melding art & literature between the digital & material worlds

Painting My Happy Triumph

Each page is canvas. Each time we approach it is an attempt. As writers we return to the page, blank or with text, hoping for a body to appear. In every attempt, we are trying to re-map our language from the back of our throats to the ends of our tongues. In her paramount essay on Black Experimental poetry, scholar Elizabeth Alexandra states: “[experimentalism] breaks with the doctrinaire and lets the previously unimaginable happen. Sometimes the wolf arrives in sheep’s clothing.” The question: how can we give new options to our tongues, our pens, our keystrokes?

Painting My Happy Triumph

writing towards experimentalism

Each page is canvas. Each time we approach it is an attempt. As writers we return to the page, blank or with text, hoping for a body to appear. In every attempt, we are trying to re-map our language from the back of our throats to the ends of our tongues. In her paramount essay on Black Experimental poetry, scholar Elizabeth Alexandra states: “[experimentalism] breaks with the doctrinaire and lets the previously unimaginable happen. Sometimes the wolf arrives in sheep’s clothing.” The question: how can we give new options to our tongues, our pens, our keystrokes?

In ‘Canvas,’ francine j. harris defies literalness in order to accumulate magnitude of meaning. The poem is social commentary presented as the gradual composition of a painting, driven by associative thinking and a sort of dream logic. She writes: “You paint workers laughing with pig on their boots. You sketch a mother trying to use insulin inside the woman's elbow. You try to paint cancer. You don't know how to paint cancer. You settle for i.v. tubes and a lot of bottles of pills. You don't know how to convey whether or not the pills are working. You add a forest fire. You crosshatch a fistfight. You keeping coming back to the slaughterhouse and fill in picket lines and time clocks and more i.v. tubes and lots of bottles of pills.” Consider how, in these lines, harris devices new methods of exploring such difficult themes, how the work is re-figured to contain such complexity.

Similarly (but in a completely different way), Kaveh Akbar's poem is a tender and tenacious meditation on grief, accomplished through beauty so thoroughly perceived, it can be described as an onslaught. The poem presents us with a box that is bursting with orchids, as a way of saying: “Oh, / Lydia, we miss you terribly.” This is a poem in which the unimaginable becomes palpable and real. What new ways do you have of expressing your grief?

After reading his novel excerpt, consider Mark Gluth's subversive, yet evocative style of prose, how he focuses on thought processes and austere components of character, shirking the more descriptive style of narration. Observe his almost-absurdly paced fiction, how it feels entirely elemental, as though it were intentionally leading you on a single, yet fragmented course. Consider the measures that can (and must) be taken in order to preserve creative intention.

Now, consider the role of persona in experimentalism. In L. Lamar Wilson's ‘Legion,’ the speaker is the virus itself, and it relentlessly addresses the carrier, in such a way that every reader becomes the carrier. The virus becomes so irrevocably possessive of the body, and even the mind, telling the reader: “you don't even know your own name now” How do we manipulate persona into more than fantasy and imagination — how do we embody and enliven our fears, griefs and anxieties through writing? How do we create new ways of manifestation for the words that we already have?

In Chase Berggrun's ‘It Embraces All of Me,’ another dimension of experimentalism is revealed to us: that of erasure, how meaning is undone and redone through the redaction of a source text. Consider their footnote on the poem: “I was thrilled by the discovery that the first chapter of Hitler's famous hate-screed, which mostly deals with his childhood and daddy issues, offered me language with which to create a tender little gay love poem.” This is an exciting prospect, to make love and tenderness and protest out of the hate that is projected into this world. How do we (ethically) manipulate words in order to shift the needle of meaning?

For this lesson, abandon what you have relied upon as form. Disarm your page and the reader. Tune your piece like a machine. Prepare your poem as a ritual, and destabilize your prose with meditations on language unfit for the paragraph. Consider persona as a conversation across time, and build your piece as a monument to it. What new dangers are you able to traverse? What new weight collects in your lines? What new timbre do your subjects speak through?

Readings:

Bonus Materials: