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Moving & Being Moved: Poetry As Practice Contributors Interviewed
Sophie Collins , April 13th, 2015 10:59

To mark the completion of — and provide some insight in to the work which collectively comprised — Rhizome and the New Museum's online-only Poetry as Practice exhibition, Sophie Collins sent a single set of questions to all six contributors, relaying below each of their voices in response to the ideas of translation and performance, poetry as media and digital media, the influence of the reader or viewer and the possible collapsing of 'poetry' as a discrete category

Poetry as Practice, the New Museum and Rhizome’s online-only exhibition curated by Harry Burke, presents six poets considering ‘online poetry as a process embedded in material, technological systems, and everyday, embodied experiences.’ The poets involved are Ye Mimi, Tan Lin, not_ I (Ana Božičević & Sophia Le Fraga), Melissa Broder, Alex Turgeon and Penny Goring. Their pieces were published once a week every Monday for six weeks on Rhizome’s front page, with the order in which they appeared decided by Harry through ‘a similar logic that might inform the sequence of poems in an anthology’. not_ I’s The Fall, a series of erasures by Sophia Le Fraga of Ana Božičević’s poems from her collection Rise in the Fall, completed the project last Monday.

Some of the ideas expressed about poetry in the introductory paragraphs of the exhibition description made me a little uneasy. ‘Poetry’ is sometimes taken up as a catchall term for the many art forms whose cross-disciplinary approach and/or multimedia content precludes them from entering into perhaps more ‘stable’ categories, and is also applied to the disparate observations or experiences – ‘the speed of a raindrop or a facial expression’ (as echoed by Ye Mimi, below) – that are considered fleeting, above and beyond description. Depending on your vantage point, the former can either seem to threaten to stretch and break poetry, or to open it up to new forms and possibilities— a sustainable approach (?) My own ideas about this are changeable and self-contradicting.

And then there’s the conspicuous power dynamic between poetry and art, given that ‘[for] years writers have played a circumscribed role in the visual art world.’ (Chris Kraus, Where Art Belongs) ‘The old exchange has always been poets writing about artists. And that was always contingent on the poet being interested in the artist’s production…’ (Eileen Myles cited by Kraus) ‘Artist friends basically say, “art should be for sale, writing should be for free.”’ (John Kelsey via Kraus) And I had other feelings that were similar to, if not quite the same as, those expressed below by Melissa Broder— ‘like my poetry is wet, as opposed to art born of theory, which to me is a dry cracker.’ Finally, and perhaps a little strangely, I felt a kind of ‘shyness’ at the thought of entering into the space of each piece, akin to the prospect of self-exposure, which I relate to what Jesse Darling has called ‘the curious intimacy of the url’.

As usual, I couldn’t help seeing the individual pieces through the lens of my current interests. Having noticed that the majority worked directly from existing media, I tried for a little while to theorise each in terms of translation. However, as indicated in the responses below, the kind of ‘translations’ involved here were, for the most part, metaphorical— ‘emotional’ (Melissa Broder) or interpretive, involved in assimilating various bits of information from a ‘complex environment’ (Alex Turgeon).

I emailed the same six questions to Mimi, Alex, Tan, Ana, Sophia, Penny and Melissa. What’s striking is the incompatibility of some of their views and approaches, and the disparate ways in which they discuss them.

The phrase “’moving” and “being moved”’ stood out to me in Mimi’s response to my question on influences as descriptive not only of the process of writing/making poetry, but of my experience of each of the pieces in the online exhibition; every one presented multiple notions of moving and being moved – physically, emotionally, of being shifted intellectually – and asked also that I ‘move’ or navigate through their constituent parts. Or, as with Tan Lin’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and Systems Theory and Alex Turgeon’s Better Homes and Gardens Revisited, allow the piece to move itself simply by maintaining my presence there. In another sense, to view these pieces you don’t really have to move (to a museum, to a gallery) at all.

I would recommend taking (at least) a brief look at each of the pieces in the exhibition before reading the interview below. Here they are in no order (Ye Mimi, Melissa Broder and Penny Goring’s pieces require sound):

Ye Mimi
Melissa Broder
Tan Lin
Alex Turgeon
Penny Goring


How do you understand the title phrase ‘poetry as practice’? How did your project develop from Harry’s initial email/brief, and over what period of time? Perhaps the project was something you had already thought about and/or worked on? (I’ve read that Mimi’s film Was Being Moved? (2011) was the only pre-existent piece.) Was this way of working new for you?

