Call for Submissions: FEMMECRAFT (issue of GUEST)

G U E S T

Guest editors: Kate Siklosi and Dani Spinosa

Theme: Femmecraft

We are currently seeking submissions for an issue of G U E S T, a literary journal of guest editors, that focuses on experimental and visual poetry that is handcrafted, one-of-a-kind, and/or interested in the domestic arts. In today’s literary arts scenes, it is possible to publish and share poetry at amazing volumes, and to a very wide audience; this obviously has several benefits, not the least of which is the way that technology allows small press to share and flourish, outside of the larger gatekeepers of cultural production. But small press began with our hands; it thrives in the tactility of hand to object care and contact. So, for this issue we are interested in the poetics and the politics of what happens when we incorporate the feminist practices of care, fragility, uniqueness, domesticity, and craft into this increasingly digitized and mass-produced means of publishing and sharing literary work.

We are looking for experimental or visual poetry that is produced using craft, using your hands, using things in your home, in your yard, on your street. We are looking for collage, typewriter, Letraset, stamps, thread and yarn, found poems, photographs, and more. We are looking for the work of your hands.

Send submissions of no more than four poems and a brief biographical statement to both Kate at katesiklosi@gmail.com and Dani at genericpronoun@gmail.com by 25 October 2019. Please compile all submissions in a single PDF file, with higher-resolution images (at least 300 dpi) available upon request. Please keep in mind that your poems will be published in black and white.

Give Us the Black Prometheus: Canisia Lubrin’s Voodoo Hypothesis and the Anthropocene

This paper was originally presented as part of the Text/Sound/Performance conference at University College Dublin on Saturday, 27 April 2019. 

This is my first attempt at writing a conference paper on a book of poems that have been written with words that have meanings and are meant to be read. I am trying something new. My primary scholarly interest is in a process of reading that privileges the reader’s interventions into a text as a central part of the text. That is easy work in the conceptual or formally-experimental poem, where meaning is less tied to which words are on the page. I have always argued that this method of reading is equally applicable to more lyrical or traditionally-composed works, but I have yet to try it out. So, this is me trying it out on Canisia Lubrin’s poetic force, Voodoo Hypothesis. And, I think the way in is how the work sounds.

I want to talk here about how Lubrin uses polyvocality to invite the reader’s voices into the immanent polyvocality of Voodoo Hypothesis as a resistance tactic. I don’t know any other way to do that except to tell you how I got in to this book. To do so, I’ll tell you a story of the interview I did to start this paper. I meet Lubrin in a sunny east-Toronto seafood restaurant. We order fifty oysters, which is too many oysters, but we make easy work of them. The restaurant is decorated like a fancy seafood restaurant; everywhere there are designs of water, of waves. She talks and I write as fast as I can. She is brilliant. My writing is erratic. There are some questions, some answers, no line connecting it all except waves.

The ocean in Voodoo Hypothesis quickly becomes a symbol for a critique of anthropocentrism, a critique of the deeply colonial idea of humanity as what Lubrin describes to me as this “primo species who came and set up this idea” of us as central. I tell her what I found. I went into Voodoo Hypothesis looking for the ocean as radical resistance, the big darkness of the middle passage that rises up all tsunami and bales down on colonial rule. But, I didn’t find that. The ocean instead seems to watch human affairs with a bougy air of indifference and moving along as it wants, as it must. The ocean of Voodoo Hypothesis watches us title this era the Anthropocene and bemoan our destruction of our own homes. Anthropocene. I think about it as I watch Lubrin’s and my pile of oyster shells grow; I think about walruses and carpenters. I think about how oyster farming is not only sustainable, but beneficial to the surrounding environment.

I don’t deny that human behaviour in late capitalism contributes negatively (even catastrophically) to the natural world, and in particular to that natural world’s ability to continue to house and support human behaviour. But, I wonder about the power dynamics and the separation of humanity from the natural world that we presuppose when we talk about the Anthropocene. “This Anthropocene as we know it,” Lubrin tells me as she carves the oyster flesh from the shell, “is just as susceptible to the forces of nature.” When we tell the story of the Anthropocene, we do not consider that the environmental catastrophe we face is catastrophic for us; the natural world, we may argue as a thought experiment, is simply doing what it needs to do to erase us as a threat. This is fantasy, of course, and neither I nor Lubrin are climate change deniers. Rather, Voodoo Hypothesis asks us to rethink the Anthropocene as a resistance tactic of the earth to oppose human colonization. Lubrin reminds me as she sips her shandy that “we are just a tiny fucking blip” on this planet and in its histories. Looking at it this way, the concept of the Anthropocene is deeply colonial and the natural world presented in Voodoo Hypothesis is uninterested in being fixed.

