Thursday, July 19, 2018

Julia Polyck-O'Neill : Small Press Writing Day

This is a special edition of my writing day, written in my loft apartment in Mainz-Kastel, which is surprisingly nice and an ideal writing retreat, with high ceilings and bright windows, clean white walls like pages. Drafted in the Rhine air with trains blurring by, with blurry parakeets darting from branch to branch outside my window. This writing day expires this summer, when I will return back to my shared abode in Toronto, where the wail of sirens and the distraction of almost-daily reading events and a constant need for groceries will blend with my clumsy, happenstance poetics.

My writing is vagrant, occupies the spare moments between other deadlines. I’ve put the coffee on because this is the first step in getting to the place. The morning is a blank page, blank time, and sometimes the writing happens here, but often it happens after the other work is done. Writing here blends with research and teaching in ways that feel new and urgent, because I’ve never had a full-time academic job before, and even though I’m busier than I’ve ever been, I still want the writing to happen, and the writing also wants to happen. Writing happens over milky morning coffee, or it happens over tea, later. I’m teaching my grad students how to write and I listen in on my own lectures, taking notes. My students are surprised to learn I write (para-academically, creatively) and a few of them have come to me for writing advice. I’m never sure that I’m as helpful as I’d like to be; I tell them what I know and what I know they can eventually know themselves, I tell them about MFAs (uncommon in Germany) and writing residencies and workshops; I tell them to read and read and take notes; I tell them to attend readings and buy books and talk to the writers, have them sign the books because then the books become fetishes for the altar. These meetings turn my thoughts to my own writing, and often I find myself writing or revising in my apartment those evenings, cheating on my other deadlines because I remember that writing feeds everything else.

My writing happens on a laptop, desktop jammed with powerpoints and open articles, and this is how ideas bleed from document to document, text to text. I love words, but I mostly love ideas, and bringing these together is what I do in almost every writing context. I write for myself unless someone invites me to write for them, and this has led me down a shy path, quiet and gentle. I write to steel myself for the times I will open an email to learn that not everything I write is lucky or destined for celebration, and I also write mostly for myself, which worries me because my thinking often seems, to me, quite eccentric. Teaching students to write well helps, but I still have this alien brain.

I live in (Mainz-) Kastel and I work over the Rhine in Mainz. Kastel, a former part of Mainz,  became a part of Wiesbaden, the capital of the federal state of Hesse, in 1945, after American occupiers ordered the city be melded into the administration of Wiesbaden. Mainz itself is the capital of the federal state of Rhineland Palatinate. I cross state lines daily, visible to me only via the competing addresses on state paycheques and notices from the Landeshauptstadt, on the bus or on foot, often thinking about how I can feel this area’s history in my body, and I’ve found myself processing this in my poetry, though in ways that reflect the emotional weight of war, a certain rawness, and not in misconstrued narratives. Today (I wrote this in the past, on June 12, 2018) is Anne Frank Day in nearby Frankfurt (also in Hesse), for instance, and I remember my English teacher reading us passages from her diary, as we sat in our large featureless classroom in Whitehorse, Yukon, listening without comprehending, beautifully and callously without the possibility of comprehending. I often write to channel the affect of either the mystery of non-comprehension or the horrors of comprehension, and the places in between. I write to deflect or to absorb.

I write with my body, and to do so I have been established a bodily practice. My writing day means I need to stretch, and I have a basic Vinyasa yoga routine that gets me to a place where my sitting or lounging with my laptop is less likely to twist my body into a broken shape. I write to deflect or absorb, but my body mostly absorbs, so I need to wring it out. My window parakeets know this, and when I surface between paragraphs, I often stretch, work on my balance. I woke up one day a few years ago and noticed I had a body, so have been learning to care for it, and not just as an encasement for my preoccupied mind. By this point I’ve opened files and started compiling materials for my lectures, have opened and perhaps responded to emails, have participated in the networks and networked thinking that this life asks of me, so a return to my body is also a way to turn to the private space of poetry. I listen to my own advice and take the time to read; sometimes this means taking account of my emotions and cataloguing the poems (of others, of myself) that help me better know how I feel. This process is intellectual but it is also of and for the body, here in my bright calm apartment. I dabble in yoga and I also run, and this is where the rhythms are worked out in six or ten kilometer increments. Writing is also always not writing, just as reading asks us to breathe between lines or stanzas or as we turn the page.

Julia Polyck-O’Neill is an artist, curator, critic, and writer. She is a doctoral candidate in Brock University’s Interdisciplinary Humanities program, where she is completing a SSHRC-funded interdisciplinary and comparative critical study of contemporary conceptualist literature and art in Vancouver. She has taught in art history and contemporary visual culture, and is currently a visiting lecturer and scholar in Transnational American Studies at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. Her writing has been published in B.C. Studies, Feminist Spaces, dusie, Tripwire, Train, Where is the river, Fermenting Feminisms (a project of the Laboratory for Aesthetics and Ecology, curated by Lauren Fournier), The Avant Canada Anthology (WLU Press, forthcoming 2018), and is co-editing a special issue of the journal Canadian Literature with Gregory Betts. Her debut chapbook, femme, was published in 2016 by above/ground press; her second, Everything will be taken away, also from above/ground, will be published in August.

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