I’m much more comfortable in my imagination or immersed in metaphor compared to real life. So this, my first blog, is a different creature for me. According to Wikipedia there are over 134 million blogs as of October 2012. My ideal Blog Beast is some kind of huge scampering bird with developing wings, orange feathers, a protruding beak, an insect’s multi-dimensional eyes, too many ears, an alligator’s digestive system, a cat’s vomiting mechanism, with sharp teeth that can gnaw through anything. Avesanellus blog socialis (see picture at side). It mates and reproduces at an extraordinary rate.
My Blog Beast listens attentively to my every opinion and thought and responds with deep, insightful utterances when prompted. My Beast comprehends everything and, although it sticks by my side, it can be everywhere all at once.
I affectionately call it a Beast because not only does it require care and feeding, but it takes away time from other things I could be doing. So many other people have their own Blog Beasts these days and who can stop to pet or appreciate them all? And each one is different. Does my Beast have anything new or important to say? Will it communicate with others of its kind? Will it migrate? Lay eggs? Is it wild or domesticated? I will have to devise a way to test its intelligence and its agility. I’m told I need my Blog Beast to sell my forthcoming (and past) fiction and poetry books—but how can it do this with only its tiny webbed feet and strange strangled noises? Does my Blog Beast have ideas of its own? Should it be leashed or unleashed?
“I cannot say what cannot be said, but sounds can make us listen to the silence.” R.D. Laing, The Politics of Experience
Having just graduated from a research university, this seems like a convenient forum to reflect on the intersection of what became my main fields of study: literary theory and creative writing. What has struck me most profoundly after my four years (and what this article is in reaction to) is that philosophers are better creative writers than the creative writers are. I would levy a guess that few people could find more beautiful lines written, think what you will of their theories, than those of the first chapters of Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus. And is there a writer—literary, creative or otherwise– who has ever conveyed the sublime joy of linguistic play better than the dense complexity of Jaques Derrida? While this list could be endless, after four years of studying literature, I came to be left with this question: How is it that those who wrote about literature became superior to those actually writing it?
For those of us unfamiliar and those of us repelled (perhaps rightly so) from theory and philosophy by its urgency or self-importance, ‘literary theory’ predicates a multi-disciplinary basis of insights (philosophical, sociological, linguistic) centered loosely around language. In university literature programs, it functions in so far as pursuits in knowledge parallel to literature can draw a critical focus on how a reader experiences language (for the act of reading is at essence an experience of language). At its best, theory in the context of literary criticism belies the question: what of my experience (of reading) belongs to me (of course, what am I?) and what belongs to the words themselves?
Hardly approached, the question remains. What is the use of literary theory for a creative writer?
Few neither before nor since have made the point more radically than Julie Kristeva, a French semiologist: literature does not exist. There is only language. In The Ethics of Lingustics she approaches the linguistic community with an object of ‘poetic language’ (i.e. language which does not assume first and foremost communication as its goal) and follows by positing that from this view, all language is always already-poetic .
Suddenly, walls fall. Ernest Hemingway runs screaming through Tucker Max’s kitchen. Sigmund Freud is washing his hands after taking a shit in Ariana Huffington’s bathroom. A how-to manual is telling a joke to a poorly written blog post while standing in line behind a coffee table book about pop art. ‘Poetic language’ is the ambiguous line at which language approaches but never meets meaning absolutely nothing. ‘Poetic language’ is a kaleidoscope through which all writing, especially that which makes such pretensive strides at considering itself ‘creative’ writing, becomes exactly what it is: nothing-but-language.
We creative writers should be (and sometimes are: http://poeticjabberwocky.blogspot.com/2010/06/my-favorite-legal-terms-that-sound.html) looking on in a jealous rage at the rate at which scientists and lawyers create language in their everyday pursuits (‘dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane’ pulled from a schizophrenic need to find this chemical distinct from that chemical, ‘habeas corpus’ kept from the linguistic grave that is ‘dead’ language).
Creative writers! Do not fall prey to genre-writing, forcing language between some minimum and maximum point at which it is allowed to mean anything. Creative writers! We are the linguistic scientists of our time. Let us allow our vast, oft-loved and romanticized empty pages become the playful laboratories of language itself. And as we, childish scientists, send language through our experiments, meant to prove nothing at all, only valid if results cannot be repeated, creative writing becomes all that it already is and ever hopes to be: language. Not stories or narrative or characters (not that these things need to be avoided) but tone and rhythm and rhyme and meter and lineation and alliteration: just language. Beautiful, playful, surprising language. Nothing- but-language.
As an installation artist, I have two different practices: I create privately in the studio and work on large-scale public art commissions. Here are some thoughts about how I try to balance these two ways of working — the open-ended studio process and the structure of site and client in the public art world.
In the Studio:
I begin by “doodling” with materials. I usually don’t have a plan, but I have something in my head that interests me. Recently I’ve been looking at tall grasses with slender stems that sway in the wind. As I’m working, I try to translate thoughts and images into material form.
