Infinite / Empty: The Bright Light of Attention
A Conversation with Ryu Ando
Poet Ryu Ando talks about his new chapbook, “[零] A Phantom Zero,” forthcoming from The Operating System.
Greetings! Thank you for talking to us about your process today! Can you introduce yourself, in a way that you would choose?
I’m Ryu. I use this old-fashioned kanji: 龍
It means dragon.
Why are you a poet/writer/artist?
I’m a poet because I like writing poetry. It’s fun for me. It also seems to convey what I want to say better than other genres or art forms. It’s a bit of a mystery to me, though. I don’t know where the desire or the poetry comes from. It spills out from someplace, often all at once.
When did you decide you were a poet/writer/artist (and/or: do you feel comfortable calling yourself a poet/writer/artist, what other titles or affiliations do you prefer/feel are more accurate)?
I had the sudden urge to “be a poet” when I was a teenager. So I wrote on/off for about 5 years, waiting for my moment of becoming something I wasn’t. But then I stopped, unable to continue because it was totally “un-fun”. After a break of about 20 years, I took up writing again, starting with short/flash fiction and wending my way back to poetry. That’s when I realized I was ready, but to do not to be.
What’s a “poet” (or “writer” or “artist”) anyway?
I don’t know, but I know one when I see one!
What do you see as your cultural and social role (in the literary / artistic / creative community and beyond)?
I want to bridge multiple ways of seeing the world, to mix them together, not only with languages and cultures, but also wider disciplines, such as the sciences and humanities. Science focused purely on ‘advancement’ for advancement’s sake — separated from ethics, philosophy, and art — is dangerous. And art created purely for art’s sake without looking at the astounding advancements of new knowledge is myopic.
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 encouraged and/or confounded this (or a book, in general) coming together? Was it a struggle?
The pieces came together as a desire to look at the Drake Equation, which is a method for determining the possible extent of extraterrestrial life in the universe. It’s a riff on each factor of the equation. I wrote the Drum star first from 2016–2017, and then worked on the remainder of these pieces for another year 2017–2018. I found old poems from early 1990s and extricated a few essential lines, essential themes and preoccupations from them that never went away. My process, though, remains unruly. I never know where it will go.
Did you envision this collection as a collection or understand your process as writing or making specifically around a theme while the poems themselves were being written / the work was being made? How or how not?
This was always intended to be a group of interlinked poems, each part altered and reshaped over time, reborn to work with the other pieces in the series while writing.
What formal structures or other constrictive practices (if any) do you use in the creation of your work? Have certain teachers or instructive environments, or readings/writings/ work of other creative people informed the way you work/write?
A few things:
ma 間 [one of several concepts of space in Japanese aesthetics]: The concept of interval or gap, like silence in ambient music, shows up in the spaces between words, and line breaks. As Kenya Hara the designer suggests, “A space does not mean a volume defined by walls, but an area where consciousness brings the bright light of attention into play.”
Ambient music / sound design: I’m obsessed lately with ambient music and how that can be used in poetry. Lately Yutaka Hirose’s NOVA, but also Hiroshi Yoshimura’s Music for Nine Postcards, vibraphonist Masayoshi Fujita, and Biosphere’s N-Plants.
James Merrill states: “You hardly ever need to state your feelings. The point is to feel and keep the eyes open. Then what you feel is expressed, is mimed back at you by the scene.” This speaks to my own process, of getting out in the world, to looking at my surroundings: recounting what I find in the sea and wave, sky and cloud, earth and tree, night and stars.
Speaking of monikers, what does your title represent? How was it generated?
零 rei is zero, nothing. It is also a pun on the word for spirit/ghost, which is also rei, but with a different kanji, 霊. Hence A phantom zero; but the circle, like the zero itself, is important in the concept of ensō, the moon in calligraphy, a symbol of the infinite, and a symbol of the emptiness.
Talk about the way you titled the book, and how your process of naming (individual pieces, sections, etc) influences you and/or colors your work specifically.
Each section is an elaboration, a thought experiment, on each section of the Drake Equation. Whether it actually hews closely to the formula itself is another story. I think of it as an improvisation on the equation. It’s not very literal. It’s a starting point.
What does this particular work represent to you as indicative of your method / creative practice? your history? your mission / intentions / hopes / plans?
Poetry is an ongoing process for me. I started working on the fi rst few lines of this piece in 2016 and it expanded from that. I worked on sections and incorporated them as my ‘gut’ told me. It’s all very intuitive and never planned out.
What does this book DO (as much as what it says or contains)?
It does nothing, like the inside of a circle.
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?
My hope is that it inspires people to write their own works on whatever subjects speak to them.
Let’s talk a little bit about the role of poetics and creative community in social and political activism, so present in our daily lives as we face the often sobering, sometimes dangerous realities of the Capitalocene. How does your process, practice, or work otherwise interface with these conditions?
All the great ideas in the world unleash forces beyond our control; the Drake Equation is revolutionary in that it takes seriously the idea that life must exist in other parts of the whole expanding universe — which is itself a radical conception. To confirm it is to accept those forces of change, expansion, and the immense scale of time, which will wipe us all out. In that sense, the ideology that promotes the ‘Market’ as the solution to all things is very blinkered and but a blip in real-time. Talk about short-sighted! The word hubris also comes to mind. I hope that my work can diminish this hubris, at least a little, and help us see the world a bit more clearly, before we let it consume us.
I’d be curious to hear some of your thoughts on the challenges we face in speaking and publishing across lines of race, age, ability, class, privilege, social / cultural background, gender, sexuality (and other identifiers) within the community as well as creating and maintaining safe spaces, vs. the dangers of remaining and producing in isolated “silos” and / or disciplinary and / or institutional bounds?
We must step outside ourselves and try to speak to everyone. It’s a risk worth taking. Transcend boundaries. Unlock your door. Step outside. Speak what’s true and people may listen.
RYU ANDO’s writing has appeared in Strange Horizons, Pidgeonholes, Liquid Imagination, and other venues. His first book of poems, The Lost Gardens of the Hakudo Maru, is available from a…p press. Somewhere between L.A. and Saitama. This is where his characters exist and from where their voices carry. Lost and found. In Japan. In America. Sometimes both. Sometimes neither. Somewhere else entirely.
ABOUT THE COVER ART:
The Operating System 2019 chapbooks, in both digital and print, feature art from Heidi Reszies. The work is from a series entitled “Collected Objects & the Dead Birds I Did Not Carry Home,” which are mixed media collages with encaustic on 8 x 8 wood panel, made in 2018. Heidi writes: “This series explores objects/fragments of material culture- -how objects occupy space, and my relationship to them or to their absence.”
ABOUT THE ARTIST:
Heidi Reszies is a poet/transdisciplinary artist living in Richmond, Virginia. Her visual art is included in the National Museum of Women in the Arts CLARA Database of Women Artists. She teaches letterpress printing at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, and is the creator/curator of Artifact Press. Her poetry collection titled Illusory Borders is forthcoming from The Operating System in 2019, and now available for pre-order. Her collection titled Of Water & Other Soft Constructions was selected by Samiya Bashir as the winner of the Anhinga Press 2018 Robert Dana Prize for Poetry (forthcoming in 2019). Find her at heidireszies.com