There is another idea for a collaboration that came to my mind as I was reading William Burroughs' essays for my classes. In one of those texts he describes what he calls a "walk in colors" exercise. It consists in taking a careful note of all the objects which are a specific color that one chooses in advance. So one goes for a walk with the intention of spotting, for instance, all the red things. Or blue. For Burroughs, of course, that is a way of freeing oneself from the automatism of perception imposed by enemy forces (the system). But for us it could simply be an exercise in observation.
Burroughs' essay is titled "Ten years and a billion dollars". It's one of the texts in which he is going on about language as a virus. It is rather fascinating, but of course completely crazy as well. It's included in a collection titled "The Adding Machine". But you won't find there much more than what I told you. "Walk in colors" is just one of many examples Burroughs gives there of exercises one might use to free oneself from the automatic use of language.
As for the choice of colors - perhaps that should be left for each of us to decide individually? I think Burroughs example was red, so for me that would be the first choice. Especially since red stands out against green, and green is the dominant color of may.
Women have historically been invisible in the public space of cities. The flaneur, the detached observer of urban life, has traditionally been a masculine figure, yet the city can also be a space in which perceptions may be challenged and renewed.
The Situationist dérive or drift is a walk without purpose that operates against the drives of working and consuming that shape contemporary urban space. Poetry, too, is a form of wandering, a drift though the terrain of language. Walking becomes a metaphor for writing and translating, for the way in which the body stumbles through a landscape of sounds where language doesn’t always offer the transparent overview that a map does. Walking throws together connections at a local level: an old woman selling clay pipes, the collapse of the world economy, blackbirds, shifts in global weather patterns, a lost glove and a stubbed-out cigarette are intersecting stories woven together by one foot stepping in front of another. In writing, we decide which of these stories to make visible.
The first action of Metropoetica, before we met each other, was a walk in which we each gave another poet directions by email for a walk in her home town, using an online map. We each navigated our familiar streets, suddenly feeling like strangers. In Krakow, we used a different technique for walking as a group, using a pack of cards to decide the direction at each corner. One card for left, one for right, one for straight on, one to go up and one to stop and write, our fingers freezing in the March wind.
There are, as we know, multiple layers of literacy, when walking though a space. I found, when doing my dérive-walk (directed from Finland by Sanna) through a Reykjavík industrial area, that I was impulsively drawn towards texts. I almost exclusively photographed signs, billboards, warnings and words, along the way. I was supposed to be reading spaces, but for the most part I read text. Is it because (I think) I can extract meaning from text, that (I think) I cannot draw from open spaces, houses or passers-by? If the industrial were “speechless”, would it be less intellectual? Does the meaning of words change by their open-air context?
I won’t list all the examples, but I remember there being suspiciously many signs on cleansing, cleaning, detox. I passed an alcoholics’ rehabilitation center, where you are de-poisoned. Next to it a sign said: Hreinsitækni (CleanTech) and a third one a little later: Dauðhreinsun (literally Dead Cleaning). It was like walking through Purgatory.
Weirdly enough, the last building on the route was a branding factory, its glowing red letters on top of the house read: Merking (Meaning).
Every town contains a gap. A poem grows out of signs. It’s hidden in a language, in a day. It comes out of the night. The poem is breezing from the seaside. It drives out of an alley. A poem sleeps in one’s mind. It’s awake in a dream. The gap is there to be filled. Or it’s there just to remind one of some empty space between two sides. And if one’s standing between two separate sides, one wants to cross them. Find the connection. One is sometimes translator, other times a writer. Always a passenger.
On the day following the reading at Massolit I also did some walking around Kraków. I let my daughter Jagoda be my guide. Exploring a city in a company of a small child can be a real adventure: space is structured differently for a child. My daughter does not understand straight lines, she prefers vortices and zigzags. Her trajectory leads from one point of gravity (a sculpted lion at the entrance to the city hall) to another (a cab-horse) and back. There is no preordained destination, no schedule to worry about. She is a natural flaneur - or should I say "flaneuse"?
And then there is the issue of answering tens of questions per minute: translating my ordered, mapped, land-marked Kraków into a language that a four-year-old would understand. There is no end to this work: every answer leads to more questioning. And then, a ginger-colored pigeon is picking on a piece of bread: all of a sudden, that scene becomes the moving center of the world.