A Penny Dreadful is a complete book--every aspect lends to its reading. few books straddle the terrain of artist book, poetry and graphic novel while exhibiting the grace contained within these pages. perhaps what makes any of this possible is Gustave Morin's stance toward his project--an outlook that is applaudable, especially considering this is (was) Morin's first full length published work.
…impossible to trace the vicissitudes that first produced and then finally plunged these pages into the scarecrow-tome now before you. much friction has been weathered during this book’s journey up from the fire and through to the press to rest here as a fixed ruin with an invisible center that ought to hold. my taciturnity as an antenna owes everything to my poor ability to create those conditions that are necessary to write and so as a consequence i haven’t always been able to… suffice to say this mess has involved no less than a dozen different rooms in several cities across a span of eight? nine? ten? years… disruptions and interruptions not withstanding, the existential rubbish that populates and coats this book was at some point psychologically valid enough for me to invent and sometimes simply vent as this chronicle of hope and despair took shape and slowly became the present suite of keenly felt anti-social tropes mapping a reality that hasn’t always been of my choosing… this is, therefore, a book about the past, intended for the future and formally marks the end of my immature work. if i succumb to a literary life as seems inevitable, the best is yet to come. if, on the other hand (as i often wish) my literary life is but a phase – no more than a prelude to a better adventure, than a penny dreadful will become the psycho-biological skeleton key into a time during my turbulent youth when I trained my intelligence on the pseudo-infinity of the page. that there is nothing here now but the pulp testifies to the imbecility of bowing before the impossibility of the impossible…
[A Penny Dreadful, Introduction]
taken at face value, we have an all too rare honesty which announces the manufacturer/poet/artist working through two things: a quest for intellectual maturity and--in a metaphysical gesture--an attempt to work through/beyond a 'literary life'.
yes, some of the language is dramatic, but these are/were the words of someone coming--or trying to come--through the years of training their intelligence (adolescence). viewed through a lens of poetic history that includes overwrought teenagers (rimbaud) as canonized figures against which a poet is asked to measure, and rebel, themselves, Morin attempts to wrestle with this on his way to aesthetic maturity.
the other end of Morin's spiritual task is to attempt to move through a literary life, to see if like so much of adolescence, literature too is a phase. this is the most interesting aspect of A Penny Dreadful. it raises many issues: is their a 'type' of intelligence drawn to the literary? If so, it is plastic? to what extent can it be mapped? it also poses a question that many who never question their love of literature/art automatically cannot ask--why engage in such an activity? asking this question, of course, does not make one ethically superior, or give one an advantage--indeed it can only add to the crap/clutter which can only interfere with other pursuits (perhaps this explains why A Penny Dreadful was composed in 'no less than a dozen rooms in several cities'). yet, obviously, Morin is attracted to this work, for at least a decade of his life, and there is affirmation in such dedication, a nearly religious aspect that is equally commendable. between these two poles rests the testifying pulp.
kt: you have often written about (in the introduction and other modes) of what your writing will be like 'post-concrete', what do you anticipate there to be when you reach this point?
and, does this implicate that concrete can be exhausted as a field?
gm: first things first: i just want to say that in the 'intro' to p.dreddy, i allude to (for me, a personal) movement beyond literature completely and totally (as a desirable possibility) -- and this 'movement' does NOT refer to an exclusive position simply "beyond concrete"... any number of other possibilities are open, not least of which includes the utter abandonment of poetry altogether (a la rimbaud.)
i'm young, i'm obviously embedded in the cultural sector (and it doesn't seem like i'm going away) -- but i have NO MONEY, and therefore writing is the thing that i CAN do, (almost) most easily... with some money, however, other avenues could also very well open up to me, as i hope they will. for example (and i could cite plenty more), i could become involved in the project of monumentally realizing certain of my poems within the urban environment (a la ian hamilton finlay); OR, i could stop trying to make what i call 'paper films' and move into filmmaking proper... (least likely -- films are made by committee and i don't work well that way!); OR, i could give in to one of many of my more romantic notions and become a war-photographer, which is something i've deeply considered but have no actual idea how to approach logistically; OR, i could become absorbed in something that hitherto remains unknown to me due to my circumstantial blinders, a.k.a. my poverty. (for instance: i once had the chance to waterski and discovered, to my surprise and to everyone else present, that i had a natural aptitude for this. -- in other words, maybe there is a particular skill-set out there that i have yet to discover: i hope so!) that is what i meant.
