“No Man’s Land”
“Scale of Magnitude”
“No Man’s Land”
“Scale of Magnitude”
SCARLET began as a digital visual/poetic meditation on the fractured state of psyche induced by extended social isolation under COVID-19 lockdown. The project has since evolved to document the social disruption of the pandemic as we move through its various mutations and surges.
The digital/visual poems are created through erasure of the novel The Scarlet Plague collaged with glitched imagery from everyday life during the pandemic. The titles of poems in the series are then derived from objects contained in each glitched still life.
Glitching is a technique that introduces errors into the code of a digital file or stream that distorts its presentation. The error-induced fracturing of images in SCARLET is intended to defamiliarize everyday objects and surroundings to reflect the psyche under the constant stress of the pandemic.
The Scarlet Plague is a post-apocalyptic novel by Jack London, published in 1912, set in California during the year 2073, after the world’s population is decimated by an uncontrollable pandemic.
“The history that resides within me speaks not only of actions that have happened once, in the distant past, it speaks of actions that have repeated themselves to the point of erasure. The history that resides within me speaks of trees, rivers, wounds, hands.”
This erasure project (provisionally collected as ECO ling) unfolded in late spring of 2021 — begun on the day I underlined the above passage in Christina Tudor-Sideri’s extraordinary meditation, Under the Sign of the Labyrinth (Sublunary Editions).
The history that resides within me speaks of actions that have repeated themselves to the point of erasure.
Over the past several years, I had begun to realize that the unease I’d felt in the U.S. had a familiar feel to it — a particular rhyming of history. For many white South Africans of my generation who left home during the height of Apartheid, the story —privileged, definitely; naive, probably — is usually a story of leaving that terrible form of erasure behind, for something better. But the unease, violence, division, erasure, and political manipulation of the Trump Age made the old suspicions clear, once and for all. I’d left nothing behind.
In that mindset, early 2021, I began questioning directions in my poetic work. By which forensic process could I free voices (“speaking of trees, rivers, wounds, hands”) from the closed texts of my childhood, from the colonial, post-colonial, and Apartheid-era language and history of my country of birth? I followed various paths to new questions, if not answers.
At the same time, my wife — a designer — had been reading about the cyanotype photograms of English photographer and botanist Anna Atkins while using Northern California sunlight to create her own cyanotype record, on fabric, of the plants and flowers growing in our garden, and collected on our hikes on Mount Tamalpais.
I wanted in on the printmaking action. Especially one focused on recording absence in presence.
At that point, poet and translator Norma Cole and I were more than a year into a meandering, glorious, easy conversation that transpired day after day, almost entirely via texts between us. In counterpoint to the isolation and dread pervading that time, our daily conversation created a world in which we found shelter, and from which came a series of collaborative poems (Briefings) which I then printed in cyanotype.
One day, while waiting for a set of Briefings to dry, I grabbed a copy of Rudyard Kipling stories that I hadn’t opened in years — tales of empire — and tore a page from one story whose title had always troubled me. A Second Rate Woman. I saw ECO in the title and LING in the name — and began a process of erasure using pencil and the chemical paints that, once exposed to sunlight, would turn sky blue.
My work on the remaining erasures occurred daily against the backdrop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict of May, 2021, and in the larger collection of ECO lings, about two dozen pieces all told, I feel that echo among all the other threads and concerns described above.
Kipling was a regular visitor to Cape Town (later, my childhood home), guest of another champion of empire, Cecil Rhodes, in a residence that is now part of the University of Cape Town.
In 2015, a memorial to Rhodes was removed from the UCT campus after protests by student activists. I do not know what sits in its place.
