I’m over the moon to be in Streetcake again, the online journal of experimental writing. The editors (Trini Decombe and Nikki Dudley) took a found poem of mine earlier this year. This time they’ve taken a cut-up (I mean the actual collage of cut-up texts – see example below). Usually I produce the collage then type the poem and send the typed copy out. In this case, I sent the ‘raw’ version. To add to the excitement, the Streetcake team have an incredibly highspeed turn around between submission, acceptance and publication that makes you feel as though you’re part of something very contemporary, and with an amazing potential to shape the future of writing. I’m full of admiration for the editors who are prepared to take such risks with what they publish and it’s a real boost for me because let’s face it, poetry is a niche market, so to be experimental within this small field really narrows down the options when it comes to sending work out. In the current issue, I’ve really enjoyed encountering Kate Gillespie’s poem ‘Diversification’ (take a look at it and you’ll see why I say encounter rather than read). It’s given me another idea about how experimental writing might appear on the page/ screen.
In the meantime, fresh from my notebook this morning, here’s my take on all this:
‘It looks like writing, but we can’t quite read it.’ (Tim Gaze, asemic.net/ ).
Last week I touched on the subject of asemic writing, which according to Wikipedia, means ‘writing that has no specific semantic content’. There’s lots of examples on the net and I’ve become intrigued by it, mainly because I don’t understand it (am I meant to?). I also like it because it provokes a really strong feeling of resistance in me, resistance to it as a form I suppose, a form of writing. The ‘meaning’ that it yields, if indeed it does yield meaning, isn’t the same as you’d get from a traditional poem, yet at the same time many of the examples look like poetry.
I went to the Manchester Art Gallery this weekend and saw the ‘Speech Acts’ exhibition, which includes a piece by Chris Ofili (Untitled 1996). I’ve not been able to find a picture of it on the internet so I’ll have a go at describing it: it’s a sort of intricate doodle in pencil, but when you look closely, hidden names (and therefore hidden meanings) appear. I made out Mike Tyson, Tito Jackson, Gill Scott Heron to name but a few. Maybe it wasn’t asemic writing, because it was legible to some extent, but the viewer had to work hard and really engage with it in order to arrive at some sort of reading.
I’m always interested in process, and there’s something in the process of creating asemic writing that really appeals to me. I know because I’ve had a go at it, although I’m not happy enough with my efforts to post them yet. Anyway, the process is strange. You’re somehow working away from meaning, and at some point the mark/making becomes more important than what’s being said, if that makes sense. Cecil Touchon, whose work appears below, says: ‘I felt there was a meditational element to working with silence and illegibility to express the indescribable.’ I love this description, and I love his piece below, an overlapped and overwritten poem, beautiful in its own right.
There’s a wealth of examples on the internet. I enjoyed Asemics Magazine which I think is curated by Cecil Touchon. There’s some thought-provoking pieces on there that really challenge traditional notions of ‘writing’ and ‘poetry’ and what form it can take. Why not take a look? Maybe it will inspire you to do some asemic poetry.
Finally, a word of thanks to poets Marion New and Sue Riley, who introduced me to asemic writing after they attended a writing residential with David Morley. What a privilege to be part of such a fantastic community of local poets. I feel incredibly fortunate to write alongside them.
I was browsing the internet, looking for new magazines to send work out to, when I came across this composite fiction in 3am magazine. I’ve copied the poet’s biography and pasted it below:
Frances Revel is originally from Southern Delaware. She was the winner of the 2017 Most Promising Young Poet Award from the Academy of American Poets, and is currently attending the MFA program at Cornell.
Have a look at her work (you can view more of it here) – it’s beautifully crafted and highly original.
Recently, I have been spending most of my time redacting texts and doing cut ups from newspapers and magazines. However, I haven’t produced any composite fictions along the lines of the one above for a while. When I came across Frances Revel’s work I felt so inspired I promised myself I would go back to this type of work. After all, the nights are lengthening and collaging is a great way to pass an evening.
