Monday, March 24, 2014

filling Station #57 : showcase of experimental writing by women

Vancouver For Beginners #4: Public Transit

Walk into the people rivering stripped to the waist, never look back, door lasered neat in aluminum surf, flesh striving to dinner tables, sloughing intent. We plunge to airborne chambers, I wonder if there will be people farms after all the fish farms run out, a child demands of the commuters, we claw at rubber loops, we sway like reeds whipped rush hour raw. The traffic does not seal behind you, swing, swing to diurnal clock. We are called a city of transients, you’ll never meet a person who was actually born here, but seaweed knots in our elbow hinges, sand coagulates when dampened with our sweat, we ride each other’s blasted auras at high slack. More of an intertidal zone than a holding-ground. A woman panhandling at the commuter train station snarls at me, one day you’re gonna get it. Coins bless our foreheads as we board the lightrailed basket across the river filleted by another morning, puzzle-horizon of logging from our islands, matchsticks mapping out the water, squint hard into the Western light before the plunge into the tunnel through the undercarriage that workers walk at night with tightrope raccoons. A friend comes and goes from his city of birth-canal streets, I lean through the gateway and say, from here on in it’s all death and babies. He goes to a dry place. This train is for Waterfront terminus station. On morning radio the hosts marvel. A whale has swum under the Burrard Street bridge, fooling us again. (Alex Leslie)

An interesting response to the VIDA Count and CWILA over the past number of months comes “Calgary’s experimental literary magazine” filling Station’s #57, as a “showcase of experimental writing by women” (before these lists existed, other responses to the same frustrations included Nate Dorward’s ANTIPHONES: Essays on Women’s Experimental Poetries in Canada, published by The Gig in 2008 [see my review of such here], and Heather Milne and Kate Eichhorn’s Prismatic Poetics: Innovative Canadian Women’s Poetry and Poetics, published by Coach House Books in 2009 [see my review of such here], as well as the more recent I'll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing by Women, published by Les Figues in 2012 [see my review of such here]). I know some would rather see work by any group—whether through gender, racial or geographic lines—selected by a criteria of quality before anything else, but with the terrifying disparities exposed throughout American literary publications by the VIDA Count, and subsequently throughout Canadian publications via CWILA, to produce an issue (or three or six or eight) of work by women serves to further show the ridiculousness of just how few works by women (in comparison to those by men) are critically reviewed. So much of the literary work done by women is magnificent, plentiful and wide-ranging in style, tone and subject matter; why is there such a gap in criticism? Fortunately, CWILA has been pushing hard to remain positive in attempts to open up conversation on and by Canadian women, and have even founded an annual critic-in-residence position (the inaugural critic-in-residence, for 2013, was Sue Sinclair, followed in 2014 by Shannon Webb-Campbell). As filling Station managing editor Caitlynn Cummings writes in her introduction to the issue, “Stage Fright and Muscle Cars”:

Through not directly addressing CWILA’s object of tracking statistics on gender representation in reviewing, issue 57 does speak to their second mandate: bringing relevant issues of gender into our national literary conversation. By publishing a showcase of experimental writing by women, filling Station aims to provoke discussions in our readership about gender disparity, to exhibit some of the most phenomenal experimental writing Canadian and international women are creating, and to directly reach out to women, encouraging them to bring us this writing on a more regular basis.

There are some great pieces in this issue (such as the Alex Leslie piece, above, that manages to bring up an issue of geography that so many citizens of Ottawa hear as well, the needlessly dismissive “you’ll never meet a person who was actually born here”), including poetry by Sonnet L’Abbé, Daniela Elza, Kimberly Campanello, Anne Germanacos, Kelly Malone, Allie Marini Batts, Sasha Krioutchkova, Catherine Greenwood, Kristin Hannaford and Fazeela Jiwa, fiction by Meredith Quartermain, Susan Sanford Blades, Kyeren Regehr, Vanessa Farnsworth and Alex Leslie, non-fiction by Kathleen Brown, Tricia McDaid and Sue Sinclair, and artwork by Natascha Stellmach. The text-spaces of the works included by poets Daniela Elza, Kelly Malone, Catherine Greenwood and Kimberly Campanello are quite stunning, most of which would be nearly impossible to replicate here. New Zealand poet Kelly Malone’s “SOS Olson,” for example, utilizes Morse Code in truly inventive ways (which can be heard, also, on the filling Station website here), as she writes in the introduction to her section of five poems:

This work, visually, or as both page and sound poetics, considers breath and code in relation to the semiotic gap.

Through using the breath as code (the ‘human’ aspect of language whereby humans require breath for the spoken word) Charles Olson’s manifesto for open verse is explored in a new way. (The recordings of SOS Olson and the heart by way of breath are ‘projective verse Morse breath and ‘the heart by way of breath’ respectively.)

This aspect of breath as code and its function within spoken human language is then contrasted with computer code through the works titled, ideophone, phonosemantic / remorse scale and remorse moves.

Pure Data (PD) programming is seen in the (poetic) image phonosemantic / remorse scale. I have used PD to form an ideophonic language or a type of phonosemantic poetics through programming the computer keyboard to play a note simultaneously while the letter is being typed.

The poem ideophone is typed and the subsequent sound that occurs is the result of the scale (in this instance the remorse scale) I’ve programmed through PD (the recording being ‘ideophone note’). The possible semiotic gap between computer code and a user’s desktop screen is thus heard in the playing of ideophone. Additionally, I show the semiotic gap between the code and screen: programming language/algorithm/code is seen in the poem remorse moves which uses the ‘remorse scale’ programming language of PD; the image of the PD desktop application is seen in phonosemantic / remorse scale.

At the start of ideophone, the ideophone OM (aum) is played by the ‘remorse scale’, typing the letters ‘o’ and ‘m’ in Morse (-- ---). This draws together the Morse code, while playing the semiotic gap, and alludes to the breath through the practice of chanting ‘aum’ itself.

I include one of the poems she discusses, here:

the heart by way of breath to the line

- …. .
…. . .- .-. -
-… -.--
.-- .- -.--
--- ..-.
-… .-. . .- - ….
- ---
- …. .
.-.. .. -. .

Going through the author biographies at the back of the collection, one realizes just how wide in geographic scope the issue has managed, with contributors from New Zealand, Victoria, Vancouver, Dublin, San Francisco, Fredericton, Calgary, Australia and Quebec’s Eastern Townships, and I wonder how deliberate that might have been; part of me is thrilled for the wide geographic range of incredible work, and another part of me wonders why there weren’t more Canadian contributors to such an important project, showcasing “experimental writing by women” (there are more than enough to produce dozens of issues on the subject). Should I be thrilled with opening the floodgates of international experimental work, or sensitive to the percentages of the issue that could have been filled by the work of worthy Canadian experimental writers? Or both?


            ] sobs [
Soft [
            ] useless [
pelts of small animals. (Catherine Greenwood)

Really, there isn’t a low note in this entire issue (although there are always names I would have liked to have seen also included in such a collection, which can’t help but be the nature of the beast: Mercedes Eng, Brecken Hancock, Dorothy Trujillo Lusk, Christine McNair, Fenn Stewart, Judith Copithorne, Shannon Maguire, Sandra Ridley, Marie AnnHarte Baker, Liz Howard, Margaret Christakos, Maxine Gadd, Amy Dennis and so many, many others). Exactly what is the problem, literature? Why aren’t more literary works by women being discussed?

Let’s say that poetry is a method of transmitting information in tones, light, clicks or echoes.

Let’s say that narrative is human speech.

Because it can be heard by humans without a decoding device, narrative is sometimes a useful alternative to generative metaphors for sending analog data to listeners.

It can be said that poets will identify with narrative as a possible point of fusion between the thresholds of physical, cultural and experimental material that generates the body of poetry. (Kathleen Brown, “RECURSIVE PROOFS: Analysis of This Narrative’s Imagination”)

I’ve been very taken with the work Vancouver poet and critic Sonnet L’Abbé has been doing the past few years, ranging from language to visual works (as well as a recent above/ground press broadside), and this issue includes “Three Properties from Sonnet’s Shakespeare: 154 Ecolonizations.” As she writes in her brief introduction:

The following poems are part of a book-length materialist rewriting of Shakespeare’s sonnets that take both a postcolonial and ecopoetic stance toward the textual “common ground” of Shakespeare’s poems.

Experimenting with a voice that is at once subaltern and colonial, I play with the ideas of colony, ecology, and the agricultural practices of imperialism by treating Shakespeare’s material as resources available for my extraction, repurposing, or “development.”

The full text of each corresponding Shakespearian sonnet appears in each of the ecolonizations VIII, IX, and LXXXI.

There really does seem something that struck in L’Abbé between the publication of her first trade collection, A Strange Relief (Toronto ON: McClelland & Stewart, 2001), and her second, Killarnoe (McClelland & Stewart, 2007), that opened her work to ideas of the experiment, visuals and non-linear narratives that makes her work increasingly engaging and interesting (and which makes me more and more eager to see any subsequent trade collections). The first of her three pieces in the issue reads:


Muse! Sick to heart, what yahoos earn, sweetest house, oh, Muse! I curse badly. Sweat bets to win, though sweat gets warned: don’t join yards with elites. Ghettos sing, enjoy wheat-yellow cast throats, but gut hate. How high, chant house-hires. Cell lives. Attain other angles, mad lonely. More loss, eros. Crushed secessions rein vast widths, maple a measure; they morphine annual ploys. Wife other truants, economize accords, offer wells of tungsten; do so under stars. Baby uniforms win some margins. Right education does soften defense; delivers this net-earning. Oath-eyes adore butter. The swing set quiets lonely children, then sews chocolate-uniform sounds. Sin sing single idleness, other parties threaten thought. Shoulder someone’s tab. Earn market showers. Conical beast, brass ring, sworn meeting. Thus broadband atones in a note to her, stricken. Search into breach of goodbye. Mute the dual-border ingratitude. Assembly-line godsons fire handsomeness at each wild androgyne, happening yum yum yum. Other whores ball in the zone, hormones ripple as they bring bank. Notify the dormouse: this thing’s who’s who. Especially special, hairless sons. Go before God, young beings. Man yesses the seemings, the ones, and the abusings. Thread this tonal truth, free the you sinning in league with adults, approve a no-body bone.

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