JACOB WREN is a writer and maker of eccentric performances. His books include: Unrehearsed Beauty, Families Are Formed Through Copulation and Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed. As co-artistic director of Montreal-based interdisciplinary group PME-ART he has co-created the performances: En français comme en anglais, it's easy to criticize (1998), the HOSPITALITÉ / HOSPITALITY series including Individualism Was A Mistake (2008) and The DJ Who Gave Too Much Information (2011) and Every Song I’ve Ever Written (2012). He travels internationally with alarming frequency and frequently writes about contemporary art.
RUSTY TALK WITH JACOB WREN
Kathryn Mockler: What is your first memory of writing creatively or being creative?
Jacob Wren: I don’t know if I have a first memory. But I do know around age thirteen I started suffering from terrible insomnia. Some nights I didn’t sleep at all, while most nights I slept very little. And basically I just filled the endless, sleepless nights with reading and writing, for more or less ten years, until I realized that the simple cure for my insomnia was rigorous physical exercise. Still, to this day, I associate writing with the strange, hallucinatory state that comes from having barely slept for weeks on end, as a kind of unreal trance, almost like a dream. It was during those nights, lying awake, almost too tired to move, that I first trained myself to write.
KM: Why did you become an artist/writer and what keeps you going?
JW: To be honest, the only thing that has ever really interested me was art (in all its many forms.) I wish I could become interested in something else, since I feel, as a human being, at times this overemphasis on artistic interests makes me a bit narrow, as well as making my interactions with other people often rather difficult. (I mean, I do my best.)
At the same time, I find it very hard to maintain any interest in art and often don’t know exactly what keeps me going (except that I have no idea what else I could possibly do). Sometimes I remind myself a bit of this apocryphal story of a Russian who moved to New York but never learned English. Gradually, over the course of his life, he forgot how to speak Russian, yet still never learned English, so in the end he spoke no language at all. Gradually I am becoming less and less interested in art, while not really becoming interested in anything else, so in the end I’m kind of nowhere. Like a priest who has lost faith. But that makes it all sound more dire than it actually is. Still, I think it’s important that we talk about these things, since hardly anyone ever does.
I have often said that I don’t particularly relate to people who make performance, or write, or make art, but I do relate to people who make performance / writing / art who think about quitting every fifteen seconds. Those are really my people. I call us the ‘boy who cried wolf set’. Because, for me, if you really look at art today, at what it means, at who it reaches, at what is considered successful or important, it often seems like a complete waste of time. If I had any talent for it, or drive towards it, I would definitely quit art and become an activist, since the world’s problems are now so overwhelming, immediate and tragic. But, for better or worse, I can’t seem to get myself to do anything else: all I can really do is write. (Well, I also make performances, but that becomes harder and harder as the years roll on.)
KM: How would you describe your writing process? How does your blog A Radical Cut in the Texture of Reality fit into this process?
JW: I mainly feel like I don’t really have a process. I just have ideas and write them down to the best of my ability. Often I try to write every morning, but then, at other times, I am stuck for months on end and write very little. I usually do a first draft in a notebook, and then type it up as I go. Sometimes there is a little bit of re-writing as I type it into the computer, but mainly the second draft just allows me to think more about what I’m doing.
I definitely started my blog, in 2005, because I had almost completely stopped writing and was looking for a way to start again. It’s always been difficult for me to get published—I suppose what I write doesn’t quite fit anywhere (maybe it’s a little bit easier now, I’m not sure)—but at the time being able to just post what I was writing on my blog, as I went along, gave me more of a feeling that I was actually doing something. I would tell myself: just write one paragraph and post it, then at least you will have written one paragraph. It kind of made me feel like writing was possible again, after having felt it was basically impossible for many years. (Mainly due to too many rejection letters, or more precisely to the fact that I’m a little bit too sensitive to such things.) Now my blog gets about 2,000 hits a month, so that must mean someone is reading it, but I don’t really have any sense of who is reading it, why, or what they think. There are hardly any comments.
I spend so much time on the internet (mainly on Facebook and listening to music), and I know this has deeply affected how I think about art, about writing, and also how I practice it. It is difficult for me to really analyze what this change might be, it has all been so natural and intuitive, but I know there is something about the shuffle feature on iTunes, and about the seeming randomness as one clicks from one link to the next, that has been completely folded into my aesthetic.
KM: What or who influences your writing?
JW: I keep an ongoing list of favourite books: Some Favourite Books
And recently I have added a list of visual artists: List of Artists
But mainly I just want to devour everything. I want to have an overview. I want to know what is happening in art today, and everything that has ever happened in art before, and I want to use all of it while at the same time making it my own. I want to speak about the world, about the world today and about history, about ideas, thinking, philosophy, theory, and about my own subjective experiences. I want to struggle with it, admit to failure, be upset that I am not as good as the artists and authors I love but keep trying. I wish the mainstream was more open and more interesting.
KM: Can you discuss the relationship between writer and reader or audience? Who would be your ideal reader? I’m interested also in terms of your blog and its readership. Does that audience inform your work in any way?
JW: I have a sort of double life, half writing, the other half performing. When you perform the audience is right there in front of you, and all of my performance work is about trying to honestly deal with the fact that the audience is right there in front of me, about the paradox of trying to be yourself in the deeply unnatural situation of a room full of strangers watching you.
I’ve always like the Gertrude Stein quote: “I write for myself and strangers.”
