Sandra Alland is a writer, filmmaker, performer and interdisciplinary artist. This is where they write and post photos, videos and recordings, sometimes. More info on Sandra at blissfultimes.ca
So I hardly ever blog these days, bad me. To update you, Turtle Island was swell. I performed at VERSeFest in Ottawa, joined onstage by the brill and dear-to-me Gord Disley at the end. I really enjoyed For Body and Light —spoken word & music by Ian Ferrier melded with dance choreographed by Stéphanie Morin-Robert. Plus, it was interesting to be in Canada as an Official Scot, gave me lots of musings about nation/nationality and perceptions of personhood. Now in both my countries I’m from Elsewhere.
Then I did a wee reading in Montreal at Litpop, shared the stage with Eileen Myles, Jon Paul Fiorentino and Jonathan Ball. Great readings all around. In Cobourg an accidental meeting between my dear friend Stuart Ross and me with my dear friend bill bissett resulted in the birth of The Three Ferretpersons, a strange new sound poetry collaboration. We did our first public performance at The Human Bean. Good times. It was sad to say adieu to everyone, though I can’t say I”m sad to leave behind the cold and snow (it’s APRIL ffs).
Now that I’m back in Edinburgh I’m gearing up to read and screen a film at Pussy Whipped Festival, then the big Filmhouse screenings and performances, Who’s Your Dandy?, on 17 May. I’m super-excited about Who’s Your Dandy?, as it will feature film/poetry/singing from the amazing Andra Simons (with Joao Trindade), music from the dazzling Lake Montgomery, and the new work of my new interdisciplinary collaboration They They Theys.
Plus I’m lucky enough to be screening films by Erica Cho, mihee-nathalie lemoine, Sophie Norman, Tina Takemoto, plus more TBD. It’s going to be SO GOOD. Get your tickets HERE.
Til next time. xxx
The Next Big Thing – Dec. 19th
Sophie Mayer tagged me in this ongoing project, The Next Big Thing Blog Hop. Someone tags you and then you tag five more writers with the same questions. Here’s a link to Sophie’s kick-ass contribution.
My next big thing is a wee chapbook called Naturally Speaking.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
I have fibromyalgia, which causes widespread pain and makes it difficult for me to type or write. One way I reduce my pain is to use Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice-activated software. Dragon studies your voice, your vocabulary and your writing style. It scans your emails and documents, and creates a virtual you. I came up with the idea because of the mistakes Dragon was making, and because I was interested in its preprogrammed (often right-wing and corporate) dictionary.
For my chapbook, Naturally Speaking, I dictated some poems I had written, and composed new poems at the microphone. When the software made mistakes, I did not always correct them. Instead I let Dragon have its say as my writing partner.
For some poems, I went a step further: I cried or laughed into the microphone, or I read poems in Spanish or French. The excitement and experiment of this was to see what Dragon would type based on who it thinks I am, with the added element of its strange dictionary. Many of my usual poetic concerns around language, race, class, sexuality, ability and gender came through, but in often funny and sometimes striking ways.
What genre does your book fall under?
Poetry (plus a short essay). Also the genre of ‘collaboration with artificial intelligence’.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Poetry rarely gets made into movies, but if a miracle should occur – the ‘character’ of the poet and the ‘character’ of Frida Kahlo should both be played by robots. Sexy, geeky, transfeminist robots.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
In Naturally Speaking, Sandra Alland composes at the bizarre intersection of disability poetics, computer software, queer feminism and translation – creating poems that mostly do what poems usually do.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
A couple of years.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
It kinda just happened over time, like a lucky accident. I didn’t know it was a book until Rebecca Comay from espresso asked me for a manuscript and I realised it was done.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
In the case of dictating in Spanish or French, I sometimes dictated poems by other writers. The idea there was to see if a residue of the original could remain, if poetry could emerge despite or beyond language. In most cases, this did not happen (though in a few cases it did!). But this mostly failed part of the experiment resulted in some of my favourite lines. For example, Nicanor Parra’s title “Esto tiene que ser un cementerio” (“This Must Be a Cemetery”) became “Instability in a Gay Theatre and Feminine Debut”.
Also, I used some of Frida Kahlo’s diary, and I feel an echo of her comes through pretty strongly.
Oh – and it’s a limited-edition, numbered, hand-bound gorgeous hunk of a chapbook. With French flaps. Uh-huh.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Neither. It’s published by a small press called espresso, out of Toronto. Small presses are the best thing ever. Buy their stuff. More info or order: http://www.paperplates.org/naturally_speaking.html
Next up on Dec. 26:
So I was staying at the lovely L’s house. L is a superb person who I can’t believe I didn’t meet before now. She has one degree of separation from everyone I know! L showed me her copy of At The Crossroads: A Journal for Women Artists of African Descent. It’s the second issue, from 1993, and it looks like this:
That’s Sapphire on the aged but still lovely cover! This brill journal was gorgeously designed by artist and writer Karen Miranda Augustine. It features Sapphire, Augustine, bell hooks, M. NourbeSe Philip and an impressive collection of other writers and artists. I so want Augustine to digitise these journals, as they’re stellar — and an important part of Toronto history. Also, I don’t know anyone else who could design so well from what passed for computers in 1993.