Often I create a modular unit and repeat it, altering it slightly each time. As the elements accumulate and the installation takes shape, I think about the mood or ambience of the piece and how people will experience the space as they walk through it. The materials I use are translucent or reflective, so they do interesting things with light and shadow.
The “Luminous Garden” series is a good example of my current indoor light installations. These glowing environments are inspired by nature but made entirely of man made materials–cast resin seedpods, LEDs, wire, and electronics. I use the magic of light to create spaces that are experiential and immersive, involving viewers as participants. Here are two images of the gardens: “Luminous Garden” 2003 and “Luminous Garden” 2009. The pieces evolved organically over time through a process of improvisation, rather than being planned in advance.
“Luminous Garden” 2003
“Luminous Garden” 2009
The Public Art Process:
When developing a public art concept, I need to consider certain “givens”: How is the idea appropriate to the client, site, time frame, and budget? Hopefully, these constraints are useful and I don’t put myself in a box. I try to satisfy the needs of the project and remember my own personal need to be playful and loose, as I am in the studio. That’s where the best work comes from. Then the challenge is to hold onto the beauty of the concept and not let it be compromised as I adapt to twists and turns in the process.
Right now, I’m working on two permanent public art commissions: “Sound Wave” at Music City Center in Nashville, Tennessee; and “Prairie Grass” at Northwest Service Center in San Antonio, Texas. Here is computer rendering of “Sound Wave,” a 120 foot long suspended sculpture made of undulating metal forms with computer-controlled blue LED lights.
It’s based on the image of a sound wave and a musical staff with notes. A sequence of lighting changes ripple through the space as people pass through.
I’m trying to bring aspects of my private practice into these public works. How to involve light and magic as I do in the “Luminous Gardens”? How to use nature as an inspiration? How can I engage viewers so they are immersed in the environment? I want these projects to be as personal and rich as my studio work.
What do I like best about public art? Learning about new places, meeting new people, and creating an artwork that becomes a part of peoples’ daily lives.
Can I combine the best of public and private worlds? Stay tuned…I’ll let you know when these pieces are installed in the spring of 2013.
Each Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature this vodcast by Gregory Castle.
Gregory Castle teaches Irish Literature at Arizona State University. He has published books and essays on Irish writers, including Joyce, Wilde and Yeats. He has published poems in Jacaranda Review, Merge, Boyne Berries, Revival and Superstition Review. In 2010, he won 2nd prize in the 12th Francis Ledwidge International Poetry Award (Dublin, IRE).
It’s over between us. We knew it would come to this, and the news that you’ve been accepted by a new lover is a bittersweet reminder of what we once meant to each other.
It’s with an effort, Story, that I remember our first days together: you showed up at the back doorstep of my awareness—naked, untamed, willful—dangerous! You entered my life as a vague notion, a possibility. How could I resist falling passionately and obsessively in love? For weeks I could think of nothing else but you. Friends knew—they saw it in my inwardly turned eyes, my inattention to their conversation. “Not again,” they warned, shaking their heads. They know me to be a destructive lover.
And they were right—I followed my old patterns. It wasn’t enough to cherish you as you came to me—I had to try to change you. I insisted that you look a certain way: with fierce demagoguery I controlled your language; you spent time only where I allowed; only those individuals I chose for you were permitted inside your paragraphs. Worst of all, nearly every time we met I questioned your size. Trim down, I commanded, tighten up—what will others think? Yes, my lost love, I confess, how you appeared to others was always a priority—when they appraised you, what would they be thinking of me?
Can you believe that I was only searching for your heart? Can you believe the paradox of my love—my efforts to improve you were intended to prepare you to be loved by someone else.
Then, Story, you were nearly done. How old the new looks in retrospect. The truth is, in our last moments together, even as I straightened your seams, swept your hair from your eyes, and corrected with a finger wag the last imperfection of your speech, I was already forgetting you! “Finished” is a cruel word, dear Story. I sent you away, and you didn’t object. I forgot about you, until your new lover wrote: “Is Story available? We love her and want to feature her in our pages.” And without a moment’s pause I’ve given you up. It’s a formality—our end was born in our beginning.
It will be months before I see you again, Story. Our names will be paired, but you’ll no longer belong to me. My eyes will scan your glittering new font and narrow, justified columns, but I won’t read you. I’ll have archived your heart. Acquaintances will quote you to me, and I’ll look at them, confused. “Who?” I’ll ask. “What?”
I’ll be listening for the backdoor laughter of a new lover.
So, Story, adieu—forgive my fickleness—even the brief flirtation I’ve shared with this letter has cooled. It’s all part of the game.
It’s been a while since I ran out and bought a CD on the day it was released. Not because I buy music online and download it onto something that plugs into my ears. I don’t. It’s just that I already have so many CDs that I’m pretty selective about acquiring new ones.
But I’ve been waiting for the new release from Van Morrison for a few months, ever since I heard its title—Born to Sing: No Plan B. Those words got into my head, and got me thinking about the confidence it would take to substitute “write” for “sing” and claim that as my mantra.
Writing always was my Plan A. Anything else I’ve ever done on the way to becoming a writer, I stumbled into more than sought out, thereby proving—if you follow my logic—that I never had a Plan B.
