speculative natures: methodologies workshop

Speculative Natures Workshop 2-4pm 13 April, Arts 2.06, UEA. All welcome. Organised by Jos Smith. Jos and I will be responding to papers by Martin Savransky and Ben Smith

Jos's project, Speculative Natures, is funded by UEA and the AHRC. 

 lkka Halso, Kitka River

lkka Halso, Kitka River

This workshop builds on an ongoing collaboration between creative writers, environmental and political scientists and conservation biologists at the UEA. The wider project is interested in exploring the imaginative potential of speculating about the nature writing of the distant future: how will wildlife, the land, and our relationship to them have changed in 2080-2090? How might such changes be registered in the diverse new literary aesthetics of a ‘multinatural’ Anthropocene (Lorimer)? 

(Jos Smith, April 2018) 

 

Weird Landscapes

Thank you to Kirstin Smith and Jos Smith for hosting Naomi Booth and I on February 15th, so that we could talk about our obsession with Weird Landscapes and Genre Contamination. 

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This talk combined discussion of Naomi's brilliant dystopian novel Sealed, my recent work on Luminol Theory, and our mutual obsession with deadly and weird landscapes which Naomi blogs about so brilliantly here

We also touched on Ovid's Metamorphoses, Puritanism, forests, Eula Biss, contaminated breast milk, and the continuity of our bodies with our environments. 

Most Anticipated Small Press Books of 2018

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John Madera's annual list of most-anticipated small press books is now up on Big Other along with those of several writers and editors. Highlight include: Dubravka Ugrešić’s Fox (Open Letter), Beth Pickens’s Your Art Will Save Your Life (Feminist Press), Dorothea Lasky’s Milk (Wave Books), Carmen Giménez Smith’s Cruel Futures (City Lights), Ófeigur Sigurðsson’s Öræfi’s The Wasteland (Deep Vellum), Kathryn Scanlan’s The Dominant Animal (Little Island Press), and Marcelo Hernandez Castillo’s Cenzontle (BOA Editions).

Tiny Acts of Witchcraft — Aase Berg's Hackers

The conflation between hacker/hag is applicable to Penthesilea, who is both categorised as a witch-like figure, almost supernaturally skilled in battle, and is literally a hacker, using her spear in battle. Through these tiny acts of witchcraft in a collection that both reproduces and interrogates patriarchal violence and its necrotising effect, and the hags/hackers who are revitalising these dead zones, Berg’s collection manages to offer some small hope.

Thanks to 3AM for hosting my review of Aase Berg's Hackers, translated by Johannes Göransson. 

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Translating pain

Thank you so much to Sara Wasson, Sharon Ruston, and Bethany Dahlstrom for organising the Translating Pain creative summit at Lancaster University on October 21 2017. This amazing event brought together artists, practitioners, medical professionals, pain charities, and academics. I really enjoyed being on a panel with Jenn Ashworth to discuss the potential benefits of short form, fragmentary writing for translating pain. I can't wait to see what the next stages of the project will be. Thank you to @pfanderson for making a Storify of the event. 

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Gwendolyn Brooks

The Golden Shovel Anthology: New Poems Honouring Gwendolyn Brooks

Edited by Peter Kahn, Ravi Shankar, and Patricia Smith                                                                                               

Tonight, at the British Library, eighteen poets will read their tributes to the former Poet Laureate of Illinois, Gwendolyn Brooks. Their work, along with that of dozens of other poets, has been commissioned and collected in the Golden Shovel Anthology, edited by Peter Kahn, Ravi Shankar, and Patricia Smith. 

This collection of experimental poetry is an example of formal restriction leading to creative innovation. As the editors of the collection explain ‘the last words of each line in a golden shovel poem are, in order, words from a line or lines taken from a [Gwendolyn] Brooks poem. The poems are, in a way, secretly encoded to enable both a horizontal reading of the new poem and a vertical reading down the right-hand margin of Brooks’s original’. This form was developed by Terrance Hayes, author of the foreword to the collection, when he took one of Brooks’s most well-known poems ‘We Real Cool’ and forged a new poem titled ‘The Golden Shovel’. 

Gwendolyn Brooks was Poet Laureate of Illinois from 1969 until her death in 2000, and she was the first black writer to receive the Pulitzer Prize, which she received for her book Annie Allen in 1950. This collection honours Brooks's achievements through direct engagement with her poetry. Brooks’s poetry is a plastic, capacious source for new material, and this formally inventive collection shows the styles and voices of dozens of poets including Nii Ayikweii Parkes, Eileen Myles, Joyelle McSweeney, Leontia Flynn, Sharon Olds, and Malika Booker amongst many, many others, yet each of these poets is in direct conversation with Gwendolyn Brooks.

There are some poems that feel so cerebral as to be a form of ‘verbal sudoku’ as Ravi Shankar suggests in the introduction. As there are dozens of poems and poets here, the collection is necessarily uneven, but this does not detract from the overall impression of a generous palimpsestic conversation between the writers and Brooks.

There are many standout poems, including Jaswinder Bolina’s ‘Jessie Mitchell’s Father’ that employs partial lines, gaps, and italics to conjure miniature stories:

 

            Ashes         flowers 

           reeking        perfume

           gunmetal     petals

 

Danielle Cadena Duelen’s gorgeous ‘Medics’, which uses enjambment to devastating effect:

 

            The torn limbs, the sinew-song in           

            the tender throat. Let us mend the

 

            punctured lung,

 

And Sharon G. Flake’s short but powerful poem ‘she never saw life as hard’ is devastating in its briefness:

 

            she never saw life as hard

            no long black walk or trudge

            for them willing to work with

            no complaint or fainting

            but then the storms pulled off her bandaging

            bloodying her assets and

            showing scabs that long ago warned of death.

 

This beautiful, terrible poem begs the reader to return to the source material and to Brooks’s own words in her original poem ‘To Black Women’:

 

          It has been a

          hard trudge, with fainting, bandaging and death.

          There have been startling confrontations.

          There have been tramplings. Tramplings

          of monarchs and of other men.

          But there remain large countries in your eyes.

          Shrewd sun.

          The civil balance.

          The listening secrets.

          And you create and train your flowers still.

 

Gwendolyn Brooks’s poetry haunts this collection; in the margins and the hollows of each new poem her presence is felt.  

 

Everyday Witchcraft in Siân S. Rathore's Wild Heather

I wrote about the everyday witchcraft in Wild Heather  for Entropy's New Canon series. 

when Rathore’s first person narrator invokes the image of ‘permagreen Christmas trees’ that she fears will remind the addressee of ‘the cake-toppers we saw at the wedding planner’s house’ for a wedding that feels doomed or lost, she combines the banal and the magical seamlessly in a voice at once dreamy and precise. There is an occult feminism here, as her characters command power through their relations to objects, and where ‘your girlfriend’s newfound witchcraft’ is treated seriously, and with great respect.

Gaslighting and Domestic Noir

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I've been putting the final touches to our edited collection Domestic Noir, due to come out with Palgrave Macmillan next year. In the twelve months since the project was conceived, domestic horror seems to be more relevant than ever, and gaslighting, a trope from postwar film noir, has re-entered the popular imaginary via Lauren Duca's 'Donald Trump is Gaslighting America' and Tressie McMillan Cottom's 'A Few Notes on Gaslighting'. The domestic thriller shows no sign of slowing down in popularity, and this collection, which offers a snapshot of the subgenre, has emerged as a highly politicised study of popular fiction. In this short piece I wrote for the Noirwich blog, I discuss the renewed relevance of the domestic thriller in a time when racially motivated crimes have become state-sanctioned, and gendered violence legitimised in public life. I argue that popular, and particularly genre, fiction offers an index and critique of our current cultural anxieties. 

AWP Writer to Writer Programme

I'm really enjoying the chance to study with novelist and nonfiction writer Xu Xi on the AWP Writer to Writer programme as part of their Spring 2017 cohort. I'm learning from Xu Xi about the process of writing creative nonfiction and so far she's given me a brilliant reading list and shared her experience of shifting from fiction to nonfiction. I've been collating some favourite examples of recent nonfiction and a current favourite is this piece on Anna Nicole Smith by Sarah Marshall. 

The Necropastoral

I wrote about Joyelle McSweeney's The Necropastoral for Entropy as part of their New Canon series

Joyelle McSweeney’s The Necropastoral interrogates the cultural history of the deadly landscape, from the annihilating plagues of Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura to the aftermath of 9/11. Explicitly modelled on a classical poetics, this volume bears both physical and intangible traces of violent crime ranging from blood and bodily fluids to the “spectral quality of capitalism, the way money and debt accrues and erodes in damaging patterns, the way damage to bodies is sometimes the first materialisation of corporate malfeasance.”