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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Interview IV: James Yeary

A strange planet onto itself, rich in polymaths, Portland, Oregon is home to one James Yeary: independent publisher, charismatic thinker, poetic collaborator, challenger of aesthetic boundaries, and master of the Hemingway daiquiri, a star amongst stars.
“Poetics is such a funny thing,” James says when asked how long he has been engaged with poetry. “All writers write to an un-seductive drive or demon. Writers of every stripe are like that, like [other] artists and musicians.” His very earliest memories involve the creation of charming poem-like projects, including free-styling poems at age seven. These days, his poetics demand a generous space for critical thinking—it’s a space where questions are central. How do we address writing within the world? How does writing address the world? Why do we do it? What good is in it? Such ruminations are part of James’ daily life, a life intimately and complexly woven with the many bright and obscure faces of poetics.
Questioning has a personal element for James. While he understands that questions afflict every writer, his plunge into poetics became irrevocable, in part, because of the intimacy he feels that questioning presents. James gleans reward through tackling these troubling ideas and confrontation; he allows himself to be open to philosophical affronts of poets like Charles Bernstein and Ron Silliman, poets who paradoxically appear to invalidate the very work of the poet. Bernstein himself is credited with the quote: “Poetry devalues the very paper it is written on.” While the cost of paper may be rising, that’s still not saying much for poetry.

Issues of form are among the confrontational concepts that James works with regularly. Form is an endlessly complex and intriguing theme in poetics, and one that James engages with passionately and with great focus. And it’s not just in the act of contemplation, but through the art of making his poems. Just track down his swiftly growing and changing oeuvre, and discover an object lesson in making and breaking poetry’s rules.
James is not without answers, however—he finds them, plenty of them, and the good ones he not only keeps, but puts into practice. The gift economy is a perfect example. It’s something vital to James’ practice as a creative individual, as well as a window into who he is. The gift economy is a type of economy where spiritual exchange trumps the monetary, prioritizing the sharing of work and creating of community over profit. This, and similar notions, allow James to keep poetry close.
“There’s poetry that’s made just to be sold, but that’s not what we’re talking about,” says James, regarding the gift economy.
At this point, for James, the gift economy is a given.
One way that James engages in the gift economy with poetry is through his own small publishing press c_L, a name cut right out of [poet] Jackson Mac Low. The first poet on c_L was Phoebe Wayne, published in 2010. Since c_L, James started his monthly poetry newsletter. With a rotating title, James compassionately refers to this publication as “the newsletter,” hosting the work of poets as broadly recognized as Alice Notley as well as local talents like Sam Lohmann and David Abel. James also released an intriguing anonymous issue of the newsletter, where writers were asked to submit pieces without the author’s name attached to the work. The work was published anonymously, the names undisclosed, even to their publisher.
James is not one to say no to an enticing collaborative endeavor, either. He is forever undertaking new projects. Recently, Portland antiquarian bookseller, teacher, and contributor to various poetic projects, Charles Seluzicki, asked James to join in on a new publishing experiment, Editions Plane. Their series is a nod to Gertrude Stein’s Plain Editions. The project is inspired by the Mimeograph Revolution of the 60s and 70s, wherein the invention of the mimeograph made small-run, independent publishing much more feasible. James and Charles work together to solicit and print new experimental poetry for distribution in runs of 75, at minimal expense. Each publication is a short manuscript or excerpt by a single author, a printed space to honor that writer’s work. The Editions Plane library so far includes James’ “Third Spectral Cannon” and Mark Johnson’s “Penniless Greenery.”

