Interview with Professor Lisa Samuels
1: INTRO & POETRY READING
PAULINE: Hello, this is Dr. Pauline Herbst, and you’re listening to Pandemics Reflected a podcast about the human research behind COVID 19 and how the lives, research and scholarship of the human researchers involved, intersected with and were reoriented by the ongoing pandemic.
Today, I’m talking to Professor Lisa Samuels, author, poet, multimodal artist and professor of English at the University of Auckland. Lisa, welcome!
LISA: Thank you, Pauline. It’s really good to be here and to continue talking with you.
Talking to Professor Lisa Samuels is like dancing with language.
In this podcast we delve into her new collection of poetry, breach, written as a visionary text over a five day period in lockdown We talk about Lisa’s process and discuss how pandemic thresholds affect multimodal artforms. But first, a reading from the opening pages of Breach.
LISA: So I’ll just say before I read, that Li Wenliang is the doctor in China who first called attention to was suppressed for calling attention to the rise of the COVID pandemic and then subsequently died of the virus himself. Sadly.
POETRY READING: Breach
Naming the window
stirs a site oblique
Li Wenliang or next garden toil.
I awoke tilted after
the grocery aisles
aqualung on speakers
who could tell
Li Wenliang any
treatment passing thru
treatise on nice
the ice cup
one coast line hankering
ready to the lips
waving at windows
water splish here
day there are too
those sweet green
treats of suffering are
for the plug fair
it’ll be in
arrears the spots of
time turned in
to busy modes the
amidst some other
Li Wenliang than
here the terriers
nab incessant quiet
paka pak paka pak
the trucks are
on the road and
in front of
2: LISA AS CREATIVE, AS ARTIST, AS SCHOLAR
PAULINE: Fantastic. So, Lisa, it’s interesting. We are both members of the Pandemic’s Research Hub here at the University of Auckland, and we met on a writing retreat.
LISA: We did. We met, I think, in July of last year, 2021.
PAULINE: That’s right. So it was kind of in between lockdowns and various things, and you were there working on just some loose writing?
LISA: I tend to work on multiple projects at once and to respond intuitively within the situation at hand. In fact, I found some interesting material on perception in the theologically oriented library of our retreat centre. And also we were at a time when we were able to meet in person. There was no active code in the community and so we were able to take walks on the beach and have conversations and groups. It was great.
PAULINE: Yeah, that’s great. Do you want to tell us more about you as a creative, as an artist, as a scholar?
LISA: Sure. So I’m really interested in a bunch of different things. I got a normative academic PhD and turned into a kind of poet critic by virtue of publishing book after book in the creative zone of things. I’m working on essays that you could put under the category of creative theory and critical bodies: people responding to what it means to produce different kinds of writing and sign systems in artistic space.
I’m really interested in imaginative knowing and imaginative unknowing. So one of my catchphrases is “imagining what we don’t know.” I’m really devoted to relational otherness, relational alterity, the intactness of the otherness of the other as you build relationships. And as all that might indicate, I’m apparently really devoted to the ethics of bodies and also expanded representation. That is to say that every form of sign making in a cultural space is a valid way of knowing and can be turned into an interesting, imaginative way of unknowing as well.
3: WHAT DO MULTIMODAL ART FORMS HAVE TO DO WITH A PANDEMIC?
PAULINE: You can see how that would link directly into the pandemic around bodies or on forms of knowing around how people understand and know this thing. But in many ways, people might be thinking, “Well, what do multimodal art forms have to do with pandemics? What does experimental poetry and writing and theoretical experiments have to do with pandemics”?
LISA: Yeah, well, everyone is experiencing the pandemic. It’s something that goes through the Earth, through the planet and is vocally experienced and thoughtfully experienced, mindfully experienced, as we understand it, in our human animal bodies.
I would say that everything that the pandemic has been in relation with, has been also in a relation with my work. And as with other thinking workers, and imagining workers, and art workers, you don’t always necessarily know thematically the evidence of the cultural circumstances, the medical circumstances, the somatic circumstances of the maker.