When I was revising my last book, I showed it to a bunch of friends for comments, and I listened to all of their comments, and later, when the book came out, realized I had completely ignored basically all of their suggestions. I had asked for their help, and then completely ignored everything they said. (Well, I’ve always been stubborn.) And I feel this is so often the way between me and readers, I listen to every comment I get, think about it, try to take it in, fully absorb it, but never directly respond to anything anyone says. Nonetheless, I very much hope it is all in there anyway, somewhere in my head, affecting what I think, how I see what I’m doing, in some completely indirect way making the work better.
KM: What is the best piece of literary advice you’ve gotten that you actually use?
JW: As I’ve already suggested, I’m so bad with taking advice. But I really liked reading what Alain Badiou once said in an interview. He said the only rule for activism is: keep going. And I guess that’s mainly what I try to do now, keep going, which also means not making too many compromises, trying to offer up something different enough from everything else out there, trying to see the world a different way and put it into words. But, then again, I also constantly want to quit. Which is maybe why the advice is so important. Keep going.
KM: What is your favourite or funniest literary moment, if you have one?
JW: I actually can’t think of anything at the moment. Hopefully that means there are many favourite, hilarious literary moments to come. Maybe the future will be full of them.
KM: What are you reading at the moment?
JW: I just started reading The Empire Within: Postcolonial Thought and Political Activism in Sixties Montreal by Sean Mills. I believe I must be reading it because I live in Montreal. So far it’s fascinating.
KM: What projects are you working on in 2013?
JW: I am writing a new book entitled Polyamorous Love Song. Here is a short synopsis: It is a book of many different narrative through-lines. For example: 1) A mysterious group, known as The Mascot Front, who wear furry mascot costumes at all times and are fighting a revolutionary war for their right to wear furry mascot costumes at all times. 2) A movement known as the ‘New Filmmaking’ in which, instead of shooting and editing a film, one simply does all of the things that would have been in the film, but in real life. This movement has many adherents. Its founder is known only as Filmmaker A. 3) A group of ‘New Filmmakers’, calling themselves The Centre for Productive Compromise, who devise increasingly strange sexual scenarios with complete strangers. They invent a drug that allows them to intuit the cell phone number of anyone they see, allowing phone calls to be the first stage of their spontaneous, yet somehow carefully scripted, seductions. 4) A secret society that concocts a sexually transmitted virus that infects only those on the political right. They stage large-scale orgies, creating unexpected intimacies and connections between individuals who are otherwise savagely opposed to one another. 5) A radical leftist who catches this virus, forcing her to question the depth of her considerable leftist credentials. 6) A German barber in New York who, out of scorn for the stupidity of his American clients, gives them avant-garde haircuts, unintentionally achieving acclaim among the bohemian set who consider his haircuts to be strange works of art. And yet each of these stories is only the beginning.
And we are also beginning a new, ongoing internet/performance project entitled Every Song I’ve Ever Written. Here is a description:
From 1985 to 2004 Jacob Wren wrote songs. Lots and lots of songs. At the time not very many people heard them. Every Song I’ve Ever Written is a project about memory, history, things that may or may not exist, songwriting, the internet and pop culture. On the website everysongiveeverwritten.com you can listen to, and download, these songs.
In a way, because hardly anyone heard them, these songs don’t yet exist. If you are reading this, we would like you to consider recording your own version of one of these songs, changing it, making it your own, then sending it to us. We will post every version we receive.
There will also be performances and events. Solo performances will feature Jacob performing all of the songs in chronological order (it takes about five hours.) Band Nights will feature a series of local bands in different cities performing one of Jacob’s songs each. After each version, Jacob will interview the band about what it was like to cover the song, and the band will interview Jacob about what it was like to write it.
We are not doing this because we think these are the best songs ever (we hope at least a few of them are good.) We are doing this because hardly anyone heard them at the time, and we are wondering if there is some new, strange way to bring them out into the world. In doing so we hope to raise a few questions about what songs mean on the internet, about what songwriting is actually like today, and also take a sidelong glance back at the recent past.
Radical Cut in the Texture of Reality
Every Song I've Ever Written
REVENGE FANTASIES OF THE POLITICALLY DISPOSSESSED
Pedlar Press, 2010
Description from Pedlar Press:
Set in a dystopian near-future, Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed is a novel - a kind of post-capitalist soap opera - about a group of people who regularly attend ''the meetings.'' At the meetings they have agreed to talk, and only talk, about how to re-ignite the left, for fear if they were to do more, if they were to actually engage in real acts of resistance or activism, they would be arrested, imprisoned, or worse. Revenge Fantasies is a book about community. It is also a book about fear. Characters leave the meetings and we follow them out into their lives. The characters we see most frequently are the Doctor, the Writer and the Third Wheel. As the book progresses we see these characters, and others, disengage and re-engage with questions the meetings have brought into their lives. The Doctor ends up running a reality television show about political activism. The Third Wheel ends up in an unnamed Latin American country, trying to make things better but possibly making them worse. The Writer ends up in jail for writing a book that suggests it is politically emancipatory for teachers to sleep with their students. And throughout all of this the meetings continue: aimless, thoughtful, disturbing, trying to keep a feeling of hope and potential alive in what begin to look like increasingly dark times. Revenge Fantasies asks us to think about why so many of us today, even those with a genuine interest in political questions, feel so deeply powerless to change and affect the world that surrounds us, suggesting that, even within such feelings of relative powerlessness, there can still be energizing surges of emancipation and action
Photo by Joy Masuhara
bill bissett born on lunaria sum 4oo yeers ago approximatelee in lunarian
time was sent 2 erth on first childrns shuttul from th at that time
trubuld planet landid in halifax moovd 2 vancouvr at 17 moovd
2 london wher i was part uv luddites alternativ rock band thn
toronto wher ium poet in residens at workman arts & recording
with pete dako wanting alwayze 2 xploor words n sounds n
image in th writing n painting showing paintings at th secret
handshake art galleree toronto most recent book novel from talonbooks
rusty talk with bill bissett
I asked bill bissett these questions about his writing process:
He responded by email over the month of September 2012:
dere kathryn th first 2 qwestyuns 4 rustee talk mor as it cums in
th first creativ work i remembr was in grade 3 or 4 b4 going in2 th hospital 4 a coupul uv yeers was a pome i wrote abt sail boats in th watr n th feeling in my brain n heart was veree thrilling 4 me an elixr reelee
thn a littul whil latr aftr mor thn a few operaysyuns i was in th oxygen tent n realizing i wud nevr b a dansr n or a figur skatr my first reel ambishyuns i cud write n paint i thot n that way feel th line mooving thru space n that way as well feeling th taktilitee uv life being physikal th enhansment from th abstraksyuns uv th skripts we wer ar all living thru i wrote my first storee thn in th oxygen tent wher i was deliting 2 drink orange crush n see th brite orange liquid cumming out uv my bodee immediatelee thru mor tubes i lovd that n that orange runway made me laff n feel veree poignant as well as my home planet lunaria was veree orange b4 all us childrn were remoovd from that troubuld planet n sent 2 erth
my first storee wch i wrote in th oxygen tent was abt a boy who didint want 2 follow rules n wantid 2 find his own way n swam out past th undrtow wch oftn was both a physikal risk n a metaphor 4 sew manee othr things in nova scotia n at great dangr he ovrcame th fors from th watr n made it 2 shore n thn vowd he wud dew it agen n agen sirtinlee if life wer as friabul as it seemd sew definitlee 2 b why not take th risk
my fathr had th storee typd out in several mor copees that was my first publishd work i feel veree warm abt him now in ths moment that he did dew that 4 me n evn tho i didint reelee start writing agen until aftr my mothr went 2 spirit evn a few yeers aftr that 16 n reelee agen full time until i got 2 vancouvr 17 my yerning 2 b always writing evr sins i was in th oxygen tent at 10or 11 has nevr left me
influenses medium genre hungree throat mor as it cums in
th subjekt 4 me is th genre n th genre is th subjekt iuv alwayze wantid 2 put books 2gethr that hold or contain diffrent genres as iuv also writtn pomes that contain difrent genres iuv oftn calld such pomes fusyun pomes my most recent work novel my first novel made me mor aware uv th medium is th genre n th genre is th medium n th medium slash subjekt is th genre mor aware thn evr how we write is can b what we ar writing abt mor thn an approach 2 mor thn creating th nuans uv it is th uv in my first novel calld novel abt 2 yeers ago brout out by talonbooks its a collagist work prob also calld post modernist in that th linear flow storee line is part uv th whol work is not th whol work th whole work inklewds th modernist storee line th serch 4 a trew love elements uv gangstr espionage n th serch n what happns evn tho veree labyrinthean also inklewds essays sum abt peopul we know in th known fakshul world introdusing ideas uv ficksyun fakt identitee dew we reelee know them can we n wch them is it a fact n pomes also like th essays hiliting theems that ar in th storee line th charaktrs mooving thru space n time n situaysyuns n thr is a hi degree uv th elements uv randomness wch th strukshur uv th work novel conveys inklewds n is conveying
my first biggest n still biggest influens is gertrude stein who showsd n shows me espeshulee in stanzas in meditaysyuns that words need not onlee 2 represent but ar in themselvs konstrukts wch fold unfold n refiliing fold in2 n out uv each othr ar in fakt puzzuls made uv each othr sew they can b on theyr own not representing bcumming n being what whats dew our grammars cum from our emosyuns n or dew our emosyuns mostlee reelee cum from our binaree based grammar thees unsolvabul qwestyuns prsist n ar oftn endlesslee interesting yes
othr huge erlee influenses allen ginsberg robert duncan denise levrtov bob cobbing diane di prima sew manee infinitlee manee d.a. levy bpNichol martina clinton maxine gadd judith copithorne influences with also sew manee n now 2day peopul othr poets i dew reedings with
sew impressd with adeena karasick kai kellough sheri- d wilson ivan coyote richard van de camp david bateman naomi laufer jill mcginn toshio ushiroguchi-pigott chadwick juriansz ar names uv amayzing poets that jump 2 mind helen posno
hungree throat my nu book my second novel is mor a novel in meditaysyun 2 charaktrs alredee found each othr trying 2 let each othr farthr n furthr in wun afrayd uv intimasee from his memoreez being 2 chargd n not let go uv how hard that is getting ovr trauma his bad memoree attacks drag him away from whom he loves evn from himself in th present n ths collagist post modernist work tho not as much prhaps as novel inklewds essays pomes seeminglee unrelatid help th reedr n th work 2 reflekt on all th key issews in ths work that cum in2 wun whil reeding hungree throat
thees 2 books ar sew importnat 2 me kathryn n i wud reelee like what yu dew with what ium sending yu 2 focus on hungree throat as it is cumming out in th spring 2013 from talonbooks n th nu book ium working on now is in no way a novel sew thees 2 books ar my 2 novels se far altho th charaktrs ar diffrent peopul thees 2 books cud complement each othr th collagist form works veree well 4 me with th way uv working that can inklewd randomness qwestyuning identitee fact ficksyun 4 me thrs an interesting bredth n spekulaysyun in ths kind uv working th tropes n trajsktoreez longings changes growing n ungrowing lyrik n diffikulteez n treetment uv th konstruktiv urges what we konstrukt what is konstruktid what we can build 2gethr n what we can build n how what we build is building us othr important 2 me writrs hart crane e.e. cummings
latelee ium reeding davisadora by michael ondaatje his comeing thru slaughter is wun uv my all time favorit books
evr p.d.james nu book death comes to pemberley man about town by mark merlis have yu red anne carsons autobiography of red anothr uv my all time most adord books also among th erlier listings touchd on heer erleer in my life that is john rechy city uv night also colm toibin wrote an amayzing book i red coupul yeers ago almost that same titul as john rechy s brilyant city of night colm toibin s book titul is the story of the night camus sartre debeauvoir gide wer huge influenses on me as i was growing in my erlee teens n issac singer shirley ann grau truman capote tenessee williams william inge eugene oneil diane di prima this kind uv bird flies backwards shakespere in school th first sound poetree recording i herd was edith sitwell facade blew me away helpd start me out fr sure as did n dew all thees peopul n sew manee mor
sew hungree throat is a novel in meditaysyun th meditaysyun is abt letting go letting go uv attachment 2 traumatik memoreez n how can yu moov on or 4ward if yu ar klingnig 2 solv or whatevr bad n or haunting memoreez uv th past in wuns life how thees 2 peopul try 2 love each othr thru th dilemma they ar living n what happns
intrspersd thru ths meditayshyun discussyuns conver
saysyuns pledges collapses n regroupings ar pomes song essays its not a book uv doom but it contains sum doom n like all us writrs have n dew talk abt thru th ages how hard 2 love 2 find it n follow thru with it its politiks n sankshuaree part n parts uv th way my throat is hungree 4 breething my throat is hungree 4 eeting my throat is
hungree 4 singing my throat is hungree 4 yu
wrap up qwestyuns n answrs 4 rusty talk hope evreethings great w yu Kathryn
maybe 2 wrap up heer 4 th rusty 4 now aneeway from th beginning i always wantid 2 b writing reelee in approx 7 approaches 2 writing poetree my main wuns being sound n vizual words spred all ovr th page using th space uv th page as whol blank canvas not onlee using a porsyun uv that availabul space as square or rektangul th shape n size uv th copee size n th book size th ekonomeez uv n othr considraysuns have brout th writing in2 lettr size 81/2 x 11 inches drastikalee n finding th wayze thru th availabul transmitting vehikuls n xpanding wuns repertoire 4 inspiraysyun i follow th vois es uv th work at hand or th writing godesses n gods who i sew beleev in guide me 2 write with novel whol passages wer literalee diktatid 2 me sumtimes thrs a lot uv editing as in th pome 4 hart crane in time sumtimes thrs almost no editing th tiny librarians pome in novel went thru seemd ike manee rewrites othr parts uv novel came instantlee iuv nevr xperiensd a writrs blok i cant imagine evn how painful that wud b
i just finishd proof reeding RUSH what fuckan theory a book on theory i wrote n publishd in 72 wch is now being refreshd n reissewd by book thug in toronto my second novel hungree throat will b out in spring 13 n what ium reelee working on now is my nu book mostlee dewing a lot uv lettr texting in it
yu can find a wide range uv my work in you tube n also my web site th offishul bill bissett web site www.billbissett.com
oh thr ar mor thn a few cds out uv my work chek th cv in th website th most recent cd is nothing will hurt with pete dako xtraordinaree musician n arrangr n composr n gary shenkman n ambrose pottie
cest sa i gess thats all 4 now thanks sew much 4 yr interest thees intrviews ar kinduv hard 2 dew sumtimes a prson dusint want 2 bcum 2 self conscious but they reelee help me as well thanks veree much
hungree throat veree recentlee compleetid out spring 2013
hungree throat is a novel in meditaysyun 2 peopul getting 2gethr wun afrayd uv continuing intimasee bcoz uv what has happend 2 him th othr not bewilderd n anxious is eagr 4 nu xperiences with his nu partnr th meditaysyun is partlee abt letting go how hard that is n sumtimez how seminglee eezee th struggul letting go can b owing 2 th obsessing paralyzing n shaping burdns uv our pasts th obstakuls that trauma creates 4 our presents n futurs layrs n layrs ficksyuns n realiteez wch ar peopuls throats ar hungree 4 breething 4 speeking digesting saying singing eeting tasting giving kissing sew much uv th worlds throats ar hungree not onlee 4 evreething also 4 food watr air wun uv th last stages b4 passing uv peopul with parkinsons is whn th throat no longr swallows millyuns uv peopul with sleep apnea sleep with masheens pushing air in2 theyr throats all nite long 2 prevent closure th throat chakra being well is a condishyun uv our life th throat is hungree also 4 acceptans uv what is n what has bin n what is beleevablee possibul thru song sound poetree narrativ n non narrativ analysis meditaysun words n meenings oftn dissolving hungree throat looks at all thees dynamiks 2 share greev celebrate uplift love n moov 4words play with th word growing its parts sylabuls n th mouth n throat shaping each in our times gr ow wo ing wing s
bill bissett's MOST RECENT BOOK
hungree throat by bill bissett, Talonbooks, 2013
Description from the Publisher:
Written in his non-hierarchic, phonetic orthography, bill bissett’s second novel-poem, hungree throat, recounts the relationship of two men – one bold and unafraid, the other burdened by terrible memories and unable to trust. In this uplifting “novel in meditaysyun” about love, in which we witness ten years of a shared life, we are reminded of the overlapping, sometimes conﬂicting multitude of “hungers” common to us all:
all our throats
r hungree 4 breething being sing
ing eeting digesting speeking
saying food kissing watr love
air ﬁcksyun fakt memoree
th present what is nu all ovr
lapping imbuing change
th throat chakra being well
is a condishyn 4 life
Sachiko Murakami is the author of the poetry collections The Invisibility Exhibit (Talonbooks, 2008), a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, and Rebuild (Talonbooks, 2011). She has been a literary worker for numerous presses, journals, and organizations, and is Poetry Editor for Insomniac Press. She is the initiator of the online collaborative poetry projects Project Rebuild and PowellStreetHenko.ca. She lives in Toronto.