i often feel as though my 'real work' hasn't started. i haven't really hit my stride. i'm still involved in what i might self-mockingly refer to as child's play, tiddleywinks or monkey shines. i have yet to plateau, have yet to repeat myself, have yet to even begin to think about coasting on the cliches of my own invention. a bit more money to secure a bit more time to write is what i most need at this stage in my life... (really !)
as for my 'writing' itself, insofar as i can say i am known for anything, concrete poetry is what i am known for. yet, concurrent with this development has grown up a body of private work in other modes -- "straight poetry", work in performance (which is writer-ly yet temporal and ephemeral), short fictions, a massive body of correspondence (obviously), et cetera -- but only the concrete itself has really been pushed in terms of my 'making public', my publishing. i'd like to think i'm no one trick pony. -- maybe this will be borne out over the course of my life?
a future forecast, (should i be lucky enough to be there): i can see myself further exploring my interest in narrative and writing what your mother would understand to be 'a novel'. (i HAVE, after all, already written one...) i can see myself reaching a point where my "straight poetry" is begun to be shared (which is only now slowly starting to happen). i can see my work in performance extending to further involvements with theatre and the like. i can see my work becoming (to cop a phrase) plastic-er and plastic-er, and my showing in galleries a lot more as a result, et cetera. all of these are extremely likely "when i reach that point post-concrete". but concrete in all ways is to always be my prime fundament.
so, "no, i don't believe that concrete as an idiomatic field can be exhausted." edwin denby wrote some beautiful sonnets in the 20th century; that is to say, at a time when sonnets were supposedly already exhausted. (i.e. were not wheels invented to be reinvented?) any of the old school poets who quit concrete just gave up, i think, because they had no business being there in the first place. (or, ((i'm feeling charitable)) they simply matured in ways that seemed right to them when they did quit.) i can say that as long as i am alive and writing i will continue to make concrete. i am STILL in process of DISCOVERING within my various investigations, the better part of 15 years into this muck. concrete at its best is both beautiful and profound, and i'm a big fan of things that are both beautiful and profound. that's not likely to exhaust itself. (and if it does, i give you permission to viciously slit my throat...)
kt: how do you approach creating your (visual) poems? that is, what separates these and makes them poems as opposed to visual art? what is the catalyst that makes you work in these terms instead of, say, wanting to type a justified left, (verbal) poem?
gm: when i write, if left to my own devices (ie. if my day is free and clear to compose), i tend to work from what we could call my files, my imagebank or my morgue, which has gone by the name 'stained paper archive' since 1993... these files contain, very simply, "things i have identified as things i want to say". all of this morgue-material is culled from the quote unquote 'real world'... viz: scraps of things that my writerly consciousness has located with an eye peeled to the contents of my future and as yet unwritten concrete. (these scraps could be things i found on the street, they could be clippings from magazines i happened to read while waiting for an appointment ((waiting rooms are chock full of magazines that i don't normally bother with)) they could come from a book i picked up at a garage sale, or they could be the fruit of one of my dumpster divings, et cetera. i am always working, even when i am 'not working'. and i work from this. i let the material speak for itself, with or without interference on my part, depending on what the material calls for.
a few rules i try to follow: one, i rarely spend money on the materials i employ, and if i do spend money, it is a very nominal amount, often less than a dollar. In this way i can trick myself into thinking that i am involved in an alchemical process, which i am. another rule i follow is that when my selection process has cornered a scrap, it stays in the file until it is used in some way, whether that be in a poem, or in a postcard or some other means of utilizing "these things i have identified as things i want to say", that is to say, i cling to these initial identifications as though they were bits of string and operate from the position that a piece of string, no matter how short, should never be discarded. consequently, some of the fragments i am working with go as far back as 1990, when these efforts began in earnest. (but truth be told, most of that year has been used up... my imagebank is about at 1996 now...) also in my files are many pieces that are stalled; a piece i started in 1994 may be missing the scrap i'm to find in 2008 and this is why it has not officially been completed, and published. of course, this is about as convoluted as processes get. and as methods go, there certainly are quicker! (I write very very slowly.) but i enjoy what i do, and i am happiest when wading through this muckamuck, my stained paper archive.
i would contend that the work i produce is writing very obviously because i am a writer -- and, right from my beginning, i've always been informed by "several marginal strains of literary activity" that i number in and among my many forebears. if i were merely an artist, my work would be on the walls of galleries and not in the pages of books and magazines. (in my experience, it is easier to exhibit than it is to publish... and needless to say, i have a masochistic streak running through both me and the life i lead. if it is easy, i'm not terribly interested in it as a pursuit, especially as concerns the culture i want to traffick in...)
