Memory as Void: An Interview with Ross Brighton

I first encountered Ross Brighton in an online discussion thread about French avant-garde writers, which quickly turned from a half-hearted exercise in shooting the literary breeze to a full-blown debate, in which Ross showed up everyone in the figurative room with his knowledge of… well, everything. I’ve kept an eye out since then for his work, which carries a cerebral edge that’s sharper than what we’ve come to expect from internet-fringe poets. His most recent work, Memory as Void, carries on this erudite sensibility, but couples it with grippingly human evocations of pain and trauma. Here Ross talks about Memory, the New Zealand lit scene, PTSD, black metal, Batman, and what he’s writing next.

Caleb Hildenbrandt:
Let’s talk influences. I’m getting a definite T.S. Eliot vibe from this—were you thinking of The Waste Land when you wrote it?
Also feeling a bit of Sassoon, although maybe I’m reaching.

Ross Brighton:
Woah. Fuck. Eliot? Really? … I don’t want to say I hate Eliot, obviously I respect him, he’s important and all that, but I really don’t like him a lot of the time, I find him kind of terminally boring (and super Anglican)… so no I wasn’t thinking of The Waste Land, though I was thinking I suppose of “waste lands in general” or something, there’s a kind of post-apocalyptic vibe or something. And also like what I kind of think of as a “psychic landscape” thing. I don’t know. I recently bought a book called Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse (ed. John Joseph Adams), it’s an anthology of post-apocalyptic fiction (I bought it largely because it’s got a story by Nancy Kress, who’s one of my favourite sci-fi authors), and that’d probably be a better touchstone than Eliot.

To be honest I haven’t read Eliot since I was an undergrad, so that’s like, god, five years since I even looked at him—aside from “Prufrock,” which I do like, though it’s a bit… overwrought? God, I’m being a judgmental snob or something, and kind of self-conscious about it—but it’s more that the pressure of canon kind of bugs me out, people who are “important” — I like “minor” writers more than the big names a lot of the time, there’s less of the Burden of History or something. I hate the idea of, like, an obligation to read stuff just because it’s deemed important. But my dad bought me a copy of the facsimile manuscript of The Waste Land at a book sale, which I’m going to pick up when I’m home for the Holidays, so I suppose I’m going to look at him again, re-evaluate or something.

Caleb Hildenbrandt:
So who are some of these “minor” writers you like?

Ross Brighton:
First things that spring to mind — these guys aren’t necessarily minor, but they’re not people who, like, get taught or anything. Especially in English:

I really, really love Antonin Artaud. To the point where while I was doing my honours year I overworked myself to the point of a mental breakdown, and kind of ended up having delusions about being, at the same time, channelling his spirit, being his re-incarnation and like… I think the phrase he used was “daughters of the heart, yet to be born,” like being one of them as well, it was really weird. I mean obviously being insane is weird, and not pleasant, but like, yeah. It’s kind of funny how that, like, mirrors him at one point thinking he was (I think it was) Jesus, St. Patrick and Lucifer all at the same time, or something like that, when he got kicked out of Ireland for not paying hotel bills (because he was Jesus and St Patrick). I think that’s what happened. He’s kind of like… a patron saint to me in a way. Clayton Eshelman and Bernard Bador’s translations in Watch Fiends and Rack Screams are really great.

I also really love Paul Celan, but he’s generally considered one of the most important poets to write in German in the 20th century (John Felstiner’s translation is the best I think). I love Ronald Johnson, whose ARK is about to be re-published by Flood (that’s been a long time coming.) Ingeborg Bachmann—a lot of French and German stuff, a lot of stuff in translation in general. And of course quite a bit of New Zealand stuff—Joanna Margaret Paul (though the only thing of hers in print is a (Selected Poems, which, while great as an introduction, doesn’t have some of what I think is her most important work), Robin Hyde (Young Knowledge, the Collected, edited by Michele Leggot, is brilliant), Alan Brunton (Michele Leggott is also preparing a new selected for publication, which will be amazing), Michele herself is an incredible poet, her books As Far as I Can See and DIA (though the latter is out of print and hard to find now) are really great. Also Janet Frame. I should probably plug Kelly Ana Morey here—we’re really different writers, but she’s criminally underrated (Bloom is available for Kindle, and still available in New Zealand as one of those orange Penguin classics). God I feel like I should plug a whole lot of friends, but don’t want this to just be a “shout-out to [x]” kind of deal. Look out for Samuel Carey though, he’s going to be making some big waves.