James’ recently completed poetic title is a conscientious work, an investigation in contemporary language and form, comprised of 184 pages composed of 14 sections, the majority of which are titled “Spectral Cannon,” preceded by their number in the sequence. Ron Silliman’s idea that a sentence written in red carries different meaning than the same in black was a key to the project. And so James’ work started with many colored-pens. “The idea was to take ten sentences and assign each one a different color, thereby making each color associate with a particular quality of the sentence it is bearing,” James says. “Then, the colors shift one position, and the sentences are all rewritten, changed in whatever way necessary, to be captured by their new color.”
Two years in the making, the composition follows his initial plan for 14 Spectral Cannons, each comprised of 14 stanzas, with titles alluding to James Tenney’s musical piece, Spectral Canon for Conlon Nancarrow. For this reason, James kept in mind musical arcs while writing his cannons. Each of these poetical cannons plays with, and modifies, what came previously. All the while, each cannon is still functions as its own stand-alone piece. “Later on...” James explains, “I bring back the color system, tweak the chronologies, etc. There are also peaks and valleys of repetition, both within individual Cannons and spanning all of them.”

The colors are demanding, a potentially jarring constraint for readers, despite any familiarity with classic forms such as rhyme or meter. That said, the cannons are worth the effort they demand. The coloration loudly emphasizes the separateness and relationships between lines, sentences, phrases and cannons. The work takes advantage of fragmentation, a technique that calls attention to form itself, which morphs throughout the work. James refers to it as a staggered simultaneous chronology.
While the work regularly speaks of the contemporary world, sometimes through open gestures and abstractions in language, it maintains an intimacy with the reader through specificity: the presentation of quotidian objects and experiences. With these tools, James delivers a wise and comprehensive mediation on postmodern existence, as explored through language.

This is the museum of the future
This is the future of the museum
What will come next if the sign continues spinning
That would be the one exception
Talk of the trumpets call
Lacking any sense of identity
they are its very signature
He is a bad bad bad bad person
and he lives at the end of my street

It’s also treat for any linguaphile:

you will wake up in the middle of the night
with a piece of broken language

and then:

Keep this distance
Nico says words make a prison for letters
  but the keyboard is a house of letters

If poetry is improved by context, the book should be relentless. You can just eyeball it. A book that contains pictures of its own pages.
This month, the 10th Cannon is to be published by Jim McCrary, and some Cannons presently available at Portland’s Division Leap and Mother Foucault’s bookshops.

Portland community means a lot to James, and his gratitude is evident as he talks with glowing respect about the people he knows who are intent on sharing work. He calls the community a bohemian environment, where artists often work terrible jobs and struggle in ways they don’t love so that they can put the other hours into their art. He is appreciative of Portland as a place where individuals are driven to make work and champion the work of others.

James is also a contributor of text in a regular zine series “my day”, alongside the visual art of Nate Orton, who publishes the series through Abandoned Bike Press. The two collaborate on this “geopoetic” excursion, walking extensive parts of Portland and its surrounding environments—places that a great many residents of the city-proper would prefer to leave unexplored—recording each excursion through words and drawings, and occasionally, sound. These textural collages speak to the beauty of this slice of the Pacific Northwest, while subtly commenting about its curious foibles, as well as the pervading social and economic struggles. Referring to the chapbook poem my day walking east 252 to Mt. Tabor, James had this to say: ”everything I’ve done comes from that ‘my day’.”

James’ contribution to the public world of poetry in Portland is well-rounded, as exemplified in his membership in the 13 Hats creative collective and in the decade-old Spare Room collective, which hosts an outstanding reading series and other poetic events, including a recent free and open to the public marathon reading of Mina Loy as well as from William Carlos Williams’ Kora in Hell, hosted at the kitchen at Yale Union Contemporary (YU). James became a member of the Spare Room curation team in 2009, a solid crew of six Portland poets. The purpose, says James, is 90% to allow writers visiting Portland to have a place and an audience. Spare Room is a host for the underdog with few exceptions. The other 10% is reserved for special literary events. Spare Room differentiates itself through its devotion to hosting challenging new work, hoping to represent, in James’ words, “the best shit out there.”
James doesn’t balk at the question of writing practice. He says, “a lot of writers (not poets necessarily) say they get up and write for three hours. I don’t do that. Language... always takes me by surprise.” That said, he does sometimes write in the morning, and regularly seeks out particular spaces for writing, as with the “my day” series. For all his comprehensive participation in the poetics community, as well as his consistent creative output, James is amongst the most active and devoted writers I’ve encountered, demonstrating that three-hours-in-the-morning is a nonessential ritual.