So here I sit, listening to the 10 songs on the new album (his 35th!) for the third time in as many days. “Born to Sing” isn’t even my favorite track. I mean it’s still Van Morrison warbling and doing that thing he does with his saxophone, making me sway and swoon over my keyboard. It’s that idea of “No Plan B” I’m stuck on. I can’t help wondering how long he’s felt that way—since before his first album? Or maybe after his 10th?
“No Plan B means this is not a rehearsal,” Van explains in the liner notes. “That’s the main thing—it’s not a hobby, it’s real, happening now in real time.”
By that definition, I am indeed working my Plan A—in the odd hours outside my day job in a nonprofit arts agency, the one that pays the bills. It’s a job I really like, mind you—in part because it brings me into contact with other people who have given themselves over entirely to their art-making. But I take paid vacations to go away and write. I write on weekends, I write in the evenings, I scribble notes to myself on the train, I squeeze in courses and workshops whenever I can.
I’ve never thought of writing as a hobby. It’s real, all right; it’s one of the real-est parts of me. So what if I was nearly 50 before Plan A kicked in and my writing life began in earnest? There’s no turning back now, I’m certain of that.
And yet, I have my doubts. Would I, if I could, give myself over entirely to my writing? “Passion’s everything/When you were born to sing,” sings Van. Does my passion for writing run that deep, spring from a “sense of absolute conviction” (again, the liner notes)? Or is it fueled by a sense of urgency because I have to fit in around the margins of my other life?
Of course, Van Morrison has been making music forever. He’s allowed to exude utter confidence, and he’s got the resumé to back up his claim that he never had (or needed) a Plan B. And clearly, he doesn’t have to worry about a day job.
Each Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature a podcast by Carrie Moniz.
Carrie Moniz was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. She earned a BA in English and an MFA in Creative Writing/Poetry from San Diego State University. In 2009 she was awarded the Norma Sullivan Memorial Endowed Scholarship and the Dr. Minas Savvas Endowed Fellowship for creative writers. Carrie’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Ploughshares, Yellow Medicine Review, Third Wednesday,Suisun Valley Review, Corium Magazine, Web del Sol Review of Books, and numerous other journals and anthologies.She lives in San Diego, California and is a founding editor of The California Journal of Poetics.
You can read along with her poems in Issue 9 of Superstition Review.
I once sat in on a poetry workshop with the Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott. I am not a poet, but he had agreed to come to my graduate school after a reading and I wanted to hear what he had to say. I snuck in and took a seat at the table, hoping that I wouldn’t be noticed. When Walcott entered, he took his seat, looked over the assembled poets, looked back again at me, and asked “What’s Woody Harrelson doing here?” (This is a remark I’ve gotten many times, although never from someone with a Nobel.)
When the chuckling around the table subsided, he let his smile fade too, took up the stack of poems, gazed at them for a moment, and then set about lambasting the assembled poets. He insisted that writing is a relationship with power; that it is a relationship that cannot be conducted in any serious way from inside the dominant center. Writing, he said, must be conducted “from the provinces.” According to Walcott, every young poet in the room was writing as if he or she was (or wanted to be) in “New York City, looking out at the rest of us.” He meant New York City literally, I think, but also metaphorically, as a kind of mental space in which artistic insiders, by virtue of being on the inside, come to be allied with the centers of cultural power and the dominant narrative. According to Walcott, this was an inexcusable artistic mistake.
The relationship with the center of power is one that (whether or not we agree with Walcott on the particulars) bears directly on writing about the American West. Like many people from the region, I grew up with a host of “Western” narratives and beliefs. I was raised in the great outdoors, fishing and backpacking, and I imbibed a heavy dose of frontier mythology – cowboys and gunfighters, Indians, pioneers, mountain men, pulp novels and Western movies. This is classic provincial stuff – the kind of heritage that, at a college back East, or a cocktail party on the Upper East Side, is often treated with a solicitous condescension. As Marilynne Robinson has noted, when she tells Eastern folks that she is from Idaho, one common response is “Then how can you write a book?” And yet it is also this province which has given the nation what is perhaps our deepest cultural myth: the self-reliant pioneer, the immigrant moving west to find land and freedom, the illimitable expansion of possibility, our Edenic vision of our nation.
In Walcott’s terms, then, the West is caught in a kind of paradox: it has the status of a province, and yet its myth has been enshrined as the national dream. Being a Western writer ties you unavoidably to this paradox. You are a provincial, a writer who will always, like it or not, operate from outside the center of power; but it is exactly towards this province’s myth of the radical individual that the American center has always wanted to feel it is moving.
An it is indeed a myth. We should all know by now. Beautiful and destructive, hopeful and violently acquisitive, forced relentlessly onto us by a culture that adores power and spectacle and self-help mantras, and yet with little regard for truth, either historical or human. Post-colonial writers like Walcott have always been viscerally aware of the effects of this, because they come from places that have born the brunt of its damage. I wonder if it’s time for more Western writers to engage with this awareness.
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