Strangely enough, Voodoo Hypothesis initiates this discussion of colonial rule and resistance through the metaphor of space travel and the figure of the Mars Curiosity. The collection’s titular poem begins:

Before sight, we imagine

that while they go out in search

of God

we stay in and become god,

become: Curiosity,

whose soul is a nuclear battery

because she’ll pulverize Martian rock

and test for organic molecules

in her lab within a lab within

a lab. She doesn’t need to know our fears

so far too grand for ontology, reckoning.

For Lubrin in Voodoo Hypothesis, space travel is inherently colonial and violent: Curiosity “pulverizes” as she tests. When resources from our homeland become sparse or inadequate, so we move to colonize other places. The poem sets up a clear us-versus-them dynamic. “They” go out searching for theistic power structures, but “we” are marked by our immanence.

So, here it makes sense that I turn to the voodoo of the collection’s title, looking at voodoo etymologically to understand the relationship between humanity and the earth in this collection. The “before sight” that starts the poem is a signal of the lack of intermediary between human and god. Voodoo, Lubrin tells me, does not require an intermediary (priest, temple) to access god because voodoo understands that god (read: immanence) is within the practitioner. Voodoo’s etymology is hard to trace because its roots in the Niger-Congo family of languages have few early written records; it is linked to early Niger words meaning spirit or possession, distinctly implying an immanent spirit within the practitioner rather than outside of but accessed by the practitioner. Thus, Lubrin reads voodoo as humanistic, meaning within humanity, a break from linear models of theistic power that require a medium through which humans access the divine.

All of this is strangely-enough summed-up by Lubrin’s allusions to Greco-Roman mythology, emblematized by the poem “Give Us Fire or the Black Prometheus.” Juxtaposed against the “before sight” of voodoo is the “(be)fore thought” of Prometheus, whose name means forethought. The poem opens:

We saw no need to keep

on our intoxicating cocoons,

to show our best parts

swallowing the sun. Miss me

with that predecessory sort

of exorcise. Or magic-like

teething skin in the black guts

of slave ships, we’re through with being

 

you or that Ulysses figure: let us squall

with old Prometheus any day.

When I ask Lubrin while we eat why she has set up this dichotomy of Prometheus against Ulysses, she rails, laughing: “Ulysses is ridiculous.” And perhaps this is neither a good city nor a good audience to shit on Ulysses, but here it is. Pictured here is one of the most famous paintings of Ulysses: Herbert James Draper’s turn of the century “Ulysses and the Sirens,” where Ulysses’s hubris has him tied to the mast of his ship and thus able to hear the sirens’ song where no one else is ever able to survive their aural violences. Ulysses’s power is his ability to render himself impervious to aural resistance tactics. Against Prometheus, Ulysses here becomes emblematic of the silencing power of colonial rule. Prometheus, on the other hand refuses such linear power dynamics, and offers us one way of speaking to and against power.

In Voodoo Hypothesis, Prometheus becomes more than simply a warning against exceeding humanity’s bounds. He becomes Black Prometheus, a literary and artistic figure that became popular alongside colonial expansion. As Jared Hickman argues in his exceptional book-length study of Black Prometheus, the emergence of the stories of a Black Prometheus at this historical time and social milieu is emblematic of the colonized subject’s use of language, especially in secret codes, as a way of circumventing or opposing colonized rule. Prometheus’ power is to break the theistic separation between human subjects and deities, suggesting a powerful immanence of humanity as opposed to the kneeling oppression of the mortal at the altar of the gods. As Madison Chapman puts succinctly in her review of Hickman’s book, “[he] claims that non-transcendent human ‘immanence’ gives power to the distinctly othered and non-Absolute black Prometheus: the colonized/enslaved always represent anarchic potential to overthrow the so-called divine power of their oppressors.” Prometheus is punished, but he offers us potential to overthrow oppressive rulers. We may often make him a warning against stepping out of our bounds, but Black Prometheus disregards Mary Shelley’s and Michael Fassbender’s warnings.