A related part of his poetic philosophy, James believes vehemently in everyday language. “The language I really like to capture,” he says, “[is] language of description. I look at something and I look at the way I’m looking at it.” While unsure where this influence originates, phenomenology deeply colors his poetic palate. “It’s as much about experiencing as about things.” He utilizes collage-like means to weave poems, looking to include both sides of the sentence, what’s in it as well as what it’s made of. Sound in writing is also a chief concern—this and the both-sides perspective evidenced in James’ Spectral Cannons. For example, James has interest in the space between soft and hard vowels. Reading Louis Zukovsky was pivotal because initially “it didn’t make sense but I like the way it sounded.” There is a lot to learn from what is not immediately understood in poetry, if we are excited to engage with it, give to it, and see what it can give us back. It’s an exchange beyond the monetary: the best and only possible way for poetry to be.

James’ recommended Portland writers: see the locals table at Portland’s fantastic poetry/ephemera-rich bookstore: Division Leap at 911 SW 9th in downtown Portland, OR.
Meet James—and taste his avant-garde craft cocktails—and the 9 other poets and artists that comprise the 13 Hats Collective this March at Portland’s 12 x 16 Gallery.

Friday, March 1, 5-9pm Opening Reception
Sunday, March 3, 2-5pm Artists’ Reception
Saturday, March 16, 7pm Reading/performance
12 x 16 Gallery
8235 SE 13th Ave, No. 5
(Sellwood) Portland, OR

Monday, February 4, 2013

Interview III: Sean Sumler

            When asked how long he has worked in coffee, conceptual sound artist Sean Sumler immediately responds that it’s been a long time. After eight years in the coffee business, he says, “I’m about ready to have tenure.” Yet a barista position is not a bad fit for Sean, a creative individual who is able to engage with his art on the job. He has been at The Fresh Pot on Mississippi St. in Portland, OR for four months, a transition from Random Order Coffeehouse, where he worked for the better part of his duration in Portland, since moving from California almost five years ago.
            The Fresh Pot, a fantastic space for contemplation, chilling, and people watching (and arguably less productive for more formal and focused study) is a comfortable place for Sean, who is, unequivocally, a thinker. He spends much of his work days engaged in socializing with customers and friends, as well as musing on his creative projects, and shrugs admitting, “I’m in my head a lot.”
            Sean is able to take advantage of his barista post as a space to rehearse ideas, which he’ll later go on to apply to related artistic tasks he cares for, not just limited to music, but building things (including a recent interest in motors, due in part to mechanical complications with his charming little motorized scooter), and what he describes as “conceptual sound projects.”
            When it comes to defining his art, music is a term he balks at since most of the work he does is based in composition that happens in his head. His creative process being based in conceptualization, he says, “I do a lot more thinking than practicing.” The articulation of the idea is easy, while “the fun part is conceiving the idea in the first place.”

            While his music/sound projects evade any specific genre, he acquiesces to the word “experimental” since, “I like to experiment with ideas.” While he admits the sounds he makes might not be entirely new, Sean is interested in the rearranging of elements within a performance: taking sounds that he or someone else has made and sending them through his particular process.
            Specific categorization is not applicable to his sound projects, but he says there is something industrial about it, a metallic quality that is, of late, satisfying. The most appropriate articulation of his music might be: the percussive use of synthesizers to “paint a cold picture.”
            Rejecting the accumulation of hoards of equipment, Sean believes resolutely that his humble library of machines and sound tools are everything he could possibly need. He describes himself as minimalist, stating bluntly that a vast collection of instruments is unnecessary for him to make art, to make music; preferring, as he does, to draw from his environment and from himself, rather than from a myriad of tools.