LISA: Now, in my case, I would actually say that the evidences have been quite overt, not only in essays that I’ve written in relation to the pandemic, not only in relation to Breach, which is the poetry book that I wrote under the pressure of our first pandemic lockdown in Aotearoa, in New Zealand, but also in my own thinking relation, and my active relation with thresholds: threshold spaces. And I was thinking about this on the bus this morning because I knew I was going to be talking to you this afternoon after teaching for three hours.
And so I’ve been thinking about a lot of different things today. But the question of the threshold is both a kind of entirely material question having to do with the threshold of a discourse space, like an essay or a book having to do with the threshold of buildings, having to do with the thresholds of our bodies, having to do with the thresholds of our mouths and eyes and our hands touching things.
LISA: And again, as I say, the lintels and doorways of buildings and threshold spaces are also entirely conceptual. All of those spaces that I just mentioned, in addition to being literal, are also conceptual and in a discursive and conceptual sense then I was thinking about thresholds because I was thinking about how it has changed my relation to entering an idea, exiting an idea, being impinged upon by an idea, written through, feeling an idea. Also, the pressure that I feel in approaching or coming away from the relationality of whatever it is I’m relating to.
LISA: How does this matter? Because it matters in the classroom, both in the zoom space of teaching, online space of teaching. And also today, I just taught in person a large undergraduate class for the first time since last August.
For those future listeners dropping in on this auditory time capsule from the in-between limboland of cultural pandemic shift, that’s nine months since students and professors interacted in person, on this New Zealand campus. So you can see how the notion of material, discursive and conceptual threshold spaces, from buildings, to masks and breath, to bodies, to ideas, would be top of mind.
LISA: …And so entering that threshold space in a pedagogical sense, all of these things are inflected by, and infected by, the pandemic. And that, you know, what is the threshold of our talking? What is the threshold?
The really interesting confabulation of the literal and the conceptual and the droplets that literally go between us and our notion of “what does it mean for me to be influenced and altered and to be in relation” in that literal and conceptual space. So I think it’s really interesting.
Force fields and states
LISA: I was also thinking about it in terms of the contrast that sometimes brought up between forces and states, states being notionally more stable, more structured and forces being highly energised or change agents. And the way in which the pandemic turns everything into a force field. Everything is change agent and the displacement of, you know, the distance of yourself from the threshold of any need thing or any, you know, arriving thing. So I was just thinking about that. You know, so for me, as more briefly in answer to your question, everything that I’ve made, including the extensions of my interest in liquid theory and the liquid body and the physical criticism work that I do has been impinged upon and influenced by and very feelingly experienced in my creations, whether in expository prose discourse or in visual art that I’ve made or in the creative writing that I’ve done since the pandemic started.
PAULINE: I found that incredibly interesting. I have a background in medical anthropology, as you know, and there’s similar questions, but phrased differently. So around borderlands and around friction and spaces in between and how those spaces in between are very generative. And I love – you have these demarcations of disciplines within universities, within scholarship — how a lot of the same big questions are being tackled and being worked out by different forms of thinking.
4: FROM LONG WHITE CLOUD TO BREACH
ASIDE: Two of Lisa’s books that sprang to mind as she was talking are Tender Girl and The Long White Cloud of Unknowing and we’ll put more detail about these in the show notes. In the pre-surrealist Comte de Lautréamont’s Songs of Maldoror (1868), the hero copulates with a female shark in the frenzied sea of a shipwreck. This French poetic novel was re-discovered by the surrealists in 1930 and Salvador Dali was invited to illustrate the text. Lisa has gone a step further in Tender Girl, imagining ‘Girl’ as the daughter of the shark and man from the 1868 text, described as “A visceral Little Mermaid, (who) comes out from ocean and crosses the land of the father, finding speech, sex, law, violence, and art” My first experience with Lisa’s work, I found it an enthralling, unsettling and synaesthetic reading experience.
