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)