So it finally happened. I went to perform a piece from The Place of Scraps, and my Boss DD-7 straight up died. I’m still not really sure what happened. This piece of equipment has been a necessity in my performance gear for about a year now, and, to be honest, my performance isn’t the same without out.
But, since I was at a CCWWP panel when this happened, I also had the chance to talk about it. The panel, Performance as a Site of Research (organized by Renee Saklikar and including Wayde Compton, Ray Hsu, Jen Currin and myself), was pretty much the best place to discuss an issue like this. One of the audience members asked the panel whether or not our performances responded to the audience. My answer to that question was not directly but sometimes indirectly.
My performances tend to be set pieces. I write them in private. I record myself performing. I tweak the performance. I adjust for the various technical capacities of the venues that I end up at. Usually, I arrive early at the venue to check out their capabilities, and then I set up my gear from there. Sometimes I arrive at a venue with a mixer and sound guy and plethora of audio tech. Sometimes the venue just has a microphone and mixer. Sometimes the venue just has a microphone and speakers. Sometimes the venue has nothing. More often than not, the venue doesn’t have anything. I guess, as far as poets go, we’re not expected to attract a crowd. And when I do have people at my performances, it’s usually an intimate crowd. So when I get anywhere I’m often restricted by the tech set up. But my performance is malleable.
I travel with a small portable amp, a microphone, a microphone stand, a Boss DD-7 and a Boss RC-30. I travel with pieces that I can perform with that gear. And I travel with pieces that I can just read from the page. To be honest, though, I’m totally more stoked to perform pieces that involve my gear. But, I digress. The thing is, my performance is constantly adapting to different environments, different physical spaces, different tech.
By the time they read my bio and call my up to the mic, my performance has already been rigged and tested.
So when my DD-7 went down, I had to make a last minute adjustment for the room. I cut that pedal out of the setup and was left with just my iPhone (which I use to play an audio file), a microphone, an amp and my RC-30. My plan, that afternoon, was to try this performance with just the RC-30. I usually deploy the DD-7 midway through the performance, and after 5 to 7 layers of looped audio. At the time, I thought this would work. I was thinking that I would loop an extra layer or two to allow for that dissonant space that the DD-7 creates so well. Once the loops had coalesced, I was going to stop recording and just let the loops play while I whispered into the mic. I was planning on letting my voice grow until I had overtaken the loops. The plan then was to cut the loops and let the last whispered lines pinch in. The performance, in my head, was going to much more abrupt than it would have been with the DD-7. With the DD-7, I was planning a much more gradual progression and recession. But that was not to be.
Once I began in on the performance, there was basically no stopping it. After about 2 loops, I somehow overload the RC-30 and loops slowed to crawl. A deep, distorted voice was all that came out of the amp. That and my voice.
I had no choice but to go with it. My voice adjusted. Slowed down to the distortion. I held the microphone closer, became quieter. I kept my voice underneath the distortions, avoided eye contact. All while thinking about how I could adjust to the technology in such a way that seemed intentional.
Which brings me back the audience question. Did I adjust my performance for the audience? Yes and no.
