about doing the work, Essay fragments

Reading for Change: the document as Witness, Part 1

The following multi-part essay came about through a recent BC Library Association Conference panel I participated in with Aislinn Hunter, Valerie Patrick, and Meghan Savage, titled “Reading for Change: how reading leads to action”:

Petroglyphs, Douglas Channel, July 2012
Discovery

Reading for change: well, that is a challenge to a poet, who sits, head in hands, contemplating  tradition, particularly in literary poetics since the last century, that poetry doesn’t do anything; nor should  it be directive, causal, or didactic. And so comes on, in equal measure, that contrary view, certainly in the Americas and elsewhere, about the poetry of witness but it is in tension with the former. As a poet, I’m always in correspondence between the two schools of thought. As well, I’m influenced by Irish artists with whom I collaborated on an adaptation of my book children of air india for the stage: music, singers, visuals, staging, 17 piece ensemble: reflections on the artistic practices and disciplines of these collaborators, leads me to reading the online essays of artists such as Niamh McCann, interviewed about her show, “Just Left of Copernicus”: the idea of making as a form of thinking

So if making is a form of thinking, then reading can be a form of action-making, as well. As a poet my sense is that the cause-and-effect chain of reading and action implanted/implied in the idea of reading for change might well be tenuous, ephemeral, gestural, shadowy, impossible to pin down, non-directional, existing, perhaps forever in a state of negative capability: uncertain when that moment occurs when what I read, ingest, see, observe, transmutes into making, or writing, or marching, or loving, or protesting. And that it is vital that this tenuous, possibly very slow, very haphazard waywardness be allowed to foment, germinate, and this brings me, inevitably, to the importance of libraries, because if my idea is at least open for discussion, that reading for change, may well be the most tenuous of processes, then the necessity to re-visit, reflect, re-turn, becomes crucial. If well-funded, or at least, even funded, if accessible to every day people, that books remain on shelves, that I might revisit the same book over and over, sharing it with others, then my wayward path to action might one day come to fruition and who knows, who would ever want to reductively predict, that reading-action might connect with social change. I think this idea of mine might well pose an immense challenge for the world in which we live: the time it takes, deep slow long time, to make things, that matter…

Part Two: The Information

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