Talking

Vitamins and Minerals: Maria Sledmere and Rhian Williams


The editors of forthcoming anthology 'the weird folds: everyday poems from the anthropocene' give us their health tips.

Incubating Imaginaries: poison creek by Yousef Ghazal and Therese Keogh, digital video still, 2019 (Courtesy of http://www.theresekeogh.com)

VITAMINS

Can you let us in on your latest favourite wonder cures? Tell us about two or three new (or new-ish) writers or books in the last few years that you would recommend to anyone?

MS: My reading in lockdown has been kind of intense and scattershot, like gathering up these tangles of association but also reading at random, or recommendation. The Earthbound Press poetry series, edited by Ian Heames, has been brilliant - every month they put out four new deliciously slender works from some amazing contemporary poets (from Peter Gizzi to Azad Ashim Sharma, Nisha Ramayya and J. H. Prynne), all printed in many-coloured riso with stunning cover art. Feels like poetry as confectionary except laced with many exquisite nutritive twists. I’ve just finished Saidiya Hartman’s incredible Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women and Queer Radicals (2019, W.W. Norton & Co./Profile Books). It’s this beautiful work of revisionist history that explores a generation of black women born after emancipation in the United States. Hartman employs a ’mode of close narration’ which puts the narrator in intimate relation with the book’s cast of characters, channelling the rhythms, affective intensities and pulses of language, bodily expression and lived improvisation that shapes the text and its chorus. These girls and women faced so much racialised, gendered and sexual oppression, aggressive miscarriages of justice, violence and harm, which Hartman documents with sensitivity and uncompromising confrontation. But there is also such a lease of life, agency, sensuality and dream to the book. It’s somehow an embodied archive, a work of history, fiction, polyvocality and poetics; a work of the everyday, of locality, of radical imagination, of utopia, of then and there and nowhere. Something about its depiction of resilience, spirit and living on is just so continually relevant and inspiring, while also sharpening my sense of the possibilities of archival engagement and critique.

Another recent read was Laurel Uziell’s T (2020, Materials), a pamphlet of trans survival, resistance, dialogue, protest, collectivity justice and the contradictions, harms and possibilities within discourse and its late-capitalist mutations. In light of the government’s recent U-turn on proposed updates to the Gender Recognition Act, it feels as pressing as ever to read this. Uziell’s nuanced, hybrid poetics bear the snaps, fractures, fractal complexity and detournements of online expression and social conflict, the rich, irreducible plurality of queer experience and also the affirmation of a life, language and sense of poetry’s visceral necessity, its questioning, in the face of violence, exclusion and transphobia — ‘[t]he cracks in the firmament belong to everyone’. One to return to, to stay with those fissures and splits.

I’ve been dipping in and out of James Schuyler’s Collected Poems (1998, Noonday Press) throughout lockdown and beyond (there has to be a beyond). Schuyler for me is such a poet of the everyday, of pleasure, joy, meditation, shimmer and noticing. Reading his work, with all its intimacy and beauty, is to explore what happens when the sensibilities of nature poetry are wonderfully queered and placed in the city, between letters, bodies, objects and pockets of time. Maggie Nelson has described his speaker as having a ‘cruising eye’, and that curiosity and sensory appetite really attracts me. Schuyler always gives me a renewed energy for writing, a sense of discovery, ekphrastic possibility and a kind of basic hope in existence itself. I mean even his bluet footnote is just this fragment of gorgeousness, but then you’ve also got the extended poem ‘Hymn to Life’ which will carry you through a whole morning and more. Get someone to read it aloud to you [<3].

I also turn frequently to Anne Boyer’s A Handbook of Disappointed Fate (2018). Anything Ugly Duckling Presse put out is pretty much always on the money, and these essays - on everything from Mary J. Blige’s perfume to Lyn Hejinian - are so generous and demand rereading, in the spirit of life and a worth to living. She’s also great on the always already relation between poetry and the internet, in a way that makes me want to be prolific and surf forever:

Poetry, which was once itself a searching engine, exists in abundance now, as searchable and as immaterial as any other information. As it always has, poetry experiments in fashionable confusions, excels in the popular substitutive fantasies of its time, mistakes self-expression for sovereignty. But in making the world blurry, distressing, and forgettable, poetry now has near limitless competition.

