Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Some of my favourite Star Wars Stormtroopers are Jewish

I remember attending the premiere of Star Wars while in high school And I remember listening to Joseph Campbell talking (from George Lucas’ dazzlingly beautiful library at his ranch) about the mythic structure of the series. The Hero with a Thousand Faces, etc. And I’ve seen remarkable images by West Coast indigenous artist Andy Everson where he appropriates Star Wars’ imagery and patterns them with West Coast Native iconography/decoration, a really brilliant mash-up which speaks to colonialism, power, myth, our expectations and how cultures interact. There is another non-Native artist who has also—though to my eye—less successfully and less interestingly done the same thing.

I wondered what it would mean if I appropriated these images? My background is Jewish. The ‘iconography’ of my people would involve Hebrew calligraphy and perhaps a Hamsa (the hand with protects against the evil eye.) And there would be an extra frisson with the Star Wars imagery given that some of the Empire imagery is itself riffing off Nazi German iconography (as well as Japanese: cf. Darth Vader.)

Nazi Stormtroopers don’t look like Star Wars stormtroopers but the connection is there. So. I covered a Star Wars stormtrooper helmet Hebrew and included a hamsa. Something else to note. The Hebrew is from a font which looks like Hebrew but actually replicates English letters. Another interesting faux syncretism.

And, of course, in the current geopolitical climate, it is hard not to consider this stormtrooper image in relation, not only to past Nazi militarism, but I think it does engage with images of Israeli force.

But I think the goal of art is to raise interesting questions, to problematize….but not to give any answers, particularly simple ones.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Blog Hop, Writers Tag (AKA MyWritingProcess Blog Tour)

Yiddish pirate flag

Fellow Hamilton writer Krista Foss tagged me (thanks!) in the venerable writers' process blog tour thing. I've actually done this once before but it was before the invention of electricity, the alphabet, and self-reflection and so I happily agreed to do it again—though I've taken a very long time since she tagged me, I think it had something to do with indolence, sloth, confusion, a whole bunch of writing projects, being the writer-in-residence at Western University this year which I enjoying tremendously, and, like I blame for everything, Facebook. D'you know that they sell your information to advertisers? D'you know that they own EVERYTHING you post? D'you know that…oh never mind…here's a few things about Krista:

This spring, she published her first novel, Smoke River (McClelland and Stewart). Here's what Lisa Moore had to say about it: "a morally complex, magnificently vivid novel full of characters who live and breathe. This is a dazzling debut.” Couldn't Lisa think of something nice to say? I mean, really.

Krista also tagged another excellent Hamilton writer, Sally Cooper. "She’s the author of two critically acclaimed novels, Love Object (2002) and Tell Everything (2008) as well as oodles of short fiction that has shown up everywhere from Grain and Event to Hamilton Arts and Letters. She recently finished her first collection of short stories, Ripple, and she is hard at work on novel number three, all while raising two high-octane youngsters and teaching at the Humber School for Writers and Humber College."

I'll have to figure out who to tag, but for the moment, here are my responses.

1) What are you working on?

Something that I enjoy about writing is that this question and its answer isn’t exactly clear to me. What is ‘what’ and what is ‘working on’?  I feel like I exist in a swirl of emerging, inchoate, burgeoning, abortive, fragmentary, germinating, ageing, aphasic, wind-like, crumbling, swarming projects. Oh wait. That’s just my house.

But I do I engage with these writing project the way I engage with a solid wind. Or a fleeting brick. Or a half forgotten dog.

Which is to say, I have many writing things I’m thinking about, edging forward, editing, weeding or feeding, “dreaming of dreaming what they were dreaming,” as I say they say in Jewish mysticism in the novel I’m working on, Yiddish for Pirates. I find it productive to exist as if in a workshop full of things to tinker with.

Here’s some of the things scattered about there:

I just finished responding to the first round of edits for the pirate novel, sent by my brilliant and insightful editor, Amanda Lewis at Random House Canada. The book is coming out in 2016. I’m amazed that adding only a few lines to a 420-page book can hugely change the emotional physics of its world. Of course, if someone knocked on my door and said, succinctly, “You’re under arrest,” that might change my world, too. Eh, Josef K?