            In his basement dwells his small, but organized sound studio, consisting of a mixing board, several keyboards, a computer, and various other handsome gadgets. He is presently enamored of a minute device called the Arduino Microcontroller, a popular tool amongst artists, which senses input from its surroundings. When connected to a computer, the Microcontroller can perform functions such as running lights, motors, and other instruments with mechanical motions. Sean is also interested in engaging with everyday technologies and consumer electronics, since they’re easily accessible. It is common knowledge that an iPhone has an almost infinite bag of tricks, and Sean has taken this to a new level, turning his into a remote/instrument, the device acting almost like non-contact bow that activates the computer’s figurative strings. As he dips the iPhone from side to side, the computer across the basement warbles and burbles in response, an awesome and inventive artistic use of a quotidian device. Furthermore, this remote works long-distance, and can effect the sounds his computer makes, even several blocks away. 
            While Sean is also involved in a regular collaborative musical project, and enjoys engaging others creatively through performance, he does find great reward in working solo. “I can do whatever I’m into that week. I grant myself the freedom to express my current interests,” he explains. And through this philosophy he is apt to make curious decisions, ones that he may not even recognize as subtly rebellious. A recent solo show at Valentine’s bar (one of his preferred venues) in downtown Portland, for example, began to run late. As the audience became more tired and drunken, and he was yet to start his show, Sean made an executive decision to play a short set… a set that, in fact, lasted just about five minutes.
            This was a move that favored his audience, his venue staff, and himself, by the end of the performance, leaving everyone, in his word, satisfied. He has no interest in boring himself or those who experience his sound projects, and believes that if people are engaged with the performance and like it, they’ll come to another show. 
            His set up at Valentine’s was simple, including four tape players connected to a mixing board. The tape players issued percussive sounds he had created, which, for the live performance, Sean arranged, muted to varying degrees, and sent to different spaces, running the sounds through filters to create something new. He finds the freedom in this sort of performance exciting.

            ASSS, his project with Alex Smith (the name of the band comprised of the two band mate’s initials), has been dormant performance-wise in Portland, but will be touring the UK again this summer, playing shows and visiting friends. The two are presently recording, with hopes that the new record will be ready for the tour.
            Alex and Sean have been friends since the latter’s move from the Bay Area about five years ago, a friendship that, based in similar ideas about music, immediately spawned a punk band that Sean says was productive and enjoyable. ASSS was birthed from the idea that the two friends could use instruments and tools they did not yet know how to play, initially drumming and vocals, without any prior experience. When they took on the challenge of electronics, it began morphing into what is now a solid and popular Portland project. 
            Next month, Sean will also be performing a show with the talented Portland musician, Brian Mumford, of Dragging an Ox Through Water, Sun Foot, and numerous other musical exploits. Of the opportunity to know and work with Brian and his almost unanimously esteemed facility for music, Sean declares, “I’m beside myself.” This collaboration will be Sean's third show run entirely off of a generator (you can rent one for $60, apparently), which will supply all the required power, enabling the performance to be anywhere. His past generator-based shows have taken place on a hot, sandy, isolated beach on Swan Island, and during a dreary day of rain underneath the freeway overpass at the bottom of Mississippi Street, both well-received little events.
            One of the most fascinating elements of Sean’s artistic principle is his absolute lack of propriety over his artistic work, which is a beautiful and radical approach. He encourages people to check out his set-up at shows to see what he’s concocted. “You can’t steal [my ideas] if I’m giving ‘em away,” he says simply. A performance is enjoyable in part because he’s able to share information, for he believes a collective pool of idea sharing and advancements into how people think and what they’re doing is “really important for the creative community.”

            His most rewarding performances consist of two elements: what he gets out of a set on a personal level, and the equally crucial engagement from his audience. A show is an accomplishment when the listeners appreciate or understand where his work is coming from. “That connection is amazing,” he says, comparing it to a moment of elation that leads to pounding fists with a friend. Sean states, “things I create cannot be bought or sold.” He is similarly uninterested in the “hoarding” of ideas, admitting that, as any good artist does, he nods to other artists’ works. He contentedly states that he hopes that someone could find his ideas and information relevant, and might borrow from them, a nod toward his work that he will definitely have earned.
Sean’s recommended artists working with sound: Brian Mumford, Oregon Painting Society
Click images to enlarge, photos by Justin Schwab. Check out Justin's group MFA Visual Studies 2013 First Year Exhibition June 23-July 20 at Disjecta/ Opening reception Saturday June 23, 6pm. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Interview II: Cary Spaeth

Her father’s operatic recitation of E. E. Cummings’ grand little poem, Buffalo Bill's, over morning coffee preparation was Cary Spaeth’s introduction to poetry as a child. A prevalent poetic sensibility continues to inform her life on a daily basis.

