“I eventually chose to respond to an anecdote he told about his five-year-old daughter walking off in a park. Instead of telling her to come back he started following her, wondering what she was thinking about. This went on for about an hour, during which she never looked back, and when she finally did, it was clear to him that she had never doubted he was behind her.”
Since most of my work is process-led, writing a poem often equates to creating a new system, and working with new types of source material. In this sense, perhaps my way of writing a poem relates to the concerns driving me to develop these different processes more than it does to one particular method. Thinking about how I write a poem leads me to consider what draws me to text as a medium and, more specifically, my engagement with listening, reading and writing through making.
Spoken text was my initial way into writing, and I still largely prefer to experience poetry through listening rather than reading. When I first started writing poetry I was trying to write a play. Having grown thoroughly frustrated with my attempts at producing dialogue, and eventually realising that I wasn’t interested in or ready to commit to a plot, I discarded the idea of the play and was left with a set of texts that were written to be said. My projects now engage with the possible relationships between text’s visual and sonic states, and the gaps between them. Most of my writing is still meant to be voiced, and my visual works often function as scores for performance. This emphasis has led me to develop writing processes that involve listening as much as they do reading and writing. The relationships between these three approaches to text have become increasingly fluid, leading me to work with listening as reading, reading as writing, and listening as writing.
I found myself replacing reading with listening when I was invited to respond to the work of the Austrian writer Peter Handke as part of ‘Illuminations’, held at the Austrian Cultural Forum. This invitation coincided with a period in which I was very busy making an edition of artist books. This particular project required me to spend several days performing very repetitive and precise gestures. As a result I had very little time to dedicate to reading Peter Handke. I had seen one of his plays, and it had left a strong impression, but I now needed to somehow re-immerse myself into his work without interrupting my time-consuming book making. I was lucky enough to find four hours of recorded interviews of his on a French radio station. I listened to them for several days while cutting and binding, occasionally jotting down ideas on post-it notes stuck to the corner of my cutting mat. I eventually chose to respond to an anecdote he told about his five-year-old daughter walking off in a park. Instead of telling her to come back he started following her, wondering what she was thinking about. This went on for about an hour, during which she never looked back, and when she finally did, it was clear to him that she had never doubted he was behind her. This anecdote became central to my response, which I called ‘Handke Variations’.
Another way I write poems involves reading as writing. I always find transcribed speech fascinating, its awkwardness on the page gives it the potential to provoke multiple new meanings. This has led me to write several poems by reading transcriptions, using a kind of deliberate digital cut-up technique. I’ve used this process in many of my project, often with transcriptions of YouTube videos or recorded conversations. My poem ‘before Say’, for example was written by interweaving three compositions drawn from a conversation between two designers how they would go about creating a poetry machine.
I have also used processes involving a more performative or participatory kind of reading as writing. My project ‘just promise you won’t write’ uses online conversations as found material. The text is then physically shredded, letting the random way in which the shreds fall on the page create new textual compositions. This project exists both as a book of scanned shreds and a performance in which I shred and read the same material. In a sense, when faced with these piles of fragments each reader is led to re-write their own version of the text through their sequential reading. Similarly I re-write a new version of the piece every time I perform it, through the ways in which I choose to sequence the fragments out loud in the moment.
I have also started exploring a third kind of approach through which listening becomes a form of writing. I had started similar experiments by eavesdropping on several conversations at once in a pub, but I really started developing it when I produced ‘Fickle Quicklime’, a piece which was written in response to Belgian poet Henri Michaux. Listening to a French radio program about Michaux’s work, I was struck by one of the critic’s remarks. In his opinion, Michaux was so averse to any static notion of language that it felt quite counter-intuitive to discuss his work — as they were — in this linear way, using full sentences. I took this as an incentive to write my response by listening to five French radio shows about Michaux at once, simultaneously transcribing and translating the fragmented mix of discourses I heard directly into English. In this instance, the writing emerged as a kind of documentation of what I managed to grasp by listening, or the ways I chose to listen in the moment. Perhaps this offers an example of how a way of engaging with poems and a relationship to poetry can shape an approach to process.
Here is a link to watch/listen to two of my performances of ‘Handke Variations’: https://iriscolomb.com/PROJECTS/HANDKE-VARIATIONS
Here is a link to read ‘before Say’: https://www.tentacularmag.com/issue-1-text-2/iris-colomb
Here is a link to my project ‘just promise you won’t write’: https://iriscolomb.com/PROJECTS/JUST-PROMISE-YOU-WON-T-WRITE
Here is a link of my first performance of ‘Fickle Quicklime’: