Saturday, January 03, 2009

West Coast Line # 57 (42.1): Miki

Losing my body

I look in the mirror
see someone else’s body
where are the clean hard lines
the lean and muscle
the smooth taut skin
on the throat
the straight back
and narrow waist
they stole slowly away
molecule by molecule
and someone else took over
inch by inch
roll by roll
wrinkly by wrinkle
scar by scar
grey hair by gray hair
and oh I miss
most (Jeannette Armstrong)

As guest editor Fred Wah beings in his introduction:
This issue of West Coast Line is a tribute to its founder, Roy Miki. It is not intended as collection of anecdotal or hagiographical testimonials but, rather, a collection of writing from some of the writers who have cohabited Roy’s extensive cultural community over the past 40 years. Writing was solicited to reflect not only the moment of production but also to reflect to Roy a partial sense of the threads of his own creative and intellectual milieu which he has generated through a lifetime of writing, thinking, and activism.
I have always appreciated special issues of various journals over the years produced as tributes to others, whether writers, publishers, activists and others, and there have been plenty over the years (although, somehow, never quite enough), even including a recent issue of The Capilano Review produced as a tribute to Sharon Thesen [see my review of such here]. This special issue of Vancouver’s West Coast Line includes a whole host of contributors, including Marilyn Dumont, Roger Farr, Wayde Compton, Robert Kroetsch, Myrna Kostash, Pauline Butling, Peter Quartermain, Fred Wah, Charlene Diehl, Jerry Zazlove, Margaret Christakos, Jeff Derksen, Karina Vernon, Louis Cabri, Kim Minkus, Colin Browne, Douglas Barbour, George Bowering, Lola L. Tostevin, Lisa Robertson, Gerry Shikatani, Steven Ross Smith, Jacqueline Turner, Mark Nowak and plenty of other writers, none of whom, interestingly enough, have bios at the back of the issue, giving their homages to and for Miki a kind of level playing field that is particularly interesting. As Wah continues:
For those few readers of WCL unfamiliar with Roy’s range of engagements, let me briefly outline his more public performance, one that has had a valuable and extensive impact on his contemporaries. As a scholar he has edited and published decisive work on and by William Carlos Williams, George Bowering, bpNichol, and Roy Kiyooka. His collection of essays, Broken Entries: Race Subjectivity Writing, is a good demonstration of his incisive critical acumen and an excellent sampler of some of his writing on poetics and culture. His founding and editing of the literary journals Line (1983) and West Coast Line (1990) has been central to the articulation and practice of the modern-postmodern-postcolonial shifts in recent Canadian and American poetry. Probably his most arduous work is documented in his book Redress: Inside the Japanese Canadian Call for Justice. His teaching at Simon Fraser University from the mid-70’s until his retirement in 2007 has maintained SFU and Vancouver as the site of some of the most important dialogue in literary and cultural studies in North America. His poetry has been published in numerous chapbooks and collection, his 2001 Surrender winning the Governor-General’s Literary Award. Many other awards and accolades, including the Order of Canada, have highlighted his outstanding engagement with literature and justice.
What makes this issue isn’t necessarily the writing dedicated to Miki directly, but the range, amount and quality of writers who have been influenced and encouraged by Roy Miki, whether directly or indirectly, whether as readers, students, contemporaries and friends, to those edited and published by Miki through Line and/or West Coast Line over the years, with some that even count as all of the above, through his ongoing critical and writing practice, and ongoing conversation about writing, poetics, culture and race.

You Never Looked So Simulating

The next stop was Edmonton
where I got lost in the Fantasyland
Mall on the way to one of the demi-
keynotes at the International Association
for Philosophy and Literature
“Thinking Between Poetry &
Philosophy” convention & so missed
most of the lecture on the “The Ineluctable
Split of Poetry’s Unsayable Name: Reading
Derrida through Nietzsche’s Unknowable
Answer to Celan’s Joyce (A Response to
Benjamin).” Many of the conventioneers
noted that the “Bourbon Street” food
mall was a perfect example of “simulation” –
a view I have trouble understanding
(not unusual for me)
since the patrons of the food court
seem to enjoy the fact that
“Bourbon Street” is ineluctably in
the West Edmonton Mall & the designers
of the street seemed to go
out of their way to emphasize this fact,
making it look like a plaster cast
sketch of a picture of a New Orleans street
& not like the “real thing” at
all; the only ones fooled were
we conventioneers having our
dinner as we chatted about the
breakdown of reality and simulacra
(or simusoy for the lactose
intolerant). & talk about authentically
local as you might, the Buffalo
wings on Bourbon Street
in the West Edmonton Mall
never tasted so real
or would have. I had trout. (Charles Bernstein)

The issue also includes an interview with Roy Miki, “‘Always Slippage’: An Interview on a Collage/Poem Project in Process,” by Kirsten Emiko McAllister, talking about a work-in-progress poetic/photographic work that extends some of the work done in his previous writing, including his most recent poetry collections Surrender (Toronto ON: The Mercury Press, 2001) and There (Vancouver BC: New Star Books, 2006):
Roy Miki: My interest in constructing visual collages crept up on me. I’ve been using photographs for a while alongside poems, you could say in conversation with poems. Photographs—as in There [New Star, 2006]—have been a mediating device for me to free up more open-ended approaches to language and form. I’ve loved working with photo images. But when I retired from the university, it struck me more than before how much my intellectual life has been dominated by the printed word and, of course, printed texts, so I felt a need to figure out ways to enter into a relationship with the spaces of visual images rather than treating them only as accompaniments to poetic texts. I started by walking around my neighbourhood—the Kitsilano area of West 4th Avenue, around 4th and Vine—rethinking the social appearances of its localism, drawing on critical reflections that had been part of my poetry, research, and teaching. As I walked along the streets, I found myself drawn to images that revealed the heightened influence of commodity culture. It was fascinating to realize how pervasively our daily lives had become normalized in the discourses of commodity values—values woven into objects to be possessed and sold, displayed, produced, consumed, distributed, and so on. I was also struck that all the forms of commodification were somehow located in the body of the consumer. I’m not just talking about the body that displays a proliferating array of things to buy, but the body (my own included) that is affected by the visual and spoken language of commodities, which comes to us through shopping as a social performance.

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