Monday, February 25, 2008

Fred Wah’s Articulations

0.1 (Rilke)

Looks like the Angel got through. Wrapped.
Swaddled. Between the rock and the river.

Seen speaking as having held to mere fact.
Mirroring on the wall, not me, begründen.

Watch who’d turned us round, turned and stopped.
Just for taking leaves from the bottom of the tree.

Of which the years build up their larger mounds.
Pudenda’d down moss, “the smell of the heat is…”

Spectacle of Mrs. Erickson’s totem. Private parts.
Thread round desire like a crack through the cup.

Stare, stare — nothing there. Camp. Earth. House.
Poof! said the beak. Not a ripple. By a hair.
After years without publishing a new trade collection of poetry [see my earlier note on Fred Wah here] comes this new chapbook from Peter and Meredith Quartermain’s Nomados Press, Articulations (Vancouver BC: Nomados, 2007), as perhaps a teaser, a precursor to his forthcoming spring 2008 collection with Talonbooks, Sentenced to Light. Even before the more obvious focus of his collection (and ongoing series) Music at the Heart of Thinking (Red Deer AB: Red Deer College Press, 1987), Wah was working from and with a series of responses, whether to breath, other writing or, in his later ArtKnot” series [some are posted here], on specific works of visual art. Over the past few years, Wah has even collaborated with a filmmaker, and produced another chapbook All Americans (Calgary AB: housepress, 2002), that responds as a collaboration with visual artists. Included in the chapbook of seven poems, Wah writes:

All Americans is a text that was serialized for an installation called ‘Storybook Story’ curated by Luanne Martineau for the Art Gallery of Calgary 14 September - 11 November 2001. The text is meant to resonate with the weekly installments of three other writers involved in the same project (Skawennati Tricia Fragnito, Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskwew, and Rosemary Nixon). All of our texts were written in response to two panorama renderings of the Minnesota Massacre of 1862 from the Glenbow Museum's permanent collection. The first installment of our texts was due on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. I've used parts of their texts in my own, as well as some text from Snow Crash by Neal Stephanson.
As he writes in the back of the chapbook Articulations:

Articulations is a series of texts written for a collaborative project of paintings and textual transcreations. Calgary artist Bev Tosh and I intended an intertextual and generative dialogue that explores not only gesture and reading but also the textual surface of human figure, typed letter, and artifact. The original project, a series of fifty paintings, incorporates both installation and performance, elements utilized as extensions and repetitions in the making of conversational art.
It is almost as though, over the past decade or so, Wah has been more interested in pursuing this “conversational art,” writing pieces in dialogue with other artworks; as opposed, one could easily argue, with the “conversational art” he has been doing previously, writing in dialogue with himself, his family and his own history (such as in Diamond Grill, for example, or even Waiting for Saskatchewan). One could even say that his whole writing career has been one of “conversational art,” going back to responding to Pictograms from the Interior of B.C. (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 1975). In his new afterward to the recent tenth anniversary edition of Diamond Grill, "Re-Mixed: The Compound Composition of Diamond Grill," Wah writes:
In hindsight now, I sometimes think I can locate a tangible beginning for Diamond Grill. It was in a poem in a book of transcreations (Pictograms from the Interior of B.C., Talonbooks, 1975, p.16) of Indian rock paintings I worked on in the mid-70s.

September spawn
fish weirs everywhere
all through the narrows

Upstream, upstream

A feast for all of us
cousins and old friends
everybody dancing
like crazy, eh?

That word "transcreation" is from Coleridge (Literary Reminiscences [1839], IV, 166).

"Not the qualities merely, but the root of the qualities
is transcreated. How else could it be a birth, a creation?"

and that etymon, "trans-", becomes, also, like "cousin", a little burr, another little thorn, that has prodded the discourse of the hyphen for me since "betweenness" also frequently engages a "crossing over," a trans-creation, trans-lation, trans-port. The implications of such a term around notions of Diaspora, foreignicity, and multiculturalism are clear (see p.5, Yet Languageless, Mouth Always A Gauze, Words Locked). […]

After Pictograms, the bio started to demand more in my writing. As a long poem, Diamond Grill is really anchored in my next project after Pictograms, a collection of poems called Breathin' My Name With a Sigh (Talonbooks, 1981). This was a crucial writing project for me since, around 1979, finally, after twenty years of writing, I was able to confront my racialized past, albeit mostly as an address to my father's death fourteen years earlier. So that other RE, the more nebulous RE of regarding, starts to particularize my own name, Wah. What's that all about, I start to ask. Breathin' My Name With a Sigh opens with this poem:

I like the purity of all things seen
through the accumulation of thrust
forward especially the vehicle
container maybe/or "thing" called body
because time seems to be only it appears
to look into the green mountains valleys
or through them to the rivers & nutrient creeks
where was never the problem animal is
I still have a name "breathin' it
with a sigh"
Robert Kroetsch once said that literature is a conversation; does that make everything Wah has worked up to this point boiled down to a series of ongoing conversations, between himself and the world?
48. (leg to stand on)

the deal is this
normal arc

under the frozen earth

not worth
the digging

a month
in which to stay warm

phantom calisthenics
shadow eyes

calendar empty
the tumblers unlocked

a limb
to go out on

a leg
to stand

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