Back to the “minor writers” thing, I like trawling through old magazines and anthologies and stuff to find people, there’s a whole lot of interesting stuff you can find by doing that, like I recommend people do that. There are a couple of stories by a guy called Joe Barnett in an issue of Parallax (a New Zealand mag, edited by Alan Loney) that are great, but I have no idea if the guy ever published anything else, and there are some great poems by Elizabeth Robinson in an issue or two of A Brief Description of the Whole World that are amazing too, and she’s published little, if anything, else.

I also like a lot of the Romantics who other people don’t seem to, like I really love Swinburne.

And a whole fuckton of contemporary people—love virtually everythingTarpaulin Sky publishes—Joyelle McSweeney, Claire Hero, Sandy Florian, Kim Gek Lin Short, Johannes Goransson… same deal with Action Books,Black Ocean, and Solar Luxuriance—M. Kitchell is amazing, and I buy pretty much everything he publishes. But there are kind of too many contemporary writers to list.

It’s weird talking about writers I like though, because that swerves toward “influences” and that’s really difficult, especially as I feel like I’m kind of “moving” as a writer, away from a more kind of—fuck, what would you call it, “abstract lyric” maybe?—toward something… different. Memory as Voidis kind of the start of that, I think, but then there’s what I’m doing now and I’m not even sure what to call it. Or what it’s going to be. But Memory as Void is, I think, the start of something. Though I’ve got this mass of work that I’ve done previously, that kind of needs to be turned into a book or something (Samuel Carey and Chris Holdaway, editor of the wonderful magazine Minarets, which everyone should get on, are helping me with that), so there might be some kind of jumping backwards and forwards. I’m not sure.

Caleb Hildenbrandt:
That’s some obscure stuff, at least to me. The Swinburne at any rate seems somehow to make sense, in light of Memory as Void—which, you’re saying it isn’t abstract-lyrical? I mean (listening to you read to an audience sounds… intensely lyrical, in the immediacy, emotion, and second-person address—or am I not understanding the concept of lyricism as you define it?

Ross Brighton:
I don’t know, it’s like… different. Like it started partly as a kind of experiment in using (this is going to sounds weird) like, confessional-lyric kind of language, and using the first personal pronoun heaps. It started as a facebook thread actually, with Sam, a.k.a. Lázsló de Alcarey (which turned into a collaborative chapbook with him called FACE MEAT, which he might still have copies of if you ask him nicely.) Like previously my work was far more abstract, like more L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E-poetry-influenced, more kind of… austere? Like these poems at No Tell Motel (shout-out to Reb Livingston) or this piece recorded for Minarets.

Like there’s definitely a lyricism there, but it’s far more abstracted, and also there’s no personal pronouns. I also dabbled in conceptual writing—my above/ground press chapbook, and that Minarets piece, both involve text randomisation algorithms and lots of found text. The poems are also not really “about” anything—like, there’s the abstraction again. Memory as Voidfeels different to me—partly because of the “I” everywhere, and the declarative, ALL CAPS voice, and the… kind of narrative thing going on—but also because it’s very much in response to, I suppose, personal stuff. In a New Zealand context, the opening,

