Wednesday, August 24, 2011

12 or 20 questions (second series) with Kaie Kellough

Kaie Kellough is a Montréal word-sound systemizer. He is the author of Lettricity (Cumulus, 2004), and Maple Leaf Rag (Arbeiter Ring, 2010), which was nominated for the Manuela Dias design award. Kaie is the voice of one sound recording, Vox:Versus (WOW, 2011), a suite of conversations between voice and instrument.

Kaie's print and sound work is underwritten by rhythm and by a desire to dis-and re-assemble language and meaning. Kaie's work emerges where voice, language, music, and text intersect. He blends word-games with sound poetry, dub, and jazzoetry. He has performed and published internationally. Kaie is presently working on short fiction, on poems that say goodbye, and on new sound recordings based on formative experiences of language.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
my first book - it taught me about the effort it takes to pull a book together. that effort flung me forward, it improved me as a poet.

at the time my first book came out, i was working a lot in the spoken word / dub poetry / performance poetry areas. having a book published helped to distinguish my practice. i wasn’t recording with a full band. i wasn’t putting on a one-man show, etc. i was waxing bookish. 
my more recent (as yet unpublished) writing is moving in several new directions. one is a concrete direction ::: visual work that uses letters and punctuation, but that also incorporates musical notation and functions as a score for sound poems. i would one day like to develop these into an installation project that incorporates sound. this differs from my previous work because it bears little relationship to the lyric, and because it absolutely privileges the visual and sonic elements.

another direction is prose (short fiction), and this differs from my previous work because it’s not poetry, and because i find it much easier to incorporate humor and absurdity into prose pieces.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
i actually did arrive at prose first, but when i started experimenting with poetry i became deeply interested in all of the nuanced sound-play that can take place in a line of poetry, and by how the mind’s ear can be engaged. i was also interested in how it is possible to create new forms, and/or adapt old ones to new idioms and purposes. i strayed from prose for many years, and am only now finding my way back.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
it takes me a long time to write – i write slowly and i get stumped easily. fortunately, i always have a multiple ideas in mind / projects on the go – ideas / projects that span lyric poetry, sound poetry and its performance &or recording, visual poetry, and prose. i’m able to skip to another project when i no longer know how to proceed, and i eventually complete the cycle in this fashion. old projects come to fruition, and new ones get inserted into the cycle. i also revise a lot, and i try to push my poems to take on a sonic and a visual character, and this requires a lot of tinkering, much displacing of letters and words and experimenting with font and type. i don’t often know how i want a poem to look when i begin writing, so that develops as the poem develops.

i also use constraints from time to time, and these constraint-based poems can take a long time to complete. even once i have a draft, i keep the poem around because i want to be sure i’ve written the best work i can within the limitations i’ve imposed.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
until recently my projects have always fragmented into smaller units. BUT lately i’ve acquired a new focus. I think this is because i’ve seen a few books through from conception to publication, as well as an album. i’m comfortable developing ideas at length, working with the same ideas through, say, the rehearsal, recording, mixing, mastering, design and launch processes. lately i’ve also had the opportunity to give longer performances, which allows me to conceive of my work in larger units.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
i would emphasize the word performance more than reading, because in performance i do limited reading. i have performed solo, with instrumental accompaniment, with big bands, with dancers, and with other vocalists. in the early-mid 2000s i was working with an improvised music ensemble. over a 4-year period i performed at least once a week, and participated in 300+ performances.
of late, my performances have been based in sound poetry and in what i call ‘remix poems.’ the remix poems are page-based works that get reassembled live. the reassembly is always improvised, and guided equally by sound and meaning. no two versions of a particular text will be alike. the improvisation is also meant to discover new meanings and new perspectives on the poem by taking its component letters, syllables, words, and cadences out of their familiar page-bound context. this also allows the performance to become non-linear (not moving from beginning to end) and independent of the printed poem.