RUSTY TALK WITH SACHIKO MURAKAMI
Kathryn Mockler: What is your first memory of writing creatively?
Sachiko Murakami: I would write fake diary entries about what me and my friends did after school. I would write these after school alone in my room (often hiding behind a piece of furniture), as I had no friends.
KM: Why did you become a poet?
SM: Um. See: friendless and hiding behind furniture, above. Clearly I was not going to be a professional soccer player.
KM: Could you describe your writing process? (For example, do you write every day? When? Where? How do you approach revision, etc.)
Step 1: Find something that hooks a thought into a line. Most often I find this happens while walking in an unfamiliar neighbourhood, reading a poem, waking in the middle of the night, etc.
Step 2: Scribble line down (usually on a smudgy receipt, as I am rather bad at keeping notebooks on hand).
Step 3: Bring line to page.
Step 4: Keep going.
Step 5: Revision is an evolutionary process. I wrestle around with the poem for a while, take a break, return, repeat. Then I bring the poem to someone else and watch as they politely break its beautiful legs. Then I begin again.
KM: Rejection or criticism can often stop writers before they start. Do you have any advice on how to deal with rejection?
SM: Stay open! Prepare yourself for the gifts criticism and rejection are going to give you: resilience, yes, but also a curiosity about your work, and better writing. Invite in editors who will politely break your poem's limbs (the key word being politely). Take a workshop. Start a writing group. Get used to criticism, and use criticism. Listen to the questions that are being asked of your poems. Take the serious questions seriously.
Rejection from publishers and literary journals is, for the most part, a numbers game. When I read for literary magazines, there would be a hundred poems submitted for every one page available.
If publication is your goal, then try your best to write publishable material. If writing is your goal, then keep writing.
KM: You used to co-host the Pivot Readings at The Press Club in Toronto. Do you have any advice or tips for new writers about performing their work in front of audience?
Don't: pre-explain your poems, get drunk beforehand, or go over your allotted time.
Do: Talk to your audience. Look at them. Invite them in to your poems. Go under time. Then thank your hosts and the bar.
KM: From your perspectives as an editor and poet, how would you describe the writer/editor relationship? What should a new writer expect once his or her manuscript is accepted by a publisher?
SM: See above re: breaking of limbs, asking serious questions. As an editor, I think I develop a stronger relationship with the manuscript than with the writer.
In terms of the publishing process, a first-book author can expect to develop the quality of patience. A manuscript passes through many busy hands before it becomes a book.
KM: Can you tell us about your collaborative poetry projects? What got you interested in collaborative poetry? What has the response been?
SM: ProjectRebuild.ca began when I invited some poets into a poem about a Vancouver Special (a type of house in Vancouver). I was interested in seeing how they would interpret my invitation to renovate it as they saw fit. I then had a friend, Starkaður Barkarson, create a website in which any of the poems can be "moved into" and "renovated". There has been a tremendous response to this project—over 200 poems on the site from contributors across the world. The source poem, "Vancouver Special", resides in my second collection, Rebuild.
PowellStreetHenko.ca is an online renga commissioned by the 2012 Powell Street Festival. A renga is a collaborative Japanese form in which each stanza is written by a new person. This renga expands outwards, as you can respond to every stanza in the poem (not just the last one written, as in a traditional renga). Powell Street Festival is a Japanese-Canadian festival held in Vancouver. They asked me to create something like Project Rebuild for them, and this is what I came up with (along with Starkaður). I travelled to Vancouver this summer to launch the project at the festival, and since then the poem has slowly grown as people reflect on change ("henko"), the theme of the poem.
Why do this? I like the idea of putting writing out there that can be taken and messed around with and misinterpreted and reused and repurposed. I like the discomfort it brings. I like prying my writing from my ego's fist. I like conversations.
KM: What is your funniest or favourite literary moment that you've experienced.
SM: Jacob McArthur Mooney leaving the stage during his reading at Pivot to buy the audience cotton candy from the street vendor passing by on Dundas. No wonder he's the new host.
KM: What are you working on now?
SM: Poems about airports/the struggle to stay present. A novel about fake orphans.
SACHIKO MURAKAMI'S RECENT WORKS
Rebuild, Talonbooks, 2011
Description from the publisher:
In a city ironically famous for its natural setting, the roving subject’s gaze naturally turns upward, past the condo towers which frame the protected “view corridors” at the heart of Vancouver’s municipally- guaranteed development plan. But look for the city, and one encounters “a kind of standing wave of historical vertigo, where nothing ever stops or grounds one’s feet in free-fall.”