3am magazine published Revel’s work in their Poem Brut section, which is well worth a look if you’re interested in the way poetry and art collide. There’s some interesting and challenging work on their site that really widens the definition of what poetry is and how it looks on the page/ screen. I’ve said before that the internet is a great platform for this sort of experimental literature, primarily because of the speed at which new work can be published, and also because it costs much less than traditional print to publish texts like Revel’s.
3am magazine also publish asemic poetry in their Poem Brut section. I only came across this term recently, after fellow poets Marion New and Sue Riley returned from a writing residential and introduced me to it. I was sceptical at first – a kind of gut reaction that said, ‘it’s not poetry’. Well, maybe it’s not the sort of poetry I’m familiar with, I began to reason, because partly, my love of poetry is to do with its fringe status. I’m often drawn to poems that stand outside the (lyrical) mainstream.
According to Wikipedia, ‘Asemic writing is a wordless open semantic form of writing. The word asemic means “having no specific semantic content”, or “without the smallest unit of meaning”. With the non-specificity of asemic writing there comes a vacuum of meaning, which is left for the reader to fill in and interpret.’ Have a look at this example by Nise McCulloch, below (again from 3am magazine).
At first glance it might be writing. But there’s that ‘non-specificity’ of letters, the lack of spacing between what might be words, sentences … silences. I could go on, but I’m going to mull it over and come back to it in my next post. Until then, here’s the biography for Nise McCulloch, which also furthers the definition of asemic poetry (see the phrase ‘non-conventional writing practice‘).
‘Nise McCulloch is a writer, poet and text artist. She is one half of the art collaboration Liminal – creating multi-layered work that hovers ambiguously between text, image and non-conventional writing practice. She interviews authors, instigates community art projects and curates literary events.’
Great to be in issue 234 of Ambit, a magazine that prides itself on its mix of poetry, short stories and art. The art work this time is fantastic, really up-to-the-minute and very exciting. There’s this stunning cover by Luke Burton (Torso V). It vaguely reminds me of some of Emily Sutton’s work which I saw a while back at the YSP, although Burton’s image is more abstract, and for me, more thought-provoking. And on the very last page of the magazine there’s a stunning photograph by Cristina Coral called Trio (see below). I have to say that I’ve completely fallen in love with this image. It’s from an enigmatic series called Alternative perspective, green, . I do hope you have time to look at her work and that you find it as inspiring as I do.
I’ve probably said this before, but it’s impossible to subscribe to all the poetry magazines out there, not only because of the cost, but because you end up not having time to read them. I like to alternate my subscriptions, trying a couple of magazines for a year then switching. Of course, if you get a poem accepted then a contributor’s copy comes your way and that’s a lovely and unique reward.
I make a point of swapping magazines too – I tend to pass mine along to the local poetry group and when they’ve read them, they return them to me and I post them off to a good friend in Gainsborough who sends me her copy of Poetry Review by return. I still end up with too many to read, and too little time to read them in, but I always get through them in the end.
What I like about magazines is that they’re up-to-date. They publish the freshest work. Okay, it’s not always to my taste, and my taste has changed over time, but it’s good to know what’s out there. When I have a poem accepted, it feels like it’s found a home. There’s very little money in it generally, but that, I believe, is a good thing. It puts the work in a different place and gives it a different status. Well, we could have a whole debate about that, couldn’t we? So, I’ll stop for now. However, I urge you to send your work out to these magazines, even if you can’t afford to subscribe to them, because they depend on new submissions and also, by sending them some poems, you’re doing your bit to support them.
When William Burroughs did his cut ups, he often cut two pages of text down the middle and juxtaposed the different halves. I’ve been messing about with this method, using fiction texts to see what might surface. I’ve moved from two to three juxtaposed texts which seems to widen the ‘phrase field’ a bit, and the one above generated the line ‘overlap of a moth’. I decided to coin the term ‘overlap’ for this type of poem. The result is quite open and experimental; the words still seem to be in flux. I like this – the way meaning doesn’t seem to be fixed. Anyway, here’s the poem. See what you think.
I don’t know exactly
the bit I see infallibly
the glass door
respectful and cold
the way she talks about
the inner significance of things
gone soon enough
to the window
feverish at eye level
between good and evil
free to acknowledge this
all the time very uncertain
pitiful isn’t it?