INSIDE MY DREAMS
INSIDE MY HEAD
I SEE
A RUINED CATHEDRAL.
THE CATHEDRAL HAS BURNED
AND FALLEN

is pretty obviously a reference to the earthquakes that devastated my hometown, Christchurch, in September 2010 and February 2011, destroying the neo-Gothic cathedral that was kind of the centre of the city. Outside of New Zealand, that reference isn’t obvious, but it’s there. There’s also stuff about a “father,” which is kind of written in the presence of my father being diagnosed with leukaemia last year (he’s in remission now, but it was kind of touch and go for a bit.) And the whole thing is also a kind of… It’s hard to explain, but it’s all also about / in response to my experience of a kind of catastrophic mental illness. I initially wanted to call it “PTSD,” but the other project I’m working on is also tentatively titled “POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER” and Mike and I talked about it and decided to change the title so as to make it clear that Memory as Void isn’t an “excerpt from a work in progress” or anything. It’s hard to explain how the piece is “about” PTSD, but… I suppose it’s kind of an experiential thing? Like the work is meant to be this insistent, kind of overwhelming experience, I kind of think of it being like the music of Swans or Sunn O))) or something… like this overbearing experience that like, happens to you, that’s really heavy and oppressive. Like in a way you could think of it as like a madness simulator or something. Which sounds really weird, but I don’t know how else to explain it. I have no idea what it’s like for a reader, so it could have a very different effect on people, but that’s how I feel / think about it. But at the Zinefest reading you linked to, I had a couple of people come up to me afterward and say “I get it” — before the video starts I’d made an introduction, and half-jokingly referred to the genre of the piece as “PTSDcore” (which I quite like — I’ve got a thing going on with some other people, again half-jokingly, but half deadly seriously, starting some kind of movement or something). So this one woman took me aside after that reading and was like “I totally got it, and you totally got it, this is real shit” or something like that. So if you’ve got that kind of experience it seems like it really speaks to people. Or I hope it does. And I hope it does something to other people as well, like everyone I guess.

Caleb Hildenbrandt:
Okay yeah, that stuff in No Tell Motel and Minarets is definitely more abstract, I see what you’re saying.

Swans is a pretty apt analogy, I think, that was my response to it as well.
I actually wanted to ask you about the all-caps style, which reads like you’re intoning something of great gravity (which, given the content, I guess you are.) Is this a style you’ve used before?

Ross Brighton:
Swans were a pretty formative influence on me, they’re one of my favourite bands and really personally important — there’s also probably a bit of them in the ALL CAPS formatting, in the liner notes on most of their records everything’s in caps, I could well have picked that up subconsciously.
As for the style of this piece, it isn’t something I’ve done before in a concerted way, though there’s a kind of semi-remix / re-write / something of Artaud’s To Have Done with the Judgement of God that uses that a bit (but needs a lot of re-working and… stuff before it can see the light of day.) And there are a couple of poems that are probably kind of precursors floating around, there’s “Salt” in Action Yes (though that’s very old), a poem in Turbine, and a poem in an issue of Minarets that kind of play with some vaguely similar stuff, though that’s more stylistic than content.

Caleb Hildenbrandt:
But as far as it being about New Zealand, you do actually mention America by name at one point—what’s going on there?

Ross Brighton:
I’m not sure exactly what I’m doing with “AMERICA” there, like, it just kind of happened, although it went through several drafts and there was a lot of editing, that was mostly re-arranging things, it all kind of “came to me” in big chunks, like I was channelling something outside myself, as sometimes happens. Also I kind of had this feeling like it was a spell to unmake the world so, I’m not sure, destroying America seemed like a thing that somehow needed to be done? I’m not sure what I mean there, so I suppose that’s open to interpretation. “Make of that what you will” or some shit. I guess Janey Smith would like that, in light of his recent post at HTMLgiant.

Caleb Hildenbrandt:
You’ve always seemed to identify as a New Zealand poet, from what I’ve observed—have you always lived there?

Ross Brighton:
I’m not sure if I identify as a New Zealand Poet, I’m inescapably a New Zealander, I was born and raised in Christchurch, and now live in Auckland (I moved up here to do graduate study), but I feel very… outside, I think, of what you would call I suppose the “New Zealand Literary Scene” or whatever. I mean it’s all very small, we’re a very small country, and I know a lot of people who are “big names” and shit, and they know me but… yeah, because it’s so small, aside from some exceptions it’s very insular and very conservative (and also very focused on Wellington, the capital.) Like, there’s a whole lot of shit that goes on, and… I don’t really feel part of it. Which is fine I guess. I’m also a crazy, cranky hermit who kind of sits in his house all day and doesn’t like being around people, which doesn’t help. But the internet is great, and has really helped me with a lot of stuff, when I was a kid writing weird poetry in Christchurch, and going to open mic nights and confusing the fuck out of people and then getting into fights and shit—

Caleb Hildenbrandt:
You literally got into fights at open mic nights?