Melissa Broder: i saw that part of the email and sort of ignored it and then i saw it again closer to the deadline and all i could think was 'my poetry practice is poetry.' so then i just did what i wanted, which was to use a collection of poems i had recently written and was saving for a special occasion.

Ye Mimi: For me, the title ‘poetry as practice’ visualizes poetry, like how an air conditioner visualizes air and how a fish tank visualizes fish. I really appreciate that Harry includes my film in the project even though it's not newly made. I've been making poetry films for 9 years so I am very familiar with the whole creative process.

Penny Goring: it's a cute way of saying that everything i make or do can be considered as poetry. Harry asked me to make something with the scale and breadth of EVERYWHERECLOUD. But EVERYWHERECLOUD is a jaunt compared to Deletia. i knew from the v start that i was gonna allow Deletia to be big n messy. i made stuff every day for about 4 wks until my themes emerged. i've filled 2 notebooks with my thoughts n ideas while workin on it over the last 5 mnths.

Tan Lin: A lot of recent poetry is about practice broadly defined: an operation on a data set, or a performance that records itself. We have now reached that lovely state of a post technological era where books, like 2nd nature, again perform texts and readings are performances of readings. Or to put it otherwise, we live in an era when books can read themselves and when auto generation of text and even narrative structures is increasingly the province of journalistic production that is algorithm-generated by such companies as Automated Insights. Why can books read themselves—I think because they are part of an environment of shared/collective reading, tagging systems, as well as both user-generated and algorithm-generated content. A given text is parsed differently by different media. What does a cookbook or a work of German sociology look like in PowerPoint? or In JavaScript? Does it take a book to master French cooking or Systems Theory? I don’t think so. Books like people are highly aspirational. It would be nice if books aimed for a little less fantasy and a little more reality. And by reality I probably mean an algorithm.

Alex Turgeon: The title Poetry as Practice describes an almost inseparable relationship between poetics and production. My work exists as an intersection between poetry and sculpture and how each one supports the other structurally and formally. I feel that poetic language and sensibility permeates my way of comprehending reality and as a way to accentuate it. This series of gif poems came out of a poetic project that I am developing in multiple iterations titled Better Homes & Gardens. The project looks to consider the politics and economies of space. Better Homes & Gardens is structured around the architecture described in original story of the Three Little Pigs; a house of straw, a house of sticks and a house of bricks by considering these rudimentary forms of architecture within a contemporary landscape. The basic form of this project looks at how this story describes varied types of domestic spaces while imposing a moral or civilized code onto them (a house of bricks is described as the successful engineering model in relation to the house of straw and house of sticks). The poems operate as a triptych in relation to the points of access normally associated with the home: a window, the chimney and the front door.

Sophia Le Fraga: This project was actually one that came about a long time ago. When Ana came out with Rise in the Fall, my first impulse was, for whatever reason, to erase it almost in its entirety. Then came the image overlays. We were looking to do a sort of interactive project with these erasure/original diptychs, and weren’t sure what form it would all take. This seemed like a fertile ground to explore once Harry asked us to do something for Rhizome, where we would be able to have some tech support. Thus came The Fall!

In DELETIA – self portrait with no self’s ‘sign of the eagle’, we hear Penny read the line ‘I don’t hate it when I can’t get through to you.’ When I write I do not think about a reader other than myself (though I might do so at a later stage, while editing). However, with each of your pieces it must have surely been difficult, if not impossible, not to imagine their immediate futures— this because of the nature of the commission i.e. certainty of publication, and the choices involved in complete freedom of presentation within the parameters of the web browser (or film for Mimi). Did you think about ‘the reader’ or the poem’s/poems’ potential audience while writing/making, and did this differ from your usual approach to writing/making?