The second is The Long White Cloud of Unknowing, first published at the end of 2019, just before the sars-Cov2 virus spread.
PAULINE: Lisa, as you were talking I was thinking about this book almost as a precursor to the experience of lockdown and breach. It’s about “a woman with a suitcase of meat waiting in a room for one day and night. Inside the room, language surrounds her. As heresy and authority intensify, she readies to open the door”. Lisa, could you read us the commentary please.
LISA: So I’m reading… this is actually from Erin Moures’ commentary. Erin Moures, a Canadian poet who wrote this about TheLong White Cloud of Unknowing.
LISA: “The book presents vocalised listening across languages and via bodies, we too are a listening body, a body, an absorption and expulsion, attentive and the thinking pause and query of a day in a woman’s life. Spanish, French, Maori, Latin all coursed through the mind of the one thinking in English whose rich linguistic inner life we inhabit and move in as if it were a spacesuit we don to float in atmospheres otherwise inaccessible to us. In this language, this unknown cloud full of knowledges, relations, worldly resonances, we are held”.
Changing form: Long White Cloud to Breach
PAULINE: So that was a very evocative description of the book, The Long White Cloud of Unknowing. And I wanted as a continuation of our discussion to talk to you about how that had links or tendrils perhaps into Breach, if it did or didn’t, or how your thinking perhaps changed or opened as a result of COVID 19?
LISA: My form certainly changed in Breach. Very different from The Long White Cloud of Unknowing, which is the same in the sense that each one is a book length work, a continual book length work. The Long White Cloud of Unknowing formed over a very long period of time and is, amongst other things, an investigation of heretical ontology and epistemology. The kind of what is heresy in cultural thinking-scapes?
ASIDE: Ontology is the nature of being, becoming, existence or reality, and epistemology is what we can know and how we can know it. Heresy and heretical thoughts are those that differ from what is generally accepted. Lisa goes on to touch on a broader philosophical tension between being a contemplative: traditionally described as turning inwards and focusing on thought, prayer and reading; and an active: turning towards the world and people.
LISA: Also and perhaps connectedly with Breach or as a way of signalling or taking up your question, it’s also partly involved with the question being an active and being a contemplative, which is a contrast that has sometimes been considered in thought communities like amongst monks and nuns amongst, you know, those kinds of believing people. So the tension between being an active and being a contemplative certainly came up in the pandemic lockdowns because one was forced into the contemplative position, whether naturally active or not you had to contemplate, you had to be in that contemplative position. And so as a complete contrast with The Long White Cloud of Unknowing, which, as I say, took a number of years to put together, Breach was (although I did edit it to some extent afterwards), was composed in a visionary experience that went on for five days. So it was composed very rapidly and in April of 2020, so the lockdown started something like March 26 or something like that, so very intensely written and the feeling of being locked down and also the question of volition: what is our will in our activity when you are in a situation in which the nation state has a value of care for others in a medical way, then you respond to the imperative to go into lockdown. And I did, in one way or another, everybody did, whether you know, happily or not.
LISA: So having your volition questioned and held away from you was like having a kind of layer of your body pulled away and floating out into something that became a civic space that was relational, the ‘not you’. At the same time, you were retained, isolated selfhood potentially could, as with me, would Breach become intensely aware of, not only paradoxically, the breach between your entity and then the border and then some other entity, but actually also the conduits and connectedness.
So it may seem paradoxical, but having things stripped away like, I don’t know, having your myelin sheaths stripped away makes you even more full of nerves. You become very aware of your nerve relation. So it’s interesting that you bring a comparison between the two books. I hadn’t really thought about that, but it’s quite curious because the situation of The Long White Cloud of Unknowing is only one day in the morning and afternoon and evening and night, and the situation of Breach has no such temporal boundary, even though it was certainly composed in such a temporal foreclosure. You know, that kind of temporal boundary. So yeah, there’s a lot of connections.