What Prometheus has always offered us is a babel, a language that requires it being spoken in not just polyvocality, but a medley that resists telos or historical progression. Sure, Ulysses travelled a roundabout way to get there, but as his nostos algos always indicated, Ithaca was always the final destination, the telos of that journey. Prometheus is cyclical and anti-logical: a Titan who fights for the Olympians, the forethought who offers the planning of earthly life to his brother, Epimetheus (or, “after thought”), a Titan whose love for humanity both saves and plagues them, and then him, in a punishment that is clearly both cyclical and anti-logical, an attack on the liver where the ancient Greeks believed emotions to reside. Prometheus’s narrative of the fire, the liver, even the trick at Mekone, seem to survive most, but we so often forget that Prometheus gives humanity speech (puts the sapien in homo sapien). Lubrin’s Prometheus here is markedly genderfuck. Their pronouns shift wantonly from the masculine to the feminine, and the masculinized body often depicted in paintings of the fire-bearer (as in this famous example by Peter Paul Rubens) is dressed in feminized afro and jewellery. Lubrin’s Black Prometheus is not just unbound, its in drag. What’s more, Black Prometheus has been codified for insurrection, a metaphor for the colonial subject’s repeated and insurgent offerings of literacy or the speaking of native languages where the colonizer would prohibit such linguistic multiplicity. The figure of the Black Prometheus thus becomes a figurehead for Black insurrectionary histories that rely on linguistic multiplicity, clandestine oral storytelling, and polyvocality as anti-oppressive tactics.

It is that history of storytelling, of oral histories, that most clearly marks Voodoo Hypothesis’s aurality. Lubrin is holding the lobster po’boy that I am now not ashamed to tell you we ordered after the oysters, and tells me about the influence of her grandmother as a storyteller on the sounds of Voodoo Hypothesis. These stories, alongside a life-long interest in folk tales, song, community theatre, and polyvocal performance, all contribute to the vast array of voices, languages, and Englishes that populate the collection. Ultimately, while the collection is clearly political, emotional, and provocative, what seems to be most important to Lubrin’s writing process is the way it sounds, a facet of her work that seems to be underdiscussed in the few writings on her. “Language,” she asserts to me as I sip my wine, “has to be pleasing to the ear.” So, the ebb and flow of the language of Voodoo Hypothesis is not just abstraction, it is an attempt by Lubrin to echo the oceanic aural quality of language, a tidal element highlighted by Phoebe Wang’s review of the collection. Lubrin’s collection is thus marked by staccato hard vowel sounds placed against the soft, creating an aural push and pull.

Lubrin’s poetry in Voodoo Hypothesis is also marked by creolization, a feature found in many poetic works of the Caribbean diaspora. What’s more, Lubrin tells me she made a point of not italicizing the words in her work that are not in English (or even standard English). For example, the poem “Children of the Archipelago” contains references to pom d’amou trees, mizi maladi, toutouni, and bacchanal. For Lubrin, different aural sounds come from a place of generative play, wherein a multiplicitous polyvocality is not simply aurally pleasing, but also a generative opening, a place wherein the reader’s voice can be added, disjointedly and uncomfortably, to the choral voices of the poems, and thus placed not in passive reception but exchange. Sound and music, and in particular the non-melodious or atonal influence of jazz music is a starting point for the aural qualities of the poems. These sounds, Lubrin insists, are meaningful in and of themselves, as Dennis Lee’s “cadence” reminds us, too. This aural disjointedness as invitational is beautifully demonstrated “Children of the Archipelago,” which Lubrin tells me is her favourite to read aloud because of the many and various “o” sounds and repetitions or revisions that she argues “angle toward hope.” The poem’s off-set conclusion goes:

            Something slipped by current

from the Nile welcomes us back. Our foreign dollars

stretching the tongue—big time Mongrelian road twisted

to re-walk mizi maladi. We roil to re-remember.

This world—even at its most toutouni.

The way we traverse the environment here is mongrelized, mixed, medleyed. The world is laid bare—“toutouni”—and we walk as tourists, watching and re-watching.

Rather than serving as a warning against humanity reaching beyond its limits, the poetics of the Black Prometheus uses creolized sound in poetry to oppose larger unilateral power structures like colonial expansion or the dominant narrative of the Anthropocene to consider an ocean (and not a Neptune) that might be trying actively to keep Ulysses from Ithaca, to envision Black Bloc sirens that pull the wax from his men’s ears and untie his hubristic body from the mast, to see Prometheus not as a warning against insurrection, but a mongrel roadway to it. In this hypothetical Anthropocene, we’re colonizers and the world, in its small ways, is wearing us down.

Priscila Uppal’s Greatest Hits

You can read this if you want. I am, after all, writing it in a place where you can find it. But know that I am writing this for me, and for the lucky few people out there who knew this woman like I did. Who still know this woman.

