identify. That’s just how I try to approach these controversies and debates in the literary and the real world community. At 44, I think it’s a pretty awesome freedom to be able to self-identify nowadays.
What enriches a community is not taking from its members nor imagining what their experiences might be. What enriches literature and art is taking from one’s imagination and evolving that fictional or non-fictional world through a centre of empathy and compassion. We can imagine ourselves and write from another person’s shoes, for freedom of speech is an inherent and fundamental right, but we can not steal and appropriate to our sole benefit. We must acknowledge if we’re taking a scene, a slice of life, or a culture that comes from a place of pain and colonization.
Many would dismiss colonization as real today, but all you have to do is look at your televisions, the books you were taught in school, our world leaders, and the people that hold positions of power in our literary community. I just want most of you to go out there and notice. Keep a keen eye. Open your mind just a tiny bit and see how many people of colour you interact in media and in those literary communities. Who are your professors and who are your publishing editors? Take note of the people around your neighbourhoods. The establishments you visit and the things you promote. Is it truly reflective of the community around you? If good work stands the test of the literary establishment, why is it there are so few people of colour being published or in those positions of power. We are hard working and for the most part, talented, for our stories are rich and interesting. If they weren’t they wouldn’t be appropriated by so many white privileged folk.
The personal is always political. You can’t dismiss injustice or you will get told. Get ready to interact, get ready to truly expand your work by engaging.
I’ve spent the past few years reading people’s written defences for appropriation. That we need to learn to be free to express however we want to become one people instead of a world of races. I’m sorry (not sorry), but we can’t be one people if you fail to acknowledge and listen to why we are complaining and outraged right now. Why be politically correct? I see it this way, if you’re a writer, you try to engage your reader to feel with your character and their lives. Not only that, but you have to bring something new to the table, something that innovates literature, and emboldens it like the writers of the past have. If you keep appropriating and not innovating your own experience, you stagnate and literature becomes dull and droning. Those who have learned to appropriate ethically, who have opened the doors to an empathetic and considerate new world in literature will move on without you. And when you finally wake up to the issues, for it can never be too late (oh can’t tell you how I hold to that thought fast or I’d sink), then you will be offered a seat at the table and we will share freely, full of heart, and full of good work.
Sure, outrage can go all over the place, but really, I’d rather be able to read stuff like Steve Martin wrote about Carrie Fisher, read the outrage, and then discuss. Humanity and our creative output doesn’t evolve by dismissing, but by interacting and listening. Radical empathy, please google it and do the work yourself. : https://this.org/2016/11/08/what-it-means-to-practise-radical-empathy/
(P.S. You can write from the imagination and from experiences that are not your own in fiction and poetry. You can learn and appreciate different cultures and be influenced by them in your style and comportment. However, the point of all of this is that people are asking you to think, express, and create from a space of consideration. If you want to share and take part, you have to listen and consider.)
INTERESTED IN LEARNING ABOUT INDIGENOUS ISSUES? Here’s a course! It was designed and is taught by First Nations scholars/teachers. It is offered by the University of Alberta. https://www.ualberta.ca/courses/indigenous-canada (thanks to Bevel Dauforth for posting it)
“Are we saying Asian writers can’t write Latino characters? That white writers can’t write black characters? That no one can write from a different racial other’s point of view? We’re saying we’d like to change the terms of that conversation, to think about creativity and the imagination without employing the language of rights and the sometimes concealing terms of craft. To ask some first-principle questions instead. So, not: can I write from another’s point of view? But instead: to ask why and what for, not just if and how.” – Claudia Rankine and Beth Loffreda On Whiteness and The Racial Imaginary:http://lithub.com/on-whiteness-and-the-racial-imaginary/
When I go to a literary event, I first have to gather my bearings to find a familiar face. I keep to myself most days and social media is my connection to networking and “being out there.” I’m maybe 90% more introverted than extroverted in person, so seeing a familiar face in a crowd I feel comfortable with helps. After a bit of catching up with a few people, I will try to meet a couple of more folks, not just for networking, but mainly because book people and fellow readers are awesome. We share in our love books and it’s amazing that we have this world of art that many try to stamp as dead, but damn it, it’s still thriving.
Although I wonder, at most events, about the starving writers, the blocked writers, the struggling writers, the keep to themselves writers and the many other writers that we don’t really talk about. They might come to these events and they might not. They work a full day and might be too exhausted, but they still stay up and work on their manuscripts. They have been unable to put words to paper because trauma or sickness or anxiety prevents them, but sometimes a thought comes out and they journal about it hoping one day their story will be heard. They work a factory job or take care of their kids all day and feel out of place, but they still go to the open mic or the poetry slam. They write and submit, apply for grants and prizes, but don’t get their chance because the literary world is big and racism, sexism, and ageism still exists big time in it. Writing and books are just as important to the types of people I’ve mentioned because they are writers. Some of them published and some of them have not. Some of them are you and some of them are me and maybe we’re all a combination of many.
