Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Aaron Tucker : My (Not) Writing Day

I spend most of my days not writing, even during the time I dedicate to write. This is the initial tension in my creative practice: there is a need to produce a sort of automatic writing, a psychography, as a means of coordinating my life that is then contrasted to the deliberate and slow choices that go into my creative work. On the one hand, I write constantly: I write emails, write text messages, pepper my social medias, write comments on students’ works, write notes in the margins to what I am reading, write lists to myself about the writing I need to complete. On the other hand, I do very little writing: I read, I revise, I re-read. There is a lot of non-writing that gets done before I can wring out a cautious poem of a page or two of a novel.

Some days I exist between those two poles of writing constantly and not-writing, setting up machines to do my writing for me. A number of my recent poetic projects deliberately involve little to no writing: Jody Miller and I co-created an app that translates chess games into poems (; I published a version of this as a collection of poetry, having not written a single poem within it, titled irresponsible mediums (introduction by Jennifer Shahade; Inspired by a performance between John Cage and Marcel Duchamp which translated one of their games of chess into a musical score in real time (, irresponsible mediums translates all the chess games of Marcel Duchamp into poems. Similarly, Loss Sets is a project wherein Jordan Scott and I co-wrote poems, which are then translated, by a python script I wrote, into data points, which are then made into 3D models and then printed using a 3D printer ( I’m thinking here of Raymond Queneau’s Cent mille milliards de poèmes and the idea of writing as raw material that is then enacted through a process of bricolage and recombination. My writing day is then built partly around setting up games and conceits and computer programs that will help me eventually produce writing, and I’ve come to think of the two projects as in line with an OULIPO-driven production, writing set around constraint that is in part algorithm and mechanized, with the process of rearrangement of words and phrases outsourced, but with the interpretative and conceptual aspects of my writing day still rooted inside my “human” brain. Yet, again, much of that involves very little writing: it is reading and researching, it is meetings over coffee, it is phone calls, it is fiddling with the 3D printers, it is waiting, it is posting to Instagram while I am waiting, and then it is waiting some more.

Even when I am engaged with a more “traditional” creative writing project, I still spend most of my time collaborating rather than writing. I speak and write with other writers, writing, emailing and talking on the phone, the exchange of our days and thoughts feeding into the work that is done later; there are the events to attend, to hear others read and then to have a beer or two and talk more. There is the collaboration with my machine co-species, the printers, my laptops, the virtual networks that let me see and hear across the globe, to find all the reading and scraps of information I might need. My writing morning, day and evening are therefore very porous, with all the parts of my writing ecosystem circulating through, all interdependent, all compiling into the work I eventually produce and give away. The objects of my work space become collaborators. I’m thinking now of my desk, one of the stereotypical metaphors of a writer’s life. It’s a wonderful tableau that includes a begonia, a green plastic ape printed at the Chicago Zoo, a piece of Trinite, all the talismen and trappings an altar to writing needs. When I begin my glacial movements towards writing, I start by surrounding myself with objects and books that evoke an emotion in me, a time in my life, a person, a concept, a piece (of poetry, of prose, of sculpture, of painting) that resonates. The Trinite, for example, was deeply important to me as I finished my novel Y (Coach House Books, Spring 2018), a retelling of J. Robert Oppenheimer’s problematic leadership of the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, New Mexico. The Trinite is a piece of fused sand, glassed over in parts and molted green, from the original Trinity Test of the first atomic bomb blast. Part of my writing day was hunting online for such an artifact, filling out the order form, waiting for it to arrive in the mail; once it arrived, part of my writing day was picking it up, feeling the grain of it at the tips of my fingers.

When I do enact the small moments of actual writing, I sit, and I look at the things on my desk and then, once all my emails are answered and my intelligent phone is out of my reach, I fall into a routine that requires all these things, a daily movement back and forth from this station, with far more time is spent away from it, than at it. Personally, to write well, or at least something I can begin to work into something I might be eventually satisfied with, I usually read for at least an hour, on my couch, at my deck, over breakfast at a diner, a book of poetry, a novel, maybe a magazine article, I read and fill my head with words and phrases and arguments, and when my brain pauses, I think about what I want to write later that day, in reaction.  When I finally come to sit down, I will read what I wrote the day before, spend at least a half hour editing and re-reading. Then, and only then, do I begin, and I will write until I’ve exhausted myself, will then shift my energies back to the other whirling words and people and objects that make a day begin and end then repeat.  

Aaron Tucker is the author of two books of poetry, irresponsible mediums: the chesspoems of Marcel Duchamp (Bookthug Press) and punchlines (Mansfield Press), as well as the forthcoming novel Y (Coach House Books, Spring 2018). His current collaborative project, Loss Sets, translates poems into sculptures which are then 3D printed (; he is also the co-creator of The ChessBard, an app that transforms chess games into poems ( In addition, he has written two scholarly monographs: Virtual Weaponry: The Militarized Internet in Hollywood War Films and Interfacing with the Internet in Popular Cinema (both with Palgrave Macmillan). Currently, he is a lecturer in the English department at Ryerson University where he is teaching creative writing and academic writing to first year students.

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