A practitioner of writing, yoga, and a barista, Cary maintains a presence that is at once graceful, centered, and, if not immediately accessible, definitively generous. She is noticeably striking, with a presentation of jewelry that is both bold and lovely, the silver of her sizable rings and earrings relating fluently with her overall appearance.

She cites Cormac McCarthy as one of several prevalent creative influences, specifically The Crossing, the second novel in McCarthy’s Border Trilogy. The Crossing was a recommendation from her father after she recounted to him looking into the eyes of a wolf, an experience that was chilling due to the creature’s palpable intelligence. She says of her face-to-face encounter with the wolf, “it was like looking into wild.” The McCarthian influence is effective in her poems, which often speak of human’s relationship to nature and engage with an awe of the living world. Additionally poignant is a reminiscent sparseness of language, a holding back of flourish or detail, which lends a richness for its focused intention toward the subjects and the moment evoked.

The poems selected for her self-published work, 1, launched in April 2011, which features the writing of fellow Portland poets Joshua Otto and Erin Galvez, are quiet works. Due in part to their brevity and humility, they demand a patient reading. Her short lines—often less than four words—couple sweetly with the succinct stanzas and clear diction. For this, and their themes of the city and the moments in which it relates to its more organic surroundings, they evoke the Imagism of William Carlos Williams. In context, however, they retain a sense of the contemporary, reflexively referencing popular culture only when necessary. While she writes poetry exclusively, she says, “I think all the poems tell stories.” She adeptly describes some of her pieces as “little flashes,” yet their strike of light is one of slowness and breadth, conducting a space for the reader and poem to engage each other.

Her literary background includes a degree Portland State University (PSU), after transferring from Lewis and Clark College. She chose to major in Liberal Studies, with a minor in English, allowing her to focus on three areas of study: Contemporary American Poetry, Caribbean Folklore, and Literature of South America.

It is evident that for Cary engaging with poetry is both a disciplined and spiritual creative endeavor, a motif grounded in her manner of living. She is presently finishing up her tenth year working in coffee, and moving toward focusing her time to becoming a yoga teacher. This is a transition that need not exclude her literary craft, however, since for Cary, yoga is a process in accord with writing, each relating to an archeology of peeling away layers to reach another self.

From the chapbook, 1:

we saw the stars tonight

from the stoop, smoking
under the overhang
of woven tree limbs.
have you known a sky
without a city?
stars that pour their light
into rivers that breathe
where trees drink
beside them?
my city is perched
on the bones
of its past, the ghost
of the river swells
and recedes
and is perfect glass
on quiet nights;
and the bridges cross
east to west.
Cary Spaeth

Her recommended Portland writers: Jae ChoiErin Galvez, Joshua Otto

Photos by Destiny Lane

Friday, December 7, 2012

Interview I: Patrick Kelly

     Patrick Kelly, a Portland, Oregon based artist, utilizes traditional artist’s tools in innovative ways, creating artworks that blend the definition of mediums, defying categorization, and producing works that are beautiful and enigmatic. He has also worked with coffee for five years, and now bases his craft drink talents out of the Stumptown Coffee Roasters on SW Stark Street in Portland.
            Of his long-term projects, one prominent series is Carbon Traces, which he has been working with for around three years. These works are drawings, but also undeniably sculptural, based in abstract forms he hand-cuts, the contours of which he meticulously traces in pencil, moving the form ever so slightly and repeating the trace to create large-scale works. This laborious task often takes place over the span of several months before completion.

