Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Bohemian Like You

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Bohemian Like You

By Nathaniel G. Moore

A short interview and profile (with some photographs) with the 2010 bpnichol chapbook award winner Alisha Piercy, author of You have hair like flags, flags that point in many directions at once but cannot pinpoint land when lost at sea (Your Lips to Mine Press, Montreal and Berlin, 2010), who was in Iceland when this interview was conducted and who also just released her debut full-length book, Icebreaker / Auricle with Conundrum Press in the summer.

The book is part of Conundrum reversible books series and is two novellas for the price of one.

About You have hair like flags, flags that point in many directions at once but cannot pinpoint land when lost at sea:

Hair like flags is a drawing performance and a story. A story that explores the perceptual world that leads up to, and surrounds, the event of being lost, adrift at sea for 30 days. It is a drawing that might never end, might be impossible to achieve. It is a long improvisation with an imposed deadline. This drawing is about the nature of a shifting hallucinatory perception of the present, along with a vivid remembering of the leaving, which all happens around the space of a raft, over a finite period of time. After 30 days the drawing will cease to exist. It will be whited-out.

In the early nineties, I had my first exposure to bohemian experience. I think it involved drinking tea and wearing bowler hats, girls in vintage dresses and probably a room with tinfoil walls. Fast-forward 15 years or so and that sort of experience seems quotidian for me now. I mean, nowadays artists even have their own schools! Okay I'm being a bit sarcastic.

The point of this is that, well, it's one thing to write a chapbook and release it, its another thing to travel across the world and act out parts of your text with a bunch of boy scouts on rafts and have people actually show up and watch you do all this. I mean, when a chapbook gets published in Toronto, we go to the bar where it's launching and drink and clap and go home. Maybe we buy it. Then there are people who take things to a whole new level. But that's what happened in August in Iceland: Alisha read from her work on a raft with some boy scouts.

The first time I remember hearing about Alisha was reading Claudia Dey's blurb for the new Conundrum book online a few months ago. Then I saw some pictures on the Conundrum blog and was pretty certain Alisha was wearing face paint during one of her readings (or it could be my monitor). Then I read her writing, which is at times romantic, didactically poetic, emotionally adventurous and full of confrontational visions. It’s a literary investigation and infestation as well, appropriating sea-worthy characters from other texts and re-imagining them in her own way.

The most striking thing about the chapbook project Alisha has been working on this year is its ability to morph into other mediums, reflect itself and travel to other countries. The text in the chapbook is a manifesto of sorts, a manifesto of the literary sea. "The fictional characters Pi (Life of Pi, Yann Martel, 2001) and Pym (The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Edgar Allen Poe, 1838) “relate sea stories of horror filled with hallucinations that verge on the divine.”

NGM:

How did this month-long drawing installation influence your chapbook and vice-versa? I guess I want to know about the concept a bit more. Why don’t you tell us about it?

AP:

The title is long and reads as follows on the cover (and in the drawing installation all blown-up on the gallery wall):

YOU HAVE
HAIR LIKE FLAGS,
FLAGS THAT POINT
IN MANY DIRECTIONS
AT ONCE BUT CANNOT
PINPOINT LAND
WHEN LOST
AT SEA

I think it's like a Poe-like-tale told in verse. I published it myself with an artist friend, Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay. We started our own press because this was for an exhibition and it happened fast. I also wanted the design and editing to happen with people who were already familiar with my research and its connections to my drawing performance work.

The drawing performance was live and lasted 30 days. It was a whirlwind and I can hardly remember writing the chapbook. I know it happened mostly in the pre-stages of the performance, while researching global garbage drifts, migration patterns that happen in small boats, Edo migrations drawings, the tragic figure of Bas Jan Ader, how parade floats can look, etc., and I was re-reading my fav. novel by Angela Carter, Heroes and Villains, where, on p. 99 Jewel's hair "blows like innumerable black flags". I loved that and made it the conceit: to have hair like flags means daring, spirit, the will to push off from shore against all odds, among other things. Basically, it seemed to fit a story told in second person, where a global phenomena could be perceived in a more intimate and ambiguous way. We all have hair like flags or, "driftheartedness" somewhere within us. Images from the story fuelled the images I drew: processions of rafts, nets, "Northern" things, pink flares, and lots and lots of smoke and explosions.

NGM:

Your bio reveals you are up to something in Iceland involving rafts and boy scouts. Can you tell us about the boy scouts? Most Canadian author bios mention journals they've been published in, not rafts they are building.

AP:

The central image from You Have Hair Like Flags is a bonfire on a raft that keeps on burning. This time the focus is more about risk and impossibility. How it came about: my Icelandic collaborator, a time-based artist Oskar Ericsson, was having an exhibition in Montreal at the same time as my Hair Like Flags show. My advisor said I should meet him. I did. We had dinner. I told him about my piece and that I wanted to make a life-size installation performance, I was thinking one or two rafts, and he said, You should come to Iceland and I'll help you! So here I am, waiting out the windstorm. We're now Day Six, and the boy scouts have become the Icelandic fire brigade. Although I love the idea so much I may dress up as one myself. I'm launching the chapbook at a wonderful indie book-art store/gallery here called Uturdur.

Though Toronto won't have any rafts to greet her, nor boy scouts, there is an award presentation planned for Monday September 13th at the Harbord House where Alishia will be reading from her award winning chapbook.

For more information on the award night visit http://bpnichol.ca/news/2010_bpnichol_chapbook_award_night

For more information on Alisha visit http://alishapiercy.com/

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