Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Vanessa Place at the Toronto New School of Poetry

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Vanessa Place will be leading a workshop at the Toronto New School of Writing on Saturday, October 30th. See our Events page for details.

By Melanie Janisse

INTERVIEW WITH VANESSA PLACE, WHO THEN INTERVIEWS ME

MJ:

Why stop at the form of poetry and strip linguistic meaning from the poems? Why is the form of writing your focus? Can we separate poetry from its social history, our presuppositions, its traditions?

VP:

This is a structuralist vs. non-structuralist argument, to which I will respond structurally. Poetry is one of the more blatant forms of rhetoric: like the law or philosophy, all it is is a rhetorical object — though there is often a nice diaphanous wrapping of truth. Truth being, like consciousness, a matter of real time, which is a matter of historical fact. So there’s no separation, but there is ongoingness, and sometimes if things go on long enough (like many ideologies), one can forget that the fact of them is a fact of rhetoric, which is also the fact of history. So as you can see, I’m not stopping at poetry.

MJ:

Is poetry a fact?

VP:

Yes, like God.

MJ:

Is it a stance?

VP:

Yes, see above.

MJ:

Is it crucial?

VP:

Always.

MJ:

What presuppositions as the reader must we do away with?

VP:

That there is anything more than linguistic surface, at least necessarily.
That the author is significant, at least uniformly.
That meaning is had by reading, at least objectively.

That there is symbolism, and that it is important.
That suppositories don’t hurt.

MJ:

Tell me some about "Notes on Conceptualism."

VP:

Done.

MJ:

Tell me some about your workshop at Toronto New School.

VP:

I will be elaborating on my program of radically evil poetics, in which everything we hold dear about poetry is eliminated. Which may be the only hope for poetry.

MJ:

One more? It begs to be asked.
What hope does poetry have?

VP:

To submit to the condition of its hopelessness. Just like the rest of us.

MJ:

You are a generator of questions.
What comes of this submission?

Hope, naturally. Just not prepositionally.

[No hope for.]

VP:

My turn:
What do you want of poetry?

MJ:

Good question.
The opportunity for communion — take that how you will.
That which lurks beyond everything else, even the words I read or write. Fumbling around in strange dark caves, spending a moment trying to get my lighter working instead of complaining 'bout the darkness. I want poetry to come out of and lead me into all that might occur.
I always forgive the imperfections of this. I am good-natured.

VP:

So in this way (we'll agree there may be no other way):
You are Platonic.
I am Kantian.
And nobody's perfect.

Is there a difference between communion and communication in your cave? (And we'll leave aside the ascension that unites them.)

MJ:

Geez hard to know. I have learned the hard way questing happiness is insatiable and leads to false suppositions and ghost chasing. It can lead to negation, refusal. And therefore does not hold to the original assertions of pleasure.

I also believe in things like yokes and that right action leads to right thinking, that everything rests in the presence of sustained and personal effort and less in the perceived outcome.

But yes, I sense things lurking outside of this. I do. Funny though, I don't have a sense of anything unless I am striking flint.

I find food really sexy. From touching it to tasting but mostly all of the actions in between.

Vanessa, I am a mess. And no philosopher.

VP:

Is there a difference between communion and communication in your cave? (And we'll leave aside the ascension that unites them.)

MJ:

Perhaps in the disconnect between intention and action. Rubber does hit the road...and perhaps that is where the whole mess begins, but it is a decent mess that I happen to love. I recently purchased a building in Toronto and had all kinds of ideas of what it would mean to alter the space towards my vision. The stories I could tell about what happened post first hammer swinging.

VP:

Excellent mess. Food is sexy because it's primitive. Like sex. And intentions are all we have, and they are always impure. I like though, that we trot behind them more or less dutifully, ignoring the fact that we put the carrot at the end of the stick ourselves.

Just as, as you note, we love our yokes.

My guess is that the building did not respond appropriately to your desire to reconstruct it. Or did not yield easily.

Flint is nice, given the sparks and the possibility of ensuing chaos. I have an argument going with Joan Retallack on the radically evil poetics, which I think can benefit from the flint metaphor.

RADICALLY EVIL POETICS

So, here is the skinny. Vanessa Place is coming to Toronto to teach a workshop at the Toronto New School of Writing. For those of you who want to know, here is her recent bio from Goodreads:

Vanessa Place is a writer, a lawyer, and co-director of Les Figues Press. She is author of Dies: A Sentence (Les Figues Press, 2006), La Medusa (Fiction Collective 2, 2008), and Notes on Conceptualisms, co-authored with Robert Fitterman (Ugly Duckling Press, 2009). Her nonfiction book, The Guilt Project: Rape, Morality and Law is forthcoming from Other Press/Random House. Information As Material will be publishing her trilogy: Statement of Facts, Statement of the Case, and Argument. Statement of Facts will also be published in France by éditions è®e, as Exposé des Faits. Place is described by critic Terry Castle as “an elegant vessel for experimental American writing of an extraordinarily assured and ingenious sort.”