Ross Brighton:
Not like, fist fights, but quite confrontational things, like drunk dudes saying what I was doing “wasn’t fucking poetry,” or that it was somehow “academic” and “elitist”—which was ironic because

a) I wasn’t the one saying what is and isn’t poetry, I’ve always been fairly egalitarian, partially because of this kind of shit, and

b) I never got taught anything like what I was doing at university really (aside from one class with Claire Hero, who left and went back to the US shortly after — she’s really awesome by the way, everyone should go buy all of her books) — the University of Canterbury, where I did undergrad (and I was already writing quite out-there shit before I started there) was decidedly conservative, and very regionalist and cloistered and invested in ideas of “canon” and shit (another sore spot with some people, there was a guy who was a regular at the open mic who started a kind of feud /one-man war against me because I said I didn’t like Auden and Eliot and found them boring, like apparently I wasn’t doing the “work” needed to be a poet, not taking shit “seriously” enough, which was fucking bullshit), which never really interested me at all.

When I moved to Auckland to do postgrad (and eventually go through their Masters program in Creative Writing) it was a real revelation for me, like, not being an “outsider” so much and being able to write what I wanted, and be encouraged and supported and stuff and not be continually on the defensive (though I’ve since… I don’t know, I’m not so invested in the academy / feel it’s the right place for me right now, I’m kind of… I feel like things are changing for me, I’m not sure what I’m doing / want to do, I feel like I’m in a transitional space at the moment.) All that stuff is kind of indicative of the general feeling I get about “New Zealand Literature” though, like as I said it’s very insular and regionalist, like I get the feeling a lot of New Zealanders don’t read a lot of international literature, especially poetry, and especially stuff by, I suppose, their contemporaries, like young people, up-and-coming people, stuff published by independent presses, stuff like that. That’s changing I think, I see more young people reading other stuff, and hear about them bringing it in / sharing it in classes, or graduate teaching assistants teaching it, but there is a kind of institutional problem there. There’s a lot of institutional problems though, a lot of power (gatekeeping, grants, etc.) invested in a small number of people (predominantly straight white men), and stuff is insular and clique-y and regionalist (so much power, and money, in Wellington), things could do with a real shake-up I think. And it all comes out in kind of nasty spats like the stuff around Eleanor Catton’s novel that just won the Man Booker Prize (which I wrote about). But aside from some people like Doc Drumheller of The Catalyst journal (who first published me, and ran the local open mic nights) like, no one knew what to do with me, and… I was like, on the outside. But then I got onto like blogs and shit, and met people like Johannes Goransson (who published some of my stuff inAction Yes) and Kate Durbin, and Kate Zambreno, and Nada Gordon, and people like that, and suddenly it was like “fuck this insular regionalist New Zealand shit, there’s so much other exciting stuff going on, I don’t need to fit in here,” you know? Which isn’t to say that I reject New Zealand or anything like that. I just like a kind of broader field to play in or something.

Caleb Hildenbrandt:
You’ve made no secret, in internet discussion threads, of experiencing PTSD, and, like you said, currently have a work in progress with that title—if it’s okay with you, can we talk about how that came about, and how it shapes your writing?

Ross Brighton:
Basically as a child / adolescent I had a really rough time. God, that sounds really minor or trivial, and I spent a long time thinking it was, but it wasn’t—there was a lot of violence, pretty brutal shit, but totally omnipresent to the point of it being kind of banal, (which is part of why I spent so long thinking it was “normal”), to the point of pretty much living in fear all the time… I don’t really want to go into it, but it was some nasty shit. And then later, when I was sixteen I lost my best friend (who had been through all that shit with me, we were like brothers, like as close as you can get), he killed himself.