I write this because as writers we tend to glamourize or romanticize what we do and that’s most of what the world sees. The parties and launches are wonderful, but I do enjoy hearing about lives outside of writing; people’s work days and their boring commutes. I want to ask if behind it all, you’re ok. I’m very confessional by nature and I don’t expect others to be. It’s just interesting to know I’m not alone in the struggle to have a life and still be a writer, or rather to have a life and just be me.
Not all of us are professors or can afford the money or the time for an MFA (although there are struggles there too). Not all of us have the inside track in publishing and know the ins and outs of it (although there are struggles there too). Not all of us are adept at schmoozing (maybe they’ve taken a course?). Yet that’s how the media portrays writers and that’s how the writing world is seen: a bunch of people who dedicate themselves to writing and made it despite the odds. Maybe one percent of those out there have, but most of us have lives outside of that media portrayed world.
I’m a writer, but I’m a single mother of two kids. I combat daily with my own issues, but I live comfortably because of alimony and I have time to write. Although now I have a goal and ambition to be independent. It’s imperative for me as a feminist, and as an example to my daughter to show her that we can create and make a life for ourselves without depending on others financially. I freelance and am out looking for steady work, but my non-writing resume is a history of blue collar factory jobs where computers have made them obsolete, and outdated advertising desk jobs from fifteen years ago before my children were born. I have a supportive family and a close relationship with my children’s father, but I can’t lean on them anymore. I have to stand on my own eventually and it’s hard. I do recognize that I have a roof over my head and food in the pantry because of others. Aiming to change that is the difficult and overwhelming part. I fear writer’s block because of it. I fear not having time to write for myself. I fear my anxiety and cycling bouts of depression will hinder any progress I have made in my writing career.
I am fond of saying that if you work hard at something, things will manifest for you. They might be the things you were looking for, but things will happen. For many writers, they can’t get to the part of just “work” because they’re busy trying to stay afloat. Launch party? Hell, some people have to wake up at 5am for their daily commute.
I’m glad that there are spaces like Sachiko Murakami’s The Hardest Thing About Being a Writer and Daniel Zomparelli and Dina DelBuchia’s Can’t Lit. These are places where writers can be human. I don’t feel alone when I read or listen to these sites or interviews like them. I’m not a big fan of pretension, name dropping, and ego. I like emotion, substance, and am comforted by the idea that in every writer there is a fallibility and vulnerability where stories and poetries are born. Get to know the people that combat the world while still writing.
I’m just bored by the David Foster Wallace or Wonder Boys portrayals of writers.
I’m not saying we should end the glamorization of writing, but rather that when we’re out there doing our thing, we should consider the world we write about, the lives write about, and the topics we write about when we write about writing. Addressing personal concerns and things that hit close to home for us individually is easier for some and harder for others, but it’s good to understand we all live in a world where we have to make compromises to survive. We find our niche, we build our own moulds, and yeah, we’re writers. But writers must feed, cloth, and house ourselves.
If more people knew that we work, we struggle, they’d buy more books from authors, they’d help small presses more (for these are the places a lot of the disenfranchised authors get their chances in), and they’d be more willing to take us seriously when we say that writing is a job, so please pay us. BUY OUR BOOKS. PAY WELL FOR YOUR CREATIVE CONTENT. Pay and pay writers well. It’s work.
I love going to book launches and readings because it’s inspiring to see the amount of folk that still go out to these things. I get huge stage fright before a reading because why would anyone want to hear my poetry? It’s a privilege to be able to get up there and have an audience for it. And I’m paid to do it nowadays. That’s huge. I get paid to write AND get paid to read my poetry…to people even!
I’m a nobody like the many nobodies out there. I hope to forever be a nobody like the many nobodies out there because the only glamour I enjoy from writing is being able to read my words. The rest is work and some of it is fun, I admit, but the rest is work.
JACQUELINE VALENCIA is a poet and film/literary critic. She has written for The Rusty Toque, Lemon Hound, Next Projection, subTerrain magazine, and The Barnstormer, among others. Her chapbook Maybe was selected for the 2012 Arte Factum exhibit by Poetry Is Dead Magazine.
THERE IS NO ESCAPE OUT OF TIME is an ethereal cinema of a mind, jumping through wormholes in a poet’s past, present, and future, even in space.
