Spotlight series #46 : J.R. Carpenter

rob mclennan
Feb 3 · 3 min read

Curated by Canadian writer, editor and publisher rob mclennan, the “spotlight” series appears the first Monday of every month.


I am a migrant. An immigrant born of emigrants born of immigrants. I was born in Mi’kma’ki. In those parts in those days they used to say: you’re not from here until you have a grandfather buried here. So even where I come from, I come from away. I lived for nineteen years in English as a minority language on the French-speaking island of Montreal. In 2009 I emigrated to the island of England, where my English will forever mark me as a foreigner. I work to confuse and confound formal and disciplinary boundaries between print and digital, code and poetry, past and future, home and away. Much of my writing for the page comes through digital processes. I began using the internet as a medium in 1993. My early adoption was due in part to an attraction to the web as an in-between space, a place-less place. Many of my web-‘sites’ may be read as place holders, repositories for longing, for belonging, for home. Questions of place, displacement, migration, and climate change have long pervaded my writing. Questions that are mostly unanswerable. Questions that my circumstances as a multilingual multimedia multinational migrant compel to try to answer anyway: When does leaving end and arriving begin? When does an emigrant become an immigrant? Where does above start? With the wind blowing above the ocean’s currents flowing above Tectonic plates floating above liquid magma encircling the Earth’s molten core? With our planet’s orbit around the sun? With the sun’s slow arc in a dark galaxy still unfolding its incomprehensibly ancient wings?

My methodological approach to unanswerable questions is to ask adjacent questions, to take concepts too huge to think about and smash them together, to see what falls out. My recent digital poem, The Gathering Cloud addresses the environmental impact of cloud storage by calling attention to the materiality of the clouds in the sky. This is a Picture of Wind: A Weather Poem for Phones explores the paradox presented by our attempts to evoke through the materiality of language invisible forces such as wind which we can only see indirectly through their affect. In The Pleasure of the Coast: A Hydro-graphic Novel détourned fragments from Roland Barthes’ The Pleasure of the Text and Jean Giraudoux’s symbolist novel Suzanne and the Pacific intermingle with technical writing and drawings of the late-18th-century French hydrographer Beautemps-Beaupré. This imperfectly bilingual tripartite langue system creates a tension between the libidinal body and the violence of imperial measurement. More information about these and other projects is available at

a ria

a rise
a river runs
green in the shadow
of a steep wooded bank

deep roots tangle in dense strata
the rucked sheets of the Dartmouth beds
the ancient stone of the Lower Devonian
a dark strip between water and leaf

slate slants askance at the falling tide
mist eats green leaves alive
cloud shadows the far shore
counterfeits the coast

the river rolls out its yardage
bolts of shot silk shiver silver
pocked pewter
puckering grey

rain like we haven’t seen for some time
stains the parched fields green
pummelled plums fall
purple eggs from the sky

J. R. Carpenter is a Canadian-born UK-based artist, writer, and practice-led researcher working across performance, print, and digital media. She is a fellow of the Moore Institute at NUI Galway and the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library. Her pioneering works of digital literature have been presented in museums, galleries, and festivals around the world. Her digital poem The Gathering Cloud won the New Media Writing Prize 2016. Her poetry collection An Ocean of Static (Penned in the Margins) was highly commended by the Forward Prizes 2018. Her next collection, This is a Picture of Wind, is forthcoming from Longbarrow Press in April 2020. A chapbook, A General History of the Air, appears soon with above/ground press, just in time for her participation in Ottawa’s annual poetry festival, VERSeFest. She will be Writer in Residence at University of Alberta September 2020 — May 2021.

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