RW: Over the last few years… Nick-e Melville as often as possible (Abbodies Cold: SPECTRE is out with Sad Press now! And The Imperative Commands will be published by Dostoyevsky Wannabe in 2021!). Whenever I can, Kathleen Stewart, the bestest, bestest writer of the ordinary, (this year, The Hundreds, with Lauren Berlant (Duke University Press, 2018)), Vahni Capildeo for so much (‘During this time, dressed in white, I wandered through the studio like an itinerant preacher from a Welsh tradition of which Paige had told me, and which sparked associations for me with rhapsodic and ecstatic spiritual traditions in the Caribbean’ !!, Skin Can Hold (Carcanet, 2019)). Lockdown has both contracted and expanded my reading opportunities. Having a child at home with me all day inevitably makes extended reading periods, and true absorption, difficult (although I have managed a few long form pieces by Marie Ndiaye, Anita Brookner, and I’m currently reading Familiar Stranger: A Life Between Two Islands by wonderful Jamaican:British thinker, pioneer of the New Left and friend of another favourite of mine, Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall (Allen Lane, 2017)), but I’ve also felt more committed to text, to finding out, to listening sharply because I have to listen quickly. For many years I read on a kindle, which, while problematic in so many ways, can be a genuine saver of a reading life for any person who *needs* words, but is also doing something like feeding a baby or co-sleeping. So I am grateful for that enabling, but now I need to come back to the handfeel of the real! And at some level, I think there’s value in modeling everyday, opportunistic reading -- it feels no bad thing for young children to see their carers grab chances to have a nose in a book. For this I love Harry Josephine Giles’ The Games (Outspoken Press, 2018), Sophie Collins’ Who Is Mary Sue? (Faber and Faber, 2018), Sascha Aurora Akhtar’s 199 Japanese Names for Japanese Trees (Shearsman Books, 2015), Daisy Lafarge’s Capriccio (SPAM Press, 2019) and, picking up Maria’s gorgeous warp and weft below, Sandeep Parmar, Nisha Ramayya, and Bhanu Kapil’s Threads (Clinic, 2018). Right now I am thoroughly caught by Nina Mingya Powles’ exquisite Magnolia木蘭 (Nine Arches Press, 2020). ‘Colour fragment: #5c85d2 | blue smoke: melting clouds’ distils lockdown life for me: ‘On our way home from the botanic gardens, we dreamt of building a museum of all the colours in the world’. I like my reading to be political, precise, nourishing. I like to be tuned by text into the more than human. All of these gift me so much of this. Blessed to live at the same time as them…

Ditto for music. What is never off your record player (cassette player, walkman, Mini-Disc player or streaming service)?

MS: I had a big Grimes phase earlier this year, which was definitely channelling the disorientations, disruption, pain and elation of early lockdown. Elation for just this sense of like, wow, okay, I’m still here, I can love, I’m still alive and we can talk and there’s ways of making space inside crisis. Of making sense and senselessness. Miss Anthropocene, Grimes’ long-awaited 2020 release,is obviously my whole schtick anyway (minus the weird accelerationist A.I. robots I guess), and who wouldn’t love a song like ‘Delete Forever’, which is this sort of demonic elegy to soundcloud rap’s opioid generation, penned in delicious midi banjo and ‘Wonderwall’ (I know, sorry) evocation of bittersweet release. On that topic, have you heard Lil Peep’s posthumous ‘yesterday’ release, which heavily samples the notorious Oasis track? I can’t stop excruciating myself on pleasurable re-listening, like in this a parallel loop of vicarious comedown anxiety. I’ve also been rinsing the new Phoebe Bridgers album, Punisher, which was released on Dead Oceans back in June. I had the pleasure of interviewing Phoebe ahead of her debut in 2017, and since then she’s gone from strength to strength (including forming supergroup boygenius with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus and Better Oblivion Community Centre with Conor Oberst) and this album, with its all star super cast of indie contributors (from Christian Lee Hutson to Matt Berninger) is a near-perfect, multidimensional record of melancholy, haunting, heartbreak, late-capitalist dystopia and homage to Elliott Smith. Jason Molina’s work (especially his stuff with Magnolia Electric Co. but also Let Me Go, Let Me Go, Let Me Go) was with me throughout the darker episodes of lockdown, and it was a delight to find out Secretly Canadian are releasing Eight Gates, a posthumous album of recordings Molina made in London a few years ago. ‘Farewell Transmission’ is just about my favourite song in the world, but there are some lesser known releases such as the Travels in Constants EP which are worth checking out. Old-time favourites that loop around for me include Judee Sill, Connie Converse, Karen Dalton. They conjure long winding roads and the sense of a countryside I can’t quite otherwise access right now. I was running a workshop series, Pop Matters, alongside Conner Milliken in the earlier weeks of lockdown and that meant I got to run-through some pop favourites from my old iPod - from Lorde to Björk, Phoebe Bridgers to FKA twigs. But also just going on power walks to German techno, all the while muttering a litany of fuck it fuck it fuck it, has been part of lockdown survival. Oh, and Grouper because the minimalism, murmuration and analogue quality of her recordings evokes for me this tender portal from cassette to somewhere vast, empty in the distant midwest of my indie heart.

