Can you introduce yourself, in a way that you would choose?
I feel kin to Cuttlefish. I’ve always been a hustler. Some of that has been out of a need and some of that has been my adoration of other hustlers. As a homo, transgender, white, ablebodied person who grew up working class, and is the first college graduate in my immediate family, I’ve needed to reflect on, transform, and ongoingly reimagine the way I move through the world. Writing, health care, art, and independent media communities have been my creative, intellectual, and financial livelihoods for the past twenty-five years; they help me learn how to take care of myself and family, fight the good fight, and make things as discursive tools.
Why are you a poet/writer/artist?
I’m addicted to written excavations. I’ve found myself returning to writing more than any other creative or intellectual process; it’s my longest healthy relationship, so I’m a writer in a literal sense. Reading, writing, and sound experiments are the bewitching corridors through which I enter critical or mindful thinking. Writing has allowed me with few resources, to interpret then express how class, race, gender, ability, or sexuality bends in the U.S. While all art forms can portray phenomena, and stimulate the human senses, literature has the remarkable power to lead people into sensory landscapes while they are simply looking at black and white letters.
What’s a “poet” (or “writer” or “artist”) anyway? What do you see as your cultural and social role (in the literary / artistic /creative community and beyond)?
As an ESL Instructor for a literacy program in Chicago, my students speak poems in every class when they flip English words to spark a different than intended meaning. A poet intentionally switches the tongue or eyes of the reader. Fiction writers can lead the reader away from self-absorption into another world through quotidian, or experimental, nonformulaic language.
In such art-making processes, every writer should have some tools to bite it. I need to understand myself within the anthropocene and routinely evaluate what writing could be meaningful to readers, or add to discourses.
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 early poems and stories in this collection had unresolved legal, gender, sexuality or race conflicts. Coming out of punk, post-modern, or new narrative influences, I appreciated such undetermined forms. Hence, I wanted to gather them together to view irresolute echoes. Could it make a magnetic whole?
Adoration for the sound of my conversations with other workers, and my activism, inspired the book. While I had ongoing somatic and intellectual resonances from conversations I had with other informal trade workers, it wasn’t until my experiences in 2008’s Days in April that I formed Bahktinian ideas about writing worker dialogues. I was honored to be invited to and be a part of Days in April, a grassroots response to the de-politicization of May Day. San Francisco Bay Area activists observed that some previous labor rights actions by or during the international workers’ day, May Day, had deflated. The group organized with a wide range of informal trade workers to instigate labor rights actions to precede May Day, so that on May 1 a sober economic critique of neoliberalism and U.S. imperialism could occur. As a sex worker activist and former sex worker, I acted as a point person for this worker group. The conversations between the invited sex workers, domestic workers, farm workers, and hotel workers (for example), created social and political alliances as a force against systematic targeting and policing. I will always remember the reiterations of isolation, fear, and uncertainty. At the same time, the tone, pitch and pace of such conversations positively tainted me; unprotected workers talk with a pulse I don’t hear between protected workers.
As a Bakhtinian-influenced thinker, I have devotion towards the sounds, and sonic histories, of supposed liminal spaces, of flash intimacies. What can strangers or acquaintances say in passing? Are present bold worker soundscapes akin to the utterances of workers that came before them?
I didn’t know if worker vignettes should be sequenced thematically or through form. Many pieces struggled to come alive from my attachments to the theme of unprotected worker conversations. For example, “Two Four Recourse” began as a short story about a series of events called The Blue Hat Special. It was a sex worker activist story where a worker was able to organize against a bad trick. I was holding onto the content, and it wouldn’t work in a literary sense. I turned to surrealist or somatics writing exercises; I slept with, cut, braided, or affixed the typed paper onto rotating devices; I observed the rearranged words and tried to put them into an animated form. The section, O, in the book, works to release the collection’s theme.
In parallel to my struggles to understand the collection as either theme or form based, I had an overarching narrative question. If the characters, landscapes, and scenarios do not form familiarity, will the reader bond with the text?