This manner gave the girl a chance to show her trustful, clinging nature. Sixty years of experience with an uncharitable world had made Gray distrustful of his fellow man, though he did not wish to be so. He gave me an insight into the profits in that particular trade, and even urged the partnership, but while the opportunity was a golden one, I was distrustful of a Northern man and declined the alliance. A cold and unfriendly world, coupled with misfortune, had aged the elder boy beyond his years, while the younger one was sympathetic, trustful, and dependent. At sight of the Lieutenant he became silent, and turned carelessly, although with a distrustful stare. Casey is a simple soul, too trustful by far. Happy Jack continued to eye the three distrustfully. And the trustful smile of Jakie went straight to the big, soft heart of him and won him completely. An old hen, hovering her chicks in the shade of the hay-rack, eyed him distrustfully and cried “k-r-_r-r-r_” in a shocked tone that sent her chickens burrowing deeper under her feathers. Weary smiled trustfully up at her. He smiled trustfully at Chip, and leaned, with the studiously graceful pose of the stage, against a hind wheel of the mess-wagon. While his horse drank he eyed the line distrustfully until he remembered his parting advice to Dill. Marion must have had a remarkably trustful nature, else she would have been suspicious. Thurston eyed his horse distrustfully. “You don’t tell my brother–I–” He fumbled in his trousers pocket, hesitated a little longer, and grew more trustful. He did not know how he could learn to fly by mail, but he was a trustful youth in some ways–he left that for the school to solve for him. There was something pathetic in his eagerness and his trustfulness, though Bland Halliday seemed to miss altogether the pathos, in his greed for technical details of the damage to the plane, and a crafty inquisitiveness as to distance and location. He glanced again at the house distrustfully, as if he feared even his murmur might be overheard. She came a little closer to him then and looked up at him with trustful eyes, all the brighter in the spluttering light of the carbide. Because she and her people and friends had appeared secure in their mountain camp and happy in their work and trustful of good, they had scarcely credited the rumors of just such things as had happened to her. His sister Lorna grew weary of his importunities and distrustful of his espionage. She tried several times to climb up to it, but small snags close together made her distrustful. Jonathan reflected also on the fact that Indians were frequently coming to the inn, and this made him distrustful of the proprietor. Before speaking he glanced around the glade with the fugitive, distrustful glance of a man who suspects even the trees. It was a mighty distrustful look he bent upon the speaker. Then comes night–I pray–I pray for all, and for myself–I sleep–and I awake free once more, trustful, faithful, to believe–to hope! The golden curls blew across Jane’s lips; the little hands feebly clasped her arm; a ghost of a troubled, trustful smile hovered round the sweet lips. As the chief’s gaze roamed everywhere over the interior of the cabin his expression was plainly distrustful. Buck, the other hound from Kentucky, was no longer young; he had a stump tail; his color was a little yellow with dark spots, and he had a hang-dog head and distrustful eye. Buck looked meaner and uglier and more distrustful than ever. Perhaps it was only my fancy, but it seemed that the ugly gleam in his distrustful eyes had become sheepish, as if he was ashamed of something he did not understand. Both rustlers eyed Colter with dark and distrustful glances. He shook his lean, eagle-like head in slow, doubtful vehemence, and his piercing gaze studied her distrustfully. His best feature was his eyes, which were a lustrous Vandyke brown, and sparkling with intelligence; but here again he suffered from evolution through environment, and their original trustful openness was marred by the experience of watching for flying stones, sods, and passing kicks from the rear, so that the pupils were continually reverting to the outer angle of the eyelid. But the next morning when the trustful and anxious mother appeared at the forge she uttered a scream of delight. To his simple appeal for her companionship and willing ear he would add a brotherly tenderness, that should invite her trustfulness in him; he would confess his wrong and ask her forgiveness of his abrupt solicitations; he would propose to teach her more hymns, they would practice psalmody together; even this priest, the custodian of her soul, could not object to that; but chiefly he would thank her: he would tell her how she had pleased him, and this would lead to more serious and thoughtful converse. The British traders, too, were ignorant of the country, and distrustful of the natives. As the boats made their way up the stream bordered by this land of danger, many of the Canadian voyageurs, whose fears had been awakened, would regard with a distrustful eye the boundless waste extending on each side. The meeting between the two leaders, thus mutually distrustful, could not be very cordial: and as to Messrs. And now, three days out on the Mesa, Ned and Nellie, in silence, but with beating hearts, were listening to this conversation between their father and the famous scout, and hoping, poor little mites, that their father would be advised and turn back until met by cavalry from Verde; yet so loyal to him, so trustful to him, that neither to one another nor to Kate would they say a word. He advanced on Hannibal now a little distrustfully, settling into the saddle on the animal’s back with the care of one expecting some unpleasant reaction. .” Some sardonic Texan, anonymous in the defeated forces, had first chanted those words to the swinging march of his western command–”The Yellow Rose of Texas”–and they had been passed from company to company, squad to squad, by men who had always been a little distrustful of Hood, men who had looked back to the leadership of General Johnston as a good time when they actually seemed to be getting somewhere with this endless-seeming war. It had been very sweet to know that this brown, handsome son of Arizona loved her, very restful to know that for the first time in her life she could trustfully let her weakness lean on the strength of another. Maybe he thought I was after him; he’s jest that distrustful. Yu’ see, supposin’ yu’ were figuring to turn professional thief–yu’d be lookin’ around for a nice young trustful accomplice to take all the punishment and let you take the rest.” And up and down and in and out of this hollow square of mountains, where waters plentifully flowed, and game and natural pasture abounded, there skulked a nomadic and distrustful population.