Murakami approaches the urban centre through its inhabitants’ greatest passion: real estate, where the drive to own is coupled with the practice of tearing down and rebuilding. Like Dubai, where the marina looks remarkably like False Creek, Vancouver has become as much a city of cranes and excavation sites as it is of ocean and landscape. Rebuild engraves itself on the absence at the city’s centre, with its vacant civic square and its bulldozed public spaces. The poems crumble in the time it takes to turn the page, words flaking from the line like the rain-damaged stucco of a leaky condominium.
The city’s “native” residential housing style now troubles the eye with its plainness, its flaunting of restraint, its ubiquity. What does it mean to inhabit and yet despise the “Vancouver Special”; to attempt to build poems in its style, when a lyric is supposed to be preciously unique, but similar, in its stanzas or “rooms,” to other lyric poems? What does it mean to wake from a dream in which one buys a presale in a condo development—and is disappointed to have awoken?
In the book’s final section, the poems turn inward, to the legacy left by Murakami’s father, who carried to his death the burden of the displaced and disinherited: the house seized by the government during WWII, having previously seized the land from its native inhabitants—a “mortgage” from which his family has never truly recovered.
The Invisibility Exhibit, Talonbooks, 2008
Description from the publisher:
These poems were written in the political and emotional wake of the “Missing Women” of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Although women had been going missing from the neighbourhood since the late 1970s, police efforts were not coordinated into a full-scale investigation until the issue was given widespread public visibility by Lori Culbert, Lindsay Kines and Kim Bolan’s 2001 “Missing Women” series in the Vancouver Sun. This media coverage, combined with the efforts of activists in political and cultural sectors, finally resulted in increased official investigative efforts, which have so far led to the arrest of Robert Pickton, on whose property the remains of twenty-seven of the sixty-eight listed women were found. In December 2007, Pickton was convicted of six counts of second-degree murder in what had become one the highest-profile criminal cases to take place in B.C.’s history; yet this is not the focus of this book.
As the title suggests, the concern of this project is an investigation of the troubled relationship between this specific marginalized neighbourhood, its “invisible” populations both past and present, and the wealthy, healthy city that surrounds it. These poems interrogate the comfortable distance from which the public consumes the sensationalist news story by turning their focus toward the normative audience, the equally invisible public. In the speaker’s examination of this subject, assumptions and delineations of community, identity and ultimately citizenship are called into question. Projects such as Lincoln Clarkes’ controversial Heroines photographic series and subsequent book (Vancouver: Anvil Press, 2002), news stories, and even the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games circulate intertextually in this manuscript, while Pickton’s trial is intentionally absent.
Irritated by complacency, troubled by determinate narrative and the relationship between struggle and the artistic representation of struggle, Murakami is a poet bewildered by her city’s indifference to the neglect of its inhabitants.
Rachel Zolf Photo by Brian Adams
Rachel Zolf’s poetic practice explores interrelated materialist questions concerning memory, history, knowledge, subjectivity, and the conceptual limits of language and meaning. She is particularly interested in how ethics founders on the shoals of the political. Her fourth book of poetry is Neighbour Procedure (Coach House, 2010). Human Resources (Coach House, 2007) won the 2008 Trillium Book Award for Poetry. Zolf recently wrote a screenplay for a film that New York artist Josiah McElheny will show at the 2012 Miami/Basel Art Fair. She is an assistant professor in English and Creative Writing at the University of Calgary.
RUSTY TALK WITH RACHEL ZOLF
Kathryn Mockler: What is your first memory of writing creatively?
Rachel Zolf: I wrote my first poem at a workshop with Di Brandt in Winnipeg in 1990 or thereabouts. Everyone else brought poetry and I brought a failed essay on John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress that stopped short at the moment Christian became a travailer. The travailer part stuck, though. The point not to get somewhere, but to keep slogging.
KM: Why did you become a writer?
RZ: My dad hit me with his foolscap when I was a kid.
KM: What influences your work the most?
RZ: My menstrual cycle.
KM: Could you describe your writing/artistic process?
RZ: I read. I think. I gather things. I make.
KM: In your recent Jacket2 article you mentioned that your work is included in a conceptual writing anthology by women but you don’t consider yourself a part of the contemporary conceptual writing movement. How would you describe your artistic or writing practice or how would you attempt to define it?
RZ: Someone called me a conceptual-materialist, which may be mutually exclusive, or not. Like Lisa Robertson, I am a feminist writer, which encompasses a fair bit, but not everything. The label never fits.
KM: You often work with pre-existing or found texts. What draws you to creating work in this way? And is it ever a problem in terms of copyright and, if so, how do you get around that?
RZ: I am a gleaner (e.g., see Agnès Varda’s film The Gleaners and I), just am. Libel law has scared me more than copyright law so far.
KM: What writers would you recommended to an aspiring writer? Or what writers were influential to you when you first started out?
RZ: I make work from what I read, and it is a different constellation for each book. I don’t want to name names here because the list is always exclusionary. But I do name a lot of names in my books.
KM: What is the funniest moment that you've experienced as a writer or in the literary world?
RZ: The poetry world is unfortunately not that funny. It could do with a dose of levity.
KM: What are you working on now?
RZ: A book of poetry that looks at ongoing colonization in Canada, and a book of essays on philosophy and poetry and the poetics of witness.