In other news, I have received or purchased many lovely gifts of literature from friends and colleagues while here in Canada. I’ve managed to read almost all of them, which has made me blissful. Here’s a list of recommended reading:
1. diamondstain: poems by melannie gayle
Get your hands on this luscious chapbook while there are still copies. It’s hand-made, very pretty and contains melannie gayle’s powerful poetry. Catch her next time she reads if you can. She’s delightful. Contact: email@example.com
2. Belladonna* #147: Transfeminism & Literature
Belladonna* is “an event and publication series that promotes the work of women writers who are adventurous, experimental, politically involved, multi-form, multi-cultural, multi-gendered, impossible to define, delicious to talk about, unpredictable, and dangerous with language”. This chapbook features an excellent essay by Nicholas Birns (“Transfeminism in Literary Criticism and Theory”) and exceptional poetry by the ever-wondrous Trish Salah. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
3. The longest day: Counting the days till tomorrow
This bpNichol Award-nominated chapbook features raw and engaging poetry by John R. Barlow, cut and pasted from John’s group emails by Czandra. John is described as “a Toronto working-class poet, networker and experimenter with email groups”. I particularly liked the line, “The happy medium is not the message”. Contact: email@example.com
4. Arcana by Clara Blackwood
In this chapbook of poems based on the Major Arcana cards in the Tarot, Blackwood deftly tells both personal and mythical stories. There’s a nice balance between lyrical poems and prose poems, too. Vivid imagery that feeds the imagination. Contact: Aeolus House,firstname.lastname@example.org
5. Sew Him Up by Beatriz Hausner
This book of poetry features Hausner at her sexy, surreal best. “This cornucopia before her never/ cools never hardens: she takes/ her fork and stabs deep.” Indeed. Contact: Quattro Books, email@example.com
6. novel by bill bissett
Bissett’s first novel is a wacky and wonderful read. Surprisingly film noir and eerie, novel takes you on a disjointed and mesmerizing trip through biography, theory and fiction. Two men in love on the run; it doesn’t get much better than that. Contact: Talonbooks, firstname.lastname@example.org
7. Halfway to the East by Marusya Bociurkiw
You may know Bociurkiw as a novelist and non-fiction writer, but she’s also an accomplished poet. This book of poetry is as delicious as the recipes on her food blog. Family, travel, Ukrainian culture and queer love are all painted with equally colourful palettes. Contact: Lazara Press
Happy shopping! xo
Addendum: If anyone out there happens to have a copy of Issue 5 of At The Crossroads (May 1995), please write email@example.com. She needs it to complete her collection for digitising!
Ah, how the internet does not allow for much deep thought these days. Or at least my interaction with it does not. I tend to reply to emails from my 7 accounts, try to make sense of the newest shite changes on fb, and scroll through twitter for the news and good blog postings — all before I think about blogging, something I used to spend a great deal of time doing.
Last Sunday I caught some gorgeous readings at the not-so-well attended AvantGarden in Toronto (this is food for other thought — why is it when women, especially trans women, queer women and/or women of colour, are reading avant-garde or experimental work, the avant-garde and activist communities are both suddenly Too Busy??). Trish Salah and NourbeSe Philip gave brilliant readings, both of them jolting me back into thinking about writing and its importance, about what makes books and poetry vital.
Salah’s Lyric Sexology is a tour-de-force that I can’t wait to see in print. Her writing gives me goose-bumps, takes me to unexpected places, makes me question. More about her in this interview from Bodies of Work Magazine, where she talks about her trans, queer, Arab and Irish identities, among other deeply engaging topics. In the interview, she says:
"Since poetry is not lucrative, and in fact often operates as anti-economic activity, its value is for thought, dialogic encounter, symbolic transformation, ethical witnessing…. Even where the poet is in isolation, I think these activities invoke the social, the public, the communal."
That was my experience at AvantGarden that night, despite going there alone and not having deeply meaningful interactions outside of the readings themselves. I indeed felt like a witness, and am glad to have shared that witnessing with a few friends who were present. Sitting in the gallery at Glad Day, I was reminded by Salah and by NourbeSe Philip about the connections between humans.