TL: Well the idea here was to deal directly with reading, and by reading I mean the speeds of reading, and so there is a reader who is, by definition, wedded to the concepts of speed and mastery. Mastering the Art of French Cooking and Systems Theory proposes the delivery of two texts, which by definition implies at least one reader, and the reader’s retina, though you probably need two sets of eyeballs to parse the text properly. In theory, the retina can process 1200 words per minute if words are flashed to the fovea centralis, thereby wiping out inefficiencies fostered by the eye's musculature. Reading can be optimized. But even a lousy reader will probably do ok. Even a bad reader knows two things that he/she is not usually aware of when reading: time is passing quickly (measure of words per minute), and text is moving very quickly before it disappears. Of course this is true of books, too, but we tend to forget this. Reading is simultaneous with other adjacent text, other rooms, other disciplines. Reading is also distracted, graphic, and kinetic. Ditto the codex. Reading on a train is different than reading on a plane. The idea was simple: take a book in this case two of them, and let them render themselves as time based operations.

PG: makin Deletia took me out of my comfort zone. i dont enjoy making stuff in private for weeks n months n then having... the big reveal, i prefer to post as i make, while i'm still working on stuff, so it's like an organic online process. things look different wen I know other ppl can see them – it becomes more urgent – I feed off that added intensity....

But its ok now cuz ever since Deletia was 'released' i've continued workin on it – and that has been/still is a pleasure - the Deletia of 2day is closer to how i want it than it was on the day it was launched.

i dont even like the idea of somethin being finished cuz its only interestin to me wen i'm still thinkin about it n workin on it, wen its open, permeable.,, wen its finished its dead, its away from me. Finished is just wots left behind, wot remains after an interestin period of changes. Like how drafts are enthralling, alive, full of possibility. Wen u edit n polish ur locking all the doors – nothin can get in or out. In the same way, i find proper punctuation, grammar n all that stuff stultifying, dusty, airless – stiff.

YM: I do the writing, filming and editing all by myself. For me, the camera, the editing program, the keyboard, and the pen are the same kind of tool. I use them to make poetry. I always follow my instinct to film and edit without thinking much about the audiences, just like when I write poetry, I don't think about the readers either. Basically, I am reflecting some mysterious stuff from my mind. I don't quite understand it myself but I believe someone with the similar "mindset" will feel it.

AT: It’s of course difficult to assume that the viewer/reader will always be able to access the work within its entirety. What is important for me as an artist is to lead the viewer/reader, not direct them. With the work that I presented as part of this exhibition, the text isn't fully accessible in the full cycle of the animation loop, it starts to reveal itself over time, if the viewer allows. I felt that a gif animation was a medium specific for the context of this exhibition being online as a way to give characteristics to the text other than through language. It's important for me to be lyrical in my work rather than didactic.

MB: i was scared that i wasn't 'conceptual' enough, or, like, my poetry is too poetry to be on the rhizome site, which then made me kind of feel like 'fuck the conceptual' and glad that my poetry is poetry. it made me feel like my poetry is wet, as opposed to art born of theory, which to me is a dry cracker. i felt proud of its wetness. i wanted to smear the wetness on rhizome.

SLF: I really did this as a personal project, a gift, to Ana when we had first met. She was the only reader I envisioned when making this project.

Who or what acted as an influence on your piece for the project?

YM: In 2009, when I met my husband, James Barry, he was building a sailboat with his art partner in Chicago. I knew the boat was something I wanted to film immediately. Gradually, I come up with the idea of ‘moving’ and ‘being moved.’ James sold the sailboat and moved to Taiwan with me in 2010. He helped me to film some other images, including the Taoist God parade and the 10 men boat in Lanyu. Last summer, James had a heart attack and passed away. The film becomes the most valuable and loving gift he left to me. My life is still moving on but whenever I watch this film, I am completely ‘moved’ by all those memorable moments.

MB: oneohtrix point never's r plus seven album. i was listening to this gorgeous album over a series of sleepless nights and channeled what the album made me feel into nouns and verbs.

AT: I take influence from idiomatic phrases and colloquialisms that are either derived from certain cultural histories or chat logs. As I stated earlier this work was originally derived from relating the story of the Three Little Pigs to contemporary politics of gentrification, urban development and industrialization.

TL: have been reading Luhmann and Child for years, but in completely different ways. Books teach you all sorts of things as they are being read: I am not a very ambitious cook and I am a lazy reader.

SLF: I was thinking a lot about erasure and about the superimposition of images and text when I started making this piece in 2012; Jen Bervin, Erica Baum and internet poetry were top of mind.

PG: When i started making Deletia i was covering my daughter Bibi's bedroom walls from floor to ceiling with carefully selected pages from my stash of old magazines – POP, ID, Vice, Vogue, The Face, Garage, Dazed etc. and the look of the glossy fashion spreads and ads ('consumer-beauty-porn of fashion ads' – chris kraus ), the constant repetition of the 1 lone female posturing in costumes, leaked into Deletia. In a pretty big way.

And its a connect that resonates w me. I've always had a love/hate thing with fashion/style magazines. [[I studied fashion journalism at the London College of Fash wen I was 18 before doin an art foundation course – there was always confusion about where to put me – I never fitted anywhere easily cuz I write and draw etc. (seems ridic dont it?) but I'm not an illustrator or graphic designer - I knew i'd come home wen I found fine art, which nobody EVER suggested as a solution! cuz this was a place where I could ignore the categories – I still got stick for it, but it was possible for me to work in the fashion department, sculpture, painting, and anywhere else, and write too, in my sketchbooks. ]]And it was a big deal for me to stick my face on the pics. Cuz it felt like takin ownership of the landscapes that have always caused me so much grief – thru the tyranny of beauty ideals, sex n money etc. And equally important that the faces of mine that i use throughout Deletia are my younger faces – i am giving that self safety inside Deletia – it's my world, i've got space to grieve, can say what i like – have a voice – with no risk of getting beaten up, silenced.

In his introduction to the exhibition on Rhizome, Harry (or someone) writes of the pieces in the exhibition, ‘Through this hybrid approach, poetry is considered as media, and digital media – which can be thought of as a linguistic form or computer code – is activated as poetry.’ I wonder whether you get the sense that, with a project like this, ‘poetry’, as a discrete category, risks collapsing into metaphor, and/or becoming subsumed by the dominant ‘contemporary art’? Does this seem like something to kick against or to embrace? Both?

PG: So yea, i find categories restrictive, archaic, unnecessary. Am i a writer, poet, artist? i don't care. all i care about is that i can make the things i see n hear in my head and the things i feel and think into tangible stuff from whatever medium seems appropriate, its all the same to me, i'm pragmatic.

YM: In my opinion, poetry is the energy of the Universe, the essence of everything. There are no limitations or rules for poetry. Even the speed of a raindrop or a facial expression could be very poetic. I think this online exhibition opens up more capabilities of poetry.

MB: i don't worry too much about poetry. i think poetry will survive as it always has. in my own work, though, i'm grossed out by the thought of removing my heart and spirit from the process and turning it into some kind of exercise or statement. that would be awful. i hope to never write from my head. now, i'm sure there are coders who put their hearts into code and conceptual artists who feel passionately about their experiments. but it's not my thing. i want to bleed. i want to bleed all over the poems.

TL: Poetry has always been media. In an interview with Angela Genusa for Rhizome I’ve said that people forget that books are technologies. People downplay a book’s medial support and its temporal framework. That’s why literary studies is still regarded as distinct from media studies at most universities—except in such backwaters as bibliographic studies. It’s also why compelling meditations on digital media and on concepts like storage and archiving are written by those with a background in bibliographic studies or textual history: here i’m thinking of work of Matthew Kirschenbaum on storage mediums, Milad Douehi on digital literacy, Mara Mills on disability and specific reading devices, and Rachel Malik on the horizons of the publishable. I would add that an interest in literature as it intersects with the spatial is also on the rise, where the spatial is linked to the architecture of networked reading practices and to visual images. This results in a situation where reading is multi-media, graphic, alpha-numeric etc, and where reading is part of what I call a larger reading environment. This was really the project in an earlier book of mine, Seven Controlled Vocabularies and Obituary 2004. The Joy of Cooking, to situate reading in a larger graphical interface.

AT: I came to poetry through a sculptural background. Poetry enabled me to deal with thematics spatially as a means of experimentation and also a development within a studio practice. Poetry for me has developed to be an integral part of my work operating as an architecture for my sculptural work and vice versa. Objects become nouns and nouns become objects.

Ana Božičević: It could also be that poetry has grabbed the digital (as form, material) and dragged it back to the sign -- it could in fact be poetry that's subsuming, like the black hole that it is. That's what I see my poems striving to do at least. Sophia's work crosses disciplinary, genre, medium boundaries with an effortlessness that still doesn't let you forget the very real labor of making. Someone asked Diane di Prima once what she thought about "digital poetry" and she responds, well what is it, what is made of -- bytes, electricity... I agree with Harry that there is no such thing as a blank page: the paper we write on was made by someone somewhere, carried on ships and trucks, and on the computer/phone/watch/whatever this sourcing becomes more coded but not really more abstract. Not unlike poetic legacy, the issue of authorship, creativity, etc. How privileged I am to have these thoughts while in Afghanistan women are killed by their families for writing poems. How much risk can I even take in poetry -- the notion is in abeyance.