RACHEL ZOLF'S MOST RECENT BOOK
Neighbour Procedure, Coach House Books, 2010
Description from Coach House Books:
Rachel Zolf’s powerful follow-up to the Trillium Award-winning Human Resources is a virtuoso polyvocal correspondence with the daily news, ancient scripture and contemporary theory that puts the ongoing conﬂict in Israel/Palestine ﬁrmly in the crosshairs. Plucked from a mineﬁeld of competing knowledges, media and public texts, Neighbour Procedure sees Zolf assemble an arsenal of poetic procedures and words borrowed from a cast of unlikely neighbours, including Mark Twain, Dadaist Marcel Janco, blogger-poet Ron Silliman and two women at the gym. The result is a dynamic constellation where humour and horror sit poised at the threshold of ethics and politics.
Rachel Zolf and Judith Butler read "Jews in Space" (from Neighbour Procedure)
Photo by Karis Shearer
Montreal poet Erín Moure has published seventeen books of poetry plus a volume of essays, My Beloved Wager. She is also a translator from French, Spanish, Galician (galego), and Portuguese, with eleven books translated, of work by poets as diverse as Nicole Brossard, Andrés Ajens, Louise Dupré, and Fernando Pessoa. Her work has received the Governor General's Award, the Pat Lowther Memorial Award, the A.M. Klein Prize (twice), and was a three-time finalist for the Griffin Poetry Prize. Moure holds an honorary doctorate from Brandon University. Her latest works are The Unmemntioable (House of Anansi), an investigation into subjectivity and wartime experience in western Ukraine and the South Peace region of Alberta, and Secession (Zat-So), her fourth translation of internationally acclaimed Galician poet Chus Pato.
RUSTY TALK WITH ERÍN MOURE
Kathryn Mockler: What is your first memory of writing creatively or being creative ?
Erín Moure: Biting my toe in the crib and finding out that the waving thing was intimately connected to me. Ouch!
KM: Why did you become a poet?
EM: From the time I read Mother Goose when I was 3 or 4, I thought poet was a valid career choice and no one ever really managed to talk me out of it. It interested me more than my next hotly desired direction, which came later: restaurant owner.
KM: Could you describe your writing process? (For example, do you write every day? When? Where? How do you approach revision, etc.)
EM: Hard to describe. I write most days. I write in pencil in notebooks, I move words, I collect words and bits of text from the Web and elsewhere, I translate and use automatic translators, I generate funny sentences, try to write things down before I forget them. I research a lot too: read philosophy, history, buy plane tickets and go to places: Lisbon, rural Galicia, L'viv in Ukraine. Immerse. Usually by myself so I feel utterly lost. Get really lonely. Revise a lot. Move, cadence, check, read aloud, set aside, read again, move. Read a lot of good poetry while I am working and then cut where mine falls short...no mercy, but lots of fun. I write wherever I am but favourite places are while on my bike (I have to stop to scribble), while on trains, while on the roof deck, while at my desk...but anywhere will do really. I change places so that the work can be read differently. Inhabit language and let it inhabit me. I think. Thinking is a kind of writing too.
KM: How did you get interested in translation? How do you view the role of the translator?
EM: I've told this story before...it's because my mother—Ukrainian born but fiercely always an unhyphenated Canadian, her way of coping with history—always told me there were two languages in Canada, French and English. As a tyke in Calgary, I knew we spoke "English" so I thought French was spoken on the north side of the Bow River. I thought my grandparents spoke French. Then I found out they spoke something that was not French. And I knew there were three languages in Canada.
Then I read Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs. At the back there is a three page bilingual dictionary of Ape-English. So I tried to write in Ape. No English-Ape dictionary though, and no connecting words, so it was impossible. I was maybe 7.
The role of the translator? To transfer joy from one idiom to another. Somehow.
KM: What poets would you recommended to an aspiring writer? Or what poets or writers were influential to you when you first started out?
EM: Read poets in other languages as well as in English: try to read them even if you can't, look intensely at their language. Poets that helped me: Yannis Ritsos, Cesar Vallejo, Federico García Lorca, Clarice Lispector, Nicole Brossard. Early important poets to me: Phyllis Webb, Miriam Waddington, Robin Blaser, Al Purdy, Baudelaire. And Chus Pato, more recently, because, to tell the truth, I am always first starting out.
KM: How do you think the early poet in you would view the later poet? Have you become the writer that you thought you'd be when you first started out in terms of the kind of work you produce, your views, etc.
EM: I am still the early poet! I still love the surprise of exploring in language. I don't know what I've become, to tell the truth. I leave that to other people to define. I am still trying to bite my toe. Though, I guess, early on, I could have never predicted Elisa Sampedrín. Or that I would one day speak Galician.
KM: Your funniest or favourite literary moment, if you have one.
EM: Don't really have one...most things are funny, if you ask me...My favourite would be reading, just reading, always reading, and the feeling of incredible beauty and joy I get in my mouth and throat and chest when I am reading. And going to Vylkove to the Danube Delta with Chus Pato and Manolo Igrexas and swimming in water salt and fresh at the same time.
KM: What are you working on now?
EM: Am working with monologue and chorus texts that could potentially I hope be staged. Poetry but theatre too...delving deeper into that. It's in English and French at once. And is called Kapusta, which is Ukrainian for cabbage.
ERÍN MOURE'S MOST RECENT BOOK
The Unmemntioable, House of Anansi Press, 2012
Description from House of Anansi
The Unmemntioable joins letters that should not be joined. There is, in this word, an act of force. Of devastation. The unmentionable is love, of course. But in Moure's poems, love is bound to a duty: to comprehend what it was that the immigrants would not speak of. Now they are dead; their children and grandchildren know but an anecdotal pastiche of Ukrainian history. On Saskatoon Mountain in Alberta where they settled, only the chatter of the leaves remains of their presence. What was not spoken is sealed over, unmemntioable. There is no one left to contact in the Old Country. Can the unmemntioable retain its silence, yet be eased into words? Can experience still be spoken?