RW: Perennially, András Schiff playing Bach, Chet Baker, Dexter Gordon. This morning, Mary Lou Williams’ 1975 album Free Spirits. In the last few months, we’ve been loving the sweeping and swelling of Weyes Blood’s Front Row Seat to Earth and Mariee Sioux’s Grief in Exile, both providing for us an expansive otherworldiness that seems to conjure the milky white early evening light of the American south west that we miss so very much… and in their beautifully rounded out, warm vocals I hear the echoes of all my 1970s loves, Judee Sill, Judy Collins, and even my dad’s favourite, Nana Mouskouri. My listening has been generally towards this kind of dreamscape music, full and melodic rather than clattering or loud, even if I’ve had moments of wanting cacophony or hard beats (I’ve found it harder in the last few years to keep up with new music than new writing, for the aforementioned childcaring reasons, I very often I live a sound off life). And always Björk, especially early Björk -- the Sugarcubes’ ‘Hit’ came to mind almost immediately with lockdown; I’ve always been elated by ‘Hyperballad’, and never more so than in 2020….

Every morning I walk towards the edge
And throw little things off
Like car-parts, bottles and cutlery
Or whatever I find lying around
It's become a habit
A way to start the day

 MINERALS

 What about older books not published in the last few years that you always find yourself returning to?

MS: Anything by Clarice Lispector, especially Àgua Viva, although A Breath of Life happened to be the last book I purchased IRL before lockdown (shoutout to Craig in Waterstones!). I find all her novels so affirming, addictive, exhilarating, dreamlike and strange. Plus Hélène Cixous’ commentaries on Lispector’s work are just glorious as critical performances of close reading, listening and feeling into. She’ll have these great riffing subtitles like, ‘To See the Egg: The Passion According to the Chicken’. She really stays close to the texts at hand and it’s easy to get entangled in the snare of her sentences. We’ve obviously been thinking about metaphors of fabric and thread in relation to the weird folds (Rhian also wove me a gorgeous wall hanging for my birthday!), and Cixous, along with Lisa Robertson, is great for thinking about thought, subjectivity and textuality through notions of thread, tension, knot and ravelling. Fred Moten’s work, especially The Service Porch and The Feel Trio are constantly lying dog-eared around my room; I saw him give a few readings and talks at Arika last year, which was incredible. And his work is just so rich and endlessly generative, this whole jazz of language and reference and slide. It’s also pretty sexy.

I know we’ve talked about aligning twentieth century philosophers with twenty-first century social media platforms, Rich. ‘I feel like post-Marxism is a tumblr thing’. You said, ‘Derrida would never emerge from the labyrinth of his own performative Facebook settings’ and I was like, ‘derrida is so myspace’. I stand by that (DW - That whole exchange sounds like a conversation from the Gilmore Girls if they 'rebooted' it for locked down times, Maria). Remember in Gilmore Girls when Rory’s been at Yale for like, less than a month and she already has a Derrida poster in her room? I mean, that’s influencer territory. Anyway, I find myself returning again and again to The Post Card (1980), especially the Envois, which is this selection of postcards featuring Derrida’s elliptical musings on love, desire, writing, secrecy, impossibility. He writes:

Let everything become a post card again, they will have only post cards from me, never the true letter, which is reserved uniquely for you […] a letter, at the very instant when it takes place […] divides itself, puts itself into pieces, falls into a post card. Well yes, this is our tragic lot, my sweet love, the atrocious lottery, but I begin to love you on the basis of this impossibility; the impasse devoted to fate cannot leave us to await anything from a chance to see it open itself one day.

I guess in lockdown I got really interested in the form of the missive, of address, of the push and pull of desire between messaging and being absent-present for each other, without physical touch. On MySpace there used to be these bulletin boards, and you’d often write things on them (sometimes answering very personal quizzes) which gave the appearance of a general address but maybe within them you’d bury some kind of secret message, an intimate, knowing glance towards someone in particular you hoped would read it. All those kinds of elliptical slide and deciphering seem lost on the public and promotional fields of algorithmic platforms such as Facebook.

Finally, Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle (1948) was a childhood favourite for me, and I always reread the section set at the summer solstice around mid-June, as a kind of comforting ritual. This year I slept with seven different wildflowers under my pillow and managed to dream of the future, and woke up with the phantom taste of cherry brandy in my mouth, vague rasp of a gramophone and smell of woodsmoke.

RW: We’ve loved having time this year for lots and lots of reading aloud, so the older books I’ve been returning to have been from formative times, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Enid Blyton, Dylan Thomas, Lucille Clifton, Ezra Jack Keats. Fay Ringold’s books for children are a recent find for us. Wilder and Blyton are such good engagers of child-age imagination, which feels like a very good way into the complex, difficult, stimulating conversations that their books just have to spark. These books have upsetting elements, but they are subtle. Reading them in 2020 provides excellent mental workout, perturbation, genuine joy, and some hilarity. We love talking about them as much as reading them. For my own sustenance, I’m always returning to Kathleen Stewart’s Ordinary Affects (Duke University Press, 2007); to cookery writing by Elizabeth David, Claudia Roden, family recipes from Wales, Brazil, Mexico, Portugal; to old helpmeets like Mary Thomas’s Knitting Book; field guides to birds, trees, weeds, and wildflowers; to Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (one of the very best writers on the home, living spaces, fabrics, clothes, food, plants); to Gloria Anzaldúa’s peerless, Borderlands / La Frontera: The New Mestiza. And always to Tom Leonard.

Any songs, albums, music genres that you are currently dangerously addicted to?

MS: A potent cocktail of Death Grips, vaporwave classics and lovely, intimate poetry recordings people have sent me (always craving more tbh). Actually, Noname’s irresistible blend of lullaby RnB with fierce social commentary and sexual assertion has been on repeat, plus Porridge Radio for nourishing shouty indie. Spotify keeps throwing up black midi for my summer rewind and I guess those mad, dissonant math rhythms will do some kind of reset hit to the brain, and then a smooth, ecstatic comedown to Free Love’s Extreme Dance Anthems (2019). Joni Mitchell at dawn, Angel Olsen at park dusk, Pleasure Pool for when the moon comes out and you want to dance…

RW: Continuing my running theme, I’m not so much ‘addicted’ to, but perhaps medicated by ‘music for children’. Obviously all music is for children, but we have been listening to albums put together for very young ears, and I’ve found many that are actually welcome earworms. Elizabeth Mitchell’s albums (sometimes made with Lisa Loeb and others) remind me of my granddad as she sings many old Wobblies songs and you’re never too young to understand that workers of the world must unite. We love Ella Jenkins’ exhortations to sing; Willie Nelson’s Rainbow Connection, Cerys Matthews’ hymns in Welsh. And, not exactly for children (although enjoyed by them, I’m sure), but always appreciate a kitchen dance to The Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs; 2020’s Quickies is as Merritt-ish as ever. My main listening genre this year has been podcasts though, from fantastic independents such as Shade Podcast, or our own Maria and friends on SPAM’s URL Sonata to specific episodes from the big beasts: Ocean Vuong or Resmaa Menakem on On Being; brontë velez on For the Wild; Jamaica Kincaid on Cultivating Place; and the essential listen, ‘The Out Crowd’ from This American Life, first radio programme ever to win to a Pulitzer.

How’s your eyesight? Seen anything good lately? Films, books, posters, photographs or any other such visual things?

MS: I found it pretty hard to watch stuff during lockdown (hey, how come people on tv get to touch each other??) but some highlights were Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Todd Hayne’s Safe, Léonor Sérraille’s Jeune Femme, Mia Hansen-Løve’s Goodbye First Love, Arnaud Desplechin’s Rois et reine. Also the latest series of Better Call Saul, and Uncut Gems. The last thing I saw at the cinema before lockdown was Craig Roberts’ beautiful Eternal Beauty, which was so tender and full of colour and humour and sorrow. As for artwork, I’ve been joyfully perusing the artist Kazland’s book Something about Snakes, devouring everything Sophy Hollington does and relishing scrolls through illustrator Douglas Pattison’s Tumblr archive and Jack O'Flynn’s Instagram.