Philip spoke of the deep grief, mortal contemplation and sense of guilt or responsibility caused by suicide. I have a dear friend who has lost three friends in the past year, one to suicide and two to drug overdose (which can also be interpreted as a form of suicide). It has been terrible to watch him struggle with these deaths. I lost a friend and co-worker to suicide almost ten years ago. Philip’s work affected me intensely, though I think it would affect anyone.
Her new piece, which I think is called Not Waving But Drowning (after the poem by Stevie Smith), is about her being a witness to a stranger’s suicide off of a bridge. Her writing moved me to cry, laugh and confront an existential angst that has been gnawing about my edges for quite some time. It was a moment when writing became transformative, painful but necessary, newly complex and even frightening. I don’t know how she does what she does, but she is one of the most gifted and brave writers I have encountered. It was a strange night, because instead of congratulations I offered her condolences, and a speedy release from this work.
In her own words, “At the start of the year I was unfortunate enough to witness a man commit suicide by throwing himself off a bridge in a ravine I used to walk in daily. I have not been able to return to the ravine and have been trying to write myself back to a place where I can begin to make that daily pilgrimage to what was the bedrock for me of “the trivial round the common task.” Walking to and through the ravine in the morning was how I began my day – it is exactly two miles from my home to the end and back. In this essay, which has become my life line – my bridge, if you will – across a chasm created by witnessing this suicide, I am exploring several ideas, one of which the British poet Stevie Smith succinctly captures in her poem, “Not Waving but Drowning,” where we confront the ambiguity of actions. The man on the bridge that fateful morning so many months ago was not exercising as I had thought, but was preparing to jump. Or, perhaps, he fell, which brings me to Nobel Laureate Albert Camus’ La Chute (The Fall), which I am reading in translation. In this work Clamence, the protagonist, crosses a bridge at night and passes a woman who falls or jumps off the bridge. He neither looks back or attempts to help. The Fall explores his motives and the results of his actions or, more accurately, his inaction.” (From Drunken Boat)
Sometimes there are those nights that are so very swell. Last night, I curated and Zorras hosted Clandestina at Toronto Women’s Bookstore. We had the most lovely crowd packing the place, and brill readings and performances. Special thanks to Victoria & Edan of TWB, and to Melannie Gayle (aka Trinity), Sarah Pinder and Dainty Smith for their moving, funny and generally excellent work. And a big Cachin! Cachan! Cachunga! for DJ pocaSangre, who kept us dancing into the wee hours.
Beautiful, beautiful vibes all round.
I’ve got a solo reading coming up at an exciting event curated by Graham Brodie. It’s on 26 January (the day after dear Rabbie turns 250-something). I’ll be reading mostly new stuff, from my project Naturally Speaking. More deets below:
26 January, 7:30pm
Canon’s Gait, High Street
In other news, Zorras are busy bees for February, and will be bringing you not one, but two (!) events, both sponsored by the brill Scottish Transgender Alliance.
1. Cachín Cachán Cachunga! queer & trans cabaret
Saturday, 11 February, 7pm-10:30pm
Wee Red Bar
Edinburgh College of Art, 74 Lauriston Place, Edinburgh
For LGBT history month, Zorras bring you our THIRD anniversary event!!
Featuring Performances by
Jacq Applebee, Dr. Carmilla, Nathan Gale, Glasgow Glam Bangers, CN Lester, Lily & Yamil, and Robert Softley. + Short Films by Ania Urbanowska & DJ stylings by Miss Leggy Pee
Hosted by Zorras
More information at http://www.blissfultimes.ca/cachin.htm
Access Info: The Wee Red Bar is fully wheelchair accessible. Films are subtitled in English. The event will be BSL interpreted.
2. Zorras’ Gender Diversity Arts Workshop & Performance Opportunity
Saturday, 25 February, 2pm-9pm
Oasis Youth Centre, Newall Terrace, Dumfries, Scotland
To participate in the FREE Workshop and dinner before the performance you need to register in advance. To just be in the audience for the performance from 7pm to 9pm there is no need to register in advance. Travel & childcare are covered within reason.
Workshop is free & taught by Zorras. For Trans People & Allies.
Evening Performance £3/2 featuring
+ those workshop participants who wish to perform
The Oasis Youth Centre is fully accessible.
Fibromyalgia is kicking my ass again, and thanks also for the tornado-level winds and the snow Edinburgh.
In better news, I have been loving (and this is sincere love not sarcastic love) some poetry chapbooks. They are:
this new, intangible something by Amanda Earl (Temps des Cerises)
Kiss Off by Sophie Mayer (Oystercatcher Press)
Obsolete Objects in the Literary Imagination by Sarah Pinder (Bits of String)
Besides containing poetry that kicks your ass, these three chapbooks also come in gorgeous packages, especially those of Earl and Pinder. Don’t be buying stupid crap from the mall, get these instead!
bises, besos, xo