Going back into the world of that book was a bit challenging. It’s like that Borges story, where the modern French writer Pierre Menard attempts to channel Cervantes to come up with the exact words of Quixote as if for the first time. Now imagine if Menard attempted to channel Cervantes responding to his editor? Actually, I’d love to find out more about historical editors. Is there a record of editors assisting writers in early times?

I’ve a new fiction/prose poem collection coming out in spring 2015 with Anvil Press. I, Dr Greenblatt, Orthodontist, 251-1457 and I’ve been working on edits like a mad dental hygienist. Image floss.  Grammar drills.  Metaphor overbite. I’ve sent the edited MS to Brian Kaufman at Anvil. Soon, I expect his edits. After working on the novel, this collection seems very different. I think I learned many new skills in working intensely on the novel. Character, plot, and setting, for example. I’ve heard they can be quite effective elements in fiction. Cool. I’ll have to try that.

I’m also in the final stages (layout decisions) with mIEKAL aND of Xexoxial Editions for a new visual poetry collection, The Wild and Unfathomable Always. In visual poetry, the layout is the message. Or a significant part.

And last night, Gregory Betts and I met with Natalee Caple—we have an informal (and very secret) writing group—to talk about Natalee’s ongoing project, but also about a collaborative MS that Greg and I are working on.

And this morning, I added a couple paragraphs to a collaborative story that Christine Miscione and I are working on. It’s been a while—Christine has a novel coming out this season and I’ve been busy with other things—but it was good to move this bewildering story forward.

I’m also working on multimedia piece based on the sound poetry of bpNichol. I’m taking recordings of bp performing and integrating them into new music, sound poetry, text and visuals that I’m writing.  I haven’t worked on a big music piece for a while and I’m thrilled to be rolling my twelve-tone sleeves up to my well-tempered elbows.

 2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Hmm. I’ve been calling my novel a tragi-comic-bildungsroman-swashbuckling-metaphysical-satiric-post-colonial-linguistic Canadian Jewish pirate novel. I think it’s like all the others in its genre.

 3) Why do I write what I do?

I write many kinds of things. I learn through exploring different kinds of work, by being attracted to different kinds of writing and different kinds of process, to wanting to ‘get in on the action’ that is inherent in different kinds of material and types of writing. (How is a novel different than a series of visual poems, or procedural work?) I feel like I’m always triangulating the ideal but then discovering that I find the corners of the triangle more interesting that the ideal that I thought I was aiming for.

How does your writing process work?

I don’t think that there is one process. Or even one ideal process. And my process varies even within a single short work. I think I am continually looking for ways to expand the range of techniques, procedures, habits, solutions or routines that go into my writing both individual and collaborative, and my work with editors. Which isn’t to say that I try not to fall back on the same salmagundi of ways to write. But trying out new forms, learning from other writers, and working with new collaborators and new material keeps things fresh as I fight against falling into the same neural runnels, or returning to the processual comfort foods only. I do trust the process in that I believe the process knows more than me, knows more than my conscious brain or the pleadings of my little immature heart which is always having some kind of writing tantrum. If I trust the process, trust the disorganized, inscrutable way that the writing might proceed, trust that if I pay attention, keep close to the work and keep at it, be open to radical revision, and try to be sensitive to what is emerging, what might emerge, even if it is very different than I expected, I often find myself engaged with much richer material. I might set out to catch some giant fish which I’ve head about, but then find myself immersed in a vast school of bioluminescent creatures which I don’t recognize and which amaze.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

New chapbook: The Wild & Unfathomable Always

My book of visual poems, The Wild & Unfathomable Always is arriving soon as Xerolage issue 58 from mIEKAL aND's Xexoxial Editions.

I'm with Lan?uage: Reading at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington

Thanks to the brilliant poetry scholar, Alessandro Porco, I'll be reading at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington next month (Wednesday, November 19th.) He made this lovely poster for the event.

Language is always an emigrant

Friday, October 03, 2014

On Writing: an essay on handwriting and our default voices and ways of writing.

'the tongue is not in exile' —Yiddish proverb

Not just a "mother tongue," but a "mother script," my little essay on handwriting, scripts, and our default voices and ways of writing. 
Thanks to rob mclennan for inviting me to contribute.