For me, Melissa’s R Minus 7 could be deemed a series of translations, in that the text derives from source material (the Oneohtrix Point Never album), and the framing of the piece declares this outright. Penny, you’ve called the internet ‘my source, my raw text’ and DELETIA’s subtitle ‘self portrait with no self’ seems to suggest to me that the texts embedded in some of the pieces are (at least partly) found or collaged. Ana and Sophia's The Fall involves a set of erasures— I've recently been thinking about these as a form of intralingual translation (adapting a text to a new purpose in the same language). Again, in Rhizome’s ‘First Look’: ‘[The pieces in Poetry as Practice are] in a constant state of coalescence, always negotiating with the worlds, forms, and subjects that surround [them].’ … I guess I’m curious as to what extent each of you might be prepared to view your pieces in the exhibition as translations, or performances of the act of reading?

YM: When I make poetry films, I always develop the poems and images at the same time so their status is pretty equal. The images don't translate poems at all. In this project, I collaborate with the musician Yu-Jun Wang. After watching my rough cut, Yu-Jun composed the music based on the images. In my mind, she does such a great translating job musically.

PG: Everything I do is a performance of something.

with the subtitle, i was mostly thinkin of the pics.... pasting my face on other ppl's pics of other ppl felt like magical territorial pissing: if i stick my face on it, it's mine. Also – because that version of my face is dead its more like my emblem than my likeness, there's a certain distance.

the words in deletia are actually not as 'found' as usual, more straightforward me stuff.

AB: Erasure is an act of rewriting, editing, reshaping, making-new-while-reading, while translation proper is perhaps coyer about its transformative potency -- it arrives to the text with the expectation that the language switch will perforce erode some of the meaning, so there's more of a conservationist impulse. I read Sophia's pieces as entirely new poems. By the time Rise in the Fall came out, sometimes I thought it had too many words, and the erasures took care of that.

MB: i would say that my piece is a translation of emotions i felt in experiencing r plus seven. so it isn't a direct translation.

AT: As above, these poems pull from the base text titled Better Homes & Gardens which is a longer formed poem. In someway the Revisited version could also be considered digital illustrations for this larger text. That being said I feel that they do stand as a separate work as well. I feel that this works really performs for the viewer by performing an act of reading quite literally. Text flows in and out of these orifices as if the home is speaking directly to the viewer/reader positioning him/her as a voyeur trying to come to terms with what is happening or has already happened. Its fitting to think again about the title of the project Poetry as Practice in relation to this question of translation because when I think of translation in this case its more of a way of taking an entire practice and putting into words, or some sort of excretion of that practice which takes form here online. There are always so many influences, languages and performances inherent in a creative practice that poetry offers an interesting way of attempting to translate that complex environment.

What things have people not involved in the project said to you about the project?

PG: Nothing!

YM: When I screened this film at Oberhausen International Short Film Festival, someone from the jury committee told me that he liked the film but the problem is the English subtitles of the poems are too fast to read. So it shows the advantage of exhibiting this film online. Comparing to watching it for one time in the theatre, people are able to replay the film again and again until they digest the poems, like the way they read the very same poetry collection several times.

MB: ‘M!

I just randomly went to and saw your amazing feature!!! CONGRATS. You're my hero. I don't know how you do it, but you are the best.

And 5 years ago, I took a pic of your book in the window at St. Marks Books. I love that you pop up in my life bae.

x L’

AB: That it's beautiful, with which I agree. I also had conversations about the ethics of erasure; is it a comment (what kind?) on the "original" poem?

Sophie Collins is co-founder and editor of tender, an online quarterly promoting work by female-identified writers and artists. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry, Poetry London, The White Review, Ploughshares, Poetic Series (Sternberg Press), Ambit, and elsewhere. Reviews and essays are published in Prac Crit, Poetry Review and Dazed & Confused. In 2014 she received an Eric Gregory Award and was a poet in residence at the LUMA/Westbau exhibition space in Zürich. She is currently editing an anthology of translations due late 2015 via Test Centre.