Fluent in Play :: a conversation with Anne Gorrick
Anne Gorrick is the author of the forthcoming OS print:document, “An Absence So Great and Spontaneous It Is Evidence of Light”
“An Absence is the news told in “Starfish Slang” and delivered to the house of poetry. You think this book of poems should land on the front lawn, but instead it crashes through the living room window and shatters predictability. It startles you, but no one gets hurt, you are only more aware of the world around you. And healed by the inventory. Anne Gorrick confounds and clarifies through a determined weaving, that is both familiar and strange. The poetry seems to be an accident, but you know it is full of care, and you can’t help but rubberneck as the scenes that are revealed line by line become increasingly absurd and revelatory. It is a time capsule and core sample, compiled from fragments of beauty and danger. There is no turning back.” — Michael Rothenberg, poet and activist
[An Absence so Great and Spontaneous it is Evidence of Light, by Anne Gorrick. Forthcoming from the Operating System, August 2018. 118 pp.]
Why are you a poet?
I never really had a choice. I’ve been playing with language since I was a little kid. It’s been one of my greatest joys, and also something that has saved my life. My parents played with it only insofar as it was a game. I’ve been writing since I acquired language. Poetry is the most plastic form of language for me, but my work is veering off to become more sentence-y in the past few years. We have the capacity to “mean” much more, more multi-valently than linear, utilitarian language allows, that language can hold many opposing ideas at once.
When did you decide you were a poet (and/or: do you feel comfortable calling yourself a poet, what other titles or affiliations do you prefer/feel are more accurate)?
I’ve been calling myself a writer or poet since forever. But am also a visual artist for the past 20+ years, working mostly in monotype printmaking using encaustic (“to burn” from the Greek) materials (beeswax, resin and pigment). I’ve also worked in painting, film and sound Also scent. You should smell the jasmine wax I have in my studio right now! I am ardent toward materiality, working mostly on paper. Paper contains light.
What’s a “poet”, anyway? What is the role of the poet today? What do you see as your cultural and social role (in the poetry community and beyond)?
We are singers and makers by etymology. As the world gets more visual, language and sound are being left behind. In a way, being left behind is a good thing, as late-stage rapacious capitalism leaves poetry alone. It’s about as contrarian as you can get right now to spend time on something that has essentially no efficient return, very little monetary transactionality. Our role is to praise and witness. To be present (which these days isn’t easy). Maybe our largest role is to show the possibilities of living/writing/arting possibly.
Talk about the process or instinct to move these poems (or your work in general) as independent entities into a body of work. How and why did this happen? Have you had this intention for a while? What en- couraged and/or confounded this (or a book, in general) coming together? Was it a struggle?
These poems are like an art installation made from the garbage, junk you might find in and around a body of water (like the Hudson, which I live near). As I explained more in the process note in this book, the text is plucked from the drop-down boxes in search engines after I input lines of various text (mostly poems, but not always). The text is then edited down to the poems. If I tried to engage with the same process now with the same generative text, I’d come up with completely different poems, as the search algorithms would find the newest and latest output. The electronic zeitgeist changes constantly, like a river. I’m riveted by the temporality of this unrepeatable experiment.
About a third of the words in this book are not recognized by Word, so that seemed like a triumph around a textual canon. The first two poems include words like:
nimblewilled pineboy Smirky Brineshrimpdirect Smokesmash shantybisque Understones stiltsville Storkcraft riskmetrics vicodin Mintymix skyrim slingbox Libelula photobiographies Regretsy Whimsicle fuckery grooveshark invincibles Regalessia writhings tomatometer danglesauce
When I posted these on Facebook at one point, poet Susanna Gardner wrote: “Regretsy Whimsicle fuckery is what we all should be having.”
Let me include here a direct example of how poems from An Absence came into its being/body. Each poem started with another poem or text (art makes more art!). In the photo below, you can see the text I began with on the left. This was poured slowly into a search engine. I used to co-curate an electronic journal called Peep/Show, and we had this visitor counter on it that would save all the search terms people used to find us. Based on the words “Peep/Show,” I could create voluptuous lists that included circus and porn and poetry terms (you can even see a title of a Leslie Scalapino book here: THE DIHEDRONS GAZELLE-DIHEDRALS ZOOM). On the right is some of the stuff spit out of the search engine drop down box, and then I would edit it down (sometimes a lot, sometimes very little).
When I went back later to edit the entire manuscript, I found that a phrase from this same poem became the beginning of another poem, and ended up being the start of another entire manuscript of poems…
Did you envision this collection as a collection or understand your process as writing specifically around a theme while the poems themselves were being written? How or how not?
As you can see, I generally start playing with a processual idea. These processes often generate a book-length text. If the process doesn’t seem juicy enough, I’ll abandon it before a book happens. In this case, I kept going and by the end, I became fluent in playing/maneuvering within this generative system. The great thing about this fluency is that after this body of work, I was able to transport it in small amounts, into new work with other generative processes.
What formal structures or other constructive practices (if any) do you use in the creation of your work? Have certain teachers or instructive environments, or readings/writings of other creative people (poets or others) informed the way you work/write?
When I was young, I studied classical piano for nine years, and you start to see how much you can tweak to define sound within a really small confine. I also played a lot of competitive tennis up until a few years ago. You see how many thousands of balls you have to hit before that one perfect shot that you never even knew was possible. I love the Arnold Palmer quote about “the more I practice, the luckier I get.” I’m a dabbler in a Chinese body practice (an “internal martial art”), and I love to hike, to feel my body move through landscape, be part of it.
I’ve learned a lot from the poet Robert Kelly about how to construct a life out of writing, art, and music. The Women’s Studio Workshop in Rosendale, NY was arms-open-wide to me when I wanted to study visual art to extend my textual work.