5: TEMPORALITY, PUBLICATION & ABLEISM
PAULINE: That’s great. I have about six questions that you’ve stimulated. So first, this temporal dimension. When we were chatting briefly about this, you were saying that Breach developed and then became form in the rollover of Delta, followed by the rollover of Omicron or Omicron, depending how people decide to pronounce it. And I wanted to talk to you about time in terms of things like publications, in terms of there being these strict timelines that people think that they ascribe to. In the “before times” there would be something written or something created. You’d kind of plan a date for a launch that would happen, would be published at a certain time and things could be planned in some sort of orderly progression. So I want to have a chat to you around temporality around that and also around how COVID 19, as you said, has created openings as in perhaps we are more aware now that those things were never in the first place…
LISA: In existence or real. Yeah. Right. Yes, yes. People reify them by carrying them out, you know, they act as though they’re real things that exist already, always already in cultural space. Yeah, sure. As I mentioned earlier, I tend to carry on many projects simultaneously. So in fact, there’s a whole other poetry manuscript that I was writing, not at the same moment that I wrote Breach, but in the same temporality, that I’ve now finished, but again over a longer period of time called Livestream. So for me, though, the intuitive (that’s not really the word I want to use, except maybe a medieval sense), the sense of what it means for something to appear in public space outside of one’s workshop, to put it that way, as though we all, you know, we all have some form of workshop with us on a laptop or a little room studio room and that kind of thing.
When things appear publicly, whether as a kind of performance or not, or as an instantiated object, like a book, happens in a kind of step for me already, in quite a staggered, non-aligned way, and partly just because I do a lot of different projects, as I say simultaneously. So I may not be the best case example of someone going from an obedient reified, through line of the creation of a research output, simply because that’s not usually the way I work.
PAULINE: But is it ever though with anyone?
LISA: That’s an interesting question, because I do think of examples in which people do function in that way. It’s fair to give people like that space – that they really respond to the institutional circumstances of desire for research outputs and the sense of a desire to achieve according to institutional parameters. You know, I can’t make that an otherness that is outside acceptability. I don’t feel that way. I only hope in those cases ( and this, of course, is a revealing comment) but I only hope that in those cases, people are feeling free.
LISA: Yeah. So this is partly about volition and choice. So I’ll turn your question in this direction about volition and choice. One of the things that I have I can say I maybe liked about the pandemic is that issues of ableism and other able-ism – to use those words advisedly, ethically, warmly and caringly – have come out into institutional conversation in ways that I think have been really salutary, the salutary that have been really good for people’s health and well-being. The ability to say things about what you’re able to do or that you need to be able to do in a different way. So I think that these, these are terms and energies and forces in dispute.
LISA: I cannot be confident that the situation of opening to otherness is now simply on a freer trajectory and will remain that way. However, I think that there is traction, there are precursors there , there are energies of openness that I hope that people can take advantage of, feel, if they want to, in making their work. So I think basically that direction of multiple abilities to thrive is again, probably paradoxically given the pandemic, is at least more open, more on the playground of possible institutional consciousness.
6: A MEDITATION ON THE MATERIAL OF CONTAGION | POETRY & RELIGION
PAULINE: OK. Thinking a little more on that temporality and bringing it back to, to an almost religious overtone (and I’m using the term loosely) in breach. Lisa Robert Foley in the little intro in the beginning refers to this as a meditation on the material of contagion. So she describes this as a meditation. And at various aspects, you talked earlier about this idea of, of heretical thinking. Would you be able to read an extract
Poetry reading: pg 51
PAULINE: Yeah, that would be fantastic.
LISA: I can do that. OK.
So this is from the beginning of section four of breach.
We’re catholic now
purred dense with
sudden on set
each falling nurse
so and so
one two four
your sud fren
finds a fizz
out the bronchioles they
inside the txt
we find an
other and she’s
an earl in an open
we heard you
ear to ear
PAULINE: That was just wonderful, thank you. There are two aspects, as I said, that I really wanted to pick on there. This idea of “we’re Catholic now, small C, and I want you to talk a little bit more about that before we go into the more sensory aspects.