Photo by Daniel Ehrenworth
Priscila Uppal is a Toronto poet, fiction writer, and York University professor. Among her publications are seven collections of poetry, most recently Ontological Necessities (2006; shortlisted for the $50,000 Griffin Poetry Prize), Traumatology (2010), and Successful Tragedies: Poems 1998-2010 (Bloodaxe Books, U.K.); and the critically acclaimed novels The Divine Economy of Salvation (2002) and To Whom It May Concern (2009). Her work has been published inter-nationally and translated into numerous languages.
RUSTY TALK WITH PRISCILA UPPAL
Kathryn Mockler: What is your first memory of writing creatively?
Priscila Uppal: I remember writing stories about my neighbours. My goal every day was to get myself invited to other people's houses for dinner. I loved watching other people eat and interact with each other. I loved looking through playbins, drawers, medicine cabinets. I was fascinated by people's parents, what they deemed acceptable behaviour or not, what they made for dinner, what gods they worshipped. I honestly think I became a writer because I was pretty nosy about my neighbours.
KM: Why did you become a poet?
PU: Because I didn't know it was something I could be. I read lots of poems and felt at home inside the language of poetry—metaphor, ambiguity, utterance. Then I started writing them. I wrote poems as a teenager almost every single day, and I haven't really stopped. I went to university because I soon learned that I could actually get scholarship money to read and write poetry and other books all day. That seemed too good to be true—criminal even. So, I took advantage of it. And I suppose I still am.
KM: Could you describe your writing process? (Do you write every day? When? Where? How do you approach revision, etc.)
PU: I probably do engage in writing every day but the type varies. I write poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, plays, essays, articles, lectures, even interviews. I tend to write in one form while I am editing another. This kind of cross-pollination, I think, keeps my brain firing in interesting ways. I always work on more than one project at once. That way if I'm stuck or bored, I will switch to another project until I figure a few things out and can return with renewed energy.
KM: Rejection or criticism can often stop poets before they start. Do you have any advice on how to deal with rejection?
PU: I listen to criticism if it comes from a trusted or intelligent source. I then try to figure out if I think it's fair or valid or something to ponder while I write other work. But I don't listen to rejection. If a magazine or publisher doesn't want my work, that's fine, then it's not the right place for the work. Sometimes the hardest part of publishing is figuring out where a piece will find a home. If you consider that phrase "finding a home," it's apt because if you're someone who knows what it's like to be on your own (I left home at 15, and so know this quite well), then it doesn't seem strange that you might not find the perfect place right away.
KM: What poets or writers would you recommended to an aspiring poets? Or what writers were influential to you when you first started out?
PU: I think it's hard to sort through all the stuff out there. Every aspiring poet probably already has some favourite poets, so I might suggest finding out who those poets read and liked and who they were reacting against to get a sense of how a poet works within the world of poetry. I think it's important to read widely and internationally and that if you don't have people in your circle who can recommend writers that might be of particular interest to you in terms of what you might already be writing and reading, then taking a class can help draft a new reading list and bibliography. I discovered lots of writers through taking courses and those teachers recommending more writers to me.
KM: What is the best thing about being a writer and what is the worst thing?
PU: The best thing about being a writer is that I can work almost anywhere. My favourite place to work is beachside in Barbados. I write for hours in the morning, then run on the beach, then make notes and read all afternoon and swim. I can't think of a better life than that.
The worst thing about being a writer is that everyone asks you what you really do for a living. I was hired by the university as a poet. I teach poetry and other arts. I tell people that I might not make all my money through book royalties, but I do indeed make my living as a writer
KM: Your funniest literary moment, if you have one.
PU: One of the funniest was in Sri Lanka at the Galle Literary Festival (a wonderful and warm festival by the way, in a beautiful old Dutch fort town). The opening reception was on this glorious property on a hill and sponsored, in part, by the government of Sri Lanka. As we walked in, young Sri Lankan boys played bagpipes, dressed in Scottish outfits. An orchestra of other young people in elaborate school uniforms played on the grass. Champagne flutes of lime juice were passed around and plates of warm nibbles. At the end of the reception, as we were to talk to the next venue for the evening, further down the hill, a flurry of fireworks exploded. They were so unexpected and near to us that many of us screamed, held our hearts, and tried to steady ourselves as we laughed in both amusement and fear. The fireworks kept coming. Louder. Closer. Bits of fire fell directly in front and behind us the entire time. In order to contain our fear, many of us laughed, and kept laughing. When it was finally over, we writers all looked at each other in relief, trying to figure out if this was the usual welcome for writers for the festival.
KM: What are you working on now?
PU: I'm just about to leave for London to resume my position as Canadian Athletes Now Poet-in-Residence during the 2012 Olympics and Paralmpics. I'll be writing and publishing two poems per day, one on the Canadian Athletes Now website and one on the Literary Review of Canada website (under Poet's Corner). I will also be posting an article every two days on the LRC website about sports art. This is a project I am very passionate about—encouraging sport and artistic practice, breaking down stereotypes between the sports and arts worlds, and bringing poetry to new audiences in a fun and exciting way. I will be working on the companion to Winter Sport: Poems, called fittingly Summer Sport: Poems, to be published in early 2013.
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