One of my favourite things about my decade-long friendship, mentorship, partnership, love with Priscila Uppal is that before she knew me, before she knew I existed at all, she touched my underwear. My boyfriend at the time was her cat-sitter. I am certain this is why I fell for him in the first place. He brought me to her house and I flipped through the books and marveled at the clothes and the hats and I knew I had to be friends with this woman, this fantastic poet who adorned herself in feathers and sequins and elaborately-patterned pantyhose. I don’t think I did it on purpose, but I forgot a pair of panties in that house one weekend when we had been cat-sitting. Looking back now, it might have subconsciously been a Costanza move. It was an embarrassing pair of underwear to leave behind: a bright fuchsia thong with black corseting and a bow. Pris would later describe the fabled underwear as “not the most expensive, but still fabulous.” She returned the thong to my then-boyfriend in a gift bag alongside the gift she had brought him from their trip saying, “and here’s a gift you’ve already opened.” He was mortified. When I heard the story, I was in love.

And then Pris and I fell into place, slowly at first, and then all at once. Dinners and drinks and movies and parties (and parties and parties and parties). I never paid for a damn thing with Pris. She kept saying, “I know what it’s like to be a poor grad student. You’ll pay for stuff for me when you get tenure.” She was always generous like that, with her money and with her expectations for us.

Eventually that boyfriend and I broke up, but somehow Pris and I never did. She perfected the applications that eventually won me an OGS and a SSHRC. She helped with the poetry manuscript that would eventually be accepted for publication (and which she’ll never see completed, though I promise it’s all for her). She brought me to fancy restaurants I couldn’t afford and once to Barbados (which I really couldn’t afford) and then to fancy restaurants in Barbados that I so couldn’t afford, they’re the kind of places Oprah goes to when she’s in Barbados. We kept an eye out but never saw her.

Pris and I might have stayed great friends our whole lives, but two things ensured that we became more than that, we became kindred: a cemetery, and a motherfucking karaoke machine.

The cemetery has become the stuff of legend in our circle, and now to Pris’s readers as she started writing about it more and more. I don’t know how it started. I know she was annoyed with not being able to run in the early stages of this complete asshole of a cancer. I know we started walking west along St. Clair to avoid the hustle and bustle of walking eastward. One day we dipped into the cemetery. Then we went every time we walked. We made friends with the headstones there. We invented backstories. We made places where we asked for favours from the dead. Often, in health crises (for Pris) or job search woes (for me) Pris would buy one, two, or in dire situations three dozen roses and we’d walk to the cemetery and bring them to our favourite headstones, or else weave them into the fences and gates. I am sure the cemetery employees thought us strange, but the started to wave at us. It was a strange thing, we realized, when we started inviting other people along every once and a while. But it felt natural to me. There were stories in that cemetery. Pris, above probably everything else, was a lover of stories, of their power.

I don’t want to glamorize or change this story now that I must write it in the past tense. As Andy wrote to me in an email yesterday, “the past tense doesn’t suit her.” The walks were beautiful, but complicated. She wanted to walk all the time, even when my schedule (and my preference for lazy mornings) didn’t allow it. But she wanted to walk all the time. At its height, and while she was able, we averaged three walks a week. It drove me nuts, but she needed to show the cemetery who was boss, to let Death (who we came to know by name) know she had no intention, was not interested.

But more important even that the cemetery was the karaoke machine she bought a few years ago, when the cancer had already weaseled its motherfucking way into her lungs. She thought a karaoke machine at home would give her an opportunity to work out her lungs, fill them with something better than surgical tools and then fluid and then tumors tumors tumors that wouldn’t stop, wouldn’t let go. We filled her lungs with songs, with gusto, with performance and the sheer joy of three glasses of bubbly and all eyes on her while she sang. I helped her set it up. I learned how to pirate karaoke tracks. I amassed a collection that now has over 15,000 songs. I practiced with her. I helped run karaoke parties smoothly until I was too drunk with it all and someone else had to take over. We repeated our mantra every party: karaoke is not about vocal quality, it’s about performance value. And we gave it our all every. damn. time.