LISA: I can do that. And you know, with the wrap around understanding that in a visionary text, the whole notion of intentionality or choice structures when you’re dealing with the relational forces of agentive language mean that it’s not as though I sat down and said, I’m now going to write a treatise on the small C catholic term. So small C catholic simply means open to a lot of different points of view. That’s why it says small C, not Catholic as in the Catholic Church.
LISA: Yeah, I mean, that’s a big question. Mm hmm. One of the things that interests me is how much people think-believe and believe-think. How much people think thinking structures are inveigled with, wrapped around with, transmitted through and mentally held in postures of belief. So this has to do with, for example, often when people say they think something, they often mean that they believe it or if they accept the thinking that a work might give to them it includes, at least to some extent, a posture of belief, belief-acceptance. And so what is belief?
Religion, faith, the belief structure of the pandemic
LISA: People sometimes talk about leaps of faith, so that actually engages entirely with something you mentioned earlier, which is the gap. How do things transmit? You know, in the sense in which there’s symbolic energy of language because language is a symbolic set of structures and forces. It’s always translational. It’s always leaping across, always leaping and leaping and leaping. So there’s always going to be some measure of what can be called acceptance or belief or faith-structure or embrace or love towards things that people devote themselves to with some volition when they have some kind of range of choice. So. Then I think it’s very interesting to think, given that we’re all in the belief structure of the pandemic we’re all joining one way or another willingly or not, extensively by being sick or not, completely by dying, or less so by being separated and not wanting to get ill or pass along illnesses. We’re all involved in the same cultural moment.
And if you think about religion as a cultural, set of cultural moments different across time, then we all enter some kind of zone of similitude and our differences then can be both leapt over by a sense of shared experience, which is quite shocking to people, I think. And also, those differences can come out precisely because we’re comparing apples with apples instead of apples with oranges. So we’re entering a realm of likeness and similitude in which we see our likeness, but we also see our distinction even more vividly.
- WRITING POETRY APRIL20 | READING POETRY APRIL22
PAULINE: It’s wonderful listening to you talk, it’s almost like poetry in motion, as cliched as that sounds. The rolling of the language seems to roll into breach and some of the thoughts that I had around it. I wanted you to read another section, which I think links to what we’ve been talking about now.
INSERT: This is from Section 3 of breach, page 37.
LISA: I’ll give it a go.
PAULINE: Thank you.
here’s your offertory
pair their temper
until the chair is
a day when
sometime in a future
if every life mats
then what’s on life?
bright birds but
a voice plan gets
one’s open channels
call out Soybean
called once you’re
no one to see
hub on planetary
April 2020 – April 2022
PAULINE: So we’ve just passed April. We’re 2nd May today and thinking back to… you wrote this in sort of five days than you said you edited it later. How does your recollection of that April compare to, say, your recollection of this April? Having read through that, can you see the you in that April versus the you now?
LISA: Well, there’s a supposition in the latter question that there is a you there.
LISA Are you being in this case, let’s suppose, an ‘I’? The agentive forces of language and the relational forces of language, that is to say, every time you use language, it’s both your intersection with the possibilities of language and always also the body of potential and actual language that pre-exists and post exists you and your articulation in that moment. So therefore, what it means to say I is an intersection with the possibilities articulated on those pages that I have just read.
I certainly feel a couple of things in relation to your question. One is that for me, in my feeling sense, there’s no such thing as time. Everything that happens continues to happen, and I’m not talking about theory of multiverses, the theory of multiple worlds, which is a whole other conversation and have . But that’s not so much what I’m talking about here. So there is both a direction and a continuity with any living human-animal body in the things that have happened with that human-animal body in time, in times. So in that sense, necessarily, I feel connected with the selfhood that composed in that time and space.