That completely destroyed me, I ended up going over the edge, I lost it completely, ended up in mental hospital, the whole nine yards. And then I got as good as kicked out of school (“I think we are really unable to cater to your needs, and it would be a good idea for you to look elsewhere”), transferred to an experimental inner city school that was basically the dumping ground for misfits and people other schools couldn’t “cater for,” so most of my friends there were pretty messed up, adding to me thinking all the shit that happened to me and was going on inside my head was “normal.” It’s kind of funny (in a really bleak way) how that shit works, like you have shit going on in your head that’s like… kind of fucked up, but because you don’t know what other people are thinking and feeling, you just assume that everyone’s like that. It took me a long time to realize that that wasn’t the case, and finding that out was kind of alienating… but I was already pretty alienated by then, so… anyway, at the new school I didn’t really go to class, ended up as I suppose a kind of juvenile delinquent. I mean I wasn’t like stealing cars and shit, but like wandering the streets, getting drunk, getting high, getting in fights, basically being a little shit.

It wasn’t until I turned twenty and my parents basically held an intervention and got me to enrol in a university bridging program that I started to get my shit together (I was still reading and writing all the time, but… school didn’t work for me with that kind of shit, I hated being told what to do, what to read, what shit “meant,” that kind of thing.) And so I did a degree, in English, which was pretty cool (though I was still kicking at any kind of boundary, I spent most of my time hanging out at the Fine Arts school, because there was more… freedom there I suppose, and drinking all the beer at their barbeques and openings and stuff, and railing against the conservatism and stuffiness of the English department.) And while all this was going on I was blogging, and getting into the online scene (not really the alt lit one, but making friends with people like Johannes Göransson and Kate Durbin and Kate Zambreno) and getting published a bit outside of New Zealand, and finding New Zealand really stifling, especially the University of Canterbury.

So then I moved up to Auckland in 2010 to do postgrad at the university up here, and had a massive nervous breakdown and finally actually got diagnosed with PTSD (which really should have been obvious from the get-go, the mental health system in Christchurch really dropped the ball on that one), and started getting proper treatment and coming to terms with both what happened to me and what it had done to me and how I reacted to it (and still do.) And that has, recently, had a really pointed effect on my writing, of which Memory as Void is the first / most obvious incarnation.

It’s also really affected my reading habits (as has being quite heavily medicated, after another recent… crisis), and I’ve started reading a lot of comics. I’m thinking perhaps that the novel-shaped-thing I’m working on (the one called POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER) might turn out to be a comic, though I’ll need to get an artist / artists in, as I can’t draw for shit (anyone reading this who’d be interested, hit me up.) But I’ve been reading a lot of Batman, and… well, Batman is like the archetype of PTSD, Jesus Christ. I’ve got lots of thoughts and feelings about that, my father is pushing me to write a book about it, which is kind of cute I guess.

Caleb Hildenbrandt:
I’m glad you brought up comics, because Memory as Void actually struck me as the stuff of comic books (and I mean that in a good way)—it’s theatrical and cataclysmic with this unabashed (if obscure) distinction drawn between chaos and order. What do you read besides Batman? You’re a DC man if I remember correctly?

Ross Brighton:
Yeah, but of the idea of the “novel-shaped-thing” comes out of Memory as Void (though it’s a different thing, I can’t really stress that enough), and part of the idea there is for literature where comics (and animation) are treated as, kind of proper literary precursor texts, so I’ve tried to draw as much inspiration form them as possible, more so than “proper literary fiction” or whatever. Memory as Void is kind of meant to feel like something like Final Crisis, in a way, I think. Or the Third Impact in Neon Genesis Evangelion. Those are also the kinds of things that I’m drawing on for the “novel-shaped thing” as well, in the project outline I’ve written up the influences I state, outside of literary fiction, are:

The Flash (Mark Waid, Grant Morrison / Mark Millar and Geoff Johns runs)
JLA: Rock of Ages (Grant Morrison again)
—Jack Kirby, particularly his Fourth World saga, but his general obsession with space gods (starting with his re-imagining of Thor as science fantasy, and then including stuff like The Eternals for Marvel as well)
—Morrison’s Seven Soldiers of Victory, particularly the Mister Miracle miniseries (which ties back to Kirby)
—Morrison’s Final Crisis
—parts of Kurt Busiek’s Superman: Camelot Falls
Neon Genesis Evangelion
Final Fantasy VI
—Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell and Appleseed (I’d now add Mamoru Oshii, who directed the Ghost in the Shell films, his aesthetic and idea of how to do film has been quite influential on my ideas of how to write this stuff).