Yes, Pris was a great (and freakin’ prolific) writer. I once helped format and edit her CV–it was over 50 pages. She was a great teacher, a mentor, an editor, an activist. She did well over her fair share of administrative duties in her department. She was shortlisted for the best awards we have here. She won her share of contests. And those are all things you can all remember. I like looking through your lists of favourite books or poems of hers, favourite classes you took with her. But my list will always be Priscila Uppal’s greatest hits on the karaoke machine when there’s only four of us left at the party and the neighbours have surely had enough, or at Hal’s Car Park in Barbados, or when it’s just the two of us on a Tuesday afternoon and we’re just trying the machine out. They are as follows:

5. Bonnie Tyler – Total Eclipse of the Heart
4. Kim Carnes – Bette Davis Eyes
3. U2 – One
2. Blondie – The Tide is High

and just one glorious, inexplicable time, the last time,

1. Miley Cyrus – Wrecking Ball

LAUNCH THANK YOUS

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Me and my parents <3

So, I think I am officially over my weekend-long love hangover following the launch on Thursday of Anarchists in the Academy. Honestly, you guys were the best friends and family I could have ever hoped for. This book took a really long time. A really long time. And you guys helped me through all of it: with research, writing workshops, editing, proofreading, chatting over drinks about ideas, supporting me emotionally when I wanted to bail, supporting me emotionally when big-time poets say jerk things to me on Twitter, supporting me emotionally when my employer refuses to bargain, and supporting me financially when I was working shitty precarious labour for too long (okay, that one is just my dad). THANK YOU. Poetry and criticism are both about conversation. We really did do this together. BUT, let’s take a break before we do another one.

Anyway, here is the video Jesse was trying to get working all night:

AND, after not one but TWO requests, I am posting my list of thank-you’s here to make sure all those people feel the love once again, or for the first time for those who didn’t make it:

FIRST AND FOREMOST, this book is because of and for two people who are actually a hell of a lot more like each other than either of them would care to admit: my mother, Marie Spinosa, director of the 1997 Knole Haven production of Wizard of Oz, and Dr. Andy-Pandy Weaver, who supervised this when it was a dissertation at York, formerly a university and now a neoliberal plunderground with a subway stop! They both did a lot of the same work with this book, too, which was largely saying “I guess this sounds nice, but I have no idea what you mean.”

This book is because of and for Jesse Pajuaar, who said that a bunch, too, and who read, edited, and listened to me complain, and agonized over the sound of my nails on various keyboards for years. And it’s for Karma and all the other kitties.

This book is because of and for my examiners and committee members: Stephen Cain, Art Redding, Richard Telekey, David Goldstein, and Craig Dworkin.

This book is because of and for the authors who kindly read my work, answered my questions, and supported this project in various ways: Juliana Spahr, Mark Sutherland, Jesse Cohn, Mez Breeze, and Jim Andrews.

This book is because of and for the greatest writing workshop of all time: Samantha Bernstein, Thom Bryce, Melissa Dalgliesh, and Jonathan Vandor.

This book is because of and for everyone who commented on the blog, including: Sean Braune, Matt Carrington, Caitlin O’Kelly, and some bitch named Kate Siklosi.

AND OH YEAH, this book is because of and for Kate motherfucking Siklosi and everyone involved in Gap Riot Press including Stace Schmidt and Priscila Uppal.

This book is because of and for the Electronic Literature Organization and the Electronic Literature Directory and the electronic book review, especially Joe Tabbi, Dene Grigar, and Davin Heckman.

This book is because of and for University of Alberta Press, especially Peter Midgley, Duncan Turner, Cathie Crooks, Monika Igali, and my editor Lesley Peterson.

This book is because of and for Eleanor Nichol for granting permissions for free.

This book is because of and for an OGS and a SSHRC who didn’t know what they were paying for.

This book is because of and for CUPE3903, who supported it financially and much beyond that, and who usually supports all its members in the same way. This book is an apology to units 1 and 3, who we abandoned.

This book is because of and for all of you who came out tonight, but it’s especially for my family. For Smal, who does my marking in secret and picks favourites, for Leaky, who is AA’s CFO and is running the merch table, for Noodle, who is the only other one of us fluent in drag, okkkuuuurrrr. AND it’s for Jerry, who is still fuming that I dedicated this book to my mother and not my father, even though he spent the most money on it.

THANK YOU TO ALL OF YOU. You guys, we made a book!

And thanks especially to Goldie and everyone at Unlovable who have been great to me. Please be good to them, please buy drinks, please dance, and in the wise words of Glassjaw, tip your bartender!

Now, I already feel like this has been too long, and I just wanna dance, but let me just say one more thing:

This is a book about poems and about the digital, but it is also, of course, about insurrection. So, I’m gonna tell you the one thing I really learned while writing this: the internet is for poems and the internet is for finding each other, but the work, the real work, of making this world a better, more loving, more caring place, that happens off-screen. So, my friends, for tonight and for as long as we can, get off the internet – I’ll meet you in the streets. There are poems there, too.

