Ryan Clark, Series Contributor
Ryan Clark’s series “The Appositional Project” examines poetry that makes use of appropriative writing methods (such as cut-up, erasure, and homophonic translation) to investigate intersections of place and domination/loss.
When I was a kid my parents bought my sister and me some silly putty. We pressed it into the Sunday comics and pulled away Ziggy and Garfield. Even though all the putty did was lift ink from the page, it meant that we could stretch Ziggy tall and thin or enlarge Garfield’s head to the size of our little kid fists.
But what if you could lay a sheet of silly putty over a place? What would it pull back? What would resist? What is the significance of contorting and reshaping that which becomes absorbed? The ink that depicts and the language that describes (or has depicted and has described) is wrapped over and under what we conceptualize as a particular place. Consider Kenneth Goldsmith’s reading at the White House, during which Goldsmith read consecutive excerpts from Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”, Hart Crane’s The Bridge, and his own book Traffic. Each selection was localized at the site of the Brooklyn Bridge, helping to demonstrate the changing character of the site over the past two centuries.
As more and more writers are turning to appropriative writing techniques (within and outside of the conceptualism moniker), so too are poets culling these material representations of place as a means of investigating the relationship between place, history, and language. In particular, a number of poets are exploring social and cultural trauma within a particular region, incorporating archival materials in an attempt to help repair (which includes drawing attention to) historical wounds.
I have begun referring to this type of writing, as a collection of like-minded poetic projects, by the name “appositional writing.” A few useful definitions of “apposition” in this context include: 1) The act of placing together or bringing into proximity; juxtaposition; 2) The putting in contact of two parts or substances; and 3) The condition of being placed or fitted together. The author of an appositional work, much like a collagist, is invested in the arrangement of found materials, but what makes this type of writing so powerful is the author’s use of these materials in a movement toward repair.
In SRPR 37.1, Becca Klaver’s review essay “Bridging the Distance: Documentation and Disappearance in Performatic Poetry” discusses, along with books by Anne Carson and Cecilia Vicuña, Kaia Sand’s Remember to Wave (Tinfish Press, 2010). While Klaver is primarily concerned with the performatic aspects of each book, I found myself fascinated by Sand’s use of archival materials in the first section of the book, titled “Remember to Wave: A Poetry Walk”, which involves Sand recreating on the page her various “poetry walks” investigating the sociopolitical history of Portland, Oregon.
In an introductory essay at the beginning of the book, Sand makes it clear that this project is an investigation into “how we might map the thickness of time and its political history,” particularly in regard to the places we inhabit. Later in the essay Sand describes the present scene surrounding the Portland Metropolitan Exposition Center before suggesting that we can (and likely should) also examine this landscape “in terms of displacements and exclusions,” as the Expo Center (when it was known as the Portland Assembly Center) had been home in the summer of 1942 to more than thirty-six hundred Japanese Americans before they were transferred to a number of different internment camps scattered throughout the western United States.
In an attempt to make these scars of history visible, Sand sets as the backdrop to several pages in the book a collection of flyers, pages from handbooks, and photographs depicting or related to either the internment at the Assembly Center or the Vanport flood of 1948. Over these images Sand types her poetry as a way to engage these documents and transform them into sites of conversation about the scars of history. The poetry forms a layer on top of the archival material much in the same way that the present so often obfuscates the past, and yet there is nothing covered up here. Everything remains visible, and this is of course very much the point. Sand wants us to remember the details of domination and social control so that we might learn to move toward more compassionate models of engagement.
To accomplish this, Sand types over the documents that she has incorporated into her book, writing in response to the trauma reflected there. We might relate this action to “appositional growth,” in which tissue is added to bone or muscle in order to strengthen the preexisting tissue that has become damaged or weakened. By adding her poetry to these documents, one might say that Sand is helping to encourage the process of healing within and surrounding the text.
On one particularly charged page, which features poetry typed over a flyer ordering “ALL PERSONS OF JAPANESE ANCESTRY” to go to the Assembly Center for evacuation, Sand demonstrates how such engagement should always move in the direction of care. Using only words found on the flyer itself, Sand types beside and under the small print of the flyer: “civil control / civil / control / with sufficient / exclusion / civil control / civil control / transport persons elsewhere / each member of the family / plainly marked / personal effects / of the living / that which can be carried.” By reminding us that “civil control” often works through “exclusion,” where people become things “which can be carried” or transported “elsewhere,” Sand not only shows us the dark history behind Portland’s Expo Center; she also points out how place and displacement are often used as means of social control.
However, Sand’s work here also reminds us that we have the power to engage and speak/write/act against domination. We are able, at the very least, to turn representations of domination into collaborative sites of engagement. Lastly, we are reminded to consider place not only as a location in space but also in time, and to remember to acknowledge trauma that is imbedded in location. Acknowledgement, of course, can often be given with just a simple wave.
Ryan Clark has dedicated years of his life to homophonic translation and is particularly interested in the reparative potential of appropriative writing, including how poetry responds to violence and subjugation, symbolic and otherwise. His poetry has appeared in Smoking Glue Gun, Tenderloin, Seven Corners, and Fact-Simile, and he also has an essay about teaching homophonic translation forthcoming from Something on Paper. He currently teaches composition at Savannah State University.