This may be as close as a word-art-sound thing gets to being a rock star, and I want to make a t-shirt with all the tour dates for 2014. Decades from now, hipsters will covet the thrift store find. “Check this out, man. The WPB Tour 2014. Whoa…stops in China, Warsaw, Austin, NOLA, Ojibwe Nation, etc. This thing’s a f*<!ing book!”
Thanks to Elizabeth Fields in China for tossing the gig my way. It’s not the first time, and if I’m lucky, it won’t be the last time that she reminds me of community and ties me to it via invitation and warm welcome. These are special gifts to an outlier among outliers.
…an outlier is an observation point that is distant from other observations. An outlier may be due to variability in the measurement or it may indicate experimental error; the latter are sometimes excluded from the data set.
It’s lovely to be included in this data set, among this company. For the uninitiated, to be included, I’m charged with answering four questions and then securing and introducing the next stops on the tour.
What are you working on?
Since 2010, I’ve been working on a project called American (post). It began with a performance of elegy/theory/text, was invigorated by ethnographic research in Havana, Cuba, and then developed into a book-length manuscript of poems, which I translated into 2D and 3D visual art objects. I installed it all as a set for a community performance and theory of text. Next stop Warsaw, where I moved last August to test the underlying hypothesis and some of its conclusions in a different socio-historial-linguistic context. Here, I’ve been translating the poems into seasonal video performances like the following winter installment called Exile:
I’m now trying to work up the courage to finish spring and start on summer. (Fall appeared as “American (post): Multiple Dimensions” in The Offending Adam 162.1). Additionally, and as a way of continuing to work through a project I began in 2004 and developed into a book-length manuscript of poems called Who are your people, Sugar?: a ritual history, I’ve been playing around with a photo-text series called Imaginary Friends & Family: Portraits and an installation concept that includes the photo-text series and some poems from Who are your people, Sugar.
This project circles back on American (post) like a Möbius strip by relying on, and departing from, the theoretical underpinnings of American (post). Finally, I’m working really really hard, but often unsuccessfully, to avoid the immobilizing stress that accompanies the under-employment and/or financial insecurity, which tends to characterize the glorious, glamorous outlier life.
How does your work differ from others of its genre?
For starters, this is a poem from American (post) translated into ceramic and metal and hanging in the middle of a room from the ceiling.
And, this is the collection of American (post) poems translated into ceramic and found objects, which is to say, this is a book.
I’m not wedded to genre, or even to medium, but to question and creative impulse. I tend to begin with language and observation, then I pour and sift them through poetry, nonfiction, and fiction, and sometimes I translate them across media into 2D, 3D, and 4D objects and/or performances. Generally, everything I make is intended as catalyst for the “reader’s” own journey from work to text. I’m fundamentally interested in catalyzing democratic participation with my work. Once it’s made, I consider it yours, not mine, and I hope you will experience the pleasure and power that come from making it your own consciously.
Why do you write what you do?
Because I hear it. Once I hear it, it flips a switch that activates all 7 of my senses (the usual five plus kinesthetic and 7th/intuition), which in turn activate my brain, which generally operates like a runaway train. Being governed, at least initially, by sound requires me to move about a lot. Some sounds and repeated sounds can be, or become, unbearable, whereas fresh soundscapes create space, context, and capacity for me to tolerate and make good use of the 7 Senses + Brain journey.
How does your writing process work?
I often start with ethnographic research or by sitting somewhere, anywhere, and I wait for something, usually language, to prick my ear. Then I walk around, identify useful tools, teach myself skills that might be helpful (or identify teachers willing to share), eat, cook stuff, play with my critters, watch more videos that I used to think possible, read, research, quell whatever stresses and demons crop up unproductively, work to cover expenses, and generally muck about in any and every genre and medium that seems to make sense until something happens. Then, I embody everything out-loud and repeat.
Up Next on the WPB Tour 2014
Heid and I met at a 2012 reading I curated for Franconia Sculture Park in Minnesota. We read poems, along with Dobby Gibson and Wang Ping, on Bridget Beck’s sculpture, “Poetry Studio,” to celebrate its installation. A great reading at/in/on what is, hands down, the best venue ever. Moreover, I’ve really appreciated Heid’s regular contributions to my life since, mostly via her FB posts, of a dynamic and diverse sense of contemporary and historical Native American presence, influence, and experience.
Heid E. Erdrich writes, teaches, and collaborates with other artists across genres. She is author of four poetry collections, most recently Cell Traffic: New and Selected Poems. A recipient of awards from The Loft Literary Center, the Archibald Bush Foundation, the Minnesota State Arts Board, First People’s Fund, among other honors, Heid won a Minnesota Book Award for National Monuments in 2009. She is a 2013 Artist of the Year honoree from City Pages Minneapolis. Heid’s newest book Original Local: Indigenous Foods Stories and Recipes from the UpperMidwest is selling like Grandma Gourneau’s Corn Cakes!
“Hey, Michael. Looks like we found the freaks,” was how Nik “discovered” me along with Hungarian-modernism scholar and indie rock violinist, Fiona Stewart, at a conference in the Bayou in 2010. Since then, Nik has generously and deftly shepherded my experiments in text, poetry, theory, and video to publication in The Offending Adam, which he co-founded and edits; he’s contributed wonderful pieces to the blog I edit for the Michigan Quarterly Review; and he’s written achingly beautiful poems, one of which poet/editor Laurence Goldstein made a point of raving about to me as he tagged it for inclusion in Poetry Los Angeles. Someone publish Nik’s books, please. I want to feel a weight of objects to match the weight of words.
Nik De Dominic is a co-founder and editor of The Offending Adam, as well as the poetry editor of New Orleans Review. His work has appeared in Los Angeles Review, Guernica, DIAGRAM, and elsewhere. He teaches creative writing and literature inside Orleans Parish Prison.
Paula and I have never met in person. Instead, I’ve gotten to know her through her contributions to the MQR Blog; she joined the crew in 2013. Her range of preoccupations and concerns coupled with the way she processes and presents them for public consumption and her “weirdo poems“–which I concur, are the best kind of poems–have me holding out for a literal paths-crossing. Someone please publish her books, too. I want to read them.
Paula Mendoza is an MQR Blogger, an Assistant Poetry Editor at Newfound and Coconut Magazine. Her work has been published in DIAGRAM, PANK, Drunken Boat, and elsewhere. She lives & writes in Austin, Texas.
To check out more gigs, Google any variation of “My Writing Process International Blog Tour,” or search same on FB, and enjoy!