MICHAEL MURRAY works as a creative writer, commentator, blogger, and “journalist.” He has written for The Globe and Mail, the National Post, Hazlitt magazine, CBC Radio, the Ottawa Citizen, TheToast, as well as scores of other prestigous publications that pay extraordinary amounts of money and fly him around in helicopters.
A VAN FULL OF GIRLS is a collection of short, dizzy, funny things. It’s zippy and unpredictable, like a mongoose, but it’s dead sexy.
Poet, novelist, and playwright STAN ROGAL’s work has appeared in magazines and anthologies in Canada, the U.S., and Europe. His poetry collection Love’s Not the Way To (Bookland, 2013) was shortlisted for a ReLit Award.
DOG THE MOON is a compelling novel that offers a new look at the traditional Canadian tale of a city boy in the “wilderness,” taking aim at our literary mythology with sharp, satirical darts.
It was my father who introduced the night stars to us; that is the stars in the way they’re meant to be seen. My sister and I were aware of space, I mean, of course it’s all around us, but it was on a road trip that we became viscerally attuned to its magic.
Earlier that week my mother received a phone call late in the night. It was news from my great aunt that her son, my mother’s cousin (in Latin American terms that would make him my uncle), was dying of pneumonia. He had been calling out for my mother, Nelsy, on his deathbed. The two were very close once. The next day, after much family discussion, we organized a family road trip to see him. My sister and I gave notice at school and took our homework with us to do on the road. It would be a far trek from Toronto to Tucson and I didn’t even know my uncle. However at thirteen, I was glad to be out of anything to do with school and the teenage weariness that came along with being with others my own age. I loved school, I just never felt like I fit in at grade school.
I don’t remember if it was after we met my uncle (he died the day after) or if it was on our way home, but at some point my dad pulled over in the middle of the desert. He had to take a leak and there wasn’t a rest stop in sight. It was completely dark out, but for lights of towns reflected in the hills around us.. Each hill was girdled by the impossible greenery that fed off of it. Giant cacti, low bush, and alien-like flora dotted the stretch of the flat lands and valleys which reached up to the dunes and ridges. The freeway lights caught a bit of this, but my dad made his way to some bushes by the lighted path of our car’s headlights.
“Yac-ke-leen!” my dad yelled out from behind the bushes. “No mires para aca! Tell your mother to open up the sunroof.”
There were tiny lights above the window, but when my mother opened it up, it seemed like we were looking at the entire universe. My eyes seemed so small to take in the big expanse of the universe above. The sight of the milky way filled me with both fear and unexpected arousal. I woke up my sister and we both stood there enamoured by something so incredibly real that it should be impossible.
“Star Trek is real!” my sister said.
“Yeah,” I replied.
I was speechless. I’d grown up mostly in the city, living in apartment buildings, and never seeing anything like what I saw that night. It was like watching a fairy world materialize. The sky stopped being heaven to me. It was a place people could go to, went to, and the moon landing was an actual thing in my brain; before it was just textbook fodder. Clouds and flight were possible, but airplanes weren’t going to take me to space. I got hooked on hard science fiction books and alien stories right then and there. I took an astronomy course in university and made a compass to track the stars (an astrolabe). I almost failed the course, but the professor saw my enthusiasm and took some time to offer me a list of visual references that would help me for my final exam. It gave me confidence, if not for science, but to know that having a passion for something can sometimes surpass the boundaries we impose on our own brains.
Some time after having my kids, I got the harebrained idea of studying physics through the extended learning courses at the University of Waterloo. I ordered the materials and studied, but my mind couldn’t wrap itself around the abstract concepts. I gave up and the next summer I took a similar course through UofT’s continuing education programs. It was a course aimed at people who wanted to learn about astrophysics, but not necessarily get a degree in it. I loved it. If I had the money and the time, I’d go back and take more of them.
I did some research and looked into getting a mathematics or science degree on top of my English literature degree. I enrolled through UofT again and took half a semester of first year algebra. I barely passed the first test, but I was having so much fun. It was odd feeling like my brain couldn’t do anything because it was so overwhelmed with information. I’d get one concept out of the hundreds, but there was a huge satisfaction that came with figuring that one thing. I should have audited the course instead. I quit and went back to concentrate on my strengths: running and writing.