I tried to interlace Downton Abbey fan fiction letters into the collection to give it an overarching narrative. A present day maid and butler write a series of love letters to the demonized characters, Thomas Barrow and Ethel Parkins. Eccentric butler and hustler maid pursue a TV crush in order to survive. After several writers told me they didn’t know how to relate to the letters, not having my same relationship to Downton Abbey, I scratched them.
What formal structures or other constrictive practices (if any) do you use in the creation of your work?
I used the formal haibun and décima structures for this collection. I had been writing micro-fiction or prose poems but they often felt rigid and unable to exhibit a shiny portrayal of the dialogue or scenario I was reflecting on. I began using the haibun form because the ending haiku works to release the prose tension by untying the narrative. The décima form, with its fixed syllabic and lined meter, gives a nod to the décima worker poems/songs from Spain and Latin America. Décima poems were written to be sung and improvised; everyday dialogues as song can be conceptualized through this form.
Have certain teachers or instructive environments, or readings/writings/work of other creative people informed the way you work/write?
Writers, from Gertrude Stein to Dawn Lundy Martin, emphasize play as a creative fulcrum. I adore this concept and I also generate my favorite work through coltish experimentations. One paradox to this writing process reflects life experiences that led me to Punk or No-Wave writers like Lydia Lunch, or New Narrative writers, Dodie Bellamy, Kevin Killian, or Rober Gluck; I have a nervous and feverish writing process; it is excitable yet disturbed.
I like discipline. Ursula LeGuin’s Steering the Craft is a writing block go to that reflects the usefulness of syntax discipline. If we were talking about music, I like practicing scales; I like the daily grind.
Jack Spicer talked about dating poetry vs. dating people. I’ve felt ornery at how spot-on Spicer seems about making a choice between the two, however, when I prioritize one over the other, my writing does blossom or shrivel. Bernadette Myer talks about knowing things, and ‘writers don’t know things until we put in the long hours of pen to the page.’
Are writers a vessel or can we get some of our guts into the keyboard then the letters? I feel indebted to those before me who explore embodied words, characters who need and have sex, and how somatics relates to language, so Hart Crane, Allen Ginsberg, Samuel Delany, Audre Lorde, David Wojnarowitz, and Aurora Levins-Morales come to mind.
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 (individual pieces, sections, etc) influences you and/or colors your work specifically.
My title comes from a piece in the book with the same title. I wanted to tell the reader the book was about exchanges. So, Sharing Plastic gave me an integral part of the concept. Then, plastic as a rubber, a pliable mode or entity, stood out.
What does this particular work represent to you?
This book is a series of knotty and polyphonic love letters to any worker who fears arrest or demonization. Its de-emphasis, if not exclusion, of the boss/worker power dynamic, requires readers accept, page after page, the power, emotional, gender, sexuality, ability, race, or class sparks between workers themselves. One poem or story excluding the boss is only one sound. One beat has less potential to make readers aware that the typical literary conflict or tension device is absent. I wanted sonic ricochets.
blake nemec is a writer, teacher and sound/media artist who lives in Chicago. His work has been featured in journals, anthologies, festivals or conferences such as ENTITLE: Undisciplined Environments, JUPITER 88, the Red Rover Reading Series, the Rio Grande Review, Captive Genders; Transembodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex, or the San Francisco Queer Arts Performance Festival. He received an MFA in bilingual (Spanish and English) poetry/fiction from the University of Texas at El Paso and is a Lambda Literary Fellow. He has long worked as a sound mixer in queer independent movies, the latest being the documentary FREE CeCE!
Collaboration is a potent force his work gushes from, most recently audible in the sound performance project, Moly B Denim and the Social Movements Oral History Project.
His writing and sound performances work to reveal the extraordinary musicality of everyday conversations by unprotected workers, pansexuals, and gender variant people. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
blake nemec’s newest book “Sharing Plastic” will be lauched in New York City and Philadelphia on January 17 and 18, respectively. Find more about these events here:
The book can also be ordered online: https://squareup.com/market/the-operating-system/item/sharing-plastic-blake-nemec