Experiential self – culmination of all the ‘you’s up to that point
LISA: In a different sense, when you’re making a work and you’re an ‘it’ and it’s part of a work that you’ve been making for a long time (I don’t mean the individual work, but a way of making that you’ve been doing for a long time) everything that you are up until that moment causes you to make that work as it is then. So it isn’t as though the creation of the work was unusual or came newly out of other circumstances.
There’s one other thing to say, I suppose probably other things too, but which is that you are a multicultural person and you understand that cultural contingency as soon as you cross X with Y, you get that gap between and you get juxtaposition. And so the sense, the pervasive sense of contingency that I have as a formed being in the world bodily, mentally, emotionally, desiring-ly artistically. Radical contingency is how I feel things to be both in their particularity and in their conjoined simultaneity with other particularities. So, you know, these things are continuities for me.
8: WRITING, EDITING, STRUCTURE & TITLE/IMAGE CHOICE
PAULINE: Yeah. I want to come back to that idea of think feeling, because that’s quite important, but I also know that you have lived in many places you’ve taught and worked and travelled and you family in different places. And I wanted to ask about saltimbanque, Have I pronounced that correctly?
LISA: So I think you can pronounce it however you want,.
PAULINE: However I wish. So saltambanque is that from the Picasso work? Is that a word that you’ve generally picked up with your immersion in the different possibilities of language and the different possibility of places?
LISA: I think it’s much more the second and the third, the latter two of your articulation, that is to say. So when I write, I don’t choose the words I am in relation to the possibility of articulation that co-occurs with me. Language writes itself through me because of my relational ontology with language as a language user. And so it very often surprises me when words show up what it turns out that they mean when I look afterwards.
LISA: I don’t know that I know them. And so saltimbanque is acrobat in French. There are many other words in this book that I have to look up afterwards and just say, “Oh, what’s that”? So clearly, what’s happening is that my prior absorptions are transmitting through at those moments of visionary imaginal writing. That seems like a large claim. But I am happy to make it because I think it happens with everyone.
When we work, for example, with students getting them to think about what it means to produce a string of articulations and what their relation is to, you know, like if you think about what you’re doing when you start to articulate something, you feel these urges. Your body kind of pushes forward. You feel a little bit maybe warmer or energised, but you’re not actually selecting the articles and adjectives and nouns that you’re going to articulate. You just push. And because you are using that relational language which knows how to speak itself with all of your contextual and prior occurrences, language will speak. And so that’s how that word came out.
PAULINE: And would you say that that goes for editing as well?
LISA: I think editing is entirely different and editing would be one of those moments when I look up words and say, “Oh, you know, what’s that?” And I don’t tend to cut out words at those kinds of moments. But editing is… when so when I teach creative making, I talk about how crucial it is to make sure that you don’t judge what you’re doing at the moment that you’re doing it. The creation of material – creation precedes evaluation. Creation precedes critical second looking. So editing is How is this work speaking in its made self? And what can.. are there moments of wheel spinning, are there moments… other layout possibilities, line breaking possibilities that will give opportunities to words to be solo for a moment and a little bit noisier by putting them on the line by themselves, for example? So editing is entirely different. The look is very different.
PAULINE: It’s interesting you say that because something I’ve been quite getting increasingly obsessed with through this, these pandemic ongoing openings are these ideas of speculative thought processes and of ‘being as becoming’ sort of drawing on Stengers there. But the idea that the pandemic made all of us think about world making. As we went, we were becoming aware of the constructedness of certain forms. And this is obviously from a sort of socio cultural perspective that I’m thinking this through. So it’s interesting how you frame a lot of those similar sort of questions, but that’s been an ongoing force in your work for, you know, decades now.
PAULINE: And I think for many people, the experience of the pandemic forced them to think-feel, forced them to have this daily engagements of sensory think-feeling through what will the next minute bring? What will the next second bring? Hmm. Which I think Breach really speaks to. A quick question about the structure, because this is one form, one long piece of work, it’s not meant to be read differently – What do the breaks of the structures mean? The numbering from one to five?