Today came with news of the New Horizon’s probe flying by Pluto, giving us a visual of a perfectly round dwarf planet. Pluto is the awkward goth of the solar system. Scientists have wars on the semantics of it, whether it should be classified as part of our turf or not. Pluto doesn’t give a shit. It’s been orbiting the sun in its weird pattern, isolated from discussions, and the meaning humans have imposed it. Lord of the underworld in mythology and romantically cursed with love for Proserpina for the benefit of Venus. It is because of that love in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, that we have seasons. There’s a reason for Pluto in some astrological charts. It helps believers discover their inner world and learn beyond the blanket of our darkness. That is, if you believe in those things.
There’s a weird thing that happens when an event in space exploration comes to the forefront of the news. People get a little bit excited even if it has no direct impact on our personal life experiences. Every day we share an existence like celestial bodies orbiting and changing one another even if we are unaware of it. Traffic, meals, dogs, ants, the street busker, the traffic cop, teachers, et cetera, all influence our inner world peripherally. Our lives are so isolated from another though. You can’t read my brain and I can’t read yours. We can only decipher feelings and thoughts through gesticulations and words. As socially adept as you can be, we all live an individual insular existence. There are worlds within worlds beyond worlds influenced by other worlds within ourselves. We spend most of our lives trying to discover and come to terms with those spaces in our brain, so its quite a miracle that we can, and even attempt to, communicate. Connections are vital and the forces of repulsion and attraction drives our lives daily. We reproduce, make choices, build, destroy, and consume all in the name of an unspoken pull for purpose.
Our planet Earth can not exist without the other celestial bodies doing their thing around it. While we have our wars and go through the cycles of life, we are hurtled through the galaxy like a baseball being flung into the skies. Humans as space travellers continuing to make poetry about our spaceship Earth and our associations within it. But Pluto doesn’t give a fuck. It’s the honey badger of planets looking all spiffy and cool as people “oooh” and “ahhh” at its photo. It suddenly exists before our very eyes.
Looking up at the stars is an ubiquitous action.
There really is no particular point to this post, but to say I still love science. Science is like the cool kid I thought I wanted to be. Out in space with all the mathematics and scholarly language humans can muster, an astronaut is a tiny speck. The astronaut observes and studies, but to the ether it is nothing. Our probes are tiny gadgets that only mean something to us. In the mysterious universe of synchronicity, there once was a man who told his daughters to look up at the night sky to feel dreams become aspirations. Today there was a photograph taken of Pluto that told the world to look up beyond itself imploring it to continue dreaming.
**Edited to add: Pluto Shits On The Universe by Fatimah Asghar
The poem is part of a larger lyrical project I’ve been working on whereupon I take some of my old poems and remake them via new views and methods. It’s kind of like using an evolving vocabulary (words, colours, media, my mixed culture, language), as I look for the source of what drives me to write poetry.
2. My short story “Weird Girl” is up at Lynn Crosbie’s HOOD.
Also, a tiny part of a universe in which I’m basing the novel I’m currently working on. Accompanying image selected by Lynn Crosbie for our mutual love of Malcolm McDowell in Lindsay Anderson’s If…. (I was once a wee extra in a film with McDowell called SUCK, along with many of my goth friends. I only really said hello to him.)
3. I have a short story in this great anthology, Gods, Memes, And Monsters edited by Heather Wood:
A few other things are going on, one of which is that I’m concentrating on prose, poetry, and submitting more work. It is because of this that I’m trying to finish and tie up some of my current conceptual work.
I’m still doing this: http://gettinginsidejamesjoyceshead.blogspot.ca/(Joyce can be so frustrating, but I keep coming back to it.Today’s transcription started with Bloom thinking on space exploration and somehow ended up talking about ovaries and sperm. That woke me up.)
I wrote three paragraphs of 1984 and remixed them with three paragraphs from The Wall Street Journal’s headline story.
This project was inspired in part by my experiences as a dj and seeing how I could use them with just words. Olivia Rosane at The State did a piece on my project called “Living in Dystopia”:http://www.thestate.ae/live-blogging-dystopia/
I found many of the things she touched upon very interesting and her analysis blew me away. I didn’t have any big intellectual epiphany in starting it or while doing it. It just seemed like something to do while I fought off writer’s block.
I have printed up 5 paperback copies of the project. It is 411 pages.:
One copy I will keep. The other four I will be on sale from me personally for $198.40 each. Each copy will be signed, numbered, and come packaged with original artwork by me.
If you’d like one of the four, please email me at ravensee at gmail dot com.
A reminder that the “2016 Toronto Poetry Conference 1st planning meeting” is on July 22, 2015 at 8pm Pauper’s Pub (539 Bloor Street West) in Toronto. All are welcome, not just to plan, but to hear input or share in some grub.
That’s when I’ll select and finalize a date for the conference.
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.