I’ve learned a tremendous amount by collaborating with other writers and artists, as it always extends my textual and visual vocabularies, my fluencies. Lately, my friend Lee Gould has encouraged me to attempt translation, and poet Eduardo Padilla has been my generous and hilarious collaborator. I’ve been in awe of and very moved by John Bloomberg-Rissman’s projects. My collaborations with him have taught me how to integrate various generative processes, so they’re not so silo-ed. This was a big leap for me. Working alongside artists Cynthia Winika and Scott Helmes on different projects gave me insights into their fluencies. I also co-curated an electronic journal Peep/Show with poet Lynn Behrendt, and this book owes a debt to the colab. Translator and photographer Charlotte Mandell and I recently published an alternating conversation of photographs and poems. I love to work with other people because I learn so much.
Most recently, I started a deeper investigation into encaustic monotype with artist Paula Roland. This has led down some breathtaking supermagic rabbit holes.
Speaking of monikers, what does your title represent? How was it generated? Talk about the way you titled the book, and how your process of naming (poems, sections, etc) influences you and/or colors your work specifically.
“An Absence so Great and Spontaneous it is Evidence of Light” was a phrase that came out of this generative work. It made me laugh and think both that it would make a great definition of both my mother or the Internet. Most titles come from a line in each poem, and are often deliberately, specifically flat sounding. The flatness belies the antic nature of the work. Like olive green next to magenta.
What does this particular collection of poems represent to you as indicative of your method/creative practice? your history? your mission/intentions/ hopes/plans?
My work isn’t necessarily published in book form in the order it was written. It just happens that way sometimes. So the generative processes in this book that take center stage, have been used in smaller quantities in other books. The processual echolocation in this work was a break from the lyric, but it’s interesting how the “I” continues to occur. I’ve said many times that I wait around for what language comes to tell me. I’m not that interested in controlling the work, or setting out to “say.” I’m taking notes.
An outcome of my work at Century House (more about this later in this interview) is that I’ve become very interested in how failed industry (examples of late stage rapacious capitalism) is eventually colonized by the arts. This boom and bust cycle has been born out and impacted my family history many times. That the poems in this book are essentially made out of internet detritus bumps into these notions, the alchemical transformation dross into…
What does this book DO (as much as what it says or contains)?
An Absence moves language in a new way, and might make you laugh. Introduces a multi-valent capacity. It might also send a great Fuck You to late stage capitalism, which clearly isn’t working for so many people.
What would be the best possible outcome for this book? What might it do in the world, and how will its presence as an object facilitate your creative role in your community and beyond? What are your hopes for this book, and for your practice?
The best possible outcome is that it is read, explored, investigated. It presents an antic, Dadaist joy for the reader.
Let’s talk a little bit about the role of poetics and creative community in social activism, in particular in what I call “Civil Rights 2.0,” which has remained immediately present all around us in the time leading up to this series’ publication. I’d be curious to hear some thoughts on the challenges we face in speaking and publishing across lines of race, age, privilege, social/cultural background, and sexuality within the community, vs. the dangers of remaining and producing in isolated “silos.”
There are two parts of my life that I see as practically activist, that help create poem-shaped spaces in the world. First, I’ve been involved in Century House Historical Society in Rosendale, NY since 2005, and was President from 2009 until 2017. An all-volunteer organization, our mission is to preserve the history of our local cement industry, and we have a little museum, as well as the Widow Jane Mine on our property. But since I became President, I wanted to use the arts more to interrogate the industrial history we preserve. We’ve had site-sensitive sculpture exhibitions, innovation sound-art programs, and world music concerts including taiko drumming. This year we will host the 28th Annual Subterranean Poetry Festival. Any opportunity we have to create, insert events like this into the horrors of late stage capitalism, makes space for resistance, comfort and joy.
Secondly, my day job is that I work in Financial Aid at a community college. I feel strongly about debt being a form of slavery, and that financial literacy is the best way to avoid students constraining their creative lives with unreasonable educational debt. I often work with baby writers and artists, and many marginalized students to help them come to school, in the hopes they become part of our larger creative community. I want our student’s voices to be heard. Education is resistance.
In the end, the poem is a radical, investigative act. It’s a field where we can explore and interrogate every fluidity, chance, accident, cloud formation, every precariousness. Anything that is slippery. Anything at all. It’s a purely free space. Which is the start of something essential, non-hierarchical. Deleuze’s “yes and.” As Robert Kelly wrote, “Scorn nothing. Write everything.” Praise and witness.
Anne Gorrick is a poet and visual artist.
She is the author of The Olfactions: Poems on Perfume (BlazeVOX Books, 2017), A’s Visuality (BlazeVOX, 2015), I-Formation (Book 2) (Shearsman Books, Bristol, UK, 2012), I-Formation (Book 1) (Shearsman, 2010), and Kyotologic (Shearsman, 2008). She collaborated with artist Cynthia Winika to produce a limited edition artists’ book, “Swans, the ice,” she said, funded by the Women’s Studio Workshop in Rosendale, NY and the New York Foundation for the Arts. She has also co-edited (with poet Sam Truitt) In|Filtration: An Anthology of Innovative Writing from the Hudson River Valley (Station Hill Press, 2016).
With poet Melanie Klein, she currently curates the reading series Process to Text, which focuses on innovative writing from in and around New York’s Hudson Valley.
She is President of the Board of Trustees at Century House Historical Society, home of the Widow Jane Mine, an all-volunteer organization (www.centuryhouse.org) that hosts a variety of arts events (Including the annual Subterranean Poetry Festival), and preserves the history of the now-defunct local cement industry.
Anne Gorrick lives in West Park, New York.