LISA: The days. Is that the days? The five days?
PAULINE: Ah, day one to five.
LISA: I actually I had the design person who worked with me. I suggested to her that she put the one two three four five marching across the top of the page like that to indicate, but it doesn’t have to be days. But that’s the notion.
It’s also that that discrete series are interesting to consider, sometimes in order to achieve the effects of ongoingness, it’s good to insert interruptions. And again, sort of paradoxically, perhaps people can feel the ongoingness precisely because they have moments of re-attention, reorientation.
PAULINE: I love that and I like that you’ve almost given me the crib notes to the numbering at the top, because now that you’ve said that, I can see it and I feel that that’s something I would have discovered many years after rereading this work and become very excited about that. But I’ve almost got the sort of chocolate egg kinder surprise way in advance.
Hmm. Now, for anyone who’s listening who hasn’t seen the book, it is exquisite in form. It’s a very simple, white, matte textured cover with the title Breach in black, and it has something quite exciting in terms of the wraparound. And Lisa you were telling me a little bit about this image. Do you want to talk [about it]?
LISA: Oh yeah, the cover image. Yeah, so I took this photo and I can tell you, possibly it still exists. I took a photo of a picnic table top in Western Springs. This would have been after 2020, after the lockdown lifted because I went to see a production in that area and we were waiting at a picnic table. And I saw this set of nails making a wound in the table. And they looked, they reminded me, made me think of, well, actually, I think I just took the photograph. But then I thought about COVID clusters as they’re presented in media as these kind of, you know, pretty active, scaly looking, scary round things that are going to enter. And so this seemed both to be a kind of – it’s a breach, it’s a breach of the tabletop with nails, but also you could see it as… Hmm… As a meeting or the creation of an otherness of art, an entirely unnecessary creation of the otherness of art in the instrumentation of the picnic table made to be eaten upon.
That’s why I selected the image for the wraparound part of the cover, though I put the more plain kind of streaks of breach very worn wood on the front because partly because of the question of closeness and faraway-ness seems to me to be performed in the geo-physicality of that image. And so you could be very far away on a plane, an aeroplane, or you could be very close touching the rivulets on this old picnic table.
PAULINE: Coming to the end: Titles. There are many thoughts on titles: either it’s really putting a stamp on something or that the title shapes a work after. And sometimes it is only revealed by that shaving away, that editing phase. And then other times titles just come and the work develops from that almost like roots from a central rhizome. How did Breachcome about as…
LISA: As a title?
PAULINE: As a title.
LISA: Yeah, it was actually when I was writing it, I called it “hull”, which is the last word. And I was thinking about hull in terms of ships and the breach in the hole of a ship like the Earth ship – the ship of Earth that we are floating around on. So it’s published by the University of East Anglia poetry imprint called Boiler House Press, and partly because it’s getting published in the UK, I didn’t want it to be confused with Hull the city. So it was a very simple decision to move away from the title Hull, which I still like, to a title that spoke to hull by being a whole breach… and breach is interesting somehow to me, it has connection in it, not only breakage, and I think that can be as simple as having the word reachinside it. It can be as, I suppose, indicative as having the word each inside it. But it also, I think, probably has brach as in like branches and arms and reaching, inside it. So there’s a lot of connectivity in it for me as well.
- EARTH GLOBE, FUZZY CO-ORDINATES
PAULINE: Hmm. You’ve mentioned… that’s fantastic. And when we called out for coffee, we were chatting about this podcast that was launching, and I can credit Lisa with some of the thinking around that for our promo for this around the idea.
LISA: That was fun. That was fun. Yeah.
PAULINE: And when I was reading through the poetry as well, I was wondering if you could read us from page 65 to the end of 66 because there as well, you talk about that idea of the globe as a round thing.
LISA: I might actually start on the top of Page 66. Sure. Just for fun.