Launch of Anarchists in the Academy

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I’ll be launching the book that this blog birthed, Anarchists in the Academy: Machines and Free Readers in Experimental Poetry (University of Alberta Press) on Thursday, 21 June, 2018 at Unlovable in Toronto. Starts at 8:00pm. There will be snacks and drinks and books for sale, and the lovely Matthew Godfrey (DJ name TBA) will be playing my favourite songs. You can find out more on the Facebook event page here.

If you aren’t in Toronto or can’t make the event, but you still want to buy the book, you can find it online here at UAP’s website. I’ll also have poetry chapbooks for sale (mine and Gap Riot‘s), buttons, and t-shirts with bad poetry jokes on them. I am marketing the hell out of this thing. Bring your friends. Buy some books. I am still on strike and I have several addictions to feed and mouths to pay (yes, that is a Jewel reference).

Anarchists in the Academy: Machines and Free Readers in Experimental Poetry

My first scholarly manuscript, Anarchists in the Academy, is coming soon (May 2018). You can see the cover and read the catalog copy right hereAA is the heavily revised version of my doctoral thesis, so much of it had it’s birth right on this website, and now it’s going to printed into a silly little book about machines that write poems and make some real, agential space for people to READ. More than anything else, AA is about readers.

Just want to shout out some quick thank-yous to the people who made this book happen: Andy Weaver, who is excellent and challenging and thorough and super in love with the Oxford comma; Stephen Cain who is meticulous; Art Redding who is a badass; Richard Teleky who says the things that need to be said, usually delicately; Craig Dworkin who is encyclopedic and exciting; the workshop people (who know who they are) for reading this a million times; J. Paj for listening to the typing nails forever; and, my parents, who I love…I love you, Houston.

Official Launch of Gap Riot Press

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Kate Siklosi and I are proud mamas of the newly-birthed Gap Riot Press, a Toronto-based, feminist, women-run micropress publishing chapbooks of the best new experimental, visual, and political poetry focusing on marginalized writers. You can find out more by visiting our website, www.gapriotpress.com, or by following us on Twitter, @gapriotpress.

The fabulous logo on this page, and the logos on our site and Twitter are by the ever-excellent artist and graphic designer Stace Schmidt, and my author photo on the site is by photographer and total babe Jesse Pajuaar. THANKS FOR ALL YOU DO, BABIES. It really DO take a village.

A Purely Financial Collaboration: Joyce as Computer in John Cage’s Writing Through Finnegans Wake

This paper was written to be presented to the North American James Joyce Association’s 2017 Conference: Diasporic Joyce on the panel “Joycean Diaspores in Contemporary Poetry and Writing” (chaired by Sean Braune). The panel will be presented tomorrow, 22 June 2017, from 1:30-3:30pm Victoria College Room 212. 


While much has been made of the collaborative nature of John Cage’s many engagements with the work of James Joyce, this paper positions this engagement as decidedly one-sided. In a 1985 interview with David Shapiro, Cage spoke of the collaborative nature of his work on Joyce, particularly in his Writing Through and Writing for a Second Time Through Finnegans Wake, as an almost solitary endeavour. He tells Shapiro, “poor Joyce, he has no way to fight back. The only thing that happens is I’m obliged to give a percentage of my income to the Society of Authors, so that the Joyce side of the collaboration is now purely financial” (153). This paper looks to this “purely financial” collaboration with Joyce’s Finnegans Wake as an important precursor to the generative digital poetics that followed. In doing so, this paper makes two important claims: first, that Joyce’s il- or anti-logical semantic play makes his work more readily available for this kind of “collaboration”; and second, that Joyce’s looming presence throughout Writing Through Finnegans Wake (and, to a lesser extent, Muoyce and the Roaratorio) functions more like a computer’s generative capabilities than an agential collaborator or even a source text as seen in other writing-through or cut-up methods. In the end, this paper positions “poor Joyce” as “dia-spore,” unknowingly and unwillingly generating new texts in a machinic way.

First things first: why is Joyce’s semantic play, emblematized by Finnegans Wake, more readily available to serve as a computer in this one-sided collaboration? Well, one way to respond to that question is to consider the general response by Joyce scholars to Cage’s experimentation. In the same interview I just quoted, Cage makes the fascinating observation that “there are more Joyce scholars who enjoy my writings through Finnegans Wake than Pound scholars who enjoy my writing through the Cantos.” What is it about Cage’s various writing-throughs that appeals to Joyce scholars more than Pound scholars? I don’t want to suggest here that Joyce’s writing freed him from the signifying structures of language that Cage so longed for. In fact, in the intro to Writing for the Second Time Through Finnegans Wake, Cage argues the complete opposite. “Joyce seemed to me,” Cage wrote, “to have kept the old structures (‘sintalks’) in which he put the new words he had made” (Writing Through ii). Instead, I’d argue that what sets Joyce (and Joyce scholars) apart from Pound (and Pound scholars) is Joyce’s interest in making explicit and manifest the constructedness of language and the writer’s ability to manipulate these dominant structures while still conveying, however opaquely, sense in language; Joyce’s linguistic manipulations still communicate while displaying the constructedness of manipulation. Pound, on the other hand, is still flagrant in his construction but is vastly more invested in the communicative function of poetry, particularly in poetry’s ability to use allusion and intertext to reinvent the literary in the service of expressing the poet’s ideas. Cage’s writings through of Joyce are not interested in replenishing or reinventing the communicative function of Finnegans Wake as source text.

So then I have to return to my earlier claim that in these first two writing-throughs especially, Joyce (as author-figure) and Finnegans Wake as source text end up acting more like a computer than a collaborator, and still more like a machine than data to be mined. The computer has been theorized in Cage studies as technology that did not alter Cage’s overall poetic project, but merely made that project easier to accomplish, and ease, we must remember, is an important feature of Cage’s poetics; he did not want the work to be difficult or cumbersome. Instead, for some scholars of Cage’s work, Cage’s use of the computer “was to implement more easily what he was already doing. … [In other words, the computer had not] changed what he was doing” (“Cage and the Computer” 205). Speakers of the panel go on to stress that “The technology [of computerized word processing and searching] made possible some large-scale projects that he otherwise would never have thought of embarking on. … Such as ‘writings through’ that became more and more elaborate” (205). The length and difficulty of Finnegans Wake is part of what makes it need the computer for Cage to write through it; it is much harder to work through in the secluded, analog format. But, the computer is also, this panel notes, one more way for Cage to make his writings even less egoic: “He was removed one step from the composition of the material by its production by the machine and was now free to step in as a non-composing individual, to become a performer at the final stage” (“Cage and the Computer” 197). Cage himself seemed to structure the role of the computer to his work in a similar fashion, telling Thomas Wulffen in a 1984 interview “My computer is a great liberation” (Conversing with Cage 155). We cannot, however, let the computer function just as extension or liberation in Cage’s writings through of Joyce; it is, of course, much more important to the poetry than that.

As literary scholars today we also must also be, to some extent, new media scholars, and so this argument that the radical change in material, media, and technology in Cage’s work somehow did not radically alter what and how he was writing should read as facetious. We can see now, looking back on Cage’s work, that technology played a huge part in what he produced (the typewriter for Mureau, Letraset for the Cunningham mesostics, and the computer algorithm for the Joyce mesostics). That is, in light of the media archaeology work of scholars like Emerson, Matthew Kirschenbaum, and Jussi Parikka and Erkki Huhtamo, we must consider the emergent media of the computer, in the context of word processing and typewriting in the late 70’s when Cage was composing and publishing these mesostics. 1977 was a time of intense hope and progressivist rhetoric in technology and computing; 1977 was Star Wars, Apple II, Atari, and TRS’s (Tandy Radio Shack) first desktop computer. I have not been able to ascertain precisely what computer he would have been working on to mine through the Wake. This is less important than the fact that as Cage’s composition techniques for poetry, as for his music, became increasingly computerized, his use of Joyce as source text became informed by the same impersonal structures—all this despite Cage’s own theorizations of digital media as a move towards greater intimacy.

One way to understand why I position Joyce in this way is to look at how Cage’s writing-through mesostics would lead, eventually, to a field of ergodic digital literatures. Despite the fact that his work never fully came into electronic literature (certainly not in the way that his music did), Cage was well aware—perhaps more than we are now—that it was the digital that held the greatest, most egalitarian, and most radical opportunities for literary cultural output. He tells Birger Ollrogge in 1985, “I think we’re almost at a point of change. The change, I think, will go from a book-publication as we know it to some form the electronic publication. And electronic publication would not be something with paper and binding but would be something that you would simply have access to, as you do the voice of a friend on the telephone” (155). Though he could not have anticipated the pervasiveness of networked media, it is striking how far away Cage’s projections seem to be from our current publishing environment which still, by and large, privileges print media. Nonetheless, there has been (and continues to be) a vibrant and exciting, albeit underground, community of writers producing digital literary works that continue the experiments that Cage made, particularly in his work with Joyce. Cage’s engagement with Joyce, however, is not the intimate, phone conversation suggested by this interview quotation. Instead, I want to argue that Cage’s use of Joyce in these mesostics functions less as an homage to a history print-based experimentation with source and seed texts and rather as a media-specific, important precursor to a future of digital poetics that would be—is­—marked by its ergodic tendencies (that is, tendencies to require autonomous, agential, and essential direct engagement from readers).

The “problem” of works like Cage’s writings-through Joyce is that they encourage the production of other derivative experimental works. I mean this not in the Hallmark Billy-Collins-poetry-truism that “the problem with poetry is that it breeds other poetry” because it inspires its readers to express their own thoughts, responses, and whatever. Cage’s writing-throughs are specifically designed resist authorial expression and to, conversely, encourage radically autonomous responses; the gift of Cagean modes of writing, he often reminds us, is that anyone can make art this way, and as such the author is not patriarch or pedagogue, but just simply the person who did the thing. Cagean modes of writing thus CANNOT be expressive because, as Cage tells us in his “Lecture on Something, “[w]hen Art comes from within   ,   which is / what it was   for so long doing it be-came a thing  which seemed to elevate the / man who made it   a-bove those who observed it or heard it” (129). Instead the work relates to his readers, implanting ideas in their heads because “hey, they could do that too” – which is, perhaps, the exact opposite of the effect of reading Joyce. It is designed to produce new work that pays royalties rather than homage. This type of work feeds off existing literature and grows indefinitely, producing new parasitic texts and always linking back to them, exhibiting a complicated relationship between new writer and “purely financial” predecessor that manifests itself as the uneven, semi-obscured nominal spine of Cage’s mesostics: Joyce’s name is there, but it is simply not enough to hold this work together.

Although Cage’s mesostics rely on the name of the author of the source text as seed, his process works to dismantle the power and control of conventional, expressive authorship, thus fitting it in nicely with Cage’s career of author-effacing and expression-obscuring poetics exemplified by 4’33”. Here, I’d argue, is both the site of the Joyce-via-Cage as dia-spore and as proto-ergodic because Cage’s use of Joyce is un-author-ized, except financially, and uncollaborative. This is what Louis Armand starts to unravel in his “Writing After: Joyce, Cage…” published in Hypermedia Joyce Studies. Armand considers the role of the “after” in writing, what does it mean if Cage is writing after Joyce, Armand and I after Cage? For Armand, Cage’s mesostic work in his various writings through Finnegans Wake “affect a retrospective illusion of affinity (to or with ‘JOYCE,’ as it were)” (np). The illusion of affinity, which comes with most allusion, in the Joyce cum Cage is revealed, by Cage’s use of Joyce and his discussions about this “collaboration” in paratext and interviews, as “merely … an act of assumption of a commonality, of a ‘discourse’ whose lineaments assume an inherence in the object to which it seemingly refers” (np). In this way, Cage resists consideration of himself as inheritor of a Joycean legacy, this despite Marjorie Perloff’s insistence on a lineage—but I have neither the time nor the energy to rail against Perloff anymore. Instead, Cage reveals in his mesostic manipulation of Joyce the silliness of such literary lineage, owning that he mines Joyce, alters and buys from Joyce the material to write. “In this sense,” Armand continues, the “‘JOYCE’ [of Cage’s mesostics] becomes nothing more than a schematic figure, just as HCE and ALP can be seen to operate as schematic figures in the Wake, buoyed up by the illusion that each affects within itself a semantic inherence which is in fact the outcome of an increasingly fortuitous encounter between otherwise disparate (material) elements” (np). Instead, the reaching out, the intimacy, the “phone conversation” suggested by such close material engagement is not between the two authors, but between Cage as compiler or RE-arranger (sorry…) and a readership who gains much more autonomy, control, and freedom in the Joyce readings-through than “poor Joyce” ever did.

New Chapbook: Glosas for Tired Eyes (no press, 2017)

I’ve published a chapbook of vispo typewriter glosas with Derek Beaulieu’s no press. Copies are available online through Beaulieu’s website here or by emailing me. Limited edition run like a bootleg record or an expensive action figure. From Beaulieu’s site: 

Taking inspiration from 8 different prominent visual poets, Spinosa has created a series of feminist and revisionist interventions made available by doctoring the glosa form to fit concrete typewriter poetics.

Below is an excerpt from the chapbook, a glosa from bill bissett, for Eric Schmaltz who helped with this book so much, and who knows that there’s nothing left for us millennials except to pay homage to our predecessors.

bill bissett
bill bissett glosa (for eric schmaltz)