There’s other stuff for specific character arcs, but that’s the main kind of thrust of stuff.

I’m guessing you can kind of see where all of this is going—and Memory as Void kind of gestures toward that as well—the end of the world (though with a kind of sci-fi-theological bent).

There’s also a bit of Greg Rucka’s Final Crisis: Revelations, one of theFinal Crisis tie-in miniseries, but that’s more the initial idea that Rucka had, rather than what it turned out as (which is ok, but not great), what he wanted to write about was how the Crisis affected normal people on the ground, like people who weren’t superheroes. That’s one of the central things I’m trying to write about, this massive kind of “Crisis Crossover”-scale disaster, literally the end of the world, but there are no superheroes to save the world, or to put the pieces back together. Everyone is just a normal person, powerless against the face of something that big. Which ties in well to the idea of PTSD, which generally comes from a sense of powerlessness, and often manifests as overbearing and complete feelings like that, like a complete lack of control over your life and shit. Fuck this stuff is really hard to talk about, because there aren’t really words for it, it’s kind of too big to fit inside language.

And yeah, I’m generally a DC guy (you can probably tell from the list), when it comes to superheroes, but I’ve been trying not to buy into the DC / Marvel dichotomy, the whole “you must pick one!” thing. I love Brubaker’s run on Captain America (and can’t wait to see Winter Soldier on the big screen!) and have read a lot of X-Men—mostly Clairmont and Morrison (I’ve read Joss Whedon’s run as well, but hated it, aside from the gestures toward interesting shit at the beginning, and Warren Ellis too, he seemed promising but never went anywhere). I also love stuff outside of the big two—I loveHellboy, and am trying to read a lot of local indie comics—Robyn E. Kenealy is amazing, as are Dylan Horrocks, Mat Tait and Toby Morris, and internationally I really like Roman Muradov.

But yeah, I’m a big fan of Morrison, and of Alan Moore (though they’ve kind of obvious.) I’ve been reading Moore’s Miracleman, and Jesus Christ that’s incredible. I’m really happy that Marvel are reprinting it. And I lovedTransmetropolitan, and Warren Ellis’ APPARAT one-shots are really cool, but I haven’t read a lot else by him that I liked (even after Joss Whedon’s X-Men run, which I hated, Ellis didn’t seem very good, he seemed a bit lost and I feel like there was probably a fair bit of editorial interference there). I’ve also been trying to track down everything that Devin Grayson has written, since her run on Nightwing was so incredible—I’m reading her Userright now (that’s DC/Vertigo.) It’s fucking incredible, really amazing. And herMarvel Knights Black Widow mini wasn’t bad either (and J.G. Jones drew it, and he’s fantastic). I’ve also been meaning to read Grell’s Green Arrowrun, as I love Ollie Queen as a character, but don’t feel like I’ve read anything that really does him justice—Kevin Smith for example, God, that man should not be allowed to write comics, ever.

I feel like I need to read more widely though, so if anyone has any recommendations of shit I should read, that’d be cool. Especially indie stuff that isn’t kind of normal autobiographical stuff.

But yeah I am still a DC guy, largely just because of the Batbooks—there’s a hell of a lot going on there psychologically that’s… yeah, it’s a thing. Though I suppose saying “I’m a DC guy because of the Batbooks” is the same as saying “I’m a Marvel guy because of X-Men,” when the stuff outside of those franchises is so different in a lot of ways. I mean Batman has more in common with, say, Iron Man than he does with Hal Jordan as Green Lantern, for example.

Also, that thing about chaos and order is interesting, I’m not sure exactly what you mean by it. Could you elaborate?

Caleb Hildenbrandt:
Well, there seems to be this very strong me-vs.-them mentality on the speaker’s part, with the speaker presumably advocating order in a chaotic world—and by “obscure” I mean that I’m not quite sure what the chaos is or what instigated it, or really what kind of order the speaker would advocate, or what the speaker’s preferred reality would look like.