—an erasure of Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady
a smile of welcome a zone of fine June weather
a territorial fact native land a character
a queer country across the sea the rosebud in a buttonhole
these words of not perfect loose thinker
fell in love with novel’s fancy phrase in a windless place
I offer myself to you light turned into exhalation
caught in a vast cage
Her ambiguities composed all of the same flower. Fertile. Flourished. A fault of her own. It might feed her. Like a small hand. A kind of coercive. Not neglect. A negative, imaginatively, already existing. Her eyes prettiest. The day that I speak of. The short grass. A shorter undulation. A handful put into water—an image. “To bring you to this house.” Isabel listened to this.
a need to be easily renounced
hampered at every neither father nor mother
poor and of a serious not pretty hundreds of miles of
“I’ll go home” the masses of furniture hid her face
in her arms like the payment for a stamped receipt
aspiring murmur a threat refused three times
conceals from you America diverted by a novel
“A marriage,” said Isabel, “is not at all large.” In her lucidity, no light to spare.
a witness not struck with smooth woman
the fluttered flapping quality of the sadness now settling
empty; but no one invited her not the least little child
Meager synthesis, impossible dinner. Inviting “them”—as something so literal, stupid. To be honest as most people, equally honest, flattering herself. Irresistible need living in the upper air, up a steep staircase perpendicular to husband. Wishes as good as straps and buckles. Devoted evening—“I’ve never given anyone else a mistake as perfect.”
take care heart take care
do you know where you are drifting?
Under the influence of to marry, hands laid on. “Lay them on yourself.” A woman thinks she may doubt time. It came over her in uttering. A wounded face expresses nothing. The master; the mistress.
ah, don’t say that
the most charming young
only proves she wants
she wants proposition
Her dresses, her falsehoods. “What do you mean by ‘people’?” “Servants whom you pay?” “They’re human beings.” “Are there any women?” “You can buy me off.” “Take care of me.” “I submit.” And this was the only conversation, unpleasantly perverse, like the stricken deer.
I loved a pricey device
for igniting a bomb,
free of purpose,
intent, more just
winging it, feathery
accessory, accessory, accessory.
Yes, they’re trendy.
Yes, they’re made
of gold. Unparalleled, they are
Yeah, I know money
the muzzle, money
the moan. I know—
I loved a loaded woman.
I already gave you
& the abortion
& my jiggle
of egg, milk & sweet.
I know that mansion
& I know
she laid out
in the sun. It was
an inelegant tow rope
I wore & I know
she derided me, a thousand
times she jeered.
You’re only half
here, I submit.
Your cough, adorable
as a bullet, walking
like fending off
a bull. A bird
the accidental inmate
of a cardboard box.
I spun no feathers
around your neck.
I pray to see
before it sees me. It prays
to see me
and gasping for breath.
The erasure-palimpsests that appear below each poem carry echoes of the original poems while also showing these two languages coexisting within the same lines, the same words. This is my own small way of trying to unbuild the wall between us and our neighbors to the south.
These poems retain the original titles of the source texts, poems by Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, William Carlos Williams, Frank O’Hara and Robert Frost.
within geological strata
toss them into
All of them
erasure, Anne Rice, Taltos, p.10
Pinnae segments from fertile fronds, Sensitive Fern, Onoclea sensibilis
tracing the path of particles
empire of paper
erasure, Anne Rice, Taltos, p. 470
simple leaves, Pincushion Moss, Leucobryum glaucum
mixed and ready,
dying in the air.
dark and distinct,
erasure, Anne Rice, Taltos, p. 120
capsules and berries, Japanese Spindle and Privet, Euonymous japonica and Ligustrum compactum
This series of erasures use the Anne Rice novel Taltos as their source text. I elected to perform these erasures using plant materials as a way of celebrating and mourning our current ecological state; the breakneck speed of climate change and globalization is easily observed by those working in horticulture and conservation. These plants represent both native plants that are threatened by habitat loss and the non-natives that are replacing them. In selecting materials for these erasures, I looked for plants that were accessible in the New England landscape during the month of October, and sought diversity of form, texture, colour, and botanical structures.
These erasures of poems from Simone Muench’s Wolf Centos are part of a larger manuscript in which I am systematically erasing the wolf from Wolf Centos. The conceit is that Muench’s book has been recently declassified, but like all declassified government documents, any sensitive (or damning) information has been blacked out.