I’ve been thinking a lot about you. I’ve been thinking that I am thankful that you have supported my work. I’ve been thinking that I know some of you. I’ve been thinking that I don’t know some of you.
I recently went to Saskatoon to launch my chapbook Injun. The experience was incredible. Turns out that all of the folks at JackPine Press are totally awesome. And that all of the folks in Saskatoon seem to be totally awesome. After I performed at the launch, I heard from many of the people in the audience. Most of them were interested enough to ask me about the poems themselves. Some of them mentioned that this performance was unlike anything they had witnessed before. A few of them inquired about my sound gear. One of them asked me an academic advising question.
The whole experience was great for me. As a Vancouver writer, I mostly perform in front of Vancouver audiences. But very few people in Saskatoon had heard me perform before. So I had a rare opportunity to make a first impression.
As I said to one of the people I talked to afterwards, “you never really know how these kinds of things are going to go.” Which is usually true for me. Every performance tends to go a slightly different way. But the evening went very well.
Descant magazine quoted Stephen King today on Twitter today: “We never know which lives we influence, or when, or why.”
So far, that seems to be true for me. I’ve been surprised by the people who have talked to me about The Place of Scraps. I really mean that. I am literally a little surprised when I find myself talking to people that have read this book. Perhaps I haven’t quite realized that book has really been published. But maybe I am surprised because those conversations and comments are coming from a place that is unknowable to me. And these are just the moments that people choose to communicate with me. All of the other ones–the ones that are personal and quiet–I will definitely not know about those. And that is something that I haven’t gotten used to yet.
Honestly, I had no words a few weeks ago when I first caught a glimpse of The Place of Scraps. The moment was completely overwhelming. This book that had been inside my head for so long was actually a physical object. And that physical book had come together in a way that was simultaneously cathartic and elating.
Honestly, there were so many things that could have gone wrong that didn’t. Honestly, there were so many things that worked out that I wasn’t expecting.
Honestly, I am just starting to realize that The Place of Scraps is a book now.
If you’re interested in seeing the book for yourself, you can buy a copy here and here and here. Or you can order the book from your local bookseller. Or you can search the shelves of the nearest bookstore, but if they don’t have it you should definitely tell them that you’d like them to get it in. Also, if you’re interested in reviewing The Place of Scraps, just send me an email (email@example.com) and I’ll connect you with the fine folks at Talon who will send you a review copy.
There’s a branch of conceptual writing that thrives off of occupying the textual space of other previously published writing. There are a few examples that Amaranth Borsuk recently discussed over at Jacket2. The idea is that this writing exists within the other text. The writing exists because of the other text. The writing exists as an intertextual dialogue with the other text. One of my favourite examples is a book called Darkness by Yedda Morrison. The book itself is an erasure of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The idea is that Morrison erases everything but the nature references.
Morrison’s writing asks questions of Conrad’s text. But it also asks questions of the reader. For me, the process asks us how I’ve read Conrad. The process asks how I’ve interacted with canonical texts. The process asks how closely I’ve read history. The process asks if I need to read more closely.
The fragments that remain are a curation. The author has focused our attention. Given us all this blank space to think. Do I take that time? Should I go back to the original text and see what was left out? Will I just listen to the silence?
Perhaps. Darkness does something else though. Darkness occupies Heart of Darkness. Darkness knows of a vacant space and takes that space for itself. The process itself is politically charged and full of meaning.
I think this is why I am so interested. I had a discussion several months ago with a friend of mine about how to write poetry that was politically engaged while avoiding the trap of didacticism. One of the solutions we came up with was leveraging the conceptual so that the process was inherently political. Erasure, of course, has certain connotations that easily connect with moments and themes in history.
Part of this discussion was also preceded by talking about what motivates us to write. For me, that answer was other people’s writing. I find Morrison’s work, for example, very inspiring. And, while this is a familiar feeling for me, I haven’t been on the other side of it very often.
Recently, Michelle Elrick wrote on her website that one of my poems had inspired her work remember the old log house. Naturally, I can’t wait to read this work. But it got me thinking–the only reason I wrote the poem that inspired Elrick’s work was because I had been reading Marius Barbeau’s work. I suspect Barbeau’s writing had been inspired simultaneously by personal experience and by the writing of his peers. There is a trace here. From forever ago.
Which has got me thinking. Is all writing inspired by other writing? I guess that’s something I’ll probably be thinking about for a while. What do you think?
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