i enjoy performing, but at the same time i find it highly stressful. working in sound poetry has been very rewarding (often producing a euphoric disorientation that accompanies me off stage), but it also puts me very close to the limits of my abilities. for this reason i have to prepare carefully, i also have to visualize the performance. in order to improvise well, to be able to create a spontaneous structure that makes sense in the moment, my mind has to be very clear; i have to be in a heightened, attentive state, but at the same time i have to be loose and supple. this is a demanding process, but i enjoy it, yes.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
i’m concerned with creating books that are visual and that suggest sound, so they become an involving sensory experience, and in albums that are literary and that can use sound to suggest visual images.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
whether a writer eschews or embraces certain roles, whether they love or despise their position, the writer is always thinking. it isn’t possible to write without thinking about the world and the things in it, and writing grows out of that thinking. so perhaps the best way to approach this is to say that wherever or however a writer positions themselves vis-à-vis the larger culture, they think.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
i’d say the process is helpful (not essential) and difficult. can you trust your editor? i’ve been in situations where two writers whose taste i trusted, and whose work bore similarities to mine, gave me radically different feedback. what one poet found trite, the other found profound, and vice-versa. what one believed, the other found incredible, and so on. so, while it is helpful to have some outside perspective on what you are so deeply immersed in, the final decision is yours. you have to be equipped to decide how to implement your editor’s advice. basically, you have to be able to function as your own editor, even if you have an outside person looking at your work.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
near the turn of the millenium i was performing at an event in toronto, at which the poet clifton joseph was also performing. clifton insisted that ‘poets have to diversify.’ i took this to mean that a poet doesn’t have to be narrowly defined, and that it is valuable and important to broaden your artistic practice. you don’t need to only stick to one form, one school, one set of ideas. be open to experimentation and to collaboration, borrow liberally, and use your writing skill in as many different ways as you can. reinvent and re-envision yourself.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
i don’t write critical prose, but i do write fiction, and it’s not difficult to move between the two. when writing poetry i don’t think in terms of narrative or character, and when writing fiction i don’t try to foreground the sound and music of the language. i have to think differently and use different faculties for each type of writing, and moving back and forth allows these faculties to rest and be refreshed.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
i don’t write every day, though i should. i don’t have a routine, though should. i write when i can liberate the time.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
i work in cycles. i need to ingest material, then ruminate upon it, in order to expel material. i have moments of heavy reading and study, moments when the rate of absorption slows, when the idea of reading or listening makes me feel listless and sleepy, and then periods where i begin to generate new material, or revisit older works. the cycles are not cleanly divided – there is overlap. but i definitely notice periods when i hunger for a new vocabulary, new ideas, new approaches, and other periods when i feel sated, full, and need to let all of the material i have absorbed begin to knit together.

i often turn to other writing, to the visual arts, and to music. i also look into biographies – i love bios of jazz musicians and boxers, in particular figures from the first half of the 20th century. musicians and prizefighters lived unconventional, fast, and daring lives. they made their living in risky ways, sometimes on the edge/fringe of the law. at the same time, they travelled and were celebrated for their achievements. their life experience far exceeded that of most people. i turn to those bios for ideas and just to invigorate the dreaming faculty, present it with possibilities it hadn’t yet considered.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
i would like to travel along some of the underground railroad routes, writing as i go. i would also like to kayak around the island of montréal, and to begin going on long-distance bicycle trips. 
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
if i were to be very realistic and bare-bones about this consideration, i would admit that outside of writing i have another life in which i am a corporate manager, so even though it doesn’t sound terribly exciting, if i didn’t write, i might be just what i am now, only more of it. 
i would feel silly declaring that without writing i’d be lost, or that i can’t imagine living without writing. those statements seem too dramatic. i sometimes wonder if the opposite might be true – that without writing i would be much more conventional, much more practical, yet much less imaginative, and less acquainted with risk.

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