POETRY READING: Page 66
The globe’s a
round thing with
it’s a mirror
look look the
crawl on your skin
draws the attributes of
around the next
box your attempts
two eyes spoon
every hole turns
hone on pull
the scrip the
a Code does
all the buildings
flesh in a trance
the shred fabric
numb in the arms
chalk wield head
PAULINE: The globe’s a round thing with fuzzy coordinates: is that linking to this idea of the Earth ship?
LISA: Well, I suppose it’s also, you know, the fuzzy coordinates of the round representations of the COVID virus, as though it’s a little globe that’s going to enter us, you know? Yeah, it’s interesting, though. There’s still always this kind of extreme closeness and extreme far away in this extreme literal in this extreme symbolism. And if you have coordinates and they’re fuzzy, then can they really be said to be coordinates?
PAULINE? Yes. And they’re fuzzy.
LISA: So the kind of both end of the, you know, the tactility and the conceptual coexisting in that Earthship ship that we’re floating around on. But I do often imagine elementals and the Earth as a way of inciting peace of mind.
PAULINE: I found it interesting how the Lent and those mediaeval almost iconography of figures come up through this. But I’m also aware that that is very possibly my interpretation and my assumptions.
LISA: I think actually, it’s interesting to think about polyvalent me, right, the multiple meaning of words, the both. And so it’s not about being ambiguous, it’s about being both. And so lent also has long ownership in it loaning and also has leaning in it. The flexibility of the left seems, is something that they choose for themselves. One might say in the dynamics of language. And so those things that you see are there, and then those other things are also there.
10: NEXT PROJECTS, POEM ENDING, EXPERIMENTAL DEFINITIONS,
PAULINE: And what is your next work? Will you be publishing the poetry that you made in the Livestream book?
LISA: Yes, I have hopes that it will appear. Actually, my next work is a translation of Tender Girl into Serbian coming out with Partizanska Press in about a month.
PAULINE: Wonderful. And I believe Tender Girl is also audio.
LISA: Yes, the full audio recording of Tender Girl was made by Tim Page and is up free online at PennSound.
PAULINE: Sounds fantastic! I’d love to listen to Tender Girl in Serbian. I think it must just be an auditory experience. Will Breach be recorded as an audio book at all?
LISA: Well, this today was the first time that I’ve performed from the Breach book because it’s just been published for a few months and there’s been no occasion to have a launch or anything like that. So will I do a full audio of Breach? It could happen, but in the meantime, it was really nice to have a chance to read it aloud, and I really appreciate all the warm things that you said about it, Pauline.
ASIDE: It seems fitting to close with a reading from the end of Breach. Pg 70, Day 5. Stay listening to the end if you want to know what Lisa thinks about the term ‘experimental poetry’.
Poetry reading fr. page 70, day 5
your skein face
we salute you
near the border
to your face
that room in
like the green
preggers with gif
piling near that
but ho hold
keep the rooftop
cossey the fold
the pharm door
settle in yawns
the lungs crack
anonyms without thought a
all the blues are
holding for your
sailing your numbs
a tin can
beats the officer
well a proxy
if all the
gunk came out
nothing at last
want their own
a heavy can
What is experimental poetry?
PAULINE: Thank you. That’s marvellous. So to close off before I say goodbye to you. If you were to say to someone who had to ask, So what is experimental poetry? What would you say?
LISA: I might suggest that it’s a redundant term, that poetry is experiments with language.
PAULINE: Oh, I love it. And with that, thank you so much for coming onto the podcast as our very first guest. It has been absolutely wonderful, as always, talking to you.
LISA: It’s really nice to talk with you, and I’m really glad that you are doing this work. I think it’s a good work.
11: NEXT SHOW
You’ve been listening to Pandemics Reflected, a show about arts-related research and discoveries during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Join me next week in conversation with data ethicist Dr Andrew Chen about how he went from computer systems engineer to working on questions around data privacy and the COVID tracing app. Opportunities and danger go hand in hand with an elevated public profile. Make sure to subscribe from your favourite platform for weekly updates.