i arrived at the "several marginal strains of literary activity" through a process that dropped me off at that point. when i began writing at the age of 15, my fairly perverse concerns quickly turned me to poetry (par for the course, or what?). i was very young, and i was eager to uncover for myself models that seemed worthy of emulation. once i became open to the idea of poetry, it only took about 2 years for me to discover the tradition of concrete poetry, and immediately it arrested me and impressed upon me the sense that this was to be the future of writing, (if only for myself), even though it was by then also already the past; a "has-been" literary movement of the 50's and 60's... from there, in almost no time at all, i was put in direct contact with some important living poets, all of whom then, as now, exert a strong influence on me, my work and my literary methods. by this point, i was 18, and i've been involved ever since. -- and it no longer seems relevant to bother convincing anyone that "what i do is writing", as opposed to 'just art' of the merely retinal variety. i'm none too concerned with what uninformed people think, about my work, as in life in general... semiotics is nearing the century mark as a 'science', enough is enough !
lastly, sometimes i do write with a justified left margin, though often that seems the last place i really want to open a poem -- if left to my own devices...
kt: i like the idea of alchemy--using the 'old' (stained paper archive) to create 'new' works...much like poets who are verbal as, unless they invent new words, are doing the same thing -- same for visual artists (to varying degrees).
however, since you, by your own admission, haven't hit your stride, is the stained paper archive a hindrance? perhaps you could walk me through a few of your newer works.
gm: i too like the idea of alchemy -- that's why its been dropped into this conversation. of course, its only a metaphor... (or is it? ¬ I have yet to find out... am i turning my lead into more lead? or will my lead one day be gold? ((the fruit of my work of the past 15 years has not really been all that golden, thus far -- i can say that... but, alas, i digress...)) AND, needless to say, the mysterious processes of literature do have a tendency to be slower than the wheels of justice -- and it is very very easy to give oneself over to impatience and frustration in the face of that, in this, our next-day-delivery sort of world...)
whether or no stained paper archive is in and of itself a hindrance to my 'further development' is a very serious question that i think about at least once a week, particularly when i get bogged down or find myself rueing the cul-de-sac-clusterfuck i am caught in... there is something seductive about casting it all aside; this archive has certainly done its small part to assist in destroying my life! but this is some double-edged sword, because it has also taught me a lot, and has simultaneously brought me much joy. so, can i be better for it and also worse for it, too? i don't know. i can't really imagine what all else i should be doing instead. i also know it is no more useful at this point for me to question this process any more than it is for a doctor to wonder if they are best serving their fellow citizens by practicing medicine. there are definite moments when I want to purchase a crate of black spraypaint and cover every piece of paper in my possession with its liquid noir. or torch the lot. but I don't, or haven't yet, because i'm deluded enough into believing that the work i'm involved in is important. or will one day be so. And maybe i'm not wrong? -- if i didn't make an allowance for that we would not be having this conversation. (if this could in fact be called a conversation.)
to answer your question, then, i'm not sure i can answer your question...
as for new work, it is new only when it appears for the first time, and more often than not, it is not in fact at all so new by then... when you came out to hear me read at the launch of carousel magazine in toronto this past september (2005), i gave you a book, 'american psycho', that was executed in collaboration with stephen cain. that was new as of july 2005 (though a few pieces went back to 90, 91, etc.) in carousel magazine itself, there was a piece called 'trog porridge' and that was also new (though it had been begun in 2000.) beyond that, i'm apprehensive to talk about things that are in their very early stages, such as the August Stramm project i am collaborating on with Marshall Hryciuk. this winter, my 5th book, The Etcetera Barbecue, is being brought out by Bookthug (of toronto also), and though it will be new, the manuscript has languished in my files since 2001, when it was written, and many of its texts were composed throughout the ninties. as i mentioned, i write very slowly and it often takes me years to complete "new work"... fortunately, we are not all of us over-producers.
in a more generalized sense, and to illustrate how my particular trajectory has progressed, my postcard activity has been a concern I only began to take seriously in the autumn of 2004, about one year ago. (though, again, i've been sending postcards off and on since around 1989.) similarly, i only began to re-examine the wonder of xerography in 2002, after nearly a decade of extremely purist work in collage, where i used the xeroxhaus as a means of circulating versions of my texts only, and not as a means of generating them.
lastly, i will say that my two most recent submissions were both of "straight" poems i read in toronto: cf. "the phantom real the phantom reel". similar types of efforts will continue to leak out into the world as i move further into my 30's and grow away from the writer who deliberately avoided publishing the words of his 20's... i'm finally nearing a point where i can almost say that i like poetry, that i almost no longer find it embarrassing... that's been a very hard place for me to reach. i'm almost there...