I’ve been spending the last month at an arts residency at Kunstnarhuset Messen, located in the village of Ålvik, Norway. I knew that I wanted to let the long daylight infiltrate my body, but I wasn’t sure what it would burn free in me. In the weeks leading up to my departure from Philadelphia, I was filled with a strong premonition that I would not return from this trip. I felt a strong urge to write a will, to put my affairs in order. I sat with these feelings for a time and decided that they were not in fact some glimpse of my actual death, but a sense that I was going to be radically changed while here. And I understand that now to in fact be the case.

When I arrived, I had hoped to understand distance, displacement, and transformation better by moving along the mouth of the fjord, speaking with the residents, and observing how climate change was affecting this nordic village.

Instead, I found a deep rooted sense of peace within my spirit. It took a few weeks for it to fully accomplish itself within me. It fell into me slowly, gradually. Simply. Just like the long summer daylight.

I hiked for hours at a time, experiencing intense solitude and marveling at how such long days could create such a sense of subtlety in me. I found myself radically sensitized to the minor changes in the way aspen leaves caught the wind or how clouds crawled across the sky.

I found myself thinking a lot about my dear deceased friend. She’s been gone for nearly a year now, and I can’t express how radically my entire psychology was changed by her death. We had known each other since we were fourteen years old. She walked with me through some of the hardest times in my life. She was, quite simply and without exaggeration, the most kind and good person I knew. Death glosses many things, but it doesn’t gloss this beautiful truth. She was simply good.

For a long time after she died, I struggled with the sense that I was in the wrong universe. I understand that this was a grief response–that it was easier for my mind to believe that I had slipped into an alternate reality rather than accept the sad fact of her death. There are many aspects about my life the last year that seemed to confirm this to me–that I was askew. I kept trying to make this askewness home. It wasn’t right.

Now, though, while living in this far northern village, surrounded by kind strangers but ultimately alone, I felt the truth of her death slip into me. She is gone. I think I finally cried the last salty tears in my body over this fact. And they evaporated into the sky. Like clouds.

While I’ve been here, I’ve been doing some movement–a form of a salp’uri. It’s an ancient dance form, which I used to insist on calling a dance of healing. It is more commonly understood as an exorcism dance. I now think it’s both.

The sad truth is that I have been exorcising my friend’s death from me–by bringing it into the coal of my body, by bringing down the sun. This stark, neutral, lasting light has burned away so many things. And it has revealed a basic truth. That light radically continues. As must we.

I find myself filled by equanimity. I have discovered a sense of balance by standing on milky glacial waves, falling into aspen green shine, and having the blank sun burn my eyelids into an intense blue swarm. I saw electricity in the waves and felt my body turn to air. I’ve left behind no shadow, and what I used to be doesn’t care.

An excerpt from what I’ve been developing in response to all these things.

 

My essay on conceptual writing and offensiveness is now live at The Volta. Thomas Trudgeon asked me to write it over a year ago, based on some initial conversations that we’d had, and here it is. A full year later.

I explore the way some conceptual works take on culturally traumatic language and re-present them in a poetry context, but the politics and motivations of the work are ambiguous. This ambiguity leads to offense for readers, who expect such culturally explosive materials to be treated in a recognizably respectful way.

One of my motivations in writing this essay was for me to suss out my own fascination with these texts and authors, and to try and understand the vehemence I’ve experienced in the conversations around them. I often found myself defending them, which you wouldn’t guess from my essay. Reflecting on these conversations with writers and friends whose intellect and social consciousness impress me, I started to wonder if my sense of neutrality and detachment towards the offensiveness in some “conceptual” writing wasn’t a defensive mechanism–a way of disarming them and letting me be “in” on them. These texts so clearly want to play on our affects–I didn’t want to give these texts that power over me. This imaginary cat and mouse over my feelings, alongside considerations of my social location, made me think about how the provocativeness was being used. I felt there was another gesture embedded in them. And so, this essay sprang forth.

I had many mini-conversations via email with some trusted friends who read a first version of the text, and then later with the editors for the collection. The attention and care that all my readers offered this work was impressive. It also took me to some new ground in how I engage these works, and the way that I framed my discussion.

 

 

 

 

Today is March 9th and all the clocks have been set one hour ahead. The day feels a bit different to me starting in this way. The rules tell me it is one hour, but my body and habits continue to believe in another. It will simply take a little time before the new type of day feels right to me again.

I’m sharing this because I am now blogging over at Jacket2 for their Commentaries section. My Commentaries series is called TIME TEXT BODY NOISE, and I’ll be writing about how we experience and imagine time when we read, hear, and see poetry happen. Though this is unstated on the site, I will predominantly conduct this exploration through Asian American poetics, though a few other poets will be in the mix, too. I’m tired of Asian American work being seen predominantly for its Asian Americanness.

I’ll be pointing to work by folks like Tan Lin, Myung Mi Kim, Janice Lee, Jose Garcia Villa, Divya Victor, and Hoa Nguyen.

Central questions about dailiness, the body’s experience of time, different modes of reading, listening practices, and the page as a field of time will be considered.

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