Ross Brighton:
Okay, that’s an interesting reading. It’s completely unintentional, but like, that doesn’t make it wrong or anything obviously—maybe it’s a function of the use of “I”? I’m not sure. In my mind there isn’t a “them” there—and if the “I” is against anything it’s ‘my’self—cf. the last couple of pages just being “MEA FUCKING CULPA” repeated like a mantra. In my mind at least the thing is like… there’s been some massive catastrophe and everything is gone, like there’s nothing left—so there’s no one to rail against—aside from like, Angels which may just be a product of a fevered mind, and rats, dogs, and rat-dog hybrids—which again may or may not be real. Like in my mind I was just thinking more of a kind of… I’m not sure, maybe like “environmental oppression”? Like, reality is the antagonist—as well as the self. All of which is kind of solipsistic, but that kind of fits I think—did I say earlier that I think of it as a kind of exorcism? And there’s also the title: “Memory as Void,” which places it as a kind of… expression or manifestation of subjectivity, and an earlier version of the title (which was used in the extract published in LIES/ISLE, and as part of the blurb / copy on the Solar Luxuriance website) included the phrase “psychic landscape,” which is part of how it works, at least to me.

Of course all of that is “my version.” Once I’ve written something and like thrown it out into the public arena, in my brain it kind of stops being “mine,” it becomes public property, it’s like a machine that I’ve made, which then gets activated when other people read it, and is obviously going to work differently for different people, and different for other people from how it does for me, it’s like a little affect-making machine that people get to wind up and use. But then Paul Celan also called a poem a “message in a bottle,” so there is a communication thing there too—but like, there’re levels, different levels of the same thing. Poetry, or creative writing in general, has far more noise in the channel, by nature, than straight journalistic prose or something. Which is both an inherent part of it, and… an interesting thing and I think a good thing.

And yeah, there’s no source for the chaos and shit, of none specified — it just like, hangs in the air, I kind of like that. I like the idea of like, an apocalypse that… I don’t even know if it happened or anything, but was just suddenly there or something.

Caleb Hildenbrandt:
An ontological apocalypse! As, I dunno, “deconstructionist” as your approach to readership is, I feel like there might be a symbolic framework guiding the piece—like, you mention sigils of ash, which I’m aware has some kind of mythological association with the Yggdrasil, and there’s this lamb, and this stuff about altars and funeral pyres and necklaces made of molars—do you think of yourself as making symbolic references (or cultural or Freudian references), or are these more images that just occur to you?

Ross Brighton:
There’s no hard and fast symbolic order there, it’s very loose kind of “make it up as you go along shit.” But at the same time in my brain there’s kind of “symbols have power” shit, like that kind of Magick shit from Morrison and Moore — I recently re-read The Invisibles in single issues, with Morrison’s letters column / column when he just wanted to rant about shit. And there’s the infamous “wankathon” thing there, where he gave his readers a rundown of Chaos Magick and basically asked them all to masturbate over a sigil in order to boost sales of the comic, which was in danger of being cancelled. And I’ve been listening to weird black metal, which is probably where the sigil of ash came from — I think I might have lifted that directly from Wyrd, I’m not sure. If I did it was subconscious though — I was kind of just vomiting my subconscious out onto the page. On one level it does function as a kind of “spell” (through purely on the psychological level, I don’t believe in the supernatural, but I think this stuff can play important psychological roles.) Or an exorcism, a kind of cathartic expulsion of stuff.

Caleb Hildenbrandt:
Oh, I’m glad you mentioned metal, because as I was reading I kept going,dayum, this is some Burzum-type shit up ins.

Ross Brighton:
Probably not so much Burzum as that wave of shoe-gaze / black metal crossover, like Velvet Cacoon, Lonesummer, Sleeping Peonies, and there’s some of that shit going on with Xasthur as well. And Sunn O))).

Caleb Hildenbrandt:
Ah, I’ve been hearing a lot lately about Sunn O))) from the alt lit crowd, for some reason.

Ross Brighton:
That’s cool that people are listening to Sunn O))), I wouldn’t have picked that.

When we ended our conversation, Ross was conducting research on anime as part of his work on POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER, which he’s pretty certain will end up as a comic (and he is indeed seeking interested artists to collaborate with him.) Memory as Void can be purchased as part of Solar Luxuriance’s Obelisk series, and Ross’ two previous books, beck: nothing, to be done and Temporal Maze Denture, are both available as chapbooks as well.