      Patrick aptly articulates of his Carbon Traces that they “[transform] notions of what the pencil can end up doing. And then there is the problem of how to define it… They’re drawings, but they don’t necessarily behave like traditional drawings.” Therein lies some of the magic of his art; the subtle movement during his painstaking tracing of the cut-outs is palpable, and the reward of his patient process is evident as the light plays against the detailed surface and is reflected and absorbed by the graphite, lending a three-dimensional element to this sort of drawing-sculpture.
            Patrick’s undergraduate education at East Carolina University focused on creating 2D art, but while working on his Master’s at The George Washington University he moved toward a comprehensive background in contemporary art and creating 3D works. For his 3D paper arts, Patrick uses a similar method of tracing, repeating shapes cut from paper. Although this technique is not new in his artistic repertoire, the book is his latest medium.

      He came to the book form through discussions with friends, and from a visit to an event at Portland's Publication Studio (PS), an independent publishing house printing innovative books of art, literature, and philosophy, on demand. His art needed a form that allowed for multiple points of view; realizing the sculptures he was making consisted of pages, he proposed the concept to PS, who immediately and enthusiastically agreed to take on the project of binding and publishing his book. The book form is unique to his work, which he named Aionios, after the Greek word “everlasting.” The completion of Aionios was also a fruitful opportunity for him to collaborate with others, since the work he does in his studio is, for the most part, “somewhat reclusive.”
            The book became the ideal format for his previously static sculptures, since the “reader” can start at any point, reverse, or go forward, reducing visual constraints and eliminating the need for a beginning and end. This has also changed how he thinks about his sculptures. “I wouldn’t go back to static [sculpture] now that I’ve defined [the works as having] pages, as being part of a book,” he explains. This medium of sculpture-book has complicated the identity of his works, deepening the demand from the reader, not only because of its myriad views, but also for being, as books should be, a physical object to touch and engage with in a tactile way. This interactive quality of book form connects the paper-cuts to the human world, lending it an element of ephemerality that is curiously complimentary to its name, Aionios, which implies the infinite.

            The reconciliation between Patrick’s job as a barista and his artists’ life is moving, for it is absolute. “Thank God my job is very social,” he grins, “otherwise there’s no knowing what would happen to me.” He finds the relationships he has with the people he interacts with on a daily basis rewarding. Working with coffee itself also suits him, “at heart I think I’m definitely a craftsman. To make something and present it to people, I definitely enjoy that.” His favorite drink to make? A cappuccino, of course, served in the traditional 5.5oz cup. 
            Patrick recognizes and appreciates the balance between his socially-oriented trade and the focused isolation required in his methodical and meticulous artistic practice. His studio is a space he has come to find necessary for his art, a place that’s quiet and where he can exclude outside distractions and obligations, regularly opting for headphones to make the dedication to this time one of admirable fidelity.  

            The studio itself is charismatic, hosting just the right amount of chaos. The floor is home to paper cut-outs from Aionios, as well as several glass Lurisia water bottles, duct tape, glue, bits of sculpture, and a rock. The two table surfaces host a menagerie of miscellany from a small paper cup stamped with the Stumptown logo and a tiny press pot, to various rulers and measuring devices, to a pho bowl filled with pencil shavings. Bringing notice to the crumbly white brick wall at one end of the space he says, “the studio is sort of like a living, breathing thing,” which seems appropriate, given that his artworks, whether static drawings or multifaceted books, contain hints of the life and movement behind their creation.
           A party to celebrate the release of Aionios will be hosted at Publication Studio this Friday, May 25, 2012 at approximately 7/8pm. Featured will be a hands-on copy of the book, and excellent company. Stop by: 717 SW Ankeny St. Portland, OR, USA
            Patrick’s recommended artist list: MK Guth (multidisciplinary arts, Portland, OR), Amanda Manitach (drawing and video arts, Seattle, WA), Jen Stark (paper arts, Miami, FL)
Click images to enlarge, photos by the lovely and talented Destiny Lane