For the purpose of this article, I have embarked on an elongated rumination of the short course description advertised on the TNSOW’s website:

"Radically evil poetics is a poetics that is a-poetics, poetry that is simply that which is not not-poetry."

This is a Jedi mind trick. And a small slice of something, that as you consider it, becomes broad. This is how Vanessa Place begins the intro to her workshop with a mind bend of linguistics, which upon first glance amounts to nothing, that is, until you read the small print. It is poetry that she speaks of. Nestled in the double negative is a precise location wherein Place invites us to be badass about poetics, to turn our attachments and existing notions of poetry on their end. There is something about this that entices me and reminds me of the choice characters that hide out in precise and precisely strange locations whether they are locations of linguistics, time or space, in order to experience very deep and rich flavors of experience. There are limbs where they perch, allowing in the strange contradictory soup that is life, thought, words, non-words.

"This seminar will probe into the pit of such a malevolent poetics, examining what it means to have poetry in which nothing matters but the fact of poetry itself."

I suppose poetry is a fact. Poetry is slippery, often missing, often so deeply hidden that it seems often mistaken for rhymes and sappy metaphors. I appreciate the notion that we may strip down this act to its bare form. Naked poems. Bone poems. Air riffs. I want to go to this workshop Vanessa is holding just to watch all of the hairs split. The husks being removed. Houdini missing from his shackles.

"What are the pleasures of that which is not content?"

There is so much pleasure in form. There is also much to be said of empty space (not content). So much. It is less overt in our discussion of language, perhaps because we expect language to be a given vehicle to content. Sometimes I feel sorry for the workhorses that are underappreciated, and so I am glad that Place is attempting to capture whatever is "not-content." We sometimes miss how many human hands and hearts and minds are implicit in the form of our language, in the forms in general. I have a dear friend who once stood in front of a street lamp in tears because he realized that in that one under-appreciated lamppost alone, within its form was up to 50 pairs of hands that had laboured, and those hands were attached to lives. The object is testament to our very existence, even (or especially) in its wordless reality. Simply that. As the viewer, we often forget how much human thought can go into the obvious. How we strive constantly to improve, make, define, strip down and build up and that these processes are within our very letters. That we sometimes miss the obvious, in that form is also formless if you stare at it long enough.

"What is the act of reading that which is merely transparent?"

The act of is hidden by the intent often. How many readers actually stop and consider the saga of the typeface or the typesetting that they are peering into for meaning? Words are human-made symbols. Even the spaces between the words are human made. We forget and assume each time we read. Perhaps we miss the point of language, or at least take it for granted.

"What is the tipping-point of poetry?"

How does poetry tip? Constraints focus on the form of language, forces the poet to consider the under-running current of symbols and forms of language. Even sound poets and visual poets are not outside of this, for without the form, there would be nothing to rebel against. But what is this form we speak of? Does poetry tip towards me or away?

"Is poetry a humanism?"

Put it this way, I just overheard that the largest use for gold is as semiconductors in computer plugs, so even gold, one of our most celebrated precious metals leans into science. It nestles. Everything is a humanism, so why not poetry? As mentioned above, even a lamppost is a humanism.

"Is it a polemic?"

No. Everything has the hint of a poem at its root. Everything.



Melanie Janisse is a native of Windsor, Ontario where she retains memories of old docks jutting out into the Detroit River and the smell of hops. Melanie began her education by leaving home early and wandering around the abandoned houses of inner city Detroit, and then the intense forests of the Canadian West Coast. Formally she holds degrees form Concordia University in Communications and Literature and from Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Photography. Melanie has resided in Toronto for the past nine years, keeping active as a visual artist, poet, designer and shop owner. Her work has appeared in Luft Gallery, Common Ground Gallery, Artcite Gallery, Dojo Magazine, Pontiac Quarterly, The Scream Literary Festival, The Southernmost Review, The Northernmost Review and The Windsor Review. Her first poetry book, Orioles in the Oranges (Guernica Editions), tells the tale of on old Metis legend, allowing it to dovetail with Detroit's gritty modernity in an unforgettable series of prose poems. Melanie is happy to be a part of Open Book: Toronto ruminating about books and book-like things around Toronto.

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