RW: Ayla Dmyterko’s Solastalgic Soliloquy, with commentary by Ranjana Thapalyal, is just gorgeous. The only full length film I’ve attempted during lockdown is the Safdie brothers’ Uncut Gems, which was pretty wild. The new Almodóvar is on my list, if I get a chance of uninterrupted time with the TV. Obviously exhibitions have been off the agenda this year, but I was thrilled to buy a painting of mustangs by Glasgow artist Edward Henry a few weeks ago, who shows through Project Ability (you can see their exhibition archive online though), so that is enlivening our visual sense. And I just hoover up Instagram for visual stimulation… so so much there. Just a few: Amy Todman, The Menagerie Archive, Colette Kerr, Hanna Tuulikki, Design for Today, Finea Studio, Hana Rubi, Margaret Salmon… Most important thing I could say though is, for truth about visual culture and the art world, you *need* The White Pube.

SUPPLEMENTS

Tell us a little bit about the fitness regime behind your most recent work. How was it written? How long did it take? What is it about? Should people buy it? Will it be good for people?

RW: I hope it will be good for people! It has lots of reason to be -- it is full of such richness, such talent, such vitally oblique angles. It manifests ecology to me… As an anthology, it sits hovering somewhere between ‘writing’ and ‘pulling together’. It has been such collaborative joy, begun and sustained by Maria’s wonderful generosity and razor sharp intellect. I guess it was written through conversation, through exchange, through sharing ideas. We thought of the call for submissions as a kind of ‘calling in’ of vibrant voices, of influences; it was so amazing to be able to pull on the threads of some of the most inspirational eco/everyday work we’ve come across by stitching quotes from Kathryn Yusoff, Kathleen Stewart, Christine Sharp, Anna Tsing together in a call that could then ring out to phenomenal writers from across the UK. As we continued to communicate with our contributors, and to read their work, we were thinking about seasonality and time, sifting and weaving, pace and enthusiasm.  It was generated through email, twitter, instagram… and has come together into this multilayered, beautiful paperform, guided by Rich and Vicky at Dostoyevsky Wannabe, with all their expertise and design talent. It’s a glittering thing and I hope lots of people will invest in it, will find nourishment, inspiration, recognition, and succour indeed in its manifestation of our anthropocenic everyday.

MS: Everything Rhian said! Time means ~nothing~ anymore anyway, but it took the time stolen between the days and the time of email and generous response and slid-in DMs and poetry magic. I could not have done it without Rhian’s eye for detail, admin skillz and warmth, not to mention her incredible capacity for thought, wit and bountiful reading. It was such a lovely process from start to almost-end really, and a privilege to have some of my favourite UK writers, friends and comrades pulled together in this bouquet of strange anthropocenic poetics, fugitive lyric and refusal. Experts say reading this work will increase your capacity for solarity, photosynthesis and the digestion of nourishing Earth minerals - is that how a human body works? I’m thinking of something Madeline Gins writes in WORD RAIN:

I give you this book for a present. It comes with a room, light, a country, sky and weather. I will arrange for you to be made aware of these in detail. You may look at everything. You will see only what I see. Look at this sentence.

The poetry in this anthology does that. It gets you really close to the line, the space; so close you can taste the weather of multiple daylights, times. Tim Morton’s foreword is also a heady shot of critical vitamins, to help stave off eco-theory-fatigue.

 What next? Any new and totally nutritious writing projects on the horizon and can you tell us about them or are they a secret?

RW: My academic experience has made me wary of ‘projects’! For now, I’m just remaining open, working on a bit of this, a bit of that. Always so happy to hear of new ideas and suggestions, trying to read as much as I can, listen, keep writing, making, looking, growing. We’ll see…

MS: MS: Still in the midst of my PhD at the University of Glasgow, but otherwise procrastinating that with a couple new pamphlets coming out in the next year with OrangeApple Press, If A Leaf Falls and Guillemot, which I’m really excited about...and there’s a book of feline poems of error and break to come maybe next summer, I think you know about that one...Also compiling a dream book to maybe self-publish with Kirsty Dunlop, and fred spoliar and I have been working on collaborative poem, sans soleil. And with A+E Collective, I’m lucky to be working with some great artists, solarpunk academic Rhys Williams and the anthropologists Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer on a collaborative project on low-carbon pleasure for COP26. Mostly though, I wanna draw better — having a daily drawing practice in lockdown was kinda like a drip-drip serotonin feed. I just love colour so much!

Thanks both. 

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the weird folds: everyday poems from the anthropocene, Edited by Maria Sledmere and Rhian WIlliams (with a Foreword by Timothy Morton) is out soon from Dostoyevsky Wannabe.